The first time I ever encountered His Holiness Jigdal Dachen Sakya Rinpoche was on the staircase of the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. I had followed some other newcomers to the temple up the wrong set of stairs and we encountered him as he was coming down. Instinctively I put my hands in the prayer position and bowed to him, even though I had no clue who he was. Later I learned he was not only a founder of the temple there, but also a Tibetan Buddhist master of high rank, one of the few aside from the Dalai Lama who could be called “His Holiness.”
Less than a year later, in July 2014, he led the refuge ceremony that ushered myself and a handful of others into the Buddhist community there. During that ceremony, he broke from speaking from Tibetan to say clearly in English, “no meat for a year.” The translator sought clarification, as Rinpoche had led many refuge ceremonies before and had never made this request. Being vegetarian is not a requirement for a Buddhist, but in this case, Rinpoche was recommending we be vegetarian for a year. I figured he must have a reason for saying this, perhaps a certain clairvoyance. One of us must need this commandment, and perhaps that someone was me.
So I started off the next day trying earnestly to be a vegetarian, which is challenging when you also eat gluten-free. I succeeded for four or five months, with only a few slips that were not really my fault as I recall. My resolve slipped around the holiday season, partly because I didn’t want to burden my mother-in-law again with trying to figure out what to feed me. But a change had occurred: I was eating more soy products, possibly more dairy. I believe this is why in March 2015, something shifted in my digestion and I began to have gall bladder issues. For months I struggled with gall bladder disease and had the little squeezer removed in June 2015. But not before things got really interesting.
Along with the health challenge of having gall bladder disease but not gallstones comes lots and lots of tests. And one of the tests I had was a colonoscopy, which revealed precancerous polyps, which were then removed. This is what I believe: if I hadn’t attempted vegetarianism through Rinpoche’s suggestion, I would not have had the gall bladder trouble which led to the removal of precancerous material in my colon. It likely would have been three more years before I learned about the polyps and by then it might have been too late. So I am grateful to my gall bladder — and to Rinpoche — for possibly saving my life.
Yesterday I learned that Rinpoche has passed into parinirvana, like Shakyamuni Buddha before him. Like many others in the sangha, I will be remembering this great master for what I hope will be many years to come. Thank you, Rinpoche, for all you have done.