May 8, 2010

Assignment Shambhala: Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor

“The most important of a lama’s activity is his speech, his teaching.”—His Holiness the 17th Karmapa

What follows are my thoughts after a weekend spent with Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor at the Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago.

My wife had a total hysterectomy this week which has overtaken the events of last weekend at Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago.

The surgery was a success, the cancer had not yet begun to spread, and it was not necessary to remove her lymph nodes.

Both of her parents died of cancer, and we had been down the oncology rabbit hole twice, so I’m relieved not to have to go there again.

I’ve spent the entire week camping out at the hospital reading the Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche text that Ari’s and Rose’s teaching followed.

In 1985 when I met Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, four years into my marriage with the Karma Kagyu, we weren’t on speaking terms.

His Holiness the 16th Karmapa had died, my guru no longer visited Chicago, and I didn’t like the direction my sangha had taken.

I had my practice, my commitment remained firm, so I had reached that point where so many of us go lone wolf as dharma practitioners.

Once I met Khenpo, although none of the facts of the matter had changed, he taught me a dharma perfectly suited to an American Buddhist such as myself.

Not that I don’t support Tibet as a cause and enjoy the company of Tibetans, but I was born in Paterson, New Jersey, and I’m American and not Tibetan.

As His Holiness the 17th Karmapa writes in his foreword to Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche’s Stars of Wisdom (Shambhala Publications, 2010):

“I have always admired Rinpoche’s way of training his students. His approach is direct, sincere, and uncontrived, and he is not afraid to use unorthodox methods when necessary. I find this unique and commendable.”

Unlike my sangha, KTC Chicago, which after the 16th Karmapa’s paranirvana went very Tibetan, I personally needed Khenpo to keep me in the fold.

Although Rinpoche’s teaching days are behind him, in his students Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor we are in good hands moving forward.

I say this having spent last weekend enjoying their presentation of Rinpoche’s analytical meditation, songs of yogic joy, and prayers of aspiration.

Not that Ari solo isn’t a wonderful teacher, I especially appreciated his wife, Rose’s, coteaching on this tour with him.

Between marriages I spent thirteen years following Khenpo’s approach to the dharma solo and have found that being in a relationship only enhances my practice.

At the end of the teaching I gave Ari a hug and told him that if this is my last time attending a dharma teaching this weekend will be my favorite.

I’ve dreamed my entire life as a Karma Kagyu for someone like Ari and Rose to bring the Karma Kagyu lineage home for us.

A true wandering yogi who called the globe his home, Rinpoche always enjoyed teaching at Shambhala Meditation Centers around the world.

Their dedication to clarity and an open investigation of Tibetan Buddhism for a non-Tibetan audience worked quite well with his approach to the dharma.

I don’t get Shambhala Buddhism personally but I really enjoy the sangha here in Chicago and appreciate its support of Khenpo’s teachings.

I was quite disappointed that nobody from my own sangha, KTC Chicago, took the opportunity last weekend to do the same.

I spent most of the weekend on a couch outside the meditation hall listening to Ari and Rose on a small speaker.

My dying in slow motion is proceeding apace, and my days of attending weekend dharma teachings are behind me, but at least I made the effort.

Just as I was delighted the weekend before to watch my grandson hit a double in his Little League game I felt the same joy this last weekend.

After His Holiness the 16th Karmapa died and Tibetan Buddhism went its way and I went mine, it was Khenpo who showed me a way to remain Karma Kagyu.

I’m just glad I stuck it out, thanks to Rinpoche’s reframing of my relationship to the lineage; otherwise it never would have been possible for me.

My wife is being discharged this afternoon, but I wanted to post a column for this week, even though it doesn’t do justice to its intended subject.

I had discussed with Ari the sensitive subject of Khenpo’s sudden retirement for health reasons and its fallout.

Given how strongly Rinpoche’s students feel about the subject, it requires my undivided attention to write about, which this week hasn’t afforded me.

When I told Ari I wanted to write about it he cringed at the thought of what I might say and asked me to email him a link to my column.

I’ve seen that look of horror before on people’s faces when they don’t know what I’m going to say about a sensitive subject.

Perhaps I will write about it at a later date when I can devote an entire column to how people responded to an end of an era for Khenpo’s students.


Karmapa Chenno

(Please follow me on Twitter @RyderJaphy)

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