Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vibrant Visit From a Precious Teacher

For an 86-year-old gentleman, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche—my beloved refuge lama—positively glows with vibrant, loving, compassionate energy. It was wonderful to see him looking so well, and to connect even briefly with his travelling companions, Lama Karma Drodul (pictured on the right, above) and Lama Gelongma Karuna Tara. All three are shining presences at KTD, and that shine glows all the brighter when they are out and about in what my mom would call "the real world" with all the rest of us, as they were this weekend in North Central Florida.

Rinpoche drew a capacity crowd to his talk about "Keeping an Open Heart in Difficult Times" on Friday night at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Gainesville, where I took the picture above. The talk—held on the night of the closest and maybe brightest full moon of the year—provided a great opportunity for people who aren't familiar with Buddhism to ask questions.

Saturday's teachings, held at the Florida School of Massage, were even better—targeted messages about the importance of lovingkindness, compassion, and bodhicitta (enlightened heart).

Chanting the Karma Kagyu lineage prayer on Saturday morning, I got a strong image of all of us gathered together somewhere in a green Tibetan valley, surrounded by snowy mountains. In "reality," it was rainy and chilly outside of our big meeting room; we could watch the rain through glass doors that gave us a great view of the woods behind the school.

So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised when Rinpoche explained that our precious human birth is not acquired by accident, and that our opportunity to meet teachers in this life comes from the pure aspirations that we have made in past lives—not just from whatever good deeds we have done in the past.

I guess I hadn't realized that aspiration was that important! And so I wonder...could my flash of us all chanting together in Tibet have some grounding in a reality that is even more real than what we label "the real world"? Perhaps we were all together at one time, at least in the spirit of making aspirations to meet this outstanding teacher.

At one point, Lama Gelongma Karuna Tara, the nun who travelled with Rinpoche, got up to place one of her cushions behind his back. I guess she could see that he was uncomfortable. Rinpoche gave a delightful grin with a big "thumb's up" sign. One of our sangha members, concerned for the lady lama, then took her a replacement cushion, which got another big grin and "thumb's up" from Rinpoche. He's just so...precious (in the highest, best sense of the word). Just those grins and thumbs' ups lifted our spirits.

Among the many things Rinpoche talked about, a few stood out.

Often we may wonder if our dharma practice is bearing fruit. Here are some signs of successful practice: You have less anger and fewer discursive thoughts. You are able to remain calm in all kinds of situations. Your communication with others becomes more open and genuine.

Bodhicitta has two primary aspects, pervasive and profound. Pervasive bodhicitta means you want to help ALL sentient beings, not just those you care about. Profound bodhicitta means you want to establish all sentient beings in the state of ultimate enlightenment.

On the importance of confidence and trust in your practice: "If you have these, your progress will be swift."

Because Tibet was invaded and so many teachers came to the West, we are now able to practice dharma here when before, we could not do so. "You are very fortunate. You must not waste any of your precious time."

At lunch with Rinpoche and a small group, a large video of Ireland was showing on a far wall. Rinpoche turned around to watch it in silence while the rest of us chatted. The Irish scenery was very beautiful, and I got a wild hair.

"Can you translate something to Rinpoche for me?" I asked Lama Karma Drodul, and he agreed.

I told Rinpoche that the seat of the high kings of Ireland was called Tara, and that Ireland has a legendary race of people called the sidhe and that word has always reminded me of the Sanskrit siddhi, or powers that can be gained on the path to enlightenment—so I have always wondered if there might be some long-ago connection between the lands of India or Tibet and the land of my ancestors.

Rinpoche just smiled at that thought, but then said, "I know about that land" (meaning Ireland) "and how they have fought for a long time for independence from the British, and I know about their horses."

Aha! So there ARE parallels between Ireland and Tibet!

I had to miss Sunday's teaching because I had to work. Hopefully I can find someone to fill me in, or I can purchase a copy of one of the tapes people were making.

Many, many people from the local sangha worked long and hard to make Rinpoche's visit successful; my profound thanks go out to all of them!

Homage always to our precious teachers, shining like jewels in the darkness of samsaric confusion.

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