- Welcoming His Eminence
- A Tibetan Buddhist high lama brings a message of positive
thinking and respect for human life.
- St. Petersburg Times, September 4, 2001
CLEARWATER -- Never stomp on an ant, even if it
is about to bite your big toe. If you spot a roach on the kitchen counter, stop for a
moment and consider not pressing the button of death on your can of Raid.
Instead, why not contemplate escorting your unwelcome guests out
of the house or away from the picnic area in a kindly fashion?
After all, according to Buddhist teachings, any one of them could
be the reborn soul of someone you knew and maybe loved in a previous lifetime, someone who
obviously -- because of their current station in life -- was not particularly good and
kind toward others.
Still, they deserve love and compassion just like everyone else.
That was just part of the message followers were taught at a
Tibetan Buddhist workshop Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Clearwater,
headed by an individual followers believe is a true holy man: His Eminence Garchen
Most of those in attendance already knew all human, insect and
animal life is sacred; Rinpoche simply re-enforced the message.
It was just before 2 p.m. when Rinpoche -- a baldheaded, barefoot
man clothed in flowing red robes with a yellow Nike tank top peeking out from underneath
-- walked into the all-purpose room. When they saw him, his followers instantly fell
silent and turned toward him.
Bowing their heads and closing their eyes, they cupped their
hands in front of them in prayerlike fashion.
Even two pet dogs in the room, a black Airedale and a tan German
shepherd mix (yes, they, too, were invited and treated with the utmost respect), stopped
sniffing around and lay down next to their masters as though something important was about
Meanwhile, Rinpoche knelt down and kissed the floor several
It seemed as though his followers, some of whom also had red
robes and shaved heads, were surprised by the sudden appearance of Rinpoche even though
they expected him. He had breezed in so silently and without fanfare, some of the them did
not realize he was there until they spotted him near the makeshift throne on which he
But through their actions, they showed respect to the Tibetan
Buddhist high lama, or priest, a man who they are taught has lived many important lives
and is enlightened. They believe he has chosen to be reborn, coming back to earth
repeatedly to help others gain wisdom.
But he made a shorter trek this time, by plane, coming back to
Clearwater from his Arizona compound for five days to give a series of talks and
At Sunday's seminar, several of those sitting cross-legged on
purple pillows were new to Buddhism and were there to take refuge during a special
Taking refuge is equivalent to a confirmation, a ritual to become
a Buddhist. They must try to be kind and gentle, do no harm to any living beings, hold all
religions with respect and teach others to live well. They must also try not to take drugs
or drink alcohol.
"It's a beginning of one's path," said Michael
Retchless, a Unitarian Universalist Church director, of the refuge ceremony during which
Rinpoche snipped a lock of hair. "You are giving up your past and progressing on a
spiritual path. When a high lama comes to town, they can do that."
Followers of Tibetan Buddhism say they are honored and feel
fortunate to have Rinpoche pay a visit to the Tampa Bay area.
"His Eminence is in my opinion the living embodiment of the
dharma," said Retchless, who took refuge in 1995. "This is the best turnout
we've had. The public talk had over 200 people."
During the workshop, Rinpoche sat on his throne in front of
colorful Tanka paintings. In the air was the exotic scent of red crystal incense made in
Nepal by monks.
Sitting close to the throne was Ani Trinlay, a Tibetan Buddhist
nun who traveled from her home in Maryland to see him.
"They (the workshops) never get boring even if they are
exactly the same," she said. "It reinforces you can go through the rituals many,
many times and they have a renewing effect."
Like Rinpoche, Trinlay wore red robes and had a shaved head. She
said she wears her robes at all times except when she is at work. It would be difficult to
wear her robes on the job because she is a an analyst for the Interior Department, a job
with a dress code.
She laughed and said she gets enough comments about her shaved
Smiling warmly, she watched as Rinpoche climbed up on the throne,
began to spin a prayer wheel and talk, his Tibetan words translated by an assistant who
sat on the floor to his right.
The teachings went on for hours and included several themes.
Among them was that all suffering comes from harboring poisons such as anger, aggression,
attachment (a longing for worldly goods) and ignorance. Negative thoughts, Rinpoche said,
are your worst enemy.
"Negative emotions are the driving force (in) doing
nonvirtuous deeds," he said. "Try to get rid of negative emotions. (You) want to
reach enlightenment as soon as possible to help other beings, not for yourself. That is
very important. "The most precious thing is a human life," he said.
Near the end of the workshop and after the refuge ceremony,
Rinpoche tried to sum up his teachings, which he says are really very simple.
"The true nature of the mind is the ocean. The negative
emotion is the waves," he said and smiled. "Kindness is better than all the
riches on the planet."
And if you unintentionally step on and kill a bug, Rinpoche has a
bit of advice: Say a prayer for it.