Ass Backwards

Peter Boag

The problem with clinging is that until you let it go, either you cling to it or it clings to you. Either way is suffering. Here's a story of my own clinging that spans more than twenty years.

In the summer of 1975 Namgyal Rinpoche sent me on ahead from a course in Crete to find accomodations for him and close to one hundred students on the Greek island of Samos. This was an impossible task, according to conventional wisdom, as it was the height of the tourist season and there would be "no room in the inn" on that small island. However, after many adventures and a lot of haggling, everything fell into place by the eve of Rinpoche's arrival.

He seemed pleased with the small, previously mothballed, hotel that had been re-opened just for him. He was less pleased that I intended to stay there that night until the students arrived the next day. However, he relented, after making it clear that I would clear out in the morning.

That night I couldn't sleep. I kept thinking of a rumour circulating among the students that Rinpoche never slept. I decided to find out once and for all if this were true. So, about 3 am, I silently crept down the marble hallway in stocking feet. The door to Rinpoche's room had an old-fashioned keyhole which would be quite sufficient to peek through. Just as I crouched down to get a good look, the door suddenly opened! At over six and a half feet, Namgyal towered over me, even more so than usual, with me in the most subservient of postures.

"Yes?" he enquired.

I was quickly trying to find my wits. "Sir, I was just putting something to the test", I said, referring to a favourite phrase of his.

"Very good, carry on," he said, closing the door in my face.

The next day at the first lecture he threw me out of the class, in circumstances that left a bitter feeling with me. I couldn't help but wonder if he were getting me back for my indiscretion of the previous night. With each passing year the memory of this event faded, until I completely forgot about it. Or so I thought.

My tale now shifts to 2003, Rinpoche's last year of embodiment. I knew he was seriously ill, and that his death was imminent. Still, he kept on travelling and teaching. Early that year I had been invited to Guatemala by a student who had offered Rinpoche a place there to rest and recharge.

Everything was in place for me to see him there, and maybe do a retreat. Yet I could not shake the feeling that I had no right to take any more of his dwindling energy. He had already given me many lifetimes worth of work to do. The more I contemplated this, the more I was convinced. As a result I threw away my non-refundable ticket and stayed away.

A few months later, I heard that Rinpoche would be teaching in Idaho, which was two days drive from where I was. I decided to head up to Boise to see him one last time. When I was about two hundred miles from Boise, in the mountains of Nevada, I was overtaken by the presence of Namgyal Rinpoche, and experienced what can only be described as the full-on Namgyal Crystal Cave empowerment, which will be familiar to anyone who has had that wongkur and done the practice. The only thing is, at that point, I had not had that wongkur and the experience did not seem a result of anything I had done. But I digress from my tale.

When I arrived at Boise, Rinpoche was a shadow of his former physical self, and was teaching to a large group of students, many of whom had never met him and wanted to make a connection. Once again I decided to keep at arm's length out of concern for his diminished energy.

If you have read this far, you will naturally want to know what all this has to do with the events in Greece, decades before. The connection became clear during my drive home, in those same Nevada mountains.

Time warped, shapes shifted, and it was as if Rinpoche was in my passenger seat, saying, "So what about that thing that has been bugging you all these years?"

Somehow I knew immediately. "You threw me out of your class!"

Rinpoche said, "Shall we examine this? Remind me!"

"Well Sir, the previous night I had spied on you."


"The next day you gave us an excercise to draw our parents naked, then you took off to get a cool drink."

"As I recall it was sweltering hot, was it not?"

"Yes sir, it was almost unbearable sitting in the sand in that sun."

"And when I returned?"

"Well Sir, I had completed my drawing and suddenly understood the whole thing. I looked around at the other students' drawings and they confirmed my thoughts. The notion that we are partially products of our parent's own inadequacies was brutally obvious, but also so absurd that I couldn't help laughing!"

"Yes, and when I returned, a bunch of you were laughing like hyenas. And when I asked who was laughing to stand up, only you stood".

"Which is why it was totally unfair of you to have banished me, and let everyone else stay!"

Rinpoche was beside himself laughing. "You still don't get it, after all this time?"

"I guess not."

"What did you do after I tossed you out of the class?"

"I went down to the sea and had a cool drink under a tree".

"Yes, while the rest of us had to sit in the hot sun for a few more hours! ..And you call that punishment?"

Rinpoche went on. "People think they have been banished from the Kingdom of Heaven, while the opposite is true. Peter, all these years you have got it ass backwards."

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