"Well," said Curioso, himself now washed and robed, "It is time to meet His Holiness. " He frowned, for no good reason. Behind him Tirseng, in his purplered robe, gestured them towards a large curlicued entrance door. At that instant, the door was opened from the inside by two monks, and a slow deepthroated chant could be heard far off in the recesses. Strangely enough, Curioso was more hesitant in moving forward in what was naturally his own terrain than Annette, who marched forward with no appearance of trepidation. He smiled, and followed her.
In the antechamber were vast concourses of Buddhas painted in purples and oranges and greens over the wooden walls, themselves glowing in the banks of candlelight. Wafts of incense became intermingled with the deep chanting. They came to an opening in what was increasingly growing in size above them into rafts and rafts of darkwood ceilings. Curioso touched the arm of Annette's garment and whispered: "Just do what I do. We have to do prostrations."
He flung himself down, and prostrated himself, jumped up again, and prostrated himself, and after a few seconds, she got the hang of it, and joined in. After the first 10 she thought that that was pretty good, and after 50 she thought enough, and after 100, 101, 102, 103, she was exhausted, 108. They staggered back up, and she looked at him, and whispered: "I think you are out of breath, O tulku."
"Haven't done that in a long time, I am out of shape, mountain climbing or no mountain climbing." Tirseng looked sternly at them; and properly chastened, they moved forward.
The vast audience chamber was filled with row upon row of chanting monks, purple and gold, cymbals and horns now completing the panoply of sound. Ahead a vast statue of Vairocana, the Great Wisdom Buddha, seemingly hovered above a gilded lotus, and multiple lesser statues and figures clustered about over the altar. A tall imposing figure, draped in gold tinged robes, stood awaiting them. He seemed to emanate compassion and wisdom, and gestured the two figures forward through the swelling throng. They gulped, and moved towards him. Curioso prostrated himself, followed immediately by Annette, and lay there.
"Arise," said the figure,"and let us go see His Holiness."
It was a little pokey room off to one corner of the audience chamber, and they stooped to go in. At the far end of the room sat two figures, one ancient, bespectacled and gaunt, and the other slightly younger and more solid. There was a small portrait of Chenrezig, listening to the sins of the world, hanging on the glowing brown wall, and the rest of the room was filled with stacks of manuscripts.
The newcomers bowed again, and were signalled forward. Tirseng smiled and said a few words in Tibetan.
There was a brief exchange between the two elders, and then the older who sat with power, began to speak. He had a sweet voice, wavering but full of strength. To their surprise, he spoke in English.
"So, thou hast come to visit me at last, disciple of Geshe Kyantse."
At the mention of that name, tears came unbidden into Curioso's eyes. He bowed his head as if he had been beaten with a whip.
"We speak to thee with great compassion, great sorrow, for it is an unhealed grief, yea, to us all."
Curioso said nothing.
"But it remains a joy to us that thou art come, for his treasure is thine, my son. We long to hear his voice again through you, his student."
Curioso looked up quietly, and said:
"Every word you say reminds me of how I have wasted his teaching."
The old Lama looked at him sternly, and then turned abruptly to the other figure sitting beside him. They spoke in Tibetan for a few moments. He turned back.
"We shall speak of this and thy smonlam, what is it in English, thy wish path, on another occasion. We will celebrate him together this evening in the late service. But now thou shouldst introduce me to thy --."
Curioso blushed. "Companion, your Holiness. Her name is Annette. Annette Marceau. "
The Lama looked at her, and bowed. "I am pleased to make thy acquaintance. I am led to believe by Tirseng that thou art of France. Thou shalt be forgiving then of my travails in the speaking of English. I have no time to practice, and my Junior Tutor, who was an Englishman, died many, many years ago."
"Perhaps you might learn some French, " Annette replied. "It is a far superior language. "
Tirseng looked completely horrified. The Lama smiled for the first time in the audience, and replied, "I am far too old to learn a new language. But", and he looked sideways, "Thubten Zopa Rinpoche upon my left would be a willing pupil, I am sure." Thubten bowed.
The Lama looked back at Curioso. "To be sure, we have many things to speak of, but there are matters of urgency. We have 3 questions that, if thou couldst be of assistance, would clarify certain problems that have plagued us for some time."
He turned to Thubten, who produced a sheet of paper. The Lama adjusted his glasses. "Could you tell us:
One, Was Elagabalus emperor of Rome before or after Hadrian?
Two, Was Hamlet king of England before or after William the Conqueror?
Three, We will come to three.
You see, Thubten is the director of the school system here, and we have so few books that we are afraid that mistakes are creeping into the teachings. We have argued over these questions for many years."
Curioso frowned. "I can answer the second question. Hamlet is actually a fictional character, though I believe he is based on an actual king of Denmark. He was never king of England, but in a play by Shakespeare. " There were nods and smiles of relief. "But as to the first, I was bad at Roman history."
Annette spoke up: "After, your Holiness. The Antonine line of kings ended with Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, who were followed by Septimus Severus, and Elagabalus, though I confess that there may have been one or two brief emperors in between. It was a troubled time in Rome."
The Lama beamed and rubbed the top of his head. "thank you, thank you." Thubten beamed and wrote down what she had said.
The Lama then said, "It is a troubled time here, and after lunch we will speak of the Black Master, and the new unbounded actions that threaten. But let us now have some lunch." Thubten whispered to him. "Oh yes," said the Lama, "I forgot. I am very old. Question 3. Canst thou tell me what this beautiful tune is? I long to know. It came in a caravan a few years ago, and was given to me." And he brought forward a light blue music box, with a painting of a city on it. With his long fingers, he pried it open, and it began to play a tune.
Curioso smiled. "Yes, your Holiness. It is a famous American jazz tune. The words are" -- and he began to sing along with the chiming notes -- "I can't give you anything but love, baby, that's the only thing I've plenty of, baby, dream awhile, scheme awhile, you're sure to find, happiness, and I guess, all those things you've always pined for." They listened to the song for a few more moments as it tinkled through the air. The Lama closed the box.
"Wise words," he said after a moment. "The essence of Buddhist teachings." And then the helpers brought forward lunch.