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Getting Naked with the Guru

Tsegyalgar East, June 2008

Great Compassionate One, Lord Who Tames Sentient Beings,
Your blazing bodily form subdues mundane spirits.

Having achieved the levels, your body is beyond decline.
I salute and praise your form, which equals dharmakaya.

From the center of the lotus crescent of your vajra tongue,
Your perfect and splendorous voice emanates and absorbs the subjugating mantras,
Pacifying, increasing, magnetizing and subjugating.
Supreme king of Secret Mantra, I salute and praise your speech, which equals the voice of Hayagriva.

The various shrine objects of body, speech and mind,
And glorious Samye, my sacred aspiration, were built and consecrated by you, Master.
I devotedly bow before you, equal to a nirmanakaya.
Though I am not worthy of requesting and beseeching you,
I beg you kindly to pay heed to me.
Please think of us with compassion and bestow upon us the sadhanas of Secret Mantra that give enlightenment within one lifetime.

Yeshe Tsogyal – The Lotus-Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava; Rangjung Yeshe Publications

Guru: Sanskrit for teacher.
Lama: Tibetan for guru.

This is my first blog entry in a year, as I’ve been busy writing The 12-Step Buddhist. It is to be published by Atria/Beyond Words on March 10th, 2009. Please consider pre-ordering, as this will affect the initial print-run. Now that it’s complete, I’ve got some time to blog. As always, your comments are welcome. And if you like it, please share it with one of the Social Networking buttons found at the bottom of this article.

In the old days of my 12-Step recovery, they used to say that if you were going to make it in sobriety, you had to learn to “get naked.” I mentioned this in a meeting recently and got a strange reaction. What they meant was that we needed to drop our rock, join the parade, and become emotionally vulnerable with another human being in our 5th Step, “We Admitted to God, to Ourselves and to Another Human Being the Exact Nature of Our Wrongs.” In recovery, our sponsors were about the closest thing to a guru that most of us ever had.

I have, for all of my spiritual life, found it difficult to think of any man as a guru. Maybe the term guru has connotations that I find difficult to absorb. Not that I knew any, but I’d come across enough freaks to be suspicious of anybody spouting spiritual mumbo jumbo. As a teenager, I often attended huge outdoor rock festivals in the San Francisco Bay Area, where crazed naked hippies would dance for 10 hours in one spot—oblivious to anything but the groove, staring at things in space that only they could see. Whenever I heard the word guru, I pictured leftover seekers such as these, who’d probably gone to India to take acid with some hairy Hindu master in a diaper and returned in some strange condition.

As for the gurus themselves, I had no trust where they were concerned. I grew up in California in the 70’s, when such famous names as Charles Manson, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Jim Jones dominated the news. No purple cool-aid for me, thank you very much. I trusted no one, especially not priests, cops, and politicians.

As a 12-Stepper in the early 80’s, I was even convinced that there was a guy in a mansion somewhere who collected all the dollar bills we put into the baskets at meetings. It was probably ten years before I felt comfortable adding money when the baskets were passed. So if you said “Guru,” I said “Bullshit!” So back in 2005 when my sponsor said, “Dude, you need to find a guru,” I said, “Uh, what the “F” are you talking about, man?”

I’d known John P. as a sober friend since 1990 and a few years back he’d replaced my sponsor John C. after he died of cancer. John P. had been to many places as a seeker. He’d read everything from Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta to Blaise Pascal. He’d even read Hitler’s Mein Kempf looking for answers. He’d been to Egypt and had done the Course in Miracles with Marianne Williamson back in the day. But John was talking strange when he told me that he was getting an impression—he always got his impressions from a 45 degree angle, coming at him as a message for which he was only a channel— that I needed to find my guru. So I reluctantly began my quest.

You can read about how that evolved in The 12-Step Buddhist. What follows here is the account of my most recent retreat with Tibetan Dzogchen Master Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche at the seat of his first North American Center in Conway, Massachusetts.

Retreat Day One
Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 10:59pm

Hey Everybody,
Normally I like to take pictures on the fly with my Palm Centro and send them up to Facebook for instant updates. But I can’t send pics by phone from here because there is no data service. So I’ll have to upload them all when I get back. In the meantime, there is a nice Mac here that I can get on and provide some text notes.

Today was pretty cool. Had a drive in with my friend. I’ve known her since early sobriety—1984. She is one of the few who is still around to compare notes with. We had a very long talk regarding some pretty serious problems she’s having. Her husband used to be sober and now is not. It’s been very difficult for both of them. My visit to their house in Boston was not relaxing. Whenever my addict friends fall out of recovery, it’s quite difficult to relate to them on the same spiritual 12-Step terms that we based our original relationship on. So it was tough for me to see this happening and I was eager to get to my retreat.

I got here a day early and met a few people who came before the imminent intensity of the retreat. It may be more than co-incidental that the first friend I made here was Lisa from Chicago, also a student of Khachab Rinpoche, whom I know. I figured this out when I saw her sitting on the porch reading Jamgon Kongtrul.

I am assigned the Karma Yoga service position, of being an assistant videographer for Jennifer Fox, who is making a documentary about Namkhai Norbu, for the whole retreat. That’s really nice. I’ll be sitting right up front and will be able to use some of my media skills. Tomorrow Rinpoche will begin the introductory teachings and we will do a gana puja. I can’t wait. The energy here is very strong already.

Now I’ll try to get a little rest. I couldn’t sleep until 0600 last night/this morning, so I’m a little wacky. Too much going on in my head. Many people who I’ve met say, “Oh, I know who you are.” Evidently my reputation precedes me. Not sure if it’s positive or negative, but I will work to establish good relations within the sangha. Now for that sleep!

Day Two
Friday, May 30, 2008 at 11:34pm

Well today has been very intense. It started rough because I got no sleep again. The guy next to me in the dorms snored real loud, all night long. I missed the morning yoga practice because my first priority was to get some coffee down the hill at the General Store. I wandered about and had a conversation with a counselor from St. Louis who has interest in the 12 Steps and wanted to know about my book. Later, I was having a conversation with a guy from Berkeley, when I discovered that he’s a friend of a fellow practitioner back in Portland, who just so happened to be house sitting for me. Serendipitous!

I’ve met many interesting people with connections to different lamas. It is fascinating to me how varied the backgrounds are of the participants. We have healers, kundalini teachers, masseurs, psychologists, psychedelic explorers, musicians—all with extended spiritual training. One lady described how she fasted for four days at a Sundance in Mexico with Native Americans, for example.

I worked on a team that set up 300 Ganapuja offering plates with a variety of different foods. That was intense! About 20 people got it done pretty fast. I was wiped out after that. But, the night was filled with a cacophonous chorus of extra loud snoring, so I again slept just two hours.

A bit later, I set up the camera for the video shoot of Namkhai Norbu. It was about 95 in the room, and all the windows were closed. He likes to stay warm they tell me. I got my camera training from the lady who’s doing the documentary. It was a little hard for me, as I’m used to being the director and producer. I had to switch up my attitude to be of service to her needs and in the interest of how she wanted to represent our teacher. There were no problems though, and the day’s shooting went smoothly.

As Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche’s teachings began, I got many good pictures of him. But at times I thought I was going to pass out from the heat and the intensity. We had a 15 minute teaching before the webcast, which was run by NNR’s son Yeshi, who is also a reincarnate lama. I worked next to him at the webcast station. Things went very well and we had a nice session.

There is a wine offering that is part of these types of pujas. I’ve made the mistake of taking a small sip from the palm of my hand as it was offered in past events. So I’m very, very careful to avoid any surprises. The way I deal with it as a 12-Step Buddhist is to stick the tip of my finger in the glass, shake it off, bless it and put just a tiny, tiny part of my finger under my tongue for a split second. This way, I’m not tasting wine but am respecting the offering. This is a very, very tricky deal for those of us in recovery and, in my opinion, an area where Buddhists could be a lot more sensitive. I’ve spoken to more than one practitioner who has relapsed this way. But it is also part of practicing beyond our limitations. It’s not an easy thing to do, and, I admit, I have the limitation of my DNA and body chemistry. I am an addict. My offering is to participate in the way I describe above, or to simply pass my hand over the glass and say a blessing.

In between sessions, I went up and said a quick hello to Rinpoche. He said, “OKAY, ” in his endearing way. I just smiled and bowed. Several people who I know and like then got in line to see him, so I made it my mission, as I normally do, to get some nice pictures of them with the Master. I took a great video of NNR leaving, with his grandson helping him out the door. It was very sweet.

I then went up to the Khandroling land and saw the farmhouse area where people are camping. That was really fun and I met more interesting people from San Diego and other areas. Very nice. Then we went down to a bar and had dinner, where the conversation again, for the second night, become very deep, very fast. It’s quite rewarding being around so many dedicated, high level practitioners. This is truly inspiring.

Day Three
Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 11:19pm

Is it only Day Three? Yikes, what a day it has been. I was going to do yoga but opted for a shower instead before running down for some coffee at the General Store. There was no getting around it. After some refreshing muffins and eavesdropping on farm conversation about steers that got loose, I came back up to the gonpa (meditation room) to set up the camera. I was able to join the last few minutes of the yoga class before teachings began.

When our teacher arrived I got a lot of close-up shots. As he sat waiting for the time teachings were to begin, he seemed to be praying for the crowd—his lips moving silently as his compassionate eyes scanned back and forth slowly across the room. I was moved again on many levels, as the energy wafted through a room full and silent.

Rinpoche taught well. When he speaks, the meaning beneath the words is so clear. Many times during the teaching I thought I noticed him looking at me. Though it was just for an instant, the connection was palatable. The beginning of another rich day. If it had ended right there, it would have been enough.

I decided to go up after teachings to ask him to bless my mala: Tibetan prayer beads. I have had my malas blessed by different lamas, but it’s my special mala and this is my root, or main, lama. It’s common practice to make such a request and there’s no need to tell the lama why you’re asking, so I just handed Rinpoche my mala. He closed it in his hands in a prayer mudra (hand gesture), and began whispering mantras. This gentle sound roused a stirring deep in my chest, which filled my throat and eyes with water. It is so amazing to have this powerful being as my teacher. Unbelievable.

At the break, I ran down with a new friend from NYC and had a bit of lunch. I found out that he was in very early recovery and wanted to talk a bit about the 12 Steps. I happily obliged. We walked back in the muggy, hot rain. Maybe Portland isn’t the only crazy weather town after all.

Following was another teaching, this one with an old-timey thirty-year NNR student. It was amazing and powerful. I’d participated with this teacher some twenty months ago, but had no real experience to go by. This time, I could really feel that experience in fact makes a difference.

That teaching lasted two hours and was immediately followed by an advanced yoga class. I stayed put, without a break, to learn more. I found out that it’s a demanding, life-altering practice! I hope I sleep tonight because of it. Three days with no Grande in a Vente , or an add shot! OMG—how am I surviving?

In the evening I trekked down the hill in my crock knocks and rain hat, in search of pizza with another new friend from Maine. This is an older guy of about 65, with a shrewd sense of humor. He lives out in the remote woods somewhere with his wife and is really happy to be out amongst the living. I just met him, and he finishes sentences for me and I find that I have very little to explain. You can imagine, that leaves me in a bit of a conversational quandary. He and I bumped into the NYC guy, and had a nice meal at the Conway Inn—the only game in town.

Later, I did another intense practice session with about thirty people from the non-commuter group. It’s always different with the people who are staying together than when the big crowd is in attendance. There was some chanting during the practice, and no one had a bell to keep time. So I tried feebly to ring mine in tune and in time. It was obviously off, but hey, we do our best. (Of course, a few days later when I decided against bringing my bell, everyone pulled theirs out and began ringing!)

Tomorrow morning will begin early with yoga, followed by a teaching from a Jigme Lingpa text. Jigme Lingpa is a really famous teacher in the Nyingma lineage. He’s responsible for a famous teaching called the Heart Essence or Longchen Nyngthig.

It will be AWESOME. I plan to do the dance movement class in the afternoon. After that, I have an appointment to see the Tibetan Doctor, who is Rinpoche’s niece and head of the Tibetan Medicine program. I want to see if she can help me with some problems I’ve had for many years that Western medicine has no cure for. Fifteen minutes after that appointment, we will have the Medicine Buddha initiation. How auspicious is that?

I appreciate the people on Facebook who are sending comments. I had a lot of anxiety about coming here and it helps to feel so connected with those both near and far.

Day Four
Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 10:46pm

This morning I had my usual delicious muffin and coffee down at the General Store. Then I came up and prepared the camera area for the day’s teachings. I wasn’t required to do much shooting this morning, so I took it easy and sunk into the experience. That was nice. But I still felt like I had to take care of the camera, even though I didn’t. Funny how the mind works.

I’d made a friend on Facebook who is in recovery and is a test reader for my book. But I didn’t know she was there. Suddenly she came up and hugged and kissed me. That was real nice! It turns out there were a few more 12-Step Buddhists in attendance as well. I slowly went from one to the other and suggested that we have a meeting together ASAP. They all agreed.

After lunch I went to see the Dr. Wangmo. She looked at me and said, “So, how can I help you?” I told her about my problem with Post Hallucinogenic Perceptual Disorder, poor sleep, agitation and so on. She felt my pulses and asked me questions. At the end, she said, “You have wind disease of the third channel.” She prescribed some Tibetan herbs and said, “Take these, and do practice. Then you’ll feel better.” She didn’t say specifically what practice to do, but I had an idea based on something I’d heard in the teachings earlier. She said that although I should be able to tell in a few weeks if the herbs are working, it generally takes three to four months to see improvement. But, “In your case,” she said, “it may take longer.” My sponsor laughed when I later recounted this story.

About an hour later, we took a special Medicine Buddha initiation with Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, to consecrate the Tibetan Medicine program and I’m sure for other very good reasons. I went on a picture-taking frenzy, which evidently spawned everyone else who had a camera to start snapping. At one point, we were all lined up in a row at the front, like the Dharma Paparazzi, competing for “the shot.” I’m sure I got a lot of good ones and hopefully people will like them. The session was intense and amazing, as we all knew it would be.

Then I went down to the Conway Inn and had pizza with more new friends. Tomorrow is my 46th birthday. The retreat is moving up from this location for the day to the sacred land of Khandroling, the home of the Universal Mandala. Rinpoche will give teachings, and I assume we’ll be hanging out up there for most of the day, swimming in the pond and BBQing. So I told my 12-Step friends, this is the place we should have our meeting! It is said that whatever practice is done on this sacred mandala is exponentially increased in power. It’s similar to what the Tibetans say about doing prostrations in the place where the Buddha gained realization. This is why pilgrims prostrate for 3000 miles to that site. Each prostration is said to purify eons of negative karma. So, I think it this would be a good thing to be able to report to the 12-Step folks back home. How many of us have had a meeting in such a place? Will it give us permanent sobriety? No, but I guess it would be like having a meeting at the table where Bill W. and Dr. Bob first met in Akron, Ohio.

Any way you look at it, I’ll be hanging out with the Master, in a sacred place, on my birthday, taking teachings and practicing recovery. So that’s a pretty cool birthday present, don’t you think?

Day Five – my birthday!
Monday, June 2, 2008 at 10:21pm

I hit the ground running today trying to get everything—sun block, hat, water, etc.—in my backpack for the trip up to the land. I was lucky to pick up a ride with a guy from Boston, along with my friend from Maine and another gal from San Diego. The day was filled with fantastic conversation. I got into some deep stuff with one woman as we talked for an hour before they loaded up the caravan to the hills. Turns out she is in recovery as well and has a twisted sense of humor that I can really appreciate. Does anybody know what a Rusty Trombone is? I’ll refer you to the Urban Dictionary for that one.

When we got to what I thought was the end of the road, I found out we had to hike about 30 minutes uphill. The stones, sticks and steep climb were a bit challenging in my Crock knocks. After what seemed like way too long, we made it up to the top with just five minutes to spare before teachings began. While hiking, we hadn’t been aware of the time. I’m used to being in my spot at least a half hour early. I jammed myself in between two practitioners, sitting on a stone.

Of course the moment I sat I realized I had to pee. But I refuse to ever get up while teachings are in process, unless it’s totally unavoidable. We began with a fantastic practice under the strangely windy, cloudy and sunny skies. We made offerings and had pristine teachings of the highest nature. It was amazing and difficult, as I couldn’t get comfortable: after I’d shift to avoid pressure on my bladder, my leg would fall asleep or I’d become aware of a stone protruding into my ankle bone. I’d put on my Gortex rain jacket because it was cold and then the sun would blaze down on my head, making me feel like I was about to pass out. There weren’t enough copies of the practice to go around so I shared with a couple from somewhere in Europe. We kept losing our place and one of us would find it again. It was pretty awesome.

The second NNR said, “Ok we are finished with teachings for today,” I bolted down the hill to the potty, thank you God! Good thing too, because when I came out there were about a hundred people in line. My friend and I took some pictures while circumambulating the stupa: a monument or reliquary representing the enlightened mind. We were later informed that this stupa took five years to build, and is filled with many sacred items.

Back on the hill, everyone was having a picnic, a couple of guys were playing jazz, some were playing acoustic guitars and people had already formed social clusters. I found myself sitting alone in the midst of this, feeling sad because it was my birthday, and I had no one to talk to. Some friends from Oregon walked right by me and sat with some other people. I felt like I was going to cry and that I should just go off in the woods by myself somewhere. Just then a woman friend from France, whom I’d spent time with earlier in the week, came over and sat with me, ending my blues and my isolation. She said she didn’t want to be in the crowd, and offered me some food and conversation.

I found myself thinking that I’d really like to talk to this one young woman who’d set me up with the doctor’s appointment. At that moment, she came up to me and asked me how it went. I could hear my friend Lloyd’s voice in my head saying, “The Wish Fulfilling Jewel!” He said that to me several times as things we’d been discussing spontaneously manifested during the retreat. It was a very surreal and interesting conversation with this beautiful secret messenger that confirmed that I am indeed on the correct path—with the teacher, the teachings and the medicine. I’m excited about pursuing this line of treatment.

After that I took a tour of the land with an older practitioner who helped build it. We got all the history, the plan for new stuff like more retreat cabins and so on. It was excellent. On the way down the hill he offered to give us a ride back to the retreat area. Since it was a long way back from where we were, the four of us gladly accepted. We thought everyone had left, but when we reached the pond, we found that Rinpoche was swimming with about 30 people! They were splashing around and singing a Shariputra song. I got a bit on video and will put up later. It was lovely. I opted not to run and jump in, since I didn’t want to lose my ride, but it was a very nice thing to see.

I got back to the dorms and took a shower, then grabbed my friend Danielle and went down for a burger at the General Store. I know, we go there a lot, but it’s the only option. After that, we went to the Conway Inn, where they have Wi-Fi, and talked for several hours until another practitioner came in and joined us for another extended excellent conversation. We got some tips on how to invite teachers to our local community and other ideas to help with building sangha.

So for this birthday, I only had to feel sorry for myself for about 10 minutes. Then it all came together. I missed my Tysa and Zippy and Mackie real bad, but that’s an ongoing pain that will only subside on Saturday when I see them again. Until tomorrow, thanks for reading and thanks to all the Facebook fans for the happy birthday wishes. It made me feel very nice.

Day Six
Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 10:09pm

Wow, I couldn’t imagine a better day. I woke up refreshed, didn’t even let the snoring or 4am cell phone conversation that my roommate had keep me awake. I went down and had me some coffee and a muffin at the General Store. Then I set up the camera and we had teachings. It was a most beautiful and pristine teaching. Rinpoche’s knowledge is unceasing. I find myself thoroughly engrossed in every second of listening to his mastery of topics.

At one point, Rinpoche was discussing how he was asked to teach and why he teaches what he does and what it means to him. I just had tears rolling down my face. I felt like he was sharing with us in a very deep way of his own personal experience. I really appreciate that because it reminds me of my experience in 12-Step programs when people share their own experience, strength and hope. You don’t always expect this in non-recovery settings.

After teachings I went up to talk with Rinpoche and he was gracious enough to pose with me for a picture that my friend Clyde took for me. After posing, he turned to me and said, “Perfect, no?” I said, “Yes. Perfect!” Then I gave him the mala I’d made for him of green malachite that I got at a special bead show in January, in anticipation of coming here. It had a green, knotted silk tassle that was blessed by His Holiness Dalai Lama. I gave it to Rinpoche and he smiled and put his hand out to me with a kind of, “Well done Lad,” look on his smiling face. I was walking on clouds for the rest of the day.

Then I went to the next town with a girl I met from, uh where is she from, oh yeah, New Orleans. I’ve met all sorts of spiritual healers and practitioners from so many varied backgrounds. It is really, really amazing the people who are attracted to Namkhai Norbu. Totally F’n mind blowing.

We enjoyed our lunch on this bridge covered in flowers over a river and talked and it was very nice. She just wandered in to the retreat the other day and people, including myself, had encouraged her to stay. She did and is very happy about it (I later found out that she decided to stay on as the Farmhouse attendant for the whole summer).

We went back to the gar just in time for another teaching and practice session with a senior student/teacher. This was also first-rate. That evening, Rinpoche’s six-year-old grandson had a birthday party. I know, this day and week hadn’t been packed enough! So we celebrated that and then I walked down here to type up my notes at the bar with Wi-Fi. The bartender automatically starts making me a cherry coke when I walk him. Just like old times!

This is truly an amazing experience. I took about 2000 pictures already and some video. Stay tuned as there are a few days left to report on. All I can say is OM AH HUM friends and neighbors. OM AH HUM.

Day Seven
Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 11:59pm

Well I didn’t sleep much last night. Got up tired and crabby but went to get coffee with Danielle, who is funny as hell. We had detailed teachings, Bardo: transitional states such as between birth and death. But I had to watch the camera for the close shot, following Rinpoche as he moved. It was distracting. I kind of had to mention it to the camera lady who, as it turns out, is a professional film maker and teacher. Woops. Well I needed to get clearer communications going and I think it’s better now.

After lunch with my friend Lloyd, I found six addicts to have a 12-Step Sangha type meeting with. We did a little practice and shared just like we do at our Portland 12-Step Sangha group. It was excellent for everyone and they said they’d love to do it again. Most had never considered having a meeting like this while on retreat, so I felt good about making it happen. I’d asked one of the coordinators to announce the meeting, but he said that this should happen “organically.” Well, I beg to differ. This is one point that Buddhists need to understand, namely, that it is important for recovering people to be able to find each other and have support. This is particularly true in emotionally intense environments, where plenty of alcohol is drunk.

Later, we had another talk on collaboration within the community with Yeshi Namkhai, NNR’s son. He also gave a teaching really, which was quite good. I’d wondered if I’d connect with him, since he’s Italian by upbringing and it seems that sometimes European men and I don’t connect very easily. But I enjoyed his talks very much after all, particularly the stories of growing up with this powerful teacher as his father, how the community evolved and so on.

That evening, a few of us drove to Greenfield, wherever that is, for Mexican food. It was a lot of fun, as we blew off stress by cracking up with strange jokes the whole time. I’ve stayed up too late so I am going to bed now. Two more days and I will be home to my babe, my babies, and my hot tub. Oh, and all my 12-Step peeps. Can’t wait to see everyone!

The Last 3 Days – a Summary

Well I didn’t get to write the notes for the last three days because I was utterly blown away and exhausted. So while you won’t get the details, I think you’ll notice the essence of the experience.

The big thing about Thursday was the auction. After teachings we had a gana puja (offering ritual), followed by a fund-raiser auction. There were many things for up to bid on: statues, thangkas, calligraphy from Rinpoche. The bidding started at $1000 for most items, so it was all way out of my league. Michael Katz, author of the excellent book Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light and leader of retreats on that topic, was the auctioneer.

There was a lot of wine flowing, I guess in the spirit of loosening up. I wasn’t comfortable in this setting. It continued to be very hot and every two seconds somebody had a bottle of wine in my face. The smell of it stuck in my craw for hours. After a bit I decided that I was pretty wiped out and the room continued to be stifling, so I went out for some cool, fresh, alcohol-free air. Shortly after, my little redheaded friend from New Orleans came out and said, “Hey, they sold the mala you made for $3700!” I was stunned! But I went in to try and confirm that this was true. Some people said it was the same mala that I’d made, others said it was different. The helper said it was Rinpoche’s Green Tara mala that he made himself, so I was confused. I mean, what are the chances that he had another green malachite mala?

Well after a day or two I had to ask Namkhai Norbu myself. He said it was the same mala, but he restrung it and put a different tassel on it. So it was both the one I gave him and one that he made himself after all. Kind of like the two truths, “Not one. Not two. Two and one.” So it was pretty cool that it turned out to be my offering after all.

On Friday Rinpoche finished up the topics at hand and we sang the melodies at the end of the session. While I was singing, I couldn’t help but feel thoroughly overwhelmed with fatigue, stress, gratitude, the sheer power of the teachings and all of my interactions with the sangha. Tears came and the words did not. I looked up and Rinpoche was looking at me, right into my eyes. I felt it very deeply, took a nice deep breath and continued. That was a very special conclusion to the retreat. If it ended right there, it would have been enough. But it wasn’t over!

There was a position open for the main Western center, in Baja, that is in need of some help. So I went to the community meeting. They asked to tell a little about myself. I told them about myself, as did another friend who was also offering service. Afterwards, I was asked if I wanted to attend a meeting with Rinpoche, up at the house where he was staying. I felt like that would be pretty special, so off we went. It was an amazing house with a fantastic view of the rolling, mist shrouded hillside. We arrived and walked past a large but unassuming man, who seemed to be standing guard outside the door. Upon entering, we were greeted by Rinpoche’s wife. Inside were some Tibetan attendants, cooking and cleaning.

In the finely decorated living room we sat and waited for Rinpoche to come downstairs. During the discussion of what questions were going to be asked, Jennifer filmed us. Rinpoche arrived and his son, Yeshi, sat next to him on the couch and the grandchildren were ran around the house. Rinpoche sat, waiting for the committee to address him. After the first question, he gazed into the air and around the room and began to teach. It was amazing to be sitting 2 feet from the Master, looking straight into his eyes. I saw the Guru, compassionate, deeply sensitive and brilliant. I felt, this is not a normal person, but an extraordinarily accomplished Master. And I’m sitting here, interacting. It was perfectly surreal.

I listened carefully and got a good sense about the community and how we should apply the spirit of the teachings to everything. This is a version of, “practicing these principles in all of our affairs,” as we say in the 12-Steps. After about an hour I figured I’d better chime in to show that I had something to offer. So I did a little reflection and clarification on what had been said. Both seemed to agree with my summary and listened to a couple of ideas I had. It was nice to participate in the planning of the next phase of this community project. I really felt like I found a niche. At the end, Rinpoche thanked us and shook our hands, making intentional eye contact with each person. I floated out of the room and down the hill.

The next day Yeshi gave an extremely helpful teaching on Dream Yoga. In this Tibetan Buddhism, we practice mindfulness of the preciousness of human existence as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Coupling this with an understanding that this human life, too, shall pass, we try not to waste time. So we try to practice even in our dreams. This was something that Venerable Robina introduced me to a few years ago on retreat. She said to go to sleep with the intention, “May I know that my dreams are dreams,” and to wake up surprised and appreciative that we’re still here. Beyond that, there are many teachings on how to practice in the night, which we can learn. But to simply be aware like this is quite profound.

I had to run right out after that final teaching. I had a plane to catch. Of course, I had some troubles with the driver and the airline delayed my luggage, we sat on the runway in NYC for 90 minutes and they refused to give me dinner even though it was printed on my ticket. But none of it mattered. I just wanted to absorb this retreat experience as deeply into my waking dream as possible at my level of development. Subsisting on peanuts and ice water, I sat on the plane all the way home, looking deeply at my mind and processing the experiences of the past 10 days. It was really unbelievable.

I leave you with a little bit of spontaneous humor that came to me towards the end of the retreat. A monk walks into a bar with a puzzled look on his face. The bartender says, “What’s on your mind?” The monk says, well I’m not sure if it’s my mind or the nature of my mind…” The bartender replies, “What’s the difference?” (-:

NAMO GURU BHYEHomage to the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha and the Real Guru.


How many Buddhas do you give this article?


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