Saturday, March 27, 2010

Our Community Gets a Name: Dharmadattā Nuns’ Community

Last year, we requested His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa to name our community. The giving of names is considered in Buddhist (and many other) contexts to be a potent act in which important aspects of a person (or institution’s) identity is articulated. When we become monastics we receive new names, given to us by the abbot who confers the vows that make us monastics. Most Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and Dharma centers receive their names from their spiritual guides, an acknowledgment of the formative role of that guide in shaping the direction and identity of that institution.

When we asked His Holiness the Karmapa to name our community, he thought briefly, and then told us to pick the name of one of the bhikshunis who were direct disciples of Buddha, and give her Sanskrit name to our community. His Holiness knew well that Damchö had been working on the Sanskrit and Tibetan life stories of these nuns for her dissertation, and could easily surmise that anecdotes from their life stories form part of the informal fabric of our lives together. His Holiness also knew that although none of us have yet received bhikshuni ordination, we all harbor strong aspirations to do so in the future, aspirations that have been nurtured by reading the lives of the very first bhikshunis.

However, wanting the auspicious connection of having a name chosen by His Holiness, we suggested that we might come up with a short list of possible names and His Holiness could then select from among them, to which he agreed.

As it turns out, by the time we had a list ready, all four of us had a clear favorite—a nun who overcame great obstacles to receive her bhikshuni ordination and who went on to become a great teacher of the Dharma and leader within the nuns’ order. This courageous young woman not only managed to give a Dharma teaching that completely pacified her would-be in-laws, who had surrounded the house she was staying in to prevent her from going forth into the nuns’ order. When she later taught the Dharma to a troop of soldiers, they became pacifists, and followed her guidance as their lama or virtuous friend (kalyāṇamitrā). This nun’s name was Bhikshuni Dharmadattā and she inspired us deeply with her commitment to the monastic path, and her commitment to the Dharma and to caring for others by means of Dharma.

At this point, although we all knew which name we’d like, our agreement still stood: We had asked His Holiness to chose one from a list, so Damchö duly took a list to His Holiness, who glanced quickly at the options and simply pointed to the name: Dharmadattā.

Thus our community’s name was born, in much the same way our community itself has evolved—with us nuns first bringing our aspirations to His Holiness, seeking from him the guidance that lamas usually give their disciples, and with His Holiness then urging us to take responsibility for pursuing those aspiration ourselves, even as he agrees to share in that task with us. And in the end, we have found, our vision and aspirations for ourselves and Gyalwang Karmapa’s vision for us continue in perfect harmony.

(A full translation of the story of Dharmadattā’s life will be published, along with the stories of other nuns by Wisdom Publications, and an advance draft will appear on our website in the next few weeks.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

View Teachings in Sarnath

While Dapel, Nangpel and Drolma were studying joyfully and with great determination in Nepal, Damcho remained in India engaged in various Dharma activities. Among these was requesting and organizing four days of teachings in Sarnath by His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa. For four consecutive evenings, from February 6th through 9th, to a widely diverse group of about 100 students from 30 different countries, HH offered teachings on the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje's Mahamudra Aspiration that were both lucid and deep. His Holiness taught in Tibetan, followed by a translation into English, and then His Holiness translated himself into Chinese!

We produced a book with the Tibetan, English and Chinese of the text His Holiness taught on, which might be useful to follow as you listen to the teachings. You can download by right-clicking here, and many thanks to friend and dear Dharma sister Pema (Claire Peng) for her companionship and all her help getting the Chinese text right!

View online from here, and you can also download each of the four day's teachings by right-clicking on the links below, should you prefer. The video files are huge so they are best downloaded on a very high bandwidth connection. Audio might be more manageable for those downloading, for example, from India!

Day One
Right click here to download gigantic (as in more than 1 GIGantic) video file
Right click to download audio file

Day Two
Right click here to download enormous video file
Right click to download audio file

Day Three
Right click here to download massive video file
Right click to download audio file

Day Four
Right click to download huge video file here
Right click to download audio file

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Coming to Europe

Our lama is planning an extended visit to Europe in June... and so are we! Although his centers in Europe have been inviting him for years, due to the complexities of his refugee status in India, the international repercussions of his 2000 escape from Chinese-controlled Tibet and the considerable obstacles from a rival claimant to the name Karmapa, until now he has never received the needed travel permissions to accept those invitations. Thus, if permission is granted this time as hoped, this will be His Holiness the Karmapa's first ever visit to his centers across Europe, and he has suggested it would be good for us also to try to join him there, as a community.

Along with sharing the greatly joyful experience of reuniting with so many of his disciples at once, receiving teaching after teaching from this great lama, we see this as an important opportunity for us to connect with the broader European community of Buddhists, curious non-Buddhists, and the disciples of His Holiness' own mandala. If you live in Europe and are interested in meeting the nuns of our community, we'd welcome the chance to do so while there. Please leave a comment below, or email us at tenzin.dapel followed by the @ sign and then

His Holiness is visiting 9 countries in about five weeks, and we won't be able to keep up that pace, for logistical -- and mainly funding -- reasons. Thus we will be unable to attend the events in all places, but thanks to the generosity of friends and Dharma centers in Germany, Poland, Zurich and the UK, we do expect to be able to share in the activities planned for those places. If you live in London or Paris, where His Holiness will be giving several days of teachings each, we are still looking for someone to host us in those cities and would welcome to hear from you. If you happen to be in or near any of the venues for the abundance of teachings, empowerments and other joyful activities that are scheduled throughout the month of June, we hope to see you there.

For more details about this tour, this site provides the schedule and other details.

After the virtual festival of Dharma with His Holiness the Karmapa, we will settle down in one spot for two weeks of commentary on our monastic vows. Damcho will be translating this second series of teachings by Geshe Tenphel in Italy, and the rest of us will take this very rare opportunity to hear sustained explanations of the vows of fully ordained monks in our lineage. These vinaya teachings are open only to monastics, and primarily to those who attended the first series in 2007. Monastics who missed the first series may still join, if they first listen to the recordings or read the transcripts of the first set of teachings. Those interested may contact Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in Pomaia, Italy.