1971, The Picture

Rab Wilkie

It was a very good year, 1971. Earlier, during the previous autumn, Rinpoche announced that he was travelling to India in the spring and would anyone like to accompany him?

Was there was any hand, other than my own, that didn't go up? I'm not sure, but such a journey had little interest for me. Even if I'd had a burning desire to see India, which I hadn't, it was far beyond my means.

As the class ended I noticed a new photograph on the mantlepiece in the dining-room. It stood beside the smaller one of Rinpoche's mysterious Burmese teacher, the Sayadaw U Thila Wunta, whose face was turned and hidden in shadow. By contrast, the face in this other photo was full frontal and with a familiar gaze that seemed to permeate the room. As if he were 'one of the guys'.. in disguise as a Tibetan lama.

When I asked who it was, Jim Clark looked at me in amazed disbelief, but quickly recovered and whispered, "Karmapa".

Jim, a printer with the Globe & Mail (officially) on strike for three years, had been with Rinpoche and a small group of students in 1967 when they had met His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa at his monastery in Sikkim. At some point along the way Rinpoche had, at a special moment, said that he would grant every student one wish. So they all thought deeply and seriously and came up with very fine wishes such as Enlightenment, Wisdom, an end to Suffering, and so on. While Jim said all he wanted was a pink Cadillac.

As we were about to leave Rinpoche's house on Palmerston Boulevard after the class that evening, heading for the curb and Jim's pink Cadillac, Rinpoche asked me if I'd signed up for the trip.

"Umm, no", I replied.

He looked surprised. And seemed to consider this peculiar response for a moment before boring into me what felt like more than a suggestion: "You.. are.. going.. to.. INDIA!"

"Uhh, well, okay", I said, shrugging my hopeless shoulders.

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