The Four Noble Truths

There are four main holidays in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar marked for special celebration and practice. These commemorate important stages in the life, realization, and teaching of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. Devoted Buddhists throughout the world celebrate these holidays, or “Duchen”, with extensive offerings, practice, and prayers. It is said that the merit accumulated from virtuous activities on these days is multiplied by millions of times.

It is Anyen Rinpoche’s wish that in the near future, we as a Sangha will begin to honor these holy days together. He believes that as serious Buddhists, we can and should root the tradition of celebrating the Four Duchen here in North America. In the near future, there will be special teachings and practice that will give us the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the Dharma and accumulate vast merit for the benefit of all sentient beings on these very special days.

The following is from a Dharma talk on the Four Noble Truths  given by Anyen Rinpoche on Chokor Duchen, The Festival of Turning the Wheel of Dharma, on the 4th day of the 6th month in the Tibetan lunar calendar.

 

The Four Noble Truths

Today is a very special day in the Buddhist calendar. It marks the anniversary of the first turning of the wheel of Dharma by the Buddha. It is said that the Buddha Shakyamuni sat in meditation for six years while enduring many trials and hardships, and then sat with determination under a Bodhi tree until he finally attained complete liberation and the state of Buddhahood. After he attained that realized state, he said “I have found nectar-like dharma: profound, peaceful, luminous and uncompounded.  No matter who is taught, who could understand?  I won’t speak, but will remain in the forest”

Later, he was he was requested to turn the Wheel of Dharma by Brahma and Indra who offered him a right-turning white conch shell and a gold dharmachakra, saying: “Please turn the wheel of the dharma” so beings can put the Dharma into practice.

So that is how it came to be that on this day in Varanasi, the Buddha Shakyamuni began to teach on the Four Noble Truths, which were the first teachings that he gave.

On this special day in Tibet, people will rise early to practice, especially in the monasteries. Even out in the community, lamas will give teachings to lay people and monastics alike early in the morning. Then people will make many vast offerings including water bowls, incense, butter lamps, money, and the recitation of many prayers.

Why is this? On these four special days during the year, this being one of them, the merit accumulated from any practice will be multiplied by 100 million times. Therefore, devoted Buddhists make special effort on these days to engage in truly virtuous activities. So any listening, contemplation, or meditation on the Dharma, any merit that is accumulated, becomes very powerful because it is being done on this anniversary of the first teaching of the Dharma. Additionally, any activity of generation or giving rise to bodhicitta, even if we only offer one candle or butter lamp, becomes equal to offering 100 million. So the virtue accumulated on this day is very vast and it is not possible to accumulate this kind of virtue on an ordinary day.

We are celebrating the day the teachings of the Buddhadharma were brought into the world by the Buddha Shakyamuni. In America, there are many Buddhists who have been practicing the Dharma for a very long time. However, it is not known or celebrated by many Buddhists. We don’t make the effort to listen to, or contemplate on, the Dharma on a day like today. Instead, we just do what we normally do. We are simply trying enjoy ourselves, distract ourselves, make ourselves busy and not have to think of other things, maybe just relax. Or maybe we are just engaging in our normal non-virtuous activity like drinking and smoking, or whatever we do in our free time.  So, on a day like today, we should make more effort to be mindful, to turn our body, speech, and mind towards accumulating virtue.

When the Buddha Shakyamuni first taught, he taught to five retinues. As followers of the Buddha Shakyamuni and this tradition, for the sake of an auspicious connection, I will give a short teaching on the Four Noble Truths as well.

The Four Noble Truths can be understood to have the complete teachings on the nature of reality within them. General we articulate them as:

The truth of suffering

The truth of the origin of suffering

The truth of the path, and

The truth of cessation

The first three of these have to do with our conventional world. For example, that our ordinary world is full of suffering, where the suffering originates, and how we can transcend that suffering through taking up the path. The final truth, the truth of cessation, is the truth of Ultimate Reality.  For that reason, we not only say that all of Dharma is contained in these teachings, we also say they contain all of conventional and ultimate reality.

So the First Noble Truth is the truth of suffering. It is said in the Uttaratantra that, “The truth of suffering is the object of knowledge and the origin of suffering is the object of abandonment.”   What does this mean? Suffering is something that we have to examine and understand. Suffering is something that can’t be avoided. It’s something that we experience on a daily basis. No matter what, suffering is going to happen! Without examining suffering, emotionally and intellectually, we cannot develop what is called renunciation, the motivation of wanting to transcend the suffering of ordinary, worldly life.  This renunciation is an important part of the Buddhist path. Without this, we won’t have any enthusiasm or energy to practice. We’ll just be complacent and continue to do the same things we’ve been doing all along.

For most contemporary Buddhists, we have a kind of contaminated form of renunciation. We feel exhausted by worldly suffering, because there’s no escape from it. Yet, we still have this extreme attachment to our ordinary lives as well. So we feel like we are being pulled in two directions. We want to practice the Dharma but we self-sabotage our practice. This is because we have another agenda. We want to keep everything we have just the way it is.

Of course, I could talk about the various types of suffering for a very long time. Suffice it to say that from the time the child enters the womb, the mother experiences great physical and emotional suffering during pregnancy. The child experiences suffering as well, being cramped in a small space. The mother and child can even die during childbirth. From the time the child is born, suffering only increases. Even when surrounded by loved ones, one experiences the sufferings of change, old age, sickness, and finally death.

Through much of our lives we’ll suffer because of the wealth we never had but wish we did. We’ll suffer from all the effort we put into getting the things we think will make us happy. Or we get things that we think will make us happy then we fear losing them. Sometimes, even when things are going well for us, we have anxiety and fear about things changing. We experience all kinds of physical, emotional, and mental suffering. Now we’re healthy but we worry about becoming sick. There are so many kinds of suffering and they are all happening to all of us, even if not in exactly the same way. But certainly we are experiencing suffering all the time.

Then of course, there is the suffering of the fear of death as well as the actual experience of dying. It is terrifying and according to the Buddhist view, that fear can be carried with us even into the intermediary states, or Bardos, after death and before we take another birth.

From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we experience so many different kinds of suffering. And so, the goal on the Buddhist path is to understand what the root of suffering is, then eradicate that suffering by taking up the path. It’s taking up this path that is the cause for the cessation of suffering.

So this first Noble Truth of Suffering is extremely important. If we don’t understand suffering as suffering, if we’re unwilling to accept the fact that we are perpetuating a habit of suffering, then we won’t be motivated to practice the Dharma and we won’t bring the necessary energy to the Buddhist path.  Understanding this first truth gives us the willingness, energy, and enthusiasm to change.

Suffering is something that is important to examine as an object of knowledge. If we examine it emotionally, intellectually, and analytically then we can discover what the root of suffering really is. And if we understand that, it becomes easier to do something about it. But if we don’t understand the origin of suffering then how are we supposed to know what kind of conduct to take up or abandon? How are we supposed to know what kind of habits to abandon? We may just think to ourselves: “Oh, I’ll just work through this suffering myself. I’ll just get over it and through it however I can.” But without any kind of plan, or using some technique or path to help us do that is just sort of foolish. The truth is, if we were able to do it on our own, we would have already done it.

This is why the First Noble Truth was taught first, as the root of all practice.

The Four Noble Truths then are the essential basis for spiritual practice. Just as it was said in the Uttaratantra, suffering is the thing we need to understand. After that we need to know the origin of suffering, the thing we need to abandon. The most general way of explaining what the origin of suffering is to call it our afflictive emotions, our emotional state. These are not just our painful emotions that we dislike but also our desires, wishes, and hopes: anything we’re attached to. All of these are laden with disappointment. As long as we have these afflictive emotions then a peaceful state of mind, where we don’t suffer, is not possible.

Specifically, we can say that afflictive emotions give rise to karma. Maybe this is a new idea for you, or maybe you just don’t like the idea of karma yet, but it is just like habits. We get habituated to emotional responses. Sometimes these emotional responses are unhealthy or self-sabotaging, but regardless, the way that we respond to things in the world brings us suffering over and over again because we just don’t know any other way to do things. This is called building up a karmic tendency. This is what causes us to continue to take birth in samsara and turns this wheel of cyclic existence.

So after we understand the First Noble Truth, we need to understand this object to be abandoned, our afflictive emotions which cause us to accumulate karma or strong habitual responses.

And so what is the thing to be relied upon? That is the path. But it’s not just any spiritual path. If we want to attain a state of enlightenment, the state that Shakyamuni Buddha himself attained, we have to follow exactly the path that he taught. We can’t create something new, or mix something new into it because we can’t be sure of the result. Therefore, we take up the path exactly how the Buddha taught it.

But because there are so many different types of beings, Shakyamuni taught 84,000 teachings of the Dharma. He gave an ocean of teachings in the classifications of Sutra and Tantra. He gave so many teachings so that all the different kinds of beings could find the teaching that made perfect sense to them and everyone could have the chance to practice this Buddhist path if they wished.

So when we take up and rely on the path and we abandon the afflictive emotions, this leads to the truth of cessation, the cessation of suffering. Then, of course, one will attain the state of the particular path they have taken up. For example, if one has taken up the Hinayana path, the result will be the state of an Arhat. If one has taken up the Mahayana, one will attain the state of perfect Buddhahood. And if one takes up the Secret Mantrayana, one will achieve the “inseparable result”.

The Secret Mantrayana path also has the special quality of being very quick. It is said that by taking up this path one will attain the inseparable result in sixteen lifetimes. There have even been some very special practitioners, such as Longchenpa, who have attained this result in one lifetime.

However, all realization is possible because of relying on The Four Noble Truths.

Birds of A Feather

When Rinpoche was growing up, he was cared for by Chupur Lama, a Dzogchen yogi who lived with Rinpoche’s family. Chupur Lama once told him that if we become friends with a thief, that we will become like that thief. We become like those around us, so we should choose companions whose conduct we aspire to emulate.

Most of us have a tendency to seek out companions who are very much like ourselves. We are drawn to others who have the same interests, habits, personality traits, and way of being in the world. On one hand this makes sense logically. It’s easy to connect with and talk to a person who we have a lot in common with. A sense of comfort and belonging naturally and quickly develops.

But if we look a little closer, we can recognize that by gravitating to those who are just like ourselves, our sense of self is validated and strengthened. Our neurosis become more powerful, more rigid, as we add fuel to the fire of our afflicted way of relating with the world. Ego and self attachment are intensified, and we become more locked into really believing that our way of perceiving the world around us is justified and true.

Sometimes when we are with a group of people, we feel excluded. We feel uncomfortable with others, and wish things were different than they are. But if we step back a moment and examine our own thoughts and actions, we may find that actually, the feeling of exclusion is our own perception. Examine the ways in which you are creating your own feeling of exclusion. Where do you choose to sit, to to whom do you choose to speak , what do you choose to talk about, what does your body language say to those around you, and what expectations do you bring along with you?

When our personalities are less rigid, our insecurities and fears fade away, and we feel comfortable in any situation and with any group of people.

By consciously making a decision to connect with others who are different from ourselves, we are challenging our sense of self and working with our ego. In fact, by making connections with others who have developed excellent qualities of body, speech and mind, we learn new ways of being in the world. Our rigid minds become more flexible.

The Art of Following a Lama

Rinpoche recently completed two weekends of teachings devoted to the practice of Guru Yoga.

A portion of the teachings described three types of Dharma students. All three kinds of students are necessary, and have a significant role to play in supporting the Dharma.

1. The student with faith, understanding, diligence, and meditative absorption.

2. The student who supports the Dharma through their own physical activity and wealth.

3. The student who makes material offerings to support the Lama’s activity.

Without material offerings, such as financial contributions, establishing a proper location and seat for rooting the dharma would be impossible. In order to reach ordinary beings who are suffering, a physical place to teach and inspire must be created. A part of that is based upon the material offerings of the lama’s students. Offerings such as fruit, flowers, incense are made on the shrine, creating proper dependant arising for the teachings to be given. We have all seen the importance of material offerings ourselves as we realize the establishment of Orgyen Khamdroling Dharma Center.

In addition to material offerings, many of us also offer out physical activity in various ways to support the Dharma. Our community has worked together to renovate and build out our center physically, and keep it clean on an ongoing basis. Members donate time and skills in many different ways to create/print flyers, and promote and organize teachings and events, teach classes (Yoga, Tibetan language, Children’s Dharma) and even wash dishes, carry cushions, clean the floors, and arrange flowers. Thinking of more examples is easy to do – the list goes on and on – and each of these different activities is important in creating the whole. These offerings of physical activity on top of material support are a further development our qualities as students of Anyen Rinpoche and the Dharma.

The supreme student has four exemplary qualities – the most important of which is faith. The faith of the supreme student is steadfast and unchanging, and does not falter when adversity is met. Constant faith in your lama is demonstrated as absolute trust in the lama’s selfless motivation and goal in all activities for the benefit of others. Diligence is another important quality possessed by the supreme student. Diligence means unfailing practice of the teachings throughout one’s lifetime and includes giving up worldly activity in order to practice. These next two qualities – understanding and meditative absorption –  will naturally arise in the student who has faith and diligence.  When the lama teaches, unmistaken meaning arises in the mind of the student. Meditative absorption, or not moving from the mind of meditation, is present in the supreme student – awareness, focus, concentration and discrimination are constantly displayed.

So, with these qualities and types of students in mind, how can we develop ourselves? We can begin by focusing on the outer qualities – faith and diligence. Ask yourself, do you have complete confidence in the Dharma and the Lama? Examine your areas of strength and weakness so you know where to focus your attention. Do you need to spend more time contemplating things you have already been taught? If so, set aside a small amount of time to do just that.

If you find that your faith is lacking, increasing your confidence in the teachings and the lama is can be gained through experience and practice – diligence. Do you attend teachings regularly, giving up some worldly activity in order to participate? Or are you attending only when it is entirely convenient for you, and you don’t have to give anything else up? Apply the teachings, observe the result, refine the application and repeat. Rinpoche reminded us that faith and diligence can be improved, solidified and expanded – we can improve ourselves as students of the dharma.

By focusing on increasing our outer qualities, we are also developing our inner qualities.  The inner qualities are devotion and offerings. What is the difference between faith and devotion?  They are closely connected, certainly. Perhaps there is an aspect of energy and enthusiasm to devotion, while faith is a belief or a conviction. So this makes sense as a progression – when we find our belief or trust in the lama and the teachings growing stronger, we practice more, and our diligence grows. And as we practice more, we gain momentum and enthusiasm to participate even more in teachings and practice. We want to express our appreciation. Feeling that strong urge to connect, making offerings starts to come naturally.

Offerings demonstrate the strength of your faith, diligence, and devotion. Ask yourself, do you take the time and attention to bring flowers or fruit, stay to help clean after a practice, or lend your time and energy in other ways? Do you offer an envelop and khata when you can after a teaching? There are so many ways, big and small that you can make offerings, and remember to dedicate your actions for the benefit of all.

A tamed disposition is the secret quality. When we have developed our inner and outer qualities, we find that a flexible, stable state of mind pervades our presence. We can engage in life with a calm and focused confidence, unshaken by the difficulties we encounter. What a gift for yourself, and for others. Developing yourself as a student is a good investment!

As we work together creating our center, expanding the reach of Orgyen Khamdroling and Anyen Rinpoche’s teachings, we are developing ourselves as practitioners, we are improving. Looking back, it’s not hard to see our progress individually and as a community. We are doing very good work in improving our faith, diligence, generosity, and mindset – together. Thank you for leading us so skillfully, Anyen Rinpoche.

How have you developed as a student over the past years? Are there any specific goals you have met, or aspire to meet in the coming years?

In the Dharma,

Sarah

Why I Dropped Everything And Spent A Year In India

Chris Lemig is a student of Anyen Rinpoche’s and a member of the OKL Sangha in Denver. He recently spent some time studying Tibetan language in India.

I’m in Bir. Not the carbonated malt and hops beverage. I gave that up years ago. I’m talking about Bir in northern India. It’s a small Tibetan colony at the foot of the Dhauladhar range of mountains that stretch south of the Himalayas.

It’s spring and the weather is perfect. The sun has been shining bright for two straight days, a welcome relief after a long winter of snow and freezing temperatures in a place that hasn’t yet discovered central heating.

Now, as I walk up the hill to a morning teaching by Tenzin Palmo, Tibetan prayer flags flap in the already warm breeze. Tiny white and yellow flowers are in bloom in the thick green grass that lines the path to the teaching hall.

The chanting of morning prayers echoes from inside the monasteries that surround me on all sides.

Stupas, huge stone monuments representing the stages of the path to enlightenment, are everywhere. Old-timer Tibetans, wizened grandfathers and grandmothers whose fingers fly nimbly over their prayer beads as they recite mantras, circle them endlessly.

If there is a Buddhist heaven, I’m here.

Recently, I spent over a year living and studying in India and, so far, it has been the most remarkable year of my life.

Living in a Buddhist culture opened my eyes to what being a Buddhist in our tradition really means.

For over 365 days, I was able to really steep myself in the practice of dharma.

Constantly surrounded by holy images, sounds, and smells, I got to see first hand how practice is done in the traditional way.

Every day, I watched eighty year-old women and men knock out a thousand prostrations before lunch. It made me think how little devotion and diligence I really have, and inspired me to work harder to cultivate those qualities.

Over the course of a year I had the opportunity to receive many teachings from many great teachers. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, even with his rigorous travel schedule, still manages to teach regularly at his home in McLeod Ganj.

Weekend trips to meet Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, or Jetsunma Tezin Palmo were routine but joyous field trips I took during breaks from school.

Everywhere I looked, blessings from centuries of practice filled the air like billowing clouds. They wafted down from mountain retreats and from ancient temples and shrines.

I’m not exaggerating here. I could almost see them at times, and there were many moments when I was reduced to a sobbing, quivering mess after wandering, apparently aimlessly, into some out of the way shrine room or hidden forest meditation grove.

My faith seemed to increase day by day as I witnessed the effects of practice with my own eyes.

It was no utopia, of course. The suffering of samsara is found everywhere. But I saw so many people actually doing something about it. Monks and nuns, westerners and Tibetans, all really taking the teachings of the Buddha seriously and putting them into practice to benefit themselves and others.

I know that taking a year off and traveling to Asia isn’t for everyone. And we shouldn’t think that, as Western Buddhists, we have to in order to become great practitioners. In fact, many here, already have.

All I can tell you is that, for me, living in India gave me a deeper understanding of what kind of practitioner I’d like to one day become. And it’s all of the lessons, memories, and experiences from that time that guide me on the path that’s under my feet today.

Back in Bir, the mood is electric. Jetsunma has finished the first day of teaching to a packed hall of about 100 students. We are all tired from sitting for the past seven hours but we feel refreshed, excited and so very blessed to have had the chance to hear this amazing being illuminate the Dharma.

As we leave in small groups and walk back down the path, the air is filled with chanting once again and my eyes fill up with tears.

There is a power in this place, a sense that real dharma practice is being done here and I can almost see wave upon wave of Bodhicitta spreading far out into the sky to every corner of the world.

For a moment, I half believe that it’s the prayers and practice being done here that alone are keeping our dangerously out-of-balance world of selfishness, materialism, violence, and suffering from total self-destruction.

And maybe, I think, just maybe, if enough of us become inspired enough and motivated enough, together we can build more places like this back home.

Some Western Buddhists argue that cultural traditions should be discarded as we establish our own institutions in America, Canada, Europe, etc.  Are there any downsides to seeking inspiration by traveling to and living in Buddhist countries?

What experiences in your life continue to give you spiritual nourishment and inspiration long after they have ended?

 

Applying the Antidote

During this week’s talk in Denver, Rinpoche spoke about the conduct of a Bodhisattva (a being whom puts the welfare of others above him or herself) and how important it is to be mindful of body speech and mind in order to avoid harming ourselves and others.

Rinpoche discussed how hard it can be to maintain the mind of compassion and loving kindness when we or our loved ones are hurt or threatened. In fact, our reaction or response to such situations can give us some insight into our current state of mind and the quality of our practice.

 
In The Union of Dzogchen and Bodhichitta, when speaking about patience Rinpoche writes:

“..the most important one [types of patience] for us to practice at this stage is that of enduring pain inflicted by others. Most people would probably agree that it is extremely difficult to practice patience instead of allowing feelings of anger, victimization or revenge to arise.” (85)

He encourages his students to practice mindfulness and be ready to “apply the antidote” when faced with such situations.
When have you found yourself the most challenged? Do you try to “apply an antidote”? If so, what has your experience been? What practices have you found helpful? 
I’ve found contemplating the Four Immeasurables, for example, to be very helpful when faced with challenging situations. Contemplating compassion and wishing that beings be free of the type of suffering I’m experiencing, can help me to loosen my fixation on my subjective experience and my self attachment. There is a great explanation of this practice in The Union of Dzogchen and Bodhichitta, Chapter 4. The prayer can also be found in The Medicine Buddha Sadhana

May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.

May they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.

May they never be separate from true happiness free from suffering.

May they abide in great equanimity, free from partiality and prejudice towards self and others.

Blessings,
Clotilde Wright

The Principles of Shed, Drup, and Le

In Buddhism, there are three principles for establishing and maintaining the Buddhadharma: Shed, Drup and Le. Shed refers to teachings and listening, Drup is our meditation, and Le is talking about activity. Orgyen Khamdroling Sangha is focused on firmly rooting the Dharma here in the West, and has been working with great diligence and effort over these past years. We are refining our understanding of the Nyingmapa view, with the motivation of helping not only ourselves, but also all other beings.  These principles of Shed, Drup and Le are evident in our Sangha, here in the West.

Our Shedra is the principle of Shed – teaching and listening. Our Sangha has been fortunate enough to study Madhyamaka logic under the direction and guidance of our amazing lama, Anyen Rinpoche. Through the study of great texts, Rinpoche has helped us to deepen our understanding of  the two truths, valid cognition, the difference between sutra and tantra, to name a very few topics. Rinpoche has led us in our study of Madman’s Middle Way by Gendun Chopel, Beacon Of Certainty by Mipham Rinpoche, and just recently completed Distinguishing the Philosophies and Views, by Popa Tulku. He has encouraged us to make a regular commitment to reviewing such texts as The Way of the Bodhisattva, Words of My Perfect Teacher, and 37 Practices of the Bodhisattva.  How many beings in this world have the chance to study these kinds of texts so closely with a lama who has such strong scholarly background, such experience with putting these teachings into practice, and such a short and unbroken lineage ? What merit each of us must have accumulated to have this precious opportunity, it is no accident that each of us is a part of this!

The principle of Drup, or meditation can also be seen here in our Sangha. Just as our intellectual understanding has developed with Shedra, so has our meditative experience and stability improved. We have been putting great effort into increasing the frequency and consistency of our meditation together at the center. Our calendar includes annual events such as the Medicine Buddha Monlam and Nyungne. What’s more, regular monthly practices are attended for Tsok, Vajrasattva, Phowa, Medicine Buddha, and open meditation. Not only this but many of us are committed to regular daily practices, such as Ngondro. How much more time and effort we now spend on practice, both as a group and individually, compared to seven years ago! Purification and the accumulation of merit are continuing for us – how wonderful!

Le, or activity, is not difficult to identify within our Sangha. In a very short period of time, we have obtained our own Dharma center and made significant renovations to the building. We have put in hours of physical labor and effort, working together to complete projects. Our Sangha works hard in keeping our center clean, making fresh flower and fruit offerings, and supporting the ongoing efforts of the physical work on the center. Not only has the scope of our activity expanded here in Denver, but even further – recently, Orgyen Khamdroling Canada became incorporated. The Phowa Foundation’s outreach with Dying with Confidence training is expanding to new locations, and the first level III group training will be complete this April. Our activity in Denver continues with the creation of an incredible shrine room – supported by Sangha near and far, complete with large golden statues that will inspire many people!

Shed, Drup and Le are not independent of one another, they are interrelated. As one increases, so will the others increase. Over the past seven years, our Sangha has flourished with regard to these principles. What’s more, Orgyen Khamdroling Sangha has so many new experiences and opportunities on our horizons. Rejoice in our development of the three principles of Shed, Drup, and Le!

The Passing of a Dharma Friend

By Clemma Dawsen

I’m here to talk to you on behalf of our tiny sangha in rural Vermont and how

together we experienced the teachings of Anyen Rinpoche in a very immediate way as

we shared in the dying of one of our members. It’s our hope that reading this will give

you an idea of how amazing and beautiful and possible it is to die with confidence. We

should all aspire to be surrounded by trusted dharma friends. One of life’s greatest gifts

is to be a dharma friend; if you are asked to be one you should have no doubt as to

your good fortune. As the hours and days passed leading up to Bob’s death, tangible

benefits of each of our particular practices arose spontaneously and we came to a

greater understanding of how important the sangha truly is. No matter how large or

small, no matter the level of expertise of its members, the sangha holds things together.

 

I dedicate the merit of writing this story to Bob’s wife, Sally, who by selflessly

opening her heart as her beloved Bob was dying offered each of us the opportunity

to accrue astoundingly good karma and gain the depth of understanding that can

only come from experience. May she be strengthened and blessed with clear vision

for her future. It’s her wish and ours that continuous benefit radiate in ever widening

circles from our sangha to yours and beyond. On behalf of our sangha, I offer deepest

gratitude to Anyen Rinpoche for first accepting Bob and Sally’s invitation to come to

Vermont, and for supporting us from afar as he traveled to Bodhgaya at the time of

Bob’s passing; and to Ven. Konchog Norbu who committed to Sally in October that he

would return to Vermont to be with Bob in his final days and made good on his promise.

His gentle presence and pure honesty gave us all room to simply be.

 

As one friend wrote from Colorado upon Bob’s passing, “…I am so deeply touched

to see Rinpoche’s vision– for sangha to come together and transform the experience of death-

- happen for Bob and Sally. We may not have all the skills yet, but the compassion and loving

motivation to help is flowing from your hearts. Thank you all so much. Those of you who have

been with Bob and Sally this past week wrote such beautiful poetry about your experience–it

seemed quite magical. You were obviously surrounded with Buddha’s blessings. And Bob gave

us a gift from his heart as well. His practice over the years supported him even when his mental

faculties could not…”

 

Bob was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. By last fall he was failing

fast and yet still eagerly wished to be with Rinpoche and attend Level I Phowa training

in Manchester. Although he did not express it in words, it seems Bob had chosen to

prepare for death. Sally, ever devoted, set out purposefully to see him through.

At the retreat Bob’s open-hearted acceptance of the compassion we showed

toward him opened our hearts to receive his in return. It works that way. Those of us

who knew him, as well as those who traveled from all over the U.S. and Canada to

attend the training were blessed by his company. While he struggled to remember

names and faces, directions and schedules, Bob somehow remained more present

than seemed possible, more present at times than those of us consciously aiming to be.

Whenever I was with him, I understood bodhichitta in a way I never had before.

On the final day of the retreat, each of us came quietly forward with bowed heads

and folded hands to receive Rinpoche’s blessing. When it came time for Bob to step

up, he raised his head and approached Rinpoche with a determined step and an open

smile. Before Rinpoche could extend his colorfully wrapped bamboo staff to bless Bob

with a touch or a tap, Bob reached out with both hands, seized hold of the staff and held

fast. The long moment that followed enveloped us all as we were suspended in pure

dharma. It was as if Rinpoche and Bob formed the center of a great lotus while the rest

of us became in turn its many petals, fanned out in translucent light that could not be

contained by mere walls.

 

It was an image I returned to time and again in the weeks that followed the

retreat as Bob began to fragment into ever more random bits of being. Sally continued

to be his anchor but was at times fraught with despair and exhaustion. At times fearful,

agitated and confused, Bob could also become very angry, or simply seem to disappear

altogether. When he was hospitalized yet again in late December, it seemed logical to

use the time to figure out how to not bring him home this time, to find somewhere to

“place” him. People on all sides encouraged Sally to take this obvious next step. Sally

however, was not so sure. In fact, she was pretty much against it right along.

Over the next couple of weeks, as Sally agonized over what to do we shared

her uncertainty. We continued to meet as a sangha, to offer prayers and dedicate

merit. This was to prove especially crucial during this painful and tumultuous phase of Bob’s

dying. We Westerners are prone to getting into our heads, bypassing our hearts when

decisions have to be made until the balance is so skewed we abandon logic and swing

to the other side, often making rash choices based purely in emotion. Yet the teachings

remind us again and again to maintain mindfulness and discernment so as to balance

the logic of our heads with the loving kindness of our hearts.

 

This is why we take refuge in the sangha. It’s critical that we do this as

practitioners; otherwise confusion will reign, and lead inevitably to more uncertainty and

doubt. Sally needed support for her practice in order to keep her heart open and her

mind clear. The sangha needed to practice together to build confidence in our ability to

be present for Bob and Sally. Our busy lives somehow supported rather than thwarted

our endeavors, dishing up the sort of signs we needed that we were doing it, we were

being mindful, living our practice in the day-to-day, seeing how the dharma permeates

everything and everyone. Instead of falling further into doubt, one day in early January

Sally simply knew what she had to do. She took a leave of absence from work and

brought Bob home to die.

 

What we had talked about for months—the inevitability of Bob’s passing and our

sangha’s role in the process—was suddenly upon us. Sally prepared a room for Bob

based on what Rinpoche’s teachings said would support his passing. A fire burned

gently in the glass-fronted stove at the foot of the bed, candles and flowers adorned

the room and a small shrine upon which she placed photos of Bob’s teachers and other

personal dharma objects stood against the wall. Entering their home, one was met with

profound peace and a sense of everything being in right order and ready for what was

to come.

 

Jan. 16  

Sally (in an email to us):

… A soft snow is falling this morning; the wood stove is stoked, sending light and warmth into

the darkened room. I have again awakened with anxiety mixed with peace. I get up each

morning around five or six giving myself time to have coffee and some time alone. I try to sit on

the cushion each morning, either chanting the Heart Sutra or the Meditation on the

Compassionate One. Often my thoughts intrude, and getting down into that deeper state seems

impossible, I practice breathing in and out, feeling my heart pounding in my chest, I then wait to

hear sounds from Bob’s room. Yesterday he stood up by himself and opened the door, the day

before I had to wake him up around 8:30 and when I brought him out into the living room his

legs buckled underneath him. He is taking very little food at this point, preferring smoothies

and liquids; he seems to have lost all interest in solids. He spends a good portion of the day

sleeping. Yesterday and the day before he was only up about three hours each day. He is on very

little meds, whereas before we had him on 7.5 mg of an anti-psychotic twice a day, now I only

give him 3.25 once a day when he begins to get confused and seems a bit agitated. Most of the

 time when he is awake he seems to be very present responding to questions with a clear yes or

no, though he speaks only in a whisper and cannot really form more than a one or two word

sentence. Yesterday the visiting nurse came and has recommended that the

hospice nurse evaluate him. I struggle with my own thoughts of wanting this to be

over quickly, for both of our sakes. I have begun to put together a small team to help me and to

also research the legalities for my wishes to have the body home for 3 days after passing and I

have been assured by a funeral director that this is possible, I wish to make this journey as

seamless as possible and feel the prayers and support of all of you.

 

 Jan 16 

A sangha member replies:

…I am able to confirm what Sally feels certain of, that Bob is far more present than he has been

for months. It’s important to look with our hearts to see it…as Sally said in her note this morning,

Bob doesn’t speak above a whisper and spends a great deal of time whispering to himself and

gazing past us into the world that he can see and we cannot. It’s good to talk directly to him,

to not assume he doesn’t hear us–with our hearts we are able to sense what Bob is seeing and

hearing and it’s very peaceful where he is abiding. We can convey that energy to him when

we speak, or as we sit quietly with him we can send him love and clarity for the path. This is

what I wanted to tell you all, that Bob is in a state of grace right now that’s very good. His

eyes are clear and the lines in his face are gone. Although he is very thin, thinner than ever,

there’s “more” of him than when I saw him last, he seems fuller, more put together. Sally spends

a lot of time chanting and praying with Bob and the energy in the house is sacred and lovely…as

Sally said, it would be a wonderful thing if this were to continue and Bob were able to die this

way without having the agitation and rage return that he was experiencing not long ago. We

have no way of knowing what will come, but can continue to pray and offer whatever we can to

the process; whether in person or from afar. Making Sally laugh felt really good, there needs to

be room for laughter and joy at such a time–remembering that it’s not irreverent to laugh in the

face of death.

 

Jan. 19 

Sally:

Dear all…on Wednesday afternoon Bob went to bed at 4:30 and the next day I was not able

to arouse him, he has been semi-comatose/sleeping since, and is now actively dying. Rinpoche

is in Bodhgaya and is offering prayers along with 3000 other monks and tulkus. I am piecing

together necessary details while supporting his process. I will keep you posted…

 

Jan. 20 

Sally:

…Konchog (Ven. Konchog Norbu) is here and is staying for the duration, he is in the room

with Bob chanting, we are so blessed, please come when you can, much love to all..Bob

still comfortable…hospice came this morning…

 

Jan. 20 

A sangha member:

This afternoon at Sally and Bob’s house, it was clear that Bob’s condition has declined

dramatically since I last saw him…The earth and water elements appear to have dissolved, Bob

continues his journey toward the bardos.

Konchog, who arrived last night, is staying at the house. I found him seated at Bob’s bedside,

reading aloud from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. During the afternoon, Bob and Sally’s

daughters and families arrived. While strong winds blow through the surrounding hills and

forest, the air within the house is still and rich with compassion, acceptance and strength. When

I told Bob that he was in Rinpoche’s prayers from Bhodgaya, his reaction was immediate and

unmistakable.

It’s clear that Bob is an extremely fortunate being. Sally’s immense courage, great heart, and

dedication to the dharma have allowed this gentle soul to leave this world with unmatched love

and support. We are privileged to be able to share in their journey.

 

Jan. 21

Konchog:

Bob passed so peacefully in the lion posture at 7:41pm EST, on this, the 10th day of Guru

Rinpoche. Just before he passed, his eyes, which had been closed for days, opened, directed

at the candle Rinpoche had told us to place in his view, set up as an offering to an image of

Amitabha in Dewachen. A light snow had just begun to fall. Sally and the two children they had

together were here, emotional, but holding it together pretty well. After his last breath, I lightly

tapped at his fontanel, said Amitabha’s name many times, and sang his mantra. I then read

the Heart Sutra and Karma Chagmed’s ‘Prayer to be Reborn in Dewachen,’ made incense and

light offerings with Atisha’s extensive light offering prayer, and all of us together did the simple

reading for the first three days of death. Now we are notifying various people while a lovely

recording of the Mani mantra plays for Bob.

 

Sally had already arranged for Bob’s body to remain undisturbed for 3 days

before being removed for cremation, so when he died the stove was shut down and the

window opened to invite the chill air. The vigil began. Over the next 3 days, Konchog

and Sally remained a steady presence while others from our sangha and from Sally

and Bob’s family came and went, taking turns snugged in a heavy coat or wrapped in

a blanket to sit with Bob’s body. The sacred space that Sally had prepared for Bob was

now fiercely cold and yet magically warm and inviting; lit with candles, fragrant with

incense. Bob’s body, too, was a comforting presence rather than something strange or

off-putting. Outside the open window, chimes hanging from the eaves lightly sounded in

the breeze. On Wednesday night, 2 days after his outer breath had ceased, our sangha

met at Sally and Bob’s house as a group and sat together with Bob’s body. Konchog led

us in the specific prayers that Rinpoche instructed us to use.

 

On Friday the body was removed for cremation and on Saturday, January 23,

a ceremony of remembrance was held for Bob at the Manchester Shambhala Center,

lovingly adorned for the occasion. The service was a simple, moving event filled with

prayers and ritual befitting the final days of Bob’s life. As with all aspects of Bob’s

passing, the day itself was auspicious, being the full moon Amitabha day. The room

was packed; some guests on cushions, others in chairs or standing, squeezed in

and familiar with one another if only for the hour. Many had never been to a Buddhist

ceremony of any kind; if they felt awkward upon arrival their awkwardness quickly gave

way to a sense of openness and peaceful acceptance. Toddlers wandered through

the crowd, laughing and chattering. Babies were held gently in loving arms. The sense

that we were all being held in fact, was much like the moment at the retreat when Bob

received his blessing from Rinpoche. When nothing separates who we are from what

we do, everything is sacred. Dharma readings and prayers, music, poetry and loving

words mingled as deeply as the styles and hearts of the people in attendance. People

remarked later on that it was like being suspended in time.

 

Bob and Sally’s daughter, Sam, read the words that Sally had written for the ceremony:

“I would just like to share a little about these last weeks, which have been sad, but also peaceful

 and filled with love. When Bob was in the hospital I was told over and over that he needed to

 be in a nursing home. I got very, very close to putting him in one. I struggled daily with the

 decision but after visiting a nursing home, I realized I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t not bring

 Bob home. So on January third we brought him home, against doctors’ advice. He was weak

 and disoriented and was brought home by ambulance. Bobby and I cuddled into bed with him;

 and we were smiling to each other, saying over and over “you’re home.” Bob was so visibly

happy. Please understand that for someone with Alzheimer’s, it’s hard to show emotion. It’s

all blurred. He knew he was home, that is, he was safe, with family, with us. If he’d been in a

 nursing home, we would have lost him. We would have lost anything of him that we could pull

 back, that we could touch. It would’ve been gone.

 

In these last weeks he seemed to become more lucid, more present, even though

 his ability to communicate was diminished to only a word or two, he seemed softened.

 On Monday the 7th we laid in bed together and we talked; again, you have to understand

 he had lost the ability to speak in sentences of more than one or two words. We talked

 about Alzheimer’s and he said, “it’s killing me”. I asked him whether he wanted to continue

 to fight this or whether he wanted to just be home, no more hospitals… He said home… I

 said to him a couple of times, “do you understand what I am saying?” and he said “yes.” I

 repeated, “do you understand what I am saying?” and again he said “yes.” …later I helped

 him walk out into the living room and when we sat down Bob looked over at me and said, “talk

 more”… I said to him, “do you want to fight this, ‘cause I will do anything in my power if that is

what you want,”…. He nodded his head yes. He immediately looked alarmed and then said to me

 so very clearly “other, other.” So I said, “do you just want me to support you spiritually?” His

 face visibly relaxed and he said “yes, yes…”

 

Over the course of the next week Bob stopped eating solids. He slept more and more. On

Wednesday of last week he slipped into a semi-coma. We were told by hospice that he

 probably had less than a week. On Saturday night, Konchog came to be with us and began

 chanting and saying prayers throughout the day and late into the evening. On Monday night

 Bob peacefully died at home with Bobby, Sam, Konchog and I at his side. We continued to say

 prayers for him for the next three days after his passing.

 

This has been an incredible journey; one with acceptance, rawness, beauty, and love, I can’t

 put it all into words. When I was younger I loved Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do Not Go Gentle into

 That Good Night”, but today…I stand here, older, and a little wiser. Death had always seemed

 a great mystery, full of fear and sadness. Bob has shown us grace, courage and a deep knowing.

 Together with my children and grandchildren we have cried, and laughed, and sobbed and

 prayed and we have learned that this great rite of passage holds unbridled compassion.”

 

After the service, Sally and her family threw a fine party. The Bob I knew was

fond of saying, “I’m Irish.” He would attach this addendum to the increasingly abstract

things he came up with that nonetheless made perfect sense. We’d be pondering the

dharma and Bob would just come out with something so strangely yet perfectly put

together that we knew exactly what he meant but would be hard pressed to explain it. A

sort of Alzheimer’s koan, if you will. Then he’d get that twinkle in his eye and say, “Hey,

I’m Irish.” So although he didn’t have the traditional Irish wake, Bob didn’t leave without

a celebration in his honor. Afterwards, we all went home, one by one, back to our lives,

leaving Sally to hers and yet not. The inevitable grace of the sangha remains because

that’s how it is, that’s how it works.

 

…and on January 28th, seven days after Bob’s passing, as I was sitting on the deck early

 one morning, after a deep snow, a small finch lit upon my shoulder. om mani padme hum.

—-Sally Leonard, East Dorset, Vermont

 

Anyen Rinpoche’s book, Dying with Confidence includes Rinpoche’s heart advice to support practitioners through the dying process.  The Dying with Confidence training program will give students the guidance and opportunity to master all the skills necessary for a practitioner to use death as an opportunity for enlightenment and to help all sentient beings. The next Level I Training will be held September 26-30, 2013 in Denver, CO.

For more information and an application: http://www.phowafoundation.org/PFCrestone%202012.php

The Third Jewel of Buddhism – the Sangha.

It could be said that the Holy Grail of Buddhism consists of the three jewels which are traditionally stated as the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The commonly accepted definition of one who is following the Buddhist path is one who has taken refuge in the three jewels – the Buddha , the Dharma and the Sangha and as Rinpoche once said …”taking refuge is not enough – to truly follow the path we need to practice!” .

The Buddha

The Buddha (Shakyamuni) which means “awakened one” was clear that he did not want his teachings to become a religion or dogma. In fact, when he was getting ready to pass and leave this life – his students gathered around him and asked for one last teaching. The last teaching that he chose to give his students out of all those that he could have  chosen was simply to admonish them to not believe anything anyone had taught them – including himself – unless it accorded with their own experience. The Buddhist path is an experiential path and the wisdom which we discover is experiential wisdom as we begin to follow and practice the teachings.

So what does it mean when we take refuge in the first of the three jewels the Buddha?

The Buddha is the prime source of authority and inspiration. The Buddha who was simply a human being like all of us shows us that we too in this lifetime by practicing and following the path can also become “awakened” and in doing so can free ourselves and even others from suffering and the causes of suffering. His life and teachings show us that there is a most excellent path which will lead us to realize our own awakened Buddha nature in this lifetime. It is up to us to follow his teachings. No one can walk this path for us.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, we also establish a relationship with a lama who has committed their life to following the Buddhist path and teachings. The lama becomes our spiritual friend who assists and inspires us in understanding the teachings and path. We are fortunate indeed in Ottawa to have established a relationship with Anyen Rinpoche as he reaches out to bring the BuddhaDharma to the West.

The Dharma

This leads us to the second of the three jewels, namely, the Dharma – or the teachings of Buddhism. The Dharma could be described as our road map – or perhaps today – our GPS – that keeps us on course towards awakening fully in this lifetime for the benefit of ourselves and others.

It is said that the Buddha “turned the wheel of Dharma” when he gave his first teachings of the four Noble truths 2500 years ago. Before he passed, it is said he gave over 180,000 teachings in his lifetime all of which in some way constitute the Dharma.

As Westerners who are examining the principles of Buddhism, these concepts can be placed into a traditional educational analysis. There is a teacher. There is a path. There are teachings some complex and difficult. If we listen to the teacher and follow the teachings on the path then we will reach a destination known as enlightenment.

The fact that the teacher says to examine the teachings closely to ensure that they accord with our own experience is also a fairly easy concept for our Western mind to grasp as it appears very similar to the scientific method which might be argued has become the modern Western religion. And a teaching which encourages our individual critical thinking is consistent with our Western individualistic way of approaching our relationship to our own life path.

We know that if we want to climb to the peak of a mountain, we need to develop the skills of a mountain climber but also we need to know and understand where we are going in order to accomplish our goal.

We have the example and inspiration of the teacher Buddha Shakyamuni who reached the pinnacle of spiritual achievement, in one lifetime and fortunately he has left behind the Dharma or his teachings which allow us to learn where we are now and how we can begin to climb that spiritual peak ourselves.

So the first two jewels are not too difficult to appreciate – an inspirational teacher and goal and the teachings or instructions on how reach that goal.

The Third Jewel – The Sangha

But what is it with the third jewel – the Sangha ? Originally the Sangha was a non-hierarchical monastic community of monks and nuns who took vows of celibacy and devoted their lives to meditation and study. And in doing so helped lay people on their spiritual path.

And apart from any individual biases on this topic, surely this cannot be the spiritual path for our current western culture and market place. In truth this third jewel of Buddhism – the Sangha – no longer exclusively means a monastic community.

Around Anyen Rinpoche, Sanghas have “sprung” up in Denver, Ottawa, Florida, Santa Fe, and California . We all have come to know of ourselves as being part of a supportive community of fellow practitioners which – we call our Sangha.

However, if we are not going to be monastics it is a legitimate question to ask why today Sangha is still regarded as the third jewel of Buddhism and still regarded as such an essential part of the path and practice.

We all enter the path individually based on our own life circumstances, curiosity and dispositions . We approach this study of Buddhism and meditation like we would any other study with intellectual study and then experiential practice.

If the goal is to realize the true nature of mind – why isn’t it enough to study and practice and practice and practice and study with the teacher until we begin to experience the profound changes that occur in our lives when we start to integrate the Buddha’s profound teachings in our lives?

Why do we need the Sangha ? – Yes, we are a group of fellow practitioners but often we don’t have a lot in common except that our individual life circumstances have drawn us to this path at the same time and geographical location.

I am guessing that many of you have learned as I have – how to learn on your own through school or work study . In fact, in school when the teacher would assign group assignments – it seemed an almost impossible task as there were so many diverging views on how to best approach the assignment. There was a feeling of an immediate loss of control over what the grade or outcome might be because everyone had to participate and we would be marked as a group.

With this study of BuddhaDharma – it is already complicated enough and we don’t have much time in this lifetime to waste so why is it so essential to take refuge in this third jewel – the Sangha – and will we also be marked as a group?

I have to confess that the idea of learning with or through a Sangha of fellow practitioners really didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the beginning. Practicing meditation as a group made a lot of sense. I know from my yoga background – that there are aspects of practice that are enhanced dramatically in a group setting instead of alone.

But until Rinpoche’s continual teachings of Bodhichitta began to slowly sink in, I didn’t understand how this jewel of the Sangha was so essential to this path.

I have been fortunate to have been part of Rinpoche’s Denver Sangha as it was just in its very beginning stages and now feel completely part of the family as it has grown over the years to now encompass the running of the new Centre. It is unquestionable how impressive the accomplishments are of this Sangha – but even more impressive – as one very experienced practitioner once remarked- is how warm, loving and supportive each of the Sangha members are in their support for each other.

Right from the beginning Rinpoche was always clear in the fundamental importance of Bodhichitta to our practice path. The motivation to engage in the practice for the benefit of all sentient beings is essential if we are to progress towards our goal of awakening in this lifetime.

As it turns out, the goal itself of this most excellent path is inseparable from the motivation to enter and engage in the practice for the benefit of others. If we miss or forget Bodhichitta in our practice we miss the path entirely.

This is where the jewel of Sangha suddenly drops into its rightful place. Sangha above all gives us the container and mirror of relationship amongst other fellow practitioners. In this relationship we do of course practice together and study the BuddhaDharma but in doing so we are constantly required and reminded to return to the generation of Bodhichitta – and to combine wisdom and compassion for our fellow Sangha members , our selves and all other sentient beings.

This is not to say that being part of a growing Sangha is easy. We will still find ourselves judging each other or losing our generosity or patience with each other or forgetting to generate Bodhichitta for each other. However, when these situations arise they represent opportunities to realize the importance of this third jewel to our practices and to re-commit to supporting each other and Rinpoche in his teachings of the Dharma.

This third jewel is as essential to our ability to progress on this path as is the cultivation of Bodhichitta itself is to our practice.

David

Postlude : – because Rinpoche likes to end with a joke!

I started this piece off with a passing reference to the Holy Grail. The other night at the Dharma group, some of you said you had never seen the closing scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail – where Sir Arthur and the Knights of the Round table had one last challenge – to cross the bridge of Death – but first they had to answer the Bridge Keeper – 3 questions. I have put the link to that closing scene below. Sometimes I think trying to answer the question – What is Sangha is like trying to answer Question  number 3 in the Video below .

We think we know the answer but it is way trickier and important than we often understand.

Lots of love to all,

David

Check out this video on YouTube:

Tricycle Blog : Dying with Confidence

Please take a look at a guest blog written on the Tricycle site by our own dear Chris Lemig, and please add your comments if you like. Thank you, Chris, and safe travels! We are looking forward to more of your writing.

With Love,

Sarah

The Eyes of Devotion

A common idea in all vehicles of Buddhism is that ordinary practitioners such as ourselves revere those who have more knowledge, experience and realization than our own. We can clearly see the results of practice in the actions of body, speech and mind of those who go before us . Rinpoche has admonished the long time practitioners within our Sangha to be very mindful of their behavior, as they are setting an example for the rest of us to aspire to.

The practice of Guru Yoga in the Secret Mantrayana is the ultimate example of relying upon those who go before us: the enlightened embodiment of the lama. Guru Yoga is based upon the lama as the door to realization, and is the supreme method for ordinary practitioners to gain experience in realization. Through the strength of our devotion and prayers, we are able to receive the blessings of the practice.

In order to establish this practice, we must see the lama as enlightened embodiment, working for the benefit of all beings. We may recognize our lama as a great scholar, a tulku, but in order for the experience of wisdom to arise, we must see the lama through the eyes of devotion as having the qualities of the Buddha. Thoughtful examination of the good qualities of our lama will naturally bring rise to our faith and devotion. Faith and devotion are indispensable qualities for the development of pure perception.

We are able to read books and study, gaining some measure of intellectual understanding of the teachings. However, as we have experienced in our Shedra studies, precise and clear understanding of increasingly profound topics is no simple task. There are many subtleties and distinctions which are essential and difficult to understand, even with great effort and focus. What’s more, an incorrect or misunderstanding can cause us to carelessly accumulate karma which results in harm to ourselves or to others. Without the skill and guidance of the lama to clear away our misconceptions, even intellectual knowledge of the Dharma is elusive and difficult to establish. How many times has Rinpoche precisely, skillfully and patiently explained the meanings to us and answered our questions?

We need much more than mere knowledge to gain experience in realization. We ordinary practitioners must understand the lama as indispensable in our quest for experience of realization, as the lama is the key to direct experience. We cannot find the nature of mind all by ourselves. In order to find the nature of mind, we need to establish an uncommon relationship with a qualified lama who we can continually rely upon. The lama, with incredible kindness, will share with us a glimpse of the nature of mind, allowing us to develop our own ability.

In order for wisdom to arise in our minds, we need more than intellectual knowledge gained from listening and contemplation. Actual experience, understanding the essence of the teachings is essential. When we think about that, we can see the incredible significance of the lama in developing both of these aspects.

Our devotion and faith in order to obtain a result from our practice of Guru Yoga must rise to a level beyond ordinary; these eyes of devotion must be resolute and immutable, not subject to our whims and impure perceptions. Without steadfast devotion, despite our best efforts at the practice, wisdom will not arise. At times, it is not difficult to see the enlightened qualities embodied before us in the lama. However, unchanging pure perception of our lama as an actual Buddha performing enlightened activity is uncommon. Rarely are we able to maintain this level of devotion and pray in that way. Based on a condition that arises, our devotion degrades.

How do you work at taking your faith and devotion to the next level? When do you find hesitation or reluctance in your practice?

In the Dharma,

Sarah