I ended part 1 of this intro series – after a very brief and incomplete background of some of the places I’ve been in regards to my spiritual path – with a question,
‘Where am I now?’
To better answer this question requires some further details about my past, and specifically, about my connection to the Dharma.
After many years of being involved in various esoteric and spiritual pursuits from both Eastern and Western traditions, I had an experience that was profoundly transformative for me. The incident occurred in 2002. My knowledge of Buddhism at the time was minimal. I read some of the basics. For instance I knew about the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. My studies were mostly based on the Theravada school which is prominent in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. I did not know much about other schools of Buddhism (nor, for that matter, did I know very much about the profound Theravada tradition). I was not attending any dharma centers, nor had I ever received any formal teachings or empowerments. And my knowledge of Vajrayana was sorely lacking. All I really knew about this wonderful tradition was that there is a form of Buddhism in Tibet and that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is somehow connected to it. At that time (back in 2002) I purchased a translation of the Heart Sutra published by H.H. the Dalai Lama.
One night, after reading the Heart Sutra (an online version can be found here), I began to meditate. While in meditative contemplation of the Heart Sutra, I experienced what I’ve come to describe as a ‘mind-transmission’ in what I believe to be some sort of dream-bardo. It was a visionary experience. In the vision I was sitting on a cloud face to face with a Tibetan Lama. His face was very distinct and unforgettable. The Lama was smiling at me. The atmosphere was extremely peaceful, even blissful. There were no words said, but then my mind starting to put forth questions. Each question I asked in my mind was immediately answered by the Lama (as if telepathically). This was slow at first…a question would arise in my mind, then it would be answered by the Lama, then a pause just peacefully sitting and taking in the experience, then another question would arise in my mind and again it would be immediately answered by the Lama. Then things began to move faster, the pace increased, a question would arise and an answer would be provided and as soon as the answer was provided another question would arise. Boom, Boom, Boom. This happened in rapid succession one after the other until the experience was so overwhelming that I wasn’t sure if I could handle it anymore. The next thing I know, the Lama effortlessly picks me up and tosses me off of the cloud.
I begin to panic. I fear for my life. I’m falling, falling, falling! I think I am going to hit the ground and be crushed from the impact of the descent. Then I see I am falling towards a river. I calm down for a second, thinking to myself, ‘The water will break my fall. I will be alright.’ Then I think, ‘But wait, this is still going to hurt, like a huge belly flop!’ I panic again, yet just as I am about to hit the surface of the water, all of a sudden I find myself inside of a large white lotus flower, gently floating down the river. I wake up from the vision and I am sitting in my room, the copy of the Heart Sutra in my lap and more than a little flabbergasted. I jump up off of my meditation cushion, run to my computer and begin searching for anything to do with a white lotus, or Buddhas associated with being inside a lotus, etc. This is when I first learned about Buddha Padmasambhava (also know as Guru Rinpoche).
Padmasambhava means the ‘Lotus Born’. He was one of the Indian Yogis that brought Buddhadharma from India to Tibet. By learning this, I began to research more about Vajrayana. It really spoke to me. I wanted to know more so shortly thereafter I began to search online for any dharma centers in my area.To my absolute amazement, while looking at the website for Dorje Ling Buddhist Center I saw a picture of His Holiness Penam Rinpoche. There was no doubt about it, this was the exact Lama in my vision! I was floored. In fact, I was a bit intimidated. It took me 3 more years before I even gathered up the nerve to visit Dorje Ling (more about my initial visits in the next post).
Now what makes this quite amazing is that 1) I did not know anything about H.H. Penam Rinpoche before having this visionary experience. I never saw his picture before and I knew nothing about the lineage he is part of (Jonang), 2) I have never met H.H. Penam Rinpoche in person (he entered Parinirvana on 10 March 2008, I pray for his quick return), but I will always be thankful for his compassionate guidance in directing me towards study and practice of the Dharma 3) I found out later that H. H Penam Rinpoche visited Dorje Ling around the same year I had the vision. He came to give teachings and empowerment into Kalachakra (which is now one of my main practices) and 4) I have visited Dorje Ling several times since the vision. This is a dharma center that is run by students of H. H. Penam Rinpoche and connected to the Jonang lineage of which he is part. I have since received teachings and an empowerment through this center and my current Vajra Master is one of Penam Rinpoche’s students.
Continued in part 3…