Quivering Dharma, Bread Crumbs like Beads on a Mala, leading to the Kalachakra in Madison, Wisconsin, 1980


After a failed college attempt in the late 1970’s I moved to a small island in the Pacific Northwest and lived for free in a remote cabin without water or electricity. My seasonal gardening business gave me plenty of money to live on during the cold, dark winter months, for intensive study of Chinese Buddhism, language, philosophy and poetry.


I spent long hours perched near my faithful wood burning stove, studying and copying sutras and scriptures in Chinese. This rather unusual practice earned me the nickname of “the nun”, though some of my friends worded it “the none”, a statement on the lack of available men on the island.


My studies in Chinese Buddhism, specifically the Heart Sutra, eventually led me to the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. This lens of the Dharma threw a door open to a deepening of any understandings I had ever gleaned from my loved, but laborious Chinese studies. New landscapes of revelations awakened in me. I ravishingly pursued studies of every source of translated works from the Tibetan tradition that I could find, which at that time wasn’t many.


In 1979, I first saw Tenzin Gyatso, the 14thDalai Lama of Tibet, in Seattle, on his first trip to the United States. He gave a talk to a small crowd of maybe 100 people, half of them Tibetans, outside a small house in an old Seattle neighborhood. As His Holiness stepped out of the house onto the porch and began chanting the Heart Sutra in Tibetan (a sutra I had copied daily in Chinese for over a year) I fell to my knees, overcome by inexplicable emotion. Five hours later, long after the crowd had dispersed, a friend discovered me sitting there on the curb, radiantly disoriented, and took me off to dinner.


Six months later, on a sunny island morning, I was having coffee and reading the Sunday paper at the waterfront home of my two-good friend’s WC and Rosey. WC read out loud that the Dalai Lama was coming to Madison, Wisconsin in a month to perform the Kalachakra Initiation for the first time ever out of Asia. Simply hearing the words “Dalai Lama”, I was overcome with the same radiant bliss I’d experienced that day in Seattle.


I didn’t even know where Madison, Wisconsin was, but knew I had to be there for this event. WC turned to the travel section in the paper, and said I could get there and back for around $600.00. My hopes were dashed. Life as a gardener supported me and my two Appaloosa horses, but didn’t afford me enough cushion for that kind of expense. WC saw my face fall, and suggested as a consolation prize, that I finally paint a Buddha on the rusty metal water tank in his yard. He had been asking me to do this for months. Today it seemed like the perfect thing to do, as now all I could think of was getting to Wisconsin in July.


Later that afternoon, the water tank sported a rather off-kilter and crooked likeness of a Buddha, resplendent with the colors of paint at hand, similar to the ribbons of blues, pinks and purples reflected over the water. WC was happy, but I was obsessed with the need to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama again soon. I walked back into town, stopping at the Post Office to check my mail.


My box was uncharacteristically full. As I glanced over the return addresses I got chills of excitement. Everyone who had ever borrowed money from me over the years decided to pay me all at the same time!  Within seconds, my trembling hands held a pile of checks which totaled over eight-hundred dollars. A thousand birds flew out of my heart. The next day I purchased my airplane tickets and walked to the library to find out where Madison was.


I few days later I received a visit from my friend Joel from Seattle. Joel and I were new, yet solid dharma buddies. He and I often exchanged old texts and stories of how our lives were being changed by this world of Tibetan dharma opening up to us. That particular day, Joel presented me with a pamphlet about the Kalachakra Initiation in Madison. I looked at the cover with amazement. Joel looked on, curiously amused. I reached behind me into a large box containing the dozens of woodblocks I’d carved over the course of many long, cold winters, and pulled out a recent one. It was a symbol I’d found in an old book on Tibetan Buddhism, and was compelled to carve it, having no idea what the meaning was.


It was identical to the one on the pamphlet, the Kalachakra Mantra, ten syllables superimposed into one. Joel and I looked at each other as though we had just discovered a treasure map to the universe-which in some ways, we had! Suddenly life made perfect sense, and our meager existence in the scheme of things was just as it should be. Any doubts I’d ever had about cutting myself off from the world by living on this small island disappeared.  I was on my way to Madison, Wisconsin for the Kalachakra Initiation.


The first people I bumped into in Madison were Joel and our friend Albert, North westerners like myself. We took a bus through the biggest, flattest cornfields I’d ever seen, to the site of the initiation. In the middle of acres and acres of cornfields, a large canvas appliqued canopy had been raised on long polls to provide shade for us seekers during the four days of the ceremony. A platform at one end of the tent was decorated with fine Tibetan carpets and a raised throne. Behind it hung a colossal thangka of the Kalachakra deity, the image itself easily 20 feet long, vivid and vibrating in the still heat of the cornfields.


I took my place on the ground, midway in the crowd of only about 1300 others, from all over the world. My eyes closed to the buttery hum of the cornfield air mixed with incense.  Soon, the Tibetan ceremonial horns filled my spine like hot metal. I found myself on my feet, tears streaming down my face as His Holiness the Dalai Lama took his throne.  I followed the others in prostrations to the “Embodiment of Compassion”, and felt like the rowboat of my life as I’d known it finally returned to its dock, after years at sea.


From the second His Holiness took his place on the throne, our encampment in the cornfields transformed. We were explorers, being guided through a secret sacred inner kingdom. As His Holiness explained the complicated teachings verbally, doors to other levels of perception blew open and received the transmission. My mind became a movie screen for the meticulously described details of each deity to take form, projecting crystal clear images in three-dimensional sharpness, without effort. To this day I don’t even recall the participation of a translator, though I know one was there. The Dalai Lama delivered hours of teachings, day after day with such clarity, depth and humor that many of us alternated between tears of reverence and respect and belly laughs at the jokes and giggles which peppered the intense days under the canopy.


The last day of the initiation went on for six hours. The air was thick and still with the heat and buzz of Wisconsin’s huge, hungry mosquitoes. The air held a highly charged, almost volatile quality around our little temple in the cornfields. Three days of intense teachings and visualizations, three nights of heightened dream awareness rich in symbolism, four days of close contact with His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, the living embodiment of the Buddha of Compassion, Chenrezig, Avalokitesvara…at that point, as a group, we were wired and inspired.


As the closing prayers commenced, without warning a strong wind arose, threatening to rip the tent canopy off its poles. Out of nowhere, black clouds filled the sky. The Dalai Lama looked up over his glasses and continued his prayers as the thangkas blew vertically around him. People rushed to let down the side flaps of the tent. Thunder shook the sky around us. His Holiness chanted louder, faster, as all the thangkas, tent flaps, katas and robes flew skyward. The sound of the ritual bell and drum disappeared in the force of the gale. And then it was over. Huge white clouds ambled across the blue sky like quiet elephants. It was as if the wind represented the final clearing out of old mind-paths, assuring that the seeds planted in us by this initiation would take hold in fertile new ground. The Dalai Lama beamed at us all like an exuberant mother. His prayers covered us like a soft, warm blanket.


His Holiness has written in this discourse on the Kalachakra,


“In the Bodhisattvayana Method, one meditates that everything one does is for the benefit of all living beings. Once it has been understood that all living beings want happiness and dislike suffering, the attitude which resumes responsibility for the welfare of all sentient beings arises. This attitude is an amazing, wonderful and most courageous force, more precious than anything else in existence. When one uses it as a basis for one’s life, the forces that destroy illusion and distortion are easily cultivated. Among the teachings of the Buddha, the Kalachakra Tantra is one of the most powerful and effective means which we can incorporate to create a world of lasting harmony and happiness. It is said that the purpose of the initiation is to plant certain seeds into the mind of the recipient.”


As I returned to my island home and resumed my work as a gardener, I realized the power and importance of those seeds, seeing how those same seeds are alive in all of us, the seeds of awakening.


I pray, with the deepest conviction, for the ripening of all seeds from which will sprout greater understanding and compassion. I pray that with every breeze, our minds are cleansed of delusional thought, so that the seeds of truth can take hold in our collective lives, always, and everywhere. May all beings find their way home!




edited Jan 17th2018 1744 words

Home is Where the Heart is