Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Advice to Geshe Jampa Gyatso’s Students
Chanting the Names of Manjushri
News of Geshe-la’s Passing
Nov 27th | Nov 28th | Nov 29th
Dec 2nd | Dec 3rd | Dec 4th
Dec 8th | Dec 10th | Dec 14th
Sorry to take so long to get back to you with the details of what happened on December 14th, but I needed to dedicate some time to sorting out the Masters Program.
On December 13th, Geshe Tenzin Tenphel, Tulku Gyatso, Minyak Rinpoche, and Tenzin Tashi Rinpoche returned from the teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Milan. Tulku Gyatso had been able to speak to His Holiness about Geshe-la’s passing away, and His Holiness recommended that we recite Chanting the Names of Manjushri, the Migtsema (prayer of Lama Tsongkhapa), the name mantra of Lama Tsongkhapa, and the mantra of Buddha Shakyamuni for the swift return of Geshe-la’s incarnation.
On the morning of the 14th, the lamas recited the preliminary prayers that had been recommended by the astrologer, Geshe Ngawang Drakpa. Shortly after 8:00 AM, they came to the cremation sutra where, standing in a semi-circle around it, they recited the prayer of Homage to Buddha Shakyamuni followed by the Heart Sutra. The evening before the table of light offerings had been moved away from the cremation stupa, the gazebo had been moved over it to protect it from rain, and the electric lights had been hung around it. Now the photos of Geshe-la were removed, and “doors” in the four directions (which had previously been sealed with bricks and cement and then the images of the four directional protectors), where opened. Ven. Massimo, who had been chosen to represent the monks and Ven. Laura, who was to represent the nuns, along with Geshe Tenzin Tenphel and Thubten Sonam, were given white gloves and a kata to cover their mouth, and then they sat or kneeled down in front of the openings to begin sifting through the ashes for pieces of bone. I too was close by as I tried to keep a photo documentary of the event and passed Massimo and Laura the crystal vase into which the pieces of bone were put. I can’t tell you what it was like to see pieces of Geshe-la’s skull (which were all an unusual orange color) as well as other larger and smaller pieces being placed one by one, with great care and tenderness into the crystal vase and a larger wooden bowl. Smaller pieces of bone, many from a piece of crumbled skull, were separated from the ashes with a sieve. The rest of the ashes, as well as bits of charred wood. were carefully placed into white sacks that Rinchen had made for this purpose. The whole process took a couple of hours, meanwhile everyone else was huddling up trying to protect themselves from the wind and cold.
When all the ashes had been removed, a white cloth was put over the upturned pot at the base of the cremation stupa in order to protect the contents from falling bits of plaster as the stupa was slowly and carefully dismantled. Larger pieces of blackened singed bone were found on the iron grate upon which Geshe-la’s body had originally been placed. The grate (which had been warped by the heat) was then removed and the bones found in the upturned pot were added to the crystal vase. Then everyone was asked to step back while Geshe Tenphel and Tulku Gyatso raised the upside down pot that had been placed over the sand mandala (Geshe Tenphel had told us that it was important that at that moment there be no one nearby with a negative mind as this could cause any signs that were present to disappear). Geshe Tenphel called for the sand mandala to be photographed and explained that there were signs of mountains in the sand. He traced them out in flour and allowed everyone to have a look at the sand mandala.
Then the bones were placed on a small palanquin that had been specially prepared for this purpose and carried in a procession led by two monks wearing the traditional ceremonial fringed hats and playing the Tibetan horns, followed by the lamas holding incense, a monk holding a photo of Geshe-la, four monks carrying the palanquin, and Olivier holding a yellow parasol. We made our way to the gompa, which had been beautifully prepared for Tsog the evening before with flowers, lights, banners, and many offerings. The vases containing Geshe-la’s bones were carefully set on the high throne that had been set up to receive them. As the ritual ceremony began, tea and rice were offered to the bones, as when a lama is first welcomed to the Institute (this being auspicious for the quick return of Geshe-la’s incarnation). Tea and rice were then offered to the other lamas, and juice and rice to the rest of the more than 100 people present. After the preliminary parts of the ceremony of ablution in relation to Yamantaka had been performed by the lamas, the bones were transferred to a basket placed upon a pot for the actual ablution which was performed by Tulku Gyatso. As it was time for lunch, there was a short break before Lama Chopa and Tsog were offered at 2:00 PM. At the end of the ceremony, the bones were once again taken to Geshe-la’s room where they were set on his bed covered in katas. At this time everyone was allowed to offer a kata and a silent line quickly formed outside the villetta.
Since then either Tulku Gyatso or Geshe Tenphel have been performing a daily ablution of the bones. In fact the Tibetans explained to us that it is more common for relic pills to be found in the bones after a period of ablution, than for them to be found in the ashes of the cremation. In any case, Lama Zopa Rinpoche has said that more important than the ablution is that Geshe-la’s disciples continue doing pujas and practices, especially every seven days (we have been offering Tsog here at the Institute every Tuesday since Geshe-la passed away on the Tuesday, 27 November) up to the 49th day (14 January 2008), as well as one year later on November 27th, 2008.
The 15th, Geshe-la’s birthday, was a sad but busy day of putting away all the offerings that had been set up around the cremation stupa and in the gompa. That evening, in honor of Geshe-la’s joy during his life, a group of about thirty of us celebrated the many birthdays in December at a nearby restaurant.
Since then, although I cannot say that life has returned to “normal,” we have gone back to our usual activities and work for the Institute, while continuing to meet each evening to recite the Vajra Cutter Sutra and Chanting the Names of Manjushri, followed by the prayer for Geshe-la’s quick return. It is a sad time for all of us (and all of you). The Institute is a different place without Geshe-la. However, it is amazing how many people have had dreams of Geshe-la or even visions of him or sensations of his presence since the day he passed away, all of which were characterized by a feeling of peace and joy.
Life continues and on December 19th several of the people who had helped us obtain the necessary permits for the cremation, among them the local mayor of Santa Luce, Federico Pennesi, and some of his staff together with a representative from the Province of Pisa, were offered a traditional Tibetan thank-you lunch by Geshe-la’s disciples. Geshe Lobsang Pelgye, responsible for the upbringing of the young Tenzin Tashi Tulku (the incarnation of Geshe-la’s teacher, Geshe Tashi Bum) made a heartfelt speech on behalf of Geshe-la’s Tibetan disciples in Sera. He explained how from the time he arrived at the Institute several days after Geshe-la had passed away, he had received numerous phone calls from Geshe-la’s Tibetan disciples pressuring him to ensure that Geshe-la’s body was returned to India for a traditional ritual cremation. He said that while he had initially been in accord with them, he had been astonished and then delighted by the effort that had been made here in Italy to provide Geshe-la with the traditional ritual cremation due a high lama. Seeing this, he said that he had come to understand why Geshe-la had spent so many years dedicating his life and knowledge to his Western disciples. He thanked everyone from his heart for their help in making this happen, and then offered the mayor a kata, a Tibetan flag, and a box of incense, together with Tenzin Tashi and Geshe Tenphel. He and Ngawang then offered everyone else present a kata and box of Tibetan incense.
Now we are busy making preparations for the Masters Program. Geshe Tenzin Tenphel says that he has a heavy weight in his chest when he thinks about his new responsibilities, but all of us are convinced he has the strength of mind to carry them well. There are slightly more than 80 students in the residential program, more than 100 in the on-line program. I think that Geshe-la would be pleased with all of us. Joan
PS. The photos of the 14th are already on the site. I will be adding those of the lunch with the mayor, hopefully tomorrow sometime.
The Migtsema is:
Avalokiteshvara, great treasure of unobserved mercy;
Manjushri, lord of stainless knowledge;
Lord of the Secret, destroyer of all the hordes of maras without exception;
Tsongkhapa, crown ornament of the scholars of the Land of Snow;
At your feet, Losang Dragpa, I make requests.
Mig me tze we ter chen chen re zig
Dri me kyen pe wang po jam pel yang
Dü pung ma lü jom dze sang we dag
Gang chen ke pe tzug gyen tzong kha pa
Lo zang drag pe zhab la söl wa deb
The name mantra of Lama Tsongkhapa is:
OM AH GURU VAJRADHARA SUMATI KIRTI SIDDHI HUM
The mantra of Buddha Shakyamuni is:
TADYATHA OM MUNI MUNI MAHA MUNIYE SVAHA
Geshe Tenzin Tenphel has advised all us disciples of Geshe Jampa Gyatso to recite Chanting the Names of Manjushri, the Vajra Cutter Sutra, and the prayer for the swift return of Geshe-la every day for
49 days (counted from 27th November, the 49th day is 14 January 2008). Geshe Tenphel emphasized that our motivation should not be, as in the case of an ordinary being, to direct the mind that is in the confused state of the intermediate state (the bardo) to a good rebirth, but rather we should do these recitations with a strong motivation requesting Geshe-la to quickly return amongst us. Lama Zopa Rinpoche agreed with this advice, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama also advised that we should do Chanting the Names of Manjushri and Migtsema mantras. Here at the Institute we are doing this as a group everyday at 6:00 PM. Joan
Written 08/12/2007 evening
Please forgive me for not having written sooner but events took over and there was too much to do and too many emotions to deal with. In the end everything happened so fast, too fast…
At 8.00 AM, Monday, 3 December 2007, Tenzin Tashi Tulku, the incarnation of Geshe-la’s teacher, Geshe Tashi Bum, was permitted to visit Geshe-la for the first time since his arrival at the Institute on December 1st. It seems that it is quite common that a lama in Tuk-dam waits for the arrival of his own lama before leaving his body and so Tulku Gyatso had given very strong instructions that the young Tenzin Tashi Tulku not even enter the villetta until the morning of the 3rd (this was the anniversary of the passing away of the founder of Sera, Jamchen Choje, and so was considered a very auspicious day for Geshe-la to leave his body). Upon arriving at the villetta at 8.10 that morning, I found all the lamas and Tibetan monks sitting on the floor in Geshe-la’s room reciting th prayer Chanting the Names of Manjushri in Tibetan. I was told that Geshe-la was still in meditation. Outside there was a very strong, swirling wind (I remember having difficulty opening the door of the villetta from the inside as I was leaving). At 11.00 AM, as on the previous days, we offered Tsog together with Dagyab Rinpoche, Gomo Tulku, Tulku Gyatso, Tulku Tenzin Tashi, Minyak Rinpoche, and Geshe Tenzin Tenphel. Afterward, Dagyab Rinpoche was taken down to the cremation site by Jinpa, where he examined the cremation stupa and the palanquin that had been constructed to transport Geshe-la to the site. Then, together with Rinchen, Rinpoche looked over the Tibetan text, which Lama Zopa Rinpoche had suggested be used, that explains what is to be done before and after the mind leaves the body.
I myself spent much of the afternoon photocopying Tibetan texts needed for the cremation, while construction on the stupa continued outside. By late afternoon only the throne of the cremation stupa had been completed and work was just beginning on the vase. Dagyab Rinpoche returned to the villetta in the late afternoon and about 5:00 PM we were informed that Geshe-la’s mind had left his body (the news hit us as if Geshe-la had died for a second time). Rocks with special signs (as advised by Geshe Ngawang Dragpa were placed on the cho-go that covered Geshe-la’s body. A small group of us Western monks and nuns, who were present the villetta at the time, recited the prayer for the Swift Return several times aloud in English and Tibetan standing and then kneeling in front of Geshe-la. The Tibetan lamas and monks then did the same in Tibetan. The large basin and a chair were brought into Geshe-la’s room to be used to bathe his body in water containing a mixture of ground cloves, cardamom, and other spices that had been prepared the day before. Dagyab Rinpoche and the other lamas recited prayers behind the closed door while Geshe-la’s body was bathed and wrapped in the white cotton and red and orange silk that had been prepared for this occasion. Over this was put the bodhisattva robes. On his head was placed the ushnisha and crown of the five buddha lineages, usually used during empowerments. His body was placed in a wooden structure that had been built to keep it sitting upright, and katas were hung from the posts in the four corners. Geshe-la was placed sitting on his usual seat in his room and his disciples were permitted to visit him, to offer him a kata, and to prostrate to him. A long but silent line of people quickly formed inside and outside the villetta as word quickly spread, even among the local people, that it was now possible for people to come to say their good-byes.
While all this was happening, we were told by Dagyab Rinpoche that it would be the very best (that is, extremely auspicious) if the cremation could take place the next day on December 4th, as this was Lama Tsongkhapa Day. I was told that Geshe-la would be taken from the house to the cremation stupa in the palanquin, in the presence of only a small number of disciples, at 6:00 AM the next morning. This meant that we had less than twelve hours to finish all the preparations, which included not only finishing constructing the cremation stupa, but also making the surrounding area beautiful and filled with offerings.
As a team of men carried on the construction with great haste under floodlights, orange cloth was wrapped around the poles that had been planted in the hard ground earlier that afternoon (forming a fenced in area, 10 meters square). Tables were set up on the right and left sides of the cremation stupa and covered in white tablecloths bordered with orange (also specially made for the occasion). One table was set aside for the fire puja ingredients that had been prepared in just two days by the many people who had come to pay their respects to Geshe-la. The other tables were covered in colorful bowls of saffron water with flower floating in them. At the same time, beautiful garlands were constructed with greenery and colorful flowers and hung between the poles. There were people everywhere around the site, working under the floodlights, busily setting up offering bowls, making garlands, bringing things down from the gompa… Things went unbelievably smoothly…
Since there was no time to actually draw the eight auspicious signs and seven royal emblems on the not-yet-completed cremation stupa, enlargements were made with the photocopier and assembled together, cut, and traced in red. The palanquin was decorated with colorful katas and small victory banners. Three sides of the vase of the cremation stupa (made of bricks able to withstand high temperatures) were gradually constructed, plastered, and dried with a fire usually used for soldering metal. The seven royal emblems and a Dharma wheel were pasted on the lower part (the throne) and the eight auspicious signs on the upper part (the vase). Above the eight auspicious signs were pasted drawings of hanging strands of jewels. At 6:15 everything was ready and I raced to my room to change my dirty and dusty robes, just in time to pay a short and last visit to Geshe-la before 6:00 AM. About eight men, mostly monks, were chosen by the Tibetans to carry Geshe-la’s body to the cremation site (according to the astrological calculations, it was important that they had not been born in the year of certain animals). I was asked to lead the procession carrying a stick on the tip of which had been hung a picture of the Sipa Ho (a special astrological image that wards off interferences and is often placed above doorways). Geshe-la was placed in the palanquin and in a somber procession, myself first, followed by Dagyab Rinpoche reciting prayers and ringing the bell, the other lamas, and then the palanquin, we left the villetta and proceeded to the cremation stupa. As the lamas recited prayers, Geshe-la’s body was placed in the stupa on top of a white piece of cotton on which had been drawn a Dharma wheel. Geshe-la was set facing west toward the sea, with his face at the level of a hole in the vase of the stupa had been left for the introduction of the fire puja substances. A tripod of iron was quickly constructed around his body to support the firewood that was then placed in the shape of a tee-pee around his body. Then the fourth side of the vase was closed with bricks and plaster, and the remaining auspicious signs were pasted on it.
Many of you know that whatever we do at the Institute, even small, is usually beset by innumerable hindrances. This did not happen in the case of the preparations for the cremation. During the twelve hours of intense and hurried work, the people with the right skills showed up at the right time… the right materials were found at the right time… for each job that needed to be done many people were there to help... all the machines that were needed worked… COMPLETELY UNBELIEVABLE.
The cremation was originally due to begin in the morning actually began about 2.30 PM when Laura Pellati returned from the town hall of Santa Luce with the official document authorizing us to perform the cremation on the Institute’s property. Dagyab Rinpoche sat with the sea behind him, facing the main hole in the cremation stupa that was to be used for the introduction of the fire puja offerings. The other lamas sat on the other side also facing the cremation stupa. Monks and nuns and lay people who had done the Yamantaka retreat sat behind them. Everyone else sat on chairs around the other three sides of the fenced in area. The puja itself consisted in a Yamantaka fire puja and so we Westerners were able to recite the puja either in English or Italian, as it was led by Minyak Rinpoche in Tibetan. As the fire was about to be lit, and as it was lit by Geshe Tenkyong (the resident geshe from Padova who was chosen to do this because he did not have any Dharma connection with Geshe-la), a shot of pain ran through all of us disciples (it was as if Geshe-la had died for a third time). Puffs of white smoke swirled up into the sky as the logs began to crackle, followed by orange flames that swirled straight up into the sky. Dagyab Rinpoche was symbolically connected by a white piece of cloth (on which was written the syllable BAM in Tibetan) tied around his body to the end of the funnel (a piece of copper gutter) that fed into the main opening in the cremation stupa. Doctor Samten and Sixte passed the fire puja substances to Dagyab Rinpoche, who offered them with the accompanying mantras into containers that were then emptied into the fire by Sonam. The entire puja was characterized by the pleasant fragrance of roasted grains. At the end of the puja the four doors in the throne were closed with bricks and plaster and then covered with images of the four directional kings.
The puja lasted just a bit more than two hours. As it came to an end the sun began to set, and what a an absolutely gorgeous sunset it was. The island of Corsica, far out to sea, was sharply outlined against a sky that seemed as if it were on fire). We circumambulated the stupa for a short time and then went to the gompa to prepare for Tsog at 6:00 PM, as it was Lama Tsongkhapa Day. All the lamas came and at the beginning Dagyab Rinpoche gave a short talk (which we will transcribe), after which Gomo Tulku, on behalf of the Institute, thanked Rinpoche for coming to help us with the cremation ritual. That evening many people went to bed early but a schedule was set up so that each hour someone was present to keep an eye on things.
The next morning, the 5th, a group of people emptied and refilled the water bowls, while another table for candles and butterlamps was set up in front of the stupa and Christmas lights hung around it. In addition, a small gazebo (which had been used to protect the cremation stupa as it was being built) was transformed into a small but beautiful gompa, with yellow and orange cloth walls, and tangkas on either side. In the end, this took the entire day, and it was suddenly time to gather together in our new gompa to recite Chanting the Names of Manjushri, the Vajra Cutter Sutra, and the prayer for the swift return of Geshe-la. The 6th and 7th passed quickly with the entire morning and part of the afternoon dedicated to changing the water and flowers in the offering bowls, cleaning up and constantly replacing the candles. The evening of the 7th was windy and rainy and much time was spent first erecting a canopy to protect the candles and covering the stupa, and then in having to take the canopy and even the gompa down as the wind and rain had become too strong. Today the 8th was spent in redoing the offerings, cleaning up the mess from the wind and rain, reconstructing the small gompa… Time is passing but still it seems like a dream that Geshe-la is no longer with us.
On Friday, 14th December, before 9:00 AM (as advised by Geshe Ngawang Drakpa) prayers will be said and the cremation stupa will be opened. The ashes will be examined for relics and signs that would indicate where Geshe-la’s incarnation can be found. The ashes will then be gathered together and put in a crystal bowl and then carried in a procession with horns blowing to the gompa. There tea and Tibetan sweet rice will be offered, as when a lama first arrives at the Institute. Geshe Tenphel told me that it is important that this ceremony be auspicious as the cremation ritual itself.
(see the photos http://picasaweb.google.com/IstitutoLamaTzongKhapa)
- the sand mandala is concluded
- the lights that were meant for Lama Tsongkhapa Day continue to be put up
- tsog with Geshe Tenzin Tenphel, Minyak Rinpoche (a young lama from Geshe-la’s kangtsen who is living in northern Italy), Tulku Tenzin Tashi (the incarnation of Geshe-la’s teacher, Geshe Tashi Bum), Gomo Tulku (his previous incarnation was one of Geshe-la’s lamas), and Tulku Gyatso (resident lama at Centro Evam in Florence)
- the conclusion, as planned, of the three-month Vajrasattva retreat led by Ven. Birgit Schweiberer (Geshe-la had shown great happiness when Birgit told him last week that all 10 participants were able to conclude the 111,000 mantras, even though quite a few of them continued to work throughout the retreat)
- arrival of Dagyab Rinpoche from Germany (Lama Zopa Rinpoche suggested to ask either Dagyab Rinpoche or Dagpo Rinpoche to help with the cremation ceremony)
I am very sorry to not be able to write you every day as I would like very much for all of you to feel part of what is happening here. This is the sixth day that Geshe Jampa Gyatso is in Tuk-dam, meditation on clear light. By doing this not only is he showing us what a great being he is, he is also giving time for his many disciples to come to say good-bye to him. Everyday more of them arrive from all over Italy, as well as from other places. I would describe the atmosphere here as one of “peaceful sadness.” Everyone is embracing each other with warmth and understanding of each others’ sorrow. The feeling is that we are all the same in our loss. People enter the villetta silently to stand at the door to Geshe-la’s room. His coffin lies on his bed with a huge photo of him in meditation at the head of the bed. On his usual seat sits his dak-kam (monk’s cloak) with a photo of Geshe-la at the neck. He continues to be served meals and tea… his presence still being very strongly felt by everyone.
Preparations for the cremation have begun. I can’t tell you how sad it is to be involved in this ritual but at the same time it gives us something concrete to do, some way of still working for and serving Geshe-la. After Geshe-la’s mind has left his body, his body will be washed with precious substances in a large burgundy tub. His body will be wrapped first in pure white cotton. Over this, red silk will be wrapped around his head and orange silk around his body. On his head will be placed the crown of the five buddha families that is usually used for the crown initiation. Nobil is building the palanquin that will be used to carry Geshe-la to the cremation site. Ven. Cesare is building the structure for the cremation. Rinchen and Sonam are making the sand mandala on the base…
Yesterday twelve-year-old Tenzin Tashi Tulku, the incarnation of Geshe-la’s own teacher, arrived from India with his attendant, Geshe Lobsang Pelgye. He was greeted by as many as 100 people with katas and the usual rituals of auspicious signs, music, incense, and mandala offering.
Later today Dagyab Rinpoche will arrive.
The pujas continue. We are doing Lama Chopa now each morning in accordance with Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche’s advice. The lamas continue to do self-initiations, as do Geshe-la’s Western disciples.
In order to share this with you I have set up a web site with photos and hope to update it each day ( http://picasaweb.google.com/IstitutoLamaTzongKhapa ). You will also find photos of the 24-hour recitation of the Sutra of Long Life that we did one week ago.
I know that all of you, even if you can’t be here physically, are here with your hearts. Yesterday Gomo Tulku’s advice to us was “Not only keep Geshe-la in YOUR heart, but also do everything that Geshe-la had in HIS heart.” I know all of you are doing just that. With love, Joan
Geshe-la’s Arrival at the Institute (Monday, 27 November 2007, 2:00 PM)
In an extraordinarily exceptional event for Italian law regarding the handling of the deceased, Geshe Jampa Gyatso arrived at the Institute in an unsealed casket on Tuesday, 27 November, at about 2:00 PM, less than 12 hours after he had passed away at 3:40 AM in hospital in the nearby town of Cecina. Prior to his arrival the Tibetan lamas and monks present at the Institute had begun to recite the sadhana of Yamantaka in preparation for performing the self-initiation upon his arrival. Geshe-la was welcomed by a silent group of about 60 or 70 monks, nuns, and lay people, all holding katas. The casket was brought into Geshe-la’s room, which had been cleaned and prepared for his arrival, and set on the bed. It was opened to reveal Geshe-la entirely covered in his namjar (the monk’s saffron shawl). The Tibetan lamas and monks returned to their recitation, while slowly his disciples entered the house to pay their respects, pausing briefly with folded hands at the door to his room. Upstairs in the main gompa his disciples continued the recitation of the prayer Calling the Lama from Afar, interspersed with the chanting of Tara’s mantra, others performed the Yamantaka self-initiation. Everywhere people embraced each other, sharing their sorrow but also giving each other strength and encouragement in a moment that united us all as a family that had lost their spiritual father. At 18.00 Gomo Tulku and Geshe Tenzin Tenphel joined us in the gompa to recite the Lama Chopa and offer tsog. Extensive offerings had been made of water bowls, lights, and food and the gompa was extremely beautiful. At the end the lamas were asked whether they had extensive advice. Geshe Tenphel asked Gomo Tulku to speak and he proceeded with much “American” charm, but also with much clarity and forcefulness, to give us a scolding regarding our lack of respect for each other and the need to develop this respect as, without it, there is not the slightest chance of our developing compassion or bodhichitta.
The next days, Wednesday and Thursday, were much the same. Tulku Gyatso verified that Geshe-la continued to remain in meditation on the Clear Light, the Tibetan lamas and monks performed the Vajrayogini and Yamantaka self-initiations in Geshe-la’s house and recited many other texts, while his Western disciples performed the self-initiations in the Institute. Other disciples continued the recitation of prayers and mantras in the gompa, while circumambulating or prostrating to the altar that had been set up in the center of the gompa for the 24-hour recitation of the Long Life Sutra some days previous. Statues of Buddha Shakyamuni and his two disciples in the center are surrounded by the texts of the Kangyur (the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni), beautiful offerings, and many photos of Geshe-la.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche asked Geshe Ngawang Drakpa, an astrologer and long time friend of Geshe Jampa Gyatso, to do astrological calculations regarding Geshe-la's return. The divinations showed that in order to bring about his quick return, Geshe-la's disciples should recite the Diamond Cutter Sutra (available from http://www.fpmt.org/teachers/zopa/advice/vajracuttersutra.php) and Chanting the Names of Manjushri http://www.fpmt.org/media/podcast/teachers/lama_zopa.php . Lama Zopa Rinpoche has already composed a Swift Return prayer for Geshe-la in Tibetan and has also translated it into English (it is already being translated into Italian). However, I received strict advice from Geshe Tenphel to not even show it to anyone until Geshe-la's mind leaves his body.
Geshe-la’s last advice to the community (brought back from the hospital by Ven. Birgit the day before he passed away) was a strong “Relax. Everyone relax.” While we are trying to do that, it is not at all easy. Gomo Tulku and Geshe Tenphel also keep reminding us of the importance of not showing external manifestations of grief, especially in the presence of Geshe-la, but also elsewhere. Gomo Tulku very strongly said that crying is “completely useless” and only has the effect of disturbing Geshe-la’s meditation and our own mind. While we are trying follow this advice, it is not easy. Geshe-la is a holy being, unfortunately most of us are not.
Ven. Birgit, a former anesthesiologist and graduate of the Masters Program 1998, has been closely involved with Geshe Jampa Gyatso's medical tests and treatments for the past ten years. I asked her to explain what had happened in the past few weeks and thank her very much for not only clarifying the succession of medical events, but also for reminding us how unusual it was that we were even able to have Geshe-la with us for so long. Thank you, Birgit, from my heart. Joan
Dear Dharma friends,
As you already know our beloved Guru, Geshe Jampa Gyatso, stopped breathing on Tuesday, 27th of November at about 3.40 in the morning. He is presently lying in an open coffin set on his own bed, covered in his saffron robe, and abiding in meditation on Clear Light. Naturally his students feel a wish and need to know how the exact way it all happened and thus I thought to provide you with the medical details concerning his passing away.
As most of you know, Geshe-la was diagnosed with lung cancer in fall 2000. During a summer vacation in India he manifested pneumonia with high fever, much coughing and physical weakness. An examination of his chest showed that the cause of this pneumonia was a tumor in his right lung, very close to the center of the lung, which obstructed one of the big airways and had caused pneumonia to develop in the obstructed area.
A histological examination of the tumor revealed that it was lung cancer, which had spread to the other side of the lung, too. At this time one could have attempted surgery, but Geshe-la strictly refused that, and knowing that the tumor had already spread to other parts of the lung, also from the medical point of view it was not a promising therapy. At this point his expected survival time was about 8 months (this being the statistical average, although of course some people live shorter, some longer with this kind of tumor).
Subsequently Geshe-la accepted various therapies, among which the only one he liked was the blessed water of the "water-lady" Maria, which Raffaello regularly provided for him.
Despite his very bad prognosis Geshe-la recovered well from his pneumonia and continued to show good health for the next 6 years. In early spring 2007 one could see some lymph nodes protruding at the left side of his neck. This being a possible location for metastases from lung cancer a biopsy (tissue examination) of the lymph nodes was done, but did not reveal cancer cells.
In the following months Geshe-la slowly started to lose some weight, and often said he was tired.
Then, about two weeks ago, he developed a swelling under his chin and some difficulty swallowing. He had an ultrasound to see whether the thyroid gland was likely to be responsible for some of the symptoms, but the thyroid gland proved to be all right.
In the meantime some of the swelling could be treated with anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotics, and the symptoms improved slightly. However, swallowing remained a problem and Geshe-la could only eat soups and liquids.
For that reason we asked him to accept a CAT scan of his abdomen, lungs, neck, and brain on the 22nd of November, in order to see what the exact cause for the difficulties where. It showed that the old tumor of the lung, which had been there for seven years, had remained almost unchanged.
However, at the level of the throat there were some pockets of enlarged lymph nodes in close proximity to the esophagus and the trachea, which were causing pressure on them and explained the progressive problems Geshe-la had been having with swallowing and breathing.
Those enlarged lymph nodes were most likely to be metastases that had spread from the original tumor. Still we asked that a biopsy of the lymph nodes be done in order to determine exactly what kind of tissue the lymph nodes were. This was because there was a small chance that the lymph nodes in the throat were of different origin than the lung cancer and thus could have been treated with medical therapy.
The day following the examination Geshe-la felt very sick and vomited a lot. During the CAT scan he had received a contrast substance in order to make the structures in the throat visible. But his kidneys were impaired from long term diabetes and could not eliminate the substance very well. So while he was supposed to drink a lot in order to eliminate the substance, he was sick each time he tried to drink, which led to significant dehydration over the next two days.
On top of that, Geshe-la was unable to sleep during the night because of the obstruction of his airways and problems breathing, which made him very unwell and tired during the day.
Then on Saturday evening, 24th November (during a 24-hour session of Long Life Sutra recitations for his long life in the gompa at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa), he lay in bed, dehydrated, with serious difficulty breathing. Dr. Giari was very concerned that Geshe-la might not survive the night and decided to bring him to the hospital in Cecina in order to give him fluids and electrolytes.
Geshe-la accepted and was treated adequately there, whereupon he visibly regained strength and vitality. The next day, Sunday, the 25th, Geshe-la was once again sitting up in bed, quite happy and relaxed. He was breathing much better, and was happy to have visitors. We had hope that his state would remain stable until we received the results of the biopsy and that it would be possible to make an attempt at medical treatment (which had come good in a Mo done by Dagri Rinpoche).
However, on the 26th he had not slept again and looked extremely tired. Then, in the early hours of the 27th, his breath suddenly became much more difficult. The doctors in the hospital tried to counteract the swelling in the throat with cortisone, but without success. Geshe-la stopped breathing at 3.40, in meditation posture, in the presence of Ngawang and Jinpa who were with him at that time.
According to ordinary appearances, Geshe-la was a 76-year old human being who had been diagnosed with cancer six years previously. I personally think that it was a great miracle and only due to his unbelievable kindness that Geshe-la could remain with us all that time, completing the Masters Program and teaching another Basic Program despite his physical condition.
Although finally it happened faster than expected, it was not altogether unexpected that the cancer would at some point create problems for Geshe-la's life, especially once metastases started to spread. There was also no relevant cure for it, but even if Geshe-la had survived longer and had accepted further therapy, it would have become very burdensome for him to undergo all the required procedures. On top of all this, his kidneys were progressively failing, so in about one or two years time he would have had to undergo dialysis. This would have made teaching, doing his practices, etc. very difficult for him.
During all the time of what appeared to be severe physical distress, Geshe-la never showed any signs of worries or suffering. He remained peaceful, humorous, and lucid throughout.
Now the master we so love has entered into Tuk-Dam, one with the Dharmakaya of all buddhas. He has shown his great attainment in a life full of virtue, wisdom, love, and compassion, he has shown it in times of severe suffering and he is showing it now as he remains in meditation from which he will emerge as the Sambhogakaya, manifesting emanations in countless realms for the benefit of all sentient beings. We have the unbelievable good fortune to have met a master who manifests the greatest attainment a living being can manifest – buddhahood.
We have lost the physical presence of one emanation body, but it would be sad to think that we are lost, after Geshe-la has taught us the holy Dharma for so many years. If now we cannot live according to the Dharma he has taught us, what has been the purpose of his being with us here, and what would be the purpose for him to return?
I also wish to say that Dr. Giari has been extremely kind and caring all the time. Whenever we would call him, he came immediately and looked after Geshe-la, even in the middle of the night. He has always acted very respectfully and correctly and Geshe-la respected him and trusted his knowledge. I feel that we should thank him too for his tireless effort and great kindness all these years.
With love and prayers, Ani Birgit (MD)
Dear students of Geshe Jampa Gyatso,
I am writing to you with the saddest news in the world. Geshe-la passed away early this morning, about 3.40 AM, in hospital. He had been brought to hospital on Saturday night, but it seemed that the main problem was that his body had been unable to eliminate the toxins from a CAT scan he had had on Thursday. This resulted in vomiting which had left him dehydrated. At about 9:30 PM on Saturday his doctor, Dr. Giari, thought it best for him to be brought to hospital. Here at the Institute we were doing a 24-hour recitation of the Long Life Sutra when we received the news (we started at 4:00 PM on Saturday). The news made us pray even stronger, many people came, the gompa was beautiful, and at the end of the recitation we were told that Geshe-la had improved greatly. In fact, the people who saw him on Sunday afternoon were very relieved and said he looked much better and was breathing easier and had slept better than he had for some days. However, Sunday night he did not sleep well due to difficulty breathing, but still it did not seem to anyone, even his doctors, that his life was in danger. Apparently at 2.20 AM he sat on his bed in meditation posture and was unmoving (even while the Tibetans dressed him). At about 3.40 he stopped breathing. I'm sorry I don't have more details. I was told some hours later and have spent the past few hours, as usual, organizing texts, pujas, etc. Geshe Tenphel says that the best thing we can do today is recite Calling the Lama from Afar and offer Tsog. He says we should then offer tsog every day in the coming days. Those who have done the retreat of Yamantaka can also do the self-initiation today. I will try to keep sending details as things unfold. As you can imagine, we are all in a deep state of shock. It seems like the world has stopped and we just do not know what to do or what to think. My heart is with all of you as you read this email. Some of you already know, everyone is trying to contact everyone... with love to all of you, Joan