In WISDOM TEACHERS by Sherab Gyatso Alex1 Comment

In the crisp, yet moist spring air of an early morning in 1991 while disembarking from Moscow train built in the fashion of mid 20th century at the Keleti Railway Station of Budapest, having successfully circumvented remains of the Iron Curtain would I then think that a few brief years later I will be kneeling in front of the Kyabje Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche deep in the rural upstate part of NY and asking for his blessing?

Sure, it is possible to imagine, but also quite hard to really see at the time. Like a regular car ride North from New York City through endless woods, more woods and some more of the same, all to culminate at an opening with some corn fields to the left and right, few residences and finally a large symmetrical western structure with curious details of colorful carved dragons supporting corners of the roof and Dharma wheel upheld by the pair of deer above the front doors. It is a journey, in which you have to go the distance and apply effort to go one can say “into the wild” to end up in an autonomous island of Tibetan Buddhism in the middle of what feels like a perfect no-where. A very fitting metaphor for journey of life and knowing what plans to make, all apparently in order to end up in a place where one wants to be but does not quite yet know it exists.

Kyabje Penor Rinpoche founded the Upstate NY Retreat Center around 1998 and guided a program of study and meditation, that continues today, much alike one in the Palyul Namdrolling Monastery of South India, for a number of years. For each attendee there were ways to receive instructions as a part of the group in the main temple and in relationship to their individual practice. It would not be an understatement that this unique month long summer retreat would culminate in a series of interviews with the Rinpoche and Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso. And so it came to pass that in 2003 while taking just a few days off work in the City I journeyed upstate to ask with my head bowed and palpable taste of angst: “Rinpoche, I really would like to become a monk and there seems a lot of obstacles to that”. With very happy air Rinpoche bowing his head in approval again and again spoke smiling, telling me that I should not worry, for it is clear to him that over time, slowly, slowly all the obstacles will be resolved and everything will be better.

So, in some way Rinpoche told me everything that I wanted to hear and nothing that I knew. This timeless wisdom of giving simple, correct advice can not be more honest. And while at the time it felt too simple or too general, my utmost respect for the great lama and actual passage of time turned this into a teaching on how to respect what we call problems or obstacles, how such become similar to the trees when one travels in a wooded area, the trees work as road signs and understanding that one is getting closer to the destination makes one appreciate seeing each one of them, in passing.

At around this time during 2009 from about March 27th to about April 3rd Kyabje Penor Rinpoche abided in the tukdam meditation while in South Indian Palyul Namdrolling Monastery.

Here is an exerpt from one of the public updates that were provided: “…The 11th Throneholder of the Palyul Lineage of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, entered the final stage of meditation at 8:20 PM on Friday, March 27, 2009, at the Palyul Namdroling Monastery in Bylakuppe, South India.
Earlier at noon, His Holiness received offerings from many of the highest Nyingma Lamas, Tulkus and dignitaries who had assembled to pay homage to him. Rinpoche left Columbia Asia Hospital at 3:30 PM with the help of the Bhutanese Government, who arranged a police escort. He reached Palyul Namdroling at 6:40 PM and remained on his bed at the residence. Tulkus, Khenpos and lamas did aspiration prayers together with His Holiness until 8:20 PM. At that time Rinpoche looked around and then closed his eyes and went into meditation.
Prayers continued for 5 minutes and then everyone remained in silence for the next two hours. His Holiness’ meditation continues today,…

Thank you for reminding us all that there is such a wonderful thing as passage of time and that at this time this great online service has turned two years old. As time passes, it seems to me now that it is the direction that we seem to be headed, all that matters and never the speed, effectiveness of the travel method or seeming stress that lack of instant arrival may cause. With that I make aspirations that I and anyone one connecting to this story may glimpse some of the great calm and wisdom that I feel I came ever so close, to almost feel in an Embodiment of this great master, anniversary of whose passing from the body of that life coincides with the anniversary of the founding of the Levekunst. Picture attached is Kyabje Penor Rinpoche on the lawn in front of the NY upstate Retreat Center at the end of 2004 summer retreat.

About the Author
Sherab Gyatso Alex

Sherab Gyatso Alex


Alex Sherab Gyatso is a married, Russian born yogi practitioner residing in Upstate NY with focus in practice lineages of Buddhist Dharma of Tibet, mostly as it reaches us today in the West through Nyingma traditions. Born in 1974 in Soviet Union, Moscow. The country that at time did not have a state-wide religious following and although since the time of 2nd world war Russian Greek Orthodox Church was allowed to have the doors open in just about every city, it still would remain to be very private undertaking to go in. A most memorable story about the spirituality that in a way very definably “set me sail” was a moment when I stood in from of the bookshelf and pointing to several volumes of old, beautifully bound books titled “Religions of the World” I asked my father: “Which one is the best?” To which my father rather fast but in a thoughtful way said: “Buddhism for sure” As I was eight and have read captions and looked all over the books, I could place it in the book somewhat. So, in same thoughtful way I asked: “Why Buddhism?” Then answer arrived that had to be explored again, my father said: “It is the easiest one” To that I surely had to ask, again: “How is it easy?” My father then continuing: “All you need is to know your mind” With a slight puzzling feel I asked then: “How do you know your mind?” Assuredly my father said to that: “Through reflective contemplation, of course” Somehow taking it at a face value, I seemed to know what he was talking about, likely only a child of eight could be so sure about such things. Through that I had unfailing connection to the Buddhism to this moment. I have gone on to become a fine arts painter, through that I was always interested in urban sage figures and painting sounds of music bands in performance. With my mother immigrating through Eastern Europe to America I could rebuild my understanding of what is around me, what is to be my home, ideas, and furnishings, all from scratch. Lack of fluency in English language seriously hampered my art career as well. This turned into a blessing in reality, because I have met American life face-to-face while working in antique stores, antiquarian book stores and at some point becoming a chef and running a kitchen of a restaurant, all prompting very intense self-examination.

Featured image provided by the author.

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  1. Sherab Gyatso Alex Author

    About the picture of Kyabje Penor Rinpoche (1932-2009) in the armchair outside the main temple of Palyul NY Upstate Retreat Center.
    Taken in 2004, or according to the Tibetan lunar calendar year of the Wood Monkey and Rinpoche was 72 it was an interesting experience in the Upstate Retreat Center. Up to that point we were instantly used to Penor Rinpoche leading all chants with the deep voice, coming to the Temple often, offering empowerments and teachings, even if you did not experience this for long this was instant polaroid-like picture of your “mental image” of how things are. In 2004 however, Rinpoche came to the retreat center at the time of Summer Retreat but was said to be unwell, resting at the residence and was seldom seen in the Temple, everyone was alarmed and in the same time it felt like Rinpoche is watching us all ever more attentively, there was a great sense of happy calm and in the same time of profound sadness. It was raining quite a bit and was also colder then usual. Palyul Tulku Thubsang Rinpoche offered most of the retreat’s empowerments. The picture is taken on one of the last days of this month long retreat when Penor Rinpoche came to the temple and people were taking pictures. Kongpo Lama Sonam Wangchuk (1959-2007) followed Kyabje Rinpoche with the camera and made a whole roll later giving me the roll to develop he told me that I can have any pictures I like. This one stood out because even after 10 years it reminds me perfectly of the feelings of great calm and concern that permeated the time.

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