I started a new 'intermediate' two year Buddhist studies course last night, an in depth study of the Lam Rim teachings of Atisha and Lama Tsongkhapa.
We had just got settled and said the preliminary prayers prior to the teachings, when one of the office staff showed in a late comer. There were a couple of cushions available, including one right at the front, just in front of the teacher. (Often if there are spare cushions it's usually up the front, as people seem to be a bit shy of sitting right up close in front of the teacher.) This newcomer took the cushion at the front, and actually scooted forward so that he was sitting just a few feet in front and eye to eye with the teacher. Really close.
One of the other students gave him his handouts, which he didn't really even look at before placing them on the floor. There is a small etiquette point in our tradition, we don't place teachings or images of the Buddha on the floor or anywhere where they might be stepped over, it's considered disrespectful. New students often do this because they aren't aware of the etiquette, so it's not treated as a big deal, but more experienced students are usually aware of it and avoid doing it.
About 10 minutes later, as the teacher was getting into the body of the teaching, I noticed that he was struggling to stay awake. This is nothing unusual; a warm room, a busy and tiring day, the soothing voice of the teacher, you often see people have moments of drowsiness. Then things started to get a little surreal. With his head in his hands, he was eventually leaning forward and folded almost double. Then he fell even further forward until his head was resting on the small table in front of the teacher. To his credit, the teacher gave him a small smile and carried on without breaking stride. Fast forward 15 minutes and this guy is sitting up, having rallied somewhat, but then tilts over sideways alarmingly. One lurch and he's lying down. Then he starts to snore.
By this point the realisation made it around the room. Not just sleepy, drunk.
It was really interesting watching my own reactions to the scenario. Most of the time he was kind of sitting quietly, so I was able to tune him out and concentrate on the teachings. At other times I was in turn horrified, concerned, annoyed and even a bit amused. A lot of the time I was concerned, as it was such odd behaviour, then I was bemused to think that anyone would attend teachings drunk. I exchanged a few nervous looks with a couple of the other students, wondering whether we should leave him to sleep or wake him up.
The class ended shortly afterward, and as we packed up the teacher stayed behind to have a chat with him and see if he was ok. When I left they were still talking, and it sounded like it had turned into an informal counselling session.
It made for a slightly surreal first class...