Life Of Venerable Lama Karma Samten Gyatso

Post sayings or stories from Buddhist traditions which you find interesting, inspiring or useful. (Your own stories are welcome on DW, but in the Creative Writing or Personal Experience forums rather than here.)
Post Reply
Posts: 1486
Joined: Wed Oct 21, 2009 7:30 am

Life Of Venerable Lama Karma Samten Gyatso

Post by phantom59 » Wed Oct 21, 2009 8:05 am

I bow down to the feet of the unequalled gurus Who are the source of
million-fold auspiciousness, Who are the glorious destroyers of the
four maras And possessors of knowledge, kindness and power My father
and mother were originally from Kham, East Tibet, but I was born in
West Tibet at Gertse. My family had been on a pilgrimage to Mount
Kailash when they decided to settle there. I was born on 25th February

The area where we lived was quite high and it sloped gently towards a
mountain. My family lived in a large black tent made from woven yak's
hair. In Tibetan, this type of tent is called a "ba". Inside our ba
were two partitions which formed three separate areas. One area was
for our shrine, one was for living and sleeping, and the last one was
used as a work area and for storing firewood. All our cooking was done
in a fireplace in the middle of the ba. The ba was supported by poles
tied together by three guy ropes strung with prayer flags. Our ba was
moved twice a year, once for winter and once for summer. The same
sites had been used over many generations. When travelling we used
lighter white tents made from canvas which came from India.

Our ba measured approximately 15 by 45 metres. It had to be large
because there were sixteen people living in it: my mother, two
fathers, four brothers, five sisters, and three servants. I was the
middle youngest of the children. At night we would sleep on mattresses
stuffed with yak hair There were seven families in the surrounding
area and we were all related to each other. The children I would play
with were all my relatives. Of these families, only two stayed on in
Tibet. My parents had thousands of animals, mostly sheep, but also
horses, goats and yaks. Shepherds looked after about a hundred sheep
each and had to know each of them by name as there were no fences. The
yaks roamed more freely. At night the sheep were herded together and
guarded by huge dogs who protected them from wolves and bears. Bears
were much to be feared as they had killed many people.

Our dogs didn't sleep at night, instead they patrolled up and down
keeping watch over the sheep and guarding the tents. We kept smaller
dogs as pets In those days everyone travelled on horseback, even
lamas. Some of the horses we kept were quite small while yet others
were enormous. It was not unusual, while travelling, for children to
be carried in baskets strapped to their sides. After dinner we usually
had a puja in the shrine room with my parents before going to bed. We
went to bed early and woke early. I remember monks visiting us even at
a very early age. On special days we had as many as fifteen monks
doing puja in our ba. They usually stayed with us for between one to
three weeks at a time.

When I was five years old I went to live with one of my uncles at his
monastery, Tagjam Gompa. It was a monastery of the Sakya school and it
housed about a hundred monks. It was a new monastery and had been
built by yet another uncle (my mother's brother) who was Chief
Minister of South Gertse. This uncle had two boys and a girl, both
boys were tulkus of the Nyingma school. Tagpo Tulku and Jaltsay Tulku,
as they are known, now live at Mindroling Monastery in Himachal
Pradesh, North India. Tagjam Gompa was set high up a rock face
overlooking the valley and was a day's journey on horseback from my
home. My parents used to visit us about once a month and I would visit
them in the summer, as we travelled very little in winter.

It was here in this monastery I first took refuge. My uncle looked
after me and was my first teacher. He taught me grammar and how to
read. He also used to read me Buddhist stories and took me to pujas
with him. During the pujas the older monks would chant the liturgy
while the younger monks would sit and chant, "Om mani peme hung". If
we fell asleep we were given a nudge to wake us up. The older monks
were very strict if we slept. We were also taught how to sit up
straight in the lotus posture and we sat for long periods of time.

In the monastery a monk cooked for both my uncle and myself but I
would fetch the water and the firewood. I also used to sweep the floor
with a broom made from a yak's tail. I remember spending a lot of time
at the window watching the abundant wildlife that lived nearby. There
were field mice, rabbits, foxes and animals we called "Na", "Sa",
"Gowa", "Nyi" and "Tsu". There were also small rodents similar to
prairie dogs that lived under the ground and hibernated for several
months of the year. Since animals were not hunted, many of the wild
animals were quite tame. I remember the Na would come right up to us
at the monastery to be fed.

While at the monastery I went on pilgrimage to Mount Kailash with my
parents three times. I had been there with them twice before that but
I was too small to remember. Mount Kailash is said to be a mandala of
Chakrasambhava, it is also the precious snow mountain of Milarepa's
stories and the source of all four of Asia's great rivers. These
rivers are said to represent four different animals: the elephant,
horse, lion and peacock. They also represent the four elements and the
four cardinal directions. The miracles of many mahasiddhas are also
associated with this awe-inspiring mountain. It's an amazing place.

There's one valley at Mt. Kailash where there are footprints of some
twenty-one wolves embedded in rock, these are said to represent the
twenty-one Taras. Tara, which means 'liberator', is a female aspect of
Buddha. There is also a special lake called Marpham Yubtso in Tibetan
(Skt: Manasarova) and another lake where you can see the reflection of
Guru Rinpoche's hands in the clear water. Nearby is a cemetery blessed
by 500 great Arhats. There is also a sandalwood tree in the village of
Prang Jowor whose root is said to emanate from the naga realm. It
grows naturally and branches out into three remarkable images of
Chenrezig (Skt: Avalokiteshvara). All this is amazing to see. A very
clear memory I have is of a guide showing us some amazing shapes on
the wall of a cave by candlelight, I was quite small then. This was
the place where a mahasiddha named Shawari Drupok followed a deer
while looking for a place to meditate. The deer vanished and left its
imprint on the cave's ceiling.

There is another cave called Miraculous Rock (Tib: Zintril Pok) which
was created by Milarepa out of solid stone. The area around Mount
Kailash houses many holy objects which, it is believed, can purify
one's body speech and mind. Pilgrimages to Mount Kailash always entail
a lot of effort. All your provisions must be carried in on your back
because the terrain is too steep for horses. Pilgrims traditionally
chant mantras as they travel, I remember chanting, "Om mani peme
hung". Every aspect of the journey leaves deep impressions on your
mind. This is one of the most important pilgrimage places in Tibet.

When I was ten years old the Chinese army invaded Tibet. My parents
came to our monastery to get us as they were very concerned for our
safety. My uncle didn't want to leave and so was left behind. Later,
we were to hear he had been shot by the Chinese soldiers. In our
escape, we travelled by horse and yak for what seemed a very long
time, it was at least a year Every now and then we had to rest with
the Chinese never very far behind.

By the time we reached the Nepalese border there were many refugees
living in the valleys just inside the Tibetan side, mistakenly
thinking they were safe. We ourselves lived there in tents for about
two months. One day in Spring the Chinese suddenly arrived in full
force. Everyone dropped what they were doing and ran, leaving all
their possessions behind. The only thing the men picked up were their
guns and, while the women and children ran ahead, they stayed behind
to hold the Chinese at bay. I remember it being very cold as it had
been snowing. We children were terrified, we were so frightened we
hardly noticed how cold it was. I saw one of our friends shot dead.
There was so much shooting.

All over Tibet, thousands of people were trying to escape. In our
party alone there were over thirty families. Although most of our
party reached safety, many people perished in avalanches caused by the
Chinese firing mortars into the slopes above us. Because we weren't
travelling by paths many people also broke their legs on rocks hidden
beneath the snow. Quite a few people died when their horses fell. Many
people also got shot at the border. My family eventually crossed to
Nepal and settled in Dolpo. By this time everyone was very ill and we
had nothing left; what we had the Chinese had either taken or we had
lost. We were in total despair because of what had happened. My
parents wanted very much to be near the Tibetan high lamas, who by now
were living in India, and they also wanted to see the holy places, so
we planned to cross to India.

When we reached the border region between India and Nepal food was
scarce. Despite this, we got to Lumbini, the holy place of Buddha's
birth. I remember it was summertime and very hot. We had no food and
no spare clothes, nothing, and everyone with the exception of my
sister and myself, was sick and had to be taken to hospital. Only my
father survived. When he was well enough, he took us to Nepal. My
sister, who was then seven, was then adopted by a Nepalese family. Of
the original sixteen members of my family there were now just the
three of us left. I don't know whether or not my sister survived. In
the Himalaya mountains, near to Himachal Pradesh, we met up with Mr.
Namkha Dorje, a very kind man who had previously been a King of Kham
Nangchen province in Tibet. It was he who had organised H.E Beru
Khyentse Rinpoche's enthronement in Tibet and was later to bring H.E.
safely out of Tibet. His brother had the extraordinary ability to tell
which days were safe to rest and which ones were not and thus was able
to guide the party to India without much trouble. Mr Namkha Dorje now
headed the refugee settlement at Mainpat where H.E. had built a
monastery. My father talked to him about our plight and he invited us
to stay at his camp. He said that I could become one of H.E. Beru
Khyentse's monks and that he would look after the both of us. At the
time I was working on a road gang; I was thirteen.

Shortly afterwards my father became very ill and was not able to work,
so the camp authorities sent him to a hospital in Mindi. Three months
later our camp was moved to Manali but I chose to stay behind to be
with him. When my father found out about this he got very angry with
me. He was worried and didn't want me to stay. Although he insisted he
was fine, I knew he was going to die. I wanted to be with him at that
time, just as I had with the rest of my family. In the end, I decided
to keep him happy and set off by bus to Manali with a man who had just
been discharged from hospital. We stopped for lunch in the Kulu Valley
and again I met up with Mr. Namkha Dorje. He told me it was time I
stopped working on the roads and that I should join H.E. Beru
Khyentse's monastery. He then took me back with him to the hospital
and told my father he would take me to the monastery. He said he would
send a monk in a couple of weeks to check on his condition and that if
he was no better he would bring him back to Tso Pema to be with me. In
the end that is what happened.

Tso Pema means Lotus Lake and is one of Guru Rinpoche's holy places.
It's Indian name is Rewalsar. It is where the Raja of Zahore had Guru
Rinpoche thrown onto a fire which he subsequently turned into a lake.
I looked after my father for two more weeks before he died. Now there
was only me I was thirteen years old. My spiritual education, my food,
clothes , everything, was given to me by H.E. Beru Khyentse Rinpoche
and Mr. Namkha Dorje. When I was sixteen I took novice monk vows from
the abbot venerable Khenpo Chimme Rinpoche, who was also Khyentse
Rinpoche's philosophy teacher. I served with Khempo Chimme for three
years during which time he taught me many things including sutra,
vinaya and logic. He was full of kindness to me.

One day the Indian government decided to move our camp to Mainpat in
Madhya Pradesh in Central India, we had no choice but to go. They
transported all five hundred of us to our new camp by train and then
by road. They gave us land and three years supply of food rations. The
area we moved to housed some three thousand people in a number of
camps. Ours was Camp No2 and was for people mostly from Kham. The land
was quite barren and we lived in tents. Conditions were very primitive
at first but we still did daily pujas, morning and evening, and on all
the special days of the Tibetan calendar. For instance, on the 8th day
we did Tara puja and on the 10th day Medicine Buddha puja; the 10th
day was Guru Rinpoche Day; the full moon day was Buddha Day; the
25th, Dakini Day; and the 29th day, Mahakala Day. The three month
monsoon retreat (Tib: Yarnay) was also held.

A new retreat centre was immediately constructed when we arrived in
Mainpat to allow for twelve monks to finish the three year, three
month, three day retreats they had begun at Tso Pema. Everything was
still being carried out much the same as it had in Tibet, despite the
difficult conditions. A new monastery was then constructed for the
monks to study philosophy, logic, grammar, art and medicine. Ritual
music, chanting, mantra, and lama dancing were also subjects studied.
The older monks taught the younger monks. I continued my studies and
also learnt music, the making of tormas, and all the things I had
begun studying at Tso Pema.

When I was twenty-one, I had to decide whether to continue with my
studies or to practise. I chose to practise. This is partly because I
felt I already had a basic understanding of dharma but mainly it was
because I was concerned about death, I had seen so much of it in my
family. Soon after I took full ordination, I entered the traditional
three year, three month and three day retreat. I did two retreats in
succession. The meditations practised during the retreat are as

First is seven days of Dorje Phurba practice to remove obstacles and to
provide protection. This practice is also done every evening and is
continued until the end of the retreat.
Then follows seven days of White Tara which is practised to insure long
life and good health. This is also continued each morning until the end
of the retreat.
Four sessions of Lotog Namzhi. These are the "Ordinary Preliminary
Practices", the "Four Thoughts which Change the Mind".
Four months of Ngon Dro, the "Extraordinary Preliminary Practices".
These consist of 111 111 prostrations, to purify the body; 111 111 Dorje
Sempa mantras, to purify the speech; 111 111 mandala offerings, to
purify the mind; and 111 111 Guruyoga recitations, to invoke the
blessing of the lineage.
One month of Lojong Dondon, "Seven point Mind Training", this consists
of reading and meditating on bodhicitta.
One month Semdzin, this is shine and lhatong (Skt: shamata and
One month Marpa Guruyoga.
One month Milarepa Guruyoga.
One month Gampopa Guruyoga.
One month Karma Pakshi Guruyoga.
Seven months Vajrayogini.
Four months Chakrasambhava.
Seven months Naro Cho Drug: the Six Yogas of Naropa.
Three months Gyalwa Gyamtso: Red Avalokiteshvara.
Fifty days Amitabha: O Pagme.
One month Akshobhya: Mi Drugpa.
One month Vairochana.
One month Mahakala.
One month Chod.
One month White Tara: Drolma Karpo.

On the completion of my second retreat, I spent another three years in
solitary retreat in a forest near the retreat centre. All my
instruction was from H.E. Beru Khyentse Rinpoche and Venerable Kalu
Rinpoche. I thought I would spend the rest of my life in retreat but,
in 1981, His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa and His Eminence Beru
Khyentse Rinpoche requested me to come to New Zealand and Australia. I
have been here for more than seventeen years now and I like both
countries very much and I like the people. Initially, it was difficult
for me, on account of my pidgin English. These days I still speak
pidgin English but I don't have so much trouble communicating. I'm
really not sure how much benefit there is in my being here but there
must be at least some benefit, otherwise His Holiness would not have
sent me. I trust His Holiness one hundred per cent, furthermore, I'm
interested in quality more than quantity. On the whole, I think I have
become wilder and wiser.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 9 guests