Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Remembering Gonpo Tsetan: Updated

I was going through some old papers yesterday, and came upon Gonpo Tsetan's yellow Indian Identity Certificate, and suddenly the clock flew back 30 years.

Gonpo Tsetan showed up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late autumn of 1979, by way of India, accompanied by his consort, Pema Lhanzam, a likable American fellow named Ngawang (Ron Brooks), and an English girl whose name I simply cannot recall. For a while, they all stayed with Gyatrul Rinpoche and Nancy Gufstafson in Oakland. I seem to remember a crowded rental house from which everyone was eventually evicted. Gyatrul and Nancy wound up in an Imperial Yellow spare room in some sponsor's house, and Gonpo Tsetan a
lso came there to paint a huge tangkha of the Longchen Nyingthig lineage tree, downstairs in the living room.

Strange, the things you find when you're looking for something else.

(UPDATE 06/26/09: Ngawang has written his own memoir that I have just found here. He also has the story of the gold stocks --which I was asked to invest in and thankfully weaseled out of-- but I will let him tell it. I wonder if he remembers the scheming havoc done to the parts department at Bauer Jaguar!)

I became acquainted with him upon his arrival, and as it seemed we could enjoy each other's company, we would occasionally pass time to no good purpose. We visited the Alameda Flea Market together. Surveying the scene, he opined that after everyone left, the ghosts came out in the same location to have their own flea market. We also used to discuss medicine (it was Gonpo Tsetan who suggested I always keep nutmeg handy: he felt rlung morbidity in America was epidemic), and rail about Islamic Fundamentalists -- this way before it was fashionable -- both believing that trouble would surely come from that direction.

Now, in the Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a great deal of interest in gChod practice.
Indeed, this seemed to be an American preoccupation all over the world. People were always requesting gChod teachings and lamas were usually always refusing. Gonpo Tsetan was one of the greatest authorities on this practice in the twentieth century, so naturally, requests were made of him.

Rather surprisingly, he agreed, and on December 18, 1979, at Gyatrul Rinpoche's house, gave what must still stand as the most extensive gChod empowerment and practice instruction in U.S. history. I do not know what else to say about this.

If people are still interested, now you can easily obtain the associated texts, but in those days it wasn't so simple. However, I do not know how you could duplicate having these patiently explained by a direct emanation of Vimalamitra.

I see there are now useful biographical references for him on the net, available here and here.

You will want to click both of those links, to learn more about a truly unassuming gentleman who many of us are so grateful to have known in this lifetime. As Thinley Norbu Rinpoche wrote:
Of the millions of knowledge-holders
The chief is the Supreme Vimalamitra,
Whose light-ray sunlike activity you invite as guests
Into the lotus-like Wisdom Mansion of your heart.
Glorious teacher Rigdzin Trinley Ozer, may you live long.
The Dzogpa Chenpo is the Dakinis' luminous heart-essence,
The Supreme Dharma's excellent activity spread widely like pollen.
May your fortunate disciples gathering like bees to honey,
Fly in the Dharmakaya's sky.

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3 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I remember the Chod Empowerment vividly. Lama Gonpo's (inwardly and outwardly) beautiful and accomplished translator was Choying Palmo, who was with him in Amdo when he changed realms for the Copper Colored Mountain.

TENPA said...

I seem to remember. A very bonny English girl with long, blonde hair, wasn't she? If you were there, then you are my Vajra brother (or sister), and I am so glad to hear from you. I see you are somewhere proximate to Sacto. I am in HK these days, and send you warmest wishes.

Jane Stillwater said...

Here it is November 2011 and I suddenly find myself sorely missing Gonpo Tsedan. He and Chagdud Tulku were (and still are) the heroes of my lifetime.