Breeze by xiaoyounan


									       JUST AS THE BREEZE BLOWS


   The spiritual life journey of Thupten Heruka,

                      a 19th c. Tibetan yogi

                As told by Anna M. Cox

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     The spiritual life journey of Thupten Heruka, a 19th c. Tibetan yogi

                                       Anna M. Cox

PO Box 7708
Little Rock, Arkansas 72217-7708 USA

           T O A LL W HO A R E Y E T T O C O ME … .

                     MAY YOU BE BLESSED
                          BY THESE WORDS

One: Intention Arises

                      The mountains flow magnificently into the sky

                                  I count myself lucky

                               To see the nose on my face

        In the world outside of Tibet, it was the year 1876. But, I barely knew that
that world existed. In Tibet it was 2003, the first day of the Fire Mouse Year. I
was young and innocent with a desire as pure as the emptiness of a new dawning.
That year brought the first sigh of death to a most comfortable life and all that I
had thought that I was. The pangs of death were made more challenging because
of my hard headedness and an obstinate, self-serving nature. Your journey need
not be so discouraging if you pay close attention to the chasms into which others
like me have fallen. That is why I give to you this journal of my adventures and
misadventures. Perhaps, if they are of some small benefit to you, the ripples on
the lake of unfolding mandala blessings will spread from you to others and help to
bring enlightenment to all beings. It is the wish of an old man that this will be

        That death which I refer to began one gray day on the high, windswept
plains of Tsang in central Tibet. I’ll begin my story for you on what was the last
day of a three-month retreat at Vulture Mountain. It was a holiday called Losar,
the name of our New Year day, so I had dedicated my meditations with a special

feast offering of food, music, prayers and mantra. I was lonely at that very
solitary Losar celebration. I knew that all over Tibet, friends and families were
having great parties of feasting, games, and parades. Everywhere were thousands
of tables steeped high with our favorite foods. It had always been my favorite
festival day. But I was totally alone at the barren base of a holy mountain.

       Losar always comes near the end of winter and at that time, it was to be a
while before I could have expected any mild spring days at so high an altitude. It
had been a vicious few months in which to do a meditation retreat on that plateau
cradled in the heart of even higher mountain peaks. The snow had blown in
blinding clouds. The cold was unrelenting. Often, I sat all day with crusty ice and
snow accumulating around me. The plateau was miles and miles of glistening
white that stretched from far away mountain ranges to the ragged brown cliffs
rising behind me. Blizzards had dumped the snow in impassable, heaping drifts
blocking any chance for escape should I have even tried. Aching for others, cold
and hungry, yet fervently motivated by devotion, was how I began that New Year.

       I was drawn to Vulture Mountain because it was a place of vastness. I had
hoped that in a place so open to the sky, I would be able to see clearly. In the past,
great yogis had meditated there and I prayed that their promises to benefit others
would bring me blessings. Although the cold was almost unbearable, there were
times when my meditations filled blissful days in a world of radiant white oceans.

        My sacred temple was at the foot of a tough, gnarled grandfather of a tree,
miraculous, as it was the only living thing in view. The temple roof was its
withered arbor arms and the altar, a pitted, flat rock table long ago tattooed with
embedded ocean plants. The rock altar was my only protection from the ferocious
blowing winds that swept across the icy plains. That was the only boulder of any
size and my tree, the only significant shelter, for as far as I could see. It was as
though they had been set there deliberately with nothing to detract from their
rugged powers.

        The Tibetan winter landscape was often a torturous world but that
potential for suffering was my motivation to transform it during my long hours of
meditation into crystalline pure lands of sparkling bliss. On the altar, I had placed
a golden Shakyamuni Buddha statue on a beautiful gold cloth woven by my
mother when she was a girl. I had also arranged branches of fragrant herbs
brought with me to burn for incense, lined up seven water offering bowls, and lit
a small, elaborately engraved butter lamp. I had my prayer text from my lama,
which was a thick, rectangular stack of hand written parchment pages set securely
between two embossed and jeweled wooden covers. Each day, I carefully
unwrapped the sacred teachings from the bright yellow silk in which they were
tied securely with a braided cord. During my meditations, I held my ritual prayer
implements, my dorje and my bell, in my right and left hands. I meditated that the
bell planted in me seeds of knowing the pure wisdom nature of all reality and the
dorje offered me the skillful means of living a life of true compassion. My teacher
had taught me well. The limitations to my realization were my own. I meditated
often on his words, the meanings of all of the ritual tools, my mudras, and the
visualizations of deities in pure lands. I carefully followed all of the rules of the
monastery such as emptying all of my water bowls in the correct order, turning
them upside down at night, and covering my simple altar every night to protect it
from the snow. I barely knew the true meaning of what I did with such dedication
but I trusted that at some point, all of that would become clear.

        So, every day when the sun rose, I hiked down to my altar, lit my butter
lamp, filled the offering bowls, did five hundred full prostrations accompanied by
my mantra vows, and then I began my prayers once again. I visualized a pantheon
of Buddhas, dakinis, and dharma protectors arrayed in a shimmering rainbow
universe before me in the sky. I envisioned the ferocious female deity,
Vajrayogini, as a way to remember that it was only I who could sever my
grasping to a life of pleasure and who could dissolve my projections of fear. I
reminded myself that a dynamic universe of suffering beings was trapped in all
the realms of worldly samsara. They lived an endless struggle against the karmic
forces of their imprisonment. I was one of them. In my prayers, my heart pleaded
for their release as well as for my own. I vowed to remember the preciousness of
my life and promised every day to work tirelessly for the liberation of all sentient
beings. My only goal in life, I believed, was to achieve enlightenment in order to
be of the greatest possible benefit to all. Then, tired and cold, but sure and proud
that I was fulfilling a profound commitment to my lama, I returned satisfied to my
cave up in the mountain.

        On that Losar, my last day of retreat and a day of feasting, I celebrated
with only a small amount of tsampa, which is merely a simple barley and water
paste. It is our staple food in Tibet, but, for a feast, it was hardly very special. My
supplies of food and drink were exhausted. Up in my cave, there was nothing left
except some nettle soup that I had saved to heat, but I was happy just for that. I
pondered the stories of great sages such as Milarepa who had lived in caves for
years on nettles, berries and water. For me though, after those three months alone
and with so little food, it was sometimes hard to celebrate nature’s gifts as I
craved my usual physical comforts. On that last day, I was so hungry that I
pushed myself to end my meditation early in order to heat my soup and warm my
churning belly. I thought that I would also steep some yak butter tea and then I
hoped to fall asleep quickly so that I could begin my trek home to milder climates
as soon as dawn lit my way. You can see that I was far more eager for the warmth
of a fire and hot food than enlightenment. I was very exhausted.

        Today, so many years wiser, what I most remember is not the pain. It is
that those months brought visions for which I have been forever grateful. I know
that some of those awarenesses became a base that supported me and allowed me
to survive the events that were to come. But, yes, it was hard to recognize that at
the time. I was more aware of my misery.

        I also struggled with my return to the world. I found myself immobilized
when I stood to disassemble my altar. I felt as though I had failed to reach my
goals. I knew that I had received some blessings and a few hints to help penetrate
through the rock wall of my ignorance, but there had been no great experience of
transcendence. My hope had been to accomplish some profound realization but
that had not happened. The sun urged me to hurry on to my cave so that I would

not get caught traveling the difficult path in the dark. Instead, I dissolved in a
struggle of disappointment with myself. I was glad that I had undertaken and
completed the three months of retreat. I had accomplished other longer retreats
but always in a monastery meditation hut at Mindroling Monastery where I had
studied. At those retreats, I had had attendants who brought me my meals and
other necessities. The Losar retreat that year in Tsang was in an isolated
wilderness inhabited by bears, big horned yaks, mountain cats, and, I was sure,
demons. It was a world of dangers that included possibly freezing to death and
starving. It had required all of my courage.

          I had had moments of insight. I felt my mind become more stable and
expansive. My motivation was strong and good. But, still, I felt hopelessly
divided between my two worlds. I wanted to live the teachings of my lama with
purity and yet, I struggled with the longings of an ordinary man. I felt that I had
worked hard and suffered so much and I was discouraged that I had gained so

          In that state of disillusionment, I began to methodically place my sacred
implements back into their silk bag. Time was short. The sun was setting. But, I
could not release myself from that black spell. I distractedly picked up my
Buddha statue, which had been a special gift to me from my grandfather. His
lama had given it to him over seventy years before. I pensively sat back down on
my meditation rug, clutching it to my breast. Despairingly, a soliloquy of
thoughts consumed my attention.

          I look back now and agonize for that young Thupten Heruka in his
quandary. I can hear him again crying in frustration and thinking, “I sat here day
after day while the cold stole away with my meditation’s visions. My toes and
fingers screamed more loudly than my heart’s devotion.

          “Would I go insane if I tried to live my guru’s life of compassionate

          “I am grateful to him for doing what I cannot. In his kindness, he has to do
it for me because of my lack of courage. Hardly have I had the successes on this
retreat that he has had in only one hour of his life.

          “I have prayed to be purified of all of the negativity that I created during
this retreat, during this life, and during all of my lifetimes. I prayed that I might
purify all the negative karma of any acts in which I have caused pain and
suffering. May I eliminate all that I have contributed to this world of hellish

          “Perhaps, I have achieved some small amount of merit by sitting on this
mountainside, blue as an icicle. Even though it feels like I’ve been here for eons
sitting in this cold and snow, I did faithfully trudge every day from my dark and
damp cave down to this spot before my rock altar and I sat. If so, let that merit go
out to all beings to benefit them.

          “Yes, and perhaps,” I relented cautiously, “I have had even the slightest
touch of pure vision every once in a while. On those few days when I achieved
some clarity, my beautiful radiant Buddha Vajrayogini arose before me.”

          My heart swelled as I remembered her name and saw her face. I whispered
to her.

          “I said my prayers to you, my ferocious dakini. I prayed with a heart
enraptured with devotion. I am full of tears for all of those beings suffering in this
seductive, samsaric universe. I have prayed for those who do not know how much
they suffer. I prayed for me. I prayed to know the Buddha within me that is your
wisdom mind.

          “Vajrayogini, please take pity on me. Other brave yogis sit with great
dedication. Their whole lifetimes are spent in retreat. My lamas and gurus have
that kind of courage. They have patience. They have wisdom. Mine is a precious
but insignificant life. I have met with a wonderful lama and with the Buddha’s
dharma teachings. All I can offer back is my vow to make this lifetime an
offering to you. I try with passion and earnestness to please you, but I am a poor
practitioner. I dare not look at how unworthy I am to approach you. My heart is
barred and constricted, yet it longs to know your pure essence. I cry for divine

union with your radiant wisdom light.... And sadly, you can see how little
progress I have made.”

       I rose dejectedly and did three prostrations. After one last look around at
that blessed space, I gathered up my rug and sacred implements. Somewhat
alarmed, I realized that dusk had settled in as a blue fog, dimming the plains. I
began the climb up the rocky, stair-step trail, steep and slippery with ice and
scree. As I walked, I fell again into pondering Vajrayogini and remembered a
brief vision that I had seen early that morning. She had appeared instantaneously
as I stirred from a deep sleep. I saw her standing before me with startling clarity. I
knew that she was not truly present in ordinary form, but I never did question
whether the vision came from my imagination, a dream, or was a subtle
manifestation of the dakini herself. As I walked up the trail, I thought more of
what she had said to me. It was that the degenerate times predicted by ancient
prophecies were upon us and that the consequences to our world would be great. I
wondered what she meant in saying that. If the message she gave to me was true,
I thought that I should be quite frightened.

       Her voice was sweet and melodic but earnestly entreating. “I will show
you the future through my eyes,” she had said. Hypnotized, I looked into her face
of vastness that filled the sky. Her blazing three eyes glistened a fiery red.

       She warned, “I see enemies of the dharma and enemies of Tibet murdering
practitioners, destroying monasteries, and burning the sacred texts. Our great
lamas will take rebirth in strange and distant lands where the teachings are seen as
sacrilege to native peoples. Those who know and practice the dharma must be
strong in their practice so that they do not let the sacred thread die out. Once the
lineage is broken, it will lose its power and can never be restored. Your pure
Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, foretold that the years to come would be the most

       “Thupten Heruka, your life is short. Each day is precious. Use this human
birth and all your future lives to prepare for these days of destruction to the
       “What if your death brings death to your practice? What if it brings death
to your meetings with the dharma? What if it brings death to your journey to
enlightenment? You cannot leave all of those beings that are so lost that they do
not even know that there is a way out of their suffering. They are in the most
pitiable darkness.

       “Thupten Heruka, I have created the flower filled with nectar. I have
placed it before you. Now, you have had a taste of its sweetness. You know where
to look to find more. You must be the bee and drink your fill. But, it is your job to
make the honey to offer to all beings. Open their hearts with this delectable
substance. How sad that they should die without ever even having had one taste.”

       “How inadequate I am,” I thought, as my feet found their way
automatically along the familiar path. “My Tibet. My people. To lose the dharma
teachings would rip the heart out of them all.” I felt frightened and sad.

       But where, I wondered, was the warrior that should be so enraged at that
possibility that I would give my total commitment to fighting this enemy of
Buddhism? I wanted to love all beings so unstintingly that I would sacrifice all,
even my life, and commit myself totally to bringing all beings to enlightenment. I
wanted to be the ferocity of Vajrayogini. Where would I find that ocean of love in
my shriveled heart? I knew that I was hardly capable of loving myself, much less
all sentient beings. I thought of my horse, Da, and my dog, Dorje, many days
away at home with my friends.

       “I know about caring for poor suffering beings. I love my horse and I love
my dog. I do not wish them any suffering at all. I make sure they stay as warm
and well fed as possible. I know them intuitively. I feel their dependence on me. I
know that they care for me. Either one of them would protect me by attacking any
aggressor if need be. I know then that I can love my horse and my dog. But, if I’m
truthful, what about anyone else? How much do I really love my friends and
family who are more apt to become angry or question me about what I want?
They are capable of turning against me; of not loving me. Can I love them no
matter how they treat me?”
       A flock of black, chicken skinned buzzards with feathers icily frozen
against their sides sat menacingly on rock outcroppings near my path. As I
approached, some walked brazenly over in curiosity. Others marched ahead of me
up the trail, slowing my progress on the difficult ascent. I breathed deeply as my
pace became frustrated and the hike, more labored. They were a nuisance and
made the exertion more disagreeable. Anger began to simmer. I had the urge to
kick at them.

        “Now, I look at these buzzards,” I mused. “I know these buzzards would
do anything possible to escape my boot. They think that I am their enemy. Of
course, I would never harm these birds but they are smart enough to fear anything
that might take their lives.

        “Do I think of all of those throughout the universe, even those long haired,
black faced nomads out there in their yak hair tents in Tsang - or perhaps, my
own beautiful mother, - with any more love and compassion than I have for these
grotesque buzzards? Do I truly love any of them? Or, are even those closest to me
often as much of a nuisance to my journey through life as these buzzards are to
me as I climb up this mountain?

        “Do I love my horse and my dog, perhaps my friends and my family, and
of course, my guru, but that is all? What is the truth when I search my heart

        As I fell into the darkness of that bottomless well, there was hardly a
pause before another perspective shocked me with heart-sinking confrontation.

        “Ha! I am not even a match for these buzzards! They, at least, use every
ounce of their strength to escape my threatening foot. I have much greater
intelligence. I know the truth of inescapable karma, and now I hear that the end of
the dharma teachings is coming. To have these great teachings destroyed would
be a sure sentence for constant rebirth in the hell realms for everyone. This would
be more horrible than the instantaneous death of my one firm blow to a buzzard.

        “But, do I leap to the challenge of this enemy? Do I use my much greater

intelligence and all my determination to defeat this enemy?

       “No. I hardly stir.

       “Where is this devotion that I speak of so proudly. Where is my
conviction that others attribute to me while I do a retreat? Where is that love for
all beings that I know only in my dreams?

       “Thupten Heruka, you have great work to do!”

       After another few steps up the path, I sighed in reluctant resignation.

        “The longing in my heart must make up for my lack of pure vision and
great motivation,” I thought. I allowed myself to accept that justification for the
time being. “I must do as my lama says and try to develop my commitment to
dharma no matter what the future of this life or my future lives will bring.”

        From that new and somewhat gentler vantagepoint, I was able to expand
beyond my self-absorbed struggle. I had climbed high above the plateau and I
looked back down upon the white landscape with a few brown patches showing
through the melted snow. Squinting, I thought that I could make out the trail,
revealed from under its winter cover. I felt again how eager I was to follow it in
the morning, my journey through the barren bleakness holding the promise of
another life.

        The sun was setting painted streaks of gold and purple across the sky.
Shadows stretched from tan, humpbacked mountains hundreds of miles away to
darken my mountain above me. The winds blew ever more aggressively as I
climbed higher and they swirled the ice up off the crusted snows. I was pelted by
the stinging crystals and shocked into breathlessness by the cold against my face.
I walked faster and with more attentiveness. Such weather did not allow for
meandering and musings. I focused instead on searching out the entrance to my
cave where I could escape into its womb, protected from the icy wail. I trudged
hard up the last steep slope as the sunset turned to dim moonlight. It was
beginning to be a problem to find my way around rocks that had long ago
tumbled down in landslides and that covered the ancient path.
           Faintly, a hint of a familiar sound seemed to warm the frozen air. I
vaguely knew the tune but it was out of place in the darkness on the empty
mountain. I strained to hear. It reached out to me only periodically with subtle
strains hidden among the shrill gusts of wind. At first, I dismissed the tune as an
aberration, thinking that it might be the whistle of breezes being forced through
rocky outcroppings. Finally, I stopped the noise of my feet on the gravel and
wondered if what I heard was truly something other than the mountain’s scream.
The slow rhythm of a drum, the hardly audible ringing of its accompanying bell,
and a chanter’s song emerged unmistakably.

           “This must be my own mind,” I thought. I had been softly saying a
Vajrayogini mantra and clicking each repetition on my prayer beads as I walked.
Sometimes it happened that a mantra tune presented itself spontaneously and took
over my meditative focus. I thought that maybe that was what had happened. I
thought that the meditation chant of an offering feast was arising from my
memory and had floated into my awareness. But as I listened more attentively, I
realized that there was a very real sound that was emanating from deep in the
cavernous mountain.

           For months, I had thought that I was the only man out there in that
wilderness. “Could it be a magical Buddha or a lovely dakini playing tricks on
me?” I mused. I had heard such stories and believed them but hardly felt worthy
to have such a manifestation appear before me. I decided against going to look for
the source of the compelling chod singer.

           “If it is a Buddha,” I decided, “I will see him if I am meant to. If it is some
yogi who has sought out the solitude of these isolated mountains in order to do
practice undisturbed, I definitely do not want to interrupt his rituals.” All of that
pondering ended my mantra chants, yet I felt appreciative of a rare being
practicing where I could hear those lovely songs. I was beginning to accept his

           “Thupten Heruka,” I smiled to myself, “you must surely be blessed. How
few have met a true Bodhisattva longing to liberate others. This yogi has my
liberation in mind in his chod offering prayers. Why else would such a divine
being come to this wilderness to beat a drum and yell, ‘Phat’? I’ve struggled to
my little stone altar every day hoping to develop a whisper of compassion for
those as lost as me in samsara. Here is a yogi appearing in this wasteland of the
cold hells and singing joyfully for me.”

       I barely thought anymore of the chill and the wind and my breathlessness
as I wove up the path to my cave. Sometimes, when the trail took me back down
into protected little valleys or when the direction of the wind changed, I could
barely hear the music. But then, as I approached the gentle rise to my cave, I
knew that the yogi was very near by. Filling the dark was the deep, rhythmic,
beating of the drum with the bell ringing in perfect synchronicity. I was
increasingly certain and surprised that it was in fact a female voice chanting
strong and deep, filled with intense passion and ferocious longing.

       Finally, I could see ahead of me through an opening in the trees. I abruptly
realized that she was in my cave. I had a flash of possessiveness and I was
disappointed that my cave had been taken from me. In my surprise, I felt torn and
shy. I did not want to interrupt the practice of a dakini, so I stopped on the path
before she could hear that I was approaching. I was conflicted. I was hungry and
longed for the soup that I had saved. I had eaten nothing that day but for my tiny
meditation offering. I was eager to heat the soup and craved its warmth.

       “Surely,” arose my thoughts in a flash of rebuke, “you can, at the very
least, offer your cave to a devoted meditator! Remember that this is a Buddha
visiting someone as insignificant as you are! This is hardly ‘your cave’ under the

       Appreciation and generosity broke through my ambivalence. I was certain
that I did not want her to feel evicted. I decided that I would give her the cave and
sleep in some nearby scrub wrapped in my meditation rug.

       “Tomorrow,” I thought, “I can collect my things from the cave, look for
some food, and begin my journey home.”

       I scanned the blackness for a place to rest for the night. Suddenly, all was
quiet. The chanter had stopped her music. It was impenetrably dark in the
shadows of the mountain peaks, although moonlight illuminated the sky above. I
stood motionless and listened, waiting to get a hint as to why the yogini had
stopped in the middle of her practice. Shame flushed my cheeks and there was a
sinking discomfort in my chest.

       I thought with horror, “She must have heard me and she thinks that I am
an intruder. She must be frightened that I will try to hurt her!”

       “Dear, Yogi?” I heard a soft and friendly voice query about my presence.
“Young lama, Thupten Heruka? Is that you arriving at your cave and wondering
why it is occupied by this crazy yogini who sings off key and defiles your sacred

       There was great tenderness and the lilt of laughter in her voice. She
beckoned me on. “Come, my devoted yogi. Come on to your cave and rest after
your arduous retreat. I have prepared hot buttered tea and some meager food for
your supper.”

       I was stunned. “Who is this woman and how does she know my name?” I
wondered. “Why would she prepare me tea and a meal?”

       Tentatively, I crept slowly out into the open before the cave entrance. I
could see a shadow sitting about six feet back from the entryway. The moonlight
barely haloed her form. I could then see that there was a small circle of glowing
coals that warmed a teapot. Nearby, a plate was set out with food and great care
had been taken to arrange everything very beautifully. I stepped closer and I
seemed to fall into a trance. My senses were overwhelmed and the world had a
dreamlike aura. I could smell the food and the aromas awakened my hunger. The
lights were dazzling and my head was spinning. The cold was irrelevant but I
shivered uncontrollably.

       I stared at the incredible woman before me. She appeared translucent, like
a mirage. Gently, she reached out her arms to me, moving slowly and gently like

flowing mercury. Her body was tiny and I wondered if she was only a child. Her
straight black hair reached to the ground and softly rested like a shawl around her.
She sat cross-legged on my thick sleeping rug. Her chod drum lay abandoned in
her lap but she still held her bell in her left hand as though ready to continue her
chant. I could not make out her features, which blurred in her radiance but I could
see a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. My imagination told me that she was the
most beautiful woman I had ever seen. When I was able to focus my vision, I
realized that my dakini had on the robes of a nun. Seeing that, I quickly brought
my hands prayerfully before me and bowed deeply.

        “My apologies, Ani,” I said respectfully. “I did not mean to disturb your
practices. It is fine for you to use this cave. It is certainly not mine and I can
easily spend the night under the trees.

        “But, -- how do you know who I am and why have you fixed me tea and
food. It is very kind of you, but I am very confused...”

        Ignoring my questions as though irrelevant, she placed her bell on the rug
beside the dorje and drum. She picked up a white blessing scarf, draped it over
her prayerfully folded hands and lifted her arms up to me in order to place it
around my neck as an offering. I dropped to my knees before her and received the
blessings of her kata. When I leaned forward towards her and felt her touch, I felt
an ecstatic surge through my entire body. My world had become unreal and

        “Sit down, Thupten Heruka. I have been waiting for you to finish your
retreat. Now, here I am to ask for your help.”

        She reached over and carefully lifted the plate of food and handed it to
me. She murmured softly as she said prayers of blessings. I was amazed to see
that the plate was made of delicate, red china with golden trim decorating the
edges. Upon it was steaming tsampa, large brown potatoes, sliced carrots and
turnips, all floating in a garlic broth. I was incredulous because those foods were
impossible to find in the high, isolated plains of Tibet.

        Slowly, she poured the buttered tea into a fine jade cup, held it in her
hands and said a blessing over it. Then, she offered it to me. I tasted it and set it
down, oblivious to the warmth I had so longed for. By then, I was able to see by
the firelight that her face was as beautiful as I had imagined, with delicate and
perfect features. She had a gentle smile as she poured herself a cup of tea as well.
Once again, she said a blessing, mantra syllables soft and quick, and then said to
me, “First, you must eat.”

        I ate slowly, quietly, and with a dazed appreciation for that unexpected
feast. The atoms of my body danced in ecstatic waves of intensity as I could feel
her dynamic and compassionate energy fill the cave and fill me.

        Hardly conscious of my thoughts, my mind drifted into curious
wondering. “This little yogini is obviously a lady of great spiritual
accomplishment and is almost magical. I feel deeply honored to have her seek me
out for whatever reason. I wonder whether it might be appropriate to ask for her
blessings on my practice? I know that her powers must be great.”

        The Ani began to chuckle and I realized that she could read my mind. As I
felt her knowing my heart, my mind, and my deepest essence, my head began to
swim with dizziness in that intense confrontation with her vast wisdom.

        “Thupten Heruka, you are a very good practitioner and you are doing
many wonderful things for sentient beings,” she said to rescue me from my faint.
“You do not yet know the power of your beneficial karma and the lifetime that is
unfolding before you. I know you well and you have done many very kind things
to serve me in the past. Do you remember?”

        “I remember something about you. You feel familiar. But right now, I feel
a bit overcome with the power of your presence. What was our connection?”

        “Not right now, dear yogi. Soon, we will talk some more. But, you need
not ask for my blessings. You already have them as I carry you in my heart
always. That is something that you must never forget.”

        So, I was left with many questions but they floated in such a deep
peacefulness, I felt that I did not need to know any answers. I continued to sit in
silence with that most unbelievable dakini as we sipped tea and I ate my dinner.
She said nothing more that evening and I deliberately waited for her to begin any
dialogue. She sat all night in that very spot, radiating a soft light that warmed a
cave that had been bitter cold throughout all of my previous nights. For hours, I
felt that I should sit with her in meditation but my eyes grew heavy and I fell
asleep. I slumped onto my rug, which provided thin comfort from the dirt and
rocky floor of the cave. I slept until the sunlight crept in and lifted the darkness.

       When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was her delicate face framed
with silky black hair. It looked just as I had thought it would. She was radiantly
lovely, perfect in every feature, with eyes so deep and full of wisdom they were
unlike any I had ever seen. Her robes were draped loosely around her body hiding
any form. Wrapped around her shoulders was her maroon, sacred shawl, her zen,
and out from the edges emerged soft, golden hands that appeared to have never
done a bit of work. Tucked up over her legs and barely revealed from under her
robes were feet so delicate and fragile that I wondered how she had transported
herself through that rugged wilderness. She had not moved over the hours since I
had fallen asleep. Upon seeing me looking at her, she smiled as a mother does
who has come in to check on her baby and finds him newly awake.

        “Wake up now, Thupten Heruka. Your retreat is over and you have a very
difficult and important job to do. My name is Tsultrim Palmo. I have come from
the shores of Lake Manasarovar, a very long walk from here, in order to find you.
You are to become the guardian and protector of a precious holy being, a Tulku,
who is to be reborn shortly. It is possible that he will be in great danger. You see,
it will be discovered that he is the new Kundun, the world’s Dalai Lama. Did you
know that the twelfth Dalai Lama died a few months ago while sitting in
meditation at the Potala Palace in Lhasa? He was only twenty years old. There are
many concerned rumors about his death. Some say that he may have been
poisoned. If so, there are stories that it may have been by a foreign government
trying to gain control over Tibet. There are even stories that he was poisoned by

one of his regents that ruled for him. Perhaps it was someone who did not wish to
lose control of the monasteries and the government when the Dalai Lama would
have come into leadership. There are many, many stories of murder and betrayal.
The people do not know the circumstances and are very suspicious of the regents’
and perhaps even the governing Kashog’s complicity. All of this is causing
horrible political and spiritual turmoil throughout Lhasa. The real truth must be
found so that Tibet can rest again, secure under the leadership of a new thirteenth
Dalai Lama.

        “The new reincarnation is to be born soon and he must be carefully
guarded until he is safely enthroned and protected in Lhasa. Until the truth behind
these conspiracies is known, this little holy infant may be another target just as
the past four Dalai Lamas have been. None have lived to adulthood. We need to
find this child first, now, before he is born, and then protect him until the
cataclysmic swell of various plots and evil misdoing can be exposed for what they
are. Then, hopefully, those who are responsible for Tibet’s shameful deeds will be
ousted from their positions of power and influence. After losing so many of our
young Dalai Lamas, this one must live to be the leader he was born to be.“

        I was aghast and shaken with grief. Our young Kundun was dead and
perhaps murdered! My heart felt as though it was ripped from my body and I
clutched my arms about my chest to hold back my cries. Thick numbness filled
my head and I felt as though the ground was reeling beneath me. The words of
Tsultrim Palmo drifted on far away waves drowned by my disbelieving mind. It
did not even become clear to me at that moment that she was asking me to do
something to right that horrific event. We sat quietly for a long time but inside me
a thunder kept pounding in my ears.

        “Could she be wrong? Does she know what she is saying?” My thoughts
whirled about trying to reorder that impossible situation in a way to undo it and
make it just a dream.

        “I do not know Tsultrim Palmo for any time longer than one night - and
yet I know that she is truthful,” I struggled to think clearly. “It is this horrible
story that has brought her here. Why has she come so far to find me? What is it
that she wants me to do? What can I possibly do way over here in the plains of
Tsang? I am just a nomad yogi who wanders the country with my small band of
friends. I am nobody accomplished.”

       I felt confused and overwhelmed with her expectations of me. And, I felt
deeply saddened by the death of the Dalai Lama. I knew that the news must have
broken the heart of all of Tibet while I sat isolated and unknowing in my
mountain retreat.

       Tsultrim Palmo sat patiently for quite some time. She seemed to know that
what I was trying to integrate was too much for me to bear. She was watching me
with eyes that were sad, gentle and compassionate. Her silent support was the
path to my own remembering of the teachings that I had heard all of my life. I
remembered something vaster than form; more truthful than a clinging to
permanence; more liberating than desire in a samsaric world. For many long deep
breaths, I relaxed beyond the boundaries of my body and knew the Dalai Lama
again as Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion, and the pure essence of all beings
that never dies.

       Tsultrim Palmo said quietly, “Ah, there. You have remembered. Don’t

       Then, she stood up, put her drum, bell and dorje in a delicate, fringed bag
and walked silently from the cave and down the path. Hurriedly, I looked about to
gather up my few possessions. Quickly, into a sack I tossed my blackened teapot,
my wooden bowl still full of berries, my faded and tattered rug, my thicker
sleeping rug, and all of my sacred altar implements. I tied them on my back with
a cloth sash and left the cave, still elegant with her fine dishes and the warm tea. I
was only moments behind her.

   I needed more information and some direction as to what my task was and
how I was to accomplish it. I ran down the densely wooded path behind her. I
could not believe that as fast as I could run, she stayed always far ahead of me.
Then, she rounded a bend that I knew led to a descent over large boulders that one
must navigate like steep stair steps. I came round the turn and I expected to see
her climbing down those great rocks, but she was nowhere to be seen. I stopped
and looked around. I feared for a moment that she might have fallen but quickly
realized that was not the case. She had disappeared. I knew it was fruitless. I felt a
bit silly and embarrassed, but I called her name a couple of times. Even that effort
had more of a puzzled and helpless plea to it than any real expectation that she
would answer. I had no idea what to do next other than to begin my journey

Two: Preparation
                                    My mind is so busy

                                     I forget to notice

                                That the first leaf has fallen

         I was left standing at the edge of the precipice looking out over the land.
Numb, I could not begin to contemplate the odd mixture of feelings that were left
from that experience with Tsultrim Palmo. I felt completely immersed in
something extraordinary and remained filled with her presence. My grief at our
Kundun’s death was still blinding. Slowly, I began my descent down the
mountain. I paused unconsciously at times as I walked and would find myself
absently leaning on a rock in a daze. At one point, I sat down and cried. Tsultrim
Palmo’s image arose before me and I felt soothed, hearing her voice reminding
me to remember. But, I also felt intrigued, captivated, entranced and spiritually
quickened. Such a mixture of different intensities alternately washed through me
that day, one feeling and then another, as I began the trek back home to my small
tent on the river and my band of compatriots. I had many days of walking ahead
of me.

         After pushing through the snow of the plateau, I reached lower altitudes of
ever greater ease. The paths worn across the Tibetan plains went on endlessly up
and down small rises, cut like a razor swath through tall yellow grasses.
Periodically they required wading over rocky, river beds, but there was little to
break the monotony. Far in the distance, always beckoning, were the magnificent,
and sacred mountain ranges on the border of Nepal and Tibet. My retreat had
been in the north, in the Gemar Valley, at the foot of the Nyenchen Tanglha
range, but not as far north as the lakes. I was heading southwest to their foothills
across almost one hundred miles of high plains.

        Each night, I had to find elevated land on which to lay my blanket. The
grassy streambeds were always in danger of flash floods because the day’s hot
sun would melt the glacial ice and the runoff would swell the streams with
torrents of water. Their fast rise could wash the unsuspecting away in the
darkness. By morning, the waters had run their course and were hardly a trickle. I
would rise early in order to cross the streams while I could. Then, too, I felt less
lonely in the company of the wild ass that arrived with the first sun to feed in the
meadows. Tall brown hare, prairie dogs, wolves, and wild yaks roamed about me
too in solitude and in herds, always present but cautiously distant.

        Early mornings were cold and harsh with winds howling as they raced
across the expanse of open land. My yak skin jacket with its heavy fur was a
necessity to protect me from exposure to those friendless gales. Then, by
afternoon, the sun was high and I would drop my jacket off my shoulders to hang
from my waist, tied by the sleeves like a sash. My bare back would bask in the
glorious warmth. At those times, I would sail through the waving grassy sea in
exhilarating pleasure at being alive.

        Along the way, I was frequently lucky enough to find nettles and chives
and wild onions and I would make soup for my noon meal. One day, I surprised a
fox with his newly killed rabbit. The little red fox ran away, leaving its victim to
me for my breakfast. I roasted the rabbit over an open fire along with some apples
that I had gathered, and then I spent a half a day eating and resting. Water was
always plentiful and I felt protected and blessed by Tibet, my motherland, and my

        At night though, I would ponder the tragic fate of the Dalai Lama, the
horror of his death, his pending rebirth, those who might have killed him, and
beautiful Tsultrim Palmo.

        After five days of walking, I reached the Nyangra Valley, long and
narrow. Then, I traveled another few days down to the mountains that had
gradually been appearing before me and that cradled Sogpo Monastery. The
many-storied temple was camouflaged by craggy cliffs rising hundreds of feet
above the path that I walked along. When I could finally make out the golden
roofs through the trees, I felt a renewed strength to hurry on.

       Free from the mountain trails, I excitedly arrived at my first road that
passed by going to the nearby village of Pudong. Straight as a rod, it was a dusty
brown ribbon which was hardly more than a wild yak track as it went its way to
the far distant sites of Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar.

       Sogpo was Abbot Kelzang Rinpoche’s monastery. He had been a family
friend since I was a child and was in some ways, my benefactor. I felt a relieved
sense of coming home as I stopped to gaze up into the sunshine that appeared to
radiate from that spiritual palace. I planned to spend the night there, get a good
night’s sleep and a good meal, and then proceed on in the morning towards my
home. I was also comforted by the thought that I could talk to Abbot Kelzang
about Tsultrim Palmo.

       “Abbot is as close to me as my father,” I thought with affection. “Yet, he
will wonder about this little nun. But, he would never doubt my word about
anything, even on this unusual occurrence.

       “But, should I tell him what she said about the Dalai Lama’s
reincarnation? I am sure he has heard about Kundun’s death. Probably, all of
Tibet has heard about it except for those in retreat or nomads who are so remote
that they have no visitors. I want to know everything that he has heard about
whether this might be a conspiracy or if he thinks that His Holiness might have
been poisoned. Perhaps, he knows even more than Tsultrim Palmo does.

       “What about the part where she said that she had a plan for me?” I debated
with uncertainty. “It seemed that she meant that I should not say anything about
that. Of course, I know nothing, so what could I say? She really told me nothing.
It feels though, like I am keeping a secret from him and I do not like that.”

       I mused on that dilemma as I walked. Then, a new thought struck me and
lifted my concerns.

       “Maybe, Lama Selden will be here with Abbot Kelzang. What a relief that
would be. He will definitely know what I should do.”

        Lost in my thoughts, the time and distance dissolved beneath me step by
step as the sunlight whisked me towards the turn to the monastery path. By the
time I reached the rocky ruts of that trail to the hilltop, it was late afternoon. It
was going to be hard to climb to the gate by dark and the trail was a precarious
and a poor one. I looked about to see if there were any monks who might be more
familiar with the paths at night and could guide me. It had been almost four
months since I had seen another human being except for Tsultrim Palmo and I
would have been glad for the company. But, there were no helpful guides. There
had probably been no one by there for days. I began arduously hauling myself up
over rock after rock on the almost vertical ascent to the monastery.

        I marveled at the difficulty of the monastery approach. Abbot Kelzang and
his monks rarely left the compound except on business with other monasteries or
on trips to Lhasa. They provided almost everything they needed for themselves on
their small, irrigated farm on the mountaintop. The gompa complex had large and
beautiful Buddha statues, incredible fabrics and treasures, a large stupa filled with
jewels and artifacts, and hundreds of volumes of sacred texts. I smiled in
amazement and amusement as I struggled to accomplish the climb with only a
small pack on my back while monks through the centuries had carried all of those
sacred gifts up that same trek. It probably had taken them many days to go those
two miles.

        Throughout the climb, I felt the calming essence of the monastery
surround me. I eagerly anticipated my visit with my friend. Suddenly, I stopped as
though a compelling force held me immobilized. A fleeting breeze cooled the
sweat on my face. It was fresh and fragrant. I felt, more than saw, Tsultrim
Palmo. I looked about me and listened intently as I expected her to speak, perhaps
from the woods at the side of the path. I waited for a little while, as I was sure that
she was present. I knew that Tsultrim Palmo was undoubtedly someone with
amazing powers and realization but I knew nothing of her.

        “Am I crazy?” I wondered.
        An immeasurable moment passed before I forced myself out of the
mystery and proceeded up the path. By that time, I was beginning to doubt the
validity of my experience.

        Before I could see the top of the trail, Abbot Kelzang’s laughter was
carried down to me by the wind. “Thupte-la! We must bring you down a
mountain goat to aid your journey! Can you not lift your tired legs over the
pebbles on the path? I shall go and get my tea and relax here in the sunset while I
enjoy your arrival.

        “But, my friend, I am afraid that I am too overwhelmed by your obvious
suffering. I must come down and give you a push!”

        “Lama Kelzang,” I called back. “It is only that I am deep in meditation as
I climb this inexcusably overgrown maze that you call a trail. Nevertheless, I take
each step with great awareness, knowing that I am approaching the home of the
deity! And, if I am not mistaken, I shall see the Buddha himself when I look into
your fat old face!”

        Rising over the last enormous boulder, I emerged from the dark gloaming
of the forest into the clearing. Dusty purple shadows bounced off whitewashed
monastery walls in the setting sun. It looked like a pure land of glorious and
incredible beauty as the white and red bricks cast in pastels of blues and pinks
softly blended into the sunset. Hundreds of prayer flags flew from the roofs and
from tall straight poles lining the monastery gate. They all snapped loudly in the

        Abbot Kelzang, huge and round, stepped forward holding out a white silk
kata as an offering. He placed the scarf around my neck and pulled me close,
while I bowed to him in loving respect.

        “Thupten, you have made it! What an accomplishment. May I
congratulate you and welcome you. I should have hated for you to have taken
much longer, as I might have been dead before you arrived!” he scoffed jokingly.

        Then, he grabbed me in a huge and powerful hug while a circle of
hundreds of monks seemed to materialize from behind the monastery walls. They
were all laughing and many that recognized me were calling my name. I felt
loved and welcomed and very glad to be there. The abbot’s huge arm crunched
about my shoulder and I was mostly dragged away through the courtyard with a
crush of monks following closely behind. We walked swiftly through the great
monastery passageways, past the warm smells of the kitchen, and then into the
dining hall where a table was set with steaming platters of hot food. The monks
had already had their evening tea but when I was spotted climbing the path, the
cooks had fixed me that enormous late dinner. Tea was poured again for all the
monks because of the special occasion of my visit. Eagerly, they all sat down and
watched me eat as though I was the most interesting spectacle of quite some time.

       “Thupten, have some more rice - it has these real plump raisins in it and
see the apricots and peaches? Eat! Eat!” Abbot Kelzang continuously plied me
with more and more delicacies. “Here is noodle soup, and Osel even made you
mo-mo’s. Did you see that we are even now getting some fresh vegetables from
the greenhouse? And, here are your favorite sweets. You see, I remember your

       He sipped his tea and waited until I had finished eating before asking me
any important questions. The huge dining hall was lit with many oil lamps, all
placed on the tables around Abbot Kelzang and myself. The monks leaned
earnestly forward and looked like dark, shadowy figures. The lamps garishly lit
those closest to me and I was amused at all of the ruddy faces, bald heads, and the
eager brown eyes that stared at me with such interest. Abbot Kelzang himself had
a beautiful round face of light honey color and his shaved head had a rough
stubble of newly grown white hair. He was plump but in excellent health and
radiated an enthusiasm and intensity for every arising moment. His hands rolled
his teacup round gently but nothing gave me any hint that he wished that I would
hurry or do anything other than enjoy my dinner. I looked at him gratefully.

       He smiled. “Bring your tea, my young friend. There is a warm fire in the
library and you can tell me of your retreat. It has been much too long since I have

done a solitary retreat. I hope that you dedicated all of your merit to me since I
have been so lazy.”

       The library had huge, finely carved wooden tables inlaid with gems. The
walls were hung all around with the colorful thangkas of deities; some ferocious
and fiery, and others smiling in bliss. Radiant brocades decorated pillars that
supported the heavy beams that crisscrossed the brightly decorated ceilings. On
one wall were shelves filled with the maroon and gold, cloth-covered sacred texts.
A place of study and contemplation, that room held cherished memories for me as
a student. It also was frequently the place of deep conversation when I would
come to Sogpo Monastery to meet with my heart guru, Lama Selden Rinpoche.
He always stayed with Abbot Kelzang, sometimes for many months, when he
would journey between Lhasa and the far western monasteries of Tholing and
Tsaparong in the small kingdom of Guge. Lama Selden had many students who
lived in the caves and monasteries around those great mountainous retreat areas.
Frequently, he made his own pilgrimages to the ancient monasteries of Atisha in
that same remote region. He would include the thirty two-mile circumambulation
of Mt. Kailash and then circumambulate Lake Manasarovar as well. People would
hear of his coming and camp on the roads that he traveled in anticipation of his
passing by. They waited patiently for days in order to receive his blessings.

       Lama Selden and Abbot Kelzang had been friends since their boyhood
days together at Mindroling Monastery. I often felt that Abbot Kelzang was like a
protective father to me in Selden Rinpoche’s absence. I had planned to go to
Mindroling to see Lama Selden to receive his blessings before I set out on my
retreat that year. Disappointingly, I had received word from my brother, a student
and young monk there, that my Lama had left early in the fall for Kham province
and had not returned as planned. I had already surmised when Lama Selden did
not greet me upon my arrival that he was not at Sogpo. Losar was his usual time
to begin his pilgrimage trek and he should have been there that month. It worried
me and I had hoped that my friend might have some news of his return. Since that
was what was the most pressing thing on my mind, it was my first question to


       “Abbot Kelzang, have you any word of Rinpoche? My brother, Sangye,
said that he left the monastery about six months ago to visit monasteries in Kham
and he had not yet returned when I went into retreat. Is he back yet? I have
worried about him - but we all know that he frequently does not keep to his
schedules! Have you heard any news of him? Is he back? Do you know

       “ No, Thupten, he is not back. I have been waiting for word these last few
months too. He told me last summer that he would be making his usual trip
through here on his way to some visit some small monasteries on the border of
Nepal before heading north to Manasarovar. I thought that it would have been
weeks ago, so I’m worried about him, too. It is not like him to not let anyone
know of his schedule, even though he is quite independent of it.”

       I felt a panic stir in my belly at the thought of something happening to
Lama Selden. My attention was focused on that discomfort and my musings of
horrible possibilities when Abbot Kelzang’s next words brought me swiftly back
to the conversation.

       “I was asking the little nun from Manasarovar just these same questions a
few days ago. She said that she saw you during your retreat. She is a friend of
your lama, you know, and she said that she had heard nothing from him either. Do
you know who I mean? That little dakini, Tsultrim Palmo.

       “She lives in a cave on the shore of Lake Manasarovar. She is a beautiful
practitioner. I think that she must be quite accomplished.

       “Maybe, three days ago now, she arrived and asked if she could do a
retreat for awhile in one of our little cabins up on the mountain. The nuns from
the nunnery are bringing food to her each day. Some have felt so touched by her
presence that they are doing offering pujas to support her practices. I don’t know
her very well but I would not be too surprised if she isn’t quite a powerful little

       He laughed in a protective way as though pleased by one who was so
diligent. “Do you remember meeting her during your retreat?” He cocked his
head slyly and I could see him studying my response.

       I was surprised at his question because I had seen no one else for those
entire three months except for that very strange meeting with Tsultrim Palmo. I
was also surprised that she had arrived at Sogpo three days before I had, and I
was not traveling at that leisurely a pace. As he talked, I wondered if she had had
a horse waiting for her, but surely, I scowled, that was not true. The plains were
open and treeless and I would have to have seen her moving across them. Her
abrupt disappearance was still a mystery to me and with that additional
information, I was even more confused. Obviously, she had not indicated to
Abbot Kelzang that anything unusual had happened. It almost sounded to me as
though he thought that I had had many visitors and would not have remembered
that hardly unforgettable woman.

        I looked at him a bit quizzically for a moment to see if I could ascertain if
he was joking or if there was a deeper meaning in his conversation. He sounded
sincere but the circumstances were very confusing. I felt caught up in something
that was shaking my certainty of reality.

        “Of course, I remember meeting Tsultrim Palmo. She was my only visitor
on the retreat,” I stuttered hesitantly. “She was waiting for me on my last night. It
was also Losar and a Dakini Ganachakra feast day. When I arrived at my cave,
she had prepared me a delicious stew made of some miraculously obtained
vegetables, served on beautiful china, with tea in a translucent jade cup! It was
quite a surprise.

        “I was totally confused as to who she could be, how she got there, why she
had done such a thing, and then, where she went,” I added with a hint of
exasperation because I wanted some answers.

        “Oh, well! That would have been a surprise. My goodness, that sounds
like it would have been more than just a surprise. Well, what do you think about
that? Who do you think she is? Did she tell you why she was there?” Abbot
Kelzang seemed truly baffled and as though that was a totally different
perspective from the one he had held a few minutes before.

       “Well, she did tell me why she was there. And, it isn’t that I wish to keep
secrets, but I feel that I need to have her permission to tell you what she told me.

       “Abbot, did she tell you anything else? Anything unusual?” I asked.

       “No, just that she was traveling through Lhasa when she heard the horrible
news of the young Dalai Lama’s death last fall. I had heard that news from some
of my monks who were also in Lhasa and who rode back immediately to tell me.
We were all shocked and terribly sad. She said that she is returning to the lake to
do special prayers. The only other thing she said was the part about you, since she
knows of your connection to Lama Selden Rinpoche. She said she had heard your
name from him and heard that you were doing a retreat in the caves near the route
that she was traveling. She said that she had stopped to visit you.

       “I have only had a meal with her,” he continued, “ and we mainly talked
about Lama Selden. Then, she asked if it would be an inconvenience for her to
stay in the retreat cabin. She has been there ever since.

       “I must admit that for a little while, I was curious about her interest in
you. I know that she is a nun, but a wonderful yogi like you needs a wife who has
dedicated herself to the dharma, too. You need a wife who will respect your
practice. Someone who can be a true consort for you and who has your same
spirit. You must get lonely traveling all the time, the way you do. You are like a
protector deity for us and for all of the other monasteries; you and your band of
yogi soldiers. You deserve to settle down. Have a little estate. Any of the
monasteries would gladly give you land because you have done so much for us
all. You could have a family and also do retreats as often as you would like.

       “So, I did think that maybe she might be someone that you might find
interesting and that Lama Selden had sent to you. But, no? I guess my little
samsaric whimsy was quite off target. Not very good thoughts for a lama, and an
abbot at that!”

         “No, Abbot Kelzang, it was nothing like that. But, you are silly to worry
about me. My life is such a good one. There is nothing that I need in a wife. I am
very blessed in every way. And, Tsultrim Palmo, well, she is most unusual, but
certainly not anyone who would ever think a second thought about a nomad
beggar like myself!

         “Is she still up in the retreat cabin?” I thought of the breeze on my face as
I neared the monastery earlier that evening and my sensing of her presence. I also
pondered her motivation in telling Abbot Kelzang that she had been in Lhasa and
then was merely passing by my retreat location on her journey home. It did not
sound as though she had mentioned her concerns about His Holiness being a
victim of murder or of possible conspiracies. I thought that it was all very
confusing and it made me nervous.

         “Oh, yes. She is still there.” His voice was playful again. “I haven’t seen
her for these past three days but the young nun who brings her food says that she
is doing well. The nun just came here right before you arrived and left me a
report. I suspect that our dakini will stay awhile. Do you want to go to see her
before you leave? I am sure she would grant permission. I’ll ask the nun
tomorrow to see if she would receive you.”

         “Well, maybe. Let me think about it. There are some questions that I
would like to ask her but I’m a bit uncertain right now. Let me think about it some

         We had finished our tea and Abbot Kelzang picked up the heavy teapot
from the brass stand where it sat warming by the fire. He held it up to ask if I
wanted more.

         I shook my head no, stood up and placed my palms together and bowed to
him. “If you do not mind,” I said, “could you have a monk show me to my usual
room? I may need him to light my way and to give me a little help with the fire.”

         My friend walked to my side and placed his arm warmly around my
shoulders. “Of course. And, Thupte-la, I am so glad to see you. You are so

wonderful to have done a three-month retreat and then to have taken the time to
come to see your old friend.

       “Now, the young monks will be up very early in the morning. But, you
should be lazy and sleep late after your long journey. I will make sure that you
will not be disturbed.”

       When we opened the library door, a young boy sat on the steps in tattered
and faded robes playing with a scraggly monastery dog. “Gendun!” Abbot
Kelzang called. “Take Thupten Heruka to the cell next to mine and make sure that
he has a warm bed. And bring him a pot of hot tea and some fruit.”

       The child smiled radiantly up at me as though he had been chosen
especially for such a worthy job. Innocently, he placed my hand in one of his and
took the lantern from the abbot with the other. He led me through the cold dirt
labyrinth and up the steep ladder of the monastery alleys to my room. Another
monk had already been there to light the fire and left a torch inside the door.
Entering from the cold, I was relieved to think of a night sleeping without cold
mountain winds blowing over me.

        In the center of the room was a raised platform with hot coals to warm the
bed above. Gendun stirred the coals and warmth spread throughout the small,
stone-floored cell. The glowing coals shed a pink light and Gendun began to light
a number of small lamps that made the room quite bright and cheerful. Carpets
and blankets for bedding had been unrolled on the platform. With a sudden
realization of how tired I was, I sat down heavily, aching to lie down.

        Gendun pushed aside a white curtain painted with sacred prayers that
hung over the open doorway, and wordlessly disappeared. He reappeared in a few
moments with my blanket roll, a hot pot of tea, and a cup and bowl. He
ceremoniously poured the tea and offered the cup to me with a deferential bow.
Then, he disappeared again and returned with a large platter piled high with
apples, nuts, dried fruit, and sugared tsampa balls sitting on top. I felt like a king,
home in my kingdom.

        “How could my wishes be better met after such a difficult retreat?” I
thought to myself. I was most grateful for that haven.

        I said good night to Gendun as he walked back out into the darkness for
the final time. He bowed once again to me. I shut the thick wooden door and
barred it against the cold winds blowing through the narrow passageways. Feeling
as weary as an old man, I curled up under the warmed blankets and fell quickly
into a deep and restful sleep.

        But in the hours between dark and dawn, destiny or dakini destroyed all
that I had trusted as the nature of reality. It frightened me greatly but little did I
know that the seal of my ordinary mind was broken and it was my first true
glimpse of freedom. The peaceful light of morning was just creeping up the wall
of my room and I bolted awake. Startled and confused, I sat up, looked about the
room, felt the covers of my bed anxiously, and then laid back down with my heart
beating rapidly in fear. My logic told me that I had been dreaming, but the clarity,
vividness and the powerful passion I felt was as if my terrifying experience had
actually happened. I rubbed my forehead in disbelief.

        I tried to remember what had occurred. Tsultrim Palmo had been in the
bed beside me. I was holding her and then we flowed into a passionate, slow,
warm, melting into one another. It was as though we dissolved into liquid union,
like butter into tea. The feeling then spread out to include the dissolving of my
bed, the floor, the walls, the monastery, the earth and then, the sky. Panicky, I felt
as though I was going to die. What had been a blissful surrender into passion with
Tsultrim Palmo and the entire universe, became a frightening extinction of my
body and its life. It was then that I had awakened, feeling desperately that I had to
breathe and catch hold again of the life force that invigorated my self as Thupten
Heruka. I had never experienced such a thing before.

        As I thought about all of that in the safety of daylight and with my eyes
open, I pondered that it was not altogether so horrifying. I still felt the presence of
Tsultrim Palmo and her touch against my body. It was a warmth like that from
hot, healing spring waters rising from the earth. No matter how much I steadied
myself with more realistic thoughts, the feeling of her touch on my skin did not
leave. Yet, I knew clearly that she was not in the bed beside me.

       I got up and went to the window of my cell. I pulled open the shutters and
slid the curtain aside. The cold air hit my face. I looked down the dirt path
between my building and the upper stories of the gompa about five feet away.
Inside, the young monks were about to begin their morning prayers and I could
hear whispers and low chatter as they slid onto their cushions. Down at the end of
the passageway, a couple of little dawdlers were scurrying through the maze
down to the entrance of the temple with their beads dangling from their fingers.
One dropped his metal teacup with a clatter and he had to stop to retrieve it.
Overhead, birds flew high into the dawn sky. I could not see the sunrise because
my window was behind the tall monastery buildings, but I could see the clouds as
they were lit with the colors of the new day. As I watched, one cloud moved
rapidly across the sky, remarkable because all the others were lazy, big puffs. I
watched as it seemed to stretch out into a flying dakini. The cloud then returned to
being an ordinary puff. Once again, I wondered if what I was seeing was my
imagination or if I was being immersed in some playful but unknown reality.

       I went back to my bed and sat down in a lotus posture and began to say
mantras to purify myself. Then, I said prayers. First, I prayed to Buddha to protect
me from anything negative or untrue.

       “Guru Rinpoche,” I fumbled in some uncertainty. “My highest wish is to
serve you and all sentient beings. I do not have the wisdom to know what energies
are helpful and true and what it is to be possessed by demons. Please help me to
discern these messages that I seem to be getting. If they are in keeping with
beneficent dharma, I hope you will give me some assurance and guidance in
following them.”

       I waited to see if a sign would come. Nothing happened.

       “Thupten Heruka, you must have faith,” I said to myself after a rather long
and anxious time of waiting. “Answers will come when you are ready for them.
Perhaps you should just say your daily prayers - maybe there will be a hint of
something during your practice.”

       When I arose from the bed after saying all of my morning prayers, I still
felt quite confused and I was wishing for much more support and clarity. I knew I
had the option to go up to see Tsultrim Palmo in her retreat cabin.

       “Maybe I should go see her,” I debated. “Rinpoche said that she would
probably give her permission. I could see her again and see if she is still what I
thought when I saw her before. I could ask her what is happening. But, maybe it
is just my imagination. Maybe there is nothing. This is all very confusing. I would
feel silly asking her about this bizarre dream in addition to what she has already
said to me. I do not know if this is just my overly intense imagination.

       “Well,” I finally sighed, “if she really has some powers, she will see to it
that I know how to carry out her wishes. If she is just a crazy yogini who has no
powers, then nothing else will happen and I should forget about all of this. I think
that I had just better go home to my camp.”

I bow down to my lama of great wisdom.

I was named Tsultrim Palmo only last spring

When receiving transmission by my lama up North.

I was born Darwa Tsogyal from the womb of my mother

The sun and the moon, the consort of Dolma,

A great cave dwelling yogi in the mountains of Guge.

My grandfather came the day I was born.

The renowned teacher of Tholing who sang songs of the dharma,

The lineage holder of Manjushri’s wisdom.

He sang of my birth and held me up high.

He twirled me and held me up close to his heart.

Then he blew on the crown of my head very gently.

Looking deep in my eyes, the transmission completed,

He sat down and died with me in his arms.

My mother and I lived alone on the lake.

Never another did I see for those years.

But I lived in great joy in a world of pure view.

I remembered my lifetimes for eons to ready

Myself for this birth and all of these tasks
Until it was time to leave my lake shore.

At the age of fifteen, I began my long journey

From teacher to teacher carrying gifts to each one.

Along with the threads from past lives to this

I received from them blessings, now stored in my heart

And I gathered an army of Dharma protectors.

I first saw the world of Tibet on this journey

And remembered again the suffering of all.

In my cave by the lake there was nothing but light

And radiant joy generating to all.

The insects, the animals, the fish, all were Buddhas

Who sang to me songs of the Dharma’s kind love.

But then, I saw people who clung to samsara

Their fear ever clutching their hearts and their mind.

It’s mine, they would shout and grab for their share.

Love me, hold me, don’t leave me

Were mantra they said to stick them still further

In the glue of the nightmare that they raced to return to.

How they wish to escape but look with eyes shut

For the way to the door that they carry within.

My resolve was thus strengthened and I knew and I saw

The blessings I held were gifts and were tools

To liberate beings from cold and hot hell realms

That burned from within; that froze their tight hearts.

The animals murdered with the click of a finger

After they too had devoured their prey.

The insects so tiny, the birds were so fragile

And even the Gods suffered interminable pain.

I could fly, I was space, I was light, I was all.

My forms could be many, all places at once.

My heart was exploding, dripping with love.

There was no way but service, kindness, and care

For all of these people reaching high in despair.

I knew I was Buddha, dakini, pure space.

A gossamer veil kept me from full realization

But hardly a thought made that my one goal.

I did as I did because it was true.

I knew to serve others and be all that I am.

From village to village, from city to town,

To Lhasa, to mountains, from Chorten to cave,

I was a pilgrim to temples, to gurus, to lamas,

And I strung ribbons and banners across all Tibet.

For I was building a net which would hold

A new birth that is coming to this sorrowful world.

A king on a throne for Chenrezig to sit.

A baby for all to look at and marvel.

A teacher to man that will bring Dharma and peace.

A baby is coming as manifest form

That mirrors the Buddha for all to see.

To break from their dream, all these beings need vision.

The blessings to purify all karmic bonds.

Their acts of the past have bound them completely

In cords and in chains they created themselves.

Each act done in anger, each mean-spirited word

Has come back to slap them and cut through their hearts.

And, on they go dreaming the next life of prison

With hardly a whisper to tell them the truth.

A wandering yogi is often so frightful.

The abbot, the monk, the guru may too

Be struggling with ego and want his rewards.

This life is not easy for even the noble.

But throughout the years, the deities’ love

Will bring us pure form in the guise of a being

Who lives all truth, to whom compassion is endless.

Whose unfolding is timed to awaken the sleepers.

A little light to penetrate hearts.

To shine on the Buddha buried deeply within

This baby will hold a torch for that purpose.

And this net of ribbons must hold him ‘till then.

A year since my journey began in the mountains.

A lifetime of eons to prepare the way clear.

I fly now above him, this cave dwelling yogi,

Sincere in his quest, but struggling too.

He hardly can know what awaits him this life.

For if known, he’d be fearful of how he’s committed

To be part of my net, a promise long made,

And karma to flow and then to make pure.

He’s sown the path he must follow,

There is no other choice.

I’ll watch and send blessings

But the journey’s his own.

This yogi, Heruka, will live up to his name.

                                         I sleep

                        And the me that I dream is all that I know

                                       When I die

                          Will I wake to the dream I have lived?

       Abbot Kelzang had loaded me down with a basket of green apples and
dried fruit for my friends and for me. Carrying my leather pack, my blanket roll,
and the additional gifts, I struggled to pick my way over the rocks on the slippery
descent from Sogpo Monastery. When I reached the road below, I continued on
down the dusty highway towards my encampment. Once over the Rindzin La Pass
and through the Tanakpo Valley, I traveled south and finally I was out of the
mountains. The days were warmer and I was relieved to be walking in familiar
country. At the Tsongpo River, the ferry waited, creaky and soggy. A tired black
mare hauled the yak skin barge piled high with barley and me, across the water. I
was the only passenger. Seventeen more miles brought me to Napakua and then
past Chinde. I was finally near to the circle of black tents that was my
encampment and home. As I covered those last miles, I thought fondly of my
brother, my friends and my animals in my expectation at seeing them all again. I
walked the trails eagerly. The day had been a golden, mercurial flight in the sun.

       It was my brother, Tashi, that I spotted first. He was trotting on his pony
across the plains, carrying water from the nearby crystal stream back to camp.
Although, we were camped downstream on the river, water for drinking was
gathered much further upstream in the mountain run-off where it was clean and
not contaminated by grazing yaks. Hearing me call his name, Tashi leaped high
off his mount, spilling the water, and raced to throw his arms around me.

       “Thupten! Thupte-la! Ah, how great to see you! I didn’t expect you! Well,

I’ve expected you over these last few days - but right now is a surprise! I’m glad
to see you! Did you have a good retreat? Or, maybe you just went on to Lhasa and
didn’t tell us! Eh? Here we were thinking you were being the good yogi and you
were off having a wild time!

       “I’m glad that you are back. I missed my brother.

       “What is that there in the basket? It looks like some fruit. Where did you
get such good looking apples?” Stuttering and blurting questions, his attention
whirled quickly from me to the basket of food. Always eager to appropriate
whatever he wanted as his own, he had no hesitation and he helped himself.
Tashi crunched into an apple and continued talking while juice dribbled down his
chin. He asked question after question without giving me time to answer. I tossed
my arm around his lanky shoulders and we strolled across the field to catch his
pony while he chattered on.

       I felt protective and fatherly towards Tashi, still like a puppy. He was the
next to the youngest of my four brothers, and there were fourteen years between
him and me. My mother had not been happy when two years before, Tashi, at age
thirteen, wanted to leave the family home in order to join me. Up until Tashi and I
left, my father, mother, my two older sisters, their husbands and children, and my
four younger brothers and Samden’s wife filled the always bursting and never
quiet rooms of our ancestral home in a way that gave us all deep love and
security. But when I was a boy not much older than Tashi living in that safe world
was no longer what was right for me. I left my family to make a solitary
pilgrimage from one monastery to another, eager for some answers. My longing
for dharma teachings and for a teacher was great and compelling. I had felt
increasingly more trapped and imprisoned out of reach of my true self. I had a
gaping hole in my life, crying for something to mend me and to make me whole. I
felt bereft of some important essence that I could not identify. It took me a long
time to find that the answers were with me all along.

       My search, while giving me satisfying tastes of what I needed, issued forth
little of substance until I found my guru, Lama Selden Rinpoche. My youngest
brother, Sangye, brought us together. Sangye was five years old when he began to
have repetitive dreams of life in a monastery. He would wake up at night crying
to go back home. This left all of us confused and sad, as it was hard to bear the
pain of such a little boy. There was great sincerity and innocence in his longing
for something that he could not identify. Some days, Sangye would lay down in
the dirt outside the house. He would lay still in the sunshine looking up at the
clouds and tell us that he was waiting to die so that he could go home. Often, he
would play ‘monk’ and pretend that he was saying his prayers. At other times, we
would snicker to each other as he would order the ‘novice monks’, any of us that
he could get to play, to do their chores.

       In Tibet, the concept of reincarnation is a familiar one to everyone. When
a revered teacher died, we all waited in anticipation for the discovery of the new
incarnation. It was in that way that a precious Rinpoche could continue his work
for the benefit of beings. We had no way of knowing what it meant specifically
for our little brother to have those dreams and fantasies but we were suspicious
that he was remembering his previous lifetime. Sangye was an earnest and wise
child but still lived with a child’s mind. He could only tell us from his perspective
what he wanted, so we had no way to fulfill his wishes and find the ‘home’ that
he longed for. One day, when his tears were particularly heart breaking, I sat
down with him and asked him what he remembered about the monastery that
plagued his dreams.

       “Sangye,” I said. “Do you remember anything about your home? Try to
remember, like when you try to remember a dream.”

       “I remember a big monastery.” His mop of black hair stuck to his wet
cheeks and his eyes were sad but intent. He added from far away as though seeing
the fantasy in his mind, “It has lots of buildings. They are mostly white; white
stones like our house. But, there are some red stone buildings, too. And, the roofs
of some of the buildings are gold. The roof of the gompa is gold - with a lot of
paintings and a big gold dragon. It is real beautiful.

       “Do you know where it is, Thupte-la?” he pleaded.
         But, that description was like describing any one of hundreds of
monasteries. I asked if he could remember any names.

         “Thupten! You know him. He’s my friend. You know him, too! He’s my
friend from before. He comes to visit me every night. It’s Seldenla. I told you, he
comes to see me. Don’t you see him when he comes?” He was impatient with me
as though I was somehow being obstinate in not knowing something that was so

         “Sangye,” I tried to encourage him. “Tell me again what Seldenla looks

         “Well, he has a long gray mustache and this little gray beard, like this.”
He stroked his chin as though pulling at imaginary whiskers. “His face is kind of
a thin face but he looks like he is real nice. And, his eyes are brown. They are real
nice eyes, too. I look at him when he comes to visit. He smiles at me and I want to
go over to see him, to be where he is, and then the ‘whhhee’ noise comes.” He
made a whistling noise to demonstrate.

         “Then, I am just sucked right away! Then, I’m here and he’s gone.”
Sangye picked up his chubby, five year old hands and threw them down in his lap
again in exasperation at the whole situation.

         “Can’t we just go see him, Thupten?”

         And, of course, we could not.

         A few months after hearing that story, I was journeying to Lhasa. Abbot
Kelzang had asked me to carry some sacred texts, which he had borrowed from
Mindroling Monastery. As it required only a slight detour on my trip, I was glad
for the opportunity to go to such a renowned place. Mindroling was, and still is,
one of the most prominent of the entire Nyingma sect monasteries and the seat of
Nyingma training. I had not been there before because I had never spent any time
in that part of the country. As I approached, even while still some many miles
away, I began to have exceedingly strong feelings of familiarity. I almost felt as
though I could predict what was around every bend. I began to feel a little
nervous at that strange sensation and wobbly in my legs. Mindroling is set back
off the road but is not hard to reach. I began to feel transported in a dream-like
state as I continued my ride. My eyes became transfixed on the buildings looming
larger and grander every minute and I moved hypnotically through the gates.
When I dismounted from my horse and carefully removed the precious texts from
my saddlebags, a few monks appeared from behind the walls. I asked the
whereabouts of their abbot.

       “Abbot Selden Rinpoche?” They asked, graciously bowing slightly. My
knees went weak when I heard the name. Their glistening, newly shaved heads
magnetized my swirling attention. “Follow us and we will take you to his room.”

       In my daze, I followed the maroon robed escorts up the steps and through
the heavy timbered entryway. A shiver went through my body when I entered the
hallway hung with thangkas depicting ferocious protector deities. I still had no
complete understanding of my intense reaction. My more conscious thought was
to remember Sangye’s reference to Seldenla. I knew or at least suspected that
Mindroling Abbot Lama Selden, his name accompanied by ‘la’, the indication of
deep affection, could well be his old friend. But I still had no understanding of the
power of those feelings. I followed the monks up the steep ladder-like stairs to a
sitting room, bright and airy with cool breezes blowing through open windows
and doors. It was furnished with deep piled rugs with intricate, colorful designs
and laid around the room in abundance for sitting visitors and students. Paintings
and thangkas decorated the walls, and, at one end, there was an elaborate altar.
Behind it was a fresco painting of lamas from many years before.

       The two monks who had escorted me stood side by side near a far door of
the room while the older one knocked. A soft voice from within asked them to
enter. The monk opened the door and then disappeared through it. I could hear
him say quietly that there was a visitor. He then returned to the room in which I
waited and said that his Rinpoche would be right out. The second monk had
begun to prepare tea. He asked me if I would like a place to rest for awhile after
my visit. I said that I would like that and in the course of waiting those few

minutes, I received my hot tea and began to sit back down.

       When the door opened, Abbot Lama Selden Rinpoche stepped out into the
room. My hands began to tremble and I quickly set down the teacup. He looked to
be about eighty years old, was tall and very thin, had a shaved head, and a long
gray mustache and goatee. His eyes were kind, vivid and vast, and more deeply
penetrating than any I had ever seen. A perceptible light radiated from his body.
His intense love and compassion bathed me. A discernibly different sense of
reality took hold of me and I whirled dizzily in the experience, entering a
dimension of fluidity and dynamic vibration.

       Lama Selden Rinpoche came over and reached out his hands to greet me.
I began to do prostrations while passionate and unexpected tears began to flow
from my eyes. Without any thought but feeling compelled, I ended my
prostrations by lying fully prone on the floor before him, weeping. When finally I
stood up, he was gazing at me with profound understanding. He urged me to sit
down as he sat first on the floor in front of me. Before sitting, I clumsily offered
the kata that I had brought as a gift of respect and greeting, struggling to lay it
across my shaking hands prayerfully held at my heart. I could barely grasp onto
my old reality that I had known before entering the room. I was able to stammer
that Abbot Kelzang had sent me with some holy texts that he wished to return to
him. Rinpoche took the texts and opened them, laughed gently, and handed them
back to me.

        “I think that these are just the ones that you should be studying! You have
made this long trip for nothing!

        “Now,” he said. “Would you like to stay here for awhile and rest up from
your travels? I am sure we could find someone to tutor you in these texts. That
might make it a worthwhile journey.”

        My plans to travel on to Lhasa vanished and I ended up staying at
Mindroling Monastery for five years. I studied individually with Lama Selden
Rinpoche every day and accompanied him on his many teaching tours throughout
Tibet. I also asked my brother, Samden, to bring little Sangye to Mindroling.
When Sangye arrived at the monastery, he was ecstatic with flooding memories
and immediately recognized Lama Selden as his old friend. Rinpoche recognized
Sangye, too. They had been children together and had grown old being the best of
friends. Sangye, Lama Selden said, had been a highly accomplished lama who
had gained enormous respect for his diligent study. He was a throne holder for
one of the smaller colleges at Mindroling and it was decided that he should return
to that position. Rinpoche himself supervised his training. Once again, they had
the same strong bond with each other and Sangye felt happily back at home as a
monk at Mindroling. Rinpoche even showed us the picture of Sangye in his
previous lifetime in the fresco on the wall behind the altar. They both looked very
noble, standing side by side. My feelings of an unusually deep connection to
Sangye as well as to Rinpoche were strengthened and I marvel at the closeness of
my relationship to that little brother throughout his lifetime.

       I, too, felt blissfully happy at the monastery. Morning prayers began at
4:30 A.M. and then after breakfast and after debate, I had my private tutoring
with Rinpoche. On some days, the class would last as long as three or four hours
and I would miss the second meditation period. I still feel blessed at how much
attention my Lama gave to me and have felt it a debt I can only repay by
returning this effort to benefit others. I was given texts to memorize which I
would then have to repeat to Rinpoche, and after chores, afternoon prayers and
the evening prayers, I would study by candlelight in my room until after

       After five years of meditation and study, Lama Selden Rinpoche called me
to his room and I knew by his seriousness that it was a matter of much

       “Thupten,” he said with some perceptible sadness. “I want to give you an
assignment. There are many nomads who live on the plains and they have no
opportunity to learn the dharma. They are uneducated and they live very hard
lives. Often, they are in danger from robbers and thieves and need protection so as
not to lose the little that they have. The monasteries are also victims of the wild

bands of guerrilla bandits who rob them of their supplies, their crops, and even of
their spiritual treasures. Sometimes, while the monks are gathering in all of the
grains from the fields, the marauders sweep in and take all they can carry away,
clubbing the monks or worse. Such a crime also brings terrible karma to the
bandits who do such a thing as to rob from the three jewels. The nomads need
protection; the monasteries need protection; and these wild robbers, they, too,
need someone who can tame them with the dharma. They must learn that they are
creating a rebirth for themselves that will be filled with suffering when they act in
such ways.

       “So, as you can see, there is need for a teacher out on the plains. But, such
a teacher must also be skillful in the ways of protection without violence. He must
have power without harming anyone. Few can do such a difficult job. I want you
to go and be this teacher for the people who are so desperate in the wildness of
central Tibet. You are ready to be a teacher but your place is not in a monastery.”

       “Rinpoche,” I struggled. “I am not at all competent to take on such a task.
More importantly, I do not want to leave you. You are my dharma father - the
most beloved person in my life. Please, I beg that you not send me away from the
monastery and from your side.”

       “Thupten Heruka, it is not my wish for you to leave me. But, your
commitment must be to all beings and your time as a student at Mindroling is
over. Now, it is time to put into service all that you have learned in order to
benefit others. When you see the great hardships of the people whom you will
meet, you will see how important it is for you to help them. You have spent many
past lifetimes pursuing the dharma and you have had the good karma to receive
the most excellent of teachings. Before this life sets, you must be well prepared
for a task in your next lifetime that will be even more difficult. There is
preparation to be done. Only with such training and with the purification that your
deeds and prayers will bring you, will you be ready. These are the degeneration
times of the dharma according to our revered Buddha, Padmasambhava. My
friend, Thupten, a holocaust will soon interrupt our dreams of tranquility. Our

next lifetimes will require great things from us. Things far greater than being a
yogi in the wilds of Tsang.

       “I, too, hate to not have your kind face to look upon everyday. You are my
heart son. I am very proud of all that you have accomplished. Please do your
practices every day. When you perceive evil before you, remember that the evil is
only in your own mind. Pure wisdom space is the true manifestation of all reality.
When you see other than that, it is your karma presenting you with a most
convincing dream. Take care my dear Thupte-la, I shall see you frequently and
you may always return for a visit.”

       He rose to his feet and I scrambled to stand so that I could bow to him as
he exited. But, while I was still on my knees before him, he bent down, took my
face in his hands and touched my forehead with his own. I watched silently as the
curtain in front of the door waved gently after his exit. My heart pounded in my
chest and I would have cried had I not also felt so overwhelmed at what I was
expected to do. Since it was my assignment, I was determined to do it for Lama
Selden but I had no idea of how to begin.

       I should have known that my Rinpoche’s blessings would make all of his
wishes a reality for me. Through the years, I slowly accumulated a band of yogi
soldiers who, like myself, gave up everything to live a nomad’s life in the
deserted plains of Tsang. I frequently went back to do a retreat or to study with
Lama Selden. Sometimes, but much too rarely, I went to visit my family. Most
often, I was with my very easy going and yet, dedicated group of men, traversing
the plains and doing what the dharma handed us to do.

       Of the seven of us that traveled together at the time that I returned from
that long ago wilderness retreat, my brother, Tashi, was the youngest of the
group. Even though he was hardly a man, he was the best at riding and target
shooting with a bow and arrow. He had a fine face, was already as strong as me,
was very talented, and to all of our dismay, was always disheveled and
disorganized. He looked at life mainly with his heart and had no seriousness
        The others in the troupe included Tenzin Tsarong, a man so enormous that
he dwarfed his poor little brown pony. We all felt that the pony deserved much
merit for a high future rebirth because he had to carry Tsarong all about. Tsarong
was married and had five children, yet he took monks’ vows at the age of thirty.
Traveling with us was his spiritual practice.

        Tenzin Jigme was a man my age, twenty-nine, very handsome and strong.
He was born of a noble family in Tibet that descended from the early Tibetan
king, Trisong Detsen. We met at Mindroling Monastery. He very much longed for
the nomadic life over the much quieter and structured life of a monastery and its
long prayer times. Whereas I was very reluctant to leave the monastery, he was
greatly excited about my assignment and begged permission from Lama Selden
Rinpoche and me to accompany me. He was with me the longest of all of my

        Dorje Rinpoche was a tulku, a reincarnation of a wild and highly
celebrated yogi named Paldup. He still retained much of the wizard from his
previous life. Dorje had lived alone on the plains since he was a very small child
but because he was a recognized reincarnation of Paldup, he was supplied with
food wherever he went. He was quite legendary for his crazy magic. We all loved
Dorje Rinpoche, but of all of us, he was the most difficult for me to have in our
group. I’m sure it was my own lack of wisdom but I did not always trust that his
tricks and his ways of serving were the best. I see him differently now, all of these
years later.

        Our other two riders were also brothers. They had been part of a large,
nomad group of Khampa outlaws that we had had repeated run-ins with
throughout the years. During a vicious battle between their tribe and another, the
older brother, Tenzin Norbu, was badly hurt. His Kham tribesmen ran off and left
him wounded on the plains. We took him back with us to our camp. He was very
near death and we washed his wounds, gave him medicine, brought a doctor out
from a town a day’s ride away, and took care of him for about two weeks. He
finally was much improved. During that time, we had many conversations and he

grew to trust us. When he was well enough to do easy tasks such as gathering yak
dung chips for the fire, he found his brother, Tenzin Namgyal, hiding in the
forest. Namgyal had been watching him and us throughout his entire ordeal. Too
frightened to trust us, Namgyal stayed hidden in his camouflaged camp. Every
day, Norbu invented an excuse to leave on an errand for fuel, water or food. He
would go and talk to Namgyal and bring him small amounts of tsampa or dried
meat. Finally, over another week’s time, Namgyal emerged from hiding and
asked if he, too, could join us. Being Kham tribes-people and warriors, their ways
were much different than ours but they became a great asset to our group.

       I don’t know if I ever fulfilled Lama Selden’s wishes but I earnestly did
try to protect and teach the nomads, to serve the isolated monasteries, and even to
conquer the robber bands of the plains with dharma. If we contributed anything at
all, it was due to Lama Selden’s kindness and often magical and secret support.
He frequently gave me much in the way of wise counsel, but, more often,
mysterious and helpful, unexplainable happenings.

       Tashi was eager to bring me back to camp and I had to remind him that his
mission was obviously to bring some water back with him. We returned to the
stream and refilled the empty buckets. Then, we both climbed on his pony, a most
tolerant little horse to carry so much weight. On the short ride up the rise, Tashi
talked non-stop about the latest news of our friends and the events of the last four
months. Over the last grass-covered hill, there was a steep descent down to the
river. There, on the flatter, graveled riverbank, were pitched our assortment of
black nomad tents.

       The river ran by, slow, deep, and the brilliant turquoise color of glacial
run-off. Reflected in the sparkling water and penetrating the dusky evening fog
was a golden orange sun setting big in the sky. The river looked like a cascade of
jewels. The blackness of the tents was silhouetted against the luminescence of the
water, as were the shadowed trees, gently swaying, and black as well against the
darkening sky. A fire was blazing down by the water’s edge and I could hear the
soft echoing clang of pots as Namgyal cleaned up from the evening meal. His

form, too, was a dark shadow against the golden lights of the sky. Nearby, but
some twenty feet away from the cooking area, sat three others in a small circle. I
suspected that they were playing a game of cards. Further away, and on the river’s
edge, I could distinguish Tsarong by his enormous size. He tethered our horses,
about ten of them, and checked on the mules, the yaks, and our two little goats. I
immediately picked out from the others, my own stallion, Da, who had been my
best friend. He served me faithfully for all of those years. Mindroling Monastery
had given him to me when I had left. He was a prize, and had come from very
special breeding. When I had entered the horse races at Losar celebrations, I
usually won. I was as thrilled to see Da again as I was to see any of my friends.

       At the top of the hill, I dismounted from Tashi’s horse and stood for a
moment to feel my pleasure at being home, back at my camp and among my
friends. To savor it, I wanted to walk down the hill. I strolled slowly, smelling the
sweet grass and delighting in the gentle song of the water. As we came closer to
camp, the dogs saw us. With ferocious and determined barking, they began their
charge to chase the intruders away. Hardly had they approached even a short
distance, when they picked up our scent and the brave mastiffs turned into
friendly, rollicking puppies, tails wagging and tongues flapping. My own dog,
Little Dorje, was rolling in unrestrained excitement when he saw that it was me
that had returned home.

       “Little dog, I am sure that you were inconsolable with grief at my absence.
You thought that you would never see me again! I shall never ever leave you
again!” I rubbed his head and bent down to hug him. Huge enough to knock me
over, he barked and whined and leaped up on me, and then repeated the ritual
over and over as we walked the last short distance to the camp.

       By then, the others had seen us and Namgyal and Tsarong had walked out
to greet me with cheers and jovial sparring interspersed with rough hugs. The
other three, Norbu, Dorje, and Jigme, hardly looked up from their game of cards,
the stakes were so serious. I had to walk over to them for them to acknowledge
my presence, but they did smile and laugh a bit. The few coins lying on the scarf

on the ground before them quickly reclaimed all of their attention. I felt at home,
except to go over to greet my horse, Da. I took one of the apples that Abbot
Kelzang had given to me and slowly walked down the stony beach until I saw
him pick up my scent in the air. He snorted, threw his head back and looked about
in eager recognition. Little Dorje trotted along beside me and then raced ahead to
Da as though to communicate in their own private language that it was indeed
their own Thupten Heruka who was back with them again. I gave Da the apple
and he nuzzled up against me with such warmth and love that I had to wonder
how I could ever have left him. I was reminded again of how deeply devotion can
be expressed even in realms where there were no words with which to speak it.

       Later that night, sitting all together again, I shared with my friends the
tragedy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s death and we were all very sad. They
had heard the news from passing shepherds but did not know much of the story or
even if it was true. I told them, too, of my strange meeting with a cave dwelling
yogini from Lake Manasarovar. I told them that she hinted that I would be needed
to help her, but that I did not yet know exactly what she needed nor how I was to
carry out her wishes. I did not go into any of the other more baffling details but I
wanted to prepare them for whatever might come next. They made fun of me for
that rather bizarre story of a beautiful dakini without any real information or
substance, as though I had made it all up. There were times when I felt so puzzled
about it all that I, too, wondered if maybe I had.

       For about seven or eight days, we all relaxed and played there at our
encampment. Nothing seemed to call us in any particular direction and I was glad
to be able to stay in one place for awhile. It was a time of doing small chores like
repairing broken saddles and stitching up my heavy jacket that had become
shabby and torn. I had a knife that needed some stones replaced in the handle and
I polished my meditation implements. I also did some meditation practice and
with mud from the river, I made tsa tsa offerings bearing an image of
Vajrayogini. It was very nice to be back with my friends and my brother.
Everyone was in good health and good spirits. The weather was perfect. We had

plenty of good food and everything we needed. Life as a nomad on the Tibetan
plains was a rich and comfortable one much of the time and we were blessed to
have those times of remembering its perfection.

       Then, as always happens in this samsaric life, suffering once again arises.
It reminds us that as human beings, karma plays itself out from one moment to
the next, writing our life story in unfoldings that reflect the intentions of our past
decision making. When karma brings happiness, change will always come. The
seeds of past negativity will sprout with the fruit of unhappiness. Sometimes, I
wondered about the horrific things that I must have done in my previous lives to
have planted those seeds that burst forth with such anguish in my life. Even with
the deep sense of peace and perspective that the awareness of this law of karma
brought to me during difficult circumstances, my pain could not be assuaged
during some of the events that life handed to me.

                           In the morning sun, the rose bud flowers

                         By the mo onlight, the wither ed petals fall

        After those few gradually warming and restful days, it was one mid-
afternoon when I faintly heard the distant beating of a horse’s hooves. The winds
were still and the water flowed gently; so quietly that I could feel the vibration of
the earth as much as I could hear the sound approaching. I looked up cautiously
and saw the rising cloud of dust over the crest of our river bank hill. I squinted
into the sun, wondering if the rider would appear at the top of the ridge. In that
moment of curious expectation, I could never have imagined the loss that was
about to break my heart.

        When the shadow of a man came into view, I recognized the distinctive

carriage of our visitor. It was my brother Samden. He stopped and looked down at
the camp, shielding his eyes to see, and called out for Tashi and for me. He had
never come to our encampment before. Tashi saw him too and we both rose from
the rocks where we sat preparing our supper. Surprised, we walked out to meet
him with exuberant expectations at what we supposed must be a new and friendly
acceptance. But, as soon as we saw his face, we sensed that he was there instead
because something was very wrong. Samden spurred his tired and struggling
horse down the steep embankment to the flat bottomland. Even though close to
us, he continued to race his horse over the river stones to the tents. We could see
that he had been riding hard, probably having left our family home long before
dawn. He was disheveled and sweaty, brown from dust, and almost incoherent
with exhaustion.

       “Tashi and Thupten Heruka! You must come with me at once. Mother has
had a stroke. She is completely paralyzed and unable to speak. The doctor fears
that she will die and maybe, she is dead already. We think that it is very important
to her for both of you to come home to her.

       “I think that she is very frightened, Thupten.” He turned to me because I
had always been her emotional support. “Because she cannot move or speak, we
have no way of knowing how she is. Her eyes look peaceful but she is far away.
Father is very scared and I’m afraid that this will make him ill again. His heart.
We need you home right away!”

       Our brother was so urgent in his pleas and stricken with fear that, even
after riding for all of those hours, it was almost in one breath that his words
tumbled out. He slid and fell off his horse without control. As though in great
relief at having found us, Samden began to weep and grabbed my shoulders for
support. Tashi, too, began to cry. His face drained, white and frozen. I felt
emotionally numb and my automatic response was to help Samden and Tashi. I
put one of Samden’s arms around my shoulders as his knees were buckling out
from under him. Tashi, choking on his sobs, helped me carry our brother to the
tent where he could sit down. We made him drink some water and I wet a rag

and began to wash off the layers of road dust from his face.

       Our friends had come running and gathered around us in concern. Tashi
called them over closer and began to repeat Samden’s message.

       “I think that we should all go, Tashi,” Tsarong offered as I tended to
Samden. “Even though we will probably be a few days behind you, we want to be
there until your mother gets better - or until she dies. Whichever happens, it
would be quite some time before you could get back here. Most important though,
we want to help you as much as we can.”

       “Right,” agreed Norbu. “I think that we should go. We’ll start taking
down the camp and you two go ahead with Samden.”

       Dorje put his hand on my shoulder. “We’ll get some water and food ready
for you. I’ll go get a fresh horse for your brother and I’ll get your horses.

       “Tsarong, come help me get them saddled.” He moved urgently through
the door. Tsarong followed behind and they both ran to the field where the horses
were tethered.

       Tashi turned to me. “If we ride hard, we can probably arrive home by
midnight. I think that Tsarong is right. We may be home for some time and we
have no idea what will happen. It would be good to have them there to help. They
can set up camp in the fields by the house.”

        When Samden had rested and Tashi and I had rolled up some bags of
tsampa and grabbed a block of cheese, the three of us set off at a gallop. Little
Dorje, my dog, was kept behind with the others because I was afraid that he
would not be able to keep up and would get lost. That made him whimper because
he had become inseparable from me since I had returned from my long absence. I
heard him whining as I topped the hill, racing away. He was, by then, quite far
back and restrained by Namgyal. In my urgency, I quickly pulled ahead of
Samden and Tashi and rode on by myself.

        I was very worried about my mother. She was the kindest mother one
could have had. Her reputation in our country village was as a devoted and
compassionate woman. All the townspeople and lamas knew what a wonderful
person she was and admired her.

        She had been most patient with such a difficult son as me. I loved her as
my foundation in this earthly life. She appeared younger than one over fifty years
old. She always looked vibrant and healthy. I could hardly bare to think of her in
the condition that Samden had described. It made me want to instantaneously
transport myself and to lift her out of that terrifying situation. I felt helpless and
panicky and I was sure that Tashi and Samden did as well.

        As I rode quickly to her, many thoughts raced round and round through
my head. I saw image after image of memories. I had too long ignored how much
she had loved me and I’d forgotten all of the wonderful times I had had with her.
She loved us all despite great losses. My mother was fifty-five years old and had
borne twelve children. Although her marriage to my father had been a good one
and he had loved her with great devotion, their life together had been hard. Of
those twelve children, she had had the heartbreak of experiencing the deaths of
five. Her first born died at birth when my mother was only sixteen years old and
my father was nineteen. They were eager young parents and had been devastated
at the loss of that first little boy. Some years later, when I was five and Samden
was four, our two younger baby sisters were stricken with rheumatic fever that hit
them quickly and hard. They died a day apart from each other and mother was
almost inconsolably depressed for years.

        Our older sister, a year older than me, also died. She had a premature
childbirth six months into her pregnancy with her second child. She and the baby
both died. My sister was married to my childhood friend, Tsogyal, and they had
the promise of a wonderful life together. Mother cared for their child, a little girl,
when Tsogyal remarried and went off to live another life.

        The last death in our family at that time was that of our brother, Norbu
Thupten, who died a year before my mother’s illness. He had been very fragile
since childhood and always had serious epileptic seizures. Speaking was always
difficult for him and he often had trouble walking. He slipped out of his body one
summer’s night on a full moon.

       I thought painfully of my mother as she had faced those tragedies. Her life
should have been blessed with joy. My mother loved us all without
discrimination. Her heart and her arms worked tirelessly to meet our needs. She
gave us each the feeling that we were adored without ever a limitation to her love.
In addition to caring for her children, she managed to run a large household,
supervised the servants, and she spent many years nursing my father who had had
two heart attacks. His illness had left him bed ridden for months at a time and in
need of her constant attention.

       I worried about my sister-in-law, Rinchen Kandro, too and the fear that I
thought she might be feeling. My two brothers, Samden and Norbu, shared a
marriage to her. She had been a blessing to Norbu Thupten until he died. Rinchen
was warm and kind and a great help to my mother. Both my parents loved her as
their daughter and she spent many years as my father’s nurse without complaint.
Rinchen and my mother were close friends who told each other their problems.

       “Both must feel stranded and alone without the other right now,” I thought
pounding along the dark trails.

       Overall, my mother was probably content in old age, but since the death of
those three little babies, she always seemed to have a hint of a distant and sad
preoccupation. I often wondered if she was torn between those two worlds; one
with her children who had lived and one where she wished to go and take care of
her babies in some other realm.

       “Is she now caught between these two worlds?” I wondered to myself as I
raced to her side.

       The ride seemed timeless, lasting forever, and at the same time, I felt that I
arrived in only a moment. I was barely aware of the miles I had traveled when I
emerged from my fantasies to the welcome recognition of the hills and woods in
which I had played as a child. I felt a friendship with each tree, each rock, and
each little path that I had run down so many times. By the time I arrived, I was

riding well ahead of my brothers and I rode hard onto the cobblestones of the
empty yard. It was midnight. The compound was rung round with a wall of rock,
which then was made still higher with firewood stacked along the top. The moon
showered an almost hot light that glared off the painted white rocks of our three-
story house.

        No one was around to greet me except the dogs who barked furiously at
one who was by then a stranger. Still, no one came outside. I quickly dismounted
and when I rounded the corner of the house to the front entrance, I saw the lama’s
horse and a horse that I suspected belonged to the doctor. I stopped my furious
racing and took a deep breath. I knew then what probably awaited me.

        I walked slowly into the house to find that what I had suspected was true
and that my mother was already dead. In the hall near her room, I heard the lama
chanting prayers very loudly so that my mother would hear his instructions while
she journeyed through the bardo. The rest of the family sat together outside her
open door. My youngest brother, Sangye, had been summoned from the
Mindroling Monastery where he lived. It was only Sangye who walked over when
I entered. Much taller since I had last seen him, I was aware that as he put his arm
around my shoulder, it felt firm and like that of a grown man. All of the others
looked up. My father reached out and took my hand and I joined their small
huddle. By then, I was close enough to see through the bedroom doorway to my
mother’s body lying still on her bed. My chest was bursting. I wanted to go to her
and have her rise up and greet me. I knew that that would not happen. I stayed
where I was, much too far away from her. To go into the room would have only
distracted her journeying consciousness from the lama’s guidance. I shut my eyes,
fell on my knees and prayed that the sacred chants would make her journey to her
next life an easy one. I prayed that she would go immediately to the state of
enlightenment and to Buddha’s Pure Land. I wondered why I was too late to say
good bye. We had been so close. I wondered why she had not waited for me to

        I stayed at the compound for a week in order to help my family with all of

the details for my mother’s cremation and to participate in the ritual prayers.
Lamas came from the surrounding monasteries and did the practices that are
always done at the time of death. Prayers were to be said in the traditional way by
family and friends for forty-nine days. The best painter in the region came to
make a thangka for an auspicious rebirth. After four days, when her
consciousness had fully exited her body, we ceremoniously took my mother to be
cremated in the cremation grounds where the dead of noble families are honored.
Generally, bodies from most families were taken to the vulture cliffs and a lama
dismembered their bodies and offered them with prayers to the birds.

       Following all of the ceremonies, it was decided that it would be my job to
make the rounds of all the nearby monasteries to give offerings of money and
precious gifts in our family’s name. With those tokens in payment, the monks and
lamas said additional prayers to speed her on her journey.

       I did not want to leave my family. Everyone was sad and I felt that if I
stayed, I could do more to soothe their pain. For me, the grief of my father was
the most difficult to see. He had been having a harder time with his bad heart than
I had known. Since I had not seen him since Norbu Thupten’s death and I had not
heard from anyone in my family, I knew little of his life that year.

       Many times during the week that I was home, my father acted in irritable
ways that I felt to be a disguise for his great sorrow. He appeared to try to goad
me into arguments by opening up an old and painful discussion. Again and again,
he asked why I could not stay at the family compound, marry, raise children, and
participate with my brothers in the farming. When Tashi had first come to join
me, my father was angry and believed that I had lured my brother away from
assuming the responsibilities of the family businesses. He did not feel that Tashi
was maturing in a way that promised that he would amount to very much. He
thought that I was indulging his lack of responsibility by allowing him to follow
along with my “band of wanderers”.

       Not fully, but my mother and father did understand that I had been sent on
a mission by my guru which I was trying to fulfill. However, that mission did not
fit any of their ideas of how to live a responsible life. They were proud of my
youngest brother, Sangye, for leaving home to study at Mindroling Monastery.
They appreciated that he had undertaken the socially esteemed role of the monk.
They also understood the life of a stable family man such as my father had been.
Both of those roles were traditional and respected. My role in life, however, was
quite unclear, as it seemed to them to have no real purpose. Instead of setting a
good example for Tashi, I was seen as leading him astray.

       I knew that my father was disappointed in me. When I was a child, he had
always said that I would be the head of the family when he was gone. Then, when
I spent those years at Mindroling, he could exchange that dream for another one
of pride. He expected me to take vows and to become a monk. The difficult
conversations began after I left there and led the life of a nomad yogi. In Tibet,
there were many that lived the life of a solitary yogi and became enlightened. But,
I suppose he never saw me as following in their footsteps nor exhibiting that level
of commitment and devotion. Whenever I thought of having disappointed him, a
small part of me secretly cringed with shame and guilt. Outwardly, I learned to
accept his gruffness by deciding that it was a sign of his love for me. I told myself
that his criticisms were merely his wishes for my happy life. As a result, I tried to
listen to his critiques and to find the merit in them.

       The night before I was to leave, I went to my father’s room where I knew
he was having tea before his evening meditation. I had hoped to communicate
something that might straighten out some of our misunderstandings. When he
looked up and saw me, he smiled and waved his hand for me to come in and join
him. His face looked old and pale and his hands shook as he poured from the
Chinese teapot that I remembered as a child. I remembered then that they were
young and strong hands that had poured tea for our family. I knew, too, that my
mother’s death had been unbearably painful for him and that he felt deeply alone.
I worried that his will to live would go with her. I felt my grief arise again in a
wave of recognition that both of my parents would soon be gone. He, though, had
said very little about how he felt.

       “Papa, I am sorry for you that mother is gone. I will miss her so much but
I know you will miss her more than anyone because you had her at your side
every day. Is there anything I can do before I leave that will help you?” I asked
this lovingly but with very little hope.

       His white hair was pulled back into a braid in a way that revealed his
wrinkled brown skin and which made his red-rimmed eyes all the more evident.
His jaw quivered slightly and his shoulders were more stooped than ever before.
His whole body seemed raw and vulnerable with grief.

       “No, Thupten Heruka. There is nothing to do now except that I must say
my prayers so that when I die, I will have the good fortune to find your beloved
mother again in my next life. That is my only wish. Do you think that that is

       “Yes, Papa,” I said. “With your devotion, I think that that is possible. I
will say prayers too, that we will all find her again.”

       “And you, Thupte-la, will you be coming back after going to the
monasteries to ask them to do the forty nine days of prayers for her?”

       “No, Papa.” I was hesitant to continue. “I will go back to Mindroling
Monastery to see what has happened to Lama Selden Rinpoche. He has not
returned from a teaching tour that he went on many months ago. I am getting
worried about him. I think I must go and find out if they have heard anything
about him. I can take Sangye back with me.”

        “And, what about Tashi? Why don’t you insist that he stay here with me
to help your brothers with the farming? He needs to learn more about living a
normal life and he needs to get married. There is a very good prospect for
marriage in the neighbors’ daughter, Jetsun Delek. He cannot find his own way in
following after you. It is time for him to grow up and become a man.

        “My son, I think that you know why you are out there crossing those
plains one way and then another. But, Tashi, he is just following you to be with
you in some kind of glamorous, carefree way. He needs to come home and decide
what to do with his own life.” My father’s voice was agitated and pressured.

       Then, he stopped talking and was silent, staring at the cup in his hands. I
waited but he did not continue.

       “OK, Papa,” I said softly. “I will talk to him.” I gently put my hand on his
shoulder, stood, and walked out of the room that had always been our place to
talk together. It was a room that smelled comfortingly of tea and incense. That
night as I left him, tears welled up in my eyes.

       Although the time was a sad one, none of my brothers were given to being
morose. When we were all together, we were most often telling funny stories and
bantering with each other in loud and competitive ways. As I walked down the
stairs after the visit with my father, I could hear their laughter coming from the
front room. The hall was lit brightly all along the way with candles in polished
brass sconces. I felt nervous and hesitant to enter the room where they were all
chatting. Upstairs, I heard my sisters with their children as they put them to bed. I
knew their nightly rituals of a snack of sugared tsampa balls and goat milk. Just
as I had done as a child, they all said their prayers in sweet, lilting, chanting
voices. I passed through the front hallway, a grand, splendidly decorated room lit
by a chandelier of a hundred and eight candles. Off of the hall was the room
where the family always gathered for tea and conversation. Often in happier
times, there were as many as fifty neighbors partying with us, making music with
flutes and guitars, and all a bit drunk from the excellent chang we served. It was
there in that room that I found Tashi along with my other brothers, Sangye, Drug,
and Samden, sitting in a small circle on the floor. Samden’s wife, Rinchen
Khandro, stood alone on the other side of the room by a life-size golden statue of
the Buddha. It was not a good time to have a serious conversation but since I was
planning to leave in the morning, I knew that an opportunity to talk to Tashi alone
would not happen.

        “Tashi,” I said quietly, as I walked into the room and edged gently over to
him. “We need to talk about something. Would you like to go outside?”

        Tashi looked around with surprise at the implication that there was
anything that could not be shared with his family.

         “What is it?” he asked. “It is all right to say whatever it is right here. Is it
about Mother?”

         “No, it is about Papa.” I remained standing while the others sat looking up
at me. “He has told me that he wishes that you not come with me when I leave
tomorrow. He wants you to stay here and help the others with the farming. He
seems so heartbroken right now and his health is not good. Perhaps, it would be
best if you do as he wants. You can join me later, but, for right now, perhaps it is

         I was hesitant. I did not want to hurt or reject Tashi because I loved him
and truly did enjoy having him with me. I also was not in agreement with my
father and I felt that I was going against what I thought was best. Worst of all, I
was encouraging Tashi not to listen to himself, but to another who did not know
Tashi’s heart.

         Tashi’s eyes went dark with disbelief. To my deep regret, his face then
froze to shut me out. He did feel rejected. I guessed that he felt that I was
abandoning him, and he was right.

         “But, Thupten Heruka....,” he began while he stood up hesitantly. He
looked as though he was about to speak, then he stopped, looked to the floor and
was silent.

         The pause gave Samden and Drug the freedom to jump into the
conversation. They leaped to their feet. My stomach tightened with anger when I
saw how eager they were to align against me in agreement with our father. It was
as though a dam of old feelings and resentments had broken open.

         “Tashi, good for you! It’s about time that you stay here and do something
that will help feed this family! Enough of this leisure; roaming aimlessly about
the plains.” Drug’s voice had a slightly growling and mocking tone that I knew
was directed towards me.

         “Yes, Tashi. It’s best that you stay, especially with Papa’s bad heart.
Thupten, you may feel that you need no skills or plan or income, but you can’t
influence Tashi this way. He needs to know what it is to work with us here. With
our family’s position, he could eventually become a member of the Kashog and
represent us in Lhasa. Who knows what kind of good and happy life he could
lead. Imagine, he is giving up all of this,” Samden waved his arm about the room
which glittered with opulence, “to join you in that black tent and eat meager food
by the side of the river! What kind of a life is that? You are too strong an
influence on him, Thupten Heruka. I agree with Papa. He should stay here.”

       Drug could barely wait for Samden to finish and he interrupted him to add
more. “And, Tashi and Thupten, you have both been gone all of these years and
left us to run this entire estate with a sick father! Now, Papa can do nothing,
Mama and Norbu are dead, and Tsogyal is remarried and no longer is a member
of our family. Our sisters’ husbands are both government officials and do nothing
around here. They are always gone to Lhasa and are only here on vacation. They
are of no help to us. So, you see, it’s just Samden and me here to do everything!”

       Sangye still sat silently on the floor at our feet and listened but he offered
no support for me. Tashi said nothing and did not look at any of us. I had
dishonored Tashi, and I, too, then felt dishonored by Samden and Drug who
criticized a life that I felt very committed to. I knew that they could not
understand what I was doing with my life. In part, it was my fault because I had
given them very little information. Tashi probably was needed at home, as I was,
but I knew that for me to stay would have been to violate my lama’s wishes and it
would have jeopardized my spiritual practices. I wished that I could say that to
them even with their strong resentment that I was leaving them with an enormous
workload. I cringed. I suspected that Tashi was also thinking the same thoughts.

       “But,” I said silently to myself, trying to justify my actions as Drug and
Samden continued their lecture, “Tashi does not have the deep sense of sureness
as to why he is out there on the plains. How foolish it is to spend long cold
months traveling from monastery to monastery with all of the hardships and

        “There is though, the satisfaction of sitting in the evenings around the fire
as isolated nomad families, eager for teachings, come and join us.” My mind
wandered, musing in satisfaction at the long talks of dharma and sharing
teachings at the monasteries.

        “I don’t think,” I confirmed to myself, “that Tashi’s sense of this as a deep
necessity in his life is as clear to him as it is to me. Mainly, he is there to be with
me and he does not really know why. He does not even try to defend the feelings
of what is right for him because I doubt that he thinks them very defensible.
Actually, they are, if only because they feel like the truth for him. It is up to him,
though. I cannot help him. If he would just stand up against them and against me,
then I would defend him and take him along. He needs to make this decision, not

        I listened to Drug and Samden berating both of us for being gone, and me,
for leaving again so soon after my mother’s death. It was hard on me. I wished to
give them an answer that would bring them more peace. I wanted to say more
than that I had to go because it was what I knew I must do. I tried once more to
convince them that my concern over Lama Selden Rinpoche was an emergency.
They remained unpersuaded that it was my responsibility to find him and
continued to express resentment that I would leave them with all the family
burdens. They loved me and I knew that they would not stop loving me because
of our differences. Yet, I wished I could relieve their load and still honor myself. I
looked into their bitter faces as they continued their arguments. Tashi and I were
both silent.

        Across the room, Rinchen Khandro stood quietly. I noticed how beautiful
she looked dressed in an elegant black silk chuba with a striped, multi-colored
square of Tibetan apron around her trim waist. Her black hair was silken, rolled
up on her head and decorated with a large turquoise comb. In the chaos of the
argument, her face had an expression of support and concern for me. Thinking
that I could not see them, her brown eyes stared at me piercingly. Tears glistened
and silently escaped her brimming eyes. I was surprised and I had no idea why

our conversation brought her such pain. When she noticed that I had caught her
watching me, she shyly turned away and looked out the window into the black
night sky. My attention went back to my brothers.

       I finally spoke and announced my position with authority. “Drug and
Samden, I do understand your wishes but I must do what I feel is right. I am
sorry. I will be leaving in the morning and hope that you will not have hard

       I gave Tashi a hesitant hug around his lanky shoulders but he remained
motionless and unresponsive. “Tashi, whatever you decide to do is all right with
me. I really like having you with me but I understand if you feel that you need to
help out here. I’m sorry that I told father that I would ask you to stay. It was not
my place to make a decision for you.”

       Then, I walked to the door across the plush and colorful carpet of that
favorite room in my home. It was a room warmed by an intimate fire and loving
memories, but I felt robbed of the intimacy in my heart. I went sadly out into the
lonely night.

       It was a short brisk hike across the compound and up a grassy hill to
where my friends had set up our yak hair tents. They had camped there as they
waited for us to do the rituals necessary for my mother. The house could easily
have accommodated all of them in cozy rooms with soft beds but they were
happier staying in their tents. I had seen them briefly every day and they all had
been supportive and helpful. They knew how difficult for Tashi and me the days
had been.

       When I approached, I could see their shadows against the light from the
fire. Someone was rushing about in order to reheat the butter tea. I knew that
there was a cache of sweets and tsampa that would taste good with tea after such a
trying evening. I stepped over some large stones that circled the fire and sat down.
Tenzin Namgyal walked over and placed a strong but tender hand on my back and
left it there as he sat down on a stone beside me. Tenzin Norbu poured me a mug
of tea and sat on the other side. Although it was very dark that night, they must
have seen the sadness in my face. I felt comforted just entering their presence
after my recent conversation with my family.

         “Brother,” Namgyal asked softly, “are you all right?”

         “Tashi will probably stay here at the house for awhile to help Samden and
Drug. We will leave as planned in the morning.”

         I couldn’t tell them about the rest of the story because it made me too sad.
Dorje, Tsarong, and Jigme emerged one by one from the darkness and sat around
the fire with us. The red coals barely lit their faces. I stared down, hypnotized by
a white rock that sparkled in the fire’s reflection and swallowed by the black earth
at my feet. I felt a strong unity among us. I ached for that unity within my family.

         It was very hard for me to fall asleep that night. Over and over, I thought
of nothing but the words that had been spoken with such anger. Tossing fitfully
and hardly having fallen asleep, I was startled to awaken to the silent presence of
another beside me. As I leapt up in alarm, a soft hand touched my face. It was
followed quickly by a nervous whisper, “Shhh, Thupte-la, it is Rinchen

“Rinchen Khandro!” I breathed, shocked and alarmed. “What are you doing

         Rinchen and I had been childhood playmates, almost sister and brother.
She and I used to love to do the same thing; long meditative walks in the forests. I
would marvel at her deep sense of communion with all of the animals, the plants,
and even the rocks and lakes. As children, there had been talk between our
families of a marriage for us. When I felt the need to leave my home, I told both
sets of parents that I was not going to marry Rinchen Khandro. I never did talk to
her about it. Later, I found out that the families had decided that she should marry
Samden. They had an extravagant wedding that I came back home to attend.
Maybe because she had never had any children by Samden, or maybe it was out
of her great compassion, but somehow, it was decided that she would take Norbu
as a second husband. It was very good for all three of them because Samden had

many duties that kept him away for long periods of time. Norbu, although dealing
with many handicaps, had the kindest heart of all of us and gave her undying love
and devotion. She was dedicated to his care and I felt grateful to her for loving
him. I always admired her for her kind heart. She never had any children by either
of them and I know that that caused a deep void in her life.

       When I realized that it was Rinchen in the tent, my next reaction was one
of alarm that perhaps something had happened to my father and she had been sent
to bring me back to the house. “Is something wrong with my father?” I begged,
almost dreading to hear the answer.

       “No, Thupte-la. I just need to talk to you.” Then, she started to cry. “Take
me with you, Thupten Heruka,” she said between deep sobs. “Please, let me come
with you.”

       I was confused both by her request and by her obvious pain. “Rinchen,
what is wrong? Why are you crying in - in such agony?”

       “Don’t be mad at me, Thupte-la. This is very hard for me. It takes all my
courage to be here with you. Please don’t be mad or send me away.” She grabbed
hold of my arm with a tight and panicky grip and buried her head in my shoulder
as she wept.

       I let her cry for a time, then slowly I began to stroke her long hair which
she had let down from earlier in the evening. I could feel that she had changed
from her black silk chuba to a man’s felt jacket and pants.

       “She really did plan to accompany me and these were to be her traveling
clothes,” I thought.

       After a few more minutes, her sobbing lessened and I begged her again to
tell me what was causing her such deep sadness.

       “Thupten Heruka,” she stammered as she began with a hesitation that
caused my heart to ache for her. “I have loved you always. I wanted to be your
wife. Then, when I was told that that was not possible, I was in so much pain that
I agreed to marry Samden. He is a good man and he takes good care of me, but I
am so lonely and I long for you. Norbu was sweet and when he was alive, I felt
that I had something worthy to do in taking care of him. I did love him, too -
although I love you with the passion that is reserved for a husband. I’ve never
loved Samden or Norbu that way. Without children, without Norbu, and now
without your mother, my heart is breaking for someone to give my love to.

       “I know that this is a terrible thing to do, coming out here like this and
without letting Samden know. I feel very badly. But, it is a result of my
desperation. I just can’t be alone without you again. I’ve never let you know how
I feel because when you left that first time, it hurt me so much that I never wanted
to feel so rejected again. I’ve lived with that inside of me all of these years. But,
now that I see you again, I just can’t let you go away without pleading with you.
Please, hear how I love you and take me with you!”

        Rinchen looked up at me in the darkness, her face glistened, wet with
tears, and her eyes were pleading and passionate.

        I was not able to think or to speak. I had never wanted to hurt her. I
suspected that any feelings that I had ever felt for her had been covered over with
the powerful commitment that I held for my dharma journey. I was clear that I did
not want a wife to distract me. Feelings of love for her had never once stirred in
all of those years and I had no idea if any feelings that one might have for a lover
or a wife were even there. I agonized over how I could possibly tell her that and
refuse her again. She was so vulnerable and courageous in her impossible request
that I had no idea what to say.

        Finally, after a long and uncomfortable silence, I pulled her close to me
and said very softly, “No.”

        I held her and she cried. Crumpled in my lap, the life had gone out of her
and she appeared resigned to returning to that which she longed to escape from so
desperately. After some time, Rinchen rose silently, picked up the cloth bag that
she had brought with her, and walked out of my tent.

        I sat in the dark, my tired head laying in despair on arms wrapped tightly

around my bent knees, trapping my pain in my chest. I wondered how it was my
destiny to bring so much sadness to so many that I loved so deeply. My heart was
pounding with guilt and anguish. I felt nauseated at the dilemma. All I could say
to myself over and over was, “Poor Rinchen, what have I done to her?”

         That night I had a dream. My mother came to me and said, “Thupten
Heruka, do not worry about Rinchen, or your father, or your brothers, or even
about me. You must trust that all is well and that what occurs is always perfect
wisdom expression. You, in your innocent wish to do good for all beings, are
doing what is right for the dharma. Come, my tiny child, let me hold you in my

         I felt enveloped in her safe protection as though a warm blanket wrapped
softly around me, her smell against my face, just as I had felt when my infant’s
world was too much for me.

         “Thupten Heruka,” she scolded kindly, “you have always believed that it
was your job to make everyone in the family happy. You need to learn to be
ferocious!” she reprimanded.

         “You can be ferocious in battle when you are helping a lama and his
monastery! Why can’t you be ferocious when you need to pursue the truth with
those that are your beloved family? They need to hear the truth! It is their truth,
too, and an unkind thing to withhold.”

         Then she petted my hair as she had done when I was a little boy. “I will
take care of you, just as I do all of my children in their struggles. Even now, I will
always be here for you, just as I always have.

         “Go swiftly and do what is needing to be done!” she urged. “There is
another in danger and that is what you need to tend to now!”

         In my dream, when I heard that message, I saw Lama Selden Rinpoche,
but he was not wearing his robes. There were shadows of others in the
background. He looked up at me and raised his arm. With a wave, he beckoned to
me as though I was standing right outside their open door. They were in a tiny but
well kept house with a frugal fire burning in a stone fireplace. It looked cold but
there was something indistinguishable in his arms wrapped in heavy blankets and
surrounded by a golden light.

       I sat upright in bed and stared into the darkness of my tent. I could see
nothing. My image of Lama Selden was gone. I puzzled in confusion for a
moment and then I felt great surges of warmth again as I remembered my
mother’s arms wrapped around me. I could smell her sweet fragrance and I fell
easily back onto my bed.

       There was a faint whisper in my ear as I lay down.

       “Go find him,” she said.

       I rubbed my face and my eyes in frustrating confusion. At the reassurance
and reminder of my mother’s love, the grief that I had held back all week moved
swiftly to my throat. A lone and silent wail escaped. I rolled over onto my
stomach and cried into the night for her until I was exhausted.

       Our tents and gear were packed by dawn the next morning. We mounted
our horses to leave the compound before the sun had barely illuminated the sky. It
was a gray and overcast day, which matched my mood. As Da clicked his hoofs
across the stones of the courtyard, I watched the windows of the house to see if
anyone would come out to say goodbye. Tashi never arrived to come with us and
no one opened their shutters to bid their brother or son a good journey.

       The closest monastery where we were to bring gifts was the chorten of
Chung Riwoche where Lama Kanga was the abbot. We were able to be there
easily in time for lunch. It had been Lama Kanga who had come to be with my
mother at the time of her death. She had been his patron and she also received
teachings from him. My mother had given much support to his monastery and
most of all, she loved that lama as her heart’s teacher. I knew that we would be
warmly welcomed there and probably sent away with more gifts than we were

       I had decided that the next stop would be to go east across the river, visit a
small village monastery, and then we would go on to Abbot Kelzang’s, Sogpo
Monastery. I felt the need to confide in him about my dream of Lama Selden
Rinpoche. I needed someone to guide and support me in discerning what was
reality and what was the result of a confused yogi’s mind.

                             Three : Tilling the So il

                                       A cup of tea

                                     Murmuring wind

                                      I watch a cloud

                        Sing and dance in the great theater of space

       When we arrived at Sogpo Monastery a few days later, the clouds were
thick and heavy. We could not make out the golden monastery roofs and we could
not even see the buildings themselves until we had almost reached the gate. It was
cold and misting icy needles. Although, by then, it was spring, the weather was
always unpredictable and instantaneously changeable. We had had many weeks
of welcomed, warm days that I had begun to enjoy and rely on. Even though the
cold was not unusual, it made our journey quite miserable. As we climbed the
path, I had had some thoughts about the snow making the descent back to the
main road difficult. I worried about being able to go on to Mindroling as soon as
possible. I laughed at myself thinking that I could imagine having control over
any kind of timetable. My life events were totally out of my hands, it seemed, and
I had to always stay alert to the clues in order to keep on top of all that unfolded
before me. My only role was to pay attention to what arose and then, do the best
that I could. Besides, I reminded myself, my death might come first and then
there would be nothing to concern me regarding time or place.

       “Hopefully,” I thought, “the only important thing is to have the wisdom to
notice what to do about Rinpoche’s disappearance.” I mused about the idea of
spending a few extra days at Sogpo and doing a short retreat in their retreat cabin.
“That might be the most helpful thing of all,” I sighed.

       Abbot Kelzang’s greeting of, “Tashi Delek, Thupten Heruka!” broke
through my thoughts. He had walked out to the gate to meet my friends and me. I
always was astonished by his endless kindness. He had come outdoors and down
that slippery path in such miserable weather just to say hello.

       Rinpoche threw his arms around me in a hug that crunched my bones.
With childlike warmth, he then took my frozen face into his warm hands. In spite
of his pinching my frozen nose, I tried to achieve a respectful bow. He touched
his forehead to mine, then playfully slapped my cheeks.

       “I am glad to see you so soon after our last visit, Thupte-la, but I am so
sorry that it is on account of the death of your mother. I heard the news from a
monk from Mindroling. I have been saying prayers for her. She was very
wonderful. I’m sure your family feels an enormous loss.” His brown eyes
softened into watery pools and he paused with a long sigh of sorrow.

       “Sangye,” he turned and took my brother’s arm, “to you, too, let me say
how sad I am for you. You are still so young and I know that a boy still needs his
mother even though he is in a monastery.

       “And, Dorje Rinpoche, Namgyal, Norbu, Tenzin Tsarong and Jigme!
What a rare treat to see all of you again! I think that it has been a few years,
hasn’t it? You all look well, if not cold!

       “Come on, now, all of you, come on to the dining hall and we will get you
dried off and get you some hot food to eat!” Abbot Kelzang was radiant again
with his usual sparkle and smile.

       He stopped and turned back to me, asking as an urgent afterthought,
“Now, are the horses all in a sheltered place down below? Should I send any
monks down to tend to them?” As usual, he was thinking of the comfort of all and
added his concern for our animals to his very generous concern for us.

       “Lama-la, they are fine. We put them in the enclosure and they have some
of the hay that was down there. There’s Little Dorje over there already making
friends with the monastery dogs,” I said.

       “Well, I really am glad to see all of you!

       “Let’s get you some dry clothes and something hot!” His voice trailed off

in the wind as he headed quickly up the path ahead of us and off towards the
dining hall.

        I felt again my adoration for the wonderful old monk. How generous and
kind he always was! On every visit, it was always the same: there was nothing
more important than his arriving guests. His funny little round body was clothed
in maroon monks’ robes and then wrapped over them was a heavy striped blanket.
Looking like a rolling ball, he scurried effortlessly up the steep path before us,
leading the way to warmth, food and a good rest. I was eager to surrender my
fears and insecurities to his wisdom and to let him help me. I did not ask for
advice very often. Maybe, not often enough, as I felt that I should trust my own
intuition first of all. At that point in my life though, I was floundering.

        After a meal that left me filled both physically and emotionally, I wearily
left the table while my friends continued to talk on endlessly. They were very
happy to be under the dry roof of the monastery and around old friends. I wound
my way through the dark labyrinth of monastery white washed walls. Paths were
lit only by the dim moonlight. I went to my cell, mine whenever I visited Abbot
Kelzang, knowing that he had already made it ready for me. Opening the heavy
wooden door, I pushed aside the white fabric curtain painted with a blue syllable
HUNG. I saw with appreciation that the red brick and stone platform in the center
of the room was already warm with coals glowing beneath it. Bedding was laid
out on top and a kettle of hot butter tea was simmering, heated by the fire. I
sighed with relief at finally being able to shed myself of the burden of being
strong and competent throughout those past two weeks. I felt for the first time that
I could take care of my own needs. I could allow that safe place and my kind
teacher to help me.

        I pulled off my soggy boots and unwrapped my jacket that still hung from
around my waist. Wet and heavy from the rain, it was glued to me as though the
reminder of my misery. All my clothes underneath were wet as well and only
after pulling them off did I fully realize how much I had been suffering. I sighed
from exhaustion as I was finally, happily warm and dry under the soft felt

blankets. Hardly had I exhaled in blissful relief when I heard the door of my cell
creak open. I sat up and held the lantern out in front of me to better see who could
possibly be entering my room unannounced.

       “Who is there?” I asked curiously. No one answered but the door was
fully opened without any hesitation and the curtain pushed aside. A small person
clothed in monks’ robes entered with a woolen cape pulled down low over their
face. I was not at all fearful because of the small stature of the intruder but I was
confused. I thought that perhaps Abbot Kelzang had sent a young monk to check
on me before I went to sleep, but the person continued to say nothing and just
stood there.

       “Yes?” I asked expectantly. There was still no answer but the small figure
rapidly approached my bed.

       “Thupten Heruka, it is Rinchen Khandro.

       “I am so afraid that you will banish me from your sight forever but I had
to come. I followed you. I was surer of this than anything I have ever done in my
life. Please, don’t send me away!”

        She spoke quickly and breathlessly while lifting the wet cowl from around
her head. I could see her frightened and pleading face in the orange lamplight and
it looked almost contorted and grotesque. I was shocked in disbelief that she was
there, horrified at the dangers that might have befallen her on the journey, amazed
at her audacity, and angry with her for having disobeyed my previous wishes.

        “Rinchen! This is unbelievable that you have followed me here!” I yelled
at her, “How could you do this? You went against my explicit wishes! You are
going to have to be taken back at once!”

        I paused in confusion. I could not imagine what to do with that new and
very great problem that I was confronted with.

        “I guess that you will have to spend the night here but then you must go
back the first thing in the morning,” I mumbled in angry dismay, my arms folded
sternly on my chest. I was aware at the time that I needed to convince her of how
furious I was in order to impress on her the ridiculousness of her adventure.

         “Get in the bed. You need a good night’s sleep and then I will have one of
the men take you back home,” I growled.

         She removed the robes down to wool undergarments and climbed into the
bed cringing like a scolded child. Tears were in her eyes and yet she was too
horrified to cry. She lay there under the covers on her back staring at the ceiling
and I lay down, careful not to touch her, and with my back to her. I could hear her
stifling her sobs and yet I coldly shut out her pain. She lay rigid and unmoving, as
did I.

         One last rebuke escaped before I fell silent. “How could you risk
frightening Papa like this, as ill as he is with his heart! And, Samden! He must
think you have had something terrible happen to you! How horrible you are to do
this to them!”

         Then, I tried to go to sleep as I felt her in agony six inches away from me.
I pretended to be asleep long before I actually was. I don’t know if she slept at all.
But, I had a dream which softened me and made me rethink what I had said and
done in my rage.

         I dreamed that she was on a frigid, snow covered plain and I was high on
the rocky outcropping of a hill on the edge of a vast expanse and looking down on
her. She had been running from me and was dashing through the high snows in
maroon robes - the ones that she had worn into my room. But, in the dream, the
robes indicated that she had taken nuns’ vows and they were her robes as a nun. I
kept calling to her to return and I said that everything was all right but she kept
running towards an enormous setting sun that radiated blindingly off of the snow.
I felt more and more panicked as she kept running at ever-increasing speed. Then,
with an effortless leap, she flew into the sun and was totally consumed by its
brilliance. I was aghast and in disbelief. I felt very responsible, as though my
banishing her had caused her to be consumed in the sun’s fiery rays.

         When the morning light woke me, I lay still, pondering the dream. I

wondered if it meant that it might be too dangerous for her to return; that she
might be harmed on the journey. I also felt badly about how angry I had been the
night before and how shaming of her I had been. I knew, too, from my own
difficult experiences at being misunderstood, that one must follow any persistent
inner command because that is probably the truth of their life’s unfolding. If one
does not, the sure response will be an interruption of their journey, and causing at
the very least, a misery of intolerable proportion.

        “Rinchen certainly was feeling compelled,” I thought compassionately.
“What could all of this mean for her?”

        I could not have given her the kind of relationship or commitment that she
seemed to want from me. I would not have been truthful if I had tried to offer
that. Yet, I felt I owed her my willingness to listen to what she was thinking.

        “Maybe,” I scowled in relenting despair, “we can find a better solution
than my bullying her back out into the snows this morning to undertake the
difficult trip back home.”

        I could hear her breathing in tight, almost soundless exhalations beside
me. I knew she was awake but that she was still frightened by my explosion of the
night before. I rolled over and her brown, tear-filled eyes looked at me. They
were full of dread.

        “Rinchen,” I said softly. “I am sorry for last night. I was really horrible to

        In her relief, the tears began to fall in silent streams down her cheeks and
her chin quivered. She still did not trust me nor did she have any understanding
about my change of spirit. She would not let herself be vulnerable to me until I
had explained myself.

        “I still think it would be better if you went back,” I said, “but I realize that
I owe you time to try to explain to me what it is that has made you come after me.
I know what you said back in my tent the other night. If that’s the whole reason
you are here, then you have to know that you just can’t come along to be with me
and share my life. That just won’t work. But, I’ll listen and I’ll try to be more

       Rinchen sat up and in so doing, she had her back to me. She stared at the
freshly painted white planked wall before her as though absorbed in a far distant
drama. Wrapping the felt blanket around her more tightly, she turned to look at
me somewhat cautiously. “Thupten, do you really want to hear? I’m so sure of
this but I don’t think that you will understand. I think that you will think that
something is wrong with me - that I am a horrible wife to your brother and cruel
daughter to your father.”

       “Well, I’ll try to listen and understand. I’m not making any promises
though about what we can do about all of this. So, please, tell me.”

       “There are two things. The first is that I do love you and want to be with
you as your wife. I care about Samden, but I am so lonely for someone to love - to
love in the way I love you. I long for that. But, I do understand what you said. I
know that you don’t love me and that you do not want someone in your life to be
with that way. That makes me sad, but it is ok. I even admit to wanting to try to
change your feelings but I do know that you always speak the truth. I love you too
much to try to trick you into something that is not good for you.

        “The other thing is harder to explain and it is even more deeply a message
from my heart. It is that I am not alive back at the house. I take care of the
household business and the servants, I do the finances, order the food, plan the
meals, help with your sisters’ children, and even help Samden with his trading.
But, all of that is simply busy work. I love your father and your sisters and the
children, but I am dying there. I want to know why I have been given this life. I
want to serve people. I want to serve the Buddha. I want to live my life in the
dharma. I guess I could do that at home but I don’t know how. I don’t know how
to learn from the lamas. No one really spends much time at prayers except to say
the regular morning and evening prayers that they have memorized.

        “When I saw you saying prayers for your mother, it was as though a
withered flower bloomed inside of me. Tears came and I knew that you were
saying those prayers from a place in you that I long to know. I have a glimpse of
that place when I am with you praying. I need you to teach me or I want to study
with those who have taught you. I want to help you when you travel to camps and
talk to the people. I know you are doing something important that benefits all
those people. I am doing nothing. I am drying up. I have nothing to offer. I need
to go on this pilgrimage with you in order to find my Buddha self. I know that
you can help me do this.”

       Rinchen’s eyes were pleading and in the intensity of what she was feeling,
she began to weep. I did know what she was saying as I, myself, had felt that
way, too. I had searched with longing for the way to open to the profound in a
very short and precious lifetime.

       “Rinchen,” I said with great empathy. “Rinchen, I know how you feel and
I want that for you, too. It is very hard for me to think though that coming with
me is the right way. It is so dangerous. There are so many robbers and marauders,
dangerous snowstorms, high cliffs and horrible trails to go over, wild animals and
illness. None of this is any kind of life for a woman. I’m afraid it would be too
hard for you and you would be unhappy.

       “And, I can’t even imagine what Papa and Samden would think of you or
me if I let you stay. Even if you told them that you insisted on staying, they know
that the ultimate word is mine. They would feel betrayed. They didn’t even want
Tashi to be with me and so, I made him stay home.”

       “Thupten Heruka, listen to what you are saying!” scolded Rinchen. “If
you truly believe that I can know what is right for me, and then you tell me that I
should not do it because Samden and your family would feel betrayed and would
be mad at you, then that is not right. You are not acting as you say you believe. I
think that this is because I am a woman. If I was a man, and not your brother, like
Tashi, but any man who had come to you and said that helping you was his
heartfelt wish, you would let him stay. I know that you would. This is more
because I am a woman, and it is that you are afraid of what your family will think
of you because I am your brother’s wife.
       “If you believe that I sincerely want to follow the dharma in the way that
is truthful for me, you must let me stay. I promise that I will not be in the way,
and I’ll work hard to earn my place with your friends. You won’t have to take
care of me.

       “Then, if it is too hard, or if I am too unhappy, or if you think I am a
hindrance after you have given me time to try it, then I will go home and suffer
the consequences.”

       I shut my eyes and lay there in the bed, stumped by her arguments and the
validity of them. Of course, she was right in every way. I was being cowardly and
hypocritical and untrusting of her abilities as a woman. She was right and yet, it
was hard for me to admit that to her or to agree to act on what would be inevitable
if I did acknowledge such a thing. I did fear the consequences. Most of all, I was
frightened by my father’s fragility. I did not want him to die, too, when I had just
lost my mother. Because of Rinchen’s impetuousness, he could go into a rage and
his heart might not tolerate the stress. My thoughts raced in a panic. I felt that I
was still loved by my family in spite of their disappointment in me and their
confusion about my life. If Rinchen stayed with me, they would truly think that I
was sabotaging my brother’s marriage and the entire family. Rinchen was right
and I was wrong, but I did not have the courage to support her.

       “I must think about it,” I finally said, knowing that I would have to say
yes eventually. What I needed but could not admit to, was some time to develop
my bravery in order to tell my family of such a decision.

       “I was hoping to do a short retreat while I am here at Sogpo,” I added.
“Then, after I finish that, we can decide.”

       I had a much bigger dilemma to solve concerning Lama Selden Rinpoche.
“Now, I have this, too,” I mumbled to myself with great irritation.

        “I think that I need to tell Abbot Kelzang that you are here and get you a
room in the visitors’ quarters. Then, I will do my retreat and we can talk some
more when I come out. Maybe, we should talk to Abbot Kelzang, too?

          “Is it ok to take this time for me to come to a decision?” I finally asked her

          “Of course, Thupte-la. I know that this is a very difficult thing to present
you with and now you are being very fair to at least hear me out and to try and
understand. I will trust that you will make the right decision and I will abide by
your wishes.”

          I could hear in her voice that Rinchen knew that I was facing myself more
honestly and that she had convinced me in her pleas. She was wise not to push
me, yet I knew that she was sure there was no need to do that. She trusted me to
honor her and I felt it morally incumbent on me to do so.

          I arranged to do a meditation retreat in the small cabin that Tsultrim
Palmo had recently vacated, according to the young monk that led me up the
almost impassable, boulder strewn trail. The hut was simple and built onto the
opening of a cave. It extended out from the roomy interior of an ancient water
cavern which had been elegantly decorated with painted earthen walls. The cabin
supplied little more than an entryway and a barrier to the elements. It was said
that many highly realized yogis had meditated in that cave and I had felt drawn to
stay on previous occasions but never had remained at Sogpo long enough to
justify the horrific climb. The young monk carried enough food for a couple of
days in a basket on his back and a kettle of hot butter tea in one hand so that I
would not have the inconvenience of having to wait for a fire to heat my tea. I
carried nothing and needed both hands to scramble over the boulders that he
climbed as easily as a mountain goat. I wore my heavy coat, and he had on only
his robes in the frigid air. Finally, we made it up to the hut and he busily readied
the cabin. He set the table with my lunch and tea. Then, he built a fire and
arranged my bedding, and carried some water over from a wooden, moss covered
storage tank. Then, when I had not yet eaten, he reheated my lunch on the fire’s

          Throughout all of those preparations, I sat quite lazily on a red and brown
slate rock that looked out over the monastery below. I sipped the tea that the
monk had brought over to me and the copper cup warmed my hands. The brisk
wind blew hard against me, whipping my long hair across my face in stinging
lashes. I pulled my hair back and secured it in a topknot. My fur chuba was
wrapped tightly around me and the fur against my face was icy. I gazed down past
the precarious perch on which Sogpo sat to rest my gaze on the vast expanse of
valley that spread far up to the base of the mountains where I had done my last
retreat. It looked like a white desert; the plains covered under a blanket of snow. I
could see a herd of wild horses, tiny miniatures in the distance, pawing at the
snow covered ground. Something startled them and they raced quickly from their
grazing spot, then settled for another nearer the ice covered river which was a
rope thin line weaving across the land. Far away and mere specks, were yaks that
were herded by a driver to a large stone enclosure near a conclave of black tents.

        I looked up at the sky. The late morning sun was finally escaping from
behind the last night’s storm clouds. Its warmth was welcome on my upturned
face and I felt hopeful at its arrival. Effortlessly, I surrendered into the vastness of
the sky and the land. My eyes softened to see a vision of the rainbow-like image
of my beloved Buddha sparkling in the sunlight. I could imagine him smiling at
me beneath the ferocity of his glare and welcoming me to his Pure Land Mandala.

        “Bless me, Guru Rinpoche,” I prayed. “Let me gain wisdom and insight
from this time of retreat. May I then use that wisdom in order to help others. Most
especially, right now, help me gain wisdom about Rinchen and my family and my
root guru, Lama Selden Rinpoche. Keep my heart’s guru safe, as I worry about
where he is. All of these worries are reflections of my attachments to this
samsaric life of pain. My deepest wish is to achieve enlightenment for the benefit
of all beings. Allow me to accomplish this wish at the soonest possible moment
so that I will be able to help others and myself escape the incredible sufferings of
this samsaric existence.

        “I am not very courageous right now, Guru Rinpoche. I need all of your
help.” I was uncomfortably aware that such a supplication sounded much more
like the pleas of a child than of a practicing yogi. Lost in my pain, I continued. “I

am very confused as to what to do next. Help me to find my strength and some
answers. I totally surrender myself as your servant in this and in all of my
lifetimes until I become enlightened and one with your wisdom mind.”

          Tears fell as my whole being opened in the presence of his radiant image.
I felt his blessings fall down upon me and soften my clutching heart. I sat in bliss
and wisdom, dissolved in the peaceful sky garden of the Buddha. My love flowed
joyfully out to every living being everywhere. I had no awareness of the
beginning or ending of my physical body, the mountain, the sky, the wind
blowing against me, or the songs of the universe. I dissolved into all of that and
awakened to dynamic brilliance. Pure awareness and subtle vibrations of light
were my essence and I was all that was. I was Guru Rinpoche.

          Nearby, the young monk, his robes snapping in the wind, began the
descent back down the mountain. He said nothing, but as he reached a ledge
below me he looked back up and saw that I was watching him go. He waved and

          “I will come back and get you in three days,” he called up to me. I nodded
my head in response. Looking about me at the endless expanse of blue and at the
spare rocky nest that my cave rested in, I sighed. I was very glad to be alone.

          Although my lunch of vegetables, rice and noodle soup sat waiting over
the fire for me, I never left the rock until darkness. Finally, it became too cold for
me to continue to tolerate the ferocious blasts of wind that had picked up even
greater force after the sun had set. Throughout the afternoon, I had done my long,
memorized, devotional practices that Lama Selden Rinpoche had empowered me
to do and which he had guided me through so carefully. I thought of him
frequently and felt grateful to him for loving me and teaching me a dharma path
of immeasurable value. During the prayers, my mantra sparkled and whirled
around the visualized Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, who sat in the center of my heart.
His radiance spread throughout the universe, blessed every being, and
transformed them instantaneously into Buddhas. The mantras played through me
as though I was a flute and they were echoes of all sounds everywhere. There
was no ‘I’ saying those mantra, it seemed. They were chanted by wisdom space
blowing through me just as the breeze blows through the moonlight.

          Before I left my seat, I dedicated to all beings any merit that I might have
achieved in doing my prayers. I fervently asked again that I might achieve
enlightenment for the benefit of all.

          Then, I added, “May I receive from my own inner wisdom the guidance
and clarity to understand all of these events which are causing me such distress;
my dream of Lama Selden and the baby, Tsultrim Palmo, Rinchen, and my
mother’s death. If Lama Selden is in trouble, may I be led to any actions that I
might take to help him.”

          I stood up, stiff and frozen. I made a vow to stay firm with renewed
motivation. I was determined that I would maintain that same state of clear
awareness that I had been able to achieve while meditating. Yet, before I had even
reached the door to the cave, ordinary thoughts of self-judgment had already

          The critical thought snuck in, “Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa lived in mountains
on one small area of ground in Kham and he had no shelter, not even a cave. He
practiced constantly day and night. His students say that he stayed there no matter
what the circumstances without any protection or any assurance of food or drink.

          “Here I am, leaving this auspicious meditation spot because it is cold and
dark, and I am hungry!”

          But, I was able to recognize my thoughts and my fall from wisdom sooner
than usual. So once again, I dedicated my meager accomplishments, even in
comparison to Jigme Lingpa. I offered all of my accomplishments and his, too, to
benefit all sentient beings.

          I lit the lamp and entered the cave, happy at its warmth. I ate the soup left
by the monk. By then, it was cool over dying embers. I stopped frequently as I
ate to meditate on each bite. When I was ready to lie down for the night, I tried to
mindfully hold my meditative view. Lama Selden had often told me to use the
stories of great saints to inspire me instead of judging myself when I felt myself
struggle hopelessly in their shadows. I remembered the story of the Dakini
Buddha, Yeshe Tsogyal, and the tales of her enlightenment as I fell asleep.

       Peaceful dreams and meditation caused the next few days to be merely a
moment in time. Although, I did not arrive at clear answers, I did feel more
balance. I felt that I had become calmer and I regained a trust that I had lost
during all of the confusion after my mother’s death.

       When the young monk arrived to help me go back down the trail to the
monastery, I had already packed everything up and swept and scrubbed the cabin
and cave. I thought of the cleaning as a symbolic exercise in cleansing away my
negative karma created during those difficult weeks with my family.

       “Tashi Delek, Thupten Heruka,” the monk called as he entered the hut.
The opening door revealed an early morning magic of glittering sunlight on the
dew. “Did your retreat go well?” he asked.

       “It did, I’m glad to say. It was most helpful to me.

       “How are all my friends and Abbot Kelzang?” I asked.

       “All is well and I think that your friends have decided that they never want
to leave. They like having good monastery food and being lazy! And, your sister,
she has gone to stay with the nuns and is being well cared for,” he added.

       “Abbot Kelzang has been called away to Mindroling Monastery to
perform a ceremony,” he then said. “Lama Selden Rinpoche was supposed to
perform an enthronement of a young Tulku but since he has not yet returned, a
messenger came to request that Abbot Kelzang come and officiate.

       “He said to tell you that he knew that you would be going to Mindroling
to bring Sangye back. He wants you to meet with him while you are there. But,”
the monk added with pronounced seriousness, “Abbot Kelzang told me to make
sure that you know that you are welcome to stay at Sogpo for as long as you wish
in order to rest. He wants you to ask for whatever you might need and said that I,
personally, should be your attendant.”
        I felt bitterly disappointed because I had wanted to talk further with my
friend about all that had been on my mind. “My struggles will have to go on a bit
longer without any wise advice,” I thought to myself. “Thupten Heruka, you may
have to find these answers by yourself after all!

        “Until then, apparently, Rinchen Khandro will be our traveling companion
on the journey to Mindroling. Then, hopefully, she will go home. This will be an
interesting experiment. But, maybe after a few days on the road, she herself will
decide that this is not the life for her.”

        I finally responded to the monk as he stood at the door before me. “Thank
you for your offer, but I must go at once. With what you have said, I’m even more
concerned about Lama Selden Rinpoche, knowing that he has not returned even
when he has this ceremony to perform.

        “Thank you for all you have done for me on this retreat, but I must make
if off this cliff and tell my friends that we have to go on to Mindroling as soon as
we can get ready.”

        Before leaving Sogpo Monastery, I gave one of the monks a letter that I
had quickly composed explaining Rinchen’s absence and saying that she was
safe. I told my family that she was with me and that they would hear more
shortly. The monk was to give the letter to the first traveler going southwest
through the valley who might take it to my home district of Sangsang and then on
to my family’s compound. By noon, we had left the monastery and had trekked
down to the corral where we had left our horses in the care of a herdsman. We
camped on the road that night and with hard riding, we arrived at Mindroling
Monastery by sunset on the third day. Most curiously, there were few obstacles
on the trip. The snow on the road had melted; the rivers were not too high; no one
tried to raid our supplies; there were no dangerous animals; and, we did not even
meet with any other travelers who needed our assistance. On such a busy road,
such non-adventures caused us all to be amazed at our good fortune. Secretly, I
had wished for some difficult occurrence in order to dissuade Rinchen from
further journeys with us.
                                     In our stories of woe

                                    In our glamorous tales

                                Are we more than these dreams?

                                    These diapha nous veils?

       Because of the ceremonies, local villagers and monks from monasteries all
around had thronged to Mindroling Monastery. They were all crammed into the
temple off of the center courtyard. It was so crowded that people had overflowed
outside and they all strained to hear the teachings inside the temple. Some more
well prepared devotees sat on carpets which they had brought, some sat directly
on the hard cobblestones, and, on the fringes of the crowd, others had set out
blankets and entire families gathered around picnics. For those sharing noodles
and laughing over their chang, the goings on inside were no more than an excuse
for a party, as they could hear nothing of the ceremonies. Almost all of the more
prayerful observers clicked off mantras on their malas or were spinning copper
prayer wheels, the small whirling balls on the chains moving so fast that they
were invisible. Many had white katas tucked into their belts or in apron sashes,
and were ready to make offerings to the little lama after he was fully ordained
with his new titles. The monastery was prepared to have a huge feast after the
prayers and the festivities would last into the night. The benefactors of the
auspicious event would hand out coins to all of the monks, so all in all it was a
great celebration of colorful best clothes, newly washed purple robes, food,
prayers, blessings and money.

       We dismounted from our horses and pushed our way through the masses
of people to the temple doors. It was inviting to stay in the courtyard and enjoy
the happy occasion, but since I did not know the young tulku nor had I known his
previous incarnation, I was more interested in a rest after our journey. First
though, I wanted to enter the temple to make eye contact with Abbot Kelzang in
order to let him know that I was there. My friends and I all joined the crush of
maroon clad monks in front of the door and attempted to weave our way forward.
We could not get close nor could I even see the principle monks or the thrones up
front by the altar.

        Deciding that there was no way to enter through doors jammed so tightly
with bodies, we agreed to leave the courtyard and go to Sangye’s small apartment
and sleep. Sangye himself did stay for the ceremonies because he knew the tulku
being enthroned. The boy lived in a monastery of his own within the monastery
compound just as Sangye did and they were friends. So, he planned to try to work
his way through the monks into the main meditation hall, carrying my hope that
he would let Abbot know we had arrived. I couldn’t imagine that he would ever
be successful in making it through the door, so I was ready for a good night’s rest.
I expected that it would be the next day before I could find Abbot Kelzang.

        On the way to Sangye’s apartment, we passed the kitchen full of steaming
pots of food being prepared for the feast. Because the cooks had not yet started
serving the guests, and because I was one of their favorite people and they were
glad to see me again, they gave each of us a bowl of sticky rice, sweet with raisins
and nuts. With such good fortune, we went on to Sangye’s with all of our needs
met, and hoping for some clearer answers about Lama Selden Rinpoche in the

        My brother’s front room was small and his sleeping quarters smaller, but
we all crowded together, some of us stretching out and some sitting tightly in the
corners. The room also served as my brother’s shrine room, so Tsarong and
Norbu sat on the one thin mat on the floor and faced his altar. Sangye only had a
low shelf of books, a purple meditation cushion, a carved red desk with a gold
dragon emblazoned on the side, and an altar with a magnificent thangka of
Medicine Buddha on the wall behind it. The walls were white wooden panels and
the door was peeling its red paint. Long ago the boards had warped and it was
somewhat askew in its frame, but held closed by a wooden bar. One curtained

window let in the light, and a pot of marigolds grew in the sun.

       Khandro, Dorje, Tsarong, Norbu, Jigme, Namgyal and I crowded together
and looked around, inspired at how simple and serene Sangye’s little temple room
was. We were in good spirits as we joked at the circumstances of our tiny closet
of a dormitory and overall, our rather strange lot in life. Khandro did not seem at
all uncomfortable or ill at ease with her five relatively new male friends and they
appeared to like the novelty of a woman’s company and hers in particular. They
teased her for being as crazy as they were in wanting to live such a bizarre life
and queried again and again if she really did want to travel with us. With
grandiose exaggeration, they told horror stories of some past events that had
happened to us in mock attempts to scare her, and they watched closely for signs
as to whether or not they were succeeding.

       Dorje, trying to top earlier stories, told of a time when we went to
Tsaparong Monastery in Guge, near far-western Tibet. He began by sharing the
crucial dilemma: “A traveling lama was being held at the old Tsaparong
Monastery in a small jail, accessible by one stairway that was hundreds of steps
high and on a very fragile precipice. It was thought by the Chinese military that
the lama had committed the murder of a rather scurrilous Chinese government
official who was stationed at an outpost in Guge. This official had frequently sent
peasants to the Chinese embassy in Lhasa to be sentenced for crimes that the
officer wrongly claimed they had committed. Then, he would confiscate their
property. The people in the community were rather glad when the Chinese official
was killed because he was so despised by all. It could have been any one of the
angry villagers who had actually killed him. But, the lama was arrested when he
was quite innocently making a pilgrimage to the monastery. He had come upon
the Chinese official’s belongings hidden in one of the myriad of caves pocketing
the remote hillsides of the region. Because it was cold, he helped himself to the
dead man’s jacket. He therefore became the prime suspect when he showed up
with this article of clothing and a few other items as he passed through a Chinese
way station on the way to Tsaparong.”

       Dorje continued with the story, almost face to face with a wide-eyed
Rinchen. “We were all down at Mt. Kailash that month, escorting Abbot Kelzang
and Lama Selden Rinpoche around the khora of that holy mountain. That is the
trek that is said to bring great good fortune. To walk the khora is said to totally
wipe away the negative karma created in all of our lifetimes. Of course, we all
needed to do that purification real bad! We were just about to begin the khora
when a monk came racing into the encampment on an exhausted pony. I think
that the pony may have even died there because he was so tired. The monk was
ready to drop dead, too! He raced up to us, looking for help. He explained what
was happening up at Tsaparong, - which is mostly a deserted monastery now
anyway on account of the river drying up. He was in a panic that this wonderful
and innocent lama was going to be killed by the Chinese. They hardly had any
monks left up there and the Chinese were brutalizing the villagers and the monks
that were there. They weren’t about to help the lama if it meant fighting the

       “So, this guy had ridden like wildfire for two days down from the
mountains to Kailash trying to find someone powerful enough to take on the
whole Chinese regiment that was stationed up there in the hills. Absolute death,
you know! Guess who volunteers us?” Dorje looked at me with mock disgust.
“Sure, we joined up with this rag-a-muffin of an old donkey to do just such

       Dorje elbowed me in the ribs as I smiled at his belittling of me.

       “Everyone knows that we can’t really claim our reputation as a deserved
one,” I agreed. “Nice sunny plains and lazy days are more our speed.”

       “True, true,” Dorje joked, continuing his story after a breath and a pause
to remember his place. “Tashi, being the youngest, he got to stay with our
Rinpoches because someone was needed to gather together local herdsmen and
yaks to carry supplies for them on their trek around the mountain. The rest of us
all got to ride like madmen up to Tsaparong. You would never believe those trails
through the mountains to the monastery. Up and over, up and over and down
these dusty and slippery narrow ledges. It looked like an enormous fairyland of
caves dug into sand. Everywhere, it was brown, sandy mountains and caves.
Hardly any trees. On one very narrow trail, Tenzin Jigme’s horse started to slide
backwards over one of the cliffs and Jigme was not even able to leap off. We all
jumped from our horses and raced down the slope below him and pushed that
horse till he got his footing back on the path!

       “We finally got to Tsaparong and the Chinese soldiers had put up this big
gate across the road. We could see it from the mountain, way across the valley,
and they were all standing guard with their guns. We didn’t know how we would
ever get in. They would kill us for sure. Some monks that lived there however,
were going in and out of the gate to get to their caves on the monastery grounds.
So, we got closer and found some caves outside the gates that belonged to monks
who had probably been meditating in those isolated spots for years. And, we
interrupted their meditations! We felt really bad about that. We asked for their
robes - those few that even wore any - and put them on and walked by foot, one at
a time throughout all the next day, so we would not create any suspicion.

       “So, there we were. No weapons because the soldiers would search us, our
heads newly shaved and wearing these mostly lice infested old robes, each of us
going all by himself through that line of Chinese guards with guns. We agreed to
meet that night when we all had gotten through. After that nerve wracking day,
we found each other at our agreed upon place, the bottom of the stairs leading to
the prison cell on the mountain peak. We all got there okay except for Tsarong
who had gotten into a row with one of the Chinese soldiers when he tried to steal
some bread from their kitchen.

       “That was a stupid thing to do, Tsarong!” Tsarong looked up and grinned
at Dorje in anticipation of the remainder of the story.

       “Anyway. When it looked like Tsarong wasn’t coming, we began
climbing the rickety old stone steps without any light at all. We had to almost do
it on our hands and knees because it was so precarious. In some places, the steps
had been washed away altogether and then we had to search for where the steps
continued on up. It seemed to take forever - maybe things seem longer when you
know that guns can be aimed at you at any moment!

       “Halfway up, we heard someone else coming up behind us. It scared us,
thinking we had been discovered.

       “ ‘Thupten!’- this voice called out. ‘Jigme!’

       “Sure enough, it was Tsarong. I don’t know how you ever caught up with
us,” Dorje added as an aside to his friend.

       “So, now we were all feeling around in the dark, trying to get up to that
little jail cell, get the lama, get back down, and get him out of Tsaparong before

       “Finally, we got almost to the top of the stairs, and of course, it was
straight down off the edge if we messed up! There were these two Chinese guards
with guns, and us being as quiet as we could be, but the only way to the cell was
up the stairs to this tiny little pinpoint of a mountaintop ledge where the prison
was built. We must have crouched there on the stairs in the pitch dark for an hour,
waiting and trying to figure out what to do. There was no way that we could go
around any another way, as it was all impassable cliffs.

       “The Chinese guys had a lantern sitting on the ground and one guy was
sitting on a bench outside the door. The other was pacing back and forth. He had a
big key on his belt that unlocked the door to the cell where the lama was.”

       Dorje paused for dramatic effect and looked into Rinchen’s eyes to watch
for her response. Seeing her listening intently enough, he waited another moment
and then continued. “Then, way down the mountain at the bottom of the stairs,
another lantern began to slowly make its way up the walkway. The two Chinese
guards saw it as well and the one guy stood up and they started talking in
Chinese, which we couldn’t understand, and gesturing towards the light. Then,
they picked up their lantern and began to walk towards the stairs, and that meant
towards us, where we cowered on the steps.

       “Thupten Heruka was quick thinking. He punched me to watch as he
whipped off his belt and tossed the other end to Tsarong. He shook Jigme to grab
Namgyal, while Norbu and I watched. He then motioned to Tsarong to take the
belt and he hung on to his end with the belt stretched across the step back against
the rocks where it would be hidden. Then, Thupte-la slid down on the steep cliff
side of the steps as Tsarong held onto the other end and slid down the other side.
The only thing keeping them from falling was the belt stretched between them.
Norbu, Jigme, Namgyal and I did the same thing a few steps further down. The
belts were stretched almost to breaking but they held us and kept us from sliding
down the mountainside and to sure death.

        “The guards heard a few stones fall and swung their lantern around to try
to see what caused the noise, but fortunately the fuel must have run low and the
light was pretty dim. They used the last of the light to concentrate on finding their
way down the stairs. They were pretty relaxed and we all assumed that it was just
the shift change. Instead of waiting until the next shift arrived at the jail, they
were going to shave a few minutes off their time by going down to meet their

        “As they stepped on the rocks where we all hung like fish on hooks, we
each held our breath. Slowly, they passed by and did not see us at all. After they
were a good distance on down the mountain, we inched our way back to the
stairs, being careful to keep the weight on the belts evenly balanced. What a feat!

        “Then, we scrambled up the stairs to the jail and lo’ and behold, found the
windows barred from the outside with a board that only needed to be lifted in
order to open the shutters and free our prisoner - who, by the way, needed
enormous convincing to believe that we were not another set of captors from the
monastery co-operating with the Chinese. Finally, Jigme convinced him by
mentioning Lama Selden Rinpoche’s name and the old lama climbed out the

        “Now, I say ‘the old lama’ but I’m really talking old. How those Chinese
could ever have believed that that lama had killed anyone was pretty suspicious
because he was so old and feeble! I even think that they might have known who
he was and that it was a way to tell the peasants that they were destroying their
dharma and murdering their teachers. This lama could hardly walk upright and
had been kept with almost no food for probably a couple of weeks by that time.
So, this old lama, he was not in the greatest shape. We could hardly rely on him to
be much of a help in his own escape and we were slightly appalled at the task
then before us. We were not so sure that he wouldn’t bring us all to our own death
or captivity!

       “So, back down the steps we crept. Again, it was totally dark and now, we
had to lead this old man very carefully. The lantern carried by the new guards was
still quite a way down the mountain but getting closer. The guards that had left
the hut had almost made it down to meet them. As we continued to descend the
dangerous trail, we saw them come together. They stayed and chatted with each
other for a little while, thankfully giving us every precious minute to make our
way down. We still had no idea what we would do when the new guards came up
to where we were.

       “Down, we went. Tsarong practically carried our old lama to freedom. We
did make pretty good progress in that pitch dark, but then the light had started
again on its way up. They were approaching faster than we were progressing
towards the bottom - where we at least had the possibility to take off running. The
sides of the pathway were still very steep and it was a long way down. There were
a few places where the stone steps had had big rocks erode away and they had
laid some planks down which made the step more of a bridge. We were hoping to
get to one of those spots and maybe we could fit under the boards. But, no such
luck. The lantern was swinging back and forth, getting closer all the time, and we
could hear the guards chattering in Chinese and laughing as they came up the
steps methodically. We stopped when we knew we could go no farther and I think
all of us were dashing through all of the tricks our brains could remember that we
had ever used in tight spots.

        “Then, I saved the day, didn’t I, my friends? I picked up some pebbles and
threw them gently down below the Chinese. They stopped and looked, thinking

that some stones were starting to slide above them. They started talking a bit
worriedly. Then, I threw a few more stones so that they would think that maybe
there was a landslide building. I started a big rock rolling down the steps. It
stayed on the trail for a bit and then veered off to the side, but it was enough for
them to think that more were coming. They turned and started to run back down!
And, of course, we started to run down behind them. The more stones and rocks
we could keep rolling down, the more they were convinced of the landslide and
kept on running! By the time they got to the bottom, they were running to tell
their captain of the landslide and we had slipped safely behind one of the old
monastery buildings!

       “So, we were off the mountain but we still needed to get off Tsaparong
grounds, which meant getting around that fence which was guarded by a troop of
soldiers. Our lama was weak, in part from hunger and in part from the fear, and
he couldn’t walk, much less run. But, he did know Tsaparong much better than
we did because he had been there innumerable times throughout his long life. He
became our guide. Even in that pitch dark, he led us to the outer boundary of the
monastery land where there was an old orchard, by then almost ghostly with dead
trees. The fence there was in poor repair as they had relied on the old monastery
wall for protection. We crept along the fence until we found a place where we
could climb through. We were on the other side, but again, we were staggering
along a precipice. The only really traversable land out of the compound and so,
beyond the reach of their guns, was that nearer to the monastery gates. We crept
along the old wall, inching our way and trying not to lose our footing. Not too far
away, we could hear soldiers speaking to each other. We would stop and wait
until they had left, then crept along some more.

        “Finally, the mountain leveled off a bit and we knew we were near the
road leading away from the monastery. It was close enough that we figured we
could take off running. Tsering had to carry the old lama, but otherwise, we were
all on our own. As soon as we began our dash to freedom, one of the Chinese
guards saw us and yelled to the others who started to fire their rifles at us.

       Fortunately, it was so dark, - or maybe we were just so clever, - or they
were such poor marksmen, - but we all escaped unharmed. I don’t think they ever
even knew how many of us there were because it was so hard to see. They
unlocked the gate and a couple of the guards took off down the road to try to
catch us, but they did not seem terribly motivated and soon gave up the chase. I’m
sure that if they knew that we carried their captive lama, they would have pursued
us until they had killed us all. But, no one knew yet that the lama had escaped.

       “Down the road we ran, down into the valley and then back up to the
caves of all those meditating monks where we had left our horses and our clothes.
Wouldn’t you know that we got there and someone had stolen our tsampa and tea,
Namgyal’s knife, some really fine katas, and some other things, - I’ve forgotten
now. But, there in one of those caves there was some guy, a monk and all, and
probably he had not seen anyone else for years, and he stole our things! We were
off doing a good deed - and, one of those guys was stealing our stuff! Can you
imagine what kind of karma he created?

       “Anyway, we spent the night in the caves and in the morning, we finally
got a good look at our lama. He looked like a saint. He was gentle and kind and
thanked us constantly for rescuing him. When we finally asked him his name, it
turned out he was Lama Sonam, the head lama of Netang Monastery but had not
been back there for almost fifty years. He’d spent his life as a wandering beggar.
He’s supposed to be a reincarnation of Dromtonpa. He was an old friend of Lama
Selden Rinpoche’s, too, and was happy that we knew him. I think that he had
even heard about Jigme and Thupten Heruka. But, we heard later that he’s really a
powerful lama...”

       “Except that he couldn’t prevent the Chinese from capturing him!” chimed
in Norbu with some cynicism.

       “Norbu, you know that means nothing. Don’t be so short-sighted and
cynical - and, it’s also very bad karma to say anything negative about an
accomplished yogi!” Dorje continued, turning his attention away from the
irritation of Norbu.
       Enthusiastically, he arrived at the conclusion to his long story. “The lama
came with us down to Mt. Kailash and we found Lama Selden and Abbot
Kelzang. You would have thought we had brought the Dalai Lama himself to
them. They were both happy and they said that they were amazed that we had had
such an auspicious opportunity to do a wonderful thing for Tibet. Lama Selden
was a bit mysterious and said that it was a sign of the future. He said that we
needed to pay attention and to take teachings from old Lama Sonam, who they
addressed as Rinpoche. They made offerings to him and asked for blessings. We
even did a special Ganachakra feast offering for him.

       “It was a surprise to have it all turn out to be such a wonderful gift for
Lama Selden. We never could have known. Right?” Dorje looked around at all of
us for affirmation and we nodded pensively. I guess that we were remembering
that feeling of being caught up in something that later, we knew was participation
in something noble as a servant of the dharma.

       “At the time, it was pretty questionable as to whether we would make it
out alive, but it was one of the most exciting times we have ever been through
together,” Tsarong added quietly.

       Rinchen Khandro sat rapt with interest and I thought she seemed very
impressed. “I never knew you were doing such dangerous things!” She turned to
look at me with a teasing look as she rebuked me in a scolding tone.

       “We would all have been scared to death if we had known you were
taking such risks, Thupten Heruka! I don’t think I want to know any more.”

       Then, she giggled with amusement at her feigned seriousness and broke
into laughter. “You were all very courageous!” she applauded.

       The men were pleased with her affirmation. They did not get too many
compliments for all of the beneficial things that they had done for others
throughout the years. It was good to hear that story again, and it was a reminder
of why we were doing what we were doing. I got up to get the teakettle.

       “Fill mine, too, Uncle,” laughed Dorje. The others all held up their cups as
well, and chuckled at Dorje’s cleverness in making me the paternal protector of
the lot.

           “Thupten Heruka!” Sangye pushed open the apartment door and called
me aside. I left the tea with Namgyal and went to him and we stepped outside into
the night.

           “Thupte-la, when Abbot Kelzang saw me in the gompa, he motioned for
me to come up to him. He said there was an urgent message sent from Lama
Selden Rinpoche by a courier telling you to go to Lhasa at once. You are to see
the Dalai Lama’s tutor, Purchokpa Rinpoche, and he will tell you what to do next.
But, he said to go tonight!

           “Oh, and Thupte-la, he said to be discreet and very careful. Don’t tell
anyone what you are doing there.”

           My heart began to beat fast and I was shaken with concern. I went back
into the small room, still aglow with all its coziness and comfort, and I told my
friends to gather their things together.

           “We must leave immediately for Lhasa,” I said. “Lama Selden Rinpoche
has sent for us.”

                           Four: Sowing the Seeds

                                The Wandering Troupes

                                 Jugglers and Clowns

                                Magicians with Mirrors

                                 A Day Like All Others

       Radiant sun sparkling on the turquoise waters of the great and wide Kyi
Chu River was our welcome as we approached Lhasa. The journey had been hard
because it had been necessary to cross over many bitterly cold mountain passes in
the dark of night since time was of the essence. Early that morning, we had left
the last of the snows and gazed down upon the Dode Valley where Lhasa rested in
the center of a high plateau cradled ethereally in the mountains. Even at that great
distance, we could easily see the Potala Palace, home of the Dalai Lamas since
the Great Fifth. Finally, we came to the highway that would take us into the city.
Mercifully, it was an effortless road to travel. Though still barely daybreak, it was
crowded with horses, yaks, pilgrims, and merchants. The people coming and
going on the road were increasingly more and more numerous as we walked ever
closer to the city gates. We overtook most of the merchants going in our same
direction because the plodding yaks carrying their wares to Lhasa market slowed
them down considerably. The drivers were friendly and waved, offering us
special bargains on their goods. We also passed pilgrims walking along the
roadside who were ecstatically happy in that they had completed arduous
journeys, some of many months or even years duration, in order to worship at the
most sacred temple in all Tibet, the Jokhang. As all pilgrims did, they would soon
visit all of the other holy sites in and around Lhasa before beginning the same
long return route back home. Everyone in Tibet felt that to go to that holiest of
cities on pilgrimage was a most auspicious opportunity and they were very
blessed. Although, we did not know the real purpose of our trip on that beautiful
morning, we traveled with as much excitement as all of the others. We had many
good reasons to be anxious about what was to unfold for us there, but we hardly
felt a flutter of fear in our enthusiasm at being in that inspiring and intriguing
metropolis. A luminescent blue sky, cloudless and bursting with sunshine, was
over our heads. We were delighted and joyful on that unusually warm dawning of
the day. We feasted our eyes on the brilliance of the colors, on tall lush grass in
roadside parks, on trees bending under swaying foliage of varying greens and
yellows, and on the fields dancing with wild flowers of every hue. Such a display
of beauty was not found on the brown plains of Tsang. The highway made for an
easy and swift ride into the city and the dakinis made for us an endless treat for
the senses in their vast display.

       As we came closer to town, many small and some quite grand houses
began to line the roadway. Stone walls and log fences marked property
boundaries. Corn and barley filled the fields. Many cottages were freshly painted
with whitewash or bright colors and had equally bright colored shutters or
matching window flower boxes that displayed the first blooms of the season.
Early rising farmers worked behind plows or pitched straw into piles for their
livestock. Outside the khora gates, we passed the first of many shopkeepers laying
their vegetables, fruit, cloth goods or whatever they were selling out on blankets
or setting up small stands by the roadside.

        Captivated by all of those sights, I was caught off guard with an
immediate stirring of unease. I noticed a shopkeeper who seemed to eye us with
more than a little interest as we trotted by. It was only then that I remembered
again that we had been summoned for some unknown but delicate reason. The
man watched us for a short while, then he disappeared down a pebbled back lane.
When we rounded the more deserted next bend, he surprised us by reappearing
out from the shadows. He was a strange looking, dark skinned man with a mottled
face. He grabbed the bridle of my horse and in my alarm that he was about to rob
us, I reflexively stood in the stirrups and began to pull my knife out of its sheath.

        “Thupten Heruka! Thupten Heruka, it is ok,” he whispered wildly,
whirling around to see if anyone was watching. “I was sent by Purchokpa

       He again looked around furtively. The poor man was as frightened of my
misperceiving his motivation as I was of his intentions. I relaxed, sat back down
and leaned over to hear his barely audible instructions.

       “Set up your tents outside the city near the back of the Potala Palace
where the pilgrims camp,” he said. “But, divide up now so that you will not
attract any attention. Tonight, I will come to your tent, Thupten Heruka - don’t
worry, I will find you - and then I will let you know what to do next.” He glanced
around again to see if we were being watched.

       “None of you must tell anyone anything except that you are pilgrims
coming to offer prayers at the temples.” His face darkened in concern as he
studied us for that pledge. Then, as quickly as he had appeared, he dashed back
again into the alley and out of sight. I looked around at my friends whose intent
faces all indicated that they had heard his whispered words as well.

       “Probably, we should split up now and take different routes into the city,”
Norbu suggested a bit hesitantly as he glanced towards his brother. “I’ll go in
with Namgyal because there will be less suspicion of two Khampa brothers
traveling together for trading or on a pilgrimage.”

       The others nodded their heads and murmured agreement. We needed to go
quickly before any passersby saw us gathered there talking.

       “Rinchen Khandro, you come with me,” I said. “Dorje and Tsarong, you
two go together. And, Jigme, you know the city so well, you go by yourself. Go
your own ways and then tonight, we’ll all set up camp at the pilgrims’
campground. When I know something, I will get word to all of you.”

       I knew that our entry into the city was getting quite clumsy but the risk of
rumors spreading was great in a community where word traveled from one end of
Lhasa to another like a lightening flash. I knew, too, that the political situation in
Lhasa had notoriously become one of secrecy and perhaps, even conspiracy, as
the British, the Russians, the Chinese, and the Dalai Lama’s Regents all vied for
influence and power. Until we knew why we were there, we had to be suspicious

of everyone.

       Our group disbanded and within minutes, we entered through the khora
gates as though we were all strangers to one other.

       Lhasa city life was a whirlwind of busyness. All around was the clatter of
hooves, blowing dust, the blur of passing horsemen, earnest businessmen, and
strolling, well dressed ladies and gentlemen. A beggar with leprosy, who had lost
his legs, lay by the side of the main avenue with a tin pan clutched in his rotting
hand. There were hundreds of colorful roadside shops with their vast displays.
Tables were set next to tables in long procession with salesmen hawking their
wares. They urged shoppers to bargain for a sacred religious object, a bolt of
fabric, a leg of lamb, a new felt hat, furs, or chunky turquoise jewelry. Sinewy
men pulled rickshaws in their bare feet along the stony, dusty streets with the
fancy, upper class citizens riding leisurely within while pointing at coveted items
in the shopkeepers’ booths. Rinchen and I passed stands with live chickens
hanging from their feet, and enormous flanks of lamb and dzo hanging from rigid
canopy frameworks that sheltered the butchers from the hot sun. Tables of yellow
and orange squash, potatoes still with brown chunks of earth stuck to them,
tissue-skinned onions and large white garlic bulbs were all displayed in another
section along the market center. There was so much sold in abundance on Lhasa
streets that we rarely saw in our far distant town, that I watched eager attachments
stir within me to buy such delicacies.

       It had been a long time since either Rinchen or I had been to Lhasa and we
spent the morning wandering the city, looking at the sights, and browsing through
that cornucopia of treasures. At a table of beautiful fabrics and furs, I surprised
myself with a fantasy of wishing that I could buy her some red silk for a chuba
and a black lamb fur hat, thinking that she would look quite handsome in them.
Many of the merchants assumed that we were married and beckoned us to come
and look at their offerings, urging me to indulge my lovely wife. Rinchen just
smiled, looked a bit nervously at me, and we would hurry on.

       After making the large circle of the Barkhor, the marketplace, we arrived
in front of the Jokhang Temple. I longed to go in immediately and
circumambulate through the maze of many small temple rooms. I wanted to see
again the great Jowo Rinpoche statue. Its peaceful visage had left behind an
indelible memory ever since I had first visited there. I felt in my pocket for the
money with which to make offerings to it. I only had a few small coins. The lines
were long and we were not prepared yet with a supply of butter to add to the
temple butter lamps nor did we have any other suitable offerings. The temptation
to go in made my heart ache and I stood outside like a child longing to enter a
warm sweet shop. Instead, we watched from the courtyard and enjoyed the
chanting of all of the diligent and devoted men, women, and children who did
prostration after prostration on their small rugs before the entryway. Ragged and
dirty, many wore huge wrappings on their arms and legs to protect themselves
from sores and scrapes as they slid up and down on the courtyard stones. The
pilgrims dedicated months and years to such prayers done every day in their spot
before the temple doors. A few of the prostrators glanced over at us in curiosity as
we stood watching them. It was obvious from our clothes that we were travelers.
A young monk came over to beg for some money. Otherwise, we were ignored.
Not knowing what the next day would bring, I fervently hoped that I would be
able to pay homage to all of the temples and Buddhas there in the spiritual center
of all Tibet before I had to leave again.

       Heading north up Chingdrol Lam, the main thoroughfare between the
Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace, we passed children in the front yard of
their school that was also the schoolmaster’s house. They were all dressed alike in
their school uniforms and contentedly chattered to each other as they gathered in
small groups to eat a late afternoon lunch. Giggling and happy, round faced best
friends traded food off their plates to others for more tempting treats. Nearby, in
another gossiping group, were their servants who had carried pots of soup or stew
from home. They had indulgently laid out special desserts and treats on fine
tablecloths spread across the grass. Some of the servants stood over their charges
and spooned out the lunches onto fine plates while making sure that the children’s
wishes were immediately met. Then, they relaxed while the students ate. A third
group, much less affluently dressed, stood smoking Indian cigarettes and leaned
on their rickshaws. They were the drivers and rickshaw wallas. They were waiting
for the servants to make the trip back to the family homes after the children had
returned to class.

       As our horses trotted by, the children looked our way, eager with
curiosity. Many waved and stuck out their tongues in traditional greeting. Their
open, warm faces melted me and my heart was light at seeing their beautiful and
bright expressions.

       “How wonderful that they still wear their radiance on the outside,” I
mused. “Some day, like so many adults, they will probably seal this radiance
away from others in their own secret world. Like me, they will wear a facade of
joking conviviality and have very little of their truth to share.”

        I felt sad for myself at having hidden that very same radiance and
recognized that I lived a distrust of others far too much.

        High above us on the hill was the Potala Palace, a glorious presence
crowning the city. At that point, I distrusted it, too. It was undoubtedly a source
of great blessings but under those difficult circumstances, I knew that it also
simmered, full of mysterious secrets. I realized that perhaps my magical belief in
perfection had been destroyed. It felt to me that evil had invaded the Pure Land of
the Potala. I saw that building differently on that day than I had ever seen it
before. Always, I had marveled at how it could rest so ethereally in the clouds. On
that day, it seemed more a part of the world of human beings. Long and winding
steps rose from the bustle of city street life like a giant’s stairway rising up the
sides of his gargantuan multi-storied castle. It was a stairway that ushered
pilgrims to the palace of the Deities; the home of Chenrezig, the Buddha of
Compassion. I watched as the devoted ones laboriously mounted the enormous,
stone steps carrying metal containers full of yak butter for offerings. Katas were
stuffed in the pockets of men’s black felt jackets and in women’s apron bands.
From the bottom of the hill where I sat, it appeared as though they were a
continuous parade of people climbing slowly up and around, weaving their way to
the top of the huge steps where they entered the palace. They seemed so
insignificant in the face of such grandiosity.

       I could visualize them inside, having been in there often. The pilgrims
would have probably spent all day in the maze of chapels embodied by the most
beautiful statues ever created. They would have received blessings from those
Buddhas that touched their hearts and minds. Men, women and children would all
roll their prayer beads through their fingers while circumambulating the chapels.
Some would turn their prayer wheels, but all chanted OM MANI PADME HUM
in murmuring mantrum that filled the crowded, dark, rank and smoky monument
to Buddha. I wanted to be in there with them. The cloud-like mansion
mesmerized me and I was eager to enter and find the truth about the death of our
government and spiritual leader.

       The Dalai Lamas had lived in a number of comfortably furnished rooms
on the uppermost floor, one incarnation after another, ever since the fifth Dalai
Lama built the Potala as his residence. The small but opulent apartment allowed a
view of the town from the balcony and yet, it was set so high that the holy ruler
lived far apart from his people. He spent every day alone except for a few
attendants and visits by his tutors and family.

       Purchokpa Rinpoche, who I hoped would relieve my worries about Lama
Selden Rinpoche by that evening, had been the twelfth Dalai Lama’s primary
tutor and someone who we felt we could trust. I had never met him but I knew
that many of my most respected teachers had made pilgrimages to Lhasa in order
to study under him. He had given those wise and learned lamas many
empowerments, even though he himself was only a young man in his twenties. I
stopped and strained to look up at the balcony of the Dalai Lama’s apartment,
wondering if it was empty of all life since the death of our last Kundun. I
wondered if Purchokpa Rinpoche still went there alone in his grief.

        Rinchen paid more attention to the street urchins and the shopkeepers. She
nudged me out of my trance to watch a surgery performed on a tattered little man
who sat in a chair while a dentist with pliers pulled out his rotted teeth. The
affairs of the street were going on all about and no one seemed to notice him.
Blowing dust stuck to his tear stained face making mud streaks down his cheeks,
but he tried to contain the pain stoically. Hardly anyone else paused in distress at
what was a very common sight on those Lhasa streets. In my small village,
everyone had a home of their own and the people were all friends and supporters
of each other. Practitioners of all healing arts, lamas, doctors, dentists, or even
Bon magicians, went to peoples’ homes and their treatments were very personal
and spiritual. Afterwards, the healer stayed for tea and a meal and the visit
became a social occasion enjoyed by the entire family. My heart ached for a man
dealing with such pain all by himself with no family or close friends there to help

       Only on previous visits to Lhasa had I ever had a meal in a guesthouse.
Late that afternoon, I asked Rinchen if she would like to have a fine dinner before
we set up the tent, rather than making tsampa and cooking noodles for ourselves.
Her eyes lit up and she was childlike in her enthusiasm to share such a special
treat. A large guesthouse was situated near the Potala Palace road and in it were
many indoor shops. It also hosted town dignitaries and offered them the city’s
finest dining hall. It was nicely decorated and had already taken on some
sophisticated touches of an international ambiance, even though back then Tibet
was still very isolated from the world.

       Rinchen and I tied our horses outside and entered the multi-storied,
brown, stone building to find dining rooms and drinking halls crowded to
overflowing with boisterous patrons. Because we had been in the bright sunlight,
it was blindingly dark and we had to wait to cross the room to a table or we would
have stumbled. Many glanced up absently at us as they scanned all who entered,
watching for familiar faces. Not seeing someone they recognized, they went back
to their conversations. We wound through the tables and floor cushions and found
a small empty space in a corner. Nearby was a large gathering of Kashog
members, leaders in the local political power structure, who were easily
identifiable by their expensive and fine dress and distinctive hats. One of the

Dalai Lama’s Regents was there as well. I recognized him from a meeting I had
attended many years before with Lama Selden Rinpoche.

        Rinchen and I tried to dissolve into the shadows of our dark corner in
hopes that he would not see us and recognize me. I tried to eavesdrop on the
conversation but could only catch snatches of words and nothing seemed to be
very significant.

        There was a strong smell of chang and steamed dumplings filling the room
that whet our appetite. Rinchen and I ordered a banquet of dishes, favorites that
were rare for us: rice and vegetables, dumpling soup, curried fruit, chang, and
some sweets that were celebrated Lhasa delicacies. We talked warmly and
comfortably with each other. I felt as close to her as I had in our childhood days
when we shared meals in each other’s homes. The evening passed in conversation
with little thought that we still needed to set up a tent for ourselves in the
pilgrims’ quarter.

        It was quite late, while sipping our tea, that I overheard one of the Kashog
members begin a sentence : “.. Kundun....” His voice faded into a whisper and the
others leaned forward intently. I paused, waited, but hearing nothing more, I
decided it was time to leave with that reminder of our purpose.

        We set the tent up in the darkness. We found an empty place on the edge
of the dusty compound surrounded by at least one hundred similar black, yak hair
tents and an occasional white one occupied by wealthier pilgrims. There was not
much privacy in the midst of so many others but it also gave us more anonymity.
Rinchen Khandro and I had spotted Jigme sitting at a small fire outside his tent
when we first arrived. Near the field where I took Da and Rinchen’s horse and our
yak to tether for the night, I passed by Norbu and Namgyal strolling towards their
tent. I didn’t notice where Dorje Rinpoche and Tsarong were until the next
morning. It turned out that they were only about twenty feet away from us.

        We spent a long night waiting in constant vigil for our messenger. The
time did not pass unappreciated, as we were enthralled, marveling at the Potala in
the moonlight. The moon was high and almost full; a golden globe against the
black sky. The radiant palace glittered white as a diamond catching the light. But,
when it was finally very late and still, no one had come, Rinchen and I decided to
go inside the tent to sleep.

        Sometime between the radiance of the moon and the darkness of the tent, I
noticed anxiety arise inexplicably and I felt a curious fear. After our pleasurable
time together, I once again became immersed in anger at Rinchen’s having
disobeyed me and following us to Sogpo. A conversation played over and over in
my head of all my unsaid words to her. I imagined myself saying them to her as I
sat pensively by the door watching her getting ready for the night, but I never
actually said anything out loud.

        I heard the conversation that I wanted to say unfold in my head: “I have to
accept having you here right now because I have no choice, but that does not
mean that the issue is settled. I am still uncomfortable and our argument is
unresolved. You are good not to push me into making a final decision yet. In fact,
you have not mentioned it at all. I know though, that you are hoping that things
will just happen that will allow you to get what you want - which is to stay here
with us.”

        A flash of anger arose, as I felt helpless about how to handle her. I
continued to obsess. “All I can do is to leave the entire issue alone until we know
what will happen next,” I pondered.

        With my mind preoccupied with such thoughts, I became quiet and
distant. We crawled under our blankets, tired and warm, with the coals of the fire
dispelling the chill. My dog, Little Dorje, lay across the entrance to the tent, his
usual place, where he enjoyed keeping guard.

        In the middle of the night a strange thing happened. Little Dorje startled us
awake. He leaped up with a little bark, hardly audible but enough to cause us both
to sit up abruptly. I turned around, searching the darkness. I could hear my large
dog clumsily leaping around the tent excited about some unknown phenomenon.
He crashed into our pile of gear that included pans and dishes, causing both
Rinchen and I to look at each other as much in curiosity as alarm. We then heard
the additional sound of a flutter of wings and the periodic and gentle thumping of
something against the tent walls. We both turned to the other at the same moment
and said in surprise, “It must be a bird!”

         We could not figure out how a bird could have flown through the barely
open tent flap in the middle of the night, so we were both uncertain about the
reality of that supposition.

         “Little Dorje,” I called in a whisper, trying to halt the commotion. I made
the dog sit by my side and then, no longer under attack, the bird too, was silent.
Rinchen found the lamp and lit it. Clinging desperately to a seam in the tent wall
was a little white finch looking about in a panic-stricken quiver. When the light
illuminated the tent, she let go of the wall and flew in a circle as though trying to
find an exit. Rinchen began to talk to her and to soothe her. The bird landed on
the top of our pile of saddles and bags and listened intently to Rinchen’s quiet

         After a few moments, Rinchen crawled slowly out from under her covers
and inched across the floor to the finch. To my surprise, when she held out her
hand, it hopped down onto her finger. Rinchen kept talking to the bird, singing
loving mantras and greeting it as her own dear pet. Then, bearing her precious
friend on her right hand, she crawled on her knees to the door of the tent. The bird
clung fast to her finger. When she opened the tent flap, I expected that the
intrepid little night flyer would race away to freedom, grateful for her liberation.
Instead, she stayed. Rinchen kept talking to it and the bird stayed there clinging to
her finger. Watching her benefactress continuously out of one eye, the finch
cocked her head slightly back and forth as Rinchen spoke to it. For some time,
that most peculiar meditative drama continued and I marveled at both of them
while drawn into the deep state of connection that they shared with each other.

         Rinchen asked the bird, “Who are you, little white bird? Why have you
come to us in the dead of night?

         “Maybe, you are our messenger?”

       The bird let go of her finger and hopped onto the back of her hand and
they looked face to face, right into each other’s eyes. It was no longer a curious
look or a trance that the bird had entered. I could not interpret the language of
animals like some high yogis, but I knew that it was a pleading. We knew there
was a message to be received from our little white finch if we could only
understand it.

       The dog gave a small yelp as he angled his head quizzically. He watched
the small creature and was impressively self-restrained in not leaping to capture

       “What is it?” Rinchen asked the bird again and again, her heart open to
hearing but not being able to understand. “If you need safety,” she said to the
bird, “you could stay here and spend the night with us. But, if you are asking us to
help you, we cannot understand what you need. We just don’t know. I’m sorry.”

       Rinchen was truly sad at her limitations at understanding the bird that
silently met her gaze. Periodically, the bird turned her head to look out into the
night, then turned back to look at the beautiful woman’s eyes that gently stared
down at hers.

       After a few more moments, the bird lifted easily off the back of Rinchen’s
hand, flew decidedly back into the center of the tent, and landed on my saddle.

       “Well,” Rinchen said as she laughingly smiled at me in the lamplight, “I
guess she wants to spend the night!”

       We closed and tied the tent flaps and prodded Little Dorje to go back to
his place in front of the door. He wasn’t sure that to have a bird so close to us was
ok and it took a firm voice to keep him from attacking it. Despite our amazement,
we all quickly fell back to sleep. In the morning, we awoke to see the little white
finch continuing to hold her post, even when we opened the tent up to the cool
morning and began to build a fire to heat the tea. She stayed quietly in her spot
throughout the day.

       We had had two cups of tea, had organized all of our supplies, had
wandered over to the field to check on the horses, and still, we had not heard from
our messenger. I was troubled because he had said that he would come during the
night and he had never showed up. The morning was quickly passing. Meeting
with him was crucial to our knowing why we were there. Without him our trip
would have been a waste of precious time and we would not have known what to
do next. Rinchen and I were trying to look just like all of the other pilgrims, but it
was becoming increasingly more difficult as we aimlessly found things to do.
Those in the nearby tents had all hustled off to the temples early in the morning in
large family groups. Those left in the compound were mostly nomads who were
living in the tent city for awhile. They glanced at us with a friendly ‘Tashi Delek’
but otherwise ignored us, just as they did everyone else.

        Rinchen washed some clothes in a pot over the fire while carrying on a
soothing conversation with her bird. Little Dorje sniffed around the tents, not out
of sight but far enough away from us that when I looked for him, I became
concerned that he had wandered too far. I watched him closely because I feared
that he might bother other campers or get into a fight with a particularly dark
mastiff that was tied up to a tent post and who growled when Little Dorje entered
his territory. Finally, I called him back to our tent.

        He did not come and instead, he began to dig under one of the tents on the
other side of the compound. That was very unusual for Little Dorje, who was a
very well behaved dog and knew that such a thing was against the rules. I called
him again and again, but he still did not pay any attention to me. I got up and
walked over closer and called again, and he only looked up before he returned to
his digging. Exasperated, I walked across the dusty space, past the other tents, to
where he was furiously pawing at the ground. I scolded him and I commanded
that he go home.

        A quiet, strained voice came from within the tent, “Thupten Heruka, come
inside quickly!”

        I paused, unsure.

        “Quick!” the voice repeated.
       I slid swiftly through the tent flaps hoping that I was not being watched or
ambushed. The tent was dark but I could see a shadowy figure sitting there. When
my eyes adjusted, I was relieved to recognize our messenger.

       “Be very quiet,” he murmured, “I know that someone tried to follow me
here. I think that I lost him but we must be careful.”

       The man looked like a greasy, unkempt and unscrupulous brigand. It was
hard for me to imagine that he could be a servant for Purchokpa Rinpoche. Yet, I
had no choice but to trust him and to see where his directions would take me.
Either, I was being totally fooled and he was serving some unknown enemy, or he
was a true and faithful attendant to that great lama and his unseemly appearance
was a good disguise. I constantly looked for clues to discern what the truth might

        The messenger thrust a piece of folded paper into my hand. “The
directions for your meeting with Rinpoche are written on this,” he said. As you
can see, it is sealed so that even I do not know what is written on it. You should
read it and then burn the paper in the fire. Purchokpa Rinpoche is relying on you,
as is all of Tibet,” he said. His words made my knees weak and I wondered why
he would make such a strong statement as that.

        The man then reached over to the wall of his tent and held up a flank of
raw lamb that had been the bait to lure my dog, and thus me, over to the tent. His
eyes twinkled at his cleverness.

        “Go back to your tent but watch to make sure that no one sees you exit.”

        Cautiously, I looked out to see if anyone was around. It was deserted
except for the mastiff at the next tent that still growled at Little Dorje. Swiftly, I
ducked through the opening and my dog and I sauntered through the compound as
though we were on a leisurely walk to check on the horses.

        As I passed Jigme’s tent, I whispered to him as he sat inside, “By tonight,
I’ll get word to you. Tell the others.”

        At the animal enclosure, away from any other people, I took out the note
to read. It said, ‘Meet me on the top floor balcony of the Jokhang. When the sun
sets, stand in the last rays by the head of the Snow Lion. Wear a kata around your
neck. I will find you.’

        I was nervous about the meeting and anxiously wished that it could
happen earlier in the day in order to find out some information about Lama
Selden Rinpoche. But, I was pleased that I was free to take Rinchen around to all
of the temples and there was a lot of time to do that. First, we made the rounds of
shops where we bought butter in gray, metal containers. We bought katas and
exchanged our money for coins of smaller denominations, all for offerings. We
tried to dress in our oldest and dirtiest clothes like villagers that had just arrived in
Lhasa. When ready, we crossed the city to the Jokhang square.

        Tsarong and Dorje were there, strolling around the Barkhor, the ring of
shops that encircled the temple. We passed each other without any
acknowledgment. In front of the Jokhang, Jigme was in a line to enter the temple
and he carried a small container of butter. He also wore a farmer’s hat that was
most unlike his usual dapper look. Rinchen and I smiled at each other in that
shared secret and took our place in the long line. We hardly merited a look from
the others ahead or behind us as we blended in with all the other pilgrims.

        I watched the people circumambulating the temple, turning each of the
108 pillar-sized prayer wheels. The heavy wheels creaked and groaned as they
spun around in a deeply comforting and familiar way. Slowly, we followed those
before us and moved by increments until we were under the cool shadows of the
eves over the courtyard. Prostrating pilgrims were timelessly moving up and
down, murmuring prayers. The line wove itself through the carved wooden doors,
grand with their brass handles and long red tassels.

        Then, right before us, in the center of the main chapel, was the twenty-foot
tall Guru Rinpoche Statue festooned with the katas of hundreds of devotees. We
reverently dropped to our knees and did prostrations in front of him. We walked
around the chapel, the Kyilkhor Thil, in awe. We were in the presence of a host of
deities; Padmasambhava, Shakyamuni Buddha, the twelve faced Chenrezig, and
many others who had filled our lives with blessings since childhood. The low
flames fed on the butter offerings and lit the massive chapel of statues. All
around, there were lines into and out of the doors to the surrounding smaller
chapels, dark and smoky, glowing from butter lamps.

       Devoted men, women, and children, many blackened by years of grime
and soot, were crammed together in the tightly packed line, but still they looked
at each other with wide-eyed excitement and warm smiles. Patiently, they waited
to inch slowly past statue after statue, from one chapel then into another. All
softly chanted their mantras to their beloved deities or yidams. Many were tearful
in their gratefulness to be in that sacred space. Everyone gazed in adoration at the
mandalas, thangkas, statues and altars, splendid in gold and jewels and brocades.
Children were led by their hands by loving parents and grandparents who felt
blessed that they were able to give their child the auspicious opportunity to gain
such great karmic merit. As people entered each successive temple room, most
kept their eyes down in prayer or stared eagerly in expectation of the next deity to
appear before them. As soon as they saw it, they began to do prostrations. When
they reached the base of the statue they presented their offerings and then tenderly
touched their foreheads to the altar to receive blessings from that Buddha. When
someone did look up or about and would catch the eye of another, an
instantaneous grin would flash across their rosy cheeked faces in the delight of
sharing such a wondrous occasion.

       Tears welled in my eyes and sobs choked me, blocked in my throat. I
could barely contain my happiness and my feeling of gratitude to be back in the
most wonderful place in the world. I wished for those moments to go on forever
because I knew that I was truly in the home of the Buddhas. Well into the
afternoon, Rinchen and I continued our pilgrimage from one chapel to another,
and then on to the next. When we had completed visiting all the rooms on the first
floor, we went up the rugged, softly worn, wooden ladder to the second story.

       The Guru Rinpoche statue on the first floor was three stories high,
towering to the ceiling of the temple, so that the second floor was another filled

with chapels entered off a balcony that encircled Guru Rinpoche at the level of his
heart. We continued the circumambulation from chapel to chapel upstairs as well,
making offerings at each altar by adding dollops of butter to each butter lamp. A
monk stood at each big lamp, meditatively scooping the butter back into the
lamps when the offerings would overflow. We placed katas on each statue and
offered coins at their feet. For our special heart deities, we left small painted deity
pictures, tsa tsas, and flowers. As the long line undulated with arisings and
bowing, we, too, did prostrations and lightly touched our heads to the altars of
each deity so that we might be infused with their blessings.

        Moving from one chapel out towards another, we were enthralled at one
point to emerge through a door and look up, seeing that we were looking into the
eyes of Guru Rinpoche. We walked over to the railing of the balcony and looked
long into his penetrating gaze. Then, we looked down at the crowd below. It was
a compact mass of pilgrims. Most of the men were dressed in blacks and browns
yet, in the lamp lit hall, there was the glint and sparkle of their gold and silver
jewelry and their silk hats. Huge hunks of turquoise and coral decorated long
black hair and hung heavy in necklaces around the necks of both men and
women. Lhasa people had their hair coifed luxuriously in fans and buns and they
wore lush fur hats and coats. Many nomads were dressed in greasy rags and had
wildly matted hair, but still paraded in coral and turquoise earrings and
breastplates. They were heavy with the stench of years, living in the wilderness in
very primitive conditions. It was an amazing sight. The contrast and
complementarity of all of those people filled me with love. I know that most of
them, like me, felt that that was one of the most wonderful days of their short and
hard lives.

        We climbed another flight to the third story on an even more precarious
ladder. On that floor, we arrived at a door that led to the outside balcony ringing
the roof. It also was a hallway to a circle of many small workrooms. Rinchen and
I walked out into the sunshine and looked out over the city from that high perch.
We were glad to breathe the fresh air again without the smell of rancid butter. The

roof was not a part of the normal prayer route because there were only offices and
classrooms up there. Since no one else was around, we circumambulated the
balcony clockwise, curiously peeking into the rooms that invited us with open
door ways.

       I silently estimated how the sun’s late afternoon rays would fall by the
Snow Lion, a large golden statue from which there was a direct view across the
city to the Potala Palace. I estimated the time when I needed to return, knowing
that it was there that I would meet Purchokpa Rinpoche. After commenting on the
beauty of the Snow Lion, Rinchen and I walked on. There were some young
monks in one classroom studying their texts. The next two doors were closed and
the next open door revealed a storage room with the floor covered with old statues
in disrepair. A monk, thin and leathery, was bent over a small bench repainting a
Chenrezig statue that had turned brown from neglect. He did not look up as we
passed by. A few other people appeared at the top of the stairs and peeked out, but
they returned down the steps when they saw that it was not a part of the usual
pilgrims’ route.

       We stopped again to look out over the city. Below the Potala’s hilltop
throne, the main business district could be seen as a warren of walls that opened
up to a lovely green park with a lake spanning the distance between the Potala
and the Jokhang. I looked down into the courtyard below us where the line was
still as long as it had been when we had joined it. Some young monks were
begging from those standing captive in the snaking line. They had probably just
finished their classes, I thought. I noticed how they were eagerly and a bit
aggressively hoping to obtain some coins in order to buy some sweets in the town
shops. Nearby, an old monk was struggling to pull up a rope from the well in the
center of the courtyard. From the rope hung a wooden pail of sloshing water and,
before he could transfer the well water to another pail, there was a rush from the
crowd. Thirsty pilgrims dunked hands and hats into the water pail for a drink. I
laughed sympathetically as he struggled a bit between generosity and his
frustration at having to retrieve a second bucketful from the well. Rinchen, too,

was delighted to observe that little world of struggling humanity from our high,
third story viewpoint, and we stayed there together as the sun slowly proceeded
on its journey towards evening. All the while, I was anxiously waiting for my

        When the time was close, I escorted Rinchen back downstairs to the main
chapel. I gave her the last of our offerings and suggested that she go through some
of the rooms one more time alone. I told her that I would meet her later outside in
the courtyard. I had not told her of the meeting and, at first, she looked at me with
confusion. Then she realized with relief that the reason for my secrecy was
because we were about to find out why we were there. In remembering this, her
look became one of concern for my safety. But, she said nothing, and willingly
allowed me to disappear.

        Upstairs again, in the balcony corner next to the golden Snow Lion statue,
I leaned on the railing. I watched, entranced, as the rays of the sun gradually
draped the Potala in beautiful reds, oranges and gold. Such a display could only
be viewed from that one spectacular vantage point. As the sun went down, the full
moon was rising. The palace of the Gods looked like a rainbow in the sunset. The
moment was magical and I felt dissolved into it. Entrapped by my trance and
forgetting why I was there, I started in surprise when a whisper softly beckoned
me. It floated out of the shadows of the dark room where the old monk had sat
earlier repairing statues. A hand, partly covered by a maroon robe, waved to me
to enter.

        With a quick glance about the deserted and darkening balcony, I ducked
into the room after him. There was Purchokpa Rinpoche hunched against the
door. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and urged me along through the
chaos of toppled and crumbling statues to the back and darkest corner of the
room. I felt suffocated by the dust and the smell of mold and rancid butter. We
snuck safely behind an old silk panel that hung waiting for repair, and there we
stopped. He looked intently at me in the dim light.

        “I am Purchokpa, Thupten Heruka. Thank you for coming to meet with
me. I have heard of your excellent qualities from Selden Rinpoche. We very
much need your help.”

       “Rinpoche,” I stammered with my hands folded together in obeisance,
while at the same time, I pulled the kata from my neck to offer it to him. “I am
most humbled and honored to be of service to you. Anything you ask, I will do.”

       Even in that moment of such intensity, he was able to laugh at my
fumbling with a kata and trying to achieve such reverent protocol during a time of
such unusual circumstances. He placed the white, silk scarf back around my neck
as he touched my forehead to his as a blessing. His eyes sparkled with amusement
and, although the light was very dim, I could see his grin. We then sat
unceremoniously on the floor behind the tattered silk and he shared with me the
grievous story that had brought me to him.

       “Listen, Thupten Heruka. Tibet is in a horrific plight. Unbeknownst to any
who loved the twelfth Dalai Lama, and even to me until only a few months ago,
there are many suspicions of how our beloved young Holiness died well over a
year ago. Many of us became concerned when he was never seen, but there were
always stories - he was ill or he was at the summer palace and such. His family
was not seen either and, when it was time for him to have his classes, there were
always those who gave me excuses. ‘Come back later’ or, ‘He is tired’. I was
becoming quite worried about his education. Then, there was an announcement
from the Regents that he had died. Finally, I had an investigation done, of course
very secretly, and I found out that he had died, maybe of an illness, but it might
possibly have been a murder. I don’t know who could have done such a thing but
I have many suspicions. There are rumors about one of the Regents; which one, I
don’t know for sure. The Kashog, too, has been implicated in that many of its
members participated in trying to cover up his death. My fear is that there is a
conspiracy and something very tempting is luring some of the government leaders
and some monastery abbots into an evil collusion.

       “After such a horrible fate unfolding for our Kundun, I have been very
concerned about the birth of the next one. I do not want these enemies of ours to
murder yet another sacred child - if that is what indeed has happened. So, I myself
consulted the oracle in secret in order to find the new Dalai Lama. So many
months have passed since the death of the twelfth, that he might soon be reborn in
a new incarnation. I don’t want the perpetrator of these activities to continue this
control over the Dalai Lamas’ lives. Now there have been four Dalai Lamas who
have died without ever having reached adulthood. I am heartbroken and of course,
the very fact that there have been four deaths in a row makes me very concerned
that this is deliberate and well planned by someone with great power.

       “With clues from the oracle and from my own dreams and visions, I sent
for your teacher and mine, Lama Selden Rinpoche, and urged him to try to locate
the new incarnation. I have now received word that he has found the expectant
mother who carries our 13th Dalai Lama in her womb. He is watching over her
closely until it is safe for us to reveal to the world who this child is. Then, we can
bring the baby to Lhasa and enthrone him as the new Dalai Lama.

       “I also am quite sure that the conspirators, if there indeed are any, are
doing some searching of their own. If they find this child too, it may not be
possible for Lama Selden Rinpoche to prevent harm from coming to the baby on
his own. Thupten Heruka, I want you to go to Rinpoche and help protect this
child until it is time to bring him to Lhasa.

       “I also want you to help us find out who might be responsible for such
horrible acts. I know that you have some very trustworthy men who travel with
you. Can you leave them in Lhasa to help me find out all that we can here? They
are unknown, so no one will be suspicious. We can place some of your friends in
opportune positions in order to gather more reliable information. I know that I
need not ask if they are all capable of such jobs because Lama Selden Rinpoche
said to trust you and all of them totally. Just assign me a contact person that I can
meet with after you are gone.

       “Perhaps, together, we can undo the power of the Regents or maybe the
Kashog members, or the foreigners, if they are, in truth, our conspirators. At this
point, all I have are suspicions and I may be very wrong.
        “We will also have to establish a means of communicating with you and
Rinpoche in order to exchange information that will help each of us. That is, of
course, if you are willing to go,” he added, questioning me with an expectant

        Purchokpa Rinpoche’s gentle, serene face was tense with strain. His words
had been breathless and shaky. I knew that he, most of all, was in great danger if
he was found out in his investigations. Primarily though, just like me, he was
afraid for Lama Selden and the future of the next spiritual leader of Tibet. I could
see his dark eyes in the shadows and they were liquid with emotion. He reached
out with his hands and took mine. His hands were cold.

        “Will you help us, Thupten Heruka? The life of our most precious jewel,
our little Kundun, is threatened.” His voice was soft in an earnest, heartfelt plea.

        “Yes, of course,” I said almost inaudibly. I, too, felt shaky with the
enormity of the task. I had no idea where to begin. “I will have Tulku Dorje
Rinpoche be your contact here in Lhasa. Before I leave, we need to arrange for
you to meet him.

        “Should we meet early in the morning, and then I can leave right away to
find Lama Selden? I don’t want Rinpoche to be alone and in danger any longer
than he needs to be. And, of course, should anything happen to Tibet’s Dharma
Sun, it would be all of our loss. I need to go to him as soon as possible.

        “Can you tell me where I can find Rinpoche?”

        Purchokpa Rinpoche looked around the dark, abandoned room of ghostly
deities in an extra and nervous precaution. It was quiet and still. He looked at me
intently and whispered very low. “I will write down a detailed map for you to take
with you tomorrow. But, for now, I will tell you. They are in the sacred Tsari
Valley near Elephant View Mountain, outside the village of Langdun. There is a
peasant couple there, and the wife is many months pregnant. They live in a little
white cottage, and it is set all alone at the end of the path. It is at the bottom of the
mountain where Gyuto Khensur stupa is near Trunghang Monastery. There is a

moon carved over the door and then there is a painted red letter AH under it. A
bell hangs from the eve. The father’s name is Kunga and his wife is Dolma.

       “Lama Selden Rinpoche has settled in a field a little way up the mountain.
He has put up a black tent and he is disguised as a shepherd. If you will travel
down the main road past the path to the little house and then, keep going, the road
will turn into a trail and will begin the ascent up the mountain to the monastery.
There is a small wooded trail that veers off into the forest and this will take you to

       He paused, making sure that he had thought of everything. “Rinpoche is
watching the cottage constantly. He will see you because his view from where he
is sees all the way down the road to the village. As you climb the mountain, he
will find you.

       “We have a friend who is a messenger for Lama Selden who is in Lhasa
now, and, I will get word to him that you will be leaving for Langdun tomorrow.
I’ll get the directions from him and meet you at sun up and give you the map to
the village.”

       I asked him, “Purchokpa Rinpoche, where can we meet in the morning
and where do you want to meet with Tulku Dorje Rinpoche? If there is anyone
watching us, it would look suspicious if they saw me return here.”

       “You and Dorje Rinpoche go separately up the North Road out of the city.
I will wait in the bushes beside the road. I’ll give you the map and I will also give
you money for supplies. Tell Tulku Dorje Rinpoche to come along a little while
behind you and to lead his horse as though he was lame.”

        Our meeting was over and we crouched along among the shadowy forms
until we reached the door. I quickly exited back out onto the lantern lit balcony.
There was still no one around. I walked swiftly around the hallway and in my
haste, I almost tripped. Recovering, I slid down the ladder to the second story of
the Jokhang. Once there, I feigned nonchalance as I joined the weaving pilgrims
going from chapel to chapel, until I could disappear down to the first level and out

into the courtyard. My heart was pounding.

       Rinchen sat on the courtyard wall talking to a nun. It appeared to be an
intense and earnest conversation. When she caught sight of me, I saw her rise,
bow slightly, and excuse herself. She came over to greet me, pretending to be a
wife who had lost track of her husband in the crowded masses of the temple.

       That night, there were discreet whisperings among my friends and me. We
signaled to each other and then we met in fields and behind buildings one by one
and then, on to another, while appearing to be strangers who passed each other
and exchanged polite greetings. Soon, we all knew Purchokpa Rinpoche’s story.
Tulku Dorje Rinpoche knew to follow me down the North Road out of town the
first thing in the morning and he was willing to stay in Lhasa and be the contact
person for Purchokpa Rinpoche.

       Rinchen decided to stay in Lhasa also and help the others rather than
return home. In her conversation with the old nun, she had arranged to stay in the
nunnery that was connected to the Potala Palace and Namgyal Monastery. The
white bird was still in our tent that night, sleeping with her head under her wing.
She appeared to watch me curiously when I slipped out of the tent door a little
while before dawn. Rinchen was still asleep and had not known that I would be
leaving so soon nor did she know anything about where I was going.

       Not far out of the city, the road began to cross flat barley fields where dew
formed icicles on the tall grass stalks. The nomads were still asleep in their black
tents that sparsely dotted the plain. Dogs barked viciously as Da trotted down the
road, his hooves clicking softly on the stones. Soft moonlight sparkled off crystal
filled rocks, lighting a path of minute stars in the blackness. As soft pinks spread
like melting butter to color the morning sky, I felt gloriously protected and
guided, soaring in wild appreciation. I was wondrously happy that I would finally
be with my guru.

       After a considerable length of time spent riding down the North Road, my
anxiety heightened. Perhaps it had only been about two miles that I had traveled,
but I began to anticipate Purchokpa Rinpoche around every rock and every bend
in the road. When more and more hiding places were passed and there was still no
sign of Rinpoche, worrisome thoughts began to fleetingly appear in my mind.
Each time, I would persuade myself that such worries were invalid and then,
feeling confident again, I continued watching hopefully. With the passing of more
time, the thoughts would once more arise, only a little more strongly. I was sure
that I had passed the area where he most logically would have met me. I
wondered if I should turn around. Maybe I had missed him, I thought obsessively.
I tugged on the reins, stopped, and searched the misty light. I turned and squinted
back down the road. In the far distance I saw a puff of dust, which probably
indicated horsemen. Tulku Dorje was due to come behind me but those riders
were two or more, and they were too close to have been Dorje. My mind raced
with the thought that I must have been followed and I feared that the presence of
those riders was what was preventing my meeting with Purchokpa Rinpoche. He
might have seen them and chose not to come out of his hiding place for fear of
being discovered. My stomach knotted in disappointment that that might prevent
my leaving Lhasa that morning. Silently, I pleaded to Purchokpa Rinpoche to
appear because it was urgent to reach Lama Selden as quickly as possible. I
noticed in my distress how quickly a moment could change from being pure bliss
to the next, when I descended into the hell realms of suffering, all from my own
changing thoughts.

       I moved forward slowly, pondering whether to go back and risk being
spotted by the other horsemen, or to venture forth in hopes that I might still find
Purchokpa Rinpoche. I nudged Da onward. I had gone only another hundred feet
when up from an embankment crawled a breathless Rinpoche, wet and dirty. He
looked as though he had traveled for miles through fields and through the
swampy creek beds. He must have been very cold on that frigid morning. I was in
awe once again that he would participate in that effort where such great danger
could have befallen him so easily. Our contact had to be brief so that he could
disappear again into the fields to wait for Dorje. I also needed to hurry on my way
so that I would leave the approaching travelers far behind. I jumped off of Da and
prayerfully but swiftly, bowed to Rinpoche, who grabbed my hands and thrust a
piece of paper into them.

       “Here is the name of the town, Langdun, and the map,” he said. “Stay on
this road until you reach the first road to the east, circle back around Lhasa and
then go south to the Sichuan Highway towards Dagze Dzong. There you will
follow these directions that I have written for you. As soon as it is light enough,
you should read and memorize them, so that you are not carrying them on you. Be
wary of everyone. It will take you about two weeks to arrive there. Lama Selden
Rinpoche and Tsultrim Palmo are living only a quarter of a day’s walk from
town. To the villagers, they are a father and daughter who are merely grazing
their flock of sheep and yak through the spring and summer. They have been
making friends with Kundun’s mother and father, and will help with the birth and
caring for him. Lama Selden has known them now for many months, so they trust

        “You see, he had a premonition of all of these events long ago. He is a
most amazing Buddha, your Rinpoche. But, no one, not even the parents, knows
their true purpose or identity. You must be very careful not to reveal it in any

        “You are a trader heading to Bhutan. I want you to buy some yaks as soon
as you reach the next town and begin to load them with furs. Is this enough
money to do that with?”

        I nodded yes, looking at the coins he held in his hand.

        “If anyone stops to visit with you on this journey, you let them know that
that is the purpose of your trip. You are a fur seller.

        “Once you enter Langdun, you make your presence known as a trader with
furs to sell. That way, if you are being followed or spies are watching you, you
will appear to be a legitimate businessman. Then, when you can, leave the village.
It might be that you will have to go at night. Try to secretly go to Lama Selden
Rinpoche’s tent, where he will hide you. His name to the villagers is Tharchin,
the Old Shepherd Yogi. He will be watching for you.

       “It may be years before His Holiness will be safe. You and the others will
be of inestimable value in protecting him until we can insure his safety at the
Potala. We have lost too many Dalai Lamas before adulthood. It is imperative that
we not lose another!

       “So, Thupten Heruka, it may be quite a while before I see you again or
before you return to Lhasa. May you be blessed on this journey, my dharma

       He glanced down the road and my head turned too, to see the distant dust
cloud getting closer. With no further words, he turned and slid down the river
embankment with the gravel making a soft landslide. I saw him run off into the
mist as I mounted my horse. I rode off casually so that I would not excite
suspicion after my resting time. Before I had gone ten feet, Rinpoche had totally

       When I reached the road that turned east, I rode a bit beyond it and then,
where any traveler should have crossed the Tsongpo River, I turned and followed
the river back again. I knew that I would then intersect with my intended route. I
thought that I saw the other riders continue on the North Road. That first part of
my journey had me too worried to ponder Purchokpa Rinpoche’s remark that had
jolted me the most. It was his saying that Tsultrim Palmo was living with Lama
Selden Rinpoche and pretending to be his daughter.

       At the first opportunity, I stopped at a nomad camp of yak herders and
purchased five yaks. They also had straps, ropes and saddles for carrying trade
goods. They even had a stock of rugs that they had planned to take to Nepal to
sell. I purchased all of that from them and drove a hard bargain, so that they
would not wonder at my eagerness to make such a big acquisition. I told them that
I had carried my last load of furs to Lhasa and had sold my yaks to a lama going
on pilgrimage to India. My brothers would have been proud of me for my
business skills.

       Further along the way, I passed a few hunters and persuaded them to sell
me furs. Hardly had I begun to travel with that new herd of yaks and all my furs
and rugs, than I realized the trip would be much harder than I had expected. I
alone was responsible for herding those five, heavily loaded yaks up and over two
very high passes that were still covered with snow.

       I made it through the first without much trouble, but when I arrived at the
base of the second mountain, the villagers told me that a blizzard was coming. I
was cautioned to wait and attempt the climb after the storm was over. Stuck in a
very small village where all strangers were suspicious, the glances of the residents
made me nervous. The only travelers’ rest house was a large farmhouse with an
open courtyard. The owner was unfriendly and mercenary. He charged me a dotse
per yak to tie my stock up in the yard. The innkeeper said that if I did not pay the
fee, then I would have to tie my animals outside the gate in the street. I feared that
they would be stolen if I left them there. He also refused to let me bring the furs
and other goods to my room and insisted on locking them in a small shed within
the gate. Again, there was a fee for that service.

       Because the blizzard was predicted to be a big one, I thought that it might
necessitate a stay of two or three days before the pass would be safe. I felt trapped
and concerned about depleting my finances with the expensive lodgings, meals,
and the extra fees for the animals and belongings. Although clearly I had no other
choice, I regretfully succumbed to the innkeeper’s blackmail to pay the money,
but I insisted that I keep the key to the shed. I knew that it would be at least
another week of travel after I crossed that pass before I would arrive at
Rinpoche’s far distant pasture. My progress had been slower than Purchokpa
Rinpoche had thought it would be.

       After grumbling through the room negotiations, and despairing about my
slow pace, I went to my room. I felt very uncomfortable in that place. I added to
my misery in that I was irritated with myself for my high level of suspicion. Even
in my frustrations, I thought it hard to believe that anyone would have noticed me
with all of the precautions that I had taken.

       My anxiety was so high that when a knock came on my door shortly after
I had closed it, I was startled. I whirled around as though someone was bursting in
on me. Realizing that that was not true, I walked to the door and I tried to regain
my composure. Confused by my strong reaction, I was, by then, even more afraid
that my nervousness would reveal that I was someone other than a typical trader
eager only to make it through a storm.

       Upon opening the door, I found a lama who was also staying at the
guesthouse. He expressed his eagerness to pay his respects and joked that he
wanted the company of someone other than his attendants who apparently had
accompanied him for some time. I welcomed him in and relaxed a bit. He sent his
attendant for tea and sugared tsampa balls while I placed a cushion on the floor by
the fire. We chatted initially about the snow that was beginning to fall outside the
window and the stories that we had heard earlier at dinner about the
treacherousness of the path we had to undertake. Other travelers had told of yaks,
horses and men falling to their deaths off of the steep precipices, especially where
snow or ice disguised the path. Since I was traveling alone, he suggested that I
join his entourage once it was safe to proceed. He offered that his yak herding
monks could shepherd my animals too, so that I could concentrate on getting
myself through the mountains.

       That sounded like a kind and helpful suggestion, but even though I was
lured into trusting him by his robes and his conversation, there continued to be
something discomforting about him. I could hardly discern the lama’s age. He
could have been anywhere between 35 to 60 years old. He was skeletal in his
thinness and his face looked old because of the taut and wrinkled skin. His head
was newly shaved and, although he did not look strong, he did look supple and
wiry. His name was Rudra Rinpoche.

       I had trouble trusting my doubt and my belief that there was something
wrong. Yet, it became an increasingly compelling worry as we talked into the
night. I studied his facial expressions and his mannerisms, searching for a clue as
to what it was that bothered me so much. There was a certain look in his eyes, a
lack of joyfulness, and even a darkness that felt like a seductive black vortex. I
kept waiting for the ever-present laugh of a lama like Abbot Kelzang or the

radiance of Lama Selden but saw neither. He was kind in his suggestions, but I
did not feel the kindness in his heart.

       In my distrust, I deliberately asked questions that I hoped would indicate a
friendly curiosity about what monastery he was from and what the purpose of his
journey was. He said he was from near Gyatsa Xian and had been at a monastery
in Mongolia for many years. He was returning home because a special student in
Lenda was ready for his teachings. He stated that, of course, he could not
disappoint him. His mention of the special student seemed a bit mysterious and I
had a fleeting thought that he might have been referring to the new Dalai Lama,
yet to be born. I wondered if he had had a premonition about the child’s birth. Of
course, I did not say anything about that.

       After a lengthy evening of conversation, he stood to leave and I felt just as
confused and uncomfortable as when he had first arrived. I had a hard time
sleeping that night. With all that was worrying me, I worried most about Rudra
Rinpoche, and wondering what was disturbing me.

I bow down to my lama

Forms are elusive.

They’re hardly a me.

Tsultrim Palmo, I’m named,

But barely, I’m there.

Ever transient and fluid,

Cloud chariots to dream travelers.

Solid only by karma,

Real only in mind.

A form can serve dharma when we know its pure nature.

A form is a gift for the journey we take.

One moment a bird,

At the same time, a kind lady.

My love reaches out as a flower to children.

Time, space, name, and place

Are all habits of karma.

How can compassion flow smoothly

When trapped on such grids that stick it in place?

Do you see me, my yogi?

My Thupten Heruka -
Can you see through my form and remember my name?

I mirror your longings and reflect back your plight.

This life will unfold in convincing dilemmas,

All seeds that you planted in times of delusion.

But, I’ll be by your side to remind you of truth.

When you see vast compassion, you’ll know it is me.

Do you see me, dear yogi?

My Thupten Heruka -

I’m lighting the lamp.

I know Buddha within you.

Our pact has been forged with links made of steel.

I’ll light the way clearly in infinite space.

You’ll carry the weapons and fight through the wars.

Slice through those attachments

Then, hold out your hand.

The people are hungry and dying of thirst.

They’ll flock to your side for your words of great truth.

Do you see me, dear yogi?

I’m right by your side.

A small bird in your night time.

A woman of passion.

A sour old lama with devious eyes.

A guru who loves you.

A traumatic dilemma.

Do you see me, dear yogi? I mirror your world.

Do you see me, dear yogi?

My Thupten Heruka -

I’m here on your right side and death’s on the other.

The path’s very narrow

And your legs are too shaky.

The seeds for your fall were planted so firm.

There is no way to avoid it

As you killed another,

A wild yak whose great horns convinced you of right.

You stabbed him, he fell,

And you barely looked back.

The time has now come to wash yourself clean,

For you will not cross to Enlightenment’s sphere

With unspent misdeeds that cover your eyes.

Do you see me, dear yogi?

My Thupten Heruka -

I lift out my arms,

A blanket to catch you

And lay you down gently.

Sleep now, my friend,

And I’ll be by your side

To feed you clear light in a nettle soup broth.

To steady your step when you go forth again.

Your lama is waiting, the baby is, too.

And your Tsultrim Palmo is me there, under that tree.

                                    I think I know my way

                                  As I wander through woods

                                     But round about I go


                                   Ah, …..there is the road.

       Three days passed and I felt angry and frustrated at the waste of precious
traveling days. In addition, I felt that the owner of the guesthouse was robbing me
of my quite limited financial resources. Frequently during those three days, I
decided that I would take my chances in crossing over the mountain. Each time,
Rudra Rinpoche would find me and warn me with great alarm that it was
impossible for me to survive the highest pass alone. The notoriously dangerous
pass was disastrous, he would insist ominously. I would reluctantly agree and
then I waited some more. Finally, on the morning of the fourth day, a mail rider
came over the pass from the other direction. When he rode through the town, I
went out to meet him and asked him to describe the situation to me. Although still
very treacherous, he advised me that if I left quickly, I might have time to make it
over the pass before nightfall. He counseled that I should drive the yaks in front
of me so that they would reveal hidden crevasses and ice covered lakes.

       “Better they fall to their deaths than you,” he laughed.

       I struggled with his humor as I faced that fearsome prospect. I was sure
that he was far more rugged than I was when it came to such dangerous travel.
Yet, I was determined to risk it because I felt that I must continue my journey.

       As I tightened the cinches around the yaks’ bellies, Rudra Rinpoche came
out to the courtyard and teased me again for being so impatient. I had increasingly
come to dislike that man and still did not really know why. I told him what the

mail rider had said and that he had urged me to leave immediately so that I could
make it over the pass before dark. Once again, Rudra Rinpoche suggested that we
travel together because there was safety in numbers. With his yaks and mine, they
could trample down a path for our horses. Then they would not have to wade
shoulder deep through the snow.

       Of course, what he said made sense, so I agreed that we would go
together. However, I was then forced to wait as he rounded up his company of
horses, yaks, attendants, and the many large chests of lama treasures and gear that
his entourage was carrying for him. Rudra Rinpoche insisted upon a late breakfast
before setting out, and wore me down with pleas until I agreed to share the meal
with them. By the time we eventually left, it was noon. Impatient and petulant, I
rode last behind all of the Rinpoche’s attendants. He was carried after the yaks on
a palanquin that rested heavily on his monks’ shoulders.

       The yaks did help to trample a path. The drifts were as deep as a man was
high but the first part of the journey was up the gently sloping road and not
difficult. I was glad to have my black felt glasses in order to shield my eyes from
the intense brightness that bounced off the snow in laser rays. All around was
solid white except for the ghostly limbs of scrawny trees bearing large, weighty
pads of burdening snow. The world was silent as the snow absorbed every sound.
In an almost dreamlike state, our laboring ponies took us up higher and higher
into the mountain’s secret world.

       Near the top of the climb, the very treacherousness that I had dreaded
began. More and more often, our trail became a sliver of a ledge protruding out
from the steep sides of the mountain. The only footholds were etched into the
snow on the rocky cliffs. Still, we had some plateaus and valleys that we
meandered back into between the precarious spots and I felt that we were making
good progress. I worried less about completing the journey before dark because I
could see the cairn’s prayer flags high up on the summit while we still had many
hours of daylight left.

       Rinpoche rode along like a prince in his palanquin with attendants
frequently running up to him to ask if he had any wishes that they could fulfill.
Once, he stopped and commanded that the attendants fetch the firewood that was
loaded on one of the yaks, so that they could make a fire. He wanted to have tea
and hot noodles. I was aghast at his aplomb. We were up against the forces of an
enormous mountain and all of its dangers, and he casually risked all for a cup of
tea. But, a fire was built on a rocky ledge outcropping and he sipped his butter
tea, bundled comfortably in his sheepskin lap robes and fur hat. I proceeded on
and was told by the attendants that he would catch up shortly.

       I moved ahead of everyone else and rode behind the yaks as they cleared a
path for Da and me. Little Dorje plodded along behind, trying to keep from
sinking into the soft snow. When we approached the first difficult part of the
highest pass, I saw one of Rinpoche’s heavily laden yaks step into a snowdrift
that hid a huge crevasse just a hundred feet ahead of me. He was the second of the
herd and merely stepped in the wrong place. He tumbled down into the great
yawning white expanse of a far away gorge. Soundlessly, he landed below,
unmoving, as a red lake spread slowly out over the snow. I watched in horror and
prayed desperately to Guru Rinpoche to protect us all. I was sure that the other
yaks, one after another, would follow, since the crevasse was so well disguised.
However, they all came to a stop at the place that the yak had fallen, as though
pondering the dilemma. Then, in some magical and silent communication, each of
them in turn began a detour up the mountainside and then back down, avoiding
the precarious schism. I, too, followed their route, trusting more than ever their
sure-footed wisdom.

       Da studied each and every step and I knew that he was as careful to move
us safely over the mountain as I could ever be. We plodded along. The only sound
was the soft crunch of snow with each step and the distant winds blowing eerily
through the mountain peaks above us. All along the cliff’s edge, the dead yak
lying below in the pool of blood transfixed me.

       When we rounded the next turn on the ever-steeper trail, my stomach rose
to my throat. A huge landslide of gargantuan boulders totally obliterated our

route. We were only a short way from the summit but it looked as though the
major part of the mountaintop had cracked and crumbled down, strewing its
rubble onto our path just a few hours before we had arrived there. A huge brown
and black scar burned into the pure whiteness of the mountainside left bereft of
snow. As I stood and stared at the blockade, small rocks and pebbles rolled
ominously down to clank against the larger boulders in front of me. The yaks
struggled to make a trail up, through, and over the rocks and they, too, were
unleashing minor landslides that rolled silently to the depths below. I felt
defeated. I was convinced that there was no way to make it over that enormous

Immobilized, I stood stricken in that spot, contemplating what to do. One of
Rinpoche’s attendants walked up. The entire caravan was at a stop because I
blocked their progress. He gasped at what he saw. We shook our heads in unison.

       “I think that all we can do is turn around and go back,” I said to him. “Go
and ask Rudra Rinpoche to tell those in the very back to turn around, because I
cannot go anywhere until they all go first.”

       He nodded and went carefully back down the trail to tell Rudra Rinpoche
and the others. But, instead of those behind me turning about, nine attendants
returned with orders to begin clearing the boulders. Rinpoche had commanded
that we should proceed. Enraged and frightened, I dismounted and stormed back
to tell Rudra Rinpoche that clearing the landslide and crossing the pass was
impossible and that he was stupid to try.

       “Rinpoche,” I screamed into the icy wind, glaring at him sitting
comfortably in the sheltered spot in which he waited, “I insist that you tell those
behind me to retreat so that I can go back the way we came. I will find another
route. If you want to continue, I am going to go back alone! Go and see for
yourself. The trail is impassable with boulders that we can never move.”

       “Thupten Heruka, calm down. My monks can clear the path. Do not
worry. We will make it through this pass and down to the valley before dark, I
assure you.
       “Meanwhile, have a cup of tea and relax here with me. If you continue to
complain, then I must insist that I will not ask my men and horses to retreat.”
Rudra Rinpoche’s voice became increasingly tense, and with the tension, he
sounded whiny.

       It would have been impossible and dangerous to lead Da back over the
narrow ledge with the others taking up three/fourths of the path. I felt trapped and
somehow tricked. I was so angry with Rudra Rinpoche that I had no thoughts at
all of his status as a lama or of any obligation to revere him. Fire raced through
my body and I was in such a rage that I wanted to hit him.

       Fearful of what I might do or say, I returned to my horse. I desperately
struggled to figure out an alternative plan. When the sun began to set, the
attendants were still precariously inching their way out onto the landslide and
boulder by boulder, they tried to open a path over which to cross. They sent the
animals forward again and the yaks attempted to go higher, up and over the worst
of the landslide. But, their usually impeccable footing was not good enough.
There was nothing to set a foot on, and, one by one, they slid until stopped by a
boulder or drift. One such slide was not contained and another yak plunged to his
death. It was one of mine, and I watched helplessly as my animal and his load of
furs descended to the distant valley floor. I gasped for breath in my anxiety.

       The attendants were sweating from the great exertion and their sweat was
freezing in the cold. One man was crying in his fear, pain and helplessness.
Another was so exhausted that he started to sit down, but all of the others began
to yell at him in horror. They knew that it would only take a few minutes to freeze
to death if he stopped moving. They tugged at him to get up and he wove dizzily
back to the rock pile, stumbling as he got there. The others kept urging him to
keep moving. Finally, they carried him back to Rinpoche’s fire where, I imagine,
they wrapped him in blankets to save his life.

       As dusk settled into the high mountain pass, creating deep and deceptive
shadows, the head attendant came over to me and insisted that we go across right
away or it would be too dark. They had done the best they could to remove the
most precarious rocks and he was going to begin leading the yaks over the trail. I
said nothing and felt that our fate was in the hands of the Buddhas. I was ready to
die if that was what awaited me. I had no other choice. If I stayed, I would freeze.
If I tried to go back alone, I would be lost. One by one, the attendants went to
retrieve each of the yaks and walked them over the narrow path that they had
created. Gravel and scree and more and more rocks tumbled with each crossing.
All of the yaks made the passage and then it was my turn.

       I climbed down off of Da. If we went together and fell, both of us would
die. If I led him and one of us went down, maybe the other would still live. I went
first, pulling a reluctant Da by the reins. Little Dorje followed behind Da. Each
step along the gravel path felt like the slide into eternity was beginning. Quickly,
I would move forward to try to secure my step on solid rock. Again, the slide
would begin. My eyes drilled an imagined lifeline into the rock at the other side
of the crossing. I was only about six feet away from safety when Da stumbled and
the reins jerked out of my hand. I heard his hooves slip. I spun around in panic at
the thought of his falling. In a flash, he was back up on his feet and I was
instantaneously and effortlessly sliding into the space of free fall.

        Not only was I not frightened but I felt miraculously liberated and at
peace. I am sure I plummeted towards the ground at a high rate of speed but my
awareness was that I was floating free in a gliding, slow motion. I could see a
funnel of white mountains surround me and the flat valley pasture coming up to
meet me. Above, I saw Da and Little Dorje safely across the treacherous path and
I felt grateful at their not having fallen as well. Down I fell as though the journey
was endless. My body fell and I floated, flying. I felt an awareness of Guru
Rinpoche’s hand reaching out and gently comforting me, reassuring me that he
was there. I felt that, instead of falling, he had lifted me up.

        I am sure that my body must have landed hard as it sunk in and under
many feet of drifted snow. I, however, felt as though I had landed ever so softly,
tenderly, and lay peacefully asleep in my bed of white. Later, when I had
recovered consciousness, I knew that days must have passed as I lay under the

snow. What I remembered, however, was a shimmering lady with luminescent
white skin holding out her hand to me as she beckoned me to come to her. When I
looked up at her, I was blinded by her radiance. I felt irresistibly compelled to rise
to my feet and take her hand. She was wearing a garland of sweet smelling
flowers around her neck with a golden crown of jewels. Around her waist, she
wore a shimmering girdle of lapis, rubies, and coral. Nude except for those
adornments, her perfect body swam lazily through the snow. Accompanying her
was the melody of a flute that echoed soothingly in the dazzle of white that
surrounded us.

       I was not cold. I had no awareness that I was in danger, lost in the deep
snows below that rocky mountain pass. I was in a paradise other than this world
and yet I knew of my existence as Thupten Heruka. The lady in white led me by
my hand as we floated across the valley. We flew effortlessly and throughout the
timelessness of eons. I was deeply safe and at peace. I knew nothing but the bliss
and radiant light that fused with the subtleties of my being.

       I awakened in a small and drafty wooden hut where I lay on a platform
covered with musty sheepskin blankets. A fire was blazing in a pot in the middle
of the floor. It provided some warmth but I shivered in agony, as I was cold to
the core of my being. My entire body screamed in pain with searing lightening
bolts of heat which caused me to writhe, trying to escape each jolt. I was dizzy
and I felt as though I was hallucinating the little cabin. I wondered where my
beautiful lady had gone along with the deep and pervasive sense of peace that I
had felt. My ice garden had evaporated and I had lost my blissful world. I looked
about in confusion and then I burst into sobs. I hurt. I was weak. I was alone.
And, I was in a cold mountain hut instead of in my beautiful world of shimmering
light. I felt robbed of my heaven and plucked back into a cruel nightmare.

        A black felt curtain hung over the entryway. I heard a heavy bar being
lifted outside the door. The door squeaked open and then the curtain was pushed
aside. A weathered and wrinkled, stooped and gray-headed, old man shuffled in
through the flapping curtain as a wailing wind blew ferociously through the open

door. He looked over at me. His eyes were a rheumy black and revealed
bottomless seas of kindness. He saw that I was awake. A gap-toothed smile
spread quickly across his face and brought a pink blush to his cheeks. He seemed
to glide across the floor to me, hardly lifting his feet, and so arthritic he could
hardly bend his limbs. Knobby fingers on gnarled old hands reached gently out to
me to stroke my face.

        “My child, you are awake!” he spoke tenderly in a warm honey voice. My
tears became tears of a heart swell in the presence of so much love.

        “It has been a long, long time that you have been unconscious,” he
continued. “We have much to be grateful for, now that you are back in the land of
the living!” His gentle laugh protected me from being overcome by the enormity
of my pain. “I have some soup of barley grass for you that I made earlier today. It
is just what you need to bring this poor body back to life.”

        With another stroke of his hand on my forehead, he rose and his bare feet
padded over to the fire pot. He lifted a large iron pan and placed it on the rusty
grate over the fire. A stick was used to stir the soup. As it heated, I could smell
the pungent and life restoring aroma. I began to salivate and wondered how long
it had been since I had eaten anything. Then, my memory rocked me, and I was
shocked that I could have forgotten. I thought of Lama Selden Rinpoche and that
he was waiting for me.

        “He must be wondering where I am,” I thought. “He could be in danger
and I am not there.” I tried to lift myself up, but realized that I could not move at
all. Every muscle was chaotic and uncooperative in its pain. I stuttered in an
attempt to tell the old man that I needed to go. Only unintelligible sounds came
out and I felt trapped in a body that would not obey me in any way. I became
frightened at not being able to communicate or move. My eyes darted around,
hoping to express to that savior of mine that I desperately needed his help.
Slowly, the man shuffled back across the wooden floor to my side, delicately
carrying the soup. He sat beside me on the platform. With great difficulty, he set
the soup on the floor. He propped me up with a blanket, picked up the soup bowl,
and very tenderly began to pour small, warm sips into my frozen body. All the
time, he softly sang, “OM MANI PADME HUNG”.

       Days went by, but I could not tell how many. That gentle father nourished
me back into a body that could move and speak. I shared with him my memory of
the fall, but I did not tell him of the beautiful lady who carried me from the snow
and my ever present longing to return to her. It was a longing so great that
whenever I thought of her, sobs would arise and I felt that if it was dying that
would return me to her, I would be willing to succumb to such a fate. Yet, at the
same time, I was also constantly striving to get better so that I could go to Lama
Selden Rinpoche. I felt pulled in many different directions but could only lay
helplessly in the tiny cabin, far from everywhere.

       One night as I tossed in sleep, aching in limbs that had been frozen for so
long, I turned over and slightly opened my eyes. I saw my benefactor sitting in
yogic posture over by the fire pot in the middle of the night. I was so surprised
that I became fully awake. He was meditating and continued to do so throughout
the night. Radiance surrounded him. I would periodically fall back to sleep and
would awaken again to see him not having moved at all. A sweet smell of cedar
filled the cabin that was much too warm for one heated to such coziness by the
most inadequate fire. I began to wonder then who that bent and shuffling little
man of the mountains could be.

       Slowly, each day, I felt stronger and I was in less pain. Outside, blizzards
had raged and huge winds had whirled through our little valley hideout. The cabin
stayed snug, food seemed to materialize from some hidden larder, and I was
provided with warm clothes and even medicinal herbs. The wizened old man who
cared for me stayed always in minimal and ragged clothing with never a hat on
his head, boots on his bare feet, or a coat when he went out into the snow. He
would leave early in the mornings as though on an everyday errand when most
might go out to the market. He, however, never came back with anything and I
was quite sure that there was no where to go. When I could walk a little, I
ventured over to the door and looked outside. All that I could see in any direction

was the deep snow covering the valley below and, above me, high mountains
rising abruptly without any hint of a trail to the summits. My old friend never
talked to me other than to be very nurturing and to ask about my health. At times,
I would hint at questions about his life there and why he had chosen such a hidden
place. His eyes would twinkle and he would tuck a blanket around me more
tightly or shuffle over to get me something warm and good to eat. He never did
any meditative practices during the day when I might see him. He did not even
have an altar or say any prayers except his mantra, but there was no question that
he was a most special adept and healer.

       My question began to be, how was I going to get out of that valley and
find my way back to the road on which I had been traveling? I was very hesitant
to share with my friend the necessity of returning to my travels even though I
trusted that little yogin enormously and was very grateful to him for doing so
much for me. I began pacing the cabin floor with my slowly accumulating
energies, feeling almost ready to take my chances again against the mountain and
its snows.

       One day, at least a month after my fall, my friend watched me from where
he was steeping tea by the fire. Troubled, I gazed out through the door which I
had cracked open. A very short path allowed one to exit the door but then the
snow would have been up to my chest, had I waded out into it. Wind screamed
furiously by the cabin, blowing blinding snow. I could not see further than the
nearest tree that was hardly twenty feet from the door. I was very discouraged and
worried that I might be there for weeks before the snow would diminish and I
could go on in my search for Lama Selden Rinpoche.

       My friend silently rose from the fire and I felt him come up behind me. He
put a gentle arm around my shoulder. “Perhaps, it is time for you to continue on
your journey? Do you feel strong enough?” he asked.

       I turned to look at him quizzically. I wondered what he could be saying as
it was obviously impossible to leave the cabin. Did he think that I should just
walk out into the snow when I had no idea where I was or where to go?
       “I don’t think I can,” I said, hesitant because I was aware that he might
know something that I did not. “I don’t even know where I am. Can you tell me
how to get back to a road?”

       “Come on and we’ll go together. Let’s get your coat and boots, and here,
we will put an extra sheepskin around you.” He gathered up the sheepskin cover
off the bed and held it out to me along with my jacket.

       I could say nothing, I was so astonished. I was fearful that he would lead
us into sure disaster and yet, I had suspicions that his powers were more
extraordinary than I knew. He poured us each a cup of hot tea as though we were
going out for a morning stroll. He himself put on no extra clothing but opened the
door and walked out, holding out his hand to me. Aghast, but trusting as a child, I
took his hand and exited our safe cabin and stepped out into the snow.

   My mentor led the way, pushing through the waist deep snows as though he
was walking through water and creating an easy path for me. I was disbelieving
but followed obediently. He seemed to know every step of the path hidden
underneath the snow and we walked, making quite rapid progress. Gradually, we
climbed to higher and higher ground. Then, he stopped as though listening
intently to something. I stopped too, not wanting the sound of my movement to
drown out what he heard. I heard nothing.

   “Ah, do you hear him?” he asked.
   “Who?” I questioned, quite puzzled.
   “Come, we will go closer. They have waited so long.” My protective father
urged me on once again toward a world mysterious and invisible to me.
   We continued climbing the trail, a very gradual ascent of the mountain. I
recognized that perhaps it was the face of the mountain from which I had fallen. I
looked up to the high peaks and passes, straining to find the trail that I had taken
with Rudra Rinpoche. The sound of the blowing wind seemed to drown out all
other noises except the creaking of deeply shifting snow crevices.

   Then, I heard it, too. It was a long and eerie moan. The closer we came, the
more intently I listened, trying to identify the horrifically painful cry. Stopping
again and looking up into the mountaintop, I had a most shocking awareness. The
moan was not that. It was a howl. It was my dog, Little Dorje, howling for his lost
master. I began to run. I ran past the old man and pushed through the high snow
as though my heart would burst with pain and exertion. I could barely see a trail
indented in the covering snow. It was the trail that I should have come down, had
I made it through the pass. Little Dorje’s howl was still quite a long way up the
mountain, but I had to climb up there to get to him!

    “Wait!” My friend called out. “Wait. You don’t know the path and you might
fall again. Let me go first and clear the way. We will get to your precious dog.
Don’t worry, he is all right. He is waiting for you and only you. He will come
when he sees you. Your horse is up there, too. Neither would continue after you

    “Da! Da is up there, too?” I had assumed that Rudra Rinpoche would have
added them to his entourage and that they would have been corralled long ago in
his village monastery. I had sadly resigned myself to never seeing them again.

    I followed my guide up the trail and kept calling to Little Dorje and to Da.
The howling stopped. I continued to call out and then to my great joy and relief,
Little Dorje came bounding down the path, leaping higher than his own height to
traverse the snow drifts. Da limped along behind, much more noticeably suffering
from the cold and hunger. Both had bony ribs showing beneath frozen fur and
when I, at last, had my arms around them, my face buried alternately in first one
skeletal neck and then the other, I could see the rigors that they had suffered
during their very long time on the mountain alone.

    “It’s a miracle that they survived,” I said as I turned to the man. “How have
they managed without food and shelter?”

    “Oh, they had a little bit of food each day. And, I built them a little roof
against the mountainside. But, they would not come with me as much as I urged
them. I even tried bringing some of your clothing thinking that they would then
trust me if they could smell your scent. They never did. They wanted to wait for
you to come back to where you left them. They never gave up.”
   He walked over to Da and patted him. Da clearly recognized him and nuzzled
his nose into the old man’s chest as though looking for straw in his shirt.

   “Ah, my little beauty of a horse,” he said. “I promised I would bring your
young master back to you, didn’t I?” Then, he patted Little Dorje who was still
leaping to lick my hand. Sitting up on his back legs with his front paws on my
shoulders, he excitedly pushed his head into my neck and against my face.

   “Come on, we have to get all of you to the village where these animals can get
some food. We will be there before nightfall.” And again, with great assuredness,
the man set off back down the mountain and toward the sweeping, open valley.

   By twilight, we were on the outskirts of a village that we entered by crossing
fields and farmlands. The only visible road entered and left on the other side of
the community and only our path came from the mountainside. I knew that it was
not a very large town and doubted that it had been on my original route. But, I
hoped that perhaps, without asking too many questions, I could find the way on to
Langdun. The snow was significantly less a burden at that lower altitude and the
streets were muddy slush. Gray stone houses and whitewashed wooden cottages
with rock walls lined the streets. The women worked out in their gardens and I
could see others inside, through windows illuminated by lamps. Many of the men
were still busy in the fields behind their houses trying to turn the mud into
cropland. I felt relieved to be there and charmed by the wholesome feeling of the

    The old man and I walked down the narrow streets, weaving gradually
towards some unknown destination. I led Da by his mane and Little Dorje slowly
walked alongside, his usual strength greatly diminished by hunger. Some of the
villagers looked up and called out greetings. At first, I thought that it was just
friendliness, but soon realized that many recognized my traveling companion and
were welcoming him. Not far into the town, we turned and entered a gate to the
courtyard of a large and well-kept home. The stone wall had an abundance of
barley piled high on top of it to dry. The house was freshly painted a bright red
and blue, with shutters and the doors decorated with paintings of lotuses and
various sacred symbols. Bleached white curtains with sacred designs hung over
the windows and hundreds of prayer flags were strung from ropes stretched
tightly from the house to the walls of fencing. They snapped crisply in the breeze,
the sound reminding me of entering a monastery. My friend walked fearlessly up
to the door as two brown mastiffs came racing around the corner of the house
barking at the new arrivals. My dog bristled in surprise and Da reflexively backed
up. But, as soon as the dogs saw the old man, their tails began to wag and the
barking stopped. He greeted them warmly as though they were his very own dogs
and he had only been away a short time.

   Then, he opened the door without a knock and poked his head in and yelled
out, “Who is here? Put on some tea and warm up a big pot of stew - I have a
friend and we are very hungry!

   “First, I am going to the back stable to feed the horse, Da. And, then, my
happy Little Dorje would like a big bowl of meat!”

   At the sound of his voice, a chubby and strikingly lovely grandmother
wearing a green chuba and striped apron came to the door with a smile and
laughed at the commands of his greeting.

   “Oh, I am so happy to see you!” she exclaimed again and again, bowing
slightly as she grabbed my little friend’s shoulders and embracing him. Two
young girls also appeared and danced in delight. They reached out for his hands
and hugged their faces into his skinny belly, as that was as far up as they could

   “Papa! Papa!” they squealed.

   I could not believe that perhaps that was his home. It was totally incongruent
with the barren and cold world that I had just shared with him.

   “What has he been doing out in that cabin with me when he could have been
home, here, in this comfortable place?” I wondered.

   Yet, they seemed to know him well and to love him. His shabby dress and the
absence of warm clothes and boots in that cold weather did not surprise them at

       “Now,” he said to the grandmotherly woman, turning and gesturing to me,
“this is my friend. And, here is his dog. I will take the horse around to the back
and get him some delicious barley and make him a nice warm bed for the night.
You take this boy and his dog and feed them. Then, we will give him a warm bed,
too,” he reached up and patted my cheeks.

       “Then, you can return to the world and to your life. All is well!”

       Early the next morning, I eagerly readied myself to proceed with my journey.
I had spent much of the evening the night before bathing and combing out Little
Dorje’s matted fur and putting healing balm on his many sores. I wanted to give
as much attention to Da before I expected him to travel very far towards our
distant destination. I surely did not plan to ride him in the condition that he was
in, so our progress was going to be slow since we all would need to walk. When I
went out to the stable in the misty dawn, my host and friend had already brought
sweet hay to the horses. He talked softly to the animals as he fed them and
cleaned their stalls. I began to doctor my valiant black pony, still amazed and
grateful at his commitment to wait for me no matter how painful. When the
horses were fed and cleaned, and Da had fragrant herbs and balm applied to all of
his wounds, the little man approached me humbly.

       “I have some words to offer to you about your journey. Would you like to
hear them?” he asked as though anything he might have to give was hardly worth
my time.

       Instead, I was honored that he would want to help me yet again. I was
expecting that he was going to give me information about roads and directions.
He suggested that we go for a walk in the field.

       “You are embarking on a much more difficult adventure than you know. Far
more difficult than it has been so far,” he began.

       Again, I thought that he was talking about how difficult the route that I must
travel would be.
   “A great sorcerer of dark and magical energy is fearing that you will try to
interrupt him in accomplishing his goal. Therefore, his trickery will be an
obstacle in your path until you defeat him. This will not be an easy task at all and
you may die. So, you must be very alert to his plots to fool you. You must be
suspicious of everyone and everything as a manifestation of his plans against
you.” The old man spoke as though he was imparting information about any
difficult task. He did not seem to feel the gravity of my fears nor were his
warnings commensurate with the light way that he shared his words.

   “I know,” he continued, “that you are a very devoted practitioner and have
learned much from your guru and other lamas. This commitment and excellent
focus of mind will help you very much. You have much good karma that will
protect you also, but everyone can meet obstacles. If your karma is ripe for
negativity and you forget that the Buddhas are with you, the next time you
encounter such black magic, you could die.

   “I would like to help you a little bit. I would like to tell you some things that I
have learned that have helped me. I do not know very much but maybe something
that I might say will be good for you as you make this journey.

   “Would that be all right?” he asked hesitantly.

   I was shaken at his forecast of danger and my possible death. The last month
had brought a feeling of vulnerability that I had never felt before. I had learned a
great deal about being protected and about the ease and even the gloriousness of
death. I was less afraid to die than ever before, yet, at the same time, after getting
healthier and no longer face to face with death, I found myself more fearful at
meeting such challenging circumstances again. In fact, more than ever before, I
thought of such dangers as a more ominous and likely reality.

   I wondered, too, who the sorcerer was and if it was because of my mission for
Purchokpa Rinpoche and Lama Selden Rinpoche that he was so determined to kill
me. I suspected that that was true.

   “Anything at all that you could teach me, my friend, would be of inestimable

value to me. You have given me so much. I know now that you are not an
ordinary man. I know that you must be a very accomplished magician yourself,
but for the good of struggling beings like myself. I’m frightened to hear your
prophecy, so please, tell me what you can to help me if I meet this evil magician,”
I pleaded.

    “No, young man. I am not so accomplished. I am just a silly old man who
lives in the mountains. I am no one special.

    “But, I can be like an arrow that can point out a path. That is nothing like
reaching the goal, or taking you down the path, or even describing the path to
you. But, I can point my finger so that you can discern the path from amongst all
of the trees.

    “That little bit I can do and maybe that will be of some small help.

    “This is what I will so boldly tell you, as though I know something! You are
so earnest and dedicated and you are so driven to accomplish your goal, that you
are forgetting true wisdom. You are proceeding with your brain and your courage.
Now, you must move forward with devotion to Buddha.

    “Trust that if you will just relax and fall into his arms, he will carry you to
where you are going. There is not anything that you need to do. But, only in truly
seeing him and offering yourself to him, can you fall into his arms. He will be
like your father and move you swiftly beyond any dangers.

    “Do not work so hard; do not worry so much; do not doubt so often.

    “You are pure wisdom Buddha. You are all-pervasive compassion. Nothing is
greater than that. No magician can conquer that.

    “In Guru Rinpoche’s arms, you become one with him, never born, never
dying; no past, no present, no future. There is nothing ever arising or dissolving
that is anything other than the expression of radiant purity. Resting in
compassionate devotion, you will have no limits. Limits are only the laws of this
realm, made by those of us who do not know our own true nature.

   “This magician, he has many tricks that manipulate conventional reality. But,
he is far from being as powerful as the mind of enlightenment. In enlightenment,
one does only beneficial things for all beings; effortless benefit and effortless

   “Open your heart and you will only feel love. Open your throat and out will
flow mantra speech. Open your eyes and pure essence will reveal itself to you.
Then, all actions will be a manifestation of Buddha’s desires.

   “Do not even doubt it!” he said with great sincerity.

   I listened intently but did not understand.

   “Who is listening?” he said.

   “Who is trying to understand?....

   “Who is looking down at these frozen grasses upon which we walk?.....

   “Who is speaking? ....

   “Who is loving you? ....

   “Who is holding you?....

   “Who knows?”

   Each question relaxed me and the long pauses in between sparked a moment
of touching some part of me that was the vast awareness of the one that knew. I
saw a glimpse of Buddha’s love reaching out for me.

   I have always remembered that moment, as it was a true beginning.

   He took my arm as though to steady himself like a stumbling old man. I knew
him the day before as a ferocious hiker pushing against heavy snows and melting
huge drifts before my eyes. No other being that I had ever met could have
accomplished such a feat.

    “What is it that he is trying to give to me?” I pondered. “Is he allowing me to
aid him in walking across this easy field?” I did not understand, but, in a deeply
caring way, I assisted him home to the house and felt filled by the opportunity to
be kind to him.

   Later, I led Da out to the gate with Little Dorje running alongside. My friend
appeared once again, coming down the street towards me. He had the reins of a
yak in his hand. The yak was loaded with food, a small tent, cooking gear, and
tied on its back was a bundle of hay for my horse. Behind him were two more
yaks loaded with furs and trading goods. Lastly, following along with them, was a
small blond pony, saddled and wearing a heavy, radiantly colored rug.

   “This cannot be for me!” I protested. “You have done far too much for me. I
cannot take this!”

   “Where is your dharma pride?” he scolded. “You are on a mission to benefit
every being in Tibet and Buddhism forever. You must not think that you are this
one man who is benefiting from these gifts. I would not give them to any beggar
walking down the street. Your work is dharma and in supporting you, I will
receive great merit!”

   He laughed as though he had pulled a very crafty trick on me, from which he
derived enormous amusement. Then, he dropped the reins of the yak, came over
and took my hands in his and we bowed until our heads touched.

   “Have a good journey, my son,” he encouraged. “Follow this road until it
splits to the west and the east. Go east. Then, after a day, you will meet a road that
cuts to the left. Then you will be back on your correct route.”

   I had never told him anything about my destination or my mission. He had
never even asked my name nor did he tell me his.

                         Five: Developing Motivation

                          The B odhisattva w ay is as vast as the sky,

                           And final reality is subtler than an atom.

                  For som eone like m e to attempt to describe the se subjects

                   Is like trying to measure the ocean with a mango seed.

   The Fifth Dalai Lama (1617 - 1682)

   Finally, I was beyond the mountain ranges and I had reached the valley, the
gateway into the warm, temperate region of Tibet, which was my destination.
Along with feeling happy that I had made progress in my travels, I was very
happy that spring weather meant sunny days, no snow or blowing winds, and
flowers all around. My journey became easier and more pleasant with every day
taking me further and further south. I passed many other travelers who eagerly
chatted with me about the profits and losses they made in their trades. Some
shared news of others that had proceeded me down the road and with whom they
had enthusiastically wiled away an afternoon with tea and gossip. Like bulletins
of helpful travel forecasts, I was told of good and bad places to spend the night,
the existence of bands of brigands, where one had to pay taxes to local village
leaders, and where famous or splendid persons were going in the region.

   Most of the time, however, I was preoccupied with contemplating the words
of advice that I had been given by my wise friend. I knew the truth of his words,
even though I did not fully understand them. They were the teachings that I had
been longing to receive since I began the yogic path of dharma. As I walked
along the road, I meditated and chanted mantra. Every time I stopped to rest, I
pondered again what he had said and I tried to meditate according to his

   Whenever I strayed from my focus, I would hear my magical teacher’s voice
saying, “Fall into Guru Rinpoche’s arms. Effortless faith. Dissolve into your

innately pure nature.”

   Sometimes, I felt that I had a glimpse of that pure expression of Buddha and
at other times, I was discouraged at my inability to focus. I would forget that I
was meditating, get distracted, and then remember my practice again many hours
later. I tried too hard. I would feel too many emotions arising in response to fears,
anger or longings. I knew that my meeting with that incredible man was a great
blessing and I was determined not to have him waste his wisdom on someone
who would not appreciate it nor put out the effort to practice it. He had done
much for me. I wanted to offer my gratitude through dedicated efforts to realize
the fruit of his words and to use them to benefit others.

   I traveled for days, trotting leisurely along on my new pony under an elegant,
swaying awning of Eucalyptus trees that lined the road for many long miles. The
yaks, a limping Da, and Little Dorje kept pace behind me, all of us bathing in the
warm breezes. On the seventh day, a lone man approached from the opposite
direction. He wore a long black robe and had long hair down below his shoulders
that flowed freely and gracefully in the slight wind. When he was closer, I saw
that he was still quite young, maybe around sixteen years old. He was dressed
elegantly in shiny black leather boots and wore a magnificent jeweled dagger held
in a golden sheath. Around his neck, he had an enormous silver gao studded with
turquoise and coral, and he wore one long silver earring with lapis stones. His
stride was a commanding one and he hardly looked up at me as he passed swiftly
by. He did not greet me at all.

   Only after he had passed did I notice another smaller and rather frantic, poorly
dressed man running after him. When I saw the second man at a distance, he
looked vaguely familiar. When I saw him more clearly, I recognized him as the
attendant of Rudra Rinpoche who had had such a hard day on the mountain pass
trying to clear the rocks. He looked up and realized at once who I was and he
dropped to his knees in surprise.

   “Oh, my! It is you, Thupten Heruka! I would never have believed that you
could have survived that fall. Everyone said that you must have died
immediately! I did not see you fall, but the others, they told me you had fallen
and were killed! And, here you are!”

   He stuttered and gushed in disbelief. Suddenly, as though moved by great
intensity, he jumped up and rushed over to kiss my hand and placed my hand on
his head.

   “You must have great powers, yogi Thupten Heruka. Please, please say
special blessings for me.”

   “Don’t be so surprised, my friend,” I said, trying to reassure him that no
miracle had occurred. “A very good man found me and took me in. It was he who
saved my life. It was nothing that I did whatsoever. I surely have no special

   “Now, look at me and tell me how you are. The last I saw you, you were not
in very good shape either! Did you recover ok? And, tell me the story of how
Rudra Rinpoche and all of you made it over the pass. Did everyone make it ok?”

   I was very curious.

   “I hardly remember anything,” he shared. “I was so weak from the cold that I
was almost unconscious. They tied me to a horse in order to get me over the pass
and down the mountain. But, I heard that one by one, we all crossed over the
landslide by lantern light. On the other side of that great obstacle, we had an
almost equally difficult time getting over the pass itself. It was very steep and
rocky and very, very treacherous. We lost at least two more of the yaks and a
horse. But, you were the only man to fall.

   “By the time we crossed the pass it was almost dawn. We were exhausted but
Rinpoche kept urging us to go on, so on we went. By the time we reached the
bottom of the mountain, it was night again and finally, we were allowed to set up
camp and have a good meal. It was the most grueling thing I have ever been

   “But, now I see you and I am amazed at what you must have suffered. I would
really like to hear your story but I must run and catch up with my young master,
Gyabje Tulku.

   “Rudra Rinpoche’s monastery is on the edge of the next village. Perhaps, you
would stop and spend the night with us? Then, I could hear more.”

   “Well, perhaps,” I ventured hesitantly. “Go on now, and maybe I will see you

   Down the road he ran to his charge who had covered a great deal of ground
during our short conversation. I did not urge my horse on right away but turned in
my saddle and watched the two pass out of my sight. As I sat staring at them,
some indefinable confusion stirred deep within me. The boy had such a prideful
walk, yet an elegance about him. I liked the attendant and yet, I thought vaguely,
he seemed troubled and frightened.

   “Do I want to worry about such a disturbing and probably insignificant
mystery, or should I just travel on without another thought?” I mused. It was still
early in the day. To stop at the monastery for the night would have been a waste
of traveling hours but I felt somewhat obligated.

   “I know for certain that I do not want to stay the night,” I strategized silently.
“My time is too precious. But, perhaps, I should stop and greet Rudra Rinpoche
and maybe have a hot meal with him.”

   Again and again throughout the next few miles, I changed my mind back and
forth. I would decide to stop and then I would decide not to.

   “Perhaps,” I debated, “I should just pay my respects to the Rinpoche because
he is a lama and he did try to make my journey easier by accompanying me.
However, if I am truthful, I do not like him and, in fact, I feel very uneasy around
him.” I could feel what was close to disgust writhing in my belly and my
forehead wrinkled into a frown.

   “He is a lama, though. I should be ashamed to admit to the dislike of a lama.
Lama Selden would tell me to not judge him and to see him as a Buddha no
matter what my personal opinion of him might be. All of my dharma teachings
would say this.
   “And, I do not want to be disrespectful to him.

   “But, all lamas and abbots and even those with the title of Rinpoche are not
always deserving of respect.

   “Yet, I surely fall far short of having the wisdom to know whether my
judgments have validity or are the result of my own impure vision. Usually,
when I have such doubts, I give much leeway on the side of my own inadequate
ability to see the purity of another. But,” I applauded myself in my debate, “I’m
always civil, even when in doubt.

   “It would hardly be proper to deliberately snub Rudra Rinpoche by not
stopping to see him. Probably, the attendant will return home and ask Rinpoche if
I had stopped at the monastery to offer my greetings, and then surely, he would
feel that I had deliberately slighted him. That would be quite an omission on my
part and might even make him and others suspicious about my travels.

   “Well, I will stop briefly. I will not even stay for a meal. I will just stop to say
hello and then, I will say that I must continue on with my journey. I will say that
my trip into Bhutan has been significantly delayed and that I must hurry in order
to return to my family who has not heard from me for so long that they are most
certainly worried. I’ll get up and leave after only a brief greeting.”

   Although, I was still not comfortable with my decision, I felt obliged to carry
through with at least that short stop.

   When I saw the village in the distance, I looked around and also saw the
monastery set back beyond the fields on the edge of the woods. The road leading
into it was flat and gravel and not very long. This pleased me because it would
make such a necessary but distasteful detour take even less time. I turned off my
main route and when I was near to the monastery, I led my yaks and horses into a
small, stone walled enclosure and rolled some rocks across the opening to secure
the animals inside. It was then only a brief walk to the monastery gate. As I got
closer, I noticed that the grounds and buildings were shabby with tall weeds
sprouting from the bald earth that was the courtyard. The stone front steps had

been dislodged by erosion. Water had flooded down from a gutterless roof turning
the porch into a pool, and little by little, the building had been almost destroyed.

   “Apparently,” I scowled as I looked around, “no one is taking much interest in
restoring things. Everything is dissolving out from under them.”

   I felt disgust and distress as I saw tattered and dirty prayer flags that still flew
from posts in the courtyard although they were hardly more than shreds. The front
doors to the temple had no paint left on them and one large brass handle was
completely missing.

   “Perhaps, all of this disrepair is because Rudra Rinpoche has been in
Mongolia for so many years and the monks who were left behind took little
responsibility in keeping things up,” I pondered with concern. That seemed to be
the only plausible explanation.

   I opened the door to the temple and saw the shrine room set up for meditation
but no one was inside. The interior too, was in very poor condition with peeling
paint and a strong stench of mold and rancid butter. However, maroon cushions
were laid out in rows, sacred implements were set out on prayer desks, offering
bowls were filled with water and butter lamps were glowing on the altar. I looked
up at the statue and then at the thangkas and realized that I did not recognize the
deities depicted. The pantheon of Tibetan Buddhist deities is enormous and I was
far from knowing them all. I was curious but did not think much about that. I
thought that perhaps they were deities that were more familiar to the Mongolians.

   I exited the temple and decided to look for someone in one of the nearby
buildings that could help me find Rinpoche. All of the structures that I glanced
into were equally a shambles and I could not decide which looked the most like
someone might be living in it. The entire place looked deserted. It was then that I
spotted a young monk, about six years old, crossing the courtyard. I called out to
the boy and asked if he knew the whereabouts of Rudra Rinpoche. At first, he
looked at me as though he did not understand whom it was that I was asking for.
Then, after pausing a few moments, he exclaimed that, yes, he knew who Rudra
Rinpoche was and said that he would lead me to him. I thought it strange that the
boy did not recognize his name if Rudra Rinpoche was the head of the monastery,
even though he had been away. My body began to tingle with anxiety.

   The child and I crossed the stone courtyard, so dusty that we stirred up small
clouds behind us with each step. He led me behind a building that looked like it
had been a large dormitory and it, too, looked unoccupied. Then, we went up a
short path to a door that led into a mound of earth protruding from a small hill. It
looked like an old food cellar set underground to keep the produce and meats
cool. The door was hardly substantial, primarily boards nailed roughly on two
angled boards with a rope for a latch. The boy’s gentle knock moved someone
inside to open it, and there, looking up from the dirt floor below was Rudra
Rinpoche. He only saw the young monk at first and looked at him ferociously for
having disturbed him.

   “What is it?” he snapped.

   Then, he saw me behind the boy and instantly he paled. Recovering his
composure, he quickly put on a smile and stepped up from his earthen room,
reaching out his hands. “I don’t believe it!” he cooed. “I thought that we had lost
you forever!”

   Bowing formally and stiffly, I greeted him as one should a Rinpoche, but I
was increasingly certain that something was terribly wrong. Rudra fully exited his
room and shut the door behind him, tying the rope in a knot to dissuade intruders.
Then, he turned back to me and insisted that we go to the main hall.

    “Come! Come and have some tea where we can share our adventures since we
last saw one another,” he said heartily. “What a story you must have to tell! Did
you fly, Thupten Heruka?” He laughed uproariously at his joke.

    “Unfortunately, I can only stay a very short time. I have family expecting me
and my time is very limited. Perhaps a cup of tea, but that is all that I will be able
to stay for.” I tried not to sound desperate with my pleas to escape.

    “I passed your attendant on the road,” I explained further, “and I just wanted
to pay my respects before I hurry on my way.”
   “Well, of course,” he said, “But, I would like to have you spend the night, so
that I could feel as though I’ve done my duty to my good friend, Thupten Heruka.

   “You know, you could be a ghost right now! I have included you in my
prayers for those who have died! And, here you are, not a ghost at all but very
much alive. For such a miracle, surely you must spend the night or at least let me
have the cooks fix you a hot meal before you go on your way.”

   “No,” I insisted. “I really am in a great hurry and have to go on towards
Bhutan as soon as I can. I really don’t even have time for tea, if you will excuse
me. I did not want to go on by, though, without stopping to greet you and to thank
you for your attempts to make my trip across the mountain easier by
accompanying me. Unfortunately, even your kind efforts did not result in a very
auspicious journey. Luckily, the fates were with me and a very kind man found
me and saved my life. Were it not for him, I would not be here right now!”

   I laughed, trying to appear casual and relaxed. I was very clear that I did not
want to stay a moment longer.

   “Now, Thupten Heruka, please,” he begged, “you must at least join me for
tea. You have come this long way and I am sure you are hot and tired. I very
much want to hear more of your story, and I have some incredible stories to tell
you of the great difficulties that we had in crossing the pass. Come on with me.

   He took off at a brisk pace down the path headed toward the dormitory
structure. When he had reached the steps, he did not even look back to see if I
was following but opened the door and marched on in. I stood still. I definitely
did not want to follow, and yet I was hesitant to just walk away and out the gate. I
walked cautiously toward the building and Rinpoche opened the door again and
called out, “In here, my friend. Come on!”

   “Rinpoche,” I said, walking towards him. “I really must go on. I cannot stay
for tea. I just wanted to say hello to you and now I must go.”

   I mounted the two steps to the door slowly, placing my palms together and
bowing slightly in my good-bye. He stood with his arm holding open the rotting
but still heavy door as I stepped into the shadow that it made on the stoop.

      “Well, if you insist,” said Rudra. “I am sorry that you cannot stay.”

      He continued to edge back into the shadows of the dark hallway and I looked
up at his face to say a final good-bye. He moved back and the door shut behind
me, shoving me into the hallway with him. I stumbled from its force and as I
caught my footing, I looked up, staring into complete darkness. Looming from the
pitch, I saw Rudra Rinpoche, who had stood before me a moment before, but who
had unbelievably transformed himself into an enormous bat. Ebony black and
leathery, purple veined, he flapped giant wings of dark formless shapes that I
could hear far more than see. His evil eyes glistened bottomless black pools and
the only things other than oily, foul surging shadows were white dagger teeth. I
was frozen in shock and fear.

      Hardly a moment passed, but when my eyes could see in the darkness, I could
discern movement all around me on the floors and walls of the hallway.
Scorpions, spiders, finger long centipedes and snakes covered every surface,
writhing and crawling over one another. I stared at that dark mass of horrors; the
undulating black waves of poisonous creatures. I looked straight down and a
moving tide of fur covered spiders and curling tailed scorpions were traveling up
my boots. A silky black snake wrapped about my ankle.

      The man-sized bat flapped its way clumsily up to the ceiling beam, curtained
with cobwebs, and curled its huge claw feet around the old stained brocades that
had once elegantly decorated it. The creature screeched in victory and delight.

      My first reaction was to turn and run back out the door. My hand reflexively
reached out to push the door open and I saw that it, too, was teeming with death
delivering spiders and scorpions ready to strike at such an aggressive motion. I
might open the door and escape, I realized, but if bitten, I would not live long. I
pulled my hand back and without thought, I entered a slow motion, timeless and
effortless state of consciousness. I did not create a response; a response enveloped
   My old man from the mountain came to me and his words were, “Fall into
Guru Rinpoche’s arms and you will be liberated from all danger.

   “Dissolve into Him.

   “When you become His Heart Mind, you are beyond all the magic in the
reality of the unenlightened. Know clearly that you are Buddha and there is
nothing other than the manifestation of pure wisdom reality.”

   Softly, like snow melting into a lake, this awareness flowed into me and filled
me with peace. My heart swelled with love for the beings all about me. Each
became an individual who was suffering and longing for more than their
struggling spider or snake or scorpion bodies. Mantra words arose as the only
words that could be said, and softly, I began to sing a love song to the swarming
mass around me.

   They stopped their angry crawling and aggressive vying with each other for
dominance. Slowly and noticeably, they became calmed. I reached down and
began to lift them off of my boots, one by one, silently singing mantra to them
and blessing each one. Then, I moved those between me and the door slowly
aside and took a step to exit.

   The bat swooped to the floor, stirring up all the creatures into a frenzy again,
but I had pushed open the door and I leaped outside.

   I slammed the door shut behind me and ran as fast as I could back to the
corral. Swiftly, I gathered up my animals. I stopped every few moments to look at
the door from which I had exited to see if I had been followed.

   No one came out of the door. No one made any attempt to come after me.

   My heart was beating wildly and as I pushed my yaks and horses further and
further down the road, I was increasingly in disbelief that what had happened had
indeed truly happened. Once again on the main road, I stopped and turned to look
back at the monastery. There was no one anywhere.

    I continued to usher my small herd of animals along as quickly as they would

go, hoping to reach the village and other people before anything else happened. I
was exceedingly cautious and suspicious of everything. In my imagination, each
noise or tree or wild animal immediately became another evil manifestation of
Rudra Rinpoche. Having seen what his powers were, I expected to be surprised
again in each succeeding moment by his presence. I feared that the next time, he
would win.

   I passed an old dog stripped by mange, fighting the ravages of lice, and lying
by the side of the road. I cringed thinking that it was Rudra Rinpoche. A mile
later, an old hunchbacked hag carrying an enormous load of straw approached me
and my heart began to race with anxiety, as I was sure that she would change to a
demon before my eyes. Nearing the village, there was an old bridge that was
hardly substantial enough to provide a safe crossing over the raging torrential
river below.

   “Is this Rudra Rinpoche ready to plunge me into the rapids?” I worried,
hesitant to go across.

   I was quite sure that he had humored me by letting me escape. I was greatly
alarmed that perhaps his true motivation was for me to lead him to the new Dalai
Lama and then he would kill us all. I was determined to turn the circumstances
around but knew that his plotting might very well include others who had an
interest in the Dalai Lama’s death and that there might be more enemies for me to
conquer than just that one man.

   “There is no reason whatsoever that Rudra Rinpoche would be interested in
harming an insignificant man such as myself,” I thought as I struggled to sort
through the events of the morning.

   “What could he want other than the whereabouts of the Dalai Lama? What
would be his motivation in trying to find him except for murder?

   “Perhaps, he is working in the interest of others? How did Rudra Rinpoche
become persuaded to act on their desires? What could this bring to him? Money?

   “Somehow,” I thought, “I must figure out his purpose or I am in danger until I
do. If he has those powers that he just used on me, he could easily follow me to
Lama Selden Rinpoche and the baby. I can’t allow myself to be the cause of any
harm coming to His Holiness.”

   I had no clue as to what to do next.

   I walked hurriedly along occupied with thoughts of Rudra Rinpoche’s plotting
and realized as I entered the village in that trance that I was attracting attention by
my rush and lack of friendliness. Others watched me skeptically, as I seemed to
dash through town on some speedy mission. I deliberately slowed down, greeted
passersby, and stopped to purchase a package of tea and a cloth bag of barley for

    The young stall keeper asked me about my travels and I explained my
conjured story about being a trader headed for Bhutan. I asked if he knew anyone
who had recently come from that direction and how the roads were. He had no
reason not to believe me, so he shared various bits of gossip about the area and
what to expect. In that theme of just gossiping, I asked what the monastery was
that I had passed on my way into town.

    “That? That monastery is haunted! It used to be the monastery of Rudra
Rinpoche who went to Mongolia some twenty years ago. The rumor is that he
died there. No one has ever seen him since. And, maybe ten years ago, very
horrible things began to happen whenever anyone went near there.

    “Once, the people of the village thought we should go out there to repair the
buildings and keep up the gompa, just out of reverence until Rinpoche came back.
You see, all of the monks had left one by one. So, a crew of about five or six men
went out there. This was a long time ago. I was just a child so I hardly remember.
But, none of them came back. One of the wives and her brother went looking for
her husband. She came back but not the brother.

    “She said that a horde of demons had swooped down on them and one of the
demons was a large black bird. She said it bit off her brother’s head, just like that!

   “Wow! Can you imagine!

   “But, she ran and escaped.

   “No one else ever tried to go to find their relatives. We just stay away.

   “There are even some stories of travelers going by there along the road who
met with some very scary occurrences, especially if they spent the night near by.
One peddler, an old man, said that he woke up in the middle of the night and
someone was stealing all of his things, his yaks and horses, and everything. When
he stood up to fight him, the thief was just thin air! Maybe a ghost or something?
He could walk right through him!

   “We don’t know what it was. He was just lucky to get here alive.

   “So, don’t go asking any questions or anything about that place. Most people
don’t even want to talk about it. They are afraid that the demons will get into
them,” he warned with a furrowed brow and in a conspiratorial whisper.

   Then, he patted my shoulder and bagged the barley in the sack.

   “So, no one goes there at all?” I pushed. I wondered if no one had seen Rudra
Rinpoche or his large entourage that had returned in the last month from the

   “How could they possibly have snuck back in without being noticed?” I asked
myself silently.

   Then, I remembered the attendant walking down the road after that handsome
young man.

   “What about the little boy in monks’ robes who took me to Rudra Rinpoche?”
I thought. “Perhaps, I hallucinated all that I thought that I saw.”

   I broke out in a sweat and began to wonder if I was insane. The entire event
had become all the more confusing and frightening.

   “No, not anyone,” the stall keeper answered a bit absently and rescued me

from my fears. I could tell he wanted to change the topic.

   “Well,” he added, weighing out my tea and wrapping it in paper, “there is a
boy, we don’t really know where he came from, but someone saw him turning
down the monastery road just about a week ago. He was dressed like some kind
of prince or somebody important. It could have been just a rumor.

   “Maybe, he was lost.... and then,” he laughed at his dark joke, “maybe he
never came out again!”

   Leaving the village, I was eager to make good progress to Langdun because I
knew that it was only about another day’s travel away. By then it was mid-
afternoon, so I would have had to spend the night about half way between that
village and my long sought destination. I wanted to get as close as possible before
nightfall and maybe even travel after dark, so that I would have had plenty of time
in Langdun the next afternoon to try to locate Lama Selden Rinpoche. I was
desperate to have his guidance on the mysterious Rudra Rinpoche and his
demonic energies.

   Finally, when I had put the village far behind me, I began to relax a little bit
and I was not so fearful. Only then did I realize that I had been in a state of shock
since that morning and that I had been pushing myself to keep going and to act
normally with enormous effort.

   When I was not so frightened and confused, I was more aware of the horrors
that I had been through and found that I was still very distraught. I began to feel
the tremors in my body and my heightened emotions. I felt shaky and jumpy.
Every time I thought of what I had done when I had encountered all of those
poisonous insects and snakes, I was amazed. I could not imagine where the
confidence and spiritual powers had come from. I knew that it was not me who
had had the ability to respond like that. I repeatedly visualized Buddha before me
as I walked along, remembering my old friend’s words that Buddha was truly my
own pure nature. I gave thanks, offered any merit in that surprising
accomplishment, and sang mantra in my heart.

   Little by little, however, I began to feel sick and weak. At first, I kept saying
to myself that it was the shock that was wearing off and that the episode had taken
more of a toll on me than I had realized. I thought that perhaps I was exhausted
and decided that I should stop early to spend the night and rest.

   After another few miles, it was clear to me that I truly did have something
physically wrong with me and that I was getting very sick. My vision was
blurring. I felt as though I was reeling and that I was close to collapse. I had
severe pains in my stomach. I urged the blond pony and my yaks to pick up their
pace so that we might hopefully find another traveler who could help me in case I
lost consciousness.

   Finally, I was too weak and I had to get down off the horse and rest. I
wondered if maybe a spider or scorpion had bitten me after all and I had been too
dazed to realize it. I inspected my legs and hands and arms carefully and could
find nothing that looked like a bite.

   Fever was beginning to pulsate in my temples and my clothing was soaked in
perspiration. I rolled over onto the grass. Vomiting racked my body until my ribs
and back ached. Cramps in my belly caused me to writhe on the ground
wondering if I could tolerate the pain any longer. Da hung his head down over me
and Little Dorje lay on the grass beside me, whimpering and pawing at me
tentatively. I could do nothing other than lay there until the illness passed or I
died, whichever was my fate.

    During a brief respite from the pain and vomiting, I was able to reach up and
retrieve my sleeping blanket from the horse and get my flask of water. I spent the
night drifting in and out of consciousness, my fever not abating, my muscles
aching, and retching when there had been nothing to expel for hours.

    A soft, misty rain fell after the sun had set but rather than increase my misery,
it was cooling and seemed to help keep the fever down from what it could have

    I hardly slept at all that night. I fell into a fitful sleep as the sun began to rise

and when I awoke a short time later, I remembered a dream which had occurred
in those few minutes of troubled, stuporous sleep. Confused by my fever and
dizziness, I thought at first that my dream was a memory of something that had
happened. When I was a bit clearer, I felt relieved that it was only a dream and
yet, I still worried that it might be a prophecy. I lay there trying to reconstruct it
and felt more and more troubled as I recalled the unfolding.

    I dreamed of Rinchen standing on the top floor of the Potala Palace where the
Dalai Lama’s apartment is. She looked very alarmed. I could see her face vividly.
Her normally lovely and peaceful features were contorted in fear and horror and
she was looking around wildly. I noticed then that she had on a nun’s maroon
robe and her head was shaven. She wrapped her large scarf, a woolen zen, around
her shoulders tightly and began to rapidly descend the steep ladder to the floor

    Then, I realized that flames were coming up the stairwell and that she had to
pass through them to get down to the floors below and to safety. She was not
screaming but instead she was saying a mantra, OM MANI PADME HUNG, as
she leaped down the ladder.

    The floor she landed on was engulfed in billowing clouds of deep black
smoke and I could not see her until she began descending to the next floor below.
Amidst the flames, I could see her racing to get down the steps. By then, her
robes were blazing and she dropped to the next floor down.

    She fell on her knees and lifted her arms up, her palms together. As though
doing prostrations but still on her knees, she brought her hands to the crown of
her head, her throat, and her heart, and then dropped her head to the floor with
arms outstretched before her. There she lay, unmoving, as the fire roared around
her and she totally dissolved into it.

    Floor by floor, the enormous Potala structure fell, floors above into the floors
below, as the flames consumed it.

    In my dream, I called out to Rinchen as though to call her to me. I called and

called. It was the desperate calling of her name that woke me up.

   “Rinchen...,” I asked her and myself in a soft, pleading whisper. “Rinchen, are
you all right?”

   That day I spent sick and weak, unable to move. I lay on my rug in the grass
as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. Fitfully, I drifted in and out of
sleep, and in and out of nightmarish consciousness.

   I had consumed all of my water and I was still dehydrated. Although there
was food in my pack, I hardly was hungry or wanted anything other than for the
pain to stop. I thought frequently that it was most unusual that no other travelers
passed by. I prayed that someone would come because they might be carrying
medicine or herbs. At least, they could have tied me to my horse so that he could
have carried me to the next town.

   I could not even stand up, and I never could have mounted a horse by myself.
Again and again, I worried that somehow Rudra Rinpoche had cast a spell on me
or set some demons upon me. I could not think clearly enough to know what to do
to save myself.

   I desperately needed Lama Selden Rinpoche to help me and to heal me.

   That day passed as well. The sun set as cold set in again. I was faced with
another night of misty rain, retching and pain. I was very thirsty because the fever
was burning up all the fluids in my body. I tossed and rolled on the ground,
trying to escape the torture.

    Then, accidentally my hand landed on the cool and wet seed beads of my
mala. I had dropped it from my hand in my delirium. To find it brought a surge of
comfort and confidence. I opened my tightly shut eyes and looked at the beads
draped through my fingers.

    Beyond my hand, I could see the black and waving trees silhouetted against a
blue black sky, dynamic with racing clouds. Periodically, the moon, merely a
brilliant sliver that night, appeared from behind the massive shadowy shapes. I
could feel its light shining down on me. In my imagination, I began to visualize
dakinis in the clouds and then, in earnest, I weakly began a chant to summon the
Buddha. I saw the dakinis swooping and flying around my rainbow deity and
remembered a special sadhana practice that Lama Selden Rinpoche had taught me
once to cure illness. I could not remember the words but I did remember the
visualization and the mantra.

   With all my effort, focus, and a longing devotion, I asked for the Buddha in
me to awaken and for all negative forces to be vanquished. I visualized that
Buddha brought balance and healing back to my body. I saw his radiance spread
through me and beyond me into the vastness of the night sky. His consort flew
from his embrace, instantaneously traveling to all realms of the universe. She
returned to me bearing all that I needed to support my healing and to dispel all
that harmed me. She sealed the healing and life force energies within my heart
and I believed totally that her blessings would bring back my strength.

   Soothed, I fell asleep in that knowing, my body tingling and empowered. I
slept soundly through the night and in the morning when I stirred awake, I stood
on trembling legs, rolled up my blanket and mounted my horse.

   That afternoon, I arrived at Langdun. I felt joyful and could hardly contain my
ecstasy in anticipation of seeing Lama Selden Rinpoche. Every part of me seemed
to vibrate as I felt myself come nearer to his presence. I scanned the hills wildly
in the incredible hope that I might receive some unmistakable transmission as to
where he might be. I tried to look calm like the trader that I was supposed to be, a
fur merchant merely passing through town, but I wanted to dash up the road to the
trail and then to the pasture that I already knew in my visions. I could see my guru
waiting for me.

   But, that race was ill advised.

   I was still not very strong, so I stopped at the first tea stall alongside the road
and had tea and some tsampa to dip in it. A few others were there, some travelers
and some townsfolk, so I inquired about the road to Bhutan.

   “What quality furs do you have?” A roguish looking middle aged man with

long, unkempt hair asked me.

   “Very good quality,” I responded. “Are you interested in buying or selling?”

   “Where did you get them?” he probed without answering.

   “I sold all of my last load to some high lama in Lhasa. Then, I replenished my
stock in U. I will take them on to Thimphu in Bhutan where I hear the prince will
pay a good price. Why do you ask?” I remained friendly and innocent as I felt
him trying to challenge me slightly.

   “No reason. Just curious. I might have a buyer for you though, here in this
town. You might not make as much money as you would if you took them on to
Bhutan, but then it would save you a long journey. You never know, with so
many robbers on the trail, you might not even get there with your furs.” He
laughed at that fantasy of bad luck.

   “I might be interested,” I offered, “but I’m not going to sell them for nothing.
Anyway, I’m going to stay around for a few days and rest up. If you want to talk
to me some more, you’ll be able to find me pretty easily.”

   “Well, I’m not going to be around. Come on and show me what you have.”

   He stood up and walked by my bench and on out to the yaks that were tied in
the street. I rose too, and followed him as he was already patting the different
bundles tied high on the backs of my animals, trying to feel which ones were the
furs. I wondered if he doubted that I even had furs.

    “I’ll get them for you,” I said a bit brusquely. I took down one tightly roped
package that I knew had some of the best fox and lamb furs in it and untied it,
spreading the lush pelts out on the muslin sheet. He appreciatively rubbed his
hand back and forth on the fox and proclaimed it a good color and a fine fur for a
jacket collar.

    With his back to the tea stand and the curious tea drinkers, he whispered,
“This town is full of people who would love a little gossip, Thupten Heruka.

    “Your lama is up that road but don’t look up now.

   “So that the others will overhear me, I will say loudly that I know some lama
at the monastery who might want to buy your furs but you must bring them there
to show them to him. Then, you can follow me up the road without suspicion.
Almost at the end of the road, there is the trail to your Rinpoche’s tent.

   “So, please trust me and come with me now and I will take you to your lama.”

   Then, he said nonchalantly but loudly enough so that a few of the others
looked over at us, “Maybe, hmm, maybe the abbot might be interested in these.
But, I warn you, he will drive a hard bargain and even the best hagglers get taken
by him!”

   He laughed in mock disdain and returned to the table that he shared with some
of the other local businessmen. He convincingly gestured at me while inviting the
others to agree that he would prove me the fool in this fur trading business.

   “Do you want to see if you can make a sale? It might leave you with empty
pockets!” he laughed.

   “I’ll finish my tea and then I’ll go with you. We’ll see who gets the better deal
here.” I slapped him on the back at that challenge and with feigned camaraderie,
I sat back down and joined in the joking of the villagers. Secretly, I raced with
excitement that the meeting that I had waited for so eagerly was about to unfold.

                            Six: Green Shoots Appear
                              Orchid on the path, so easy to pick
                             Come back with me to the temple and

                                 Sit on the altar with Buddha

       Lama Selden Rinpoche walked down the trail to meet me. From a distance
I could see his distinctive stride; long, gliding steps, that gave the impression that
he was floating or flying lightly across the surface of the earth. His tall, bony
body exceeded the average height of most Tibetans. Every move, how he stood
and walked, was elegant. He was a regal and commanding presence. Although, he
had lived far longer than most men, he still exuded a great vivaciousness and
passion for all that he experienced. He was energetic and strong and could walk
more swiftly and far greater distances than many men who were twenty years
younger. Dressed as a nomadic shepherd, he came strolling through the wooded
glade under an arched and canopied walkway that the trees had created with long,
graceful boughs. A multi-colored carpet of leaves and moss seemed to have been
laid just for him to tread. His white shirt flapped casually in the breeze, his full
black pant legs were tucked into black boots, and his entire appearance was
transformed from that of a monastery Khempo and lama to a saint in the world.

       “How unusual he looks!” was my very first thought in my delight to see
him, and I laughed out loud to see him dressed in that way.

        Most shocking of all was his long, flowing white hair. I had not ever seen
him without his head shaved. But, it framed and softened his face, creating a
gentleness and peacefulness that made him look quite extraordinarily of another
realm. In my devotion to him, I could confidently say that I saw rainbows
radiating all about him in a shimmer.

        I leaped from my horse and pulled a kata from within my chuba. I fell on
my knees long before he had reached me and I was transported into bliss as I felt
him approach. Head down, my hands extended and holding the finest of silk

offering scarves, I envisioned that I was offering all the sumptuous and beautiful
treasures of the world to him. I offered my life, my body, and all the service to the
Dharma that I could ever accomplish. I offered my own pure Buddha essence to
the Buddha walking down the rainbow path towards me.

       “Thupten Heruka!” he said in a voice that sparkled with love and joy.
“You have made me so happy by coming here! I could not be happier than I am
right now to see you! Come, stand up and let me look at you.”

       Rinpoche gently urged me up on my feet and took my folded hands into
his. He blessed me by touching my head softly with his own. Laughingly, he took
the offered kata, blessed it and then placed it around my neck. Tugging it, he
pulled me into a huge embrace. He repeatedly slapped my back as he hugged me
and then pulled away to look at me fully, then pulled me close again.

       “I am so happy to see you!” he repeated again.

       After a pause, he added, “Thupten Heruka, you look very tired! Are you
ok? You are not ill, are you? You look a bit thin and pale. Has this been a hard
journey for you?” Lama Selden’s voice was soft with concern and worry. He felt
my face and I flushed in embarrassment.

       “Rinpoche, I am fine now that I am here with you. Thank you, but don’t
worry. It has been a hard journey, but now that I am here, all will be well. I will
tell you everything later. Right now, let us just be happy that I made it here!”

       “Now, that sounds like enough for me to sit you down right here and make
you tell this story. It sounds quite foreboding. I am nervous for you not even
knowing what happened! Come on, we’ll go to the tent and you must tell me of
your travels and I will tell you what is happening here.”

       Rinpoche took my arm and held it close to his side as he turned to the
guide who had brought me to our wooded hiding place. He had been watching the
greetings with quiet appreciation.

       Lama Selden held up his hand to the horseman who embraced it in his
hands and bent down to touch his forehead to it. “Thank you, Jamyang, for
bringing my heart son to me. You have been very helpful and kind. Perhaps, next
time you come with supplies, you will stay and have tea with us? Then, we can
talk more about everything you have been observing in the village.”

       “Thank you, Rinpoche,” he answered. “I will come back soon.” Jamyang
urged his horse around and trotted back down the path. I waved to him and
thanked him but hardly was aware of his leaving because I was so enthralled to be
there with Lama Selden.

       Since I had arrived with three loaded yaks, two horses and a dog, I had
quite a troop to lead down the narrow trail through the woods to Rinpoche’s
encampment. We did not progress as quickly as I wished in my eagerness to sit
and talk to him. As we plodded along behind the animals, Lama Selden and I
joked about how things fared back at Mindroling Monastery. We shared stories
about my brothers, about Abbot Kelzang, and we gossiped about his friends. The
conversation was light, while inside I danced at being in his presence.

       The tent in which Rinpoche lived was hidden in a glen almost invisibly
tucked into a crook of pastureland on the edge of the woods. It was very
sheltered, encircled by enormous and ancient trees leaning away from the
mountain winds with their heavy boughs of protective greenery. The setting was
pristine and wondrous. Grazing sheep, yaks and dzo nibbled on the grass. Three
stocky ponies were tethered nearby. Purple wild flowers swayed in carpets across
the hills, while an aqua blue mountain stream cascaded down through them, alive
with bubbling and frothing waters. A swath of rugged brown-banked earth sliced
through the green and purple all the way to the village spread out far below. Like
an innocent little collection of miniature houses, sparkling with colors and
surrounded by green pastures, the community bustled with tiny beings and
activity. A lake fed by the mountain stream that flowed right by us filled a
reservoir out on the far side of the town and many houses dotted its banks. That
perfect little world was protected by the vastness of deep blue skies that stretched
wide from the hills above to the endless horizon. Langdun was a healing, blissful
realm for me with its verdant greens and glorious colors. I feasted on the variety

of sensual pleasures and I felt vital and alive again. In Lama Selden’s presence
and my new paradise, I had forgotten that the reason I was there was a mission
filled with danger.

        I unloaded the yaks who scampered over to the grassy field after being
relieved of their burdens. Little Dorje, Da, and my new little blond pony stayed
closer to my side. They all explored a bit on their own but followed me when
Lama Selden and I walked around the pastures. I could tell by Rinpoche’s
attention to even the smallest of details that he enjoyed the beautiful display of
what was his Buddha field mandala and it made him happy to share it with me.

        Down below us, he pointed out the little cottage with a red tile roof. It was
about a thousand feet lower in elevation than we were and it was about a quarter-
mile’s walk down a well worn, zig-zag trail. Above us, he told me, was a
towering monastery hidden in the forest. It was a day’s hike up to and back into
the woods to get to it. Rinpoche said that he was a friend of the abbot but because
the monks might talk, we would not ever go up there.

        After a meandering tour of the hillside, we stood in the pasture and looked
down at the cottage again. “That,” he said, “is where our new Dalai Lama will be
born any day now. You arrived just in time to witness this most auspicious event!

        “Tsultrim Palmo is down there now - I believe that you might remember

        I looked at Lama Selden waiting for more of an explanation.

        “I do know her, Rinpoche, because I think that you sent her to see me
when I did a retreat at Losar. Then, I heard that she was here with you. I must
admit, I am quite curious as to who she is. I was very confused when I met her
before. She seems to be a powerful yogini. She even frightens me a bit,” I

        “Well, you will get to know her much better now. She is a very rare and
precious jewel. She has become good friends with the expectant mother, Lobzang
Dolma. The parents think that we are shepherds that live here in the mountains
and that Tsultrim-la is my daughter. She will help with the delivery of the baby
when the time comes. Unless it happens that the arrival of the baby is imminent,
Tsultrim will be returning home here before dark. She was going to cook some
soup tonight and make some sweet barley treats for our new mother. Tsultrim is a
very, very special one. That dakini is very wonderful.

        “But, we all have quite an important job before us. We need such special
beings in order to succeed.” He patted my shoulder tenderly. “Special beings like
you, too, Thupten Heruka. I know that this is quite a sacrifice for you and we all
appreciate it.”

        “Rinpoche, I would do anything for you. Absolutely anything at all. You
need only to ask and my life and all of my energies are yours.” I vowed this with
complete truthfulness, in awe at having such an opportunity to serve such a great

        “You are very good to me, Thupte-la. Such old men like me that need so
much help! But, I know that in serving me, you are in truth serving Buddha and
all sentient beings. That I can celebrate, for you have such pure motivation. But,
to serve me, that is just making an old man happy and lazy!” He laughed. The
laugh was a delight to hear again, like the gods’ singing. I had thought often on
that difficult trip that I would never hear his laugh again.

        By late afternoon, Lama Selden Rinpoche and I had spent many intense
hours discussing all that had happened in my life and on my journeys since I had
last seen him. We sat outside the tent in the warm sunshine and although the
setting was exquisite, I experienced it as even more extraordinarily vibrant and
radiant because I was in Rinpoche’s presence. No matter what had happened to
me during those last few months, I was sure that it was all meant to bring the
fruition of that moment. I was in a dreamy state of bliss even as I shared the
stories of my mother’s death, my fall from the mountain pass, and my fearful
episode with Rudra Rinpoche. Lama Selden, in hearing the last two stories,
became quite concerned.

        He began to question me further, and then in the middle of a sentence, he
paused and squinted hard into the setting sun as he pointed out Tsultrim Palmo.
She was just leaving the house below and beginning her climb up to the tent.
Then, he returned to complete his thought while I watched her climb closer and
closer. I had forgotten how beautiful and celestial she was. Rinpoche stood when
she finally came up to us. I stood slightly behind him, respectfully.

        “Tsultrim,” he said, “our guest has arrived. Our dear yogi, Thupten

        I bowed down as low as I could because she was tiny and I wanted to be
lower than she was. Tsultrim reached out to me and touched my hands and bent
her head to touch mine. “Tashi Delek, my brave friend,” she said. “I am glad that
you are here. You had a hard journey, I would guess. Are you ok?”

        Again, she looked at me as though she knew everything that I could ever
have told her, just as she had intuited in my retreat cave. Words seemed

        “I am very happy now,” I assured her. “I am very grateful to all the
protectors who have brought me here to you and Rinpoche. So, I could not be
happier. Ani, to be in your presence once again is a great honor and a profound

        “Thupte-la, you are much too generous with your praises. Remember that
I am the daughter of a shepherd and I collect the yak dung everyday for our fire.

        “Now, please, let’s all sit down and I want you to tell me of your travels.
I’m sure you will be repeating all the stories you have just told my shepherd
father, Tharchin-la!” she laughed.

        My head was spinning with ecstasy. In that world of a pure land, my lama
was on one side, an angel was on the other, and our Kundun was about to be born
in a cottage at the foot of our mountain retreat. Tsultrim was so radiant and
divine, I could barely look at her. She was dressed in a faded, threadbare, dark
brown chuba with a woven square of an apron tucked into her sash. Underneath
was a thin white shirt with the sleeves rolled up above her elbows. She wore no
jewelry, only a wooden comb in her sleek black hair that held it on the crown of
her head in a topknot. On her feet, she had dusty black felt boots that were torn
apart at some of the seams. She hardly looked like the dakini I knew her to be.
But, the peasant role could not hide her brilliant eyes and a face so tender with
compassion that her gaze alone could dissolve all pain if that were only possible.

       “Thupten Heruka has been telling of meeting a lama named Rudra
Rinpoche on the trail. It appears that this man may be a black magician,” Lama
Selden reported to Tsultrim. “We almost lost our friend more than once on his
journey. He met Rudra Rinpoche prior to crossing quite a harrowing mountain
pass and so he set out with this Rinpoche in order to tackle the trek together. He
thought that that would be safer than going alone. When they reached the highest
part of the pass, they found that a heavy snowfall and a landslide had covered it.
In attempting to cross, Thupte-la fell many hundreds of feet. He landed in deep
snows and a wonderful yogi found him, carried him unconscious to his cabin, and
cared for him until he was well. Due to the miracle of this man, he was healed and
then went on his way. I think that this is quite an amazing story.”

       Rinpoche smiled at me, “I think that you found someone who is a
wonderful guardian of yours!

       “Then, Tsultrim,” Rinpoche turned to her with great concern, “Thupten
was in the town of Gyatsa Xian and stopped at Rudra Rinpoche’s monastery. This
was a most frightening story and it worries me about this lama’s real motivation.

       “Thupten Heruka, tell Tsultrim what you told me about finding Rudra
Rinpoche at his monastery.”

       I told her the entire story including the description of my escape. I also
told of my severe illness because I suspected that that had something to do with
that evil man as well.

       “How do you feel now, Thupten Heruka? Are you better? You are still
pale.” Tsultrim tenderly took my hand in hers as she spoke with sincere caring.

       “I’m still weak,” I replied, “but I am so happy to be here, I would go
through everything all over again just to have accomplished this goal.”

       They both gently gazed at me and I knew that they, too, were glad that I
had arrived. We were silent for a long while as we looked at each other with wide,
moist eyes. A soft, palpable love flowed from each of us to the others. I felt a
melting of my body and theirs into a communal pool of boundarylessness.

       Lama Selden resumed the conversation. “Thupte-la, I would like to say a
bit more about Rudra Rinpoche. You know that there are lamas who might, for
some unknown reason, want to bring harm to this new Dalai Lama. It is possible
that one may be a Rinpoche in name but not necessarily in his heart. I can’t
imagine who would want to harm you unless they knew of your connection to this
baby. We have to be careful in case that is Rudra Rinpoche’s motive. It is highly
unlikely that he could have heard anything about why you were on that journey.
But, if he is as powerful a magician as it sounds like he is, then he may have
figured out your plans in some other way. I am also quite concerned that perhaps
he is using black mantras to harm you and that is what caused your illness. We
don’t know how great his powers are but we should be ready for anything that he
might do. I think that we must pray that we are more powerful than he is in order
to undo his magic.”

       “What can we do? No one seems to know anything about him except for
the attendant and perhaps the young man who was leaving the monastery. Should
we try to go back there and talk to them?” I asked in confusion.

       “No, there are other ways. The world he exists in is one of phenomenon.
We need to enter into his world and get our information there. Of course, that will
be a challenge to our skill and will require impeccable clarity of intent.”

       Tsultrim was nodding silently, looking off into the distance as though in
meditation. I had no knowledge of what Rinpoche was suggesting but trusted both
of them to know far more of that realm of spiritual wisdom than I.

       It was getting dark and had become cool enough to require leaving our
hillside perch for the warm fire. We entered the tent where a fire for tea had been

smoldering. We added some wood and the temperature rose quickly until I
needed to shed my wool chuba. Tsultrim and Lama Selden together lifted a heavy
pot of soup that had been left over from earlier in the day and they hung it on a
metal hook over the fire. Tsultrim rolled tsampa balls filled with raisins that she
then tossed in a sugar coating. We talked into the evening while we all prepared
vegetables for the soup to be taken to the family below. All of my worries about
Rudra Rinpoche were suspended as we ate and shared lighter stories about life in
the little village and about its wonderful people. I wanted to learn all that I could,
most especially about the young couple who was soon to become the parents of
the thirteenth Dalai Lama. Too quickly, it was late and the three of us spaced
ourselves around the glowing embers and fell asleep.

       Just before dawn came a rare thunderstorm. Cracks of lightening and claps
of thunder echoed through the mountains and lit up the black sky. Sheets of rain
fell down as the earth trembled. The silence of the night was transformed into a
deafening downpour. Little Dorje whined, and in fear, poked his nose through the
tent flap, wondering if he could come in. When Rinpoche greeted him with a soft
voice, the dog assumed that that was his permission to race to my side. We had all
been awakened but I turned over to go blissfully back to sleep, lulled by the
beating of the rain on the tent. Tsultrim and Lama Selden, however, began to
whisper to each other. I could barely hear them, so I was soon asleep again.

        The morning sunlight glared hot into the black tent. I awoke
uncomfortably sweaty and shed my felt blanket. The tent flaps were open and
both Tsultrim Palmo and Rinpoche were gone. The rain had stopped, the clouds
had blown over, and raindrops sparkled on the tall grass outside the tent like tiny
diamonds strung along each blade. I crawled over to the tent opening and gazed
out at the radiant vista before me. Arching over all, I saw a rainbow that spanned
the sky from far behind the mountain ranges above us, over the river valley
stretching out beyond the village, and to the mountains far on the other side of the
borders of U. The rainbow filled the sky and seemed to be double in size of any
that I had ever seen before. The golden yellow sun was rising beneath the wash of

colors and its rays spread out as though to merge with and to penetrate the
rainbow light.

       In the distance, in the soft skies, the moon had not yet set and glowed
white and iridescent against the light blue heavens. Billowy cloud puffs floated
effortlessly through the vast display, parading and dancing their singular forms
and then metamorphisizing into yet another soft sculpture.

       Lama Selden and Tsultrim stood together down the hill fifty feet away
from me, his arm around her shoulders. They gazed down at the little peasant
farmhouse. I walked down to them and knew when I saw them standing there that
that day would be the day of the baby’s birth.

       When I approached, they both turned and I could see that their faces were
radiant with excitement. They put their arms out and pulled me towards them. We
all three stood holding each other in great joy. The signs of an auspicious event
were accumulating around us.

       “We should go down, now,” Tsultrim said. “I think that it is about time.”

       “Should I come, too?” I asked tentatively, since the family did not know

       “Of course,” she reassured me. “We will be the only ones there and we all
might be needed. I have already brought everything to them that will be necessary
for the birth. But, we might bring along some fresh fruit and some hot tea in the
pot in case they have not had time to make any this morning.”

       I went back to the tent and put some apples, pears, and berries into a
basket, and then I balanced the teapot in my arm. We descended the hill slowly,
our feet sliding on the grass that was still slippery from the rain. As the path
rounded a gentle rose apple tree, the earth beneath us began to quiver and then to
roll, shaking the tree above us and bringing us to our knees. Instinctively, I looked
to Lama Selden for help and saw his calm composure. He caught my glance and
when he saw my wide eyes, he smiled at me and chuckled at my fear as though I
was a small child. I felt that the ways of his world that I now shared were full of
phenomenon that I was not yet ready to handle by myself. He reached out and
grasped my clutched fist in his long thin fingers and held it with soothing effect as
we waited out the roiling of the earth. Ani Tsultrim was the first to leap to her
feet when the earthquake finished its convulsions and she threw up her arms to
the skies.

         “My beloved guru,” she shouted to the rosy red and blue sky that was our
celestial dome on the mountainside. Then, she dropped again to her knees with
her hands folded together in prayer. Her head bowed down, she began the whisper
of mantras.

         Rinpoche put his arms around my shoulders in an exuberant hug and
pulled me close into his arms. “We are so blessed, my dear son. We are so very
blessed. There is no doubt that this is our new Dalai Lama. The earth trembles in

         We approached the weathered cabin from the back. Lanterns were still lit
inside and the warm yellow light pulsated with the intensity of the events that had
occurred within. Tsultrim cracked the door and softly called out in a voice that
sang so sweetly of love that tears filled my eyes. “My dear friends? Tashi Delek,
my friends. I am coming in with my father and with a friend who has come along

         “Oh, Tsultrim!” exclaimed the new father. “Tsultrim, come in! Our baby
was born just in these last few minutes. Come! Come!”

         We entered the hut and there, lying on the floor padded with thick, plush
rugs of blues, soft salmon reds and gold was the delicate naked figure of the
mother lying on her side. Her dark hair was sweaty and tangled, and she was
covered in the blood and white wax of the infant that lay cuddled up against her
breast. Brown eyes flashed up at us in exhausted delight and her radiance filled
the room. Blood soaked rags were in a small pile near her feet and a pail of water
had sloshed over onto the rugs. In another pail was the baby’s placenta. Tsultrim
dropped down beside the mother and cradled the weary head in her arms. Her
beautiful, delicate hand began to stroke the wet brow and I watched as my dakini
invisibly encircled the new babe with her love. His deep black eyes were like
oceans of vast wisdom through which he gazed at his new home and new parents.
I knew for certain that he had total awareness of all that was unfolding without a
single moment of doubt or fear. Yet, of course, he had no capacity to speak of his
knowledge or to express his great joy except through his eyes. I saw a rainbow
about him but I hesitated to say to Lama Selden or to Tsultrim what I saw or what
I felt. My whole body quivered and I felt giddy just as I did as a child at a great
festival. I wanted to drop to my knees in the presence of such a holy being and
yet, I held myself back. The innocent parents might have wondered at such
enormous devotion to their baby and it would very possibly have frightened them.
For them, the ecstasy was in birthing their first born son.

       Lama Selden and I stood back away from the women and against the wall.
I gave the new father the tea and fruit which I had brought down with me. He
took it from my hands and went into the cooking area to pour a cup of tea for his
wife. When he returned to the room, he stopped and stood by Rinpoche and me
and we all looked in awe at the three beings before us. The two women and the
baby formed a circle so soft and lovely that it appeared as though a mirage of the
god realms was dancing right before our eyes. The child turned his head and
gazed at everything and everyone in the room. He looked long at Lama Selden
until there was an amazed laugh from his new father.

       “I think that he thinks he knows you! Look at how he stares at you!”
Kunga smiled proudly. Then the father went up close to his newborn and reached
out to his tiny hands and put a finger in each folded palm. The baby clung tightly
as his Papa purred warm endearments to his son. The mother’s still pale hand
reached up to her husband’s arm and she gripped it tightly in the joy of the great
gift shared between them.

       Tsultrim was the container in which rested a holy family. I knew that as
her eyes gazed upon the three, mantras were spinning around a deity in the center
of her heart and that she was silently offering blessings and protection to them.
Lama Selden was saying prayers as well, I knew, and in a far less profound and

skillful way, I joined them in secretly blessing that child and pledging to him that
in every way I could, I would spend my life serving him.

         “I will stay here for a few days,” said Tsultrim to Lama Selden and to me.
“Would you please make sure that the wood bucket is full, Thupten Heruka? And
perhaps, tomorrow you could come and check on us to make sure there is enough
food and to help with the livestock.” She looked again at her friend, soothed her
face with her hand, and she pulled a soft blanket up around the mother and the
baby. “Would you like me to help you with your tea?” she asked.

         “I’ll go and check the wood,” I said a bit clumsily, feeling that I was
spoiling the idyllic scene. Lama Selden nodded and gave the father a pat on his
back and a tight squeeze of his shoulder.

         “You are a favorite of the deities,” he said to him. “This is a most blessed

         “I will see you soon. We will have a signal. If you need anything, tie a
white scarf to the branch of that large cedar tree out back and bang on a pot. I can
see it easily from our tent and Thupte-la and I will come at once. How will that

         Kunga looked back at him and smiled, hardly hearing the request. “Yes, a
white scarf. I don’t think that we will need anything, but that will be the signal if
we do.

         “Thank you, my friend, for coming down - and thank you, too, for loaning
us your wonderful daughter to help us.” Transfixed by his new child, he hardly
finished his sentence before he was once again lost in the magnetism of the
baby’s gaze.

         I went out the back door as Rinpoche straightened up the kitchen. I looked
about for the woodpile and saw it under the eaves on the side of the house by the
forest edge. It had only a few large logs in the bottom of the bin so I turned and
looked absently about, looking for possible kindling that I might gather up. I
wandered to the edge of the woods where there were twigs broken off of the trees
by the morning wind, and I began to collect an armful. Just when I turned to carry
that pile of wood to the woodbin, a movement caught my eye some distance down
the road that led to the cabin. No one else lived nearby and it was so isolated that
I froze in alarm. Totally still, for I feared giving away my presence, I watched
what I could then see was a small, dark cloaked figure. He was walking swiftly
and somewhat stealthily down the path toward the house. He did not look much
bigger than a child, slim and not very tall. It became ever clearer that he was
approaching the house and that his cloak was actually a monk’s robe with the zen
pulled up and over his head, covering all except his eyes.

       I decided then to walk out to meet the boy and to see what his business
was. I waited until he was closer and soon felt a sense that I had seen him before.
I did not recognize him but I was quite certain that there were not too many young
monks that lived in Langdun, and was sure that there were none who had any
reason to come down that path. I stepped out from the woods quite abruptly just
before him and asked what it was that he needed. Upon seeing me, he turned and
fled back down the road. I watched him until he had gone down the trail and then
he stepped back into the forest. I continued to keep watch. Before a small hill,
rough with boulders and rocks, I saw him emerge again from the dense trees, and
then stop and turn back around to see if I was still there. Not seeing me, he
clambered up and over the rocks into the rough instead of continuing down the
road to the village. He emerged from the backside of the rocky hill and headed off
across the field. Far away, two other figures then emerged to join him and the
three strode up over the grasses, never towards the village but in the opposite
direction. The second figure was hardly visible, but I did recognize him even at
that great distance by his haughty stride. He was the young man who had walked
down the road with the attendant before I visited Rudra Rinpoche’s compound. I
wondered if the third figure could have been the attendant because he was not tall
enough to be Rudra Rinpoche himself.

       I returned to my task of collecting wood, certain that with the appearance
of those three mysterious characters, we needed to take great precautions. I felt

great alarm that the birth of the Dalai Lama was known by others besides
Tsultrim, Lama Selden, and myself.

          I scoured the surrounding woods and all access to the house and then
decided to walk down the path to check everything once again before I reentered
the house. When I walked back towards the front entry, my eyes caught sight of a
flicking, dancing light on the roof over the door. A tiny white bird, incredibly
similar to the one that had entered the tent that Rinchen and I had shared months
ago in Lhasa, was perched there. It was as though it was guarding the door by
chirping away at a volume befitting a crow. When she spotted me, she fluffed up
her feathers but still she was no bigger than a child’s fist. She hopped about some
more and continued her song. I never again saw that front door without that sentry
on duty.

          I was very hesitant to leave the cabin’s inhabitants without Rinpoche or
me there to protect them. Lama Selden had already made his way up most of the
hillside trail to the tent. I ran to catch up and as we both reached the top, I raced to
grab his arm and called out his name.

          “Rinpoche! There was someone coming up to the house just as we were
leaving. It was a young boy in monks’ robes. When I stopped him to ask his
business, he turned and ran. Then, after he climbed over some hills, I saw him
walking away with another boy who I know I’ve seen before. He lives, I think,
over in the same village as Rudra Rinpoche and I passed him on the road before I
got to the monastery. The attendant that I had met on my journey over the
mountain pass was walking with that boy. He may have been the third person that
I just saw. I think that the little boy was the one at Rudra Rinpoche’s monastery. I
am worried that there is some connection between their presence and Kundun’s

          Lama Selden said nothing but turned around and stared long and hard
down at the little cabin below us. We both scanned the roads and pastures and
mountainside as far as we could see. Then, he sat down and continued to watch
the house from that spot for the rest of the day and long into the evening.
       Our days went by just like that for many months. Lama Selden would sit
for hours watching the house and I would go down once a day to see if anything
was needed. For the new family, all was back to normal within a few days. They
must have wondered why they were receiving so much attention from such a
hovering band of shepherds.

       Tsultrim, having been a devoted friend for so long, was deeply
appreciated for her help and support. After the first two weeks, she came back to
our tent at night, but she still spent a great part of each day helping with the baby.
I could look down from our tree-shaded pasture and see her out in the sunshine
walking with the child, his head on her shoulder. Sometimes, I could faintly hear
her singing to him, as she would glide through the grasses and wildflowers.

       Sometimes a blanket was spread out and Tsultrim and Dolma would sit in
the breezy fields, the baby lying between them. I knew that they were laughing
and chatting as they tended adoringly to the child. When I would saunter down
the hill to bring them special cheeses or milk from the dzos, the two women
would come out to greet me, and the young father would call out from the field or
the shed. Usually a soup or stew was warming over the embers and they would all
insist that I sit with them and eat and drink cup after cup of tea until I would be as
filled with as much love for them as for my own family.

       I felt complete in that tiny world except for one thing. My love for
Tsultrim was growing stronger and more all encompassing with every day that
passed. The little baby lama was my spiritual focus and Lama Selden was my
spiritual teacher. The baby’s parents were like a dear brother and a dear sister. I
tried very much to see Tsultrim as a dakini Buddha because I knew her wisdom
and powers were profound.

        When I was honest with myself, it was clear to me that even when I first
met her, her power over me was also in imagining her as my wife and lover. I
agonized over the longing to hold her and to be one with her. I feared ever being
without her. I would sit by her in the soft, sweet evenings with the tent enveloping
us, safe against the outside winds. We would all three say our prayers together or
laugh pleasantly about our day’s events. Tsultrim would often tell us stories about
the baby and his silliness. My hand lay immobilized and heavy at my side but I
wanted to lift it to stroke her silken hair and caress her perfect face.

        At night, I laid only a few feet from her warmth; her breathing just a
whisper from me. My whole being throbbed to envelope her delicate form in my
arms. I frequently lay awake watching her and battling with my thoughts. I
wondered almost every night if she ever wished to come into my bed. I would
dream of her and awaken, wondering if she ever dreamed of me. I never had even
a hint that that possibility was true.

        She responded towards me in a way that led me to believe that she felt I
was only another who lived for pure dharma service. To have another person, a
man, in her life to love her appeared to be totally unnecessary. It was because she
seemed so absolutely disinterested in sharing anything with me except as her
dharma brother that I never let her or Lama Selden know of my thoughts or

        Little Kundun grew bigger and stronger and recognized me with gurgles
and smiles. He would reach out his arms for me to hold him, as he would struggle
to escape his mother’s arms. We affectionately called him Bu. Lama Selden did
not go down to the house as often as I did. Instead, he usually stayed and watched
the valley from the vantage point of our mountainside location. Even though we
did not see the three strangers that had appeared on the day of the baby’s birth,
every day, I worried about their return. I knew that Rinpoche was forever
concerned about harm coming to that most precious child.

        The summer passed and then the fall. Winter snows began early that year
and I continued my daily trek down the mountain to where the curl of smoke rose
lazily from the cottage chimney. Our only other friend and visitor was Jamyang
who had first escorted me to our location on the day of my arrival. He came to our
encampment every couple of weeks and brought us barley, vegetables when
possible, and other supplies. We would send him back with milk, yogurt, goat
cheese, and medicinal herbs found in our fields, and he would sell everything in
the village market. Most importantly, Jamyang brought with him the news of the
villagers and sometimes, when travelers had passed through, he had news of more
distant places as well.

       The rumors were that Lhasa was in chaos. There was much friction
between our Tibetan government leaders, the Russian Emissaries, the Chinese
officials, and the representatives of Britain. All were trying to gain control by
persuading Tibetans of their good intentions and their friendship. The Russians
were trying to lure our government representatives to come to their country to
enlist their aide against the Chinese who were quite aggressively trying to
influence our government’s Kashog. The stories were that the English appeared to
be trying to function as mediators but they could not convince our people to give
up their doubts and suspicions of a more secretive motivation. Over fifty years,
many in Lhasa and throughout the country had felt betrayed by the few white
faced westerners who had made their way over the borders, proselytizing their
Christian beliefs and trying to convert the Tibetans by telling them that our
Buddhist practices were the teachings of the devil.

       When Jamyang came to see us, it was a reminder of my family and of my
friends whom I had left back in Lhasa. I missed them and knew that they probably
were worried about me. They had not heard from me for almost a year. I knew
that such concerns were also there for Lama Selden. All of our friends and those
at Mindroling Monastery had not heard from him since Abbot Kelzang had
received his message for me to go to him, but even he knew nothing about why. I
was sad at not being able to let all of those that we loved and who loved us know
that all was good for us there in our peaceful pastures.

       One dark and bitterly cold, late afternoon, Tsultrim and I were collecting
yak dung and pulling dead branches off of the pasture trees for the fire. Clouds
obscured the setting sun and the temperature dropped swiftly. I urged her to hurry
because I was concerned that she was not dressed warmly enough to get back to
the tent without getting cold. I wrapped my arms around her bundle of wood and
added it to my own, and together, we worked our way out through the mountain

forest. When we reached the path, we began to run down it to the tent.

       A voice called out to us. It was Jamyang. We both recognized his voice,
but because it was so cold and we were in a hurry, I yelled to him without turning

       “Come on, Jamyang! We will meet you at the tent where we can get
warm!” I was hardly able to hear my own voice in the wind.

       Finally, when we had reached the tent and had rushed inside, I looked
back out the door and saw that Jamyang was not alone. He had two other riders
with him. They all dismounted as the ferocious wind was picking up snow
needles and blasting their uncovered faces. Ducking down, they dashed inside and
when they looked up again, I looked into the penetrating and pure eyes of
Purchokpa Rinpoche.

       He was disguised as a peasant in tattered pants and jacket, but his face was
the same incredible and unforgettable face that I had seen in the old statue repair
room in the Jokhang Temple. As soon as I recognized him, I dropped to my knees
in prostration with my forehead at his feet. Then Tsultrim also recognized him
with a gasp of delight and she, too, dropped to her knees. Lama Selden had been
standing at the back of the tent. He slowly walked forward, clasped his hands with
palms together, placed Purchokpa Rinpoche’s hands in his, then bowed and they
touched their heads together gently.

       “My dear, dear friend,” Lama Selden said softly.

       He then turned to the second man, also dressed as a peasant, and who
greeted Selden Rinpoche with familiar warmth.

       “Gyunto Khensur,” Lama Selden smiled. “I am amazed that you have
come here as well! But, I should have known that you would be the first to find
our precious child.

       “This, I think you know, is Tsultrim Palmo, and this is Thupten Heruka.
They are watching over His Holiness for us.”

       Tsultrim did prostrations to the man who I learned was the abbot of the
Upper Tantric College at Ganden Monastery. He was most respected, revered,
and above all, trustworthy. Later, he told us of going to the sacred lake, Lhamoi
Lhatso, and meditating for many months for guidance so that he might find the
new incarnation of the Dalai Lama. After much time spent in his meditation, and
having achieved a state of extraordinary clarity, he had brushed away the snow
that covered the icy lake to reveal a prophetic mirror. He saw in the silver ice the
unmistakable vision of the home and family of our new incarnation of Chenrezig,
our Kundun, the embodiment of ultimate compassion. He saw the town, the
house, and the baby with his parents sitting on the front porch, and he could see
clearly the baby’s face.

       He returned to Lhasa and consulted with Purchokpa Rinpoche. Together,
they were confident of the baby’s identity and felt compelled to come to see the
holy child for themselves.

       Jamyang looked appreciative that once again he had been allowed to
escort travelers who he realized were important friends of ours. Lama Selden then
turned to our trusted aide and asked him to sit down.

       “Please stay, dear Jamyang, and have some soup and tsampa and spend
the night with us. It looks as though a terrible storm is coming. Now that it is
already dark, it would not be safe for you to return to town. You are far too
precious to us. You have served us all so well.”

       “Thank you, Rinpoche. I am grateful and actually, I admit that I am
relieved. I did not want to return out into that cold tonight.” Jamyang pulled a
flute out of his jacket and played a sweet tune as he, Tsultrim, and I sat by the
fire, stoking it with our gathered tinder. We sipped tea as we cut up turnips and
carrots for a stew.

       Lama Selden, Purchokpa Rinpoche, and Gyunto Khensur Rinpoche
retreated to the shadows in the back of the tent. All we could hear were the
murmurs of whisperings. When supper was ready, they joined us and we all
chatted as though our newcomers were everyday guests. Nothing was said about
Purchokpa Rinpoche and Gyunto Khensur’s journey, the purpose of their visit, or
their true identities.

        The next day, after Jamyang had left to return to the village, the five of us
sat warming our hands with cups of hot tea before going out in the snow. I asked
Purchokpa Rinpoche if he knew anything of my friends in Lhasa. His eyes
sparkled as he said that they had all become his friends.

        “They are like a pack of puppies that you left for me to adopt!” he joked.
“I began having visits with Dorje Rinpoche and then he brought Tenzin Tsarong
to meet me, and then Namgyal-la joined in. Soon, we were almost having parties!
Of course, at first, we were all very serious business but somehow they seemed to
not take things all that seriously.

        “Everyone around the Potala thinks that they come to instruct me on
business matters and the affairs of distant monasteries. Now, they are all used to
your friends’ comings and goings and no one thinks anything about their presence
at my quarters. I enjoy them all and consider them all my very good friends.

        “So, in answer to your question about their well being - they are all fine.

        “Of course, they have frequently expressed worry about you. I could say
nothing because I knew no more than they did. So, now, I am greatly relieved to
find you and Lama Selden and Tsultrim Palmo all well and happy, and, most
importantly, successfully having accomplished your purpose.”

        “Do you know of my sister-in-law, Rinchen Khandro, Rinpoche?” I asked.

        “I have not met Ani Rinchen, Thupte-la. I have heard many wonderful
stories of her, however, and know that she, too, is doing well. She took her vows
and became a nun. I believe it was shortly after you left. In fact, I think that she
lives in the nunnery in the Potala, in a wing where they are restoring some old
thangkas. She is helping with that project along with some of the other nuns.

        “Because she is a nun, I don’t believe that she ever sees any of your other
comrades but she does keep in touch with them through letters. Actually, I
suspect that the main purpose of her letters is to see if there is any word of you,”
he added.

        The next morning, Gyunto Khensur Rinpoche went back down the path
and out to the road, then strolled up to the cottage of Kunga and Dolma’s house
where they sat on the front porch. Although still cool, the day was sunny, and she
was nursing and rocking the baby while Kunga prepared some seeds for planting.
Rinpoche professed to be a lone traveler looking for a place to rest and said that
he wished to rent a room for a few days. Our friends allowed him to stay in the
upstairs loft.

        All that week, he would come and go as though he was going back and
forth to town on business. But, instead, he would come to see us and share his joy
and stories of the baby. He was totally convinced that Bu was the beloved
Kundun and he could not bear to be away from him. He knew without any doubt
that the child that he had seen in his vision at the sacred lake was the one he could
hold in his arms every day.

        Tsultrim went down to the cabin every day as well, and I made the rounds
of the pastures to check our livestock after the snowfall. Purchokpa Rinpoche,
Khensur Rinpoche and Lama Selden spent that week talking low and seriously
around the fire of the tent. Sometimes in the evenings, Tsultrim was asked to
come over and join them in the conversation but I was never told what was
happening in those discussions. I busied myself with tending to outside chores, or,
in the evenings, with cleaning up after meals or grooming my dog or the other

        Then one night, a night of the new moon and the day before Losar, the day
that would usher in the Fire Ox Year, the three Rinpoches asked Tsultrim and me
to join them by the fire. Lama Selden’s eyes were soft and sad and when she saw
them, Tsultrim appeared taken aback and her eyes filled with tears.

        Purchokpa Rinpoche reached over gently and took her hand and held it as
he spoke to us. “Ani-la, I think that you have guessed more of what is happening
than has Thupten Heruka. Do you know what is about to unfold?
       “Tomorrow, I will go down to the cottage of our beloved Tulku, our little
Kundun, and tell his parents that we are quite sure that he is the incarnation that
we have sought. I will tell them that the search party will arrive in a few months
and that the lamas will put the baby through tests. Of course, you and I have no
doubt that he will pass them all. Then, he will be proclaimed the new Dalai Lama
and be brought to Lhasa and enthroned. He is still very young and I will be his
tutor and protector in Lhasa. But, until then, it is necessary for the two of you to
stay here and watch over him and make sure that no harm comes to him.”

        I was startled when he referred only to Tsultrim and me staying behind.
My heart began to pound.

        “There are rumors that I have heard and I have had dreams that there are
still those that want to see this baby dead. I don’t know if they know of our
presence or even of this location, but I think that it is still a very dangerous
situation. It will be even more so once the search committee finds the child and
declares him the 13th Dalai Lama. That is when we need to be most careful,” he
said pensively.

        “I will let the parents know that you are both here for them and that that
has been your role all along. I know that they love and trust you now and I’m sure
that they will understand the need for your assistance. This may be good news to
them but also a bit frightening. It will be a great change in their lives and they
will need help adjusting to it.

        “Primarily, I will stress to them that they must tell no one until the
pronouncement from me is publicly made in Lhasa. At that point, a caravan of
monks and officials will come to get them and carry the baby back to Lhasa and
you will come as his primary attendants.

        “I will come, too. And I will bring all of your friends, Thupte-la, to help
with protection.

        “Tonight, we will do special purification practices and then tomorrow, we
will have a Ganachakra feast for Losar and for His Holiness, our little Bu. Then,

Lama Selden Rinpoche, Khensur Rinpoche and I will leave you to return to

         “Rinpoche must to go back to Mindroling Monastery. Unfortunately, he is
very much needed there, as the stability of the monastery is very important right
now. Without his leadership, the power in certain affairs has fallen into the wrong

         “I know,” he added tenderly, “that this is very sad news for both of you
and that you will miss him. I wish that this was not necessary, but he is needed
more at Mindroling than here. The two of you are most competent for this job

         Lama Selden was watching me for my reaction and I could only glance
briefly at him as my head fell heavily to my chest. Hot tears filled my eyes and I
felt the sudden vacancy in the pit of my stomach that a small child feels when

         Purchokpa Rinpoche reached out and rubbed the back of my neck and

         Lama Selden took one of my hands as he held Tsultrim’s hands in his
other. He then placed our hands together in both of his protective hands.

         “My children,” Lama Selden said, looking at us alternately. “There are no
words for how much I love you both and how sad I am at leaving you. You are
both pure dharma and I feel so pleased to have you as my students. I shall send
my prayers to support you everyday. It will not be too long until I see you again.
Until then, you must trust that you will be given all that you need to serve the
little Dalai Lama.” His voice was strong in his commitment to us.

         We did the long Vajrakilaya prayers and throughout it, I could hardly
focus on anything but my Rinpoche’s words.

         The next morning, Purchokpa Rinpoche took out his pack. He opened it
and removed his monks’ robes and an assortment of precious gifts; a tiny, golden
brocade jacket, brocade fabrics of many different colors, a jade necklace, sweet
smelling incense, silver coins, and an exquisitely woven white kata. Khensur
Rinpoche also had brought gifts: gold dust in a golden ball decorated with jewels,
an ivory sculpture of the Buddha Tsong Kapa, a thangka of Chrenrezig, and many
others. We carried the finest katas and brought with us the best dried fruits that
we had, perfumed herbs, sweet tsampa, and a yak dressed regally in tassels and a
woven blanket.

       Then, our small parade began the somewhat precarious slide down the
snow and ice covered mountain hillside.

       The hike to the cabin was as familiar to me as any place had ever been and
it felt strange to make the walk that day with such ceremony. In my mind and
heart, the baby had been our Kundun all along and yet, that day was the first step
in announcing him to the world. The ritual was profound and yet it seemed to be
proclaiming nothing new. My main concern as I reverently carried my gifts down
the slope was the reaction of the parents who had become our close friends. I did
not want them to ever doubt the sincerity of our friendship and our love for them.

       I saw the baby’s face pressed up against the window as we approached.
The glass was cold. Where his warm breath blew, the window was foggy. His
hand began to splay itself around on the glass to provide him a better view of the
approaching and regaling party. He could not yet walk or talk but his gesturing
and gesticulating summoned his parents who watched us out of the window
quizzically. They were so puzzled that when we arrived, we had to knock on the
door because they were still standing by the window trying to figure out the
purpose of such pageantry.

       Dolma opened the door. “Tharchin-la, what are you doing? What is
happening?” she asked.

       Purchokpa Rinpoche stepped forward and bowed to her. “I am Purchokpa
Rinpoche from Namgyal Monastery and the tutor to the 12th Dalai Lama. We
have come to visit your child, but do not be alarmed. Everything is all right.”

       We all turned as one to find our little Dalai Lama lying prostrate on the

floor on his belly, his little arms outstretched before him and his legs straight
back. In disbelief, we all watched as he continued to lie in that position as some
time went by.

       Purchokpa Rinpoche walked over to the holy infant and spoke to him.

       “My beloved friend and heart son, I have come to be with you again. I am
so happy to have found you.”

       At the sound of his voice, the baby looked up, crawled to his knees, and
lifted his arms up to be held. Rinpoche picked him up and the child clasped his
arms tightly around the neck of the one that he had traveled through so many
lifetimes with. Their cheeks pressed together and tiny eyes shut in blissful

       Purchokpa Rinpoche’s tears flowed freely as he rocked his beloved
Kundun in his arms once again. At that moment, there was no doubt for any of us
that that little boy was the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama.

                       Seven: Watering and Weeding
                             Whenever I walk in my garden

                                I must pull up the weeds

                            Here in the land of everyday rains

                             The seeds are always sprouting

        As I hiked back up the hill after our ceremonious recognition of the new
13th Dalai Lama, I knew that I should have felt that that had been one of the most
joyful events of my life. Instead, my legs were weighted with reluctance and I
experienced a frailty that I had never felt before. I hated that such doubts clouded
my mind and fed such an ache in the pit of my stomach. Part of my pain was the
anticipation of Lama Selden’s absence from our hillside encampment. I was
bereft at the thought of his no longer being in my life in the ways that he had been
during that last year that we had spent together.

        I was also frightened. Four Dalai Lamas in succession had met with
untimely deaths and none had reached adulthood. In every way, I felt that it was
now up to me to protect that tiny child who was to hold the dharma future of all
our people. That thought overwhelmed me. I was scared that my ineptness might
be the cause of another incarnation of Chenrezig to meet a horrible fate as well.

        Even though he was an old man, Lama Selden had the wisdom and magic
to dispel all enemies and I felt as though our little Kundun was safe when he was
present. I was just an ordinary man who could do nothing to guard the child
except to stay in the pasture retreat and keep watch over the house. If someone
came to harm him, I was hardly capable of doing much of anything to protect
him. I obsessively focused on visions of Rudra Rinpoche, of the child monk, the
prideful young man, and the wary attendant hiding nearby with their deceit and

        Although Tsultrim Palmo possessed great tantric powers, it was hard for
me not to project on her a placid, docileness that I believed true of a woman. I

thought of her mostly as a friend and helper to Dolma and the baby. Little by
little, I had distanced myself from the memories of her extraordinary descent
down the mountain the year before and her frequent appearances to me in such
curious ways. I suspect that I did not want to see those aspects of her anymore
because, in my love for her, she would have then become totally unattainable to
me. I was more and more enamored with her as the one who I longed to be with
as my beloved. I saw her less as a dakini and more as the object of my desires. It
was because of that that I did not see her as being able to offer any help in the
ferocious ways that would be necessary if there was any confrontation or danger.

        That ability to take any aggressive action against an attacker was all up to
me, it seemed, and I felt that I was all-alone. Never in my life had I felt that I had
been handed a challenge for which I was more inadequately prepared. I wished
for great spiritual powers, feeling that perhaps then, I could meet any dangers that
were presented. If I had my friends, my band of men, I thought, then I would have
the combined strength of them all. Alone, I feared, I was a bad practitioner and
offered only the strength of a most fallible and solitary yogin. My devastating
experiences with Rudra Rinpoche convinced me of that.

        But, in my despair, I also had forgotten my unexplainable bout with the
monastery and its horrific inhabitants. That seems to be the nature of the psyche
when consumed with fear and self-doubt.

        So, on that day, as I moved heavily up the frozen hillside well behind
Purchokpa Rinpoche, Khensur Rinpoche, Lama Selden, and Tsultrim, I
repeatedly ran such thoughts over and over in my mind. I felt that it was
imperative to discuss the situation with the three Rinpoches before they left. I had
decided that I definitely could not handle their assignment and that I would have
to discuss it with them alone because I did not want to admit such a shameful
failure to Tsultrim. I felt abandoned by them and thought only that I must beg for
their help.

        When I arrived at the tent, Lama Selden and Purchokpa Rinpoche were
busy gathering their traveling bundles together, tying them up in waterproof
skins, and stuffing them into the saddle packs and the yakskin bags. Tsultrim
Palmo had gone to find the horses. I sat in the back of the tent out of the way, and
stroked Little Dorje while I wondered how I should begin my very embarrassing
confession. As he usually did, the dog perceived my moodiness and persistently
pushed his shaggy head under my palm. I tried to appear focused on petting the
dog. I was paralyzed and was unable to speak of my fears to the two men whom I
admired so much.

        They discussed travel plans, necessities that they needed to bring along,
and made comments to each other about the poor weather conditions that they
would have to deal with. Purchokpa Rinpoche stated that he had left an entourage
of monks and guards a day’s ride away. Once they reached those troops, he
pondered aloud to the others, they could all take the southern route to Lhasa. I
was relieved to hear such plans for their safety but also had no doubt that the
magnificent karma that those saintly beings had would protect them from all

        My thinking was confused and full of discrepancies as I was caught in
inner turmoil. I believed with faith that their good karma and Buddha-like nature
would carry them back to Lhasa safely. Yet, in my own situation, I felt that I was
struggling with a fumbling humanness. I listened to Purchokpa Rinpoche talk to
Lama Selden and I was inspired with the clarity of their assumptions of divine
protection. Then I would think of being personally responsible for the protection
of the Dalai Lama and I was dizzy with fear and I felt abandoned by the deities. I
could do nothing but sit in stuporous silence.

        When Tsultrim entered the tent, her nose red from the cold and her eyes
watery, Purchokpa Rinpoche enveloped her shivering, tiny body under his
protective arm and led her over to a rug by the altar. Lama Selden laid down his
pack and joined them. Khensur Rinpoche returned from tying up the yaks.

        “Thupten Heruka,” said Lama Selden as he looked into the dark where I
was hiding, “come and we will say some special prayers before our journey
       I rose slowly and stood on the far side of the altar, well away from the
other four. I commanded Little Dorje to leave the tent during prayers and he left,
but only as far as the doorway where he lay with his nose nuzzled under the rug at
the tent entrance. Purchokpa Rinpoche placed offerings on the altar, filled the
seven water bowls and put fresh butter in the small altar lamp. He made an
arrangement of evergreen branches and placed some sacred dutsi in a golden skull
cup. He lit incense and said blessings while he circumambulated our makeshift
shrine. We all stood while Khensur Rinpoche did three prostrations to the altar
and then he sat on the head lama’s cushion. Puchokpa Rinpoche did prostrations
and sat on Khensur Rinpoche’s right side. Lama Selden did three prostrations and
sat on his left. After doing her prostrations, Tsultrim Palmo began to sit before
them in a student’s place and Lama Selden took her hand and tugged her
wordlessly to the rug beside him.

       We had never done such a formal session of prayers all together, but with
Khensur Rinpoche there, I was very aware of an unspoken hierarchy among us. I
knew clearly and without any feelings of insult where I fit into that hierarchy and
was glad not to have the responsibility of anything more than the lowliest of
students. I prostrated to the four of them as embodiments of Buddha and to their
roles as teachers for me. I prostrated to the altar and to all that it symbolized as a
container and manifestation of Buddha’s body. I sat down on a cushion set back
away from them by a few feet, indicating that I was a student.

        Purchokpa Rinpoche said, “Thupten Heruka, I want you to sit by me.”

        The blood rushed to my face in a blur of embarrassed thoughts of
inadequacy. I began to protest in shame and then I remembered that one should
not refuse the request of such a revered lama. Caught, yet again, in-between my
own limited self-concept and the expectations of my teachers, I wanted only to let
them all know of my great fears of incompetence.

        Unresolved but compliant, I moved over to Purchokpa Rinpoche’s side
and Khensur Rinpoche began the murmuring of the preliminary prayers. He then
did prayers for the removal of all obstacles in the life of the 13th Dalai Lama of
Tibet and for the removal of obstacles on their journey to Lhasa. I knew some
small parts of those practices but could join in only at the mantra recitations. I
focused intently on the purpose of the prayers and tried to keep my motivation
pure. I sincerely wished that all obstacles would be dissipated. I prayed for the
courage and wisdom to do the job before me and to be joined by the protector
deities in my efforts to keep the Dalai Lama safe for all of Tibet.

        When the prayers were completed, Khensur Rinpoche said to me that
there was a practice that he would empower me to do, and then he would teach it
to me. Long into the night, with Lama Selden, Purchokpa Rinpoche and Tsultrim
Palmo joining him, Rinpoche gave the transmission for those teachings to me as
we all did the prayers together. Purchokpa Rinpoche’s text lay open before me,
but all of them had each word meticulously memorized. At various places of new
and subtle conceptualizations, Rinpoche would pause and explain what was
essential for me to do. Sometimes, he would turn to Lama Selden, Purchokpa
Rinpoche, and, to my bewilderment, to Tsultrim, to ask if they agreed with what
he had said.

        At one interpretation of a phrase, Tsultrim added to his explanation, and
with no surprise on Rinpoche’s part but, with much astonishment on mine, he
commented that her insight was extraordinarily profound and her realization, very

        “Who is this dakini being?” I found myself pondering once again, just as I
had upon first meeting her.

        Throughout Khensur Rinpoche’s teaching, I paid astute attention yet I was
so in awe and felt so blessed, that my attention was effortless. He told us of
moving subtle energies very delicately and spinning wheels of bliss. Even in the
very first experience with the teaching, I was aware that immeasurable realms of
pure wisdom were gradually illuminating my Buddha mind. With Khensur
Rinpoche’s words, a deep understanding was washing away a grid of conceptual
constructs that I had unknowingly built for years. I felt during those teachings that
I understood a language that I had been speaking but not truly experiencing. I
knew that with that newly presented tool, I could become that which I had only
felt was external to me. Reality was transformed and I blissfully became a
Buddha for that night of meditation.

       When he had finished the teaching from the text, Khensur Rinpoche
turned to me with an expression that pooled my no longer existent body into vast
liquid waves of indefinably subtle light.

       “Ah,” he said. “Just this. Just as you know this moment. Stay here in
meditation until you live here always.

       “Tsultrim Palmo will be your teacher and you will be her tantric consort.
Together, you will do these prayers and together you will benefit all beings with
your compassion and your blessings.

       “Our little Kundun will be in your safekeeping. Hold him with trust in
Buddha’s wisdom. The ferocity of the deities will protect you all.

       “And Tsultrim and Thupten Heruka, love each other as you love all
beings, without discrimination. Have no preferences among people, forms, sounds
or thoughts.

       “All is pure Buddha wisdom manifesting.

       “All is pure Buddha compassion expressing itself.

       “All is pure Buddha dharma for the benefit of all.

       “Just as the waves are never separate from the ocean, just as the rainbow
is never separate from the sky, just as your love for each other is never separate
from pure compassion for all those suffering in samsara, know the truth of this as
you rest in each others’ heart minds.

       “Thupten Heruka, I would like to ask you to be the husband and consort of
Tsultrim Palmo.

       “Tsultrim Palmo, will you please be the wife and consort of Thupten

       “You shall be each other’s consorts until you reach the highest states of
total enlightenment and become Buddhas. Then you will be of the greatest benefit
to all sentient beings.” He gazed at us both from a heavenly realm as he touched
our heads together.

       Although I clearly heard Khensur Rinpoche’s words, I had no actual
experience of an event or an act unfolding. It was as though a great burst of white
pulsating sunlight had shone directly into my eyes and in that eternal instant my
totality was of radiance and clear awareness inseparably together. I was one with
my Rinpoches and with Tsultrim Palmo. The words were heard and echoed in
every fiber of my body as a dynamic, uncatchable echo. I was united with
Tsultrim in the light and a radiance that expanded throughout the universe and

       I saw Khensur Rinpoche, Purchokpa Rinpoche, Tsultrim, and Lama
Selden with shining vividness and clarity, like the shimmer and translucence of
light reflecting off of a summer’s sparkling lake.

       Tsultrim’s tender smile and profoundly penetrating gaze was like the blast
of a flame racing up my spine. I was the fire as I was also, at the same moment,
the tranquil radiance.

       We sat dissolved together as one being, hardly a pulse in the throbbing
empty expression of earthly form, sailing into the vast winds of timeless

        The three Rinpoches said the closing prayers and they dedicated all the
merit that we had created to benefit all sentient beings. Then they stood, left the
tent and went out into the darkness. They mounted their horses and began their
journey back to Lhasa.

        Their leaving was like a distant dream. Tsultrim and I sat in the light of
the altar until it was only the butter lamp that lit the dark night that enfolded us.
Still, we sat unmoving.

        Every color pronounced itself Buddha. Every sound sang the profound
songs of Buddha. Everything had within it the perfect expression of Buddha
manifestation. Tsultrim and I together were Buddha unbounded. As vast as the
blackness of night, we were vast. As radiant as the noon sun, we were radiant. As
effortless as the clouds in the sky, our love was effortless. As dynamic as the icy
mountain waterfall, our powers were dynamic. As united as every wave in the
ocean, we were one with each other and with all beings.

       Tsultrim’s hand reached out to mine as the first morning light shone softly
through the black tent walls. She placed my fingers to her lips and kissed them.
Then, she rose as though in my dream of long ago and sat on my lap, her legs
wrapped around me. Her head rested on my shoulder. In delicate discovery, we
caressed each other’s bodies until the compelling, soaring fires in our hearts burst
their bonds. The exquisite tension of our union manifest in millions of exploding
suns and we were one of them. Our one heart was so vast that we held within it
every being ever born or ever to be born.

       During the next few months, my joy in loving Tsultrim Palmo was
threaded through every moment and every experience. I lived enraptured by her
voice, her movements, her laugh, and her divinity. She loved me, too, and I hardly
believed the blessings of her love.

       I was astounded when she told me that she had spoken to Lama Selden
many months before of her love for me and of her wish that I would be her
husband. I had never had the slightest hope that she ever loved or desired me in
any way. We laughed as we told each other stories of our secret feelings. She
knew how I had fantasized about her and yet knew that we needed to wait for the
correct time and the blessings of the lamas. Our karma was clearly to be together,
she joked, and yet it was hard even for her to not try to effect the unfolding of
those events. We playfully confessed to each other that we were relieved that time
brought karma to its ripening before we collapsed under the weight of our desire.

       I frequently asked her why she did not at least put me out of my agonized
longing for her by reassuring me of her feelings. She said that that, too, was the
unfolding of my karma.

       When Purchokpa Rinpoche arrived, he and Lama Selden had talked about
the wisdom of such a match with her and they all agreed that it would be most
beneficial for everyone. I was both amused and amazed that they would leave me
out of such an important decision. She teased me that it was so obvious that I had
uncontrollable love for her, they never doubted my willingness. That was true but
I felt ridiculously transparent. I hardly cared though in the ecstatic dance that
became our life together. Our nights were spent in the bliss of each other’s arms
and bodies. Our days were dedicated to tending to Kundun and his family.
Contrary to all of my fears, there seemed to be no threat to any of us and we lived
only in a peaceful little sanctuary flowing with love. I did not know, however,
that my real work was unfolding. Unbeknownst to me, I was secretly turning my
vast path of wisdom and compassion into a desperate and ordinary love for my

        Every day, Tsultrim and I began the morning with our prayers and the
specific practice that we had done together with Khensur Rinpoche. It was quite
a long meditation session but I felt very dedicated to performing it. We started
before daybreak and by the time we were done, it was well into the morning. It
was a time of reminding ourselves of the purpose of our being together and of
why we were there above the little cottage nestled in the pastures below. It was a
time to reflect on the great importance of being ready in case anything should
happen. After the prayers, Tsultrim and I would frequently talk about parts of the
practice or its concepts and I always found that time helpful in gaining an ever-
deeper understanding of the teachings. Very frequently, after such discussions, I
had curious suspicions that Tsultrim had had many more experiences with the
most subtle dharma teachings than she had ever shared with me and had much
more awareness than she admitted to. Indeed, she shared very little of the
experiences of her past or even her present. She never talked about her life or her
dharma practice. I did not even know how old she was, anything about her family,
or where she had lived prior to my meeting her at my cave. When I questioned
her about such things, she only laughed and said that I was preoccupied with
trivial data.

        “Do you love me right now, Thupten Heruka?” she would challenge.

        “Of course!” I would exclaim.

        “Then, love me with your deepest being. Love me right now. Tomorrow, I
may be dead. Yesterday, I did not exist. Love me now, for we may never have
another moment together. Feel this timeless moment of love. Let us die into each
other and live forever in wisdom. When we forget our union, we have lost
everything. Don’t forget, Thupten Heruka, for then we die separately and in such
a death, you lose enlightenment.”

        Tsultrim would then stand on her toes in order to reach up to my face and
look into my eyes. “Don’t forget,” she would say again. “For then enlightenment
is lost.”

        A sparkle would then burst upon her countenance with a laugh,
captivating me to distraction, and I was hypnotized into abandoning any

        Over a year passed by in endless joy. My heart and my life were full in a
way that I could never have imagined. Then, one unusually warm, summer night,
I noticed that the birds sang all the night through. I was sweating and hot, and in
my fitful sleep, I had awakened frequently to see Tsultrim up walking around the
tent. Once, I saw her leave but I fell back to sleep before she returned. Later, I
saw her sitting before the altar in meditation and then she left again. I never was
clear enough of sleepiness to question her, but when I finally did wake up, I did
so with alarm to find that she was still gone. The sun had not yet dawned,
although I knew that I had been sleeping for some time since I had seen her leave.
I looked out the door of the tent and stared into the darkness, listening intently for
any hint of her movement in the black landscape. All I saw were the shadows of
trees and bushes and waving grasses. The clouds were black against a blue gray
sky and even the breeze was hot. That was most unusual for a Tibetan summer
and the air brought an eerie fullness. My distress was growing and I climbed out
of the tent calling her name. There was no response. I began to roam further and
further from the tent calling for her. Little Dorje was with me and I asked him to
find Tsultrim, but he just sniffed around in the grass and came back confused, not
having any trail to follow. Distressed but uncertain as to what to do next, I
assured myself that she must have left with some purpose because she had never
done anything like that before. All I could do was trust that she would return
safely and then she would tell me what had caused her to disappear in the middle
of the night.

        I could not go back to sleep, so I did my morning meditations, hoping that
that would dispel my fears. The sun rose and I fixed myself some butter tea. I
completed the practices that we always did together. I ate a breakfast of tsampa
and fruit. Still, there was no sign of Tsultrim. I did not want to leave the tent in
case she returned, but I felt that I should go down to the cottage and make sure
that everything was all right there. Hiking hesitantly down the trail, I frequently
turned and looked back to the tent. More and more, I paused, straining to see any
signs of movement under our trees or in the fields above me. Finally, I arrived
outside the door of my friends’ home. I stood still and once again, I scanned the
upper side of the mountain, our barely visible tent, and then all around the woods
and fields down into the valley and the village. Although, I could see travelers on
the road journeying to and from the town, all were farmers walking their animals
or riding on horseback, women with children, or women carrying loads of goods
to the market. None had Tsultrim’s walk.

        I knocked on the door of the cottage and opened it to the warm kitchen,
fragrant with the smell of freshly made tea. Bu rushed to greet me. He could say
words such as “Up!” and “Carry me!” which he now commanded in glee. He was
always happy to see me and I felt like an extra special uncle. As soon as he was in
my arms, he scrambled to his favorite spot, perched high on my shoulders, in
order to RIDE! I was his horse and we trotted from the kitchen to the main room
of the house where his father was readying himself for a day in the fields.

        “It is so hot, I cannot wear my jacket,” Kunga chuckled at his most
unusual dilemma. “I bet it is going to rain though and I will be sorry when the
rain brings cold winds!”

       “Have you seen Tsultrim?” I asked.

       “No. Was she coming down here?” My friend could then see my concern
and his eyes evidenced instantaneous fear. He had never seen me worried like that
and all of us were always vigilant over the baby’s safety. His wife came into the
room and we both turned to her.

       “I heard you,” Dolma said. “Has something happened to Tsultrim?”

       “She left during the night last night. I heard her go out but I went back to
sleep. Then, this morning when I woke up, she was still gone. So, I am worried
about her. But, she has not been down here?” I asked.

       I did not say so to my friends, but to know that she had not been there
either brought my anxiety to ever-greater levels. I could only resign myself to
trusting that she could protect herself wherever she was. In reassuring each other,
we all insisted that she was probably all right and that we would understand what
had happened when she returned. I expected that they were not confident of that,
nor was I.

       I asked the baby if he wanted to go outside for a walk and he excitedly
bounced up and down on my shoulders, holding tightly to my braided hair like the
reins of a horse. We walked out to the front porch where I could see far down the
path to the road to the village. There was no one in sight. The clouds had begun a
more chaotic race across the skies and the air was almost liquid with the coming
rain. The weather was an enormous departure from the arid and thin, wispy air
that usually swept through the valley that time of year. The baby pointed to the
fast-moving, dark, cumulous forms and commanded me to look. We both
watched, mesmerized by their billowing and dashing. They appeared to crash into
each other in ferocious play. Transfixed by the drama of the clouds, the little
Dalai Lama twisted himself around to see the tiny sentinel bird, singing fiercely
in keeping with the passion of the skies.

       “BIRD! BIRD!” He pointed. I turned and we could both see the bird, tiny
and crystalline white, watching us as astutely as we were watching him.

Confidently and as determined as a dog runs to his master, the caroling bird quit
her song and her perch and flew directly to the shoulder of the Dalai Lama. As
though it was his pet, the baby tenderly cocked his head slightly, listening as the
bird began to sing once again from its new location. I could not see the boy’s face
but I felt his total stillness and saw the bird sitting right up against his ear. It was
not the song that that little bird had sung from his particular spot since the day of
Kundun’s birth.

        I waited in astonished wonder until the bird flew from the child’s shoulder
and returned to the red tiled roof where she sang, once again, her usual song. The
baby Dalai Lama watched her closely for a while, then squirmed around on my

        “DOWN!” he demanded. Down he slid, as quickly as sliding down a pole.
He stood solidly on his stocky little legs. Then, he looked around him, looked into
the woods, and looked down the road to where it disappeared around the bend.
Pensively, in an expression not belonging to a baby, he looked up at me as though
at a loss to express the complexity of his experience because he lived in a body
that was not yet able to talk.

        “Are you all right, my precious one?” I asked him as though he could
answer me. “Are you scared of something? Are you scared of the bird?”

        Kundun took my hand and we walked back into the house where I sat him
on my lap and rocked and cuddled him until he fell asleep.

        Night came and the loneliness in the tent was eating into my belly like a
parasite devouring me. Terrifying fantasies destroyed my equilibrium as I
valiantly sat before the altar, trying again and again to find my faith and trust. I
prayed to Lama Selden and Purchokpa Rinpoche to intuit that I needed help. I
prayed to Buddha to give me wisdom. Over and over again, I thought of my
beneficent savior of the mountain pass and his teaching that told me to dissolve
into Buddha and rest in his arms. I visualized that image over and over again as I
recited mantra. I prayed to the deities to protect Tsultrim from harm. I did the
meditation practice that we did every morning again that night in the hope that I
could awaken a magical connection to her. I wanted desperately to believe that I
could know if she was hurt.

       Repeatedly and hopefully, I said to myself, “Yes, she is fine. She has to be
ok.” I had to believe that whatever she was doing was in the service of dharma
and that no harm could come to her.

       I did not want to sleep. Instead, I wanted to stay awake to any sound of her
approach. I did fall asleep from exhaustion however, as I sat before the altar, and I
spent much of the night uncomfortably contorted and leaning over onto the tent
wall. After the long day of threatening but unyielding rain clouds, they finally
burst forth with thunder and torrents of rain and they brought along the expected
cold temperatures. Like a frigid curtain drawing itself across the land, the winds
and rain pelted against the tent and woke me up to its misery and mine. My
immediate thought was concern about Tsultrim unprotected in the storm and I
stood up groggily and went to the door to once again look for her. Full force, the
rain blew right up against the front of the tent and then into the tent, creating a
small flood on the floor. The wind picked up the flames of the fire and fanned
them into a fury, so I stepped out into the rain and shut the tent flaps.

        I stood in the deluge, barely able to see, and just as I had already done
innumerable times throughout the day, I called out her name. I stared with the
tenacity of a hawk into the raging whirls of pummeling black rain. There was
only the wildly swaying trees and debris blowing across the fields.

        Out of the darkness, a glint of light appeared in a window of the cabin of
Bu and his parents. I thought that most unusual and concerning. But, wet and
cold, I did not want to trek all the way down the mountain in the storm to
investigate what was probably no cause for alarm. I was sure that the light would
go out at any moment. But, moments passed and it did not go out. I could think of
no logical reason for my friends, always regular in their routine, to be awake in
the middle of the night unless there was a problem of some kind.

        I never rode Da down the steep hills, primarily because I usually enjoyed
the walk and I had no reason to be in a hurry. Yet, that night, I felt that time was
of the essence and I trusted his footing in the darkness more than my own. I called
Da away from his shelter under the large tree near the tent. As he trotted over,
Little Dorje emerged from the tent flap to accompany us. We ventured down the
mountainside in the dark, the grass slippery and wet, and the rain blinding us with
its ferocity. When I neared the cottage, I began to call loudly to my friends so that
they would hear me and not be afraid of some stranger who they might think was
intruding upon them. The door was flung open as I leaped off the horse and I
ducked onto the porch. Kunga stood and stared at me in astonishment.

       “Thupten Heruka! What is wrong! What are you doing here? Is it
Tsultrim? Is she hurt?” he sputtered as his wife emerged and clung to his arm.

       Inside, I dripped a puddle onto the floor and felt silly about worrying that
some great emergency had befallen them.

       “No,” I professed. “I was worried that something was wrong down here
since you had the lamp lit. I came down to check on you.”

       “We’re alright. My wife here, she just had a bad dream and I lit the lamp
so that she could see that all was safe. She never really has bad dreams but this
one frightened her to tears. She woke up screaming and crying and could not go
back to sleep.

       “But, I think you feel better now, don’t you my little one?” Kunga turned
to look into the face of his wife. Then I could see that there were still tears in her
eyes and that her usual rosy color had left her cheeks. She still looked very

       “I don’t know,” she stammered. “It was all so real. Go check on the baby
again and let me heat a cup of hot water with lemon. Maybe, that will relax me.”

       When her husband had left the room, Dolma took my hand and sat me
down beside her.

        “Take off your wet clothes Thupte-la, and we will wrap you in some warm
blankets. Or maybe you want to take Da and Little Dorje to the stable, and then
spend the night here with us. You can’t go back out into that storm.”
       “But, what if Tsultrim comes back to the tent?” I protested. “I think I
should go back up, if you are ok.

       “Tell me about your dream.”

       “Oh,” she moaned as she covered her face with her hands. “It is too
terrible to even think about! I dreamed that I was going to kill my baby. I had
carried him up to some very dangerous mountain cliffs, and it was a windy and
stormy night just like this. I had this strong feeling, almost like I was being put in
a trance by some evil force. A voice said that I must throw the baby off the cliff. I
did it. I threw him over the cliff and he fell. Then I raced down to the bottom and
found him bloody on the rocks. But, he was not dead. He was crying but not dead.
I could see myself with this terrible staring look in my eyes. They were red eyes,
just staring out and not seeing. I took my baby up from the rocks and started to
bang him up against them again and again, trying to kill him.

       “That’s when I woke up. I woke up screaming as soon as I realized what I
was doing in my dream. It was the most horrible feeling!”

       As her story ended, she began to sob in horror, aghast that such a dream
could even occur to her. “I can’t believe that I would dream such a thing,” she
protested over and over as she wept.

       Kunga had returned to the room and had stood in the doorway during the
telling of the story. He came over and it was clear that the dream had evoked deep
fears in him as well. His face was ashen and his comforting of her was tentative
and stuttering.

       “It was just a dream, my sweet one. Don’t think another thing about it. It
was just a dream. We all have bad dreams that don’t mean anything. Let me get
you that hot water and lemon. Maybe, you would like a bit of tsampa and honey?”

        He held her and rocked her as her tears continued through moans of self-

        I got up and said that I was going to put Da and Little Dorje in the stable.
Then, I said, I would come back and spend the night there with them. The dream
was very frightening to me as well.

       When daybreak arrived, none of us had slept well at all. The skies were
crisp and clear. The air was its usual crystal lightness and the sun was shining.
The storm was over and it had hardly left a sign of having been there the night
before. Once again, I scanned the mountainside for a sign of Tsultrim, and once
again, I searched the valley. I saw nothing and churned with the ever-present
dread of what might have befallen her.

       Bu woke before his parents and was quite surprised when he toddled into
the living room and saw me sitting before the fire. I am sure that he thought that I
was there to play and to entertain him.

       “Uncle Thupte-la!” he cried out in excitement.

       His greeting and light lifted my gloom. It was a wonderful way to begin a
new day and to remind myself that I was probably worried about nothing. I tossed
him in the air and caught him amidst giggles and screams of excitement. Silly and
teasing, we plotted about how to awaken his parents. He did the dirty trick of
sneaking in and tickling them, while I exaggerated my amusement at their clear
discomfort and extreme sleepiness. We were an exhausted trio and we could
hardly talk or think without stumbling through our sentences. Our greatest hope
was to sleep the next night without interruption. I was determined to stop
obsessing about Tsultrim and we repeated to each other often that the dream was
only that, a bad dream. Although not solidly convinced of either of those
resolutions, we all worked to believe them.

       “Time to leave,” I said after we had had butter tea. “Let us all have a good
day! Much better than last night!”

       When I walked to the door, Dolma followed me outside. “Thupte-la,” she
said. “Something that I was afraid to admit last night and that I do not want my
husband to know. When I woke up last night, it was not only that I had had the
dream and that it had scared me. It was also that I woke feeling compelled to

carry out the dream. I got out from under the covers and stood up and my impulse
was so strong to go and - and - I can’t even say it! I had to fight and fight with
myself to not do it. It was like a spell. I don’t even know what a spell would feel
like, but I know that I, myself, would never do such a thing. Something must have
happened to me that made me want to do that. Do you think that it was an evil
kind of spell?”

       “Oh, my dear and kind friend.” I took her into my arms and held her. “I
know that you would never do anything to harm that baby. You are the most
wonderful of all mothers. I don’t know what happened last night, but all we can
do is pray that it will never happen again. I think that today we should all do a
special fire puja to burn away all such negativity and hope that it will be followed
by good things for us. We all need to ask for protection from these obstacles that
seem to be descending upon us. Do your prayers, but also tell your husband. He
will understand and I know that he will not think less of you. He does need to
know though so that there will be more protection for you in case something else
happens. Tell him and he can watch over you and the boy.

        “Do you want me to stay here longer with you? I will if you need me.”

        I was torn in making such an offer because of my worries about Tsultrim,
but I was also truly concerned about the intensity of her impulses. I did not tell
Dolma but I did think that there was a power and a person who could have put a
spell on her.

                             A boy cries for his cat that died

                                 And left the boy behind

                                    It is hard to love

                              When others so swiftly leave

       My offer to stay at the cottage was refused. Da, Little Dorje, and I left
and returned to our tent. I felt relieved because I was worried about not being
there in the event that Tsultrim returned. We pushed through the tall field grasses,
soaking our legs as we trod a path up to the mountain trail. I thought a lot about
what a mother’s dream of killing her baby might mean and if there could be a
positive dharma message in it. Never could I have imagined that my friend would
do such a thing, yet the warnings were very much on my mind. Shadows, always
leering, were reminders of my ever-present suspicions of Rudra Rinpoche and his
unknown powers. Reluctantly, I returned to my tent although I was tempted to
again search the woods for my bride. I hardly knew what to do with my friends’
dilemma and I knew nothing about what to do with my own despair. My body and
heart ached in a generalized but constant state of fear, anxiety, helplessness and
profound unhappiness. I retreated to my only comfort and my only hope; that was
to do my meditation practices. Throughout the rest of the day, I did fire puja
purification practices and the protection practices taught to me by Lama Selden.
They brought some relaxation of my fears and I believed that if there was a
hostile force at work, they could help in the dispelling of its powers.

       That evening, I went out to check on the animals and to gather fuel for the
fire. I walked the still fields newly spiked with brown stalks of barley. As much
as I tried to keep a meditative and clear focus, I once again found myself listening
intently for a voice to call my name. I walked for awhile and then I stopped to

listen. Frequently, I thought that I had heard my name carried on the evening
breezes. I would dismiss those faintest of songs as imagination, and then I would
stop and listen again. But once, I was quite sure that I could barely discern a
distant voice calling to me. Melodic and ghostlike, I kept thinking that I heard my
name, both names, Thupten Heruka, sung long and slow. I did not hear my name
the way Tsultrim would have said it if she were calling me. Yet, I still wondered,
and hoped more than wondered, if it was Tsultrim that I heard. But, no, I would
decide again, it was just the rustle of wind in the trees. I stopped under a limb,
elegant with its silver silhouettes of fan shaped leaves, and I looked up. The
breeze was hardly rippling even the most exposed outermost leaf.

       “It cannot be the wind,” I thought. “Maybe, the race of air through the
upper mountain ranges?”

       I scanned the highest peaks, longing to catch a flash of color or movement
that might be my beloved. The voice never got louder than the faint whisper and I
never saw any sign of who or what it might be. Resigned yet again to accepting
that I had an imagination driven only by hope, I turned and reluctantly trekked
back to the tent carrying my load of kindling to stoke the evening’s fire. I hoped
that I would not spend another night awake and worrying.

       Jamyang, our messenger, burst into the encampment not long into the
morning on the next day. His horse was glistening wet and foaming with
exhaustion. He had obviously been pushed beyond ease up the steep and rugged
trail. Leaping off his mount, Jamyang was breathless as he described to me the
group of foreigners who had just arrived in the village. They looked like a party
of wealthy travelers to any but the most suspicious citizens, but Jamyang
recognized the man that he knew as Purchokpa. He also was aware that the
travelers were educated and sophisticated men and high lamas. He told me that he
thought they were probably officials from Lhasa. I knew at once that the official
search party hunting for the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama had arrived.

       It was helpful for me to have had such knowledge ahead of time in order
to prepare the parents. I urged Jamyang to stay at the tent and rest while I went
down to Kunga, Bu and Dolma’s cabin to wait for their guests.

       I had heard much about the procedures in the discovery of a new Dalai
Lama. Following the death of the 12th Dalai Lama and at an auspicious time, the
head of the search committee, usually the head abbot at Ganden Monastery,
would have met with the regents and other important spiritual and government
dignitaries. In that Fire Mouse Year, the abbot was my new friend, Khensur
Rinpoche. The Oracle in Lhasa would have been summoned and before a select
group of lamas, he would have entered into a mad swirl of deep magic. In that
way, the Oracle would have prophesied where the new incarnation was to be
found. More clues were given to Khensur Rinpoche when he gazed into the
mirror-like lake of Lhamoi Lhatso. Often, there were many candidates considered
and one was chosen from among them. I did not know anything about the
particular selection process to find the 13th Dalai Lama and whether it had been
completed or not. If other children had been found, perhaps they had been tested
and discovered not to be the little Dalai Lama. In every way, I had no doubt that
our baby was the actual incarnation. I knew that for those with great vision and
power like Lama Selden, one need not rely on official procedure only. I knew that
from their visions and experiences with little Bu, Lama Selden Rinpoche, Abbot
Khensur and Purchokpa Rinpoche had returned indicating their belief that the
reincarnation was our little child, but they would not have announced anything
officially in Lhasa saying that the child had been found. Nothing was official until
all of the research and results of the search party were investigated, and everyone
on the committee agreed. And, on that very auspicious day, the searchers had
been led as well to the candidate chosen by Khensur Rinpoche. I was not privy to
all of those workings. I trusted my guru and was confident in my own experience
of that most unusual child.

       I went out in front of the cottage and walked down the path, both to see if
the entourage was coming, and to see if anyone else was around who might be
curious about those unfolding events. I noted the little white bird singing merrily
from her perch at the apex of the roof over the door as usual. The sky was clear

and bright with barely a wisp of clouds. There was no wind. There was no noise
except for our tiny sentinel and the birds of the fields and forest. Curiously, but
somewhat excited, I walked to the intersection of the trail and the road. From
there, I could see the worn brown trails meandering their way down into the

           Raising a cloud of dust and already well along in their journey, there was
a contingent of smart stepping horses with riders astride. I picked out Purchokpa
Rinpoche immediately, riding behind the lead man in a group of seven. Much
more colorful than any group of local riders, the emissaries had on jackets of
bright purples and gold, and some wore black felt jackets with multi-colored
stripes decorating collars and sleeves. The flat hats of wealthy, smartly-dressed,
upper class men balanced on their heads. Their saddles and bridles glistened with
silver and gold and the leather was soft and fine. Tassels were woven into the
manes and tails of their mounts. They came closer and stopped when they saw
me, merely a shepherd on the path. The man riding at the head of the party
greeted me and asked if there was a little white cottage nearby with a red tile roof.

           “Ah, there is just such a house down this path,” I offered. “I am going
there myself. My friends live there, so I will lead you to it.”

           When I rounded the bend in the path again, returning with my parade of
dignitaries, I looked toward the little structure that I had just left. I had to steel
myself to remain standing in my profound amazement. Over the house was a
glorious double rainbow stretching from horizon to horizon and washed with
vivid reds, blues, and yellows. An enormous stupa shaped cloud, pure white and
fluffy, sat directly over the house. Our snow-white bird was gliding back and
forth from the horsemen to the doorway, repeating her flight over and over again
as we approached. The members of the official party from Lhasa glanced back
and forth amongst each other under arched eyebrows, but no one commented on
the unusual display of events. My throat constricted and my heart pounded wildly.
Tears welled in my eyes.

       When the seven men entered the house, the parents stepped shyly back to
the wall to make room for all of the dignitaries. The little Dalai Lama recognized
Purchokpa Rinpoche and rushed to him with his arms up and used a new word for
the first time, “Rinpoche!” The others were surprised at his recognition but
Purchokpa Rinpoche picked the baby up and rocked him gently as the process

       The leader of the entourage urged everyone to sit down to hear the story of
the child and his birth. I heard for the first time some details that my friends had
never told me before. Dolma shared that on the night of her baby’s conception,
there had been a little earthquake. The walls had shaken, roof tiles had fallen to
the ground, dishes had clattered to the floor, and yet the butter lamp burning on
their small altar in the bedroom had not even flickered.

       Anyone can now read all of these accounts in Purchokpa Jampa’s official
autobiography of our little Bu. But for us, then, the stories were quite amazing.
She said too, that on that same night, she dreamed that a young girl dressed in a
beautiful costume came to her and offered her a white kata. The girl had said, “A
great lamp of the world is about to take rebirth as your son. Watch over him

       My friend said that a monk and a young girl appeared to her and gave her
a beautiful cup covered with jewels. They said, “This cup belonged to Kyabgon
Rinpoche, the 12th Dalai Lama. Please keep it for him.”

       Dolma continued her stories. I was speechless with surprise. I wondered
why she had kept quiet with all of that information. I looked at her husband. He
looked as surprised as I was, but then he joined her in telling another story of a
wintry day, long before I had arrived. In the midst of deep snow, a pear tree
behind their house blossomed. The flowers were in bloom for months with snow
falling down around it. Dolma then added that on yet another day, when she was
first pregnant, there was a morning when she and Kunga were churning butter.
After working all morning, they went into the house for lunch, leaving the half-
full containers in the barn. When they returned, the containers were overflowing
onto the floor.

       Her husband nodded in agreement with her story as though remembering
how strange he had thought it was at the time. He seemed relieved that so many
odd occurrences finally made sense.

       “And,” Dolma added, “there is this little white bird who lives always in
the eves. It first arrived on the morning of my baby’s conception. For days, it flew
endlessly in a clockwise rotation around the house. Then it disappeared for
awhile, only to return when the baby was born.”

       She said that she had no pain whatsoever when Bu was born and that his
delivery was one of total ecstasy. I caught Dolma’s glance and she looked back at
me shyly. I wanted to ask why she had never told me those stories. She smiled
slightly and her moist eyes filled to overflowing. She was nervous and quickly
wiped away her tears. I could see then how frightened she must have been to
know so much and to not know whether to trust anyone with what she knew.

       All of the examiners huddled about and discussed with great seriousness
what Kunga and Dolma had said. Every auspicious sign was evaluated and
explored in detail. I watched with the parents from the back of the room. Finally,
it was time to test the child for even greater proof of his possible identity as the
reincarnated Dalai Lama.

       A mala of beads, a dorje and a bell, a small dhamaru, and a small Buddha
statue that had all belonged to the 12th Dalai Lama were mixed among other
similar objects and were laid out on a silk cloth. They were left where the child
could find them. His curiosity soon took him to the center of the room where he
explored the sacred implements. Everyone watched. It soon was decidedly
evident that he paid little attention to anything other than those items that had
been his. He picked those up with delighted squeals at finding favorite lost
treasures. He placed the bell in his left hand and the dorje in his right, and held
the dorje perfectly as one would in puja while he rang the bell with a gentle
rhythm. He picked up the dhamaru, cradled it in his arms, and then holding it, the
bell and the dorje, ran to his parents to show them his prizes, saying, “Mine!

         He gave his mother the drum, dorje and bell, and then returned to the
display of items to pick up the mala. He ran with that to his mother and laid it in
her hand. Lastly, he returned to the items and picked up the small statue, placed it
reverently on top of his head, lowered it again to eye it carefully, and then ran
over and placed it in his father’s hand.

         “My Buddha. My Buddha,” he proclaimed authoritatively.

         The other items were all ignored as he then stayed at his parents’ sides and
played carefully with those sacred objects that were all so clearly his own. He
giggled with pleasure and chatted about his discoveries with us.

         The team of investigators eyed each other silently while examining
everything the little boy did. They appeared mesmerized by his presence. I sat
quietly and watched, too. I glanced over at Purchokpa Rinpoche and smiled to see
his peaceful gaze resting gently while the process unfolded, doing nothing to
influence it in any way.

         The head of the party turned to the others and suggested that they all go
outside in order to discuss what they had seen. I imagined that it was quite clear
to them all that the child for whom they had searched was before them. The 13th
Dalai Lama had been found. He would be brought to Lhasa for his enthronement
as soon as the search party could make the necessary preparations and gather
together the escorts. I wished that Tsultrim Palmo could have been with me and
her friends, and most of all with the child whom she cherished. It was a great
moment to have his discovery confirmed and I wanted her with us.

         Later that afternoon, Purchokpa Rinpoche walked up to my camp with me
and I told him about Tsultrim’s disappearance. I was unable to hide how worried I
was and his loving concern brought out the fears that I had kept buried to all but
myself. So much time had passed that I could no longer feel confident that she
was safe. We sat in the early evening gloaming around a small fire in front of the
tent. I told him the events that proceeded her leaving and in telling him the story,

I felt less alone. I knew how much he cared about her too.

       “Let’s go for a walk,” he suggested. “Maybe, we will find something. I
can’t believe that anything bad has happened to her because I think that we would
have sensed it.”

       He rose, took my arm and gently lifted me to my feet. “Let’s walk further
up the mountain. She loves to be up in the high mountains. If we can find her, that
is where she most likely would be. Perhaps she is doing a retreat.”

       Slowly we hiked up higher and higher, past the grassy fields and up the
wild sheep path to narrower and steeper trails. Higher than I had ever gone, we
stood on a rocky outcropping and looked down across the entire valley. Together,
we shared observations, searching for a hint that might indicate something
disturbed in the ordinary peacefulness of mountain life. We saw nothing and the
sun was slowly passing beyond the horizon.

       “My friend,” Rinpoche said. “Your elusive dakini is full of tricks. She is a
most incredible being and I cannot imagine that there is anyone or anything more
powerful than she is. Her view is vast and she would not leave without a very
pure reason. There is nothing that could have happened to her beyond her control.
Don’t worry. I believe that she is safe and that she knows something that we do
not know. We need to trust that she is doing something beneficial somewhere else
and that when her work is over, she will return to us.”

       I listened and a warm liquid relief relaxed my chest. I desperately wanted
to believe his words. I trusted what he said and yet in my despair, I kept
wondering again and again how he could know that with such surety. As we
walked back down the mountain, darkness blinding us to our path, he laid his arm
protectively around my shoulders.

       “Thupten Heruka,” he began, as would a wise old man, “your Tsultrim
Palmo does not belong to you. She is pure light and she is safe in any world. Her
form is so subtle; so subtle. You know that if her body is dead, she is still her pure
form. You grasp on to her body because you think that you own her and that she

is someone special. Who she is in her bodily form is no one special. Yet,” he
turned to me compassionately, “I know how much you love her as your wife and
your friend.

        “She belongs to all beings, however, and you can not hold her back from
doing the work of this lifetime. Even your thoughts and worries hold her back as
they, too, have an influence on her. You must trust. You must let her go in every
way and trust that everything that she does is in perfect keeping with the
unfolding of dharma. When you don’t trust, then she brings about the unfolding
of your karma. For that, you should be grateful as well.

        “She is one of the most dedicated beings that I know in this world. She
would never hurt you with intention nor would her motivation be to scare you.
These are difficult but good lessons for you. She is motivated to help others and
she knows that somewhere and somehow you will find the wisdom to let her do

        “So, please do not worry. You will see her again sometime but maybe not
quite as you expect.”

        Many months passed after the search committee left. There was not ever a
word from Tsultrim Palmo during that time. Alone and frequently sad and lonely,
I stayed primarily in the tent while I waited for the entourage to come to carry the
little Dalai Lama back to the Potala Palace in Lhasa for his enthronement. I
continued my daily visit down to my friends to check on them and I suspected
that they, too, were checking on me, concerned over my grief and my worries
about Tsultrim.

        I understood what Purchokpa Rinpoche had told me about loving her
selflessly but I could not accomplish that emotional feat. At times, especially
during my meditations, I would arrive at that awareness and resolution, but
shortly after going back to my daily activities, I found myself again thinking
about her and wishing for her voice or for her to reach out and take my hand. I
gained increasing accomplishment in my meditations but never enough to heal me
of her loss. I would find myself directing my prayers to her in hopes that I could
communicate my love and devotion to her. I secretly wished that that would draw
her back to me.

          But still, the nights stayed empty without her and I had an ever-present
weary sadness that drew on my strength and dampened my joy. I felt that I should
be forever grateful for my contact with little Kundun and my blessed opportunity
to serve him. That was true. Yet, my heart was always searching for Tsultrim.

          The whole village had advance word of the caravan of high lamas,
soldiers, and important government officials that headed in their direction long
before the entourage had arrived. Rumors had spread since the caravan had been
spotted days earlier.

          It was no longer a secret who they were coming for. Everyone thronged to
the little house to pay homage to the baby who would never again be seen as an
ordinary village child. The people were excited and felt like kings themselves to
have a holy being born in their midst. Gifts of every sort: huge stores of tsampa,
black tea, barley, fruit, sweets, the finest of meats, gold and silver coins, were
brought as gifts to the little Dalai Lama and his parents. Some of the peasants
brought ponies, sheep and yaks. One young boy brought him a mastiff puppy.
Jewels, hunks of turquoise, coral, and amber looked out of place piled high on the
rough-hewn table in the modest cottage.

          The baby enjoyed the ceremony but remained unperturbed, peaceful and
contented. He learned quickly the art of receiving katas and offering them back as
a blessing. We wondered at first if that was a game for him but, as we would
watch him, it appeared that that incredible little fellow knew completely what was
being given and received. His blessings carried a sincerity and warmth beyond the
playful laugh and delight at all the attention being paid to him. I was busy every
day watching over the family and examining every visitor for hints of malicious

          A warm temperate fall seemed to celebrate His Holiness throughout the
valley as well. The day that the entourage came, the fields were dancing in wild
flowers and sweet smelling breezes. Early that morning, I stood listlessly gazing
at the birds dropping down among the flowers and grasses in pursuit of insects.
Then, with their prize, they hopped up again into the air. I was about to take a
walk around the field to check on the animals when I heard the clanking of a
horse’s hoofs on the stones of the path. For a moment I had a fantasy that it was
Tsultrim and then I quickly scolded myself for even having had that thought. It
made me sad to notice that in having that immediate response, I perhaps had
given up on her return.

       When the rider emerged from the trees, I was pleased to see that it was
Jamyang grinning happily and calling out my name.

       “Thupten Heruka, it is me, Jamyang! Tashi Delek. How are you, my

       “I am very well, Jamyang. What brings you all the way out here?” I called
back before he had dismounted from his horse.

       “Well, I am bringing you some good news. But, I will leave you in
suspense and tell you slowly, just as repayment for the very long time that you
have left me in the dark about the reasons for your being here!” He laughed as he
watched my response to see if he was succeeding in confusing me.

       “Jamyang, what do you mean that I have left you in the dark?” I asked
jokingly, knowing that he was talking about our not sharing with him the identity
of the little Dalai Lama.

       He climbed down off of his horse. “Well, at least you could have told me
a little before now. I found out that everyone in the village knew, except me!” he
said in angry pretense.

       “I looked around town and people were painting their houses, stringing up
prayer flags, hiking way out to the middle of nowhere with gifts and katas.

       “ ‘Where are you going?’ I would ask.

       “ ‘Why, to see the Kundun,’ they would say.

       “ ‘Where is he?’ I asked foolishly.

         “Right before my very eyes for the last two years, I find out.

         “And, why should I have known? I was only in on this from the very

         Then, he laughed at the joke on himself and roughly threw his arms
around me in a rambunctious, bear hug.

         “I am so happy!” he said in sincere wonderment.

         “Well, Jamyang, tell me more of what is happening in the village,” I

         “I think that everyone in town has made their homes and shops ready. A
lot of the rich people are hoping that some of the dignitaries and high lamas will
want to stay with them, and it might line their pockets with a little bit!” he said
with a laugh of judgment.

         “And, they have strung new prayer flags everywhere. There is even a
beautiful banner across the main road to welcome the entourage. Houses have
been washed, yards have been cleaned up, walls are all repaired and every one has
gotten out their best clothes.

         “But, I have not told you the best news, which is why I have raced all the
way up here.

         “They are coming now. They were only a short distance away when I left.
I was coming into town by the east highway and saw this huge parade of people.
When I got closer, I saw that it was Tharchin-la, er, Lama Selden, and Purchokpa
out in front of everyone.

         “I was surprised - excited, too - but really surprised when I found out who
the baby is. Isn’t that amazing? Our own little baby, right here, born in that house
in this very village. I can hardly believe it.

         “Anyway, I was teasing you. I actually already went to the house to pay
my respects a few days ago. I brought them a large block of tea and some tsampa.
I looked for you but you were in the kitchen with Dolma and the baby so I left my

gifts with Kunga. There was a houseful of people.

        “So, Thupten Heruka, I am really kind of proud if there was any way that I
did anything to help you and the lamas. I was glad to help and I know that I did
not do much, but I feel very blessed to have done something to help the new

        “It is hard to believe that old clumsy Jamyang here would have such good
karma.” He laughed again and kept talking excitedly without there being a
moment for me to add anything but a nod in response.

        “Now, they take him to Lhasa for an enthronement, is that right? You
know, I was never even suspicious of what you were doing here. Lama Selden
said that he and Tsultrim Palmo were pretending to be shepherds. Of course, I
knew that he was your lama, and I did suspect that he was more than even that. I
just thought that maybe he and Ani-la were special yogis doing a retreat or
something like that. Especially when you came, and then when Purchokpa, oh, I
mean Purchokpa Rinpoche, came and I saw you do prostrations, then I thought
that maybe they were both really high lamas from Lhasa. No one around here
knows who the high Lhasa monastery lamas are.

        “But, I never suspected anything about the baby. I’m really a gullible old
fool, aren’t I?

        “But, not just me. I don’t think that any of the people in the village ever
became suspicious either,” he reported with some air of vindication.

        “They are the most surprised people in the country. They didn’t know
though what I knew. In fact, they probably knew nothing except when that last
group of lamas from Lhasa came through. They said that they were travelers on
business, but why would such well-dressed businessmen head way out to this part
of the country?

        “But, maybe all of the villagers are as gullible as I am. Ha! What a joke
that you pulled on me!”

        He paused thoughtfully from his monologue for a moment and then asked
more seriously. “Tell me, Thupten Heruka, when I greet these important officials
and high lamas, what should I do? And, what should I tell the people in town to
do for a special welcoming ceremony for them?” he asked uncertainly.

        “Jamyang,” I finally spoke. “I do not know the answers to these questions.
I have never participated in any such affairs before so I know as little as you do.
Talk to the town leaders and let them decide to do whatever they feel is

        “Oh, right. That’s what I will do. I will tell them that I am the emissary
from the protector of our new Kundun, and that you said for them to do what they
feel is best. Is that all right? Is that what I should say?”

        Proudly, he claimed his new title and was glad to have a role of
importance that he could carry out.

        I, too, needed to make preparations. The days before me were to bring my
leave taking from my home of over two years. The sheep, dzos and yaks had
served us well. They had kept me well supplied with wool, milk, cheese, butter
and yogurt. But, the animals had to be sold. I asked Jamyang to take them back
with him to the village and to get the best possible prices for them. That money
was my only fund from which I could make an offering to the new child ruler of
Tibet. I was to leave the mountain with only the tent and my few belongings, one
yak on which to carry them, my two horses and my dog. Sadly, I would also leave
without my wife. I hoped that if she came back to what had been our home, she
would know where to come to find me.

        I asked Jamyang for one more favor. I asked him to go down to the Dalai
Lama’s house and stay with the family for the rest of the day. From my mountain
lookout, we could see the clouds of dust signaling the approach of the entourage
as it came closer and closer to the gates of Langdun. For the first time since I had
ridden into the village more than two years before, I wanted to and was able to go
to the town. I wanted to greet Lama Selden, Purchokpa Rinpoche, and all of my
friends as they arrived. My job was soon to be over and there would be others
who were much more official and much more competent protectors for a Dalai

        The first faces that I spotted when I approached the hundreds of devoted
worshippers walking in the cortege were Purchokpa Rinpoche and Lama Selden
riding among the other lamas from the selection committee. Trotting beside them
and intermingled among them were many members of the Kashog. Behind those
dignitaries was a large troop of soldiers, then horses carrying wives of the
Kashog, others carrying older lamas, and alongside the entire caravan ran
innumerable, crimson robed young monks. There was an empty golden palanquin
covered with waving ribbons and flying banners that would bear the new Dalai
Lama back to the Potala.

        As the long line came closer, I saw all of my friends, Dorje Rinpoche,
Tenzin Tsarong, Tenzin Norbu, Jigme, and Namgyal. Upon seeing them all
together, I stood in my stirrups and propelled Da into a gallop. I raced by all the
villagers lining the streets who waited to greet the party, leaped off my horse, and
hurdled myself into the oncoming throng, greeting Lama Selden Rinpoche and
Purchokpa Rinpoche first. Then, I dashed over to my family of brothers. One after
another, I threw my arms around each one. We caused much commotion with our
jokes and roars of laughter in the otherwise dignified parade, but we cared little as
we were finally together again. Purchokpa Rinpoche and Lama Selden watched
our wild greetings and I saw them turn to each other, laughing and gesturing at us
and then waving to me. I could see that it made them happy to see me so happy.

        I had missed my friends. It was as though a piece of me had been left
behind for those two and a half years. I was eager to sit down around a fire with
them and to hear all of their stories. I had changed into an almost different person
and I was curious to see how their new lives in Lhasa had transformed them.

        Following the exuberance of our reunion, my friends and I merged with
the enormity of what was unfolding all around us. Together, we all remounted our
horses and sat clustered in amazement at the spectacle. In a joyful daze, we
looked back down Langdun’s main street to the gate. All along the road, villagers
held white scarves in their outstretched palms and they bowed low as the high
lamas and dignitaries passed by them. The normally tranquil country road was a
waving sea of colorfully dressed celebrants. Their ruddy faces gazed wide-eyed at
the regal tribute to their special child. They felt proud and honored. When the last
of the visitors had passed by them, the local people funneled onto the end of the
parade, and step by step, that enormous spectacle wound its way up to the little
cottage in the pastures where I had spent so much time with a simple peasant
family. From that time on, the world would remember that humble, devoted
family and their son who was a saint. We galloped up to the front of the parade,
and dropped back into our places near Lama Selden and Purchokpa Rinpoche.

        When we were close to the house, I rode ahead in order to help and to give
support to the parents in greeting the enormous crowd. Such an avalanche of
people would have intimidated anyone but my friends were particularly quiet and
shy people. Although a miraculous and momentous occasion, I knew that it would
be frightening to them to undergo such a dramatic change in their lives.

        A crowd had already surrounded the house and stretched down the path to
the road by the time I rode up. There too, people lined the path waiting for the
entourage. As it approached, each person bowed in reverence to all the Buddhas
that they knew to be among them. Faithful, as always, and perched unafraid in her
favorite spot, the white feathered sentry sang in celebration. I wondered if she
thought as I did; that Tibet had rightfully found its way to the one most worthy of

        I hopped down off my horse and went inside. Devotees were already in
there too, lined up three and four deep to offer katas and to do prostrations to Bu,
our Kundun. I pushed through to Kunga and Dolma who were standing beside
their child, one on each side, and told them that the lamas from Lhasa had arrived.
Kunga gathered up the baby. The child was dressed in a beautiful robe of damask
silk that Dolma had made for him. He was wrapped in an exquisite silk scarf that
had been one of his gifts. She had also made both her husband and herself new
clothes as well. The father looked very handsome and much younger in a red silk
shirt and crisp black pants. His long hair was tied up in braids held firm under a

new, wide-brimmed, yellow hat like those worn in Lhasa. She had a green
brocade, Chinese-style, chuba with a soft, silky white blouse and striped, linen
apron. Her hair too, was braided and set with turquoise rings. A fan was pinned
perfectly in place at the back of her head and it appeared to be a radiant halo. I
felt as proud of them as I would have been of my own brother and sister and
nephew. In my heart, that was what I felt that they were.

       Together, we exited the house as Lama Selden and Purchokpa Rinpoche
dismounted beside the front porch along with the other high, head lamas. I led the
little Dalai Lama to an elegant and newly constructed throne that we had placed
outside and from which he could greet his guests. Over the throne was a canopy
of silk, brocades, and banners. Beside it was a table carved by one of the villagers
and placed there to hold all of the katas and gifts that he would receive.

       I tried to remember everything necessary in order to have the event go
easily for all. I felt that such organization was my responsibility. I knew that
according to protocol, Lama Selden would invite all of the highest and most
important lamas to make offerings to the new Dalai Lama first, then the
dignitaries according to status, and then the young monks and villagers. My major
concern was that there was a winding line of devotees for the small child to bless
that could have taken all-day or longer to pass by him. I was very determined that
the line would move quickly so that he would not get too tired.

       I was so preoccupied that I did not see what was right behind me. When
we were ready to begin the offerings and the blessings of the guests, I went over
to ask Kunga and Dolma to stand next to their child. As I turned around, my eyes
swept over the crowd. I saw someone who looked like Tsultrim. Startled, I looked
again in disbelief. I gasped to catch my breath and felt as though a bolt of
lightening pierced through me. She was near the back of the throng and she stood
next to Rudra Rinpoche. Next to them was the dapper, black cloaked young man,
the attendant who had been so kind, and last, was the young boy in monks’ robes.

       I stopped, frozen in place and faint with confusion. The world became a
blur. I wanted to race over to Tsultrim and wrap my arms around her. My eyes
brimmed hot with tears. I spun with dizzying paranoia as to why she was there
with Rudra Rinpoche. I tried to deny to myself that she was with him and thought
that perhaps she was standing next to him by accident.

          Compelled, I started to move towards her in the crowd, leaving my
position by the Dalai Lama. Rudra Rinpoche saw me and waved pleasantly,
calling out my name. I looked from him to Tsultrim and she saw me, I was sure.
She stepped back into the crowd avoiding my gaze. When she looked up again,
she shook her head very slightly and put her hand over her mouth. She did not
want me to approach her. She did not want me to recognize her. My heart
pounded in my chest and I was wounded with longing, pain and confusion.

          Rudra Rinpoche called again, “Tashi Delek, Thupten Heruka. How good
to see you again! Come over and say hello.”

          “I can’t come over there now,” I called out in feigned normalcy. “I will
see you later.”

          I retreated to the side of the Dalai Lama again, but my brain was in wild
confusion and my world was in chaos. To find Rudra Rinpoche in the crowd and
near the holy child frightened me. To find him with Tsultrim was a bewildering
mystery and one that left me cold in disbelief. I stood in that daze as, one by one,
all the faithful began to file by the two year old Dalai Lama to offer gifts and
katas and to receive his blessings. Beginning with His Holiness the young
Panchen Lama, His Holiness the Karmapa, and then the Dalai Lama’s tutors
including Purchokpa Rinpoche, the heads of the major and minor monasteries, the
reincarnated tulkus, revered lamas, members of the Kashog, heads of government
committees, foreign dignitaries, and a long line of monks and lay people passed
by in my whirling dream. All of them were invisible beings in my shock. I could
see only a blur of faces and hear only the distant and indistinct buzz of hushed

          My mind raced from thought to wild thought without any ability to
comprehend what had happened to my Tsultrim. I was lost in constant obsessive
plots about how to see her alone so that I could talk to her. I kept surreptitiously
sneaking a look at the crowd in the direction where I had seen her, trying to catch
another glimpse. I didn’t see her again until much later, after all of the dignitaries
from Lhasa had passed through the line. The peasants, nomads and villagers were
wending their way forward in the distorted blur of a swift moving stream.

         Rudra Rinpoche, tall and wearing his robes, towered over the approaching
worshipers. Behind him was the young man in black, proud and arrogant, then the
attendant, and then the little monk. Tiny, and almost lost in the massive crush of
people, was Tsultrim. She held the young monk’s hand. Slowly, step by step, she
approached the Dalai Lama. Rudra Rinpoche finally arrived at the front of the
line, stepped forward, and offered a large box wrapped in white silk scarves. One
of our attendants took it. The gift was placed on the table, already unwieldy with
a tower of presents that had long since covered the table top and that were
accumulating in an area that surrounded the throne. I studied the box carefully
and knew that I would want to examine it carefully later. Rudra Rinpoche bowed
slightly to the Dalai Lama, offered his kata and received it back from the child,
gently placed around his neck with a blessing.

         Then the evil man stepped on past His Holiness and up to me. He patted
my shoulder and asked how I was doing. I could not discern even the slightest
discomfort on his face that might have indicated any memory of our last
encounter. I was bewildered and incredibly concerned about his very presence.

         But, more than that, I was preoccupied with watching Tsultrim moving
forward in the line. I mindlessly babbled something to him, asked about his health
and said that I hoped he had had a good journey. I just wanted to be out of my
great discomfort and to dismiss him until I could sort everything out.

         The young man ignored me and walked directly away, as did the little
boy, but the attendant greeted me with warmth. He held my hands before him,
bowed too frequently, professed his joy at seeing me, and then whispered, “Let us
try to get a moment alone, just you and me. I will watch for you after this affair is

         I agreed in hopes that such a meeting might give me some answers. Then,
it was Tsultrim Palmo who bowed before Kundun. Bu, of course, recognized her
and called her name again and again. His little face shone with happiness to see
her and he expected her warm response. But, her face stayed immobile and she
showed no expression except one of respect. I was shocked and angry that she
would pretend to that child whom she had loved so deeply that she did know him.
In my love and protectiveness of him, I could not understand why she could not
give him some sign that she was indeed his beloved friend, Auntie Tsultrim.

       When she might have looked up at the parents standing next to their child,
she ignored them. They had seen her very strange behavior with the baby and
looked at her with confusion and hurt. Then as she turned away, very subtly, she
glanced in their direction, shook her head again and looked sternly into their eyes.

       When she passed me, she lowered her gaze and walked by unknowing of
that stranger desperate to grab her, whirl her around, and look into her face with
the deepest love of her devoted husband. I watched her pass back into the crowd
and feared that I would lose control of the enormity of my feelings. I was on the
verge of either bursting into tears, screaming her name, or succumbing to my rage
at her and demanding that she come back and tell me what had happened. I
steeled myself to the pain and stood immobile and silent. My only hope was that
she would come and find me later and explain that horrible mystery.

       I turned back to the Dalai Lama and his parents. I saw that Dolma,
Tsultrim’s dearest friend, was staring at me, pale and shaking. I walked over and
stood behind her and placed my hands on her shoulders. I was hardly capable of
doing much comforting but I whispered in her ear that there must be some
explanation. We would find out as soon as we could, I told her.

       It was evening before the seemingly endless procession had woven its way
before the little boy. I would have expected him to have been exhausted long
before the end and to have refused to continue that duty of greeting each passing,
eager face. Instead, every person who stepped up to him was an immediate friend,
a loved one returned to him, and he laughed with delight the entire time. I hardly
believed the miracle of that baby whom I had rocked since the day of his birth.

       Finally, the day’s ceremony completed, I gathered him in my arms to
escape the crowd so that he could rest. Dorje and Tenzin Norbu were nearby and I
asked them to carry the katas and gifts inside and then to stand guard at the door.
When I was assured that the family was safe and there were others to take care of
all of their needs, I left the house to wander the crowd.

       Feverishly, I worked my way through the crunch of men and women,
children running and playing, horses left wherever a spot could be found, and
dogs trying to run away with stolen bits of food from the family picnic sites that
had quickly claimed the fields. I climbed up the hill far enough to have the
advantage of looking out over the heads of the holiday gathering and I searched
most particularly for Tsultrim. I also looked for the attendant in hopes that we
could talk. I saw Lama Selden not too far from me and I ran back down into the
throng and pushed my way over to him. He was talking to an abbot that I
recognized slightly from Namgyal Monastery in Lhasa.

       “Rinpoche,” I begged. “May I interrupt and please have a moment of your
time regarding an extremely important matter?”

       At seeing my distress, he broke off his conversation immediately and
walked with me to a secluded spot on the edge of the field.

       “Rinpoche,” I began, hardly able to speak. “Tsultrim is here with Rudra
Rinpoche. Did Purchokpa Rinpoche tell you that she had disappeared? She has
been gone for many months! I have heard nothing from her. And, then today, she
is here in this crowd of people with Rudra Rinpoche! When I saw her, she would
not look at me. Then when she came up to His Holiness in the line, he called her
name and she did not even respond. She ignored Kunga and Dolma. She walked
right by me without a word or sign of recognition.

       “I am looking for her now but I don’t see her. I can’t understand this! Do
you know what is happening?”

       “Thupte-la, I don’t know anything or of course, I would tell you. But, I do
know that you need not worry. Whatever is happening, she is alright and doing
what is right for the dharma. This I do know without any doubt whatsoever. She
must know something that we do not. Until we talk to her, we absolutely must
trust her. Do not take anything personally. She is a wise dakini. Some day you
will know the whole story, I’m sure.

        “Now, return to the celebration. You do not want to jeopardize her in
some way because of your pain and your need to have an explanation. Be very
discreet. I think she is telling you that that is what she needs from you.”

        He looked at me with more power and ferociousness in his eyes than I had
ever seen. His look was almost a glare, commanding me to collect my rampant
emotions and play the part that was necessary for His Holiness’ protection. In so
doing, I should make it possible for Tsultrim to do what was imperative for her
for some unknown reason.

        Much of my desperation was thinking that her lack of acknowledgment
was a rejection of me. I could not believe that if she loved me, she would not have
given me some warning or explanation instead of just appearing before me after
all of that time.

        “I should have been warned,” I screamed in my broken heart. I even felt
an incredulous jealousy at her being with Rudra Rinpoche and a fear that Tsultrim
had been persuaded by his awesome powers. I was determined to find the
attendant but I heard well Rinpoche’s warning. I was clear that I was not to
supply the attendant with any information at all about Tsultrim.

        I climbed up the hill again to scan the crowd. Back and forth and back and
forth again, I meticulously looked at one person after another but I could not see
Tsultrim. I also did not spot Rudra Rinpoche. That surprised me because he was
so tall and distinctive. I looked for the attendant and for the young man in black.

        Finally, I saw the attendant sitting on the woodpile by the back of the
house. At that same time, I saw the man in black accompanied by the young
monk entering the forest. They had already passed into the shade of the trees and

had almost disappeared into the brush. The attendant looked around furtively,
and, as the other two disappeared, he casually rose and edged his way towards the
woods as well.

       With hardly a thought, I ran down the hill and raced around the fringes of
the crowd towards the attendant. He was withdrawing into the increasingly dense
forest. I dashed among the trees in pursuit. I could hear his footsteps as he
crunched his way through the woods, pushing aside bushes of overgrowth and
briars. I did not call out to him because I suspected that he did not want the others
to know that he had talked to me. I went as quickly as I could and soon he heard
me behind him.

       Startled, he whirled around and then looked almost relieved to see that it
was me. With many long and studied looks, he searched ahead of him into the
trees to see if there were any signs of his fellows who had preceded him.

       “My friend,” I began, breathless and unsure. “I was concerned by the way
you spoke to me earlier. I’m afraid that you may be in trouble or need some help.
That’s why I tried to catch you. I did not want you to leave without my honoring
your request.”

       The attendant looked at me and I could see regret that he had revealed
himself to me. He was then in the position of needing to explain his distress.

       “I don’t know. Now, I just don’t know if I should say anything. I need
your help but I am afraid,” he stammered.

       “Please, if I tell you, promise that you will tell no one.

       “No, I can’t say anything. I am afraid that something will happen to me. I
am sorry for your trouble. You were very kind to try to catch me. Maybe, I will
see you again, Thupten Heruka.” He looked anxious to escape.

       “You are in danger, aren’t you?” I pressed. “I can help you. Trust me. I
can help you. Tell me what is happening. It is about Rudra Rinpoche, isn’t it? I
had a very bad encounter with him and I think that he tried to kill me at least two
or three times. Is this what you are worried about, something about Rudra

       In my intense fear at losing the last clue about Tsultrim, I found myself
clutching the front of his shirt in my fist. I had pulled him towards me until we
were staring at each other, eye to eye. He was panicking more and more every
moment and trembled at my aggression.

       “Please, let me go. I am all right. I have to go on now,” he begged.

       “My friend,” I pleaded with him again as I relaxed my grip and put my
hand on his shoulders more gently. “I’m sorry if I scared you. It is just that I had
such a bad experience with your Rinpoche and I think that something is very
wrong with him. Please, tell me your dilemma.”

       “I don’t know,” the attendant stuttered as he looked around once again.

       “It is Rudra Rinpoche, but I am very afraid of him.” His voice was shaky.
“I think that he knows and sees everything even when he is not around. I think he
knows my thoughts and everything that I do. I am afraid that he will know that I
am talking to you even though he cannot see us. And, if he knew that, I am sure
that he would kill me. I’m his servant but I think that I am really his prisoner and
for some reason, I cannot escape. Perhaps, I could just walk away; its not as
though I am under a guard’s knife. But, I cannot leave. I am afraid that I would
die. So, I serve him and my young master, Tsering Tulku, and the little boy.”

       Then he leaned up close to me and looked around again quickly, his face
hot with fear. “I think that they are evil. I think that they are doing much harm
and that something is terribly wrong! And,” he paused and looked down at the
ground as the fear was replaced with the shadow of shame, “for this,” he
stammered unable to say the words, “for my helping them in this, I am very afraid
that I shall go to the hell realms when I die.”

        He was silent and stared at a single fallen leaf on the ground. His obvious
shock that he had told another filled me with alarm in my fear for him. With that
news, I felt an increased panic for Tsultrim.

        “If you want to leave him,” I offered hesitantly at first and then repeated
with more resolution, “if you want to leave, just stay here with me now. I have
friends who will help protect you. Just come back with me and I will tell them to
watch over you and they won’t let any harm come to you.”

       Even as the words came from my mouth, genuine in my offer, I also
worried that in doing that I might have jeopardized Tsultrim’s safety by
disturbing the equilibrium of Rudra Rinpoche’s tiny quintet.

       “No. No, I can’t leave. I want to but I can’t. The little boy - the little monk
- I can’t leave him alone to have his heart and mind stolen from him as Rinpoche
did to Tsering Tulku. I need to bring the boy with me if I leave. I can’t go now.”

       His head was still bowed in shame and defeat. He turned away to resume
his wooded journey.

       “Who is the woman with Rinpoche?” I asked as I tried to sound innocent
in my request.

       “I don’t know her very well. Her name is Ani Nyima. She has known
Rudra Rinpoche for many, many years and she has been with us periodically for
long periods of time. She comes for awhile and then she leaves for awhile. I don’t
know where she goes, but I don’t think that she is evil. She is very, very kind to
me - unlike young Tsering Tulku who whips me for the slightest reason.

       “And, she is very good to my little monk who is much too young to know
what is happening. He is a sweet child and I worry about him.”

       “Have you ever talked to Ani Nyima about your concerns? Maybe, if she
is so kind, she could help you. Perhaps, she could explain to you her friendship to
Rudra Rinpoche and why she would be with such an evil man.” My extreme
discomfort at his report made it increasingly difficult for me to keep up my
composure and to not reveal the true motivation for my questioning.

       “I have never seen her alone. She is always with Rudra Rinpoche in their
cave or else we are all together. He is very protective of her and keeps her hidden
away. She stays in the cave, hidden in the back of his hut. She cannot leave
without going by him.
       “But, then, like I said, sometimes she goes away for a long time. But, she
always comes back.

       “I think that she would not like to hear my thoughts, though. Either, she
would not believe me or she already knows and would not like for me to say such
horrible things about Rinpoche. I doubt very much that she would help me
escape.” His voice was weak with resignation like a child defeated once again by
a neighborhood bully.

       “Thank you again, Thupten Heruka. Maybe when I see you again, I will
be courageous enough to take you up on your offer. But now, I am too afraid. Let
us hope that I live to see a next time.”

       The attendant walked into the woods. The bushes, the scrub, and the low-
lying tree limbs quickly hid him from my sight. I remained in the quiet of the
fallen leaves and away from all of the excitement of the crowd. A rock a few feet
away was my rescue as I was weak and dizzy and tumbled to sit on it. I could not
imagine what Tsultrim was doing. Over and over, my mind begged for answers.

       “Why has she never told me of this relationship with Rudra Rinpoche?”
the voices in my head screamed out to an imaginary savior.

       “She has heard me talk of him many times and of my great fear of him.
What is this? Is there this terrible side of her that I do not know? How can I still
trust my guru’s instructions to me? How can I possibly believe that she is serving
the dharma when I hear this news?

       “I have lost her.” I heard the words echoing in my head over and over and
over again.

       “I have lost my beloved.” Incredulous and heartbroken, I slumped over
and cried the deep sobs that had been denied and unexpressed for those past many

The world is full of suffer ing. B irth is suffering, old age is suffering, sickness and death are
sufferings. To meet a man whom one hates is suffering, to be separated from a beloved o ne is
suffering, to be va inly struggling to satisfy one’s needs is suffering. In fact, life that is not free
from desire and passion is always involved with distress. This is called the Truth of

                               The first of The Fourfold Noble Truths

         That night, silver stars exploded filling the blackness with diamond
sparklers as though a great holiday was being celebrated with Chinese fireworks.
My friends and I resumed our old camaraderie as though it had been only the day
before that we had last seen each other. We sat on the grass outside the tent
looking down at the fields below dotted everywhere with cooking fires. It
appeared as though a city had magically manifested. It was not at all the view
which I had grown so accustomed to in my countless meditation sessions, gazing
at the sun as it set over the peaceful little cottage all alone in the valley.

         Officials and dignitaries had been invited to stay in the rooms of the more
affluent townspeople. The rest of the escort party had spread out to fill the
meadows with their white tents made lavish with plush and elegant carpets,
tables, chairs and comfortable beds. Each high lama had at least one monk as an
attendant and meals were prepared that would have rivaled the best ever cooked
for them at their monasteries.

         My friends and I could barely see all of the bustle far below us but we
could hear music playing, singing and laughter, and the clanging of cooking pans.

         Lama Selden and Purchokpa Rinpoche spent the night in the cottage of the
Dalai Lama with two guards stationed out front. I had fantasized the banquet that
was being served to them that night, cooked by their three attending monks. I
smiled to myself at the special treatment that Dolma, Kunga and Bu would surely

receive and at the difficulties that they would have in accepting such abundance. I
was glad that that was the most difficult struggle that they faced rather than the
horrors that could have befallen them. I tightened in a shiver with the thought of
the many dangers ever present in my mind over those past two and a half years.

       “It was good,” I thought, “that His mother and father never fully knew that
they held a truly incarnate Buddha in their arms.”

       With my five friends, our joy was in being together again. I was eager to
hear their report about all that had happened to them in Lhasa since I had left
them there. They had all heard from Purchokpa Rinpoche the story of my
marriage to Tsultrim Palmo but had no idea who she was or where she was. Since
I had not said anything about her and it was clear that she was not present, I could
feel their awkward curiosity about her.

       Dorje Rinpoche, who had been in the tent unrolling his blankets, was
never sensitive to anyone’s embarrassment. He came out to join us and
interrupted our jokes about the day’s events.

       “Thupten Heruka, what is this about getting married and where is this
beautiful lady?” he said tauntingly.

       “This is not a good topic for discussion, my brother,” I probably said too
bluntly. “It is a bad way to start reporting my adventures of the last two years. We
should start with something more interesting.” I was reluctant, but also unclear as
to what I should say as I thought about Lama Selden’s admonitions that

       “Now, this is a big story no matter how it has ended. We are all best
friends. Who better to tell of your trials and tribulations!” Dorje challenged as he
sat down next to me on the grass and gently but persistently punched my arm.

       “Come on, Thupten Heruka, give us the story.”

       I relented but only gave the sparsest of details. “Do you remember when I
did a three month retreat for Losar, back before my mother died, - do you
remember?” I began as I watched them closely for any signs of ridicule.
        “I told you about a yogini who appeared in my cave the last night. I don’t
think that you believed me when I told you about her before. She just showed up
out of nowhere.

        “It was she who first told me of the 12th Dalai Lama’s death and she said
that I would have a part to play in all of this - all that has since unfolded
surrounding the birth of the new incarnation.

        “When I came here to meet Lama Selden, she was here, too. She lived in
this tent with him and was watching over the baby’s mother. We were all together
then for many months and although I tried very hard not to, I found myself falling
in love with her. I never thought that she shared the same feelings for me but
when it came time for Lama Selden and Purchokpa Rinpoche to leave, they had
decided that we should be married.

        “I was surprised but, of course, I agreed to marry her. I loved her with all
my heart. Things were wonderful for over a year. I never had been so happy or so
deeply in love with anyone.

        “Then, she left in the middle of the night a few months ago with no word
or reason that I know of. I have not known where she was, until,” I hesitated to go
on because I was still in great pain after my day’s discovery. I did not want to
continue such a difficult topic of conversation.

        They all looked at me expectantly and with caring concern.

        “I,” my pause was long as I tried to keep control over my voice and the
arising tears. “I have not seen her - again - until today. She was here, in the line to
make offerings to His Holiness.”

        “Did she say anything to you?” asked Dorje.

        “No, she said nothing. Then, she disappeared quickly before I could find
her. I don’t understand what is going on but, at this point, I think that I had better
just forget about her. It’s been hard but I can’t go on thinking about her all the

        “So, now let’s change the subject and talk about something more
interesting,” I insisted.

        “I’m sorry, Thupte-la.” Tenzin Jigme offered, supporting his chin in his
hands as he lay prone on the grass. “I would be crazy with something like that.

        “Maybe that’s why I’m a monk.” He laughed at himself somewhat
absently and uncomfortably.

        “Are you going back to Lhasa without her, then?” Tsarong was
apparently confused about how helpless I was in finding Tsultrim.

        My instantaneous emotional response was impatience at his lack of
understanding my dilemma. “I have no choice, Tsarong. She left me and I don’t
know where to find her!”

        That was not entirely true, I realized for the first time when I said it. I did
know where she was. She was at Rudra Rinpoche’s shambles of a monastery.
That set in motion thoughts of going there to find her.

        “Now, please, I cannot talk about her any more.

        “I want to know what has happened in Lhasa for the last two years and if
you have been lazing around in the luxuries of the city?”

        “Now, this is very true!” exclaimed Norbu as his brother, Namgyal,
immediately agreed with such a fantasy.

        “Ah, yes. We live the life of noblemen with beautiful clothes and delicious
meals and gorgeous women. Can’t you tell by our elegant dress and our fat
bellies?” Namgyal gestured to include them all.

        I was relieved that the mood became lighter so quickly and I expected that
they were as well.

        “The truth is that we have all turned into spies,” said Tsarong dejectedly.
“Lhasa has been a cauldron of rumors and suspiciousness. No one trusts anyone
in the Kashog and even some of the abbots are guarded about what they say to
each other. It’s really not good.
        “The root of all of this is the tension between all those predatory
foreigners. Such uncivilized barbarians they are, greedy and power mongering,
ready to steal everything we own.

        “Tibet has sure changed. It is really a pity. It used to be that we were a
happy country, hardly having any contact with the political machinations in the
rest of the world. We lived very peacefully - except for our warring brigands and
village skirmishes!

        “But, that was our own problem. Or, maybe it was our play. In any case,
we could take care of it and the people were happy. The government was strong
and everyone took care of everyone else. We never let anyone turn us against
each other in any serious ways.

        “Then, little by little, all of these foreigners came into the country. They
brought their dictatorial religious beliefs and tried to turn us into something alien
to ourselves. Then, there were more and more traders from other countries who
wanted to rob us blind of all of our treasures. I guess the word spread about how
wealthy Tibet was and governments wanted to get their fingers into the pot of

        “So, now we do not know who is our enemy and who is our friend! There
are too many people calling themselves friends and ambassadors, coming to talk
to the government leaders about helping us. What they really want is to control us
so that their enemies don’t get their hands on our money and land!

        “Look what we are stuck with now! China has an embassy that is only a
disguise in order to keep their foot in the door and their hands in our pockets.

        “England is inching its way into positions of power by trying to plant
advisors in our midst. Of course, they really want to get control over us so that
China doesn’t overtake us and steal our resources which they, then, could not get
at. Worse still, they fear that China and Russia will align in their sharing of Tibet
and then that would be too much for Britain.

        “And, Russia! Russia keeps inviting - no, luring - our government officials
to visit with their leaders and making tempting promises that have the Kashog
licking their lips with greed. All Russia really wants is to get to us before China

        “We can’t trust the Kashog members because they are being persuaded by
first this side and then the other. Who knows if anyone is getting paid on the side
for supporting these different powers?

        “Monasteries are getting too big and too political. They are growing too
fast and getting too much money. It’s horrible. I even think that some of the
abbots have been corrupted by money and make their decisions based more on
how rich they can get than on the dharma.

        “We’re bringing this little boy back to Lhasa to face all of this and expect
the naming of a child to harmonize all of these factions. Well, let’s hope it works.

        “The regents have been in power for a long time. I hate to say this, but I
wonder if maybe they have been much too happy with all of the benefits that are
theirs when there is no functional Dalai Lama.

        “So, you ask, how have we spent the last two years?

        “I have been trying to infiltrate and spy on the English and I can now
speak the English language. Dorje Rinpoche has been to Russia twice and has
made friends with all of the Russian ambassadors. Norbu is our official China
spy. Tenzin Jigme has seduced Kashog members into trusting him. Then,
Namgyal is working the monastery gossip line.

        “Pretty horrible jobs, if you ask me. It’s a tragedy that we are spending
years trying to sort through all of these sparring fingers of the one hand of Tibet.

        “Stupid! What has come of our world! What has come of Tibet! I’m really
ashamed.” Tsarong hung his head dejectedly and rubbed his forehead in deep

        “And, of course,” added Namgyal. “The most horrible question of all is
what has happened to our last four Dalai Lamas? Has all of this power mongering

been bringing about murders? Were we so naive and stupid that we let this inner
warfare go on under our noses and as a result we have lost our most precious

        “I think that these suspicions only came out in the open after the death of
the 12th Dalai Lama but they have been there simmering for years. Now, they
have really exploded and you can feel it everywhere in the city.

        “I don’t think that the people are happy. Not like they have always been in
the past.

        “Maybe, somehow, they don’t feel that they can trust the government to
take care of them.”

        Namgyal paused summoning a wisp of positive thought and then added, “I
hope that things will be different now. Maybe, if we can keep this child alive long
enough to take over with real leadership, the people will be united.

        “For the first time, we have Purchokpa Rinpoche to oversee the Regents’
roles in governing until Kundun is old enough. I think that he will make a big

        “Right,” offered Tenzin Jigme. “That will be the one difference.
Purchokpa Rinpoche is old enough now to be really respected and has enough
power to be feared. No one trustworthy was there to watch over the Regents for
the last few incarnations and who can possibly know what happened? But, if there
is anyone who can prevent it from happening again, I think that Purchokpa
Rinpoche can protect this child.

        “I mean, we’ve been asked to help guard him and to bring honesty to the
government, but I don’t think that we would have a chance to be successful
without Rinpoche.

        “Thupten Heruka, we have been meeting with him almost every week for
these past two years. We each bring to him all of the information that we have
heard that week and put all of the pieces together to try to figure out what is
happening among all the different powers. We don’t have a lot of influence to
make any changes but Purchokpa Rinpoche does and we can effect some
members of the Kashog and the abbots. At least, we know more about what these
foreign governments are doing. We are one step ahead of them and maybe we are
doing some good. I also think that the honorable members of the Kashog are
using our information to make more knowledgeable policy decisions.

        “But, the essence is that each of these factions has something to gain if
they keep Tibet without a leader who can capture the heart and spirit of all her
people. As long as there is no Dalai Lama, they can succeed in accomplishing
their own selfish interests,” Jigme added.

        “Whoever would have thought that such a wild band of outlaws like us
would turn out to be underground spies!” growled Norbu.

        “I really hate this job!” He spit on the ground. “This is nothing like I have
ever wanted to do in my whole life. I don’t like the city. There are too many
people and there’s too much dirt and dust. I don’t like the Chinese government at
all. I think that they are sneaky and slippery as snakes. They want Tibet so much
that they are drooling down their shirts. They think that they can cover this up
with all of the concocted rules and regulations from their embassy. What they
really want is to get control so that they can make some very calculated moves.

        “Instead of being able to kick them out like I want to, I am inviting them
for tea and sweets and talking nice to them. I feel disgusted with myself at being
just as slimy as they are. I just don’t feel honest doing this. I want to tell them
what I think and send them running.”

        “Norbu,” counseled Namgyal. “You are too hot tempered. Even at home
you would always fight it out with someone instead of trying to think things
through and find a sane solution. You really are a bit crazy that way. It’s hard to
trust that you won’t give away your cover with your impulsiveness.

        “Don’t get so hot!

        “You’ve got the most volatile job of all of us. Those Chinese officials
could throw you in jail or kidnap you and carry you to China. You know all that

could happen to you. You could be executed. Settle down, brother! We’ve got to
stay level headed about all of this.”

       “Namgyal, enough! I know all of that but it doesn’t mean I like it. I know
what I’m doing. I’m not so stupid.” Norbu turned to me and continued more
calmly. “So, you see, Thupten Heruka. It has been really hard and it just breaks
my heart what is going on.

       “It’s everywhere, not just in Lhasa. In the monasteries, it is the same thing
but probably, most of the monks don’t know about it. And the villagers, most of
them are just going along with their simple life as they have for centuries. But,
everywhere, there is this enormous tension like everyone pulling on the reins to
control the horse and so he goes round and round in circles.”

       Norbu finished his tirade and paused for a minute, then looked around at
the others who were nodding solemnly in agreement. I had nothing to say in
response. Like the others, we were struck mute by the warning tremors of an
earthquake about to happen in our homeland. We had no real way to heal the rifts
that we all knew at some point would crack our world apart.

       That night, I hardly slept because of nightmares. I had three, one after
another. Each made it harder for me to go back to sleep and then, when I did,
there was yet another dream to wake me up. I arose long before dawn. I did not
want to endure the horror of any more night terrors. I sat outside on the hillside
and contemplated my dreams.

       In the first, I revisited my mountain pass crossing and my fall from the
cliff. The dream was more frightening than the actual event had been. In it, I
stood at the pass evaluating the crossing. I looked around to see if the others were
going to cross but they had all frozen into icemen. They were as if carved from
ice, totally translucent, and they sparkled in the snow and sun like icicles.

       All except for Rudra Rinpoche who walked towards me along the
precarious trail. He was dressed entirely in black with a long cape of bat wings.
He approached me from behind but I could still see him. Innocently, believing

that he was a friend, I did not expect him to push me. But, that is what he did.
When I saw him reaching out as he walked up to me, I anticipated the push and
felt terrified and betrayed.

        The fall itself hardly happened but I knew that I was falling. I fell forever
and never reached the bottom of the mountain. I awakened, extraordinarily afraid
of crashing into the earth and fearing that I would surely die.

        The second dream was a repeat of one that I had had before on my journey
to Langdun, that night when I was so ill. Once again, I saw Rinchen in her nuns’
robes, racing through the Potala Palace as it blazed in furious flames. In just the
same way as I had seen her before, her face screamed in terror and then her robes
were on fire. She dropped to her knees and the fire consumed her as I watched,
horrified and helpless.

        I woke up crying from that dream and stood and left the tent. Outside,
under the stars, I walked trying to rid myself of any sense of prophecy that I
feared that the dream might have. I knew rationally that it was not true and yet I
could not shut the images out of my mind. I longed to have Rinchen with me in
my arms so that I could assure myself that she was all right.

        After a long walk, I returned to the tent, got my blanket and took it outside
and laid it on the grass under the large tree in the pasture. Little Dorje followed
me around with curiosity about such unusual middle of the night activity. When I
lay back down, he cuddled up next to me, which was comforting. After some
time, I fell back to sleep and was visited by my third dream.

        The little Dalai Lama was asleep in a bed in the Potala Palace apartment.
He looked extraordinarily tiny, like a child’s doll, and very helpless and limp.
Nearby, his mother paced the room back and forth, alternately looking at him and
then looking out the windows to the apartment balcony. I wondered what she was
doing and approached her and tried to speak to her. She could neither hear nor see
me. With that realization, I saw that a barrage of flying bats was swarming around
her. They were swirling about her head and whispering in her ears. One grabbed
her hair and twisted her head back as he hissed something to her. She would
alternately swat at them and then cower.

       Magically, a lady dressed in white, with white skin and hair, entered and
all of the bats immediately flew away in distress. The iridescent white lady went
over to the baby’s bed and picked him up. I wondered if he was even alive as he
drooped like a rag doll. The lady placed the baby in his mother’s arms but she
was only able to stare blankly at her child. The lady then led mother and child
gently by the arm to the door and then to the edge of the balcony. The mother was
mesmerized in a ghostlike walk. I could see down from the very high balcony to
the village below. I began to try to call to the mother as I anticipated what was
about to happen.

       But, I had no effect.

       The baby was held high and then lifted out over the balcony railing. The
mother dropped him and he began to float towards the ground like a leaf spiraling
down from a tree. I began to scream but the lady in white and the mother simply
turned and walked back into the apartment as a singular wind blew the white
robes of the lady and they wound up and around both of them.

       Awake again, I stood and looked out over the hillside to the encampments
down below. Most of the fires had gone out and it was quiet, filled with hundreds
of sleeping people.

       Leaving for Lhasa as an escort with the Dalai Lama’s entourage should
have been a happy day. And, it was. My job was complete. The new Dalai Lama
had been recognized and he was to receive more protection than any child ever
born. I should have been overwhelmed with gratitude that I had had a part to play
in serving such an incredible being. The opportunity for service to His Holiness
the Dalai Lama, to Tibet, and to my Lama should have filled me with so much joy
that any other thought would have been washed away. I was disbelieving that that
was not the case. Those feelings were present of course, to some degree, but not
at all predominant. I was still filled with such a roiling sea of pain that I had to
constantly control the intensity of my grief and I was frequently on the verge of
tears. Because of my despondency of those last months, I was glad to leave
behind all reminders of Tsultrim.

         Jigme asked me if I was okay as we gathered to help organize the rank and
order of the parade as it was preparing to set off on the journey to the far-away
Potala Palace.

         “I’m just tired from yesterday and I can’t keep all of these people
straight!” I told him. “Someone is sure to be insulted if we put them in the wrong

         “Do you see Purchokpa Rinpoche? I need him to tell me where he wants
me to put the abbots from Drepung and Ganden.”

         “They are over there. Rinpoche is with Lama Selden Rinpoche next to the
palanquin of the Dalai Lama and his parents.

         “Look at His Holiness peeking out of the window!

         “But, I think that the abbots are supposed to be following the Karmapa.
The soldiers are going to be alongside, not in the procession. They will be
surrounding the baby’s carriage. Most of us who are riding as guards will be
ahead of the soldiers and up near the front of the entourage.” Jigme seemed clear
in his understanding of what needed to be done and I was willing to let him take
over in my exhaustion.

         Behind His Holiness rode the Panchen Lama, also a young boy, and the
second highest leader of the land. Next came many of the monasteries’ throne
holders. Then the hundreds of others followed until, walking last, were countless
monks. Many were attendants to the lamas and carried heavy loads on their backs.
Before daylight, a large number of monks had left early and went ahead with yaks
and ponies carrying the tents and supplies. They were to set up camp each
evening and cook the meals so that rest and food would await us when we
stopped for the night.

         I rode over closer to the two Rinpoches but did not want to look at Lama
Selden. I knew that he would recognize my pain and then I could no longer have
maintained my facade. I scanned the crowd intently while he gave me directions,
careful that he not see my eyes. I busied myself doing every important detail
meticulously in order to prevent myself from thinking of my distress.

       Finally, with the journey underway, I rode alone as my friends chatted
with each other and those around them. My mood was so pensive and bleak that I
could not control my thoughts no matter how determined I tried to be. I used my
meditative practices again and again in an attempt to bring my awareness back to
a focus on the present experience and away from my emotions. Every thought
became a slide into long, rambling, obsessions about Tsultrim, about Rudra
Rinpoche, and about my dreams of the night before. My heart was like a fiery hell
consuming my insides.

       The morning passed. I had hardly noticed anything that we had passed on
our route.

       For awhile, I found myself watching Tenzin Jigme laughing with Dorje
Rinpoche who was apparently telling a story. I remembered when we sat around
the fire. He had said that perhaps he had stayed a monk in order to avoid the pain
of loving and then losing another. I knew that he had said that in jest and yet, I
knew that there was probably truth to it as well. I suspected that that was, in part,
why I, too, had chosen a monk-like existence for so long.

       I watched Jigme, his dark brown face with sparkling black eyes and a
quick and radiant smile. He was intensely handsome and very agreeable. “He
would be very loving to a partner,” I thought to myself. His glistening black hair
was long and matted into braids tied to the top of his head. He sat strong and
lazily on his trotting horse. He was what everyone would have said was the ideal
picture of a happy man.

       But I was haunted by his words. I knew that they hid the buried pain that I
was living and feeling so strongly. I was anguished by the heart that he was trying
to protect as much as I anguished for my own broken heart. Never before had I
even a hint of the pain that he carried in such a private and deeply secreted place.
I thought of times throughout our friendship when he had been injured, such as
when he had fallen off his horse a few years before and he had broken some ribs.
I remembered when his brother had been killed and he went back to his home for
awhile. Yet, throughout all of our years together, he had never loved another. He
had never given his whole being to another.

       “Was his commitment as a monk so totally fulfilling to him that he never
needed to be held or loved with a woman’s passion?” I wondered.

       I searched his face for the ache that would say to me that he longed for
that missing experience. I saw nothing other than the face that I had known so
well for a decade. For the first time, however, I knew that that longing was there
and I felt bitter for his loss as well as for my own.

       The day stretched out through the warm afternoon and when we stopped
for tea, I seated myself absently near one of the most powerful leaders of the
Kashog. Unconsciously, I found myself again watching the behavior of another
with an obsession to discover his emotional secrets. I was surprised when I could
see the pain in his face, too. It was the pain of a human struggling with the horrors
of life. Never before had I let myself see what was so obvious once I was willing
to truly look. I felt it imperative to know what connected me to others.

       “What makes me feel so heartbroken when I look at this powerful man of
the Kashog?” I wondered.

       My raw, bloody wound wanted to know his wounds and to cry for him as
much as for me. I studied his movements and his expressions. There was nothing
to indicate at that moment that he was anything but happy. He was simply
drinking his tea and talking to Abbot Dhondup, his old friend. I hardly knew the
man but I wanted to go over and hold him as one might hold a tiny child and
comfort him. He looked desperately vulnerable and fragile. I was very confused
because he was hardly that.

        At possibly forty-five years of age, he had a well-rounded belly,
exceedingly fine clothes, was ringed round with jewelry and a large silver gao,
and wore a very handsome fur hat. On his side, he sported a small jewel encrusted
sword that was far more decorative than useful. Obviously, he was a very wealthy

man that wanted for nothing.

        I knew that he was married and I found myself studying his hands as they
held the teacup, circling it around and around, the warmth sensuous and sweet to
his fingers. “What else have those hands held in such a sensuous way?” I

        I knew enough of his story to know what I searched for in his face and in
those hands. I needed only a glimmer to confirm my suspicions. His first wife had
died in childbirth three years earlier. He lost both his wife and baby son. Later, he
had married her sister and had two children. I had heard the story from my friends
in all of their gossip and in a way that was most unsympathetic because of his
wealth. It seemed that they felt that his money should have protected him from his

        I watched his eyes to find that loss. Was it still there after all of those
years? I wondered if his heart had been broken like mine. I wondered if he had
felt betrayed. I wondered if he was angry. I wanted to go over to him and to cry in
grief over the death of his wife and child.

        The trip went like that. Everyone held secrets that aroused such pain in me
that I could hardly bear their sadness any more than my own. Everyone awakened
in me a protective father who wanted to surround them in bliss and protect them
from life’s miseries. Eyes that were shrouded in dense and cloudy mist held
stories that I longed to know. And yet, I knew their stories all too well because
they were my stories also. Men and women evoked from me the same feelings of
helplessness that I had felt with my own parents when I had wanted to shield
them from their own infirmities and death.

        Young Chodak helped me to make a fire the second night. He was an
eighteen-year-old monk who had lost both parents to a mysterious disease when
he was just an infant. As I set up my tent, he walked by and recognized me from
Mindroling Monastery. He was one of the attendants who had come along to help
Lama Selden. Since it was getting dark and I had not yet begun to cook my dinner
or heat up my tea, he immediately set about gathering wood for me.
        “How kind he is,” I thought. “He is someone who lost so much when he
was so innocent. How is it that he is not bitter and angry like I am?” Tears came
to my eyes and I wanted to say to him that I knew how much he had lost.

        I wondered how I could exist in a world where everyone had lived their
lives in a cataclysmic drama of broken hearts and bodies and promises. The
battles seemed much too great for such helpless and unprotected infants as we all
were; as all beings everywhere are. The darkness of grief seemed to suck
everyone into it with a ferocious swirl and all I could see was that we all were
there, flailing for our lives.

        My soliloquy was unending. “Is there a single speck in this universe that is
not soaked with the blood of its children?” I thought. “My pain comes oozing out
with everyone that I see. I now see the tragedies that their lives have held. I can
barely keep from weeping at all the pain that is everywhere. I cannot contain all
of this suffering!” I worried, fearing for my sanity.

        Then there arose an awareness with a subtle and tender turn. “But,” I
mused, “I also feel a greater kinship to each of these people and that has bonded
me even more closely to them.”

        I looked up at the sky and felt the endless space open my vision. I merged
my mind with the sky, remembering again the words from my mysterious teacher.
I fell into Guru Rinpoche’s vast arms and rested there.

        Deep prayers filled my heart. “More than ever before, I fervently wish to
serve all of them a feast of pleasure and love. I am more wracked with grief than
ever before in my life. But, equally, my entire being overflows with appreciation
for all that each and every person has endured.

        “I have been such a coward in facing the truth. As long as I could stay
comfortable, I would not let myself see the pain of others. Now, in my agony, my
blindness is being wrenched out of my sorrowful heart. In spite of my pain, I feel
the birth of my humanness.

        “Why has it taken so much loss to begin to touch the blessings of
compassion? Is this what they talk about when they say, ‘the suffering of

         “Thupte-la,” I said to myself gently. “You do need to be hit over the

         On the journey to Lhasa, we passed through the village of Gyatsa Xian,
the location of Rudra Rinpoche’s monastery. We headed quietly down the road
that I had traveled when I had fallen so ill. I watched intently for any sign of him
or of Tsultrim. I resisted my strong urge to go to that dank little cave with the
flimsy door. We passed by the monastery and I looked back one final time. There
was nothing unusual whatsoever.

                              Eight: The H arvest

I bow down to my lama

My yogi, Heruka,

Thupten Heruka, my friend,

I hear your voice calling,

Your tears break my heart.

There have been those times

I’ve almost relented.

But my love for you knows, I would trap you forever

In cyclic existence, imprisoned by love.

Love for another who will never come.

You see, my dear yogi,

You mistake me for Buddha.

You see your true love through deluded eyes.

You look out to find me.

You travel up mountains.

You search in the valleys.

You call out my name.

But not looking in, you will never see me.

For you are the Buddha, deep in your heart.

To think I’m your love,

Perfect and happy,

Will throw me forever to the roaring hot hells.

You’ve handed me over to an evil captor,

Your own worst destroyer, your samsaric ego,

Will clutch me and drown me to make me be true.

In that dire arrangement,

You’ll always keep searching,

And always, Enlightenment

Will be far away.

In my love, my dear yogi,

I will not come to you.

Your tears will not sway me

But I’ll cry my own, too.

I will not be a rock to hold tightly and cling to

For that rock will but sink you to an ocean’s cold grave.

I am instead river and rainbow and snow.

A river each moment, new and alive.

A rainbow elusive, all glimmers and pure,

But form, only emptiness, vast and alive.

The snow is a mystery - its nature is vapor,

But manifest form is convincingly there.

You can’t stop my river, you can’t hold my rainbow.

You can’t pocket snow and save me forever.

We are ‘tho like water, dear yogi, Heruka,

Poured into a glass where two become one.

You water, me water, poured each in the other.

Together we’re one, indivisible always.

Our nature’s the same and one with all others.

No special division to love that one more.

Look in your heart, Thupten Heruka,

And there you will find me

In union forever, a union of oneness,

Of bliss and compassion.

Although, I am here every moment and watching,

I’ll not say a word to call you my way.

For only in mindful moment to moment,

Feeling the pain and searching for truth,

Will you ever find that the love that you search for

Is Buddha within you, guiding you home.

The pain, my dear yogi, Thupten Heruka,

Is a crowbar to pry your eyes open to truth.

Only through longing and crying in heartbreak

Will you go deeper to find who is sad.

That one who is crying, is crying at sunsets.

Weeping that day light has passed on its course.

The one who is crying weeps for his mother

Long gone to her grave, never to hold him again.

The one who is crying lives an illusion

That someone is other and can give him true love.

But that other’s not me, so go it alone

Until you find Buddha and rest in his arms.

Only by watching, moment to moment,

Will you see this young child who clutches your throat.

This child is demon, magician, your murderer

For he sears your eyes with hot pokers

And roars in your ears.

He screams that you’ll die

Yet he plunges the knife

Into your heart with his pleas that you save him.

His world is of torturous demons and ghosts

But he says ever sweetly that he’s looking for joy.

Look at him, Thupten, watch every move closely.

He leads you astray to the hot and cold hells.

Instead, my Heruka, whip out the knife.

Remember your teachings and shout out your name.

Cut through the illusion and see the true roots.

The screams are mere thunder; the demons, your mind.

The clouds of late summer gather in threat.

They rob us of sunshine but after the storm

Never was one ray of light even wounded.

Hardly could they have kept it away.

Your troubles, your fears, they are clouds in the sky,

But you, my dear yogi, you are the sky.

The sky vast and clear.

The sky of pure mind.

                              Rain falling in pure empty space

                            The flower lifts her pretty face and

                                    The trees are happy

        When we arrived in the more populated areas around Lhasa, the crowds of
devotees that lined the road were ecstatic throngs. Those in front became a human
sea wall holding back the masses that pushed from behind to glimpse His
Holiness, the 13th Dalai Lama. People stood with their hands held at their hearts at
the first sight of the dust clouds stirred up by our horses. Prayer flags and white
katas waved all along the way and created a path of festive welcome. When His
Holiness passed by them, they did constant prostrations to him. The choking dust
dissuaded no one. The wall became an ocean, rolling with devotional prostrations.
Then, when he had moved beyond them, the people stared raptly after the slow
moving palanquin holding their heart deity, Chenrezig. Hardly did they move
until the entire entourage was out of sight, and then they too wove themselves
into the parade.

        Entering the city, we wound our way through the narrow streets, the
Potala high on the hill overseeing our approach. Although well seasoned with
worldly experiences, even I was light headed with the excitement. I kept
wondering how my friends, our Kundun’s parents, were feeling. We had emerged
from the isolation of a simple world wrapped gently in the quiet of woods and
fields and flowers. Within a few magical days, we were delivered to the twisting
walls and warrens of a smoky, dusty, but vibrant city bursting with people, and
we were approaching one of the most impressive structures ever built by man. A
palace was to replace the family’s small white cottage as their new home. I
imagined them trying to comprehend the enormity of what was about to become
their life. I looked back to see if I could see their faces. I wanted to see their
response to all of the uplifted eyes that stared at their child in adoration.
         For months all around Lhasa, preparations had been underway for the
enthronement. Thousands had journeyed from around the country to participate in
the events. I had never seen any place so tightly packed with people. The streets
were so crowded that one could only pass down them by edging one’s shoulders
inch by inch through the masses. Robed monks and nuns were everywhere and
they appeared as a river of purple and gold flowing among the buildings and

         At last we reached our destination; the Potala Palace. At the base of the
steps that led up to the entrance, I had to dismount and to try to find a tiny space
to wait in as the ever-growing crunch of the crowd continuously packed in around
me. Riders and guards, one by one, arrived and dismounted, and we all waited at
the bottom of the stairs in order that His Holiness could ascend first. The path
through which he needed to pass became increasingly tighter and narrower.
Finally, the palanquin, fluttering with multicolored silk ribbons, passed by me
carrying our wide-eyed but glowing holy child. He saw me in the crowd and
waved, calling out my name. I felt very proud of him. My heart swelled and my
eyes filled with tears. His parents walked behind him and when they saw me, they
nodded. Their faces looked tense and they appeared nervous and frightened. The
baby was lifted from his carriage. Up the many stories they walked. Lama Selden
and Purchokpa Rinpoche were in the front by His Holiness, followed by a
weaving trail of precious lamas and throne holders, abbots and monks. Slowly,
they disappeared, one by one, into the red and white walled castle.

         “Such a tiny little boy to embody so much,” I thought to myself in awe
when the spectacle was finally over.

         Some of the crowd began to disperse while others did continuous
prostrations in the street or looked up at the windows above, prayerfully saying
mantra. I said some prayers of aspiration and hope too, then I was torn from
within to fulfill another desire. Before anything else, I wanted to see Rinchen
Khandro. I wanted proof that she was alive and I wanted her to know that I had
been wrong to mistreat her during that last month before I had left.

       I wrote a note requesting to see my sister-in-law and asked the first nun
that passed by to take it inside the nunnery’s dormitory in the Potala. I waited and
watched everyone who exited the building. A short while later, Rinchen emerged
along with a gray and hobbling nun close behind her. When Rinchen saw me, she
beamed radiantly. With neither a thought nor a hesitation, I held my arms open
wide and she rushed into them like a six-year-old child. We both then looked self-
consciously towards the chaperoning nun who smiled warmly. Rinchen assured
her that she need not stay with us as I was her brother-in-law whom she had not
seen for two years. The nun toddled off, back through the door from which they
had exited.

       Gripping her hand tightly in mine as though I might lose her, I tugged her
with me to the banks of the lake in the Potala Park across the street. As we
crossed the grass, we each devoured the other with our eyes and we could see
nothing else. We were speechless with delight. Standing at the edge of the water,
we looked down and saw our reflection as we held each other. Our laughing was
tender at such a sweet meeting. When we sat down, I pulled her into my arms and
rocked her. I said again and again how happy I was to see her.

       “I am so sorry, Rinchen. I am so sorry for those last days before I left,” I
said softly. I pulled away and looked at her face again, melting into her beauty
and her love for me.

       “I know now that you were doing what was truthful and I was very cruel
to you. Please forgive me. I missed you and I worried about you so much.” I
searched her eyes for forgiveness and saw no anger at all.

       “I have worried about you, too, Thupten Heruka. But in the last few
months, I have heard stories of you and I have been so proud of what you have
been doing. Your friends wrote me letters and passed on news from Lama Selden
and Purchokpa Rinpoche.”

       Rinchen removed her hands from my continuous grip and placed them
gently around my face. “You have done something to benefit all of us. All of
Tibet should be grateful to you.”
       I was embarrassed by her praise.

       “Rinchen, are you happy being a nun?” I asked.

       “Yes,” she said hesitantly. “In many ways, I have found the focus and the
answers that I was searching for. I feel very committed.

       “Yes, I am happy.

       “But, I do miss our family and home.

       “Thupte-la,” she looked off into the rippling turquoise water. “Thupte-la, I
still miss my dream with you. It is all very confusing to me.

       “But, yes, I am happy and being a nun is very good for me.”

       She paused and I felt fear arise in her. She tensed her grip on my hand.
“Tenzin Jigme said in his last letter to me that you are married. Is this true?”

       “Yes, it is true. Her name is Tsultrim Palmo. I don’t know what to say. I
love her very much but she left some time ago and I don’t know why. I still love
her and I have been shattered by her disappearance.

       “So, that’s it. I’m married but I have no idea where my wife is. It has been
quite painful and it is very hard for me to talk about it.

        “How is my father and family? Have you heard from anyone?” I needed to
change the subject.

        “Your father died.” She looked into my eyes wanting to absorb my pain at
her sad news.

        “It was only a little while ago. He was very ill and frail. I think that he
stayed alive only to hear that you were safe.

        “For years, when we did not know where you were, I think that he worried
about you a lot. Sangye came to get me about a week before he died and said that
they wanted me to come home because it seemed that his death was near. We
went and found him very weak. I had heard by then that you were with His
Holiness and would be coming back to Lhasa with him. I told this to Pa. It made

him so happy that we all thought that he had made a miraculous recovery. He was
so funny. He was up the next day wanting to eat and even to do some of his
chores. Everyone threw up their hands and said ‘False alarm!’ I stayed for the
week just to visit and we all had a wonderful time. Sangye and I left and he
brought me back to Lhasa. Shortly after I came back, though, I received a letter
saying that your Pa had died two days after we left.

          “I think that he was happy. I think that he waited to die until he knew that
you were okay.”

          Rinchen rubbed my back gently and rested her head on my shoulder as her
words floated down to my heart. I felt sorrow but knew that my father had
probably longed to be with my mother and had eagerly anticipated his departure
from his body ever since she had died. Only after those last few months of my
suffering was I able to know what that longing felt like. I could understand that
for him, it was most likely a joyful journey.

          Rinchen continued in the hope that it might make me happy to hear her
additional news. “I know that your brothers, Sangye and Tashi, are in town for the
enthronement. It may be that Samden and Drug are coming as well. I am sure that
they will all be looking for you and are eager to see you. I already talked to Tashi
and our plan was that whoever saw you first was to get word to the other! He is
staying with friends at Namgyal monastery.

          “But, Thupte-la, you did not finish telling me about your wife. Are you all

Rinchen’s voice expressed concern for me but her face flushed, giving away her
difficulty in discussing my love for Tsultrim.

          I wrapped my arm about Rinchen’s shoulders and pulled her to me tightly.
“I can’t talk about her, my dear sweet sister. I want to just be here with you and
feel happy that we are together again.”

          Sitting close to her warm and pulsing body, I was flooded with a passion
that I had reserved only for Tsultrim. I was alarmed at such an arousal and at its
intensity. I was silent as I struggled to still the racing heat, compelling me to act
on the furies that commandeered my heart. Rinchen’s body became flushed and
damp with anticipation. We both knew the struggle that we shared and said
nothing, trying to wrestle such deep emotions within ourselves, each with our
own temptations.

        “Rinchen,” I finally ventured. “All that time, when we were young, and
even when I last saw you, I was in love with you. I never let you know because I
could not let myself know. I was not able to let myself know anything that I was
feeling except for my commitment to the dharma. I just could not. I look back
now and see that I was too afraid. I thought that it was the depth of my
commitment. It was really fear. Some was a fear of getting distracted from my
dedication but I think that it was more a fear of loving. I do love you and I’m
sorry for not being able to tell you for so long.

        “I know that we can’t do anything about that now.

        “I don’t know what I am going to do about Tsultrim. I love her and I can’t
get over losing her. But, now that I see you again, I know that I love you, too. I
love you in different ways, but I love you.

        “And, of course,” I glanced down at her robes and lifted back the folded
zen from around her shoulders, “you are a nun.”

        “I heard that Tsultrim Palmo is a nun, too.” Rinchen continued to look
through the water as her voice choked with the difficulty of pursuing our talk.

        “She wears robes sometimes and is a nun, but she is not connected to a
monastery. She is really a yogini and a rather unique one. She has taken vows but
they don’t keep her from marrying.

        “Lama Selden wanted us to marry for our spiritual practice, so we are
actually consorts. I don’t think I progressed very far in that realm of tantric
practice though.

        “No, I don’t mean to sound so cynical and disparaging. She is really
wonderful and a lot that is immeasurable in my meditation and understanding of
the dharma came out of that time together with her. I feel now that all of the
progress that I made was ripped away with the pain that I have been through since
she left me. I feel very confused by what she has done and I wonder what the
meaning of it all was.

       “I keep telling myself that I just have to set that time aside and go on.
Forget her and trust that the answers will come some day. It’s hard to do. Lama
Selden says to trust that she is doing what is right for the dharma. I guess I have
trouble believing that though.

       “Anyway, I know that this is painful for both of us to discuss.

       “I know what you are feeling, Rinchen. And, you know that right now, I
am feeling the same way. I really want to be with you. I love you. What do you
think we should do?”

       When those last words came out of my mouth so matter-of-factly, I was
horrified at what I had heard myself say. The feelings and their intensity were a
surprise but I was shocked that I would even think about acting on them. I
watched my mind battle for control. In the midst of those waves of desire, I
wondered if I had always loved her and if I had fooled myself so completely. I
was being flooded with two decades of unresolved passion. I wondered where my
love was for Tsultrim, a love that apparently was so easy to discard when another
woman was in my arms.

       I wondered why I felt so compelled to act on such feelings in the wake of
the enormity of the consequences to Rinchen. She was totally vulnerable to my
declarations in that she had waited for those very words for years. Rinchen had
chosen to take vows in order to find a way to express her spiritual commitment.
She had also been running to escape the pain of my rejection. I could see myself
luring her away from that commitment.

       My heart’s angst was lifting as I sensed her surrender. I became ever more
desperate to possess her and receive the balm that would soothe the oppressive
burden of my pain. The mad hunger to merge with her body consumed me and

insanity clouded all reason.

       “Rinchen, where can we go?” My hand twisted her face up to mine and
my touch was no longer gentle. It was urgent.

       “Thupten Heruka, do you really think that we should do this?” Her
resolution one way or the other was shaky. Then she whispered after a long
troubled pause, “Come with me. I know a place.”

       I followed her to the back of the Potala where it was wooded and there
were a couple of small storage buildings for tools. She cautiously lifted the latch
on a creaking door of a small shed that leaned up against the Potala wall. She
entered without hesitation. I looked back down the path and then followed her
into the shed. When she had shut the door silently behind us, we were in a dank
darkness that smelled oppressively of mildew. I heard her open another door and
felt my way through the black until I found her hand. She led me through the
second passageway and we proceeded through a maze of ancient pathways below
the Potala Palace.

       My eyes adjusted to the lack of light and I could see that there was a vast
storehouse of treasures long forgotten in the complex network of tiny rooms.
Damp and rotting timbers overhead caused me to stoop low as we passed from
one hallway to another, through one room and into the next. Rinchen appeared to
know the maze well. I silently held fast to her hand and hoped that we were the
only ones in that subterranean world.

       Finally, she stopped to look about in the dim light and to listen. She was in
front of a door roughly hewn of wide planks, secured with large wooden pegs.
Rinchen pushed it open slowly and peeked in. When inside, she carefully shut the
door behind us and lowered a bar to secure it. I was surprised to see that the floor
was covered with fresh, sweet smelling straw. There was a tiny, iron-barred
window up near the ceiling that let in the soft, late afternoon light. The room was
amazingly beautiful. In the corner, placed on a red rug with a dragon design, was
a small prayer desk of wood with an intricate carving of a snow lion and an altar
had been laid on the desk. A thangka of Chenrezig hung above it and there was a
prayer cushion and a lantern set before it.

        My confusion must have been apparent because she turned to me,
wrapped her arms around me, and explained, “This is my cell when I do extended
retreats.” She lit a stick of incense and placed it on the altar.

        “This won’t be the first time that I have made love to you in this room.”
She smiled shyly at me as she made her confession.

        I touched her shoulders and then her cheeks with my hands. We gazed
long into each other’s eyes and then melted into each other. Like a penance, like
being rescued from the storm, our loving blazed a lightening but trembling course
through my hungry body. A searing knife severed me from the blackness in my
heart and dissolved me into unconsciousness.

        Darkness had curtained the tiny cell window when I awoke. I could not
see Rinchen as she slept by my side. Her arm was tightly wrapped around my
chest and she pulled me to her. As soon as I had gained some clarity from my
sleeping state, a churning began to curdle deep within my belly and a sour taste
filled my mouth. Thoughts battled for dominance in my condemning brain,
screaming epithets at me. I wanted to run away from my shame and cruelty; run
back in time and undo what I had done. My skin burned hot and my insides were
sweating the excrement of my self-loathing. What I had done with Rinchen was
like a wild animal raping its prey.

        My practices with Tsultrim had been pure and our union had the
motivation of Enlightenment. I knew that that was my commitment to my lamas
and to Buddha; my body was a vessel in which to learn the truth. Now, in every
way I had defiled it, her, Rinchen, and my vows to my guru.

        Rinchen Khandro stirred and murmured endearingly. “I am so happy,” she
said. “I love you so much.”

        I said nothing but placed a hand on her arm. I was a coward. I could not
hurt her further by telling her the truth.

        “Oh,” she observed sleepily. “It is dark and I will miss evening prayers. I
better go. I will get word to you about when I can see you again. I can get a letter
to Sangye and then he can give it to you. Go back to sleep and when it is light you
can find your way out easily. In the early morning, there is no one down here at

       “I love you, Thupten Heruka.”

       She dressed in the dark and then kissed me. I responded gently to the kiss
and deceived her again by letting her think that all was well. She found the
lantern, lit it with a flint, and pushed the heavy door open.

       I lay there in the straw. The smell of incense still lingered and I stared into
the darkness all night, never sleeping.

       When the first dawn light had barely illuminated the room, I rose and
blindly crawled through the maze until I found the exit out through the little shed
which we had so passionately entered only twelve hours earlier. Wildly driven
into that naga realm, I reentered the dawning of the new day as a demon of the
underworld. Hardly could I tolerate the horror of being me. I wanted to hide
forever. I snuck immediately into the nearby hills outside of town where I
climbed up to cold, unfriendly rocks in a fiercely howling mountain wind as
though to do penance. The wind echoed my thoughts, screaming condemnations
endlessly again and again throughout the day, whipping me throughout until I
bled with grief at my actions.

       I had had responsibilities to Purchokpa Rinpoche and Lama Selden that
day, yet I was unable to move my body down the hill and allow any other being to
see my face. I felt that all of me mirrored my sinfulness to the world. Purchokpa
Rinpoche and Lama Selden would know immediately of my betrayal not only to
Rinchen and Tsultrim, but also to them and to the Dharma. The picture of bathing
my body in acid and scorching away the offense appeared in my mind’s eye
obsessively. I felt obliged to return to town and let someone know where I was
and yet I was as immobilized as the rock on which I sat, stranded helplessly from
my sanity.

        The sun lowered itself slowly over the rim of the horizon. I rose to my feet
in a trance and stumbled down the path towards the city to face my shame. My
eyes saw only enough to move me forward. My ears heard only my internal
cursing. My feet took steps only by habit. My duty was to serve the Dalai Lama
and my lamas but I felt that to approach any of those holy beings would be to spit
on them by placing myself in their presence.

        I had arrived at the first steps of the Potala Palace and was about to begin
the climb when Sangye came running down the road from behind me, calling my
name wildly. He raced to me, grabbed my shoulders, and looked intently into my

        “Thupte-la, I have been waiting here all day for you. There is something
horrible that has happened!” He began to weep and held himself up by throwing
his arms around me tightly, almost collapsing against me. “I have looked for you
all day! Thupte-la, Rinchen was killed last night! She was walking up a ladder to
the rooms at her nunnery and fell. She had a lantern in her hand and when she
fell, it set her robes on fire! They could not get the fire out fast enough and she
died this morning.”

        A black tornado descended through my crown and sucked the life out of
my body. I crumpled onto the cobblestone road. I could hear a crack as my head
struck the cold surface but I felt nothing. A cacophony of vicious roaring spun me
out of that world and into the hell realms. Midnight ghosts carried me away and
proceeded to slash me to slivers and threw me bit by bit into endless time.
Engulfed in swirling, burning, screaming, a mad chasm swallowed me into its
poison pit of forever.

        Out of the void emerged two leering eyes, glistening teeth, a sneering
mouth and then the face of Rudra Rinpoche.

        “Ah,” the silky, menacing voice cooed. “It is my friend, Thupten Heruka.
My friend, the magnificent yogi! Are you dog shit yet? I hear that you have
killed your friend, Rinchen Khandro. You killed Rinchen Khandro! You killed
Rinchen Khandro!” he chanted in endless chorus. “You deserve the most horrible
of all hells! You killed Rinchen Khandro and, Thupten Heruka, may I ask what
you have done to your wife, Tsultrim Palmo?”

         The face dissolved into the black, like blood disappearing into a churning
lake, but the echo remained. Over and over again, “You killed Rinchen Khandro,”
wrenched the searing blade unbearably in my heart.

         Tumbling and swirling through the flaming liquid universe, I reached out
to the only familiar thing there. Rudra Rinpoche. I called his name again and
again, “Rinpoche, help! Rinpoche, help me!”

         “Now, my boy, you are getting smart!” the voice, charming and evil,
surrounded me in roiling storm clouds and slowed my fall. Resounding
thunderclaps issued forth; the most horrible of tempests crashed around me. Yet
through the noise, I could clearly hear Rudra Rinpoche’s taunting.

         “Thupten Heruka, I can bring them back. Would you like that? I can bring
them back to you.” The voice seemed to be escaping me. It was soaring into the
emptiness and growing more and more faint.

         “Yes, Rinpoche. I want them back. Please, don’t go away! I want them

         Desperately, I called and begged without any pride left. Fearful that he
was gone with his promise, I searched into the pitch with my blinded eyes and
saw nothing. Only the crashing of cruel and thunderous rolls filled that hellish

         After an eternity of abandonment, I heard again, “Thupte-la. Did you hear
what I said, my famous yogi friend? I can bring them back to you. Do you want
them back?”

         Rolling in space and reaching in frantic but helpless gestures, I screamed
at him. “Yes! Yes, I want them back! Bring them back!”

         “Now, what makes you think that it is so easy? You think that I just snap
my fingers and they come back? Thupte-la, you are as stupid as you are corrupt. I

won’t give you anything until you give something to me.” The formless voice
floated through the chaos and filled the black.

       “I’ll give you anything! Tell me what you want and I’ll give you anything.
Please! I want them back - please, take anything,” I pleaded.

       “I don’t think that you really mean that. You don’t even know what I am
asking for and you will give me anything! Such a liar you are. You are as fake
and deceptive with me as you were with Rinchen Khandro. Can’t you tell the
truth?” Rudra Rinpoche snarled as the voice faded away again.

       Wide eyes searing into the dark, I was the frightened rabbit caught in the
trap and there was no escape. “Rinpoche! Help me, Rinpoche.” I heard no
response. “Rudra Rinpoche, you are right. Everything you say is true. But please,
pity me! Please pity me and bring them back!”

       The chaos seemed to quiet slightly; the angry sea was calming. The black
turned soft and velvety. I floated in warm liquid, thick as mud. The mud was a
quicksand pulling me down; floating down ever so slowly and turning me round
and round. There was no voice. Nothing but the womb in the belly of dark.

       “Thupten Heruka.” It was Tsultrim’s voice and my heart quickened in
disbelief. “Thupten Heruka, do you see me?”

       Wild with the sound of that heart call, I flailed about, thrashing to find its
source. “Tsultrim! Where are you? Come to me! I can’t see you. Where are you?”

       “Here I am, my beloved. Come here to me.” Soft and gentle, she begged
to me with promise. Instantaneously, a swift flash of lightning brightly lit up the
black in a blinding blaze and then all was dark again. In that moment, I saw
Tsultrim. She was wrapped around Rudra Rinpoche in the position of his consort,
held in his lap with her legs circling his waist. They glowed rainbow colors and
glistened with jewels and flowers. I was so repulsed and sickened that I vomited,
spewing viscera into the swallowing explosion of hot black.

       I could no longer call her name nor call to Rudra Rinpoche. I was
defeated. I felt completely destroyed. Everything that could be lost was gone.
There was no greater suffering. My only thought again and again was to cry, “I
cannot bear this. I cannot bear this torture!”

          But there was more.

          “Thupten Heruka?” Rudra Rinpoche’s cruel fox voice taunted me once
more. “My special yogi, how are you doing now? Did I hear you say that you
cannot bear this? How deluded you are. Do you think that you have a choice?
You must bear it, as this is not up to you. This is my show. You have no choices
and you cannot stop me. Do you want to escape? Do you want your Tsultrim? Do
you want your Rinchen? Maybe wise old Lama Selden can help you? Is there a
lama anywhere around that might help you?”

          In a hazy mist that parted as though right before me, a simmering,
gurgling swamp was revealed. Snakes slithered through the water and up on to the
banks. I could see glistening water moccasins hanging from tree limbs that
reached out over the murky green. Thick sludge made of bubbles that were
brown, green and putrid, floated on the surface and were parted only with effort
by the gliding snakes. I heard a low bellow from a bullfrog and then, all was

          A gray wolf showing skeletal ribs, matted and reeking of wild wolf smell,
crept from the underbrush and down to the murky water’s edge. Each foot sank
deeply into the mire and there was a sucking sound as he would pull his leg up
and out with effort. He skulked towards a floating lump in the muck. He darted
with barred death, a growl escaped from his throat, and he grabbed his prey and
shook it viciously. Then, he dragged the blue and bloated, long dead animal from
the water.

          At first, I thought that it was a deer, as it was long and angular. Cringing
in disgust and yet curious in all of that horror, I thought, “No, I think it is a human

          I became transfixed by the drama as the wolf stubbornly hoisted his prize

onto solid ground and began gnawing on a limb. The body was spouting like a
fountain as it was so engorged with water that the rotten skin was pulling apart. I
looked at the face, then again and again. I stared. I bent my mind crazily so as not
to believe my suspicions.

        “Lama Selden,” I whispered to myself, shaking my head in my absolute
helplessness in that misery. Only my racing pulse could register the impact of the
last assault. There was no further imaginable horror. The shadowy evils of the
black had slain me. I watched as the wolf continued his feast until he had had
enough. Then sinking his teeth deep into Lama Selden’s shoulder, he dragged the
body as it made a muddy path into the bushes. There he hid the body for another

        Time clicked off somewhere in my other world. Not there. Every moment
was all time and nothing was measured. An immeasurable eon passed as I gazed
at that scene of decay and the senseless plunder of precious life. I could only
shake my head sadly and whisper the name of my captor.

        “Rudra Rinpoche. Rudra Rinpoche? Please, help me.”

        I felt profoundly, “I am nothing.

        “What has happened to my rage?

        “What has happened to my disgust?

        “What has happened to my fear and my desperate pleas?

        “How could I possibly have resigned myself to this?” I thought numbly.

        “Hell, Thupten Heruka, is everywhere! You have caused all of this! You
have killed everyone you have ever loved! This is only a tiny part of the horrors
that you have created!” Rudra Rinpoche stood before me as though we were
meeting on the street under the moonlight.

        “Do you see the horrors that you have created, my friend? This is only the

        “What will you give me to have your Rinchen and Tsultrim and dear guru
back? Would you like to see them again?

        “Where is your gift in payment to me?” Panther eyes glowered under
scowling eyebrows, yet he smiled softly. A wind was pushing him back away
from me and I began to run after him.

        “Rinpoche, what gift? I promise to give you whatever you ask for. Wait!
Tell me what it is and I’ll give it to you!” I was shouting out into the burst bubble
of his presence and all was once again enveloped in the velvety hush of

        Carried by the wind and soundlessly, as though from Rudra Rinpoche’s
mind to mine, I heard, “You can’t give me what I want, Thupten Heruka. You
can’t give me what I want.”

        Whispers probed and poked at all his words that were planted like seeds in
my brain. There had to be a clue to the secret gift he asked for. I seized at that
thought as hope arose for a miraculous release from my hell and for the magic
return of those whom I had murdered.

        Bits of awareness arose in my mind. “I have caused all of this. I have
killed everyone that I have ever loved. I have created these horrors, these and
innumerable others. I have created them all. Rinchen, and Tsultrim, and Lama
Selden - I have murdered them all. This is the hell that I created. Is this really
true? How did I do this?”

        “My lies.” The words resonated as a startling truth. “My lies have frozen
me into this hell.

        “But, am I here because of the murders or the lies? Are the murders and
the lies one and the same?” Those wisps of awareness were like a sprinkle of
moonlight on a shimmering lake. They were uncatchable.

        “I did not murder Tsultrim. I did not murder Lama Selden,” I protested in
my own defense. The tide of sewage washed through me once again and I
abandoned any attempts to salvage my innocence.

       “ ‘How’ is the question,” I decided. I plumbed the depths of all that I had
ever heard from all of my teachers. “There is no forgiveness here. How did I do
these murderous acts? Will I do them again?”

       I heard like a distant echo, “I think that you are getting it now, Thupten
Heruka. You are asking the right questions. Would you like to discover the
answers? Are you earnestly going to awaken from deception and live truthfully?”

       I whirled around. A light began to glimmer as though there was a dawning
in the nightmare. Instantaneously, I saw Rudra Rinpoche. He sat on a throne in
his monastery, a gompa fully restored to one of glory and beauty. It was a
cathedral of topaz and gold with brightly painted thangkas and tapestries. “If I let
you go, you must promise to pursue those answers,” he counseled gravely.

       “Yes, Rinpoche. I promise! I swear that I will do that. I am ready.

       “What about Rinchen and Tsultrim and Lama Selden? Can they come
with me?” I did not know if I was pleading with the most evil of forces or the
most beneficent but I took the chance in hopes of getting back my beloveds.

       “Go,” Rudra Rinpoche commanded. “We will see.”

       My eyes opened to hot moonlight blazing down on my stricken body as I
lay on the stony street. Blood, still sticky, was drying on a large wound on my
forehead. My breathing was labored and gasping. I wondered if my arm was
broken as pain radiated from my wrist to my shoulder. Sangye held my other
hand and when he saw me open my eyes, he anxiously asked if I was okay. A
crowd of onlookers had gathered around us and someone pushed forward.

       “Thupte-la, this is the doctor.” Sangye’s voice sounded far away. “We
sent for him when you fell. You will be fine now. Please, just relax and let him
take care of you.” Sangye slowly pulled back my hair to expose the gash on my
head for the kneeling doctor.

       “This is pretty deep. You better come with me, my friend. I will need to
bandage this so you will not lose any more blood,” the kind man said as he began
to take my hand and arm to lift me up.
       Somewhere far away, Thupten Heruka arose. It was not the Thupten
Heruka whom Rudra Rinpoche had released from hell. It was not the Thupten
Heruka in deathly mourning for Tsultrim and Rinchen and Lama Selden wounded
in his fall. It was an innocent self who knew none of the pains and tortures.
Floating, he had no examination of his awareness. Having no thought that I
should do other than I did, I let him arise and I said nothing to the doctor or to
Sangye. The pain was an ephemeral dream and Thupten Heruka’s movements
were effortless, as though he was carried by the wind.

       An empty body was carried down the street.

       Thupten Heruka began to climb the Potala stairs and no one stopped him,
including me. One by one, methodically, he climbed the hundreds of steps to the
huge double doors with enormous brass pulls. He pushed against a door until it
yielded to his weight and sighed open, allowing him to enter. Still, no one stopped
him. He was Lama Selden’s student. He was the young Dalai Lama’s bodyguard.
Monks watched him pass by as he climbed the inner ladder-like stairs from one
level to the next. When he arrived at the floor where the Dalai Lama was being
carefully guarded, he walked right by the policing monks because it was he who
had protected the baby since his birth.

       I registered nothing as I watched him walk into the sleeping child’s
bedroom and then go over to his friend, the mother, Dolma, who was rocking the
small cradle and sewing peacefully.

       Casually, he then walked over to the ornate little bed and lifted the child
up into his arms with fatherly tenderness.

       Tsultrim appeared as though waiting for him in the shadows of the room.
She came over as he lovingly admired the baby. She was dressed in white.

       I had a vague memory that flittered through me but which I did not think
about again as I continued to watch what unfolded before me.

       “Oops, Thupten Heruka. Look, you have killed this baby,” she whispered
in his ear. “Now, you’ve done it again. You are so thoughtless. You really do
have trouble with this. See, now this baby is dead too. Do you see what you have

        “Can you throw him away? That’s what you should do now. He is just like
an old brittle leaf. Just like a million other dead babies. Now that you have killed
him, you might as well throw him away.”

        Tsultrim took Thupten Heruka’s arm and slowly led him to the wall
surrounding the apartment courtyard. The baby’s mother stood up in alarm when
they moved so close to the balcony with her child. As Thupten Heruka held him
up, high over the city, she raced to him screaming in fear.

        “Let go,” Tsultrim whispered. “Let go and you will see him reborn.”

        Ever so subtly but in an irrevocable transparency, the matrix shifted. I
awakened from the nightmare and burst into a dazzle of starry, pulsating
infinitude. I felt my body being lifted by the physician and by Sangye. I struggled
gently to slip from their arms and I sat back down in the street. My head was
whirling so I lay back down on the stones with my arm under my head. I was
drifting in and out of consciousness and feeling that I might drop back into the
blackness. Horror at slipping into the horrors of hells once again gripped me and I
forced myself to breathe deeply and to hold on to what I was able to see and hear
in a conscious reality. Blood was pooling under my head and dripping into my
eyes. My brother was urging me with great concern to get up and go with the
doctor. I could barely hear him. I looked around at the people gathered in concern
and staring at me in curiosity. It was night and lighted lanterns were held all

        Slowly, I was weaving a new reality. I was remembering. A clarity was
dawning as a veil lifted. My reality had a subtlety and an undulating radiance that
I had never before experienced. The essence of all that I gazed upon was pure
brilliant light in forms of extraordinary preciousness. My eyes traveled slowly
from face to face. All those that I saw were radiant Buddhas. Each stone in the
street, each jeweled ornament worn by an onlooker, each piece of clothing, had all
become inconceivably pure offerings to the sacred realms.
       I knew that what had been my hell was one with the sweet and fertile field
of my birth. All of the dream stories that had spawned my suffering, that cruelly
dragged others into my torturous conspiracy, murdering them and stripping them
of their truth, became diaphanous webs of another reality. This New World was
one in which dakinis dwelled singing sweet songs while weeping tears of
compassion. Tears falling from Buddhas became beautiful rainbows.

       My lies, made solid as black granite, had long been treasured as
deceptively important and convincing. I would not let them go. They were
impenetrable and intractable.

       I was an immovable statue.

       I was an illusion hiding a secret. Thupten Heruka was an illusion revealed
only in seeing clearly who lay bloodied in the street, like the clear water revealed
after swirling mud settles to the bottom of the pail. Purity and luminescence hid
in the granite of my mind, a secret even from myself. I saw that I had murdered
each and everyone I loved. Even innocent strangers upon whom I cast my
tormented gaze were dealt immediate death.

       I slashed at all that was wild and that disobeyed my lies. The murder was
in not seeing them truly but instead for my own purpose. How eager I was to have
them die as Buddha to feed the pimp with his corral of prostitutes meant to
service me.

       Poor Thupten Heruka of the night terrors. He was mourning the loss of
those who slept peacefully beside him in his bed.

       I reached out and gently took Sangye’s hand and lifted myself upright. I
sat on the road, only I was no longer in a world made by my own self-serving
jailer. The dungeon door was wide open and I was free in a diaphanous paradise
where all shone in a panoramic and vast display. Sangye was there arising in the
light and yet, was merely a wave of radiance surging from the dynamic ocean.

       “Brother, how are you?” he asked.

       “I am all right,” I said. “I am fine except for this cut. Will you help me
wash up and then lend me your arm to climb the stairs so that I might talk to
Lama Selden? I must go and find my wife.”

       I looked about the crowd and thanked them all for their kindness. The
people began to back away to give me room to stand.

       In a short time, Sangye was shuffling me into the apartment quarters of
our little Kundun. The child played happily, assembling a kite with his father. The
god child, gilded and radiating lustrous unending benefit, leaped to the tiny feet
which held him to the earth and ran to me with his new kite in hand.

       “Can we go fly my kite?” Bu asked me.

       “Of course, we can. I will help you hold the string. But, if you want to
surprise everyone, you can let it go and watch the kite fly away,” I winked in
offering such a conspiratorial option. I took a chubby hand in mine and led him
out on the balcony.

       There in the late fall’s evening cool, sat Lama Selden, Purchokpa
Rinpoche and Tsultrim Palmo. A little white bird was singing sweetly from a
golden cage by the doorway. Tables were piled high with plates of fruit and
deserts. A large silver teapot steamed spicy aromas into the gentle air.

       Tsultrim smiled very tenderly at me. “Ah, I see that you have brought me
a present, Thupten Heruka,” she said softly.

       “Where is the present?” asked the little boy with expectant curiosity.

       “I gave her my lies. I did not need him anymore. But, now I have to live
this new Thupten Heruka,” I laughed. “But, I don’t know if this new one looks
very presentable. He’s all cut up and bloodied!”

       “I know what you mean,” the tiny child smiled with a spirited and
delighted gleam in his ancient eyes. “This new me,” he patted himself on the
chest, “is not like my old me either.

       “Show me how to fly this kite,” he giggled and jumped with enthusiasm
and thrust the kite into my hands.

         Together, we inched out the string, allowing the wind to catch the fullness
of the rice paper to give it aerodynamic form. Artfully, we fed it as much of a
tether as it could handle, guiding its flight, urging it to catch the wind’s wild
whims to coax it to greater heights, and then to rein it in when it was in danger.

         “Are you happy that Tsultrim is back?” I asked.

         He sighed. “I love her.”

         “We all do,” I offered. “I’m glad that she is back, too. I’m sorry that I
never told you why she went away. Did you worry?”

         “No, she came to me every night in my room. She would sing me songs.
She was just gone in the day times. I don’t know where she went, but I think she
was going to help people.” A cascade of flowers tumbled out with his innocent
words, sweet smelling and scattering wild seeds to grow among the stones far

         “She was with me before, too,” he continued the conversation.

         “Before?” I asked. The kite was diving and dancing, casting off
shimmering light arrows, disappearing and reappearing in the brilliant
moonlight’s glare. I played with him in the dance, watching each word and
movement arise out of the void and dissolve back into it, leaving hardly a trace of

         “Last time, when I was the 12th Dalai Lama. Did you know me then?
Tsultrim was my friend and came and played with me in the summer palace
gardens.” Such a happenstance struck him as funny and he looked at me and
laughed as though sharing human life’s silly quirks. “She played games with me.
It was a secret. She was little then, like me.”

         “Do you remember when you were the 12th Dalai Lama?” I prodded

         “Of course. Did you ever come to see me?” he asked with real curiosity.

         “No, I didn’t know you and never came to meet you. There was a long

time when no one saw you. You died very young. Everyone thought that you
were sick.

       “Were you really sick? Did anyone try to hurt you?” Gently, gently lifting
the dark veils of Tibet’s agonies, my desire was to let the healing of light push
aside the poisoning suspicions.

       “I was sick,” he said, as he remained playful. He still paid far more
attention to the kite than to our conversation.

       “I was sick to help the people. No one tried to hurt me. I got sick so that
the people would try harder to learn the dharma. They were getting lazy! I got
sick and died so that they would pray harder.

       “This time some really bad things are going to happen and the people need
to pray very hard to get ready. I’m ready though.

       “My arm is getting tired of flying this kite. Can we go and get some
sweets with Tsultrim? The cook made us some really good cakes.”

       “You want to pull it back in?” I asked.

       “Yes, so we can play some more later.” The little boy tugged in his
careening paper dragon as it crashed dangerously against the Potala wall far
below us.

       Carefully, we raised it back up to the balcony ledge, rescued it safely, and
wound up its string.

I bow down to my lama.

Now we shall sing our sweet songs together

My guru, Heruka; Buddha, my consort.

We shall sing out the joy of love for all beings.

You be the flute and I, the wind blowing through you.

You be the lute and I’ll be the muse.

Every sound that we hear is a note played for Buddha.

Every tree, every flower, every child, every thing

Are the instruments playing in symphonic triumph.

All playing for Buddha to celebrate love.

My Heruka and I, forever together

To blissfully hold the other’s strong hand.

I shall lead sometimes and you lead the others

But truly we know that we walk arm in arm.

Because only in union will we taste completion,

Wisdom and bliss emerging within.

Only in union will our vision open

To see all the Buddhas filling the sky.

Together, we look in the eyes of the other

And see all of those who have brought us to bliss.

All gurus, all dakas, dakinis, all Buddhas

Guiding us, holding us, teaching us truths.

You are all that to me, Heruka, my guru.

I see all in you, every being and more.

For you hold me delectably right on the edge

And over I peek to Enlightenment’s shore.

I watch every moment unfold with compassion.

I breathe every breath, offering out blessings.

Each heartbeat sends forth my offerings to Buddhas.

All merit of good is showered on all.

My kindness is effortless, all I do is in love.

My vast wisdom view unswerving and faithful.

But still I but peek out over that edge

Not crying, not longing, not reaching, not there.

With you in my arms, Heruka, my guru,

The doors to the Pure Land beckon to me.

With you in my arms, Heruka, my guru,

The union we share is realization’s pure form.

But for you, my Heruka, who’s holding this mirror

I would not taste sweetness and discern the true path.

I know that together we learn this same lesson

And together Awakening lights up the skies.

When I die, Heruka, my guru, my friend,

I will cross to that shore and to that Pure Land.

It is your gift to me and my gift to you

That together a bridge has been laid ‘cross the sea.

Whoever between us enters Buddha’s arms first

Will hold a great lamp for the other to follow.

Together we’ll usher all beings to bliss

Before us like shepherds rounding the flock.

Down from the mountains, we’ll hurry the ewes

And we’ll search behind rocks for little lost lambs.

The old sheep can be stubborn, ornery goats

So we may have to prod them with poles and a whip.

But you play the flute and I’ll dance ahead

And on to the Pure Land we’ll lead the parade.

Then at the gates, we’ll step aside

And on they will trot to transform into Buddhas.

My love, my Heruka, our mission all done,

We’ll wave the great banner and bow our heads down.

Bow down to the ground in humble obeisance.

Bow down to the universal, Radiant One.

                                   A Final Prayer

                         I walk among the radiant orchids and ferns

                                     I have forgotten-

                                    Who was walking?

        My hair has grown long, far past my waist, and it is as white as the old
mountain goat. My skin is hard and wrinkled like crusty old leather. These bones
keep me hobbling when I would much rather run. A clumsy brain can hardly
comprehend the decades that have passed like a subtle breeze. I glanced away for
only an instant and I grew old.

        My name is still Thupten Heruka, but whatever happened to that young
man who I thought that I was? His story birthed me in increments and yet he
lives on forever as my teacher of men.

        My great guru, my Lama, died in The Wood Snake Year. It was 1904 in
your west. Lama Selden Rinpoche had asked me to teach his students with him
after I came out of a ten-year retreat spent in great austerity and dedicated
practices with Tsultrim. He was close to 100 years old by then, and yet he still
taught every day. We traveled together for a few months every year and soon I
had students seeking me out where we lived on the shores of the lake. After
Rinpoche died, I spent a part of each year teaching at Mindroling Monastery and
then I would return to where I was happiest, with my meditating dakini who
stayed in our cave for the rest of her life.

        My fame was difficult for me but I felt that I needed to do as Lama Selden
requested. I loved all of my students and I was very happy to give them the
teachings that I prayed would bring them to liberation. But I still had the heart of
a simple plainsman and yogi and I often wished to ask those kind devotees what
all of the fuss was about.
       My beloved, Tsultrim Palmo, still surrounds me in the air, in the waters of
Lake Manasarovar, in the rocky cliffs, and in the roar of the winds. Her body
disappeared many years ago. I was walking along the frothing lakeshores towards
home when she died. A beautiful light emerged from our cave and spread out
over the rippling waters. It beckoned me to come and celebrate what I knew
immediately was her liberation. When I entered, the cave glistened as though
filled by noonday sunshine, blinding in its brilliance. I found her sitting as a
yogini surrounded by rainbows and there was the subtle smell of jasmine in the
air. My beloved sat motionless, yet smiling. Her hair, too, had long ago turned to
gray and the years turned her old. But her face was as beautiful to my eyes as any
ever on this earth. I sat with her that night and said prayers. I gave thanks for all
of our bountiful blessings together. We had spent almost fifty years together in
that cave held by the mountain and kissed by the lake. But then, she journeyed on
to bring joy to others. I am comforted in knowing that in our next life, we will be
together again.

        Early in the morning on the day after her death, I left her alone to
complete her flight. I rolled stones in front of the entry to our cave and then I
walked away, taking nothing with me. I have never been back.

        My life since that day has been that of a wandering yogi. I go where I go
and trust in the dharma. My work was hardly done. I continued to search out and
to meet with every teacher I could in order to receive teachings. Most of my days
were spent in meditation. Although my progress was slow and I struggled with
poor dedication, my awareness became more stable. I concentrated on doing
purification practices and in making many offerings. This clumsy old beggar may
have had the good fortune to spark a small flame to benefit others.

        After I left my cave behind, I heard rumors of my death as well. I had
disappeared to the entire world and now, as I wander the plains and the mountains
alone, all of those whom I meet merely wonder curiously about this crazy old

        Tibet is growing smaller and more endangered in this year of the Water
Sheep. The world around us is ever more intruding. It is now 1942, as the West
counts the years for us, and even my knowing such numbers shows you that we
have more and more visitors from nations beyond our borders. With them come
stories of unbelievable magic. Our children and even adults listen wide-eyed to
tales of houses on wheels and iron birds that can fly. We hear that a father can
talk to his son on a machine when one is hundreds of miles from the other. We
ourselves have the miracle of the telegraph. Machines do all the hard work that
men toiled for weeks to do. They have plows on wheels. And in some places of
the world, women wash clothes in a spinning device. I can hardly imagine
washing a chuba. Another story that none of us really believe is that there are
special houses with big windows that let you see people, enormous people, and
whole worlds all made of light. The people can move and talk and tell wonderful
stories. Amazing.

       Technology brings suffering as our people grow greedy and turn from the
dharma to answer their prayers. These new answers look to be easy and quick and
their pain appears to be instantaneously assuaged. For some, devotion is lost and
the teachings are now only a habit. Travel to China and Nepal takes one or two
weeks in a house on wheels, or even in a few hours by the iron bird airplane. I
even live in a Tibet that counts time by hours and minutes with watches.

       Traders go back and forth bringing treasures of radios and aluminum pots
and plastic dishes instead of silks and salt. I watch the world change and know it
is good for our people if they can view it with wisdom. Such a task, however, is
very challenging as the ego grasps in ways often beyond our control.

       I wander the countryside, mountains, and cities with only a worn cotton
robe and a begging bowl. Yet I am fed without fail and the grasses always make a
comfortable bed. Kind people give me a warm cup of tea and much love. Caves
are still my favorite home.

       My friends have all died and my brothers and sisters as well. Even my
beloved Kundun left us ten years ago. He lived a long life and was, I believe, one
of the very greatest of all in his lineage. He proved himself a world statesman as
he dealt delicate hands to preserve Tibet and wrest her from Chinese control.
Always extraordinarily fair, he won the hearts and trust of all Tibetans even in the
face of rapidly changing times while making delicate decisions in such political
flux. Little by little, he brought the government together and the monasteries into
a strong refocus.

       There have been harsh influences from the outer world that caused the
people to be swayed this way and that. Children of wealthy and political families
go to school in Nepal and learn Western ways that have turned them against
tradition and dharma. China has been an ever-increasing presence in Lhasa and its
embassy has gained enormous power that constantly needs to be assuaged. Before
he died, the 13th Dalai Lama predicted ominously that all of these influences
would become even more difficult for us in the future. He warned that what
awaits Tibet is a menacing cataclysm of turmoil for which we must prepare
ourselves. He indicated that there will be great threats to the dharma as well and
that we must practice with diligence in order to protect the teachings from

       We have a new little Dalai Lama who was born with great auspiciousness
in Takstar in 1935. I’m trying now to think in more western ways and I think that
he will teach us to do this. Today, he is only 7 years old, yet he shows great
promise to be another splendid leader. Already, we can sense his incredible
wisdom and compassion. He also has a propensity for western toys and gadgets.
Perhaps, he will build a bridge from our monastic past and simple life to a role for
dharma in the technological, western world. I, however, shall not live to see that

       This body will die soon, so I have returned to beautiful Lake Manasarovar
to write these memories. I want to die hearing the water splash softly on the
shore, gazing at the snowy peaks, and knowing that my beloved is looking down
upon me.

       I have not returned to my cave. That is Tsultrim’s alone. I sit high on the
hill among stalks of tall grass, sheltered by the rocks from the winds and
distracted only by the jackrabbits that approach to study me as I accomplish this
task. Nearby is a monastery called Little Bird. It is perched on top of a craggy
peak with pathways wending their scarred and ancient way to its sacred halls.
Guru Rinpoche blessed this monastery a thousand years ago and this is where I
shall die with his blessings raining down upon me. Off in the distance, many
miles away, I see the great Mount Kailash across the flat fields spreading out
from here to there. A snow-covered king watching over me, he houses our great
deity, the Tibetan Chakrasambava. It is taught that dakinis delight in this place,
the union of Mount Kailash and his consort, Lake Manasarovar. I am sure that my
Tsultrim Palmo is flying amongst them.

       I write my story of so long ago in hopes that it might benefit others on this
most difficult dharma path. There is no more difficult work in a lifetime than
pursuing one’s truth, whatever unique unfolding that might take. It is said that
often, as we approach our highest of goals, instead of easier, the task becomes
harder and obstacles arise that would challenge us all. My journey was hard. I
look back and marvel at how much I was given by so many great teachers.
Always, protection was there when I could not even ask; the heroes appeared
when I needed them most. My gurus were chosen and unchosen, both. I knew and
I loved Lama Selden and Tsultrim, my friends and my family, Abbot Kelzang and
Purchokpa Rinpoche. But there were so many others without whom I would never
have learned wisdom or even survived. Unexpected saints appeared when I was
fearful or sick or facing my death.

       Perhaps, my greatest teacher of all was Rudra Rinpoche who sculpted and
molded my negative karma into inexplicable horrors to challenge my self-serving
resolve. If it were not for him, my ego would never have been so irrevocably
shattered and the lie that I lived would be sacred today. My darkness consumed
me, yet I named it in others and things and events that happened to me. My chores
and my duties seductively called me. Even opportunities to serve others kept me
enthralled with importance and purpose and an identity called Thupten. But now,
all that is gone. I am shed of its imprisonment and of its armor.

       My story, however, though not yet complete, is worth very little except as
an arrow that perhaps points the way. There is much more to do to liberate those
who suffer in pain that tosses all beings to and fro’ on the rocks of samsaric
lifetimes. Our humanness is wretched in its seductive captivity and our blindness
to others turns our hearts into stone. I ache for the morning when light dawns with
wisdom and all of my acts are compassion for all.

       I write down these words in hopes that my efforts to journey with
diligence, focus and love, even though clumsy, will awaken your faith. Perhaps
you will see that another has struggled and fallen but never has that other been
abandoned by truth. My days have been dark and I lost my hope often but purity
had never left when I reopened my eyes. When my heart was most broken, I
loved others more, and when death visited me, I was rebirthed with more vision.
Unspeakable obstacles were thrown out to wound me and I stumbled and
screamed, sure I had been abandoned forever.

       My gurus, however, never let go, even though I did not see their hands
that protected me. They were parents allowing this child to run dangerously
through the quicksand of life but always held ready to rescue me when I made a
wrong step. I learned that a world full of enemies, dangers, and horrors was equal
to a world of great love, fine treasures, and ease. All is illusion, holding one in a
dream that dreams itself forever and hides the real truth. The truth is that the
dream is a dream and true self is vastness, radiant light and compassion. The
dangers exist within our own mind and disappear instantaneously when we
comprehend their true nature. Just as we find that gold in the lake is only
sunlight’s reflection when we reach in with greed to harvest a treasure. Or, we see
snakes in the grasses that lie in wait to attack us. Then, we find only old ropes,
abandoned and harmless, and our panic lifts with a foolish sigh. How quickly we
grasp at the treasures or feel quick relief when our fears are unfounded.

       The world is deceptive as its myths are made real in our prankster, sly
mind. Glorious freedom and no fear to arise waits for us all when we awaken
from dreams. Our ego is merely a coat that we wear. Our bodies are priceless

dharma treasures to show us our essence. For, if it weren’t for these bodies that
give us some form, we would never learn the lessons of dharma, kindness,
sadness and death. It is only from all of these lessons, we grow. The lessons are
shattering because we are so stubborn and hold on so tightly to our self-serving
guide. Like a baby who trusts his first steps on his own, he must let go of his
parents and go off in a world solely alone. The falls may be frequent and screams
of protest are quick, yet, alone we must go to our death or enlightenment. No one
in the world can cushion our falls and so quickly we grow and walk on our own.
We learn about running but also about pitfalls and rocks and we reach our goals

        Our journeys are like that. First, we often will stumble and look for our
parents to hold us upright. But, soon, we are walking and succeed in our planning
to reach worldly goals with more and more ease. But, our goals keep on changing
with each new promise for fulfillment. As we have achieved one success, we find
ourselves still hungry and then add another and another new goal. Then, in an
auspicious moment, we look around and weep tears as we see others bereft,
lagging behind in sickness and horrific life circumstances. It may be us, in just a
brief moment, when the world turns in one cycle. We go from a beautiful morning
to midnight in hell; everything changes in a blink of an eye. Quickly, we call on
all our resources. Then, back into seduction we go when gifted with riches and
health and life-giving promises. Our pleas for beneficent dharma to open our eyes
are forgotten and meditations are sacrificed to more lazy days. When we are
comfortable and safe in complacency, the world turns again and we are
swimming at sea.

           Forgetting comes naturally and dharma comes hard. It is necessary to
remember and remember some more. It takes rituals, practices, prayers, and pure
grit determinedly dedicated to lift the diaphanous steel veil. Heavier than any
boulder, thicker than any wall, darker than any cave, more painful than the
tortures of any enemy, our human birth gifts us with obstacles, that, when finally
met, turn out to be radiant blue sky through which we dance with delight.

       My life was like many, filled with loves and with fears. I was deceptive
and deceitful and caused incredible pain. I lived on the edge of understanding the
dharma and trying diligently to practice, but when it came to living it truly, most
times I failed. Little by little, I spun round the prayer wheel of life. What had been
fearful soon came to be less so. What had seduced me had no further hold. As I
grew, I found that if I followed the truth, I would be blessed by the perfection of
wisdom unfolding. Many times, I would flounder in not believing the rightness of
what fell in my lap demanding attention. But if I did not run and if I looked
closely and let that great gift give its teachings to me, I always found a most
priceless jewel.

       So, if you too are floundering in deluded misgivings that life is too hard
and its offerings poor, perhaps this old yogi has said a few words from my
clouded vision that lifted so slowly. If it is your karma and mine to make this
connection, may my words benefit you and give you some hope. My life is now
peaceful and my dreams are fulfilled, but only because my ego sleeps soundly and
trusts in my voice. It is not yelling in fear that a meal may not wait for me on the
table or that my one chosen love is not warming my bed. Nor does it lust after
power and privilege, merely another way to quiet my fears.

       My ego says, “Master, I will do your bidding and serve your wish to bring
others great joy.” There is nothing to fear and nothing to quest for, in that all is
right here in this moment divine.

       Our body is pure light, formed only to sparkle and dance its grand swirls
round this blue planet; to awaken the flame lighting each other’s heroic search.
They must search for their own gods and spirits, those that their truth and their
passion will bring them to see. Then, they too will burst into twirling and singing
and lifting their hands out to others as well. One by one, we touch others and love
them until the seed planted within them bursts open and blossoms. They open as
flowers they were all meant to be. A garden of flowers, all from one root, we
humans are one and all beings as well.

        We are all waves arising, foamy and white, splashing our own unique
splash on the surface of life. Silently, we move in the depths as waters of oceans
uniting us all. How little of ourselves is comprehended when we call ourselves
wave or Thupten or Tsultrim when we truly are ocean. Ocean of profoundly deep
source, we sparkle light on our surface and are forever black in the eternal leagues
of our womb. Light and dark, only a description pronounced by the viewer, while
we know our true nature as water. Water, the same whether wave or sun’s mirror
or deep and dark harbor for fishes. We are the water out of which waves arise,
one and the same and always inseparable.

       We are the sky full of clouds, gray or wispy, the clouds seemingly full of a
presence their own. Clouds say, “Look at me, I am beautiful and big. I have a
force well defined.” Feel them, however, and where do they end? Merging with
sky, they are one and the same, just as the rainbow and sunshine and moonlight
are one space quality. All named and bedecked with the frames holding fast to
their portraits, forever they are one in pure essence so subtle. We struggle to
claim our names and defend our own darkness, but let go into love and you will
find yourself deeply as one in the heart of all others. We emerge from the image
and into an essence. The mirror is ego, saying, “I see you, now”, but our eyes
can’t look in and see our true self.

       We look at a baby who gazes into our eyes and we know that she
remembers the truth of that love. A truth we forgot when we left our safe home.
We were asked to meet dangers with resources that we were too little to have.
Desperate, we guarded ourselves and forgot our pure nature in order to avoid
terrors that appeared to devour. If we are blessed, the moment will come when we
can look at another and see into their heart and love them unstintingly, forgiving
all sins. We will hold them before us. We know there is no other more precious.
We cry for their suffering and offer our hand. Then, we turn to the next and do
exactly the same. Then, another and another until even the spiders and dogs and
the birds are all embraced in this net of pure love. And, we laugh with their joy
and weep with their grief and long for their complete liberation and ours.

       If you know these words in your heart, my dear friend, and like this old

yogi, are imperfect and struggling, maybe together we can help one another.
Then, perhaps, we can reach out our arms to embrace all the others and urge them
to listen to the whisper that speaks their own truths and leads them to glory. It is a
fisherman’s net and we are all each the knots. We sweep through the ocean all as
one purpose. We must look about and see that we all are swimming and we will
all come up to the surface together. Then, we are all dragged up onto the boat and
go home for the night, but we must go together. Not one can be lost. Our name is
net, not knot 1 and knot 2. Our name is all ocean, not wave big and wave little.
Our name is all rainbow, not red, blue, and yellow.

       Yet, we are all of those names as well, one and the same. Like Thupten,
still me, until I die later today. Then, who will I be? A boy, perhaps, or a girl, who
will be reborn in the dharma in some beautiful land. Or, maybe a hell realm. I’ve
done terrible things. Though I’ve done a million purification mantras, I’ve not
cleansed my karma. But, still I will know me. I will only forget for a while. Then,
when it is time, I will remember this life and all I have learned. I will pick up
where I left off and probably suffer some more. My good karma may bring me
some benefit, yet, it will ride on new shoulders. It will again grab at my throat and
fill me with fear. All of the pain I caused others will haunt me anew and I hope I
will celebrate the opportunity to rid myself of the seeds of chaos which obscure
my pure view.

       If you are reading these notes I jot down to you now, it is our karma
together which has brought you my way. At some point, in some lifetime, we
have had a connection, and our pledge then made silently, was to help on our
way. Your existence and your suffering has fueled the inspiration that I needed to
undertake this joyful task of putting a few words to my ninety plus years. If
anything that I have said benefits you, then I know without a doubt, that your life
will in turn bring benefit to others. We are all working to bring joy to all beings
throughout the universe and my only hope is that I have offered a small seed
through the experiences of Thupten Heruka.

       So, now I dedicate and share with you and all beings my final prayer.

Holding the root guru on the crown of my head

I make offerings of devotion to you my beloved

I humbly ask for the blessings of Buddhas

To rain down upon me their compassionate wisdom

To benefit All.

May you, my dear friend, as you read these few words

Receive these great blessings to fill you with love

They will give you long life and heal you of pain

And take you swiftly down the road to the Pure Land

To benefit All.

May all who hear of me or even set eyes on these words

Be transformed into a seeker of their deepest truth

And all of the merit that they have created

Blossom in this life to give them great joy

To benefit All.

Never turn back, have courage, keep going

The saints and the Buddhas are right there beside you

Just say mantras and prayers and call out their names

For they have made promises

To benefit All.

May every act that we do open the door

To our liberation into compassion and wisdom

Then, we offer our merit to all of the others

So, that they all may find enlightenment, too,

To benefit All.

‘Till all of the worlds of sentient beings

Are firmly established in the Buddha’s Pure Realms

We all must purify, practice, and offer

All that we do to every lost one

To benefit All.

May all Buddhas protect us and offer us blessings

May all lamas guide us with teachings and love

May we all find happiness and share it with others

May my humble words give you strength and direction

To benefit All.

I will hide this writing now in a safe place. It will be found again when the time is
right. When you read this, I will be close by to love you. I will be the one who is
holding your hand.


In the year, 1992, I received this story, Thupten Heruka’s hagiography, to
translate and reveal to others. It was hidden in a dream that appeared in incredible
and vivid detail and presented in eight, Tibetan style texts. The first seven were
shown to me, poured into my mind to see as I dreamed their unfolding. The
eighth volume, I was told, still awaits discovery. I have recorded this story as
closely as possible to the presentation that I received and hope that there is no part
that will contribute to the confusion or suffering of beings. My attempts to
translate it have been with the wish to offer to others these teachings of Thupten
Heruka as he would have liked.

May all who read his words receive great benefit and reach enlightenment for the
benefit of all. So Many Blessings to You. Love, anna


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