Reverent Reverbs

Monks At Green River (1971)
Rab Wilkie

The air was crisp and cool that evening and the grassy path was covered with fallen leaves as we walked past a large shed towards the house, looming white amidst great dark trees.

Rinpoche, maroon-robed, sat on a simple wooden high-back chair, Western style.

For some students, after another summer adventure, this time dodging blue lightning bolts in the monsoon drenched foothills of the Himalayas, the occasion felt like a quiet afterthought.

We had travelled with Rinpoche to India and Sikkim to meet the Sixteenth Karmapa, the Dalai Lama, HH Sakya Trizen, and other high lamas. Of the 108 pilgrims who had gathered at Dharamsala in July, and of the 75 or so who later had jeeped the avalanched mountains beyond Kalimpong into Sikkim and Rumtek Monastery, there might have been a double dozen of us who had returned to Toronto.. by various routes and at various times from mid August to September. Others had dispersed homeward in different directions, most to Canada, some to the United States or Europe.

I borrowed money to fly from Dumdum Airport in New Delhi to Toronto via Moscow.. where I did not get the vodka I ordered at the bar during our 45 minute layover because the service was so slow.

Rinpoche was back by early October, and classes began again at his house on Palmerston Boulevard. By then we were scattered about the city, looking for work and dwellings while staying with friends or friends of friends. Then word went around that Rinpoche would be enthroned at Green River, near Markham.

The crowd wasn't huge, perhaps 25 or 30 people, neither was the living-room. It wasn't a long ceremony. It began after dusk, darkness deepening, glowing candles inside.

Rinpoche sat on a chair while Lama Karma Thinley Rinpoche, who conducted the ceremony, sat on the carpet in front of him. Karma Thinley was the only other lama present. Tibetan rinpoches in Canada were few in those days. Karma Thinley was the only one we knew, and probably the first to live in Canada. He had arrived recently leading a contingent of fellow refugees to settle in Lindsay, sponsored by the Dharma Centre of Canada, instigated by Namgyal Rinpoche. They were the first.

Karma Thinly did most of the chanting (in Tibetan) followed by an Amitabha puja and meditation.

Aside from the depth of warmth, that's about all I can remember.

Rinpoche joked about getting "off the throne" and getting on with things - as if this had been mere protocol - yet we all felt that we had participated, however briefly, in an historical event with profound implications. One of many, which just kept on happening.

The following year, 1972, Rinpoche and students returned India once again, but 1971 was the great expedition. With repercussions and rumours that peeped into print in the oddest places.

During the Yukon summer of 1973 while manning a fire lookout atop Tagish Mountain, I watched the helicopter that brought supplies land like Nijinsky. In my mail were a few Dharma booklets written by Yogi Chen in Kalimpong. As addenda he included letters from his personal mailbag and a pre-web blog of local Himalayan gossip: "over a hundred Catholics", two summers ago, had descended on Rumtek to meet the Karmapa.

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