You Knocked Over the Musician!

Trungpa Rinpoche, the 16th Karmapa, and Jamgon Rinpoche Photograph by James Gritz ©2009 James Gritz, all rights reserved

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The 16th Karmapa’s second visit to the San Francisco Bay Area occurred during the Chinese and (that year) Tibetan new year’s celebrations. On the big day the Karmapa hosted three banquets, and in the evening I was one of the kusung serving His Holiness, Jamgon Rinpoche, The Vidyadhara, and the Vajra Regent, all of whom were seated in a crescent at one end of the room. The rest of the room was very crowded. At a low table in the middle of the room sat several of the Karmapa’s patrons, and at the other end of the room, which wasn’t all that far away, sat a small group of Chinese musicians who were playing Chinese classical music. And then there were all of the people involved with service, or who had in some way or another arranged to be in the room — the place was packed.

Before the meal we had all been told that one should never turn one’s back on His Holiness, that we should go forward and offer the food and then back away. Things went swimmingly for quite a while, but then, while backing away I bumped into one of the Chinese musicians and knocked him off his chair. I looked up in horror and could see an amused look in His Holiness’ eyes, and then noticed that Jamgon Rinpoche was having a hard time stifling laughter. The Vidyadhara, on the other hand, did not look quite so amused. He beckoned me to come to him, and when I arrived he said, “You knocked the musician over.” I replied that this had in fact already come to my attention, and the Vidyadhara looked at me over the top of his glasses for what seemed like an eternity — those eyes were so penetrating — and said, “Don’t do it again!”