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A few days after the rather disconcerting interview I reported in the previous chapter, the lama’s main French translator had to go back to his duties – so I had to act as an interpreter, for maybe a week. This happened several times afterwards, notably until my departure from Paris in June 1992 after my success in the agrégation of philosophy. It was especially on such occasions that I was able to spend time with Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, whose familiar conversation was often more instructive than his sometimes extraordinarily bizarre public teachings. It must have been 1990, in fact, and almost a year must have passed since the first meeting with the Lama, recounted in an earlier chapter; I find it a little difficult, after so many years, to reconstruct the chronology exactly.
The account of one of the first interviews I had to translate (remember that I was barely twenty years old) will set the tone.
A lady came to see him and addressed him in the same way as she would have spoken to a “clairvoyant”:
“I don't feel very well; could THE MASTER tell me if things are going to get better?”
The question, perhaps sincere, was asked in a perfectly mundane tone by this lady whom I was to understand later that she had been addressed to Rinpoche by one of the main patrons of French Nyingmapa Buddhism at that time. Later, in a very amusing reversal of perspective, Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche was to complain publicly about the extraordinarily superstitious nature of Westerners, especially Parisians, who nearly never came to him for strictly spiritual, moral or doctrinal questions, but of whom an astonishing proportion came to me to be disenvised or to question his clairvoyance. It is true, in their defense, that Rinpoche looked like an old sorcerer – and that he was visibly amused, sometimes, to be seen as one. However, I, who never asked him anything of the sort and who have no taste for the marvelous, must say that he often made statements to me, completely out of the blue, which later turned out to anticipate in an astonishing way things that happened to me afterwards; some of which have not yet come true.
To return to this lady, after I translated the question to her (in English: "C. R. Lama" has never spoken to me in Tibetan, except for... making rather crude jokes), Rinpoche asked me to ask her to tell him what her profession was. "I'm an interior decorator," she replied, and proceeded to tell her life story for several minutes.
When the lama got too bored, or perhaps rather felt that she was ripe for the scene he was about to play for her, all of a sudden he took on a prophetic air and, with the deep and powerful voice that was his, with an absolutely singular timbre that I still have in my ear, told her, in his improbable English whose French translation will not exactly render the strange flavor:
"Something will happen to you! A Saturday! In February! You not going out your house! If you not dying, then all your problems finished! "
Then, once his words were translated (I admit I could hardly hold back my laughter, not knowing if he was joking, if he was crazy, if he wanted to teach this nuisance a lesson for having wasted his time, or if he really intended to warn her about a danger that seemed imminent), he turned to me with a blasé air and said this immortal phrase:
“Now some more another nonsense people coming possible ?”
Needless to say, the good lady looked like she had put her fingers in the socket and I had the feeling as I walked her to the door that she was deeply shocked. It must be said that during a previous visit to Paris, a few months earlier, Rinpoche had replied to a person from the Rigpa Center who asked him how long he had to live: “Six months!”. She actually died within a year, of brain cancer. “C. R. Lama” had thus acquired a reputation for clairvoyance as well as verbal brutality, which may explain why so many of his visitors apparently looked upon him more as a magician than as a spiritual master (which, incidentally, was probably not very distinct in their minds).
The rest of the story is even more curious.
The person who had sent this lady to Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche very quickly started phoning several times a day, with the theme (I cannot render the very mundane and bourgeois tone here):
“Could you ask Rinpoche to say a little more, please? You understand, you can’t say things like that to people, without explanations...”
I really had, at the time, an interpreting ethic that made me push perhaps too far the desire for self-effacement and the concern for accuracy; even when I thought a misunderstanding was possible between the lamas and the Western disciples, I refrained from intervening, even by a mere explanation. Perhaps this is what earned me, much later (1995), from Rinpoche, the nickname of “Khenpo Carbon Copy,” clearly meaning a kind of mechanical and dead repetition, although very faithful, of the tradition! I must admit that I am rather proud of this: this accuracy in the restitution of what was received does not cause me any shame; as for the role of “dry cookie nerd,” to take up an amusing formula of Guy Serre mentioned above, well, I have to be satisfied with it.
In short, Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche initially refused to answer when I passed on the request for an explanation, with a mimicry of refusal that I cannot describe, but which, like many of his expressions, betrayed the long years he had spent in India. There were several of these phone calls and several refusals to answer, and at first I stuck to my ethic of neutrality, trying to remain a faithful mirror of the exchange, without interfering.
However, after a few days and seeing that it was not going to come out that way, I took the liberty of telling the lama that, of course, it was he who knew what was good and appropriate, but that, for my part, I would still be relieved to be free of these phone calls that were interrupting me in the other tasks I was doing for his service. He then replied to me:
“Well, you just tell them that if they don’t like my prophecies, THEY DON'T HAVE TO BELIEVE THEM.”
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