Postcard 68 from Robina: Laguna Beach, March 28, 2016

2016-03-28 11:00:00

Thubten Kunga Center director Rebecca Smith met me in Miami on Monday February 29 and drove me the hour up the coast to Deerfield Beach. The center has been there for twenty-plus years, started by Jacie Keeley, one of Lama Yeshe’s former attendants. She settled in the area after she had a child, Felicity, who herself now runs a Dharma center: Milarepa Center in Vermont.

During our time in Florida Jacie took me to see Peter Baker, who, thirty-five years ago, offered the hundred-or-so acres in northeastern Vermont to Lama and Rinpoche that is now Milarepa. He lives in an old people’s home. He doesn’t talk much. We sang prayers to him. Jacie visits him regularly.

With Peter Baker, former Milarepa Center director, in Deerfield Beach, FL.

I’m sure Peter would be pleased with Milarepa’s progress: they’re planning to expand the center by building small houses for retreat. Within the FPMT there are no centers providing residential retreat facilities on the East Coast of the United States, so this is a welcome development.

The Tara tsa-tsa made by Ani-la and won in a raffle at Tubten Kunga Center, with Don the treasurer. Below signing Maria’s copy of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s book How to Enjoy Death.

Their geshe has gone to Buddha House in Adelaide, taking over while Ven. Dondrub goes into retreat, and Westerners teach at Tubten Kunga now. There are plenty of qualified Western teachers these days. When Lama Yeshe’s first centers in the West were established in the early 1970s – Chenrezig Institute in Queensland, Australia and Manjushri Institute in the north of England – Lama had no choice for resident teachers other than to invite fellow students of his and Rinpoche’s root guru Trijang Rinpoche. But now there is a whole generation of their own students, both Kopan geshes and non-Tibetans, qualified to teach, some of the latter actually graduating as geshes from Sera Je, the lamas’ own monastery.

It also used to be that centers wouldn’t feel like proper centers until they had their “resident geshe,” but in my opinion it’s not necessary. There is a pool of good teachers on all continents from which centers can select teachers to come for various events throughout the year. Often, if the geshe is not very charismatic or popular, not many students are attracted, whereas if several teachers are invited, each having their own style, they can attract different students.

In any ordinary educational establishment, you’d always have more than one teacher. Also, it costs a lot to have a full time resident geshe and if he doesn’t attract many students that’s a burden for the centers.

And, frankly, it seems to me that the majority of Western students of Buddhism are not interested in hearing the teachings in-depth from the geshes, so maybe it’s a waste of their talents to have them resident in a center where there’s little interest in the philosophical teachings.

Anyway, these are just my own observations, for what they’re worth.

———–

Then on to Miami for a week, where Ana Paula Ruano and Maria Cersosimo run the study group Namdrol Ling.

A big city – so I like the place! This was the first time I had spent more than a day or so here. The group meets in Miami Beach, where Ana Paula and Maria live. They used their local Montessori school hall for a couple of the talks and on one day I met some of the kids. Another day I gave a talk in the gym at a local private school. I like talking with kids: they have very direct and insightful questions.

Above: some of the four hundred kids of Miami County Day School.

With some of the children of Casa Bambini Montessori in Miami Beach.

Third & fourth from left, Maria and Ana Paula with Namdrol Ling volunteers.

It seems that Miami is majority Spanish-speaking. Maria and Ana Paula both say they almost never speak English – only when it comes to the teachings.

Miami Beach is gorgeous – but according to some reports there won’t be much of it left in 50 years: water continues to rise causing constant flooding in some areas. The place is sinking, in other words. But real estate is booming, it seems. Two of the most interesting articles I’ve read are in last November’s Vanity Fair and December’s New Yorker.

Impermanence is the nature of things but it seems more real in situations like this.

——

On Sunday March 13, during our time together in Miami, there was a long-life puja in Singapore for Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Seven hundred and fifty people came from around the world. One of Rinpoche’s disciples, Khadro-la (Rangjung Neljorma Khadro Namsel Drolma), had advised that 100,000 tsog offerings be made by students during the previous fifteen Days of Miracles; in fact 1,142,515 offerings were done.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the long-life puja, Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore, March 13. Photo Piero Sirianni.

Lama Osel at the long-life puja for Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Photo Piero Sirianni.

Earlier, Ven. Roger Kunsang had said, “In talking with Rinpoche recently it has become more clear [the importance of the Singapore puja]. Rinpoche has been quite subtle, but has indicated that there are obstacles for himself this year. . . We have to continue to create the karma for Rinpoche to be with us for a long time and to purify our karma for Rinpoche not to be here. It is in our hands.”

At the puja Lama Osel, Lama Yeshe’s reincarnation, recited his own praises to Rinpoche. “We know how each and every action you do is dedicated to helping sentient beings – every thought, every breath; every sip of water you take is dedicated to sentient beings. We are so lucky to have you in our midst. You inspire us to be better people, and your presence gives us motivation to follow your example. You are constantly helping so many sentient beings from so many different dimensions. It is amazing to see your work in this world.

“Please stay with us for as long as it takes all sentient beings to reach enlightenment. We are willing to follow your advice and work hard to accomplish your dreams, which, of course, are always focused on benefiting in the greatest way, in this life and the next.”

Geshe Ngawang Tenley, the resident geshe at Kurukulla Center in Boston, brought with him an unexpected message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Geshe Tenley met with His Holiness on March 10 in Boston and then conveyed His Holiness’ advice to Lama Zopa Rinpoche in person during the long life puja.

His Holiness said, “While it goes without saying that Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s continuous waves of activities are of immense benefit to the Buddhadharma and countless sentient beings all over the world, it is important for Rinpoche to think of staying for a long time for the benefit of the Buddhadharma and all sentient beings.”

Khadro-la, who was not present in Singapore, spontaneously composed a prayer for Lama Zopa Rinpoche the day before the puja. The English translation of the prayer was read for all to hear, while Rinpoche received the prayer in Tibetan.

Then the praises for Rinpoche compiled (by me) from submissions from many centers around the world were read by FPMT board member Paula de Wys.

The five dakinis, kneeling at the guru’s feet, requesting Rinpoche to live long. Photo Piero Sirianni.

——–

Then on to Raleigh in North Carolina, Kadamapa Center. There are four nuns at the center: good to see. We had lunch together in the external classroom they use for the children’s classes.

Us nuns enjoying lunch at Kadampa Center in Raleigh, NC, below.

I always admire the nuns and monks who dress properly, specifically who wear their zen – the shawl – with the right arm bare, even around the house, etc. I’m afraid I don’t; I hope I’m not creating obstacles to being ordained in future lives.

So, I want to be ordained in future lives, is that what I’m saying? Well, yes – at least until I get some realizations, I’d say; playing with fire otherwise. That’s why, since working on Rinpoche’s book about how to help the dying etc., I’ve become a big fan of Amitabha’s Pure Land as a rebirth of choice. Once you get some realizations there, you can come back again to help others.

Lord Buddha in the lion posture in which he passed away. (Statue in the courtyard of Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London; sculpture, Nick Durnan; photograph, Natascha Sturny.)

One of the many things that struck me working on the book is that we’re in charge of the process that determines our next life. I think the instinctive belief that if I’m a good girl someone will see it and reward me with a nice future life is very deep: the business of punishment and reward. But the more we think about and internalize and live according to the laws of karma – for the Buddha, a natural law, of course: no one runs it – the more we will realize that we’re the boss.

In just the same way that in order to go on a holiday next year we have to first want to go on a holiday, we have to want a particular rebirth. Then, once we’ve decided where we want to go for our holiday we don’t just sit there and cross our fingers and hope it’ll happen; instead we have to create all the appropriate causes to actually get there. Same with our rebirth.

So, what are our options? Only two: either a decent human rebirth in which we can meet our teachers again and continue to practice, or a pure land. But, as Rinpoche points out in his book, “Lama Tsongkhapa says we should pray to be born especially in Amitabha’s pure land, The Blissful Realm (Dewachen, in Tibetan; Sukhavati, in Sanskrit), because it is easy for us ordinary people, those with delusions, to be born there. I was surprised by that. In his text, The Benefits of The Blissful Realm, for example, Lama Tsongkhapa says, ‘When reciting prayers to be reborn in the pure lands of the buddhas, one should mainly focus on being reborn in Sukhavati.’”

And, of course, the only reason to want to be born there is not just to hang out and be blissful; it’s to go there to get enlightened as quickly as possible so that we can come back to ordinary realms to help others.

So I’ve decided to add Sukhavati to my itinerary. Why not? It could come sooner than my next destination.

Because what also became clear to me working on this book is that we’re not actually preparing for death, we’re preparing for the next life. This one is nearly over; I’m on my last legs; I’m at the end of the road. And, as Rinpoche points out so clearly, thinking about, planning to go to, wanting to go to Sukhavati, is a cause for going there. Just like wanting to go on a holiday is a cause for going.

And not only that: at the time of death, Rinpoche says, attachment is really powerful, and just naturally it’s attachment to our body, our life, our loved ones, etc., because that’s what we’ve thought about all our lives. So we need to train ourselves to be attached to Sukhavati, to look forward to going there.

As Rinpoche says, “. . . attachment to this life is never virtuous but attachment at the time of death to either a human life or rebirth in a pure land is virtuous. . . .” It’s skillful means: using attachment to our advantage.

—–

And finally, Monday March 21, to my last stop before leaving for Australia for the next five months: across the country to Los Angeles and south to Laguna Beach, to the new satellite group there, Land of Medicine Buddha Orange County.

On Thursday I went with Ven. Zhong to visit my old friend Dino Martini and his Buddhist group at Centinela State Prison, three hours southeast. We spent the day at the prison, including have lunch together, a meal cooked by one of the inmates. I hadn’t seen Dino for 19 years: we first met at Pelican Bay in northern California in 1997.

Ven. Zhong is amazing. He’s Bhutanese and lives in San Diego. He goes to many prisons in California, a full time job really, and has started libraries in at least 80 of them. He connected with Chinese Buddhism and is a monk in that tradition.

With Ven. Zhong at his center in San Diego. Right, Dino, whom we visited.

And I saw two former prisoners during my time in Laguna Beach: so glad to see them out on the streets again; and both of them, like Dino, I’d known since the beginning of the prison project. Paul Dewey came for the Friday evening talk with one of his friends from AA. He’s doing so well: works now as a drugs counselor in Los Angeles. And Gabriel Cortez came on Sunday afternoon. He lives and works now in San Diego.

Then, on Monday March 28 I flew on Qantas 12 for Sydney. That’s it for the States until July 2017.

 

Left, with Paul and friend; above, Kate, Gabriel, and Ven. Katy; below, introducing Gabriel to the group: it was 17 years or so since I’d seen him at Pelican Bay

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