In the Kitchen at BPB

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Photo by Blair Hansen

In 1981 or 82, when I was living at Karmȇ-Chöling in the position of head cook, I still couldn’t figure out whether I was connected enough to Rinpoche to commit fully and apply to Seminary. At one point during that period he was visiting KCL with his family and staying at his nearby house, Bhumi Pali Bhavan. During that visit, I served as his cook and the first evening, there I was in the kitchen with everyone—Rinpoche, Lady Diana, and their two youngest children—all in there as well, chatting noisily like any family. I recall Lady Diana finding a small container of MSG (which Rinpoche liked in his food) and declaring with great determination that she was throwing it out. Like any husband whose wife is doing something for his own good that he doesn’t like, he protested weakly, “But it’s only poison if you eat it without awareness” (or words to that effect). However, she was having none of it and out it went.

Meanwhile, I was working away in silence. Then, suddenly, I realized that everyone had left the room except Rinpoche, who was sitting in a chair at a table, with his back to me. I was far too shy to say anything to him, but my mind was racing furiously as I tried to figure out, “Is this my guru — Or isn’t he — Yes, I feel an intense awareness right now, but if that were (then president) Ronald Reagan (whom I despised) sitting in that chair and I were alone with him, wouldn’t I feel equally aware?” And so it went, with me working and him just sitting there silently doing nothing until dinner was served.

When the evening had ended and everyone had eaten and the cleanup had been done, I returned to Karmȇ-Chöling where my friend, Noreen Morris, a very devoted student of Rinpoche’s, greeted me, asking eagerly, “How did it go? How did it go?” I expressed some disappointment, going on about how “ordinary” the experience had been. As I talked, Noreen started laughing quite hard, and surprised, I asked what was so funny. She asked me, “Do you have any idea how the energy is just pouring off you right now?” And all of a sudden I realized that she was right; I was incredibly energized and aware in a way that I had never experienced before. And I immediately realized that it had nothing to do with what I thought or what I wanted–This was not a choice: like it or not, this was my guru.

I often think of that evening. It seems funny that my most vivid memory of Rinpoche is of the back of his head — along, of course, with his electrical presence.