Meeting a New Lama
If you are going to approach a lama with a request for teachings, it is best to approach them with humility and conduct yourself humbly. That is if you think that the lama has the mentality of a real practitioner and you truly wish to be taken on as a student.
I wouldn’t advise approaching them as if you are somebody who the lama would be honoured to have as a student, or someone that might be useful to the lama. This might be a wise approach if the lama has a worldly way of thinking, although it wouldn’t make any sense to go to that type of person for the dharma.
Some people ask a lama to take them on as a student while letting the lama know that they have useful contacts and the like, as if that would carry weight with the lama. Others reel off a list of all the high lamas they have received teachings from and are keen to impress upon the lama their excellent dharma credentials.
In my opinion, it would be better to express a deep longing for the teachings and to make your request earnestly and humbly. As I understand things, the lama would be more likely to embrace you with their compassion and take you on if you present yourself like this.
I’ll always remember when I went to request teachings from Khenpo Munsel and how welcoming he was. I think part of it was because of how I looked. My robes at that time were always quite shabby and I’d just walked a good many days to get his to dharma encampment and had had quite a difficult journey.
He was seated on the porch of his cabin and hollered “Oooiy. What brings you here?”as he saw me approaching. As I was still a fair distance away I didn’t quite know what to do. It didn’t feel right to not shout something back to acknowledge his call, but nor did it feel right to raise my voice in a dharma camp or to the lama.
Anyway, I scurried closer and entered the enclosure around his cabin and prostrated from a bit of a distance. I went closer and told him where I was from and that I had come with the hope of receiving some specific teachings. He asked me several questions and told me that the dharma encampment was in recess at the time but that he would teach me all the same. He told me to pass him his boots and called Tsekor, one of his monks, and said, “This here is a good lama, ask Tashi if he can stay with him in his cabin for a while.” The monk took me to Tashi’s cabin and told him what Khenpo Munsel had said. Tashi said I was more than welcome to stay with him and I should feel free to stay as long as I wished.
The point I am trying to make here is that I was a ragged nobody and very much looked like a ragged nobody. But I’m fairly sure it was in part due to my humble appearance – shabby robes, bag on my back, weathered face, etc – and my sincere request for instruction, that Khenpo Munsel accepted me as warmly as he did.
Then there is Khenpo Chokhyab. He was renowned for the way he would welcome the different people who came to see him. Everybody knew that if you went to see him looking all spruced up or gave off any hint of pride, not only would he not give you much time he would also make fun of you: “Aren’t you a looker. A dandy if ever I’ve seen one.” But a humble looking person would be welcomed as an old friend, with cups of tea and conversation.
You can do as you wish, of course, but my advice for going to see a lama with a request for instruction would be to go humbly.