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Monday, January 19, 2015

Overcoming Doubt Through Direct Experience

by Shaila Catherine

Do you ever find yourself denying—or perhaps just doubting—the reality of experiences you have not yourself had?

In the Middle Length Discourses, there is a parable of a person born blind who could not see dark or light forms, colored forms, or the stars, sun, or moon, and so he says: “I do not know these. I do not see these. Therefore, these do not exist.”

This blind person denies what is outside his particular experience. This tendency—to doubt what has not yet been experienced—is relatively common in the Western Dhamma scene. For instance, I have heard people discount the potential for the stability of jhāna—maintaining that it is impossible to master such stable states of concentration in today's world. I have also heard people express doubt in the possibility of liberation from greed, hatred, and ignorance.

Some people, though interested in the Dhamma, have come to think full awakening itself is nearly impossible in today’s world.

But just because we have reviewed our circle of friends and found it devoid of enlightened beings doesn’t mean we should give up hope that awakening can happen to people like us.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Interview with Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel

by Olivia Clementine

Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel is a student, teacher, and practitioner in the Longchen Nyingtik lineage. She has studied under the direction of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, her teacher and husband. She is also an author and a mother, as well as the retreat master at Longchen Jigme Samten Ling retreat center in Colorado. Her knowledge and wisdom come out of her thirty years of personal study and practice and her schooling in both anthropology and Buddhism.

I am so grateful that we have the opportunity to be ignited with inspiration from Elizabeth. Finding Elizabeth’s teachings and hearing her point of view, especially from a Western female practitioner, has been very helpful in my own journey.What I appreciate most about Elizabeth’s presence and offerings is her impeccability, her devotion, and curiousity. Thank you Elizabeth for continually offering your insight and knowledge so big heartedly. Let us begin . . .

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ayya Jayati’s Bhikkhuni Ordination: A Personal Perspective

Ayya Jayati is a newly ordained bhikkhuni from Aloka Vihara. The Aloka Vihara nuns trained for many years as monastics at Amaravati and Chithurst monasteries in England before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2009, where they established Aloka Vihara. They have a long-term vision to create a rural monastery for bhikkhunis and samaneris to develop and flourish. What follows is Ayya Jayati's story of her earlier monastic life and her recent bhikkhuni ordination.

Bhikkhuni and Bhikkhu Sangha
From a personal perspective bhikkhuni ordination was something which in my earlier monastic years I had not not even considered as a possibility. The monasteries in England provided a very good training in many ways and there was a strong community of committed nuns and monks living a life of renunciation. I felt very grateful to have found a place with teachings and a style of practice that provided me with the support I needed to live in a way so contrary to the culture I had been conditioned for and felt so clearly wasn't the way to peace or happiness. At that time I have to admit being unable to really take in the disparity between the genders. It did indeed seem to me like things were "good enough!" (an oft-used phrase in Amaravati for the practice of contentment) for the purposes of cultivating the path of Dhamma.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Right Speech, Right Silence

Ayya Medhanandi

Receiving dana
What makes us pacify and fawn on those we don’t respectonly to lose respect for ourselves? Or hold our peace when someone insults us or another? Are we intimidated into a silence that breaches our core principles lest we offend, draw criticism or anger? In life’s conflicted moments, how do we judge when it’s right to speak out?

There’s nothing golden about a silence that shrugs its shoulders because we’re too scared to say what we feel. We may dodge the vitriol aimed at us or – to our unspoken relief – at someone else, but each time we do so it may be at the cost of our own integrity.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Suggestion for Doing Long Retreat: Live according to the Vinaya

Ven. Tenzin Chogkyi

From March 2000 to June 2003, I undertook a 3-year, 3-month (and 3-day!) deity retreat, a traditional practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Five of us engaged in this retreat, although we lived and practiced individually and only met every few months for group practice, which we did in verbal silence, although there was a fair amount of note writing and made-up sign language on these occasions! Two of the retreatants were ordained, and three were lay people at the time (including myself).

Near the end of the retreat, we decided to meet to discuss our experiences, and compile a 3-year retreat manual. When we were preparing for the retreat, we referred to some journal and traditional retreat manuals that primarily discussed the rituals and logistics involved with undertaking such a retreat. However, we really had no information and no idea what to expect in terms of the spiritual, emotional, and psychological transformations we were sure were going to manifest for us and the optimal conditions to help bring these about. Thus after the retreat, we hoped that by compiling our thoughts, future long-term meditators would be able to benefit from our experience.

Monday, November 10, 2014

One at a Time

Venerable Lobsang Khando

Venerable Lobsang Khando after performing a Medicine Buddha puja at the Bhwasa Charity Medical Center, Nepal
Life is a mystery to us and if we examine our purpose, sometimes we are lucky enough to see clearly what our path is. Even luckier are those who get the opportunity to follow the path they have seen. I never believed in luck, but as you will see from my story, maybe I should change my mind.

When I was a little girl my family consisted of brothers, one sister and parents. It was pretty normal for the most part. My favorite color was red; even my rain boots and lunch box were red or reddish. Houses I drew and painted were yellow and red. I loved chanting rhymes as most children do but I would do it repeatedly as it made me feel better somehow. My favorite question was, “Why?” Okay, none of this is unusual. But when you piece it together, something of my past life karma was there, I think, speaking to me right from the start!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Shangpa Monlam in France 2014

Lama Palden Drolma


Kalu Rinpoche with his three year retreat grads who were in attendance
After driving through dense fog at 8 am, we arrived at Palden Shangpa La Boulaye, Kalu Rinpoche’s primary center in France. As the sun began to stream through the mist, a line of small stupas greeted us. Next we were welcomed by an impressive Bhutanese lhakhang (Tibetan for house of the gods – what they call temples). Before I could enter, I heard a voice say, “Kalu Rinpoche is calling you.” Turning around I saw Rinpoche striding towards me, and I hurried to greet him. After a warm embrace, he escorted me into the lhakhang to show off the altar he had arranged for the Monlam.

Rinpoche put his heart, time and love into this first ever Shangpa Monlam. A Monlam is a prayer, and a large Monlam like this one is where the lamas and attendees make many prayers for all beings’ benefit, which of course includes praying that all beings receive what they need and desire and live in harmony and peace. He had placed nametags for the lamas of his centers and sat the senior lamas in a row together— from East and West, male and female, with all the other lamas and three year retreat grads in rows behind. All the other dharma practitioners sat on the sides and in back. The large lhakhang holds 500 people or so.