That was my first reaction stepping into Kechara House for the very first time. The centre looked more like a boutique hotel than a Buddhist centre. My initial reaction when Ginny first received the invitation for us to attend HE Tsemtulku Rinpoche’s 46th birthday, the Guru of Kechara House, was a mixture of amusement and uneasiness.
I mean seriously, what’s a twenty-one year old asian girl like her with almost-blonde hair suppose to be doing in a holy person’s birthday? Jump out of a cake and sing La Bamba….in Tibetan?
The feeling of uneasiness soon eased away the moment I stepped inside the lobby of Kechara House right around 7pm on a Monday night. The centre was just outright chic and modern. Nothing like a conventional temple at all. Hey, we might actually enjoy this.
“ Hi, Welcome to Kechara House” a lady at the concierce beamed with a smile so wide I wished I had brought a present or something instead of a sheepish grin and an empty stomach. After all it’s not everyday one gets to attend a holy monk’s birthday coupled with the hordes of his friendly staff ushering the guests around. A simple card would have left me a little less guilty.
“Hello, I am a blogger under Nuffnang, and this is my guest” Ginny replied. A couple of page flips later, she discovered she wasn’t in the list.
“You are an evil demon disguised as a blogger to ruin this holy occasion!!!!”…..screamed the concierge.
Ok, I made that up. But that’s how it kind of felt when your names were not on the invitation lists like its suppose to be… impostors.
“Its ok, our list seems to be missing. We’ll place you guys in the media section where the bloggers will be seated”
After climbing a flight of stairs , I was inside a huge hall with a few hundred people already seated and right in the middle of that hall was a humongous statue of a deity. It must have been almost 20 feet tall. I mean, that’s really huge for it to be placed indoors. I later found out that his name was Lama Tsongkapha, a really holy being that existed thousands of years ago in Tibet.
“Here’s your gift pack with some information about Kechara House and His Eminence” the lady handed over. I rummage through the nicely prepared pamphlets and little books about Tsemtulku and discovered that he was going to perform a ceremony to ordain four people as Buddhist pastors at his birthday party.
Somehow, you gotta hand it over to the holier folks. I mean, on my birthday I would be eagerly waiting for presents and trying to get my friends drunk. Here instead, they give you presents and try to give their friends a holier life with a higher status. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine my priorities in life.
After about an hour of gazing around the huge hall and watching some very distinguished Datin-like ladies sauntering around in their beautiful evening gowns, the emcee announced the arrival of the birthday boy followed by the sound of some ominous trumpets blaring across the hall. His Eminence strolled in, wearing traditional monk robes and flashed smiles and greetings to the audience. He is definitely a lot bigger and taller than I had actually expected. I mean, if he ever needed a career change, he could guarantee himself a place in the World Wrestling Federations’s Hall of Fame without breaking a sweat.
Strangely though, his presence emanated a sense of dignity and calmness that descended upon the room the moment he appeared. Maybe, just maybe this is the powerful aura a higher being possesses that is often explained but seldom witnessed.
As he got unto the ornately decorated chair which is referred to as “the throne”, we all waited eagerly in anticipation. Thus, began one of the most sincere teachings I have heard in a long time, Buddhism or otherwise.
Tsemtulku started by explaining the reason why he wanted to ordain four of his followers as the first Buddhist pastors in the world and we were all witnesses to the first event of its kind. He said that to expect people wanting to be monks and nuns in today’s world is almost impossible, as lay people like us would find it very difficult to give up the life we have right now. Hence, the Buddhist pastors would serve as a halfway house between a lay person and monkhood. Whoever says that innovation is dead in Buddhism gotta check this out.
Suddenly out of nowhere, Tsemtulku blurted out that he likes Oprah’s style of connecting with her audience and climbed down from his “throne” and started walking closer to us. I liked him better already.
Tsemtulku spoke english with a strong American accent. It was kinda surreal listening and watching it all as this person dressed in tradition Tibetan monk robes dished out a Buddhist talk with a Californian drawl. Kinda like watching an Asian flick translated into English.
His teaching was about “changes” and in a nutshell he says that it is better to change oneself than to expect others to change. This simple but profound insight struck a chord in shallow me that somehow always expected the world to change accordance to my whims. The best part was Tsemtulku spoke to us not like a teacher to a student but as one friend to another with a good dose of American humor thrown in that drew guffaws from all of us and actually drew us closer to him.
There was a moment of sadness when Tsemtulku told us that he has been diagnosed with an incurable disease and he had no more than a few years left in this world unless a miracle happens and if so, he would be granted another 16 or more years before he leaves. He said that he was not afraid at all because all have been foretold by one of his Gurus. We all felt his courage and the lightness he placed on his own life. I later found out that his failing liver was the cause.
The whole talk lasted a good two hours but it was one of the shortest two hours of my life. I wanted more. Even my empty stomach was no longer hungry. He was seriously that good.
His 46th birthday party ended up with four of his followers ordained in a somber ceremony of hair cutting and mantra chanting. The generous Tsemtulku presented some of the guests with Buddha statues and his coffee table biography “The Promise”. Yes, we were one of the few fortunate people who got a copy of the book. Beautifully written and visually exciting.
I left at about 11 pm that night from Kechara House with a feeling best described as strangely happy and light-hearted. Those few hours virtually changed my whole perspective about Buddhism. The whole experience including the beautiful and modern centre, the smiling and friendly people and the super charismatic Tsemtulku kinda made religion fun again for me.
The wise once said that if we are really lucky, we will get to meet people and visit places during our short journey in life that will change us for the better. I honestly think that this chance encounter with His Eminence and Kechara House is one of those rare moments.
Happy Belated Birthday Mr. Tsemtulku and thanks for everything.
(Ps. the Queen claims shes going to do another post regarding this so wait up for that next week as well)