Call and Response Ep. 53 Devotional Poetry of Shabkar and Remembering Geshe Wangyal
“Don’t be sad. Look at the mind that feels sadness. The guru is not other than the mind. It is the mind that remembers the Guru. It is the mind into which the Guru dissolves.” – Shabkar
KD: Saint John of the Cross wrote, “In the beginning, the Father uttered one word. That word is His Son and He utters Him forever in everlasting silence. And it is in silence that the heart must hear.” The Father uttered one word. That word is His Son and He utters Him forever in everlasting silence. And it’s in silence that the heart must hear.
What? What? So, this, you know we’ve been talking a little bit about devotion and how that it lubricates the connection to our true nature. It makes it, it helps us access that place. What you love, what we love we will think about. It will be with us and so there was very great yogi in Tibet named Shabkar who was also, He used to sing these songs of teaching songs and this is a poem or song that He wrote. He said, “I was in retreat. One day at noon, when the sky was clear, I walked to the summit of the hill above my cave and I sat there alone. Toward the North, I saw a pure white cloud billowing over a mountain peak like milk boiling over. At that moment, the memory of my precious Guru overwhelmed me and I sang this song of longing. To the North, a single white cloud surges over mountain peaks, white as overflowing milk, when I see this, I think of my Guru’s kindness. Beneath that distant cloud rise the solitary heights of auspicious hermitage. The way my master once lived in that excellent retreat place comes back to my mind. When I think of His kindness, tears well up in my eyes and sorrow in my heart. My mind is dazed, my perception uncertain. All is hazy and unreal. How wonderful if He were here again. I am but an ordinary man, a man with scant devotion, but I still long to meet Him once again. The master dwells now in absolute space and His miserable son is left behind in the mire of samsara. When I see the myriad flowers blooming in the meadows, I remember the sight of my true Guru, then I could see Him in person, inspired. Now, I can’t. As I think of Him over and over again, the Master’s presence fills my Heart. As I listen to the cuckoo’s gentle call, I remember hearing the true guru’s voice, the satguru’s voice, so deep and sonorous. Then, I could listen to His melodious speech. Now I can’t. I think of Him over and over again and the Master’s presence fills my heart. As I see the rising sun spreading radiance all around, I remember the Satguru’s wisdom and compassion. Then, He tenderly cared for me. Now that time is gone. As I think of Him over and over again, the Master’s presence fills my heart. I remember going to see Him, having been away for months or years, the warmth of His welcoming smile comes back to my mind. No matter in what direction I go, I think of the Master. No matter in what solitary place I stay, I think of the Master. No matter what signs I see, I think of the Master. Always. And in all times I think of my true Guru. As I sang this plaintive song, the cloud continued to swell until it took the form of a heap of jewels. At the top, in a tent of five colored rainbow lights, my true Guru appeared performing a graceful dance, His hands in the gesture of protection. He was more resplendent than ever, peerless in loving kindness. He smiled radiantly and spoke these words in a voice like Brahma’s, ‘Noble son, you who are like my heart, do not despair. Listen to your father’s words. We, father and son, who came together by the power of past prayers, are inseparable in the state of luminous absolute nature. Son, from now on, let the length of your practice be the length of your life. Wander from place to place in solitary mountain retreats. By practicing austerities, may you help all fortunate Beings. Don’t be sad. Look at the mind that feels sadness. The Guru is not other than the mind. It is the mind that remembers the Guru. It is the mind into which the Guru dissolves. Remain in uncontrived nature of mind, the Absolute. With airy and graceful movements, as though dancing, He rose Higher and Higher until He vanished like a rainbow into the sky. The clouds, too, disappeared and dissolved in space and my grief dissolved along with them. I remained for a long while in the serene state beyond thought.”
“Don’t be sad. Look at the mind that feels sadness. The guru is not other than the mind. It is the mind that remembers the Guru. It is the mind into which the Guru dissolves. “
I once asked Siddhi Ma, who was Maharajji’s great devotee, there’s this ongoing issue of whether it’s all grace or whether it’s all effort, personal effort, and how the two relate. I said, “Ma, what’s the deal?” She said, “It’s all grace, but you have to act like it isn’t.” Yup.
The understanding that it’s all done, nothing ever happened, nothing’s ever gonna happen, finished. Finished. But we don’t know that. So, we have to act and do our stuff, our performing. He doesn’t like practice.
Bob: When I met my Guru, my root Guru was not the Dalai Lama, actually. My root Guru is Geshe Wangyal, who was a Kalmyk Mongolian and He was very proud of the fact that although He was Mongolian, He was European.
Bob: Because Kalymykia is on the West of the Euro Mountains.
Bob: It’s in the North of the Black Sea and Caspian, North of the Caucasus. And the Golden Horde settled there, you know, centuries ago, many centuries ago. Seven, eight, centuries ago and He, His teacher was a Buryat Mongol from Lake Baikal who helped Him escape from there at the time of the Russian Revolution and got Him to Tibet and He spent 30 years there and passed all the, did whatever, you know, then He left there way ahead of the, in the 40’s, even the 30’s He left there. He knew what was coming in Tibet and He lived in China and everywhere, you know. He came here in the 50’s and I had just been one year going to India and met many Sufi Masters. I met Swamis. I met Christian monks in Greece at Mount Athos and I was looking for a Guru. And, and I had, I did meet some Tibetans finally in India, in Delhi, and was about to, I had a job. I would have been in this school where, a young Lama school where Trungpa was studying and all those different Lamas. But then my father died in New York. My physical father. So, I came back to New York for two weeks for the funeral with a return ticket to Delhi because I had left the U.S. definitively. But then, two days or three days before returning, I saw a sign in a Zen Center in the City about some Lama who had a monastery in New Jersey, you know, and I’m a Manhattan New Yorker. New Jersey? Some Lama in New Jersey down near, you know, Bruce Springsteen’s area in the pine barrens and He was looking for an English Teacher. He had some young Lamas there, this kind of thing. So, I thought, well, I’ll go there and maybe they’ll want to send a package because I’ve been traveling in Asia for a year as a fakir, as a penniless beggar and so I’ll go say “hello” there, they’ll give me contacts back in Delhi. I had a job already in Dalhousie in the school. So I was going back there. So, when I met this man, when I got to the place, I, and a friend of mine drove me because at the time I was a complete fakir, still, in America. I had baggy Afghani pants. I had a weird pants. I didn’t wear my false eye. You know? I just had the socket.
KD: Oh, Jesus.
Bob: And I had long hair. I was like, you know, I was seeking. I used to look at the sun, actually, with the eye, actually. With the one eye I had left, I looked at the sun. I was really in that ascetic thing, like imitating Buddha foolishly. And so there, when we got to this, we looked all over for this place and couldn’t find it, but finally, one little tract house next to a Russian Orthodox Church in this place. They had a little deer and a wheel of dharma painted on plywood over the door. So we were, “Ah, that must be it.” But then I was terrified. I said, “Let’s go! We’re not going in there!” He said, “What? I’ve been driving you all over.” This guy was like some dropout from Yale or something. “I’ve been driving all over and now you say, ‘Let’s go, we’ve found the place?’ What’s the matter with you?’” I said, “My Guru’s in there. There’s some powerful person there. I’m still smoking beedies. I’m not going in. I’ll come back later. Let’s leave, leave, leave.” I was panicked. I was completely inside out. I was totally freaked out.
Bob: And then these young Lamas came toddling out of the door and down to the little fence and the kind of yard that you have in that kind of house. And they were like, “Come in.” He got out and I was, “No, no I’m not going.” And then I was embarrassed so then I went in. So, then we go in and we’re sitting in this like, living room of this little house and there’s a Buddha over in the corner, some books, Tibetan books and we sit down. I’m so nervous and I think there’s some guy on a dragon in the back room, right? Like the Lama of All Time, or something. I couldn’t believe it, I was so terrified. Speechless. And this little guy comes in with like a kimono, not wearing a Tibetan robe or anything and he sits down next to my friend, between my friend, between him and me and he says, “What do you guys want? What are you doing here?” He says, or something, and they’re talking, you know, and “Oh, I see,” he says. And then he moves over here in front of a plate glass window, this little guy, and I paid no attention to him, I thought he was the secretary or the sweeper. He was nothing, the power was in the back room. So, I was not paying attention. Then, He sits over there with the window behind Him and then I realized, “Oh, whoops this is the guy,” you know. And then He says, “What do you want?” he said. And I’d been bullshitting my way through Sufi fakirs and swamis and “I want to get enlightened” and yeah yeah yeah, so and then I said, “Well, Maybe…” finally I came out with, “I’m sort of looking for the higher self,” you know. And then He says, He says, “Oh,” He says, “Oh, you’ll never manage that,” He said. He said, He said, “You couldn’t have even come from New York City to here unless your friend had driven you. The way you look, they would have arrested you.” He said, “You look like crazy boy,” He said. He said, “What are you doing? You know, Higher Self? That’s a difficult path.” You know? He goes on a little bit and then He says, “I’ve been looking for years. I didn’t find it, “ He goes.
KD: He said, “I’ve been looking for years and I didn’t find it”?
Bob: Yeah, “I didn’t find it. You can’t ever, you can’t even go from New York to New Jersey,” He said. And so this goes on, you know, and then finally He, you know, He had pity on me and He said, “Well, you know what? I’ll tell you what,” He said, “See those books over there?” And I said, “Yeah.” I didn’t even know what a Tibetan book really was. I’d seen a few. But I’d just started my quest in India. And I said, “Yeah, yeah, ok.” And He said, “I didn’t find anything myself,” He said, just like ordinary but “I’ve been reading those for many years,“ He said and “I have a feeling, if you got to where you could read them, you might find something,” you know, but “You know, you’re going back to India and you have your ticket,” you know, and He did extract it from my story and so, “That’s ok, but you know, when you get there, find books like that and learn to read them,” and something like that and then that was sort of the end of the interview and then He brought out a piece of Sera, whatever it is, pie, you know, and tea. And He sent us off to leave, you know. So, then, I was like, “I’m not leaving. I’m staying here. I want to read those books,” you know. “I’m going to learn from you.”
“No, no, you have a ticket. You have to go.”
“No, no I’m not leaving.”
“You have to. You can’t stay here. This is a monastery,” He said.
“Well, ok, all right. I’m going to go. I’ll be back in two days.”
And so then, I’m backing off down the stairs, these concrete stairs. He’s standing on top of the stairs, and my friend says to me, “Come on, let’s go. What’s the matter with you?”
And I said, and I’m saying, “I’m coming back. I’m coming right back,” I said, I was shouting there. And he says to me, “What’s so special about him? What do you, why don’t you go back to India? And the Dalai Lama, you know?” he said. And I said, “No, no no, that’s my teacher,” I said to him. He said, “Well, what made you think so?” And I said, “Well, because I can trust him. Because He’s not there.” But I didn’t even know what that meant. But that was right.
KD: Right, yeah.
Bob: In the sense that He had no agenda for me and therefore, He could help me. Do you know what I mean? And the day after tomorrow, I’m back, shaved, jeans, t-shirt, you know, like brushed, eye patch.
KD: Thank God. Praise the Lord.
Bob: Praise the Lord. And then He found me there. He found me a place to stay with some Mongolian family in this little refuge colony created by Tolstoy’s grand daughter, you know, saved those Kalnyks from the British who were sending them back to Stalin after the war, you know, from Europe. And anyway, but He had come from Tibet and met them there. So, then, you know, He started reading me the… you know, He was the guru? No. No. “You can learn to read Tibetan,” you know. And then He read me Nagarjuna’s book and every Tibetan letter was like gold. It was like, it would flow right into my heart, you know when He would read. But He kept skipping the meditations, actually. He was so like that. But He was so kind. Really, He was kind. He was. Later when I met Nena, you know, He really helped us a lot, actually. He really did. He and Nena, you know, at one point when we were having difficulty in our relationship, I looked at her, you know, and she was having a mental vision of Him. And they had like, what we call a heart meld. And she talked to, He talked to her when she was like four, when she was a little child in China. And He said, “You need to like make a connection with that little boy over there.” And then, when I looked at her, her blue eye turned brown, turned into His eye and then somehow there was this thing happened, you know, so He was with us. He’s been with us all the time. Psychics say He’s in our house all the time, like that Shabkar. Finally, we went to Kalmykia where’s a national hero because they think, it’s correct, He helped bring the Dalai Lama first to America. He got Him out. He got the Visa. He helped Him get the Visa to America. And somebody gave us a portrait of Him, a very beautiful portrait of Him, so we keep that at the house. Anyway, Geshe Wangyal. And amazing man. Really amazing. Like that Shabkar hit it there. Really hit it.
KD: Right, I know.
Bob: He really did. And He always used to say, like Shabkar did, “You’re my heart. I’m in your heart.” You know? “But you have to do the work,” you know? And then He told me, He told me several times that He would show up to me as a student at the same age that I was and He was and He said, but He said, I think He said, “In that life, I’m going to be a Jewish princess.”
KD: He said that?
Bob: He did. He said that.
KD: Ok, tell that story again. Who showed up when?
Bob: Well, I met him when I was like 21 and He was 61.
Bob: And you know, from previous lives, that Shabkar thing made me think of that. I’m sorry to tell my story. I apologize. But the point is, He made me think of that. And then He said He would do that, then He didn’t show up here, I thought. I had a lot of students, you know. But He didn’t show up, I thought. I was looking at the different Jewish princesses who did show up and then there’s this, there’s this young student, one student of mine who’s Australian, a nice young man, and who’s lived with us a few years recently, and he couldn’t leave because of this complicated immigration story, until he had a certain thing because otherwise he couldn’t come back and so he worked with us. And then he met, at Menla, a Mongolian Kalymk girl who was that age and who, and they fell in love in a sweat lodge and they got married and all this. She was an American citizen but she was born in Kalmykia, in Russia. And so, you know, I told this story to her grandmother once, they were in our house and the grandmother said, “Well, what do you mean He didn’t show up?” The old Kalmyk grandmother. And I said, well, “I didn’t see a student like that.” And she said, “Well, what about Delia?” she said. Her granddaughter. And I said, “What do you mean, Delia? He said a Jewish princess, He said.” Well, “Delia’s Jewish” she said. I said, “No, she’s Mongolian.” She says, “My husband was Russian Jewish.” It’s the grandmother. So Delia was a Jewish Kalmyk.
KD: Oh, my God.
Bob: She was Jewish Mongolian. And then I said, “Yeah, but she’s 25, you know, and Jay’s, and she’s not really my student. He’s my student.” She said, “Yeah, but she took your class at Columbia when she was 21 and it completely changed her life,” she said. And, “But she never talked to me,” I said. “Well, she’s shy.” And then Delia’s having none of it.
Bob: “That’s my grandmother. Don’t listen to that.” And she’s completely not into it. So, anyway, in way, He did, I think, He fulfilled it but then they had to go to Australia because of this immigration crap. So, they’re in Australia. But that’s ok. That’s all right. They’re studying with my student. She’s, I think that might have been it, but I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe there’s some other Jewish princess who studied with me and ran away after that. Broke the tradition. 61-21. Leapfrogging…
KD: Yeah, there aren’t a lot of Mongolian Jewish princesses. There aren’t a lot of Mongolian Jewish princess.
Bob: Kalmyk Mongol, they’re a special kind. Doorbot, from the Doorbot Nation. The Doorbots are a particular one. And He was born in a place called Tsagaan Boloh, White Spring in the middle of this marvelous steppe north of the Black Sea. That Stalin ruined of course, ecologically. Growing too much meat for the Red Army. Anyway, never mind, that’s the story. So, you and Guruji, you know, that’s what I really, I’m so sad I never met Guruji because of certain complications but I met, I feel I meet Him when I meet you, I really do. I really feel l, I don’t necessarily feel that with Ram Das. I love Ram Das, but I feel I meet Ram Das when I meet Ram Das. But, and Doctor Richard is also there.
KD: Well, you have a history with him.
Bob: But you, you really, I don’t know. But you don’t think so. I know that. I know. That’s why you’re so moved by that poem. Well, Delia and I just don’t want to, you know, get into it.