Letter to a Fellow Arican
Life leads the thoughtful man on a path of many windings.
Now the course is checked, now it runs straight again.
Here winged thoughts may pour freely forth in words,
There the heavy burden of knowledge must be shut away in silence.
But when two people are at one in their inmost hearts,
They shatter even the strength of iron or of bronze.
And when two people understand each other in their inmost hearts,
Their words are sweet and strong, like the fragrance of orchids.
There is a bond of fellowship I feel between us, and after the weeping and lamentation, after the laughing struggles when we again succeed in meeting, may we indeed enjoy "Fellowship with Men" joining the community without separate aims of our own. For such is the same prospect, I remember we acknowledged when we met first in this lifetime a decade ago. How amusing it is to read in the books of oracles, for example, the way T'ung Jen, hexagram 13, is interpreted as a complement to Shih, the Army, number 7. It is almost as a spleen to a pancreas.
The notes on the 24 Lights read like a manifest for a ship of fools (Stultifera Navisa!) setting sail on a voyage to the Islands of Langerhans: fractioned prismatic apprehension of the Infinite Radiant Light: no blame, merely method--with Upaya, skillfull means--for the benefit of those who earnestly seek the Dharma: But as our colleague, Chögyam Trungpa, has been heard to comment: "Categories, categories..." But yes, of course, we all do work for the Unity, whether with the military and mathematical methods of an organizing general, or with the image of Heaven and Fire.
On Saturday, August 29th, 1982, a couple of us Aricans sallied out through the open door and drove onto the light of the dawn, following U.S. highway number 9 past Poughkeepsie to Wappingers Falls, New York. There we drove through the gates of KAGYU THUBTEN CHOLING, a Vajrayana monastery founded by the Venerable Lama Kalu Rinpoche, the first Tibetan teacher I had occasion to hear and see sometime back in the early 1970s. We missed seeing Kalu himself this time, as he had already left for California--where, on October 15, 16 and 17th, he will offer the Kalachakra initiation, the purpose of which is said "to remove the obstacle of the California earthquake and to fulfill the wishes of all dharma students."
However, as we introduced ourselves to the Lama in residence, we were told that indeed we had chosen to visit on a most auspicious occasion. As some 30 students of the dharma had recently entered the traditional Kagyud-pa retreat of three years, three months and three days--in order to study, among other things the Six Yogas of Naropa, very much the curriculum of the advanced work in Arica, presumably--they were being visited by the Sharmapa, present titular head of the Kagyud-pa Order of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. It was about 9 o'clock in the morning, and we were told that, if it were possible for us to wait for a while until the Sharmapa finished delivering teachings to these in retreat, it might be possible for us to receive an audience.
After an hour or two strolling in the forest and inspecting the vegetable garden and watching the river, we were called. One of our party had fallen asleep in the backseat of the car, but unfortunately there was no time to awaken her. Two of us went upstairs, past the shrine room--in which, earlier, we had paid our respects (I, in particular, in front of a red wooden bench, on which was an empty vase, and these in front of a picture of the great meditation master Kalu Rinpoche) - and we were escorted into a room in which the Sharmapa ascended a dais, where he was served a cup of tea by one of the other Lamas. He called for tea to be served to us as well.
From appearances it would be difficult to determine the Sharmapa's chronological age. His face is full and squarish, but very soft, and without wrinkles, extraordinarily regular, virtually devoid of fixation to my eye. He could have been 19 or 49 years old, filled with presence but light and soft as a cloud.
As we know, the Tibetans in this country do not, generally speaking, make a detailed study of the daily newspapers--and so there is no particular reason why he should have heard about Oscar Ichazo, Arica, or the training at Sugar Maples. So he did receive with great interest the report that some five or six hundred ordinary human beings had just been introduced to the practice of the meditation on 24 Lights and the "organs" or parts of the body. A brief description of the work seemed to confirm for him the relationship to traditional Tibetan practices of the aforementioned monastic discipline.
We discussed, among other things, the general state of consciousness displayed in the world these days, including our concern for the poor, sick and hungry, threats of thermonuclear war, dangers of radiation, insults to nature and ecological harmony, mismanagement of global resources, not only physical, but also emotional and psychic, and so forth...the all too familiar Killers. As my Hopi teachers have said, clearly we seem to be approaching the last days, according to the venerable predictions of their ancestors. In this present context the Sharmapa said it was very good that many people were drawn to the practice of such spiritual disciplines as the meditation of 24 Lights. He was of the opinion that there was no contradiction between the work as presented by Arica and the practices of the Kagyud-pa lineage, although as a strong general rule these practices were transmitted only in the circumstances of monastic retreat.
The question of my personal preparation for such work then arose, in the sense that he wanted to know with whom I had studied, my name in the tradition of Buddha-Dharma and other qualifications. I replied that the first Tibetan Buddhist I had heard was Kalu Rimpoche, the founder of the monastery where we at that time found ourselves...as-indeed, Kalu had earlier been the meditation teacher to the Sharmapa himself, (and to many; many other of the present generation of Kagyud-pa lamas. My dharma name, Karma rDorje Wangdu (Karma, the first name of all in the Karma Kagyud-pa tradition, meaning "action;" rDorje, or Vajra in Sanskrit, for "lightning bolt," or "diamond," referring to the adamantine, indestructible quality of meditation; and Wangdu, or dBangdu-sa, with the sense of gathering energy) was given by Lama Tsenjur Rinpoche, with the magnificent chanting voice, who now heads a monastery near Vancouver. Both Tsenjur and Lama Chime Rinpoche (who directs Vajrayana Activities in London) conducted retreats at the old rancho in Napa Valley where one day many years ago, Tom Genelli escorted you on a visit to the wild man's castle of chaos. Well, that was before the good lamas did what they could to make a benign influence felt. And then there was quite a bit of work with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche--who was attractive because there, they said, went someone who seemed crazier than me, and yet who pulled it off very much better, beyond question. And all of this thinking it might be an easy matter to become a Krypto-Tibetan, which turned out to be considerably more intricate than first imagined. (This said with the most profound thanks to Arica for the work having been set forth in plain American English!)
The Sharmapa then paused for a while as if in contemplation, leaned forward, and bestowed the empowerment, the injunction and encouragement to do this work, and his blessing for this work to be carried to the other members of the school.
This may not seem like such a big deal to them average secular citizen, of course. Yet from a technical, historical, spiritual point of view, it does constitute some sort of formal statement, such that, with full and appropriate respect I thought should be transmitted to you. Who knows what it all would mean to the True or Quasi-Christians in the school, to the Muslims--manqué and orthodox, or pseudo-Sufis, to the political or spiritual Jews? There aren't many Buddhists in the school--actually, I'm not a very good Buddhist myself, otherwise, I'd probably be wearing dark red or safffon robes right now. But as that very funny man Mr. Trungpa says, he does not place much importance in Buddhism and Buddhists: it is the ISM and IST that cloud the issue, whereas there can be no doubt about our commitment to the idea of the BUD, the awakening, enlightening of consciousness. The BUD is profoundly important. So I am BUD, yes--as it is within my capacity to be. But about the IST, who cares? OK. God speed the work of the churches, and those with good intentions. And surely it is good that something be retained for the cultural richness of future generations from such a treasure of accumulated Buddhist human wisdom--and nice graphics too. But that seems to be the work of specialists, and you can't fault the Tibetans for devoting their principal energies to the specially attracted ones. But the rest of the world will not learn Tibetan, nor wear red robes, and those who do will spend many years do cultivating their receptivity to the teachings. Meanwhile, much of the world does understand at least a little English: and so, since a significant portion of the meditation work in Arica appears to have clear parallels, if not direct roots in Vajrayana practice, perhaps it is not totally beside the point that this recognition has been established, and that an explicit blessing has been received from the very highest and most directly concerned of religious authorities. For whatever that is worth, like I say, just in case some nickle/dime, bell-ringing, incense-smoking, mantra-chanting, golden idol supplicant and bead-counting true believer ever has occasion to ask.
There is just a little bit more to the story, but it will keep until we can smile at each other, eye to eye, and light up a little of that incense from the Hindu Kush we both used to enjoy--with love in the heart,
TOHAM KUM RAH!
Kurt von Meier