Wednesday, June 15, 2016

India Adventure III: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama's Lamrim Teachings at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery

It was 5:30AM on December 18, 2015. I was standing underneath a streetlight on a dark, quiet, dead end road in Bangalore, sizing up our recently arrived, pre-booked taxi. A few minutes later I had successfully jammed my own and my mom’s luggage into the taxi, and we were pulling away from Shivam Homes hotel. After picking up western Buddhist nun Venerable Wy at her nearby hotel, we headed southwest, away from the city.

Where to? Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, Dickyi Larsoe Tibetan Refugee Settlement, Bylakuppe, south India to see His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama ("His Holiness".). We were to spend the following two weeks with him, studying the 18 Treatises on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment ("lamrim") Commentary Texts.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the lamrim teachings 2015. Photo by Bill Kane.

This was the fourth year in a row that His Holiness was spending the Christmas holidays at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in south India, teaching the lamrim to thousands of students. Organized by the Jangchup Lamrim Organizing Committee, the Jangchup Lamrim Teachings series changed venues each year. In 2012 the teachings were held at Gaden and Drepung Monasteries, in 2013 at Sera Jey Monastery (my mom and I went to that one), in 2014 at Gaden Monastery (I went to that one), and then this year (the last) at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.

Gaden, Drepung, Sera Jey, and Tashi Lhunpo are four of the great Tibetan Buddhist monasteries that were re-established in the south Indian state of Karnataka following the Chinese invasion of Tibet and His Holiness' resultant escape to India in 1959. I had no idea about any of this when I first came to India in December 2013 to see a friend and the Taj Mahal. How things have changed.

THE LAMRIM: PATH TO ENLIGHTENMENT

I had been planning for and anticipating this trip to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery for more than six months. I appreciated this opportunity even more after reading the following message from one of my teachers, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the staff at his NGO (nonprofit), FPMT.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche said “There is no question that this opportunity is an incredible miracle, like a dream, because it will definitely lead us to the end of samsara. It not only will bring about the elimination of all the dukkhas, the sufferings of samsara, but it also includes the elimination of the cause, which resides in our own minds: the delusions and karma. Even just seeing [His Holiness’] holy body has the effect of liberating one from dukkha, planting the seed of liberation from samsara and the seed of full enlightenment. It is an unforgettable memory in this life.”

Lama Zopa Rinpoche with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Italy, 2014.
Photo by Matteo Passigato.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche seated on the couch on the right and some of his attendants
with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the 2014 lamrim teachings. Photo by FPMT.

FPMT shared in a blog post "The teachings are incredibly precious and rare. His Holiness received the transmission by the former incarnation of His Eminence Ling Rinpoche and in this life, Ling Rinpoche, who was the main organizer of this four-year teaching event, requested His Holiness to offer these commentaries and transmission. This is the only time His Holiness has ever given teachings on 18 Treatises on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (lamrim.)"

Ling Rinpoche seated on the highest seat in this photo at the lamrim teachings.
Photo by Jangchup Lamrim Organizing Committee.
At the end of the teachings this year His Holiness pointed out that some participants from previous years were not with us this year because they had passed away since our last gathering. I even heard of one child who passed away during this year’s teachings. The time of death is uncertain, but death is inevitable. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught in London in 2014 “We just cannot be sure which will come first, tomorrow or our next life."

Together with His Holiness, we were studying the lamrim, the graduated path to enlightenment.

The lamrim tradition originated with one of India’s great Buddhist scholars, Jowo Je Atisha who lived from 982 -1084. Upon invitation Jowo Je Atisha traveled to Tibet to introduce the key elements of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings as they were being studied and practiced in India (the place of Buddha’s enlightenment) to Tibet.

He composed a text Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment summarizing and clarifying the key elements of the Buddha’s teachings as well as the commentary texts written by Indian scholars to explain the Buddha’s teachings. Since then many other lamrim commentary texts have been written, including the eighteen lamrim commentary texts His Holiness taught during the Jangchup Lamrim Teachings.

His Holiness explained it is very important to study the lamrim commentary texts:

“The Buddha and the great teachers who followed him gave clear instructions on how to proceed from a state of suffering to a state of peace and happiness. “

“The primary goal of these teachings is to discipline and transform the mind. These texts have their source in the sutras and the other teachings of the Buddha himself, but their special virtue is that they convey the thought of the Buddha in a format that is easy to apply in actual practice.”

“The two principal aspects of practice described here are a proper understanding of emptiness and the awakening mind of bodhicitta. A correct understanding of the view of emptiness is very important, for whether you are taking refuge, or cultivating the awakening mind of bodhicitta, all other practices are enhanced by such an understanding. At the same time, it is extremely important that our insight into the ultimate nature of reality is supported by compassion and the awakening mind of bodhicitta.

In my own case, regardless of my limited capacity, I try my best to develop these two minds: the wisdom understanding emptiness, and bodhicitta—the wish to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. Merely trying to approach and cultivate these two minds brings greater peace and happiness. The development of these two minds is really the heart of Buddhist practice. It is the essential meaning of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment.

If we were to examine all the sutras and words of the Buddha, along with the subsequent treatises that are commentaries to them, we would find that they can be summed up in these two practices. Therefore, we should study these teachings motivated by an aspiration to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.”

The lamrim is the focus of my Tibetan Buddhism studies in India, but I have an unfathomably long way to go.

DICKYI LARSOE TIBETAN SETTLEMENT

After about six hours in the taxi my mom, Venerable Wy, and I reached Dickyi Larsoe Tibetan Settlement in Bylakuppe. I knew we had arrived when I spotted my first large, colorful banner arching over the rural countryside road, welcoming His Holiness to the settlement.

Beautiful welcome sign just outside of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall.

The Indian police were also prepared for the festivities. Our taxi driver was made to stop at a police check point just inside of the settlement gates. I had to pass photocopies of our required Protected Area Permits and my original passport through the taxi window to a waiting police officer for his thorough review and signature. Only then were we permitted to enter into the Tibetan refugee community, which like other Tibetan refugee settlements in India is off limits to unauthorized foreigner overnight guests.

A street in Bylakuppe.

We arrived on December 18, the day before His Holiness would begin teaching at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. My mom and I checked into the place we would be staying for the next fifteen days: Sera Jey Monastery Tsangpa Khangtsen, Sera Jey Monastic University. As a friend pointed out this year, we are so lucky that we get to spend this time at Sera Jey Monastery where the great beings reincarnate to study.


One of the many temples at Sera Jey Monastery.
A street - and dog - at Sera Jey Monastery.


Another street - and another dog - at Sera Jey Monastery.
Fruit and vegetable shopping at Sera Jey Monastery.
The road leading to our rented room on Sera Jey Monastery's campus.
This is where we stayed on Sera Jey Monastery's campus.

When a monk begins their studies at Sera Jey Monastery, they are typically placed with a living group associated with their hometown. These living groups are called khangtsens. The monks live in college style dormitory rooms with shared baths on each floor.

This short video does a beautiful job of explaining what life is like at Sera Jey Monastery:




(You can learn more about the Sera Jey Food Fund here.)

During His Holiness’ teachings in 2013 and 2015 the monks of Sera Jey Monastery’s Tsangpa Khangtsen vacated a floor of the dormitory to make room for guests. The monks slept together on mattresses laid out on the floor of the temple in the center of the khangtsen’s grounds. Renting out dormitory rooms during His Holiness’ lamrim teachings in 2013 and 2015 was a significant source of income for the khangtsen.


Entering Tsangpa Khangtsen.
Ground floor of one of the dormitory buildings as Tsangpa Khangtsen.

One floor up ... (top floor) where my mom, Dee, and I stayed.

My mom and I were fortunate to be able to join in with the CKSL group, a Tibetan Buddhist study center in Bangalore again this year and stayed with them at the khangtsen. We shared our room with our friend Dee, who coordinated travel for CKSL.

Our room.
View of Tsangpa Khangtsen from the hallway outside of our room.
Dee and my mom.
I was so happy to be back at Sera Jey Monastery, and back in the familiar, home-like surroundings of Tsangpa Khangtsen, where we had also stayed in 2013.

TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY

It was also fun to get to know a new Tibetan Buddhist monastery - the nearby Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, where His Holiness’ teachings would be taking place. I first got to know Tashi Lhunpo Monastery while reading the fascinating book The Search for the Panchen Lama.

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. Photo by Bill Kane.
Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is the seat of the Panchen Lama. The 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family were abducted in Tibet by the Chinese government in 1995 when the boy was just six years old. He has not been heard from since.

Gedhun Choekyi Nyinma has never seen his Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in south India, but it is ready and waiting for him.

Buddha statue at the front of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall where
His Holiness' teachings were held. Portraits left to right: 10th Panchen Lama,
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the (missing) 11th Panchen Lama.
I spent the remainder of December 18 at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery gathering intelligence in advance of the start of His Holiness’ teachings – the location of the foreigners’ entrance gate, the best place to sit in order to be able to see His Holiness’ face on the gigantic TV screen in the foreigners’ seating area, and … toilet locations.

Map of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery for lamrim teachings. Photo: Jangchuplamrim.org
One of the entrances indicated on the map to the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall.
Elena surveying the foreigner's seating area set aside for the lamrim teachings.
We would go though security and enter through this gate each time we
re-entered the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall grounds to listen to
His Holiness teach.
Sampling of the languages that were being translated into from His Holiness' Tibetan.

I also collected registration badges for my mom and I, and visited the local Indian police station to register myself with the police (passport photo, blue ink fingerprint, and signature, all entered into an oversized ledger book).

First point of check in for newly arrived students. Picking up our photo ID badges
that needed to be worn at all times while on Tashi Lhunpo Monastery grounds
for the lamrim teachings.
Bylakuppe Police Station where we had to go to file our PAPs and give our
fingerprints to the police. Photo by www.travelwithdenise.blogspot.com

I met a young Russian woman, Elena while trying to find the registration badge booth. Fluent in the Tibetan language, Elena was easily able to get answers to all of our questions about Tashi Lhunpo Monastery’s grounds and the teachings.

Elena is one of the few lay women living and studying Tibetan Buddhist philosophy (in Tibetan language) at Jamyang Choling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India. She had come to His Holiness’ teachings with the nuns and other lay students. She sat with my mom and I during the teachings; we had a wonderful time.

Elena and a Tibetan friend studying with her at the nunnery.
(This photo was taken when I visited the nunnery in May 2016.)

Although His Holiness had been scheduled to inaugurate the newly constructed Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall at 9AM on December 19, he arrived unannounced around lunch time on December 18 to see the prayer hall for perhaps the first time.


Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall.

Elena and I were at the nearby registration badge booth at the time. We went running towards the unexpected sound of the sirens that foretell the eminent arrival of His Holiness’ personal vehicle, reaching the prayer hall just in time to see His Holiness exit his SUV, all the while waving and smiling at the small crowd clamoring at the closed and guarded gate.

Main entrance gate to the Tashi Lhunpo Monsatery prayer hall.
His Holiness entered through this gate when Elena and I saw him on Dec 18, 2015.
Watching His Holiness through the gate.

He was greeted in the prayer hall courtyard by dancers wearing traditional Tibetan dress. I crouched down to the ground, pressing my nose between the gate’s bars in order to get a mostly unobstructed view, while making room for more people eager to catch a glimpse of His Holiness.

Watching His Holiness.
View from between the gate bars. His Holiness is underneath the yellow parasol.

We watched him ascend the steps to the prayer hall, enter inside, and then stuck around to listen to the sound of prayers being said by a group of monastics inside of the prayer hall with His Holiness.

Beautiful.

A TYPICAL DAY AT HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA’S LAMRIM TEACHINGS

This was the schedule of events for His Holiness’ time at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery:

December 19, 2015: Inauguration of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery’s new prayer hall followed by a half day teaching on the early Indian Buddhist logician Acharya Dharmakirti’s Commentary on Pramanasamuccaya (“ Compendium of Validities”)

December 20 – 29, 2015: Lamrim teachings from 9 – 11:30AM and 1 – 3PM daily

December 30 – 31, 2015: His Holiness bestowed the Sixteen Drops of Kadam initiation on those in attendance at the teachings

January 1, 2016: Ceremony for the Long Life of His Holiness

The CKSL group enjoyed breakfast at Tsangpa Khangtsen, before heading off to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery for the teachings each morning. We had our own cook – a Tibetan man from Delhi – who was assisted by seven monks from Tsangpa Khangtsen. The food was delicious and the kitchen staff so kind. They decorated the dining area for Christmas with blue and green lights, including this tree.

Dee singing us a Christmas song at Christmas Day dinner at Tsangpa Khantsen.
The decorated Christmas tree is behind Dee, who is in red.

Most mornings after breakfast I walked along the beautiful – but dusty and heavily trafficked – five and a half mile road leading from our room at Sera Jey Monastery to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. It was a beautiful way to begin the day, silently walking in a single file line amongst a sea of maroon robed monks and nuns also headed to the teachings.

The road that runs between Sera Jey Monastery and Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.

I also loved the slower paced approach to the magnificent Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall where His Holiness’ teachings were held. The brightly colored building springs out of a gently upward sloping sea of vibrant green fields.

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall rising above the trees. Photo by Bill Kane.

My mom, Elena, and I had a nice spot within the foreigners’ section of the teaching area. The foreigners were seated underneath a white tent that had been set up adjacent to the Tashi Lhunpo prayer hall.

Elena, my mom and I sat on those cushions I bought in Bangalore, and that
black plastic bag I brought from the USA. Elena and I spread that out to
reserve our spot in the foreigner's seating area outside
of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall.

So we could not see His Holiness in person – in fact many foreigners probably only saw him in person on the day he invited us to a group audience on the steps outside of the prayer hall – but we had a nice view of the exterior of the prayer hall and His Holiness teaching on a large TV screen.

The big  TV we watched. Photo by Bill Kane.

Smaller TV screens were set up in other parts of the foreigners’ section, so we were all hopefully able to at least see His Holiness on TV.


One  of the smaller TVs set up in another part of the foreigner's reserved section.
Photo by Bill Kane.

My mom, Elena and I enjoyed interacting with our neighbors. To our right was a group of about twenty Taiwanese students. Sitting amongst them was an eleven year old Tibetan boy in monk’s robes - the reincarnation of one of Ling Rinpoche’s teachers - plus one or two adult monks who along with the Taiwanese students affectionately looked after the young reincarnation. Seated in front of me was a young Ladahki family with a toddler. The boy’s father is a student at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala. Just behind me was a large group of Korean monks. We had a lot of fun sharing snacks and smiles.

Bill Kane's brother on the left seated in the audience. Photo by Bill Kane.

The Himalayan region monks and nuns, Himalayan lay people, Indians, mainland Chinese, dignitaries, senior monks, foreigners including monks and nuns, and Tibetan refugees recently arrived in India from Tibet had their own respective reserved sections in the teaching area.

Underneath the tent inside of the main entrance. Photo by Bill Kane.
Audience. Photo by Bill Kane.

I sat inside of the prayer hall now and then, to see His Holiness.

Inside of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall, His Holiness' throne covered.
Photo by Bill Kane.
His Holiness on his throne. Photo by Bill Kane.
His Holiness on his throne waving to his students. Photo by Bill Kane.

One afternoon, I had to step out of the prayer hall while His Holiness was seated on his outdoor throne, teaching. As I neared the back of the prayer hall, I could see His Holiness’ back and his left arm in the air, gesturing as he made a point. An older Tibetan, recently arrived from Tibet was standing on his knees at the windowsill, hands folded at his chest in prayer, his gaze and entire attention fixed on His Holiness. It was a deeply touching sight.

Audience. Photo by Bill Kane.

The foreign monks and nuns were sitting in the foreigners’ seating area. It was amazing to see so many ordained westerners, and to recognize many of them as fellow students of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in the center surrounded by attendants and students.
Osel Labrang at Sera Jey Monsatery during the lamrim teachings. Photo by Bill Kane.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche's January 1, 2016 teaching at Kopan House.
My mom and I were sitting behind one of the trees. Photo by Bill Kane.
Another photo of Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the throne teaching on
January 1, 2016 at Kopan House. Photo by Bill Kane.

The Indian students had been given a roped off section inside of the prayer hall, in the front of the room very close to His Holiness’ throne. The remainder of the prayer hall was filled with dignitaries, members of the press, senior monks, mainland Chinese, and Tibetans recently arrived in India from Tibet.

Reserved section in the front of  Tashi Lhunpo Monsatery prayer hall
for Indian students.
Reserved seats on the stage near His Holiness' throne.
Inside of  Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall during the teachings.
Photo by Bill Kane.
Inside of  Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall during the teachings.
Photo by Bill Kane.

The first day of the teachings, December 19 he sat on his throne at the front of the prayer hall. But since the prayer hall was so small and the majority of his students were seated outside, I heard that he said he wanted to move his throne outside so more people could see him. A second throne was added to the prayer hall, this time outside in the open air, at the top of the steps leading up to the prayer hall front doors.

Side view of the front steps of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall
where His Holiness sat underneath the awning.
His Holiness on the outdoor stage. Photo by Bill Kane.
His Holiness seated on his throne on the outdoor stage. Photo by Bill Kane.
His Holiness seated on his throne on the outdoor stage. Photo by www.contactmagazine.net
At the base of His Holiness' outdoor stage. Photo by Bill Kane.
At the base of His Holiness' outdoor stage. Photo by Bill Kane.
Audience His Holiness saw when he looked out from his throne on
the outdoor stage. Photo by Bill Kane.
His Holiness seated on his throne on the outdoor stage. Photo by Bill Kane.
From the back of the audience, looking towards His Holiness on the
outdoor stage. Photo by www.Tibet.net
View of His Holiness on the outdoor stage. Photo by www.Tibet.net

His Holiness sat outside on that throne for the remainder of the teachings, only returning to this throne inside of the prayer hall for the Long Life Ceremony on January 1.

Although he was no longer sitting inside, before each teaching session he would descend the staircase leading from his apartment upstairs to the front of the prayer hall. He would be preceded by Ling Rinpoche, other monks, and his security staff, who would then ceremoniously lead him down the center aisle of the prayer hall, through the prayer hall main doors, and to his throne outside. His Holiness would walk slowly, waving and smiling at his devoted students who were bowing and smiling in his direction, khatas (white scarves) in hand.

Ling Rinpoche on the outdoor stage Photo by Bill Kane.
His Holiness preceded by Ling Rinpoche walking down the center aisle
inside of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall to the outdoor stage.
Photo by www.Tibet.net
His Holiness standing on his throne inside of
Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall.
Photo by Bill Kane.

The morning prayers would then commence, recited in Tibetan by the 32,000 people in attendance including 18,100 monks and nuns. His Holiness would then teach from about 9 – 11:30AM, with a break for traditional Tibetan butter tea (which I have never tasted because I am vegan – good excuse to skip the tea, which is traditionally made with yak butter).

The tea was served by a team of monks, who carried aluminum pitchers through the audience, pouring tea into the students’ waiting mugs or bowls. I recognized one of the monks, Venerable Lekshe from Sera Jey Monastery who came to serve tea in the foreigners’ seating area. He had also been on the tea team during the 2013 Jangchup Lamrim Teachings at Sera Jey Monastery. It was fun to see him again.

Monks serving tea. Photo by Bill Kane.

After passing through security (a metal detector followed by a bag search and pat down) each morning, each student was handed a soft roll of white bread by a waiting young monk. This was to be enjoyed with your butter tea.

Lunch was also served by a team of young monks, in the same method as the morning butter tea. Food for all of the students present was offered daily by Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s NGO, FPMT.

On December 19 FPMT offered lunch to the 17,000 students present that day, via FPMT’s Preserving the Lineage Fund.

Monks preparing food for students at the lamrim teachings. Photo by Bill Kane.
Vegetarian soup was served to the students from these silver buckets by monks
who wound their way through the crowds seated in their spots at the
lamrim teachings. Photo by FPMT.

From December 20 – January 1, 2016 white rice and Tibetan bread was offered as part of our lunch, via FPMT’s Sera Je Food Fund. The rice and bread was prepared by Sera Jey Monastery monks, who woke up at 2AM each day to begin cooking in the Sera Jey Monastery kitchens.

Monks cooking in Sera Jey Monastery kitchen for the lamrim teachings.
Photo by FPMT.
Monks cooking at Sera jey Monastery for the lamrim teachings.
Photo by FPMT.

The monks then transported all of the bread and rice by vehicle from Sera Jey Monastery to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. Amazingly, they managed to serve the Tibetan bread and white rice steaming hot at lunch time.

Bread shipped from Sera Jey Monsatery to Tashi Lhumpo Monastery.
Photo by FPMT.
Bread shipped from Sera Jey Monastery to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.
Photo by FPMT.

Each year of the Janchup Lamrim teachings, monks would also circulate through the crowd each day to make money offerings to each monk and nun. Lama Zopa Rinpoche made offerings to each monk and nun. He composed a dedication which was made during these offerings.

Regarding all of the food and gifts of money that were offered by FPMT, Lama Zopa “Rinpoche commented that all of the thousands of people present were students of the same guru (His Holiness the Dalai Lama), including the 18,100 ordained Sangha, so the merit of making these offerings was incredible.”

During the lunch break students would often leave their seats to wait in the toilet lines, feed the stray dogs and puppies living at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, visit with friends (the teaching was akin to a giant reunion of Buddhist practitioners from 30+ countries), or visit the museum in the basement of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall that tells the history of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Tibet and the Panchen Lama.

Regarding the dogs, I was crouched down in front of a brown female dog one day during the lunch break, reading the dog the ingredients list on the back of the packaged cookies while she enjoyed the package's contents. (Most readily available, single serve, cheap, packaged Indian cookies have the same ingredients but different packaging – flour, sugar, vegetable oil, milk solids.)

An American woman came over with dried jerky for the dog. I learned she is a doctor who previously trained as a veterinarian. She was helping Tibetan Volunteers for Animals, the animal rights NGO that had an outreach booth at the teachings, take care of the stray dogs.

She pointed out that one of the nursing female dogs I had been particularly concerned about was looking better that day – she had recently been dewormed. Another nursing female dog’s fat, healthy puppies had been recently treated for fleas and also dewormed. Small victories. The woman mentioned she visited Dickyi Larsoe Tibetan Settlement last year. She spent the following year fundraising for the local vet clinic, and had recently dropped off the fruits of her efforts at the local vet clinic in Camp 1 or 2.

I later got to know Rinchen, the young Tibetan man who was running the Tibetan Volunteers for Animals’ outreach booth all by himself. He explained they were mainly there to promote veganism to Tibetans. I rejoiced not only in their work, but that there was a constant stream of students – Tibetan women, nuns, foreigners, etc - approaching the booth to make cash donations to the NGO.

Tibetan Volunteers for Animals banner at the lamrim teachings.
Photo by www.semchen.org

There was also always a large crowd of people at the Jangchup Lamrim Organizing Committee booth, trying to make cash donations to support the teachings. It was nice to see.

At the end of the teachings, as usual a monk took the mic at the front of the prayer hall to give an account of how much the teachings cost, how much money was donated, and the remaining balance. We learned the Jangchup Lamrim Organizing Committee was left with a positive balance and that His Holiness had personally decided what to do with the remaining funds. As I remember, most of it went to support infrastructure improvements at the monasteries.

Monks debating before His Holiness began to teach one morning. Photo by Bill Kane.

During the 11:30AM – 1PM lunch break many people also utilized their free time to circumambulate the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall. I imagined His Holiness was in an apartment above the prayer hall while we were circumambulating the building. I had heard he was residing there during the teachings.

Students circumambulating Tashi Lhunpo Monastery
prayer hall.
Circumambulating Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall. Photo by Bill Kane.

One afternoon while circumambulating Elena and I passed fifteen year old Tenzin Phuntsok Rinpoche, the reincarnation of Geshe Lama Konchog from Kopan Monastery in Nepal where I studied in 2014. I was so happy to get to see him again, and briefly said hello.

Tenzin Phuntsok Rinpoche at the lamrim teachings.
Photo by Bill Kane.
Tenzin Phuntsok Rinpoche at the puja held at Kopan House during the lamrim
teachings. Photo by Bill Kane.
Tenzin Phuntsok Rinpoche in the middle at the puja. Photo by Bill Kane.

We also passed Geshe Tenzin Zopa whose life story, like Tenzin Phuntsok Rinpoche is revealed in the must-see film Unmistaken Child and got to acknowledge Geshe Tenzin Zopa as well.

Geshe Tenzin Zopa. Photo by www.zurich.fpmt.ch/

We had just rounded the left side of the prayer hall, when we saw Lama Zopa Rinpoche ascending the external staircase leading into the prayer hall along with his attendants and some students. 

I noticed one of his American students, nun Venerable Amy Miller also happened to be there at the base of the staircase. We both watched, Venerable Amy with a slight reverent smile on her face and palms folded together at her chest as Lama Zopa Rinpoche slowly took the steps and walked out of sight, into the prayer hall.

There was another time I saw Lama Zopa Rinpoche enter the prayer hall from the right, walk across the stage behind His Holiness’ throne, and take his seat on a cushion on the stage at His Holiness’ right hand side.

Audience inside of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall, Lama Zopa Rinpoche
on the right with his head bowed? Photo by Bill Kane.

I also spotted the elderly Khyongla Rato Rinpoche sitting on a chair of honor in the front of the prayer hall, just near the soundboard. It made me smile to see he had made it to His Holiness’ teachings all the way from New Jersey, where I read he had given Lama Zopa Rinpoche oral transmissions last fall.

Khylonga Rato Rinpoche with Lama Zopa Rinpoche in the New York City area
in Fall 2015. Photo by FPMT.

I also passed the wonderful Gen Gyatso, senior teacher at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics several times on the paths around Tashi Lhunpo. Just seeing him makes me smile. I did my very first Tibetan Buddhism retreat with him in January 2014 and have gotten to study with him since then at Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala.

Gen Gyatso. Photo by FPMT?
Gen Gyatso teaching at Institute of Buddhist Dialiectics in Dharamsala, India.
Photo by www.instituteofbuddhistdialectics.org

Dee, some other CKSL members and I were fortunate to run into Nick Vreeland, Khyongla Rato Rinpoche’s student and the first westerner to be appointed Abbot of an important Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Rato Dratsang Monsatery is in the town of Mundgod, in south India. Khyongla Rato Rinpoche founded Tibet House in NYC; Nick Vreeland is now its director.

Khylonga Rato Rinpoche and Nick Vreeland. Photo is a still image from film
Monk With A Camera.

Nick Vreeland is also known for his beautiful photography and the recently released documentary Monk With A Camera, as well as for being the grandson of Diana Vreeland, a past editor of Vogue Magazine. Fellow CKSL members and I got to exchange a few words and smiles with him.

My mom, Dee, and I also enjoyed spending time with a Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy teacher I study with in Dharamsala, Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche and his translator, Ben as well as our friend German nun Venerable Khunpen who is the long time Spiritual Program Coordinator of Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala.

Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche with Dee, my mom and I one evening
during the lamrim teachings. Photo by Ben Shvartz.

One of the nice things about His Holiness’ Jangchup Lamrim Teachings is that so many people come – it’s a chance to connect with so many highly respected teachers and leaders in the Tibetan Buddhist community.

The day’s teachings ended at 3PM with more prayers chanted in Tibetan. Then His Holiness would walk - escorted by Ling Rinpoche, other monks and security staff - back up the aisle in the prayer hall, and disappear through a doorway at the front of the prayer hall. All of the students would then have to leave the walled in, secured Tashi Lhunpo prayer hall compound for the remainder of the day.

Given the heat and strong mid afternoon sun, CKSL members would often pile into the waiting auto rickshaws for the trip back to Sera Jey Monastery instead of walking the five and a half miles home. All of the auto rickshaw drivers were Indian men from nearby villages. I was amazed to learn that at least two of the auto rickshaw drivers speak Tibetan. They told me they learned on the job, while driving Tibetans around town. There is an amazing culture and sense of community down there in south India, in the Dickyi Larsoe Tibetan Settlement. It makes me love rural south India.

Bylakuppe rickshaw driver with passengers. Photo by www.neuronindia.blogspot.com

Late afternoon on December 23 I found myself all alone at Tashi Lhunpo Monstery prayer hall. Just about everyone else had already left the grounds for the day. I circumambulated the prayer hall in silence, smiling as I watched the many Tibetan flags and the prayer hall curtains blowing in the afternoon breeze high overhead. It seemed as if His Holiness, who I assumed was inside his private apartment on the top floor of the prayer hall at the time, was sending his blessings out to the whole world on the breeze.

Flags flowing in the late afternoon wind, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall.
His Holiness looking out of a window on top of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery
prayer hall possibly on December 20, 2015. Photo by @jangchuplamrim (Twitter).

EVENINGS AT SERA JEY MONASTERY

Most of our evening activities took place at Sera Jey Monastery, where we were staying at Tsangpa Khangtsen. Dee, my mom, and I mostly spent our evenings with Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the lamrim teachings. Photo by Bill Kane.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s monks, the Kopan Monastery monks from Nepal who continue their studies at Sera Jey Monastery, have their own khangtsen. It’s known as “Kopan House” and is just down the road from Tsangpa Khangtsen.

Me in front of Kopan House at Sera Jey Monastery. Photo by my mom.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche's students at his January 1, 2016 teaching at Kopan House.
Photo by Bill Kane.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche and his attendants stay at Osel Labrang, a beautiful house on the grounds of Sera Jey Monastery that had been built for Tenzin Osel Hita, the reincarnation of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teacher, Lama Yeshe. The house was presumably constructed during the time that Tenzin Osel Hita was a Sera Jey Monastery student.

Osel Labrang at night with light offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

We spent the first night of His Holiness’ lamrim teachings, December 20 at Kopan House for a Lama Chopa tsog puja led by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Lama Chopa puja merit field. Photo by FPMT.

The courtyard of Kopan House was bursting at the seams with Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s students – Himalayan monks and nuns, foreign monks and nuns, and foreign lay students like my mom and I.

Lama Chopa puja at Kopan House with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Photo by Bill Kane.
Lama Chopa Puja at Kopan House with Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
I am on the right in hot pink, my mom is just behind me with the short haircut.
Photo by Bill Kane.

It was beautiful – like a family gathering, all there for our teacher, Lama Zopa Rinpoche. The size of the group was particularly remarkable because the puja had not been advertised in any way – everyone who was there had arrived thanks to word of mouth.

Lama Chopa puja. Photo by Bill Kane.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Lama Chopa puja. Photo by Bill Kane.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Lama Chopa puja. Photo by Bill Kane.

I sat with an American friend, Cathy who I had first met during Geshe Dorji Damdul’s Bodhicitta Retreat at the Root Institute in January 2015 and reconnected with at his Pramanavartika Retreat at Deer Park Institute in November – December 2015. Cathy kindly shared her well utilized FPMT Prayer Book with me so that I could participate in the recitation of the puja (prayers). My mom sat in the row directly behind us.

Lama Chopa Puja. I am in the center in hot pink, my mom is behind me in purple.
Photo by Bill Kane.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s assistant and CEO of FPMT, Venerable Roger Kunsang, made the mandala offering to Lama Zopa Rinpoche on behalf of FPMT. Long life prayers were simultaneously recited for the long life of Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Venerable Roger Kunsang offering the mandala to Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the
Lama Chopa puja. Photo by Venerable Thubten Kunsang.

The puja was also dedicated for long-time student and former director of the Root Institute, Venerable Thubten Labdron (Trisha Donnelly), who had passed away the day before in Australia. I will always remember how the Root Institute dogs followed her, tails wagging everywhere she went.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche with Venerable Trisha at the Root Institute, February 2015.
Photo by Venerable Roger Kunsang.

I waited near the pathway leading from the Kopan House lawn towards Osel Labrang so that I could greet and offer Lama Zopa Rinpoche a white khata (traditional scarf) as he left the puja.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrives to the delight of waiting students. Photo by Bill Kane.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Photo by Bill Kane. 

Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Photo by Bill Kane.

He stared at me intently for several seconds, with a big smile on his face and then asked where I’m from. I said “Portland, Oregon”. Still smiling, he said “Oregon” and walked on.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Photo by Bill Kane.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Photo by Bill Kane.

The following night, December 21 a group of CKSL members including Dee, my mom, and I visited Osel Labrang to have an audience with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. When we stopped by before dinner to see if Lama Zopa Rinpoche was available, we encountered Khadro-la (Rangjung Neljorma Khadro Namsel Drolma), a young Tibetan woman who is very dear to both Lama Zopa Rinpoche and His Holiness.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche with Khadro-la at Osel Labrang
at the lamrim teachings holding the new issue of FPMT's
Mandala magazine in January 2016. Photo by Venerable Roger Kunsang.

It is difficult to find any concrete information about who Khadro-la is, but this excerpt from an August 2008 interview she did for FPMT’s Mandala magazine is illuminating:

Venerable Roger Kunsang asked her “When did you first feel that you were a dakini?” Khadro-la responded “I always think I am not a dakini. I don't know who I am. Some lamas say I am Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, some say I am Vajrayogini, and others say I am Tara. It might be their own pure appearances. I myself think I am nothing special.”

You can watch her performing the function of an oracle for the benefit of His Holiness in the documentary The Oracle, on YouTube. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo screened it for us when she taught at Deer Park Institute recently.

I also found this note about Khadro-la’s activities fascinating. Ling Rinpoche was injured in a terrible car accident on November 29, 2012. Venerable Roger Kunsang summarized the news in an email. This is an excerpt:

“Khadro-la had just arrived in Goa (about two or three hours away) and said to her two attendants they needed to do puja as it was a bad day, and then suddenly she said they should leave Goa straight away and drive quickly ‒ that was all! Then they came on the accident scene. There was no one else there. The accident had just happened and one man had dragged Ling Rinpoche free. It was a strange scene they said. The driver was already dead.”

Khadro-la has not given many teachings that I am aware of, but I am thankful for this excerpt of a teaching she gave at Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala on March 9, 2014:

“A student from our Introduction to Buddhism course asked (Khadro-la) “When you’re not teaching or meditating, what do you do for enjoyment?” Venerable Namdak explained to us that he had translated this question as “what do you do to relax?”, and while our more mundane minds were thinking “watching movies” or “going out for dinner”, Khadro-la’s answer floored us…

In order to relax, (one should) examine the mind in a way that you look at the mind and how the mind reacts to the different objects of the senses, so the different objects of the eye sense power, or the different objects of the ear, and then see how the mind actually engages in different imputations towards those objects. Then also realize, or think about, that the mind basically by itself – in its nature – doesn’t have to engage in those objects, and can just abide in the nature of the mind itself. And that is more or less the only thing to say about that. Basically, in short I feel extremely lazy and I don’t have much knowledge of the Buddha Dharma. The only thing I aspire to in life, and the only thing I really feel a lot of affection for, is Bodhicitta and Emptiness. They are two aspects of mind I really aspire a lot to, and really like to think about and like to put into practice.

When we saw her at Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s house on December 21, she had just emerged from a hallway. Several of us approached her one at a time, with our khatas outstretched, to receive her blessings. She just smiled when I approached her, and put my offered khata over my shoulders.

We left the house thereafter, and returned after dinner. We were taken upstairs to the second floor of Osel Labrang, where Lama Zopa Rinpoche was sitting on the opposite side of the room, facing us. There was a large cabinet on the wall to our left, full of beautiful bronze Tibetan Buddhist statues. The air was pulsating with energy.

Visiting Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Osel Labrang.
Visiting Lama Zopa Rinpoche at osel Labrang.
Visiting Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Osel Labrang.

We approached Lama Zopa Rinpoche one at a time with our offered khatas. He touched us on the head with a new blessing wheel. If it is the same new blessing wheel I read about later, then it contains 2,040,000 mantras including Stainless Lotus Pinnacle. Lama Zopa Rinpoche explained at that later time that when one is blessed with this holy object on the head, it purifies 2,040,000,000 aeons of negative karma.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche blessing local Tibetans at the site of a new community center hall
for Tibetans sponsored by Lama Zopa Rinpoche in south India December 2015.
Photo by Venerable Holly Ansett.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche blessing students on the lawn at Osel Labrang
during the lamrim teachings.
When I approached him where he was seated in the room he asked where I am from. When I said “Portland” (the home of FPMT’s international office) he said “very good”, all the while giving me a beautiful smile.

On our way out of Osel Labrang that night I got to meet the delightful Charok Lama, a monk from Nepal and Kopan Monastery. (I just read about his childhood. Loved it.)

Carok Lama on the right. Photo by Bill Kane.

I learned he had spent two to three months in Nepal’s rural areas following the first big earthquake last year doing relief work. I look forward to hearing more about it the next time I get to see him.

As we were leaving, I ran into my Kopan Monastery November Course discussion group leader and Australian friend, Nita and her Australian boyfriend, Tom. I was so happy to see them. I got to spend a little time catching up with them on a few occasions while we were at the teachings, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to.

Next, on the evening of December 23 I got to briefly meet and offer a khata to the approximately forty year old Khangser Rinpoche at his house at Sera Jey Monastery, next door to Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s house.

Khangser Rinpoche's house at Sera Jey Monastery.
Waiting for Khangser Rinpoche in his house at Sera Jey Monastery. 
Khangser Rinpoche. Photo by www.chuan-der.com.tw

Khangser Rinpoche was born into a Himalayan family whose trace their practice of Buddhism back centuries. A highly accomplished Buddhist scholar, he teaches at Sera Jey Monastic University as well as at several Nyingma and Kagyu monasteries in Dharamsala, India and Nepal.

He was on his way out when we visited his house but stopped to say hello. One of his attendants, Tsering brought us juice and water from the kitchen. The group – including my mom – went back another night to talk with him. I was not able to make it, but my mom enjoyed the teaching he gave them.

We stopped off at Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s house on our way home. He was in the middle of a public audience. These were held every other afternoon at his house during His Holiness’ teachings. He used this time to give advice and teachings to many groups of students from FPMT centers around the world, as well as Kopan monks studying at Sera Jey Monastery, and to Sherpas from his region of Nepal, and local Tibetans.

When we arrived on the lawn that day students from Malaysia and Singapore were offering khatas and receiving blessings from his new blessing wheel. I got in line, offered a khata, and received another blessing from the new blessing wheel to purify 2,040,000,000 eons worth of my negative karma.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the lawn of Osel Labrang.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the lawn of Osel Labrang.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the lawn of Osel Labrang.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the lawn of Osel Labrang.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the lawn of Osel Labrang.

We went back to Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s house on Christmas Day, December 25 to attend the public audience. Nita and Tom were already there when we arrived, and Lama Zopa Rinpoche was just finishing up a teaching. Nita filled me in: Lama Zopa Rinpoche had said we are so fortunate to be here – that His Holiness is a manifestation of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching on the lawn of Osel Labrang before giving blessings.
Photo by Venerable Thubten Kunsang.

In 2009 Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote this to a FPMT center who would be hosting His Holiness at an event:

“On this very important occasion, not only will we have the opportunity to see all the Buddhas’ compassion, but we can see Avalokiteshvara in the dynamic human form of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a form that allows us to communicate with him directly, and we will receive blessings by hearing his holy speech.”

Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the lawn of Osel Labrang.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the lawn of Osel Labrang.

I waited in line to offer a khata to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, for what would prove to be the last time on this trip to India. I also received a blessing from his new blessing wheel.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the lawn of Osel Labrang.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the lawn of Osel Labrang.
Dee receiving blessings from Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the lawn of Osel Labrang.
Venerable Khunpen receiving blessings from Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the lawn of
Osel Labrang.
Russian students with Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
My mom recieiving blessings from Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Venerable Sarah Thresher receiving blessings from Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Venerable Dekyong receiving blessings from Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Me receiving blessings from Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Photo by Nita.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche blessing FPMT Sangha at Osel Labrang.
Photo by Venerable Thubten Kunsang.

As Lama Zopa Rinpoche walked off of the lawn that night to return to his house, he turned his head to the right, looked out at his audience of devoted students, gave us a beautiful, big, open mouthed smile and loudly said “Happy Christmas.” Much love to Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Earlier that day, December 25 His Holiness had performed a Lama Chopa puja for the the 6th Kyabje Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche (1903 - 1983) in recognition of his death anniversary. Kyabje Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche served as His Holiness’ senior tutor.

The 7th Kyabje Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche, born in 1985 was the main organizer of His Holiness’ four year Jangchup Lamrim teaching series. I got to meet him for the third year in a row, this time at his temporary residence at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, the “Old Palace”. He held visiting hours daily from December 17 – January 1 from 4:30 – 6:30PM.

Ling Rinpoche in the center. Photo by www.Tibet.net

When we entered the lobby of the Old Palace, we found a line of people waiting to enter the room in the far back left corner of the ground floor. Dee, my mom, other CKSL members and I joined the line, khatas in our hands. When we got into the room we found it was not the Ganden Tripa as we had expected, but a monk in line to become the Ganden Tripa, Sharpa Choje Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche.
Sharpa Choje Rinpoche seated in the center of the photo at Gyuto Monastery,
Spring 2015. Photo from www.DalaiLama.com
Sharpa Choje Rinpoche at Emory University 2007. Photo from Flickr.

Although Sharpa Choje Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche and I did not exchange any words, it was a deeply meaningful if very brief meeting. He gave each student a rainbow colored blessed cord.

Next, we went upstairs where we met the 102nd Ganden Tripa, Thubten Nyima Lungtok Tenzin Norbu, spiritual head of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. He gave each student an orange colored blessed cord, and then gave a teaching to the crowd of students sitting or kneeling on floor in his room, with the assistance of a translator.

102nd Ganden Tripa Thubten Nyima Lungtok Tenzin Norbu at the lamrim teachings,
seated on the outdoor stage. Photo by Bill Kane.
102nd Ganden Tripa Thubten Nyima Lungtok Tenzin Norbu and His Holiness
at the lamrim teachings,
 on the outdoor stage. Photo by Bill Kane.

On the way in and out I encountered and exchanged smiles with another elderly Drepung Monastery monk who was staying in a nearby bedroom. I watched as two young Asian women arrived with bright smiles on their faces, and went into the room to sit with the monk who clearly knew and was happy to see them. I wish I had learned his name.

We then got to enter a side room to meet with Ling Rinpoche. He is so kind – and young. Just as with Sharpa Choje Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche and the 102nd Ganden Tripa Thubten Nyima Lungtok Tenzin Norbu, we approached Ling Linpoche one at a time to offer him a khata. He handed each of us a red blessed cord.

When I approached Ling Rinpoche, he kindly looked me in the eye and said “You are American?” This was particularly funny because the first time I met him, in 2013 he asked me where I am from. I was so nervous that I said the first city that came to mind – Bangalore, because I had traveled to the teachings with his students from Bangalore. He looked me in the eye that time and said “You’re not from Bangalore”. Unforgettable.

Ling Rinpoche. Photo by FPMT.

It was so nice to see him again. I see he’s tentatively scheduled to visit the US this year.

One day during His Holiness’ teachings I was handed a flyer promoting an event taking place at Sera Jey Monastery – the very first opportunity to visit the Holy Relics of Kyabje Choden Rinpoche. One of Sera Jey Monastery’s great teachers, he had passed away on September 11, 2015.

Kyabje Choden Rinpoche. Found online.

His relics were on display in his house, Choden Labrang. Students could visit each evening from 4-8PM beginning on December 25, when Sera Jey Monastery monks performed an opening ceremony to December 30.

Kyabje Choden Rinpoche's house (Choden Labrang) at Sera Jey Monastery.

My mom and I visited on December 30. I could feel the energy in the room the minute I set foot into it that night. I enjoyed walking around his rooms, viewing and reading about the relics left behind when his body was cremated. I felt a connection to him even though I never met him.

Relics on display at Choden Labrang.
Relics on display at Choden Labrang.
Part of the relics display at Choden Labrang.

The most remarkable part of the display was the self arising, talking Tara statue.

One of the relics on display at Choden Labrang.
Self-Arising, Talking Tara statute at Choden Labrang.

Following the communist Chinese takeover of Tibet, Kyabje Choden Rinpoche went into solitary retreat in Tibet for 19 years, from 1965 to 1985. He did not leave the tiny, dark room he occupied in a relative’s house in Lhasa, Tibet until he left Tibet for India.

When Kyabje Choden Rinpoche was in retreat in a cave near Lhasa, this statue of Tara self-arose inside of his cave. He had a very close relationship with Tara, and could speak with the deity in person whenever he wished to receive her guidance. He used this Tara statue as his primary means of communication, and in the form of this statue the deity spoke to him regularly.

It took me quite a few days to visit his relics because I was having so much fun visiting with the students who participated in Sera Jey Secondary School’s water-focused Science Exhibition. As it was explained to me by one of the students, about 130 monks ages sixteen and seventeen who attend Sera Jey Secondary School had been divided up into groups of three students each.

Each student group was given a water related issue to research and present in a display booth format at the Science Exhibition. This was part of the school’s science curriculum. The students focused on the importance of the planet’s limited water supply, water related environmental issues, and possible solutions to these environmental problems.

Sera Jey Secondary School science exhibit.
Sera Jey Secondary School science exhibit. Some of the CKSL members
I stayed with at the monastery and secondary school students who gave us
a beautiful explanation of their project at the science exhibit.

Sera Jey Secondary School students' project on Himalayan glacier.

The students were present at the Science Exhibition each evening until December 29 to explain their projects to visitors. Each of the more than twenty beautiful display booths included explanations in Tibetan and English language. Presenting their display booths to His Holiness’ students was a great way for the students to not only practice their presentation skills, but also their English.

Two Sera Jey Secondary School students' exhibit on
availability of fresh water.

His Holiness visited and inaugurated the exhibit on December 15. One of the students told me he was present during His Holiness’ visit; I could see it was a very special thing for him.

A Sera Jey Secondary School student's project on how to simply purify water.

During his visit His Holiness pointed out the ancient Buddhist Nalanda University in India “wasn’t just a place where people gathered to say prayers, but a center for the study of the five sciences … I feel it's consistent with the spirit of the Nalanda tradition to have added modern science to the curriculum in our schools and monasteries. Lay people and monastics should make the effort to raise the standard of education we provide, keeping in mind the need to care for both our external and internal environment."

A Sera Jey Secondary School student explaining his project on the greenhouse effect
to some monks who, like me were browsing the science exhibit.

Three Sera Jey Secondary School students explaining their project
about neurons to me. I took this photo for Geshe Dorji Damdul.

One night at the Science Exhibit I met a young Tibetan boy and two adult monks from the Indian state of Sikkim.

Sikkim is a part of India, wedged between Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.
Photo from Google Maps.

The boy charmed me with sweet stories about the animals he has at home, how he takes care of them, and his desire to become a veterinarian so he can help animals. I was also impressed by his self confidence and perfect English. I learned in Sikkim classes are taught in English. Students in his class are penalized for speaking other languages in school.

The boy was living at the monastery with the young monks during his school holiday. His mom had sent him on a 2+ day train journey from Sikkim to Bylakuppe in the care of one of the monks, so that he could learn the Tibetan language. She was now in town for His Holiness’ teachings but I did not get to meet her.

I also met a teenage monk from Sikkim while walking from Sera Jey Monastery to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery one morning. His English was also perfect. I had such a nice time walking and talking with him, learning about the history of Sikkim, Sera Jey Secondary School, and his life at the monastery. He invited me to visit his booth at the Science Exhibit but unfortunately we did not cross paths again during His Holiness’ teachings.

When I had time, it was fun to walk around Sera Jey Monastery’s campus alone at night, simply taking it all in.

A main street in Sera Jey Monastery.
Further down that same street we come to an intersection.

This corner shop is at this intersection, on the left hand side.

Straight ahead is Yiga Choling Guest House and the outdoor coffee/tea kiosk.
Circumambulating one of the Sera Jey Monastery temples.
Circumambulating one of the Sera Jey Monastery temples.

I was so fortunate to get to live at Sera Jey Monastery for these fifteen days.

The temple at Tsangpa Khangsten, where we stayed during the teachings.


Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall at night.
Photo by the Jangchup Lamrim Organizing Committee.

A SUMMARY OF HIS HOLINESS’ TEACHINGS

While our evening activities at Sera Jey Monsatery usually concluded by 8PM Dee, my mom and I were often up late, enjoying our time together at Tsangpa Khangtsen. Then each morning we’d eat a filling breakfast prepared and served by the Tsangpa Khangtsen monks before setting out together for Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.

His Holiness’ first scheduled teaching took place on December 19, 2015. He inaugurated Tashi Lhunpo Monastery’s new prayer hall that morning, stating that the goal of studying these lamrim texts is to implement the teachings, to discipline one’s own mind. He later advised us to take the lamrim as the jewel of Buddha’s teachings because the lamrim trains the mind.

His Holiness teaching in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall.
Photo by Bill Kane.

In the afternoon he taught to an audience of 17,000 students (that number would swell to 32,000 for the following lamrim teachings) on the early Indian Buddhist logician Acharya Dharmakirti’s Commentary on Pramanasamuccaya (“Compendium of Validities”).

During the teaching His Holiness acknowledged his international students while simultaneously preparing us all for what was to follow in the days ahead: “You’ve come here from many countries with great enthusiasm and interest. You may not understand everything, but something.”

I had been looking forward to this December 19 teaching, having recently completed a related retreat with one of His Holiness’ translators, Geshe Dorji Damdul. His Holiness advised us to use the teachings to transform ourselves towards becoming a reliable person, just as Buddha had become a reliable guide. His Holiness said the use of the word “becoming” shows us this transformation is a process. We will see this transformation happening in ourselves over time.

In later days His Holiness reminded us of our motivation for attending the lamrim teachings.

He stated that he thinks of himself as a simple Buddhist monk, one of the billion people on this planet. All are his friends. He said it would be different if he thought of himself as “one”, the only “Dalai Lama” on this planet.

His Holiness explained we’re all interrelated. We can’t just help those close to us. We must help all people. Speaking to the Tibetans present at the teachings, he pointed out there are 40,000 Tibetan refugees living in Karnataka alone, the Indian state where the teachings were being held. There are many more Tibetan refugees spread out over India. If India faces a problem, His Holiness told the Tibetans you’ll all be affected.

Every happiness we have is due to the kindness of our fellow sentient beings; even enlightenment itself can only be achieved with the help of sentient beings. Suffering is all due to the self cherishing thought. We have had self cherishing thoughts since beginningless time so are very familiar with self cherishing; we need to train ourselves to become acquainted with the suffering of others.

His Holiness said “If we work hard then we can bring about a change in our mind.” We can develop Bodhicitta, which is about aspirations – the wish to help others, and the wish to attain liberation so we can help others. The pathways of all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are developed on Bodhicitta. Without it, we can’t achieve any of the realizations; Buddhahood won’t come unless you have developed the Bodhichitta mind.

If we focus on our own suffering then it gives us lung, which in Tibetan medicine is considered an imbalance of energies. At this point in the teachings His Holiness had asked his attendants to move the rotating fan on stage near his seat. His Holiness then spoke to us, smiling as he off handedly remarked “If I have the fan there is suffering. If I don’t have the fan there is suffering.”

His Holiness teaching westerners during the lamrim teachings.
Photo is still image taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0Rqp4yVUgU

He reminded us there is no need to worry; every human being has problems. There is no real happiness in samsara; ultimately things turn out to be bad. We should inspire ourselves to follow the path set out by Buddha by reflecting daily on the sufferings of samsara and how good it would be if we could were to be free of these sufferings. We must then find a way to eliminate those sufferings. Don’t just remain content with simply generating the wish to be free of them.

His Holiness at the lamrim teachings. Photo by Bill Kane.

His Holiness compassionately encouraged us to persist with our studies and practice.

The seventh day of the lamrim teachings, when we began studying wisdom of emptiness were particularly difficult. I was only able to (loosely) follow along thanks to teachings I’ve received from Geshe Dorji Damdul and even then I was really just recognizing Buddhist philosophy vocabulary words. At the conclusion of the morning teaching session His Holiness remarked “This morning was difficult, wasn't it” before walking off stage. Even that acknowledgement was encouraging.

His Holiness later told us the teachings on wisdom of emptiness are difficult but we must keep studying and reflecting so we can be calmer people in the world and can abandon our misconceptions.

He told us hard work is necessary. We must use our minds.

His Holiness called Buddha an “ancient Indian scientist.” Those who like to use reason and logic are drawn to Buddhism because it is based on rational thinking. When Buddhists have questions they analyze and check. Things must be proved with logic.

He also ruled out superstitions.

On December 19 during the inauguration of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery’s new prayer hall His Holiness reminded us Buddha doesn’t wash away sentient beings’ obscurations. Moved by compassion, he became the sugata (one gone to bliss). Likewise, we must do the work ourselves, overcoming our obscurations to knowledge (ignorance) so we can fully serve sentient beings. His Holiness instructed us that wisdom of emptiness is the best medicine.

Regarding karma, he taught if we have problems then it’s due to our bad karma, not the stars or omens. He also said it’s too simple to say “that was my bad/good luck. We have to be able to explain this.”

If we find a part of the text difficult then we must study it again and again. “Instead of increasing one’s wisdom by reciting Manjushri’s mantra, it is certain your knowledge will grow if you study it for one month.” His Holiness told us it’s been said that we should not rely on a deity to increase our knowledge – we should not invoke the deities.

He also advised us that when someone (a spirit, for example) is harming us then we should mediate on Bodhicitta and compassion. Then the obstacle will go away. His Holiness told us he has done this; he said he doesn’t perform exorcisms.

His Holiness gave us instructions on how to study.

He told us even if we were not born intelligent, we can train our mind and become more intelligent later in life.

He said we are followers of these teachers. We need to see why they said these things. People may have learned a lot but don’t know the key to the teachings, the point of the practice.

His Holiness at the lamrim teachings. Photo by Bill Kane.

It’s not good enough to have an overview understanding of the text. We must delve into it. We must study each verse and sentence, think about the context, make a lot of investigations. To do this, first we need to have the wisdom of contemplation. This begins by reading the text.

His Holiness had some words for his international students: the translators have made so much effort, translating the Buddhist philosophical texts from Tibetan into many languages. It would be a disgrace if we do not study them.

We should all motivate more effort to those portions of the subject we don’t understand. He pointed out if we keep reading what we understand then we’ll get no more knowledge out of it. We need to study and reflect on a daily basis.

Each day, we should do a complete screening of the path to enlightenment, Four Noble Truths, and Bodhicitta using Arya Nagarjuna’s text. We should do meditations on death and impermanence and precious human rebirth, as well as Bodhicittta practice. We should remind ourselves of these practices, of which His Holiness said we’re already familiar.

He advised us to read Twenty Verses on Bodhicitta by Acharya Chandragomin and to memorize the verses if possible. He said we can’t develop Bodhicitta without also engaging in the deeds just as one going to India can’t get there without engaging in the deeds.

His Holiness taught about anger. Don’t be angry with the sentient beings themselves but with their negative emotions; the Buddhas considered these to be the real enemies. Once we get angry it’s too late. Think about the drawbacks of anger. If we subdue our anger (through mind training) then we won’t have a single enemy. Subduing anger is like subduing a thousand enemies.

He gave the example of a man who is hitting us on our head with a club. We can’t be angry with the club because it’s being controlled by the man holding it, who is being controlled by his delusions. Therefore try some means to rid the man of those delusions.

The more people there are to anger us, the more opportunities there are for us to practice patience and fully develop its qualities.

His Holiness also taught more about karma and accepting suffering, which he acknowledged is a vast subject.

Everything comes about due to our karma - including the man who hits us on the head with his club. Our sickness came about due to our self cherishing. Whenever we feel sick, we should think our evil karma has ripened in this very human life, instead of sending us to the lower realms. We should therefore pray other negative karmas will ripen upon us. Take on the suffering of other sentient beings; this will keep sickness from us.

When suffering doesn’t come our way we’re happy. But this uses up good karma. We should be happy when we experience difficulties because this purifies our negative karma.

Regarding the animals he said we can make our prayers and dedications for the animals – in this way we can help. Otherwise we can’t do much.

His Holiness advised us to read biographies in order to learn how to practice. He recommended the biography of Lama Tsongkhapa who didn’t have the correct understanding of emptiness until he followed the following instructions given to him by Arya Manjushri: (1.) Consult the great Indian masters’ texts (2.) See your lama as non-dual with the deity; don’t just have faith in the deity (3.) Accumulate merit and purify karma.

We were instructed to visualize our root lama as Buddha, embodying the qualities of all of the Buddhas and to see all other lamas as manifestations of our root lama. In the past Buddhas have been able to benefit sentient beings by taking the form of lamas. Because our lama has taken an ordinary form in this degenerate time, we are able to take teachings from our lama, and our lama is able to take care of us.

To feel respect for our lama, we should pray single pointedly to our lama, thinking the lama is more kind to us than all of the Buddhas blessing us. We should also practice; the best way to please our lamas is to practice. Lamas don’t want anything – just to benefit and teach their students.

His Holiness also gave us this beautiful advice: “We all have to die. Lord Buddha passed away. If something can’t be cured then why worry about that? Think about the qualities of Bodhicitta and enlightenment. Live contentedly.”

He taught there are seven billion people on this planet. His Holiness said if we can spread these messages – that we should have peace of mind, be at ease, practice non-violence and not harm anyone - to ten people, then we can start a ripple effect. In this way the teachings can be of great benefit to all sentient beings.

His Holiness said if Buddha were to appear today, he'd definitely talk about secular ethics. Secular ethics need to be taught around the world because in today's world people are focused on material goods and no longer on morality.

His Holiness at the lamrim teachings. Photo by Bill Kane.

One day His Holiness announced the Jangchup Lamrim Organizing Committee had arranged for a review session. It would take place inside of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall at the conclusion of that day’s teachings. He encouraged us all to attend, noting the Chinese students had been doing their own review sessions for the past few days and would be continuing with it.

We ended up having two consecutive days of review sessions, held inside of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall on the opposite side of the room from the Chinese group. Geshe Khunchok Sangay from Gaden Monastery led our review sessions; his Tibetan was translated into English by a Dutch monk studying at Sera Jey Monastery, Geshe Tenzin Namdak.

The review sessions were excellent. Geshe Khunchok Sangay reminded us that in these degenerate times we were so fortunate to be at the Jangchup Lamrim Teachings with His Holiness, to get to take vows with great masters present, and so fortunate to get to study wisdom of emptiness with His Holiness. So true.

AUDIENCE WITH HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA

After Christmas, His Holiness made a surprising announcement. He stated his intention to set aside time to meet with his foreign students as a large group. We had that chance on December 28, 2015 – this was Day 9 of the 10 day lamrim teachings.

Foreigners were split into two groups – Asians were invited to wait for His Holiness inside of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall, and everyone else was invited to wait for him outside of the monastery, at the foot of the steps where His Holiness had been sitting for the majority of the teachings. First he went inside to meet with the Asian students, and then came out to see us.

His Holiness teaching Asian students inside of Tashi Lunpo Monastery prayer hall.
Photo by www.Tibet.net

In the meantime his security team had us self-divide ourselves into groups by region of the world. There were at least three groups of North Americans because relatively speaking, there were so many of us … maybe one hundred North Americans?

North Americans waiting to have their photo taken with His Holiness.
My mom and I on the bottom of this photo. Photo by Bill Kane.

His Holiness stood on the top of the steps. His security team ushered group after group onto and off of the steps below where His Holiness sometimes stood and sometimes sat, to have our pictures taken with him.

When it was our group’s turn I followed my friend Bill Kane’s lead, and started walking along one of the top steps. As a result when we were brought over to His Holiness, I was just below him. I could have reached out in his direction with the hopes of shaking his hand, but I decided to just let him be. Instead I sat smiling near his feet while the security team arranged the rest of the group on the steps for our photo with His Holiness.

Our North American group with His Holiness.
Photo by the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Semi cropped photo of our group with His Holiness.
Photo by the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Photo cropped by Mary Reed.

Closer up crop of the photo of our group with His Holiness.
My mom is in blue in the bottom center of this photo, and I am on her left.
Bill Kane is above my mom in blue.
Photo by the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Photo cropped by Mary Reed.

As our group was leaving the steps, the security team told us to leave the area. Instead I stood back on the edge of the activity, smiling and watching other students have their photos taken with His Holiness. When the last group had gone, His Holiness took a seat at the top of the steps and gave us a short teaching in English.

His Holiness teaching westerners after photos had been taken.
Photo by Bill Kane.
You can watch that teaching here:




His Holiness reminded us that there are few Tibetans on this planet, but they have made tremendous contributions to understanding the Nalanda University masters’ texts, including the texts we were studying with His Holiness. He stated that we have a moral duty to make efforts to preserve the Tibetan culture of peace and nonviolence.

On January 1, 2016 during the Long Life Celebration for His Holiness he added that Tibetans are a compassionate people, and are holders of Buddha’s teachings. He said Tibet has an important value to its Chinese neighbors – there are so many Chinese who need the teachings. He stressed again that Tibet is important and worth preserving.

INITIATION: THE SIXTEEN DROPS OF KADAM

His Holiness finished the lamrim teachings on December 29, 2015. On December 30 and 31 he performed rituals, offering students the opportunity to take lay person Refuge Vows, Bodhisattva Vows, and the Sixteen Drops of Kadam initiation.

Ritual cakes arranged before a thangka illustrating the Sixteen Drops
of Kadam, hanging at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery on December 30, 2015.
Photo by www.dalailama.com

My mom and I sat inside of the prayer hall for the rituals. I felt connected to His Holiness even though he was seated outside on the prayer hall steps. We were able to closely follow His Holiness thanks to the livestreaming of the event; a small TV had been set up just a few feet in front of us for this purpose.

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall. Photo by Bill Kane.

I took the Refuge Vows when they were offered by His Holiness at the 2013 lamrim teachings. In my mind when I did this, I made a commitment to the study and practice of Buddhism.

His Holiness at the Sixteen Drops of Kadam initiation.
Photo by www.jangchuplamrim.org

His Holiness explained when taking the Bodhisattva Vows, we should have the proper motivation – Bodhicitta. The Bodhisattva Vows are not for our own long lives, but so that we can help all sentient beings in keeping with the examples set out by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. He reminded us of the great prayers of the Bodhisattvas: May I not be reborn in the pure lands, but where sentient beings are suffering. Likewise we should not pray to go to the pure lands, but for Bodhicitta; may others’ suffering ripen upon me.

Regarding initiations and empowerments, Lama Yeshe explained their meaning here.

On January 31 His Holiness wished his students a Happy New Year, saying “In 1959 we came to India. It has been a long time since then. Happy New Year.”

LONG LIFE CELEBRATION FOR HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA

On January 1, 2016 – the last day of the Jangchup Lamrim Teachings event – everyone present at the teachings celebrated His Holiness with a long life empowerment and puja. Someone referred to it as the “Jangchup Lamrim Teachings ‘Grand Finale’” because not only was this the last day of the teachings at Tashi Lhunpo, but it was also the last day of the series of teachings that had begun four years earlier. Bitter sweet.

His Holiness at the Long Life Celebration. Photo by Bill Kane.

During the ceremony His Holiness remarked that we should want to have long lives so we can benefit others. He also taught even if you take a Tibetan medicine precious pill, you can still die after that. The best way to calm your mind is to generate Bodhicitta – compassion for others. Meditating on Bodhicitta and wisdom of emptiness is the best basis for a long life.

Over 20 years ago Lama Zopa Rinpoche had requested that FPMT yearly offer prayers for the long life of His Holiness. FPMT offered the long life puja that took place at the teachings on January 1.

As Lama Zopa Rinpoche has taught, “Guru devotion is the root not only of ultimate success, achieving full enlightenment and bringing sentient beings to the ultimate happiness of liberation and enlightenment, but also of temporary success and happiness. This practice is the foundation of the development of the whole path to enlightenment, as well as the foundation of all happiness. Since everything comes from the practice of guru devotion, it is called the root of the path ..."

During the January 1st puja offerings were made to His Holiness on behalf of all the FPMT centers, projects, services and students. The puja was offered to purify any mistakes that occur regarding our relationships with His Holiness, and to create causes and conditions to continue to receive benefit from His Holiness for a very long time.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the Long Life Celebration
for His Holiness. Photo by Bill Kane.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the Long Life Celebration
for His Holiness. Photo by Bill Kane.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Venerable Roger Kunsang were able to present some of the offerings directly to His Holiness, including a silver Dharmachakra presented directly to His Holiness by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche offering the mandala to His Holiness.
Photo by www.jangchuplamrim.org

His Holiness at the Long Life Celebration with the silver dharmachakra
on his left. Photo by Bill Kane.

FPMT also offered His Holiness silver sets of the seven precious royal objects and the eight auspicious symbols, a right-turning conch shell and a money offering.

The January 1 celebration took place inside of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery prayer hall. His Holiness sat on his throne at the front of the room. My mom and I also sat inside of the prayer hall for the celebration, just several rows of people away from His Holiness. Although there were pillars in the prayer hall that obstructed the view a little bit, my mom and I were easily able to see and participate in the celebration.

Long Life Celebration. Photo by Bill Kane.
Long Life Celebration. Photo by Bill Kane.

Long Life Celebration. Photo by www.jangchuplamrim.org

Dee played an active role in the celebration, approaching His Holiness on his throne and making an offering to him on behalf of FPMT. It was wonderful to watch and get to experience Dee’s joy. Venerable Holly Ansett and Venerable Joan Nicell who support Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the FPMT community also made offerings.

Dee in the back of the photo holding the yellow khata and wearing red,
preceeded by Venerable Holly Ansett whose full face is visible. She is
directly preceeded by Venerable Joan Nicell. Photo by Bill Kane.

Many, many people made offerings to His Holiness during the celebration. The line of people making offerings went out the prayer hall main door and wrapped around the side of the building.

Line of people with offerings approaching His Holiness during the Long Life Celebration.
Photo by www.jangchuplamrim.org
The line continued outside. More people waiting with offerings for
His Holiness. Photo by www.jangchuplamrim.org

Beautiful offerings for His Holiness, all waiting to be offered.
Photo by www.jangchuplamrim.org

Lama Zopa Rinpoche also venerated His Holiness in 2007 when His Holiness gave public teachings in Mumbai:

“No matter how much the world is filled with disasters, the selfish mind, desire, anger, and as a result, filled with sicknesses, famines, wars, and suicidal bombs, your Holiness has brought peace and happiness to the hearts of millions in this world and brought unity amongst different religious people. For this reason as well, we thank your Holiness for your great kindness.

There is no history of Lord Buddha coming to the western world to teach Dharma, but your Holiness has brought the light of Dharma all over the world. In reality, your Holiness’s kindness to us, in our lives, is greater than Lord Buddha’s and all the numberless Buddhas’."

I also enjoyed this address Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave to His Holiness in Sydney.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche also offered his students a gift that night – a teaching at Kopan House.

LAMA ZOPA RINPOCHE TEACHING AT KOPAN HOUSE

When 7PM arrived hundreds of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s monks, nuns, and lay students, my mom and I were seated on the lawn at Kopan House, Sera Jey Monastery eagerly anticipating Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s arrival. It seemed fitting that we had gathered together on this last night of His Holiness’ teachings, since we had also gathered together on the first night, December 20 for a Lama Chopa tsog puja with Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche's January 1, 2016 teaching at Kopan House.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrived, prostrated, and then sat on the throne that had been set up for him, underneath beautiful large thankgas that had been hung from Kopan House’s upper floors and surrounded by countless twinkling colored lights, offered to all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche making prostrations at the start of his January 1, 2016 teaching.
Photo by Bill Kane.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche January 1, 2016 teaching. Photo by Bill Kane.

I sat next to Nita, on Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s right side. I hope it won’t be too long before we get to do that again.

The view from my seat on the lawn at Kopan House.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche is seated on his throne beneath those thankgas
bathed in green light.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught in Tibetan. The teachings were simultaneously translated into English by my friend Venerable Tenzin Legtsok, an American monk who studies at Sera Jey Monastery. I tuned into the English language radio station using my FM radio and earbuds – well, the one earbud that was still working.

Venerable Tenzin Legtsok, wearing glasses and seated under the tree,
translating from Tibetan into English. Photo by Bill Kane.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught that when going for refuge, we should involve our minds. Think of the cause of refuge – all dear mother sentient beings. It is as if wandering sentient beings are in a snow globe. Think from the very depths of your heart that you must achieve Enlightenment so you can liberate them; otherwise countless sentient beings will experience suffering without end. Taking refuge can be of great benefit; take refuge for 49 days when someone dies.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching January 1, 2016. Photo by Bill Kane.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching January 1, 2016. Photo by Bill Kane.

Having seen Lama Zopa Rinpoche offer ten rupee notes each to beggars waiting outside of the Mahabodhi Stupa in Bodhgaya on many occasions, I was delighted to learn the following:

Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught us to give with both hands together, thinking all of the happiness since beginningless time comes from the sentient being you are making an offering to at that moment. Put your hands together for the benefit of all sentient beings. This is the best kind of offering. Every happiness, realization, and all positive qualities come from sentient beings; therefore they should be considered most sacred, more important than our own life.

I stood along the pathway he took as he exited the teaching area but was not in the front row of the receiving line so I did not talk with him or offer a khata. But more importantly, it was so nice to see him one last time during the lamrim teachings.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche being greeted by students as he departs from the
January 1, 2016 teaching. Photo by Bill Kane.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche departing the teaching. Photo by Bill Kane.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche departing the teaching. Photo by Bill Kane.

I missed this, but during the teaching Lama Zopa Rinpoche informed everyone present that his attendant French monk Venerable Thubten Kunsang who makes sure Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings are recorded and livestreamed (and much more) had cancer. (I say “had” because I am hoping by now he has been cured. Last I heard – in March - he was doing well.)

The news was shared more widely, via FPMT’s Facebook page on January 11, 2016. Lama Zopa Rinpoche requested His Holiness personally bless this khata for Venerable Thubten Kunsang. His Holiness held the khata to his forehead and made prayers for Venerable Thubten Kunsang.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Venerable Thubten Kunsang,
wearing the khata blessed by His Holiness.
Photo by FPMT Facebook fan page.

I was so touched by this reply to FPMT’s post, written by one of Venerable Thubten Kunsang’s friends (excerpt):

“You are great inspiration to many specially to me. Ur existent itself is vast dharma teaching to many. Ur service to our most respected guru Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche is immeasurable and it is equal offering service to the 10 directional Buddhas n boddisatvas. Deeply rejoice in ur great karma and vast merit to be able to serve living Guru Buddha Klzr [Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche], which is direct cause of full enlightenment.

FPMT also shared this message from Venerable Thubten Kunsang:

"Thank you everyone for the prayers. I may not be able to reply to everyone who has sent messages at this time, but very much wanted to pass on my thanks. It gives me lot of courage to face the future chemotherapy to know all these people are praying for me. I have no words to express my feelings, it is so amazing."

Please hold him in your prayers. Venerable Tenzin Namjong shared these recommended prayers, which come from Lama Zopa Rinpoche:

Medicine Buddha pujas and mantras, King of Prayers, mani mantras and any of the eight prayers, Namgyalma mantra - long version 21 times (if possible) or short version 108 times or can be that the group does a total of 21 long version.

For those who have great highest yoga tantra initiation, they can visualize themselves as Namgyalma and have light from the mantra (at the outer edge of the moon disc) and from the seed syllable at the center radiating out purifying the person and all sentient beings standing on the moon at the heart. Also all the 10 direction Buddhas and Bodhisattvas sending rays purifying (from outside to the sentient beings at your heart.) For those who don't have the initiation, they do the same accept they visualize Namgyalma outside on the crown or in front.

May Venerable Thubten Kunsang return to good health.

FAREWELL, DICKYI LARSOE TIBETAN REFUGEE SETTLEMENT

I spent my final moments in Dickyi Larsoe Tibetan Refugee Settlement retracing my journey with His Holiness in south India. I walked over to the Sera Jey Monastery debate grounds and adjacent temple, where His Holiness taught the lamrim in December 2013. I approached His Holiness’ covered throne, walking barefoot along a smooth stone floor now covered in dust.

Looking out at the area where my mom and I sat in the audience that year, I smiled recalling what it looked and felt like, then. Now, you would never know 30,000+ people had been sitting there, craning their necks to see His Holiness as he taught from his throne on stage.

Site of His Holiness' 2013 lamrim teachings at Sera Jey Monastery.

I then decided to go into the nearby temple, something I hadn’t done since the 2013 teachings.

The temple I visited, partly concealed by one of the buses people took back home
from the teachings.

As I approached the front of the temple to make offerings to the large gold colored statues, I saw a monk gesturing an invitation to climb an internal staircase I never noticed before. The staircase took me up above the temple to what I soon realized was the private apartment His Holiness had utilized during the 2013 lamrim teachings.

I got to slowly walk through and enjoy each of the rooms – a prayer hall, conference room, bedroom, bathroom, sitting room, and elevator lobby. I made some offerings and took blessings from His Holiness by touching my forehead to many of the objects in the apartment. It was such a special occasion.

I also got to visit with friends I met at the 2013 lamrim teachings who study at Sera Jey Monastery. They stay at Sera IMI House, a compound on the grounds of Sera Jey Monastery reserved for foreign monks who live and study there.

Sera IMI House front gate, Sera Jey Monastery.

Sera IMI House central courtyard, Sera Jey Monastery.

My time in Bylakuppe went entirely too quickly. It was so wonderful to see friends from previous trips to India and Nepal but I wish there had been more time to spend together.

I reluctantly packed up and removed my things from the shared dormitory room at Tsangpa Khangtsen on the morning of January 2. Dee, my mom, and I were in a taxi on the road back to Bangalore by 8AM. Farewell, Dickyi Larsoe Tibetan Refugee Settlement and His Holiness’ lamrim teachings series. Until we meet again.

The road outside of Bylakuppe, taken from inside of our taxi.

The roadside back to Bangalore when we stopped to stretch our legs.

Roadside on the way back to Bangalore.

I watched this brown street dog jump into and then emerge from this dumpster
on the roadside, on the way from Bylakuppe to Bangalore.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Recordings of His Holiness 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 lamrim teachings are available for free online and the official photos are available on the Jangchup Lamrim Organizing Committee website and on His Holiness’ official website. Enjoy.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the 2015 Lamrim teachings. Photo by Bill Kane.


Thank you for reading this post. I primarily wrote it from my room in Dharamsala but ran out of time and had to complete it in the US. There will be more stories from this most recent trip to India.

May His Holiness, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the other great teachers whose photos and stories are shared in this post remain until samsara ends. May all of their holy wishes be instantly fulfilled. May anyone who sees this post have the opportunity to attend their teachings in person. May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness; may all become free of suffering and the causes of suffering.