Open Letter To Disciples and Friends of Khyab Je Kalu Rinpoche

The following article is from the Autumn, 1989 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


Sonada Monastery May 15,1989

At 3 PM, Wednesday, May 10, 1989, our precious Lama, Khyab Je Kalu Rinpoche, passed from this world into the pure realms. In the interest of bringing Rinpoche's presence closer to each of his disciples at this time of our shared loss and grief, we would like to present an account of the events of the last few months, as well as the events that will now unfold.

In late November, Rinpoche travelled with the lamas and monks of his monastery as well as the members of his translation committee, a total of about a hundred persons, to Bern Khyentse Rinpoche's monastery in Bodhgaya. Rinpoche made it clear that he wanted everyone to travel together with him, and so the monastery drove in a caravan of two buses and two carsRinpoche surrounded by his monks and disciplesfrom Sonada to Bodhgaya. Having established the activities of the lamas, monks and the translators, Rinpoche travelled to Los Angeles for a visit of a few weeks, during which he gave a number of empowerments and teachings. Rinpoche was invited to stay in America to build up his strength, but was determined to return to India to support the translation work that has been his principal concern for the last two years.

Upon returning to India, Rinpoche visited Bodhgaya briefly, encouraging his monks and translators in their activities and meeting with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche who was completing a Drupchen at the Kagyu monastery; then he travelled to Sherab Ling, the monastery of Tai Situ Rinpoche. Kalu Rinpoche had been invited on many occasions to visit Sherab Ling and had been unable to go there previously. He felt this would allow him to both participate in the Losar (Tibetan New Year) festivities with Situ Rinpoche and also to visit His Holiness the Dalai Lama who was in residence in Dharamsala at that time. He stayed about one week at Sherab Ling.

While there, Rinpoche was in fact able to visit His Holiness in Dharamsala. They had a long visit, took a meal together, and discussed a number of subjects. His Holiness expressed his pleasure with Rinpoche's activities, promised to do whatever he could to further the work of Rinpoche's translation project, and showed his concern for Rinpoche's health by having his personal physician give Rinpoche a check-up. His Holiness commented that of all the lamas working to spread the Dharma throughout the world, there was none whose activity and kindness were greater than those of Rinpoche.

Rinpoche returned to Bodhgaya and stayed for another two weeks before moving his lamas, monks, and translators, travelling together as before, back to the Darjeeling district on Feb. 22. Since Rinpoche had embarked on the construction of a major stupa in Salugara, near Siliguri, he remained there with all of his monastery for a period of three weeks, during which time the lamas and monks worked on the painting of the relief sculpture adorning the enclosing wall and the making of 100,000 tsa-tsas for the stupa's eventual consecration; the translators continued their work on the translation of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye's Encyclopedia of Knowledge. During this time, Rinpoche spent several hours each day at the stupa site, personally supervising the various projects. Throughout this period Rinpoche's health remained good, his activity undiminished.

On March 21, Rinpoche moved his monastery back up to Sonada. Over several weeks Rinpoche seemed to become weaker, although medical opinion was that he had no specific illness. Lama Gyaltsen, I myself, and others in Rinpoche's entourage encouraged Rinpoche to travel to Singapore or France in order to take advantage of the better conditions there, but Rinpoche steadfastly refused to travel at that time. It was difficult for Rinpoche to eat, and the weakening of his body continued. On April 15, Dr. Wangdi of Darjeeling insisted that Rinpoche enter a hospital in Siliguri. Rinpoche was visited in hospital by many Rinpoches including Chadral Rinpoche, a great Nyingma lama and a close friend, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Gyaltsap Rinpoche and others. Rinpoche's health improved slightly while he was in the hospital, but he continued to refuse suggestions that he seek medical help elsewhere. After two weeks, Rinpoche was determined to return to his monastery in Sonada. The doctor felt strongly that he should remain in the hospital another three weeks. Finally, at the encouragement of myself and Kenpo Donyo, he agreed to remain one more week before returning to Sonada.

Rinpoche arrived home late afternoon on Friday, May 5. He was obviously happy to be home as he was carried up to his house, seated in a sedan-chair carried on the shoulders of several of his lamas, smiling and waving to different individuals. Rinpoche remained in strict retreat except for a short period the morning following his arrival, when he received the traditional welcoming scarves from all the members of the monastery. He remained alert and engaged throughout, occasionally addressing individuals and showing concern for their well-being.

During these few days, Rinpoche was in good spirits and his health seemed stable. Lama Gyaltsen has always found that when asking after Rinpoche's health he would respond that he was well. Even when there would seem to be some external sign of physical difficulty, Rinpoche would apparently be feeling no suffering. So it was during these days. When asked how he was, Rinpoche responded:

Day-time is the cultivation of the experience of illusion.

Night-time is the cultivation of the experience of dream.

Lama Gyaltsen and I both felt that this was a statement of Rinpoche's own state of mind at this time.

On one occasion, Rinpoche expressed the sentiment to me that having lived 85 years, he felt his life had been full and complete. While an ordinary person is never satisfied with his or her life, or craves to live on indefinitely, Rinpoche had no regrets. One concern he did express was the fact that the translation of the Encyclopedia of Knowledge had not been completed, that perhaps his efforts to establish the translation committee had begun to late. Kenpo Donyo and I assured him that the committee was well established, the work well underway. We both promised to see the project through to completion; even if Rinpoche were not to see its realization, the work would be finished and would bear Rinpoche's name.

At 2 AM on the morning of May 10, Rinpoche's condition deteriorated dramatically. Only later did we discover he had suffered a heart attack. When he left the hospital, the doctor had said that his lungs were only working at 40% capacity and that this placed additional strain on his heart. Kenpo Donyo was sent immediately to Siliguri, three hours away, to call the doctor from the hospital. Another car was sent to Darjeeling to call Dr. Wangdi. Chadral Rinpoche was called from his nearby monastery, and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche was called from Rumtek. Chadral Rinpoche and the doctors were able to arrive quickly. Rinpoche was encouraged to return to the hospital in Siliguri, but refused; he said doctors could be called, but he was not leaving the monastery. Later in the morning, all of us having insisted that he return to the hospital, he finally said we could do what we liked. All was prepared for the move, the luggage was in the cars, when Rinpoche indicated he wanted to rest a few moments in his inner room. As he moved into the inner room, he still had full mastery of his body.

In the inner room he was put on oxygen and given glucose intravenously. His bed was pulled out from the wall, and to Rinpoche's right were Lama Gyaltsen and Kenpo Donyo, to Rinpoche's left were myself and Chadral Rinpoche. At one point Rinpoche asked to sit upright. The doctor and nurse forbade him to do so. A short time later he again indicated he wanted to sit up, and again the doctor and nurse adamantly refused to allow this. Lama Gyaltsen felt terrible, but powerless to contradict the doctor. Then Rinpoche himself tried to sit up, and had difficulty doing so. Lama Gyaltsen, feeling that perhaps this was the time, and that to not sit up could create an obstacle for Rinpoche, supported Rinpoche's back as he sat up. Rinpoche extended his hand to me, and I also helped him sit up. Rinpoche wanted to sit absolutely straight, both saying this and indicating with a gesture of his hand. The doctor and nurse were upset by this, and so Rinpoche relaxed his posture slightly. He, nevertheless, assumed meditation posture. Tears were flowing down our faces uncontrollably and our hearts were filled with anguish. Rinpoche placed his hands in meditation posture, his open eyes gazed outwards in meditation gaze, and his lips moved softly. A profound feeling of peace and happiness settled on us all and spread through our minds. All of us present felt that the indescribable happiness that was filling us was the faintest reflection of what was pervading Rinpoche's mind. Lama Gyaltsen also felt a passing experience of the profound sorrow characteristic of compassionate awareness of the suffering pervading cyclic existence. This also was felt to be a gift of Rinpoche's awareness. Slowly Rinpoche's gaze and his eyelids lowered and the breath stopped.

The doctor and nurse wanted to try some extraordinary means to revive the breath, but Chadral Rinpoche indicated that Rir poche should be left resting peacefully.

I have been witness to a number of people passing from this world. Occasionally there is a short rasping breath, occasionally a long inhalation or exhalation. With Rinpoche, there was none of these: a most extraordinary passing into profound meditation.

The doctor performed his examination and then Chadral Rinpoche and I arranged his clothing and left him in his Tuk Dam, the Lama's final meditation. The environment was to be kept quiet, and Rinpoche not disturbed as long as the Tuk Dam lasted. An hour or two later, Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoche arrived and spent a short time with Rinpoche. Later in the evening, Shamar Rinpoche arrived and also sat with Rinpoche. Both remarked how vital Rinpoche's form was, as though any moment he might begin to speak.

By the morning of the third day, Saturday, May 13, all the signs indicating that the Tuk Dam was complete had appeared. As we washed Rinpoche's body and changed his clothes, there were none of the usual traces of body waste or impurity. Also, the body remained soft and flexible, without any stiffness whatsoever. Rinpoche's body, now called Ku Dung, was then placed in a prepared case covered in brocade and set in Rinpoche's audience room.

In consultation with Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Chadral Rinpoche, the decision was made not to cremate the Ku Dung, but to prepare it as a Mar Dung, so that it would always be with us. This was a practiced tradition in Tibet. In this way, the physical aspect of the Lama's form remains as a relic, a basis for religious inspiration. The Lama's activity continues as beings are liberated through seeing, hearing, considering, touching, or praising the relic of his Mar Dung. It is said that any connection whatsoever becomes beneficial, whether the mind of the being is positively inclined or not. In this way, the Mar Dung becomes the basis for the spreading and longevity of the Doctrine, the basis for both temporal and ultimate benefit of beings.

The departure of Khyab Je Kalu Rinpoche from this world is a moment of extraordinary sadness for all sentient beings. The world has become a darker, a poorer place for his absence. The gentleness of his being, the pervasiveness of his kindness, the brilliance of his wisdom, and the irresistibility of his sense of humor touched hearts in every part of the world. The subtlety of his insight and his total mastery of mind and phenomena is beyond the grasp of our ordinary understanding. It is difficult to fathom our extraordinary good fortune to have met and established a Dharma connection with such an enlightened being. And now there is no avoiding a feeling of profound personal sorrow at our loss.

Through Rinpoche's teaching, however, and our understanding of the Dharma, we know that all composite phenomena are impermanent, and that where we truly meet our Lama is in the ultimate openness of mind. The Lama has never been separate from us, and never will be separate from us. What remains for us to do is to be true to Rinpoche's vision, his example, his teaching, and advice. This we can do through shedding our sorrow and celebrating the gifts of immeasurable kindness he has given us, through maintaining the purity of our commitments and our vajra bonds, through cultivating the qualities of enlightened being that Rinpoche so clearly demonstrated to us. And to do all this with the deepest prayers to Rinpoche that he quickly take human form, and return again to be with us.

With sincere best wishes to you all,

Bokar Tulku Rinpoche Lama Gyaltsen Kenpo Lodro Donyo


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