Inta McKimm, the director of Langri Tangpa Centre, an FPMT center in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, died on August 2 . She had lung cancer. Inta had been preparing for her death for many months.
I’ve known concretely that I’ve had cancer since the Kalachakra initiation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Sydney last September, but subliminally I’ve known for a long time. There have been signs in the dreams, for example; and it’s a long-term life karma ripening.
I made a pact with Kalachakra: to help me live long enough to finish my painting of him. And I did finish, to my satisfaction. I feel that that was what my life was about somehow, and I didn’t balls it up.
Every day it feels as if the little doors of my life (like in the Christmas cards) are opening. When they are all open, the mandala of my life will be revealed.
Because we have gone through the most amazing adventures of paradoxical happiness, we need to look back and share those experiences of love and pain affectionately with all other living beings. Skillfully use all that pain and the greatness of caring about yourself to benefit everyone. Life is a reality to be lived and shared with aliveness, warmth, love and joy.
Suffering is unnecessary, a mistake, a glimmer in the light. The irony is that all the sufferings we go through have no substantial cause. Although it is the universal mistake and hurts like hell, suffering is a myth….
May 13 Letter from Lama Zopa Rinpoche
My very dear Inta,
I don’t know how to say how sorry I am and how fantastic it is that you have found this disease. As a Dharma practitioner, it may be good to read the book Transforming Problems if you think there is need. And also to read talks I gave in Italy in the video/transcript about the psychology, the thought transformation, of utilizing sicknesses in the means of the path causing happiness to all sentient beings, including bringing them to enlightenment. In this way you use your sickness to practice bodhicitta, which means experiencing the illness on behalf of all sentient beings.
So you can do these things to make basic preparation. These are the most important. Try to use these methods as much as possible; think that this is your best retreat, 100 times much more powerful than years of doing Vajrasattva retreat with a self-centered mind, with a comfortable life and so forth. Because here the fundamental practice is that you give your life to other sentient beings, you give your happiness to other sentient beings and experience their sufferings yourself. Like the earth, the fundamental practice is bodhicitta, exchanging oneself with others. So study and practice every day, and remember as much as possible the practice of the five powers near the death time. And it is very important to remember those stories, the benefits of bodhicitta, generating great compassion, the benefits of that.
For example, remember how Asanga was able to see Maitreya Buddha only after he made a sacrifice; he was unable to see Maitreya just by doing retreat. He could see only when he learned to appreciate great compassion, giving up his life for a wounded dog.
And then there was the disciple of the yogi Ngag-po Chöpa, who sacrificed himself to touch and carry the leper lady who was totally black and very ugly looking, filled with leprosy disease with pus coming out. But then just in the middle of the river he was able to see the leper lady was Dorje Pagmo, who took him to the pure land Khechara with the same body, which means that he became enlightened there.
Then also there is one story about when the Buddha was born into the hell realms, when he was pulling the carriage with another hell-being. This is the first time he generated great compassion. Then he thought to pull it himself alone; why let the other person suffer? They were pulling the carriage over the iron ground that was oneness with fire. So he let the other one go free and pulled the carriage by himself and took on the suffering. He freed the other person from the suffering of pulling the carriage and took it on himself. As soon as he did that, the karma guardians hit him on the head with a hammer. Immediately his consciousness was transferred to Tushita Pure Land. All these are benefits of bodhicitta, of sacrificing the life for others, even for just one sentient being. This is how to become enlightened so quickly, by sacrificing the life for one sentient being.
So it is good to go over the past life stories of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, how for three countless eons he practiced charity – especially charity – and morality and patience; the Paramitas. He made charity numberless times, offering his eyes, limbs, even his whole body.
There is also a story about his practice of patience and how he made charity of his body to the ants. Once there was a king who came to look for his wife in the forest. When he found his wife in the same area as the bodhisattva, the king got upset with the bodhisattva, because his wife was near. The king asked the bodhisattva, What are you doing? And the bodhisattva replied, I’m meditating. But the king got angry and cut off one limb. Then the king repeated his question and the bodhisattva answered the same, so the king cut off another limb. This went on until he had cut off all four of the bodhisattva’s limbs. Then only his torso, his basic body, was left. When the people found him, they threw the rest of his body away, saying what was the use of just that. But even then, the bodhisattva made charity of what was left of his body to the ants.
There is one unbelievably inspiring lama, Je Drom Gonpa, who had a hermitage very high on the mountain above Sera Je Monastery. He had one guru, Atsaya, from whom Je Drom Gonpa received teachings on bodhicitta and was able to realize bodhicitta. One day he saw his guru on the mountain in the forest. He was alone reading a text and holding a sign in the air giving the thumbs up sign. “What are you doing?” he asked. Reading the Buddha’s past life stories, his guru replied. He was giving the thumbs up sign to show how very worthwhile it is to be in a human body.
You can also ask Geshe Tashi Tsering to tell you more stories of this kind to inspire you.
Other things you can do: Namgyelma mantra, not only for long life but it is very powerful for purification. What other people can do for you is Medicine Buddha practice, the small dark blue book that I made many years ago. Also they can do Amitayus mantra for you. Visualize nectar flowing from Buddha Amitayus and entering into your body and mind, purifying all obscurations and obstacles to life, diseases, spirit harms, and so forth and then filling your body with nectar of immortality. While they are doing for you they can also do for others, for the numberless beings with cancer, with life obstacles, for those people who do good things for others, and even for those beings who change their mind from harming others to helping others. They can pray also for their long life. Other people can do group practices or they can do individually.
Also, since you have been doing much Vajrayogini, here Vajrayogini becomes a very important answer to your life situation at this critical point. Vajrayogini becomes the most precious thing. Of course, this doesn’t mean that at other times Vajrayogini is not precious. You should do the self-initiation, once a week even if you cannot do it everyday. Other people can help. Other sangha or lay people, such as Ailsa or others, should come and help you to pray together. Or if you wish to do alone, that is okay too. You can invite anyone that you like, that you feel comfortable with. Also you can invite Geshe-la to do from time to time with some people. Then Geshe-la can do the chanting in Tibetan. It is very good that way. Also if Khensur Rinpoche is in the area, you can invite him for Vajrayogini practice. During the Vajrayogini self-initiation, you can make shortcuts. You can leave out the long prayers at the extensive offerings and do just the mantra of the offerings. You don’t need to do the prayer. The most important part is after completing the sadhana, the part of taking the vows.
This is the key thing, reviving the vows and making pure, and then there is introducing the secret Vajrayogini. Even if that part doesn’t get done, you can do the last part where it says, Now the four initiations. Sometimes you can do this. You can do any version according to your convenience. So put more effort into this on the basis of bodhicitta practice. Also you can take the Vajrayogini initiation if you feel like from Geshe-la.
As the dreams are happening, we can check. It can also change.
So your main refuge should be dying with the bodhicitta attitude, experiencing the suffering of death of all sentient beings. Also karma. Then you just keep on deciding that whatever suffering sentient beings have, may they ripen onto me. Then by relating to the breathing, meditate on the specific sufferings.
Then when according to your dreams and to your physical health, when it is time, maybe it is better for you to lay down like Guru Shakyamuni Buddha did, in the lion position, when passing away in the sorrowless state. That helps the mind to be transferred into virtue easier. It reminds you of Buddha, and so also leaves a positive imprint. It is easier to stop attachment, anger and so forth. Unless you would prefer the sitting position. But generally it is better to die in the lion position as the Buddha did.
Then you should ask people to put Lama Tsong Khapa’s lam-rim on your pillow at your head. That also helps to not fall into the lower realms. There are different things that are useful to arrange for common people at the time of death. In your case you should be higher than that. During that time it is up to you whether you wish to just be quiet or if you want Geshe-la and others to come and do prayers, for example, Vajrayogini practice of Medicine Buddha and so forth.
So like this, go ahead; enjoy your death. Make the best use of it; take the greatest profit from it. Like the most successful business person in the world, become a billionaire. I will pray for you. Don’t worry. You met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lama Yeshe, and many other great bodhisattvas. You met the correct Buddhism, the Mahayana, heard complete teachings on the complete path, and specialized in the quickest path to enlightenment. So you have prepared so much, done lots of meditation on lam-rim, benefited lots of people. Rejoice in this many times every day.
It can also be possible to recover; but as a Dharma practitioner it is the best psychology to decide every day that I am going to die today. That is the best practice. I want to say thank you very much for everything. Your own practice and your help have benefited so many people and the organization, as well as your service for Lama and myself; your prayers.
Yes, definitely I think that if Lama Osel’s life continues in the Dharma, he will be a dynamic teacher. I was thinking this even when he was very small.
Thank you very much.
Since there has been much karmic connection, we may meet somewhere. Please enjoy. Good luck.
With much love and prayers,
Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche
I don’t know why, but I have never been so happy. Things are getting better. In life everything was so difficult, but now not. We do need to be there for others.
The struggles in life, the hustle and bustle, always push and shove, all the worries; it’s all so unnecessary. And when all that drops away, things become much clearer, much happier. I’ve been feeling this way for months now.
This experience has brought surprise after surprise; it has been nothing like I expected. We are so full of preconceptions, and even when we’ve chucked them out, still they are there in subtle forms. All of that has to go, to be loosened. The major thing is to really recognize impermanence; to really recognize it as a reality.
Once you accept that your life is impermanent, the rest doesn’t hurt. Then of course, the only thing really worthwhile is bodhicitta, equally, to everyone. You can’t leave even a tissue cell out of our bodhicitta, you can’t even leave out the cancer, it’s all part of the equation. Nothing should be left out. Then you just rely on your gurus, on your karma; you have trust.
I was pretty negative in the past, didn’t have much trust, was nihilistic. Now I can say that there are angels, bodhisattvas, whatever, beings who are there, a stable reality for us to rely upon.
Although I am dying, this is the happiest time of my life. This can only come through the great love of the Guru. For a long time life seemed so hard, so difficult. But when really recognizing death it turned into the greatest happiness.
I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on their own death, the great happiness that comes with having recognized impermanence and death. This is quite surprising and unexpected, and extremely joyful. It is the greatest happiness of my whole life, the greatest adventure and the greatest party!
Here I am just one person, but there all these many very kind beings looking after me with such care and love. I thank them for their infinite kindness. Also thanks to the little black cat, Buffy, who sits with me during the day, being infinitely kind. From the Gurus to everyone else who is in connection here, to the ordinary beings (who are not so ordinary at all); may they attain enlightenment in as quick a time as possible, for the benefit of all.
I really want to thank my dearest Guru for the wonderful letter and for the two cards, that are an inspiration for myself and everyone. And for the incredible kindness and potential of all beings in general. There is no other way than commitment to the Dharma until full enlightenment. One can’t finish before that!
May the very pure and strong energy of the center, and all the good efforts of the Dharma students increase and keep going. The center is really our mandala, of the students and everyone who comes into contact with it. Our mandala is the center. My wish is for the welfare of the students and center, and their development and unfolding, so they can be strong in themselves and an inspiration to others. The gompa and altars look very beautiful. They reflect the feeling of what our students are practicing. My wish is that they be enhanced.
There are no adverse circumstances really. If you keep going with the various hardships, it transforms. Just doing things as they have to be done, without expectations, and because of this, the total amazement and surprise when something difficult turns into unbelievable happiness.
There are so many helpers, whether we know of them or not, and they are there all the time. There are so many fine and subtle interconnections, that everything becomes meaningful.
I am especially thankful that Shri Kalachakra allowed me to finish painting my thangka, that I had enough time to complete it, so it could be of benefit.
Giving up material things is easy. Giving up thoughts and concepts is more difficult. To get the butterfly to still the wings is the most difficult! When it (the mind) is still, then I will be ready to die.
I have absolutely no pain and no fear.
My heart really overflows with gratitude and happiness. In the mornings the birds chant tuk-che-chö (thanks for the Dharma!). That is actually what I want to say myself!
With thanks from Inta.
I will die soon. Rinpoche’s letter is the most precious gift I’ve ever had. I try to do my bit as best I can, without straining at the reins, can’t do it perfectly. Not feel I am a failure. If only I could skip all the expectations, no obstruction, the expectations that create the pain.
There is so much to learn.
This human rebirth is for other sentient beings. I want to be reborn close to Rinpoche. Just like the auspicious verses in Lama Chöpa: to be born into a good family. If I have the choice, not to be a woman; that might be a disappointment for some. But whatever is most beneficial. It’s not important what happens to me; what’s important is what can be done for others.
Human life is so precious, so worthwhile. If I had known how to keep human life, in the tantric sense, really pure, I did not know it. If I had been able to do this … I’ve had so much help from all these wonderful beings around me.
It is clear that this dying is the biggest adventure in my whole life. It’s important not to be afraid. We are crippled by our fears and anxieties. We should chuck away the fears. The anxieties, the fears, are delusions, they come out of mistakes, totally. And they spoil our fun.
I am ready now for wonderful things to come.
See you in sky, as Lama Yeshe would say!
Inta’s daughter Miffie was with her when she died on Saturday, August 2.
On Friday night Inta had difficulty breathing and was having a slight seizure. We recited Vajrayogini mantras very beautifully, and the seizure subsided.
The director of the Karuna Hospice Service, Ven. Yeshe Khadro, and Inta’s friends, Margaret Holtham and Diane Thompson and I stayed up all night with her, reciting mantras. Then in the late morning, just like that, her breathing stopped; she breathed in and didn’t breathe out. Yeshe Khadro spoke the name of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Vajrayogini’s mantra into her ear. Then we performed Lama Chöpa in Inta’s room and recited lots of Vajrayogini’s mantra.
We had put a stupa and the text of Lama Tsong Khapa’s Lam-rim Chen-mo at Inta’s head and had mixed with cream some sand from the Kalachakra mandala from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s initiation last year and put it on her crown chakra.
That night people came to the center (where Inta lived) and we had a video night and did White Tara practice dedicated to Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s long life; those who knew that Inta had died did their practices in her room.
Throughout Sunday, we let Inta stay there. We felt absolutely without a doubt that her consciousness was still present in her body. Her face was glowing and golden, very peaceful. Somehow though we felt that the energy was finer, more sensitive, as if Inta was further away. We tried not to rush about the house, to keep our minds quiet. We know that this mattered, not the words we said.
On Sunday night we did Mahakala puja and Vajrasattva mantras. Then Marg checked Inta’s body by putting her hand above it and could feel that the heat was mainly at the heart chakra; before you could feel it at her navel.
On Monday morning Yeshe Khadro rang: were there any signs of the consciousness leaving the body? No, not yet. Then at 9:40 we noticed a big trickle of blood-like liquid come out of her mouth – not her nostril which is what the texts give as a sign that the consciousness has left the body. So we took this as a sign.
At lunch time we decided to wipe Inta’s body down, to dress her. When we rolled her over we could detect a faint smell; earlier it had been very sweet smelling. And she definitely looked different, not golden anymore.
And then we rang the funeral people and they came and put her in a bag and took her away. And then we had a cup of tea. It was a very special experience.
The funeral took place on August 15. Inta and I had planned it with glee weeks before. Inta wanted, very first, to have a tape of the Australian Grunge Gothic singer and songwriter Nick Cave singing, very loudly, Mack the Knife! Then she wanted Geshe Tashi Tsering from Chenrezig Institute to recite Lama Chöpa while the rest of us recited, in English, the lam-rim prayer from Lama Chöpa.