I was absolutely 100% convinced of my specialness once. It was during what I call the Great Guru Search of 2008 (you’re going to hear a lot of stories from that time period). This was the year I spent in India after quitting social work and becoming a yoga teacher. It started off similar to Eat Pray Love but slowly degraded into something more akin to Drink Curse Vomit.
My specialness came to blossom at Druk Amitabha Monastery in Kathmandu. I wound up there after a travel relationship went sideways (Never pick up men at meditation retreats or bus stops. It’s asking for trouble). A friend, Yeshe, who taught English to the nuns there had raved to me about her teacher, his Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, head of the Drukpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. And since my travel romance had failed to solve all my problems I decided to go back to searching an enlightened teacher to do it for me instead. His name meant dragon, so it sounded promising.
Now, about specialness and gurus. Every western seeker with a set of knock-off rudraksha beads has a got a story about that time in India when they were singled out by a an enlightened being. It’s like a right of passage. A story you can bore fellow travelers, friends and family members with for years to come. I’ve been singled out as special on at least three separate occasions – not that any of that matters to me now. I’m over it. I’m my own guru. Which makes me extra special... right?
I managed to meet His Holiness on my third day at the monastery as I was partaking in the time honoured tradition of many westerners who seek spiritual guidance- sitting around in the monastery café drinking chai. Everyone stood and bowed. I stood, got confused, and did nothing. He was gracious about it and smiled warmly, shook my hand, and invited me to a private Green Tara ceremony being held the next day. “Wow,” exclaimed Yeshe after he left, “I’ve never seen him do that. He doesn’t usually talk to new people let alone touch them. You should definitely come tomorrow!” So, of course I did. Steeped in the confidence of being singled out by the head of a religious order I didn’t fully understand. Not that I had really tried.
Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies are something to behold. Yeshe and I crouched at the back of the temple. Between us and the head alter where the Drukpa sat were 200 nuns chanting in unison to a single purpose- the welfare of all. Amazing stuff. I started getting bored after about 20 minutes. I began to get curious about the seemingly random Nepalese people going on stage to receive blessings from his Holiness. Who were they? Why were they being blessed? Could I get blessed? I mean, I was special after all so why not? Around the hour mark I decided to go for it. Borrowing the customary Khata scarf from Yeshe I marched up to the front of the temple and calling forth my best special spiritual person self, presented the scarf to Drukpa. The look he gave me can best be described as the look you might get from a bus driver who you’ve just told you’re short a dollar for fare but you’re totally good for it. He looked confused, annoyed, and painfully weirded out. He hurriedly motioned for me to leave the scarf on the altar and go sit my assuming ass back down. No special blessing for our special Tori. I found out later that the people who’d been successfully blessed had all received permission in advance to approach the alter. My doing so without asking was akin to flicking my nose at the entire proceeding. Suffice to say he did NOT become my teacher. As I walked back to my seat not a single nun would meet my gaze. You know you’ve done messed up when nuns won’t even look at you. I got back to my seat and promptly burst into tears.
Yeshe, in what I have since come to appreciate as perfect comedic timing said, “Well, for what it’s worth, I’ve never seen him do that to anyone either.”
Every hippie and their spirit tiger may have a “Teacher thought I was special” story. But how many can boast an “I offended the leader of an ancient religious order” story? See. Special. Maybe not in the way I’d hoped, or in a way I’d recommend, but I’ll take what I can get. But not men at bus-stops or meditation retreats. Seriously. It’s a bad idea. I have tried both. Twice.
The lesson here- belief in our own specialness can often lead to acting like a prat. Love yourself, but maybe leave special alone.