By the 1960's, seeking,
questioning and adversity were no strangers to me. The
unwholesome arts and culture realm of Toronto did not
help much either, (or maybe it did). "Basta!",
I said. Enough is enough. My cup runneth over. So even
though I'd recently had a solo exhibition in Paris, which
had been written up in TIME magazine along with two photos
of my work, and even though I was in the midst of preparing
for my second show at Roberts Gallery - something was
When I returned to
Canada from Paris in May of 1966, I learned that several
of my paintings had gone astray following the closing
of the exhibition. My experience altogether had been a
lesson and a let down. I only had a three week excursion
air ticket and since my show was on for a month, had to
leave a week before it closed. All my requests to the
Canadian Consulate in Paris and to the Dept. of Foreign
Affairs to trace the lost paintings were in vain. Thus
During one of the
dark moments of those days, a friend mentioned to me there
was a Buddhist monk in Toronto, a Canadian, who seemed
a somewhat understanding and compassionate man. This was
the era of flower power, Beatlemania, the Maharishi and
Scientology. So I just made a mental note of this pointer
from my friend. Not until I'd again been hit with another
setback and disappointment, did I decide to learn more
about the Buddhist monk.
It was an early Spring
day in 1967 when we first met. He was giving a discourse
in the basement of a church for seamen and "down
and outers" on Queen Street East. Upon entering the
room, I noticed a wooden bowl on the table with a note
saying, "Help the draft dodgers of Vietnam".
A few curious stray onlookers and the Bhikkhu's followers
were there. Seated in a chair at the front was a young
man with shaven head, saffron and burgundy-robed. I was
sitting at the back. His voice was clear, not loud, but
I could understand each word.
He touched on the
subject of coping with city life, then read from "The
Secret of the Golden Flower", upon which he elaborated.
It was all new to me. I knew his Canadian name was Leslie
George Dawson, but he was called the 'Bhikkhu' (which
means 'wanderer'), and his ordained name was Ananda Bodhi.
There was something in his voice, in his presence and
self-confidence, which told me that I was facing someone
who was for real. Measured against all my life experiences,
and the charlatans I had encountered, Ananda Bodhi stood
out as being genuine.
me to him at the end of the discourse, and we 'clicked'
then and there. Lifetimes bridged in one moment. I knew
nothing of Buddhism, or lamas, or eastern philosophy -
except from literature. Ananda Bodhi lived in a humble
apartment on Triller Avenue in west Toronto with Tony
Olbrecht from England. In the evenings the Bhikkhu held
classes there, with an average of six to eight students
In the same spring
of 1967, the group planned to travel to the Yukon by car.
I could not drive, so I was not allowed to go. As well,
the art scene still held my attention somewhat, be it
less firm. At that time I was scheduled to present illustrated
lectures at several cities in Ontario, and was about to
give three of these, one in each of Waterloo, Stratford
These talks were
sponsored by the Toronto Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery
of Ontario) and the Toronto Board of Education, in exchange
for a meager honorarium. A friend drove me to Waterloo
in a snowstorm! Stratford and London I reached by train.
However, since my meeting with the Bhikkhu, my desire
to paint and attraction to the art scene had faded considerably.
The core group returned
from the Yukon. Ananda Bodhi had formed the Dharma Centre
of Canada. More discourses and classes were held, now
at the home of Pauline Fediow on Gerrard Street West.
- circa 1969
Later on some were
held in my apartment at 579 Jarvis Street and other students'
homes. Land was purchased near Kinmount, to start a meditation
centre. Meanwhile the Bhikkhu and Tony had moved to 171
Harbord St. Beatrice Raff from Europe was housekeeper
I dropped my painting
activities, effectively abandoning my so-called career
- and began attending all the Bhikkhu's classes, which
were then held in the mornings and evenings. Not much
later Ananda Bodhi and Tony moved to a rented house on
Palmerston Avenue, just north of College Street. Then
I became the 'day student' at Palmerston. My task was
to run various errands, answer the door to students, shop
Weekends we traveled
by Land Rover to the newly-purchased land near Kinmount,
which had formerly been a mink farm. There was a lot of
work to be done, clearing bushes, etc., for what was to
become the future Dharma Centre grounds, while plans were
in the making to build a few meditation cabins.
One of my first assignments
for the Bhikkhu was to co-ordinate the travel plans. Ananda
Bodhi became a legendary traveler, a 'Hero of a Thousand
Places'. My part began by establishing contact with a
shipping company in Europe, to book passage on a freighter
to India. The Bhikkhu had decided to travel to the East
(Sri Lanka, Burma and India, with some of his students.)
Meanwhile, my last
illustrated art lecture, in London, took place on October
11, 1967, Ananda Bodhi's birthday. Less than five weeks
later, ten of us were off by ship to Europe, eventually
sailing onward by freighter to India on a pilgrimage.
(I later called it the "ship of fools with one Wise
Man".) Our stopover in Europe included touring by
car in England, France and Spain (where we visited the
caves of Lascaux and Altamira), and Portugal.
Ananda Bodhi had
been ordained in the Theravadan order by his teacher U
Thila Wunta. He also studied in Sri Lanka, Thailand and
in India. It was only four years later, on a subsequent
trip to India in 1971 in the company of over 100 students,
that the Bhikkhu was recognized by His Holiness the XVI
Karmapa, head of the Kagyu lineage and named him Karma
Tenzing Namgyal Dorje Rinpoche.
After his ordination,
Ananda Bodhi returned to England, where he had spent a
few years, and in Scotland. Following his teaching in
Scotland, the Teacher arrived back in Canada with some
core students from England. With this nucleus, along with
the new students in Toronto, the foundation of his teachings
in Canada, and later around the world, was formed.
Since my contact
with the Bhikkhu, a noticeable change took place in me.
I knew my weakness was being overly emotional, having
too much enthusiasm, not enough sober insight and too
trusting for today's world. The lucid awareness and direct
teaching of Ananda Bodhi made me aware of this imbalance.
The Teacher is a master of meditation and insight teaching
in the Kagyu lineage of compassion and wisdom. Ananda
Bodhi gave me a more balanced insight between my reason
and emotion, by strengthening the former. This needs to
be brought into harmony and equilibrium.
Too often in our
society, grown-ups and even children or teenagers who
are overly emotional or enthusiastic are labeled abnormal.
Let me point out, however, that the Teacher never removed
our enthusiasm - only the excess of emotions - by guiding
the enthusiasm into mindfulness of both expressing and
doing (action), or knowing and being. Being a healer,
he always encourages his students to be creative. As for
myself, I was told "Art is your vehicle to unfolding".
In the end, the quality
of a Teacher can be measured by the students. In the early
years of the Dharma Centre, during the hippie times, many
of us were ignorant. I was one of the few older students
'who had seen the bombs drop' in WWII during my teens.
Ananda Bodhi, now
known as Namgyal Rinpoche, was more than capable of handling
our bewildered and confused minds. He rose to the occasion
and beyond, with skill and means in the constructive 'handling'
of his students from the outset. Once you connect with
your root Lama, the old image of 'self' has to wither
away before Awakening can take place. And once awakened,
it is very defeating to slumber again. Like the breaking
of a New Year's resolution, but deeper.
We need to be mindful
of our actions, thoughts and speech. For no matter what
we think, say or do - a mind is at work behind it (or
not!). Compassion is intrinsic to human nature. However
it needs to be cultivated and cannot be taken for granted,
including being conscientious and compassionate for our
spaceship Earth. From personal experience, the cause of
suffering has to be recognized within. Seeing suffering
and ignorance in others, we realize we're all in the same
boat. "Except ye be troubled, ye shall not marvel."
Speaking of boats, now we can go on to the 1967-68 pilgrimage
from Europe to Sri Lanka, Burma and India by freighter
- the "Ship of 'Ignorants' and one Wise Man."
Canada, July 2002