Friday, January 27, 2017

India Adventure III: More teachings from Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and Geshe Dorji Damdul

After returning to McLeod Ganj from Bir on March 28, 2016 Charlotte, Maria and I took the only two available rooms at our preferred budget hotel. We were lucky to get the rooms.

Charlotte and I - who were roommates in the dormitory during Geshe Dorji Damdul's Bodhicitta Retreat at Tushita, and again at Surya Guest House in Bir - continued the pattern and shared a room at the hotel. She was only in McLeod Ganj for a few nights; I kept the room until I returned to Bir for Geshe Dorji Damdul's retreat on Buddhist Psychology, April 5 - 13, 2016.
Our hotel room.
Our attached bathroom with an Indian squat toilet.
We had a regular shower head that has hot water for several
hours each morning, supplied by an electric water heating  system.
Several other fellow students from Geshe Dorji Damdul's Bodhicitta Retreat at Tushita and I were fortunate to still be in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, and able to attend Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo's two day non-residential teaching at Tushita.

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo: Atisha's Root Verses on Training the Mind

Flyer hanging up around McLeod Ganj advertising the teaching.
She taught on Atisha's Root Verses on Training the Mind on March 30 and 31, 2016. The teachings went from 9AM - 12PM, and then again from 3PM - 5PM. They were offered for free, sponsored by Tushita. (Deer Park Institute had also offered her teachings for free.)

Atisha Dipamkara (982 - 1054 AD) is renowned for bringing the Buddha's teachings from India to Tibet. Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught that Atisha Dipamkara was born a prince in Bengal, India and then ordained as a monk at age 29. Lama Zopa Rinpoche went on to say:

After some time, when he was going around the Bodhgaya stupa—the temple in India, the most holy place where Guru Shakyamuni Buddha received enlightenment— above the stupa, in space, he saw the transformation of a young woman asking an old woman a question. At that time Atisha was concerned with quickly receiving enlightenment, and in space the young woman was asking the old woman, “What path should we practice in order to quickly receive enlightenment?” The old woman said, “Train the mind in love and compassion, in bodhicitta."

Again, when Atisha was going around the stupa, there were paintings on the walls that talked to each other. One painting asked the other what path we should follow to reach enlightenment quickly, and the other answered, “Train the mind in love and compassion, and bodhicitta.”

Again, when Atisha was going around near Nagarjuna’s caves, he saw the statues of Buddha communicating, saying, “Train the mind in love and the compassionate thought, bodhicitta.” There was one ivory statue, and it said, “Yogi, if you want to quickly receive enlightenment, train the mind in love and compassion, and the thought of bodhicitta.” Many statues spoke like this.

Atisha went to see Guru Serlingpa, and he spent about twelve years taking the complete teachings on bodhicitta. In the presence of Guru Serlingpa, he received the actual realization of bodhicitta. Then Lama Serlingpa predicted that he should go to Tibet, the northern snow land.

Atisha Dipamkara. Illustration from
Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.
During her teachings at Tushita, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo explained the meaning of the following verses written by Atisha Dipamkara:

Atisha's Lojong Root Verses on Training the Mind

The Supreme understanding is to realize the meaning of selflessness

The Supreme spiritual discipline is to tame ones own mind

The Supreme great quality is altruism

The Supreme oral instruction is to observe the mind at all times

The Supreme remedy is to know that nothing has self nature

The Supreme conduct is to be in disharmony with the world

The Supreme accomplishment is a continuous decrease of disturbing emotions

The Supreme sign of accomplishment is a continuous decrease of wishes and wants

The Supreme generosity is non attachment

The Supreme ethical conduct is to pacify one’s mind

The Supreme patience is to take the lowest place

The Supreme effort is letting go of activity

The Supreme concentration is not altering the mind.

The Supreme wisdom is to not grasp onto anything as the self

The Supreme spiritual teacher is the one who exposes our hidden flaws and

The Supreme instruction is the one that help us to strike at those flaws

The Supreme companions are mindfulness and alertness

The Supreme inspiration is enemies, hindrances, disease and suffering

The Supreme method is to be natural

The Supreme way of benefiting is to help others enter the Dharma

The Supreme benefit is a mind that turns toward the Dharma

That same text can be found here - it is the text provided to students by Tushita, and is the same one Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo used with us in class.

She is an extremely popular teacher, and Tushita is a popular attraction for curious backpackers in McLeod Ganj ... some of whom then become students of Buddhism. Given that combination, it was important to get to Tushita early on March 30 and 31 to secure a cushion on the floor inside of the temple from which to listen to the teachings.
Nuns ready for the teachings, yet to begin.
From my seat, I  had a good view not only of Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
but also of the Tara statues encased in the front of the temple.
It was so nice to get to see and hear her again.

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo at Tushita, March 2016. Photo by Tushita.
A strong advocate for nuns, she explained to us that nuns should not be addressed as "Ani" which means "aunt" because that is degrading. Instead, they should be addressed as "Tsunma."

Little flyer I was later given when visiting DGL.
Tsunma is a term that originates in the Buddhist texts, and its use is being promoted not only by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo but also by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa who is also a strong advocate for nuns.

Therefore, for example instead of addressing Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo's assistant who is a nun as "Ani Aileen" as is commonly done, she should be addressed as "Tsunma Aileen."

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo teaching at Tushita, March 2016. Photo by Tushita.
During the Question and Answer session on the last day of the teaching, a student asked Tenzin Palmo about how nuns find ways to support themselves in modern times. As part of her answer Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo had this to say:

"Even at the time of the Buddha nuns struggled because most of their donors are women and if you only have a certain amount of money and you have to decide whether to give it to monks or nuns almost invariably they would give it to monks. And also it is considered in Asia more meritorious. So therefore nuns have often as one great lama said to me, "As we all know nuns are the bottom of the basket." So nuns struggle but they're surviving ..."

She said His Holiness the Karmapa and other monks are beginning to take the nuns much more seriously, encouraging them, and the self-worth of the nuns is growing.

She mentioned later in 2016 21 nuns would become Geshe ma, with certificates personally handed out by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This is the first time in Tibetan history (apart from Geshe Kelsang Wangmo) that women have ever become Geshe. "Already they are really going forward." Two of those women are teaching at Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery (DGL), Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo's nunnery.

In the future certainly some of the DGL nuns will become teachers - something else she said has never happened before.

The newly qualified nuns are - and will be - going all over to teach, including Bhutan.

"This is why they have to be Tsunmas and not just Anis. They have to acknowledge how hard they've been trying to raise themselves up. And it's to benefit everyone, not just nuns but women in general. I mean really, we have so much potential."

You can listen to her remarks on this and the rest of the March 30 and 31, 22016 teachings here.

Hike to Bhagsu Falls

Charlotte introduced me to her friend Venerable Konchok Palsang, who was studying English at one of the NGOs in McLeod Ganj. He took us on a hike to Bhagsu Falls, accessible by hiking through the nearby village of Bhagsu. We went on a beautiful morning hike through the Dhauladhar mountain range, which is part of the Himalayas.

Dhauladhar Mountain Range.
The mountains here are mostly composed of granite. The area where we hiked has slate formations, often used locally for roofing.

Dhauladhar Mountain Range.

Dhauladhar Mountain Range. Tea stall along the hiking path.

Dhauladhar Mountain Range. Looking back towards Bhagsu Village.

Me, Venerable Konchok Palsang, Charlotte at the waterfall.
After viewing the waterfall we stopped to have a snack at the cafe/concession stand just next to the waterfall.
Shop next to the waterfall.

Base of the waterfall.

We then turned around and walked back to McLeod Ganj, passing through Bhagsu Village on our way.

View of the waterfall as we were on our way out.

Dhauladhar Mountains.

Dhauladhar Mountains.

Dhauladhar Mountains.

Dhauladhar Mountains.

Dhauladhar Mountains.

Dhauladhar Mountains.

Bhagsu Village.

Bhagsu Village.

Bhagsu Village. You can find anything in India.

Bhagsu Village. There so are many paths.

Bhagsu Village.

Bhagsu Village. Venerable Konchok Palsang and Charlotte.

Hiking back from Bhagsu Village to McLeod Ganj.

Hiking back from Bhagsu Village to McLeod Ganj.

Hiking back from Bhagsu Village to McLeod Ganj. This donkey carries gravel
in those yellow bags along the roads and paths, for use in
construction projects.

Hiking back from Bhagsu Village to McLeod Ganj. Street dog.
Shop on Bhagsu Road in McLeod Ganj.

Bhagsu Road in McLeod Ganj.
Now back in McLeod Ganj, I also returned to the Buddhist Philosophy class taught by Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche. He teaches almost year round, Monday through Friday from 2 - 4PM in a room across the street from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple, above the One Two Cafe. I have been going to class when I can since my first trip to McLeod Ganj in 2014. I made it to class on March 29, and again on April 1.

Documentary films about Tibet are occasionally screened for free in McLeod Ganj. On March 29, I went to go see Longing for Tibet: A Life in Exile. Most noteworthy were the interviews with two nuns imprisoned in China who bravely decided to speak out and tell their stories in the film.

The screening was followed by a moderated discussion about the Chinese occupation of Tibet. McLeod Ganj is a Tibetan refugee community; the Tibet issue is prominent, as it should be in more parts of the world. Screenings and discussions help to raise awareness.

Screened in McLeod Ganj.
It is fun to immerse yourself in Tibetan culture by eating at the local restaurants. I tried this one for the first time in 2016. It was just down the road from the hotel. More of a locals spot than a tourist spot.

Tibetan restaurant.
You can also circumambulate His Holiness the Dalai Lama's house and temple by walking along a mountainside route.  Several sections of the route contain prayer wheels, and even more prayer flags.

Circumambulating His Holiness the Dalai Lama's house and temple.

Circumambulating His Holiness the Dalai Lama's house and temple.
McLeod Ganj is growing ... this is a construction site on Temple Road, just up the hill from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's house and temple. I passed by it many times and watched it rising from the hillside.
Construction on Temple Road.
Less than a week after reaching McLeod Ganj from Bir, I turned around and went back to Bir. (But not before applying for and getting a Protected Area Permit from the government office in Lower Dharamsala.)

Geshe Dorji Damdul was leading another retreat at Deer Park Institute from April 5 - 13, 2016. This would be my fourth and final retreat with Geshe Dorji Damdul during this trip to India.

Geshe Dorji Damdul: Buddhist Psychology and its Application in Dharma Practice

Traveling alone, I took the bus as opposed to hiring a taxi. I happened to discover there is a bus that travels from the McLeod Ganj main square sometime between 6 - 7 AM (I can't recall the exact departure time) to the Lower Dharamsala bus stand. From there I took the bus to Palampur, then switched to another bus to Baijnath, and then finally exited on the outskirts of Bir and walked down the main road to Deer Park Institute. This journey takes between 4 - 5 hours. It is a long but beautiful ride through the Himalayan countryside on local, government buses.

Waiting for my bus to depart from the Lower Dharamsala bus station.

View from the bus - Lower Dharamsala to Palampur.

View from the bus - Palampur.

View from the bus - leaving the Palampur Bus Station for Baijnath.

View from the bus - leaving Palampur.

View from the bus - leaving Palampur.

View from the bus - leaving Palampur.

View from the bus - countryside.

Riding along on the local government bus.

Main road in Bir. Turn right onto that dirt road to reach Deer Park Institute.
I finally arrived at and checked into the women's dormitory at Deer Park Institute. I arrived a few days before Geshe Dorji Damdul's retreat began so I could relax in Bir and take in the peace, quiet, and beautiful scenery of Bir. I went for a walk out to the paragliding landing site at the edge of town.
Outskirts of Bir.

Outskirts of Bir.

Outskirts of Bir.

Outskirts of Bir.

Outskirts of Bir.

Outskirts of Bir.

Outskirts of Bir.

A quiet evening in Bir, passing by a Tibetan arts shop.

A quiet evening in Bir, passing by a Tibetan arts shop.

Main road in Bir at night.

Main road in Bir at night.
The following day I went for a walk through the hills behind Deer Park Insitute. I had never come this way alone before, and just had fun wandering, looking, smelling, listening, and smiling.

Village behind Deer Park Institute.

Village behind Deer Park Institute.

Village behind Deer Park Institute.

Village behind Deer Park Institute.

Village behind Deer Park Institute.
Geshe Dorji Damul's retreat began on the morning of April 5. Before it could begin we needed to set up the offerings of fruit, cookies, and candles (light offerings) for the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in front of the Manjushri statue inside of Majushri Hall at Deer Park, where the course would be held.

I got to help a group of Ladakhi students do the set up. It was most of the students' first retreat with Geshe Dorji Damdul. They students joined the retreat as a group, through their participation in a program run by an amazing NGO called Flowering Dharma.

Flowering Dharma students at the retreat with Deer Park Institute staff.
Photo by Flowering Dharma.
From my limited understanding the NGO preserves Ladakhi culture and empowers Ladakhi youth by connecting them with opportunities for study and leadership. (Ladakh is a region in north India that until fairly recently remained independent. Although a part of India, I think people from Ladakh identify themselves as Ladakhi first.)

Setting up the altar.

Setting up the altar.

Setting up the altar. 
The altar, set up.

The altar, set up.
 The Flowering Dharma students maintained the altar for the duration of the retreat. This meant they got up early each morning to empty and refill the water offering vases, and to exchange used candles for new ones. This was real dedication - the retreat began at 5:30AM each day.

Retreat schedule.
The first day of the retreat was a little different - we began with a presentation from one of Geshe Dorji Damdul's students trained in western psychology, Jaimin Yoon.

Jaimin Yoon presenting. Photo by Deer Park Institute.

Audience during Jaimin Yoon's presentation. He led us in some prayers.
Photo by Flowering Dharma.
The following day, we began with our daily routine: at 5:30AM we would gather in Majushri Hall to make light offerings and recite prayers, led by Geshe Dorji Damdul. (This session was optional.) While lighting the candles we recite:

With folded hands I beseech the Buddhas of all directions to shine the lamp of Dharma for all bewildered in misery's gloom.

Making light offerings. Photo by Flowering Dharma.
Making light offerings. Photo by Deer Park Institute.
After morning prayers we moved to the dining hall for breakfast. There, we would recite prayers before each meal, offering the food to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as wish fulfilling nectar.

Reciting prayers before meals. Photo by Flowering Dharma.

Reciting prayers before meals. Photo by Flowering Dharma.

Buffet style meals. Photo by Flowering Dharma.
After breakfast we would meet up again in Majushri Hall for teachings by Geshe Dorji Damdul. (Although Geshe Dorji Damdul would often teach us during morning prayers, too.)

Geshe Dorji Damdul teaching during the Buddhist Psychology retreat.
Photo by Deer Park Institute.

Geshe Dorji Damdul teaching Buddhist Psychology. Photo by Deer Park Institute.

Geshe Dorji Damdul teaching Buddhist Psychology. Photo by Deer Park Institute.

Geshe Dorji Damdul teaching Buddhist Psychology. Photo by Deer Park Institute.

Geshe Dorji Damdul teaching Buddhist Psychology.
Photo by Deer Park Institute.

Geshe Dorji Damdul teaching Buddhist Psychology. Photo by Flowering Dharma.
It was a very large retreat - approximately 130 students. I recognized students from Geshe Dorji Damdul's previous retreats at Deer Park Institute, his Bodhicitta Retreats at the Root Institute in 2015 and 2016, and from his Bodhicitta Retreat at Tushita Dharamsala. The Buddhist Psychology retreat provided an opportunity for students to meet for the first time and see friends.

Group photo with Geshe Dorji Damdul at the conclusion of the
Buddhist Psychology retreat. I am sitting on the bottom right in blue.
Photo by Deer Park Institute.
I sat in the same seat each day during the retreat, near the windows with my friends Tia and Piyali, and new friends from Flowering Dharma.

Tia, me, Piyali seated in our section in Majushri Hall.
During the day we would also meet with our assigned Discussion Groups. My group was led by Sonam from Singapore, one of Geshe Dorji Damdul's regular students who travels to Deer Park to participate in the retreats.

Discussion Groups. (Not mine - we were near the temple.)
Photo by Deer Park Institute.
We also had optional Group Discussion each night. This was optional and open to all students in the retreat. I went but not every night.

Evening Group Discussion.

Students exiting Manjushri Hall after evening group discussion.

During the day, while passing from activity to activity it was nice to look around and take in the beauty of Deer Park Institute and Bir.

Deer Park Institute.

Deer Park Institute main temple.
Deer Park Institute.
One evening we climbed to the room on the roof of one of the Deer Park Institute buildings that houses the butter lamps, so that we could make butter lamp offerings.

View of the Bir Tibetan refugee settlement from the roof.
 We took turns entering the small room to light butter lamps and make prayers.

My friend Michael lighting a lamp.

View of Deer Park Institute temple from the roof. 
Making light offerings.

View of Deer Park Institute at night from the roof.

Me standing in front of the room of lit butter lamps.
 Another night we gathered together in the Deer Park courtyard with Geshe Dorji Damdul to watch a fire spinning performance by my friend Piyali who was a student in the course. That was preceeded and followed by singing performances by several students. My favorite was a traditional Tibetan song performed by one of the Flowering Dharma students who is Tibetan.

Geshe Dorji Damdul speaking at the evening program.

Piyali spinning fire.
Flowering Dharma students gathered on the steps after the performance.
One evening I happened to be inside of Manjushri Hall when Geshe Dorji Damdul sat and talked with the Flowering Dharma students about their experience during the course. I was permitted to stay and listen. Several students spoke about how much the Buddhist Psychology retreat had benefited them, and how much they have learned from Geshe Dorji Damdul. It was very touching.

Flowering Dharma meeting with Geshe Dorji Damdul.

Flowering Dharma meeting with Geshe Dorji Damdul.

Flowering Dharma meeting with Geshe Dorji Damdul.
We were then able to approach Geshe Dorji Damdul one at a time to offer a white silk scarf (khata) and receive his blessings.

My friend Tsering receiving blessings.

Geshe Dorji Damdul with Flowering Dharma students.
After receiving blessings.
Students in the Buddhist Psychology retreat were able to make appointments to meet with Geshe Dorji Damdul to discuss personal matters. My friend Tsering, one of the Flowering Dharma students who attends law school in Jammu, and I crossed paths in Geshe Dorji Damdul's suite.

Tsering, Geshe Dorji Dorji Damdul and I.

Tsering, Geshe Dorji Damdul, and Preetu who works at Deer Park Institute.

Tsering and I outside of Geshe Dorji Damdul's suite.
On the last day of the Buddhist Pscyhology retreat, April 13 we held a Guru Puja dedicated to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since it was our last gathering as a group, remarks were also made by the Deer Park Institute staff thanking Geshe Dorji Damdul for coming to teach us. Flowering Dharma also made a presentation, recognizing all of the Deer Park Institute staff members as well as Geshe Dorji Damdul.

Thanks made to Geshe Dorji Damdul on behalf of Deer Park Institute.
Photo by Deer Park Institute.
Guru Puja.
Guru Puja. Photo by Deer Park Institute.

Guru Puja.

Guru Puja.

Guru Puja.

Guru Puja.

Word of thanks from Flowering Dharma.

Thank you gifts from Flowering Dharma given to Deer Park Institute staff.

Pooja recognized by Geshe Dorji Damdul for her contributions to the retreat,
preparing the text we used in class.
 Afterwards we saw Geshe Dorji Damdul off as he was leaving Deer Park Institute. He was on his way to Shimla to give more teachings.

Seeing Geshe Dorji Damdul off from Deer Park Institute.
That afternoon my Australian friend Michael, American friend (New Jersey) Aniko, and I went into town for lunch, and then hired a taxi to take us to DGL, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo's nunnery.

Once there, the first thing we did was go into the office so that I could buy the t-shirt my mom had requested, which was the inspiration for our visit. We were fortunate to find Tsunma Aileen, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo's assistant in the office. We got to talk with her for a few minutes. It was lovely.

Michael with Tsunma Aileen.
The nuns were debating when we first arrived. We got to observe from the open doorway of the office.

DGL nuns debating.

Me with Tsunma Aileen in the office.
 We then explored DGL, enjoying its beauty and peaceful setting.

Aniko and Michael outside of the DGL temple.

Looking from the temple steps towards the office and entrance gates.

DGL temple entrance.
The nuns were preparing for a prayer session, with the prayers chanted in unison inside of the temple. A tea break was involved; the nuns insisted on serving us tea, too.

Aniko and Michael enjoying tea (chai) outside of the temple.

Michael and Aniko.

Aniko and I.

Michael and I.

Just next to the main temple.
It was a lovely afternoon. Afterwards we stopped at the Peace Cafe in Bir for a delicious dinner of veg momos, enjoyed underneath of a lit pavilion in the beautiful night air in the cafe's courtyard.

I decided to stay on in Bir for another day to relax before returning to McLeod Ganj. There happened to be another retreat scheduled, beginning on the day after Geshe Dorji Damdul's retreat ended.

Heart Sutra Workshop flyer.
I decided to join the first day of the Heart Sutra Workshop, led by Dr. Kurt J. Schwalbe. It was held in Tara Hall, across the courtyard from Manjushri Hall.

The Heart Sutra is the most widely known sutra (teaching given by Buddha) in Tibetan Buddhism.

In the morning we received more of an academic explanation of the Heart Sutra, a prayer we recite before each teaching given at the FPMT centers where I study. It was so interesting.

Heart Sutra Workshop. Photo by Deer Park Institute.

Heart Sutra Workshop. Photo by Deer Park Institute.

I had lunch at my new favorite Tibetan restaurant in Bir. (Sorry I can't remember the name.)

Restaurant interior.

View of Bir from the restaurant porch.

View of Bir in the other direction from the restaurant porch.

Looking across the street - view from the restaurant porch.

So many wires going everywhere. I love it.

My delicious lunch of veg chowmein.
 I then got to say goodbye to my friend Ansee before checking out of Deer Park Institute to return to McLeod Ganj via the bus route.

Ansee and I in front of a Deer Park Institute mural. 
Grabbing my things out of the women's dorm on my way out.
Then it was back to the bus route: Baijnath to Palampur to Lower Dharamsala to McLeod Ganj. That maybe sounds worse than it is; if I am not in a rush then I enjoy traveling on the meandering roads passing through villages and by fields.

Baijnath bus station.

Baijnath bus station.

Baijnath bus station.

Palampur bus station.

I met this adorable family on the bus; we both enjoyed the act of me taking photos.

Ice cream.
Next, more adventures in McLeod Ganj.

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