In The Beginning with Rinpoche

Photo by Robert Del Tredici

The year was 1971. I had just left NYC with my wife-to-be, after ending up a two-year stay as director of a new age enlightenment and communication center. It was a great experience and very successful, but the organization dried up. It was time to move on.

We were standing outside 1111 Pearl St. in Boulder when Bob Halpern (Rinpoche’s courier par extra-ordinaire) came whizzing out and asked us if we would like interviews with Rinpoche at 4:30 PM. We said sure, and soon enough I was led into his little office. He was sitting there smiling at me, seeming jovial and cheerful.

Rinpoche was dressed in a three-piece suit with the jacket off; he was sipping from a small bottle of blueberry cointreau.

“What shall we discuss?” he gently offered up. It was so genuine and inviting that I was a bit flustered at first, but only for a moment. It was such fun to speak to him. I told him all about the work I had been doing and my continued extravagant spiritual plans for the future, such as writing a book on spiritual matters called “The Cheeseburger Sutras”. Rinpoche knew about the organization I had come from as some of his students had been involved in it.

He smiled and laughed a bit and said,” Well, after doing such high spiritual work it’s good to take a bit of a break, maybe something a bit more earthy and practical, like sweeping floors or washing dishes!”

I smiled weakly back at him. This certainly wasn’t what I had in mind. It was, however an utterly delightful interview. There was no doubt that I had met the next phase of my life.

Funny, but as we were heading out of town (after a 10 day seminar that was concurrently happening), I went to begin some notes for my book. Darn if I couldn’t think of a single thing to write, and darn if my next jobs didn’t have me sweeping floors and bussing tables!

The First Party

During this same two-week stay in Boulder in 1971, we were fortunate enough to attend one of Rinpoche’s first seminars. Toward the end, there was a party held after one of the talks. There was a fair amount of drinking and near the end Rinpoche joined the party.

He sat in the living room and the party naturally gathered around him. It was magical to have him just sitting there, a few feet away; on the other hand, it seemed quite ordinary.

I felt the need to join the conversation and in my inimitable fashion I quipped to him, ” Rinpoche, is it true that if you drink at the foot of the guru, you won’t have a hangover the next morning?”

There seemed to be an earthen, almost brooding quality about his presence. He half turned, looked at me directly and said, “But Guru have hangover in the morning!”

My mind was stopped. HELLO. Back to square one, as he was to fondly say.

Rinpoche had this ineffable quality of presenting reality to you; it made you feel pinned to the wall, while simultaneously picking you up and dusting off your jeans. I was soon to find out that he didn’t always dust off your jeans.

My Second Interview With Rinpoche

My next interview with Rinpoche occurred in 1972. I was looking forward to bathing in the same warm reception that I received the previous year. I was wearing a skimpy tank top and feeling under-dressed for the occasion.

I sat down opposite him and noticed immediately that the warm smile I was expecting, and the soft, melodious, “What shall we discuss?” was replaced by a very cool and matter of fact, “What’s up?”

I don’t remember ‘what was up’, but I distinctly remember the frosty atmosphere. I felt totally naked in my tank top! I was experiencing (for not the last time) what I can only describe as the “wrathful” side of Rinpoche. The atmosphere felt dark and turbulent, as if I was being tossed about in the black depths of the universe, as if there was some psychic treachery going on.

I know that this sounds somewhat histrionic, but this was the state of my psyche. I might have uttered a few complaints about my life, but for most of the interview I was left to stew in my own fearful and confused juices.

I was quite disturbed by this experience. I vowed that I would be more circumspect about my meetings with Rinpoche in the future. I knew in my heart, though, I would continue to seek out whatever he had to offer.

1976: “Just Rolling Along”

It was early 1976 and I was attending a seminar with Rinpoche in Berkeley, California. I don’t remember the theme, but I have a vivid recollection of him talking about the practitioner going for it wholeheartedly, not just letting a little spittle drip down your chin, but letting go and vomiting fully across the room!

I went to say hello to him after one of the talks. He was cordial and asked how I was doing. Wanting to remain non-committal and not get into what was going on in my life, I innocuously retorted, “Oh, fine, just rolling along!”

In that moment Rinpoche gave me a blank, yet piercing look, and he abruptly turned his head to speak to someone else! …I was devastated. It felt like having your air supply line severed at 200 feet below the ocean. The person who I respected most in the entire world had just ‘mega-dissed’ me.

Dazed, I limped back to the side of the hall and leaned against the wall for support, trying to piece together what had just happened.

Rinpoche could be ruthless with his compassion. Shaken, I began my practice in earnest.

1983: The Simplest Moment

It was mid-morning and my role in the mandala was to be a servant at the court (the Vidyadhara’s household). I was doing basic cleaning, dusting and polishing on the second floor, where the Vidyadhara resided. It was awkward to be a volunteer in a situation that offered no monetary reward for the effort. It did however afford me direct access to his world.

I was polishing the banister when he suddenly emerged from the bathroom. He was wearing only pants and suspenders, obviously having just stepped out of his shower.

He was moving slowly toward his bedroom when he paused, looked at me with the sweetest smile and uttered this simplest of requests, “Please tell the driver I’ll be ready in ten minutes.”

I know these words were not from any special tantric transmission or mantra, but I was incredibly touched by the kindness and openess in his voice and being. It took my breath away. He was so completely present and heartfelt, even tender in this most mundane interaction.

I did as I was told. No big deal. Yet how could such a simple communication be so touching? How could I be so profoundly moved and inspired by this?

The Divine Walk In Space: 1981

I was attending the 1981 Vajradhatu Seminary at Lake Louise, Canada. I had joined the Kasung for the seminary. Our job was to protect the environment of the seminary and to facilitate and protect the movement of the Vidyadhara.

On this one occasion, my group was on duty for the entire day and it included organizing a mid-morning day trip of the Vidyadhara. Although a seemingly simple event, whenever he was involved, it was a major strategic production. We were all excited and on extra-alert.

I was stationed at the lobby elevator. I was to escort him through the lobby to his car waiting outside.

He was led out of the elevator by his entourage. I approached him and put out my arm and elbow for him to lean on for support. He gave me a perfunctory acknowledgement and we began our journey through the lobby to his vehicle, probably a distance of forty yards.

It began as an unremarkable march, yet I felt a special pride at his side. About halfway to our destination I began to experience a distinct lightness and zest in our stride, when all of a sudden it was as if the solid floor disappeared and we were majestically marching and strutting in space. It was quite an exuberant experience. The term “windhorse” comes to mind.

We reached the car and with a formal, quick bow, this phase of my shift was completed.

I walked contemplatively and gingerly back to my room, very much back on the earth again. It seemed that I was the recipient of an awareness-vipashyana lesson, par-excellence.

And as the Vidyadhara might had said, “…a jolly good jaunt.”

© 2002 by Stuart Friedman
Stuart first met the Vidyahara in 1971. In 1976, he moved to Boulder where he lived there for 21 years, serving as Shambhala Training Resident Director from 1993-1997. He now lives in Westchester, New York, where he works as a psychotherapist and school teacher.