Learning to Trust Inner Presence.
I was living on a houseboat on the Ganges in Varanasi, India, just offshore from the burning ghats, where the dead were burned in funeral pyres day and night, and the smoke drifted out to us over the river. The acrid smell mingled with the incense we kept burning to cover the smell of the garbage floating downstream. Chanting to the Hindu gods filled the air and I found it impossible to meditate. And learning to meditate and attain enlightenment was the reason I had come to India.
After hearing Ram Dass, the former Harvard psychology professor turned guru, interviewed on NPR while sitting in my Tompkins Square apartment in New York City the summer of 1970, I had decided that I, too, would go to India, find a guru the way Ram Dass, had and become enlightened.
Soon I was sitting at the feet of Ram Dass’ guru, Neem Karoli Baba, outside Brindavan, India. But unlike Ram Dass’ experience, this saint wrapped in a blanket did not look into my eyes and prove he knew my innermost thought, cause me to burst into tears and place my head on his lap. Instead, it seemed I was invisible to him, a charade he maintained almost to the day of my departure.
Finally, I went in search of other enlightened beings, some of whom proved to have amazing abilities. But after six months of wandering in India, it seemed that I would never have a personal guru the way Ram Dass did and my excitement about becoming a Hindu was coming to a close.
Now I was sharing a houseboat with Fantuzzi, an ecstatic musician with dreadlocks, Dinabandhu, a Jewish sadhu (wandering ascetic) from Chicago, and half a dozen other westerners from the Maharaji-Ram Dass satsang (spiritual group; literally, company of truth) who were still trying to extract from the experience of India a pearl of wisdom, some gleam of light they could use to guide their lives on returning to the West—because their parents’ materialism had never instilled in them any spiritual compass.
So far, about the only spiritual practice I felt adept at was non-attachment—a must if you were to survive in this place where nothing happened as planned, and much happened moment by moment that you had not planned. You could only “let go” and hope you came out OK, like falling overboard in the ocean and discovering you float.
Lying face down on the deck of the houseboat, something dropped with a thud in front of me. I looked up to see a yellow-covered book with the red title: Meditation in Action by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. A light went off inside my head—that’s it! Meditation in action: the next step. Not meditation, not action—but meditation and action together. The West was all action, the East all meditation; what we needed was meditative action.
“Where is this guy?” I asked.
“Boulder,” Fantuzzi shouted as he loaded his drum into a boat that would shuttle him into shore. “He eats meat, drinks alcohol and sleeps with women—blowin’ people’s minds. Material things have nothing to do with spirituality…‘cause consciousness is beyond materialism.”
I read the book that day and a few weeks later I was back in the States. Still wearing my white pajamas and Siva mala (Rudraksha bead rosary), I climbed in my old Dodge van and drove cross country. In those hippie days people eager to hear of my adventures in India put me up and fed me wherever I went, even gifting money for gas. After a while I found myself in Boulder.
Sitting in a park (no longer there) a block south of Pearl Street, wondering where Trungpa Rinpoche hung out and how I could meet him, along came Dinabandhu. As he walked toward me I realized that the last time I had seen him had been on the houseboat a couple of months back. He was sort of a cosmic messenger who I ran into all over India, always at moments when my life was about to radically change and before I could say a word. As if following the script whose mirror image was in my own mind, he blurted out, “Hey, Trungpa Rinpoche is having a meeting tonight at Karma Dzong, and you’re invited!”
“Really, are you sure, and how can you invite me?”
“I was told by one of Rinpoche’s top people that it’s an open meeting and that I should invite anyone I want, so I’m inviting you. It’s at seven o’clock. You’ve got to meet this guy. He’ll blow your mind, so be sure to be there. Now I’ve got to split, because there are lot more people I want to invite.”
At quarter to seven, with about a dozen others Dinabandhu had invited, I waited in the foyer of the shrine room for this Tibetan Lama, who had beckoned me from Varanasi, to make his appearance—little suspecting the challenge we were about to receive. As in most groups, there is usually someone who considers it their domain to make sure everything is done their way and this person took the form of a tense young man who said nervously, “This is a closed meeting.”
“Yes, closed, only for members, so you’ll all have to leave.”
Most did leave at that point, but a few of us continued to stay, some hoping just for a glimpse of the famous Lama who had brought the Vajrayana (tantric) teachings to the West.
“I thought I told you to leave,” the young man said, coming back a few minutes later. Although I’d been shy since childhood and would never have gone someplace I was not welcome, for some inexplicable reason I felt rooted to the spot. Although my mind echoed, “You have to leave,” my heart felt at peace with staying. The few others that were left, however, were soon intimidated into leaving. So when the doors to the shrine room opened I was the first to walk in.
I marched straight up the central aisle and took the first cushion in front on the left of the slight dais on which Rinpoche’s chair was placed.
Once more the nervous, young man came up, struggling with rage. “When Rinpoche comes in I am going to tell him that you don’t belong here, that you’re not a member of the community and then you’re going to have to leave.”
“OK, fine, tell him,” I said, feeling uncharacteristically calm at the prospect of this impending confrontation.
Soon everyone stood as Rinpoche, wearing a three piece suit, limped into the room. Since he had been injured in a car crash in England after his escape from Tibet, he was now forced to lean on the arm of his attendant. Just as he was turning to sit, the officious young man, good to his word, strode up to the Lama and pointing his finger at me, said, “That guy does not belong here, he’s not a member of our community!” I rose on one knee, one foot planted on the floor to beat a hasty retreat from the room should things go the wrong way.
Facing me, Rinpoche reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a bottle of sake from one pocket and a glass from the other and handed both to me.* With a fatherly smile that melted my heart, he said, “Stay…you pour… keep my glass full.”
Trembling with confusion, the young man beat a hasty retreat to the back of the room. I sat down on my cushion and filled Rinpoche’s glass. This was an honor accorded only to few I later discovered.
His talk came directly from his heart, without dogma or pretense. For the first time, I felt I understood what the Buddhists meant by compassion, why they kept stressing this quality of humanness that unites all hearts. Yet, beyond his words there was an electricity that made the atmosphere seem to crackle with spiritual energy—which is always present when an authentic teacher is speaking. His inner stillness expanded to fill the room. Suddenly Rinpoche was looking at me with an amused smile, waiting for me to realize that his glass needed filling. Empty already? I had only seen him take one sip. After I refill it his talk continued.
However, my attention began to be distracted by the precarious situation of Rinpoche’s chair, which he was gradually pushing toward the back of the platform, inching toward an inevitable backward flip into annihilation.
As the sake flowed I thought he must have lost sight of how close to the edge he had come. Was an inebriated Lama more conscious than an ordinary drunk? Did he realize where he was and how dangerous his situation—and the stress he was inflicting on me?
My anxiety increased as I refilled his glass yet another time and he again shoved himself backward a few more inches. To my horror, the right rear chair leg had stopped half off the dais. His slightest backward movement would flip him over, so I moved directly behind the chair and waited to catch him—which I was sure would happen any moment. Yet it was a moment that never came. Despite drinking two-thirds of a bottle of sake in the past hour, he kept talking with great lucidity. Maybe he is fully conscious and is only doing this to test me?
“Any questions?” he finally asked at the end of an hour.
“Rinpoche,” I have a question, a man asked after a long silence. “Didn’t you tell me that this was an open meeting and that I should invite anyone I wanted?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Rinpoche nodded.
Frowning perplexedly, the man sat down. Then the one that had expelled all the non-members and tried to banish me, sprang to his feet and angrily whined from the back of the room, “But, Rinpoche, didn’t you tell me it was a closed meeting and not to let in anyone who’s not a member?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Rinpoche said, as if to convey, “So, what’s your problem? What could be simpler than my telling each of you contradictory things? Don’t you understand the absurd simplicity of the situation?”
There was a stunned silence in the room as people tried to grasp this paradox, most missing the absolute brilliance of this action that had brought about such a potentially profound teaching. Later I heard this was a traditional practice, translated from the Tibetan as something like, “Invite everyone—but place dragon at the door.” Only the one who is meant to attend will actually be able to enter. And so, gradually, instead of chasing after more teachers, I began to follow the teacher in own heart, the Inner Presence, which in the face of all obstacles seemed to assure that I always arrived where I belonged.
*The purpose of this article is not to justify the excessive use of alcohol. Even though Trungpa Rinpoche said not to follow his example but his teachings, many of his students emulated his lifestyle and suffered greatly as a consequence. If anything, Trungpa was a brilliant example of self-observation and skillful means in action, to use one’s neuroses to nonetheless achieve great luminosity.
Copyright 2012, by Peter Mt. Shasta.
Peter Mt. Shasta spent time in India with Ram Dass, Neem Karoli Baba and other yogis, then returned to the West where he had transformative contact with Trungpa Rinpoche. Later, while doing Vipassana meditation inside a hollow Redwood tree to get out of the rain, a Bodhisattva known as Saint Germain materialized in front of him. As a result of this meeting Peter went to Mount Shasta, where he received advanced training on bringing the Dharmakaya, also known as the I AM Presence, into daily life. He will be giving a retreat on this in Boulder on the Wesak full moon weekend, May 4-6, 2012.
His books are: Adventures of a Western Mystic and “I AM” the Open Door. DVD’s: Becoming a Master Series (episodes 1-2) and Becoming a Master Series (episodes 3-4). Visit his website at: www.PeterMtShasta.com, and his blog at: www.IAMteachings.com.
Like this? “Like elephant spirituality on Facebook.
Prepared by Valerie Carruthers/Editor: Kate Bartolotta