April 30, 2010

Confessions of an American Idiot Buddhist

“Our true nature is not some ideal that we have to live up to but who we are right now.” Pema Chodron

Last weekend my wife and I drove to Michigan for my grandson’s little league baseball home opener and to take him off his parents’ hands for a well-deserved break.

There’s something about driving through Indiana that reminded me of His Holiness and how he planted his flag here in the middle of America..

It really is something that the 16th Karmapa chose Zion, Illinois, to pass into paranirvana in a cornfield in the shadow of a nuclear power plant.

He could have died in Rumtek Monastery surrounded by his lineage in all its Tibetan splendor but he chose to die here in a hospital bed instead.

Even back in 1981 as I watched in amazement the stream of Rinpoches who visited him I believed His Holiness was making a statement.

When he died a friend and I drove to the funeral home to pay our respects not really knowing what to do and nobody to tell us.

That was the beauty of that particular moment in time, when being devoted to the Karmapa had absolutely nothing to do with Tibet or Tibetans for me.

We sat alone on the floor in a dark freezing cold room clueless of how to proceed while His Holiness was put in a shipping crate for a flight back to India.

Each hammer blow was like a body blow to whatever I thought I was doing until all that was left was the luminous nature of my mind.

The hammering stopped and we drove to O’Hare airport and the Karmapa, the Rinpoches, everything disappeared like it was just a dream.

My eight-year-old grandson got his hands on my wife’s Blackberry and it took him around 15 seconds to get into her e-mailbox.

We had just finished having dinner at a restaurant in a popular Edwardsburg, Michigan, bait, tackle, and gun shop, and hadn’t even started the car yet.

From the back seat he complained incredulously “Grandma, you have thirty-seven unanswered messages!”

I suspect in the future he will vex his brothers and sisters in the dharma as much as I do mine these days on the Internet.

A day doesn’t pass it seems without my receiving a patronizing comment on Twitter via direct message regarding my column here.

They are absolutely correct regarding their understanding of Tibetan tradition and quite right in being shocked that I don’t give a shit.

I call it my digital Chod practice in which instead of offering my limbs to the benefit of sentient beings I offer myself just as I am to my critics.

Instead of responding as I know I should I simply respond to them as I would anyone else who gets in my grill—without regard to who they are or what they know.

When I was my grandson’s age in the 1960s living in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, my father used keypunch cards to work on a computer the size of a modest ranch house.

I still remember speeding through the rolling green countryside with the Schuylkill River barely visible from my unbuckled bucket seat to his office in Philadelphia.

He drove his Mustang like a jet test pilot to work down the wide open turnpike at the speed of light as was our Saturday morning ritual while I hung on for dear life.

There’s a Padmasambhava prophecy that “When an iron horse flies up into the sky, tantric teachings will spread widely in the land of red-faced people.”

Most people interpret “red-faced people” to mean “Native Americans” but I’ve always read it as a reference to impatient Americans like me instead.

I’ve never questioned what His Holiness wanted of the Rinpoches he sent to teach us and never will but I must confess to wanting something more.

I’m not a Tibetan Buddhist but a first-generation American Buddhist and I never signed up to be a representative of anyone but myself as far as I’m concerned.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery but despite all that Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche means to me as my guru I’ve never wanted to become him.

Perhaps my father dying when I was thirteen, an age at which a son begins to rebel against his father, made me defiant with authority figures for life.

While everyone I knew rightly so made whatever Rinpoche wanted what they wanted I could never go there (not that I have ever not done what he told me to do).

It wasn’t for lack of devotion but more a matter that my devotion to him was unique to the causes and conditions that made me who I am as a person.

I’m looking forward to covering a teaching at the Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago by Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor for ElephantJournal.

I haven’t a clue how to proceed of course, but it seemed like a good idea for a column so I’ve decided to give it a shot.

If this goes well, next month I’ll cover the x-rated Sarah Palin look-alike contest at the Admiral Theater, which amused me when I read about it in Gapers Block.


Karmapa Chenno

(Please follow me on Twitter @RyderJaphy)

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