Lessons from a Tibetan Lama: How to Bend like a Piece of Wood - Part 1
My karate kid moment...
I was excited to move into the next phase of my life—to learn from masters of strange lands.
And to live a more authentic life away from the pretense and snobbery of art school. But the move from music to the monastery was not without problems.
My parents were concerned I’d joined a cult.
From the outside, it appeared as if I was moving away from all I had worked so hard to achieve.
Intuitively, I knew better, and this was confirmed with the first meeting with the Tibetan lama I’d spend the next fifteen years living and learning from.
I’d been attending Sunday meditation classes for about a month when I got the chance to meet the Lama in person and to ask questions that had come up.
I also wanted to move into the monastery, and I was seriously thinking about becoming a monk but, this required approval from the main Lama.
So I’d asked those that managed his time for a private meeting in order to ask permission to move in, to bring up the idea of ordination, as well as to create a deeper connection.
On the day of the meeting, I arrived at the monastery early and nervously waited in the main kitchen as people went about their business.
I was under the impression one of his Western students would lead me to his room and introduce me, but, as the allotted time approached, I was starting to wonder if I’d been forgotten when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Lama walking towards me.
I stood as he approached. He smiled and gestured for me to follow.
We walked out through a side door and into an area of the main house where the weekly meditation classes were held, and the upstairs second story held his residence.
As the Lama led me up the stairs, he asked, “What do you do?” And with pride, I told him, “I’m a music student and go to the Victorian College of the Arts,” as if he would know of this school.
I recall noticing how my ego inflated in order to appear more than it was, and I felt a little embarrassed by my response.
But his reply to my remarks was genius.
He immediately retorted, “Ah…music…just entertainment.”
And with those words, a weight was lifted from my shoulders.
Not only the weight of self-imposed expectations but, the weight created from the idea I believed that music had an inherent value beyond the activities of making or consuming it.
As I mentioned above, the first thirty seconds of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme“ drips with spiritual meaning.”
This was something I believed in for a very long time—that music was inherently meaningful.
But this wasn’t an empirical fact I’d found. But rather, it was something I wanted to be true.
And I made it be true because it somehow gave meaning to my life.
Music was my Land of Oz. A fantasy land to which I’d escape.
A place that gave meaning to the angst of teenage melancholy.
And this worked for me for a time. It helped me make sense of a value system thrown upon me by well-meaning people.
But it was a system that I just could not digest without suffering reflux.
Whenever I could, I would escape the beer-drinking-football-watching Australian culture for the free-thinking world of art, and everything seemed to be better.
But now I was no longer a teenager, and it was time to be handed the red pill. Thus in a single moment with his words, the Lama ripped open the kimono to reveal the truth. My Oz was a fantasy world of make-believe without any real inherent substance.
And I was relieved to be shown this truth.
Relieved because I was being given permission to see through the scaffolding I’d erected to create a value system that would ultimately limit me.
Looking back at this first meeting now, I see these words were what I needed to hear.
They were words meant just for me; for that time.
A month later, I had moved into the monastery, and in true Karate-kid style was given a chore.
I was shown what to clean, how to clean, and when—"wax on; wax off."
But more on that in the next episode.
Part 1 - My Karate Kid Moment
Part 2 - Wax On Wax Off
Part 3 - Like Downloading Wisdom Directly from the Lama.