Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Subtle Presence of Happiness

These photos may or may not capture the subtle sense of happiness that pervades our days here in Bodhgaya. But we assure you, we are living within that joy each moment we are here. Even if you cannot be here in Bodhgaya and breathe this same air of joyful practice, perhaps you can share in some of the spirit through these words of Gyalwang Karmapa, from a teaching given last month in Delhi:

We can learn to appreciate our lives more by considering the fact of our impending death, but we can also come to value our live more by contemplating the preciousness of our mere existence. This is another of the four thoughts that turn the mind to Dharma, in which we recognize that it is extremely precious just to have a human body, and that it is rare to have this opportunity to simply be a human being. There is a tremendous amount of happiness and well-being embedded within this very fact. But we often miss this subtle presence of happiness, and think that life should be all about getting things we don't have, things that are new to us, and adding more on top of what we have already acquired, without considering that what we already have is a situation of bountiful happiness and well-being.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Receive with Us

This time next week, from the 20th to 22nd of December, HH Gyalwang Karmapa will be teaching on Nagarjuna's Letter to a Friend. These teachings, aimed especially at His Holiness' Western and students, will be webcast live, and we invite you to take your seats alongside us, virtually, and share with us the experience of receiving the Dharma directly from this exceptional spiritual teacher.

If the time difference allows you to watch during the Indian hours of 9-11 am and 3-5 pm, you will find the webcast at this site: As a guide to the time differences, these Indian hours coincide with 10:30 pm to 12:30 am and 4:30 am to 6:30 am in New York (and please pardon the east coast bias!)

Should you decide to join us, this photo may help give you a sense of the place where the teachings will be held, and here are some words to give you a sense of the teachings to come. This passage belows is a summary of advice on how to listen to Dharma teachings, from the deeply moving talk His Holiness gave last week to a large gathering of monastics attending the winter debate session here in Bodhgaya. It is excerpted from the daily report we are preparing and that you can also find on the Kagyu office and Kagyu monlam websites.

Describing the way to receive Dharma teachings, His Holiness took up the image of a vessel free of the three faults—of having holes in it, being dirty or being placed upside down. He managed to take this analogy, well known to many Dharma practitioners, and make it come suddenly alive and replete with new meaning—another characteristic feature of his teaching style. His Holiness assigned the audience the task of examining for themselves whether their minds were worthy recipients for the pure Dharma. We ourselves must take steps to ensure that our minds are suitable vessels to hold the Dharma, he said. We must actively work to remove any stains in our minds, and see to it that our minds are sound, and held upright to receive and retain the Dharma offered.

Going to attend the teachings of a high lama casually, as if we were going to an ordinary, everyday event, is a sign we are not properly valuing the Dharma. Nor is it adequate to simply sit, nonchalantly extending our plate for whatever might be dished onto it, His Holiness said. Instead, we should go to teachings with a deep hunger, and eagerly hold up the empty bowl of our minds to receive the nectar of the pure Dharma.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

That We Need Bhikshunis, and Why

His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa has been an unwavering supporter of the proposal first put forward by His Holiness the Dalai Lama that nuns practicing in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition ought to be offered the opportunity to receive full ordination, just as men are. During the winter debate teachings now underway here in Bodhgaya, this extraordinary lama of ours offered a clear and eloquent declaration of the need for bhikshunis in Tibetan Buddhism. From the report that will appear on the Kagyu Monlam and Kagyu Office websites:

Just as a well-constructed house needs four pillars, the teachings of the Buddha are built around the four pillars of upasaka, upasika, (male and female holders of lay precepts) and bhikshus and bhikshunis, (in Tibetan, gelongs and gelongmas, or fully ordained monks and nuns). Among the monastics, the two communities that are considered senior or supreme are the bhikshus and bhikshunis. Among the lay followers, the highest are the male and female holders of lay precepts. When all four are present, the house becomes stable. For the Buddha’s teachings to remain long and flourish, the presence of all four is indispensable, His Holiness stressed. He added that such topics would be discussed further in the upcoming vinaya colloquium that also forms part of this year’s winter debate session.

That colloquium begins on December 13, is open only to monastics, and lasts for five days. We will of course be attending and you can look for a report here then. In the meantime, if your curiosity is already piqued and you'd like to read further now, here are some links that explore the topic of full ordination for nuns in Tibetan Buddhism:

Read what Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo said in a talk attended by His Holiness the Dalai Lama--and upon hearing which, His Holiness began to cry, and a second talk of hers.

Read Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron's article in Mandala Magazine on the topic.

Review the results of a conference on the topic called by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2007.

Preview an upcoming book, Dignity and Discipline, devoted to the topic.

Explore a range of material on the issue.

Or watch the following 18-minute video of His Holiness the Dalai Lama presenting his views on the matter at Smith College:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Winter Pilgrimage Begins

We are all together again in Bodhgaya, the deeply inspiring site of Buddha's enlightenment. Our days are spent practicing intensely at the bodhi tree, translating and receiving a weeklong series of teachings from HH Gyalwang Karmapa on the three types of vows available for the most serious practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism to take. These vows form the basis of Buddhist ethical discipline, and, as His Holiness commented on the first day of teachings, this discipline is the foundation of all of our spiritual practice.

To read more about what we are up to, a daily summary of these teachings may be found at this link. The photo above, taken by our friend Tashi Paljor, appears on this website, and in it we are seated at the front pillar, to the left. Can you recognize us??