Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Dear Reader:
Rinpoche composed the following quite recently and asked that it be posted here. He also said that he will be unable to continue actively contributing to this web log, as his health no longer permits him to make the effort. The following should therefore be regarded as his way of thanking everyone for their readership. I will post it in stages, as it is not quite finished, and he is sending parts to me as he is able.


When my daughter and I
went to Lotus Lake
we saw a red dragonfly,
beautiful for but a moment.
Some fleeting things you remember

I wrote that snippet of verse four years ago and then it wrote itself again this morning when a red dragonfly visited me. That is impossible, you know? Red dragonflies are not in their season.

So what do you think? Should we examine the red dragonfly, or just leave it alone?

Maybe we will do both.

I was thinking last night about my spiritual companions, in and out of uniform, and one picture came into my mind. It was of a rather strange little girl I used to know, many years ago.

I think it was around 1954 or 1955, and I was living alone with my parents, in the country. I did not have any playmates, and in fact never had any playmates, but I read books, and from books I learned that one is supposed to have friends when one is a child.

Therefore, when the little girl suddenly appeared one afternoon, I was not surprised. I asked her name, and when after a long interval she didn't reply, I asked if it would be alright if I could call her "Alice." To this proposal she neither agreed nor disagreed, so on the theory that silence implies consent, I began to call her Alice. That is how I have always referred to her in my mind, that is how I have written to her in my poetry, and that is how I will refer to her now.

Alice was a good listener. I have no independent recollection that Alice ever said anything at all, but she was a good listener. Sometimes, she would listen to me and then just sit there, looking at me while I stuttered, trying to further explain myself. Sometimes she would listen to me and then wordlessly get up and walk away. Occasionally, she would come back later -- maybe later in the evening, when I was in bed -- and she would listen as I offered all the things I should have said, but didn't.

Alice was of great comfort to me and grand solace for my loneliness. She provided me with endless hours of interest and diversion. I would try to imagine what her voice might sound like, if ever she would speak. I tried to imagine her singing. I tried to imagine where she went when she left me, and what would make her decide to appear. I spent an entire summer with Alice, sitting out by the pond in my backyard, watching red dragonflies buzzing over the water.

That was the summer Alice taught me about kindness. I would talk to her for hours about things that went right and things that went wrong. I would point out things to her, and to all of this she would listen so patiently, never making any judgment, never saying any word. It was by her quiet example that I came to realize what it is that human beings actually require for their happiness in this world. Alice taught me that kindness is really nothing more or less than patience.

Tick, tick, tick. There goes the clock, and there goes Tenpa through the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. The century turns, the life draws to a close, and for all of these years I have been telling my troubles to a little girl who has always listened and never judged. A little girl so compassionately skillful that she could make a coat for me from the colors of the past. So, today, I would like to thank her for many extraordinary kindnesses all of these years, and for the coat she made me, which I must now lay aside.

I lay it aside, because it does not make any sense at all to fight leaves on branches, nor branches swaying wildly in the wind, nor indeed the trees themselves. It only makes sense to cut the root.

Tarthang Rinpoche used to say, "Whatever you do, strongly do, and have no regrets." If are familiar with Tarthang Rinpoche, then you know he can speak very forcefully, even to the point of screaming. This is something he used to say very forcefully, so I took it very forcefully. I used that advice as an excuse to raise Hell, until I finally figured out what he meant. Likely as not, it means something different to you, but to me it means: why inculcate regret by failing to execute one's obligation to the welfare of others with anything less than spontaneously correct action? To put it another way: why leave open any possibility for regret?

You know, we all of us have these things that arise, and we rather wistfully say, "Oh, I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that." That's not necessarily what I mean by regret. Properly speaking, regret is the thought that one has failed to do something perfectly. In the case of our obligation to sentient beings, regret really means a kind of subtle, unspoken anger that we feel toward ourselves for not being Buddhas.

The thing is, you see, that all sentient are already Buddhas, so this anger is quite unnecessary. If we conduct ourselves with vigor, and if we sometimes fail to meet our catalogue of expectations, then at least we are consumed by noble endeavor as distinct from unnecessary anger. This thing called anger can be useful in other contexts but in this context it is self-destructive. This anger we have toward ourselves is in fact far more destructive than the anger we might feel toward others. You can say that the anger we have toward ourselves is in fact the very origin of the anger we feel toward others, and that collectively, these angers arise from the same root.

There are several ways to get rid of a tree. You can climb up in the tree and start lopping off branches. These branches fall to the ground, and then you can stuff them into a chipper and cart the whole mess away in a truck. In the alternative, you can chop the tree down like a woodsman, and do all your branch lopping and so forth while the thing is lying on the ground. In this case, you might have to come back later and dig up the stump, or haul it out by means of some contrivance. In Buddhism, about which I know very little, there is always this analogy of a tree and its roots, and we sometimes say that it is useful to cut the root of something. In America, about which I know even less, we sometimes use dynamite to simply blow the whole thing up and be done with it once and for all.

In American Buddhism, about which I know absolutely nothing, we just intellectualize the thing to the point of nausea.

I do not want people to know who I am. I only want the one called Tenpa to know who I am. I am not judged by people; neither do I judge myself. I am only judged by dakinis, and dakinis are merciless judges. There is in fact nothing to be judged but we can say that there is something to be examined. If you spend your time examining me, or reading this blog, then your time is wasted. Better you should spend it examining yourself.

I was leading up to something before I became too old and tired to play with Alice anymore. Regrettably, the sequence of thoughts was interrupted by a fit of coughing, which is very good training, because sooner or later the whole damn thing is going to be interrupted by a fit of coughing and I will go on vacation.

Specifically, I was thinking about Chatral Rinpoche's admonitions, and about Chatral Rinpoche generally. I was wondering what it would be like if someone in 21st century America actually tried to follow his advice: what it would be like to follow in his footsteps. This thought naturally led to other thoughts, like the rolling of a web log or the din of people-without-practice in the forums or the crap that starts when froggy goes a' courting.

And then that dragonfly visited me.

So, in conclusion, may I say that my lama thanks you, my yidam thanks you, my dakini thanks you, and I thank you. And the rabbit. Don't forget the rabbit.

After all, where would Alice be without him?

When my daughter and I
went to Lotus Lake
we saw sorrows burning,
blazing to better purpose.
Some things that cannot be consumed
are nonetheless extinguished

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4 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

You always give the teaching I need to hear. Thank you.

Dara said...

What Ani said :)

kunzang said...

Will not the earth remember a tree that has grown with noble endeavour, as will the sky and the wind that sang through its leaves. Nothing will be as it was, that tree will have nourished the earth from which it took strength, and the creatures who saught refuge in its presence, into a future of kindess.
By examing your words we can indeed examine ourselves. Thank you.

yeshe lhamo said...

In writing this blog, which you allow us to read, you indeed teach us how to examine ourselves...how to identify the poisons resulting from our delusions....and how to not identify with them.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, too.

How inadequate those words are...and how beside the point, as I suspect the Dakini would remind us. "Don't thank me," she will mercilessly and with infinite kindness say..If you want to thank me, here's what you do: Practice. Change. Love."