May All Be Auspicious

-1988

Lobersing Nuns
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May All Be Auspicious – 1988
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Ooooooommmmm, Ooooooommmmm, Tashi Dondrup! The crisp morning air sparkled with their shouts as a group of men raised a tall wooden flagpole hung with a long strip of prayer-covered cloth. They were welcoming in another New Year in the Tibetan Refugee Camp of Lobersing, India. At every home in the small community the ritual would be repeated, the men running happily from place to place. The women of the household came out bearing a large intricately carved and painted wooden box mounded with barley flour.

Everyone took up a pinch to toss and again chant, “Om Om Tashi Dondrup.” Please, may this be a prosperous year.” I had come to Lobersing to renew my connection with the students of Ani Jetsun Drolma. Ani Jetsun, the woman who through the strength of her practice manifested many remarkable abilities, had made her power accessible to the troubled Tibetan refugees of the camps of Orissa.

Their lives had been so miserable then having fled their native land for refuge in India. “She was for the poor. Whatever you would need she would help you get it. Money, food, a place to stay, protection, comfort in our pain; she never let us feel hopeless.” The villagers did not see her often; she was always in retreat. But when they climbed through the snake-infested jungle to her hut, they knew they would be helped. Her death in1979, accompanied by rainbows and many miraculous signs, left her students struggling to maintain their practice in the face of extreme poverty.

“Come, quickly.” Kyizom, the eldest daughter of Singe and Tseten Dolma, tugged my sleeve. “Everyone is starting to gather on the hill.” Her parents had brought the plight of Ani Jetsun’s students to the attention of a western nun, Lekshe Tsomo. When I was visiting Lekshe in Dharmsala on my way to Orissa, she asked my help. I went to Lobersing in ’86,wrote an article that was published in Snow Lion (A Life of practice, a Rainbow Death), and received some donations.

Another tug on my sleeve and I turned just in time to steady old Ani Pema who was struggling to maintain her balance in the dusty road. In one hand she brandished a wooden cane, in the other she waved a kata, the traditional white blessing scarf. At 78 years old, the small donations of food money we had sent her through the year had enabled her to remain independent. She had come to say her thanks.

At the top of the hill five white parachutes had been erected, like sprouting mushrooms or exotic teepee umbrellas. The people of Lobersing are from different parts of Tibet. Each group has their own traditional prayers. They gathered under separate parachute umbrellas so that the whole camp could pray and feast at the gathering, but still maintain the individual traditions of their ancestors.

The maintenance of tradition is a high priority with the refugees. When His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited the camp, he requested them to be strong and not give up their identity as Tibetans with a cultural heritage. Throughout the year most of the able-bodied leave the camp to earn money, usually selling shoes or sweaters on the sidewalk in populated Indian cities. They leave the elderly and the children to maintain the camps. But everyone comes home to celebrate Losar together.

Some children were running noisily up a small path to the left of the gathering. Kyizom and I followed them. A row of small rooms and a graceful stupa looked out over the fields and the distant purple fields.

This was the site of a three-year retreat center in the lineage of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. A group of monks had completed their last year in retreat. Now Ani Tsultrim Palmo had been allowed to occupy one of the small rooms. She was sitting before her shrine, chanting softly when we arrived. She gestured to the modest offerings on her shrine. “Your friends have made it possible for me to stay in retreat,” she said. ” I always offer part of everything I am given in their name.”

We went outside and sat while she made a small fire for tea. “Where will you cook when the rains come?” I asked. She smiled, “Where will you go when the monks come to retreat?”

“I will deal with things as they arise”, she assured me. We watched the late afternoon sun cast its long shadows and I relished Ani Palmo’s serenity.

Folks had disbursed to their own family celebrations as we made our way through the jungle to Ani Kadak’s hut. She was going to the village to perform a Tara puja for a family, but she paused when she saw us coming.

“Ani-la, is there anything that we can do to make you comfortable?” I said the phrase that I would repeat to each of the women we are supporting. She was so poor, her hut was dark and ramshackle, and empty of anything we would call comfort.

“Yes,” she said. “The farmers have put a fence across my path. It is difficult to get my water buckets over.” I could easily imagine that, Ani Kadak is 73. She hauls water one-fourth of a mile. Uphill. She does not want us to move her to a better spot. It is peaceful in the jungle.

“Ani-la,” I asked. “Your blanket is full of holes, can I get you a new blanket then?” She laughed and walked us down the path as darkness assembled softly over the camp. “What do I need with a new blanket”, she said. ” I will die soon and then what will become of that new blanket. The old one is good enough.”

Suddenly, up roared Singe on a blazing red Rajdoot motorcycle. “I borrowed it,” he said. “There is dancing in camp No. 5.” Kyizom and I climbed aboard an off we went down winding cattle trails over rattling bridges through the velvet blackness. After some time there were lights and the laughing of children. We could hear the singing. First, the men, then the women…. circling in ceremonial steps chanting an epic of their people. The men wore high hats with different colored flags. The women were crowned with flowers. It went on for an eternity. The people dreamt of a land of abundance and high mountain passes. They remembered the days of their heroes and freedom.

The next day, fortified by the ever full cup of steaming butter tea; I visited the other nuns we have been sending donations to. Ani Tsultrim Wangmo was standing in the courtyard of her sister’s house. She told us she was going to Nepal to see her teacher His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. I asked how she was going? “Someone will provide,” she said. “Where will you stay? What will you eat?” “I will beg,” she said. “Is there anything we can give you for your journey?” She smiled and shook her head slowly, “No.” The radiance of her face took my breath away.

Ani Tenzin Dolma was very happy at the old folks home. Singe gave her some rupees from our fund for medicine and during festival times so she could make offerings at her shrine.

Ani Tsering Dolma requested a cooking pot. She had only one and she wanted to cook her rice and vegetables separately. Ani Yountro wanted to help with our prayer flag project so we wandered back to Singe’s house where a small crowd had gathered. Singe was covered with black ink. So was the wooden block carved with mantras and auspicious animals. Now if all that enthusiasm could be transferred to the bright cloth stretched out before us…we’d be in business. I packed my bags slowly. This visit had flown by. As I stood to leave Singe filled my tea cup yet another time. When I protested he told me I wasn’t to drink it. “This is so you will come back,” he said.

We walked down the road together, sounds of merriment coming from a neighbor’s house. We caught up with Ani Pema, cane in one hand, bucket in the other, on her way to the well at the edge of the camp. “Ani-la,” I told her. “Please go to the Tibetan doctor. We have made an arrangement with him to give you medicine for your arthritis.” She shook her cane at me, “I’m not going to take any more medicine,” she said. “I’m too old. I will die soon. I have no need for medicine, but I’m telling you, we will all meet in Dewachen.”

The bus was banging and rattling down the road. I had a 14-hour ride ahead of me. It was packed to the gills. I heard my name called as a young Tibetan man gestured me to his seat. I remembered meeting him at Singe’s house. He was in the Indian army, stationed on the Ladak border at 20,000 feet. He had walked up the road several miles in order to save a seat for me. “The fare is paid,” he said as he struggled to exit through the packed and seething multitude. My eyes filled with tears.

“Tashi Deleg,” Tseten Dolma shouted over the din. May all be auspicious!

Prema Dasara

You are invited to send donations for the support of Ani Jetsun’s students and the Tibetan refugee community of Lobersing to the Tara Dhatu Charity Fund.