Realm of the Tiger
Erin Johannesen, M.A., M.D., Author, Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D., Editor
Feeling the bones in the realms of desire, I invoke nirmanakaya lama, already awakening within my heart, to sound the trumpet’s breath unborn at the beginningless beginning of vajra time. Call now, now…and still again now upon the tented wind of space and time, upon the teachings of this intimate, vast, and earthbound realm.
Part I – Bone Chimes
On January 4th, at the beginning of our Wednesday seminar, from the moment I sit down, close my eyes, focus inward and others begin to speak, I cannot hear anything. I mean, I hear their voices, but I do not comprehend their words; they make no sense. The meaning of their words is gone; and the words themselves, their voices too, just disappear, vanishing into darkened silence. …There is one sound I hear: The sound of metal chimes – thin sheets of hand-hammered and dulled pieces of metal, strung together with slender strands of sinew. It is the metal pieces stirring in the wind that are tapping now, one upon one upon the other. I hear too a different sound, a ‘clack, clack…clacking’ coming from a distant chime, one made of bones – the wind cleaned, dried remnants of small animals – a shoulder blade, upper leg bone, forearm bone. These bones too are strung with sinew. Bone chimes clacking in the wind.
And at the level of the heart…my heart, a full-size, magnificent tiger, with black and orange stripes, appears. I see him clearly; he has a strong, distinct, and masculine presence. He first appeared in the Chi Gong class less than an hour ago. I thought then the tiger ‘belonged to,’ was emanating from the Chi Gong master who had been standing nearby. Later in the class, however, when he walked to a far corner of the room, the tiger stayed and has remained by my side.
In our seminar now, the tiger is still here. He rests just in front of me and to my left. He is lying in the middle of this room here in the basement; his body is comfortably stretched out, and he rests on his belly, with both hind legs out to his left. His head points westward, his chin rests comfortably between his big, outstretched front paws, and his body rests not on the carpet, but above it; he rests at the level of our hearts and is supported by light as ground. This ground of light, which is not the ground of earth, has no color; it looks like a flat mirror, reflecting so many formless sweeps of color, it is no color at all.
The tiger is alert and relaxed. His eyes are open and are a clear green, the color of sea glass lit by the sun. Even at ease, the tiger has a fierce presence; I can feel his quiet power – from his strong jaws to his muscled body to his long and powerful tail whose tip is black. He flicks his tail at times from side to side, yet it comes to rest with the tip always touching a point just below my collar bone on the right side of my upper chest. Mostly the tiger rests, eyes open, but sometimes he stretches, like the big cat that he is, or rolls on his back, then returns to resting on his belly. He is calm, self-contained, and is always awake, always gazing out on the world.
I feel great respect for him, but I have no fear of him. Rather, with the openness of a child, I trust him instantly and completely. I know him as companion and teacher. I stroke his back and feel the coarser outer fur and the softer undercoat. I feel the muscle beneath the fur, and my left hand fits so perfectly naturally in the flattened shallow between his shoulder blades.
The Wednesday seminar continues. I open my eyes and see others walking around in the now darkened room. (I later learn that the lights had been turned out for gazing). And as I gaze too into the room, I hear, from another realm, a disembodied male voice saying over and over, “KHA CHŌG! KA SHŌK!” (…I’m just guessing on the spelling here; it’s more felt). These syllables are spoken firmly and loudly – not excitedly, but commandingly. And as these words are spoken, I see that the tiger, still resting, is dissolving. Beginning along the horizontal top of his back and extending downward to the rest of his body, he is slowly disintegrating up into the air above him where he – or what was once he – becomes an ever emerging flock of small blackbirds flying higher and higher into a dimly lit sky. And as I gaze, the tiger dissolves more; I can feel his fierceness, power, and pure presence, held no longer in the well-muscled body of a tiger, rather held now, with no difference at all, in the feathered body of each small bird.
During the next seven days, the tiger, embodied again as itself, remains with me; whether I’m meditating or not, he is palpably there as I go about my day. I sense or feel his presence and often see him resting – awake and alert – always just in front of me and to my left. His large body is in the same position as before, and his tail too comes to rest touching me as before, just beneath my collarbone.
Part II – The Tiger and Empty Force Chi Gong
Now, one week later, on January 11th, we are gathered in the Chi Gong class, and the tiger also is here, big as life, fiercely beautiful, and quietly resting in the middle of the room. He rests too as before, on the ground of light at the level of our hearts. Again his head faces westward, and he lies in his same, now familiar position.
As I am here in standing Chi Gong meditation, I am also in another realm: The realm of the tiger. And in that realm, I stretch out on the ground of light and rest alongside my orange and black-striped companion. The ground of light beneath me feels as solid and certain as the carpeted floor. With my left hand, I reach over and stroke the tiger’s back; his fur feels thick between my fingers. My hand naturally rests again in the place between his shoulder blades. Being this close to him, I feel the pure physicalness of his form with its power, ease and surety. Yet it is a feeling that quickly goes beyond the boundaries of the body. It is complete trust, complete love of his presence, his essence…the ‘who’ that we talk about…it is an opening of self to self and of time to timelessness. It is another face of the great compassion and light, MAHA SUKA. I stroke his big front paws, and he rolls onto his right side so that his back is toward me and his belly exposed. With my left hand, I reach over and scratch his white-furred chest, and he drapes his enormous left front paw over my forearm. I discover his body relaxes even more when he is being scratched just behind his ears. His ears are thick and round; they don’t bend like a housecat’s ears, and the fur inside his ears is white. Then I let him be, and we both rest awhile.
It seems too soon when he stands up on the ground of light and turns to face in a northwest direction. I too stand up; I sense (but don’t see) something ‘out there’ that means us harm. It feels like other beings, other people, are coming toward us. I still cannot hear or see them, and, for a moment, I wonder if I’m just thinking it. Yet the sense of a distant, but growing danger feels increasingly imminent and real. And with the arrival of danger, the texture of the ground of light is changing; what was once smooth, mirror-like and pure, now feels rough like dirt, like the dry dirt of the ground of earth. We, the tiger and I, are standing now not on light, but on soil.
The tiger doesn’t talk; nonetheless, he’s telling me that we are to go. ‘It is time to leave this place.’ I hear him easily and clearly, but it is not his voice to my ear that I hear…better said I know what he is telling me. It is his mind to my mind, his being to my being. He tells me to get upon his back, to straddle him. I do as he tells me to do, but I am not riding him like a master rides a horse, for I am not leading at all. I know now he is a most precious vehicle, and as we go – as he walks with my riding upon his back – we leave the ground of dirt and earth and are again on the mirror of light. I think my long legs will drag upon this ground, but they don’t. There is no ground anymore. So together, we walk into, we dissolve into…emptiness. And when we re-emerge, we are in a place I’ve never before seen. I dismount from the tiger, and we walk in silence in this new and wondrous place.
It is so, so beautiful this place. There is bright, soft, white light and the color of turquoise everywhere. There are no shadows, yet the brilliance is neither blinding nor hot. There is a breeze here. The space we are in is vast and open. There are no trees, no landscape, yet there is a view; I can see great distances, as though from hill to hill, yet there are no hills. It is just we who are here – the tiger and I – there are no other beings with forms or shapes like we have. I look at my companion and see he is no longer orange and black. Like the land and air around him, he too shimmers now in turquoise and white; he is both light itself and remains himself. The form of his body grows much less distinct; its substance and edges are blurred. Where does the tiger start and stop? He remains distinct; I feel his presence as fully as before, yet he is now visibly and palpably inseparable with all that is around him. There is nothing to see…all is the sameness of light, brilliant, soft, white, and turquoise.
…And yet, here before us I see now emerging from this background, this ground of sameness and light, enormous, towering, stone-like, white pillars as big around as the trunks of great trees. There are five pillars in all, perhaps more (I can’t seem to count the number accurately). They are evenly spaced apart to form a large circle, and on top of the pillars rests a similar, gracefully rounded, shallow-domed roof. The columns and dome look like stone, but at the bottom of each pillar, the stone itself becomes mere drops of purest water gently and audibly ‘drip…drip…dripping’ into perpetual, small, rounded pools of water surrounding each pillar’s base. And at the bottom of each small pool rest turquoise stones, shaped smooth as rounded river stones. The pools never overflow, even though tall columns ceaselessly drip the very essence of themselves onto the blue stones.
It is peaceful here by this open palace, this place of light and water and stone. Everything – even a thought – shimmers here – for everything has substance…and does not; everything is solid…and is not. Even the turquoise stones themselves shimmer beautifully in the play of light and water upon them. Although there’s nothing much here, I do not want for anything. This place, empty of things, is full in the completeness of perfection. I feel no longing, no desire.
Then, the palace, the wash of turquoise and shimmering white light, the tiger and I – staying just as full, just as complete – become now smaller and smaller in size. This change is reminiscent of the tiger dissolving into so many blackbirds, each in its own tiny form, carrying always the fullness, presence, and power of the tiger. And just so, the palace, the tiger – everything in this realm of irrepressible light, even I – dissolve completely into my heart, into the heart of I who am meditating, and the presence of this vital essence remains within me, within you, as a givenness of being.
The empty force Chi Gong class is over, and I go on to our Wednesday seminar, where we speak of the practice of “the unceasing river of the four empowerments,” a sacred place that is one’s own perceptions. And the power of the tiger within continues opening, opening in the realm of pure light, unceasing and unfolding.
Note: This piece was written during the three week daily Vajrasattva Practice following the passing of H.H. Kyabje Dungse Thinley Norbu into parinirvana.