If you put both your hands together side by side, then place them end-to-end, THAT’S how big his hands were. Or so it seemed. And that’s my first memory of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
The NY Dharmadhatu was the first of Trungpa Rinpoche’s sangha to meet him. My then-husband Fred Ferraris and I helped make a beautiful Brooklyn brownstone monk-friendly. When DKR deposited his massive body on our handmade throne, and it didn’t collapse, everyone rode a loud relief-filled outbreath together.
The sangha had been instructed to never look him straight in the eye, and to bow while inching backwards, eyes averted, out of the room. But we were still babies when it came to the more formal ways of behaving around a vajra master. Plus, I was pretty much of a smartass with the emphasis on the second syllable. When I peeked up at the venerable teacher he waved one of his massive paws and mugged a kind of a Tibetan-clown-howdy. When I returned the same silliness, we giggled like campers after lights out.
Figuring out how to make him breakfast gruel from leftover lamb or beef and rice was as stressful as a Top Chef Quickfire. If you’d like to try it, just grind up the aforementioned ingredients, add chicken broth and something like a pound of salt. When you gag and your body shrivels up like a prune, it’s perfect.
One afternoon, Rinpoche’s saffron-robed monks wanted to see where Fred and I lived. Packed into his beat-up station wagon, we headed across the Verrazano. While driving by one of Staten Island’s most self-aggrandizing Italian cemeteries, Lama Yonten cranked down the window and sang out at the top of his lungs “Commmm-ing!!!!” I’m thinking you really have to be a crusty old Buddhist to get that one.
While he was studying, Khyentse Rinpoche would call me into the room, and I would sit there quietly for several hours at a time. Being of the Sephardic Spilkus School of Meditation, sitting still for so long was quite a challenge. Close to him the space seemed to vibrate with possibility — he was so sweet and generous.
Probably one of the most touching expressions of Khyentse Rinpoche’s nature was visible in his relationship with children. His big paws were never more tender than when he was helping his grandson Rabjam Rinpoche get dressed or teaching him scriptures. And it was stunning to see how Rinpoche’s affection for the Vidyadhara’s autistic son Taggie, soothed him.
Without a doubt, one of the funniest things ever said in a meditation hall was a crack by Khyentse Rinpoche. He sat reading on his “throne” at Karme Chöling while visitors from all over the US filed in and out, some pausing to meditate in the room for a few minutes. Bhagavan Das, still notoriously be-dredded, plopped himself down at Rinpoche’s “lotus feet.” He knotted himself up in some kind of quadruple lotus, held his hands in a fancy mudra, rolled his eyes back and didn’t move for several hours.
Finally, Rinpoche pointed at Bhagavan Das and whispered something into his Tibetan translator’s ear. They both got hysterical. Of course I begged to be let in on the joke. So the translator leaned over to me and whispered, “Rinpoche say, ‘please turn him over, he’s done on that side.'” 5. When I asked Fred about his memories of Khyentse Rinpoche, he reminded me about the days preceding DKR’s visit when we peppered Trungpa Rinpoche with questions about the Big Guy. “What does he like, should we do this, what about this other stuff?” And the answer every time was a variation of “He couldn’t give a shit.” Finally he said, “Just create a family atmosphere. Keep an eye on things. Don’t let people take advantage.”
Fred also recalled boarding an elevator after a visit to a Manhattan practice center run by a teenage female tulku. As they descended, DKR smiled, leaned over and tugged Fred’s scraggly beard remarking, “You remind me of my grandfather.” (Fred recalls his beard as “resplendent” but alas, he is suffering from resplendent self-delusion.)
Another day, following a tea ceremony at a posh Riverside estate, Rinpoche saw the World Trade Center for the first time. As emphatically instructed, Fred hung a quick louie, parked, and rode with the troop of Tibetans skyward. Atop Manhattan’s highest peak, Rinpoche led his monks to circumambulate the rooftop of one of the twin towers.
And who could forget the time William Burroughs had a complete hissyfit when DKR would not see him RIGHT NOW.
We all have occasional moments of startling clarity. I asked my friend Julie Shean Nowick why I, being such a sucky practitioner, would have such moments. She attributes it to abisheka or transmission, which I guess I never fully understood. But now, it makes a lot of sense. I was privileged to spend many weeks at Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s side, only able to hold my seat because of the affection he lavished upon me and countless others. How blessed we all are to have been accepted as students by loving teachers whose lives were not separate from the enlightenment of the Buddha.