A Lesson In Love

Peter Boag (Mexico 1973)

We were the lucky four, at least we started out thinking so. Chosen from the whole group to ride with Rinpoche up the coast from Mexico to Vancouver, we were indeed fortunate, but wrong in thinking that we were in for a joy ride.

One by one Rinpoche engaged us and systematically left our egos in tatters. There was no escape from that station wagon. So, of course, we all welcomed what we saw as a great opportunity for a bit of relief. A chance to show what great Buddhists we were. A chance to show Rinpoche that his lessons had not been lost on us, and that, yes, we understood his teaching.

That chance came when we stopped at a small market town for a quick rest stop. Just before ordering us all back into the car, Rinpoche pointed out a vendor who was hawking parrots in rough wire cages. "Let's buy one and set him free in the countryside!" We all heard each other thinking this. Some of us said it out loud, and Rinpoche, after ensuring that the added cargo in back would not impede his leg-room up front, agreed.

Night was falling, and Rinpoche rarely liked to travel at night, which, of course, demonstrated to us the importance of our rescue mission. We drove into the night, until Rinpoche motioned to pull over at an overgrown papaya plantation. "This seems to approximate the natural environment of that bird, don't you think?", he asked. We all agreed and soon we were gathered part way up the grove, standing beside the cage.

"Ok, let him out", Rinpoche ordered. The bird slowly hobbled from the cage and tried to flap his wings. He tried again and again.. and again, but could not. His wings had been cut. The parrot just hobbled around in small circles. There was a big problem with our plan! Somebody grabbed the bird and was about to put him back in the cage.

"What do you think you are doing?", Rinpoche boomed in a fierce voice.

"But Sir, the bird can't fly and the predators will get him for sure", came the timid reply. All our heads nodded in agreement. After all, we were here to exercise compassion, weren't we? Another voice tried to say, "We could give him back to the vendor. He at least will be fed and kept alive that way".

Rinpoche crushed those words in mid air. "How dare you lay your fear trip on this creature!", he thundered. "He finally has a chance at freedom, to let his life take its proper course!". Rinpoche's voice was getting even louder. "Have I wasted my time, have I taught you lot nothing?".

There was a momentary silence as we all shook in our boots. Rinpoche resumed, this time with a voice so primal, so savage, that time seemed suspended. "If I had to trade places with you lot or that bird, I'd choose the bird! At least he is free, if only for one night! You lot are prisoners of your fear, your comforts, your 'pretty' illusions! You hear me? I would rather be that bird than you!".

There was no way that Rinpoche's voice could have gotten any louder, so at this point his tone changed. His words cut, his words tore, his words chewed.. his words clawed through whatever hasty ego defenses we were trying to erect against this onslaught.

"Freedom! Have I not been teaching you about freedom? The infinite potential of a single moment of liberation? Who the hell do you think you are? Who the hell do you think I am? Have you not been paying any attention at all, or were you just looking for some pretty fluff to protect you from your own illusions that love has to be nice? That your lives are nice? That you understand anything at all?". Rinpoche was stamping his foot, just to make sure we got it.

We were devastated, crushed, speechless, shaken. We could not move.

Rinpoche waited in silence till at least one of us got the point, and could show it by heading back to the car. One by one the others followed, leaving the bird flapping around in the dark grove.

Nothing further was said. Nothing needed to be said. Only the wild sounds of nature, the rushing of a nearby creek, and the light of a million stars remained.

As we drove off, even the reflections of those stars were swept away by the rushing water, leaving only the scene illuminated by the inherent light of our own minds, or darkened by the cold brick wall of our own fears.

It was our choice..

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