When I was young, from about thirteen until I don't remember when, my mother studied Tibetan Buddhism. She studied intently for years. I would often go to the Buddhist center with her and hang out or do my homework as she took classes. It was a place where I could rest my mind. The center was a converted house, a large rich brown craftsman style in the heart of LA. Concrete steps led to the house and they were wide and slanted and cracked. The house had barred windows beyond the thick, square-columned porch, and the door was heavy and huge, splintered at the base and a little lighter shade than the house shingles. Inside, the vibe wrapped me up, insulated me with heavy quietness. My only and sincerest urge was to lie on the huge fuchsia and turquoise prayer pillows and stare at the tankas and be alone. Nobody minded this. The caretakers of the center were kind and gentle to me.
After years of going to the center, my mother embarked on a series of higher, initiate classes. They were held every night for hours. Usually I stayed home alone and cared for myself, but for this particular series one of the monks encouraged my mother to enrolled me in the Lam Rim course which was the basic Tibetian Buddhist teachings. A well-known and ancient rinpoche was visiting from India and, through an interpreter, he would conduct the Lam Rim teachings. I was fifteen, and I studied this every night for a couple weeks.
I rarely talk about these teachings because they are hard to just . . . bring up, but when I have mentioned them, I speak humbly of the experience. It was a great honor to be taught by this particular teacher, to even be taught this at all. But more honestly, I felt it was divinely purposeful that I took these classes. I was not shy or coy during class, and I stared directly at the rinpoche, drank him in. He often stared at me as well. He spoke in long, quiet Tibetian phrases moving his hands like a dancer, flowing them from side to side as his gold and crimson robe sleeves swung below them. He would close his eyes and speak on. The interpreter waited patiently to translate as we sat on pillows, cross legged and captivated. When the rinpoche opened his eyes, he would often look directly at me. This did not startle me. I thought he recognized something in me that I knew vaguely myself. The interpreter used big words that made no sense to me; words that described levels of hell and heaven. Words that other students scribbled furiously in their notebooks. I sat and stared. But when the rinpoche spoke of compassion and motivation and suffering, to these things I paid attention. I believed that the names of hell meant nothing when the basic concepts were so difficult. How hard to live a life with a goal but without a goal? The concepts of relieving suffering and practicing compassion with only clear motivation eluded and encompassed me. I floated in a space where I innately understood it all and where I had no idea what he was saying. In the end, sadly, all I wanted was more recognition of my specialness. I had succumbed to the vanity of the teachings because the subconscious recognition of it had been too much. All I could think about was, "I know he saw It in me!" I thought he saw that his youngest student was his clearest receptacle of his words, and because of this connection, I was dying for guidance. As the classes and weeks ran on, as I sat there sponging up his words and collecting his stares, I waited patiently for word of a next step for me. I needed his help. "Divinely I understand! What now??" But, the message escaped me in this desperation of guidance. When the series ended, I was not called aside. I was not told I was a chosen one. I was confused, and had frankly missed the point.
What consistently floats to the top over the years about the Lam Rim teachings are the most basic concepts, I believe the hardest still: Am I compassionate in all instances? Do I help end or relieve suffering? What is my motivation in everything I do? When I think of these concepts today, it still feels like I am floating in that space of all knowing and never understanding. Nearly the same thing that I felt at the end of yoga. But I am self conscious of the vanity I still feel in this complicated space. I feel embarrassed that this space makes me feel special with no tangible manifestations of my apparent, internal greatness. I realize that the specialness and the manifestations are all the wrong motivations. So, again, I am floating.
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