Postcard 38 from Robina: Portland, Monday, March 10, 2014

2014-03-10 11:00:00

I visit FPMT’s Maitripa College in Portland, OR every year.

Now in Portland. Monday March 10. I always spend a week here, and no different this year. Boise is an hour away so I got here Monday morning March 10. As usual, there was Carina and beaming Dechen, six years old now, with his precious gift of his written-out version of The Heart Sutra. Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave him that practice to memorize last year, which he has done.

I was greeted at the airport in Portland by Dechen, Carina Rumrill’s son – Carina worked for me for years at Liberation Prison Project in San Francisco. Dechen offered me a hand-written copy of The Heart Sutra and some drawings of Sherab Plaza.

I still haven’t finished Rinpoche’s book on how to help people at the time of death. It’s got a life of its own, that’s for sure. I thought it was finished two years ago!

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching in April at Jinsui Farlin, the FPMT center in Taipei. Photo Ven. Roger Kunsang.

I recently received the audio file of teachings Rinpoche gave last October, in San Jose, at an Amitabha initiation. Rinpoche made the point so strongly there – as discussed in postcard 35 – that we need to want, to pray, to be reborn in a pure land, and he made this point more strongly than I’ve heard before. Rinpoche says that Amitabha’s pure land is one of the few pure lands where ordinary people, people with delusions, can be reborn.

Rinpoche says that Lama Tzong Khapa makes the point often in his teachings that we must pray to be born there. “I was surprised by that,” Rinpoche says. I assume Rinpoche means that Lama Tzong Khapa is renowned for stressing the importance of a perfect human rebirth.

And why should we want to be reborn in Dewachen, Sukahavati? Because, Rinpoche says, contrary to what several other lamas say, “my root guru Trijang Rinpoche said that you can, in fact, practice tantra and become enlightened in The Blissful Realm. And not only that, you can achieve enlightenment more quickly there than in other pure lands.”

Every year I visit Osel Shen Phen Ling, Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s center in the mountain town of Missoula, MT.

March 22 and I’m at Osel Shen Phen Ling in Missoula, Montana. I’ve been coming here since I first got to the US, in 1994. I’ve spent some time with Kyriaki, a student of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s, who’s dying of some rare disease whose name I don’t know. She’s amazing. Full of contentment and joy. Fran and others at the center are rotating time with her, reading her practices, teachings, etc. I gave her a copy of Rinpoche’s teachings about getting ready for death, which they also read her from time to time. She’s such an example of the truth that when there’s no fear, there’s no suffering. As Rinpoche says in the book, “Death itself is not what causes fear. There is no terrifying death from its own side; the terrifying death is made up by our own mind.”

I spent time with Kyriaki in Missoula. She’s dying of a rare disease, but is full of contentment and joy. I gave her a copy of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings about getting ready for death.

I also spent a week at Vajrapani Institute, the FPMT center in the Santa Cruz mountains.

I was in the trees at Vajrapani for a week, outside Boulder Creek, an hour from Santa Cruz. I’ve been coming here since 1994 as well. In fact, this is where I first came when I arrived in the States; I talked about this in postcard 18. I had the job of spiritual program coordinator for six months, until I moved over to Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel, 45 minutes away, where I took on the job of editing Mandala, the FPMT magazine. I did it for six years, working for most of the time for my old friend Harvey Horrocks, who was the director of International Office. It was Harvey who had started Mandala, actually, in 1987 when he was based in Italy. He would do a 16-page newsletter twice a year with four four-pagers filling in between. The office had recently received funding, he told me, and he wanted to invest some of it in a bigger, better Mandala.

We had many discussions about exactly how it should grow: whether it’d be newspaper-style or a magazine. In the end we chose the magazine and decided to do six a year, pretty optimistic. It was a struggle, but we managed. We also decided to do advertising, which had not happened before. We offered it all for free in the first issue, hoping to encourage centers and others to see the benefits.

It was during that time that the prison project started, in 1996. We received a letter from a young Mexican American from Los Angeles who was incarcerated in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay in the north of the state of California, just south of Oregon. It grew from there. By the end of the year we had 40 people writing and and in 2000 it was decided to split it from Mandala and make it its own non-profit. At Mandala we had called it Milarepa Prison Project. When we split, Rinpoche called it Liberation Prison Project. Actually, he gave us a choice: Prison Liberation Project was the other alternative, and we chose LPP. Interestingly, many people mistakenly refer to it as the other name. . .


When we first began receiving letters from people in prison, in 1996, we called the work we were doing Milarepa Prison Project, after the Buddhist saint and practitioner Jetsun Milarepa. In 2000, Lama Zopa Rinpoche named the project “Liberation Prison Project.”

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