Meeting with Karmapa… and emptying the ego

Today it seems normal to talk about Tibetan Buddhism, the frequent visits of the Dalai Lama, the numerous books written on the spirituality of the Roof of the World and the ongoing revolt in Tibet, have contributed enormously to publicize a system of thought that until thirty years ago was reserved for a few scholars, and whose vestiges “got mouldy” in the halls of the Ismeo (Institute for the Middle and Far East) in via Merulana or in the esoteric bookshop in Rotondi (still in Via Merulana).

However, there was an occasion, which I want to mention here, in which suddenly that ancient knowledge came to light…

The glimmer of mystery, the aurora of the eclipsed transmission resources during the visit to Italy of a great saint, the spiritual heir in the line of Milarepa (remember Cavani’s film?). This saint is called Karmapa and he is a “manifestation” like the Dalai Lama, only that Karmapa is the symbol of great spiritual and not political power.

I heard of Karmapa (acknowledged incarnation of the mystic Milarepa) in India, when he visited Muktananda’s ashram in 1973. His spiritual charisma was very strong and he fascinated – it seems – not a few western ashramites residing there.

Personally, however, I met him a year later in Rome (I think in 1974) it happened almost by chance, he was visiting and a guest of the Indian ambassador in Italy, who lived in a villa in Olgiata, on the Via Cassia. Some friend (or friend) of the syncretic circle invited me to participate in an official meeting which would be followed by vegetarian refreshments.

I had read the life of Milarepa, who lived on only nettles in the middle of the mountains, and found it adventurous, full of ups and downs, fascinating and inflexibly striving towards liberation, towards total freedom from the self.

Of course, I was interested in knowing his direct successor and I promptly accepted the invitation. The satsang (dialogue with a sage) was rather informal, Karmapa sat on a slightly elevated armchair, next to him were the ambassador and other important people. Dressed in indigo, with a sly and somewhat ironic air, the saint of the “Red Caps” dominated the room with his energy.

A story circulated about him, it seems that during his stay in Rome he had visited a bird shop buying some birds prisoners there but not to return them to heaven but to free them definitively from the cage of life. I don’t know if this story was true but I had often heard of the strange behavior of certain Tibetan lamas, some of whom are not vegetarians and follow mysterious tantric practices. In short, it seems that the birds “captive of a bad karma (destiny)” had been freed by the Karmapa in the same way in which the avatar Krishna “freed” the demons and the Kauravas (opponents of the Pandavas in the Mahabarata) ie by killing them.

Be that as it may, the talk during the satsang spontaneously turned to the topic of destiny and reincarnation. In particular there was a dialogue with an elderly Italian diplomat, who evidently knew Tibetan culture, he seemed sincerely interested in the subject. He insistently asked questions about some of his experiences, and wanted the secrets of rebirth to be revealed to him, but Karmapa shunned and scoffed, saying that certain things cannot be understood rationally. The diplomat looked uncomfortable as the Karmapa cheerfully and affectionately patted his shoulder, as if to keep a restless child calm.

The old gentleman was evidently embarrassed, perhaps offended, red in the face and emotionally uncomfortable, he was about to break out into hysterics and in fact cried, but when he looked up to meet the laughing Karmapa, his face too lit up. as if it really didn’t matter.

The atmosphere around was very charged, filled with spiritual energy.

I had remained standing all the time, leaning against a wall, and I didn’t miss anything that was happening, I intuitively perceived that there was a message.

After the meeting Karmapa got up and walked towards the side of the hall, where I was stationed, there was a passage between the chairs that leads to the hall where the refreshments would be held. At that moment he was passing right in front of me, we were almost touching, when for no apparent reason he turned to me and looked me straight into his eyes. I felt my self explode, my mind turned inside out like a pocket, what was there came out, I was naked, totally naked. I experienced an incredible expansion of consciousness, there were no doubts or secrets, just lucid awareness, full emptiness.

That disruptive and unexpected “gesture” that Karmapa had performed (but why me?) had stripped me of every mask, the ego only a ghost. A shock perhaps too strong for an “apprentice” like me and after the first moments of total openness, as he turns around and continues to walk with indifference, I began to feel the stitches of the ego that still spun his web.

I found myself suspecting that Karmapa had “violated my privacy” and felt the ego rebuild the cage of bondage. I felt anger towards Karmapa and also towards my own stupidity, impotence, inability to be free, without added needs, without frills…. (and the bird analogy comes naturally to me).
Paolo D’Arpini –

Taken from: Paolo D’Arpini’s travel companions

Meeting with Karmapa… and emptying the ego