OPEN LETTER TO THE 17TH KARMAPA
(in memory of Rangjung Dorje the 16th Karmapa)
I took refuge with the 16th Karmapa
at Rumtek, his monastery in Sikkim, in 1978
A few years before, with my wife Judith,
and a thousand others, I was sitting
in an aircraft hangar in San Francisco
when he raised a crown-like black hat to the top of his head
and flooded the wide open space
with a force I had no name for
or understanding of. Let’s just say he tipped his hat to me
and a few years later with an entreaty I could not refuse
cut strands of hair from my head and by the single vow
that I would not gossip or speak meanly of others
confirmed me a Buddhist.
I learned to meditate over many years
visiting Tulku Urgyen at Nagi Gompa, his nunnery
perched above Kathmandu. It was the walk there and back
anticipating and digesting what he’d tell me
that focused and clarified my mind, emptying it of preconceptions,
that gave it direction and grounding.
Then the weeks of sitting, getting it right
or wrong, till he once again led me to focus unfocused,
to look without looking, to meditate
But it was Penor Rinpoche
who I met in 1976 at his monastery in a refugee camp
in the south Indian plains
who reached through my defenses,
through the underpinnings of all I experienced,
who established in me a basis for awakening.
Who did this many times over many years,
though I didn’t realize he was doing it till I did.
The full force that lifted me free,
that magnetized and drew me east
first felt at the back of that airplane hangar
was within and throughout always present.
I draw on it today, with apprehension,
as I beseech those who gather in Bodhgaya
where Buddha attained enlightenment
and in Lumbini where he was born,
those who come together to pray for peace,
to do so not just in places of pilgrimage
made well and whole within your own Mandala,
but to open wide those protective circles
for all who suffer from war,
and from war makers and war profiteers.
I ask you to gather not just where peace was attained,
but at the heart of the beast, in their lairs,
their military bases, and in their banks,
corporate offices and government strongholds.
If not yet by presence, then by aspiration,
lead us to stand in solidarity
and bear witness against these crimes.
Though I lack your compassion and vision,
I would rely on it.
For those who would establish the basis for being
within us, is it not time
to establish that ongoing basis for being
in the world.
(for Eric Weiner)
Eric, if you’re set on seeking God
In Kathmandu, you're 30 years too late.
The old realized ones are dead
or out of reach. The others have followed the money to Amerika
and its Euro-peon colonies.
Better to search for the “Seeking God” book
in your own neighborhood.
The world out there all bad news and suffering
is now home grown. And for Buddhists,
it’s “Dharma” not religion,
though “Tantra” works from the inside
out. So if you're under 50,
a travel guide to enlightenment
might do, but over the line, I'd say: Don't go!
Stay home and sit
Zen. If you gotta go for it,
try Tashi Jong in the Indian Himals.
Real (as in realized) ‘Tantrikas’
live there. Your wide-eyed
take on “Tantra”
makes for a telling story line.
Be the fool and pursue it. But if you’re a worrier,
speak to Tsoknyi Rinpoche
If you meditate already, seek out Mingyur Dorje.
These sons of Tulk Urgyen
can be seen stateside. Elder brother, Chokyi Nyima
is quite public in his Boudhanath,
Saturday morning, open house, digressions.
Better to begin there on your own,
without me as an escort
and stumble in the way everyone does.
He’ll know who’s calling.
O seeker of happiness, the tide is against you.
As the by the book traveler
skips to the East, Dharma’s
skedaddled West. He who leaves home
(for Tai Situ Rinpoche)
looked at the 2 photos I handed him,
the leper who worked as a “shoeshine boy”
and Situ Rinpoche offering the Red Hat Ceremony
and then at me.
No difference, he said,
in response to my query.
Both have Buddha nature.
Though one has recognized
the nature of his mind
and the other has not.
Placing me, I surmised,
somewhere between, unsure,
having not yet stabilized
nor integrated such awareness
into daily life.
Situ Rinpoche smiled
at my telling of the Red Hat Ceremony
“If I appear, he said,
I can disappear”
And lifting the ornate hat
onto his head
with a wink of an eye,
without the slightest equivocation
and appears once again
LOTUS BORN, SUN BRED
(for Sharma Rinpoche, 1952-2014)
As day breaks on Swayambou hill,
decapitated by the mist
jumps from its god-shapes.
Or is this just a band of monkeys
roaming the forest
haloed in sun-distilled air?
Or my monkey mind
tripping on a prayer-beaded
Om Mani Padme
Hung?Lifted this morning
by Sharma Rinpoche’s
presence, I glide
down the steep stone steps
from the Stupa,
entreated by grasping hands
and an insistent whine:
one rupee, baksheesh give!
Cutting through the arc of my Kora,
my circling of the shrine
I turn home as the sun lifts its palms
and unmet in praise
turns a collective fist upon damp
Intent to rouse
the hermetic reclusive town
from its futile feudal