The Dharmakaya Comes to Cape Breton
by Jigme Sheldrön
Thursday August 23rd. I knew something was up when I found myself in the dining room at ten o'clock at night making flower garlands. Past my bedtime here, and flower garlands? Well it seems we had a stupa to consecrate, and no one to do it for us, so we were going to have to do it all. 70 feet of flower garlands says the lama, so we made them. 100 bowls for saffron water offerings, and we scrounged them from the three-year retreat house. 100 candles in holders too please! But of course!
Friday August 24th. Day one dawns to an invasion of wasps in the kitchen. I swear they were swarming out of a light fixture, but maybe someone left the door open. In any case a couple of us swiftly and silently help them back out the door while the cook works in the dining room. Auspicious, we tell ourselves.
Nine a.m., time for the ceremonies to begin and it starts to rain. The hundred hastily yet patiently lit candles succumb in short order. Various types of scrambling occur as attempts are made to keep the throne dry. Just as nerves are getting ever so slightly touchy, the skies open up for real and it pours, and then what can we do but laugh and get soaking wet and postpone until the afternoon. Apparently rain is auspicious too. Lucky us!
Back at the "house" some dear soul has provided warm zucchini bread, enough for all and then some. We had talked in a house meeting just a few days prior about "what if it rains and there are 100 people here for lunch?" Not a hundred, but more than usual, and it seems lunch is no big deal. People sit where they can, as we do when there are more of us than will fit in the dining room. And there is plenty of food. Our cooks and their various helpers from parts near and far make sure of that.
Back to the stupa for 2 p.m. and the relit candles refuse to stay lit in the stiff breeze the rain has left in its wake. It will not be until the next morning that the lamas will have their windproof "butter lamps", but then they will burn all day, only the occasional one needing to be relit.
And so the consecration begins. The very venerable and wonderfully smiling Thrangu Rinpoche presiding from the miraculously dried and reassembled throne. Four lamas sit to his right, playing jahlings, kanglings, sillnyen and drum. Chanting along to the several different rhythms, which will become familiar in the next couple of days. All in Tibetan, so most of us have no idea what they are saying, but it sounds beautiful and when the lamas make offerings, their hands creating mudras are so supple and gentle that one cannot imagine them ever making a fist. And then there is lama Tashi, tapping his dorje on the handle of his bell. This sound will forever mean consecration to me. The sight of Rinpoche creating a physical connection between his mind/heart centre and the stupa is moving and inspiring. We should all perhaps aspire to such generosity.
Day two dawns bright and sunny. This will be the cause of some further adventures, as we try to keep the sun from baking Thrangu Rinpoche. We have pictures of the one stalwart monk who did his best Mary Poppins, holding a small umbrella up for a good half hour, before someone came up with a huge one behind which the whole of Rinpoche disappeared.
The chanting continues, indistinguishable from the day before, and over the course of the day a few more people arrive with each passing hour. Lunch is outside today, a picnic on the front lawn. Kids running about, people eating rolled up sandwiches and potato chips. Can this be the Abbey?
On the afternoon of day two a new kind of circumambulation is introduced to us by Rinpoche's chöpön. Patiently he begins to line up the small contingent of Abbey monastics. Then the unthinkable happens. My cohort and I walk once around the stupa in a total false start, leaving the poor patient monk shaking his head. Once he has us all lined up we do manage to walk about with some dignity, trying all of us to keep track and stop after three times around. That afternoon as well, Rinpoche gives a talk on what the stupa represents, what the consecration is about and what we can use the stupa for once it is consecrated. The dharmakaya has come to a hillside at the end of the world.
The gathered crowd swells to over 100 for the final day. Local people, curious to see the new addition to their neighbourhood, people from the area sangha, and from Halifax, and people from much further away. All are drawn here by this white and gold manifestation of something that happened 2500 years ago and is still happening today. I can close my eyes now, hear the tap of dorje on bell, see the string leading from the offerings on the stupa to the middle of Thrangu Rinpoche's chest, and I can almost understand what we all did on those three days in August.