Before the wrath of Katrina washed lost dogs into Dakini Valley, altering its texture forever, I lived here on my own. For the most part, anyhow - although one is never truly alone, if you open your eyes, ears and heart. Certainly my beloved Gypsy Rose was a living tangible presence who helped me through some tough times.
In the second year of my residence, another ordained came to live here for a period of time, as a fix-it guy; an incredibly handy and kind monk. Although we had different roles and tasks to accomplish, we worked together whenever was needed. We both wished to maintain the beauty of Jetsunma's retreat home, and recognise the sacredness of the Valley. At the beginning it was a wonderful time, but one of the potencies of this Valley is that it brings forth aspects of yourself that might otherwise lie hidden. It amplifies the clutter and reactions of the mind, so you can see and taste them more clearly. On top of that, in those days life here was very basic - no electricity, no phone, certainly no Internet access. It was a challenging environment in many ways. And although as ordained, we perhaps try and be more conscious of our behavior and view, having robes also helps to ripen circumstances and reactions, as with a magnifying glass.
So over time our relationship soured, to a place of tension, discomfort and certainly not one of friendship. For my part, in retrospect, I understand the degeneration a little better now, the aspects of myself that contributed to the decay of kindness. But at the time, as is so often the case, we were simply embroiled in a dance that brought no-one benefit.
Jetsunma came on retreat at some point during this, and of course was aware from the moment she arrived - before even seeing either of us - that something at the Valley was terribly wrong. To my heartbreak, she said that it was the first time she had come to the Valley and felt sad; and the cause of that was my lack of devotion. When her attendant passed this on to me, I was stunned. I cannot describe how it felt - shock, horror, anguish. My heart torn out. The realisation that I had no idea what devotion truly is, nor that it can be absent and you be unaware of its disappearance. It has nothing to do with what anything looks like from the outside, and is so subtle that even inside it can fall into a dark crevasse and you never know. I did not doubt for one second that it was true - because the greatest blessing in my life is Jetsunma, and I know and trust her in a way that transcends any relationship of this world. She is my breath, my thought, my awareness, my life. Through her presence in my world, I have begun to learn about the truth of existence in a language without expression, but one of absolute certainty and clarity because it is inscribed on every cell of this, my body.
Jetsunma - in her boundless kindness - on hearing of the tension that had manifested between us put some very practical solutions in place, as well as passing on messages to us both. She moved me down to live in the original homesteaders cabin, so that we had space from each other. When I thanked her, sobbing, for showing me how hard and dry my heart had become, she said "I want you back. It shows you what a difference one heart can make."
The other instruction - told to me 3 times, to make sure i really got it - was that I was to watch videos. Not teaching, Dharma videos, but movies; things to make me relax, to soften my rigid mind. It may seem like an odd request, but that is the magnificence of a teacher as pure as Jetsunma, that you can be sure whatever it is she offers, it is the only thing to do.
I think it can be challenging for us in the west to understand the Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhist path, which pivots on - and only on - the relationship between student and teacher. This is the foundation and the source of accomplishment of everything. And it may not look 'spiritual' as we would like to comfortably define it - practice, prayers, contemplation of teachings. It will simply look like whatever is needed and appropriate, and that can be anything.
So, I diligently watched videos from Jetsunma's collection here - and it was fun! I have never been much of a movie goer, and of course had taken my 'spiritual path' pretty seriously; now I could let my non-existent hair down, and feel OK about it. Not all of the movies were maybe my taste, yet as they were from Jetsunma's personal library, each was food for thought.
What quickly became my favorite was the massive collection of Star Trek, Deep Space Nine; I soon became a resident there, knowing the people and places as if it were my hometown. I savoured each episode, enjoying the script, the visuals and most especially the thought provoking story lines: about time, space, reality, existence, conflict, race - often providing a contemplation that followed the contours of the Buddhist Path, without being an overt, traditional teaching. I loved it, watching them in random order, so that early episodes would arise after later ones, proving how it had developed over time into a rich community where actors seemed to become their characters. My favorites (for any DS9 trekkies) were perhaps the fringe dwellers, who displayed facets and edges of personality that defied simple categorisation: Quark, Ducat, Garrick (apologies for spelling inaccuracies). Something about them - the fact that on the surface they may seem unpleasant or untrustworthy, yet certain situations would prove the complexity of who they were: that there is no simple good or bad in anyone, but layers of habit and potential.
Worf, too - the mighty Klingon warrior, struggling astride the divide of culture and history that was never easy to reconcile. How many times is that played out in real life, as we try to come to terms with how we have been brought up, what we feel, how we now live and who we choose to walk this life with. Day in, day out we have opportunities to see and learn ourselves as complex beings, with trembling, confused hearts, trying to make sense of our lives.
The phrase at the beginning of this post, which I laughingly discovered on edamommy's contemplative blog, where Buddhism is explored in many ways, may have been written by Worf himself, as a method to uncurl the hardened corners of his heart. It is the mantra of Chenrezig, om mani pedme hung, written in Klingon! I loved discovering this, because it opens every door, blurs the lines, makes you think. And invites you to simply laugh. Nothing is fixed, nothing is real. The potency of Chenrezig and the compassion he displays will permeate time and space in possible and impossible ways. Nothing is immune - no race, no language, no country - whether they exist or not, it doesn't matter. The possibility and potential is ever present, everywhere, all the time. Right now, as you breathe: there it is. That's the joy!
Watching the videos was a process of contemplation and devotion on many levels, beyond my understanding. I learned a little more about myself, about the breadth this spiritual path encompasses, of needing to soften and relax so that the rigid chinks of what I believe to be true, or just so, can break apart. The armour of resistance or supposition or unarguable definition or 'i am right' with which we clothe ourselves on a daily basis, often has nothing to do with the essence of compassion and wisdom that is our true nature. But we don't see that, because we live inside it and just accept it to be our reality. It isn't. Somehow seeing that precious mantra in Klingon is a tease, reminding us not be be fixed in our views of what is possible. Because anything is.