by Judith Pickering
When we heard that we had not much more time with our Master on this earth in this particular human form, I resolved to fly to Merigar to be with him and with the community in these final days. It felt vital to make a strong personal connection with the world-wide Sangha, that is, our Vajra Kin, across the globe as well as with my beloved master of all times. I had never been to another Gar outside Australia.
Tuesday 25th September 2018
I arrived in Pisa early morning on Tuesday 25th September, the day after Rinpoche had arrived back in Merigar after being in hospital in Siena. I shared a car and lodging with a lovely woman from England; an angel! We went straight to the Gönpa: a time of continuous collective practice, all of us in the same state, spilling out onto the rocks and gardens, silence enveloping us in deep peace and serenity, as we are all part of the one state of being, yet flowing, interconnected.
My angel friend and I stayed at an old farm in a wood of chestnuts, run by Nicoletta with her mother’s warm heart who said how she knew Adriano Clemente since he was very young and other members of the Community very well.
We practiced all day and all night yet surrounded with a gentleness of spirit, deep, deep peace and quietude. Three days of practice while Rinpoche was in final Samadhi. Watching them prepare the Great Stupa where his body would be laid to rest, the power, the poignancy, the deep peace as if his Wisdom mind was in some mysterious way enveloping us all in his embrace all of us one sangha in the same state.
Thursday September 27 2018
At 9.10 pm on Thursday September 27th our beloved master entered Tugdam, the state of samadhi where his presence is still residing in the body, deep in contemplation, a time in which miracles occur.
Monday October 1st 2018
We were all invited to come before dawn to pay our last respects to Rinpoche in Samadhi.
Early in the morning, long before dawn, we get up in silence. We drive through the narrow roads of villages and up hills and round corners shivering in the cold of pre-dawn. We silently gather at the top of the hill. I feel both one with this community and terribly alone. We wait, a long time, as people go in small groups walking down in single file. A gentle man I’d met but a day before, happens to fall in line behind me. I am grateful for such a compañeros.
The poignancy of something so personal and intimate, yet so collective and universal, huddling together in silence in the cold grey light. Day dawns illuminating hundreds of sangha silently taking refuge, praying, practicing, purifying, incarnating and realizing all that we have been taught, all so overwhelmed by profound gratitude for all we have been given, the extraordinary vast treasures of teachings imparted over aeons.
The poignancy of watching little groups set out on the journey down the hill to see our master, each given a flower, long stemmed white roses, red roses, daisies, all manner of flowers. A fifteen minute walk symbolizing the pilgrimage of life, the path towards enlightenment, a journey to pay homage to One where there is no finality, no death, just transmutation into pure primordial being, eternal presence.
It is a day when reality is charged with Reality, every moment is pregnant with pure being, every blade of grass, every pebble under foot, the atmosphere, the light, the trees, the sense of community, of solitude and togetherness.
Crying yet feeling strangely at peace and utterly blessed as if our precious one, our Rinpoche’s wisdom mind is radiating out, enveloping us all in perfect all-encompassing compassion, love, ultimate Bodhicitta, we are all part of his mind and we are walking down the path of his being, as if his primordial Dharmakāya state is eternity and universal and we are simply walking down the path to the centre of our own being.
The walk itself felt utterly blessed, each of us carrying a different flower, down the road lined with pebbles, the soft crunch as we walk in meditation chanting the Vajrasattva mantra, the soft light of dawn enveloping us in peace past the stupa which would be Rinpoche’s final resting place, down through forest, round corners. Some hurried and over-took me, another was walking in such slow silent mindful mediation and I fell into the rhythm of her footsteps as well as the rhythm of reciting the 100 syllable mantra of Vajrasattva, coordinating with the breath and body of movement: and those behind also fell into step. I did not turn to see who was following but knew other sangha were behind me and felt solidarity and comfort in this. The gentle compañeros was right behind me and I felt great comfort having someone I knew falling into step with my steps. We walk down this hill and we walk and we walk, each nanosecond a precious moment of pure nowness, through beautiful forests of juniper, past rose hips, silently reciting the Vajrasattva mantra, co-ordinating our footsteps with one another and with our breathing and with the mantra, our little pilgrimage to Rinpoche’s house.
My compañeros didn’t see the tears streaming down my face but I felt his moral support and comfort. The presence of our support and kindness for each other, the sense that we must look after each other more than ever in the times to come.
We rounded the bend and could then see Rinpoche’s house and a huge arch of disciples in single file walking past his bedroom. At this moment I felt the grief of witnessing everyone’s silent grief, my heart going out to all, the utter pathos of this.
Every blade of grass seemed distinct and palpably alive, vibrant, the sky was shimmering but full of clouds, moving and dispersing. A quince tree had shed its fruit, golden balls of light upon the ground. I thought how much I would like to take a fallen fruit. Attachment! remember the gold, leave the fruit. Beyond the garden a field merging into the countryside of mountain heath, sheep, forest, clouds…
We arrive at the garden outside Rinpoche’s house and there are slow lines of people, slowly processing with their flowers.
I stand waiting, tears streaming down my face, with my long-stemmed rose. My vajra friend who is behind me turns to me and touches his white rose to my red rose, as if two lamas touching foreheads, acknowledgement he is with me in spirit, there beside me, we are in this together. As if just to acknowledge solidarity, in this moment that is both so intimate yet so private, so personal, so solitary, so interdependent, all these things at the same time
The garden was full of those who had seen him and were meditating.
And then our little group was circling round to reach the house and approach the bedroom. A strange sense of stillness, dignity, clarity, peace, tranquillity. Behind me I heard my friend break down in grief and my heart went out to him but I dared not turn as I was concerned any noise might disturb the samadhi of Rinpoche. I watched Thupten Rabgyi guides us in pairs to stand in the window shrouded in Kata cloths of blessings paid homage.
Rinpoche was draped in the silk scarves of the five elements. His face was radiating peace and presence. This was not a body where the spirit had already departed but Rinpoche in samadhi, radiating peace, pure presence, the nature of mind, utter realisation so utterly real and profoundly present that to gaze on that face was to gaze on the face of primordial purity, primordial wisdom, śūnyatā, pure presence, and to enter that state of contemplation. Bowing, offering the flower, paying respects.
And I heard a voice of Rinpoche telling me to look after each other, to look after all. We are all on the same boat, vajra brothers and sisters and his wisdom mind is in us.
Afterwards I went to meditate in the field which overlooked the valley. To be in nature, to gaze on the sky with its spectacular light show of moving cloud formations, the sheep on the hill, mist clearing to reveal forest, gorse, heather, sheep on the hill… silence, movement, stillness, deep peace.
This day feels more Real than real, every blade of grass is shimmering with dew catching the light of dawn, trees rustling in the breeze, clouded sky threatening lightning and thunder, clouds parting to reveal glimpses of dharmakāya blue sky beyond. Everything is simply so alive, as if I had woken up to a new day of freshness without obscuration of cloudy thoughts and emotions, as if a veil had been removed, as if someone had taken away cataracts and I could see clearly without hinderance and obscuration clouding my vision.
There was only a handful of people left now. We wandered slowly up the hill through forest then clearing and went to the stupa where by now all our flower offerings had been placed. I circumambulated the stupa three times then went up the hill…
And we walk so slowly up the hill again through forest then the clearing where the stupa is. The stupa which is empty but where our beloved master’s Khugong, his precious corpse, will be placed. To feel his presence for all time. He is present, he is with us, he as present as he ever has been, he is not someone who has departed and I am filled with a strange unexpected sense of joy and utter gratitude.
We have been given every single dharma treasure, every single teaching, everything we could possibly ever need for our enlightenment.
We have been so blest, so utterly blest, so, so blest.
And now I end this by saying thank you and promising to do what I can to be kind to others, to help, to heal, to console, to encourage, and to do all I can to try to realize the teachings in the next stage of my life. So fortunate, Mangalam, to have these precious dharma treasures entrusted to us. To live every day now as if it is the first day of this new life.This is the day where something has really begun. And I think ‘this is the first day of the rest of my life ‘for my life has turned a corner and a new sense of renunciation, of resolve to let go of all that is not the path, of determination to walk the path in fidelity, a new day, a bright day, as Rinpoche is strangely more alive than ever, dharmakāya alive …
With great luck it might be I have another thirty years to practice and try to realise all that has been imparted. To try to realise all the profound teachings. I feel like one after confession, a completely blank slate, the Vajrasattva mantras have done their work completely pure, pure pure pure.
I sit in the garden continuing the practice of Vajrasattva, Guru Yoga, the Song of Vajra. Gazing into the sky and it seems it has never been so astounding, not clear like Dharmakāya sky, full of clouds, but clouds moving, and swirling and parting to reveal the bright blue sky behind and the sun peeks through bathing the verdant green landscape in golden light, the mist rolls upon the hills where sheep are grazing, and it feels like we are sitting at the beginning of time
And here we are all together in one state of contemplation, united all doing our internal practice, but in one state. I sit there a long time; this part of the garden has so few there is no need to leave.
Eventually I know it is time to get up and go so I go and sit for a moment in the garden closer to the house where there is another gathering of other people. And I sit and I pray …
I notice people are going up behind the house and I take my courage and I go up there where people are standing above the room, we can’t see in but we know he is there.
And then we are told it is time to go. And we walk so slowly up the hill again through forest then the clearing where the stupa is. The stupa which is empty but where our beloved master’s Khugong, his precious corpse, will be placed. To feel his presence for all time. He is present, he is with us, he as present as he ever has been, he is not someone who has departed and I am filled with a strange unexpected sense of joy and utter gratitude. We have been given every single dharma treasure, every single teaching, everything we could possibly ever need for our enlightenment.
We have been so blessed, so utterly blest, so, so blessed.
And now I end this by saying thank you and promising to do what I can to be kind to others, to help, to heal, to console, to encourage, and to do all I can to try to realise the teachings in the next stage of my life. So fortunate, Mangalam, to have these precious dharma treasures entrusted to us. To live every day now as if it is the first day of this new life. This is the day where something has really begun.
Quoting Costantino Albini’s testimonial given at the ceremony at the Great Stupa, Merigar West, October 3, 2018:
Now, Master, we, your students, are thousands and are all over the earth. Today there are many of us and we are here to pay homage to you but this is not a farewell, it is not a goodbye. You, Master, live in the heart of each one of us. Thanks to your compassion we are now your Body that continues to live. Let us continue the journey together, to bring your vision to fulfillment. We will carry your projects, your ideas, your endeavours forward and we will evolve in every corner of the planet. We will be with you again and again, for many lives to come, until Supreme Realization. This is your promise. This is and will be our life. Master, Rinpoche, thank you.
With heart-felt, total, utter gratitude to our Master, our precious jewel, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, the pearl of great price, and to all the sangha.