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Call and Response Ep. 49 | How KD Met Robert Thurman
“It was a wild time. There were a lot of… the Westerners in India, everybody would go to see teachers, different teachers and then when the seasons changed, all these different people would meet in the cities on their way somewhere else and exchange information and this kind of stuff and then you would go off in a different direction and it was an incredible amount of beautiful seeds were planted in those days. It was amazing, just amazing.” – Krishna Das
KD: She said, I should introduce Bob. Bob and I met because both of our photos are on the wall at the post office. Most wanted. You know? And actually, I first met Bob and Nena on the ridge in Almora in 1971. Right?
KD: 1971. Ram Das and I and a few others were on our way up further into the mountains and somehow, we didn’t have phones, we didn’t have iphones… how did we?
Bob: Well, it was by accident.
KD: It was by accident. Oh. By accident.
Bob: We were there in our van. We had a Volkswagon van at the time and these two kids in the car and we were there shopping, you know, coming down from Crank’s Ridge where we lived without Lama Govinda and you guys were there on your way to…
KD: Our way to Kausani.
Bob: That’s right, Kausani. Where you were having a retreat and there we all met. That was really fun.
KD: Yeah. I spent a rainy season up there.
Bob: You guys were all wearing white.
KD: White, my ass.
Bob: You were like, so pure. We were like, amazed at how pure you were.
KD: I wore white for maybe one minute.
Bob: And we had this car on this thing and there were a lot of hippies there at the time. And so we were actually the local ambulance. Whenever things would go wrong, we’d drive them to the hospital in Nainital.
KD: Yeah, right.
Bob: And I think that was not one of those
KD: Right, right. It was a wild time. There were a lot of… the Westerners in India, everybody would go to see teachers, different teachers and then when the seasons changed, all these different people would meet in the cities on their way somewhere else and exchange information and this kind of stuff and then you would go off in a different direction and it was an incredible amount of beautiful seeds were planted in those days. It was amazing, just amazing. “You saw who? Oh, wow. Yeah, ok. I think I’ll go over there. Ok, yeah. I’m going to go see that one and this one.” It was amazing. Yeah, and great times. And the first waves of Tibetans were coming out of Tibet at that time. Maybe not the first wave, but a very large amount of Tibetans were coming out for the first time and it was incredible. I was in Bodhgaya at that time and I remember Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa just walking down the road from Gaya, you know? It was amazing. Such a wonderful, wonderful time. So, Bob is, Bob is one of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s closest and oldest disciples, especially Western disciples. He’s know His Holiness for so many years and he’s a master of all the different schools of philosophy and when he talks, it’s, what comes, it just comes through, I mean there’s no, I don’t think he’s editing at all. It’s just pouring through and it comes from such a beautiful space. It’s extraordinary. So, I know that you’ll really appreciate that this weekend.
Bob: Well, that’s very kind of you, KD but…
KD: It’s a loving kindness weekend.
Bob: One time I introduced the Dalai Lama at Sanders Theater at Harvard when He first came to America and I gave a big thing about Avalokiteshvara and a thousand arms.
KD: Yeah, yeah.
Bob: I gave a huge thing like that, then He came out, you know, and people were applauding, you know, how after you introduce somebody and He walked and as He walked by me He paused, you know, we shook hands and He said, “Don’t over-introduce me. Don’t over-introduce me,” he said. “Don’t over-introduce me because I might disgrace you.”
All right. So, I remember that time very vividly. Actually, also at that time, the Bangladesh atrocities were going on and Russia and China were having a war and Richard Nixon locked up a lot of people in Washington Stadium. Alan Ginsburg showed up and it was like, it was kind of world crisis time, almost like now. You know, because Nixon was riding high at that time, ’71. And somehow in that place, you didn’t feel that and you felt completely like you were on the ancient pilgrimage road to Mount Kailash was what it was, so you really felt Shiva and Uma and Nanda Devi Mountain and Trishul Mountain, the Shiva and Uma Mountains were the highest mountains in India were there and a beautiful place that was, really amazing. And there was KD but more recently, I re-met KD and what I particularly love about KD is his devotion to Maharajji, to Neem Karoli Baba, and that’s what we really share is devotion to the Guru. My Guru at the time was an old Mongolian and I remember a dream that I had in that house in Almora around the same time I met you, KD, where I was mad at my Guru and I was telling Him like, “What is this about,” you know, “the Buddhas having all these emanations.” You know, in the Mahayana they have the idea of what’s called the emanation body where all these Bodhisattvas go to help all the Beings as, you know, as much as they need to, need help. I said, “Where are they? Why aren’t they in Bangladesh. All these terrible things are going on in Bangladesh. And war, it looks like war is going to break out all over the place.” And He didn’t say anything. He was sitting on a stone kind of altar thing that was in the yard outside this house I was renting. And then He just got bigger and bigger and bigger and He looked very serious and grim but He never, He never answered my challenge and my complaint, you know. Like, where’s the love of all these enlightened beings, you know? How ineffective is it, you know. And He just got bigger and bigger. Finally, I was like a little angry flea, like bellowing and He was blotting out all the mountains in the dream, you know. Then I woke up and I wasn’t at all satisfied. So then actually later, actually later, back in Amherst, Baba Ram Das came back not very long after that, the next year or the following year and He told the story at a talk at Smith College where he said, he said to Maharajji, like, “What is this, Maharajji? This is horrible. All the stuff that’s going on there.” And Maharajji said to Him, “Don’t you see, it’s all perfect?” And then, Ram Das said, “Well, yeah, it’s perfect, but it stinks,” he said. So, I remember that. That’s where I really got to love Baba Ram Das, actually. Because actually, I knew him many years before, since the 50s in Cambridge at Harvard when he was Doctor Richard Alpert. I knew him from that time. So, you know, I didn’t really, that’s when I first got, that’s when I first got the whole Baba Ram Das thing and a little bit of a taste of the Neem Karoli Baba thing, but in a way I didn’t really feel the real power of the love of Neem Karoli Baba until I met you.
Bob: And until you talked about it. And you, you know it just comes tumbling out of your heart. You’ve given me all this tumbling out of everything, everything. But tumbling out of your heart has been the presence of Neem Karoli Baba and the idea of “love everybody” you know? And right, speak the truth. He told Baba Ram Das, right? Speak the truth.
KD: Love everyone and tell the truth.
Bob: And love everyone, right?
KD: Ram Das said, “The truth is, I don’t love everyone.”
Bob: That’s what he said?
KD: He said, yeah.
Bob: I know, I know and so, but you know, he does, I think he does now. I think then he…
KD: Yeah I think he’s finally worked his way through all of humanity. Yeah.
Bob: He’s been working on it. But I think we have to acknowledge that it’s something truly amazing to have a super stroke like he had and to deal with a body that is really painful that he’s dealing with, very fragile also. He could depart what he calls the meat puppet. And the meat puppet, what he calls this, he could depart at any time. And yet he considers that a gift of his guru. He considers that, dealing with that, having to depend on others, and then this is the key thing, I think, and I think for me, it’s a theme for the weekend and maybe it’s out of left field, but for me, a key theme for this workshop and working together with you is, you know, we are loved, all of us. So, therefore nothing that happens to us is not something coming out of love from someone. Love in Indian, either Buddhist or Hindu idea, is not just the eros part, but it doesn’t exclude it which is the beautiful thing about India, as you know. Eros and Agape, you know, in the West. But there it’s kind of merged a little bit in India. But love means the wish for the happiness of the Beloved. And everyone wants to be loved, right? Don’t we all? Anybody doesn’t like being loved? But actually we have a hard time receiving love. I myself will say that I’m one of those, you know? It’s very difficult to receive it. So, Neem Karoli Baba definitely seems to have loved everyone. Buddha loves everyone. Avalokiteshvara loves everyone. Krishna loves everyone. Etcetera. So, do we all feel loved? And when we really do, does it make us happy? Does it cheer us up? And how cheery are we? That’s sort of my theme, ok? That’s a theme, I think, of the weekend.
KD: I’ll tell how cheery I am. I’ll tell you how cheery I am.
Bob: How cheery are you?
KD: Before, when you said, “immeasurable love,” I thought you said, “Miserable love.” That’s how cheery I am, goddammit.
Bob: In this culture, you know, for people raised in Judaism and in Protestantism, you’re only safe if you’re miserable.
KD: Only what?
Bob: Safe. You’re not safe unless you’re miserable. So, whenever I get carried away in a talk in any American audience, I always pause here and there to assure the people that I’m more miserable than they are, actually. Although I can sort of cheer up in order to sort of advocate it.
Bob: Actually, of course, I’m miserable.
KD: Of course.
Bob: And so that makes them feel a little better.
KD: That’s where we really meet, I think. We meet in our miserableness.
KD: We meet deeply in our miserableness.
Bob: I think we do.
KD: I think so.
Bob: We do.
KD: Just so you know. I just want you to feel and understand, you’re not doing anything wrong when you’re miserable. So be happy.
Bob: That’s right. You know I’ve been, I’ve been studying a little bit about mindfulness. I was just in Sri Lanka and so, in honor of Sharon, actually, who, Sharon is so wonderful. She comes to our little retreat place across the river called Menla. A little, it’s my tiny little place. But she comes every year a number of times, always. We work together for 20 years now and so in her honor, I’ve been reading the mindfulness sutra, you know, the Theravada Sutra, right? And, then I’ve been studying a little bit, the mindfulness movement. But then one thing I noticed is when people say they’re doing mindfulness and you see pictures of them, you know, often in these corporations, they look like this. And so, they look like, if you’re really mindful then you should feel miserable. But I discovered in the mindfulness sutra, that’s not the case. That actually, the mindfulness sutra, not only do you focus on the first noble truth of suffering in Buddhism, that everyone wrongly thinks is the whole thing about Buddhism, but the third noble truth, which is the truth of freedom from suffering, happiness, actually, that means “nirvana,” you know? But again, Buddha, even it seems like Buddha wasn’t Jewish and He wasn’t Protestant but He emphasized that truth of suffering to be safe. Even in India. Even in India. He didn’t emphasize the nirvana. He just said nirvana, you know, is freedom from suffering. He didn’t mention right off, freedom from suffering is bliss.
Bob: You know. Because bliss is always dangerous, right?
Bob: Ok. Well, that’s all. That’s all.
KD: You know, speaking about the four noble truths.
KD: My beloved friend, Bernie Glassman, who recently left the body,
Bob: Yes, he did.
KD: He used to speak of the four noble opinions.
Bob: Four noble what?
Bob: The four noble opinions?
Bob: That’s ok.
KD: Because he said, if it’s a truth, there’s nothing to discuss. You can’t…
Bob: I know. Facts. I like to call them facts.
KD: Yeah, but if it’s an opinion, you can really, you know, talk about it and work it out.
Bob: That’s very zen.
KD: Yeah. Well, he was a zen master. What are you going to do?
Bob: Anyway, one other thing, also. You know, Krishna Das can always shut me. Two people in the world can, Krishna Das and my wife.
KD: And I would never do it.
Bob: She’s a little more effective than you, actually.
KD: Much more, yes. Much more practice.
Bob: But in relation to the weekend theme that I also want to make Tara, the Goddess Tara, who, the Bodhisattva / Goddess Tara, who, there’s a big painting, She’s sitting there in a big painting on the wall in the dining room in the middle of a round thing at one end of the dining room, at this end of the dining room. And she is considered, in Buddhism, to be the incarnation of the miraculous power of all Buddhas. And Avalokiteshvara, Her male counterpart, is the incarnation of compassion of all Buddhas but compassion is not effective without Her miraculous power and there’s a legend, there are different legends about Her and I will tell more about them in the time to come, but one of them is where He weeps because out of His compassion He wants Beings to get better and He knows they just don’t get better. They insist on causing themselves and others suffering all the time. And so, He weeps and then two tears are transformed into two Taras and they tell Him not to weep. Naturally, he’s weeping, because he’s just a guy, and guys can’t really get that much done. Actually, they can have a good intention but they’re not that effective you know? They’re really not. And they bluster a lot, but they don’t really get much done and they said, but you know, “We’re the shaktis, we have the power to accomplish something and we’ll take care of it. So, no need to weep, you know? Stop blubbering, in other words.
KD: Yeah. No blubbering.
Bob: And also, Tara relates to that in the Buddhist world.
Bob: That’s me.
Ahhhh wonderful! Thank you