Postcard 1 from Robina: Dharamsala, Monday March 7, 2011

2011-03-07 11:00:00

On March 3 there was a new moon. It was also the first day of the Year of the Iron Rabbit, 2138, according to the Tibetan lunar calendar. Someone here in Dharamsala predicted that the weather would turn at the new moon, and, sure enough, it has.

It’s been freezing here! Last week we had snow and fat hail stones. Tushita Meditation Centre, where I’ve been based since last April, is Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s center in Dharamsala. It closes for the winter, and on December 3 I flew south to sunny Australia, missing most of the chilly winter up here, 7,000 feet above sea level, getting back two weeks ago.


Today the sun is shining and the biting cold has gone. I’ve taken off my extra layers of socks and yak wool shawls and even opened the door to let the air in.

This morning the Gyume monks came up from McLeod Ganj, the village above Dharamsala proper where His Holiness and thousands of Tibetans are based. They pulled down the old prayers flags and put up the new, welcoming the new year, supervised by Ven. Jampa, one of the meditators here. All the staff joined in outside the main meditation hall overlooking Lama Yeshe’s

I’m a city girl: give me New York, Sydney, London and the other busy metropolises any day. But here I’ve stupa, ending up with the traditional throwing of barley flour into the air while shouting auspicious aspirations. been for a whole year, up in the trees! I figure that the middle of nowhere is perfect for a retreat –  I did my first-ever retreat here, in 1978, soon after becoming a nun (not counting a couple of lam-rim courses) – but if we’re in the helping mode, cities are the best. The trees don’t need us; sentient beings surely do.

So what I am doing here? I’ve been helping out by teaching some of the short introductory courses that for 30+ years now the center has been holding. They attract foreigners from many countries, and you can see the benefit: people are hungry to hear Lord Buddha’s approach to life and are amazed and delighted to know that they can look into their minds and actually change them for the better. What a relief!


And I like doing this job: it’s my way of doing my own analysis, of being my own psychologist, as Lama Yeshe exhorts us become.

Actually, I have been doing some (enforced) retreat: part of my job has been to lead group retreats. During the year we did Nyungne fasting retreats, Tara and Medicine Buddha; and I helped out occasionally at the annual three-month Vajrasattva purification retreat during the monsoon months.

Working with the 16 brave Vajrasattva participants brought back memories of my own retreat, also in 1978. Why brave? Well, there you are, stuck in a room with 15 other people (in my case I think there were 12 of us), doing two-and-a-half hour meditation sessions, starting before dawn and ending at 9 at night. And, given that the point of this retreat is to purify past negative karma, you can guarantee that your mind becomes mightily stirred up. And that, of course, means your neurotic states of mind, your delusions, run rampant!

I remember vividly becoming completely impatient with Dieter, a mellow German monk, whose job it was to lead the sessions. I couldn’t stand the way he sang the prayers! Poor Dieter. Not far into our three months, he gave up and said, “Robina, I just can’t lead the puja with you singing over me, so you’d better lead instead.” I honestly don’t remember if I took up his offer, but it’s more than likely that I did.

When you’re in a bubble like this, the smallest thing becomes huge: you truly do make mountains out of molehills, as our mothers would say. But as long as we can see that that’s what we’re doing and we don’t follow the nonsense in our heads, then we’re fine; then we’re purifying. But when we buy into the stories our delusions tell us, that’s when we’re in big trouble.

As Rinpoche says, “Bad enough that we see things the way we do” – that is, through the filter of our own ridiculous delusional stories. “But the worst thing is that we believe it’s true.” That’s the killler: that’s what keeps us locked into suffering.

So this means that we have to stop “believing in our karmic appearances,” as Rinpoche puts it. It’s the  toughest job, but that’s when real practice begins.

And we have to be brave to not be scared of the process. A friend of mine, who’s been meditating in retreat for years, told me that, at one point, he was nearly going crazy with his anger and arrogance. Thinking, as we do, that it was bad to be so out of control, especially after so much retreat, he confessed it to Rinpoche. But Rinpoche just laughed: “Fantastic, the dirt is coming out, the dirt is coming out!” It’s like when we decide to go to the gym: the muscles really hurt, but we know it’s a good pain; it’s a sign of progress.

Anyway, I’ve nearly finished my job here: two courses to go, some teachings from His Holiness, and then, mid-April, I’ll be gone.

On the road again.

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