A Prayer For My Teacher

My name is Jaymee Carpenter, and I’m the Spiritual Director at Alo House. As I am typing these words inside the main house of Alo House’s residential treatment center, I’ve noticed a lost ant making its way across the glass table I am writing you from. This is an extremely auspicious event, being that my main motivation to sit down at this table and write you all today is to work through the sadness I’m feeling about my spiritual teacher and mentor Vic Anderson, who currently is in his beautiful Sherman Oaks home preparing to leave his body after a long and aggressive battle with liver cancer. Before meeting Vic, my impulse would have been to smash this ant with my index finger as if it was trash and blow the tiny lifeless carcasses away with a deep breath, out of my way once and for all. Instead, I took a break from writing this entry, gently allowed this ant onto my hand and safely carried it outside. Vic taught me these simple and inconvenient acts of compassion towards other living beings provide them the same shot to live up to their full potential as I have been blessed with today; potential to grow, eat, drink, enjoy sunlight and live out the rest of their short lives without being crushed to death. Thanks to Vic’s guidance over the last decade, I find small acts such as these matter greatly to me today. This wasn’t always the case.

I met Vic Anderson in 2004 in the Hollywood recovery community. I was 26 years old and almost a year sober after having survived homelessness on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles due to my addiction to opiates and meth-amphetamines. I was lucky enough to find my way into a state funded treatment center called Warm Springs in Castaic, CA (now closed), and when I got out I became involved in the recovery community in Hollywood. I was instantly drawn to Vic for reasons beyond my comprehension. He was a tall man with salt and pepper hair who took his time moving and speaking. He had a general ease about himself that was apparent to all who crossed his path. He had the respect of the ultra-hip, tattooed Hollywood rockers, the conservative industry executives, the beat up, low-bottom addicts and everyone in between. I got the feeling he had been to dark places and survived. I began a conversation with him and this led to a phone number exchange which shortly thereafter blossomed into a loving mentorship. Soon after, I would learn that Vic was once homeless on the same street corner as I was, but even more serendipitous- he also went to Warm Springs.

Vic immediately began teaching me some practical ways of living. Accountability, vulnerability, patience and forgiveness were principles in focus during our daily discussions. Vic would always encourage me to face my fears and see others as myself. These were all strong teachings in my early spiritual development.

I once had a speaking engagement in front of roughly 200 people. I asked his advice to help calm my nerves and he said, “It’s simple… just let the God in you to speak to the God in them”, which I did and everything turned out better than I could have imagined. I called him another time full of shame after hurting someone’s feelings and he said “If you want to feel good, stop doing the things that make you feel bad.” He always offered solid wisdom steeped in simplicity. The more I applied it to my life and faced my fears, the more confidence arose within me, which became a priceless treasure. I began to understand that the man who was inspiring the kinds of changes in my life that seemed to always have a positive effect on the world was a man who had once walked in my shoes and had walked his own way out of hell.
Vic and his wife Nanea had been married for many years and the foundation of their marriage was been built on service work. The mentor Vic had become in my life, Nanea was in the same way to dozens of women. As a couple, they have inspired countless relationships to strive toward the highest ideal of partnership. When I met my wife Danielle, we used Vic and Nanea’s relationship as our model of love. When Danielle and I were engaged and later married, Vic and Nanea were both there, supporting us throughout all our milestones and pitfalls.

It was around the time of my marriage that Vic had taken a trip to India. While there, he met a young Tibetan monk on a train ride who was taken by Vic’s energy and kindness and invited Vic to meet his teacher, Lama Karwang, who was very old, could barely see and had been living in a remote cave in Tibet for many years. Vic was excited to go on this adventure, even with full knowledge that as a westerner, he was prohibited from entering Tibet and would have to illegally sneak over the border, quite possibly dodging Chinese soldiers along the way (China has occupied Tibet since 1959, and they have systematically been attempting destroy the culture and religion of the Tibetans and their heritage by way of violence and humiliation ever since). There were some close calls, but miraculously Vic made it all the way to the cave and met Lama Karwang. This began a teacher/student relationship between the two of them based in Tibetan Buddhism and Lama Karwang’s specific lineage (Nyingma Tradition).

While Vic was in Tibet, he also fell deeply in love with the country and its beautiful people. He was overtaken by the unceasing kindness, compassion and generosity they exhibited despite their impoverished living conditions. When he returned to the states, he came back on a mission to raise funds for Tibetans to rebuild the monasteries and schools that had been destroyed by the Chinese Army. He also returned home with the blessing of a spiritual teacher who he now felt was with him everywhere he went, guiding him. They were very connected, and he shared that Lama Karwang would wake Vic up from his sleep every morning with a song. He would open his eyes, hoping to see his teacher, but Vic would be at home in Sherman Oaks. He would use these early wake up’s to dedicate to meditation, which began to take on a new importance in Vic’s life.

I had dabbled in meditation throughout my sobriety, but Vic began handing down techniques he had learned in Tibet that really strengthened my practice and my general awareness of the inner and outer world. He also taught me some Tibetan Buddhist prayers and the chant Om Mani Padme Hum (or Hung, as said by the Nyingma tradition). He also had learned about The Ransom And Release Of Animals, popularized by a Tibetan Monk named Chadral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche. This is where you purchase living beings (animals, fish, insects) who are facing certain death and you liberate them back into their environment. Vic began the practice of going to various pet stores around Los Angeles and buying as many crickets as he could (hundreds at once) and setting them free in parks or in the mountains. He explained “You buy these creatures who have all been captured and taken away from their habitat, who are now forcibly piled on top of each other in a box, who are on their way to being eaten, and you set them free in a park – literally saving hundreds of lives at once.” He emphasized this was a way to build up good karma and merit, but not for oneself — to be benefitted by and dedicated to all living beings on the planet. This became a regular practice of my own. A true practice in selflessness.

When my wife was in labor with our first child, Vic showed up at the hospital at the most crucial time. We were 24 hours into delivery and they were talking C-section, due to the fact that our son was not making his way out. My wife was weak, wasn’t allowed to eat, had developed a fever and had ice packed all around her. I had been like a rock, holding it together the entire time, but all of a sudden- I was panic stricken. My wife needed me to keep her calm and I was afraid for her safety and the safety of our child. At that very moment, Vic showed up to our room. He suggested that we walk to get some food, and my wife said she was going to try to rest and encouraged me to go with Vic. In the cafeteria of Cedars Sinai that afternoon, Vic taught me how to dedicate the benefits of the food I was eating to other beings. With every bite, I imagined Danielle receiving sustenance. I chewed for her, swallowed for her, felt the calming wave of nourishment come on and sent her that too. When we went back to the room, Danielle had our doula with her and she was still resting. A decision would have to be made shortly about how to proceed with the birth, but for now, Danielle suggested I meditate, being that I hadn’t since the day before.
While in this meditation, I started seeing tons of colorless shapes. This was highly irregular. After a few minutes of viewing these shapes I heard a voice say “See what I can do, daddy?” All of the sudden I had the realization that I was in the womb with our son, and he seemed to be having a great time using his imagination, but didn’t know that there was so much more to this world. I responded back, “If you think that is great, look at this,” and I began sending streams of images from throughout my life, full of vibrancy and color – fireworks, sunsets, flowers, and the image from our hospital room window of the Hollywood Hills lit up at night. Then there was silence for a short burst, and out of the silence I heard the voice say “Ok daddy… I’ll come out now, and we’re not going to have to hurt mommy,” then I saw the image of a water slide. I came out of that meditation and my wife was surrounded by her team of nurses. She was finally in labor, and within a few hours, Tiger Lennon Carpenter was born. He was silent and unusually peaceful for the first 24 hours of his life, even through his circumcision and first bath. Vic, who we had decided would be Tiger’s Godfather, visited with him in the first few hours of his birth and began whispering into his tiny ear the chant Om Mani Padme Hung.

Over the next few years, Vic traveled safely back and forth from the U.S. to Tibet, each time smuggling thousands of dollars to rebuild the Tibetan culture, and each time, receiving blessings and teachings from his beloved guru Lama Karwang. Vic was also given the name Zhenpen Nyima, which means The Sunlight That Benefits All Beings Equally.

A few years ago, Lama Karwang was preparing to leave his body and Vic traveled with a heavy heart to Tibet in time to witness an unbelievable miracle. Lama Karwang left this world with a smile on his face sitting in the lotus position, and his body was still this way and warm with no heartbeat 13 days after his physical death. Thousands of monks traveled to see Lama Karwang’s body that week to pay homage to a true Buddhist master, and Vic was there to witness this sacred and rare event.

It’s been a year since I’ve last seen Vic, and I learned that it was around that time he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Two weeks ago, just before I was about to head to sleep I heard the cancer in Vic had become aggressive and hope for his recovery was fading. Nanea reports that he could possibly only have weeks to live. She also shared with us that crickets were singing in his hospital room, which made me smile. My initial emotional response to this news was regret for not having spent more time with him recently. Then I remembered that he and his teacher communicate to each other in dreams. I prayed that I might have the fortune of meeting up with him that night as I slept. This is exactly what came to pass.
In my dream, Vic was in a hospital bed that was outdoors. Nanea was there and Vic was surrounded by monks meditating, animals, and insects. He was lying down and looked weak. He kept trying to direct our attention off of him and onto the beauty of nature all around him. I approached him and he said something that was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. These words became a ball of energy, and he grabbed this ball and brought it to my head. As the energy entered my mind, I was instantly awakened by the sharp sound of a dish falling in the sink. This had never happened at our house and it woke my wife as well. She asked groggily, “what was that?” and I told her that a dish had fallen in the sink, and that it was Vic. I said I’d been dreaming about him, and she said “maybe he’s been dreaming about you.” I fell back asleep and the rest of the night I spent with Vic in the outdoor hospital room.

I may have missed the window to sit in the same room with Vic in this lifetime, being that at this point only close family are being allowed to see him. But I feel so fortunate to have spent time with him in this dream. For days afterward, I hadn’t been able to access the glowing bundle of words Vic placed in my mind, but I knew they would come when the time was right. A few nights ago, I was sitting with some clients at Alo House and was telling them about Vic. Someone said “I’m really sorry you’re going through that” and I stopped her right away and said, “Please don’t be. The man who I am sad to be losing is the man who taught me everything I know about letting go.”

I felt all at once that I had just opened Vic’s gift.

image1Vic’s organization Bodhicitta inc. is currently in the process of raising funds to build the first school for girls in a nomadic area of Tibet. If you would like to help see this project through to completion by making a donation of any size, please visit their page on Crowdrise: https://www.crowdrise.com/girlsschool/fundraiser/karmablastschool

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