After graduating college I spent close to a whole year traveling China with my father. It was a time when anything was better than returning to the US and contemplating the next step in life, and traveling seems to occupy those moments in my life. My father too, had plenty to escape, his health was failing and his energy to conduct his antique business had long since left him. We traveled to so many Buddhist temples and holy places that I can hardly remember which ones were interesting and which ones were more like Buddhist amusement parks . Most if not all the monasteries had long since been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and had been replaced with flashy stucco replicas with large plastic golden Buddhas.
During our many temple visits we met a very interesting Tibetan teacher who became a close friend. We spent several days with him at the monastery, then invited him to our home in Guang Zhou. He had a very familiar laugh and a smile never seemed to leave his face. After my father’s death, we continued to keep in touch. He would call at 2 am California time and laugh about the time difference, and repeatedly ask when I would return to China.
After more than a year of silence, I hesitated, then called him while pedaling south through the deserts of Qinghai. He quickly remembered me and extended an invitation to visit him in Sichuan. It turned out that his home was not too far off my route so I braved a 100 km single track mountainous road to his home village.
My friend’s name is Rin Chin Jer Po, who at the age of 19 was told by a senior Buddhist teacher that he had a strong potential in the practice of selflessness and Enlightenment. Immediately after hearing the news he decided to make a pilgrimage to India, and walked to the Holy city of Lumbini in northern India. When he arrived he met his future teacher and decided to devote his life to the study of Buddhism. After a year in India he returned to his home in Sichuan province and began to teach in China.
Rin Chin’s village was almost impossible to find as it is extremely remote and not located on any maps. He gave me the name of his temple and told me that he was about 100 kilometers from a certain landmark. En-route it took me close to a whole day of cycling to and fro on a large highway looking for a small dirt road that would take me his way. Once found I quickly noticed that I would be riding on a road full of muddy pot holes, loose rocks and steep climbs. At times I doubted my resolution to visit him but continued on as he was very good to my family after my father’s death.
When I arrived at his village I spent close to an hour asking villagers about where he lived, no one seemed to have heard the name Rin Chin Jer Po. Did I pedal to the wrong place, I thought? The name of the temple was familiar to most but no one seemed to have heard the name Rin Chin Jer Po. Finally I asked a few monks at the monastery for the residence of the abbot, thinking this was his home I quickly entered expecting to see him. Instead I met a relatively large bald man with a very happy face. I apologized for barging into his home, however he seemed too surprised at seeing a foreigner that he didn’t seem to noticed that I had just walked into his home. I quickly described Rin Chin to him and made a long hair gesture as well as large earrings. He quickly knew who I was talking about and led me to his residence.
Seeing Rin Chin through his second story window brought tears to my eyes and his large smile met mine. My doubts about coming quickly vanished and I was invited into his home and treated like a royal guest. A Tibetan feast of fresh beef, yogurt, milk tea, and lots of Sampa was soon prepared and a bed in the monastery waited me. It took me a day to get used to Tibetan customs as women do everything for the men; wash their clothes, cook, serve, and prepare all the meals, wash their feet, make and serve tea the daily tea.
I am headed south again, towards the province of Yunnan. It is warm, humid and rainy. Food rarely deviates from Tsampa, boiled beef and buns. My bags are full of gifts from Rin Chen and I must have at least a months worth of Tsampa and butter in a large bag.