it’s a false world after all

felix king takes pilgrimages to Tibet & Disney World & faces his fears on Space Mountain

illustration by raymond biesinger,

…Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche visited Toronto several months after I got back from Tibet. Khenpo Tsultrim is a very traditional kind of teacher, who likes to give expositions of the great Buddhist philosophical texts, or the songs of the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa. I love Khenpo Tsultrim because he never patronizes people, and I think he really believes that if we wake up and work hard, we can become realized beings. He doesn’t only believe it, I think he sees it in us, even when we can’t.

One afternoon during the teachings, a member of the audience, perhaps exasperated by the elevated tone of Rinpoche’s philosophical talk, asked how we could really experience the luminous emptiness of all phenomena and of the mind talked about in the Buddhist sutras that Rinpoche quotes from. “Go to scary movies, amusement park rides,” Rinpoche replied. “And when you’re frightened, meditate by saying “this is a dream” or “I died and this is a bardo.” Go to Euro Disney, Space Station 2 and you’ll be thrown into nonconceptual states!”

We laughed, the way Western students do, enjoying the supposed irony of a Buddhist master talking about state-of-the-art amusement park rides. But Rinpoche continued: “This is a great way to practise Mahamudra – which is meditation on fear of whatever’s happening in our mind. Mahamudra is a very vivid meditation because you look directly at your own mind and relax – that’s the supreme meditation. If you meditate in this way, suffering won’t be unbearable. When you’re up in the dark, flipping around, you don’t have much time to think of anything. If you practise like this, you’ll be able to do it in a moment of great fear. In the modern world it is impossible to avoid dangerous, frightening activity, but if we embrace fear and difficulty and cultivate the meditation of looking directly into its essence, and relax into it, then it’s not difficult. And if you train now, when you face difficulty, such as death, you’ll be able to meditate.”

I wrote this down in my notebook and then promptly forgot about it.

Felix King is a writer and Buddhist, living in Toronto.  He is hoping to go to Canada’s Wonderland one day.

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