Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on August 1, 2013

How weird it was so many years ago, back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to see and meet any of the Asian gurus who visited this country or even to look at their photos in books and magazines. They were definitely foreign looking. The exception might be the Japanese Zen masters. Zen was the first form of Buddhism to really lodge itself in the Western mind, and it was kind of OK to be an Asian Zen master. They were not even called "gurus" for the most part.

But the Hindu saints were definitely called "gurus" in this country and they came in all flavors, some definitely more than just a little over the top to the American way of seeing things.

As for me, I loved the Zen aesthetic of minimalism, of stark teak floors and sliding paper screens, not to mention the bonsai and carefully raked sand gardens. That was food for my eyes, and I wanted to know more about what made them look like that. And then there was the fact that the Zen Buddhists did Zen all day long in everything they did, like washing vegetables, sweeping floors, and, of course, motorcycle maintenance. I liked the idea of spreading one's dharma practice through everything I did. Of course, back then I did no practice to speak of.

The whole idea of an Asian spiritual master was so foreign to us at that time. Exotic yes, but the whole onus of cults, gurus, and somehow being brainwashed was very much something to stay away from in those days. I would never have imagined taking an Asian guru as a teacher. But what surprises fate has in store for some of us.

I had flirted with Buddhism now and again, not to mention that the great Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche had personally taught me to meditate and all that, but somehow I had not found a personal Buddhist teacher to study with.

I had made it safely through the 1960s, the new-age craze of the 1970s, and was already into the early 1980s when fate spoke to me, and I didn't see it coming. I have told this story before, but I will briefly tell it here again.

I was living in Big Rapids, Michigan where I live now when an old friend of mine called me to say that he had met a Tibetan Rinpoche that he felt I should meet. My friend was always finding gurus, and I gently explained to him that I was now a business and family man, and who has time to drop everything and drive three hours to Ann Arbor? And that was the end of that, or so I thought.

It was a few days later, just before dawn, when I had the dream. I dreamed I was driving to Ann Arbor to meet this radiant oriental gentleman. I was as happy as I ever could be, and then I woke up. At first it was just disorienting to pop out of my dream and then I felt sad that my life had become so regimented that events like those in my dream seemingly were no longer permitted in my life. They just did not happen anymore.

I sat there in bed feeling emptiness at the loss of the dream I was just having. For me, it was just another work day and, as I looked down the line of future work days, it seemed to me that I had lost something, like my enthusiasm for just going on. My heart fell at the thought and in that moment I resolved not to work that day, but to call my friend and go and see this Buddhist teacher I spoke of. I needed a break.

So I called him. By now it must have been almost seven o'clock in the morning and he was a late sleeper. But I woke him up and told him we were coming to Ann Arbor. Too late, he said, the rinpoche was leaving that morning at 10 AM, and it is a three-hour drive or so to Ann Arbor. We would arrive too late.

By that time I didn't care. I told him we were coming, hell or high water, and that was that. If we missed the rinpoche, so be it. I woke Margaret, who amazingly also had a similar dream, and we grabbed our babies, and literally (with toothbrushes in hand) jumped in the car and headed for Ann Arbor.

Well, to make a long story short, we did get there in time to meet the rinpoche. And he was exactly the man in my dream. It was incredibly fortunate and, although the meeting was by necessity very brief, afterward Margaret and I wandered for days in a kind of transcendent state of mind. This meeting changed our lives forever. We have been with that Tibetan Rinpoche ever since, some thirty years now.

His name is Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, and he will be celebrating his 90th birthday in a few weeks at his monastery (Karma Triyana Dharmachakra) in the mountains above Woodstock, New York. Margaret and I will be there for a ten-day intensive, something like the 25th year we have done this 10-day event.

What started this story here is that I have been asked to create a short (ten-minute) video celebrating rinpoche, and that is what I am working on these days.

How does one even begin to share with others the experience of working with Khenpo Rinpoche? It is written that one's personal teacher is that one person in our life who is able to show to us (so that we see it) the true nature of our mind, what is called the "wish-fulfilling gem." There are no words for this, so I am going to try and put some images and music together that will express my (and many other student's) gratefulness and appreciation for having someone like Khenpo Rinpoche in our lives.

It has made all the difference.

[Here is a photo I took of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche blessing many containers of earthworms that were bought from a bait shop and then released to the wild.]