(This is the 22nd in a series of reminiscences by Lama Lodu Rinpoche)
About a year after my students went into retreat in Oregon, Kalu Rinpoche came to Los Angeles for a week at the invitation of the resident teacher there, Lama Wangchen Rinpoche.
As soon as I saw him, I noticed that Kalu Rinpoche was not strong and healthy, which caused me great concern. I asked him if he would consider shortening the series of teachings he planned to give, the Five Tantric Deities initiation and the expanded form of the Wrathful and Peaceful Deitites practice. As an ordinary person who did not know my teacher’s realized mind, it seemed to me that such long, complex teachings would be hard on him in his weakened physical condition.
Kalu Rinpoche did not give me an answer but he went on to give the teachings exactly as planned. While assisting him, I saw to my amazement that the more rigorous the teachings, the stronger he seemed to become. He was absolutely charming, brilliant, and full of life and humor throughout the many days of intense instructions. Once they were completed, he spent a few days at the house of a Chinese devotee and once again seemed to become tired and weak.
I had witnessed an elderly, weak and perhaps sick man who, in the process of transmitting these high teachings, became transformed into one who was perfectly healthy and vibrant. In seeing this, I understood that I was incapable of comprehending my teacher’s enlightened mind and I knew that I was in the presence of an accomplished vajradhara. The impact of this glimpse into Kalu Rinpoche’s true nature has stayed with me all my life.
The Oregon retreatants had asked me to invite Kalu Rinpoche to visit them at the retreat center in Marcola and I was getting calls almost every hour from the retreat cook, who repeated their heartfelt requests. So, with some hesitation, I asked Kalu Rinpoche if he would come to Oregon to see them. He replied that he had already given the retreatants all he had to give them and told me that I was now the instrument that could further their progress. He had done his part and now the responsibility rested with me and my helper Lama Tsangtsing. He sent them pictures, blessing cords, and his kind assurance that if their practice was sincere, he would never be apart from them.
I went to the airport on the day Kalu Rinpoche left LA to return to India, and I noticed that he seemed physically better and was, as usual, completely charming and natural as he talked and joked with those around him. Lama Tsangtsing, the Oregon retreat master, was with us and was quietly sitting in meditation. As Kalu Rinpoche was preparing to leave, he looked at Lama Tsangtsing and said that he was glad to see him meditating, told him to sustain his practice in just this way and that he must say goodbye to him and leave right away.
Even though Kalu Rinpoche seemed well at that moment, I had a deep premonition that I might never see this enlightened being again. I didn’t fully understand it then, but it now seems to me that he was gently letting me know that he was nearly ready to leave his body. There at the airport, surrounded by noisy activity and rushing people, my teacher showed me the quality of his perfect mind, the truth of impermanence, and the inherent unreality of existence. This was, in fact, the last time I would see Kalu Rinpoche in this life.