Oh, Teacher, My Teacher
For Over Twenty-three Years, Lama Lodu Rinpoche Has Been Bringing Vajrayana Teachings To St. Louis And Changing My Life For The Better.
might commit to deep Vajrayana training, run a law practice, and later companies, while raising children all at the same time. The truth is that I am a lazy Buddhist. Though I am aware of my own impermanence and the rarity of having been born human, I take my time. I intellectualize Buddhist training instead of just being it. Perhaps I will be reborn as a hound dog in my next life - who knows?
no Catholics let alone Hindus, Buddhists or Muslims. Most of the people I knew were Protestants, if they had any religion at all. My family was only vaguely Methodist. My dad is an atheist. My best friend in high school was the son of a Baptist minister. For the most part, everyone was Caucasian like me. There was no racial or religious strife where I lived because there was no one in those rolling hills that was all that different than I was.
And yet, some fifteen years after I moved away from the farm, I would find myself training in a Japanese martial art called Aikido under Steven Seagal. I would eventually train with Haruo Matsuoka in California and his master, Seiseki Abe, in Osaka, Japan. The latter was designated as a "living national cultural treasure" in his home country. I would attend a ten-day retreat taking all-day teachings from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama - and that would be the second time that I had spent days on end taking teachings directly from this legendary great master.
In retrospect, I see this all now like I was a little flake of iron being drawn across the decades by a large and irresistible magnet. I remember watching episodes of Ku Fu on television as a kid and while most boys wanted to be Kwai Chang Cain, I wanted to be the old blind teacher, Master Po, who could hear butterflies on the leaves of distant trees. I learned about Zen in college and started reading the usual esoteric books like The Tao Te Ching and new age books the The Tao of Physics. Just after college, I started referring to myself as a "Taoist" even though I would not have known real Taoism if it had hit me in the head. I read book after book and tried to practice meditation. I passed myself off as edgy and mystical at parties.
In the summer of 1994, my local Aikido teacher informed me that he had just cut a deal with a local Buddhist group to rent out the dojo after class so that a Buddhist lama could teach there. He was going to charge the group 65% of the donations that they took in. I would later make him pay for airline tickets and travel expenses to bring Lama Lodu back to St. Louis wherein he would teach in the dojo for free. "You're Buddhist", he said, "you take care of this guy." I wasn't really Buddhist at the time, but the opportunity to meet a real Buddhist teacher appealed to me greatly.
For the next several days, I greeted a very friendly, middle-aged man at the door when he arrived at the dojo. His robes were deep red and gold contrasted against my uniform consisting of a sweaty white gi and a dingy black skirt-like thing called a hakama. He reminded me of my grandfather, though at the time, he was younger than my grandfather had been in my memory. Lama would tell me later that the gis and hakamas looked like monastic robes to him and the discipline of the dojo had a monastic quality to it that he had not realized was possible in the West. Out of respect, I always kept my head lower than his and opened doors for him on my knees in the Japanese style, which was the only Asian etiquette system that I knew at the time. Again, Lama was surprised to see a Westerner behave like this.
After a few days, Lama Lodu was scheduled to offer a tantric empowerment. He was also going to offer the refuge ceremony by which all ordained Buddhists formally enter the path. I did not know about refuge. I did not know what an empowerment was. I knew, however, that a rare teacher had entered my world and I was not going to let the moment pass me by. On the night of the empowerment, Lama Lodu was sitting with my Aikido teacher on the bench of a bus stop in Maplewood so that they might escape the heat and humidity that had built up in the dojo during training. I sat on my shins, in seiza, on the concrete sidewalk beside the bench. Lama invited me to sit on the bench with him, but I declined. He asked again, and I declined again. Then I said, "I have a question for you - I was wondering if you would be my teacher." He grinned. then suddenly he slapped the bench with his hand and said, "I was hoping you would ask me that question." And so a journey of decades began.
This man has been like a father to me with everything that comes with that type of relationship. I have learned many valuable things from him and he has changed me deeply. We have fought like fathers and sons do and even stopped talking to each other for a while. And yet, the bonds that bind us have always been much stronger than the samsaric conditions that might put us at odds with one another. I shudder when I recall the look that came over his face when he has been angry at me. I grow teary-eyed when I remember how he had tears in his eyes when we set aside our differences and rekindled our friendship. His smile and his natural light-heartedness invokes a deep sense of familiarity and affection when I see it. He seems like the kind of friend that you has been so present in your life that you do not recall a life without him. Like my own father, Lama Lodu occurs for me like an eternal and inevitable part of my existence. As I have been going through old photographs, I have been overwhelmed with a timeless fondness for my Dharma Friend of Dharma Friends - this friend of friends.
They say that enlightenment can only be realized in the Ocean of Suffering that is ordinary deluded life. We call it Samsara. They say that Nirvana and Samasara are inseparable. Lama taught me that. And so this is how it came to pass that met this generous being from the other side of the world. We have made our way, no matter what the terrain, over the course of twenty-three years, sharing what we have learned and exploring how to cause ourselves and the world to be more compassionate and loving. In my mind's eye, I can see him close his eyes as we stroll along and speak with certain appreciation for the sound of butterflies in grass as we pass by.
He is older now. So am I. And yet, tomorrow, he will once again enter my house as a member of my family and at some point during his visit, we will undoubtedly drink tea while watching bad television and pass the time between his various obligations with talk of life, family, and enlightenment. And I will be, as always, so much better off because I had the good fortune and good sense to ask him a very important question at a bus stop so many years ago.
Om Ah Hung Benzra Guru Pema Siddhi Hung
Lama Lodu’s Schedule for this coming week:
December 2-3 Chenrezig Initiation and Teachings
Sat/Sun 10AM-12PM & 2-4PM
December 7 Rinpoche Leads Chenrezig Sadhana
Group Recitation and Meditation Practice
December 8 Public Lecture
Cultivating Bodhicitta (Enlightenment-Mind) During Challenging Times
December 9-10 Medicine Buddha Initiation and Teachings
Sat/Sun 10AM-12PM & 2-4PM
Click for more information: Kagyu Droden Kunchab, St. Louis website
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