Gétsulma Tsultrim

Ngala Nor’dzin Pamo & Ngala ’ö-Dzin Tridral

We remember Ani Tsultrim—as we called her at that time—as a warm and welcoming woman, who was often the first person you would meet on arriving at the centre. Gétsulma Tsultrim, together with her mother—Ama-la—represented the ordained sangha at the Lam Rim Buddhist Centre, with Geshé Damchö as resident Lama.

The Lam Rim Centre was our first experience of Tibetan Buddhism and the joyful and affectionate interaction between Gétsulma Tsultrim and Geshé Damchö was inspiring to witness – they were always smiling and laughing together. Gétsulma Tsultrim did not generally teach at the Centre, and would often sit at the back of the room to hear others teach. However she was always available on courses to answer questions and her answers displayed a profound and deep understanding of the teachings. Although she did not teach, she did regularly lead meditation practice and we remember her singing the mantra of Shakyamuni Buddha10 as part of the practice of tong-len.11

Gétsulma Tsultrim taught us many basic practices—such as how to set up shrine bowl offerings—and encouraged us to engage in our first solitary retreats. She also encouraged us to deepen our relationship with Ngak’chang Rinpoche and to ask him questions. Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Gétsulma Tsultrim shared an extraordinary skill in being able to bring the teachings alive and give everyday examples to illustrate points of teaching. This ability makes the teachings become vivid and accessible. We remember her once using the example of one’s hair to indicate our confusion and inconsistency with regard to purity and impurity. She said that we loved to see people’s hair and would enjoy stroking our loved one’s hair – but then if we found one of those hairs in our food we would be horrified and disgusted.

Ngakpa ’ö-Dzin: “I remember a time when Ngakma Nor’dzin and I were travelling with Ani-la, with me sitting in the back of the car. Gétsulma Tsultrim and Ngakma Nor’dzin were having a discussion about pottery as this was a craft activity they both enjoyed and in which they shared some expertise. Gétsulma Tsultrim had a kiln and a large quantity of ceramic ingredients, as well as a number of moulds for Buddhist statues. The phrases from the conversation that stay in my mind are: ‘Red earthenware is black in the greenware stage,’ and ‘You still have to wedge it after it comes out of the pug.’ I found this an inspiring teaching on the necessity of technical language in anything in which one becomes interested.

Ngakma Nor’dzin: “I used to accompany Gétsulma Tsultrim to fairs, such as the Mind, Body and Spirit fair in Birmingham, and assist her on the Lam Rim Centre stall. I remember these times fondly. On one particular occasion, while travelling to a fair, we got caught in a traffic jam. We chatted together for a while and then the conversation lapsed into silence. Sitting easily in the comfortable silence, we suddenly caught each other’s eyes, and realised we were both smiling. Then we began to giggle. Gétsulma Tsultrim begged me not to start laughing or we would be convulsed – the ludicrousness of the situation had occurred to each of us in the same moment: that we had been sitting in a metal box for quite a long time, surrounded by a lot of other people sitting in metal boxes, and no-one was going anywhere.

It is surprising for us to realise that we knew Gétsulma Tsultrim for only four years, as she has been such a major influence in our lives and we still think of her fondly and remember her as an inspiration. Sadly she died quite suddenly in 1984. During the final year of her life we did not see Gétsulma Tsultrim so often, as she had moved to Bristol. Ama-la was elderly and not in good health, and needed to live somewhere that was easier for her to manage than the rooms they occupied at Lam Rim Chö Ling.

Although we were sad to lose their presence at the Lam Rim Centre, the move to Bristol also enabled Gétsulma Tsultrim to achieve one of her ambitions – to begin the work of establishing a health centre. Gétsulma Tsultrim felt that health awareness and dharma awareness went hand-in-hand, because ‘Dharma was the best medicine.’ The Dharma Therapy Trust was established in 1983 by Gétsulma Tsultrim and her mother.

10. Shakyamuni Buddha – the historical Buddha.

11. gTong len – the practice of visualising giving away all merit and benefit of practice to help others and taking on the suffering of all beings.