Climbing the Stairs with Rinpoche

A story of from a Kasung of the Kalapa Court.


The Kalapa Court in Boulder pulsed with life so vibrantly, that when you stepped inside the door your lungs and heart filled with energy. So as a young, proud kasung in the early 1980s, I anticipated my entry-hall shifts there with a fervent mix of excitement and dare. The very thought of possibly encountering the Vajracharya while on duty so piqued my courage and awe that I’d have to re-pin my kasung lapel pin at least five or six times before finally getting it right.

Once inside the Court, it was like every flower arrangement or calligraphy you encountered connected-your-dots to some outrageous living force inside yourself you’d forgotten about. And to see the Vajracharya, slowly walking down the hall, being seated in a chair or helped by attendants up the long staircase was riveting. It wasn’t like some conceptual guru-worship, just simple fact—when you saw him something inside your bone marrow came to life and made you fully dimensional.

During a shift as night folded into early day, I fought a losing battle to ward off sleep. I memorized kasung slogans, I tested the walkie-talkie, I called the weather report on the phone. Still, my eyelids slowly forced themselves downward until I was reduced to playing the age-old kasung game of wake up before your head hits the desktop. After my second or hundredth near-death by self-concussion experience, I felt a new wave of energy lift me. I turned around for some reason and there stood the Rinpoche, all by himself.

He was in a kimono, just there—effortlessly grounded, head tilted ever so slightly. I jumped out of my skin, my seat and my senses. “Would you like me to get someone, sir?” One hand slowly went to his cheek which he scratched expertly with a nail tip. His eyes followed the long staircase to the second floor. Then he looked at me. He was going up and he wanted me to support him on the stairs. My father had shown me how to hold Rinpoche’s right hand just so and lean in for support. But now, my father wasn’t here and Rinpoche was.

The Vajracharya placed his right hand in mine and the fleshy depth of his hand swallowed me whole.

“Can you do it?”

His high-pitched voice pierced my fear, replacing it with meta-fear. I felt a profound urge to make him proud, show him I could. I also felt a profound urge to not let him tumble down twenty stairs and crack his skull. “I think so Sir,” was my dry-throated warrior’s cry giving us both an out if he chose. Instead, true to his commitment, the Vajracharya went forward and we were off.

It was a slow, deliberate journey. Rinpoche escaped Tibet in less time than we climbed those stairs. I felt that if Rinpoche put his trust in you, he really meant it. All he expected you to do was be present. By the time we reached the second floor, a half-dozen people were bounding up the steps after him. In his sitting room, Rinpoche graciously let me guide his meteoric body in a slow turn as he settled down in his chair. I bowed and went back to my desk-post in the hallway. I didn’t fall asleep after that, for about two decades. I’m still a kasung and I try to give the same patience and kindness to others that Rinpoche gave me. Honestly, most days I fail but I remember that night and I try to go forward.