The Dharma Bus
This is the 14th in a series of reminiscences by Ven. Lama Lodu Rinpoche
His Holiness’s tour of Europe had begun in England, in the autumn of 1975, and proceeded to Denmark, where I joined his entourage, and from there went on to most of the countries of western Europe, including Norway, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, and Switzerland.
All along the way His Holiness conducted many elaborate ceremonies and initiations, such as the Black Crown ceremony, Medicine Buddha initiation, Avalokiteshvara, and Manjushri initiations, etc., which had never been given before in the West. Everywhere we went great numbers people would come to experience the Dharma and to lay their eyes for the first time upon an incarnated Buddha. These were unique and historic occasions and they were often attended by high European officials, political and spiritual leaders, and even heads of state.
The Tibetan entourage traveled together in a big bus and the atmosphere was always festive. In addition to His Holiness, there was Tengha Rinpoche who acted as vajra master, Akung Rinpoche who was head translator and in charge of logistics, the karma master who took care of the altars and torma-making, a person who oversaw the preparation of food, a person in charge of housekeeping and lodging, additional translators, a chanting master, a person in charge of musical instruments, and other roles comprising this mobile Tibetan monastery. It was my job to work with Bardo Tulku Rinpoche, who was in charge of setting up the throne, and I also assisted the ritual master, Gyaltsen Lobzang, with his complex ceremonial responsibilities.
Behind the bus was a trail of cars that grew longer every day. Everywhere we stopped, Europeans of all ages and descriptions would be so moved by their experience of His Holiness that they would drop whatever they were doing to follow him. By the time we got to Switzerland, the last stop on this amazing journey, there must have been a hundred vehicles from a dozen different countries streaming behind the bus. The halls that had been booked were not big enough to hold the crowds. Also, since Switzerland had been the first country to offer resettlement to Tibetan refugees, there were many Tibetans in the audiences there. It was both unexpected and yet quite natural to see these Tibetan faces in this dramatic, mountainous landscape that greatly resembled Tibet.
Our bus would stop at a roadside café or gas station and local people would gather around to look at the strange foreigners. His Holiness sometimes seemed attracted to a certain spot as if he had a karmic appointment with someone there. He was always so natural and friendly with the curious locals who came to look at him. Once in a German café, a stout waitress was so impressed by him the she was overcome with joy, saying she felt as if she had known him always. “I love you,” she said with tears in her eyes. “Good, good, good”, he beamed back to her one of the few English words he knew. It was not unusual to see such a sudden display of tears, laughter and love from the simple country people we met along the way.
We had arrived in Stockholm on Christmas Eve and had been welcomed there by a group of Swedish people who had formed a sangha. At one point the Swedish couple who were the head of this group approached His Holiness and told him they would like to have a full-time resident teacher and they hoped it could be me. They thought if I was to continue as lama in Denmark, maybe I could be allowed to work half the year in Copenhagen and half in Stockholm, but what they really hoped for was that I could work year-round in Stockholm. They would provide me with a translator, a place to live and anything else I might need. The Danish couple I had been working with in Copenhagen, who were among the followers of the entourage, were understandably not very happy with this proposal. His Holiness said he would think about it.
Weeks later in Zurich, our final destination, His Holiness summoned me and presented a letter he had prepared stating my qualifications and experience in very positive terms and recommending me as a spiritual teacher. I was astonished and overjoyed to receive this gesture of approval from my revered guru—it was like receiving an unexpected report card with all A’s! Shortly after this, he called me and the Swedish couple to him and told us he wanted me to go to Stockholm and work full-time as the resident lama there. He had already talked to the Danish group and told them he would send another lama to Copenhagen. At last the decision was made that would determine my fate for the foreseeable future. I felt that His Holiness’s decision was the right one for all of us.
Lama Lodu Rinpoche with Bardo Tulku Rinpoche
Lama Lodu Rinpoche's Autobiography