Kurukulla Center

In Meditation for Nineteen Years

By Ven. Tseten Gelek, Choden Rinpoche's attendant

This article was part of a series published in Mandala Magazine (July-August 2000) about Ven. Choden Rinpoche. To learn more about Rinpoche's visit to Kurukulla Center, or to read more articles from this series, please go here.

Rinpoche lived in his cousin’s house in Lhasa from 1965 to 1985, without coming out. He acted like an invalid. His room had no window, only a small space for ventilation above the door. Rinpoche stayed in one room for eight years, then he went to another room for the remaining eleven years. I saw the second room and it was dark, really dark. When you walk in you can’t see anything, but slowly as your eyes adjust you can make some things out. Even now at Sera when I come to open the shades in Rinpoche’s room he says no, no. I think only for my benefit he lets me open the shades. He didn’t take even one step out of those rooms for nineteen years.

To do retreat, normally, you need texts, a tangka, drum, bell, vajra, all these things, but Rinpoche only had a rosary. There was no altar, no text, nothing. He had already finished all the memorization of all the texts and prayers during his years of study at Sera, so he didn’t need these things. The Chinese were always checking what he was doing; they would come to the house several times a day, and if they found any religious object they would have taken him away. So Rinpoche did all the retreats using just his mind; everything was in his mind. But he would never say this himself; he just says he was sleeping, thinking a little about the Dharma.

He spent all his time on that bed, meditating. They had to change the bedding once a month because it got smelly from sweat, so he’d get off while they changed it. He would sit all of the day and lie down at night for sleep. He used a bedpan for a toilet, as he was pretending to be an invalid. Until 1980 he didn’t talk to anybody, only the person who brought food into his room. No one else even came to his room – if people brought food they’d give it to his family and they’d bring it in. My father and grandfather were his disciples and would bring him what he needed. They said Rinpoche had long hair and a very long beard. They said he is a very special person.

This article first appeared in Mandala Magazine, July/August 2000.