After I completed my graduation, I came back to my home town Siliguri. Siliguri is on the foothills of the Himalayas bordering Tibet, with a sizable population of Tibetans in Siliguri. There are a number of famous Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the nearby mountains, the Rumtek Monastery in Gangtok, being one of them.
I always had a deep fascination for Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetan spiritual music is very vibrant and aesthetic. I had a huge collection of Tibetan instruments and chants, which transported me to the wondrous world of Buddha. An hour and a half drive from Siliguri, nestled in the Himalayas, is a very beautiful hill station called Mirik. I had heard from a few seekers that an enlightened spiritual Tibetan master, Bokhar Rimpoche lived there.
About Bokar Rimpoche (1940 – 2004) – At the age of twenty, Rinpoche and members of his community fled Tibet and went into exile in India, where he became a close disciple of the eminent meditation master Kalu Rinpoche. Under Kalu Rinpoche’s guidance, Bokar Rinpoche completed two traditional three-year, three-month retreat focusing on the spiritual Shangpa Kagyu practices. Bokar Rinpoche founded a retreat center in Mirik
One day, I was feeling very disturbed, it was as if my mind was full of thousands of scorpions. I drove down to Mirik to meet him. The monastery was situated in a valley at a height of 5000 feet, overlooking a beautiful lake. The first time I entered into the monastery, a wave of peace engulfed me. I sat in front of the huge statue of Buddha, my mind become absorbed in stillness. After a few minutes one of the young monks signaled me that Bokhar Rimpoche was ready to meet me.
I entered a small room, which was warm and filled with sweet smell of incense. Bokhar Rimpoche was in his late-fifties, his face radiant with a calm spiritual glow. I respectfully bowed down at his feet. The spiritual silence in the room was so overpowering that I sat there, my eyes transfixed on his eyes. The millions of scorpions which were tormenting me immediately disappeared. A cool peaceful sensation filled my entire being.
I was surprised at the sudden rush of peace and silence. The walls of the room, the beautiful tapestry, the sweet incense, all emanated a powerful silence. I had never experienced such silence before. My mind, peaceful after days of agony, slipped softly into the ever increasing circles of gratitude and sacredness.
I wanted to speak, because I thought it was awkward for me to just sit silently. But no words came out, silence bathed my entire being. I forcibly opened my eyes after a few minutes and again saw the beaming face of Bokhar Rimpoche. I felt the powerful urge to slip into the silence, But I resisted this time, and kept my eyes open. After a few minutes Bokhar Rimpoche inquired
“Where have you come from?”
His English was broken and had a strong Tibetan accent. At times, when he got struck explaining a particular thought, an elderly guy next to him translated his thoughts into English for me.
“Siliguri”, I replied.
“Was the drive ok?”
“Yes, it was ok.”
“Do you have any questions?”
“Yes. How to attain enlightenment?”
Bokhar Rimpoche was delightfully taken aback by my direct question. He thought for a few seconds and then replied
“I don’t get many people here who ask me this question. In fact I am here to answer this very query of a spiritual seeker. But day in and day out I get people who ask me about solving their material problems, how to please the gods and reap good fortune. But rarely do I get someone who is interested in the highest truth.”
His words sent a shiver down my spine. He understood my spiritual quest, he knew the depths of it and he acknowledged the importance of it.I quickly explained to him the spiritual experiences I was going through and asked him for guidance.
“When you drove down to the monastery today, if you saw something amazing on the way, and you stopped, what would have happened?”
“I wouldn’t have reached the monastery.”
“And if you encountered an obstacle, bad road and didn’t want to go forward?”
“That would have stopped me from reaching here as well.”
“Good and bad experiences keep happening on the path. But you should not stop driving. The supreme teaching is to be without attachment or aversion. If you like something, it becomes a problem, if you dislike an experience, it becomes a problem. Just watch them with compassionate awareness and soon you will be steadfast in reality. As you walk the road changes, the scenes change, everything changes.”
I soaked in his wisdom. His presence was a soothing balm to my pain. Bokhar Rimpoche was immensely pleased with my thirst for spiritual knowledge. As a token, he offered me a white scarf, which he gently laid on my neck.
“Thank you so much for your guidance and blessing. I feel so peaceful here. There is a sense of timeless peace in this room “
“Well, you are free to visit me whenever you want. Even if I am not here, you can sit here and meditate. The doors of this room are open to those who are sincerely trying to attain enlightenment.”
When I stepped out of his room, the young monk who had escorted me said that Bokhar Rimpoche hardly gave permission to outsiders to sit in his room and meditate.
“He must really like you” he said, with deep reverence in his voice.
Incredible Experience of Emptiness
I started going to Mirik whenever the darkness and suffering became difficult to bear. An enlightened master’s presence can be very powerful and transform the mind. And that’s what was happening whenever I went to Bokhar Rimpoche. For the next 2 years, I drove to Mirik as much as I could. Infact I had gone there so many times, that my cousin used to always joke that I knew the location of every lamppost, every tree on the way to Mirik. My family members were growing more and more concerned with my constant visits to the monasteries, my immersion into spiritual books and long periods of silence.
I could sense an immense love in Bokar Rimpoche’s presence. Sometimes I used to just go to him, sit and meditate in his presence, without speaking even a word. He didn’t care if I asked questions, or just sat silently. Sometimes I used to sit and when I opened my eyes, he would be gone, attending to the monastery duties.
I remember one particular meeting with him. I used to sit in the main monastery, listening to the spiritual Tibetan Buddhist chants. The monks knew me and they always offered me a cushion and some warm Tibetan tea. One day, after the chants were over, I stepped out of the Monastery and saw Bokar Rimpoche walking towards the courtyard, just in front of the monastery. He saw me and smiled, then gently beckoned with his hand to come towards him. I walked towards him and he looked at me.
As soon as our eyes met, I felt a peculiar sensation of everything dissolving. This was the first time I had experienced something like this. Slowly the forms dissolved and the monastery dissolved. I felt a deep sense of emptiness in me and in the scenery in front of me, including Bokhar Rimpoche. There was no meaning, no content, but just this silent and still emptiness. We both stood still. As the emptiness started growing, a deep fear arose in me. My mind was not ready to embrace the emptiness, it was afraid of losing all content and meaning. But the emptiness kept growing, intensifying, as if ready to swallow the whole universe. And Bokhar Rimpoche just stood there, an empty form.
As the emptiness intensified, I felt my body shuddering and I could no longer face the intensity of it, the stark cold nothingness of it. I closed my eyes tightly shut and then opened them with a violent shake of my head. With that the emptiness started receding and with that the fear as well. Until slowly everything was back to normal. Bokhar Rimpoche graciously extended his hand and kept it on my shoulder, smiled as usual and said in broken English “no stop..” and with his fingers made a gesture of walking. I understood what he was trying to convey to me- “Don’t stop, keep walking…”
That was my last meeting with him, before his death in 2004. Whenever I was in Siliguri, I always went to Mirik and meditated in my silent oasis, the place where the emptiness was first revealed to me and it was in Mirik, in 2005 when I experienced my first awakening.