THE KALACHAKRA IN AMERICA
(This is the 20th in a series of reminiscences by Lama Lodu Rinpoche)
Toward the end of his life, His Holiness the Karmapa had entrusted His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche with two things he wished to be done after his death. The first was that Kalu Rinpoche would bestow the Rinchen Terdzod instructions and empowerments upon His Holiness’s four regents, the Eminences Shamar Rinpoche, Situ Rinpoche, Gyaltsap Rinpoche and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.
The Rinchen Terdzod, or “Treasury of Precious Termas,” is one of the Five Great Treasures of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great and comprises a vast body of highest and most esoteric tantric wisdom. It was of the greatest importance to His Holiness that these teachings be passed directly from Kalu Rinpoche to the Karmapa’s regents because in his next incarnation, His Holiness would in turn need to receive the teachings back from the four Eminences. His Holiness had been able to pass on most of the Five Great Treasures to his regents but time was running out and when he was hospitalized in Hong Kong in 1981, he gathered them together with Kalu Rinpoche and presented his wish that no one but Kalu Rinpoche would pass on the remaining teachings to his four dharma heirs.
His Holiness’s second wish was that Kalu Rinpoche would undertake to present the complete Kalachakra initiation in the United States. Kalu Rinpoche carried out this wish in 1982, when he gave the five-day Kalachakra initiation to more than a thousand participants in New York City. This event was organized under the auspices of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, His Holiness’s seat in the United States, led by KTD president Tenzin Chonyi and its abbot, Khenpo Kartar Rinpoche.
I was at the initiation in New York along with many other lamas, khenpos and tulkus and almost as soon as I returned home to San Francisco I began to receive requests that the Kalachakra be given in San Francisco as well, since for various reasons many people had not been able to attend the ceremonies in New York. I conveyed these wishes to Kalu Rinpoche, who agreed, and the second Kalachakra initiation to be performed in the US was organized by KDK and held the following year in San Francisco, once again bringing together more than a thousand dharma students and prominent teachers from all over the world.
We rented the Kabuki Theater in Japantown and sold every ticket to this momentous event. The ceremonies were conducted by His Eminence with the assistance of the same chanting master, Omdze Zopa of Palpung Monastery, who had led the chanting in New York. His Eminence Chagdu Tulku Rinpoche was there, as well as many Gelupga geshes, and Chogyam Trungpa’s eldest son, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. There were representatives of all schools of Buddhism from many countries and all the major Vajrayana sects—there were even some Hindu participants.
As always, Kalu Rinpoche attracted people not only in great numbers but also in a wide spectrum from the lowest to the highest in society. For example, Senator Dianne Feinstein—who was mayor of San Francisco at the time—and her husband Richard Blum, came to pay their respects to His Eminence, but at the same time, many homeless and lowly people were also drawn to this event. I had seen this before in many other settings: wherever Kalu Rinpoche went, you would see both the high and mighty as well as the low and humble, and he always, without fail, treated everyone with the same gentle kindness, regardless of their rank or social standing.
Another thing that repeatedly amazed me was that whenever someone would ask His Eminence a question he did not know the answer to—maybe something about male-female relationships, or on some scientific or political subject—he never hesitated to say, “I don’t know.” I know personally how hard it is to resist the urge to guess or just make something up, but Kalu Rinpoche was always the first to admit when he didn’t know something. This modesty was just one of his countless beautiful qualities.
The Kalachakra lasted for five days. On the first day, His Eminence gave the preliminary initiations and explanations of the three yanas and the various stages of the path. He explained that what we were about to receive was the highest and most profound tantric teaching ever given by the Shakyamuni Buddha in this world and had been passed along in an unbroken lineage up to the present time. On the second day he gave the initiations with commentary and there were traditional lama dances. On days three and four he gave the actual supreme empowerments and on the fifth day was the conclusion and ganachakra offering, along with daily practice instructions and the scripture transmission. Rinpoche’s relative gentleness combined with his absolute realization gave great power to his words and made them able to penetrate directly into the consciousness of those present. I believe that everyone who took part in them had a deep and life-changing experience during those rare and memorable five days.
Once the Kalachakra initiation was over and Kalu Rinpoche had consecrated our new center on Fell Street, he started to get ready to return to India, but before he left he told me he wanted me to start making plans for conducting a traditional three-year retreat here. On first hearing this, I was pretty overwhelmed by the thought of such an enormous task and I wasn’t sure if I—or my students—were ready for it. But we had already purchased the land near Eugene, Oregon, which could serve as a retreat center, and there was already a small core of serious and devoted students who might soon be able to take such a major step. So I realized once again that, as always, my precious teacher was absolutely right and had identified the perfect time and place for planting the next seed of dharma in American soil.