Wed, 19 Jul 2006
Let me reach way back in my memory to tell the story of how I first became Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche's (KKR's) student. I first met KKR when I attended a teaching on the six perfections at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in 1978. KKR taught in the morning and Bardor Tulku taught in the afternoon. I didn't know it then, but the teaching came straight from the Jewel Ornament of Liberation. I took refuge with KKR that weekend and each of us got a name from one of the perfections. I was generosity because I was first in line. Despite taking refuge with KKR because I had doubts about his traditional style of teaching. I thought, you're not going to be able to talk to Westerners if you tell them the defect of not practicing generosity is that you'll be reborn as a hungry ghost. (This comes straight from the Jewel Ornament, though I didn't know it at the time.)
So although I enjoyed my visit to KTD, I had no real intention of ever going back there. Then I ran into some serious problems. I suppose all my karma was coming due. They were weighing on my mind and I decided the best way to deal with them would be a meditation retreat. And I decided to do it at KTD. It was quiet (back then) and scenic and seemed like the ideal place. So I went back to KTD and asked KKR how to schedule my day. He told me I should take a break after lunch, which is the big meal of the day at KTD. Someone left a copy of Seven Years in Tibet in my room, so I sat on the covered porch (since torn down) and read a chapter each day after lunch. There were no teachings going on at the time and the place was very quiet. Every afternoon KKR would go out into the fields with a shopping bag and a pair of clippers and come back with wild flowers to put on the shrine. And he wouldn't say anything, but he would smile at me as he came back.
At the time many of the Westerners he would meet would declare their eternal commitment to the Dharma and then go away, never to be heard of again. I was practicing with the grim determination of a person clutching at a life preserver, so I think he was impressed that I didn't run away with some excuse after one or two days. It's funny how karma works. So after a week of smiles I was really impressed by KKR. On the last day he asked a woman who had come for an interview to give me a ride to the bus station in Woodstock after it was over. So I was waiting with her as she was waiting for an interview. Like some people, she started getting nervous. When KKR came out to meet her, he saw she was nervous, and took her hand in his. And at that moment I understood what unconditional love and compassion are. Because KKR did not put this woman into some conceptual box, there was nothing to filter or condition the love he felt for her. And seeing that was just a very powerful experience for me and why I will always consider him my main teacher.