Tea and Shirts

Khyentse Rinpoche has always loved quirky humour. I wish now that I’d kept a record over the years of all the slogans I’ve seen on his many T-shirts. This one, from Paris 1998, isn’t a great example, I’m afraid. But who can forget “Buddhist Jihadist”. Naturally, I have forgotten the great football slogan he loved. Was it the one based on the Socratic saying, a life without football is not worth living? But T-shirts aside, I do remember him loving Philip’s declaration that watching the World Cup every four years was the only thing that made this human birth precious. And given the current state of the world, you can see his point.

For some reason (middle-aged nostalgia?) I’ve been reflecting on all the mistakes I’ve made over the years. Most are rather banal, and far too many for a list to be interesting. But there was one time in Paris that I often call to mind.

I think we’d been to the Picasso museum (Rinpoche couldn’t see the point of Picasso), and then Rinpoche wanted to visit a particular tea shop somewhere in the 6th. It was a very chic establishment with authentic Parisian prices. The waiters were uncharacteristically friendly and the cakes (which I could still eat back in those halcyon days) spectacular.

Anyway, when it was time to leave, I noticed Rinpoche, who is incredibly generous, getting ready to pay. It was particularly kind of him as we were quite a motley, unmoneyed crew—mostly Dharma bums who would never had considered spending any time in Paris under normal circumstances because it’s one of those places where money evaporates. Anyway, I’d kind of anticipated Rinpoche’s intention and caught the eye of a waiter who, being a French heterosexual, responded more quickly to me than to Rinpoche.

Once the bill was paid (was it a group effort? who knows who actually stumped up the cash…) I felt triumphant and very proud of myself. I was, I thought, beginning to get the hang of this game. And I’d done the ‘right thing.’ But my euphoria was short lived.

Rinpoche put his wallet away and seemed disappointed, even a little sad.
“I wanted to treat you,” he said, quietly. And my heart sank as I realized that on this occasion, seizing the bill had spoilt Rinpoche’s fun. So much for ‘getting the hang of things.’ It was a humbling experience, to say the least.

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