Postcard 13 from Robina: Israel, Monday August 29, 2011

Aug 29, 2011

I left Toulouse on the first day of the Universal Wisdom Education (UWE) conference at Institut Vajra Yogini – what a pity I couldn’t participate. My old friend Ven. Connie Miller was there: she’s been working for thirty-plus years on what Lama called Universal Education and which Lama Zopa Rinpoche called Essential Education – and which Osel Hita Rinpoche, Lama’s reincarnation, has changed to UWE. He was there to film the event (below, with Rasmus Hougaard, founder of the Potential Project; and interviewing Ven. Connie. Photos by Ven. Freeman Trebilcock).

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Also at IVY is the Swiss painter Peter Iseli, recently arrived with his wife Jangchub. Peter and I first worked together in England in the late 1970s when Wisdom was beginning in the West: we commissioned Peter to design the Wisdom logo, which is still in use. Rinpoche has asked Peter to paint a 15-meter/45-foot long painting of the Twenty-one Taras. The institute is providing him with a studio and they need to raise the roof to accommodate such a huge project.

What a pity, also, that I couldn’t participate in Khadro-la’s teachings at Nalanda Monastery down the road. But I didn’t miss His Holiness’s teachings.

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With my old friend Peter Iseli; His Holiness’s teachings in Toulouse.

So now I’m in Israel: such a place. I’ve been coming here, always at the invitation of Dharma Friends of Israel, for nine years now. I met one of the group, Shahar Sagi, in November 2001 in Kathmandu and came the following year.

It seems that Israeli Jews are wide open to Buddhism, and Dharma Friends has been the main channel for the teachings. Every year they host many main events, and every event is packed with people. For some reason India, in particular Dharamsala, has been popular with Israelis: for years now at the Tushita courses sometimes a third of the participants are Israelis; many of the McLeod Ganj restaurants include Hebrew in their menus.

Many lamas have been here: His Holiness the Dalai Lama (invited by others), Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, Denma Locho Rinpoche, Jhado Rinpoche, Geshe Pema Dorje, Gen. Gyatso and others, as well as some Kagyu lamas. Ven. Rita comes every year for several months; Ven. Sean comes; Ven. Sangye Khadro; and for the first time last year, the first female geshe, from Dharamsala, the German nun Geshe Kelsang Wangmo.

Just now a group of students (not under the umbrella of Dharma Friends) are excitedly organizing a visit of the FPMT Relic Tour

The group was started by Boaz Amichai and other friends who invited Ven. Thubten Chodron 15 years ago. And now there’s an FPMT group here: Ven. Tekchok, a Jerusalem dentist, and Ven. Chokyi, a nun and former student of Geshe Jampa Gyatso in Italy, have been accepted as a study group and are called Mahamudra Study Group. Slowly, slowly they’ll sow seeds.

It’s such a small piece of land, Israel – you could jog across it and not get tired. Except, of course, you’d be stopped now by the wall that’s near completion that the Israeli government has erected around the entire border (see photo below) that divides Israel from Palestine, or the West Bank, as it’s called.

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PHOTO Luay Sababa/MaanImages

I visited the main city there, Ramallah, for the first time this week. I always assumed one needed to be escorted, but not true. Trouble is, Israeli Jews are not allowed to enter the “occupied territories” and therefore the vast majority of the people in both places, who sincerely want peace, never talk to each other, which just feeds projections and fear.

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Ramallah’s Stars & Bucks Cafe.

Ramallah is a vibrant city of round 25,000 inhabitants, a quarter of them Christian. It’s nearly the end of Ramadan and on Saturday night the place was packed with people in celebratory mood. My driver was Abed (below), an Arab Israeli who, unlike many of his fellow Arabs inside Israel has accepted Israeli citizenship and lives still, as has his family for generations, in East Jerusalem. He says there’s virtually no crime in Ramallah, where he ran a business for 20 years, hardly any drugs, no homelessness, and most people work. There seemed to be lots of development going on: apartment blocks, houses, offices, hotels. There are big new government headquarters, helped, it seems by US and Israeli money.

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Abed said that most of the people have never seen a Buddhist nun before, so there were plenty of curious looks. Good: I’m happy to leave some imprints in the minds for the future.

I wouldn’t be surprised that changes in Israel will inevitably come about as a result of this intense interest in Buddhism. These newly-minted Buddhists will have babies and guess who else would get born to Buddhist parents but more people with Buddhist connections. I tell my friends to be happy they’re Israeli: in spite of the immense and seemingly insurmountable problems here, they’ve probably made strong prayers in the past to be born in a country that needs them, thus fulfilling their bodhisattva aspirations.

For six weeks something unusual has been happening in Israel: a surge of protest against rising prices. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis hit the streets to demonstrate and hundreds have stayed on for weeks, camping in tents along Rothschild Boulevard. They won’t go away, they say or stop demonstrating – there was another one a couple of days ago – until the government takes meaningful action over out-of-control prices of food, rent and the cost of living.

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Israelis taking to the streets last month to protest rising housing prices. Prices for apartments have gone up 55% and rents 27% in five years.

I leave tomorrow for Australia, where I’ll spend three months. The main thing on their minds, I think, is Australian Rules Football, which moves into the finals in a week or so.

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Hundreds are living in a protest encampment on the well-to-do Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv started by one Israeli woman who was forced to leave her apartment and unable to find a home she could afford. “It started as a housing protest, but now it’s far wider,” Adi Peled, a 30-year-old special education teacher told the LA Times. “Now there’s a unity in the air, a shared cause and common denominator that’s been missing from our alienated society.” More than 500 tents-protests have now sprung up in other locations throughout Israel. PHOTOS Karnit (above); AP/Oded Balilty (below).

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