Rinpoche’s final words to Kay were "You and David have my blessings. Go to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama to find out what to do next in your spiritual practice."
Rinpoche’s blessing was the cause of our meeting with the Dalai Lama just over a year later, but the condition for it was the end of my teaching contract with Kennedy University. That rather unpleasant experience was to reveal to me that what looks like a disaster from one perspective can be a profound opportunity, even a blessing, from another perspective.
Dharamsala is the second wettest spot in India, and we spent over a month enduring the monsoon rains of the late summer of 1992 while we waited and hoped for a personal meeting with the Dalai Lama. Then suddenly one morning the message came that a time had opened up that afternoon if we wanted to come. Of course we did, and in the early afternoon took a taxi to His Holiness' palace. It was called a "palace" as a matter of respect, for in actuality it was just a complex of simple, low buildings and bungalows. We were greeted at the wrought iron gates by Tibetan and Indian guards who escorted us into a small one room octagonal brick building set in the wall by the gates. There they recorded our passport numbers and searched us. We were told that a last minute interview had been scheduled with some Australian journalists, and this would delay our meeting. I passed the time alternately feeling nervous and excited. Sometimes I tried to read the Tibetan literature scattered on the tables in the room, or admired the blue Tibetan carpets set on the narrow benches built into the eight sides of the room. Then I would remember to try to compose my mind for the meeting. In a few minutes it would wander again or I would make some brief comment to Kay or just look around the room. Sixteen persons could sit comfortably on the benches, but there was no one there besides us.
Finally a secretary came for us and led us up a low hill to the bungalow where the Dalai Lama held various meetings and audiences. We walked through beautiful grounds, well maintained and planted in bamboo, thick grass and various flowering shrubs and trees. We waited another fifteen minutes in the anteroom next to the audience room where His Holiness was talking with the Australian journalists. I remembered the room from my previous audiences. There were a number of display niches with various fine bronze or silver sculptures and several lovely paintings hung on the walls along with some awards which had been presented to His Holiness. The Tibetan carpet on the floor was of course lovely, and had the sort of understated design with large open spaces which was typical for the palace. It was in marked contrast to both the design and quality of the rugs for sale in town. The chairs were large and upholstered, though a bit frayed at the edges. In one way it all seemed familiar. Yet something just beyond my awareness seemed different.
Finally I placed it: I could not hear any screeching birds. As the compound was on the top of a hill, hawks, eagles and vultures often cruised in the updrafts over the compound, and their cries created a sense of tangible, almost solid spaciousness over and around the compound. To me their cries had defined the borders of a space which had seemed filled with a special atmosphere generated by His Holiness. In this space time seemed to flow at a different rate, actions seemed to have an increased significance and the space itself seemed filled with a peaceful and slightly blissful quality. It was if the Dalai Lama’s mind filled the compound and the space above it, and at those moments when he and I both had heard the bird cries our minds had merged in that space. This time, as Kay and I waited, there were no bird cries. To me their absence now was as tangible as their presence had been.
Finally the secretary returned and escorted us out another door of the waiting room onto the covered porch which connected the anteroom with the audience room. On the open side of the porch flowering pink bougainvillea hung thickly below the roof line. Potted plants were scattered along the edge of the floor. His Holiness was on the far end saying goodbye to the journalists. The secretary held his arm out for us to wait as His Holiness finished his good-byes and made some comments to his appointments secretary. They reentered the audience room and a few minutes later our attendant escorted us in.
This small overlap of appointments gave us a last opportunity to compose ourselves by admiring the flowers.
His Holiness was standing and waiting for us as we walked in. We offered ceremonial scarves and bundles of incense to him, and he motioned us to sit on a couch beside his own chair. His translator sat across from us, ready should he be needed, although His Holiness' English was more than adequate to the needs of our conversation.
I had an impression that the room was lovely and well appointed with paintings and sculptures. But because all my attention was focused on His Holiness, and especially his eyes, I barely saw what was in the room. Only the white cloth slipcovers on the chairs and couches really registered in my attention.
As usual, His Holiness was deeply engaging and remarkably present with us. Yet, paradoxically, while his attention seemed completely with us, at the same time it seemed completely elsewhere. His eyes were deep and sparkling, inviting me to enter them and see him, yet at the same time I felt too shy to look too closely for too long.
Now, as we spoke of the reason for our visit, our grief over Tara Rinpoche's death came to the surface. His Holiness reminisced about Rinpoche with us and recalled "what a nice lama he had been," how the praise and love of those around him "had only made him more humble." He reminded us that our lama was with us whether in a physical body or not and that such a distinction was of no particular relevance.
As to what we should do next in our spiritual practice, His Holiness suggested a retreat on our meditational deity, the fierce form of Manjushri. I'd already told him we'd done four such retreats under the supervision of Tara Rinpoche, but now I expressed some concern about doing this fifth retreat, as we had never done one on our own. Could he suggest a "spiritual friend" who could give us guidance? He suggested two: Geshe Wangdrak, the current Abbot of Namgyal, His Holiness’s monastery, and Denma Locho Rinpoche, the former Abbot of Namgyal.
His Holiness recalled for us Tara Rinpoche's last visit to him before his death. Extremely sick with advanced stomach cancer, Rinpoche had traveled from Bombay to Delhi, and then from Delhi to Dharamsala. His Holiness said that during their meeting Tara Rinpoche "never thought of himself or his own suffering. He only thought of my welfare." Tears came to our eyes, oddly mixed with our smiles and joy as we reminisced about Tara Rinpoche with His Holiness. Then his posture shifted a bit and he said that it sometimes scared him that people put such faith in him. As we felt the weight he carried, I began to feel a deep concern for him, even a fear for his health and welfare. It was not hard to understand how it was that Tara Rinpoche had felt the same thing, though it was a measure of Rinpoche's practice that he felt it in spite of his own pain and imminent death. By the end of our meeting my devotion to His Holiness had been renewed. Simultaneously, my devotion had become another burden to be carried by the Ocean Lama and the foundation for my forthcoming retreat.
Giving us scarves and small statues of the Buddha, which he first blessed, he took our hands and escorted us to the door, telling us that we would be in Dharamsala a long time and to come back and see him if we had something important to discuss.
We walked down the path to the gate of the palace very carefully, as our legs seemed weak. Now there was no escort. I held Kay's arm. We shared private "knowing" smiles that spoke of our good fortune. As we stepped out the palace gate into the debate courtyard I felt that even if we were to leave India tomorrow, the trip would have been worth it.
But we would not leave that quickly, for in the half hour of our meeting the course of our entire trip was changed. We had been traveling on around-the-world tickets, beginning our journey with several months in England and Ireland. We had been anticipating a month's stay in Dharamsala, to be followed by seven months of travel throughout India and Southeast Asia before returning to San Francisco. But we followed his advice and in a natural flow first our travel was postponed for a one month retreat, and then our one month retreat became a three month retreat, and then our whole eight months in Asia ended up being spent in Dharamsala, most of it on the grounds of His Holiness’s monastery.
This was a manifestation of the Dalai Lama’s wisdom and blessings. But, having been in his extraordinary presence, it was not hard to have faith in his guidance, and act upon it by abandoning our plans. And unknown to us, the seed of yet a further blessing was wrapped in the Dalai Lama’s advice, for his guidance sent us to Denma Locho Rinpoche. And in time, Locho Rinpoche would become our second personal lama.