Quotable Tuesdays

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In an attempt to make more stuff with my hands (art…might we be talking about art? Maybe not just yet…anyway iPhoto also played a crucial role in today’s creation), here’s a new look for Quotable Tuesdays. Enjoy!

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Heritage

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Our study retreat finished this week. On the last day, Khalsang Puntsok told a story about the end of the Buddha’s life. The Buddha, with his attendant Ananda, went into to the forest to find the right place to pass into his final meditation and leave this life. As he lay between two trees, the gods sent a rain of flowers and the trees bowed down. The Buddha asked Ananda if Ananda thought that this pleased him.

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Ananda said yes and the Buddha, replied that, no, this was not what was important to him. Then he asked Ananda to summon all of his disciples. The Buddha’s disciples gathered from near and far, but there was one monk who did not come. Others set out to fetch him, but the Buddha said to let him be. He was practicing and it was good that he continue, and this, in fact, is what the Buddha wished for, that his disciples would be diligent and practice what he taught them.

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This is about the right conclusion for us now. We have eleven months to work through all we received in order to be ready for the follow-up next year. Pretty straightforward.

But I admit, all through the story, I was expecting, in part, a different emphasis. A famous aspect of the story of Ananda and the Buddha’s parinirvana is that the Buddha gave Ananda several opportunities to request for him to stay and not to die at this time, but Ananda did not realize until it was too late.

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I thought of Shamar Rinpoche and how many of us must have asked ourselves what chance we missed to make the right request. Listening to Khalsang Puntsok these last five weeks, I realize how close we are in many ways, all of Shamarpa’s students. In Nepal this summer, the monks and nuns from Asia were mostly a sea of burgundy to me. Hearing KP tell stories of playing soccer with Shamarpa, of a torrential downpour that stopped on a moment when Rinpoche addressed a gaze to the sky, of the stories that Shamarpa told them at Kalimpong Shedra that they are telling us now here in France…it’s strikes me how little separates us, how much we are indeed family.

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We didn’t grow up speaking the same language or eating the same food. I am sure many of us never imagined we would see or set foot in the other’s home country, but when we meet to talk about the Dharma, we share the same roots. And whatever chances we may have had or missed or that were never really there, the Shamar Rinpoche we knew is gone, and in his place he left us his teachings and also each other.

And so the Buddha had it right, as usual. What there is to do is to share them and to live them, together. Also to remember that our heritage is not just that of Shamar Rinpoche or the Kagyu lineage, but that of the Buddha himself. And the family is not only those of us who love and learn from the same masters, but all beings, whatever their creed or calling.

I guess that’s about where five weeks of philosophy gets me; now it’s back to the salt mines to put it all to work. The steam-infusing vacuum machine and pre-Lhosar deep clean await!

Quotable Tuesdays

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I have about a million ideas. I have a full-on site redesign in my head for this place. With a sweet logo and a hand-designed font. I want to rewrite the about page and better organize my links. I want to make this place more lively, easier to navigate, and all around more fluid. I lack a few things though. Time is an easy excuse. I’m also short a few notches of technical expertise, though a few dozen hours on WordPress forums and Adobe how-to sites might get me through that one. So in the end it’s doable. It just might take me a few years to put in place, hehe.

Until, then, I thought, why not try and add a weekly post? Something simple that I can put together without stressing over being witty or profound or having time to make a cake. Something people can rely on, to add a little something to their day. I’ve decided to let other people do the hard work for me, thus—quotations! I like quotations because they allow us to use others’ words to express our own ideas: the things that touch us, that change us, that encapsulate how we think. A body of chosen quotations can reveal much more about a person than their own words on a subject might.

Also, I’ve started stocking up good quotations recently, and I need somewhere to put them. 😉 Now that I’ve worked out the kinks of RGB versus CMYK versus a couple other things, and my colors come out about right (this image was a very pukey purple the first time I uploaded it), I’m hoping this can become a nice shared ritual for us all. I’ll do my best to be consistent. Happy Quotable Tuesday!

 

Rainstorms, Rhubarb Crumble Tart, And The Busted Past Conditional

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Yesterday at lunchtime someone told me it was good to see me smiling again, and it made me want to shout or cry or run away. Instead I just shook my head and said, still smiling, “Oh come on, there are already so few places where it’s okay to feel things…” and left it at that. And he just affirmed that he was glad that I was doing better, and I spent the rest of the day working out why that’s not okay with me. Let me try and explain.

If you saw me crying in the temple in the evening, soggily saying my prayers. If you saw me climbing the hill to the Institute with a closed face and a cloud knit into my brow. If you passed me midmorning at a picnic table with pens and paper when I could have been, maybe should have been, in some one else’s natural order of things, already tapping away at a computer in the cold darkness of the office. If you heard me singing hymns at the top of my voice while hanging out laundry to dry. If you worried that I was not okay. If you wondered what was wrong.

Let me assure you. I’m okay. But lots of things are wrong.

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My socks have holes in them. The milk I drank with breakfast makes my stomach hurt. I can never seem to conjugate the conditional past tense correctly in French, and it worries me that I seem to use it so often—all the things I would have done, or should have done. I hung my laundry on the line but it keeps raining just enough that the afternoon sun isn’t enough to dry my clothes and they’ve been out there four days now.

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It’s been a year since my parents decided to get divorced and even though we’re all mostly adapted now, I still have to work hard not to choke when some one kindly says, “It must be hard for you being so far from home. You must miss your family,” and I say, “There’s not much sense in missing my family. The family I grew up with doesn’t exist anymore.”

It’s been three-and-a-half months since my teacher died and I try not to talk about it too much because I wonder how much you can grieve publicly before people tire of you or tune you out. Or maybe I just don’t know how to talk about my grief because I’m no longer willing to treat it as something to get over.

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Things are always wrong. Sometimes it’s big things and it’s definitely always little things. I have spent my life trying to forget this, to look on the bright side and wait for things to get better. And they always do. And then they un-get better later. And every time I experience loss anew, it feels like the first time. I’m as shocked and disoriented as I ever was. Doubt rises, confidence ebbs, and the ability to move forward temporarily suspends. With time, and softness, and grieving, I find my way back. I relearn how to live with a family that’s pieces instead of a unit, without the physical presence of the teacher who’s guidance I seek daily, with holes in my socks, with a stomach ache, wet laundry, and a busted conditional past tense.

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I get so used to it that I start to forget. From one day to the next, comfort sneaks back. I feel better not because I’ve learned how to live with loss but because I haven’t lost anything new lately and I’ve returned to ignoring the old losses. But loss is not a jar that you can shake, that you can take things out of and put things into. Loss is an ephemeral thing. A stinging pain brought to life by the meeting of a wish for something and the reality of the absence of that thing. Loss is wishing for things to be some other way than they are. Loss is a refusal of the fact that this world is dynamic down to its very atoms, that we don’t even understand what makes matter be there, and yet we relate to all things as though they should be there when we want them, miss them, need them.

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And I’ll tell you what. Loss hurts less when I remember that it’s normal. That for all my scientific and philosophical training, the table looks like a table to me, a thing I can rely on. I’m expecting it to be there tomorrow and the day after and five seconds from now. And if one day my table burns or breaks or yields to thieving hands, in its absence I will still refer to it as a wholesome thing.

My table will still exist for me in the memory of my table, even though it never was more than a collection of whirring atoms in a certain arrangement in a certain time and place, and maybe not even that. And my family as an integral thing exists in my memory, which is what allows me to think of it as a broken thing today. And because my teacher was once with me, now I feel he’s gone. My life is a series of labels that I do not want to change. But the world we experience is nothing other than the expression of change.

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And I haven’t learned how to smile about that yet. I’ve learned how to sing about it, write about it, dance, paint, think, and cry about it. But I have not yet learned how to feel joy without forgetting sadness. I can do contentment, gratitude, even love mixed with sadness. But joy’s too shiny and seductive for me to live it and leave space for loss. I’m working on it, but at least for now, I have a favor to ask.

Please, don’t wish me to feel better. I will, one day or another. But also, what goes up must come down. And for the time being, the fall hits hard. So please, let me be shadowy—rainstormed—if need be. Let me be quiet and dark, tear-stained and tired-faced, when the time calls for it. It’s for a good cause. I’m trying to understand impermanence.

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À propos of nothing…rhubarb tart. I could stretch it and make a connection. Rhubarb is a seasonal vegetable, an obvious sign of the changing times; summer into fall is the kind of impermanence I can wrap my head around, even if this Indian summer we’re living in the Dordogne is, in its own way, another kind of denial. But whatever the temperature, the leaves are falling off the trees and the acorns are hitting my roof with an insistent “thwack!” and change is, you know, happening to everything.

This tart is just right for an Indian summer that hangs on into October. Bright and fruity with late-season rhubarb and plums, but sidling into autumn with a warming crumble topping. Perfect for afternoon tea as reward for staying awake through long hours in meetings (that’s how we did it), or also just because, or also with ice cream for dessert or with coffee for breakfast. You decide.

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Recipe… Continue reading

Cold Hard Cash

There’s something I want to say. I haven’t dared because, well…it’s complicated in my head, and being able to share it with you means working through the complications. Also, maybe you won’t agree. Maybe you won’t care. Maybe something else. But it’s important, so here goes.

Let’s start with this. Asking people for money is hard. There’s an aspect of judgment and also an aspect of worth. Do  you like what I’m creating? Does what I’m creating move you or offer you enough that you want to invest the currency that your hard work and effort brought you?

Asking for money brings up a lot of emotional stuff about me. Why do I keep making things? What is the value of art? How do people perceive me as an artist, as a Buddhist, as a person? It’s a muddy river to wade through, and it’s awfully preoccupying. It’s also only about me.

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And I didn’t create this project just for me. Partly, yes, to force myself to grow and practice. But I also created it to bring people together, and to put into practice Shamar Rinpoche’s teachings. If I have a role in any of this, it’s as a conductor. I find it hard to describe, conceptualise, or concretize what Shamarpa brought to my life that was so important and what makes the loss of him, as a physical human being anyway, so upending. But I think the simplest term is confidence. Confidence in my own ability to be joyful, loving, and of use in this world. And equally as much, confidence in others’ ability to do so as well. He brought a sense of not-being-aloneness that completely surpassed all of the divisions I normally create between myself and others. The purpose of this project is to try to tap into that confidence, and to spread it, and grow it, and share it.

In the realm of the world, this activity is a small thing. I show up. I write a thing. I sometimes draw a thing or photograph a thing. But it takes a bit of gumption every day to do that. To say to myself, “Whatever I’m living, some one else out there is maybe living the same thing or something similar, and if I can just–bear witness, and share it, maybe that helps.” I do it in the hopes that the willingness to go just a tiny bit beyond my borders can connect others to their own ability to do so. This is the gift Shamarpa gave me: to be bolder and braver and less trapped by all of my ideas about me. To put myself forward despite my uncertainty in the hopes that I can benefit others.

Part of the benefit of this project lies in its financial aspect. I could have found quieter, more comfortable ways to pay for this journey. I could have stuck to the writing and images as ways challenge myself to be a little brave and share. But it didn’t seem right. Donating money is making a commitment. It’s giving up part of our own hard work and effort for some thing other than ourself. Doing so, when we truly want and are moved to do so, helps us develop a mindset of prosperity, trust, and care for others. Shamarpa had an infinite care for all of us, and it only seemed right to conceptualize this project in a way that lets us connect directly to that.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.

To Unite The Family (Choco-Vanilla Cupcakes Are Not A Bad Start)

**Quick note. So I had this whole plan to publish everything related to To Dare To Offer on the project page to funnel people over there with the idea that this makes it more likely that folks will donate, but I’ve realized a few things.

At its base, this project is about sharing. My goal is to tell stories and connect people. Yes, at this moment, I’m seeking support to be able to tell a particular story in a particular time and place, but I also don’t want to make people click on four different things to get to a story, just in the hopes that they’ll donate. Donation is meant to be a positive experience of involvement and camaraderie, not some kind of sneaky gimmick. So. The donation link is at the bottom; the story is here.

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Today is about connection, about Shamar Rinpoche’s vision of community, and taking action to make it real.

Today a group of Dhagpo folks piled into cars and went to visit a sister center called Marfond. Unlike Dhagpo, which is a public center, Marfond is a retreat center, where the volunteers spend eight months in closed practice. Their retreat ended in May, and they came to help us prepare before Shamarpa’s big teaching. They’ve been here often since his death to take part in group practice.

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Shamarpa set up and supported many different microcosms within the Kagyu lineage, different approaches for different kinds of people. At the same time, he wanted us to work together, and now we finally are. Since he died, students from different centers with different styles and in many ways different cultures, have been coming together to mourn and to celebrate our teacher, but also to exchange, to discover, and to develop a shared vision of the future. We’re realizing that the community, the mandala, as it’s called, isn’t just the people we know and work with every day, but tons of other people practicing and growing in the same tradition.

And beyond that, as support pours in from individuals, groups, cities even that don’t have anything to do with the lineage or Buddhism at all, I for one, am seeing ever more clearly that community is everyone, so long as we are willing to connect. I know the folks at Marfond will be grateful to follow what’s happening in Kathmandu, and for this alone it’s worth sharing, but who knows who else might connect with this moment and this story. Sometimes you just have to throw things out into the universe, make wishes, and let things happen.

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And well, if you’re me, you also bring cupcakes everywhere you go to show that you care and you come in peace.

Wish for the day: “D’unir la famille.” To unite the family. To help bring to life Shamarpa’s wish for all of us.

If you’re feelin’ it, you can donate here.

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As far as cupcakes go, they’re a handy way to build community. This is the easiest yellow cake recipe I know with melted chocolate on top. It’s not about laziness; it’s about simplicity. It’s about things that are so good and so classic that there’s no need to embellish them. It’s also perfect for the blazing heat of summer, which keeps the chocolate deliciously partway melty.

Cupcake recipe follows…

Continue reading

Ten Days Out

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It’s been a week and a half. I have been to Germany and back. I have said goodbye and I will keep saying it. I have felt so many things that I’m a little tired out on feeling. Mostly now what’s left are pictures and glimpses of memory.

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The sight of the funeral home and the thought of Shamar Rinpoche laughing at us, a motley mix in a mixed-up place. The temporary altar with two times a thangka of his image in traditional dress, and to its left a mural of Jesus and his disciples. We were in a Christian cemetery, the only place big enough and legal enough to keep his remains and all of us. A blend of Tibetan masters and Western disciples with few Western masters and Tibetan disciples. A bunch of French monastics in Germany, a crowd of Diamond Way practitioners at a Bodhi Path center and a handful of Americans from nowhere and everywhere.

After the evening ritual each day, we sat around laughing and crying, talking with people we’d heard of but never met or never heard of but were glad to meet. And one day some one said, “It’s just like him. To think, Dhagpo and the centers in France are going pretty well. The Bodhi Path is really developing nicely. Things are good with the Diamond Way centers. Now how do I get them to work together? Ah, I’ll die.”

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The resinous smell of formaldehyde and the feel of synthetic carpet against my skin as I prostrated before the casket. The wish to cry and the absence of tears. An internal ruefulness that says, “Fine. I’m here.” You dragged me out of my comfortable ambivalence. I was happily following the carrot of contentment in front of my nose before I met you. You got me involved in this whole mess of bodhisattva activity and being diligent for the benefit of beings, and just like that you’ve gone beyond. Not beyond where I can reach you. Not beyond where your teachings and protection can aid me and bolster me. But beyond where I can pester you with questions to make sense of things, beyond where I can take comfort in your physical presence.

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Karmapa coming from India. Arriving unexpected from the back gate. Me standing outside the funeral home on the hot stones, looking for my ballet flats amongst the sea of footwear on the shoe shelves and grumbling about dirty feet and disorganization. A ripple in the air that might have been his presence or might have been the crowd suddenly standing upright or both. He came striding down the cemetery path, robes flying out like wings or wind or downright disregard for the physics of reality that kept him from yet reaching his objective, the mortal remains of his teacher. He was as pale as ever, but with a darker expression. He looked like a king and a specter, powerful and present in this world but belonging to another. His grace undiminished, but on this day rife with sadness and resolve. Come to take up the legacy you leave behind.

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The sound of many voices in many moments, and the voice in my own head, repeating this sentence, “We have to grow up now.” Time to take care of each other. Time to care of the lineage. Time to take care of our teachers, our community, and the understanding that allows us to move forward instead of sliding back or simply staying in one place. Time to get over cultural differences and disparate histories. Time to move past needing recognition or affirmation. Time to grow up.

Not that it ever wasn’t. It’s just more obvious now.

***

The images are part of a drawing series I started in November; each drawing represents a wish for the day. In English, the captions are as follows:

De vous garder avec moi. To keep you with me.

Que tout soit une offrande. That everything would be an offering.

De rendre hommage. To pay homage.

De reprendre le fil. To pick up the thread.

De mûrir vite. To ripen quickly.

L’absenceLaprésenceLaconfianceLeslarmes

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Traduction française pour ceux qui ne parlent pas anglais. Je m’excuse pour les fautes de grammaire, orthographe, et cetera.

For anglophones, scroll down to the previous post in English.

On en a perdu un bon aujourd’hui. Un des meilleurs.

Il y a précisément deux semaines je prenais un thé avec Shamar Rinpoché. On parlait du bouddhisme en Occident, du futur de ses centres en Europe et aux États Unis, et mon propre avenir en tant que pratiquant, disciple, enseignante aspirante, et serveuse diligente dans le fonctionnement des centres du dharma de la lignée Kagyu. Pour presque la première fois dans ma vie, j’ai eu le courage de demander quelque chose que je voulais, d’amadouer et persister et oser parce qu’il me semblait important. Et j’ai réussit à l’avoir. Un entretien avec mon enseignant. Le guide que je suivais, mais de loin, pendant les derniers huit ans de ma vie.

Quand j’ai découvert le dharma à l’age de dix-sept ans, un peu perdu en Nouvelle Zélande, la dame qui m’a introduit à la méditation et l’enseignement du Bouddha était une étudiante de Shamar Rinpoché. Quand j’ai décidé de poursuivre l’étincelle de reconnaissance que je sentais avec la pratique et la philosophie bouddhique, je l’ai fait dans un Bodhi Path, le réseau de centres établit par Shamar Rinpoché. Quand j’ai décidé de quiiter la Californie en quête d’une vie enraciné avec le dharma, les enseignants qui me diriger sur la route était sous guidance du même. Quand j’arrivais en Inde, j’ai eu l’opportunité incroyable de rencontrer le disciple primaire de Shamar Rinpoché, le Karmapa, le jeune successeur de la lignée Kagyu. J’ai même croisé Shamar Rinpoché lui-même, mais j’osait pas dire allô, tellement intimidé j’étais par ce figure que a influencé si profondément ma vie, sans jamais connaître qui je suis.

Et puis, il y a un mois, j’ai décrochée la téléphone à la maison des lamas avec mon salut habituel, « Maison des lamas. C’est Jourdie, » pour entendre une voix commandante qui disait, « Bonjour ! Où est Jigmé Rinpoché, » en anglais. Il m’a pris que quelque phrase d’anglais couleurées par l’accent tibétain pour me rendre compte que la voix avec qui je parlais appartenait à personne d’autre que le détenteur de la lignée, mon guide de loin, le seul et unique Kunzig Shamar Rinpoché. Cela est devenu encore plus clair quand il disait, « Tu es l’americaine. Moi, je suis Shamar Rinpoche ». Non seulement je lui reconnaissais, mais beaucoup plus surprenant, il me reconnaissait aussi. Pendant que je vérifiais que Jigmé Rinpoché n’était pas en France, était en Espagne, était à Malaga, était parti pendant encore cinq jours, Shamarpa me posait des questions sur ma vie. « Alors, tu vas bien à Dhagpo ? Tu n’a pas encore visité le centre en Allemagne » ? Tu es trop occupée par manger du saucisson français et du bon baguette » ! Quand je mentionnais que je faisais mon propre pain récemment, il a dit, « Ah oui ? Et quand est-ce que tu vas venir faire du pain en Virginie ? On commence à installer la réfectoire. On en parlera quand je viens ».

Il m’a laissé dans un tourbillon d’émotion, en me demandant si je serais emportée par le destin et la nécessité d’une vie que j’adore vers un autre chemin, utile mais imprévu. Shamarpa est connu pour cela, pour retourner ta vie complètement pour t’apprendre à être souple et léger avec tes attachements. Il est connu pour ne pas apparaître pour ces enseignements ou pour apprraître dans un pays autre que celui qui avait été décidé. Il est connu pour amener des monstre d’orages et pour détruire toute planification—cela je peux témoigner, comme j’ai vécu les pires pluies et coupures électriques de mon temps en Dordogne, en plus un vent qui éclaté la moitié de la bonne vaisselle de la maison deux jours avant notre grand événement. Il est connu pour se passer des procédures cérémonieux dans un contexte et les demandant dans un autre. Il est connu pour être imprévisible, brusque au point d’être tranchant, et entièrement pas disposé à conformer aux normes désignés pour faire les gens confortable s’ils ne les font pas aussi plus conscients.

Il n’est pas connu pour être doux, cajolant ou avunculaire. Il n’est pas connu pour être patient, direct, et rassurant. Et malgré cela, je ne me suis jamais sentie aussi soigné de ma vie qu’en parlant avec lui. Comme le tout de mes incertitudes était accepté, valorisé même. Comme je pourrais étaler tous mes espoirs et mes peurs sur la table devant lui, et ensemble on trouverait le sens là-dedans. C’était pour cela que j’ai demandé de lui rencontrer pendant qu’il était ici. Sachant qu’il est tout le temps occupé à aider tous les êtres, sachant qu’il s’occupe des douzaines de centres et projets et enseignants, sachant que je suis petite et récent et j’ai d’autres personnes pour veiller sur moi. Il m’a fait sure que j’ai quelque chose à offrir et qu’il valait le temps et l’effort pour découvrir comment mieux faire.

Et donc, on a pris un thé ensemble. J’ai amené un panier d’offrande du centre et une écharpe de prière en soie, toute blanche, des choses traditionnelles envers lesquelles je me suis sentie peu à l’aise. Et puis j’ai amené aussi des choses de moi. Un saucisson artisanale de la ville à côté. Une lettre pour lui dire des choses que je craignais je n’arriverais pas à dire voix haut. J’ai mis le panier sur la table, où il restait jusqu’à, j’imagine, dix minutes après mon départ, quand quelqu’un l’a ramené à Dhagpo pour être consommé par les êtres voraces et mondains qui sont moi et mes collègues. L’écharpe de prière j’ai laissé dans ma poche.

Le saucisson, je lui ai donné directe, et il l’a touché à sa tête ; comme on fait avec un texte sacré en bénédiction. Je lui ai donné la lettre, qu’il a lu sur le moment. J’ai avalé ma salive, ai sourié à mon anxiété, et me suis rappelée de mon engagement. La lettre disait, « Je m’engage pour le tout ». Je suis là pour toi, pour l’activité de la lignée, pour le bienfait des êtres, dès maintenant jusqu’à l’éveil. Y compris : je suis terrifiée et limitée et même que je doute ma capacité pour atteindre ce truc qu’on appelle l’éveil, je sais que vous ne le doutez pas, et j’ai confiance que c’est la chose pour laquelle ma vie vaut le plus. Donc, voici ma vie. Mon cœur, mon esprit, mes mains, et tous mes souhaits. Aidez-moi à trouver la voie.

Il l’a lue, il l’a repliée, et me l’a ré-offerte. Je lui ai dit de la garder, pas en pensant qu’il allait faire quelque chose avec, mais parce que moi, j’avais besoin de ça, de donner mon engagement de façon concrète. Puis on discutait la France, le Virginie, la Californie, les retraites de longue durée, la possibilité d’enseigner l’anglais et peut-être un jour le dharma. On discutait la tradition, la culture, et l’esprit occidental. Il m’a dit que certaines personnes n’acceptent pas la philosophie parce qu’elle veulent que leurs enseignants soient des déités. « Ils ne croient pas que nous sommes très humains » il a dit. « Nous sommes cent pour cent humains ». Je me suis rendue compte que je n’y croyais pas tout à fait non plus.

Il m’a dit de rester à Dhagpo, d’étudier, de m’entraîner assez pour enseigner si je pourrais. Il m’a dit des choses dans une heure qui va m’aider à décider ma vie pour autant de temps que je la vis. Et quand j’avais plus de questions à poser, il a fermé ses yeux et s’est à moitié endormit. Il y avait une partie de moi qui voulait rester, qu’un tout petit peu, pour continuer à me sentir soignée. Et il y avait une partie de moi qui me suis rendu compte que c’était l’heure, que je devais commencer à vivre le souhait que son soin me portera et que j’apprendrai comment prendre soin de moi-même.

J’ai dit, « Merci, Rinpoche » et il a ouvert ses yeux. Il a retiré sa chaise, s’est levé, et a levé ses bras. Je me suis approchée, le menton rentré, les mains devant mon cœur. Il a touché ses mains aux côtés de ma tête et dans l’espace de la bénédiction j’ai dit « grâce » pour tous les êtres. Je me suis souvenu de l’écharpe de prière dans ma poche. Je l’ai déroulée dans mes mains et j’ai dit, « un peu de tradition, pas trop », ce qu’il m’avait dit toute à l’heure. Il m’a touché encore aux tempes, et a posé l’écharpe sur mon cou. J’ai fait un grand sourire. Il a sourit en réponse à ma jubilation, en faisant oui de la tête. Je suis partie par la porte vers la voiture pour faire les courses, pour éffectuer mon engagement, pour m’entraîner à aider les êtres.

Ce matin, je me suis réveillée comme toujours. J’ai pris mes vitamines, ai remplit mes bols d’offrandes, me suis assise pour méditer. Au milieu de la pratique, j’ai senti un jet de douleur dans mon œil, et quand je me suis levée le blanc était complètement injecté de sang. J’ai Googlé « signifiance émotionnelle conjonctivite » à aucun résultat logique, a hoché ma tête à mes superstitions, a mis mes lunettes, et est allé déjeuner. Nybou m’a vu monter les escaliers et il s’est arrêté d’un coup, son regard fixé sur moi. Je me suis demandés si mes veines étaient tellement autant visibles que ça, ou si c’était la nouvelle mode pour dire bonjour. Quand je suis arrivée à côté de lui, il a cligné ses yeux deux fois, a mis sa main sur mon épaule et a dit, « J’ai une mauvaise nouvelle. Shamar Rinpoche a eu une crise cardiaque en Allemagne ce matin. Il est décédé. C’était il y a une demi heure ».

J’ai fermé mes yeux sur mes veines toutes rouges et j’ai maudit Google, et l’impermanence, et tout ce qui me reste à apprendre. J’ai mangé mon petit déj, ai formé une bénévole, ai tourné en rond autour du stoupa avec ma famille tout stupéfiée. Puis je suis entrée dans une pièce vide, est tombée sur mes genoux, et ai pleuré.

Pas pour lui, mais pour moi et pour nous. Je me sens petite et récente et incertaine. J’ai le sens qu’autant parmi nous nous nous sentons comme ça. Je me sens comme j’ai trouve ma famille et maintenant une partie essentielle est partie.

Des gens continuent à me dire qu’il n’est pas parti. Sa sagesse demeure. Le corps change, mais la nature de l’esprit reste. Et c’est vrai, je le sais; je suppose ; j’accepterai. La lignée est intacte. Merci aux Bouddhas pour Karmapa et Jigme Rinpoche et tous les enseignants qui restent pour nous guider. Et la réincarnation, c’est une chose que les maîtres comprendre gérer, et probablement il va revenir. J’y fait des souhaits ; on y en fait tous. Et son activité continue, et les centres devéloppent. Je fais des souhaits pour cela aussi : on en fait tous.

Mais vous savez quoi ? Nique rationalisme et stoïcisme, juste un tout petit peu. J’ai besoin d’eux et je le comprends et je suis reconnaissante que les choses soient claires—il faut se soutenir, soutenir le dharma, développer de la sagesse et être dévoué. Mais au même temps, je fais un deuil, et je suis mortelle, et on l’est tous, et finalement, ça pue grave. Du coup les larmes arrivent, et je les laisse.

Et j’espère que vous reveniez vite et que j’aie plus de force que je pense. Et je vous aime et je suis reconnaissante et je suivrai vos instructions, même si je ne trouve pas ce leçon final très drôle.

Voyagez-bien, mon enseignant. Shamarpa chenno.

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Photos prise par l’excellent Tokpa Korlo Mendel, frère de Dharma et pote de la Californie.

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We lost a good one today. One of the best ones.

Exactly two weeks ago today I was having tea with Shamar Rinpoche, talking about the future of Buddhism in the West, the future of his centers in Europe and the States, and my own future as a practitioner, disciple, aspiring teacher, and dutiful minion in the operation of Dharma centers in the Karma Kagyu lineage. For nearly the first time in my life, I had had the courage to ask for something I wanted, to nudge and persist and dare because it felt important. And I got it. An interview with my teacher. The guide I had been following, but from afar, for the last eight years of my life.

When I discovered the Dharma as a wayward seventeen-year-old in New Zealand, the woman who introduced me to meditation and the teachings of the Buddha was a student of Shamar Rinpoche. When I chose to pursue the spark of recognition I felt with Buddhist practice and philosophy, I did so at a Bodhi Path, the network of centers set up by Shamar Rinpoche around the world. When I chose to leave California in search of a life rooted in the Dharma, the teachers who directed me on my way were under the guidance of the very same. When I arrived in India, I had the incredible fortune to meet Shamar Rinpoche’s primary disciple the Karmapa, the young successor in the Karma Kagyu lineage. I even crossed paths with Shamarpa himself, but I didn’t dare say hello, so intimidated was I by this figure who had so deeply influenced my life, without ever even knowing who I am.

And then, a month ago, I picked up the phone at the Lama House with my usual, “Maison des Lamas. It’s Jourdie,” only to hear an imperious, “Hello! Where is Jigme Rinpoche?” It only took me a few sentences of Tibetan inflected English to realize that the voice on the other line was none other than the holder of the lineage, my guide from afar, the one-and-only Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche. Made ever more clear when, while I was scrambling to find some one who could answer his question more precisely than me, he said, “You are the American girl. I am Shamar Rinpoche.” Not only did I know who he was, but, rather more surprising, he knew who I was. While I ascertained that Jigme Rinpoche was not in France, was in Spain, was in Malaga, was gone for the next five days, Shamarpa asked me questions about my life. “So, you are well in Dhagpo? You have not yet visited the center in Germany? You are too busy eating French salami and baguette!” When I mentioned I had been baking my own bread he said, “Ah, and when will you come to bake bread in Virginia? We are beginning to set up the dining hall. We will talk when I come.”

He left me in a swirling frenzy, wondering if I would be plucked by fate and necessity from a life I love to some other calling, useful but unexpected. Shamarpa is famous for this, turning your whole life on its head to teach you to be flexible and light with your attachments. He’s famous for not showing up for teachings or showing up in countries other than those pre-decided. He’s famous for bringing storms and wrecking plans—I can testify to this as I lived through the most perilous rain and power outages that I’ve yet seen in the Dordogne, plus a wind that shattered half the Lama House’s fancy dinner service two days before our major event. He’s famous for dispensing with ceremonial procedure in one context and demanding it with vehemence in another. He’s famous for being unpredictable, blunt to the point of harshness, and utterly unwilling to bend to norms designed to make people feel comfortable if they don’t also make them more aware.

He’s not famous for being gentle, cajoling, and avuncular. He’s not famous for being patient, direct, and reassuring. And yet, I never felt so cared for in my life as when speaking with him. As if my every uncertainty was acceptable, worthwhile even. As if I could lay all my hopes and fears on the table before him, and together we might find the sense in them. It was for this that I asked to meet with him while he was here. Knowing he’s busy aiding all beings all the time, knowing he’s looking after dozens of centers and projects and teachers, knowing I’m small and recent and have other people to look after me. He made me sure that I have something to offer and that it’s worth taking the time to figure out how best to do so.

And so we had tea. I brought a basket of offerings from a ceremony at the center and a white silk prayer scarf, traditional ceremonial things that I felt slightly uncomfortable about. And then I brought things from me. An artisanal salami from the nearby town. A letter to tell him the things I feared I would not be able to say out loud. I set the basket of offerings on the table, where it stayed until probably ten minutes after I left, when some one brought it back to Dhagpo to be eaten the voracious, worldly beings that are myself and my cohort of volunteers. The prayer scarf I kept in my pocket.

I gave him the salami right away, and he tapped it on his head, as one would with a sacred text in blessing. I gave him the letter, which he read on the spot. I swallowed hard, smiled at my nervousness, and reminded myself of my commitment. The letter said, “I’m all in.” I’m here for you, for the activity of the lineage, for the benefit of beings, from now until enlightenment. Understood: I’m terrified and limited and even though I doubt my own capacity to reach this thing called enlightenment, I know that you don’t, and I am confident that this is the thing absolutely most worth doing with this life. So here is my life. My heart and my mind and my hands and all of my wishes. Help me find the way.

He read it and laughed, folded it up, and offered it back to me. I told him to keep it, not because I thought he’d do anything with it, but because I needed that, to give my commitment in a concrete way.  Then we talked about France and Virginia and California and long retreats and teaching English and maybe one day teaching dharma. We talked about tradition and culture and the Western mind. He told me some people don’t accept philosophy because they want their teachers to be deities. “They don’t believe we are quite human,” he said. “We are one hundred percent human.” I realized I didn’t quite believe it myself.

He told me to stay at Dhagpo, to study, to train myself enough to teach, if I can. He told me things in an hour that will help me decide my life for as long as I live it. And when I ran out of questions to ask, he closed his eyes and fell half asleep. Part of me wanted to stay, just a little while, to keep feeling cared for. And part of me realized it was time to go, to start to live the wish that his care will carry me and I will learn to take care of myself.

I said, “Thank you Rinpoche,” and he opened his eyes. He pushed back his chair, stood up, and lifted his arms. I walked over and tucked my head toward my chin, hands together at my heart. He touched his hands to both sides of my head, and in the space of the blessing I said grace for all beings. I remembered the prayer scarf in my pocket, unrolled it into my hands and said, “a little tradition, not too much,” as he had said to me earlier. He touched my temples again, and placed the scarf over my neck. I grinned. He smiled at my gleefulness and nodded his head. I walked out the door and back to the car and went to do groceries, to carry out my commitments, to train in benefitting beings.

I woke up this morning like usual. Took my vitamins, filled my offering bowls, sat down to meditate. Partway through the practice, I felt a touch of pain in my eye, and when I stood up, the white was completely bloodshot. I googled “emotional significance conjunctivitis” to no sensible result, then shook my head at my superstitious-ness, put on my glasses, and went to breakfast. Nybou saw me walking up the stairs and stopped still, staring. I wondered if the veins in my eye were that visible, or if it was a new way to say good morning. When I got close, he blinked twice, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I have bad news. Shamar Rinpoche had a heart attack in Germany this morning. He’s dead. It happened about half an hour ago.”

I closed my eyes over the glaring veins and cursed Google, and impermanence, and everything I have left to learn. I ate breakfast, and trained a volunteer, and turned in circles around the stupa with my stupefied family. Then I walked into an empty room and fell to my knees and cried.

Not for him, but for me and for us. I feel small and recent and uncertain. I feel like so many of us are. I feel like I found my family, and now a crucial part of it is gone.

People keep telling me that he’s not gone. His wisdom abides. Body changes, but the nature of mind remains. And it’s true, I know; I suppose; I guess I’ll accept. The lineage is intact. Thank goodness for Karmapa and Jigme Rinpoche and all the teachers who remain to guide us. And reincarnation is a thing the masters know how to handle, and probably he’ll come back. I’m making wishes; we all are. And his activity continues, and the centers carry on. I’m making wishes for that too; we all are.

But you know what? Screw rationality and stoicism, just a little. I need them and I get it and I’m grateful that things are clear—support each other, support the Dharma, develop wisdom and be devoted. But at the same time, I’m in mourning and I’m mortal and we all are and this just really sucks.  So the tears come and I let them.

And I hope you come back soon and that I’m stronger than I think I am. And I love you and I’m grateful and I’ll follow your instructions, even if I don’t find this final lesson very funny.

Safe travels teacher. Shamarpa chenno (heed me).

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Photos by the excellent and talented Tokpa Korlo Mendel, Dharma brother and California homie.

In A Mad World

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I’m caught between two strange things. The overwhelming love I have experienced in those around me in these recent weeks, and an act of great violence committed in my hometown.

On this side of the world, I’ve the fortune to welcome Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche–the lineage holder of the Karma Kagyu tradition, numerous translators, teachers, artists, center coordinators, and even friends from back home in California to today-home in Dhagpo. I had a kitchen so crowded it was easier to walk out the front door, around the house, and in the back door to get something on the other side than just to cross the kitchen. It felt like how I always imagined Christmas would feel when I was small and still believed Santa Claus was a person and not an idea and a love you have to create.

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I had help from all corners to prepare the house, welcome the guests, and make the food. This is the one shot I managed to take and I can’t even take credit for the aethetic awesomeness of this plate. I can, however, thank my lucky stars for having such a rad team. What could have felt like an insane catering event instead felt like an epic family reunion.

So there’s that.

And then there’s the fact that a young man, a kid really, killed six people and himself about a week ago in Isla Vista, the college town near Santa Barbara.

When I heard, my first thought was, “Ow.” And immediately after, “Again?”

I think I’m pretty much stuck there.

Killing is bad. I get this. But I can’t bring myself to feel horror at some one like Elliot Rodger. A lot of that ow is for him. People who feel loss and grief have at least enough joy and love in their experience of the world that they have something to mourn for. I can only fathom that people who take life have an experience of the world so bleak and anguished that the taking of life is conceivable because life is a hateful and valueless wretch. I wouldn’t want that existence for anything, not least because of harm that comes out of its confusion.

After the initial pain wears off, for victims, and perpetrator, and society as a whole, my own confusion sets in. Why does this keep happening? Gun control, media, pharmaceuticals, antiquated gender roles. The list is long and the issues are complex.

One person in the room said this: “Population control; somebody’s gotta do it.” The blackest of humor in a rather dark moment, but it points to deeper questions. Is the violence of modern times really new? Or have the methods for violence simply changed? In what way is violence societal and in what way is it human and individual? At what level do we address violence juridically, scientifically, or sociologically? And at what level do we choose to take responsibility for our own violence?

I held a handgun once for the purpose of sport, but couldn’t bring myself to lift my arm, the thing felt so treacherous in my grasp. I’ve never taken a human life, but I’ve considered taking my own. I have felt terrible pain and wished for others to feel pain. I have tried to do good and wound up causing harm.

My point is that the domino topple from plain human experience to outward violence is not simple and not external to any of us. Some of us have better tools and better luck but even when we’re not committing the violence, we are subject to it. Coordoning off those who seem dangerous in order to feel safe only maximizes the risk. The deeper our sense of self and other, the easier it is to harm. If something feels foreign enough, it no longer feels real or valuable, and that makes it easy to destroy. I don’t deny that the world is mad, but I do think we’re in this together. Working on that understanding, as individuals and as a society, is the only thing I can think of right now to improve our current conditions.