Before Ceremony

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Before a Black Crown Ceremony 

Los Angeles, 1980 

"There was one ceremony sponsored by Dharmadhatu [aka Shambhala,] wh[ich] was also providing the house and transportation, and one by the small Kagyu group.  I worked and studied at the Healing Light Center at the time.  The president of the Kagyu group came to our center regularly. She asked if they could use the large classroom for a refuge ceremony being given by a Tibetan lama in advance of His Holiness' arrival.

Thrangu Rinpoche was going to come first, and offer refuge and bodhicitta vows and teachings. Their dharma group was only a small handful of people and apparently not very well organized so, as administrative assistant for the center, I inherited the job of decorating and preparing the space for his teaching. 

I was excited to meet a real lama, but knew nothing about Vajrayana Buddhism or the nature of the ceremonies about to take place. I had seen a reproduction of Mahakala once, projected huge onto a canvas and incorporated into a painting a friend of mine created as part of his Masters' thesis at Long Beach State [University.] I was attracted to the fierce image, but it was just an intriguing mysterious image from Shangri-la. That's all I knew about Tibetan Buddhism.

I was told to bring flowers and a gift of some sort, but that's the extent of my introduction as to the nature of what he was presenting. I took refuge with Thrangu Rinpoche not knowing really what it meant at all. The translation was sketchy at best for the commentaries, so even after the ceremony was complete I was not at all clear about the nature of the commitment I had already made. Not a beginning I would recommend to anyone, and yet

The center president then gave me the 100-syllable Vajrasattva mantra, told me to memorize it and start practicing. To me that seem like a daunting and impossible task, memorizing those alien transliterated gobbledy-gook phrases.  What in the world was I doin' that for? 

She then asked if I would please help them find a location for the Black Crown Ceremony they were sponsoring. This hadn't gotten done yet and time was short; she was on overwhelm and folks were droppin' the ball on her right and left.  She also needed an altar to sit next to him on the stage. Someone else was working on getting the brocade seat made. This was not looking like an auspicious foundation for a teaching given by such a revered monk. I volunteered to make the altar, too.

Dharmadhatu was asking for volunteers to help with the household chores while he was in town so I signed up for early morning service at his house.  I was given the job of making his bed. Every day I changed the sheets of his bed alone in his upstairs room with the black crown sitting awesomely in a special case on a small night table to the left of the bed. I wanted to peek at it but didn't dare to even go near its table without permission.

No one slept in his bed. The covers were still as fresh as I had left them the day before but with a little butt indentation in the middle just below the pillows. 

His bedroom was rather large. All the space at the foot of the bed was filled with cages of songbirds so that you could just barely walk around the bed and the rest was exotic multi-colored singing birds. It seemed that every day there were more birds arriving. One fellow would come and attend to the birds on occasion when I was servicing the bed. That was his only job and a full time job it was too. Holiness loved birds and people knew that so they gave him birds for his aviary in Rumtek. Who knows how all those cages were gonna get through customs and back to the Gompa in Rumtek?  That was no doubt someone else's job.

One morning as I arrived early, the morning meditation he led that day was just ending and the door to the room was open. These 6 am meditations with him were [by] invitation only, just for the "in" group of Dharmadhatu practitioners and invitees. The room was small and they were knee to knee, packed in there like sardines. He was on a brocade throne just opposite the open door I was standing in. As I looked over folks on their cushions, he and I were eye to eye for a few moments.

He got up from his crossed-legged position with some difficulty. There was talk that he was sick -- stomach problems, whispered reports, but no one was openly saying to an incidental person like me that he had cancer. 

He made eye contact with me while he got up, his eyes sparkled love, sweet, strong, gentle kindness, beaming right at me. They glimmered, yet as he rose up his face grimaced in pain. Though I could see the furled scowl on his face in terrible pain as he arose, his eyes did not change a bit. After he was standing straight up on the throne the grimace vanished, he amped up the twinkle right to me again. Not a wink, really, but something like that, a nod and he turned to be helped down the steps. Though he was frail, he was also a very strong masculine being, like a noble horseman wide-shouldered and proud. That was my first glimpse of Holiness.

I can't even begin to explain the effect that tiny encounter had on me. It forever changed my view of what a human being is. That he could be in so much pain yet his eyes beamed joy and love, unremittingly, both states happened in the exact same moment. Those eyes were the clearest happiest eyes I have ever seen. I still get tears when I remember it. He blew my socks off and I've not lost confidence in this path even in times rife with disappointments because of what I saw him do just getting out of his seat, in what must have been only 2 minutes of my life."

                          ~ D. Linden, to the Kagyu email list

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