BACK TO BUDDHALAND
"All I have learned is that Enlightenment won't do me any good ..... To end the suffering is suicide of the Ego." 'What The Buddha Never Taught' Timothy Ward "I will give you what eye has never seen, and it will consume you. You will burn in it." 'Historical Illuminatus Chronicles' Robert Anton Wilson
I am sitting in half-lotus position on a small hand-woven carpet in the old Gompa, the main meditation and ceremonial hall at Kopan.
Beneath me is an old wooden slat floor, darkened with age, slick with Yak-butter spilled from hundreds of thousands of tiny butter lamps over years, adding a sheen, and there is a musky aroma of Tibetan incense permanently present in the Gompa.
Along the front wall a glass-encased platform runs the entire length. On one side, old scrolls, the Tibetan Sanskrit texts containing the Law or Truth, the Buddhadharma, carefully wrapped in decorative yellow silk.
These ancient documents printed on sheets of fragile paper must be protected. They crumble easily.
The rest of the platform is filled with statuary. Buddhas of every size and shape, Deities, the thousand-armed God of Compassion, Chenresi, lamas revered as deities, and the Enlightened Master who brought the Buddha's Path to Tibet, Padma Sambhava.
All colorfully adorned in silks and robes. Flowers, incense, candles and food offerings before them.
Along the remaining three walls are windows and paintings. The brightly-colored fantasia of Buddhist symbolism. The Deities represented in colorful costumes and regalia. Their bodies and countenances representative of an inner nature of being, of awareness transcending normal mortal understanding. Some have aspects like animals, others display anger and rage, still others sit in that calm equanimity, characteristic of the Buddha.
Many Deities couple in exciting sexual union with their Dakinis, those Goddesses of Wisdom and Energy. The sexual coupling depicted is symbolic of transcendence. An explicit acknowledgment of the union of Inner Man and Inner Woman. Of Shakti and Shakta, Will and Energy.
Supremely erotic yet always with an underlying message. A Universal Truth! The psychedelic renderings involving evocative themes leave me breathless.
And I am sitting here, with half a dozen others before Lama Lundrup, Abbot of Kopan Monastery, feeling anxious. 'What will my family think?' Feeling excited. 'This is perfect, Here and Now!' Feeling and accepting that this fits so well with my Path, my Life.
The holy Lama, sitting before me, smiling and talking, constantly clearing his throat, commences in a guttural voice: 'You have come here of your own choice, this is an important step. You are accepting the Buddha's Dharma.'
'The First Noble Truth: Life Is Suffering. The other Noble Truths: There is a path out of suffering ......... Blah, blah, blah.'
He says it! 'Blah, Blah, Blah!' and breaks into a full belly laugh. I become convulsed with laughter also. It is hard not to, sitting with Tibetan Lamas.
This is an Initiation. I am taking Refuge in the Triple Gem: The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha. I am becoming a lay Buddhist. This makes so much sense for me, I have been living as a Buddhist for years. Following the Dharma, without knowing until now that I was in tune with the Buddha's Teachings. The absence of any hesitation in my body reveals to me how natural and entirely consistent with my life this occasion is.
As the Tibetans say, 'This is an auspicious occasion!'
Lama Lundrup is speaking again in his broken English, smiling, giving us instructions for 'Right Action' and I reflect back almost two weeks before, to what brought me here, now.
Kathmandu: Is This Tibet?Arriving on an overnight bus from Janakpur in southern Nepal, coming into Kathmandu, my mind is filled with thoughts of snow-mountains, the Himalayas, of an ancient city, a land beyond time, an old and seldom-visited corner of the world.
I am looking forward to a traveler's haven, a real cup of coffee, pizza, pasta. And, of course, temples and rituals.
My senses too are filled. Sun rising orange and dusty. New aromas, an assortment of Himalayan cooked foods, street stalls filled with fried edibles, unwashed animals, incense, smell of woven carpets and shoe stalls.
New costumes, a variety of traditional dress and western garb, sounds of horns blaring, shouts, yells, dogs barking, cattle in the streets and blessed cool air upon my skin. Exotica incarnate.
The taxi driver, always looking for a western fare of course, finds me. 'I take you good hotel! Cheap price!' It is either his brother's place, or he receives a commission. I instruct him to take me to Thamel, a travelers' grotto in Kathmandu. There I will choose my own accommodation.
The streets in Thamel are a mix of dirt, stone and asphalt, and are alive with the buzz of vendors. Hawkers hawk everything. Brown stocky men in pointed, geometrically patterned, colored caps are carrying goods and produce, are working in small stalls repairing everything from shoes to camping equipment, or are selling Tibetan-made carpets.
Women, flat-faced, with soft skin and those oval Asian eyes, so remarkably enigmatic. Black hair, long-pony-tailed, tied with white, red and black cords, silver ornaments on the braided ends, wearing long brown or gray shift dresses. Silk and cotton cord strands around their necks filled with turquoise stones, yellow and black glass beads and round red globes. Tibetan jewelry.
The shops sell Tibetan Thankas, religious paintings, Visual Mantras depicting the Buddha in different postures, or other Gods such as Chenresi. Bronze dorjes, the Buddhist male Lingam, and bronze bells, th female Yoni. Prayer wheels, jewelry, a plethora of clothing, sweaters, pants, T-shirts. Anything the western wanderer might desire. A shopper's delight.
Shops with names like 'Tibet View', 'Tibet Lodge', 'Himalayan Adventure', 'Shambala'. If the Tibetan refugees are not profiting from the Mystery, the Nepalese are!
On a side street off main Thamel Road, corner intersection, police are standing. In back, a telephone line post, an immediate signpost in ad-hoc assembly.
No form, no planned shape, a multitude of announcements, nailed metal squares and rectangles: 'Kathmandu Hotel' 'Dreamland', 'San Francisco Pizza', 'Dorje Lodge', 'Bella Donna Pizza', 'Videos at Gurkha Lodge and Restaurant', 'Paradise Bookstore', 'Lhassa View Hotel', 'Napoli Italian Restaurant', 'Napoli Pasta House', 'Siddhartha's Book Shop'.
On the left, an open gate to 'Le Bistro Austrian Restaurant'. Walking past the courtyard, into the main room for a western style lunch, I notice a posted billboard: Buddhist Meditation Retreat, Kopan Monastery. Too soon, I gotta shop!
Walking around Kathmandu that day is relaxing. There is so much to engage my interest: Thankas, vajras, bells, rugs, auspicious symbols, Buddha images, beads, malas, trekking guides, porters, mountains, maps, camping gear, weather.
Stopping for an afternoon cappucino at Pumpernickels, the 'In' spot for breakfast, I notice another signboard: 'Meditation Retreat, Kopan Monastery'. Suddenly it hits like a Vajra Thunderbolt! The message: That's where I am headed!
More Suffering, More DharmaBags loaded, I'm out on the street hailing a taxi. The road out of Kathmandu becomes gravel. We pass old buildings crumbling at the sides, fronts filled with an assortment of enterprises, then dirt, past the cows and buffalo walking along the road obstructing all who meet them, up, winding upward toward Kopan Hill and .......?
There is this Witness I have, inside just up around my shoulder to the right, kind of looking out, watching in a curious manner.
This Witness wears a pointy little cap and a quizzical grin. It seems to the Witness that once the decision was made, that everything just moved onto automatic pilot. That all else just faded into the background; nothing is relevant anymore but my determined objective. At least I have a witness.
We negotiate the last few bumpy rut-riven dirt curves and I am at the gate. Bright orange, green, white, blue, all those Auspicious Symbols in Day-Glo psychedlia. And through. I unload my bags in the drive, notice a few retreat attendee's, all westerners standing around drinking chai, and these two huge dogs, black, brown and BIG. Temple dogs!
In the office I register, make a donation for the ten days I'll be here. Reading over the schedule: Up at 6 a.m., morning tea, Meditation, Dharma Talk, breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, more Dharma and more Meditation. Three to four hours of Meditation, three meals, no Yoga. No Sweat!
Reflecting back to Wat Suan Mokh, the Thai forest monastery: up at 4 a.m., austere, 7 to 8 hours of sitting meditation, Dharma talks and Work. Severe and hardcore. This retreat seems easy by comparison.
Bag in hand, walking around the hill to my assigned room on the western slope, passing little huts, young monks in their maroon and gold robes and bald heads, memorizing and reciting Sanskrit sutras, goats and cows.
Rows of dormitories have been built here and there around Kopan Hill. A surprising number for visiting westerners. At the front, just above the gate, a large new red brick building houses the monks and Lamas. It looks modern, fresh and clean.
I find my small room, two beds, a spartan place. These Tibetan Buddhists are not quite so concerned or committed to the complete separation of men and women. In my building women upstairs, men down. I meet my room-mate, an Italian named Jacopo, at the door. He offers me a joint.
The first evening, the usuals: Where have we come from, why are we here? The schedule, introduction of the teachers, the usuals. A delicious and filling vegetarian dinner. Then back to our meditation hall, a mini-Gompa separate from the old main Gompa, a new building.
I look around at the fifty or so westerners who have come to drink from the Well of Liberation. A few have visited before. Some are already Buddhist and are here with desire to go deeper into their commitment and understanding.
For most, it is the first time in a monastery and the first time they have been introduced to Meditation. An interesting group for me and I wonder who I will connect with in a deeper way over the coming days.
For now, my focus is on my own personal growth. I came here to discover a way to go further in my meditation practice. I was also interested in the Tibetan Buddhist practices and want to learn more. Perhaps they have meaning for my life.
The first evening meditation, sitting in silence. And something more. During the meditation, Brother David, a western monk, begins to guide the meditation.
Watching the breath, then visualizing breathing in energy in light form. Bright golden white. Through the nose, through the body. Bringing light in, exhaling darkness, smoke, distress.
This is new. A new form. Not quite Anapanasati or Vipassana. There is more to this than just watching the breath, watching my nose! A tidal wave of emotions fill my body, churning through the torso, then leave my body. It is an energetic reaction and I feel changed, subtly. Calm and peaceful. What is to come?
I decide to awaken at five every day. Morning Yoga as the Sun rises, the animals awaken. Dogs bark, hawks scream in that voice that sounds like a baby abandoned by its mother. Shaking the weariness away, Yoga feels good.
Greeting the dawn, raising this body, salutation to the sun and communion with the planet. Exhilaration! After a shower, 6:30 a.m. Tea. Then to the hall for Meditation.
Meals here are filling. Three a day. Always ample and varied. Fully vegetarian, an assortment of salads, cooked greens, rice, breads, fruits and porridge. Healthy eating on the Path for this Seeker!
Is a monk's life so hard?Well, Yes ...... The young monks here do not eat the same fare as westerners. Mostly rice, lentils and tsampa. Yes, I am paying for this, still ..... grateful for the sustenance and at least I clean my own plate afterward.
'Life is suffering' begins Brother David, the western monk giving the morning Dharma talks.
I know the story ......... still, willing to listen, I believe there may be something here for me. Something new. And soon ...... 'We are the Gelukpa Sect, whose Spiritual Leader is the Dalai Lama. We are part of the Mahayana tradition.'
Mahayana, the "Greater Path" or "the Great Vehicle". This is the form of Buddhism brought to Tibet by the enlightened Master from India, Padma Sambhava, the great Tantric teacher. In many Tibetan Gompas this Rinpoche is revered as much as the Buddha himself!
Broad in scope, full, rich and deep. A spiritual landscape, a galaxy of almost overwhelming intellectual, philosophical, practical and emotional wisdom that provides food for even the hungriest of Seekers. It is, as the Lamas say, the full body of the Buddha's teachings.
Yet there is an even higher teaching. Even more exotic. Erotic actually. Those images on the temple walls, of the deities ecstatically coupled in sexual embrace, bear testament to this. The Quick Path to Enlightenment. Vajrayana. Tantra.
In Thailand I studied and learned the basics. Began with Hinayana, "The Lesser Vehicle". Thai Buddhists prefer the term "Theravada".
Theravada teaches of ultimate Personal Responsibility. The path to cessation of personal suffering taught by Ajahns, Buddhist Masters.
Mahayana is as colorful, filled with pageantry, ritual and inexpressible boundlessness as Hinayana is sparse, austere and rigid.
Brother David leads us through the various forms of suffering: Birth, disease, old age and death. The suffering that will arise from the ten forms of non-virtuous action belonging to Body, Speech and Mind. This is familiar for me. Suffering arises from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, hatred, greed, gossip and the rest.
Yet, hearing the doctrine each time brings new insights into how my perspective has changed. Always there is a new dimension or nuance which unfolds. Perhaps I am now ready for a deeper message.
I have become more aware of how the way I move in the world directly affects my being, how my relating with others directly affects me. All those attachments, clinging to temporary pleasure or grasping for something out of boredom or desperation, still there, yet more obvious.
And I have deepened a meditation practice and found a fountain of serenity in often difficult times.
Ever since Thailand, I've noticed how my thoughts and actions have shifted toward equanimity and the recognition that all is impermanent.
And reminders of how to endeavor in Right Action. I have become even more reluctant to kill mosquitoes!
And then ......... he extends virtuous and non-virtuous actions into past and future. Karma.
The Cosmic Metaphysical Scales of Justice. The mental set of immortal mind, the ties that bind, the incredible cosmogony of compounded cause and effect, the ultimate realization of the nature of predisposition to suffering, the inescapable Law of Governance in the East. In short, the Broad View.
Now, after years of psychotherapeutic realizations and awarenesses, after resurrecting childhood trauma, angst, painful release of blocked energy. After talking, screaming, crying, yelling, pushing, hitting, breathing, dancing, singing, psychodrama. After drivenness, stuckness, relationships both painful and pleasurable, physical discomforts and illnesses, successes, failures, working-through processes and accepting.
Now ....... I have a new basis for reflecting on all this! Karma. Inevitability. It all began a long, long, time ago.
A lifetime ago, in fact, thousands of lifetimes ago. WHEW! HEAVY! ............
Can I accept this? Did I live a thousand lifetimes past? What did I do that brought me to this present state of existence? Was I a King, a Philosopher, a Farmer, or a Beggar?
For now, I will suspend disbelief. This is the East. Karma is the Law!
The afternoon meditation is led by Sister Sarah. I sit in half-lotus position on a cushion in the Gompa, eyes lightly closed, slowly inhaling, slowly exhaling ...... breathing-in breathing-out, just observing the breath, slowly sinking in.
The nun begins to lead a cleansing meditation.
'With forefinger of your right hand. close the right nostril, breathing slowly into the left, visualizing a pure white light entering the body, flowing up to your head, down to your belly through a red tube, the left channel. Next ..... opening the right nostril, closing the left, exhale slowly, visualizing a dark black cloud, anger hatred and ignorance leaving your body. Then, again with forefinger, close the left nostril, breathing into the right. A white light flowing into a blue tube. Closing the right nostril, exhale desire, greed and attachment in a black cloud through the left. Finally, both hands in lap, breathe in white light through both nostrils, hold the breath and move the energy to the central channel, cleansing and purifying'.
Karma cleansing brought to you by Kopan Monastery!
We observe a half-day's silence each day. This gives me a chance to practice Tranquil Mind while going about all those daily tasks. Walking around the Monastery grounds, bathing, eating meals with my fellow retreat companions, washing clothes and cleaning the room. The daily routine is simple, little effort is required, and meditative. The serenity a welcome relief.
I have much to absorb, and the silence encourages me to slow down. I am filled with questions, and this time is a welcome respite to all the chatter that I can create inside when given a chance. It is useless, I know. All will be revealed in time.
During the talking period I come to know a few of my fellow retreat participants, yet curiously, not many names. The names seem unnecessary. One German fellow - broad, quick smile, short unkempt hair, tattered clothes, middle-aged - his name is Rolf.
Rolf explains that he comes for a retreat once every year, or when the material world gets too crazy, tedious, boring, stressful ...... all of the above.
He smiles, "After a while, it's just too much out there! I come here to try and find a little silence ...... for the Mind."
We laugh. Even this is transient!
I am still smoking, going out through the gate after meals, walking dirt paths among the few houses. Nepali farmers up here on Kopan hill smile as I pass: 'Namaste' It feels good to leave the Monastery, even for a short while.
The cigarette is an old friend, a welcome confidant. I feel like a teen-ager in High School, sneaking a smoke. Even this need has decreased considerably, loosening the yokes of attachment. And I wonder if this is an indication, an auspicious message heralding my imminent Enlightenment?
The afternoon Dharma talks are presented by Geshe Norbu Dorje, a Tibetan Lama living in Hong Kong. Squat, muscular, brown, a football player's neck, bald head. The Geshe could be a professional wrestler! And a quick disarming smile. Maybe an innocently naive wrestler. He'd be a hit in those orange and gold robes. Respectfully and endearingly we call him Geshe-la.
The Lama, who speaks only Tibetan, is giving us a teaching: The Seven Point Thought Transformation. His teaching, interpreted into English, is a transmission, a time-honored oral tradition. An annotated version is displayed on the wall for notes, yet, it is his delivery and instruction that are important.
"This Transmission, this Brilliant Jeweled Crystal teaching, this Blessed Lotus Flower containing the aroma of all precious Lotuses and the ineffable immortal Truth of all past Buddhas, has been handed down, beginning with Sakyamuni, the most-recent Buddha, to Manjusri. Manjusri, the All-Knowing wise and caring Deity, pale red carrying the bowl of wisdom in his left hand, anointed Joe-Bob Tulku, Rinpoche, the founder of our Lineage with this awesome knowledge for self-transformation, and the ultimate cessation of suffering of all sentient beings. Joe-Bob Tulku, Rinpoche, before ascending to the transparent voidness bestowed this enviable knowledge upon .............."
Three Days! That's right Dharma Bums and Buddies! Three days of lineage! Three days of Tulkus and Rinpoches. All the reincarnated past deities and High Lamas that have handed down the scriptures in oral transmissions. Schools of the Masters, all the way down, or up, depending on your perspective, to our present time. Here and now, brought to us by our Geshe-la!
The Lama explains that all this is necessary. Any teaching given by the Tibetans is preceded by a recitation of the lineage. They are explicitly instructed to recite the lineage of the teaching, the total, uninterrupted history.
Otherwise, he explains, how can we trust, have faith in and accept the teaching as "The Dharma" or "The Truth". I Gotta Believe!
It is during the breaks and meals that I can witness myself and my actions. My hunger for Buffalo steak, or a Capuccino. Frustration at not finding enough water up here on the hill for a shower. Questioning if this is really worthwhile or just a waste of time, idle hands with too much money.
It is difficult to maintain that 'spiritual' presence. Like after days of meditating, and wanting desperately some human contact.
With a number of attractive women here at the Retreat, I can feel all my lust and desire rising. Fuck this Meditation Shit! I feel my body calling! Uhhh .... That's Samsara. Attachment to the senses. It's a fantasy. All temporary, all impermanent. You know it! I know it! Still. Damn! Will I ever learn?
The Seven Point Thought Transformation, Geshe Norbu explains, is a practice. A way of exchanging self with others. A way of realizing through Meditation and direct experience the unity in existence and our own being as part of that. A way of coming to accept all sentient beings as divine, and treating all we encounter as divine. One of the practices on the Bodhisattva Path toward developing Bodhicitta. The Compassionate Heart.
This sounds simple, yet over the days of the instruction on gaining clarity of mind and experience, and the deepening understanding of the depth of practice, I realize how difficult this can be. With a certain awkwardness I am beginning to realize how significant and encompassing the practice is.
Imagine in your mind three people before you. The first a close friend or lover, someone you feel a deep, intimate, affectionate connection with. The second, someone you dislike, an enemy, where there is antagonism and no common ground. Where your most common feelings toward this person are anger, fear or distrust. The last, a neutral person. Someone you neither like nor dislike, in fact, have no real attachment to and no feelings one way or the other.
Now, with each one, separately, in your consciousness, slowly project your awareness into their consciousness. Imagine yourself in their bodies, seeing through their eyes, hearing with their ears, smelling what they smell. Experiencing what they experience.
Feeling what they feel. Without prejudice, without judgment. Attempt to understand the way they understand, from their experience. Their joys, their happiness, hunger, sadness, anger. Just witnessing, just noticing.
Now this effort flows into equalizing, to accepting the good and the bad in each, without attaching feelings or judgments of good and bad for each different person. And eventually, allowing a natural wish to arise to remove or cause to cease any of the pain, sadness and suffering in all these people. Equally.
This is an unusual approach for me. I feel uncomfortable at first. There is a real fear of becoming absorbed. With difficulty and hesitancy accepting the experience of the internal awarenesses. Finally surrendering the ego and all those constraining excuses. And I'm amazed at the new spaces, the acceptance and clarity I'm finding within myself.
Can I really relate to everyone as equal? I don't know. Can I accept everyone without any judgment or prejudice? Regardless of what I encounter? I have a feeling this applies to myself as well. Can I transform myself into a Buddha?
Bodhicitta. WOW! What a concept!
A New Game In Town - Cosmic Compassion-- Having gained stability, receive the secret Teaching. -- Consider all phenomena as a dream. -- Banish the one object of every blame. -- One is always accompanied by only joyful thoughts. -- Purify first whichever affliction is heaviest. -- Abandon poisonous food. -- Do not load an Ox with the load of a Dzo.
A Dzo? What the hell is a Dzo? I don't even have an Ox.
Trying desperately to merge and integrate instructions for the Seven Point Thought Transformation, a typed sheet, with Geshe-la's discourse is frustrating. Am having much difficulty. Somehow, his oral transmission does not seem to jibe.
Somehow it all makes sense, in a nonsensical way.
Day after day, deeper into the heart of compassion. I am changing. Subtly. New vistas of awareness are revealed to me, like windows that have been boarded up and are now opened.
From some new place inside I am more willing to accept my own and others' faults. That compulsion toward criticism or needing to change something is withering like a dying weed. Even those old tapes, or ideas of how the world should be, are slowly becoming unwound and erased. Nothing really needs to fit my concept of 'The Perfect World'.
I am surprisingly more willing to accept my own encumbrances. New cognition and overwhelming comprehension from a newly opened door.
With a stern countenance, after minutes of throat clearing, deep roar, cavernous depths from ages past, the Geshe recommends:
"You must develop Altruistic Mind!" Then breaks out in another deep belly laugh.
To a Lama, Cosmic Truth is Cosmic Comedy.
At least that may be one explanation. I keep encountering these High Tibetan Spiritual Teachers who seem to initiate laughter like the innocence of children. They live in a totally different reality. Like everything is a game or comedy. Like all events are simply created for their amusement.
Sometimes it becomes maddening. What is it they have, they see, they feel that I don't, or don't recognize? A smile creeps across my lips, like a shade.
And Brother David, studious and serious as any western Monk, is riding a Freight Train, comin' down the rails hard and heavy, informing us of "Cyclic Existence". The Wheel of Rebirth.
A cosmogony of experiential states of existence, starting with the Hell Realms. A brief description of suffering in the eight Hell Realms: Fire, cold, hot iron, swords, blood and pus, etc. All that suffering, all that pain! This seems reminiscent of Dante's Inferno.
Then onto Hungry Ghosts, Animals, Jealous Gods and Deities. WHEW! There seems no end to the trials I can create for myself. The Gods even fight amongst themselves! Even in Heaven, there is suffering amidst all that pleasure!
I will be stuck in Samsara for another million years if I don't take this opportunity to escape! No wonder they call this life the 'Precious Human Birth'!
As another teacher, a close friend and brother once told me: 'We've done this a billion times before!'
Walking up toward the dining hall I spot the two huge temple dogs, black and brown, the "Kopan Dogs". Guardians of this flock of Monks. Well fed, healthy, playful, rolling, jumping, lazy. David says they are Lower Realm, animals. He assures me they are suffering. I suspect the Kopan Dogs are really enlightened!
'TAYATA OM MUNI MUNI MAHA MUNIYE SOHA'
The Buddha's Mantra, guided by one of the nuns. Sitting cross-legged, simply visualizing the Buddha before me sitting upon a pink Lotus on top of a golden sun disk pillow, and on top of that a silver moon disk pillow.
He wears golden robes and a body of transparent light. A face surrounded by dark curly hair, long ear lobes and the mouth a peaceful smile. He is emanating golden rays of light in all directions to all sentient beings. Chanting and visualizing is hard work.
There is a story about the Dalai Lama. It is told that each day, when he awakens, he goes immediately into deep meditation. And through that meditation, he creates the world anew, each and every day!
Questioning the nun, Sister Sarah, on my difficulty in maintaining concentration, she describes the nature of a High Lama's meditation:
"Visualize a Buddha-field filled with images of the Buddha in infinite detail. Add to that a galactic host of Deities and Dakinis, all alive, different, unique in color, form shape and disposition. All in cosmic motion! Now, include a complex chant, a mantra, in concert with others. Hand mudras, those symbolic gestures meant to evoke inner states of consciousness, holding ritual implements, vajras, bells, drums. Bring in sound, a thunder of percussion and tympanic bells ringing. All absorbed in Meditative Equipoise."
I suspect I am riding a Model-T Ford. The Lamas are on an Interstellar Spaceship! This is Tantra. This is Reality Creation.
By the middle of the sixth day, I have come through changes. My Meditation has reached new depths and I have crossed frontiers of consciousness and awareness heretofore unknown in my experience.
I have looked into inner depths of my being, noticed aspects of myself needing work, and have released old baggage, old beliefs that have not served me for a lifetime!
New dimensions of feeling within my heart have emerged. I am more accepting of myself. Things really aren't that bad. The effects of Karma, or actions on my life are like lessons to receive and grow from. And more importantly, I have found the space within to accept others more readily. Each has his own Karma to manifest and to deal with.
A surprising realization surfaces like a low voltage electric current. In many ways, I have been living as a Buddhist, and thus I make an unavoidable decision: I want to make the implicit, explicit - Bodhicitta is in my blood.
In the Gompa I approach Brother David at the end of the lecture, informing him that I want to take refuge in the Triple Gem, here at Kopan. He responds with a smile, responding that he will ask Lama Lundrup to perform the ceremony when they meet.
Leaving David and the Gompa, I begin the five-minute walk up to the Dining Hall, contemplating this momentous decision. I am one of the first in our group to enter the hall. Kitchen helpers are preparing the food, setting the bowls out for us to take from.
There is an old monk, short, squat, bald with a thin wispy mustache turned downward and an odd grin, in the hall. The monk is walking around, in a peculiar kind of meditative absorption checking the food, checking the eating utensils, the table. He staggers, as if drunk, with that lopsided grin. I suspect he may fall over any moment.
The Monk staggers over to me, casually. A tinge of embarrassment reddens my cheeks as he approaches. He puts his arms around me, hugs me and breaks out in a broad toothy grin.
A strong arm squeezes my shoulder as he looks into my eyes. Murmuring in Tibetan, he exclaims loudly, "Good! Good!", with a broad smile on his face.
A shock rips through my body as I realize who this drunken monk is!
Lama Lundrup, The Abbot of Kopan! Immediately another realization unfolds: He knows who I am. He knows that I want to take refuge, and is congratulating me. He knows that I spoke with Brother David. Yet, David is still in the Gompa, they have not met! How does he Know?
During the next few days I am absorbed. Geshe-la and the Oral Transmission on developing compassion, Brother David and Cyclic Existence, Karma, obscurations, virtuous and non-virtuous action, and the Nuns with meditation and Visual Imagery.
My Samadhi is deepening. I am preparing for initiation and it is all coming together. The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
An Ending With A New BeginningAs Lama Lundrup continues with the initiation, I have a feeling of serenity. He gives us the Buddha's Mantra to recite and I verbalize the oath of acceptance, of surrender to the Buddha's guidance, in Tibetan.
In just ten short days there has occurred an enormous shift in my being like some universal washing machine has agitated all the soil and grime from old clothes. Inside. I feel transformed in a profound way. It is not just one thing, like a new understanding, or learning from a book.
I sense it is a combination of the Geshe's Oral Transmission, The discourses, and my Meditation. I sense another kind of shift besides.
The funny thing is, this is not the surface feeling of 'nice'. There is this new consciousness around other sentient beings. That for all appearances on the outside, we are basically the same. Connected in a way that whatever our experiences are, they are truly shared.
Perhaps not in this lifetime, but in many. Whatever sufferings another has experienced, there appears this unavoidable admission that I have experienced the same. And that even though I may not be attracted to another, they are still Divine Beings.
In some cosmic way, my actions affect them as much as they affect me.
There is now a new acceptance of myself as well. A more profound understanding that all my actions, whether they manifest as successes or failures are just external appearances. My actions, or the ways I relate to and respond to the world, are my own creation. Everything.
This is the message behind many of the Lama's meditations. That I create my own Reality. And, with awareness and practice, I can affect that reality. Meaningless in and of themselves, they are useful as tools for my continued growth, as lessons.
When I extend this to others, when I am in an open and accepting awareness, then I can be more fully there for another. More present, not caught up solely in myself.
This is cultivating an attitude of selflessness. I can feel that intuitively this brings me closer to my heart. In fact, I do feel my heart more, and remember that somewhere we are connected in a way that does not create friction.
The surprising thing that I find in this, is the more accepting and open I feel toward others, the more comfortable I feel with myself. Even deeper, an intense love. With that love, knowing it is there, present, immanent, what use is suffering?
Suffering is just an obstacle for myself, and for others as well. It becomes easy to just 'Get out of the way' and accommodate others. An easy thing to do. What harm can come?
The Theravadin teachings I received in Thailand strengthened me in that knowledge and acceptance of taking ownership. Accepting my own personal responsibility as a mature being. Not blaming outside influences for all my experiences or actions.
I also came to accept the hard truths of impermanence. Nothing lasts forever, even if I wish it were so!
What the Lamas have given me as a sparkling jeweled gift is another level of that intrinsic sense of responsibility. Yes, certainly for myself. They showed me that I need to go beyond this small self. That ultimately in my interconnectedness, I can accept responsibility for the way my actions affect others as well.
This does not mean giving myself away, or taking the burdens of the world upon guilt-ridden shoulders. For me, it is simply the awareness that I will have an effect on others, and to have the intention that that effect be life-affirming, not life-denying.
As the Abbot places a ceremonial silk scarf, a kata, around my shoulders, with his blessing, I am filled with tears. This is the final act in the ceremony. I feel I have traveled a lifetime. Just to arrive at a new beginning.
Reflections in the MountainsMy initiation over, leaving Kopan I headed for the 'real' hills, The Himalayas. Langtang Himal.
Spending time doing the trekking thing, back in the natural world, Mother Earth around me, the physical exertion of climbing high-altitude mountain passages, breathing fresh pure air, touching fertile soil in an unpolluted environment and walking through small villages of tribal people tucked away in a far corner, are a blessing for me. I have taken time to reflect upon transformation.
I am amazed I took the step. Realizing, more and more, that is exactly what it is, just another step on the Path.
My Jungle experience, the Shamans, Medicine Men, in the deep Amazon and the tribal Indigenous awakened me to a new reality of living in unity with the Earth and awareness of the the spirit world as a natural part of existence. That there is no separation in Nature!
I am a part of this also, I can feel this intimate connection as a part of me, inside. I arrived at a Oneness with the World!
Experience and growth through the Mahayana teachings is another frontier and a lifelong endeavor. The highest tantric teachings can only be broached through a teacher, after long periods of meditation, initiation and insight.
As a Path, the richness lies in recognizing self, others, phenomena and existence for what they are. For me, the unfolding horizon of developing compassion is like a new awakening, with far more left to explore.
Each person I meet, each encounter, is an opportunity to open more, to understand more, to accept more. Every day I am constantly surprised at the freshness and novelty encountered on the Path to the Heart.
And the broad scope of this Practice does not preclude other Shamanic Paths. Indeed, the Vajrayana Vehicle is Shamanic in its essence. Dharma is Dharma, however found. The psychedelic Gompas of the Tibetans give ample testimony to this. Even though the teachings prescribe a 'specific' nature of Reality, this is often subtle and elusive.
I may still have questions about the reality of the Hell Realms, or of guilt inducement toward virtuous action. Different people need different motivations. Yet, the powerful aspects of living Bodhicitta, of disciplining the mind through Meditation, of engaging Wisdom and understanding through visualization and experience. These are enough for now.
I won't waste this Precious Human Birth!
And I am feeling a yearning to return to India. It is like a hunger I can feel with each passing day. I am headed for a visit to the south, Lucknow. I have heard there is an extraordinary Guru there.
I must visit.
"When you throw your seeds of desire ...... thought ..... ambition ....... greed ....... into this fire, they are burnt. And then, finally, you throw your Ego ..... The most purified dream ..... That too is burnt. This is real Yajña, real ritual, a real sacrifice." 'Tantra Vision' Osho Rajneesh
Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman
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