Michael’s fascinating narrative from Issue 01 reminded me of a powerful experience of my own with the Karmapa Chenno mantra. Michael did such a wonderful job of discussing the history and significance of it that I see no need to elaborate here. My story isn’t nearly as “life or death” intense as Michael’s, but it is personally very poignant and I think worthy of sharing.
Background: In the summer of 2004 I traveled to Tibet with my teacher, Lama D. Dorjee Rinpoche, and fellow students, seekers, adventurers and generally brave people who wanted to taste the pure air reputed to still exist on the “roof of the world.” One of my side tasks on this trip was to take a series of photos of important sites and landmarks for future possible use on a book project I was assisting Lama Rinpoche on. Knowing this will help explain my anxiety below when the camera goes missing. I thought it best to let excerpts from my journal tell this story. It is transcribed and unedited from a handwritten log, so forgive any generally poor writing. Here goes…
This morning I had the chance to sit in Kamsong’s traditional yak-hair tent. The warmth and coziness and earthiness was strong. In the center of the tent was the stove–source of warmth and nourishment. Around the edge of the tent were beds and seats of various kinds. Food and other supplies were set out around the tent, but concentrated on one side. The oven seems to be burning constantly. They feed it with discs of yak dung. A hole right in the center top of the tent serves as the chimney, where smoke and steam escape. Practice mingles inseparably with mundane activities. Various people are chanting mantra quietly at any given moment. Prayer wheels spin occasionally. Cooking and preparation seems to be constant. Churning butter, cooking yogurt, cutting vegetables. There are no walls in the tent, no definite divisions of space besides that central source of heat.
In the afternoon, after lunch, Sam and I took a hike onto the plateau overlooking the camp. The view, of course, was quite spectacular. Up on the plateau we ducked/crawled under a fence and there were two hills to climb. We found some good mushrooms up on the first hill. I remembered them as the edible ones so I began to collect them in my coat pocket. Near the top of the second hill I sat for awhile and made aspirations to connect with the Karmapa. It began to rain pretty heavily so we decided to to go down. Back at camp we entered the coziness of the yak-hair tent again. We were served hot butter tea and crackers. Talk about hitting the spot.
Later back at my own tent I made a frightening discovery–I didn’t have my camera anywhere. It wasn’t a panic yet. First I went back to Kamsong’s tent, where I had had it this morning. No luck. The next choice was daunting but at least it was a choice–back up the mountain. I retraced my steps as best I could…no camera anywhere. Now I began to feel panic. I had been imagining sharing the narrative of the trip back home as a photo book, and with that roll of film missing the continuity would be broken. I felt like I had let my loved ones down. Not only that, but my responsibility to collect pictures for the book! I had let Lama-La down as well! At dinner I asked Lama-La if he could mention to Kamsang about the possibility of the camera being in his tent. He asked me to follow him to the tent right away. When we didn’t find it there, he sent me back up the mountain with about 10 kids. They were boisterous and hardy but not disrespectful. We “combed” the hilltops without success. I was beginning to accept the situation and imagine how I would adapt–get copies from others…and so on. However, some special stupa pictures were on that roll!
When I arrived back at camp Lama-La called me over and asked if I had found it. He seemed worried.
Happy Independence Day.
In the morning I still felt depressed and ashamed about the camera. Combined with losing my mala, I was beginning to wonder what the deal was…At breakfast, Lama-La asked about the camera, and also if we’d lost all the story pictures. When I told him we’d only lost one roll he was relieved and happy. I cheered up a bit…
…a few minutes later I was told Lama-La wanted to see me in the yak-hair tent. When I entered he said that he wanted to know if I wanted to search the mountain one more time or “did I want to let it go.” I decided to try once more. One of Lama-La’s nephews and his wife, and 2 of their kids, walked with me yet again up the mountain. I prayed “KARMAPA CHENNO” for focus and guidance. I was so grateful for the support and caring. As we approached the fence I saw something right under it and my heart fluttered a bit. Suddenly, it all came together–when I had crawled under the fence the camera had fallen out of my pocket! I ran closer, and sure enough, that was it. “Tashi Delek!” I yelled. My gracious guides were as happy as I was. I gave the man a hug, gave each of the kids a high five, and shook the woman’s hand. Then I immediately rounded them together for a picture.
This was a minor miracle and they were at least partly responsible for it. I began to think of how I could repay them. I thought of offering them money but I didn’t want to insult them. Just in case, I surreptitiously pulled out 50 Yuan to have available. When we got back to the tent Lama-La was there. I showed him we had found the camera.
‘How many people?” he asked. [I answered]
‘Give them 100 Yuan.’
I pulled out 100 and Lama-La attempted to give it to him [his nephew], but, as I suspected, he refused. I asked Lama-La to translate that I thanked them from the bottom of my heart and that it was a miracle. As I left I thanked the man and woman again and nearly forgot my backpack! Later I remembered Lama-La and Tacho mentoning that forgetting something at someone’s house was a good sign, as it meant that you enjoyed it and you want to come back. Perhaps that is the story of my mala beads.”
NOTE: Though the narrative was a bit choppy, I thought the journal transcription preserved the innocence and power of the event. You’ll note the photo I took of the family is very “foggy.” The camera had spent a long night in the rain, and some moisture likely got into the lense. However, I also like to think of the evanescent haze surrounding the family as a sign of blessing. After we had found the camera, I looked to the woman and said, “KARMAPA CHENNO,” as if to tell her that it was the power of the mantra that had helped us find it. She immediately replied, “GURU RINPOCHE,” indicating that we’d also had the power and blessings of Padmasambhava. In other words, while I was chanting Karmapa Chenno, she had been chanting the mantra of Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche. Karmapa Chenno!