Monday, August 14, 2006

In the McClouds

Had no difficulty meeting up with Daniel in the Indira Ghandi Airport in New Delhi early Thursday morning, we spent the day sleeping and took a couple hour excursion on the badass new Delhi metro (which is styled after the London Underground and amazingly clean and orderly, especially when coming off the hectic streets) to Pahargang, a touristy area, to change money and look around. Thursday evening we boarded our direct sleeper bus to McCloud Ganj, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama lives with a few thousand other Tibetans in what is appearing to be some kind of Tibetan Buddhist Disney Land. We had a little sleeper compartment, got a decent rest, although I think Danno is still kind of jetlagged and adjusting; after all we did hit the ground running and have been walking around a lot and eating lots of spicy Indian food.

We attended the first of five days of teachings by His Holiness this morning at his temple. There are many South Korean nuns monks and layfolk, who have requested and sponsored the teaching we are attending, so thanks Korean Buddhist for the free teachings! HH teaches in Tibetan which is translated into Korean, and all the westerners have little fm radios which pick up the teachings translated into English and broadcast in the temple. It's a pretty cool way to do it. There is also a chinese station; the only other two stations I can pick up is some Indian news and what appears to be some foreign (American) music station.

His Holiness is teaching on both Shantideva's Bodhisattvacaryavatara (Guide to a Bodhisattva's Way of Life) and Thogme Gyaltsen's 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is literally an "enlightening being," characterized by her profound compassion for all beings that suffer (all beings), loving kindness and the fervent wish that everyone may become enlightened. So the Dalai Lama is discussing the ways for us to all become ultimate Buddhist heros as well.

He opened the teachings with a history of Tibetan Buddhism and its connection to Korean Buddhism, emphasizing how Tibetan Buddhism holds the pure Nalanda lineage, through masters like Shantideva, who wrote the text we're working on. He only began to discuss the very difficult 9th Chapter, which deals with the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita), which essentially is the way to "understand emptiness." He began this discussion by explaining what Buddhanature is: intrinsically empty (of selfnature), basic innate nondual, non conceptual luminous, etc. This is obscured with various mental afflictions, which prevent understanding our true self nature as Buddhas, so we suffer.

Why do we suffer? Because of the ignorance which is the false conception that there is an eternal unchanging self that exists independant, that can be defined merely on its own side (in constrast to relative with others). He discussed the wisdom that dispells this ignorance and its importance at great lengths. From Ignorance (of the true nature of ourselves and our mind) leads to all kinds of actions and thoughts that create many imprints in the mindstreams of self and others, which results in the way we percieve the universe as little individuals devoid of indentification with others, leading to attraction and aversion, which leads to all kinds of fun stuff like anger, hatred, greed, jealousy, pride, etc.

He also discussed the two truths in the context of Bodhicitta (the altruistic mind of enlightenment) which characterizes a Bodhisattva (the uber-compassionate/lovingly kind awakening being). Conventional/Relative/Deceptive truth is the dualistic conceptualization of the world as it appears to our obscured (non-buddha) minds, which are mired in all kinds of afflictions. Everything we can conceptualize as true falls into this catagory, including "self" and "buddha" and even Bodhicitta, which in this context is both the aspiration to free all beings from the sufferings of cyclic existence and the applied action that actually does this. This is the METHOD of the bodhisattva.

Ultimately speaking, however, nothing we name or conceive of in dualistic terms (good/bad, happy/sad, up/down, etc.) is actually TRUE. Relativity theory has taught us this, so has Wittgenstein and Postmodernism, etc. Ultimate Bodhicitta is the wisdom which understands emptiness (or conversely the wisdom which understands the co-dependent origination of all phenomena) in tandem with the aspired and applied drive to help everyone else.

This is a little redundant because if the meditator truly percieves ultimate truth (which is difficult to discuss in words, being the noetic), then she realizes the interconnectivity and impermanence of all existent phenomena and is spontaneously and effortlessly driven to work for the benefit of everyone she comes into contact with.

The lecture was actually quite a lot more technical than all this, and most of the Tulane social work masters students that I've been travelling lost interest pretty fast, although Daniel seemed to get a lot out of it, considering he has some background in Buddhist philosophy and a great interest in the workings of the mind.

The Dalai Lama taught from 9:30 to 11:30 and then again from 1pm to 3:30, today was the first time I was able to see him with my own eyes and I must say I didn't cry like a lot of my Tibetan friends said I would but I did gain the conviction that this guy actually has manifested what he talks about in an authentic and complete way. There was a summary session for English speakers held from 4:30 to 5:30, so besides hanging out at His Holiness' temple, eating and shitting, I didn't really do all that much today, and I feel pretty great.


Lamar White, Jr. said...

When's HHDL going back to Houston? I still have my ticket.

Good to know the Smith boys are reunited.

Alex said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alex said...

Mike, interesting post. It made me want to learn more about Buddhism. Glad to hear you and Daniel are doing well out in the east.

I signed up for a "blogger" account because you don't allow anonymous comments. You should turn them on.