I was having coffee one day with a friend in Atlanta. We were discussing
a few concepts we’d learned at the feet of a Buddhist Monk the previous
evening. The Monk’s name was (and still is) Geshe Lobsang Tenzin,
Spiritual Director of Drepung Loseling, but we called him Geshe La,
an endearing nickname for a beautiful person and and excellent teacher.
As I write this, he’s been the head of the Drepung Loseling Monastery in
Atlanta for 22 years that I know of. A quiet and gentle man, his eyes shine
brightly with this huge understanding of the human condition; one can
instantly see his compassion for it… and for us.
From the start he had let us know that he appreciated our willingness to
try stepping out of our culture and into his. He made it as easy as he could
for us… his English was very good and he had Tibetan Monks roll into our
small rental space on the Emory University campus at least twice a year.
The Monks, coming in from India and Nepal, danced, chanted, did their
strange music and taught us different meditation techniques. Every visit
brought us a new sense of how wildly different their culture was from ours.
But Geshe La was very good at keeping us focused on the philosophy of
Buddhism, going most lightly on their tangible practices. Good thing, too,
or they’d have lost most of us right away.
So Carl and I were sharing mental notes on the previous evening, when he
paused, smiled at me and said, “ You know, all this, this living together on
the planet, it should be so simple, so easy. We all want basically the same
things, and most of us know that we accomplish way more with each other
than we can by ourselves. What the hell is wrong with us? Are we ever going to finally get it?”
I remember telling him that every Tuesday night I went home after the
teachings and the meditation, feeling that I was finally on to the answer. Yet
by the next morning I was once more a stranger in a strange land, with no
earthly clue as to what it was all about. We knew we were programmed by
our culture, and even suspected that some of it might have been transferred
genetically. No matter how hard we tried to embrace the Tibetan culture
along with the Buddhist principles, we couldn’t do it… it simply didn’t work
For us, the meat and potatoes of Buddhism lay in the philosophic principles
of their view of life, how to live it and how to be happy. In a nutshell, it
consists of knowing there will be suffering in our lives, that we can overcome it and find happiness. Low expectations, understanding of the need for simplicity and good intention in our lives, with compassion in our hearts… these basic concepts and their daily practice brought with them a power we could almost taste, when we were able to be mindful of them and keep them with us every day.
I have honored my Buddhist practice for many years now, but have had
no one to share spiritual thoughts, feelings and ideas with except Betty,
my love, who understands and shares my love of the Buddhist life.
So it was a huge surprise when my oldest and dearest friend and his wife
visited us on New Year’s Day. He had barely set his suitcases in the guest
room when he came out and handed me a small, hastily-wrapped bundle.
His eyes were bright and a little wet, and his voice was tight. “Here, I want
you to have this.”
I pulled the tape and the plastic wrapping away, and there it was. Small,
smiling, little round belly… a beautiful sight – The Rosewood Buddha!
Now, I recount this moment for you because it was such a remarkable
moment, and an equally remarkable gift from my friend. Here was a man
who knew nearly nothing about Buddhism except that his friend (me) had
chosen to live by some of its concepts, and that was enough for him…
and so he gave me his Rosewood Buddha, the little Buddha that he had picked up on one of his several trips to Thailand; the little Buddha that had sat on his mantle at his home for 20 years. He was honoring our friendship and honoring my belief system, though it was not shared by him. At that moment he was, without his knowing it, more of a living Buddhist than I might have ever been. He was embodying love and compassion for his fellow man… and it was an incredible moment! Overpowering! I have relived it a dozen times in the past months.
His wonderful gift has inspired me to return to my passion for living the
Buddhist life better and stronger, along with returning to my passion for music.
A printed note came with the little Buddha. Here it is –
“The ‘Laughing Buddha’ has today become a household name. People believe that keeping the statue of this cheerful little fellow with a large bulging stomach in their house brings prosperity, good fortune and happiness into their lives.”
“Also known as ‘Happy Buddha,’ he propounded the philosophy that no matter what happens in life, one should always face it with a smile, because when you smile at the world, the world smiles back at you. This profound wisdom of the legendary monk has inspired the world to cherish and follow in his footsteps.”
Our humanity. Incredible, how fragile it is. How destructive it is when divisive, how powerful it is when shared. Rick, my oldest friend, thank you for your thoughtfulness and for your big heart. You are like few men I’ve ever known. It’s funny, isn’t it… you were my first friend, and always a great friend. Even at first meeting, 72 years ago, a sharp shot in my face from your squirt gun was barely a hint of what was to come.
Big love to you and your beautiful family,