Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palette | AspenTimes.com
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Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palette

Alison Berkley
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

“If you can find me some water, I’ll save your spot,” the woman next to me on the lawn outside the Music Tent said when I excused myself to the bathroom. We were among those fortunate enough to have scored free tickets to listen to the Dalai Lama’s talk last Saturday and had managed to find a decent spot.

“Sure, no worries,” I replied, slowly standing up to stretch my sore legs and wiping off the wood chips that had been ingrained into my skin from kneeling so long in the dirt.

I had found a spot where, if I kneeled with my chin over the railing, I had a direct line of sight on the chair where the Dalai Lama would sit. During the monk’s performance, I had been able to get a fairly decent glimpse of the giant snow dog, or whatever that cool dancing animal thing was, at least for the few moments it would prance between the two blue canvas strips that surround the entire tent. It was sort of like watching two people have sex through a crack in the door ” enough to keep my interest, but not enough to satisfy me. Suffice it to say, I totally felt like a voyeur, or maybe a dog on the other side of the fence, sitting on my hind legs with both paws over the railing, begging for table scraps or something I didn’t quite deserve.



Don’t get me wrong. I was grateful to be there. I didn’t even know I had tickets until Nate called that morning to tell me our friend had some extras and left them under his doormat for us.

“I know you hate it when I call you before 10 on the weekends,” he said. “But it’s sort of important, seeing one of the two most influential religious icons on the planet.”



“Who is the other religious icon?” I asked, still a little groggy.

“The Pope?” he replied, though it came out more like a question that suggested I should know better.

“Oh, right, that guy,” I said. “Mazel Tov.”

It’s true that a lot of Jews I know are attracted to Buddhism. I’m not sure why that is.

My aunt Carol used to be a Buddhist. She would rub these beads together and chant all day long. She’d even chant while she was driving, which was scary, because she is already one of the worst drivers on the planet. The last thing we needed was to have her in some kind of meditative trance while navigating the G.W. Bridge.

Then when I was in college in Boulder, I took a job as an author’s assistant for a woman who’d become a Buddhist after her divorce. She wrote self-help books like, “How to Be Your Daughter’s Mother” and “What’s Your Excuse?” and gave these positive-thinking workshops. She a head full of bushy, curly hair and a cockapoo who looked exactly like her. She was exactly the kind of uptight, stressed-out basket case you’d expect of someone who writes self-help books.

One day when we were going over my tasks for the day, she said, “I need you to run to the store and get me some arugula. Oh, never mind that’s too complicated. Just get me some green-leaf lettuce.”

“I know what arugula is,” I said, wondering when I’d get to something that actually involved writing.

She was all about introducing me to Buddhism. She invited me to Shambhala classes and Naropa University events and meditation sessions.

I was in journalism school at the time and was going through this weird phase when I loved nothing more than spending my afternoons doing research at the Daily Camera’s newspaper archives just for fun.

It turns out Trungpa Rinpoche, the Tibetan monk who founded Vajradhatu International Buddhist Church and the Naropa University in Boulder, was all over the news with reports of wild parties, drinking and promiscuous sex. He died at 47 of alcohol-related causes.

His successor was an American named Osel Tendzin, the first Westerner to lead an international Buddhist sect. His real name was Thomas Rich, at least when he was born in Passaic, N.J. He died of AIDS at 47 in 1990.

According to The New York Times report of his death, published August 20, 1990, “In December 1988 it became known that Mr. Tendzin’s companion had tested positive for the AIDS virus. At a meeting of several hundred Buddhists in Berkeley, Calif., later that month, Mr. Tendzin acknowledged that he had AIDS and may have infected others. He said he had known for several years that he was ill but thought he could ‘change the karma.'”

I told my author boss, no, thank you. I was sticking to the secular sect of Judaism with which I was raised, the one that preaches higher education and bagels with lox.

I walked around the grounds around the Music Tent during the Dalai Lama’s talk, gingerly stepping over all the locals lying in the grass with their eyes closed, wondering if they were basking in the presence of His Holiness or just really hung over. I saw all these women dressed in their best Tibetan-appropriate outfits, the long skirts and the scarves they bought on their last trip to Bali, the sandals and the beads. The only global community I could detect was the globetrotting community.

John and I left five minutes before the talk was over, just after that embarrassing question about why people who live in a beautiful place like Aspen are still so cantankerous.

“What if we get struck by lightning or something?” I asked him as we pushed our bikes toward security. “Do you think it’s disrespectful to leave?”

“I think we’ll be able to get a table at the Hickory House a lot faster if we leave now,” he said.

I was somehow relieved. At least at the Hickory House, there would certainly be no arugula.


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