Nothing Else

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Sometime in the early 80’s, I was helping Trungpa Rinpoche with names for the Vajrayogini abhisheka. I think it was my first time doing that, so it was likely 1983 or 1984. Larry and I, possibly Robin too, were summoned to the Court some time after midnight. I would guess that there were over 200 students receiving the abhisheka from Rinpoche that year, and, one-by-one Rinpoche would be presented with each person by name, possibly a picture, and if he seemed uncertain of who he or she was, one of us would attempt a description or remind the Vidyadhara of when and where he might have known them. He would then suggest a vajrayana name, I would quickly check to make sure he hadn’t selected the same name for someone else receiving the abhisheka that year, and then he would execute a calligraphy and we would agree on the English translation.

This took hours, as Rinpoche painstakingly considered each student. It was well past dawn before he was finished. I was not only impressed but quite moved — the care and attention he was paying to each and every person receiving empowerment from him, some of whom he barely knew, at least in our conventional understanding of such things. What was particularly moving was when one contrasted how such things were usually done. With the possible exception of the names for a handful of high-ranking Rinpoches receiving the empowerment, abhisheka names are traditionally just a bunch of appropriate names scribbled down by the assisting staff and handed out randomly during the ceremony. Here Rinpoche was thinking of each and every student and offering them a calligraphy of their name.

I said words to that effect to Rinpoche: how moving it was to see him do this, contrary to tradition, when he didn’t have to, how much care for his students it showed. I don’t remember any longer his exact words, but he said something to the effect of:

When I was crossing the Brahmaputra and the Chinese were shooting at us, bullets whizzing over our heads, I thought that if I were to survive, my only purpose would be to dedicate my life to whatever students I might have, whoever might be interested in the dharma. There was nothing else that mattered, nothing else worth living for. Nothing has changed in my mind since that moment.

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Scott Wellenbach
Scott Wellenbach is a member of the Nalanda Translation Committee in Halifax, Nova Scotia.