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Absolutely in Heaven

In memory of Petrus Linnemann – Sangye Chöpel (1949–2015)

We interviewed Pete in november 2014 about his experiences with Borobudur. On August 25 he passed away in Albagnano. Here we share his story.

My heart opened in Dharamsala
“Around 35 years ago I left England. I didn’t really have a plan but just followed my intuition. I had a deep inner certainty that I didn’t want the security of a job or a career. I couldn’t hold it down. So first I travelled overland to Greece, Turkey, Iran and then Afghanistan. I already felt more at home there. Then I moved on to Pakistan and India. ‘What the heck am I doing here!’, I thought. ‘Let’s study Sanskrit. That may be good for my inner development.’ But it was too hot. Somebody advised me to go to Dharamsala, because there was a nice Tibetan community there to experience and explore. So I went there and I was delighted to find that every experience and every memory I could catch, suddenly fell into place. My heart opened there, it was a big homecoming.

I stayed for almost a year. I worked, smoked, partied, and did my first retreat with Lama Zopa. That was my first Gelug experience. From there I went back to England and joined in the building of a Buddhist college where I stayed and moved around for 35 years. I met my two wives there, my children grew up there, my oldest friends live there and still I go back there.

Something grave
Meanwhile, in 1996, I met Lama Gangchen, and later moved to Albagnano. I first joined the journey to Borobudur in 2009. With this great and exciting adventure ahead of me, I was quite busy with all kinds of things. By then I had already moved to Italy, and I went back to England for a health check and some family business. Then back to Italy. When I took off for Borobudur a couple of days later, I had a bit of a cold. On the way, and during the stop over in Bangkok I watched a couple of movies, took a big meal, had a massage and felt pretty miserable. But arriving in Borobudur felt like coming to a place that was so safe, welcoming, familiar and secure that I was able to relax completely. This ‘relaxing’ took the form of a total collapse of my immune system, and I contracted pneumonia and had to lie down for a week outside the conference room, our Gompa. Physically, I was in a bad state, had difficulty breathing, high fever and couldn’t move, but mentally I was happy as Larry! Absolutely in heaven!
I had experienced this before, in India: my body falling apart but mentally being happy. This state had lasted for around 2 years, and it appeared to have been a good preparation for what happened to me now, because this was nearly terminal. Rinpoche said: ‘We try not to leave you here.’ This is something grave, I thought. It indicates the grave…
Rinpoche told the group: If you are a healer, a doctor, or anything else useful, please feel free to give Pete a hand in this situation. So I was lying there outside the Gompa, on a mattress, Dawn protecting my head, Manuela sitting at my feet, while around twenty people very enthusiastically came to give me reiki, shiatsu, homeopathic things. Somehow it was quite forceful.
So that is how time passed. Weak like a baby, I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t walk, but I had no fear. Dying or not dying: it was not important. I have had plenty of dying experiences before, and now it was the same. But I was very aware that Rinpoche was taking care and that it was a delicate situation.

From better to better
Rinpoche told Dawn to ask me to write a will. But she was afraid to make me scared, so she said that Rinpoche had asked me to write something. So I thought Rinpoche wanted me to write something about my experiences, but obviously I was not in a position to write anything that moment. When Dawn told me later what Rinpoche had really meant, I said: ‘Dawn! For heavens sake!’ But of course they protected me, taking any possible fear away. Good old them…
Anyway, it wasn’t my time yet, because by the end of the retreat I was strong enough to travel on to Kathmandu with Rinpoche. In Kathmandu I recovered more and later I flew back to Albagnano.
It was a good experience; the internal experience went on from better to better. It was sickness with great meaning, a great purification.

Becoming a monk
In 2011, there came another opportunity to go to Borobudur. This time I was no longer Pete; I was Sangye Chöpel. Talking about making the decision to become a monk, it sounds very interesting. An old friend of mine once said: ‘If you are on a journey and you reach a point where you cannot see clearly where you are heading, if you are kind of in the dark, you have to make a plan. But the more information you have, if you have the whole panorama in front of you, decision making is not necessary because you won’t step into a bog. You just go and take your steps.’
One day I was speaking to Rinpoche about my life as a child, my religious life as a roman catholic, my relationship with the church. And we talked about my lack of ability to engage in religious practices. I remember explaining that even having been a Buddhist half of my life, with many lamas, teachers, pujas and sangha, it didn’t change anything in my reluctance towards sadhanas, practices and temples. At this point Rinpoche indicated: ‘monkhood.’ This was the greatest present I could receive.
Becoming a monk changed every aspect of my life. When I arrived in Borobudur, I had already received the name, the blessings and the robes from Rinpoche in the Gompa of the Labrang in the presence of several monks from Shar Gaden Monastery in India. It was on Shakyamuni Buddha’s birthday. In Borobudur, Khen Rinpoche from Shar Gaden Monastery gave us our vows. I was ordained at the same time as Liana and Daniel, Lama Michel’s father. It was a moving event.
For me Borobudur felt like a natural ground for my spirit. It was not something secondary. I remember I went up to the top alone. It was not my intention but I somehow didn’t catch up with the group at the right time. I expected to meet up with them on my way down because apparently I was early, but even that didn’t work out. However, it was a very gentle experience making this khora by myself.

Borobudur is inside
A third visit never happened, because ever since that last time my Borobudur is in Albagnano. Borobudur is more inside than outside. For me it is like a landing, an arrival, an accomplishment. Before I went to Borobudur the first time, I was offered a piece of land in England where I could grow my own food. I never got it because I decided to move to Albagnano. But Borobudur has a similar resonance. It is a place where you can grow something, where we can share some kind of fruits. In fact, I relate it to a feeling in the mist of my memory, of something that was there even before Borobudur was built.

I came from a very secure background, but I never owned a home, I was homeless but Rinpoche offered me Borobudur. Borobudur is home. That is quite a good thing to say. Home is safety, family, food.. a place where you can shut the door. That is what I feel.”

(Photo: Jan de Ruiter)

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