Monday, September 12, 2011

Walking on Water, Across a Tightrope, Without a Fishnet

Steve Bass
1 April 2009
For Carrie Spencer

Walking on Water, Across a Tightrope, Without a Fishnet

            Very few times in life does one come across an opportunity to interact with a personage who so completely embodies the essence of a world religion as presented by recognized Tibetian Boddhisatva, the monk  Khen Rinpoche Lobzang Tsetan’s visit to Colorado Springs. This verbally acrobatic name and title aptly characterize the man’s persona in many ways.
            Khen Rinpoche, as abbreviated by his local presenters, holds a position roughly correlative to a Catholic cardinal, to hear the presenters tell it-- essentially the Dalai Lama’s right-hand man. The literature provided differs, somewhat, naming him Abbott of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, a rather secondary establishment, with Khen Rinpoche serving as a sort of sanctioned proxy for the Panchen Lama, himself the “second most important spiritual leader of Tibet,” a prisoner in China. No matter, though, the delightful, cheery man demonstrates no discomfort at the lesser status, and in fact appears to acknowledge no real differentiation.
            The experience of meeting this guy is not to be matched. It is really quite astonishing that someone of his stature would deign to spend four exhausting days in our little burg, interacting personally with us on a ground level. But he doesn’t see it that way. Actually, the way he seems to see just about all things is so jarringly alien to most of the Springsians present at Saturday’s talk and meditation that several of them seemed on the verge of flying apart at the mental seams. I have never met a more cheerfully straightforward and forthcoming individual, but problems of conceptual translation caused the simplest of his words to slip through Americans’ grasps as if they were trying to catch trout by hand.
            Those present attempted to bestow him with honor. He would have none of it. They shifted to attributing humility, and he chuckled as he asserted the loftiness of his spiritual position, equating himself with disembodied “deities.” The conversation proceeded and it became apparent, (to some), that although he was utilizing recognizable terms, when he spoke of God, or gods, or deities, or for that matter, meaning, compassion, selfishness, or virtually any notion germane to spiritual discussion, there existed a sort of topspin to his thinking that caused his intent to fly right over our heads.
            Addressing the matter of selfishness he insisted that our first compassionate responsibility is to alleviate our own suffering, that is, to see to our own comfort. This from a man who lives in a barely heated, stone room. One woman expressed sympathy and somewhat vociferous support for the political situation endured by Tibetians. Khen Rinpoche agreed the matter is dire, but proceeded, chuckling all the while, to negate the concern, positing that it is much better to concentrate on changing ourselves than the world, and advocating compassion over blame for even the most deeply flawed of our world's political leaders. Asked about the nature of creation, he engaged in a truly comical tango with the querent, involving that business of God/gods/deities, mentioned above. She almost melted. He chuckled and told a story about a man who spent nine years cutting a steel bar in half with a feather--get it? No way.
            In the end, Khen Rinpoche admirably represented an admirable spiritual school. He’s no dummy and holds the equivalent of a Ph.D. in theology, but remains as down to earth as a chimney-sweep, recognizing our conceptual difficulties, and thanking us for the opportunity to practice his diabolically terrible English, chuckling, of course. He suggested that rather than wrack our heads with too much endeavor at forcing concepts into our worldviews, we hold on to the most valuable basics that we all seem to hold in common. Tibetian Buddhism, not unlike any variety of Buddhism, can be quite complex, and one can never tell if its proponents are entirely sincere in their traditional descriptions of reality. But throughout his conversation, Khen Rinpoche never really veered too far from a tenet expressed by the Dalai Lama himself: “My religion is Kindness.”

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