Answers to some of the questions about Cassia’s father’s reasons for intensely pursuing Tibetan Buddhism, first encountered in my Freakin’ Free Spirits novels, can be found in Yoga Bootcamp, my story about eight young American yogis living on a former farm in the mountains. While each student is at a different stage of discovery, their widely divergent motivations still lead to common struggles and victories. Nothing is easy, but the lessons are priceless.
Do you practice meditation? How about yoga exercises, chanting, or Zen? Any other spiritual exercises you care to discuss?
Cassia’s conversations with Rinpoche lead her to crucial new understandings of her father.
In earlier drafts of my novel What’s Left, I considered these possibilities, but rejected them as, well, too wordy, esoteric, or preachy:
Your Baba was on the cusp of some original thinking about Christ as Light, Rinpoche tells me. He was connecting that with an ancient line of Greek philosophy about a term known as Logos. It was all very, very exciting. He was seeing Christ as much more than the historic person of Jesus, much as we see Buddha as something much more than a historic person — you know, Gautama — too.
Well, that happens to be a hobbyhorse I ride. Let’s give her father a break!
Rimpoche continues. Your Baba had scorn for those who claim a personal spirituality without any disciplined tradition. He wanted to encourage people to delve into a practice — not that they’re all equal, but they have their own unique wisdom to impart — and that led to his organizing some fascinating ecumenical dialogues, ones that included your Orthodox priest, plus a rabbi, a Sufi or yogi, an evangelical, and so on.
Maybe we’d better leave all that for a later discussion? Cassia has more pressing questions, many of them regarding his photographs and family.
Throughout his monastic studies and labors, he’s pressed to concentrate totally on what’s happening in the moment. Even while sleeping. Looking through a lens would, according to Manoula, place a filter between full experience of that timeless breath and himself. It would place a mask across his face when he most needs to be fully naked, as it were. Who knows what he wears in the monastery, for that matter. We can guess from the photos he took later, on his return visits — and his portraits of his teacher and fellow practitioners. For now, he needs to see not just with his eyes — and his Third Eye — but also with his nose, tongue, lips, ears, and especially his fingers and extended skin. And from there, to embrace the eternal realities rather than the ephemeral illusions flickering and dashing around him. Through this stretch, he heeds fellow monks who create beautiful colored-sand mandalas and then scatter them to the wind rather than preserve their work. This emphasis on the present while pursuing eternal truth may seem to be a paradox, but he submits to the instruction and its flowing current.
So that, too, was filtered out of the final revisions. As was this:
Baba and Rinpoche had grown close when they were both residents in the monastery. Rinpoche was then just another of the aspirants, albeit a Tibetan refuge with a lineage. Their teacher blessed their venturing into the Heartland to establish the institute here, and Rinpoche, with his mastery of Himalayan languages, took up an offer to teach academic courses at the university while leading a spiritual community from the house.
Like Rinpoche, Cassia’s father was in many ways a teacher. In their case, they were dealing with ancient Buddhist lore. Good teachers, as you know, are rare.
In one of the early drafts of my novel What’s Left, I tried this perspective — which I removed from the final version of the book, feeling it was too preachy:
If our workroom was where we could act honorably under the eye of God, it was still no substitute for times of celebration and worship! No, we need to take time every day for prayer and the study of scripture. Just remember: work spent in activities that help our neighbors and enable us to come together for periods of common delight is quite different from anything I see in the realm of time cards or the Harvard Business School.
Whew! Let’s try to bring this back to everyday experience.
Is there somebody you encounter someplace during the day who makes you feel special? A coworker, cafe wait person, bus driver, teacher, friend? Do tell us!
Karma yoga, by the way, is explained in my novel Yoga Bootcamp. Work itself gets complicated, no?
A major influence on my work has been an awareness of the variables of place. When I lived in the ashram, my yoga teacher returned from her first trip to India and described with wonder her sensation that each locale there felt different – to the extent that each village or region had its own god or gods to embody its distinct character or, as she put it, vibration.
Fifty years later, having lived and worked in eight states, I can say that’s true in America, too, even though we’ve muddied much of the indigenous awareness. I’m especially convinced that people in deeply prayerful states do somehow leave an imprint on a place.
That sensation has unexpectedly led me to Quaker meetinghouses and burial grounds or arisen in the midst of conversation in old houses of worship.
In the Society of Friends, or Quakers, testimony and witness are synonyms. It’s what one does in one’s life, not what one says about the nature of faith or social stances. Here are some ways we practice this:
Open, Spirit-led worship. Traditionally, sitting together in silence, but many Friends today do have pastors and hymns within a loosely structured worship program.
Peace. It includes pacifism and non-violence, extending to speech.
Honesty. No oaths, which can lead to a double-standard of truthfulness.
Integrity. This means doing what we say.
No creeds or dogma. We speak from our own hearts and experience. We do, however, recognize doctrine (meaning sound teaching) as useful.
Queries. Use of questions and deep listening to guide actions and faith, rather than barking orders.
Equality and social justice. (You don’t have to be a protester, though, to be a member.)
No gambling. And no getting something for nothing, especially at another’s expense.
No voting to arrive at decisions. (Voting in public elections, however, is strongly encouraged.)
Simplicity. It’s more complicated than you’d think.