El·e·na [el-uh-nuh, uh-ley-nuh; It. e-le-nah] /ˈɛlənə, əˈleɪnə; It. ɛˈlɛnɑ/ –noun a female given name, form of Helen // A proud student of His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche // Personal assistant with a BSc (Hons) Psych from Uni of Warwick // These are snapshots of my life, in words and pictures

Chinese New Year 'Orphans' Dinner

January 30, 2020 1

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Tsem Rinpoche relaxing in the kitchen.

Our Chinese New Year (CNY) ‘Orphans’ Dinner. That was the name Rinpoche gave our annual CNY reunion dinner.

Every year, when Malaysia essentially shuts down for a few weeks during CNY, most Kecharians would be a part of the exodus of Malaysians returning to their hometowns to reunite with their families. There would, invariably, always be some people left behind with nowhere to go, whether it was by choice, circumstance or culture (i.e. they do not celebrate CNY).

For many years, I was one of those people and while some expressed sadness for what was perceived as my lack of a place to go (and I appreciated that they even thought of me), truth be told I never minded. During the couple of weeks when Kechara was pretty quiet and everyone was off doing their own thing, it meant I got to spend a lot of time with my lama when he was at his most relaxed for an extended period of time.

That is not to say Rinpoche never relaxed during the rest of the year, but Rinpoche never relaxed in this way for so many days in a row.

Our set-up for the 2018 reunion dinner hotpot with Rinpoche

Our set-up for the 2018 reunion dinner hotpot with Rinpoche

With fewer people requesting for assistance, and with fewer people to serve and assist, it meant protocols, schedules and deadlines were somewhat relaxed to accommodate for this. As a result, during some years, we would be travelling during the Chinese New Year period.

Other years, we would be at home in Malaysia and in the Ladrang. It was during these periods when Rinpoche would do things like walk around the Ladrang. While it does not sound like a big deal to most people, this was actually not the norm – when there were many people around, Rinpoche (being a very private person) would usually be in his rooms.

So it was not something we were at all used to, hanging out in the kitchen and having our lama suddenly come in just to chill with us and shoot the breeze!

And as much as I know Rinpoche was doing it for us so we did not feel lonely and left out, it was also nice to see Rinpoche get some ‘time off’. With Rinpoche, we would sit and talk for hours after dinner, analyse the coming year, talk about new plans and strategies. We would play games, tell jokes and stories, sing, watch YouTube videos and for once, the videos were not always educational (one year, we watched pimple-popping videos with Rinpoche!).

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Rinpoche could also be extremely youthful and playful, more so than most people know and during Chinese New Year, when Rinpoche was with people whom Rinpoche was very familiar with, this quality would manifest more frequently. The lama will do whatever it takes to get through to the students and whether that is teasing them, sitting on a throne to give teachings, buying them clothes, doing a puja and blessing, treating them to a movie and so on, the lama has no ego to manifest behaviour that outwardly might look unusual, but will ultimately benefit the recipient. In enacting these myriad deeds to connect with his students, the lama is then able to impart advice and training that addresses the root cause of our suffering, which is ignorance.

And so one of Rinpoche’s favourite things to do was to hide and scare people because how someone reacts when they are scared is a reflection of their state of mind. In general, the bigger their reaction, the bigger their ego. So Rinpoche would hide around corners or sneak up on people, and jump-scare them when they least expected it. For the onlookers, it was HILARIOUS, mixed with a little trepidation that we might be the next ‘victims’ and who knows how we might potentially embarrass ourselves when it happens to us (EGO!).

Then, as soon as Chinese New Year had begun, it would all be over. After a few days of hanging out and enjoying a quiet and empty Kuala Lumpur, it would be back to ‘business as usual’. One by one, people would start returning from their hometowns and their Chinese New Year breaks, and pretty soon things would start up again. Another year of hustle and bustle, before the inevitable wind-down just before Chinese New Year.

This year was our first Chinese New Year without Rinpoche and while there is a tendency to look at the past through rose-tinted glasses, it is during moments like this when I really miss my lama.

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

Our set-up for the 2020 reunion dinner hotpot with the Kechara Forest Retreat family

Our set-up for the 2020 reunion dinner hotpot with the Kechara Forest Retreat family

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Tsem Ladrang, Tsem Rinpoche, Behind The Scenes

One Comment → “Chinese New Year ‘Orphans’ Dinner”

  1. shaongal 8 months ago   Reply

    Thank you this and other stories about Rinpoche. One of the the things I love is to read about Rinpoche’s stories from senior & close students like you and some others. Keep the stories coming!

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