I am here in Goa absorbing the warmth and clean air – a welcome relief from the cold and dust of Bodhgaya and Delhi. I hear the sounds of gentle waves against a rocky shore, a lapping, gurgling sound that is hard to put into words. The stars and crescent moon against a clear black sky have now replaced the glowing haze of Bodhgaya. Lights from the other shore, their undulating reflections approach me as I sit outside my room in this gentle cove.
Thoughts of Karmapa are passing through my mind along with the sounds of dogs barking and the horn of a train in the distance. What have we filmed and how will we edit it to convey the endless flow of humanity with its tears of pain and devotion? I think I could never describe the magic that is Bodhgaya. Perhaps in the imagery of our documentary we may be able to approach it. The sound of a train calls once more from the distance like the lonely heart of Karmapa. Now he has once again returned to his cage in Gyuoto. One last cry from the train’s horn fading in the distance, the gentle howl of dogs and their quiet yapping continues, mixing with the waves and sounds of crickets and a few roosters who like me do not realize it is not yet time to wake. Is there anything more than this present awareness?
My thoughts recall what my teachers have said during these dream like days that were Bodhgaya. Ponlop Rinpoche, in our interview, said the main problem is we are always looking somewhere else, going somewhere else to find what is in front of our nose.
Looking directly into his eyes my mind stopped for a brief moment and there was nothing else but this present awareness. I could not think to continue my questions and Fernanda had to ask the next.
I am still imagining the sound of the bell being rung by Mingyur Rinpoche in the shrine hall of Tergar pointing to the continuity of awareness that is always with us. I thought one had to find the gap but the gap is not a place to find. I was sitting one day with Tsoknyi Rinpoche in his room at Tergar, above the shrine hall. He seemed so at ease, the essence of “carefree dignity” and “fearless simplicity”. He was telling me he just wanted to be here doing nothing, working on developing his own bodhicitta, spending his time around the stupa on the temple grounds. I thought about how it is said that all the Buddhas of the past and all the Buddhas of the future will attain enlightenment in Bodhgaya. That may have been Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s wish that morning but from the little I saw his mornings were filled with a constant flow of new and old students who came for advice, teachings, blessings and his warm, gentle presence.
His brother Mingyur Rinpoche is going into a three year retreat and he has requested Tsoknyi Rinpoche to look after his students and continue to point out the nature of mind to the new ones who enter their growing sangha. Besides teaching, Mingyur Rinpoche’s days were filled with continual short interviews of 5 minutes each. He held many longer meetings with the directors of Tergar International before going into retreat.
On the top floor of Tergar Monastery, His Holiness, the 17th Karmapa held audiences. It seemed there were no gaps in his schedule and constant meetings with long lines of those seeking his blessing. His schedule was so full I could see the stress and angst in the gentle eyes of his secretary Chime whose huge responsibility was to juggle and moderate the needs of so many. Group after group of Taiwanese, Americans, Europeans, Russians, Mexicans and the newly arrived from Tibet who bowed so low with katas in their hands, offering the precious objects they had carried for him to bless. With tears in their eyes, they would push their grandmother or sick son towards Karmapa with faith that he would cure their ills. No matter how long the line, he would stop occasionally to listen to their story and then touch or blow on them before his guards hurried them past. As I filmed I could see how dazed they were; and the flow of need continued. My mind cannot even begin to fathom the lives of Rinpoches and Karmapa where there is no personal space.
Here I sit in Goa, in a small beach village in the south of India, taking a few days to digest these past six weeks of work on the film, taking time to recover from the pollution that brings coughs and colds in Bodhgaya. I took a swim in the ocean for the first time in many years. Here the food is good and there are many espresso machines. I feel a touch of guilt realizing that there are no vacations for the Karmapa.
The roosters are again singing but it is barely 4:00 in the morning. I think the roosters of Bodhgaya began their work later after the Muezzins had finished their morning call to prayer at 5:30. Now I hear a few small voices of children and their mothers, a few horns on the other side of the cove. Some begin their day hours before dawn. It has been difficult for me to sleep through the night. I find at one or two in the morning I am suddenly awake and I think I am feeling the restless, strong energy of the Karmapa. It is probably just my own imagination and my own restless heart. Why would such a great being whose confidence feels as vast as the ocean and as solid as the mountains be restless?
Now it is 6:00 in the morning and even here in Goa a Muezzin is singing. The sound of firecrackers exploding. Who knows why, it is long past the new year. But this is India where little makes sense. Perhaps it is just my mind that projects the restlessness on Karmapa but watching him it seems his energy barely contains itself and he paces like a tiger in a cage.
It is hard to put together my notion of a calm and peaceful Buddha with what I have witnessed of Karmapa. On stage he is still and seems calm but in the privacy of his audience room his huge presence can barely contain itself. In my heart I feel no doubt that here in India, in the home of Buddha Shakyamuni the Karmapa’s eyes reflect little joy and he almost never smiles, like he did when he toured America. On his last day, when he had finished circumambulating the Mahabodhi Temple and offering his aspiration for the world in front of the golden Buddha statue, I was moving backward trying to film his exit when suddenly I backed right into a pillar. I almost fell with my camera in hand, caught his eye for a moment as his face lit up with a large smile close to laughter. In that brief gap my heart melted into his eyes and I too laughed thinking about this comic moment we just shared.
The terton Chogyur Lingpa predicted that the 16th Karmapa would cross the great ocean to the west. The 16th Gyalwang Karmapa traveled at least twice around the world and as a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche I had the good fortune to meet him twice when he was in Boulder. The 17th Karmapa again returned to America in 2008. I toured with him as a photographer.
I hope you will join my prayer that this great being may soon be free to teach and travel the world and manifest the “activities of the Buddhas”, which is the birthright of all the Karmapas.
James Gritz , January 9, 2011, Goa, India