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6 . Victory Over War

By the mid-seventies, what had begun as a loose association of hippies following a guru evolved into a multifaceted community. People had grown up and taken on families and greater responsibilities. Trungpa Rinpoche had begun to emphasize care in how you dressed and conducted your household. There were simple protocols. For talks, for example, he expected students to sit up and pay attention rather than sprawl about. Senior teachers from Trungpa Rinpoche’s Tibetan lineages were hosted on crosscountry tours. The head of the Kagyu school, His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, made the first of his three U.S. visits in 1974. It was a monumental affair. Trungpa Rinpoche transformed before his students’ eyes. They saw his great devotion to the Karmapa and to his lineage. He met the Karmapa’s great beaming smile with an equal smile and a bow of respect. We his students wanted whatever they were having.

To warrant devotion and service, a teacher must genuinely embody the teachings. Ultimately, student and teacher effect an eye-level meeting of the minds. Relatively, the student supplicates and serves the teacher. As Trungpa Rinpoche demonstrated how to do this for His Holiness, we learned to do it more for Trungpa Rinpoche. This is how he had learned from his teachers in the longstanding tradition that began in India with the earliest Vajrayana masters. Serving the teacher means helping in the propagation of the dharma and can encompass everything from translation to giving meditation instruction to helping run a household to acting as an appointments secretary. In inviting students to take on serving and attending roles, he made it possible for them to learn the dharma in day-to-day situations, where the rubber meets the road. We discovered that serving the teacher can be a powerful element in the spiritual path, part of the process of wearing down ego and opening the student to teachings that challenge cherished habits and views.

One form of this practice as service was called the Dorje Kasung, which roughly translated means those who protect the teachings and help make them accessible. The kasung could help the teacher create a good container in which the teachings can be heard and experienced. A meditation hall that is clean and quiet and well lit and ventilated provides an excellent container for mindfulness practice and to hear teachings. Likewise, if someone sits at the gate in an upright posture looking out as a reminder to students to enter attentively—and make a transition from the speed of daily life—they’ll be inspired to hear the teachings, take them to heart, and wake up.

Those of us who joined the Dorje Kasung dressed in simple uniforms and our role was well known to students. One might sit for long hours doing almost nothing outside a meditation hall, acting as a kind of gatekeeper, just as in the temples of old. We provided information and direction to those who entered the center for the first time. We were also there in the event of emergency, such as a power outage or fire or theft. Students began to feel the kasung helped ensure a safe, calm atmosphere for practice and study, a good container.

Rinpoche had taught meditation and meditation-in-action, and now he taught meditation-in-interaction. He gave seminars especially for the Dorje Kasung, which inculcated in us certain principles, such as gentleness, putting others first, and fearless action in the midst of chaotic situations. The teachings were often expressed in metaphors that one could unravel and unpack in those long hours looking at a rug and a dog in the entryway to the teacher’s residence:

If there are lots of clouds in front of the sun, your duty is to create wind so that clouds can be removed and the clear sun can shine.

The training often focused on how our minds respond to threat. The discipline, which proved valuable in many facets of life, honed your ability to remain alert and spacious at the same time. It encouraged you to learn how to “be like a mountain” amid provocative and even threatening situations—with gentleness and precision, not creating a big scene. You were exhorted to become a “warrior without anger.”

Trungpa Rinpoche decided to take this training to a higher level. He instituted an annual encampment, which followed militarylike protocols. People spent ten days living in tents, dressed in uniforms, and drilled—a form of moving meditation in the way he approached it. In its ritualized schedule, self-sufficiency, direct experience of the elements, regular practice of meditative activities, and sameness of dress, it was a Western form of monasticism, he said.

It was monasticism with an edge—it would push deep buttons. We engaged in a mock skirmish, a version of capture the flag. There was uproarious humor, but we boys and girls were also shocked and humbled to find the aggression and anger that could emerge in our minds while playing a mere child’s game.

From this practice program came the motto for the whole Dorje Kasung: Victory over War. In essence, he was teaching us how war could be cut off at its origin. Conflicts test the mettle of our awareness. If our discipline doesn’t prepare us to face them, we will revert to deep-seated negative patterns and create great destruction. This is how war is born. It’s killing people all the time. It’s killing them now. This form of meditation-in-interaction that encouraged people in the midst of challenging situations to manifest with gentleness and humor—rather than anger and fear—carried implications for seemingly insurmountable challenges we face in the world at large.

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