Just Beyond My Reach - A Journey To Tibet by Jacqueline Mandell
“At Chimpu—the peaceful and clear environment of nature inspires peace and clarity in the observers: then the whole merges into one, the union of peace and clarity.” —The Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Tulku Thondup
“I will see you again either in Tibet or the United States.” These were the last words Azom Choktul Paylo Rinpoche spoke to me. As I left his stone and adobe dwelling, I reflected on how much my life had changed in a few short days. Gazing towards the Yarlung Valley of Central Tibet, I recalled the images and experiences of my first evening on this mountain slope at Chimpu.
On a plateau overlooking Samye, the first monastery in Tibet, I had set up my tent. At dusk, a surprise progression of Tibetan nomads with a small horse walked by. As they slowly made their way up the mountain, our translator, Anne Klein, asked them where they were going. “To meet a great scholar” they responded.
That night, I breathed in the cold night air of Tibet and mused about who this scholar might be. The next morning our group learned that one of the greatest meditation masters in Tibet was just a short way up the mountain.
Myths & Past Lives Tibet is a mythical land. History is painted on the walls of Samye Monastery; the yogic stages of death and dying (powa) are depicted on the walls of the Lukang Temple in Lhasa. Three different temples host White Tara statues, known as “Talking White Taras,” delivering divine wisdom and blessings. In this land of history and the high Himalayas, certain human beings incarnate again and again to help all sentient beings become completely free.
The meditation master up the mountain was just such a being. Azom Rinpoche, is revered as the 30th incarnation of the diety of wisdom, Manjushri.
The past lives of Azom Rinpoche are very well known. He was the famed Buddhist King Trisong Detsen, as well as Ngari Panchen. At the tender age of one, Azom Rinpoche was recognized as an incarnation of Gyalsay Pema Wangyal. But what most impressed our group of western pilgrims was discovering that he is also the incarnation of one of the most famous Dzog Chen Masters, Jigme Lingpa.
Before leaving Portland for Tibet, I had only heard the names Jigme Lingpa and Longchen Rabjam (Longchenpa) associated with the highest teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, Dzog Chen, and the Longchen Nyingthig Empowerment and Practice called The Heart Essence of the Great Expanse. I never dreamed that, at the foot of what is believed by some to be the majestic Copper Colored Mountain, I would meet an incarnate lama, a ‘tulku, of divine wisdom.
A Clear Message In preparing for Tibet, I always felt like I was just barely catching up on the essential details. Everything seemed just beyond my reach. I couldn’t pronounce all of these new places nor remember everyone’s past lives. I couldn’t even keep our itinerary straight. I was busy at camping stores getting the right backpack, the most water-proof flashlight, the most necessary medicine and the lightest day pack. Also, I had just moved and was busy preparing childcare for my children. In all this preparing, I scarcely noted that our pilgrimage was focused on the power places of Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, Longchen Rabjam and Jigme Lingpa. I just knew that I was, absolutely, going to Tibet.
Ten days before leaving Oregon, I went to see a visiting Tibetan Meditation Master, Kusum Lingpa. Three times during our meeting he stated clearly, “You must go to Tsering Jong in Central Tibet.” I had never heard of Tsering Jong. When our meeting ended, the translator emphasized “I think he really wants you to go to Tsering Jong.”
But our itinerary was already fixed. I didn’t know if it could be changed. I called Anne, our co-leader, to let her know of this latest advice. She told me that she, too, had considered Tsering Jong.
Long-Life Spring of Tsering Jong When we arrived in Lhasa, we found we were able to alter our traveling schedule to include Tsering Jong. Upon arrival there, our bus pulled up on the dusty road outside a low square adobe temple. The temple was built above a cave that had a flowing “long-life” spring.
There is a story about this place. Many years ago the Rimey Dzog Chen Master, Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, came to Tsering Jong in a time of drought. After his prayers, the long-life spring revived and the much needed shade of the willow trees grew again.
As I entered the darkened temple, I saw a large statue of Jigme Lingpa. After sitting in meditation for some time, I went to drink the waters from the long-life spring. There, a young girl dressed in the traditional chuba (dress) took her large brass water pot and poured the water into my hand to drink. Situated inside the cave just behind her were clay long-life vases full of the special water. Each vase and the spring itself were draped in white blessing scarves (katas). I asked the girl if I could take her photograph. She agreed. (This photo later won an award and is published in: The Best Of Photography Annual,1997.)
A “Mind Treasure” It is known that Jigme Lingpa lived from 1730-1798. At Chimpu, he had a vision, called a ‘ter’ or ‘terma.’ (A terma is a “hidden teaching,” one that is revealed at the right time and the right place to awaken people able to hear the teachings.) Jigme Lingpa’s vision was a “mind treasure” known as the Longchen Nyingthig, The Heart Essence of the Great Expanse. These teachings derived from the awakened meditation master, Longchenpa, or Longchen Rabjam (1308-1363). He lived most of his life in solitude inside the caves at Chimpu, this very place I’d been guided these many years later.
When I walked up the mountain to meet Azom Rinpoche, I stopped at the large whitewashed stupa (monument) that houses the remains of Longchen Rabjam. Standing on the cement platform, I looked out into the crystal blue skies of Tibet. The air was thin, the sun was strong. Here, indeed, I felt like I was on the rooftop of the world.
Taking Teachings “At Chimpu—the peaceful and clear environment of nature inspires peace and clarity in the observers: then the whole merges into one, the union of peace and clarity.” —The Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Tulku Thondup
The feeling was incomparable—joyous and calm. I was in Chimpu, Tibet, taking teachings with the 30th Manjushri who also contained the mind stream of Dzog Chen Master Jigme Lingpa. Outside his stone and adobe dwelling, some 250 monks and nuns camped near the Chimpu Nunnery, a small open one-room adobe building. For two days I received training from Azom Rinpoche, whose teaching is to see into the true nature of mind. My experience was profound—he could see into my mind in very clear, compassionate ways. Each day he asked me questions and gave precise instructions. I followed these teachings with my whole attention.
On the last day our group gathered in his adobe room. He handed each one of us a kata with a knot symbolizing our connection. He also presented us with his card and small packet of Tibetan medicine and a pin and a photo.
The photo he gave us was unusual. I had never seen anything like it. In it, Azom Rinpoche stands in his maroon and gold monks robes and sunglasses next to a large rock face. Jetting out from the rock is a long stick draped with a kata. At the age of 24 he could, with his power, penetrate the rock with a stick. In Tibet there are masters who do this act to arouse the people’s faith in Buddhism.
When I went to Tibet I did not go seeking a realized master—but I found one. This is consistent with the emergent pattern of my life. I have noticed that a spiritual teacher appears each time my commitment to truth and liberation deepens. In this case, I traveled to Tibet on faith. I put my life “on hold” to take a month for this pilgrimage. I was blessed. The teacher appeared. I am forever grateful.
It is said that devotion and compassion are inseparable. I acknowledge and am grateful that there are teachers with deep perception. When I sat with Azom Rinpoche, I experienced no language barriers, no culture barriers—rather, the teacher giving precise instructions and the student receiving profound wisdom.
Jacqueline Mandell is president of Leadership From A Pure Heart LLC. She presents lectures and seminars on spirit in the workplace. She also is a teacher of mindfulness meditation. She can be reached at (503) 790-1064 or by email.