Postcard 40 from Robina: Bogotá, Monday, May 20, 2014

May 20, 2014

I got to Los Angeles from Texas last Tuesday, April 29. My time in the US this time round is nearly over: five months I’ve been here, starting in snow-bound New York in December. It’s only May, but it’s hot here, hovering around the high nineties.

Rashel Adragna picked me up at LAX. She was part of my prison project team in San Francisco for a couple of years, starting 2006, and then she helped me develop a new project, Bodhichitta Realty in 2008. I’m staying with her in her house in West Hollywood: such a quiet, pleasant suburban neighborhood, just off the chaos of the big avenues, and a mile from Sunset Boulevard.

At Rashel’s house.

Rashel’s been running her own real estate team for a couple of years, Zopa Realty Group. And in January she graduated from Sacramento State University with honors, achieving her bachelors in Organizational Communications. She’s doing brilliantly, it seems to me.

I’m happy to be in LA! I love the place. Not sure why, however. All the years I spent in northern California, starting in 1994 in the Santa Cruz area and then then from 2001 in San Francisco, I’d look around and search for just what it is that people say is so fantastic about those cities. I could never see it, frankly. But whenever I’d go to southern Calfifornia to visit friends in prison, say, as I drove south, I got happier. Is it the light? The sky? The weather? The trees? The people? I don’t know.

It’s partly the weather, I think, and it’s partly the light. Maybe it’s something vaguer: it feels bright and sharp and energetic here, and I like that. Of course, where is this “Los Angeles”: just a name for a vast piece of real estate and millions of people. When you’re driving on the freeways you can’t say it’s bright and sharp! So, who knows?

We all seem to have connections with particular places, don’t we? As our mothers told us, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” (ugliness is too) – that surely proves emptiness!

A few weeks ago I received an email out of the blue from Johnathan Thomas, a Zen priest who runs a center in Claremont, CA, forty miles east of West Hollywood. We’d agreed I’d give a talk there on Wednesday night and stay the night. A very nice group of people, and he’s developed real enthusiasm, he says, for the Tibetan approach.

With Johnathan at New Mind Meditation Buddhist Society.

Thursday night Rashel and I met my old friend Tiffany Murray for dinner at a fancy place in fancy Venice, near the beach, finishing up at a local ice-cream store when I enjoyed what I consider to be the only candidate for the label ice-cream: two scoops of chocolate ice-cream in a big cone.

I rarely visit prisons these days. Al Adams, has been writing to the prison project, and since I stopped running it, to me as well, for years now. He’s a sincere practitioner and has many health problems, so I decided to see him on Sunday at Mule Creek in Ione, CA. My old friend John Flandrick drove down from Santa Barbara and picked me up at Rashel’s and drove me the six hours north on the I5.

We stayed the night in a hotel in town and spent the morning with Al. We went through many practices, he renewed his Refuge and lay vows and took Bodhisattva Vows for the first time. I had brought a text with me – the ceremony is quite long and I’ve made a very small photocopy of the normal book-size pages, and just managed to read it. I had to mix it casually with the food wrappers, pretending to read them, because the only books that are available in the visiting room are the bible and the koran, which, I’m sure, have lots of wonderful information but certainly don’t have the instructions I needed! We enjoyed our meeting.

On Tuesday I flew to Bogota, via Lima, to spend a week at Centro Yamantaka.

At Centro Yamantaka.

Olga has a new co-director now, Amparo Mejia.

Left to right: Amparo Mejia, Dario, Lina Yepez (translator), Sofia (Lina’s daugther), Felipe Garcia, Grabriela.

Their new geshe, Geshe Lobsang Kunchen, who arrived the day I left last year, has settled in nicely, having Patti, a Mexican graduate of the FPMT’s Lotsawa Rinchen interpreter program in Dharamsala translating for him. I stayed with Mauricio Roa, who was the center’s first director when I started coming here ten years ago.

Dinner with Geshe Lobsang Kunchen.

After Colombia I was scheduled to fly south to Santiago in Chile to take a Qantas flight across the Pacific to Sydney. But I decided at the last minute to change the Sydney flight to a couple of days later and do a quick roundtrip to Asheville in North Carolina to attend the last two days of Rinpoche’s month-long teachings there, hosted by Kadampa Center in Raleigh.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching at the Light of the Path retreat in North Carolina.

I hadn’t seen Rinpoche since Hong Kong last year in March. I was glad to receive teachings again.

Rinpoche’s teaching style seems so different since his stroke of 2011 at Atisha Centre. Rinpoche has been renowned for his meditative style of teaching, often big spaces in between sentences. But now, not at all! So intense, so strong, so fast! I don’t know Rinpoche’s mind, of course, but my observation is that his sense of urgency to not to waste time and his compassion have grown infinitely. I can’t find the words to express it. All I can do is aspire to become like him. Given that the lama is the example in front of me, showing me exactly how to go on the path, then I need to take his actions, his aspect, his words absolutely seriously. After all, I want to become the guru buddha.

It seems that Rinpoche never sleeps – that’s been since we’ve known him. For these holy beings, they don’t need sleep because they’ve managed to harness their subtler physical and mental energies in meditation, but the actual reason they don’t sleep is because of their phenomenal compassion. I’ve heard Ven. Roger quoted as saying that, for Rinpoche, “sleep is a disgusting waste of time!” Rinpoche and the other holy beings literally work day and night for sentient beings. Hard to conceive of.

Just thinking about not sleeping makes me exhausted! But I have to take it seriously. For sure, I am not qualified to do that now, but I must aspire. The best I can do, sincerely, when I lie down to go sleep is to think, “Just like Rinopche, may I find sleep a disgusting waste of time.” Sow the seeds, the fruit will come – next life hopefully!

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