Postcard 8 from Robina: Raleigh, NC, Friday June 10, 2011

Jun 10, 2011

I’ve just spent five days in Denmark, my first visit ever. The people at the Copenhagen center, Tong-nyi Nying-je Ling, are sweethearts. They have their place right in the center of town: Rinpoche said it needs to be there, the director Rasmus said. And it was bursting with students, many of them young, which is nice to see.


A still from a video-recording of one of Robina’s teachings at FPMT’s Copenhagen center, Tong-nyi Nying-je Ling. You can watch the teachings here.

I stayed with Maria Damsholt, whom I met first in Kathmandu 22 years ago. She helped start the center and is closely involved still through their Center for Conscious Living and Dying. She completely looked after me. It was just like home.

Rasmus is busy running his successful Potential Project, which offers Corporate-Based Mindfulness Training and another program developed by themselves called The Three Potentials. He’s delegated the day-to-day running of the center to Martin. And they have a nice, working board that also functions as a management committee. It works well, Rasmus says. And they’re harmonious: that’s special.

My old friend Gun came from Sweden for the teachings. We did our first course at Kopan together, in 1977. And our claim to fame was being two of the ten people chosen by Lama Yeshe to act as security guards for His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his FPMT-organized tour of Spain and Italy, in 1982. I felt like I’d won the lottery! I’ll never forget it! There were five men and five women – unheard of in those days to have female guards. Three of us were nuns: Gun and Sylvia Wetzel, an old friend from Germany, as well as me.


FPMT logo

Lama made us wear lay clothes! I went shopping in Milan with Susanna Parodi and bought a pair of very elegant knee-high maroon leather boots to wear with our uniforms (chosen by our boss, Paul de Wys): green tartan skirts, yellow blouses and maroon jackets. The men, who were nearly all Swiss, wore grey slacks, white shirts, maroon ties and navy jackets. We all looked so professional. I was living in London those days and had my hair longish. I decided I’d look like a proper lady and wear lipstick as well. When Lama first saw me all dressed up he laughed out loud and said, “I think I like you better like that!” But at a public talk in Milan, Geshe Rabten looked sternly at me and said, “Are you still a nun?” I was glad to tell him, “Yes.”


FPMT Founder Lama Thubten Yeshe

We spent a month with His Holiness: going here and there on the planes with him, taking turns to guard outside his hotel room, and doing our job at the teachings. At Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa near Pisa the local government sent real guards: young terrorist squad cops with their machine guns. In the beginning they were quite cynical; by the end of the ten days His Holiness had them in the palm of his hand! At our group photo I casually laid my favorite crystal mala on His Holiness’s holy feet, thus blessing it.

Now I’m in Raleigh. I flew to London from Copenhagen early morning last Wednesday and connected with my flight to Raleigh Durham. I’ve been coming here for years and love the center, Kadampa Center. Don Brown started it as a study group in the late 1980s and it was named by Rinpoche in 1992. Robbie Watkins joined a few months later. They’re both doctors and work together at their clinic. Don was the original director and Robbie the spiritual program coordinator, then they swapped jobs in the mid-90s. Robbie’s still the director.

I always stay with Robbie in his three-story town house in a nice development called Wimbledon where all the streets are named after famous tennis players. He lives on Rosewall Lane, after the Australian Ken Rosewall. I haven’t been here since 2008, and things in Robbie’s house look pretty much the same. He’s a gourmet French cook, but almost never cooks! His fridge has little food in it except butter, odd looking bones that he uses for stock I suppose, cloves of garlic, and various packets of flour. Every now and then he’ll make a delicious meal, or a cake. He never watches television; he reads books – avidly – instead. And he listens to classical music. He plays the piano, too. And he has a big black GMC truck, which doesn’t seems to fit his image at all.

They love their geshe here, Geshe Gelek. He teaches in English. A hundred people turn up for his Sunday morning teachings. He’s very easy-going but clearly is a practitioner. He took me for lunch yesterday at a local Indian restaurant.

They bought their own center a couple of years ago and last year put in place a mobile class room for their children’s classes on Sundays, which are growing and growing. For the older kids they use the 16 Guidelines.

They’re the only FPMT center I know outside of Asia that never charges set fees for their courses: everything is offered. It creates such a sense of wellbeing and they always end up receiving more donations than centers who charge. Interesting.


Robina teaching again at Tong-nyi Nying-je Ling

We talked about karma tonight; there must have been a 100 people there. Now I’m sitting here with Robbie, and he made a meal! Tomorrow we do Lama Chopa in the morning and carry on with karma in the afternoon.

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