How Having a #Buddhist #Spiritual #Teacher Changes Me


Some of you may remember I began an at-home, mini-#retreat to study and practice in the #Tibetan #Vajrayana #Nyingma tradition of preliminary practices for #T’hödgal—the #Rushan exercises—with meditation, contemplation and study, in October, 2013. I planned to end this sequence by Tibetan New Year, Losar, March 2, 2014. I have written a few posts about some of these experiences and my reactions to them (the ones I’m allowed to publicize).

My spiritual teacher’s schedule is very full and it is often difficult to arrange to see him. Luckily, I found out yesterday that I was able to receive an appointment to see him February 26, which means my retreat ends in a week.

Immediately upon having the date and time for our next meeting confirmed (called an “interview” in this tradition), I could feel the familiar internal reactions that signal other responses that will occur over the next week, in anticipation and preparation for our meeting and my receiving the next teachings. Physically, I feel internal tremors, “butterflies,” flutters of fear and excitement in my mid-section and heart. My heart rate speeds up, my breathing gets shallow and I have to remind myself to take deeper breaths.

Mentally, my mind starts racing around to gather up what I might want to ask, tell, find out in our meeting, which is always too short no matter how long it is. I keep a notebook and start writing down my questions and reactions to the practices during my retreat and always moreso in the days right before we meet. The time with my teacher is precious and I want to use every moment well.

Last night, I again have lucid dreams and more dreams that I remember. Lucid dreams are the kind that occur when I, as the dreamer, know I am dreaming during the dream, waking up to some extent while having the dream experiences and notice that I am awake. Remembered dreams are the ones that wake me up completely or that are with me when I first get up in the morning.

LucidDreaming
image from givnology.com

Sometimes I remember dreams from the night before at random moments during the day as well. In each of these dreams, lucid or remembered, I’m having some conversation or encounter with my teacher.

In my dreams, we are talking about my experiences in this retreat. Or, I am asking questions and he is teaching on some related subject. Or, we are walking, preparing food, washing vegetables or dishes, cleaning a room together.

I had a dream that we were swimming in the pond at our retreat center together at night. Somehow, we could both go underwater and still breathe, talk, and relate to each other for many minutes without difficulty, all the while the moon shone through the water, lighting us.

I dreamed we were in a hot tub together, naked but unembarrassed, talking about accomplishments and experiences in one type of meditation (often termed experiencing “naked awareness” in English translations).

Many times in the “ramp up” to a scheduled interview, I hear him talking to me in my sleep.His speaking voice wakes me up. He is instructing, explaining, teaching on a relevant topic but not one I have actually heard him talk about before in our actual encounters. Although it wakes me up, I try to go back into the dream to hear the rest of what he’s saying, but that never works. I lie there, recalling what he said and what I understand of it. When I have a pen and paper handy, I write down what I can remember.

Also in the days or weeks preceding a scheduled interview with my teacher, I am more keenly aware of my faults and flaws. I try to remember to bring compassion to my self-critique. I also notice any small progress signs I might have and note them down.

Chagdud Rinpoche
H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche and his reincarnation

Our teacher (his teacher and, for a while, mine), His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, often told us that there are several sure signs of progress to watch for which he offered in a series of questions to ask ourselves:

“Am I more patient?”
“Am I less angry?”
“Am I more kind?”
“Does compassion arise spontaneously within me?”
“Am I more generous?”

If the answers to any or most of these questions is “Yes,” then we can be assured that our practice is having good effects. If not, we need to adjust/rectify: our practice, our motivation, our commitment, our understanding.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the spiritual teacher is said to hold the key to one’s heart. Opening the heart (or, in Tibetan terms, the heart/mind) is fundamental to becoming receptive to the spiritual practices and their impact on us, allowing us to change, inviting the methods to work within us without impediment.

A teacher may play many roles. The only limitations to the impact of a qualified teacher are in our own minds.

Teacher-Roles
image from http://www.unfetteredmind.org

The story of how I “found” my spiritual teacher is a bit unusual in that I knew him before he became a Lama. However, I hadn’t seen him in ten years, only talked with him twice on the phone, before coming to accept teachings from him in 1999 and decide with him if he could be my teacher. He had told me on the phone that people who knew him “before” had had difficulty accepting him as a teacher and was warning me that it might not work for us, either.

I told him that I had already had many dreams in which he IS my teacher and I was confident it would work. Secretly, though, I was nervous and a bit doubtful, myself. I knew what he meant because the first person I had considered as my teacher was also someone I had known before and things were very difficult for both of us.

The day the retreat started that June day in 1999, we were all gathered in the shrine room (large space for meditation practice and teachings), waiting for him to arrive. I had no idea how the retreat would be structured, what went on, even where he would sit. There were thrones in the front of the room, but I had a hard time imagining that he would actually sit on one. Because Rinpoche then lived in Brazil, Rinpoche’s picture was framed and occupied the highest throne, in the center. There was one on the right side of it that was empty.

There was a curtain, a drapery wall, separating the shrine room from the porch eating area. It rippled and a man entered. At first, I didn’t recognize him as the man I had known. His hair was down past his waist and flowed as he moved. Last time I’d seen him, his hair was barely to his ears.

Even more different was the way he moved. More startling and unexpected was that I felt my heart burst open. My eyes filled with tears. In total silence and surprise, half bowed along with everyone else, I stood there staring at him. There was a glow around him that I could not actually see with my physical eyes but which I could perceive nonetheless. He emanated peace, confidence, warmth.

My heart was pounding and the tears increased as I watched him glide smoothly across the room carrying a single, long-stemmed rose in one hand.

He walked up to the throne with Rinpoche’s framed face on it. Gently and reverently, with immense love that I could feel from across the room, Lama Drimed placed the rose in front of the picture. Then, he gracefully stepped back several paces and did three full-body prostrations in front of that throne, offering respect and devotion to his teacher. I felt his devotion as pinpricks in my heart and my tears flowed.

long stem red rose

He finished his prostrations and walked over to the empty throne. Climbing up onto it, I could feel the rightness of it: it was his seat, his rightful place.

As soon as he sat down, the room of about thirty students erupted in motion: everyone began prostrating to him as he had done to Rinpoche’s picture. I stood there, trembling. Up until then, despite having attended several teachings, one retreat and several empowerments with other teachers, including Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, when I had done prostrations, I hadn’t felt anything. I did them out of respect, but without my heart engaged.

This time, as I bent to the floor to join the others in this ritual, tears fell on the carpet and my heart felt as if it would burst. The English translation for the words to the prayer we say as we do the prostrations echoed in my mind with new meaning:

“From now until I reach the heart of enlightenment, I take refuge in the Lama, who is the Three Jewels.”
Not “the” Lama: THIS Lama. I felt gnosis resonating in me as I prostrated.

My devotion and dedication awakened that afternoon as it had on no other day in this lifetime, yet it felt as if I were coming home. I had found my teacher, my spiritual guide and friend, the key to my heart/mind. Right there, that day.

Now, almost fifteen years later, I am even more devoted, dedicated, grateful and certain of my good fortune to have Lama Padma Drimed Norbu as my teacher. He scares me, he amuses me, he teaches and guides me. We argue, we talk, we laugh, we discuss. Lama Drimed as a Lama represents the embodiment of enlightenment. As a man, puts kale into his juicer and talks to me about my being a new sci-fi author. He makes me cry in gratitude, frustration, discouragement and awe.

I stretch, I learn, I grow. So does he.

In other times and now, in Tibet, India, Burma, Nepal, many Buddhist students have (had) to endure much hardship, danger, long journeys and infrequent opportunities to be with their teachers. Sometimes only once in a lifetime are they physically in the same places; being able to have an interview is even rarer.

snow travel
image from http://www.ornotmagazine.com

I am so lucky that he is alive and teaching, willing to have me as a student. The grace, good karma, great coincidence of our living in the same geographic area after many years of living other places allow me to see him next week just by driving my car about ninety minutes on good roads.

May all beings benefit. May all find their spiritual teachers and meet with them in this and every lifetime.

Thank you for being the key to my heart/mind, Lama Drimed. May you have a long, healthy, wonderful life filled with benefit and happiness.

Lama Drimed
Lama Padma Drimed Norbu

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