Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Apologies for the delay in updating. I have been busy with a group of 11 Singaporean dentists who flew into Kathmandu a week ago. I've been volunteering with them, and I feel like I haven't had a break since I met them at the airport. Besides showing them around Kathmandu, I've been helping organize the 6 days of free dental clinics we are conducting around the villages of the Kathmandu valley. My job during the clinic has been to organize our volunteers, register our patients and do crowd control, which has been exhausting, but very rewarding. We have seen about 800 patients in four days.

The entire group of dentists (11 Singaporean, 2 Nepali) and volunteers at the Shenpen Dental Clinic 2007.

I also escorted the dentists to the Shivapuri National Forest north of Kathmandu on a holiday between our clinics in Boudha and Chapgaon. It was nice to get into nature in a vast forest filled with the blessings of previous Buddhas and years of meditating yogis.

The view from a meditation cave in the Shivapuri forest. Oh, the virtue of the happy life of the hermit!

Rhododendrons in full bloom in Shivapuri forest.

A tree-dwelling near the peak of Shivapuri, used by those looking for solitude in the forest.


A Nepali (Newari) villager in traditional dress getting his teeth cleaned.

A Nepali woman having minor dental surgery done behind our monastery in the village.

Another Nepali villager having her teeth worked on.

Dan Bahadur, the gate keeper at our Chapagaon monastery, smiling after getting a teeth cleaning.

Dan Bahadur's beautiful wife.

A beautiful village girl who came from her home nearby the monastery in Chapagaon for a teeth cleaning.

The beautiful village girl with her beautiful friend.

A local schoolgirl crying as she gets two of her heavily decayed lower molars extracted. Dentistry is pain!

Our smallest monk at the Chapagaon monastery getting his teeth checked by one of the Singaporean dentists, Cheung.

Elderly village men, in traditional attire, waiting for a checkup.


A few images from my trip to India in the first two weeks of March, where I attended teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and visited the reincarnation of Tulku Orgyen Rinpoche in Bir.

An abandoned bike rickshaw at the bus station in Paharganj, Punjab, India.

OM AH HUNG VAJRAGURU PADME SIDDHI HUNG! A mantra written on a stone at the Chokling Monastery in Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India. Homage to Guru Rinpoche!

His Eminence the Neten Chokling Rinpoche conducting the Tsegar Drupchen, associated with Amitayus, the Buddha of Long Life, in his monastery in Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India. He is the lama that made the milarepa movie.


My monk friend Tsultrim, who at the age of 17 pretty much runs the daily operations of the monastery in Chapagaon where I live.

Some Chapagaon monks smiling.

Some of the younger monks in Chapagaon in assembly for afternoon prayers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Some advice from the Dalai Lama on death and enemies.

A new very amazing movie that i suggest everyone see when they get the opportunity is called Milarepa, and opens this summer. You can check out a preview on the MilarepaMovie website. You'll probably have to order a DVD though, because I think it will be playing at pretty limited locations. Check their blog, it's beautiful!

Today was the final day of the 10 day teachings His Holiness the Dalai Lama has offered to the public here. He taught from the 2nd Dalai Lama's short LamRim (stages on the path) text, the Essence of Refine Gold; and the Bodhisatvacaryavatara (Entering into the Conduct of an Awakening Being). He also offered everyone an empowerment into the self visualization practice of Avalokitesvara, a long-life empowerment of the White Tara, and the opportunity to take lay Buddhist vows and Bodhisatva vows with him. Quite a large spread of teaching and empowerment; he taught 6 hours every day, and remained energetic and lively through the entirety.

Today when he gave the Bodhisatva vow to a few thousand people bearing the cold rain and hail, he actually started crying a bit, it touched his heart so deeply. The Bodhisatva vow is basically a pledge to work for all beings to be happy and have the causes of happiness, to be divorced from suffering and the causes of suffering, and to be completely enlightened in the state beyond happiness and suffering; until you yourself are completely enlightened. It is the highest aspiration a human can make.

The Dalai Lama: currently the most amazing being on Planet Earth.

The day after I made a prayer request to the Dalai Lama on behalf of Tommy Robinson, His Holiness said this (so this applies directly for us):
"I have been receiving requests for prayers for dead persons the last few days. When hearing of the deaths of people we know, we should take it as an opportunity to reflect on our own death and impermanence. When hearing of the deaths of so many people, if we do not think of our own death, then we are weaker and dumber than sheep."
That is pretty straightforward. Gaining a real sense of our own mortality is an essential step on the bodhisatva path (the wide trail to enlightenment, where you are helping everyone else along the way). It basically helps us to get off our asses and stop thinking so much about just ourselves.

Regarding our true enemies, some of HHDL's commentary on the Bodhisatvacaryavatara:
"Attachment appears to you like your best friend, bringing you desirable and conducive things and situations. Anger appears to you as your bodyguard, keeping unpleasant experiences away. THEY ARE TRULY YOUR ENEMY!" (4.28) They are what brings us suffering in the end.

"Even though you actually get hit by a stick, you get angry at the wielder of that stick, because you perceive the stick as a secondary cause and the wielder as the primary cause of you getting hit. In the same way, we should be angry with anger itself, because the wielder is the secondary cause and the motivating cause of anger is the primary cause of you getting hit. Therefore BE ANGRY WITH HATRED." (6.41)

"We should be happy and thrilled to have enemies in our daily lives. Without enemies, we have no chance to practice patience. In fact, our perceived enemies are the very cause of patience, which is also essential to the path of awakening." (6.107-08). It is just like Jetsun Milarepa's Aunt and Uncle. They truly showed him the kindest gift of being so extremely terrible to him that he was compelled to follow a course of events that lead him to practicing meditation so diligently that he attained perfect enlightenment in that very life.

The great Tibetan yogi poet Milarepa

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Remembering Tommy Robinson

Last week, a friend I had known since childhood, with whom I had shared many formative experiences in the Boy Scouts, passed away. His death is not only sad because he was so young, well loved, and yet had much to give to us all. It is also tragic because he decided to take his own life, wrapped up in the torment of his own experience.

I had the special opportunity through a friend here in Mcleod Ganj, India, where I am attending 10 day teachings on the attitude of awakening beings, being given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I was able to make a donation and prayer request directly to the Dalai Lama, who personally made prayers on Wednesday for Tommy.

When I return to Kathmandu I will sponsor a death ritual for Tommy at a local monastery. It will be designed to help recognize the natural state of his mind (his Buddha nature) while he is between rebirths, and to influence his next rebirth in a positive way.

My next post will include some teachings His Holiness has given this week...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Lamrim and the motivation for spiritual practice.

The Dalai Lama's annual spring teachings are based on two texts: The classic Bodhisatvacaryavatara (Entering the Conduct of an Awakening Being) and the 3rd Dalai Lama's short Lamrim text, "The Essence of Superfine Gold." Tomorrow is day 3 of 10; it has been great so far.

Lamrim means "the graded path," which implies "the stages of the path to enlightenment." It is a classic way of presenting the Mahayana Buddhist teachings in a progressive way, as a preliminary for the practice of Tantric Buddhism. It is organized into three successive explanations, the first for the student of "lesser" capacity, the second for the "middling" capacity, and the final for the "greater" capacity. Capacity is both refers to intellectual power and depth of the motivation.

It is explained that there are a variety of motivations for spiritual practice, ordered into lesser, middling, and greater as well, with two levels each:

1)The Lesser:
A)The lesser of the lesser is the motivation to practice religion or virtue in order to gain something later in this life (ie. "Cadillac Christians," getting connections, gaining freedom from fear of death, gaining wealth or prestige for self, family or friends). This is the motivation for many.

B)The greater of the lesser is the motivation to practice religion in order to escape negative rebirths in the future, either in a hellrealm, as a wandering spirit, or as an animal. Note that this is the motivation for the vast majority of Christians and Muslims (and maybe Jews).

2)The Middling:
A)The lesser of the middling motivation for spiritual practice is to be reborn in a higher realm, either as a human, a demigod or a god in heaven. This is generally the highest motivation for religion in Christianity, believing in God and praciticing good deeds according to His plan in order to be with Him in Heaven in eternity.

B)The higher of the middling motivation is practicing religion with the genuine intention of escaping suffering forever, which is the attainment of nirvana. Note that attaining nirvana for oneself is not the highest goal.

3)The Greater: Generally speaking, the Greater motivation for practicing virtue is to help all other beings attain Buddhahood as well as yourself. This is where the juice of Lamrim and the Mahayana Buddhist path is: Developing the correct motivation for practicing Dharma (for the sake of everyone) and then training in that path. That is why Santideva's classic text, the Bodhisatvacaryavatara, is so important and prolific.

I'll update sometime this week on something interesting from the Bodhisatvacaryavatara...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Homage to Rechungpa!

Yesterday grabbed a bus out of Dharamsala with my two other Nepal Fulbrighter friends, and made our way over to TashiJong, a Tibetan settlement of about 100 families up the side of a mountain. We visited the mummified body of a deceased old yogi, who had apparently lived the majority of his life in the hollowed out part of a tree practicing the "Six Yogas of Naropa" (Naro Chodrug). On the way down the hill we were randomly granted an audience with the Khamtrul reincarnate lama of the local monastery, a shy softspoken 26 year old intellect.

My intention on going to Tashijong was to find a difficult to locate manuscript, the biography of the great Kargyudpa master Rechung Dorje Drag (Rechungpa'i rNamthar). The librarian said they were all out (there was a printing done in town in 1972), but gave me his number...

We spent the night in Bir, and were excited to learn that at the Chokling Gompa they were performing the Tsegar Drupchen, a 9-day ritual devoted to the mandala of the Buddha of Long Life (Tsepagme, Amitayus). The Chogling Rinpoche (who I have met a few times before), recognized me, and invited my friends and I to his house for dinner. We had an amazing feast of rice, redbeans, okra, etc., and I felt like they knew we were coming, having cooked so much Louisiana food. Dinner conversation was lively and I am once again beyond impressed by the Neten Chokling Rinpoche and his wife Tenzin's hospitality and good humor.

Today I went back to TashiJong and the librarian found an old copy of the Biography, so I bought it for 500 Indian rupees ($11). It is 696 folios short and includes his songs of spiritual realization. Years of fruitful translation awaits!

Back in Dharamsala and looking forward to the beginning of His Holiness' teachings tomorrow.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Back in India!

I have arrived with ease back in McLeod Ganj (Upper Dharamsala), Himachal Pradesh state, India, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama has made his home in exile. I will attend his March 4 to 14 public teachings on the classic 8th Century Mahayana Buddhist text by Santideva: Bodhisatvacaryavatara (Entering into the Conduct of an Awakening Being). I will return to Kathmandu on March 15 by air from Delhi.

I have travelled here with two other Nepal Fulbright scholars, we had to walk to the Kathmandu airport because of a general strike in the capital on Wednesday, but had no trouble upon arrival in Delhi, where we hitched a cab to the amazingly clean new light rail metro, which we rode to the budget tourist hippy district for shopping and food. After a great cheap Indian meal, we took the metro to the Old Delhi Train Station, and caught the 9:15pm overnight sleeper train to Paratganj. We arrived refreshed from a gentle train ride sleep at 7.30am in Paratjanj and took a bus to Dharamsala, and I am very excited that I have met up with my two old roomates from Kathmandu, Dan and Amber, who are both working as TA's for Emory University's Semester Tibetan Studies program in Dharamsala.

My birthday was on Feb. 24, and I celebrated it in a new way. Instead of having a party with booze and cake for me and my friends, I wanted to do something for the monks at the Chapagaon monastery. Therefore, I sponsored a Tara (female buddha) offering ritual in the morning. For the ritual, I had to distribute blesed food and money to all the monks (tradition of generosity). We then had a vegetarian feast, about ten friends came to dine with me and the 45 monks at Vajravarahi. I then went on a long walk around the countryside and played futbol with the monks in the evening. There were enough leftovers from the feast to feed all 50 of us again at night! It was one of the greatest birthdays I've had, inspired by Newari tradition of giving.