I lived in a family that was Mongolian and my Mongolian stepmother in Howell, New Jersey was very religious and at the same time, extremely superstitious. Every Mongolian household in Howell – and there were a couple of hundred of us – would have a Buddhist shrine room or shrine area in their homes. That means they would have a room dedicated to the Buddha where they would have shelves there, they would have images, pictures, tsa tsas, paintings, thangkas and statues of the Buddha and that’s where they would keep their blessed items, their rosaries and all that.
Just like every other Mongolian house, our house had a shrine room and the shrine room was right next to my bedroom. That shrine room was basically used for when the monks came over to do chanting and prayer occasionally. So, the shrine room was pretty much off limits to me because my mother felt that the shrine room was very sacred and that people shouldn’t just go in and out and touch it or move this and that around and defile it. That was how she used to think.
So, our shrine room had a Medicine Buddha statue on top and it was very beautiful. It was made of clay, fully painted and was about 16 inches. It was brought from the ‘old country’ where they emigrated from. There was also a Green Tara framed photo, there was a Tsongkhapa photo, there was a photo of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, there was also a Green Tara tsa tsa and a 4-armed Avalokiteshvara tsa tsa in a ghau (container box) along with our malas and offerings would be made in the front.
So, I wasn’t really allowed to go in there all the time because I was a kid and my mother was afraid that I would touch this and that and defile the place. But I used to sneak in there anyway and just hang out and look at the Buddhas and offer incense because I liked the room very much. I felt very connected. She had around five malas or rosaries which are Buddhist prayer beads. A mala has 108 beads that are used for doing mantras. So, we had five in our family. We had one red one that, I don’t really know what it was made from. It’s red, shiny and it’s beautiful and I like that one. Then, there was a bigger wooden one, a sandalwood one, and another wooden one and there was a big plastic one.
And so, whenever we go to the temple, everybody would take their own mala. So, my mother would grab the mala tray from the altar and we pick the mala we want to use on that day. My father would always grab the big plastic one that was brown in colour because his hands were big and my mother would grab the little red one and if I could grab the red one myself, I would grab it myself because it was shiny and I liked it.
But I wasn’t allowed to touch those malas on non-temple days. So, on days we are not going to the temple to do prayers, I am not allowed to touch the malas. It’s a no-no because it’s sacrilegious, my mom said. I didn’t really know what that meant but that’s what she said.
I would always be in my room doing Manjushri mantras and prayers or Avalokiteshvara mantras and prayers but I didn’t have a mala. But my mother would not let me use the one in the prayer room because she felt that we shouldn’t be using that unless we are in the temple. That’s her thinking so and it was like that when I was very young.
Sometimes, it would rain outside and my mother would allow me to go outside in the rain to play. I liked to play in the rain. I liked to walk in the rain and sometimes, huge puddles or ‘mini-rivers’ would form from the rain on the sides of the road, washing the rain down the road. I liked watching the gushing of the water.
I often played on our street or ride bikes with friends. We lived on 233 West 3rd Street in Howell. I remember once, I was just playing in the rain on our street and I had an umbrella and I had my feet in the water and my mother was screaming in the window for me to come in because she heard the thunder. But I was playing and I saw something really unusual. The road was tarred black and it was kind of rough back then. There were places that were not even so water and mini puddles would gather. I saw a little area in the road right in front of my house that a little tiny puddle of water had gathered in. It was very tiny and shallow. In the puddle was a dark brown mala and it had a white string, and I walked up to it and I looked at it. I was like, “I can’t believe this!” I looked up and down the street to see if there was anybody around who might have dropped it. There was nobody around! I knew I hadn’t seen this mala the day before or the day before that because I played on the street every single day with my friends. It was just that day I was playing alone because it was raining and the little puddle was very shallow, like a quarter of an inch. The water around it was stained with a little bit of dark brown reddish water because the mala was losing some color due being soaked in rainwater.
So, I picked up the mala and I looked at it. You know, it had a 108 beads or so and a ‘head’ on it. It had a white string and I just couldn’t believe my luck! I couldn’t believe that in the middle of the street in Howell, New Jersey, I would find a mala – rosary. I was really happy and I wiped it down and a part of me was really happy but a small part of me was thinking, “Oh! I wonder who it belongs to and I wondered if somebody would claim it back.”
I remember I took the mala, cleaned it up and dried it. Then I hid it in my drawer so my mother wouldn’t see it. In next few days, I showed it to one Mongolian lady down the street who also was quite religious. Her name is Carmen and I was wondering if it belonged to her and she had lost it as she would walk up and down the same street sometimes. She said no. It didn’t belonged to her. So I was thinking I am scot-free. It is mine and I can keep it now. So, I used that mala and I kept that in my drawer for Manjushri mantras and I was doing that. It was really weird because I was doing my practice and when I needed a mala and I literally found one! Where in Howell, New Jersey you know, back in the 70s are you going to find a mala just on the street. But I found it in the middle of the street in the rain and I took it and used it. When I looked back in hindsight, I guess I had a real strong affinity to do Dharma practice because when I needed it, a mala appeared literally in the rain on the street for me to use.
Please support us so that we can continue to bring you more Dharma:
If you are in the United States, please note that your offerings and contributions are tax deductible. ~ the tsemrinpoche.com blog team