When I bought my first plane ticket to India in 2013, it was at the suggestion of my mom. She was going to India that December with her yoga teacher, and invited me to meet her in India from my then home in Kenya so we could spend Christmas together.
I had a very short itinerary and was not planning to be in India very long: Christmas with my mom, spend time with my good friend Sowmya who lives in Bangalore, see the Taj Mahal, and visit a periwinkle blue walled city depicted in photographs taken by my favorite photographer, SteveMcCurry.
My mom and I picked our meet up date and location in India based around her yoga/meditation retreat dates, and a ten day teaching His Holiness the Dalai Lama would be giving in Bylakuppe, south India over Christmas. This would be the first time I had seen His Holiness the Dalai Lama since my mom and I attended a teaching he gave at Lehigh University in 2008. (My attendance at that 2008 teaching had been my mom’s idea, too.)
And now somehow here I am, on my second trip to India – this time for six months, studying Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan language.
My First Apartment in India
When I last wrote, I had recently arrived in McLeod Ganj from Bodhgaya where I had spent forty days with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Within three hours of my arrival in McLeod I was sitting in a classroom at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA), beginning my Tibetan language studies.
Unfortunately as soon as I sat down in class that morning, I learned the LTWA trimester had begun on March 9, instead of the date I had anticipated, March 19. As such, I missed the first eight days of my two Basic Tibetan Language courses. But it was still my lucky day.
While eating lunch at the LTWA canteen, I saw a handwritten flyer advertising an apartment available for rent “to a quiet student” in the nearby village of Gamru. One of my fellow students had told me that morning that he and many other LTWA students live in Gamru, but that it can be hard to find an available apartment in Gamru.
|Gamru Village isn't labeled but is at the very bottom of this map. (The squiggly line road going down the right, just above Dharamsala.)|
I called the number on the flyer, and my soon-to-be next door neighbor, Tibetan monk Tenzin Wangdak (“Geshe la”) answered the phone. Geshe la met me at his apartment building that very afternoon to show me the apartment for rent.
|This is the building where I live in Gamru Village.|
|The gate to our yard.|
|The side deck and laundry lines. I live on the ground floor.|
|I walk this way to reach my apartment door, on the ground floor. This is the house and yard.|
The apartment for rent was an unfurnished studio apartment - with built in cabinets and shelves, attached bath including an electric hot water heater, and a kitchen corner with just a counter top and a stainless steel sink. The apartment was in a relatively new two story building down the hill from an Indian primary school, in a small countryside village situated on the hill below the touristy Tibetan town of McLeod Ganj, and above the Indian commercial hub of Dharamsala.
|The India primary school I live near, which was set up to serve the children of migrant workers who come from the Indian state of Bihar, where Bodhgaya is located.|
|Shopping district in Lower Dharamsala.|
|One of the markets where I do my shopping - Lower Dharamsala.|
|Lower Dharamsala where I do my shopping.|
|View of McLeod Ganj from the Tibetan Buddhist temple.|
|The Tibetan Buddhist temple in the center of town.|
|View of McLeod Ganj from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple.|
|View of McLeod Ganj from Students for a Free Tibet - India office.|
|McLeod Ganj Tibetan Buddhist temple on Temple Road.|
|Walking down Temple Road towards His Holiness the Dalai Lama's house and temple in early evening, McLeod Ganj.|
|Walking up Temple Road in McLeod Ganj.|
The landlords, a retired couple – the husband a former university political science professor and school administrator, and the wife a former teacher – live on the top floor of the building. Their twenty something nephew, Rinku lives in one of the five apartments on the building’s ground floor. Rinku helps his aunt and uncle with their extensive vegetable and flower garden when not studying for his computer science college classes.
The couple’s other tenants include Geshe la and Rambo, the dog Geshe la rescued from the cold when Rambo was a street puppy near death. Rambo is now a beautiful, slightly obese, well cared for, rambunctious, one year old dog. Rambo has several street dog friends he loves to wrestle with in our yard when he is not cavorting through the neighborhood’s open sewers or begging for food from the neighbors. People identify our apartment building as “the place where Rambo lives”.
The other tenants are a young Tibetan couple, and an American, San Francisco State graduate named Julia. She is the non-Tibetan in the LTWA’s Research and Translation Department, and has been working there as a translator since graduating from nearby College for Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarah in 2008.
After looking at the apartment for rent I climbed the steep paths leading from Gamru up to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s house and temple in McLeod Ganj. I wanted to see how long it would take to get up there from what felt like remote Gamru before agreeing to take the apartment. It was only about a thirty minute climb up the mountainside, so I decided to take the apartment.
|Newly paved road from the LTWA to McLeod Ganj.|
|Shortcut to His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple - second cut through the woods from the LTWA to the temple.|
|If I did not take the shortcut to the temple then I would continue up this road to the right, to reach a different part of McLeod Ganj.|
|First time at His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple this year.|
In the meanwhile I was staying at Om Hotel in McLeod Ganj. For 350 rupees a night (roughly $6.63) with free wifi and a balcony overlooking the nearby mountains and valley, and just next door to my favorite restaurant in town - Namgyal Café – where Tibetan refugee friends Jamyang and Takpah work, it was a good place from which to get acclimated during my first three days in town.
I moved into my new apartment on Sunday afternoon, March 22. When I moved in, Geshe la told me that he received five calls about the apartment after I had come to look at it. That is understandable - for 3,000 rupees per month (roughly $48.81) plus approximately 100 rupees ($1.63) for electricity per month, it is the cheapest apartment occupied by a LTWA student I have heard of, in Gamru. For comparison, my friends who rent in McLeod Ganj pay 8,000 rupees (roughly $130) per month. While my apartment is cheap for a westerner, a local Indian taxi driver named Bijay told me Gamru has become too expensive. Bijay lives in a village lower down the mountainside.
I moved into my apartment on Sunday, March 22. My neighbors Geshe la and Julia helped me furnish my apartment over the course of the next few days. I have such nice neighbors who have become friends.
My apartment came with a single bed frame. Geshe la has lent me a comfortable mattress (which I think is made out of a pile of tightly packed twigs, encased in a fabric mattress cover), padlock for my front door, and a bucket to use for my bucket showers and to hand wash my clothes (my bathroom doesn’t have a shower head so I bathe Indian/Kenyan style by scooping warm water out of a bucket and pouring it over my head). Julia lent me two floor rugs, a bed sheet, and a breakfast in bed style table I can use as a writing desk if I sit on the rug and lean my back up against my bed frame. Geshe la lent me two cushions to sit on, when I make use of the writing desk.
|This is life in a small mountain town of north India. No wifi networks available. This pop up window me smile each time I turn on my computer.|
|View from my bed towards the door.|
I picked a few kitchen things up in Dharamsala, including an electric stove to complement the electric tea kettle and stainless steel pot I brought with me from Delhi. This is country living in India. I keep my food in tightly sealed plastic boxes to keep the ants out, do not have garbage pickup, and need to boil my water before I can drink it or use it for cooking. My apartment is a little damp, so I keep my screened in window and door open as much as possible, things off of the damp concrete floor, and often hang Julia’s rugs out to dry on our nice deck that overlooks the densely inhabited valley below.
My landlords are also wonderful. They look out for me and educate me about politics, recommending authors I should study. Knowing I have a B.A. in Political Science, I was lent Noam Chomsky’s book World Orders, Old And New and told if I read it then I will really learn the about global politics from a developing world perspective. They are so well read, and are interesting to talk with and learn from.
Life in Gamru is about more than the study of developing nation politics. Having to find a place to dispose of my own trash has been an eye opening experience. I am hyper aware of every piece of potential trash I buy and bring into my apartment, knowing there is no good place to put the trash after I’m done with it. (This includes my used toilet tissue. It can’t be flushed down the drain in India, just the same as in Kenya because there is no infrastructure below the toilet to handle those wads of waste.)
Trash cans and dumpsters are about as easy to find in India as a pay phone is in the USA, but small, informal roadside landfills are located all over Gamru, McLeod Ganj, and Dharamsala – which frankly pale in comparison with the endless Kenya landfill I happened to visit for work, in one of Nairobi’s informal settlements (slums) in 2013. That landfill environment was … shocking and utterly unforgettable. I walk by several of these little India landfills in my new neighborhood on my way to and from my apartment each day. They are full of food waste, plastic wrappers, and the odd flip flop. Locals often set fire to these landfills - plastic wrappers and all - because there isn’t anything else to be done with the trash.
The smell of burning trash has been filling my apartment for the past two days. When not burning, these small, local landfills are frequented by local cows and street dogs. When I walk along Gamru’s single lane, narrow, poorly paved roads carrying my small plastic bags full of trash, street dogs eagerly come running to sniff at my bags, tails wagging, clearly hoping my trash is edible.
The dogs are used to eating off of the roadsides. Neighbors kindly leave small piles of food scraps on the roadsides for the dogs. The dogs are better cared for here than other places I have been in India. They receive medical care – including spay/neuter services - from two area nonprofits, Dharamsala Animal Rescue (DAR) and Tibet Charity. DAR founder and friend, Deb and her two dogs are neighbors of mine.
I create trash on an almost daily basis because I cook often. Since I (and the local grocery shops) do not have a refrigerator, I cannot store leftovers. I mostly eat simple versions of western meals I prepare using vegetables purchased from a kind elderly Indian shop keeper in Gamru. I buy non-perishable staples I buy from another kind elderly Indian man who runs a tiny grocery store in Dharamsala.
I enjoy supporting local businesses, getting to know my neighbors, and walking Gamru’s narrow lanes only traversed by local people, dogs, cows, and donkeys to get to and from my apartment each day.
My Tibetan Language Studies
My weekday mornings begin with a twenty minute steep ascent from my apartment to the LTWA in time for my first Tibetan language class, which begins at 9AM. It is fun to do that commute alongside the local Tibetan adults and students, who are also commuting by foot from their homes to work and school.
|First I walk up my street to the Indian Primary School.|
|I turn at this intersection, passing the Tibetan shop where I buy my brown bread, and the boxer dog that lives behind that gate.|
|I walk up this hill (this is looking down) passing the basketball court used by the local Tibetan community.|
I am studying Tibetan at the LTWA. The LTWA was founded in 1970 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to preserve and propagate the Tibetan culture, which has been the subject of ongoing destruction in Tibet since the country fell under Chinese occupation in 1959. The LTWA accomplishes this mission in part by offering courses in Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy to a student body of predominantly foreign Tibetan Buddhists who come to stay and study in Dharamsala.
I attend class at the LTWA Monday through Friday. I am enrolled in both of the beginner Tibetan language courses offered by the LTWA each trimester.
This is my first course:
1. Basic Tibetan Language Course: “Beginning with the alphabet, vowels and combinations of letters, students learn the fundamental structure of the language, how to make simple sentences, how to use tenses and so forth. The aim at this level is to train students in reading and simple conversation.”
This course meets 9 – 10AM, Monday through Friday. An optional review class is held on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month.
Since few Tibetan language text books were available to foreign students in the 1970’s, LTWA began creating its own texts. The text for this course is A Basic Grammar of Modern Spoken Tibetan: a practical handbook, by LTWA language teacher Tashi Daknewa.
This is my second course:
1. Basic Tibetan Speaking Course: “This course is aimed at assisting our students to communicate in Tibetan, thereby enriching their knowledge of the feelings and basic way of life of Tibetans. The main aim of this class is to help students become more confident in spoken Tibetan.”
This course meets 10:30 – 11:30AM, Monday through Friday.
|Basic Tibetan Speaking Class from 10:30 - 11:30AM. That's our teacher Dekyi la standing, and my conversation partner and friend Cindy in the front smiling down at her book, with the very short hair cut.|
|Our classroom after class had let out one morning.|
|View of our class from my seat, with my text book open before me.|
The text for this course, “Speak Fluent Tibetan” was prepared by the Director of the LTWA’s Research and Translation Department, Dr. Chok Tenzin Monlam Peltsok (Dr. Chok). The text is based on a technique Dr. Chok trialed with students for the previous four years. It contains approximately 150 of the most commonly spoken statements in the Tibetan language, and is written entirely in the Tibetan alphabet. I have the accompanying CD that I listen to at home, to help me prepare for the following class session.
All of my Tibetan language teachers are Tibetan.
My primary Basic Tibetan Language Course teacher, Acharya Ani Norzom (“Ani la”) is a nun who holds an Acharya degree in Tibetan studies and Buddhist Philosophy from the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Varanasi. She joined the LTWA in 1999 and has been teaching the Basic Tibetan Language Course since then.
My primary Basic Tibetan Speaking Course teacher, Nyima Dekyi (“Dekyi la”) studied Tibetan and Buddhist philosophy in Tibet until she escaped to India in 1997. She continued to study Tibetan and Buddhist philosophy in Dolmaling Nunnery and the College for Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarah. She taught Tibetan as a foreign language at Thosamling Nunnery for more than three years before joining the LTWA in 2009.
Dr. Chok has guest lectured for four of my Basic Tibetan Language Course classes, and four of my Basic Tibetan Speaking Course classes. He also offers us daily lessons via WeChat. Dr. Chok has been researching teaching methods for Tibetan as a foreign language since 2001, and has been using his findings to teach foreign students since he joined the LTWA in 2007. In 2012, he taught Tibetan in the University of Virginia’s Summer Language Program.
I have also had Phurbu Dolma (“Phurbu la”) as a substitute teacher for two of my Basic Tibetan Speaking Course classes. She holds a BA in Tibetan studies from the College for Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarah and a BA from Delhi University. She joined the LTWA in the summer of 2012.
There are currently about forty students enrolled in the LTWA’s Basic Tibetan language program this trimester. There were more students in the classes when I joined the trimester on March 19. Some of the early students have since left, and are regularly being replaced by new students. I think this is partly because LTWA students from many countries are restricted by three month Indian tourist visas, unlike American students who can stay in India for 180 days (6 months) at a time.
During one of her optional Saturday review classes, our teacher, Ani la told us “Some people cannot get visa. They come after one week, two weeks, one month, two months. For those who are new, come on Saturday for review. I can’t let them go with an empty brain.”
The LTWA accommodates these students by maintaining a rolling admissions policy for the Basic Tibetan Language course taught by Ani La. The LTWA also helps students who maintain a perfect attendance record in a minimum of two LTWA courses apply for student visas from the Indian government.
Only a small handful of the forty students I study with are enrolled in both of the courses I am taking at the LTWA. My Basic Tibetan Language Course feels like a beginner course; most of my fellow students also seem to be new to Tibetan. My Basic Tibetan Speaking Course often does not feel like a beginner course.
My fellow students and I represent a variety of countries, but most of my fellow Basic Tibetan course students are Russian. My friend Tsering was born to non-Tibetan speaking Tibetan refugee parents in Switzerland. My friend, Cindy from Taiwan was inspired to come to India after committing to sponsor Tibetan students studying at Tibetan Children’s Village – Upper Dharamsala campus. My friend Yukiko is from Japan. Another Swiss friend, Ingrid makes trips to India to provide medical relief to impoverished seniors and persons with disabilities through the nonprofit she helps run, Nyingjay Yul Foundation. We often sit together in our Basic Tibetan Language Course. They help me attempt to speak Tibetan during conversation practice time, and we sometimes hang out outside of class.
I am one of only two Americans in the Basic Tibetan Language Course, and the only American student in the Basic Tibetan Speaking Course. The other American is a young woman from Colorado who is a volunteer French teacher in McLeod Ganj. I think I am the only student fluent in just one language. English is a second language for almost everyone in my classes.
Our youngest fellow student is an eleven year old Vietnamese monk. There are a handful of non-Tibetan monks and nuns in my two classes, but most of my fellow students are lay people. I think some lay students want learn to be able to read the Tibetan Buddhism texts and understand His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the original Tibetan instead of having to rely on a translation. My own goal is to simply see what it is like to study Tibetan.
The LTWA Tibetan language course fees make studying Tibetan doable. The one-time LTWA student registration fee is 50 Indian rupees (approximately 81 cents USD). At 500 rupees (approximately $8.13) per course per month, I can complete a trimester of two Tibetan language courses for roughly $49.59. My two text books came to an additional $9.53. These fees just cover the LTWA’s costs associated with running the courses.
Basic Tibetan Language students are eligible to receive certificates from the LTWA at the completion of the trimester, which ends this Saturday, June 6.
My Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy Studies in North India
This trimester, I have taken short term residential and non-residential Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy courses in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh taught by Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo, Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Gen Gyatso, Khenpo Sonam Tsewang, and Yangten Rinpoche. The shortest Buddhist Philosophy course I took lasted three hours and the longest was 11 days long.
|Tushita Meditation Centre, founded by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.|
|Tushita Meditation Centre, Lama Yeshe's stupa to the left and Lama Zopa Rinpoche's house to the right.|
|Four hour (one way) 90 rupees (roughly $1.47) bus ride from McLeod Ganj to Deer Park Institute in Bir. Founded by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.|
Although I see some familiar faces in each course I attend because McLeod Ganj is a small mountain town with an even smaller community of Buddhist foreigners, the courses are not linked together by an organizing institution. None of the courses are offered as part of a degree or certificate program, and I am not getting credits for taking the courses. I am taking the courses for the benefit of learning Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy from renowned teachers who live in India so I can deepen my understanding and practice of Tibetan Buddhism. The goal of practicing Tibetan Buddhism is to attain enlightenment (become a buddha) so that you can then end the suffering of all sentient beings.
As Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught during the November Course at Kopan Monastery in 1979, a hundred eons of Buddhism study and practice is nothing.
“How can you recover completely from the heavy disease of the disturbing, unsubdued mind, which has been there from beginningless previous lifetimes? How can you recover within one month, within seven days or several years?
For an ordinary, chronic disease like cancer and T.B. – which the person wasn’t born with – even for those diseases, the person should have treatment for many years, has to be very careful and should have powerful and long treatment. To completely make non-existent the disease of the disturbed, unsubdued mind, which has been there from beginningless previous lifetimes, which has no beginning, that treatment, the powerful Dharma practice, even if it takes hundreds of lifetimes or a hundred eons. Even if it takes that much to take treatment, to completely make non-existent the heavy disease of the delusions, of course, it is extremely important.
It is extremely important and it is worthwhile, even if it takes a hundred lifetimes, a hundred eons, which is nothing. Even if it takes a hundred eons to completely eradicate, to completely recover from the disease of the delusions and to be free from samsara, even though it takes a hundred eons, that still is very quick, very short if you think how many eons one has been sick with the delusions of the disturbed, unsubdued mind."
The first Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy course that took me away from my Tibetan language classes at the LTWA was An Introductory Buddhist Retreat (View, Meditation, Action) taught by British nun Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo at Deer Park Institute Easter Weekend (April 3 – 5).
|Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo teaching at Deer Park Institute. Photo by Deer Park Institute. Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo was one of the first Westerners to become ordained as a Buddhist nun, and is the founder of Donguy Ling Nunnery in north India.|
She taught for three hours each morning and two hours each afternoon, also joining us for lunch and movie nights. We watched Brilliant Moon and a film about His Holiness the 16th Karmapa.
|Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo eating lunch with students at Deer Park Institute.|
I was moved by her teachings about compassion for animals and the suffering we contribute to when we buy and consume dairy products and eggs. She told a story about how when she was living in her mountain cave doinga retreat, she grew turnips and potatoes for food. She had a long talk with one patch of turnips, explaining that she needed to pull those turnips up and eat them. The next day, that patch of turnip plants came up easily when she pulled them out of the ground, but the patch of turnips she had not talked with were difficult to uproot.
Since Deer Park Institute’s accommodations were fully booked I stayed in town at nearby Chokling Guest House. That first night in the hotel lobby, I met a fascinating older, Christian, Australian woman, Domini who has taught English all over the world. It has taken her to extremely unlikely places and she had amazing stories. She is in Bir for the second time, teaching English to a select group of Chokling Monastery monks in their twenties.
|Walking through town in Bir, just down the road from Deer Park Institute.|
|Walk up from the main road in Bir to Deer Park Institute's campus.|
During the course I had lunch with an Argentinean who is part of a team working on a film about female Buddhist practitioners, theYogini Project. He and his wife, who teaches yoga and gives Tibetan massages, live in Kathmandu, Nepal.
After lunch on the last day of the teaching, April 5 I joined an optional hike through the hillside behind the Deer Park Institute. We passed through some Indian villages where we got to see a school where boys played cricket in the school yard, and met some young children who asked to have their photos taken. The Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj, Gamru Village, and Bir are located is gorgeous.
|I took this for my Lehigh engineer friends. Hike behind Deer Park Institute campus.|
|Hike behind Deer Park Institute campus.|
|Hike behind Deer Park Institute campus.|
|Kids I met while hiking behind Deer Park Institute campus who wanted their photo taken.|
|Hike behind Deer Park Institute campus.|
I shared a minivan taxi carpool back to McLeod Ganj that had been organized by a young American named Trish that I had seen at Tenzin Palmo’s teachings last year. This is Trish’s sixth consecutive year in India. She is studying ayurvedic medicine with a teacher in McLeod.
Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo then taught at Tushita Meditation Center on April 13 and 14 on The Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland, a commentary on Palden Atisha’s well-known text on Mind Training.
I was only able to attend the first day, April 13. Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo taught for three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. She advised us to eat plants because plants have a lower level of consciousness as compared with animals. Buddha said the plants don’t live as long as animals, and will die soon if they are not picked.
Later that day, April 13 I got to meet – and received a brief teaching – from Tenzin Osel Hita, the thirty year old reincarnation of Lama Yeshe, who passed away in 1984. Lama Yeshe was Lama Zopa Ripoche’s teacher. Together they founded FPMT, and established Kopan Monastery in Nepal, Tushita in McLeod Ganj, and the Root Institute in Bodhgaya.
I had seen online that Tenzin Osel Hita (Osel) was leading a pilgrimage tour – his first - in India and Nepal, and that he and his group would be arriving at Tushita on April 13.
I waited at Tushita after Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo’s teaching had concluded for Osel’s arrival.
We didn’t have wait too long. I stood in a small receiving line with mostly Tushita staff and volunteers, and watched as he got out of his taxi parked near the Tushita kitchen and walk towards us. As a friend later said, the energy at Tushita changed when Osel arrived. He gave us all hugs as he made his way down the receiving line.
|Osel greeting someone with a hug on the far right, at the foot of the steps. My finger is in the photo - hilarious - shows how excited I was - didn't even notice my finger when I took the photo.|
I met a friend of Osel’s from Malaysia, who invited me into the Tushita dining room for tea with the group. I felt like I was backstage at a concert, unsure of whether or not I was supposed to be in the room so stood still. I then met Lyndon from Brisbane, Australia. Lyndon encouraged me to approach Osel to receive a blessing from a tsa tsa Osel said had been made from the ashes of a great master. It was great to get to meet and talk with both Osel and Lyndon.
When I asked Osel about taking a photo, he agreed, and gave me a teaching on emptiness, asking me who was it, that I wanted to be in the photo? I was startled. It was an unforgettable few seconds.
I later heard he taught at Tushita for several hours on April 14, after Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo had concluded the second day of her teaching. You can listen to both of these teachings for free on the Tushita website.
I returned to Deer Park Institute on April 14 for the eleven day course Acharya Chandrakirti’s Entry into the Middle Way (or Madhyamikavatara, in Sanskrit) taught by Tibetan monk Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul.
|Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul teaching at Deer Park Institute. In addition to serving as Director of Tibet House Delhi, he is a former translator of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.|
We studied the text Entry into the Middle Way by Acharya Chandrakirti, which challenges the idea that things should exist as objectively real. Entry into the Middle Way is a commentary on the text Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way by Nagarjuna. Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way is a commentary on Buddha’s teaching on emptiness.
Our goal was to identify and eliminate the two demons of self grasping ignorance and self centered attitude from our minds, and reveal the treasure – the clear light – to the extent that our minds become no different than Buddha’s mind, so that we can become buddhas.
|Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul teaching students in the Deer Park Institute dining hall. Photo by Deer Park Institute.|
We studied emptiness and Buddhist logic, comparing and contrasting the positions of four schools of Buddhist thought presented in parts of Acharya Chandrakirti’s text: the First Level – The Thoroughly Joyous, the Sixth Level – The Manifest, including the Presentation of the Selflessness of Person, and the Conclusion.
Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul taught the way to truly help suffering animals is to first realize emptiness. We can then also attain enlightenment and become a buddha.
Many of Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul’s Tibet House Delhi students attended the course including my roommate, Radhika from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s December 2014 teachings in Mundgod. I also saw several familiar faces from Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul’s 2015 course at the Root Institute – Aniko, Linda, Randolf, and Rajeesh.
|Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul teaching at Deer Park Institute. Photo by Deer Park Institute. I am sitting in the back in a red shirt near the windows on the right.|
Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul was up with us at 5:45AM each day of the course for our two hours of morning prayers and meditations.
|Lighting the lamps with Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul daily during our morning practice at Deer Park Institute. Photo by Deer Park Institute.|
|Lighting the lamps with Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul at Deer Park Institute.|
He then taught at least three teaching sessions per day, and sometimes taught an evening teaching session, the latest of which ended at 9:45PM. In between he would join us for our two daily Discussion Group sessions.
|Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul joining students for Discussion Group at Deer Park Institute. I am in the far left in a short sleeve light blue tshirt. Photo by Deer Park Institute.|
I was in an assigned Discussion Group with Vid from the US, Tsering from Delhi, Aniko from Toms River, New Jersey, French monk Venerable Dhamcoe, Alessandra from France, Christopher from the US, and Deepesh from Delhi.
|My discussion group during Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul's Deer Park Institute course. Photo by Aniko.|
|My discussion group and a friend. Top left to bottom right: Friend, Aniko, Venerable Dhamcoe, Deepesh, Tsering, Christopher, Vid, Allesandra, me.|
Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul would also occasionally join us for lunch, and informally answer questions between every teaching session. I got to have a private audience with him as well, in the same suite at Deer Park Institute where I had first had an audience with him last year. Geshe Dorji Damdul’s kindness, enthusiasm for teaching, and commitment to his students is just amazing.
|Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul talking with students between classes at Deer Park Institute.|
|Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul talking with student Alessandra between classes.|
|Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul eating lunch with students at Deer Park Institute.|
Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul did a tsok offering with us on the morning of March 24, the day after the course had been scheduled to end. I got to assist with the tsok offering for the first time.
We learned the ringing of the bell is a symbol of emptiness because the ringing sound is not a single sound as we think we hear it, but is composed of a series of milliseconds of individual “ting” noises, that when strung together sounds like a bell ringing.
We then offered Venerrable Geshe Dorji Damdul khatas and received his blessings before seeing him off to Delhi.
I went back to my apartment for the weekend before returning to Deer Park Institute for my next residential course, taught by filmmaker, author of popular book What Makes You Not a Buddhist, and Deer Park Institute founder, Bhutanese monk Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.
Three hundred people – mostly foreigners I had never seen before, including many Chinese students and a Tibetan to Chinese translator came to see him. He taught on the Viimalakirti Sutra from April 28 – 29 at Deer Park Institute.
|Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche walking from the office to Manjushri Hall for the start of a teaching session at Deer Park Institute.|
I got to sit inside the gompa on the first day, so I could see him in person.
I was happy to sit on the balcony outside of the gompa on the second day, breathing in the beautiful scenery and fresh air, while listening to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s voice coming through Deer Park Institute’s new, high tech sound system.
|Sitting on the porch outside of Manjushri Hall at Deer Park Institute for second day of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's teaching.|
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche taught ultimately you have to come to terms with the fact that this samsaric world cannot be fixed. You are born a samsaric being, and this life cannot be fixed. You cannot have the attitude that one day this samsara will come to an end. Instead have the grand view, attitude, and vision of a Bodhisattva – that of endlessness. Bodhisattvas must go beyond their dislike of samsara and wish for liberation. This must be your motivation for practicing Buddhism.
While at Deer Park Institute I wrote and published my blog post about the first Nepal Earthquake, and the relief work my teacher Lama Zopa Rinpoche and my friend Gilad were doing in Nepal.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche has successfully sent a month’s worth of food and tents to the Sherpa communities, ensuring aid reaches needy communities without delay. Gilad is now working in an acupuncture clinic. Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Nepal Earthquake Support Fund and ongoing relief work couldstill use your financial support.
The Kopan Monastery monks I got to know when staying and studying at Kopan Monastery last November and December and the Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery nuns are preparing meals, and are purchasing, packing, and delivering clothing, blankets, food and water to needy communities. You can donate to their efforts, Kopan’s Helping Hands. When you make your donation online, mention “Kopan Helping Hands” in the comments field.
Venerable Thubten Jinpa, a senior Kopan Monastery monk, shared on his Facebook page during the week of May 11:
“Today we were traveling more than 18 hour on the road to deliver the relief package to the most affected area, every house along the road is completely down. It’s heartbreaking to witness these all with your own eyes. It’s 2 a.m. here. We just arrived back home. The road was so bad and the heavy rain made it extremely difficult. We sent for the people whom the relief package is targeted for and hand it over in the middle of jungle and head back, but have no other choices.”
|Kopan monks providing aid. Photo by Kopan.|
|Road in Rasuwa District, Nepal traversed by Kopan monks bringing aid to communities. Photo by Kopan.|
As of March 22 the Nepal Earthquake Support Fund and Kopan’s Helping Hands working together have helped 5,000 families with their food supplies, have given 1,135 families shelter, and have provided food to 3,000 individuals. Drinking water has been supplied to many parts of Kathmandu. Blankets (some of which were offered by Kopan’s very young monks from their own beds) were given to 500 families. Clothing was offered to 1,800+ people.
This summary of Kopan's Helping Hands' work was shared by FPMT via email on June 5:
This summary of Kopan's Helping Hands' work was shared by FPMT via email on June 5:
- A blood donation program was conducted immediately following the first earthquake by Kopan Sangha in cooperation with local hospital and a blood bank in Kathmandu.
- Sangha members cleared the debris and blocked road around Kopan so that the rescue operations could be performed.
- Cooked meals were served to the patients and the families in the local hospitals who were affected by the quake.
- Drinking water was supplied to the various parts of the city where the normal water supply had been disrupted.
- Sangha members kept the surroundings free of garbage in order to eliminated post-earthquake health hazards.
- Special prayer sessions were held every evening at the monastery for those who had lost their lives and for the grieving family members. The first week of prayer was led by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
- Aid was able to reach the 11 most affected districts in Nepal despite all the challenges and the risk of their own lives as there were constant landslides and the roads were misshapen. In addition, heavy rain poured throughout the journeys and the volunteers had to travel on the back of fully loaded trucks to reach 45 Village Development Committees outside the Kathmandu Valley.
- 5,385 families were directly benefited with shelter, blankets, rice, dahl, cooking oil and other staples.
- 100 large tarpaulin tents were given to the Gompa Preservation and Development Committee of the Nepal Government to be handed out to damaged gompas in rural areas.
- Blankets were given to 580 families.
- Clothing was distributed to more than 1,800 individuals.
- Three days of free medical camps were organized in the five most affected rural areas. They were helped by Kopan Sangha with medical training and other experienced volunteers.
- An emergency medial team was airlifted 2.6 miles (4,180 meters) above sea level to treat patients under critical circumstances.
Back in India, I returned from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s Deer Park Institute course to my apartment in Gamru Village the day before the start of a much anticipated course at Tushita.
From May 1 – 3 I attended 12 Links of Dependent Arising at Tushita, taught by Institute for Buddhist Dialectics (IBD) senior teacher Tibetan monk Gen Gyatso. He taught an amazing course I took at the Root Institute last year. His Tushita teachings were translated from Tibetan into English by German nun Geshe Kelsang Wangmo. She is the first woman in the world to have received the Geshe degree, following seventeen years of study at IBD.
|Gen Gyatso and Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo, sitting next a painting of the Wheel Of Life at Tushita. Photo by Tushita.|
Gen Gyatso taught us about the Wheel of Life, a painting designed by Buddha that explains how the suffering individuals experience in life comes about, and how individuals can avoid creating future suffering. The Wheel of Life is often prominently painted on the exterior of every temple, near the temple’s main entrance. Viewing the painting should then cause fear in those who have faith in Buddhism, motivating them to work to cut the root of their ignorance.
|Gen Gyatso and Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo looking out at the students. I am in the back, near the support pole, wearing a hot pink long sleeve shirt and purple vest, with my head resting on my left hand. Photo by Tushita.|
Tushita’s staff recommends listening to the teaching previously given by Gen Gyatso - Healing the Aching Heart: An Introduction to Lojong.
I next attended the first day of a five day course taught from May 9 – 13 by Tibetan monk Khenpo Sonam Tsewang at Deer Park Institute. He taught on the Wisdom Chapter of the text Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva. The text is also known as The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. Khenpo Sonam Tsewang’s teachings, given daily from 10 – 12PM and 3-5PM, were based on commentary by Mipham Rinpoche.
He taught the Wisdom (that realizes selflessness) Chapter is the most important chapter in the text. Antidotes only suppress our mental afflictions, whereas the wisdom realizing selflessness makes it possible for us to attain supreme enlightenment.
Causes and conditions help bring about our enlightenment because we can purify those causes and conditions. We can purify them by working on the Bodhisattva path. Like peeling the skin away from an orange, we will eventually peel the obscurations away from our minds and reveal the nirvana underneath.
It was fun to return to Deer Park Institute and find friends from Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul’s Deer Park Institute course in Khenpo Sonam Tsewang’s course including Chris and Abhijeet. I was surprised to see Venerable Bodhicitta, who had also taken Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul’s Root Institute course so far away from Bir, in Bodhgaya.
I was only able to attend the first day of Khenpo Sonam Tsewang’s teaching because His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught the following day, May 10 at a monastery nearer to my house. I unknowingly missed the last bus of the day from Bir back home on May 9. I now know the last bus departs from the Upper Bir Colony bus stop at 5:30PM.
As a result I spent the night in my clothes in the Deer Park Institute dorm, sharing the room once again with Melanie from Delhi who like Chris was still staying at Deer Park Institute. Before bed I had an enjoyable dinner at my favorite restaurant in town, Amdo Café with my American friend Aniko who has rented a semi-furnished apartment in Bir, and a nice conversation on the steps below the Deer Park Institute gompa, under a starry sky with Abhijeet and Venerable Bodhicitta.
|Deer Park Institute at night. This was taken during Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul's teaching when we lit candles on the roof one night.|
|Palampus bus station in Himachal Pradesh, a stop over enroute from Deer Park Institute in Bir to Gamru Village.|
|Town passed on the bus from Deer Park Institute to Gamru Village. I like the sign advertising "kitty" parties. A common spelling on signs I have seen in this area.|
|Road construction in Himachal Pradesh, enroute from Deer Park Institute to Gamru Village.|
|Himachal Pradesh Government bus ride from Deer Park Institute to Gamru Village.|
I walked up the hill to Tushita the following Saturday, May 16 for a three hour preliminary teaching on the Three Principal Aspects ofthe Path given by Tibetan monk Venerable Yangten Tulku Rinpoche. The teaching was translated from Tibetan into English by Geshe Kelsang Wangmo.
The teaching was given in advance of the Chenrezig Initiation Venerable Yangten Tulku Rinpoche offered at Tushita the following day. (I did not take the initiation.) He explained it is traditional to give a sutra teaching prior to giving an initiation.
The Three Principal Aspects of the Path covers the three major principles of the path to enlightenment and buddhahood: 1.) Renunciation – the desire to be liberated from suffering, 2.) Bodhicitta - the wish to benefit all sentient beings by leading them to enlightenment, 3.) Emptiness - wisdom realizing the subtle emptiness.
I enjoyed the example he gave to illustrate a point about emptiness. We say a house that is big enough for us to live in is “a house”. But if the house was one inch tall and therefore not big enough for us to live in, then we wouldn’t call it “a house”. But if miniature humans saw and moved into the house, then they would call it “a house”. It depends on someone - an observer – looking at it to identify it as an object.
He also taught that we do not live our lives with consideration only for today. To do so would be silly. Likewise, we should not live our lives with consideration only for this lifetime.
The Three Principal Aspects of the Path is a condensed version of Lamrim Chenmo, which I had received teachings on from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Mundgod last December. I saw friends in the packed gompa who I met last year in Nepal – Kate from Russia, Omar from England, Zarina from Sweden. The four of us reunited with Randolf from Singapore and Aidan from England who were with us in Bodhgaya when Lama Zopa Rinpoche was there earlier this year.
Zarina and I shared a maroon meditation cushion in the front row of the packed gompa, facing translator Geshe Kelsang Wangmo. I strongly connected to Venerable Yangten Tulku Rinpoche’s teaching in Tibetan, understanding a few words here and there, but feeling I could understand more than I actually could. If that is all I get out of my Tibetan language studies, then that is good enough for me. Listen to the archive of Venerable Yangten Tulku Rinpoche’s teaching for free on the Tushita website.
Once I had cleared all of these short-term, often residential Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy courses from my calendar, I added two ongoing, part time Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy courses to my schedule.
My weekly schedule has looked like this since May 8:
9 – 10:30AM Monday through Friday: Basic Tibetan Language Course
11 – 12PM Monday through Friday: Basic Tibetan Speaking Course
Walk up the hill from the LTWA to McLeod Ganj.
2 – 4PM Monday through Friday: The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, taught by Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche
4 – 6PM Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Advanced Buddhist Philosophy Course: The 2nd Chapter of Dharmakirti’s Pramanavartikka, taught by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo
Then I turn around and walk home, back down the mountainside to Gamru Village.
|The walk down the hill from McLeod Ganj towards the LTWA.|
|The walk through Gamru Village to my house.|
|The last uphill climb in Gamru Village - almost home.|
Tibetan monk Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche teaches on The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (also known as Way of the Bodhisattva) by Shantideva Mondays through Fridays from 2-4PM in a small, private teaching hall located across the street from the entrance to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple.
|Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche is a senior teacher born in Tibet, so humble that I am sure he would not want me to say anything further about him. I took this at Deer Park Institute last year. His translator, Ben is on the right.|
He teaches weekdays in Tibetan from 2 – 4PM nearly year round. My friend Ben translates for him. I attended one weekday teaching and the end of a course he taught at Deer Park Institute last year. He remembered – stopping by me in class recently to ask if I had been at Deer Park Institute. I regularly see him on the streets of McLeod Ganj this year; he always greets me. I joined his weekday teachings this year for the first time on May 8.
There can be anywhere between five and fifteen international and Tibetan students in class. One day I counted six Italians. Ben went home to Israel for two weeks last month; an Italian named Theresa filled in as translator. Two friends are also in the class – Japanese friend Yukiko who also takes the Basic Tibetan language courses, and American friend Shilpa who I first met at the Root Institute this year.
Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche explains things so clearly. For example, he taught we think our happiness and unhappiness comes from the sense consciousnesses, but it really comes from the mental consciousness. If you love to eat Tibetan momos then at first, you will be happy to eat them three times a day. But eventually you will become sick of momos and you won’t want to eat them. Your mental experience of momos has changed. If the momo itself was the source of your happiness then you should always experience happiness when you eat momos.
It is important to recognize we are living in samsara. Problems will break on us like waves, one after another. We must learn to cope. Our loved ones aren’t bodhisattvas. We should practice forgiveness when they get angry. By putting your loved ones first, you can practice developing an attitude that cherishes others instead of the self. The love and affection offered to you by loved ones is the real happiness.
He taught “whether suffering or happiness comes about depends on how we handle our own mind.” From beginningless lifetimes, from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep each day, we are thinking of ourselves. This is a negative mind. We need to change this, and cultivate love for others. Don’t create negative minds – jealous, anger, competitiveness, hatred – because negative minds lead to suffering. If we create positive minds – generating love, compassion, understanding for others – then that brings happiness.
All of our problems come from ourselves. You never hear people yelling “I am wrong!” and pointing at themselves. People who see their own faults are wise; anyone can see the faults of others. The heart of Buddhism is seeing the faults of cherishing the self and the benefits of cherishing others. All of the faults lie with ourselves. All of the good lies with others.
When interacting with family members, see their faults as OK; that your family members are OK. We get into fights when we point at others and say they’re wrong and we’re right. Because both sides are saying the same thing, we get problems. If we see our faults then we won’t fight with others. We’ll just say “I’m sorry”. This is why it’s important to see our own faults. If we know how to think then all problems can be solved, and we won’t suffer. It’s very important at all times to have a mind that is very big.
Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche also reminds us we must have a strong foundation in renunciation, bodhichitta, and wisdom realizing emptiness before practicing tantra. Otherwise, attempting to practice tantra is like a first grader taking a college exam because the student thinks college is the best level of education. The student is brave, but unprepared for college exams and will score 0% on those exams.
The peace I find in Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche’s classroom is akin to the peace I found while studying with Sri Lankan monk Bhante Wimala at the Nairobi Buddhist Temple in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013. I will miss Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche’s classes when I have to leave India.
German nun Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo teaches an Advanced Buddhist Philosophy Course: The 2nd Chapter of Dharmakirti’s Pramanavartikka in English on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4-6PM and on Fridays from 4-5:30PM in an Institute for Buddhist Dialectics classroom. This classroom is also located near the entrance to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple. She will continue to teach this text in yearly Autumn and Spring terms until the text is completed.
I joined Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo’s course for oneweek last Spring term. This year’s Spring term began April 15 and will end in mid-June. I joined the Spring term on May 4.
The students in this course are generally older, more senior Tibetan Buddhist practitioners from western countries who have made McLeod Ganj their home – including a few Americans. There are usually about 30 students in class.
|Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo's class. We were usually in the IBD gompa. This was a temporary room for us. She is sitting in the front of the room facing us.|
Although this course is over my head, I like to attend because Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo is such an incredible teacher. I can follow her teachings well enough to take notes and am learning a new vocabulary. I will be better positioned to learn the material the next time I take teachings on the valid cognizer.
Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo is teaching us from a text she is creating at the request of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. (She alsotranslated for him when he gave teachings in Germany last year.) The text she is creating - The 2nd Chapter of Dharmakirti’s Pramanavartikka - contains her translations from Tibetan into English of two texts:
1.) The second chapter of Dharmakirti's Pramanavarttika (tshad ma rnam ‘grel; Commentary on [Dignaga’s Compendium of] Pramana)
2.) The second chapter of Gyaltsab Je's commentary on the Pramanavarttika, called Elucidation of the Path to Liberation, a Detailed Explanation of the Verse Lines of the Pramanavarttika (tshad ma rnam 'grel gyi tshig le'ur byes pa rnam bshad thar lam gsal byed) — usually referred to as Elucidation of the Path to Liberation (thar lam gsal byed)
Gyaltsab Je’s Elucidation of the Path to Liberation is interspersed with the Pramanavarttika, for the commentary provides detailed expositions on the meaning of the verses of the root text.
Furthermore, since both texts are difficult to comprehend on their own, they are also interspersed with additional explanations by contemporary masters such as Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabgyal, Venerable Geshe Palden Drakpa, Venerable Geshe Wangchen, Venerable Geshe Gyatso, Venerable Geshe Tsering Norbu, and others.
Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo told us that she has spent hours on the phone with her teachers mentioned above, clarifying material for inclusion in this English language text.
She is so kind, humble, and encouraging. Her brilliance and command of Tibetan and such complex material is also absolutely astounding. She told us when she was a student at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics she studied 18 hours per day. The first time she studied this Dharmakirti text, she only understood 10% of it. She said the Tibetan texts are supposed to be simple but contain all of Buddhism. Tibetans are happy about the 10% they understand.
The Dharmakirti text we are studying was written in the 14th Century. We should expect it to be hard, recalling how difficult Shakespeare is and that prose was only written 500 years ago. Our understanding will grow deeper and deeper as we continue to study. The same teaching on the Four Noble Truths from His Holiness the Dalai Lama will resonate for us differently each time we receive the teaching.
When asked “what is Buddhism?” Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo said Buddhism has a goal – to end suffering. Today’s happiness is only a secondary concern. Most of her students will be dead within fifty years. Since we will all be reborn until we attain enlightenment, there are still millions of years to follow this life. So therefore this one lifetime isn’t that important. Our current life’s problems won’t live on beyond this life. We should think of and be concerned about our future lives, and work to overcome the restrictions we have, now.
The study of Buddhism is directed at realizing selflessness. This doesn’t mean we don’t exist; it means we don’t exist in the way we think we exist. We learn how to overcome those restrictions that are imposed on us by our misperception of reality and ignorance. We need to cut the root of our ignorance using the valid cognizer (consciousness/mind), which realizes its object as it actually exists. This is the mind we are trying to acquire, and are studying in her course. All other concerns should be secondary.
I am thankful to Venerable Sarah Thresher for encouraging me to study with Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo last year. I am sorry to have to miss out on the opportunity to continue studying The 2nd Chapter of Dharmakirti’s Pramanavartikka with Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo in the Autumn term. Fortunately her teachings are recorded and regularly posted online, along with her text and the prayers we recite together at the start and end of every class so that students can study with her remotely.
Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy Studies in Delhi
While living in Gamru Village I traveled not only to Deer Park Institute in Bir for Tibetan Buddhism Philosophy teachings, but also to Delhi. On May 20 I took an overnight (12 hour) bus ride south to hot, hot, hot (100+ degree), heavily air polluted Delhi for a three day teaching with Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul’s renowned teacher, Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la.
On May 22 and 23, Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la gave a two day discourse on The Four Hundred Verses on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas (selected chapters) by Acharya Arya Deva at Tibet House Delhi. This teaching was followed by a one day discourse on The Harmony of Emptiness and Dependent Origination, held May 24 at nearby India International Centre. The teachings were translated from Tibetan into English by Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul, Director of Tibet House.
|My teacher, Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul is the Director of Tibet House Delhi. This is Tibet House Delhi. The Director of Tibet House New York is Robert Thurman (father of actress Uma Thurman).|
I went down to Delhi a day early, arriving at 7AM on Thursday, May 21 so that I could have one last appointment with Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul at Tibet House before I leave India.
I went right from the bus stand, with my limited luggage, to the US – India Educational Foundation (UIEF) and Fulbright compound, located across the street from the Embassy of Iran, near the Barakhambha Road metro station. I arrived before the USIEF office officially opened at 9AM, but the women in the front office kindly let me sit in the lobby until Renuka, USIEF Educational Advising Services to reach the office.
Even though I had just dropped in without an appointment or introduction, Renuka kindly met with me and answered my questions about USIEF. An initiative of the US State Department via Education USA, USIEF helps Indian students gain admittance to US colleges and universities.
I have also visited and learned about similar advising centers in Kenya, Uganda, and Nepal. USIEF is unique because the Indian government shares the costs associated with running USIEF with the US government. USIEF also differs from the advising centers in Kenya, Uganda, and Nepal because USIEF has more than one advising center in the host country. USIEF has centers in Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta, and Delhi, and affiliated but independently run centers in Ahmedabad and Bangalore. The advising centers support Indian students from their respective regions.
One fifth of the 150,000 Indian students studying in the USA are undergraduate students. Less than one in five of those 150,000 students are female. Renuka wants to see that gender gap close. Women in Delhi are lucky to have the support of USIEF Delhi. All five USIEF staff members I interacted with were strong Indian women.
Reunka introduced me to Zafeena, Education USA Adviser in the Delhi office who tried to help Renuka come up with ways I could be supportive of their work. It was great to hear that new US Ambassador to India, Rich Verma, a fellow Lehigh alum has visited USIEF. I left USIEF with some of my leftover Lehigh in India Happy Hour token gifts, for distribution to prospective students.
I capped off the first of five days in Delhi with a long appointment with Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul back at Tibet House. He patiently answered all of my prepared questions about Buddha’s teachings and how to properly put them into practice. He then advised me on how to stay safe in Delhi and made sure I reached the metro station that he determined was the most convenient for me. I am so thankful for Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul. I got to see him each of the five days I was in Delhi – either at the teachings, or during visits I paid to Tibet House. I was so lucky.
I reached my accommodations in Hauz Khaz, a safer and cleaner south Delhi neighborhood slightly after dinner time. Venerable Samten, who lives at and runs Tushita Delhi was at home, visiting with her sister who was in town from Bangalore. We split a takeout dinner while making plans to attend the Delhi premiere of Surkhaab, the last film Venerable Samten starred in and co-produced before becoming a nun.
After eating take out that first night, I ate most of my meals at Southys, a south Indian café near Tushita Delhi. I always ordered masala dosas, sambhar, coconut chutney, and sometimes two idlies. It wasn’t Sowmya’s cooking or the café near her house in Bangalore, but was good enough and my often twice daily visits made the staff smile.
The next day – Friday, May 22 – was spent in jaw dropping culture shock at the DLF Promenade indoor shopping mall in the Delhi neighborhood of Vasant Kunj. The Westgate Mall – four miles from my house and the site of the September 2013 terrorist attack – was the fanciest mall in Nairobi, and could make you feel like you were not in Kenya. The DLF seamlessly brings that opulence and consumerism to Delhi.
|DLF Promenade mall. I later saw a sole pre-teen boy exit a chauffeured black Audi at this same spot.|
Venerable Samten’s film Surkhaab premiered at the DT Star Cinemas – the mall’s movie theater - at 1:25PM that day, May 22. When I went to the ticket window to buy my ticket, the young woman behind the glass window earnestly said, “It’s a HINDI FILM, ma’am”. I smiled and said “I know” as I handed over 425 rs (roughly $6.91) for my assigned seat movie ticket.
I got to watch Surkhaab with Venerable Samten, her family, a young family friend, and Venerable Kabir. We enjoyed familiar tasting caramel popcorn and french fries while watching the film, a fictional account of a young woman from a village in the Indian state of Punjab who illegally immigrates to Canada. The film was wonderful – and was subtitled in English.
The film has already finished its runs in the US and Canada. The DVD will come out in the US after it has finished its run in India.
I went right from the movie theater to Tibet House for Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la’s first of two evening teachings on The Four Hundred Verses on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas (selected chapters) by Acharya Arya Deva. The beautifully decorated teaching hall was full, mostly with middle aged Indian male students.
|Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul and Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la at Tibet House Delhi on the first night of the teachings.|
Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la explained the purpose of the course was to change our experiences of life by transforming the mind. We can learn to cut excessive attachment to ourselves and our loved ones so we can experience greater happiness.
The first eight of the sixteen chapters of The Four Hundred Verses on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas (selected chapters) by Acharya Arya Deva focus on the conventional truth, to prepare people to follow the path to enlightenment. The second eight chapters focus on the ultimate truth.
Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la focused on the first five chapters. Chapter 1 teaches our bodies are impermanent and transient. Chapter 2 teaches our possessions are nothing but pain and suffering. Chapter 3 teaches elegant looking things are impure by nature. Chapter 4 teaches the things we interact with are by nature impermanent and impure. Chapter 5 explains the Bodhisattvas’ way of thinking and deeds and encourages us to follow this path to freedom from suffering.
He explained as part of his discussion on Chapter 2 that what we consider as misery, no one wants. What we consider as happiness, everyone wants. All sentient beings are equal in not wanting misery, and wanting happiness. Our minds contrive a decrease in misery as an increase in happiness. Our minds also think that when we get what we want, this is happiness. But in reality, it is not happiness – it is just contrived as happiness by our minds. If the conditions were there in that object for happiness, then we should always feel happy as a result of having that object. But we are not always happy as a result of having that object. It is all illusory. Our possessions are nothing but pain and suffering.
In teaching Chapter 4, Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la explained that the more we learn about the transient nature of the self, and realize we are just guests on this earth, the more we will value the brief time we have to spend with loved ones. We should fight less and help each other more. The more we reflect on death and impermanence, the less we will fear it.
Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la gave the example of being employed as a contractor. While employed as contractors, we work hard, knowing we have just a short time to complete our assignments. However when in a permanent position, you delay your work thinking of you have plenty of time to complete it. We are so capable of doing so many beneficial things as humans. We are so temporary and should make use of this precious human birth.
He taught for one hour and forty minutes on the first night of the two day discourse, and then answered questions for another twenty minutes.
The second night of the two day discourse on The Four Hundred Verses on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas (selected chapters) by Acharya Arya Deva at Tibet House Delhi, Venerable Geshe Thabkhey la was equally crowded, but with seemingly more young Tibetans.
Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la taught on Chapter 1 - the many misperceptions we have about our impermanent bodies and inevitable death. We should not grieve and neglect ourselves when a loved one dies because this does not help the deceased. Instead we should engage in positive actions. Our positive actions will bring benefit to the deceased due to the karmic connection we have with the deceased.
Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la taught for an hour and thirty five minutes followed by a forty minute question and answer session.
On the third day, Sunday, May 24 Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la gave a one day discourse on The Harmony of Emptiness and Dependent Origination to an audience of 100+ students. The teaching ran from 10AM – 5PM and was held a ten minute walk from Tibet House, in the India International Centre’s large auditorium.
Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la taught we need two qualities – the perfection of knowledge, which leads to the power of omniscience, plus the perfection of love - in order to be able to help and not harm all sentient beings. This is the Bodhisattva path. We should seek to cultivate these two qualities.
It is possible for us to acquire these two qualities and achieve buddhahood, just as it is possible for a child to learn their ABCs and then later become a great scholar. Be wise in the way we see things, and apply concerted effort with conviction. When listening to teachings have it in your mind that your motivation is to attain enlightenment and buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.
We took a break at lunch time for a delicious catered buffet served on the veranda. It was fun to get to talk further with the Tibet House staff over lunch. The Tibet House staff is a small team – just sixteen people including Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul. It is amazing how much they accomplish and give.
At the conclusion of the teachings students were invited on stage to offer Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la khatas (white scarves) and receive his blessings. Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul introduced each student to Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la when we bent in front of his teacher to receive blessings.
|Students offering khatas to Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la.|
|Khata offering line on the last day of the three day teaching.|
It would be difficult to forget Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la’s wave and smile from the backseat of Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul’s chauffeured car as Venerable Geshe Yeshe Thabkhey la left the teaching hall. Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul then ensured I safely made it to the metro station he deemed was most convenient for me, for the fourth night in a row. I said thank you and goodbye to Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul, thinking it could be the last time I would see him this year. I have gotten so used to his presence; it felt strange to have to say goodbye.
I spent my last morning in Delhi trying to find the US Embassy so I could drop a small gift bag off for US Ambassador Rich Verma. When I finally reached the embassy, the two young Indian guards told me the embassy was closed because it was a holiday. When I inquired about the holiday, I learned it was an American holiday. Which holiday? The Indian guards had to tell me it was Memorial Day. I wished them a Happy Memorial Day and walked away, laughing at myself. (The amazing Tibet House staff later helped me wrap up and mail my package to the US Embassy.)
Later that day I happily ran into Venerable Tendar, one of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s assistants in Delhi’s Tibetan refugee community Majnu Ka Tilla. He said his family in Nepal is safe, but that their homes had sustained damage. He was on his way to Bangalore for a holiday while Lama Zopa Rinpoche is on a teaching tour in New Zealand and Australia. I had been told Majnu Ka Tilla is to Tibetans passing through Delhi what Times Square is to tourists passing through New York. Everyone goes there.
I left Delhi from the Majnu Ka Tilla bus stand for Dharamsala that evening with a new haircut I had gotten over the weekend from a recommended stylist in south Delhi. I was more upset about the cut until I met an Indian taxi driver from Rajasthan in Delhi who commented that I have an Indian haircut. So at least I have an Indian haircut.
|These ID photos were done in McLeod Ganj three days after I had my hair cut. You can never have too many ID photos.|
Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Tushita
Although I thought I heard Lama Zopa Rinpoche say he would see me in Dharamsala when I said goodbye to him outside of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya on March 17, I nearly fell over when I learned Lama Zopa Rinpoche was actually coming to Dharamsala on Sunday, March 29.
I was up at 6AM on the day of his expected arrival, and made the steep 1+ hour climb up to Tushita to greet him. I missed his 6:30AM arrival at Tushita but that was OK. He was greeted by 25 – 30 people including Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo.
I took the advice of one of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s fellow students and went up to Tushita at 6PM that night for the regularly scheduled 6:45PM Lama Chopa Jorcho Guru Puja. No one knew if Lama Zopa Rinpoche - who was only in town for three days - would join us for the Guru Puja or not, but the Tushita gompa had been made ready for him just in case.
He did join us, and stayed with us for the next three and a half hours. The room wasn’t entirely full; those of us who were there were extremely fortunate that we went to the Guru Puja. I sat next to Marzia from Milan, Italy – a new friend I had met while seeing His Holiness the Dalai Lama the previous day. She was new to Buddhism but based on the amazing way things continued to unfold for her, she must have had good karma for Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
First we all did the Guru Puja together, with Lama Zopa Rinpoche sitting on his throne, facing us. I was mostly able to follow along and keep the tune thanks to the tutelage and practice I received at the Root Institute this year under the direction of Venerable Sarah Thresher.
When he first entered the gompa, Lama Zopa Rinpoche told us he had planned to come see the newly restored gompa for the first time at 2PM. He laughed and said he had not made it. So I got to watch him look up at the brightly painted, beautiful mandalas on the gompa ceiling, and around at the wall paintings, thangkas, and statues during the Guru Puja. It was so nice to get to watch him enjoy the beautiful room for the first time, and offer khatas to the statues before we started the puja.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught that we do pujas to transform our minds to pure dharma. We become totally free, renounced from all the thousands, millions of problems, attachment to this life. We get total happiness, peace, and freedom from the hallucinated mind that creates all of the problems of this life. To even hear the voice, words, chanting, reciting the Guru Puja – we are so fortunate. You have to have so much merit to even hear the words.
We have been suffering since beginningless rebirth. We put the bars on – we make ourselves a prisoner in samsara. No one put us here. Attachment in this life causes future life sufferings. It forces us to continue the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. We should totally renounce seeking happiness in samsara. This will transform the mind – making a completely satisfied mind. Lama Zopa Rinpoche said, “Such inner happy life, that creates”.
Our inner dictator has forced us to work for the self cherishing thought since beginningless rebirths. We are used as a slave by the self cherishing thought.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught that practicing even lower tantra allows us to attain enlightenment in a single lifetime. The practice destroys the dualistic mind view and removes eons of obstacles and obscurations. When practicing tantra you utilize all of your difficulties - including sickness and death – to achieve enlightenment for numberless sentient beings.
He acknowledged it is so difficult to see the end of samsara, the end of suffering, when we can become free. By reflecting on the beginingless of samsara, there will be no way we can eat or sleep. We will think of the future, the endlessness of samsara. This will cause heart pain. He said, “It’s really like that situation.”
This time we have received a precious human rebirth, which is generally impossible to receive but it happened this time. “Incredible luck,” Lama Zopa Rinpoche said. “Billion, trillion, zillion dollar lottery you won.” Even a wish granting jewel can’t give us a human rebirth. This human body and life is more precious than a wish granting jewel because with this life, we can become free of samsara. With this human body we can generate compassion for every sentient being, totally eliminate all of our obscurations, and attain all of the realizations.
In addition to receiving a human body, we met the dharma (Buddha’s teachings) in this lifetime. We also met Tibetan Buddhism and the tantra teachings which are unique to Tibetan Buddhism. We can attain full enlightenment, freedom from suffering, and peerless happiness.
Then, we also met a fully qualified friend and teacher in His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is impossible this would have happened, so we should resolve to not experience samsara endlessly. Take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha which has the potential to save yourself and others from oceans of samsaric suffering.
This teaching took place on March 29, almost a month before the first earthquake rocked Nepal on April 25. During the dedication of the merits we accumulated by participating in the Guru Puja and listening to the teaching, Lama Zopa Rinpoche reminded us “We have the responsibility to pray not just for ourselves but for the world. What people call natural disasters, what they can’t explain. It’s not natural. It results from karma. So we are responsible for prayer. Even if it takes ten million eons for a single virtuous thought to arise in the heart of one sentient being, a Bodhisattva will never get discouraged or upset.”
We must study and practice the dharma for the benefit of sentient beings. We must work for sentient beings. We must give sentient beings a wisdom education because an intellectual understanding is not enough. Sentient beings need inner experience of the dharma. Maitreya Buddha said this must be done even if it takes one hundred million aeons. We cannot get discouraged. We need to encourage ourselves. Lama Zopa Rinpoche said if “no lights vibrating, coming out then we get depressed.”
The first two rows of the audience were occupied by monks and nuns. Most of the sangha present were nuns from nearby Thosamling Nunnery and Institute for International Buddhist Women. He advised the sangha to think of future lives, and not to get caught up with attachment to this life. Don’t squeeze the mind. Do not be lazy, but relax. Go step by step, as if you are managing a big project. Listen, reflect, and practice meditation. “Don’t think no time for tea, to go to the toilet. Relax the mind to attain enlightenment.”
We formed an aisle, with white khatas extended from outstretched arms, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche left the gompa that night. He stopped and asked a few students where they were from. When he got to me, he just stood there for three seconds smiling, looking at me as I smiled back at him. I am still unsure if he recognized me or not.
I treasured those last few minutes with him, not knowing for sure when I would see him again. But then I saw him the following day - Monday, March 30 - as he was leaving His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s house, presumably after the private meeting where this photo was taken.
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Venerable Roger, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Venerable Tendar. Taken from FPMT e-newsletter, probably taken by His Holiness the Dalai Lama's photographer Tenzin Choejor.|
By the time I saw Lama Zopa Rinpoche leaving His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s house, he, Venerable Roger, and Venerable Tendar were already too far away to hear me, and I could only see their backs. But still, I was so happy to have seen him there. My friend Aniko had seen Lama Zopa Rinpoche a few minutes earlier. She had called out to him by name. He had looked up at her as she extended her arms and white khata over the side of the wall. Amazing.
We later learned that he left Tushita for Kopan Monastery in Nepal on Tuesday, March 31. He remained in Nepal until Monday, May 4 when he left Nepal for his teaching tour in New Zealand and Australia. So it is extremely unlikely I will see him again this trip.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in North India
My second week of Tibetan language classes ended on a high note. I walked into my 9AM Basic Tibetan Language Course on Friday, March 27 just as our teacher, Ani la was asking if we should cancel class so students could go see His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TiPA). I turned around and walked right out of the door. I was at TiPA with His Holiness the Dalai Lama less than half an hour later. The perks of living down the hill from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama was the guest of honor at the opening day of the 2015 Tibetan Opera season at TiPA, officially known as the 20th Shoton Festival. Tibetan operas were performed daily beginning at 9AM from March 27 – April 5.
Oral accounts date the foundation of Tibetan Opera (Ache Lhamo) to the 14th Century. Little is known about the history of the opera prior to the time of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama (1617 – 1682 AD). Murals of opera stories painted on the Potala Palace walls in Lhasa, Tibet date 1695 – 1705 AD. By the turn of the 19th Century Ache Lhamo performances were performed throughout Tibet, performed by local amateur troupes sponsored by monasteries and noble families.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama brought Ache Lhamo to India in 1959, the year he came into exile, in order to inform and educate the Indian people about Tibetan culture and tradition. He has encouraged its growth as a way to preserve the age old customs and traditions of Tibet in exile. Many Tibetan refugee settlements now have their own troupes.
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama with 2015 Shoton Festival performers. Photo from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's website, likely taken by Tenzin Choejor.|
Four hundred thirty two artists representing twelve Tibetan refugee communities in Nepal and India performed well known Tibetan Ache Lhamo stories in this year’s Shoton Festival. The final performance, a new story, Life of Buddha, was performed by TiPA’s professional troupe. Each troupe, adorned in resplendent costumes performed a snippet of a different Ache Lhamo for His Holiness the Dalai Lama on opening day.
Another westerner in the audience pointed His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s nearby parked SUV out to me during the performance. When things started to wrap up I hustled over to the now moving SUV, and climbed up onto a raised walkway. I watched as His Holiness the Dalai Lama walked through the adoring crowd towards his SUV parked right in front of me, stopping on the way to greet the troupe still on stage.
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama on stage during 2015 Shoton Festival. Photo from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's website, probably taken by Tenzin Choejor.|
He slid into his car, waving to the restrained crowds of people – mostly Tibetans – who were all bowing low, leaning in towards his SUV. It was the closest I had ever been to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for that length of time. I was so happy to be so near his presence.
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama sliding into his SUV in front of my friend Marzia and I on Shoton Festival opening day. Photo by Marzia. She used her zoom lense - we were not quite this close.|
I spotted Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay, the elected, Harvard Law School educated leader of the Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan government in exile) standing near His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s parked SUV. He’s a super star to me. It was so fun to see him up close for the first time.
|Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Prime Minster of the Tibetan Government in Exile in Dharamsala, India. Found this photo online.|
I went back to TiPA two more times to watch parts of the all day Ache Lhamo performances. I saw the Tibetan Homes Foundation troupe from Mussoorie, India perform Khen Lob Choesum on the outdoor stage.
I also watched the Norgayling Cholsum Opera Association troupe from Bhandara, India perform Drowa Sangmo on the indoor stage due to rain. Looking around at the packed house, I could have been the only non-Tibetan in the audience that afternoon.
Drowa Sangmo uses kings, queens, fairies and demons and religious symbolism to relate early Tibetan folklore, history, and the introduction of Buddhism. The beautiful, young queen’s children undergo a series of hardships until they realize these hardships are a result of their failure to perform their religious duties in past lives. Through prayer and sincere fortitude, the prince and princess inherit kingdoms sworn to the practice of Buddhism.
In hindsight I should have skipped my Tibetan language classes to see my friend Tenzin’s younger siblings perform in one of the Ache Lhamos. Next time.
When I got home after seeing His Holiness at TiPA, my neighbor Julia told me His Holiness the Dalai Lama would be hosting a Public Audience at his temple in three days, on March 30. I could get a pass to attend the Public Audience by going to the registration office in McLeod Ganj with my passport. I registered the very next morning.
Monday, March 30 was a rainy day. I joined the line of uncertain foreigners waiting in line outside of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple 6AM, also wondering which of the two lines I should be standing in.
Once all of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s guests had been thoroughly screened by security staff, we were ushered onto the flagstone plaza between His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s house and temple. I was happy to see fellow American friends Mary and Deb, as well as a handful of friends from Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul’s Root Institute course - Kate from Russia, Dana and Tomer from Israel, Bindu from Canada, and Aniko and Julia from the US.
|Looking down a staircase from the second floor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple to the plaza where we had the public audience. His his is in the background of this photo.|
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s security staff then broke us up into groups based on our countries of origin. There were so many North Americans present that our one North America group was broken up into two or three smaller groups. It was only slightly chaotic.
I was just sort of standing there in this loose cluster of North Americans, waiting to see what would happen next when a security officer stepped up and created a space in our cluster, directly to my right. He told us to make sure we maintained that open space, and then walked away without any further explanation.
A few minutes later His Holiness the Dalai Lama stepped onto the flagstone plaza and approached the nearest country cluster. He posed with the group while a professional photographer snapped some photos. Before I knew it, he was looking in my general direction and walking towards our North America cluster.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is surprisingly tall and has a powerful presence. Energy emanated from him in every possible direction - so strong that it felt it should have been visible to my eye.
He then walked right into the space next to me that his security officer had cleared several minutes earlier and greeted my friend Mary who was standing near me for the second year in a row. His Holiness the Dalai Lama then turned to face the camera. He was standing directly to my right, with the length of his left arm strongly pressed up against the length of my right arm. It only lasted for a minute or two, but it was so powerful that I could not form a coherent thought.
As he moved to leave, I reached out and hesitatingly touched his covered arm and overcome by emotion, addressed him in a whisper that I am certain he heard.
We then got to watch as he moved around the plaza to each group, posing for a photo.
|Israeli friends Dana and Tomer from Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul's Root Institute course are in the bottom row on the left hand side. Dana, with red hair, white scarf and glasses, is next to Tomer.|
|Another North America group. My American friend Julia from Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul's Root Institute course is on the far right side of this photo holding a white khata (scarf) in her outstretched hands.|
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s security offers then directed us to sit on the flagstone plaza, facing the temple. His Holiness the Dalai Lama walked onto the temporary stage that had been set up in front of the ground level throne room and folded his hands together in prayer. He then slowly turned from one side to the other, engulfing all of us with his smile. We then received a lengthy teaching, which I later heard is unusual.
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaching during the Public Audience. My friend Aniko and I are below the tree line, just below His Holiness the Dalai Lama's hands. We are both wearing bright lime green jackets.|
Addressing his talk to an audience of non-Buddhist foreigners, His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught that all religions have the same fundamental message, and that there is real potential to promote religious harmony. He said we must realize this and then teach the younger generation. “When you depart to your native place, try to share with ten people, who will then share with ten people … so people from all parts of the world making effort can affect seven billion human beings on this planet.”
He explained Buddhism is a non-theistic religion, even though people sometimes think of Buddha as a god. There is no atman/independent soul/self. However, some of Buddha’s teachings seem to contradict this because Buddha taught different philosophies for different levels of students and different ways of thinking.
Cultural practices are different from religious practices, and should change with the times. If we really respect our mothers, then we should respect all women. Buddha was totally against the caste system that existed during his time. India’s caste system should change; religious leaders should lead that change.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama told us a story about driving through a city, and asking his driver about the nature of an event His Holiness the Dalai Lama could see taking place on the street. His driver said it was a wedding. His Holiness the Dalai Lama told us Indians should not spend one lakh on a wedding. Instead the family should buy truckloads of food and give it to street people. The family would receive more praise that way. He pointed to the audience, laughing, and asked if any Indian in the audience opposed his advice? He said if any family takes his advice then he will join.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama said he thinks when foreigners visit McLeod, we find the Tibetans to be kind, open hearted people. The Tibetan culture is one of nonviolence, peace, and compassion. He thinks it is important to preserve the Tibetan culture and environment. Their preservation requires some effort, now.
|Fifty six years have passed since His Holiness the Dalai Lama was forced into exile in Tibet, and Tibet is still occupied by China. I found this photo online.|
I got to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama again on the first and last days of a four day teaching he gave at Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College, residence of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje (the Karmapa) from Sunday, May 10 through Wednesday, May 13.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama added the Sunday teaching I attended after the rest of the schedule had been announced. That day he taught on The Three Principle Aspects of the Path, the Concise Stages of the Path and Praise to Dependent Arising by Lama Tsongkhapa.
Although I had missed the last bus from Bir to Dharamsala the previous evening, arrived 15 minutes late to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings, and had forgotten my FM radio at home, the day turned out beautifully.
|Some members of the audience greeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Gyuto on the first day. Photo from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's website, but Tenzin Choejor.|
The gompa in which His Holiness the Dalai Lama was sitting was already full of students when I arrived, but American friend Shilpa saw me arrive late, called out my name, and invited me to squeeze next to her underneath the purple awning set up on the plaza in front of the gompa. As a result I got to sit in the front section of the canopied area, at the very base of the flight of steps leading up to the gompa main entrance.
Shilpa happened to be sitting directly behind my Mexican friend Sophia. Sophia kindly shared one of her two ear buds and FM radio with me so I could listen to the English translation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings, which were airing on radio station FM 93.00. (Other stations were in use by the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, etc language translators.) When Sophia had to leave the teaching for a while so she could go to a nearby internet café to Skype into a Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy class taught by her teacher, she left her FM radio with me so I could continue to listen to the teachings.
Shilpa, Sophia and I were sitting near my next door neighbor, Geshe la and some of my fellow Tibetan language students. Looking around, I recognized many other people – both foreign and Tibetan – all smiling. From my seat I also spotted Bill Kane and Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s attendant, Venerable Tendar, both of whom I knew had been in Nepal during the earthquakes. I was so happy to see them in India, safe and sound.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught on a section of the Heart Sutra, “Form is empty. Emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form is also not other than emptiness.”
He explained emptiness isn’t nothingness, and vice versa. When you look for it, you can’t find it. Everything we see or hear doesn’t have essence. We find that when we go looking for it. Therefore, what you ascertain is emptiness.
The experience of emptiness can’t be described to others in words. He instructed us to therefore “View it through a bundle of contrivances”. He reminded us to posit things as merely designated, and encouraged us to practice, saying that it is possible for us to realize things are empty of true existence.
He also reminded us to take advantage of our precious human rebirths, telling us to practice what our lamas (teachers) are teaching, and to not forsake our lamas even at the cost of our lives. We should see our lamas as Buddhas, even if our lamas are living like us. Our lamas have helped us on the path for this life and the next life. Reflect on this, and how we would be suffering in the hell realm, but no – we were born human beings. We must take advantage of our precious human rebirths.
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his throne at Gyuto Monastery. Photo from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's website, probably by Tenzin Choejor.|
His Holiness the Dalai Lama reminded us of our impermanence and death, saying he couldn’t even take his things with him when he fled from Tibet to India, so how can we take things and loved ones with us when we die?
We create our own karma. Even the buddhas cannot do much for us. Karmic imprints are left on the most subtle mind, which has no beginning and end. His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught, though that if there is a distorted mind then there is an antidote.
I never saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama that Sunday afternoon but strongly felt his presence. Guyto Monastery and Tantric College had covered the plaza’s concrete floor with maroon meditation cushions for guests to sit on underneath the purple canopies. They had also set up a nice sound system, so we could easily hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking in Tibetan from his throne inside of the gompa. If I put my palm onto my cushion then I could feel His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s voice pulsing through my body. I sat there in the sun beaming, enjoying the feeling of being connected to His Holiness.
Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College served all devotees an extensive vegetarian buffet lunch at the conclusion of the teachings. I ate lunch while catching up with Zarina and Bill who had been in Nepal for the earthquake, Geshe Tsundu from Kopan Monastery who was on his way to the Root Institute, Shilpa, and French monk Venerable Dhamcoe who I had gotten to know during Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul’s Deer Park Institute course. It was a great day.
I did not return to Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College the following day, Monday May 11 because His Holiness the Dalai Lama was supposed to start giving the Guhyasamaja initiation at noon that day, and I was not taking the initiation. I later learned he did not start the initiation that day, but offered the Lay and Bodhisattva Vows. The Guhyasamaja initiation took place the following day, Tuesday, May 12. This meant I was free to return to the teachings on Wednesday, May 13 without running the risk of taking the initiation.
I left my apartment shortly after the sun rose on Wednesday, May 13 hoping to reach Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College early enough to get a seat inside of the gompa. One of my fellow students from Venerable Geshe Kelsang Wangmo’s course, an American named Todd pulled over to the roadside where I was waiting for the bus and generously offered me a ride.
Todd and I reached Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College very early in the morning. I easily found a seat inside of the gompa, halfway back from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s throne. I was surrounded by Chinese devotees. My neighbor on my left was a wonderful retired Chinese woman from Australia who looked after me during the several hour teaching, ensuring I had some space in which to adjust my posture as needed.
His Holiness gave us the oral transmission of Yamantaka Tantra. Once the teaching was underway I realized I was in over my head and began to worry that I was unqualified to receive the teaching. I seemed to be receiving limited English translation through my ear buds, which only served to confirm my fears. But it was like being on a roller coaster that is about to start rolling after you have decided maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to get on in the first place. Just take a deep breath and hold on.
I mitigated the damage by pulling my ear buds out and taking the teaching in Tibetan. With the exception of a few words I recognized (but could not translate from Tibetan into English – let’s be honest) I was unable to follow what His Holiness the Dalai Lama was saying. I did learn while listening to the English translation, however that if we do not do our prayers with Bodhicitta then it is like acting out a play.
It turned out to be fine that I attended His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teaching that day. However, the day was a great teaching for me. I also had an unobstructed view of His Holiness the Dalai Lama all morning, which was amazing.
The half day event concluded with another vegetarian buffet lunch served by Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College. His Holiness the Dalai Lama then walked down the steps from the gompa towards his waiting SUV, stopping to take a pre-arranged, posed group photo with all of the Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College monks on the steps below the gompa. I watched the many strands of brightly colored, small, rectangular shaped Tibetan national flags flutter through the wind and bright sunlight overhead. It was beautiful. His Holiness then slid into his waiting SUV, which was parked several people in front of me, and left the event.
I then joined Geshe Tsundu and Zarina for a visit to the nearby Norbulingka Institute. The campus, built in 1985 follows a ground plan based on the proportions of the deity of compassion and patron Bodhisattva of Tibet, thousand armed Avalokiteshvara. Norbulingka Institute’s beautiful Deden Tsuglakhang temple houses the largest gilded copper statue of Shakyamuni Buddha outside of Tibet.
Norbulingka Institute preserves literary and Tibetan artistic culture by providing Tibetans with apprenticeships in traditional Tibetan art forms including woodcarving, silk-screening, thangka painting, tailoring, woodpainting, thangka appliqué, tailoring appliqué, design, weaving, and sculpture. More than 300 people currently work at Norbulinka Institute.
I visited Norbulingka Institute on a Sunday last year, when the workshops were closed. I now realize how much I missed.
One of the highlights of my self-guided tour of the workshops was my visit to the thangka painting classroom and nearby workshop. In the classroom, I happened upon and got to meet Norbulingka Institute’s thangka painting instructor, Yonten Dorjee. He was supervising three young Tibetan male students who were each working on a small thankga painting.
Across the way, in the thangka painting workshop, I visited with and watched a handful of young Tibetan men delicately painting large thangkas. One artist was working on a large thankga of Yamantaka, which had been commissioned by a patron in Hong Kong. I learned most of Norbulingka’s thankga painting commissions come from Asian devotees. Yonten Dorjee had said it is important for the thangka painters to study Buddhism as part of their art. This artist told me he had attended His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s oral transmission of the Yamantaka Tantra earlier that morning.
|Yamantaka. Not the painting I saw being done. I found this online. I think it was originally published on the Norbulginka shop website.|
Another young Tibetan thankga painter was working on a large thankga of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, which had been commissioned by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The artist had already completed a significant amount of the work, by the time I saw the thankga. It was amazing to get to see it before it goes to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. While admiring the artist’s work I met a young Indian woman who had graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago with a degree in painting. She had just completed a one month course of study with Yonten Dorjee that very day.
I also really enjoyed my visit to the sculpture workshop where statues of Buddha and deities are handmade. I learned from one of the young Tibetan artisans that Pemba Dorje made the large Buddha statue in His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple. He was a master craftsman born in Tibet who passed away three years ago.
Amazingly, I got to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama another four times before he left town to give a June 5 teaching in Australia. I attended both of the teachings he gave at Tibetan Children’s Village – Upper Dharamsala campus (TCV - Upper) on Wednesday, April 27 and Thursday, April 28. I then attended and took the Avalokiteshvara initiation and Prayer to Manjushri oral transmission he offered at the school on Friday, April 29.
Each year for the past nine years, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been inviting Tibetan school students from the exile community to the TCV - Upper campus for Introduction to Buddhism teachings. The teachings are open to the public, and like all of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s other teachings I have attended in India are free to attend.
The Introduction to Buddhism teachings were held during a school holiday when many Tibetan youngsters are already in Dharamsala to visit family. His Holiness observed this year’s teaching drew the largest crowd yet.
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama at TCV - Upper. Photo from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's website, probably by Tenzin Choejor.|
The audience was mostly composed of younger Tibetan students adorned in school uniforms. 1,000 students represented TCV schools, 382 students represented other parts of India, 262 students represented the older adults studying Buddhism in Dharamsala, and another group of students represented 11 international universities.
I noticed sectioned off areas for teacher groups and for foreigners. Monks and nuns were interspersed throughout the audience, and had taken over the grassy hill at the back of the audience. There were relatively few – maybe 100 – foreigners in attendance for the first two days of the teachings. We were given a good spot. While the students and teachers sat on the concrete floor, we were assigned to two rows of concrete benches that had been covered in hunter green meditation cushions that matched the TCV uniforms. Although I arrived at TCV – Upper an hour before His Holiness the Dalai Lama began teaching at 8:30AM, I was still amazed to get not only a comfortable spot, but a spot from which I could clearly see His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Each of the three mornings started off with students demonstrating their dialectical debate skills in front of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Dialectical debate - the use of logic - is an important part of the Tibetan Buddhism philosophy study curriculum. Buddha taught that we should not believe something just because he said it, but that we should test his teachings to see if they resonate with our own experiences. Dialectical debate helps students deepen their understanding of what is taught in class. The use of logic sharpens the students’ wisdom and intellects.
His Holiness would then teach Introduction to Buddhism to the students from approximately 9M – 11:30PM.
He used the first day, Wednesday, May 27 to encourage the students to practice and study Tibetan Buddhism. Although Buddhism is spreading around the world, Tibetans are the ones who have a really good understanding of Buddhism. However, Tibetans can’t just put Buddhism away in a museum. It must be studied and debated.
Scientists admire Tibetan Buddhism. The previous day, an American university professor had asked His Holiness the Dalai Lama if he thought debate could be used to teach science. His Holiness the Dalai Lama proposed the idea of gathering top debaters together with western specialists, and in two years time could have a curriculum to teach different topics through deductive reasoning and dialectical debate.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama instructed students to use reasoning instead of resorting to scripture. Don’t confine yourself to what is there, but refer to texts by other writers to expand your knowledge. Once you understand emptiness, for example through reasoning only then in some cases can you refer to scriptural authority to deepen your knowledge. We taught Tibetan Buddhists are followers of the Nalanda University tradition, which is based on reason. (I visited Nalanda this year.)
He has been in exile for 56 years now. He told the audience he may live another 10 – 15 – or 20 more years, and then he’ll be 100 years old. So it falls upon the young Tibetans’ shoulders to preserve the Tibetan culture and religion. Those living in exile in India live in a free country. They should use this freedom to analyze the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and preserve the Tibetan culture and traditions.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama reminded the audience that at age sixteen he lost his personal freedom. At age 25 he lost his country. So he has lived his life under these circumstances. We can’t just pray and do malas as we often do. We must apply the teachings to ourselves, instead of to show off to others. We must have some inner experience, some transformation.
|Tibetan students in the TCV - Upper audience, reading from texts printed in Tibetan that were distributed at the event. Photo from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's website, probably by Tenzin Choejor.|
He said “since the conditions were all ripe, we could not do much.” If Tibetans look back in history, they can see that they have created the conditions for their loss. Tibet became politically splintered even as it remained culturally united and spread through the Himalaya region and into parts of Russia. He said Tibetans have been held together as Tibetans by the teachings of the Buddha, united because Tibetans take refuge in the Triple Gem.
The Bodhisattva ideal, as some people in the west sometimes think, isn’t about forsaking yourself to help others. He told the audience that we must know how to help ourselves. Bodhisattvas must become enlightened beings. Therefore Bodhisattvas aren’t only always complaining about all of the suffering in the world, but instead make pledges to help sentient beings everywhere.
If we make prayers for all sentient beings to become free of suffering then we must set that intention as part of our practice. We can’t do anything about natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Nepal but we can do something about the human condition, such as fighting in Iraq and Syria. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said we should take some responsibility, as humans to address man made problems. Even if we can’t do something immediately, we can give thought to it by cultivating it in our hearts. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said “we must think what I can do to solve the problems around the world.” It is not enough to have compassion and say prayers. If we don’t do anything then it’s just empty words and we shouldn’t make these prayers.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama explained there are three aspects to each religion – religion, philosophy, and culture. All religions have a message of compassion. Religions differ in their philosophies which is good because the seven billion human beings on this planet need a variety of religions. The philosophical differences between religions are needed for the mental capacities of different people. He taught cultural practices associated with religions can change. For example the Arab region had many criminals, so in the Koran Muhammad laid down the sharia law. This was a cultural practice that should not be confused with a religious or philosophical perspective.
It’s not practical to convert all seven billion human beings into Buddhists. Even Buddha could not do this. It is not OK to propagate your religion and covert people in places where people have their own religions because this creates conflict. Instead befriend people from other religions and learn from them.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama explained he will hold the responsibility of preserving Tibet’s natural environment until he dies. Although Tibetan nomads’ livelihoods depended on animals, they knew killing an animal was a sin. The nomads would gather their family together, light a butter lamp, and say the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said this cultural tradition of compassion is one that the Tibetan people must preserve.
The Tibetan Buddhist’s non violence extends even to bugs. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said Tibetans have had this habit for 1,000+ years and that it is something worth preserving. HE told the story of a former Tibetan government employee who was resettled in the US and given a job washing vegetables in a college cafeteria. His coworkers asked him why he was gathering the bugs from the vegetables and then setting the bugs free outside. The man explained as a Buddhist, he did not kill anything. That one Tibetan affected other people, because his coworkers began to save and release bugs, too.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama reminded the audience that it is good to gain knowledge, even if you are going to die tomorrow. Keep studying. He said Tibetans shouldn’t just say this is our culture, but that they should integrate their studies within themselves. Studying Buddhism is helpful for attaining your goal of acquiring more knowledge, even if you aren’t Buddhist. A scientist His Holiness the Dalai Lama met at a Mind Body Life Conference two years ago expressed he is not a Buddhist but believes in rebirth. In his next life this scientist wants to be reborn as a friend of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and wants to help spread the values His Holiness espouses.
He listed his responsibilities as a Tibetan, which include protecting the Tibet and Himalayan region environment, preserving the compassionate nonviolent culture whether Buddhist or not, and preserving Tibet’s profound and vast culture. He said “I have reached the point, as a setting sun. You have to take the responsibility so when I die I will have the comfort of knowing so many people are carrying on our Tibetan cultural and Buddhist tradition. If not I will be concerned.”
His last words were a reminder to the students to study: “Even though I’m eighty I study the Nalanda masters.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama began the second day of teachings with a Question and Answer session with the students. One by one, a handful of brave students advanced to the mic stand set up in front of the stage to ask His Holiness the Dalai Lama their prepared questions.
He answered a young woman’s question about whether or not it is true that those who self immolate reincarnate as ghosts by saying it depends on the self immolator’s motivation.
Another student asked about relying on dharma protectors. He responded with a reference to Chandrakirti, who said to take refuge in Buddha, dharma, and sangha. Buddha is the teacher but the real refuge is the teachings. There is no fourth refuge, such as dharma protectors. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said today there are misunderstandings about the wrathful and peaceful meditation deities. In tantra practice the anger and other negative emotions are taken into the path. We can take refuge in deities who have reached the path of seeing and beyond – they are objects of refuge. Otherwise, the beings are in samsara and we cannot take refuge in samsaric beings.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught Buddha isn’t a holy god. Buddha said we are our own masters. Buddhism is related to one person; it’s your own business. Buddhist culture is for all. Peace and non violence are rooted in compassion. He taught that compassion is seeped into Tibetan people’s blood; they are the people of Chenrezig. It is important that as Tibetans they pay attention to this value of compassion.
Another question asked why people who kill animals live in happiness while others who help sentient beings do not live in happiness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama told the student she cannot look at a single grain of rice. Generally compassionate people are the happy people. He told the story about how he had recommended monks in south India close their egg farm after they could not tell him what happened to the egg laying chickens. We shouldn’t make our livelihood out of harming others. He brought up the farm animals that wander the sides of the crowded roads in Lower Dharamsala, saying we need to do something to help them but do not have the space to house and care for them.
A high school student asked His Holiness how to gain better concentration to benefit his studies without meditating. The student said he does not have time to meditate. His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught about direct perception and the conceptual mind. He said westerners can’t distinguish between these two, so they just pay attention to their sense perceptions. They don’t realize there is another mind that they can use. He told the student if the student pays attention then he can see these two minds. That will help the student stay totally focused, without mental laxity and mental excitation.
The Question and Answer Session was followed by a short speech given by the Central Tibetan Administration’s Minister of the Department of Education (DOE). He gave ideas to improve the Tibetan schools in India.
Firstly, the DOE must work harder to educate classes one through five and to raise the education of the teachers. DOE will emphasize the teaching of Tibetan after class five.
There are few libraries and books for the Tibetan students. This is because students and parents do not have an interest in reading storybooks. To remedy that DOE is publishing a series of 200 storybooks, hopefully by July. These books will be distributed to the schools, and then to the children instead of being locked up in libraries. Parents will be encouraged to read with their children at home.
He also said Tibetans lack the motivation to learn their own language. While problems come from “the other side” where there are restrictions on teaching Tibetan Buddhism, culture, etc this problem comes from the Tibetan people’s own side. He stated Tibetan parents take little initiative to support the education of their children. DOE will hold seminars to educate parents on the value of education.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama then continued his teaching on Introduction to Buddhism to an audience roughly the size and makeup of the previous day’s teaching. It was another beautiful, peaceful, second day. I relished this time I got to spend with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the students.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught the purpose of life is happiness. If we have happy lives, then we will have good mental health, and turn healthy bodies, happy families, and happy communities. Having a happy life is very important. If we don’t lose hope then we can overcome any problem. Losing hope shortens your life. Therefore life itself is dependent upon hope.
One level of happiness is sensory pleasure, but when we talk about happiness we mean mental happiness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama told the audience to focus on the mind, and not on the sensory faculties. But when people think of happiness, they think of art, music, and romantic relationships. When things go wrong with these, then people feel pain. That’s how we define happiness.
We need to work on maintaining calm, relaxed minds. A mind like this can overcome physical pain. Without this calm mind, we won’t have happiness. People resort to drugs and alcohol for happiness, to try to overcome suffering. When Tibetans moved to Switzerland, they thought it may be the land of bliss. After a few years they found that idea untrue, and some returned to India. Some others go to the west for money, but His Holiness the Dalai Lama said India is the place for Tibetans.
We need to overcome our mental problems for happiness. Greed leads to lying and deception. We must make the distinction between mental experience and sensory happiness. He taught remaining fearful weakens the immune system whereas staying relaxed strengthens the immune system.
He said “The more you have, the more you want. So there’s no end to greed.” The modern education is focused material development alone. It’s not adequate – something is lacking – compassion, love, patience, tolerance. These are necessary for happy individuals, families, and communities. Mind training benefits and develops compassion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said meditation has been introduced into some schools. British Columbia now requires education of warm heartedness in the schools. He had been invited and went to Montreal to meet with educators. Their conclusion was that it is important to introduce secular values into the schools.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught a materialistic culture leads to a materialistic mind. A materialistic culture can solve external problems, but not internal ones.
The approach to introducing these values into schools must be secular or otherwise students from other religions won’t accept the teachings. Therefore he said we need an education program that covers all seven billion of the world’s people. Each of us has the responsibility to benefit all – not because of Buddha or God’s love, but because we survived due to the love and kindness we received from our parents in childhood. He taught those raised with great compassion become more compassionate beings.
He said scientists have found love and affection is so beneficial in our lives. Sick rats left alone didn’t recover from an illness as well as the sick rats who received love from other rats. We all need friends. Friendship is based on love and compassion.
We need a secular approach to introducing the values of love and compassion into education because of the seven billion people on this planet, one billion are atheists and others misuse religion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama believes we can have a peaceful century with this education.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is working with scientists and psychologists on this secular education project. A psychologist has designed a computer program to show the causes, faults, and benefits of emotions like jealousy. His Holiness the Dalai Lama met with him in October 2014. We must learn to separate our sensual and conceptual minds. We need a mental map of emotion, just as we need a map to reach the nearby Indian city of Kangra from Dharamsala. We must learn to see the connection between anger in our minds so we can deal with it, and its causes, and abandon the idea that anger comes from the outside. Then with a mental map, we can see what needs to be done.
He said Tibetans do not need to propagate Buddhism, saying it’s the best religion. We have the opportunity to take what’s good from Buddhism and share it not just with Asia but with the whole world. We have a culture from the Nalanda University masters that can serve all of humanity. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said “If Buddha were to come here today, he’s certainly talk about secular ethics.” He added “Buddhism has the richest philosophical ideals.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama pointed out that in saying this, he is not saying that Buddhism is the best religion.
If we could spread love and compassion amongst human beings then the killing of animals would be reduced. We can reduce the number of beef and poultry farms by introducing secular ethics to schools. Solving the problems of human minds will result in the solving of the outer problems of humanity. We have an opportunity to contribute to the world, particularly via the Nalanda University tradition.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama then returned to the topic of the Heart Sutra, which he had been talking about at Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College on Sunday, May 10. He said as we recite from the Heart Sutra, even the five aggregates are empty of inherent nature. Because form is empty, it is dependent on other factors. Therefore emptiness is form. Emptiness is not nihilism. Form and its emptiness are of the same nature. “Form is empty” from the Heart Sutra is the ultimate nature of form. “Emptiness is form” from the Heart Sutra is the conventional nature of form. Form doesn’t exist apart from being dependent. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said the Heart Sutra doesn’t reject everything.
All of the Buddhas have reached enlightenment via the Path of Accumulation. They attained this path after realizing compassion (Bodhicitta) and emptiness, through which they became Bodhisattvas. We can cease the karma and delusions that result from inappropriate thinking via emptiness.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama told us he first met US psychologist Aaron Beck when Aaron was 84 years old. He and His Holiness the Dalai Lama met again last year when Aaron was about 97 years old. Aaron has a lot of experience treating people with psychiatric problems. Aaron said when you are angry at someone, that person looks bad but that view is just coming from your inappropriate thinking.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama said this happens because we look at things as objectively existing. When we can realize this, we will stop grasping and seeing people wrong. Then we will experience less negative emotions such as anger. He taught Bodhicitta and the view of emptiness overcome our self centeredness and our tendency to grasp at things. These two – Bodhicitta and the view of emptiness – are very precious. We should contemplate and reflect on them, and use the Heart Sutra to meditate on them. If we do this then in 10 – 20 years we will start to see some change happening in our minds.
He then reminded us that the Path of Seeing occurs when we realize emptiness directly. The Heart Sutra mantra – Tadyatha Om Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha – takes us through the stages to Buddhahood. We can attain Buddhahood after we have gotten rid of our cognitive obscurations. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said in Buddhist studies we use logic, but we do rely on scriptural authority at times.
We should share this. People need to receive teaching on things they don’t already know. His Holiness the Dalai Lama concluded his Introduction to Buddhism two day teaching by stating “People need to understand what they don’t know.”
The next morning, Friday, May 29 I was climbing Temple Road through McLeod Ganj on my way to TCV – Upper when I heard a fire department style siren go off. The Tibetan man behind me said His Holiness the Dalai Lama was coming.
It was about 6:40AM, the shops were mostly closed, and there were few people on the road. The few Tibetan monks, nuns, lay people, and two young Indian men who happened to be nearby joined the Tibetan man and I on the roadside. We formed a line on the side of the road, folded our hands in prayer, and stared expectantly down Temple Road in the direction of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s house and temple. Then we waited.
About five minutes later His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s SUV came driving up Temple Road, preceded by one security vehicle. He was sitting on our side of the SUV in the front passenger seat. When we saw him coming, we all bowed at the waist, hands folded in prayer. I exchanged big smiles with His Holiness the Dalai Lama through his car window. He was also waving at us.
It was just as surreal as the time Dee and I saw His Holiness on a mostly deserted road in Mundgod Tibetan Settlement on Christmas morning 2014. After he had gone I continued walking along the paved road to TCV – Upper, following the tracks of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s SUV, just as Dee and I had done on that dusty road in Mundgod. I had a beaming smile on my face and was making quiet exclamations of disbelief at my good fortune.
I reached TCV – Upper’s campus about forty minutes later - at the same time as I had arrived the previous two days - but the outdoor seating area was already bursting at the seams. The TCV – Upper campus was full of Tibetan students in uniform, Tibetan families, monks and nuns, and more foreigners who had come to receive the Chenrezig Initiation and oral transmission of the prayer Praise to Manjushri from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
I squeezed into a small spot on the concrete floor next to a young TCV student and behind a Tibetan family, on the edge of an unmarked aisle. I was happy – even if it was not the most comfortable spot, I could see His Holiness the Dalai Lama from where I was sitting.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught Chenrezig (also known as Avalokiteshvara) is the embodiment of the compassion of all of the buddhas. Manjushri is the embodiment of the wisdom of all of the buddhas. He dispels the darkness of the mind. He told us he was giving us both the Chenrezig initiation and the Manjushri oral transmission at TCV – Upper because we need wisdom and compassion.
He gave us a teaching before beginning the initiation. He said when Buddha taught the Heart Sutra, the audience included people with pure karma, gods, and goddesses who could see Avalokiteshvara. The people in the audience who did not have pure karma could not see Avalokiteshvara; for them it looked like Shariputra was having a conversation with himself.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught the meaning of Tibetan Buddhism so that we can answer if people ask us “What is Tibetan Buddhism?” He said it is philosophical view plus ethical conduct. If we harm others then because of dependent origination, there will be negative consequences. If we practice good behavior and practice nonviolence then we will reap the benefits of happiness. He said Buddhism is based on the philosophical view or idea of dependent origination. If we are asked to name Buddhist scholars then we should name Chandrakirti amongst others.
The Nalanda University tradition is founded on dependent origination and nonviolence rooted in compassion, and holding the lives of others dear to you. Buddha proved omniscience to us because of his great compassion for us. Chandrakirti said this compassion is important in the beginning, middle, and end of the path to enlightenment.
The initiation and oral transmission of the prayer Praise to Manjushri concluded around 12 noon. His Holiness the Dalai Lama then taught for another forty five minutes.
He said the most important thing is to have confidence, which is different from arrogance. Arrogance is thinking you know things you don’t know. He said we Tibetans have many problems but we haven’t lost our spirit. He hopes we can meet again. We grow older by the day.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama said of course buddhahood is far away, but when you generate Bodhicitta you do a lot to serve others. He told the Tibetans don’t become demoralized. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also said modern teaching isn’t good to develop the mind. Buddhism gives us inner peace through the study of logic and reasoning. He assured the Tibetans that they can do this. He said to have courage to persevere in your studies, and have the determination to do so. He reminded us Avalokiteshvara has taken Tibet as his land, to serve sentient beings.
We closed the three day event with a Long Life Offering to His Holiness the Dalai Lama performed by the students. It was beautiful. At the conclusion we prayed may His Holiness the Dalai Lama take care of us in all of our lives, in our future lifetimes. May there be peace. When those lines were recited His Holiness the Dalai Lama raised his hands to his chest, folded his hands together in prayer, and looked out over his sea of students.
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Long Life Offering. I am in the audience somewhere. Photo from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's website, probably by Tenzin Choejor.|
|Walking home through the woods between TCV - Upper and McLeod Ganj.|
The TCV – Upper initiation marked the seventh day I had spent with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala since arriving here on the morning of March 19 for my Tibetan language classes. I do not know what to say other than that I am so blessed to have gotten to spend this time with him.
I like the way the Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament, Central Tibetan Administration recently spoke about His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the occasion of 54th Democracy Day:
“Today marks the completion of 54 years since the establishment of democracy in the Tibetan community in exile. On this momentous occasion, I, on behalf of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile as well as the entire people of Tibet in and outside their homeland, and with unwavering devotion and hope demonstrated in great bodily, speech and mind reverence through countless prostrations to the deities, offer my greetings, keeping in the very centre of my heart the insuperable cause for gratitude borne of compassion we have been blessed to receive from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the Chenrezig in human bodily form, the divinely entrusted protector deity of Tibet, the spiritual lord of the Three Realms, a champion of world peace, the master across the world of the entire corpus of the teachings of the Buddha, the refuge and great leader of all Tibetans, the guide to them on the dos and don’ts in the ways of the world, the symbolic representation and the emblem of the unity of the Tibetan people, and the free spokesperson of the entire people of Tibet.”
If you would like to study with His Holiness the Dalai Lama then teachings are streamed live. More media is on his official website.
I learned more about how this works from Tibetan monk Tenzin Choling, who has been running the Audio Visual Department (AV Dept) at the LTWA since 1992. I happened to sit across an LTWA canteen lunch table from Tenzin one day. He kindly treated me to lunch and then seeing I was interested in his work, invited me to visit the AV Dept.
The AV Dept began in 1977, and has been maintaining a comprehensive audio and video collection of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings since then. They even have teachings from the 1960’s that came to them from outside sources. The LTWA maintains a small computer lab so that visitors can listen to or watch the archived teachings.
The AV Dept no longer travels with and films His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings. A relatively small team in His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s personal office is now responsible for communications including management of the online accounts.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teaching schedule can be found on his website. He left Dharamsala for Australia earlier this week, on Saka Dawa Day – June 2.
Saka Dawa: Celebrating Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment, and Passing Away
I celebrated Saka Dawa Day – Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment, and Passing Away at Thekchen Choeling, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple.
When I reached the wooded korwa path that encircles His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s house and temple, I found the normally barren path was lined by hundreds of incredibly poor Indian families and disabled persons, begging for coins.
|Entrance to the korwa path that goes around His Holiness the Dalai Lama's house and temple on Saka Dawa Day.|
I had seen these large, young families in the nearby woods the previous two days, tending to small children with matted hair, and collecting firewood to cook over open flames. I had questioned and learned from a group of three Tibetan teenage boys I had met in the woods the previous day that the Indians came for Saka Dawa and that their presence had something to do with the Tibetans.
I did not understand what the Tibetan teens had meant until I reached the korwa path on Saka Dawa. I then saw the Tibetans were slowly making their way along the korwa path not doing their normal practices with strands of mala beads in hand, but dropping small coins into the apathetic extended hands and begging bowls of the Indians.
The quiet poverty and the deformities on display - including several leprosy patients propped up on unlikely wheelchairs - was emotionally overwhelming. Yet the respectful way the Tibetans treated the Indians and vice versa was beautiful.
The Tibetans were also handing cash to representatives of Tibetan charities who had set up booths outside of the temple. I met a young monk from the Mustang region of Nepal, who is a student at Sakya College in Dehradun, India. He and a few fellow student representatives of the school’s 13th Student’s Welfare Committee were collecting donations to pay the medical bills of fellow students newly arrived from Tibet and Nepal.
I also passed booths set up by the Tibetan Youth Congress and a local Tibetan NGO that works on substance abuse issues. Representatives of the NGOs were standing in front of the booths to collect donations from fellow Tibetans. It was an amazing cultural experience.
On my way into the temple I passed by the Namgyal Book Shop. It was closed for the holiday, but each time I visit the temple I look through the glass doorway and smile. Two copies of the thick paperback book Dharma Rain, written by Lehigh professor Ken Kraft sits on one of the top bookshelves. I still have my copy from the class on Religion and Environment that I took with him at Lehigh. So a little bit of Lehigh is waiting for me at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple, each time I visit it.
|Entrance to His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple, with the Namgyal Book Shop on the left hand side of the path.|
|Entrance to Namgyal Book Shop. Professor Kraft's book is on a shelf against that far back wall.|
When I walked inside of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple on Saka Dawa Day I found it abuzz with activity.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple opened to the public in 1969. It was built to house a white-silver, thirteen foot high statue of Avalokiteshvara. The statue was created using elements of the original 7th Century statue that had resided in the central temple in Lhasa, Tibet until that statue was destroyed by the Chinese government in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution.
A disfigured portion of the original statue’s head – two wrathful and one peaceful facial image – were smuggled out of Tibet at great risk and were then incorporated into an Avalokiteshvara statue that was built in exile in 1970. The statue faces eastward towards Tibet, where the Tibetans hope to return it to after Tibet has regained its independence from the Chinese government.
Many Tibetan families were at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple with their young children in tow, walking the korwa path that wraps around two rooms containing precious statues, including the 1970 statue of Avalokiteshvara.
Indian tourists were posing for photos and videos in front of the rows of large prayer wheels that line the korwa path. It looked like all of the prostration boards were in use by devotees doing their practices.
The room that houses the nine foot high gilded bronze Buddha statue, the Avalokiteshvara statue, and the Padma Sambhava statue has large doors on three of the room’s four sides. The two side doors are normally closed. The doors had been thrown open for Saka Dawa, and twin mattresses had been laid out on the floor both inside and outside of the room. Many Tibetans, both lay and monastics were making use of the mattresses to do their practices.
|Doing prayers at His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple on Saka Dawa Day.|
|Saka Dawa Day inside of the temple with the large Buddha statue.|
The Kalachakra room was occupied by a group of monks formally reciting prayers in unison.
While doing a korwa I caught sight of Gen Gyatso. I called out his name and got to speak with him for a few minutes. I had been hoping to see and thank him for the teachings before I left India.
After completing three korwas I went into the room housing the statues of Buddha, Avalokiteshvara, Guru RInpoche, and 225 volumes of the Tengyur to offer a butter lamp for the benefit of my family members.
|Buddha inside of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple.|
|Statue of Padma Sambhava inside of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple.|
I made an extra prayer for my mom’s greyhound, Violetta who passed away last month.
I then found a spot on the floor facing Buddha, and performed the practice Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul gave us during the teaching he gave at the Root Institute earlier this year. I added a reading of the King of Prayers for Violetta and a prayer for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s long life.
|Reading the King of Prayers from the book given to me by Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul for Violetta on Saka Dawa Day inside of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple, facing Buddha|
By the time I finished the practice it was just about dinner time, and the temple was significantly less crowded than it had been when I arrived in the early afternoon. It had been an eventful day.
The following day, June 3 I finally dropped in at the Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) Department of Education (DOE) office building, located within the CTA complex and just a short walk from the LTWA. I wanted to find out if the CTA – the Tibetan government in exile – helps Tibetan students apply to overseas colleges and universities.
|Central Tibetan Administration campus.|
|Central Tibetan Administration - Department of Education building.|
I was introduced to Dolkar Wangmo who works in the CTA DOE Counseling division. She invited me to have a seat in front of her desk, and we commenced an interesting, 1+ hour long conversation about the Tibetan in exile education system in India and Nepal, CTA’s new education policy, and Buddhism.
We discussed the challenges the CTA faces in helping Tibetan students select, apply to, acquire visas for, and enroll in overseas universities. Unique challenges include the ineligibility of Tibetan refugees in India for scholarships offered by their host country’s government because the Tibetan students are not Indian.
I gladly offered to volunteer to help Tibetan applicants craft their personal statements and resumes. I look forward to staying connected to the CTA even after I have left India.
Postscript: I finished writing this blog post on Thursday, June 4 but unfortunately was unable to get it published until today, after this part of my post had already happened:
Postscript: I finished writing this blog post on Thursday, June 4 but unfortunately was unable to get it published until today, after this part of my post had already happened:
My overnight bus leaves from McLeod Ganj on Sunday night, and then I fly out of Delhi, bound for the US on Monday night, June 8. Wish me safe travels. I have more to write when I get back to the US.