Thursday, November 19, 2015

En route to India

I left Portland, Oregon at 6:30AM today, Thursday, Nov 19 bound for Deer Park Institute in Bir Tibetan Refugee Settlement, India.

I am on the Bolt Bus crossing the border into Canada to fly from Vancouver to JFK. I then fly from JFK to Helsinki, Finland, and then on to Delhi, India. After taking an overnight bus from Delhi to Dharamsala, I will get a Protected Area Permit needed to visit Bir, and then the following day, Tuesday, Nov 23 I will take 2-3 buses for a familiar 3-4 hour journey to Deer Park Institute in Bir.

Class begins the following day, Nov 25.

I am joining the 11 day Intensive Retreat on Acharya Dharmakirti’s Skt. Pramanavarttika: (Chapter 2) with Geshe Dorji Damdul which ends Dec 6.

As Venerable Tenzin Namjong explained about a similar course Geshe Dorji Damdul ran at CKSL in Bangalore earlier this month, “the main thrust of the second chapter is to establish that the Buddha is a “valid” or reliable guide for those seeking liberation … the Buddha had “evolved” into a Supreme Reliable Guide … much of the chapter goes to establishing how this “evolution” was possible for the Buddha and then by extension, how it is also viable for us.

To establish by this logic, Dharmakirti goes through the proofs for past and future lives, including why the body is not the substantial cause for the mind. It also discusses the qualities of the Buddhas and how they can be developed within us. Also it establishes the “truth” of the four noble truths.

Thus it really is an indispensable text for those seeking liberation. If we can see that liberation is possible then it will really bring a lot of energy to our practice … there are only a handful of people in the world who are qualified to teach such a text in a language that you understand. Don’t miss this opportunity.”

You may have noticed by now that this is the beginning of my third extended trip to India within the past two years. What can I say? I am intrigued by the Tibetan Buddhism teachings I have received so far and want to learn more.

As I have been taught, Buddhism is not about blind faith. Instead, as Geshe Dorji Damdul explained to me, it is based on reason. During his lifetime, Buddha instructed his followers to test his words before accepting his words as true. Just as a goldsmith tests gold, we should also test the Buddha’s words for their authenticity. When I think about what I have learned from the teachings so far, they make sense to me.

For example, I have come to understand that there is no such thing as “a bad day” or “a good day”. There is just “a day”. For some people, today will be a special day to treasure for the rest of their lives. For other people, today will be a terrible day they will want to forget. Others went to work, came home, watched TV, and went to sleep without anything super noteworthy taking place.

This shows me the day itself wasn’t anything. It was each person’s experience of the day that was something. And we create our experience of the day for ourselves, based on our thoughts. And we have the ability to change our thoughts from ones of suffering to ones of happiness.

I have noticed that if I am suffering in my mind, and having a bad day then when I look at where my thoughts are, I am almost always thinking of myself. When I switch my thoughts and think of benefiting other living things, I feel happy. And all beings only want to be happy. No beings want to suffer. We are all the same - from the flea to the elephant.

We can learn to do this through the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Mind Training (or "lojong" in Tibetan). That was the subject of the very first Tibetan Buddhism retreat I attended, in January 2014.

This is what I am learning in India, and the reason I am sitting on the Bolt Bus with my petite netbook sitting on my lap propped up by my neck pillow. I am intrigued and am open to seeing what is next. Thank you for being a part of it by reading this post. I hope you are having a wonderful day.

PS – His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, born June 26, 1985 was in the US earlier this year before I got to see him at his monastery in north India. I recently watched the YouTube videos of his talks. My favorites were his talks at Princeton and Yale. Watch his Princeton talk here and his Yale talk here.

His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa and translator at Princeton University. Photo by Filip Wolak. Found here.