It was late one evening in our Teacher’s apartment in Toronto. He had just finished teaching some of his students (including me) a class about Wisdom and Skillful Means. We were all a bit tired from the intense interest peaked throughout his discourse, and as always were closing the day with fascinating discussions generated by his teaching, while sipping tea and munching snacks (which he always provided).
I remarked that I was having trouble with the notion that the study of Skillful Means was merely an intellectual exercise. One of the students asked our Teacher for some tangible proof that Skillful Means really exists and that what we’re studying has a basis in physical reality besides the reality of the imagination. Our Teacher asked what would constitute “proof” of such reality. All at once, students began calling out different effects he could perform in front of us, any of which would be “impossible” without Skillful Means. One called for him to levitate something. Another called for him to make a spirit to appear in physical form before us. Another person mentioned that our Teacher had once (jokingly) promised to create a rainstorm inside the apartment.
To my surprise (and that of others I’m sure) our Teacher agreed to create a rainstorm! But not inside the apartment, though only due to the calamity of getting everything wet. He said the rainstorm would happen outside instead.
I remembered that in another meeting, out Teacher had mentioned that weather magic had always come very easily to him, describing an incident where in his early childhood (6 years old or so), his mother (who was also one his first teachers) had taken him to the top of a hill, overlooking the ocean, and asked him to perform a simple technique for creation of a storm. When he did so, there had immediately appeared in the distance a black rolling cloud moving very quickly, boiling and thundering straight toward them, throwing lightning bolts all along the way. There immediately followed one of those tropical “flash storms” the residents are so accustomed to. Our Teacher mentioned that his mother was very impressed, even shocked at the immediacy and intensity of the reaction to what she thought was her son’s first attempt at creating tangible phenomena. Our Teacher remembered that she tried to hide her amazement, in hopes that our Teacher wouldn’t get a “big head” over it.
As I was thinking of this, I was sitting in a chair right next to the open Western window, laying my arm on its sill. Watching our Teacher get up from his chair, moving to the “meditation” area of the room in front of us, I also looked out the open window. I could easily see the completely clear sky, and the few stars that shone through the city glow of downtown Toronto. I remember thinking that this would be a spectacular trick indeed, as not only was there not even a single cloud in sight, but there wasn’t even a haze in the air, normally so common in the inner city of Toronto.
I watched our Teacher with utter interest and fascination as he began with preparatory prayers of “Remembrance” (which we now call “Recollecting The View”) when lighting a high candle in the nearly complete darkness of the room. I keenly witnessed him perform the same preparatory ritual and mantra that we were all practicing on a daily basis at the time… but he made small adjustments, each accentuating some presence from each of the four Buddha Families, one in each quarter. I savored the sound of his magical sword being dragged on the floor to form a circle around the practice room, which had its Southern wall completely open to us as we sat transfixed in our chairs and couches, our eyes following our Teacher’s every move.
Every few seconds, I would tear my eyes away from the “master at work” before me, whose every movement and utterance was firm, direct, and carefully controlled. I would tear my eyes away to glance out the open window beside me to see if anything was happening outside. To my amazement, as he drew the circle around his place of “working” with the sword, I could see the air thickening before my very eyes into a haze that had not been there before, obscuring the few stars that I had seen only seconds before. The hot night air that was the reason for having the window open in the first place, quickly cooled and a chill ran through me as I thought the window aught now be closed.
Then, our Teacher took a position in the West, facing whatever imagined forces he had summoned there, facing them with a head held high and a look of power and authority that sent shivers up my spine and made the hair on my forearms stand on end. He powerfully thumped his sword into the floor before the West as he mentally addressed those Western entities he faced, making us all jump in our seats with the suddenness and the power in that “Thump!” Quietly then, he stood there, obviously exercising some part of the “operation” inwardly with his irresistible imagination, and I glanced again out the window. To my amazement I saw far off in the Western distance the haze giving way to clouds visible in the partial moonlight, gathering there out of nowhere in the now cool night air.
Suddenly, but smoothly and carefully our Teacher raised his sword, pointing it high toward the top of the Western wall, and he began to trace in the air with the sword a clockwise circle toward the West three times. As he did this, the clouds gathered up and began to move at an incredible speed, directly toward us, forming a dark and undulating ball. By the time he finished tracing the third circle in the air, I could see the clouds were immediately overhead. The timing struck me with awe, and I realized this was no foolish matter I was witnessing. The atmosphere of playfulness we had all been in when chiding our Teacher to perform some visible Skillful Means was wiped completely from my mind.
Immediately upon finishing his tracing the three circles in the air, he powerfully thrust his sword at the top of the Western wall, suddenly and loudly blurting out a word of prayer in a low and resonant voice. I was shocked and frightened for a second, because at the same instant he thrust his sword, and the same instant that he blurted out that word of prayer, a brilliant and deafening thunderbolt of lightning crashed from the sky directly over our heads. I saw the brilliance of the lightening light up the entire sky and the entire Toronto skyline visible from that open window.
His mantra chanting continued slow and low, resonating with authority, and I realized that his sword had been at the top point of an imagined symbol as he moved it in strong lines past all of its parts. Then he once again thrust he sword to trace in the air part of a different symbol chanting a different mantra in a similar low and powerful voice. As he moved his sword around that figure in the air, I was startled again when my arm became immediately soaked before I could pull it away from the open window, for huge raindrops, the largest I have ever seen, began to pour down from the sky, instantly drenching anything caught in the open. I could barely see across to the next house, only 20 feet away, for the thickness of this torrent of rain.
Our Teacher began some closing prayers and mantras, and the rain began to lighten in its downpour. He came back to the part of the room where we were all sitting, and laughing, took his seat again amongst us. All of us were very impressed and a chatter of amazement erupted in the room. “How did you do that?” “Is that difficult to learn?” “Did you do that yourself, or ask a deity to do it for you?” “What were those differences in prayers and mantras from what we practice every day?” “Is it raining everywhere, or in a specific area?” “Were you just helping something along that would have happened anyway?” “Did your work cause the rain, or did the coming rain cause you to do the work?”
Our Teacher explained that the circle he had drawn with his sword on the floor had actually described a specific area in Toronto where it would rain, and there would still be clear skies outside that area. He explained that what we were practicing every day was not an empty intellectual exercise, but that it formed the foundation for all of the practitioner’s powers through minor variations like those we had seen that night. He explained that there was really nothing special about him in his ability to do what he did, but that all of us were capable of such things and much greater things if we simply stuck to our daily meditation and ritual practices. He expressed his worry about having done this for us. He was worried that maybe we’d now be practicing only to impress other people in the way he’d impressed us, instead of practicing in order to help others in need of help. He explained that he thought we needed something to show how serious and truly “real” our practice was, so having weighed the benefits and consequences had decided to do something tangible in front of us.
It continued to rain for only about 15 minutes, after which, through the open window, I saw the clouds dissipate into a haze, and then the haze disappear, leaving only the perfectly clear night sky again.
I feel luckier than the others in the room that night, because I was the only one able to see out the open window into the night sky. I was the only one who saw the instant effect that our Teacher’s every gesture and prayer were having on the real world outside. I’ll never forget the exact timing of the thrust of his sword and the crash of that bolt of lightening. I was the only one to get part of myself soaked because of the suddenness of the torrential downpour of huge raindrops that immediately answered his prayers. For me, since that day, his teachings have never again been “an intellectual exercise.” I know that I was not tempted to continue the study in order to do things that impress others, (I have only once been tempted create the same effect – all alone – and to my amazement, was actually successful to a degree!), but that the effect of this night on me was to “ground” in my being in an irrefutable way the “truth” and “reality” of what our Teacher was offering to teach us. This effect has never left me, and never will.
The next day I was further shocked at the depth of the “reality” of what I had seen when my best friend remarked on the “freak” rainstorm that had soaked him and his girlfriend the night before. I laughed with excitement when I heard that. Again I laughed when I saw a small clip in the Toronto Star newspaper that day in the weather section, describing a “freak” rainstorm that had occurred the night before in only part of Toronto, during what had until then been a completely clear sky, raining for only 15 or 20 minutes, and then abruptly stopping when all the clouds suddenly disappeared.