Namgyal Rinpoche
Student Memories




Wesley Knapp
"There are little rules to this game. No, truly, I'm being quite serious. The order does not go where it's not invited. Should you, at any time want, then you invite." --Namgyal Rinpoche
Morality & Ethics Page 25
Before Brenda's Board built the bath-house, ablutions were 'a bit of a bummer' for bodhisattvas at Kinmount! The tiny bathroom in the old log cabin that functioned as the main service building for the 400-acre property in the sixties was inadequate for the growing number of meditators using the centre all year round by the late '70's and '80's. Out-houses built in the early days were few and far between, there was no electricity in them - and often no toilet paper! The whole set-up was inadequate - it was a long trek from anywhere to that one toilet - and even then its use was often restricted to 'chosen ones' in various categories - the politics of plumbing, Buddhist style!

Brenda Mintz the DC Chair managed the fund-raising and building of the bath-house - planned by Peter Boag and Ted Bieler - and the septic field between it and the main-house from 1980 to 1981. The plan called for a sauna in the area now used as the tea-room, with an outdoor pool and/or hot-tub to be installed adjacent to the tea-room end of the building. [The alternative, solar design was apparently negated by the view that the technology was then too new.

Cleanly Godliness: the Bath-House at KRC

The bath-house was a really major break-through in the community's life - kudos and many thanks to those who accomplished it! But, as with many plans at the centre based on volunteer, often unskilled, labour - and financed by donations - the actual implementation fell somewhat short. No sauna, no hot tub, no pool, no tiles and the shower stalls were small vertical metal coffins - two each on the men's and women's sides - which perched on pre-formed concrete shower floors that were not installed level, allowing the user to stand in a permanent puddle of soap sludge, hair and who knew what else next to the drain. However, the water pressure was great! - so great it created a steamy, suction back-draft that caused the slimy curtain to cling to the user's body, allowing lots of water to spray out onto the bare plywood floors…

Lotus Studio, tiling contractors and students of the Venerated Namgyal Rinpoche - had offered to supply ceramic tiles for the bath-house and installation, for a token fraction of what we were then earning - mainly to mollify our financial comptroller - because we were very busy with work. The tiles were accepted but the wall tile installations were done instead by what we would probably now call unskilled 'interns', working at the centre for free on a government grant program. In 1982 we were allowed to install the 6"x6" quarry floor tiles throughout the building on both the men's and women's sides, though not without adventure. At one point a woman that I had never seen before ducked under the tape bearing a sign that read - 'please keep out, wet cement, newly laid tiles' - which was blocking the entries. She started to skid her way across the tiles, squirting cement out of the joints - as I was right there kneeling before her and laying tiles in the cement - on her way to the toilets, which unbeknownst to her had been removed for tiling! No doubt she was too busy developing higher awareness through meditation to keep an eye on the signs or the floor. I roared at her, "Stop! Get Out!" and she left.

It was incidents such as these and others, that caused me to reflect that 'previously unknown to the Dharma Centre contractors' being fully paid for their skills and their work by the DC, were often treated with much more respect than a volunteer member's labour - at least their efforts were not revoked or downgraded in some way by internal politics. We were then approached in 1984 by that board with a request to renovate the shower areas of the bath-house. This was one of the friendlier boards in my opinion, comprising mainly early students of the Rinpoche who were considered 'cool' by many members. The KRC was a warm, friendly place to be then and exciting because Rinpoche was offering 'New Dispensation' Teachings. [Link: to Holistic Clearing]

This board included amongst others Richard Phelan as surely one of the most convivial 'gracious greeter' and care-takers ever and Brian Bamford as the chair - Rinpoche's 'Dick Swift & the Artful Dodger' from the Morocco 'therapy trip', who set a joyous tone for all; Debbie O'Connell, who created the garden below the Wind Cabin and others around the centre; and Francie Downing, a wonderful 'den mother' who spruced-up the entire centre - painted the cabins in contemporary colours, got rid of the mice and mouldy mattresses in the retreatant's rooms, put in carpets, cushions and curtains etc - really making the centre less grim and 'user-friendly'.

Also on that board was Gretchen Mehegan, Rinpoche's first Tibetan Tantra Translator, (who was probably the DC's first 'women's' libber'); [ Gretchen's recorded DC News Interview with Namgyal Rinpoche] who superbly organised & catalogued the library in the main house and vastly upgraded and edited the Dharma News, adding the brilliant 'Abbot's Column'.

I had created what I thought was an 'iron-clad' agreement in writing for Lotus Studio with Francie, (the board's representative of the moment), that would allow for the maximum efficiency and productivity of installation - because now it was summer and the peak season for us contractors. I didn't want any delays or political problems! I insisted that we were to be hired as professionals, (although at a huge discount rate) and the tile was paid for also, at a 40% discount.

I designed a functional new layout for the men's and women's shower areas, consisting of one 6'x6' communal unit on each side, where mothers and fathers could take their small children into the shower to seat and wash them; where elders could safely sit and shower; and where two could shower at the same time when it was busy - with only one drain on each side of the building, properly sloped floors, in-shower lighting, ventilation fans to prevent mould build-up, marble door frames and glass doors.

Functional Design

I also made scale drawings and produced a materials list. The person responsible from the Centre's side, the care-taker, was to acquire the materials and have them on site, demolish the old shower areas and then rebuild them to my forwarded specifications - so that when we arrived with the tiles we would only have to do the tiling!

It was meticulously, professionally planned. The scheduling was crucial. It was an incredibly humid, hot summer and Rinpoche was offering a long, silent retreat for about 60 people from all over the world, starting immediately on the planned completion date of the work. We arrived with the tile, on schedule, to start work - but the situation had changed. The board was going through changes. The one responsible for the demolition and re-building had done a little desultory demolition, got involved in a romance, left the tools and debris where they laid and gone!

We had to complete the major part of the demolition, get the construction materials and re-build everything before the tiling could commence. Then a small group of women tried to form a committee to prevent the use of what they considered to be 'fascist colours' in the tiling - the tiles happened to be black, white, grey and maroon - appealing I thought to both Universalists and Vajrayanists! Later, having seen how I was using those tiles on the men's side, these same women complained again, wanting to know why the design of the women's side was so 'boring'!

Fascist Colours - become Boring Design?

We had a very small window of opportunity to complete the work because of our other contracts and because the Rinpoche was soon arriving - along with the sixty or so meditators - who were to be met by construction chaos as it turned out. Angelica stayed at home to keep the business going and look after the children, dogs, cats and garden etc. Markus Anderson, my helper at the time (later to become Victor - also a student of Rinpoche's and a dedicated, hard worker - where are you now Victor?) and I went up to Kinmount to do the demolition and begin the re-building. I was younger then and frequently had to work 'all-day & all-nighters' when there were rush housing contracts to complete. Working twenty or thirty hours shifts was not that unusual then, so I calculated the time left until the Rinpoche's arrival by hours, rather than by days and figured there were enough hours to complete the whole process.

Fortunately, immediately prior to the long retreat, Rinpoche was offering a 'mini' week-end 'Male Only Retreat', which was not to be silent. In theory this would allow us extra hours to work - but wouldn't do anything about the pending delay of our next job. The Male Retreat Work was to become crucial in the design of the actual tiling, which I hadn't yet settled on at that time, having been granted 'contractual free reign' by Francie.

Being somewhat anal about the installation - knowing the heavy use that the showers would get - we spent what turned out to be far too much of the allotted time budget on the demolition, procurement of materials and the actual building part. When the carpentry was finished we had to clad it all in cement board and moisture-proof drywall; plaster, fine sand, paint and then silicone seal it. The drains were set, the floors were tiled and the electrical completed. Doors were framed, marbled and hung. Now the actual tiling of the walls, ceilings and benches could begin.

It was decided, under the duress of Rinpoche's and the retreatants' pending arrival, to complete one side first. Then the males and females could take 'shifts' by turn to use the bathing facilities there until the other side was completed. (It was at this point that the ladies started complaining about the colour selections, because we started on the ladies' side). It was going well, other than the fascist colours mini-crisis, we were being well-fed and solicitously cared for by the apologetic staff but soon I had to stop going over to the dining hall and just keep working. And there was this irritating thing that Markus used to do - he would want to stop working to eat and sleep! As the days and nights wore on he would take to the couch in the tea-room for a quick snooze and I didn't think it fair to rouse him when I discovered that he was no longer right there to help me.

In the early seventies, on their first teaching visits to New Zealand, I was fortunate to co-host and become friends with Geshe Lama Thubten Yeshe and his translator, Thubten Zopa Rinpoche and their attendant, the Australian monk Dr Nick Ribush - who later became the founder of Wisdom Press in Boston, U.S.A. We rented a large, empty house with few rooms overlooking the ocean, filled it wall to wall with mattresses and gave the Lamas the private rooms. This is how we did the retreat with a large, communal group. It was amazingly intimate, friendly and relaxed. Kiwis are cool and the Lamas were totally nonchalant. During the breaks Steve Palmer and I would go down to the water's edge to smoke and often Lama Yeshe would come by, take my hand and we would stroll together talking. He told me of staying up all night in the monastery, studying by butter-lamp light in order to attain the 'Geshe' degree and how one could 'get by' without sleep.

Also, when I was a child in Cyprus, my father (a career British army Sergeant Major), was ordered to build a brand new, complete living facility for 700 or so British Royal Marine Commandoes being urgently air-lifted in to deal with a liberation war there - in what was a British colony then. He had 60 hours to do it and drove his men like slaves, with only 3, two-hour sleep periods. They did it - so I knew that type of work was possible - and my own experiences of long shifts helped too. (But those were followed by a day or so of nothing but sleeping and eating before going back to work). I was an officer candidate in the Commandoes myself years later and learned that nothing was impossible once the mind was put to it. This also helped when Rinpoche referred to 'Gumption' and 'Spiritual Commandoes storming Heaven's Gates' during the Male 'Man Pack' Retreat - I had experienced the kind of required energy output he described.

We completed the ladies' side just after the male retreat had begun. The first day Rinpoche began by contrasting male and female qualities and principles. By now I was working non-stop - through the night too - and rather than taking sleep breaks I would go to the temple and listen to Rinpoche. Refreshed and inspired I would return to the bath-house, wake Markus up from his sleep and get on with the work. I decided to use Rinpoche's Teaching as the motif for the tile designs; straightforward on the female side, but complex on the male side as I became more and more inspired - although some might say crazed - by lack of sleep. I used the black, white & grey tile for the western mysteries, the maroon for the order and the black for the Yidam Mahakala.

Black White & Grey Cube

Entering into the interior of the Vajrayana 'cube mandala' through the 'Western Mysteries', one encounters to either side of the entry the black/white/ grey cube seats - 'crazy' male exploration energies integrated for use by the female, transformed to provide support and a functional basis - the 'irrational' male urge to explore the unknown, survive [sur/vivre - overcome life] and return 'experienced' - creating stability, ease and growth in the 'quality' of life. At the bottom on the left of the main wall facing you when you step into the men's shower you can see a single, cut maroon tile, the equivalent of the patch sown on the robes of the order - and a Lotus flower. These two are our 'Universalist Dharma symbols as lay-lamas working in the world'. I used the Lotus tile on work that I was pleased with, which is to say, very rarely. It has a closed bud - contained potential, ready to manifest - a blossoming bud, manifesting - and a fully unfolded blossom, bearing billions of Buddhas - in mind that is.

The patch is symbolic of the robes that the Buddha enjoined his followers to make - by gathering and patching together charred scraps from the 'burning ghats' - where the clothed bodies of the dead were cremated, (which no-one wanted anymore, a reminder of impermanence and impending death), and to cover their nakedness so that lay folk would not be offended. Also, to ensure that none in the order became attached to fine clothes, etc and so that everybody, no matter what strata of society they came from, all wore the same. They were then dyed in the sap of a hollowed-out 'Jack' tree to a golden colour - emblematic of the sun of life and also alluding to the fearless spontaneity required to explore and clear the causes of anxiety and suffering.

Robe Patch & Lotus Studio Logo Tile

Starting with the 'pure' ground of being, the energies/colours leap up into the adventure of the seeming chaos of the unknown, cresting on the ceiling with the Hangman's Noose from the Tarot and/or Mahakala's Diamond Lasso - manifesting mastery of the ability to 'bind & loosen the energies' - and then come together at the point of actual purification - the shower-head; before 'continuum-leaping' to the 'other side' to state the realised and integrated aspiration of the 'Man Pack' male Wisdom energy - the Crown Mandala Initiation of Lights in the brain; the 'crazy' Grail Quest; the Winged Silver Jewel Chalice of purified karma - the highest…

Winged Silver Jewel Chalice of the Quest

This 'continuum-leap' of trust into the unknowable void across to the other side (of the wall) then manifests as a column of integrated energies supporting the roof beams of the Temple, the Place of Initiation for young males. These are in turn supported at each of the other two corners by (symbolic) Masonic columns - and at the fourth corner of the cube by the pure aspirational energy of daring to leave the warm comfort of the womb to explore the unknown of this New (each bardo moment by moment) Life.

Hangman's Noose/Mahakala's Diamond Lasso Energies
Integrated to use as support columns for the beams

Thus, energized (Viriya), cleansed and purified, (Arahum/Vajra Sattva), one may 'exit' - the 'purification by daring the unknown' process - through the black and white columns on either side of the door supporting the Holy Quest Grail - 'the Cup of Trusting Love that overflows' - and enter out into the Real Mystery - which is not the 'Temple', nor the 'Teaching', but exploring the 'Mundane', Holy Life of Service to Evolution - to benefit and uplift all that is...

Entrance-Exit to the Real Mystery 'Look In - Look Up - Look Out'

As we worked, some would come impatiently wanting to use the shower; some wonderingly; and some, like Ted Bieler - the then Head of the Art Department at York University in Toronto - who loomed, stooped, peered around the door, carefully examined every detail of the mandala he was looking into, started smiling and then burst out laughing! I could tell he was enjoying his retreat, for by now the silent retreat had already begun!

We had to use our water-cooled table saw with a diamond-tipped blade, to cut the marble slabs for the door frames and to make the intricate cuts in the tiles. This machine is loud and as the blade passes through the material it is cutting it produces an angry, deafening roar - definitely not the appropriate ambiance for a silent retreat. In those days Rinpoche would park by the main house and walk up to the temple - Guru with gaggle of accompanying students. Each day, I could sense him arriving before he turned in off Galway Road and each day I wondered if this would be the day he came storming in because of the noise I was making - but he never did.

I wouldn't lie down, (knowing that would ruin everything, there weren't enough hours left), and so when I needed rest I would sit on a stool in the doorway, looking at the mind creation unfolding in front of and around me. If I started to nod off I stood immediately and began to work again. The last shift of 100 hours passed - four days without sleeping - and it was finished, the 'impossible' accomplished. I left written maintenance instructions with the board then we drove back to Sakya Namgyal. I slept for 12 hours or so, ate and then went on to our next contract - right on schedule!

Some years later, as Rinpoche arrived at the main house and got out of the car I asked if he had seen the showers. "I don't go where I'm not invited and I haven't been invited" was his response. So I invited him to, 'come and see for himself'.

I explained as we walked to the bath-house how, due to his inspiration and transmission I had worked without ceasing while visualizing and manifesting his teaching, on the walls of the showers. He looked at the women's side - and the only comment was his small 'harumph'.

Then he looked at the men's side - and turning to smile at me he said, "Well, it's very nice to see something around here that is not only skillfully functional, but beautifully crafted!" That brought a glow to my heart and tears of joy to my eyes - and does so now as I recount it.

Later still, Angela and I were fortunate to tile Rinpoche's Tseringma Teaching House bathroom and kitchen and his own bathroom and kitchen at his home. He insisted on paying the 'going rate' for the work at his home and seemed to enjoy coming out of his room periodically to discuss design details, watch progress and participate in the project, a new 'learning experience' for him.

It has now been nearly thirty years since the bath-house was tiled and the showers built. With minor maintenance and very few repairs it continues to function efficiently for maybe a hundred showers a day when large groups are using it and it serves hundreds of beings each year, all year round. I offer thanks to those who created the opportunity to manifest this satisfying work.

New Dimensional Complexities A Lotus Studio Project

This article was begun by Wesley Knapp in 2005 for the www.namgyal.ca site at Sakya Namgyal in response to Tracy Sheridan's request - as part of a 'personal history with the KRC series'. May it benefit any who read it - and serve as inspiration to others to communicate their own personal experiences at the KRC. You are encouraged to send your story for posting to the archive site…