Kopan and Kathmandu

It was the most amazing New Year ever, crossing into Nepal in a bullock cart at sunrise. The sky was ablaze, the haze and dust in the air heightened the reds and oranges of the sun. It was New Year’s Day, 1976, sure to be a super year, and as it turned out, it was.

During that last term in Madagascar I heard from my friend Peter. He was now in Nepal studying Tibetan Buddhism with Lama Yeshe at the Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu. Randy Dodge, who was still living at the house, was attracted to going to India and Nepal. He had been practicing Yoga for several years and was also interested in Buddhism. I was interested in Nepal but somehow fearful of India. I knew deep down that it could grab me and not let me go. By this time, Voahangy had gone to Brussels to join her U.N. boyfriend. Rickey was making arrangements to go to university in France. Randy and I were busy changing Malagasy francs into U.S. dollars with the Indian money changers and making preparations for our trip to the sub-continent.

Randy and I had discovered that there was an Indian passenger ship that traveled from Mauritius to Bombay and so made plans to go to Mauritius and leave for India from there. I said goodbye to my home for two years and a people that will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Thirty-three years after first arriving in Madagascar, I finally made a trip back with my wife, Amido in 2006. She loves the place as much as I do. Many things looked the same, although Tana was a bit of a shock. In 1975, the population of Madagascar was around eight million; in 2006, it was sixteen million and most of those are now in Tana. I have never seen so many kids.

The ship we took had several classes of travel. I think Randy and I took the next to last. It was not too bad really, dormitory style with bunk beds. The food was good. There was both a vegetarian line and a non-vegetarian line. We used the vegetarian line for lunch and dinner and the non-veg for breakfast because we wanted eggs. The trip took several days and on the way we were treated to Indian movies. That was the first time I had ever seen a Bollywood production. Treated is probably not very accurate because the sound system was terrible and it was way too loud. The days were spent on the deck watching the sea go by and reading Herman Hess’s The Glass Bead Game. So, after another trip across the Indian Ocean we arrived in Bombay, India.

In Bombay, we stayed at the Salvation Army Hostel. On the streets were quite a few wasted westerners wandering around. We didn’t really expect that to be our fate but it was a good heads up. We were both interested in getting up to Nepal as soon as possible and decided to take a train out to a good place to begin hitchhiking from. We didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t hitch in India. On our very first ride we had a surprise. A truck stopped. It was open in the back and we just needed to climb up and jump in. We threw our backpacks over the rail and climbed up and landed in a truck bed of manure. It wasn’t very wet so we just shrugged our shoulders and we were on our way.

After a couple of days traveling, we were ready to enter Nepal. We had arrived in the border town too late to be able to cross that day. We would have to wait for the next day. It just happened to be New Year’s Eve. I don’t think we made any festivities but just awaited our trip into Nepal in the morning.

After arriving in Kathmandu, we found our way to Freak Street where I knew Peter was staying in a guest house. Randy and Peter had never met. Peter had already left Madagascar by the time Randy showed up. Peter was very much into his exploration into Tibetan Buddhism. He was involved in a course that was being offered at the Kopan Monastery on the outskirts of the city. One day we went with him to visit and had a short chat with Lama Yeshe over a cup of tea. He offered his cup which we shared. He was a very kind man with a boyish grin. There were many westerners involved in the meditation teachings at the time but for some reason I wasn’t drawn to joining.

Randy and I went on to Pokhara in order to do a trek. In those days Pokhara hadn’t really become a big scene like it is today. On the sides of Lake Phewa were a few guest houses. Nearby was a Tibetan refugee camp and so a few Tibetans would set up on the paths and sell their goods. I bought a Tibetan mala and some pieces of coral with holes drilled in them for stringing on a mala. The guest house was very simple but I remember a nice garden and of course the views were incredible of both the lake and the mountains, a truly idyllic scene. There was a Japanese couple staying in the guest house that I noticed. She was very sweet and soft and he was intense with the stern look of a samurai. I would meet this couple again and they would get new names and become Geeta and Asanga.

-purushottama

This story is from a collection of stories and essays from along the Way titled From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva.

Osho and the 16th Karmapa

16th Karmapa performing Black Crown Ceremony
16th Karmapa performing Black Crown Ceremony

The first time I heard the name Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was on a bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu. My friend Randy, (who had traveled with me to India and Nepal from Madagascar), and I were trekking on the Annapurna route and reached the point where we decided to turn around. Ben and his girlfriend Kathy (actually I’m not sure of their names but will refer to them as Ben and Kathy from here on out), were coming down the path and said that they had run into snow. Being ill-equipped, without even sleeping bags, the decision was choiceless. We all spent the night in a teahouse.

There seemed to be some tension between Ben and Kathy. They were both involved in Tibetan Buddhist practice but it seemed that Ben was keener than Kathy and this was causing some friction.

On the bus ride back to Kathmandu, Ben and I sat together and Randy and Kathy sat together with a growing chemistry. Ben told me about his experience doing a Tibetan Buddhist meditation retreat at the Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu. Randy and I had visited Kopan a week or so earlier with another friend from Madagascar and had the good fortune to have a cup of tea with the head Lama, Lama Yeshe. He was a very sweet man and enormously generous. But as I explained to Ben, I wasn’t finding myself attracted to the Tibetan Buddhist practice. In fact, the words that I heard come out of my mouth as we talked were, “I’m looking for something more universal and more personal.” For one thing, it was the limitation of the “ism” in Buddhism that turned me away. My own intuitive spiritual sky was wide open and did not want to be confined into a container, however much I respected the teachings.

Ben told me that I should pay a visit to the ashram of a guru in India named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and proceeded to give me the address. Ben had met one of Rajneesh’s sannyasins recently while he was on a visa run and so was visiting Nepal in order to return to India with a new visa. This sannyasin named Devanand had impressed him and what he heard about Rajneesh interested him but he was quite immersed in the Tibetan Buddhist dharma. So I put the piece of paper with the address away in my wallet. The bus ride was a few hours and so Ben and I had quite a long chat. He was a sincere practitioner, perhaps I thought a bit too serious, but regardless we had a very nice connection.

When we arrived back in Kathmandu, both Ben and Kathy returned to Kopan to continue their practice and Randy and I stayed in a guest house. Randy and I were intending on spending a couple more weeks in Kathmandu and so found a room in a private house. It was a lovely situation because the house had a walled garden and so offered a retreat from the daily busy-ness of the city. This house was closer to the Tibetan Swayambhu Monastery which we liked to visit.

We had learned that a very important Tibetan Buddhist teacher was coming to Kathmandu soon to perform an Empowerment Ceremony and this event was to take place at Swayambhu. I wasn’t really sure what an Empowerment Ceremony was but it sounded interesting. Unfortunately, we also learned that it was only open to practicing Buddhists.

The day of the event I spent meditating in our room. It was a silent, cool oasis. We were close enough to the monastery to hear the Tibetan horns and in my meditation I felt a humming sensation in the area of my heart.

During our time in Kathmandu both Randy and I became interested in Satya Sai Baba. He was quite popular with the Hindu Nepalis and his photo and books were everywhere. I was intrigued by the possibility of a “living” Master. I had been introduced to Meher Baba seven years before, six months, however, after he had passed away, so the idea of meeting a living Buddha very much appealed to me.

Randy and I decided to end our traveling partnership. We had different schedules. I wanted to go to India and head south and possibly meet Sai Baba. Randy also wanted to do the same, but he had become involved in a torrid affair with Kathy that hadn’t burned itself out. We bid our farewells with the idea that we would meet up at the Sai Baba ashram which was in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

Note: I will now intersperse my story with a letter I received from my friend Randy (Narayanadeva) after sharing what I had written of our journey in Nepal and India.

Dear Purushottama,

What a flash from the past. Thank you for this.  It brings so much back.  Your memory is like a video recording.  My memory is patchy with particular moments fuzzily framed. If you don’t mind I want to share what I can.

I believe if we hadn’t stopped where we had at that last village at 10,000 feet that we would have gotten into serious trouble.  There was a group with a broken leg still on the snowed-in trail was the story.

 I remember the couple.  The name Ben comes to mind and I can’t remember the name of the girl, Kathy is very close.  This was a significant time.

She was from the east coast, living in an artists and musicians commune, a photographer and roadie with Jethro Tull, I think.  The social and other experiments she participated in at such a tender age, this boy from Nebraska was challenged to comprehend.  In this respect she was much more worldly, wiser than me, an elder in a killer 20 something body.   

She was also the first lover in my life where the center of gravity and conversations were about spirituality, Buddha’s teachings in particular, and how to reconcile our limited understanding with what we saw in the monasteries and monks, which was then followed by the most present lovemaking for me up to that time.  We flew high, were consumed with each other, and parted consciously in mid bubble, purposely in crescendo. I review that time with joy and sadness. It is hard to think of that extraordinary woman and time without sometimes tearing. She was finished traveling, wanted to return to her art. I knew I didn’t want to go back to anything. I was sure I wanted to go forward. We knew but unspoken that to go further would have brought reality into the mix. We wanted to say goodbye in full bloom. Things like that were easier in your 20’s.  I must say probably the most, bitter sweet, intense affair I ever remember in a life riddled with less meaningful affairs.

I remember spending the winter in Kathmandu immersing myself in everything I could about the Buddha’s teaching, going to the temples, hanging with the monks, partaking in the local produce followed by the pie shops.  I was completely blown away and still am today about the psychology, the profound understanding of the science of the mind, but could not get my head around the asceticism. Why the monks, western included had to walk around in winter without shoes or why the poor food needed to be covered in flies.  Also the live translations of the Lama’s discourses by some very severe and grim western types.   If there was any juice in the teaching, these translators sucked it out and everything was completely lost in translation. I knew for me to go deeper I needed to be able to listen and speak about all this in my tongue.

This is also where the timing gets confused. I do not remember you during that winter.  I remember attending the Karmapa’s Black Hat ceremony after spending those cold months in study.  This is when I had the most profound experience with him.

The ceremony lasted several days.  There were many westerners mingled with the overflowing crowds of Tibetans.  The first few days I could not get into the hall but stood outside with the multitudes listening and catching glimpses through the barred windows of the pageantry.

There was one day that I did get in and sat with a few other westerners along with it seemed several hundred monks with the Karmapa on podium doing chants and mudras. The monks deep toned chanting in response, the horns, the incense, I got completely stoned.  When it was over, I lingered.  The hall was clearing out.  I stood in the middle looking up at all the hanging tangkas.  I turned around, a few people parted and there was the Karmapa sitting alone on his dais looking at me with an inviting smile a few meters away.   I was so shy and not sure what to do.  I smiled, bowed and retreated. 

The next day I could not get in. I was peering through the open air barred window being jostled back and forth by the crowds feeling the music and chanting; suddenly the Karmapa was at the window looking directly at me about 50 centimeters away. He had been making the rounds inside, blessing everyone in the hall.  He looked in my eyes and smiled. He threw water on my face and these words came into my head “Don’t worry, this path is not for everyone” Then he was gone.

I was so shocked. This was the confirmation.   Whenever I think of this I feel I was blessed by this very extraordinary being. How he got those words clearly into a very confused mind was magical.

It was not long afterward that I headed south and planned to go to Sai Baba’s ashram as we had planned, on my way to Madras before heading back to the states.  As you remember we gave Sai Baba magical powers and were convinced he was going to help us financially.

I got to Bombay and stayed at the Salvation Army behind the Taj Mahal hotel.  The very place you and I stayed on our first nights in India coming by boat for 10 days from Madagascar and Mauritius.  Do you remember waking up to the Shiva Baba’s with their pythons and cobras, the junkies some dyed from head to toe in blue, including one with a blue dog, the color of the local antiseptic? What a circus before we took a train to the edge of town and hitched our way to Nepal.  Do you remember the time a truck stopped for us and we threw our packs into the back, climbed up and jumped into a truck full of cow shit along with our packs?  Do you remember all the chillum brakes at the roadside temples?  Or the nights in small villages waking up to thousands of the same face staring at us with vacant eyes and all with small pocked scars, village after village the same?  

When I was in New Delhi, I heard that there was a Meher Baba center and so I visited during one of their evenings. Upon hearing that I was on my way to visit Satya Sai Baba, an older Baba lover suggested that I go see a rebel of a guru named Rajneesh. I remembered the name and said that I did have in mind possibly stopping there as well. He told me that the Rajneesh ashram was in Poona, just a couple of hours by train from Bombay. He also said that although Satya Sai Baba was not in Poona, there was some kind of Baba center there. At this point, it became clear to me that I would indeed head to Poona.

Walking out of the Poona train station, I found a rickshaw and told the driver to take me to the Sai Baba center. I said, “Sai Baba center, not Rajneesh ashram.” “Yes, yes,” he replied. I had decided that I would first go to the Sai Baba center and then check out the Rajneesh ashram.

As we got nearer and nearer to our destination I saw increasing numbers of young western people dressed in orange clothes. By this time, I had been exposed to a couple of Rajneesh sannyasins and so recognized what I was seeing. We arrived at a large gate and on the top was written Shree Rajneesh Ashram. A large blonde German fellow greeted me and I heard myself say, “I don’t think I am where I was going, but I know that I’m in the right place.”

The first thing that I read from Osho (I will now begin to refer to Rajneesh by the name he took only a few months before leaving this planet) spoke directly to me. There was no space; no separation between the words and my self, there was an immediacy. It was clear within days that I would not be going on to the Sai Baba ashram; I had found the living Master I was looking for. I had arrived just weeks before a major celebration day, March 21st, honoring Osho’s day of Enlightenment. I took initiation, became a sannyasin and did a couple of groups. During this time I read one of Osho’s books called The Silent Explosion. At the very end of the book was the story of an Indian sannyasin who had gone to Sikkim and visited the Karmapa at his Rumtek Monastery. This was the same Lama that had been in Kathmandu months earlier. I had learned that he was highly respected in the Tibetan Buddhist community and was on par with or even more highly regarded than the Dalai Lama.

This is the story that was recounted:

     In 1972, Swami Govind Siddharth, an Osho sannyasin, visited the Tibetan Lama Karmapa, who had fled from Tibet and who at that timed lived in his Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. When Siddharth arrived, accompanied by his wife and two young daughters, the monastery was completely closed. In an interview at the time, he told of his initial disappointment at not meeting the Karmapa. Then all of a sudden, one monk came running out to tell him that he was immediately wanted inside by His Holiness. He went in and was greeted by the Karmapa as if he was expected there. The Karmapa never even knew anything about him beforehand as he had not made an appointment… he knew nothing about him except that he was dressed in the faded orange of early neo-sannyas.

     Of Lama Karmapa, it was said he was a ‘Divine Incarnation’, a Bodhisattva. In Tibet, they believe that whosoever attains to Buddhahood, and then by their own wishes is born again to help people in the world is a divine incarnation — Bodhisattva. His Holiness was said to be the sixteenth incarnation of Dsum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa, who was born about 1110 AD.

     When Swami Siddharth first entered, the Karmapa immediately told him that he knew where he was from. He said, “I am seeing that you have somewhere some photograph or something which is printed on two sides, of your Master.” Siddharth answered that he had nothing like that which is printed on two sides. He had completely forgotten about the locket hanging from his mala with Osho’s photograph on both sides! There was an English woman who was acting as an interpreter, since the Lama Karmapa did not speak English. She immediately saw his mala and said, “What is this?” He then remembered that the locket was printed on two sides and he said, “This is the photograph of my Master.” She was curious to see it, so Siddharth took it off and showed it to her.

     Immediately, the Karmapa said, “That is it.” He took the locket of Osho in his hand and he touched it to his forehead and then said: “He is the greatest incarnation since Buddha in India — he is a living Buddha!” The Karmapa went on to say, “You may be feeling that he is speaking for you, but it is not only for you that he speaks. Rajneesh speaks for the Akashic records also, the records of events and words recorded on the astral planes. Whatever is spoken is not forgotten. That is why you will find that he goes on repeating things and you will feel that he is doing this for you, but, as a matter of fact, he speaks only for a few people.  Only a few people realize who Rajneesh is. His words will remain there in the Akashic records, so that they will also be helpful to people in the future.”

     The Karmapa went on to say that Osho had been with Siddharth in past lives. “If you want to see one of Rajneesh’s previous incarnations — who he was in Tibet — you can go to Tibet and see his golden statue there which is preserved in the Hall of Incarnations.” He continued to chat about Osho and his work, “My blessings are always there, and I know that whatever we are not going to be able to do to help others, Rajneesh will do.” He explained that one of the main aims of the Lamas in coming to India was to preserve their occult sciences. Osho from his side also confirmed this in his Kashmir lectures given in 1969. He said then, “The Dalai Lama has not escaped only to save himself, but to save the Tibetan religion, the meditation secrets and the occult sciences”

     The Karmapa went on to explain, “We have gotten these things from India in the past, and now we want to return them back. Now we have come to know that here is an incarnation, Rajneesh, who is doing our job in India and the world, and we are very happy about it. The world will know him, but only a few people will realize what he actually is. He will be the only person who can guide properly, who can be a World Teacher in this age, and he had taken birth only for this purpose.”

When I read this story I was very skeptical, because all devotees of gurus like to exaggerate the importance of their teachers. Although I believed the story must be based on some truth, I could not be sure what the Karmapa thought about Osho.

In the meantime, I had written to my friend Randy to tell him about Osho and the ashram and had sent it to American Express, Delhi, where I knew he would pick up mail. One day I went into the ashram office to check for a response and as I was walking down the steps leaving, coming through the gate was my friend Randy. He had never received my letter but had learned of Osho on his own.

Narayanadeva’s letter continues:

Anyway I returned to Bombay to catch a boat to Goa and then planned to go to Sai Baba by land.  I needed to get something to read.  The best bookstore I knew was at the Taj Mahal Hotel.  I went to the section on psychology and religion.  I was browsing when I swear this book fell on my big toe.  “Archarya Rajneesh” was the title.  The first page mentioned that he gave lectures in English and lived in Poona only one day away. 

Getting there, first person I meet is you.  And our stories join and the rest is history.

Brother, we shared some amazing times together.  I have forgotten so many of them.  It is a complete delight to hear from you with your photographic memory of those days.    We were so lucky. I am so grateful for that time.

Much Love to you my fellow traveler.

Narayanadeva a.k.a. Randy

I had by this time realized that my time traveling outside of the States was coming to an end. Taking sannyas was a new beginning for me and to be honest I wanted to return to my hometown and share this remarkable discovery. I had received a name for a meditation center that I would start. Randy, (who had become Narayanadeva by this point), and I said our farewells again with approximately the same plans to return to the States by going east from India through Thailand but with slightly different time frames.

On the plane from Bombay to Calcutta I sat next to a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He didn’t speak a word of English but there we were— he in his maroon robes and me in my orange clothes.

It might have been the first or second night of my stay in a Sutter Street guesthouse in Calcutta and in walked Ben, the American Tibetan Buddhist who had given me the contact info for Osho. I was very happy to see him. I had thought about him many times and was so grateful for his sharing and I wanted to tell him what I had found. We talked a bit and then he told me that coincidentally the Karmapa was in Calcutta and he was going to see him the next day at the Oberoi Hotel. He invited me to go with him. I was delighted. For one thing in the back of my mind was the Rumtek story and so I thought I would be able to see what the Karmapa actually did think about Osho for myself.

The Karmapa’s room was a corner one and Ben and I approached from one hallway and as we neared we could see an Indian sannyasin couple in orange approaching from the other direction. He was dressed in a lunghi and had a very long beard and long hair. She was dressed in an orange sari. They were Osho sannyasins and ran the Calcutta Osho center.

We all entered the room and were shown to sit just in front of the Karmapa who was seated on a sofa. He was immensely childlike, full of love and innocence and looked to be always on the verge of a good chuckle. He sat stroking the beard of the Indian sannyasin who was sitting slightly to his right. This in itself would have been enough to let me know what he thought of Osho but it was not all. Sitting next to him on the sofa he had propped up a copy of Sannyas Magazine (published at the ashram) with a photo of Osho beaming out on to our group.

At that point it did not matter whether the story that I had read was factual or not, I could see the connection between the Karmapa and Osho. That space out of which the Karmapa and the photo of Osho appeared was One.

Of course I had related the story to Ben when we met in Calcutta but after the meeting at the Oberoi we didn’t talk of it again. We were invited to a private Black Crown (Empowerment) Ceremony that was taking place at the home of a wealthy Indian woman later that evening. This is the same ceremony that took place months earlier at the Swayambhu Monastery in Kathmandu but that I had not been able to attend.

One of the first people I met after arriving at the house was the Tibetan monk who had sat next to me on the flight. As it turned out he had been traveling to join up with the Karmapa and return with him to Rumtek. He was as surprised as I was.

The ceremony was penetrating; to be in a room with Tibetan horns blaring is in itself a transformative experience. After the ceremony the few westerners that were there, I think maybe we were five, were invited into a side room where the Karmapa gave a teaching on Tilopa’s Song of Mahamudra. This is the most important text of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Osho had himself given a discourse series published as Tantra: the Supreme Understanding on this text, and I was traveling with the book.

Because the Karmapa didn’t speak English he had a translator, but his translator told us he was having a very difficult time translating this teaching into English. He was frustrated but the Karmapa was understanding and compassionate. This experience highlighted for me one of the advantages of having a teacher who spoke English. Osho’s words did not need to be translated and we were able to hear them directly without a filter.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to first spend some time with the Karmapa and then to take part in this mysterious ceremony. It was the only time I met the Karmapa. But my wife, Amido, and I did have a chance in 2006 to visit the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim where his relics are today housed.

-purushottama

This story is from a collection of stories and essays from along the Way titled From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva.

I have recently come across the entire story of Govind Siddharth’s visit with the Karmapa A Visit to a Tibetan Monastery.

Another post related to Govind Siddharth’s visit with the Karmapa is Buddham Sharanam Gachchhami.

And another: The Enlightenment of Govind Siddharth.

Link to site for Tibetan Black Crown Ceremony.