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I recently attended a Sunday morning Medicine Buddha practice. I might not be writing about it, except for several surprising instances / experiences. Khenpo Choepel was the Vajramaster – the person (lama) leading the ceremony. Typically, the teachers, especially when they are teaching, sit on a raised platform, commonly referred to as a throne – there are multiple reasons for this, some of which go back thousands of years to Buddhism and Tantric practice in ancient India, but I would say that teachers sit in higher positions due to the preciousness of what they are offering. [Hearing a quality Dharma teaching is a rare, precious opportunity which relatively few get to engage in with ease. And the teachers do not sit on thrones when they are not teaching Dharma.]
Anyway, the reason I am writing about this, is that Khenpo Choepel came into the shrine room, where dozens of us were already present for the upcoming ceremony. However, despite being the Vajramaster, he would not sit on the throne. This was most unusual to me, until, soon thereafter, who should walk in but Khenchen Rinpoche! Talk about a surprise and an incredible blessing!?! Then understanding began to bloom in my mind (very slowly) – as Khenpo and Khenchen commenced to engage in a brief humility contest. Khenpo would not sit on the throne, and of course, neither would Khenchen (who is technically a higher lama but was not leading the ceremony). Khenchen then sat down right where he was standing, much to our chagrin – for a high lama to sit on the [dirty] (lower) floor is very disturbing (especially in Asian cultures). There were several friendly attempts to get him to stand back up, but he would not until a pad and cushion were prepared for him near us, in a lower position than the Vajramaster. So, I think it was a tie – both Khenpo, sitting on his normal side seat and Khenchen, sitting on a decorative rug proved to be exceptionally humble!
A few of us, myself included, very serendipitously, sat close to Khenchen, and his sense of humor and an attitude of appropriate, infinite playfulness definitely shown through. Amazing! To shed some light on what I mean, at the end of the ceremony, Tsok food was passed around. Khenchen did not seem to have a napkin and the large pile came around to me, so of course I offered him one. He shook his head no.
Thinking he may not have understood what I meant, I tried again, and this time, he said, “No need.” And then he proceeded to pantomime licking his hands clean! It was perfectly zapchen and poignantly timed – it directly shattered my “Oh I have to get this right around this high lama” attitude.
Khenchen was serendipitously at the Center because Spring Retreat was starting a week later and he had arrived early. Wow – I was very pleasantly surprised. Khenchen is one of my heart teachers – I first took refuge and Bodhisattva vows with him. MMMMmmmmmm…
Oh – also the TMC was recently painted. Doesn’t it look great?
[revision 4/4/21 – I believe the first time a Lama is giving an empowerment to the public, he has to have an experienced lama there with him. I’m guessing to supervise the empowerment? Or to provide moral support? Let me know if you have heard of this and care to comment!]