In early fall of 1986, I spent a memorable evening with my teacher, Chogyam Trugnpa Rinpoche, a revered Tibetan Lama. It was the last time I would see him alive. I was aiding him that evening through his various tasks. Those of us who helped him out rotated in “shifts” througout the week. It was the most delightful night I had ever spent with Rinpoche. He was more engaging than usual and as usual warm, kind, and humorous. He died a few months later in Halifax Nova Scotia. Nothing about that night told me he was going to die soon.
We were talking in his bedroom with another close friend of his, Maggie R. At some point, he said “Let’s go to Michael C.’s house”. I helped him dress and we drove to Michael’s house, and sat with Michael C. and his wife for a while. I was sitting next to him, and I was starting to think, “Boy, Rinpoche really likes me a lot”. It meant so much to me that my teacher liked me; he was like a father to me and I had begun studying with him when I was 19 years old. At that very moment, he asked me, “Who is coming on next?” I replied, “John F is coming later sir,” to which he said, “Maybe he can come here sooner”. I was devastated. “How could he want to get rid of me so soon in favor of John?”. I was quite miserable for most of the rest of the night which lasted until he retired at around 5:00 am.My brief proud moment turned into self doubt in a split second. By the end of the night, I felt completely uncertain about my relationship with my teacher and I felt lost and confused. Later in the evening, I asked him, “Did I do something wrong sir?”. He replied, perhaps to reassure me, “It really has nothing to do with you”. I had no idea what he meant, but he had completely challenged my arrogance. I felt wide open and vulnerable at that point. It is said that this type of challenge is extremely helpful in learning how to truly become a good meditator. It would seem that one needs that kind of humbleness in order to become sensitive to one’s world. Since that time, I have had numerous experiences of that kind of devastation, from life events themselves. Now, I welcome those moments. It seems like those challenging life events help me to be open and vulnerable and humble. I think this is more to the point of meditation. This is very much to the point of the Buddhist view that hardship is good for learning to become a genuine person. Whether it’s our boss, a loved one, a friend, a parent; we are often very much caught up in what people think about us. It’s part of our human experience I think and it can help us grow up.