Thoughts. Experiences. Inspiration.

Taking (physical) pain away

March 13, 2020 0

Tsem Rinpoche dressing his attendant's cut

Tsem Rinpoche dressing his attendant’s cut

Rinpoche’s life was about taking pain away from people, on the level that worked best for them. This meant that oftentimes, Rinpoche went above and beyond to help others, whether it was physically, emotionally or spiritually. This week, I’m covering the physical aspect.

I think the best known example of Rinpoche going above and beyond to help others physically must be the establishment of Kechara Soup Kitchen (KSK), to take away the hunger of countless people. It was inspired by Rinpoche’s own experiences as a homeless teenager when Rinpoche ran away from New Jersey to Los Angeles after a childhood with abusive parents who were not at all supportive of Rinpoche’s wish to pursue monkhood and spirituality.

But there are also lesser known instances of Rinpoche helping others physically. These are the more private moments, the ones that happened on a spur of the moment, spontaneously and instantly, without planning. So many ‘little’ moments in between that are too, too many to recall.

They are the moments when people fell and Rinpoche dressed their wounds and bandages, the times when people had a flu and Rinpoche administered sinus medication. The times when people suffered from migraines and headaches and Rinpoche helped to realign their backs to give them some relief.

The time Rinpoche bought aromatherapy eye pillows for students’ sore eyes, and when Rinpoche ordered leg massagers online and had them delivered to older students and friends living in the United States. When Rinpoche got special orthopaedic shoes for students with feet issues, or sent people to receive acupuncture treatment.

They are the times when Rinpoche arranged for students to take records of those with high blood pressure to monitor their health, or when Rinpoche sponsored bottles upon bottles of vitamins and supplements for old monks or students. When Rinpoche would send food to bedridden students or, in one instance, even cordon off the entire ground floor of the Ladrang for them to stay and recuperate in peace.

They are the times when Rinpoche sat in a chair and asked to be pushed by students who were reluctant to do more physical activity. Rinpoche knew that they would never decline to push him, so in this way they would get their cardio workout and be none the wiser.


Then there are times like when people were in the hospital, and Rinpoche visited them to offer comfort and Dharma words of advice, or arranged for his own personal doctor to oversee their treatment. For struggling students, Rinpoche would often take care of their medical bills, going so far as to do it secretly so as not to embarrass them or make them feel indebted.

They are the times when Rinpoche foresaw health obstacles for certain people, and would quietly arrange for massive pujas and offerings to be made on their behalf and dedicated to them. They never knew it was happening, they never found out and to this day, most still have absolutely no idea because not only did Rinpoche never tell them but Rinpoche also never took a single cent for any of it. It was always done out of Rinpoche’s pure wish to benefit others.

The incredible thing is that oftentimes, Rinpoche himself manifested a lot of discomfort. For the 22 years Rinpoche lived in Malaysia, Rinpoche never found the weather to be particularly agreeable, especially the humidity. Rinpoche also frequently experienced migraines. Throughout it all, Rinpoche never once used his own physical discomfort as a reason to not help someone else.

There were times when a student was about to undergo a major surgery and despite being in a lot of pain, Rinpoche would go to the hospital to see them. The rest of us knew what was really going on – Rinpoche had prayed to absorb the person’s health obstacles so that their surgery would be successful. How did we know this? Because Rinpoche would be perfectly healthy with no signs of illness but upon hearing the news they had to be operated on, would instantly become feverish, sweating and pale for the next few days (sometimes even weeks!) until the date of the surgery.

Rinpoche once said to me,

“I know I can tolerate the pain but maybe the other person can’t, so better if I experience it rather than them. And I am lucky because I have all of you around to help me, they don’t have anyone.”

And so on the night before the surgery, on the way to visit them at the hospital, Rinpoche would be grimacing from the pain. Upon arriving at the hospital however, Rinpoche would show no signs of ever being in pain. Rinpoche knew if the person ever found out how much pain Rinpoche was in, they might worry or feel guilty and to even that extent, Rinpoche did not want them to feel that way. Once the visit was over, Rinpoche would come back to the Ladrang, wait up until he knew their surgery was successful before going to sleep himself.

Meditating on our lama’s kindness and returning his kindness by way of holding all of his instructions, is the most powerful practice we can do. I am sure that if we sat and quietened our minds, each one of us could come up with many instances of when Rinpoche took away our pain, whether it was physical, emotional or spiritual. Even if we were not the direct recipient of it, we surely know others who were.

After all, my perfect lama was, at the end of the day, the ultimate healer of beings, using his body, speech and mind to deliver the ibuprofen that is Dharma which Rinpoche not only taught but lived, practised and actualised as well.

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

Life in Kechara: Behind The Scenes

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