The story I am about to tell you is nothing short of remarkable. It shows the profound ripple effect we have on each other’s lives, sometimes without us even knowing it. This is a story of people coming together in unexpected ways from different religious and cultural backgrounds and various parts of the globe in gestures of loving kindness.
This past week on December 18, 2020 one of my beloved teachers, Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche, passed away. I first met Rinpoche in my twenties when I lived in Boudhanath, Nepal where I was studying Tibetan Buddhism near the turn of the century—though it makes me sound ancient when I put it like that.
The last time I saw Chokling Rinpoche in person was in 2016 after I attended the 36th annual seminar offered each year by our monastery, Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling in Boudhanath where people come from far and wide to attend teachings and practice together. After the annual seminar, on what was a very precious occasion, Rinpoche offered the Lamey Tukdrub Barchey Kunsel cycle of teachings. Tukdrub means ‘Heart practice’; while Barchey Künsel means ‘dispeller of all obstacles.’ At the end of these ten days of precious teachings, I presented Rinpoche with an offering of gratitude in the form of a short poem I had written.
I remember feeling both honored and overwhelmed at the prospect of reading him what I had written as there were several thousand people in attendance. While we generally never know when the last time will be we see those we love, since there is always a last time, I can’t think of a more auspicious occasion than this. As I offered to you then, dear Rinpoche, I again offer you my heartfelt love and gratitude. You’ve benefitted countless beings, the magnitude of which is immeasurable. I am forever grateful to have had the fortune to connect with you in this lifetime. Even in your death, you continue to benefit many.
The young man in the photo below is a friend of mine whose name is Waqqar. He reached out to me on December 18th after a long time of not being in communication to let me know his father had passed away from Covid as did his uncle; though, from other causes. I felt incredibly saddened by this news.
The first time I met Waqqar was in 2014, when I returned to Bodh Gaya, India after seventeen years. While I returned briefly in 1997, I had first lived and studied at the Burmese Vihar in Bodh Gaya in the fall of 1993 as an undergraduate student on the Antioch Buddhist Studies program. It was an experience that changed the trajectory of my entire life. It was there I met my teacher Tulku Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Chokling Rinpoche’s older brother.
I had made friends with many of the village shop owners and community members when I lived there at age twenty. One of these friends was Waqqar’s uncle, Rafik, who recently passed away. When I first met Rafik in 1993, his wife had just given birth as had his sister-in-law. They didn’t own a camera; so, he asked if I would come to their home to take photos of their precious newborns. When he brought me to their home, the two women were each recovering from having recently given birth. There I met his wife and sister-in-law and the two newest members of their family. But unfortunately, I forgot to ask Rafik for his address to send the photos to before leaving India. It was only when I developed my photos upon my return home that I saw the beautiful photos of their family.
This is why when I returned to India in 2014, twenty years later, I was determined to find their family and give them these photos. Though, I had no idea if this would be possible because I had only been to their house once, and I didn’t know Rafik’s last name or where he worked anymore. Bodh Gaya changed so much in the twenty-year period I had been gone. I had to take a rickshaw from my hotel to the Burmese Vihar and orient myself from there in order to find my way around the now bustling town that had once been a tiny village with dirt roads and no cars.
I relied upon my friend Balwant whose family and younger brother Deepak I had been close with when I lived there. I showed Balwant the photos and miraculously he recognized Rafik and offered to take me to their home. My friend Balwant’s family is Hindu while Rafik’s family is Muslim. He told me he had never visited their home before, nor had he ever visited a Muslim family’s home. So, while neither of us was knowledgeable about any customs we should be attentive to, he was perfectly happy to show me the way and accompany me on a visit to their home.
We were welcomed into their home and given bottomless cups of chai as everyone marveled over our miraculous reunion. After twenty years I was finally able to present them with the baby photos I promised to give them all those years before. I met one of the babies in the photos, now a young woman. Rafik, wasn’t home that day and neither was the baby boy from the photos, who was now a young man. However, Rafik’s nephew Waqqar was present as was Waqqar’s mother, who I immediately recognized from the photos, along with other members of their family. I also met Waqqar’s father Israil who I had only vaguely remembered meeting from my short visit twenty years prior. I shared pictures and stories of my children and family. I am forever grateful for those moments we spent together on that warm November afternoon. I still recall Israil’s joy and warmth as he laughed, and we shared stories. Sadly, I learned this last week of his death as well as Rafik’s; though, I never did see Rafik again after my initial visit.
Waqqar and I stayed in touch ever since my visit in 2014, as I helped fund a part of his education, which I was happy to be able to contribute to. When he reached out to me earlier this week to share his sad news with me, I also shared with him that my teacher Chokling Rinpoche had passed away. I sent him my teacher’s photo, the same image at the top of this story.
I felt incredibly moved and touched when the very next day Waqqar had gone to the Mahabodhi Temple, one of the most sacred sites to Buddhists and Hindus alike where the Buddha attained enlightenment, to make offerings on my teacher Chokling Rinpoche’s behalf. This story exemplifies the power of love across lines of difference and distance.
May you return to us swiftly, dear Rinpoche. May your journeys be smooth, Rafik and Israil. Thank you dear, Waqqar, for your loving kindness. May all who live in this world create positive ripple effects as we weave in and out of each other’s journeys with loving kindness. My heart is full of gratitude for the gift of, well, a lifetime.