Disappointment to Compassion in 24 Hours Flat


In roughly the last 24 hours, I have progressed from deep disappointment to an even deeper compassion. How, you ask? (Or I hope you ask.) Well, sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…

I have been planning for months to attend His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s conducting of the Solitary Yamantaka Initiation and a subsequent public talk on ethics and meditation. I used miles to purchase my flight, saved money for the hotel, rental car, and meals, read more than a dozen books recommended by the host, Gaden Shartse Thubten Dargye Ling monastery in Long Beach California, and spent many hours meditating and preparing to take the bodhisattva and Yamantaka vows.

The disappointment began yesterday when I drove almost two hours south to Escondido to meet my dad at one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s monasteries, Deer Park. When I arrived, the monastery’s gate was closed and no one was answering the monastery’s telephone. But most importantly, I got to spend time with my dad, who I hadn’t seen in over a year.

When I returned to Long Beach yesterday evening, I learned that due to a mechanical problem the Dalai Lama’s plane had been delayed. Personal check: feeling a little concern, but certain all would be fine. A short while later, an email arrived saying that His Holiness’ physicians had recommended that he not travel, and therefore both the initiation and the public talk were cancelled. Personal re-check: massive disappointment. No, that word is not strong enough. Not getting to see Deer Park was disappointing; this was…devastating.

I could sense at my deepest depths that disappointment was not the proper emotion to be feeling, but damned if I didn’t wail and weep and gnash teeth (figuratively, at least). To my credit, I didn’t get angry. Small victory. But I was untethered for a time, wondering what I was to take from this turn of events, momentarily entertaining the notion that His Holiness’ failure to appear was somehow the result of something I had done wrong, or maybe my unworthiness to participate in the initiation. I dismissed this in favor of briefly wondering what someone else attending the initiation had done to cause this. Meditation helped me to settle, but I drifted off bereft.

This morning I attended a replacement talk by Khen Rinpoche Jangchub Choeden, abbot of Gaden Shartse monastery in India, and the speaker Friday night. This was the first of three times today that I heard Rinpoche apologize for His Holiness not being able to make the events. Each time, he nearly brought me to tears. His humility, compassion, and heartfelt sadness for us made my face burn with shame remembering how I had reacted to the news. Bless him for helping me to turn my focus to what these events and conditions were meant to teach us.

Here’s the precious gem I found in his presentation: “The realization [of renunciation] never comes in a jackpot, but in the way you save your money day by day.” Enlightment is not a sudden and miraculous happening, but a slow and steady process. I think maybe I was trying to hit the jackpot with this trip to Long Beach. Perhaps I saw an initiation conducted by the Dalai Lama himself as a shortcut to being a bodhisattva. Much more contemplation is needed, and I’m sure there are other lessons waiting to be uncovered.

This much I am sure of: A day in which you get to hear Khen Rinpoche, Robert Thurman, and Thupten Jinpa speak can only seem anything less than stellar when you were expecting to hear the Dalai Lama. Under any other scenario, that is a major trifecta.

Throughout the course of today, the disappointment seeped away, to be replaced with compassion for people who truly have a right to be disappointed that the Dalai Lama could not be here:

– The volunteers who have worked so hard over the past four days and more, and were looking forward to a welcome reception with His Holiness

– The organizers of these events, who have devoted so much time and resources to planning and implementing them

My heart is filled with love and compassion for them, not to mention gratitude for everything they have done. This weekend may not have been what I expected, but it certainly was nevertheless very special, in no small part because of their effors and their relentlessly high spirits despite the disappointment they must be feeling.

But it was Professor Thurman who really drove the message home. At a lunch for sponsors, he said something to the effect that the Dalai Lama carries all of the suffering of Tibet in his heart, so he’s entitled to have a sore throat and get an extra day of rest. Indeed. And then, at the afternoon talk, Dr. Thurman very gently launched this explosive device: “We’re missing the Dalai Lama [today]; how do you think the Tibetan people feel?”

Wow. My heart, already brimming with compassion, burst at that point. If the lovely woman next to me, Rhonda, noticed my sniffling and tears, she was kind enough not to mention it. That puts it all in perspective, doesn’t it? I didn’t have His Holiness for one day; they haven’t had him in their midst for over 50 years.

I think I can make it a little longer without being in his presence. Though I don’t have to, because he’s already in mine, occupying my mind, filling my heart. As Professor Thurman put it, in his inimitable style, “Stop moping about him not being present; he is present in your lives, every day.”


4 responses »

  1. Perhaps for you, there was more to learned and discovered by his holiness’ physical absence, than his presence. Sometimes what we “expect” does not help us to grow as much as our ability to “accept” that every moment, every situation is really moving us forward.

    • Absolutely! No doubt, the experience with His Holiness would have been amazing. But what I have learned in his absence is invaluable; I may have another opportunity some day to be with him, but who knows if I would have had this learning opportunity again? Expectations are a constant trap, and some would suggest that they are the delusions that are at the root of all suffering. My disappointment was not with the experience I had, which was phenomenal, but with the experience I was expecting to have. Remove the expectation, and the disappointment and suffering disappear.

  2. In the continuation of his journey, the Dalai Lama arrived in Minneapolis for various events and presentations. Circumstances suddenly freed up the day of his largest public talk (5/8), so I checked for a single ticket, and scored nearly front and center, only 17 rows back, albeit at a rather dear price. Giddy with anticipation, I then received another’s itinerary that revealed that my day was not, in fact, to be “free.” Tempting it was, to scalp the ticket and recoup at least some of my “loss.” I instead forwarded it to a nearby Zen center, asking the director to disburse it at her discretion; I learned that one of the women priests was gratefully planning on using it, and I assume she did. My own deep disappointment necessarily had to be tempered by the cartoon that Pema Chodron speaks of, in which several fish are swimming around a hook suspended on fishline, with the “teacher” fish instructing, “The secret is nonattachment.”

  3. Pingback: What a Difference a Year Makes « dharmabeginner

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