I have been quiet for a while. Well, that’s an understatement. The truth is, it has been hard to find the way to “open the vault” for this blog. It’s not for lack of material or motivation. It’s just that I’m still weighing how to transmit the rays of Sensei’s sun without dragging along the clouds that inevitably gathered around him. But in fact, it was the very contrast of sun and clouds that made the sun appear as it did. It was his utter lack of rejection of the clouds, his willingness to work within a continuous maze of obstacles, that provided most of the framework for his teachings. So much illumination came from how he navigated thorny politics and ambitions, tangled misunderstandings and jealousies, and all kinds of emotional turmoil within his kyudo group, family, and the sangha of Trungpa Rinpoche — not to mention the health of his body.
Very early on in our marriage, we had a terrible argument one night. I don’t remember the content, but the next morning I awoke and pulled open the curtain. Still feeling upset, I looked over at Sensei and made some mention of the subject between us. He pointed out the window and said, “It’s a beautiful blue sky day! Don’t pull yesterday’s clouds into today.”
Just like that, he cut through to give us a fresh start. It was a powerful transmission, a fierce glimpse of how we continually re-toxify our world by pulling on old wounds, rehashing, and not letting go. We might think we are looking for harmony, but we end up digging ourselves in deeper. He was, of course, not commanding me to repress anything, but to honestly let go and start anew—to face forward, not backward.
There were times when our misunderstandings needed more verbal communication and he was up for that, too, when it made sense. But on that morning, I understood immediately how being with the Kyudo Master would demand constant forward vision: gaze up, heart open, fearlessly letting go.
If this blog were to become a backwards looking lens, it would quickly lose its purpose. If it merely becomes a window into the ghosts of yesterday, what fresh sunshine will illuminate this present? At the same time, it is difficult, if not impossible, to transmit some of the most powerful teachings that passed between us without some context, and that context was most often very gnarly.
So these are the things I am weighing. How much to share of the details? How much is the core teaching extractible without those details? Good manners are a must to be true to his way. This morning, writing for the first time in a while, this is the story that came up:
Sensei always had ghosts around him. He said this plainly many times. Trungpa Rinpoche apparently made the same observation, pelting Sensei with mustard seeds in the shrine room, declaring (according to Sensei), “Many, many gaki!” Gaki, hungry ghosts.
Once, when we were in the midst of a particularly arduous round at the hospital, following an emergency esophageal procedure, Sensei, who was barely hanging on to his body at that point, started counting the ghosts in the room. One nurse recoiled a little. Another thought he might be reacting to medication. Two others, much enamored of him, said, “Oh yes, this room is famous for having the most ghosts on the floor. Of course, he would see them!”
He told me there was a three-year-old child and an older Japanese woman and a few others, counting five in all. For some time, he nodded his head back and forth, gazing around the room, murmuring. The thinning effect on his physical, earthly presence was palpable and I finally reprimanded him for spending too much time hanging out with them. “This is not good for your body, Sensei. Stop it now.”
“I know, I know,” he conceded, demurely. But then he had me go fetch food—a banana and I don’t remember what else—saying it was important to give them some things to eat.
As we placed the food offering on a shelf in the room, he said, “When you understand that everyone’s heart is good, deep down inside, there’s no need to be afraid.”
Perhaps there is direction in this story. Perhaps it is possible, with the right sense of offering and an understanding of the good hearts in everyone, not to be afraid of these ghosts and to visit with them a little, allowing their place in these stories to be as it is. These ghosts are not certain people, particularly, but the inescapable shadows in all of us that he contended with over and over in the process of drawing out our good hearts. If it were possible, I’d just stick to my own shadows on this blog, but these, too, were intertwined with a bigger world and cannot always be neatly be extracted from the whole. So, it is my hope that as I venture a little further into investigation of Sensei’s teachings, I can provide just enough context to serve illumination, but not in any way drag the clouds of yesterday into the brilliant blue sky of today.
I welcome your comments, corrections and insights as we go along.