The Apocalyptic Koan
When I was living in Berkeley in 1975 I often went to weekly Chenresig practices at the dharma center of Lama Kunga Rinpoche. Sometimes I played volleyball with Lama Kunga and his brother Khen Rinpoche, another wonderful lama. It was very relaxed and familial. A fortunate interlude.
Khen Rinpoche seldom did any formal teaching but one day Gyatrul Rinpoche asked Khen Rinpoche to give a teaching at his center. I attended and decided that it was my opportunity to ask a question that troubled my mind in those days. During the question and answer time after the teaching I ventured to speak about my pressing concern.
“People say the world may end soon. What do you think?” I asked.
He looked at me with an expectant expression. “You know the answer to that, don’t you?” I felt disturbed. A great deal of space opened up in that brief moment. I was afraid that I knew what he meant, but I couldn’t admit it.
“Not really. That’s why I’m asking you,” I replied.
In a way that seemed both playful and wrathful, he said, “You will end before the world ends.”
I contemplated that provocative koan for many years, remembering the expression on his face as he said those words. I will end before the world ends. I will end. The truth of that echoed through all my hiding places. It was like looking at my own dead face. It felt like a time bomb that could explode at any moment. How strange it seemed that I will end, that snow will fall over the fields, then spring will come again and the buds will swell and I will not be this particular woman anymore.
It was also embarrassing-- to think that I considered myself so important that the whole planet had to die for me to die. It was deeply painful to think over and over about his answer.
I began to think that Khen Rinpoche meant something else as well when he said “You will end before the world ends.” I was amazed that I hadn’t seen it before.
Wasn’t he speaking of the death of my self-cherishing? Wasn’t he alluding to my attachment to the self and resistance to spiritual transformation? Wasn’t he alluding to something deep inside me that wants to move in spiritual unfoldment, dying to everything I was before, surrendering my attachment to this mirage I called my life?
I think when he said “You will end before the world ends” he meant it not only in the way flesh and mind part at death lifetime after lifetime, but the way a perfect radiant drop of light joins a brilliant limitless expanse of light, like a drop of water going in the ocean, like a child jumping into the lap of its Mother. “You will end before the world ends.”
Absolute certainty, going home—finally, after countless lifetimes, the time will come.
I look forward to that moment.
Meanwhile, here I am at 81. It is the start of autumn. The first rains came. Snow returned to Mt. Shasta. I took a drive out into the Applegate Valley for vegetables at Whistling Duck Farm. The sky was beautiful.