The Following is an extract from Lama Shenpen’s life story book Keeping the Dalai Lama Waiting & Other Stories. More information and links to more excerpts, click here.
“One day Karma Thinley Rinpoche asked, ‘What make your mind relax?’ I told him, ‘Swimming in the sea – throwing myself into the big waves without a care in the world like I did as a child.’ With wide-eyed amazement he told me that would frighten him.
A few days later I accompanied him and one of the young nuns to the post office in the next village, and before coming home we wandered along the riverside in the blazing morning sun, looking at the light dancing off the waves and relaxing. ‘You swim in the river?’ he asked. ‘I don’t have a swimming costume,’ I said sadly. ‘You swim in underskirt then. You show this nun how to swim and relax.’
So the nun and I stripped off our upper garments and drew the elasticated waists of our underskirts up under our arm-pits to cover our bodies. Then we lay down in the shallow water, letting it wash over us. It was wonderfully warm. We rolled over and looked up into the clear blue sky above and it felt like heaven.
‘Are you coming in too?’ we called. He didn’t join us but stood watching us happily. As we dried ourselves off afterwards, he told us, ‘That very good. You mustee remember, you need very relax mind for meditation. You very relaxed mind today.’ He chuckled happily to himself as we made our way back to the bus stop and home to the nunnery.
Karma Thinley Rinpoche sometimes let me sit alongside him all morning. One particular morning I remember sitting there hoping he would turn his attention to me and teach me something but instead he seemed to be ignoring me as one nun after another, young and old, came in to talk to him. They didn’t seem to have anything urgent to ask, yet he seemed more interested in just hanging out with them than engaging in anything important.
He got very enthusiastic about cutting out paper patterns with one of the younger nuns and tried to get me interested. I felt very frustrated because I had come to learn about my mind. I needn’t have come all this way to just hang out and mess about with paper cut-outs. He clearly noticed that I was getting frustrated but was not going to be influenced by that. I was not sure how to take this so I said, ‘Whenever I start to ask Dharma questions you change the subject, but if I talk about something trivial you are all ears.’ He looked at me wide-eyed and said, ‘Yes – that is true.’
There was nothing for it but to drop any attempt to control the situation and yet to remain open. Nevertheless, I still got impatient. He told me to go to his room at the top of the hill and he would come. I waited around for hours but he didn’t come. When eventually I saw him again he was not bothered about having kept me waiting. This was how I learnt that impatience and preconceived ideas were not going to get me anywhere. I either had to give up my expectations or go away. It was sobering.
My relationship with Karma Thinley Rinpoche was on his terms only. He had nothing to lose – he was not hiding anything. If I were to walk off, I would lose and that was all there was to it. Something about his uncompromising genuineness held me there. I didn’t think he was deliberately testing me. He was just being completely open with me, as if to say, ‘This is the moment, this is how I am and this is how it is. You either learn from that or you don’t.’
Even my getting impatient and feeling irritated was just how it was. No problem. He was showing me my mind here and now. The situations he created mirrored my own habits of mind back to me in very telling ways. His lessons were often extremely subtle, as he drew my attention to false assumptions and ways of thinking that we normally take totally for granted.”
Lama Shenpen Hookham
This is an excerpt from Keeping the Dalai Lama Waiting & Other Stories – An English Woman’s Journey to Becoming a Buddhist Lama – it is available from all local and online book sellers – ISBN 9781399910491 and is also available from Amazon as a paperback, kindle or audiobook. More information and links to more excerpts, click here.
[Words and images are copyrighted material, permission granted by the publishers/author required before reproducing]
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