Photo: Odd Sock
It was 1972. I had hitch-hiked, bused and snow-shoed to the Snow Lion Hotel at Jackson Hole, Wyoming for Trungpa Rinpoche’s “Crazy Wisdom” seminar.
I had never met Trungpa and had never really meditated before, so I was surprised at how much sitting we did, supposedly meditating without instruction. Rinpoche’s talks on Padmasambhava occurred every evening and there were usually discussion groups in the afternoon on the various themes such as spiritual materialism, devotion, non-conceptual wisdom and maha ati — a mode of Buddhist spiritual practice — but there wasn’t any real meditation instruction, and these were the days before meditation instructors.
It seems Rinpoche felt we could relax in good posture and just be. And by implication we wondered if such simplicity was maha ati. We were, after all, young, fit and willing to sit, but at least in my case it seemed that my wandering mind didn’t settle until I was relatively exhausted toward the end of each day. Then there actually was the feeling of just being without wandering.
On day three or so we also practiced Rinpoche’s Sadhana of Mahamudra. This less than an hour-long sadhana seemed completely wild to me, as we visualized one fellow on a lion, another on an elephant and the main dude on a tiger! It was like a circus, except that one line remained hauntingly memorable in the days that followed — probably the same line that most people remember first: “Good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish into emptiness like the imprint of a bird in the sky.”
Whether I was supposed to or not, I found myself contemplating the meaning. Just as a bird leaves no imprint in the sky, so all emotions and thoughts are indeed temporary, no matter how vivid they originally seem to be. Hmm.
And so we sat on, discussed and listened to Rinpoche at night. Rinpoche seemed to be a playful version of Padmasambhava himself, wearing cowboy shirts with suspenders and grinning like a Chicano bartender. Although his talks were largely incomprehensible to me, in the generous question and answer period that followed each talk, those who asked questions seemed to be following the themes well.
Somewhere in the course of the seminar, Rinpoche walked through the room where we were meditating
and said, “Notice the stop in the flow of karma.”
That was it. That was my first meditation instruction.
In the years that followed, Rinpoche added technique, realizing that our actively conceptual and wandering minds needed a little help.
First came, “Put attention on the outbreath” or “Follow the outbreath”.
A year later he added the labelling technique, and so it went.
But I have never forgotten the power of that first meditation instruction: “Notice the stop in the flow of karma.”