16 May 2007 |
Posted by Lama Surya Das | 2 Comments.
When visa troubles in Nepal drove me out of Kopan Monastery in early summer of 1972, I made a pilgrimage to meet the Dalai Lama at his Tibetan capital in exile in Dharamsala, India; and after spending two weeks there, including some inspiring private time with His Holiness, I went on to Almora.
Lama Govinda and Li Gotami were gone at the time, but I met their house-sitting holy-man named Guru-lama on the ridge beyond Almora, where the Govinda’s house had become like a sort of informal ashram. Night after night, Guru-lama regaled me with stories around the old fashioned hearth. I slept in my sleeping bag on the small screened-in porch attached to an acquaintance’s rented hillside house, only slightly in terror of the man-eating tiger rumored to be at large in those hills. I met an old British relic named Shunya who had known the great saint Ramana Maharshi in the South and fancied himself a sage, although I had my doubts. It was in an ex-pat’s moldy library during the monsoon season that I first read Lao Tsu’s wisdom-laden Tao Te Ching, till this day my favorite eastern classic, and Chogyam Trungpa’s Born in Tibet.
R.D. Laing and Timothy Leary had also spent some time on Crankвs Ridge there in Almora, where Leary wrote his stoned version of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, called The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience — concerning the bardo passage between lives, and other mystical experiences and secret teachings on the sacred nature of mind –- a book aptly named and reminiscent of William Jamesв classic, The Varieties of Religious Experience. It was around that time that I got to know Baba Ram Dass, Bhagavan Das, Krishna Das, Dan Goleman and Dhamma Dipo, Mirabai Bush, Charles Genoud, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, and Girija and Larry Brilliant, near the feet of our guru Neem Karoli Baba — all slightly older, quite learned and hip American pilgrims along the same path. We were all studying and practicing Vipassana meditation and various yogas in those halcyon days.
I mention these fellow seekers and Bodhisattvas with the warmest memories and delight, gratitude and appreciation, recalling all of their kindnesses to the naХve, 21-year-old I was then, just a budding sprout wandering alone on the Buddhist way of awakening. A good number of them had been with Lama Govinda himself at his hermitage above Almora. In fact, I doubt there is a single influential American from that early wave of Dharma’s movement to the Western world who had not read and been inspired by Lama Govinda, his life, writings, teachings, art, his modest and quiet demeanor, and his graceful, dignified person.
I doubt that thereвs a day in my life now that I don’t think about Lama Govinda, the first western lama, a trailblazer and bridgebuilder between East and West. He ended his productive life in Marin County at Yvonne Rand’s home, now a Buddhist temple and meditation center. Occasionally I wonder what Lama Govinda went on to after breathing his last in the Buddhafield by the Bay in Marin County, California. Sometimes I think I glimpse him in the avidly earnest, shining eyes of my youthful students, the Dharma-farmer future Buddhas of America. He is part of the invisible array of lineage holders who guide and accompany us all along the Way.