Gratitude Series #21~ Chinese New Year with Tsem Rinpoche

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In this gratitude series I wish to say Thank you Rinpoche for the many “Chinese New Year” (CNY) dinners I got to spend with Rinpoche. Being in a country where the second biggest population celebrates this occasion, it is usually very quiet in the *Ladrang (the residence of His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche) at this time of the year. Many students would have gone back to their respective hometown or have dinners with their immediate family in the city.

Since my hometown is Kuala Lumpur, my parents are deceased and my only immediate family is my sister who is usually busy during most festive occasions, hence I usually go on holidays and not celebrate this occasion like the norm. Rinpoche will always care enough to ask what I was going to do for CNY and Rinpoche will joke and say things like “well you can join in and celebrate with all of us ‘foreign workers’ (including Rinpoche himself who is not Malaysian)” and laugh. This is Rinpoche, always finding ways to make things amusing and making sure that no one is left out. I always thought that Rinpoche would feel lonely because his family is not here in Malaysia. Instead, Rinpoche never thinks about himself but He plans those of us who are alone or may feel lonely during this festive period.

I consider myself to be very lucky to be able to hang out with Rinpoche during these type of festive family occasions. To be close to Rinpoche is already a privilege, to be made to feel part of Rinpoche’s little “family” is a very humbling honour. I am definitely not special, but it is Rinpoche who because of His practice in compassion and kindness, Rinpoche would make you feel special. As a foreigner living in Malaysia, Rinpoche always empathise with those whose parents are not around or those far away from their home during this festive period. This meant a lot to me not just because I don’t have a “family” but because my Guru, His Eminence Tsem Tulku Rinpoche a highly attained Lama, wants to spend Chinese New Year with clown like me. The fact that Rinpoche would even consider inviting me to just hang out with Rinpoche is a blessing! Justin Ripley (my husband) and I treasure these times spent with Rinpoche very much, especially because Rinpoche does not celebrate this festival, but he did it for us. Rinpoche also made a lot prayers and offerings during this time for all sentient beings to be happy and for world piece. Dharma is always a priority in any occasion.

I remember one simple yet special Chinese New Year dinner with Rinpoche. We had some simple take-aways for dinner, but we made a lot of light offerings – Rinpoche prepared a lot candles all around the outdoor patio surrounding the house. Each candle we lit we made strong prayers and dedications to our loved ones, for Kechara, for Dharma to grow and spread, for wisdom and all things good. Rinpoche cracked a lot of jokes, challenged us with some ‘pick game’ lines, and we spent the night watching a video of one of Rinpoche’s favourite artist in concert – Madonna.

This is on top of the many “ang pows” (Chinese Red Packets) Rinpoche would give us, including me, which is usually no less than RM500 during this festive occasion. Besides that Rinpoche would also spend thousands of ringgits on Chinese New Years clothes for us. Rinpoche would get the Kechara Care Team to bring us out “shopping” for our CNY clothes in the malls. I remembered going to 1Utama shopping mall to literally pick out whatever you want with a budget of like a thousand to spend on! So imagine how much Rinpoche would have had to spend for all the full-time staff. For the Chinese it is custom to have and wear new clothes during Chinese New Year.

I am very fortunate to be in my Lama’s residence, which in Vajrayana Buddhism it is considered the heart mandala of the spiritual organisation. It is the most blessed and highly energised place. So to be able to have a ‘family’ reunion dinner with my Lama, making offerings to the Buddhas and NOT making it another empty feasting and drinking occasion, is beyond me feeling Blessed, Loved, and of all, Lucky! What more can I ever ask for?

I am forever grateful to Rinpoche for giving me such privileges which I often take for granted. The most precious gift anyone can ask for is to be in the Guru’s mandala. Sometimes I wonder how on earth I ended up with such good fortune to have met Tsem Rinpoche and to be so close to Rinpoche, because I definitely have not done much to deserve this much.  “Thank yous” are not enough.

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Rinpoche loves to make a lot of light offerings and encourage others to do. These are candle offerings beautifully made in front of Lama Tsongkhapa in Kechara Forest Retreat.

*Ladrang: Tibetan word for the private ‘office or residence’ of the High Lama.

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