This story began in an unusual way. That is to say it was unusual compared to my preconceptions of how your average work of fiction begins – with a central concept, a plot summary and outline, followed by the methodical execution of that plan. This story didn’t happen that way. This is what happened.
Whilst taking a shower 20 years ago, an artistic vision arose from one of my daydreams. The vision regarded a teaching by the Buddha on generating compassion through the visualization of breathing in the suffering of the world, dissolving one’s own suffering in that, and breathing out liberation from suffering for oneself and all beings. In this particular day dream, I imagined a monk on a remote planet breathing in the suffering of the universe in the form of a black hole, the densest and darkest phenomenon known to science, and breathing out compassion in the form of light. Inspired by the clarity of this vision, I wrote a short story, which is still my introduction to the character Kalsang in Chapter 4.
Thereafter, the whole book gradually and organically grew from this seed of a vision.
Providing soil for that seed was an early decision to set the scene in a world where, somehow, humanity has managed to survive the fall-out from our current ecological overshoot. This choice came as a natural consequence of my career helping develop the profession of environmental accounting, an important piece in the puzzle of achieving a sustainable future from out of our current mess. The climate and sky into which in this seed grew was a commitment to exploring the spiritual evolution of my characters, in an open way, as they navigated their way through the plot. In the process, the narrative became a mirror in which to reflect on my own Path, and many of the struggles of the characters became improvisations on my own inner struggles.
The final ingredient bringing this book to fruition was magic. In my case, magic only occurred once I had become properly lost. Truthfully I have been lost since the beginning, but I’d been too busy showing everyone that I knew where I was going to notice. However, at some point it became difficult to pretend anymore, and it was only then that magic had a chance to happen.
The magic began at a barbecue. A friend, Akiko, had invited my family over for lunch. While shopping in our neighbourhood shopping centre in suburban Western Australia, she had randomly met her old roommate from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco whom she hadn’t seen for over a decade. When we arrived at the barbecue, I recognized that Akiko’s friend was the renown Buddhist female lay master Khandro Thrinlay Chodon whose teaching I had attended earlier that week. Over the course of that afternoon, I learned that Khandro Rinpoche was the widow of the ninth Shabdrung Ngawang Jigme Rinpoche of Bhutan, and also carried the wisdom lineage of her great grandfather Tokden Shakya Shri, an important spiritual reformer in the Himalayan Buddhist yogic tradition. Khandro Rinpoche was the only female Buddhist Master I had met at that time, other than the fictional Lama Wangmo, Kalsang’s Guru, who I had invented for this novel. Later that afternoon Khandro Rinpoche’s brother, Sey Jigme Dorje, came to the barbecue with his daughter, Seymo Yeshe. Learning that Sey Jigme also lived in Perth, I asked where he lived and he replied with an address only a few houses down the street from my own. Magic.
Thus began a new era in my life. For 30 years prior to this meeting I had been diligently attending my local meditation centre, struggling to learn a spiritual tradition with a history and culture which was distant from my own. Perhaps part of the attraction to Tibetan Buddhism was this distance, which cast the shortcomings of our unsustainable and frenetic modern Western culture into sharp relief. In this regard, the moral high ground of the Tibetans “turning the other cheek” to the loss of their homeland was unassailable. However, this conceptual approach to learning Buddhism had done little to settle my crazy emotions, which was what I had been longing for.
With Sey Jigme steering me towards authenticity in following the spiritual direction Khandro Rinpoche has lain down, I have since been learning that meditation practice is much more than sitting in a room doggedly trying to apply some formula learned from ancient, often esoteric, texts. Instead, Khandro Rinpoche teaches that wisdom manifests humbly and organically in ordinary daily life through realizing that we are not separate from the flow of our world. Rather than becoming defensive and remote from our chaotic and turbulent times, we can transform ourselves and our world from within those conditions, which are not separate from ourselves. Through practicing these teachings it is slowly, painstakingly, becoming clearer to me that expanding insight comes only through the process of becoming more genuine.
This book has had a 20-year gestation period because, for most of that time, my creative well often ran dry. Without the inspiration and direction from Khandro Rinpoche and Sey Jigme which flowed from that magical barbecue, perhaps I would have never have had the confidence and persistence to complete it. Perhaps I would never have had the courage to release it into your care. In any case, out of gratitude to my Teachers, I offer my book towards the goal of attaining the magic potential within each of us. May our lives become ever more peaceful and productive.
Em ah ho!