Postcard 46 from Robina: Kathmandu, Saturday, October 25, 2014

2014-10-25 11:00:00

After more than five months in Australia, on October 13 I was gone again. First stop was Hong Kong for a few hours, then Delhi. Ven. Samten Gyalten, an Indian nun whom I’d met at Tushita in Dharamsala in 2010 and is now managing Tushita Delhi, had invited me to teach there. In 2010 she was Barkha Madan, a film actor and producer.

The newly ordained Gyalten Samten (right) with Geshe Sherab, Sera Je Monastery, November 2012. Photo by Bill Kane, from the article “The ‘Bollywood’ Nun” in the January 2013 issue of Mandala Magazine.

Barkha Madan at the gala screening of the 2010 film “Soch Lo” in Los Angeles. Photo David Livingston/Getty Images North America.

We had a nice time together: teachings every evening and during the weekend. I met her parents and had her dear mother do a Tarot reading for me.

Evening teachings at Tushita Delhi.

With Vens. Samten Gyalten and Tenzin Pelza, who works at Tushita in Dharamsala.

With Ven. Samten’s parents in Delhi.

I hadn’t been to the center for years. My first time there was soon after I became a nun myself, in February 1978. Lama Yeshe had asked Nick Ribush to start a center a few months earlier, and I moved there after ordination to continue working with him on publishing, which I’d begun doing at Kopan.

Rinpoche with Lama Yeshe in Delhi in 1975, a couple of years before Lama sent Nick Ribush there to start Tushita Meditation Centre. Photo Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

Wisdom Publications was still called Publications for Wisdom Culture then: Lama put that tag on the end of all his centers: “Look where your culture has got you!” he’d say. “We need wisdom culture!” We were often embarrassed by Lama’s unusual names! I think the only center that continues to use that phrase is Root Institute for Wisdom Culture, in Bodhgaya. Root Institute? Yes! It’s where Lord Buddha got enlightened, so of course the roots of Buddhism were planted there. Lama was always creative.

I worked for months finding printers, etc., but after my three-month retreat in Dharamsala in the summer Lama moved Wisdom to the UK. I went, but Nick stayed in Delhi.

Since then, Tushita has moved a few times and has been up and down in terms of the numbers of people staying there and its teaching events. It’s been run for 20 years now by Renuka Singh, a Delhi professor and student of His Holiness and Rinpoche. A couple of years ago Ven. Kabir, one of the very few FPMT Indian monks, was appointed the spiritual program coordinator, and more recently Ven. Samten has moved in to run the day-to-day activities.

Ten years later I served there as the spiritual program coordinator. I worked very hard, I remember that. We did a newsletter and we had lots of teachings. I had borrowed a car and used it to get around town. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the lawlessness of Indian drivers: it suits my personality!

What I also vividly remember, more than anything, is the center didn’t have air conditioning and the summers in Delhi are beyond belief: such intense heat! In May and June, before the rain hits, the average temperature—and they don’t have cool changes!—is 40 degrees Celsius, which is 104 Fahrenheit.

About how I felt when I had hepatitis and malaria in Delhi’s May heat! Photo AP.

To compound matters I got hepatitis and malaria. Someone consulted Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche on my behalf and Rinpoche’s observation said that I was “close to death.” Well, I didn’t know anything about that, I just knew I felt pretty terrible!

The trouble was that we didn’t notice the malaria. With hepatitis, you’re bright yellow as a result of all that bile getting into your liver. You get fevers as well, but they go after a few days. But mine didn’t. Every second day for a couple of weeks I’d be hallucinating, shaking, burning up, not knowing (as we say in Australia) whether I was Arthur or Martha! Lying there in that inner and outer heat: wow! I lost 20 pounds of weight easily in that couple of weeks.

Mercifully, one day someone saw me in the throes of one of the fevers and she immediately recognized it as malaria.

I didn’t know I was “dying” but i just knew I had to get the hell out of that inferno! During one of my lucid moments I called my sister Jan in Brisbane and asked her to help me get to Australia. She was incredible: she flew to Singapore just to pick me up. And amazingly Air India allowed me to get on the plane bright yellow and probably infectious!

I’ll never forget the bliss of the hotel in Singapore: the cool air. I still must have been close to death because I remember feeling that my body was sinking into the bed—that’s a clear sign of death!

I took a year to recuperate in Australia. I returned to the East again, this time Kopan Monastery—and I got malaria again! But since then, my liver is fine: I eat as much fatty foods as I like; it doesn’t seem to mind.

Back to 2014: the weather was lovely in Delhi this time: mild and heading towards winter.

I left Delhi on Monday October 20 for Kathmandu and spent a few lovely days relaxing before our pilgrimage started at the end of the week.

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