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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
spring 2007| 96 |buddhadharma Hello, lama? By Jennifer lauck mikeholmes Ijumped slowly into the stream of Buddhism. After reading A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield, it took eigh- teen years for me to disentangle myself from the lines of my Catholic upbringing, wade through a career, and tumble over the jagged rocks of two failed marriages. When I finally took the leap, I jumped directly into the deep end. I took refuge and then was led to a great master who told me that I must begin my life as a Buddhist by doing ngondro practice. Adzom Rinpoche, recognized as an incarnation of Jigme Lingpa, offered these instructions at a retreat in the Rocky Mountains. It was the dead of winter. Two hundred of Rinpoche’s students huddled in a tent in the middle of a great meadow encased by snow. Every breath drew icy air. Those around me, mostly seasoned Buddhists, were talking about how they were in the midst of their own ngondro. Based on the buzz, I knew that any- one who was serious about the path to enlightenment had to do ngondro, a met- aphorical tilling of the soil necessary for the teachings to take root. Tibetans did this practice once, twice, up to ten times in a lifetime. Even the Dalai Lama did ngondro, for heaven’s sake! When the Tibetan master arrived, he asked the group to vow that we would complete our ngondro in less than two years. Without reservation, I raised my hand into the air. Rinpoche’s American hosts jumped in to offer warnings: “This is a serious time commitment. If you say you are going to do ngondro, you must do it. It is bad karma if you don’t.” My hand stayed up. Yes, I was in. The warnings came again: “You must realize what you are getting into. If you commit, you must do it.” Not very many people had their hands up. I wavered a little. Yes, it would be hard to accom- plish 500,000 accumulations (including 100,000 prostrations), but I was tough. I could do it. After all, I had seen and done it all. My parents had died when I was a child. I had been homeless in L.A. My brother, a seminarian, had taken his own life. As a reporter, I had investigated crimes you don’t want to even think about. Hav- ing survived all that, doing a few prostra- tions and some mantra chants in two years would be a breeze. My resolve returned, and my hand stayed in the air. With my refuge-tree poster hammered into place on the wall over my altar, I diligently put in hours each day. I had a life as a single mother, as well as a career and bills to pay, but every morning at four a.m. I was up chanting mantras and toss- ing myself on the floor with passion and speed. At first, it all seemed pretty easy, almost mechanical. But then my life started to fall apart. Worse yet, my lama was in Tibet, running his monasteries and saving the world. Even if I could reach him, what would I, a modern American woman, say to a Tibetan monk about my problems? Hello, Lama? It’s me, Jennifer. I inad- vertently got pregnant by a man who swore he was infertile. If I have to end this pregnancy, how is that going to work with the whole purification angle? Hi, Lama, Jennifer here again. The man, you know, the one with the baby thing, yeah, he and I split up and now he won’t leave me alone. I have to get a restraining order. Is this turn of events the result of the practice? Lama? Me again. I find myself increas- ingly irritated with how this entire practice is focused on men. In fact, I’m noticing I really HATE men in general, and I’m thinking I need to stop for a little Green Tara practice. What do you think? Hey, Lama? Look, a bunch of sup- pressed memories of a brutal childhood sexual assault are rising. What I am sup- posed to do with them, anyway? Hello, Lama? I am noticing that every aspect of my life has been disassembled. My relationships are in shambles, every- thing has lost meaning, I’m exhausted, I’m broke, I’m pissed off, and I can’t stop crying. Every belief I used to hold dear feels as flimsy as wet toilet paper. What the hell is going on? I think this practice is killing me. Eighteen months later, on Tuesday, October 10 – Guru Rinpoche’s birthday – I finished my 108,000th prostration and my 108,000th refuge vow. When I stood up from the last bow, the poster of the ref- uge tree fell off the wall, crashing into the head of my Buddha statue. Water bowls tipped, crystals went flying, and before I could dedicate the merit, I fell, too. I dropped to my knees and began to cry with relief, humility, and even a divine sense of pride. Most of all, I cried with realization. That poster held the faces of all the great teachers, including Jigme Lingpa. It had been with me through every mantra and every prostration. Yes, they are all Tibetan men, while I am a Western woman from the school of hard knocks. But at the crucial moment, the lineage tree had dropped to the ground, transmitting the most important instruc- tion I will ever receive: we are not, and will never be, alone. Jennifer Lauck is the author of three memoirs: BlackBird, Still WaterS, and ShoW Me the Way. she Lives in PortLand, oregon. Journeys