On the Path of the Karmapa
Remarkable People

As with practice itself, getting on the radar of teachers is easy but it's not. In other words, most relevant contact information is in the public domain: after all, I'm just some guy from the 'burbs. Making use of that information and carrying yourself forward with it is entirely different.

I quickly found out that the subject I'd thought merited a serious assessment in light of an impending, important anniversary to Westerners was the single most precious, sacred subject to many of my prospective participants. That then cast the light back upon me: Who are you? Why exactly do you want to do this? Are you a practitioner? Who is your teacher? More advanced levels from people in the entourage included: you know, we all have to live with ourselves and only we can know our true motivations regardless of what we say to others.

More... familiar levels included being screamed at by a variety of attack-dog, presumably compassionate, administrators, travel agents, security personnel, and whomever freakin' else... India, California, Nova Scotia, Nepal, New York: I assure you, people are people, turf is turf. To borrow from Led Zeppelin, the work remains the same. As a lifelong ne'er-do-well, I not only have experience but great comfort in overstepping boundaries, lighting up the lives of bureaucrats and having them go through their paces. All in a day's work. Respect the skillz. Yo.

Khandro Rinpoche was my first interview. Deceivingly diminutive, she gets your attention the way a hand grenade or an archer probably would. Let's just leave it at that. Earlier in the day I'd scouted a quiet room at the retreat house, mapped out the furniture and electrical sockets, done some pre-production. She was interested in what I was doing, then got enthusiastic. "We'll talk in front of the retreat. Everyone should hear this." Khandro Rinpoche

Huh? Or we can talk in front of the whole retreat.

Rinpoche wrapped the day's/night's teaching with a lesson in Tibetan language. In rhetoric classes I'd read how the ancient Greek orator, Demosthenes, would belt it out at seaside so he could project over the crash of waves and presumably not be tarred and feathered by the locals. Similarly, you learn Tibetan at high volume, repeating cacophonous syllables. In a class of 60 or 75 people, it is simply an ungodly, screeching racket.

They tell you in film classes to start by keeping things simple. Running three cameras, routing multiple microphones through a mixing board, doing an interview with a rowdy dignitary, and doing so in front of an audience on the road is not simple. At the end of the Tibetan ca-ca-cahing, my friend, Alden, suggested that we all break for 10 minutes so we could set the room. Rinpoche was on a roll.

"No break, let's go now." Or we could set up right then.

We put a mike on Rinpoche and asked her to say something into it for a sound check. "Cah! Cah! Cah!" It wasn't French, but what is?

I white-balanced my camera. I could hear a voice. Alden was calling to me. My sense of time and space was coming undone. I looked at the people around me to my left to see whose mouth was moving. One mouth, nothing, another mouth and so on. Gaia pointed to my right. Alden's mouth was moving. I nodded at something she seemed to say. My out-of-body experience was nearly complete. Let's talk about Tibetan history.

We did four more sessions over the next week. The rhythm evolved from "go to the bright light" and thoughts of next-of-kin to remembering what it was to play as well as to bob and weave. I moved from restricted breathing and hopes of survival to taking in the generations of discipline that preceded my contact with Shrine Room G, the converted garage at the retreat center in Virginia, the enormity of a thousand year-old culture brought to me by people on foot over the Himalayas in flight from invading armies bent on genocide.

And there was the utter power, poignance and dignity of His Holiness, the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. Hearing of this person was breathtaking.

After my bourgeois roughing it in a tent for ten days, the mission was clear. The story and context of His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa needed to be properly told through the voices of the people most close to him.

With some new knowledge, particularly about what not to do again, I began to do more research and write many lists. You know you're ready to move forward with complete commitment when you can say, "It's not going to suck more than what I've already been through." That is how "irreversible confidence" translates in California.

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Coming Shows
17
Apr
Ojai, CA
4pm screening at the Ojai Playhouse with Director Q&A after. Sponsored by Osel Nyingpo.


14
May
Albany, NY
7pm at the Doane Stuart Auditorium. Sponsored by Albany KTC.
27
May
San Luis Obispo, CA
Venue to be announced. Sponsored by Diamond Way San Luis Obispo.


27
May
Bratislav, Slovakia
Official Selection: Buddhas in the City Film Festival


Recalling a Buddha at the Rio in Santa Cruz

From the Santa Cruz show
in November