Tsoknyi Rinpoche was giving a month-long retreat in Argentina, and when he heard that his old friend and attendant Lama Tashi had returned to Osel Ling from his long wandering retreat he was very happy and excited. He talked to Tashi briefly and saw an interesting photo of him. Thinking he’d like to share Lama Tashi’s story and his experience with his students, many of whom know Tashi, he asked me, Judy Amtzis, to interview him and write a short article.
“I learned that well-being and happiness are things that have to be obtained from within yourself. No one is going to give them to you. You have to learn to be wherever you are and to appreciate that, to be with it and be happy with it, not to hope for anything else at that particular moment. ”
In these words, Lama Tashi summed up the experience of his three and a half years of retreat, traveling through the Himalayas of India and Nepal, as well as different parts of India, the traditional Buddhist pilgrimage areas of Bihar and Sikkim, along with Ladakh and Kashmir, Amritsar in the Punjab and Mysore in the south. The first two years and three months he was accompanying Mingyur Rinpoche and the last 15 months he was on his own. Both while he was with Rinpoche and when alone, Tashi kept away from monasteries, seeking to remain anonymous. He and Rinpoche were treated well both in Buddhist and Hindu areas. They travelled on foot, by train or bus, or by hitchhiking, depending on the distance and the money they had. Wherever they were, once the local people saw that they were peaceful practitioners, living simply and devoting themselves to their meditation practice, they began to visit, to see what they needed, offering food and especially milk, the most popular gift.
Lama Tashi, who had been a long serving attendant to both Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche, unexpectedly encountered Mingyur Rinpoche on one of his brief visits to Kathmandu during the second year of his solitary wandering retreat. When Lama Tashi asked Rinpoche if he could join him, Rinpoche answered that he didn’t need anything, and didn’t need an attendant, but that if Tashi wanted to engage in a practice retreat of his own, he was welcome to come along. Throughout his retreat Lama Tashi received and practiced teachings from Mingyur Rinpoche, beginning with the preliminary practices all the way through the highest practices of Mahamudra, using the text Ocean of Certainty. Although Tashi was the only student, Rinpoche taught in the same formal manner and with the same detailed explanations he uses when teaching a large group.
Describing his feelings while on retreat, Lama Tashi says, “This was a very different experience for me, a real challenge for my practice. It was the true practice of practice. I felt like I was stepping into change. It was a great experience because as time passed and I dealt with my difficulties, emotional and practical, my previous memories begin to feel like a dream. Now already my new experiences feel dreamlike.”
Lama Tashi explained what it was like during his time with Mingyur Rinpoche. “Following Rinpoche I had no clue what we were going to eat, or where we were going to stay. Every time I started to make a little plan, that always fell apart. I ate whatever was available, and slept wherever we were when it was time to sleep. I had to totally let go of planning. My intention was to receive teaching and to practice, wherever Rinpoche was or while he was travelling. That was my commitment. I had to let go of all expectation.”
The best part, he shared, was Rinpoche’s kindness and generosity. “He was so engaging and free. I felt like I was meeting a new teacher every day. Being with Rinpoche was amazing because no matter what time of day or night, what circumstances, he never complained or felt any difficulty. He was always in a state of great joy and freedom.”
After Mingyur Rinpoche returned to Bodhgaya, Lama Tashi continued on his own, first in the vicinity of Tashi Ding in Sikkim and then in South India. Later he went to Bhutan, and again to Sikkim. After spending some time in Assam, he returned to Nepal through Siliguri.
Assessing his experience, Lama Tashi says, “I have learned a lot about who I am, and that previously I was more fixated. Now I am more relaxed and feel more free. Before my retreat I was mostly with the same kind of people, with some degree — even if small — of wealth and education, but during my retreat I was with all different kinds of people, and I learned that satisfaction and happiness are possible in all different circumstances, because they come from within.” Although his situation was different every day, Lama Tashi says he didn’t miss anything from his previous life. At present, he has no future plans, and is still practicing.
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