On May 5th, 2013, our group ventured out to the familiar Dzongkhag of Paro; we had a long anticipated audience with a trulku. A trulku is essentially an individual who has been distinguished as a reincarnation of a holy individual. Luckily for us our Dzonghka instructor, Wangchuk Rinzin, knew pretty well of a trulku for us to visit: his thirteen year old son. Born in 1999, the Trulku seemed like any ordinary child. But when he was the age of three, he began to experience fainting spells from time to time. He could also recall memories of his past life as Terton Drukdra Dorji, a well-renowned Lama who resided in Thimphu. These were all indicators that the young man now known as Orgyen Droduel Thinley Kuenchap could potentially be a trulku. So Wangchuk took his son to the current Je Khenpo, or head of the monastic body, who conducted the “tests” that determined whether Wangchuk’s son was an authentic trulku or not. Well, we all know that he passed his test with flying colors! The Jhe Khenpo then gave him his current name.
So we boarded our familiar “Bhutan Expeditions” bus along with Professor Owens, Tsewang (our tour guide), and Leki (our bus driver), and made our way to Paro. Once we got to the town, Wangchuk met up with us at the bus to join us to visit his son. One of the main reasons we stopped was to purchase fruit at the Sunday Market. This fruit would later be used as an offering to the Trulku.
We continued on our road trip up the winding road to Paro Sanga Choekhor Shedra which is the monastic school at which Orgyen resides and studies. While we were ascending up to the school, we stopped for a little picnic that consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (made by our great PB&J team!), cheese, crackers and apples. Wangchuk whipped out a bottle of an unidentified pink liquid and jokingly told us that it was flavored water but we all knew what it was: ara. A few of us reluctantly took some while others just settled for water.
After our little stop, we drove for a few more minutes and, finally, we got to the school. The first thing we noticed was the view; we could see all of Paro. In the distance, we could see the Paro Dzong and, behind the forests, we could sneak a glance of the Tiger’s Nest: a reminder of our first hike here in Bhutan.
Before we entered the school, Tsewang and Professor Owens gave us a little tutorial on how to greet the Tulku. Professor Owens gave each of us a kada, a white silk scarf into which the eight auspicious signs had been woven. Tsewang proceeded to teach us how to fold and arrange the kadas so that once we met the Tulku and prostrated to him, we could properly unfurl the kada and present it to him. (This was done by tossing the folded fabric from one hand to the other.) To explain: the act of prostrating is a gesture used in Buddhist practice to pay mind to the mind, body, and spirit. The act of prostrating in the presence of the Trulku was to purify ourselves and offer homage to the blessed being. We were told that after prostrating and presenting the kada that he would then put the kada around our neck and touch the tops of our heads, thereby presenting the kada as an offering to him, which he would then bless and offer back to us.
Once we situated ourselves with the folding of our kadas, we took our shoes off and entered his quarters. We each took a turn presenting the Trulku with our kada and sat down. To our surprise, he seemed pretty relaxed, and there was a younger boy also wearing robes sitting to his left. We were brought tea and cookies by his teachers. For the remaining duration of our audience with the Trulku, we were allowed to ask him questions. The general consensus from the group was that Orgyen had the mannerism of an older man but his presence was of a child. We found out that the younger boy sitting near him was his best friend at school in Sherubtse, and a potential trukul. They would exchange glances and smiles every so often with one another. One Wheaton student asked him how was he identified and he told us that he was taken for his test and correctly identified his previous life’s drilbu, a bell used in vajrayana ritual. He then held up the drilbu that was sitting on the table in front of us and told us that this was the bell he identified as his own in a previous life. A few other questions arose: What is you favorite subject in school? What do you like to do when you’re not studying? What are your ambitions after you are finish with school? Can you tell us a memory of your past life? The Trulku’s favorite subject is debate; he expressed interest in debating with his instructor. He loves reading and his favorite movie is “The Karate Kid”. When asked what he planned to do in the future, he said that he plans to meditate. Tsewang suggested, on Rinpoche’s behalf, that the answer to this question was obvious: all trukuls aspire to work for the benefit of all sentient beings. All in all, we were in awe with his presence and agreed collectively that this will probably be one of the most memorable experiences that we will take away from our time in Bhutan. In departing the school, the Tulku presented us with sacred cords and granules. We bowed our heads in respect and said our goodbyes.
Upon leaving we took our classic group picture and were informed that we were allowed to remove our kada, which was a very nice gesture. On the short walk back to the bus we were glad to have met such a prominent figure in Bhutanese culture. We were pressed with some questions like: was he a direct or blessed trulku?—a subject that we would soon be debating on in class. In all, it was an informative and insightful trip, which provided inside information on the mysterious subject of trulkus. As we drove down the mountainside back into Paro we were greeted by a groups of small boys walking up to the school. The bus stopped and Wangchuck spoke to one of the little boys. After which he informed us that he was his “adopted son”: another testament to how wide Bhutanese hearts are. With that we were off into Paro, where some of us stopped to check out the chorten-like Dumtse Lhakhang, which the famous religious figure and iron bridge builder, Thangtong Gyalpo, built in the early sixteenth century. It was so dark inside that we were only able to view its famous paintings by the light of our cell phone flashlights, ascending from hell to heaven as we climbed the narrow stairs that wound around its inner sanctum. Others chose to shop. We then returned to Thimphu and pizza with Wangchuk and Leki.
– Tianna Lall and Nick Emard