Thoughts. Experiences. Inspiration.

Christmas with Rinpoche

December 28, 2019 0


Tsem Rinpoche happily gifting Christmas presents.

This past week, I had the honour of hosting a Christmas dinner for members of our Kechara community. 50 people came together to eat and be merry, and to remember the kindness of our lama, His Eminence Kyabje Tsem Tulku Rinpoche. After dinner, all of us adjourned to perform a puja for Rinpoche’s swift return.

The dinner was actually inspired by some photos of Rinpoche celebrating Christmas in the 1970s. As many of you will know, Christmas was not Rinpoche’s favourite holiday. Rinpoche ADORED Halloween but Christmas, not so much. Except for one particular Christmas in the 1970s.

Once, I had expressed to Rinpoche that I loved those photos. In them, I saw a young, rambunctious child surrounded by presents and family; to me, Rinpoche looked as happy as he possibly could have during such a difficult childhood. Rinpoche said that actually, he had really good memories of that particular Christmas.

Then, more recently, as I was going through photos of Rinpoche (as I so often do), I came across a series of images taken in 2014 when we were in the United States. They were photographed on December 23, 2014 which was the day Rinpoche returned to Malaysia for good.

Unbeknownst to all of us, in the days leading up to December 23, Rinpoche had arranged for Christmas gifts for everyone. Not only had Rinpoche managed to buy everything without any of us realising, but Rinpoche had somehow managed to wrap it all AND keep everything hidden from us.

Back then, a few of us stayed in a separate location from the USA Ladrang so each morning, we had to drive to the Ladrang. When we arrived at the Ladrang that particular morning, we walked into a dining room table that had been completely outfitted with presents and decorations. Each present had been painstakingly labelled with a note and a one-line teaching for us to contemplate and apply.

We were, of course, in shock and started wondering out loud what was going on. That was the precise moment when Rinpoche came out and told us that we were not allowed to touch anything until Rinpoche’s plane had taken off from LAX. Until then, Rinpoche teased that we would only be allowed to drool at what was on the table.

After we were suitably excited for what was to come, Rinpoche called us into his room and spoke to us, giving each of us a hug before reciting dedication prayers for the time we had spent in America. A few of us then left for the airport, to escort Rinpoche onto his plane.

That our lama, whose mind led to the establishment Kechara, the construction of Kechara Forest Retreat, and the conceptualisation of an entire campaign against the ban on Dorje Shugden, would then pay attention to something as trivial as our Christmas gifts, is something that has left an indelible imprint on my mind.

When I reflect on all of this, I can come to only one conclusion and that is Rinpoche entered and left this world as a bodhisattva amongst us. From the young child in the photos, cheerfully hiding the pain of his abuse, to the lama who put his own welfare and preferences aside for the benefit of others, Rinpoche never changed from the moment he was born. Born from compassion, driven by compassion and passed in compassion.

And so everyone slept through the dead of the night, Rinpoche would be up and awake, thinking about how to help others, how to bring joy to them, how to make them feel loved and appreciated. That is exactly the type of person Rinpoche was, on every single level. Even down to Christmas presents.

I often wonder what I did to deserve such a lama as Rinpoche. I cannot think of anyone else who has cared for us – for everyone – as thoroughly and completely as Rinpoche did.

To my Lama, who is one with Heruka, we look forward to welcoming you home soon.






Reciting dedication prayers with Rinpoche before leaving for the airport


That night before opening our gifts, after dropping Rinpoche off at LAX


One of the photos that inspired this year’s dinner


One of the photos that inspired this year’s dinner


One of the photos that inspired this year’s dinner. This was taken when Rinpoche was older and I always found the expression so endearing. I always imagine what would have happened if Rinpoche’s adoptive parents had let their son be the way he was, with all of his expressiveness and love to give.


Merry Christmas and happy holidays from all of us here in Kechara Forest Retreat!

Life in Kechara: Behind The Scenes

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