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Rabjam Rinpoche, a tall and handsome lama just turned 40, the abbot of Shechen monastery in Nepal, pretended to be out of breath. He made sort of a comic portrait of exhaustion, panting something like a TinTin character, and said to the Yangsi, "You're young!" Together, the two began to make their way up the road, followed by their small party, which included author and photographer Matthieu Ricard and Buddhist scholar Changling Rinpoche.
They were led to the main house, to a large-windowed, spacious living room overlooking the lake, furnished invitingly with broad couches, well-tended houseplants, cut lilies and bookshelves lined with books on philosophy, history, photography, and Buddhism. In the kitchen, divided from the main room by screens, several people prepared trays of quinoa and sautéed vegetables for the guests. After the trays were served the retreat centre's manager, Michiko, and her husband Ron, took seats and conversed with their honoured guests.
They talked about the local wildlife; they talked about nutrition. Rabjam Rinpoche told a story of a Buddhist painting being torn off a wall by a bear. The painting, marked by handprints of the Yangsi's predecessor, was also marked by the bear, who pressed its paws below the master's.
"Whose prints were bigger?" Ron asked.
The Yangsi's predecessor, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, is often affectionately remembered by those who met him for his extraordinary size. He was seven feet tall. His current incarnation, at something under 5 foot 6, has said, "Supposedly I was recognized as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, but I don't possess any of his qualities. This is not something I'm saying to impress you guys; it is just the truth. He was a giant, and I am very short. He was good looking, and I - well, you can just forget about it."
Actually, the Yangsi is quite good-looking, with the face and demeanor of an old-world Chinese emperor, broad shoulders, and an uncommonly open and curious gaze.
When the group had finished their lunch, the guests of the retreat centre entered and offered katas to the Yangsi one by one. They then turned to Rabjam. To each, he offered his right hand. The guests wore nametags, and Rabjam looked at each, saying the name aloud. At one point, he turned to someone behind him and said, "Six billion people in the world?"