If you're familiar with senior Tibetan lamas of the Kagyu lineage, most names that will first come to mind will be of teachers who were at Rumtek Monastery with His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa.
The original abbot at Rumtek was Very Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche. The Karmapa discovered Rinpoche as a tulku. Whenever you see pictures of Rinpoche or get to see him in person, he has an enormous smile, a joviality, a big-heartedness to him that registers even if you're at the back of the room. He is the senior teacher of the Karma Kagyu lineage.
I sent his peeps an email describing my project and myself. By this time, I was subletting an apartment, doing some short-term software work and prepping to go to India and Nepal. I eventually got an email back from someone writing under the name of Thrangu Rinpoche, who I assumed was a translator or attendant. It wasn't like Rinpoche would really have a Yahoo account.
Rinpoche was willing to initially speak to me when he was coming to teach in San Francisco. I would meet briefly with him at a local Kagyu center and hopefully work out arrangements to speak in greater depth in Asia.
I arrived at the center and was brought into an essentially empty room. There was just Rinpoche seated on cushions. No real furniture to speak of. No translator in the room. I scanned for a palm tree, a ficus, something.
"Hullo," Rinpoche said.
That joviality I referred to earlier that was someplace else. Today, he was all business.
I felt an inexplicable surge of compassion for every gazelle and wildebeast on the plains of the Serengeti. I offered my prostrations and khata then introduced myself. I resumed breathing. Very Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche was a big hitter, no joke.
The discussion of "why" did come up, more discreetly than it usually comes up with people of the entourage. Again, it was simple thing, so I thought, it was important, it was a genuine need and I could see what needed to be done: it would be interesting and fun. We agreed to talk in India. Then he thanked me. So that became my big contemplation for the morning as I made my way on the freeway, late as usual. Soon after, I was off to India.
Interviewing Rinpoche is simply a privilege. How else do you describe hearing about the decline and fall of Tibet from a living witness, not to mention receiving Karmapa's escape route? Like the John Muir Trail and the path of Lewis and Clark, I hope this path will be traveled by many who will appreciate its significance, what it cost, what it brought.
Rinpoche is a treasure trove of history, context and so much more. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche told me that if I wanted to understand how the Black Crown ceremony came about, its purpose and intent, that Thrangu Rinpoche was "the perfect person to talk to. He was the one who taught me." And Rinpoche does not disappoint.