Postcard 2 from Robina: Dharamsala, Monday March 21, 2011

2011-03-21 11:00:00

Tushita has been pretty quiet for a week. The 12 or so people here doing a one-month course to prepare for ordination as monks and nuns are working away in the Medicine Buddha gompa, above the dining room, but that’s it, apart from the staff. They’ll go down to His Holiness’s temple tomorrow to join another 80 or so to receive their vows, including six novice monks from Kopan Monastery, Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s monastery in Nepal. The course is an annual event, encouraged by His Holiness, says Sister Jotika who, with Ven. Rita, runs it.


But by tomorrow the place will be packed with 100-plus people, here for the next 9-day  introductory course, run by Glen Svensson, a graduate from the first FPMT 7-year Master’s Program in Italy, and an intermediate one, run by me. Just arrived is Ondy Willson, to help with teaching the courses for three months. We’ve known each other since the 1980s in England, at Manjushri Institute. Most recently Ondy has been running the Lama Yeshe Study Group in the north of England. She’ll cut her teeth by being the meditation leader for Glen’s course, then take on courses once I leave in three-plus weeks’ time.

Tushita is run by Linda Gyatso, an Englishwoman. She’s supported by Ven. Kunphen, Gillian, Kiko, Ora, and a local staff of cooks, a carpenter, cleaners, an electrician, a handiman, and a night-watchman. Recently arrived is Mary Smith from San Francisco, who worked with me at Liberation Prison Project, who’s the housekeeper, helped by another former LPPer, Sue Ann Powers.

Parts of the place have changed a lot since it started in the early 1970s, but some of it remains the same. Three little A-frame meditation huts down the hill from Lama Yeshe’s stupa are still standing, forty years later! People say they’re very nice to do retreat in. New is the main meditation hall, much bigger and grander than the rambling old house that it replaced. Originally this was the home of Trijang Rinpoche, the junior tutor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and root guru to Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who moved out so Lama could have a retreat center for his new students. Once you’d done your one-month lam-rim course at Kopan, you came here for your three-month Vajrasattva purification retreat (which I talked about in my last postcard).

Twenty years ago, Rinpoche got Tushita to build a special Vajrasattva gompa, just for the retreat. And Rinpoche commissioned a statue of Vajrasattva in the aspect of Lama Yeshe: it startles!

Since the time of the British, foreigners have been coming up to the “hill stations,” which is what they called Dharamsala and the other lovely mountain towns, to escape from the searing heat of the plains of Delhi, where the government was (and still is).

I’ll never forget my first visit here. I’d been working in Delhi, helping develop Wisdom Publications for Nick Ribush, who’d started the FPMT publishing activities at Kopan. From the moment I’d arrived at Kopan, late 1977, I’d walked into the publishing room and just assumed it was my job: typing prayers on stencils, Gestetnering  them, folding them into booklets. Nothing new for me: I’d been involved with printing and publishing all my life. Nick was sent to Delhi by Lama to run the new center there, also called Tushita.

Delhi’s heat is unforgettable. I’m from Australia, and have felt some pretty hot places, but not like this! It is utterly relentless: no such thing as a “cool change”: the heat builds and builds: clear blue skies and intense dry heat. I was running around Delhi finding printers, I remember: it was exhausting. And there was no such thing as air conditioning, of course.

Come July, I was ready to go up to Dharamsala for my Vajrasattva retreat – and what it was that I’ll never forget is waking up on the train at 4 in the morning, once it had started to climb up from the plains, and feeling on my face a cool breeze through the open window. It was a gift from heaven! Well, to be Buddhist about it, it was the result of some virtuous action from the past: I’m glad I had created it!

Actually, my next course is on karma and its relationship to emptiness. I remember the first time I heard the Buddha’s teachings, I liked the idea of karma. It settled very comfortably in my mind. It’s certainly what I’d been missing until then. And, from the beginning, it’s been clear to me that unless we get our heads around karma, the law of cause and effect, really internalising it and seeing that it’s fundamental to Lord Buddha’s view of the universe, we can’t really call ourselves Buddhist.

And why it’s fundamental is because it’s a great way to understand emptiness, which, as His Holiness said last week here, is the view unique to Lord Buddha. As Lama Yeshe says, paraphrasing Lama Tsong Khapa, “Dependent arising is the king of logics to prove emptiness” – and karma is the most basic example of dependent arising. Everything we experience is necessarily the result of actions (karmas) we’ve done in the past, and everything we do now will necessarily ripen as our future experiences (unless we pull out the seeds).

What “we” are, in other words, is nothing other than the manifestation of our myriad past actions; there is no “we” apart from that. We’re the creators of ourselves. We’re the boss. (Now, THAT I like!)

As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “We can mold our mind into any shape we like.”  It’s the ultimate in accountability.

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