Community: Riding the Waves of Samsara Together

Buddha on a beach

By Lauren Howard Coleman

Earlier this month, Ven. Amy Miller led a retreat entitled “Riding the Wave: Moving Forward in Vulnerable Times.” She began by asking us to imagine riding a surfboard, skillfully navigating the choppy waters, gaining a sense of security, even if and when we find ourselves within the cascading tunnel of the wave itself as it washes over us. Then we were asked to think, what is that surfboard for you? What allows you to ride even the largest and choppiest of waves in your life?  

I thought of the teachings, my own Dharma practice, the teachers who have shown us that it is possible to ride those waves skillfully and wisely. But if I were to think of what actually keeps me on that board, what keeps me from falling off, even though I may stumble occasionally and lose my footing, it would most surely be my community of practitioners: those who are slipping and stumbling on their own boards, but who cheerfully climb back on board, as we swarm together like a well-orchestrated team. We are riding the treacherous waves of samsara together. And we stand as a reminder to one another that we are not alone.

When I look back at my life, and the crazy windings and turnings and searching that brought me to this place, so much of it feels miraculous and serendipitous. I have often told the story of my grandson Jack, and how his love for tiny sentient beings indirectly pointed me to Shantideva Meditation Center here in the heart of New York City. In wanting to find a community that understood the heart of a boy who cried for injured birds, and moved worms and insects off the sidewalk so that they wouldn’t be trampled upon, I inadvertently found my own community.


We are riding the treacherous waves of samsara together. And we stand as a reminder to
one another that we are not alone.


Hooked by inspiring teachers, I was drawn into the current of the emerging Shantideva Meditation Center. Members of the community like myself were gathering about the Dharma, like filings to a magnet, like swimmers drawn into a vortex. At times it felt strangely like a family reunion. At others like a gathering of watchful pilgrims. Oftentimes I still look about myself during a class or puja and think, “Where have you all been? What took us so long to be here once again?”

During this incredible wave of political and social change, it has become even that much more obvious how blessed I am to have this community. It only emphasizes how important it is that this Center continue to flourish so that everyone can benefit.  My part often feels paltry at best, as I stumble about volunteering here and there. But my paltry offering, combined with all the other generous offerings from the community, is what allows this Center to thrive. And when those new/old friends arrive with their questions, and their hearts, and their minds, I think to myself, “Oh, there you are at last!” and I know I can do this. And one of the reasons I know I can do this, is that we are doing it together.

*

Lauren: “When I am not sorting water bowls and contemplating Tenets and my Dharma practice, I have a full-time practice in Western Astrology, and five beautiful grandchildren who are a constant source of love and wonder.”

Posted in Community Voices | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Community: Riding the Waves of Samsara Together

Trying to Fix Samsara

By Gus Cutz

In Portuguese, we say of someone who persists in doing something that is futile on the face of it, that they are “drying ice.”  Sometimes it seems to me that I spend a great deal of my life trying to dry the ice.

In my efforts to make things a little better for myself and others, there is one place where I stumble again and again. Since I realize how silly it is, I never set out to do it knowingly, but I often catch myself in the act after I’ve started. In brief, I find that I keep trying to fix samsara. I develop these really neat plans for how I’m going to make sure that difficult situations are resolved, that I won’t look bad in front of others, that something I’ve worked for won’t be lost while I’m distracted. I develop all these hopes for the ways the events around me are going to work out, what people will say, and what they’ll do. When a single crisis is averted, I breathe a sigh of relief, and whenever something goes cataclysmically wrong, I am shocked. Isn’t that silly? 

According to the Buddha’s teachings, the moment in which we finally step onto the path for real is the moment when the penny drops and we finally figure out, “Oooohhh!  I get it! No matter how much I wipe it, I’m never gonna dry the ice! It’s made of water through and through! If I don’t want to get wet, I’d better let go of it! And if I don’t want others to get wet, I’d better lead them away from it, too!” “Oooohhh!  I get it! No matter how much I exert myself with every type of cleverness and effort, no matter how much I pray and dedicate, I’m never gonna fix samsara! It’s made of problems and suffering through and through! If I don’t want to suffer, I’d better let go of it! And if I don’t want others to suffer, I’d better lead them out of it, too!”

You can’t fix samsara, so don’t even bother. This can sound defeatist, pessimistic, and depressing, can’t it? But I think this only happens when we mistake samsara for our lives, or for reality. After all, if it were the case that we could never fix our lives, or that we could never fix reality, then there would be only one Noble Truth, and, in fact, there would be no point at all to practicing Dharma. In reality, though, as true as we may find the First Noble Truth to be upon honest and thorough examination, we must never forget that there are still three other Noble Truths to go! We can definitely achieve true happiness, and there definitely is a clear-cut way to do it—it’s just that trying to fix samsara ain’t it.  In fact, the logic that proves the former is the same as the logic that proves the latter.

Of course, it’s not that we should neglect our efforts to improve things for ourselves and others here and now, in whatever ways we can.  (His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for example, says we should spend 50% of our time on Dharma, and 50% of our time working on the matters of this life.) It’s just that we should never confuse the value of improving the accommodations of those in third class with the value of finding a way to get everyone the hell off the Titanic. These are both critical projects. To think that the first one doesn’t matter is, perhaps, to be a fundamentalist.  To think that the first one is enough is, without question, to miss the plot.

In my own case, if it were not for Shantideva Meditation Center, then perhaps I would have long ago drifted off and gotten lost in my attempts to dry the ice.  But because I am anchored to the Center, I keep returning again and again to the teachings, to the teachers, to the Dharma friends, who gently, patiently, tirelessly remind me again and again when I am veering off course and making my same old mistake again. “Oh, Gus, wait!” the teachings call to me, “Remember your thing with trying to fix samsara? Careful!” For as long as my mind continues to insist on making these same mistakes, for that long I will continue to need, and be deeply grateful for, your help, so that I don’t drift off forever among the icebergs.

*

Gus has worked at Wisdom Publications in Boston and has been an active volunteer with SMC since 2008. He has been a facilitator for our Discovering Buddhism Study Group since 2012. He also interprets/summarizes Geshe Thubten Soepa’s teachings on topics such as The Four Noble Truths, The Eight Worldly Dharmas, The Six Perfections, The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, and recently, Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, ch. 1-3.

Posted in Blog, Community Voices | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Trying to Fix Samsara

A Joyful Dharma Journey

By Arnaud Berger

This is the time of the year when I look back at my practice and make absolutely unrealistic resolutions: attain enlightenment this year, or at the minimum, only have altruistic thoughts, not let my mind wander on worldly concerns and study emptiness until I realize it. The reality check is usually very quick to come and like a roller coaster, it goes up, up, up and down, down, down.

This year, I skipped the good resolutions part and chose to reflect on how fortunate I am to have such easy access to exactly the advice I need to be happy and make others happy. I am so used to having everything I need at hand that it is very easy to take for granted. And yet, I don’t need much reflection to realize that it really requires a lot, really a lot, for these most precious and most perfect teachings to be available to me.

First, my encounter with the Dharma 12 years ago seems almost miraculous. To end up at a retreat at Kopan Monastery, I had to embark in a sabbatical year in Asia with my family, change my travel plans last minute to include Nepal in the trip even though the Maoist rebellion made it unsafe, stop for lunch in that small non-touristic monastery on a walk to a Hindu temple close by, visit a couple of days before a retreat started, have an interested Vietnamese wife who thought she had been raised Buddhist (and realized during the retreat that she had not) and convince the retreat organizers to let me and my wife take turns in participating and taking care of our young children.

Stupa at Kopan Monastery

Stupa at Kopan Monastery

Even more miraculous is the fact that I took interest. So many, many beings stay around Kopan and don’t, from the millions of bugs and thousands of dogs to the many beggars or the many tourists visiting the Boudhanath stupa close by.

Not only that but I had the opportunity to keep on practicing when I came back to Paris and later moved to London and then New York. Each time I was welcomed by a very kind and caring community who really inspired me and supported me in my practice. Each time, I met remarkable teachers, living proofs of the transformative power of Dharma practice.

These teachers did more than inspire me. They shared with me the authentic teachings of the Buddha in their pure and complete form. It took me some time to realize the value of what they were so generously and tirelessly handing out after having integrated them. From the very first days at Kopan, I had noticed that listening to Dharma teachings, reflecting on them and even being around Dharma practitioners made me calmer and more content. It was a different experience than what I usually referred to as being happy, but definitely a deeper and much more stable one. Yet, there is so much more to it than the pleasant experience of a calm mind. Through the Dharma, each moment can be made beneficial for myself and others. Through Dharma each and every of my actions, words or thoughts can bring me a little closer to complete liberation of all the afflictive emotions that currently ruin my peace of mind and push me to create causes of suffering for myself and others. I can also develop the amazing potential of compassion and wisdom that lies within my mind and become completely beneficial to others.

Access to these invaluable teachers and teachings is not a given though. These teachers joyfully dedicate all their lives to traveling, teaching and training future teachers. Volunteers and staff members put in a huge amount of energy for teachings to happen and centers to function. Benefactors and students generously make it possible for the costs to be covered. Once again, so many conditions need to be gathered, so many beings contribute. My heart fills with gratitude as I contemplate all that is necessary for the jewel of Dharma to light up the path for me. Overwhelmed with joy, I make a strong determination to make the most of this precious opportunity and to do my bit towards enabling others to have the same opportunity. I especially think of how central Shantideva Meditation Center is in my life, how it contributes to make this human rebirth so precious and how wonderful it would be if I could help others to benefit from it as well. This time, it does not feel like pie in the sky and it feels good!

*

Arnaud is Shantideva Meditation Center’s Spiritual Program Coordinator. He has spent many years practicing and studying the Dharma, having been involved with Kalachakra Center in Paris, Jamyang Buddhist Center in London and recently SMC. Moving to New York, he fulfilled a long-time dream to work with children by becoming a Montessori teacher for 3-6 year olds. Arnaud loves how the Montessori approach resonates with some aspects of Buddhism. It lends itself naturally to help children develop mindfulness and kindness.

Posted in Blog, Community Voices | Tagged , | Comments Off on A Joyful Dharma Journey

The Company We Keep

Scattered through the Dharma teachings is the idea that the images we watch, the stories we read and the company we keep can leave karmic imprints that may come back to haunt us. So too can the angry feelings we experience when others express opinions we don’t agree with or find abhorrent. The past year in politics, and the current political discontents, are good examples of a highly-charged environment ripe with karmic instability. The easiest thing might just be to withdraw. Take to the cushion, and watch old movies for a break. But here’s the problem with that: the current environment  needs our input. It needs every ounce of Buddhist compassion we can muster, every ounce we can imagine–hundreds of thousands of millions of buckets of compassion–to compensate for the hate and the powerful self-interests that are forever trying to wrest control of our politics.

We need to stay engaged. And won’t it be easier to do it together? Perhaps more than ever the Sangha can be our refuge.

This month Shantideva Meditation Center is running a campaign of its own, but a wholly joyous one with offering bowls brimming over with Bodhisattva goodwill and inspiration. We are hoping to raise $6,000 by February 27 to support our center’s activities and to bolster the personal practices of our members and guests. We welcome you to join us and practice with us, and, if you can, donate here. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “Even just the mere thought to cause happiness for sentient beings, to benefit them, to free them from suffering—this is the best offering to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.”

*

This post was written by Jane, a longtime student of Buddhism and volunteer with Shantideva Meditation Center.

Posted in Blog, Community Voices | Tagged , , | Comments Off on The Company We Keep

Our Teachers Caring for Us in 2017

When thinking of my teachers, gratitude is invariably the first instinctual reaction. I was able to contemplate this on my last day at the Light of the Path retreat with Lama Zopa Rinpoche in August.

I have often heard said that attachment to food is one of the most difficult to overcome, and after several days of precepts, I found myself struggling with a craving for fried tofu. To my amazement, fried tofu appeared for lunch! Samsaric delight on retreat? I didn’t give it another thought because there was no grasping, just happiness. I joyfully and sincerely thanked Rinpoche from the bottom of my heart for taking such good care of me, as if he himself had sent me the tofu, which somehow I felt he had. I offered my lunch with sincere delight and not a hint of attachment in a beautiful prayer that we say before eating:

The guru is Buddha,
The guru is Dharma,
The guru is Sangha also,
The guru is the source of all happiness,
To all gurus I make this offering.

Offering physical nourishment, obligatory support for the body and mind, is a powerful way to create close connections with our gurus, and among my daily practices, those that I consistently find to be the most moving and inspiring are when I offer food and drink to my teacher. Pouring tea, serving food, but most of all offering my practice, because this is the most precious thing I have.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche with his student, Venerable Thubten Chodron at Sravasti Abbey. Photograph: Sravasti Abbey

As Sonam Gyatso, Third Dalai Lama (1543–88) instructs in Essence of Refined Gold, “But kinder than Buddha is your own teacher, For [s]he personally gives you the oral teachings.” In this way, the guru is indeed the source of all happiness, and as Ven. Thubten Chodron explains, “The kindness shown to us by our spiritual mentors and the Three Jewels is peerless, for they lead us on the way to actual joy and freedom. Seeing this, our hearts fill with gratitude.” With full hearts, we look forward to welcoming some of our precious teachers back to Shantideva Meditation Center in 2017.

We will first joyously welcome our leading teacher, Ven. Amy Miller, in January for some of our Tuesday evening meditation sessions visualizing the inspiring qualities of different manifestations of the enlightened mind. Venerable will also connect with our Discovering Buddhism group throughout the year in each of the upcoming modules beginning with Introduction to Tantra in January. Ven. Amy is deeply appreciated for her ability to show us how to deploy profound Buddhist teachings through straightforward, pragmatic methods for successfully navigating our challenging lives in joy, confidence, and courage.

Ven. Amy Miller with students at Garrison Institute, May 2016

With warmth and clarity, Venerable will take a clear look at our current world situation, teaching “Riding the Wave: Facing Adversity with Love and Compassion” from February 3 to 5. We are also overjoyed that Ven. Amy will, for the third time, lead our annual retreat at Garrison Institute, April 14-16. Just as spring begins, we’ll have an exceptional opportunity to withdraw from the urban crush to a pristine, peaceful environment where Venerable will guide us in shiné meditation and personal growth harmonious with the season.

Geshe Sherab Photo: Edward Sczudlo

Geshe Sherab
Photo: Edward Sczudlo

The return of Geshe Thubten Sherab has been eagerly awaited since his visit in 2015.With his unique and inspiring personal blend of humor, care, and erudition, Geshe-la will teach us about buddha nature, the pure seed of enlightenment that is the fundamental essence of all sentient beings. We look forward to welcoming Geshe-la, and it will be an honor to receive teachings from him again, March 17-19.

The summer will heat up with a two week visit from Ven. Robina Courtin at the end of July. Ven. Robina is known for her straightforward and energetic teaching style, helping people discover the potential of their own minds with clear explanations about Tibetan Buddhism and how to apply it to their lives. It has been two years since we’ve welcomed Ven. Robina, and events planned for her visit will be announced soon!Ven Robina Courtin

We can rejoice and be truly grateful that our teachers take such compassionate and continuous care of us, working tirelessly every moment, never giving up on us, because all they want is for us to be free of suffering. May we follow their wise guidance with open hearts, joy, and full confidence. Offering them our best practice, may we continue striving enthusiastically for the ultimate happiness of all universal sentient beings!

Desmond & OllieDesmond Hosford, Director email hidden; JavaScript is requiredg

Desmond formally met the Dharma in 2008 through the great compassion and generosity of Venerable Thubten Chodron, which gave his life purpose by showing him how cultivating virtue while having the courage and fortitude to open his heart would lead to the eventual liberation and enlightenment of all sentient beings. Desmond has a strong background in animal rights and vegan activism, including an extended internship with Farm Sanctuary, earned a BM in harpsichord performance from Manhattan School of Music, holds PhDs in French (specializing in 17th- and 18th-century tragedy and gender and sexuality) and musicology (specializing in French opera of the 17th and 18th centuries) from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and has published widely. Desmond is an Adjunct Lecturer in French at Hunter College and a Senior Editor at the Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM), CUNY. Desmond’s life revolves around the Dharma and his dog, Ollie.

Posted in Blog, Community Voices, Events, Teachings | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Our Teachers Caring for Us in 2017

The Kitchen Sink

everyday-life-194218_1280

By Jennifer Kim

Ugh – I woke up late with a sore throat. My jaw was still swollen after my root canal and the grey weather outside was not motivating me to tackle the hefty to-do list that lay ahead of me. I dragged myself out of bed and grumbled about fighting off yet another cold this winter. It was not turning out to be a good day.

I went to the kitchen sink to rinse the crust off some plates that had piled up from last night’s dinner. My grumbling turned into a whine, and then into a bit of panic about how I’d find the time to do everything on my plate once I’d finished washing my plates. Sometime after rinsing off the skin of a chopped tomato, I had a thought.

“Imagine you are washing away the delusions and suffering of all sentient beings.” This had been Lama Zopa Rinpcohe’s advice to students.

My mind rebelled. On one level, I had been enjoying the little pity party in the kitchen, but the habit of Dharma started to take over. I grumbled to myself, with Scotch-Brite in hand,

“I am washing away the delusions and suffering of all sentient beings.”

My mind rebelled again, thinking this was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard and wondering what good this would do. But then I began to imagine the water taking away the physical and mental pain of others. As soon as I did that, I started to feel happy. My grumbles subsided and I felt a sense of peace. This went on for about a minute. With a newly-cleaned mug in my hand, I asked myself, “Will this be a good day?”

Several years ago, I would have thought there was no choice in the matter. I would have taken refuge in sugary pastries (only to feel bad about it later) and my fantasy of vacationing to Aruba. I would have scolded my boyfriend for leaving the dishes out overnight and for making the room so cold that I got a sore throat. After work, I might have picked up some cute boots I had eyed while window shopping.

However, with years of Dharma lessons and practices slowly making a home in my mind, I told myself that morning, “I will make it as good a day as possible.” Later that morning, I went to my meditation cushion and did a brief compassion meditation – first for myself. As Venerable Amy had recently taught during a weekend teaching:

“Imagine there is a mirror image in front of you, and take away her suffering and pain, breathing the negativity in as dark smoke and letting it destroy the rock in your heart. When all that remains is light, give it to your mirror image for healing.”

A wave of peace and gentleness came over me, and that moment of self-compassion allowed me to open my heart to others more. My to-do list turned into a “try the best you can” list, aimed at helping out my boss and those who would benefit from our work. My sore throat served as a reminder that no one is immune to illness, and I felt a little bit more connected with the world.  My chamber of chores (i.e., the kitchen) turned into an opportunity to be grateful for the hot, clean water at my disposal and for the roof over my head. Instead of taking refuge in sweets, sun, and shoes, I took refuge in my potential for inner calm and delight. It was the most gratifying refuge.

Later that morning, I was chatting with someone in my building about his bad week. I was able to offer a sympathetic ear and then a compliment. He said, “Thanks Jennifer. You made my morning.” Little did he know that he made my morning by saying that.

I’ve always loved the quote from Plato, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” That morning the battle was whether I would choose to be happy that day. Thanks to some Dharma training under my belt, I had become victorious, and the positive energy even rippled out a bit.

I know in my heart that I could not have done this without the presence of Shantideva Meditation Center. Amidst its ambitious aspirations to relieve all types of suffering and bring all beings to enlightenment, I was grateful that it allowed me to win my little battle at the kitchen sink.

I believe that winning the battle every day will lead to a happy life that benefits others. I’m not sure what could be better than that, and I’m grateful for Shantideva Meditation for teaching me how to transform a bad day into a good day and a meaningful life.

*

jennifer1Jennifer has been a student of the Dharma since 2007 and an active member of Shantideva Meditation Center since 2010.  She currently serves on the board, works in leadership and personal development, and washes dishes in her spare time.

Posted in Community Voices | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The Kitchen Sink

Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the Importance
of the Dharma Center

Excerpts from a letter written by Lama Zopa Rinpoche to an FPMT center in celebration of its tenth anniversary. You can read the full teaching at the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

Even non-believers of reincarnation and karma, as a result of actions, need to practice Dharma because they want happiness and do not want suffering. To have happiness in life you have to change your mind, casting away negative thoughts and attachment to this life—clinging to the “I,” clinging to the body, clinging to possessions, friends, surrounding people and family—the delusion which harms oneself, which harms others, which makes you suffer, which makes others suffer. Cast that away and establish a healthy, positive and happy mind, virtuous thoughts….

So here, this is just a drop. If you want happiness and do not want suffering you have to practice Dharma—even non-believers. Therefore you need someone to teach and so you can see the need for Dharma centers. There are other centers, but we need as many as possible, to offer the education and practice that are necessary for happiness. That is the function of the center; not only teaching Dharma but also healing and so many things, giving food, having the temple open in the day and at night. The organizers here are unbelievably kind; their minds are so sympathetic to the people in need.

The FPMT organization has a kind of education, besides Buddhist teachings of sutra and tantra, Universal Wisdom Education (UWE), which teaches the very basic things; the first is to learn and practice for life’s happiness. In reality, happiness not only in this life but happiness from life to life for hundreds of lifetimes and thousands of lifetimes, just from one act of kindness to anyone—friend, enemy, stranger, even animals, any sentient being.

These are: rejoicing (at others’ happiness); patience; forgiveness; apologizing sincerely from the heart; contentment and courage in a positive sense. In reality, this is all Dharma.

This is the very first thing, then after that you can practice the sixteen human dharmas and so forth, securing your future happiness. Then you can study the extensive philosophy.

Now, regarding the world situation, there are three questions.

Firstly, one of the benefactors in Delhi told me recently that a big question in the world is that more and more people don’t trust their government any more.

Without Dharma, without compassion, there is self-cherishing thought, no compassion for other sentient beings’ suffering and happiness. Working in government with self-cherishing thoughts and I-grasping ignorance, the mind is selfish so the motivation is selfish. Ultimately you are working for yourself and your own happiness, but with a selfish mind there is not even success in the happiness of this life.

As the great saint Shantideva said in the Bodhicaryavatara: If one doesn’t exchange oneself for others, full enlightenment cannot be achieved; even in samsara there is no happiness.

To stop the problems, people need Dharma education. Buddhism is differentiated from other religions by compassion to all living beings—hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras and suras—every single being. As well, in Buddhist practice you develop wisdom, knowing what is right or wrong—what is the right or wrong decision and what is the right or wrong lifestyle.

What is wrong and what is right? That is a huge question. In the world, what people believe is right, is wrong and what they believe is wrong, is right. So we need right wisdom. The more Dharma we learn, the more and more wisdom we develop. That becomes complete when we achieve full enlightenment. It is not endless, we can complete it. That brings more and more peace and happiness in the world.

That is why we need a Dharma center, which offers the opportunity to learn Dharma. You can see, establishing more and more Dharma centers is the most important help for sentient beings, for this world, for this country. It is of the utmost need.

Then the second question: global warming and lots of disasters, which are called “natural.” International global warming experts understand and some people explain it scientifically, such as former US vice president Al Gore in his movie. Yes, they happen, but whether good or bad things happen they come from the mind, as the delusions come from the unsubdued mind. Many disasters of the elements of fire, water, earth and air are happening, which are called natural. That is Western way of talking by those who don’t believe in karma and delusions as the main cause. They don’t understand inner and outer causes.

Since it is causative phenomena, it is born, it exists and it ceases. Everything, all these have to happen by causes, karma and delusion. So, all these so-called “natural” disasters happen due to no or little understanding of karma. To understand things, one has to understand Dharma, and karma—action and results. Then there is more possibility for somebody to have inner knowledge of why disasters are happening and what method to apply to stop those disasters….

So again, the more you develop wisdom and compassion, the fundamentals of Buddhism, by putting it into practice, the better the world can become, including economically.

Now, the third question: when there are more and more demonstrations against the government, the king and so forth, usually they are against dictatorships, which don’t help people because of selfish thought, seeking their own happiness. It is intelligent, wise and clever to cherish others, to serve others. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says, if you want to be selfish, be intelligently selfish. For that you must know Dharma, you must know karma and how to practice.

So even for this, the best answer is to learn Dharma, to meditate, especially how to develop wisdom and compassion towards other sentient beings. Therefore, we need a place where there is a teacher, the Dharma and facilities to practice.

The center is able to offer these facilities to everyone, as much as it can do.

The most important purpose is Dharma, it is more important than food, clothing or having a job; understanding, practicing Dharma, understanding karma (Tib: ledre) and developing wisdom and compassion for numberless sentient beings….

We each have full responsibility to free all sentient beings from suffering and bring them to full enlightenment. Therefore, we need to achieve full enlightenment and so we need to practice Dharma. Now we can see how important the Dharma center is. We should know how fortunate and lucky we are having different Dharma centers with teachers.

Posted in Resources, Teachings | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the Importance
of the Dharma Center

A Dharma Journey in India

tushita1

An interview with Sam, Shantideva volunteer and member, about how his recent trip to India and Tushita Meditation Center (FPMT) has inspired his Dharma practice.

Why did you go to India?

I went to India in for 30 days to attend a wedding, and afterwards joined my friend on a spiritual tour to Bodhgaya, Varanasi and Sarnath. I also visited Tushita Meditation Center in Dharamsala for four days and four nights. I was hoping to attend a full 10-day retreat there, but I wasn’t able to because of my schedule. Still, I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited.

What was Tushita like, and what did you learn there?

I’ve always noticed that the Dharma tends to deliver a message one needs to hear when one needs it the most.  One of those messages was conveyed to me during my visit to Tushita.

Coming from the McLeod Ganj main square, I hiked up the trail to the Center. It was a relaxing walk where I saw beautiful lush scenery and even a crowd of monkeys. I’d never seen anything like that before. The place itself had a very peaceful vibe.

On my second day, I attended a Tuesday morning guided meditation on refuge led by Renato. I had first heard about taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha from our Shantideva Discovering Buddhism study group. Before this meditation session at Tushita, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that if I didn’t take refuge in the Three Jewels, then what would I take refuge in? This particular meditation went through a list of things humans normally take refuge in, like material wealth or objects. Through meditating, I came to understand that I took refuge in personal relationships and even on a more subtle level, in what could be termed ‘altruistic activities.’ I noticed that in the past, while engaging in good and healthy activities, my motivation and intentions weren’t 100% pure. This particular meditation along with remembering past and present teachings, made me realize that it is okay not to have a 100% pure motivation and that it is important not to be too hard on myself.  We are, after all, a work in progress. I am grateful for the meditation at Tushita, and for the teachings, in giving me clarity and confidence that I can apply this concept to different topics going forward.

You recently took refuge for the first time in a ceremony with other Shantideva students in NYC. Have the thoughts you had about refuge in India changed?

Yes, if anything, my conviction and understanding have only gotten stronger. We have been fortunate to have Venerable Amy Miller and Venerable Tenzin Chogkyi since I’ve been back from India.  Both only helped further my understanding on the same topics.  The last Discovering Buddhism Module on Transforming Problems was a gift as well.

Mahabodhi Temple Complex

Mahabodhi Temple Complex

What were other highlights of your trip?

Visiting the Mahabodhi Temple was definitely the highlight at Bodhgaya. Being able to meditate close to the same location where Prince Siddhartha achieved enlightenment was truly an experience. The Mahabodhi Temple Complex also had a meditation park where my friend and I were able to meditate. Being around such holy places with a spiritual friend also gave me further clarity on other topics I had pondered before.

How so?

Before I visited India, I had always pondered the differences between Hinduism and Buddhism, and felt that intellectually they were very much alike. My time at the Mahabodhi Temple furthered my understanding. The friend I was with was a self-realization fellowship follower and our knowledgeable tour guide was a Hindu. It was interesting to listen to my friend, and hear our tour guide’s take on Buddhism from a Hindu’s perspective.

In my past readings about Hinduism and Buddhism, one of the biggest conceptual differences that I found was that Hinduism has a creator who thus created the “atman,” also known as the soul. Yet, as I talk to my Hindu friends, it seemed like semantics. The Buddhist very subtle consciousness and the Hindu atman, though having a core difference between being impermanent and permanent, respectively, still seemed effectively the same to me. Even though the atman is permanent, my Hindu friends still could relate to the concept of emptiness. I felt that it was important to understand the difference if I was to fully understand what the “I” being a “false intrinsic entity” really meant, which is a very important idea in Tibetan Buddhism. After our discussion at Mahabodhi temple, I again felt that Hinduism and Buddhism were very similar, but learning more about their differences helped my understanding of the Buddhist path. I’m sure I’m still a long ways away to really understanding, but I’m grateful for this growth.

samgohsSam is a volunteer and member of Shantideva Meditation Center. He first walked into the Center in January 2015 and has been studying Buddhist teachings ever since.

Posted in Blog, Community Voices | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on A Dharma Journey in India

My First Two-Week Retreat: Light of the Path 2016

Bonnie, Shantideva staff and volunteer, shares her experience of attending a first ever two-week retreat at Light of the Path, August 2016.

I had never been on a two-week Dharma retreat before, and being a worry-wart, I asked quite a few Dharma friends what to expect. After some interrogating, the suggestions came: just take it easy, make sure you have a support group or friend, and don’t expect anything. Well that seemed doable, so I decided to go. However, when I arrived at the retreat center, I was still worried that things might get too intense for me. So after dropping off my luggage in the dorm, I headed straight to the Kadampa Shop and made a beeline towards the children’s section. I bought the closest thing to a Harry Potter book I could find. It was Amy and Gully in Rainbowland by W.W. Rowe. Yes, how frightful that I’m 40 and picking out a children’s book! But there you have it — a true Generation Xer.

I’m happy to report that not once did I open the book during the retreat. Why? Because the Light of the Path retreat was just that — illuminating. In fact, each teaching by Lama Zopa Rinpoche was a precious lam-rim gem.

Simulation of the Maitreya Buddha statue to be built in Kushinagar.

Simulation of the Maitreya Buddha statue to be built in Kushinagar

One gem in particular was when Lama Zopa Rinpoche read the letter from the State Government of Uttar Pradesh announcing they were handing over the land to build the Maitreya Buddha statue. Maitreya Buddha is close to my heart so this was unbelievably special that I heard and was in the presence of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Dharma friends for this fortuitous news.

My favorite story from the retreat though was Ven. Sarah Thresher retelling the moment when Ven. Robina Courtin explained to Lama Zopa Rinpoche the eating disorder bulimia and afterwards Rinpoche said, “It sounds like the way you people practice Dharma.” I know what you’re thinking. Really … bulimia and Westerners with Dharma? But this story showed that we have a huge responsibility after a retreat or Dharma teachings. Rather than gorging oneself silly with Dharma and then carelessly squandering it, we should listen, contemplate and meditate on the teachings.

With that in mind, here are my three take-home messages from the retreat:

  1. It’s only from good merit (good karma) that I am arising at this moment as a human attracted to Dharma. When death comes this karma could easily change. Yikes! It sounds like fear-mongering, but this is what I learned on my walks when seeing creepy crawly bugs who potentially have the same Buddha mind as I and all other sentient beings. But the bugs just have a different karmic vision arising at that moment.
  2. That all sentient beings are my kind mother sentient beings. You’ve heard this a gazillion times but seriously, this was a strong message during the retreat.
  3. Dharma is the only thing that’s going to help me (us) at the time of death. At the time of death, when the eight-stage dissolutions happen faster than the Kingda Ka roller coaster and the gripping fear arises upon realizing there is no self — that’s when one truly wishes they had an extremely powerful and unshakable Dharma practice.

I hope this blog encourages you to attend the next Light of the Path retreat, and if not, I will happily send you a lovely letter imploring you to go ;). Of course, if you can’t, I wholeheartedly rejoice in your efforts in watching the livestream videos, reading the transcripts and/or Living in the Path material. I do apologize if what I have learned from the retreat is not correct Dharma and eagerly and with utmost effort wish to clear away any obstacles to higher perception of the lam-rim teachings.

About Light of the Path:

“A series of teaching retreats led by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Black Mountain, North Carolina, USA, and hosted by Kadampa Center (an FPMT affiliate located in Raleigh, NC). The root text for the course is Lama Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment.”

Kadampa Center Website

Left, Bonnie, during the Light of the Path retreat 2016 with Dharma friend Lauren. Photo by Felicity.

Left, Bonnie, during the Light of the Path retreat 2016 with Dharma friend Lauren. Photo by Felicity.

 

Posted in Blog, Community Voices | Tagged , | Comments Off on My First Two-Week Retreat: Light of the Path 2016

Monastic Perspectives: Ven. Tenzin Chogkyi

12672137_442034109337791_2017151440363488233_o

To commemorate Chokhor Duchen and FPMT’s International Sangha Day, the Center is happy to offer the following interview with Ven. Tenzin Chogkyi, an FPMT nun, touring teacher and resident teacher at Vajrapani Institute. Ven. Tenzin has been giving teachings in New York City for the Center over the past two weeks, and we are immensely grateful to her.

Q: What motivated you to become a nun?

When I decided to get ordained, I was nearing the end of a long meditation retreat. I had gradually come to the realization that in order to meditate really well, it was helpful to simplify my life, eliminating many of the sources of the distraction that I experienced in attempting to meditate deeply: the distractions of relationships, entertainment, other worldly concerns. I realized that Lord Buddha had designed the perfect lifestyle to enable one to meditate well, namely, the life of a monastic. So this was my main motivation, to simplify my life in a way that would enable me to focus on what had become my main priority, my spiritual practice.

Q: How does the monastic community benefit others through its vows?

Even though simplifying my life in order to better be able to focus on practice without distraction was my main motivation for ordination, one of the unexpected benefits is seeing how much it touches and inspires the people I come into contact with. I travel a lot, and when I’m in public places, people often approach me to ask questions about Buddhism and meditation, and often to ask advice about their lives — these are total strangers! In our increasingly secular, materialistic world, I love being able to offer a very visible alternative that anyone seeing me walking down the street, or in an international airport, can contemplate and that might make them think about their own lives and choices in a different way.

Ven. Tenzin with Tsunma Chimey Lhatso, Santacitta Bhikkhuni, and Anandabodhi Bhikkhuni (from left to right) at Aloka Vihara near Placerville, CA.

Ven. Tenzin with Tsunma Chimey Lhatso, Santacitta Bhikkhuni,
and Anandabodhi Bhikkhuni (from left to right) at Aloka Vihara
near Placerville, CA.

Q: Do all Sangha members live in a community? If not, what is daily life like for them?

There are very few monastic communities in the FPMT, so many of us live in Dharma centers geared primarily to offering teaching and retreat opportunities to lay people. Sometimes we might be the only monastic in a center, or perhaps there are a few of us together. Many other monastics live as touring teachers, going from center to center at the invitation of those centers to teach. Then others of us are involved in residential study programs at a center, or engaged in long-term retreat.

Q: What are some of the challenges faced by monastics in modern Western society?

As Buddhist monasticism isn’t established in the West, we often receive quite a lot of unwanted attention in public (stares, sometimes comments, or the question “What are you?”) which can be tedious at times. One of the biggest issues that we face, mostly due to not having monastic communities, is the question of where to go if we want to have a break from teaching or whatever job we are doing at a center, and the huge question of where to go in our old age or if we become disabled in some way, as there is really no provision for these eventualities, and often we have devoted our lives to service which means we have limited income in the way of retirement funds, pension, etc. This can be a source of worry for us as we age.

Q: How can students best support the Sangha and express gratitude to monastics for their kindness and generosity in sharing the Dharma?

I feel that the students in the centers where I teach are very supportive of us, and display a tremendous amount of respect and gratitude. I think one of the things that students could do is perhaps familiarize themselves with our vows, so that they are more aware of behavior that might make us feel uncomfortable, for example, drinking alcohol around us, or overt displays of affection between romantic partners in our presence, things like this. But in general I feel that the understanding and appropriate treatment of the non-Tibetan monastics in our centers is improving all the time.

***

vtc2Ven. Tenzin Chogkyi bought a one-way ticket to India in early 1991 with the intention of meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She then became a student not only of His Holiness, but also of Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.  After returning to the U.S., Ven. Tenzin worked in various positions within FPMT – Director of Vajrapani Institute, Co-Director of FPMT International Office, FPMT Center Services Coordinator – and also completed several long meditation retreats.  She took novice ordination in 2004 with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and since 2006 has been regularly teaching at various FPMT centers around the globe. Ven. Tenzin is currently the resident teacher at Vajrapani Institute in California and also a visiting teacher for the Liberation Prison Project. She is very esteemed by her students for her warmth, joyful energy, and ability to adapt the wisdom of traditional teachings to our modern Western world.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Monastic Perspectives: Ven. Tenzin Chogkyi