With My Teachers Again
This is the eleventh in a series of reminiscences by Ven. Lama Lodu Rinpoche
With the money my kind benefactor had given me at Pangang, I got a bus from the village of Kulu to the railhead at Pathankot, near Dharamsala, and planned to take the train from there to Sonada. On my near-disastrous journey from Sonada to Pathankot a little more than two years before, my money had been taken from me by a dishonest railway guard so I was forced to make my way by hook or by crook, sneaking onto trains and hiding from the conductors. This time, I decided to conceal my money inside my clothes and to sneak onto the train again, using the devious skills I had learned the first time around.
Just as two years before, I got onto the train without buying a ticket, got kicked off when the conductor came around, then crept right back on again into a different car, managing to avoid the officials for the rest of the trip. Finally arriving at Jalpaiguri, an exit guard demanded to see my ticket, and when I said I had none, told me he’d let me go if I gave him ten rupees. I was really glad I had had the foresight to hide most of my money, remembering the fleecing I had gotten two years ago, and I happily paid this bribe. After the guard took my money and told me to shove off, I was feeling pretty smart coming all this way for only ten rupees!
From Jalpaiguri I made the three-hour trip to Sonada by hired jeep and was finally reunited with my beloved teacher Kalu Rinpoche, who asked if I had had any trouble on the trip. I told him about my escapades and the ten rupee fare and was surprised to see a look of disappointment come to his face. He told me that this was a good example of human nature: when I had no money I learned by necessity to cheat; but when I had plenty of money, I still cheated, even though the necessity was gone. How easily we get into the habit of wanting more and more for ourselves and how quickly this leads to more and more suffering. He said this was the way ordinary people might behave but that it was not the way for a monk. His gentle disapproval made me feel ashamed, especially when I realized I had actually expected him to be impressed by my cleverness! This was a lesson I never forgot.
I told Kalu Rinpoche about the situation at Pangang and how even though my benefactor was ready to keep his promise and take care of me no matter what; I felt I was a financial burden on him and that I could no longer accomplish what I had been sent there to do. He understood why I had returned and after staying at Sonada a month, told me to go to Rumtek and report to His Holiness about my two years at Pangang.
I traveled to Sikkim and reported to the Karmapa, who told me I had done the right thing: as long as there was work for me at Pangang I did it; when there was no longer work, I left. He did say that if I had written to him explaining the situation, he would have sent me to another monastery. But now that I was there, I could stay and do the New Year’s Mahakala practice with him.
Back at Sonada, Kalu Rinpoche appointed me chanting master and teacher to the resident monks, and I served in this way for the next seven years, sometimes also traveling with Kalu Rinpoche as his attendant. Toward the end of those years, I had a mysterious visit one day by the Karmapa’s personal attendant who had come all the way from Rumtek. He came in to my classroom while I was teaching, took a picture of me, asked for my signature on a tiny slip of paper and then disappeared with no explanation. When I asked Kalu Rinpoche what this was all about, he just laughed.
I forgot the incident until several months later when Kalu Rinpoche called me to his room and handed me a little booklet which I was amazed to see had my photograph and signature pasted inside. He said that he and His Holiness were thinking of sending me to teach in the West and that I would need this document for my travel. This was the first time I had ever seen a passport!
He also said I would be receiving some paperwork from a lama named Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who wanted to sponsor my visa to come and teach Buddhism in the United States. I hardly knew what to think about all this, but I had complete faith in my teacher and before long we went together to Denmark, where I received some more unexpected news.
Evidently, the offer of sponsorship from Trungpa Rinpoche had come with the specific condition that before being allowed to teach in the US, I would have to first spend five years learning English at an American school. When the Karmapa learned of this he was displeased and said “I am sending my disciple to America to teach Americans, not to be taught by them!” Kalu Rinpoche and His Holiness both felt it would not be appropriate for me to study English and so it was decided that I would remain in Denmark and serve as lama to this new and growing sangha.
The hundreds of young Europeans who had flocked to Kalu Rinpoche’s teachings suddenly dwindled to a few dozen once Rinpoche had gone home, and my new students seemed as puzzled as I was about what to do next. I spoke five or six words of English and not a single word of Danish and my job was to explain the inner teachings of the Vajrayana! So here I was, alone again, in what seemed to me the strangest and most distant corner of the world, with only my teachers’ blessings to guide me.
Lama Lodu Rinpoche's Autobiography