After meeting HH Karmapa in Wales on his first visit to the UK in 1974, three friends and I set out from the village of Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh borders some time in 1977 (I’m not sure of the precise date) in a converted ambulance. Our destination was the Dordogne in France where the 16th Karmapa was going to consecrate his land and establish his European seat.
I had met the Karmapa several times and had experienced the Black Crown ceremony; but I never felt it was possible to have personal communication with such a supreme being. He was the embodiment of absolute reality, God in human form.
It was to be a long trip, crossing the channel from Kent, driving through Paris and onwards hundreds of kilometres to the Dordogne. To my dismay, I was the only driver and as we drove through Paris on the maze of intersecting motorways I felt exhausted with the sheer weight of the vehicle. The diesel engine was so noisy we could hardly talk; the steering wheel was making my arms ache with each movement. I felt like the captain of a cargo vessel steering a consignment of human freight through turbulent waters. I was desperate to be released.
Several hours after Paris, we were off the motorway on a country road when suddenly the engine made a clanging noise and stopped. It sounded serious. We got out of the ambulance and saw a thick black sticky line on the road behind the vehicle. It was oil. We looked at each other in horror. The engine had seized and it was the end of our journey.
We walked a few paces ahead to see where we were. There was no village in sight. A petrol station, a farmhouse, nothing else. Suddenly we saw a sign that made us all stop in amazement. The sign said “La Grace de Dieu”, the Grace of God, exactly at the spot where our ambulance had come to a halt. ‘What did it mean?’ we wondered. Should we go back? Should we continue? We found a farmer who towed the dead ambulance to his farmhouse, and after deliberating for some time, decided to continue. All our money had been spent on food and transport since we planned to eat and sleep in the camper. We loaded up our rucksacks with the bare necessities, left our temporary home behind and set out on the road, penniless hitch-hikers. We became pilgrims taking whatever food and shelter came our way, and after two days and many adventures, arrived at a large marquee in the centre of a field. The Karmapa was sitting regally on his throne where he performed the Vajra Crown ceremony and gave initiations.
I pondered the significance of La Grace de Dieu for many years as I continued to meet the 17th Karmapa under the most timely circumstances. In the mandala of the Karmapa there is perfect synchronicity; timeless spontaneity. Even when things look wrong, everything is right. Amazing Grace.