Friday, May 02, 2003

Well, first of all they say you have to get a root lama. So I sent this mail, more or less (I'm editing things as I go along. I live in P-----, my greatly admired lama there is M-----, and person I'm asking to be my root is S-----. Yes, I do feel like I'm writing a 19th-Century epistolary novel.)

Dear S-----,

I am looking at starting Vajrayana practice, after many years of practicing only Shamatha. And so the topic of choosing a root lama comes up. And so I'm writing to ask, under what circumstances might you consider being someone's root lama?

I was only in a class you taught in P----- a couple years ago, so I don't know you well enough to ask that. More importantly, I guess, you don't know me well enough for me to ask that. When I asked M----- about choosing a root lama, he cited someone who said, "your root lama is someone who showed you the nature of your own mind." And I thought, well, that's S-----, of course. But that's a silly idea. She won't even remember who I am. And what could I look like but a monumental flake, making a request like that out of the blue?

So I tried to sensibly put the idea aside, but it doesn't seem to go away. When I imagine visualizing the Buddha or Chenrezig or whoever as my root lama, you're the only person, besides the Dalai Lama, I can make sense of in that role. Now I realize this is just idle ideation -- not even ideation arising from practice: just ideation arising from thinking about the practice.

I'm confident that you are in fact my root lama, and always have, been, whether you or I like it or not. That confidence is just what it is, of course -- a recurrent, insistent thought. I don't mistake it for evidence, let alone proof, of anything. But I am not at all given to thoughts like that. I've never considered identifying karmic links from past lives as anything but a childish parlor-game, and I've always been a little impatient with what usually seems to me to be exagerated reverence for the Great Teacher du jour. So I'm kind of blindsided by this, now. But it's plain to me that wherever this comes from, it's a practice opportunity I'd be foolish to ignore. As I'd be foolish to ignore the fact that your visit to Portland was the most important turning point in my practice after -- maybe -- taking refuge.

So forgive me S----- for taking up your time this way. I'm painfully aware of the effrontery of this email. I tried to think of some way to disguise or soften it but I couldn't. So here it is. In any case, whether you feel moved to answer this or not, please accept my thanks again: my gratitude to you has only increased over the years, and I could never ask so much if I didn't already feel hopelessly in debt.

Much love