One day I was called to Kensington, California, where Sixteenth Karmapa was giving audience at the home of Lama Kunga Rinpoche. Those of you who were there that day may recall I arrived in haste, casually dressed.
The grand dakini named Shirabin was also there that day, waiting for me with another Rinpoche's golden robe. "Wear it!" she commanded. "Rinpoche said so!" So, I stood there like a perspiring penguin in a too-big robe, bantering with acquaintances. "Don't get a spot on that robe," scolded Shirabin. "He says he needs it right back to wear himself."
I wrote about this years ago, in a work originally titled Licensed to Laugh: Licensed to Cry, later excerpted, and re-titled "In California, They Sue:"
Many years ago, I went to visit the XVIth Karmapa. My friends all argued that I should show proper respect, and dress up for the occasion in a gold brocade robe. Therefore, I dressed up for the occasion although I felt a little silly. My reasoning was, it should not be necessary to visit the Karmapa as this or that, because the Karmapa is a come-as-you-are proposition.
Anyway, once I got there, somebody else said I should give him something. I did not have anything to give him because I thought he did not need anything. People insisted, so I scrambled around and I found a feather. I knew he liked birds, so when I came to see him, I gave him a feather.
The Karmapa accepted the feather, and lightly traced a line on my forehead with the tip. He did not say anything to me on this occasion and I did not say anything to him. That was the whole of the exchange.
We all left this venue and traveled to another venue where he was to give a lecture. On the way there, I was involved in an automobile accident, and I received a hairline fracture of the forehead that duplicated the line the Karmapa had traced.
So, should I tell people that the Karmapa once beat me up with a feather and fractured my head?
Such are the ways of this magical world. What mists, dreams, and illusions. What a gear-hopping motion picture.
Don't worry. It is all good.
I was young then, and in a daze. It could be that years passed. It could have been a flash. Suddenly, I was old.
I had a dream one night when I was old. So very special, I awoke and immediately memorialized it as "Dream of the Golden Feather," originally published for my birthday:
In the wee, small hours of today -- which is already my birthday in some parts of the world -- I had a lucid dream. The details are numerous, but the essential point was two magnificent dakinis of old came and made offering gestures with their hands. They wished me to touch their hands, as is done in empowerments, so I did so. They thereupon presented me with a magnificent golden feather. This feather seemed to come from the forehead of one of them.
Under ordinary circumstances, I would never mention such a thing, but since it would seem these are not ordinary circumstances, I wanted to make this record.
"When a single feather and a thousand worlds
Are equally this Space,
Who can say which contains which?
Who can find limits
To life's richness? "
Tarthang Rinpoche wrote that.
I yawned, went outside, and put up a prayer flag to the Medicine Buddha. Not an hour passed before I experienced a blow to the forehead that called for emergency evacuation.
Seemingly, I have a connection with the Karmapas that is powerfully and immediately beneficial, and has on numerous occasions contributed to my escape from serious injury. Above are not the only occasions I could speak of; there are others of a deeply personal nature. I do not know whether I should speak of them or not, so I let the doubt imply its own answer. Let others speak of these things what they will.
Leave it to say, he has come into my dreams, and into my visions: always when I need him the most. Does it surprise you to see the word, "need?" Please, study your own devotion. Make up your own definitions of "need." Every time I have ever called upon him, he has come in force. This occurs over a period of decades. There are numerous contemporary instances.
Time flies faster than eagles who drop the feathers we have found. Mistakes are made and tears do fall. The time flew away, high into the sky, and it stalled there in joy like a raven on the strong April winds.
Sunlight streamed through the mountains as I went to meet, for the first time in this life, the Seventeenth Karmapa. Down into the valley of flowers and fruit trees, I did swirl to see the one I have been addressing in my mind for centuries.
My robe this time showed no care, it was worn, and dirty: as undeserved as the golden robe wore by a self-conscious boy not yet twenty years of age, those years past in Kensington. This time, I had small gifts for him, but my hands shook so much from the unaccustomed exertion, I asked him to help me.
So, that is when we looked into one another's eyes again. I forgot how to do prostrations. I fell to the ground, dead stunned, because it was the unmistaken reincarnation of the Sixteenth Karmapa looking back at me.
So, then --
If you held someone, even a long time ago... if you really held them with your heart, even it was only a moment, you could hold them after a thousand years in the dark and still know who you were holding.
May all of you come to know what it means to be picked up by eternal eyes.
Feathers fall around you, and show you the way.
--with great faith, for the benefit of others--