A Look Back at Notable Events in 2020
Year 2020 arrived with the usual fanfare of massive fireworks display at Sydney Harbour 11 hours before the UK, followed by equally impressive fireworks display in Hong Kong 3 hours later while the Pathgate Winter Retreat afternoon teaching for the last day of year 2019 was still in session. After the conclusion of the retreat one week later, Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche continued with his travelling, bringing teaching to the Far East and to different countries in Europe, while some students chose to visit each other or take in the sight of places they wished to visit.
Many dharma friends of Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche attended the Nyingma Monlam Chenmo in Bodhgaya - the 10 days Great Prayer Festival which attracted over 10,000 monks, nuns and devotees from around the world. Others dharma friends brought teaching to other corners of the world such as Khenpo Nyima Dondrup and Khenpo Tsultrim Tentar in Nepal.
With the Covid-19 pandemic becoming headline news around the world, increasing stringent safety precautions became an important concern and all non-essential travelling simply ceased as the new year entered into the month of March. Here is a brief look back at some of the notable events in 2020 that are related to the Palyul community - the Namdroling Monastery in India, the Palyul Mother Monastery in Tibet, the Pathgate Institute and other Palyul Centres around the world.
Losar, the Tibetan New Year is an important festival in the Tibetan calendar with lots of dharma activities and celebration. Losar is customarily celebrated with three days holiday at the Namdroling Monastery followed by a series of public dharma teaching given by the Khenpos of the Ngagyur Nyingma Institute and the commencing of Drubchen Puja on the 8th day with display of 180ft. giant thangka painting of Guru Rinpoche and Performance of Ritual Dance of Guru Padmasambhava's Eight Manifestations on the 10th day, and culminating on the 15th day of the full moon, which is Chotrul Duchen with a display of 180ft. giant thangka painting of Tsépakmé - Buddha of Infinite Longevity. On this very same day, 3rd March, when tens of thousands of visitors are expected to come to the monastery, body-temperature checks and hand-sanitizing for all visitors were initiated by Namdroling Monastery with staff from the Tsepal Tobkyed Medical Clinic.
By 15th March, as the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic became increasingly menacing, Namdroling Monastery went into a self-isolated lockdown barring all visitors. The ordained and all Palyul students worldwide were advised to refrain from group practices and focus instead on practising by oneself.
As an increasing number of countries closed their borders to visitors, UK likewise went into national lockdown on 24th March. Aware of the pandemic leaving many people in hardship, Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche directed his ordained to deliver weekly food supplies not only to the The People's Kitchen which provides hot meals to homeless people, but also to the Newcastle West End Foodbank which provide food parcels to many families who are struggling financially to make ends meet. In total, over 26,000 food parcels were issued in the first half of 2020.
From the month of April onwards, Namdroling Monastery initiated a series of programmes to support the local Indian population suffering from the economic downturn due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On 2nd April, Tulku Gyang Khang Rinpoche on behalf of the Penor Rinpoche Charity Foundation donated one million Indian Rupees to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund which provides accessible health services to the citizens of the Mysuru District. On 17th April, Tulku Mugsang Kuchen Rinpoche on behalf of the Penor Rinpoche Charity Foundation handed over a cheque of one million Indian Rupees to the PM CARES Fund (Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund) which is established to combat and to provide relief efforts against the coronavirus outbreak.
On 2nd May, food parcels were distributed to 800 Indian families who live in the vicinity of Namdroling Monastery. Two Tibetan Settlements nearby also received 100,000 Indian Rupees each towards their feeding programme for those in need of support.
On 28th May, Palyul Thupten Shedrub Choekhor Dargyeling, the branch of Namdroling Monastery in Bodhgaya, Bihar, distributed food parcels to the neighbourhood Indians who are facing hardship due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On 5th June, which coincided with the day of Saga Dawa Duchen - the day which commemorates the enlightenment of Buddha Shakyamuni at Bodhgaya and the anniversary of the Buddha’s parinirvana in Kushinagar, 155 Kushalnagar police and home guards were presented with one thermos water flask and one shawl each by Tulku Tsering Choedhar, Managing Trustee of Penor Rinpoche Charity Foundation as a gesture of appreciation and gratitude for their dedication in protecting people from the current pandemic.
With the approaching of summer months, virtual teaching and practice online had become the norm. The one-month retreat at the Palyul Retreat Centre in Upstate New York, USA commenced on 10th July and utilised internet platforms with students tuning in each day to the broadcast and participating remotely in the practice. Led by Khenpo Tenzin Norgay Rinpoche and supported by a small team of lamas that included Lopon Pasang Gurung and Lopon Rapjee Wangchuk, the retreat was successfully concluded on 10th August.
Other Buddhist teaching soon became available online such as those given by Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche. Lama Nurbu Samdup who is the resident lama of the Palyul Ohio Tibetan Buddhist Temple was at Namdroling Monastery during the lockdown but managed to return to the USA to assist Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche and to lead Puja practices which students can join using Zoom. 2020 became the year that students could attend dharma teaching without being physically present at the place of teaching.
On 2nd September, the auspicious day of Buddha Amitabha, Chogtrul Gyangkhang Rinpoche, the Chief of Namdroling Monastery, who had arranged the delivery of high quality face masks from Taiwan, generously offered 1000 Indian Rupees and three face masks to every monk and nun of the Namdroling Monastery, every resident of the Namdroling Parent’s Home and all the staff of Tsepal Tobkyed Medical Clinic.
On 7th November, the day of Lhabab Drubchen which commemorates the descending of Buddha Shakyamuni from the God Realm of Indra - the Thirty-Three Heaven at the peak of the Mount Meru - after having spent three months giving teaching to his own mother Mayadevi to repay her kindness so as to liberate her, and also to benefit the greatest assembly ever of an infinite number of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas Mahasavattvas, and Gods of the Six Realms in the ten directions, that has been recorded in the Buddha’s scripture, His Holiness Karma Kuchen Rinpoche enthroned the 3rd batch of Khenpos of Palyul Namgyal Jangchub Choeling Monastery in Tibet and also to officiate at the opening ceremony of the latest Gompa (Hall of Learning) at the Palyul Mother Monastery.
The pandemic outbreak in 2020 caused many countries to recognise the urgent need to put the normal lives of their citizens on pause to stop the spreading of the virus. Shops, schools and all non-essential businesses had to close down repeatedly as recurring measures of national lockdowns were implemented. Being social creatures, humans are not accustomed to the deprivation of interacting with their friends and family, with whom they share strong attachment and from whom they customarily seek support as they come upon the various challenging conditions of life.
Aware of the imminent escalation of the pandemic crisis in early February 2020, Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche took the decision to suspend all his teaching trips with his last teaching taking place at his UK centre on the eve of Losar. His advice to his students is to focus on personal practice and follow the daily audio teaching that has been made available to them for many years. As national lockdown became a reality worldwide, many Pathgate Study Groups organised their own daily practice together by using Zoom and through other internet platforms. Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche himself has used the lockdown as an opportunity for his own personal retreat, the perfect time for the practice of Guru Yoga.
We can all learn from the example of the monks and nuns at the Namdroling Monastery, where in spite of the lockdown, they continue with their life of devotion to the Buddhas while utilising their time to maintain a tranquil purposeful existence.
A look back at the notable events of 2020 cannot be completed without paying a proper tribute to Karma Hardy (1966 – 2020) who passed away on the morning of 28th December in London due to coronavirus. Karma Hardy had a long working relationship with Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche on the Pathgate Partnership Programme for the Third World when Karma was the Director of the Tibet Foundation - a charity that is dedicated to promote the welfare of Tibetans in India, Mongolia and Tibet, and also the cultural exchange of Tibet with that of the west.
Born to a Scottish father and a Tibetan mother, Karma was raised in a Tibetan refugee camp in India and was educated at the Central School for Tibetans, Mainpat and at Karma Sri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies at Rumtek Monastery, the seat of the Karmapas and Karma Kagyu in Sikkim. He came to the UK in 1994 and soon started working at the Tibet Foundation as an Office Assistant and later served as the Director of Tibet Foundation until his retirement in 2012 on health grounds.
During his over 18 years’ service at the Tibet Foundation, Karma oversaw the management of the charitable programmes and made multiple field trips to India, Mongolia and Tibet. He had also directed the fundraising and led the charity’s humanitarian assistance supplies to the snow-storm blizzards in Sershul, the Yushu earthquake and the Sichuan earthquake.
Our condolences and prayers are to his wife Pema, daughter Saldon and family.