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The Day I Met a Buddha

Toby Downes, December 1999

Recently I attended a one month lam rim course at Kopan monastery in Nepal. Lama Zopa Rinpoche was due to arrive any day. Preparations were underway everywhere. All the resident monks from the oldest to the youngest were involved in washing, sweeping and polishing every square inch of the monastery's grounds. I'll never forget when two of the youngest monks

no more than six years old came rushing over to me, asking kindly but urgently to raise my feet as they cleaned under my stool, moving onto the next bystander in their way of making everything perfect.

Colourful flags and gold brocade hangings sparkling in the rays of the sun. And at night thousands of lights had been hung from the gompa adding their own offering of light. Birds sang in the trees about their excitement and the bell on top of the huge prayer wheel rung out clear for all those who listened. Everyone had a twinkle in their eye.

The news came that Rinpoche was to arrive today. After lunch the 400 odd resident monks and the 150 international attendees lined the path marked by eight auspicious symbols that Rinpoche would take into the monastery. I found a position to wait in front of the beautifully painted auspicious umbrella. People chatted in many different languages, brought together from every corner of the globe; brought together by the compassionate power of Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

The haunting sounds of the Tibetan horns and trumpets filled the Kathmandu valley. The sweet ribbons of smoke rose from the incense each of us carried and formed in the air as a huge offering cloud. No observer could mistake the importance of this day.

I waited patiently and many thoughts filled my head -what will I say, will he see me, how will I present this khata while I'm holding this incense stick?! All these thoughts left me when I caught my first glimpse of Rinpoche as he walked through the freshly painted gate of the monastery. I observed as Rinpoche giggled and laughed at the huge assembly before him. He slowly moved through the crowd making sure that he stopped to bless each and every person in his path. Occasionally he would stop to gently stroke the joyfully crying face in front of him or to take the hand of another in the most sincere of greetings.

Rinpoche moved closer towards me. He looked up into my eyes with the greatest of compassion as I offered the khata. He asked me my name and where I came from, but not not in any kind of off-hand way -he seemed to be truly interested in my reply. I answered and gazed deeply into Rinpoche's eyes. I was filled with the most unforgettable feeling of happiness, relief and bliss -I knew at that very moment that I had met a Buddha.

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