Diary 1999-2001

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As you scroll down the page, you go back in time to 1999.

September 1-3, 2001

Ven. Traleg Rinpoche, an account by Bernie Simon, whose other reports can be read at The Careless Hand:

"At KTD, over Labor Day weekend, the 9th Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche [d. 2012], the traditional abbot of Thrangu Monastery in Tibet, and founder of the Kagyu E-vam Buddhist Institute in Melbourne, gave a seminar on the Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra.

Rinpoche had left New York City at the last moment and, caught in holiday traffic, arrived late.  It had been threatening rain all day and, dramatically, it started to pour just as Rinpoche arrived at KTD. 

His talk on Friday night was loosely based on the Lineage Prayer.  His demeanor during the talk was relaxed and playful.   When, at the conclusion, he asked Khenpo Karthar to respond to a question, Khenpo Rinpoche blushed and raised his hands in demurral and Traleg Rinpoche remarked, "That's how he is -- he doesn't say anything.  He's so learned, and I'm the one going yaketty-yak."

Saturday's talk was rather slow paced but interspersed with jokes. Rinpoche only covered the first two stanzas of the prayer.  He remarked at how sleepy the audience  seemed to be, saying, "When you listen to gossip about Brad Pitt you perk up. 'When is he getting married?' -- you get so alert, but when you hear the Teachings, you fall asleep." 

In the afternoon, Rinpoche covered the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to the
Dharma, and the Three Wisdoms (hearing, contemplating, and meditating on the dharma.) 

Saturday night he gave the empowerment of Milarepa.  This seemed awkward and unusual for Traleg Rinpoche stumbled through the ritual, requiring the assistance of Khenpo Rinpoche. 

The following morning (Sunday) Traleg Rinpoche humorously referred to the previous evening's empowerment as a "dispowerment."  He continued his discussion of the Aspiration Prayer, saying, "Whether one is bound or one is feeling a sense of liberation, the whole gamut of our experience rests on our natural state of being which is equated with our state of mind, and that is known as Buddha Nature."

On Sunday afternoon Rinpoche covered the tricky topic of Emptiness and how it relates to Mahamudra.  About meditation, he said, "Whatever arises in the mind we should not try to change. When discursive thoughts or negative emotions arise, we should learn to rest in the natural state.  That is why Mahamudra is known as the path of self- liberation.  If you do not try to do something with your thoughts, everything becomes self- liberated." 

In order to finish the teaching, Rinpoche continued after dinner.  He explained the distinction between shamatha and vipashyana meditation:  "Realization comes from experiencing that which one cannot see. You cannot put it in propositional terms, in other words. So with shamatha meditation you are dealing with the relative level. With vipashyana, you are dealing with the ultimate level."

On Labor Day morning, Traleg Rinpoche finished his commentary on the Aspiration Prayer explaining how one realizes all phenomena as mind: "First you look at objects of the mind, then you look at mental activities, then you look at both. If you look at both of them, subject and object, then you realize that they are not separate entities. There is nothing to be experienced separate from the experiencer -- they are interdependent." 

Later, asked about the lineage of Traleg tulkus, he responded, "I am still a practitioner and grappling with my samsaric condition. And that's not a contrived response, that's how I feel. If you do not think that, there will be no guru devotion and without devotion there is no progress.  You can't afford to think that I am the best and know it all."

Traleg Rinpoche's presentation combined eccentric behavior with an intelligent commentary on Mahamudra that genuinely springs from his own realization. It was a unique mix that I will not easily forget."

[Traleg is considered an incarnation of Rechung Dorje Drakpa, a disciple of great Tibetan yogi, Milarepa.] 

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Sept. 13-16, 2001

Karuna Group presented Ven. Ralo Rinpoche (Nyingma longchen nyinthig) by invitation only.

On Sunday afternoon, ngakpa (yogi) Ralo Rinpoche, in the company of his beautiful and graceful consort, their teen-aged son, and other members of his entourage including the good-natured Tibetan man who translated, gave the teaching for a short ngondro [preliminaries] that is an extract of The Heart Essence of Vajrakila by Longchen Yeshe Dorje Kangyur Rinpoche.

The empowerment had already been given and the lung was to follow, events at which I was not present. 

The text known as The Excellent Way of Liberation was available in Tibetan and French (L'excellent voie de la deliverance.) It belongs to one of five Vajrakilaya lineages.

The afternoon session on Sunday, at the home of Montreal Nyingma teacher Pierre Cardinal, began at 2:40 which was fine, as it allowed for a few late-comers, myself included, to find a seat.  Frederic, who was at the door, was welcoming and very helpful.

As we began the afternoon session, Pierre reminded/enjoined everyone who was present to help defray the substantial expenses associated with a visit of this nature.   At the time, there were about 20 people there -- just right for the space, and among them a solid core of determined new dharma students, most of whom were comfortable with English.  

Pierre/Paljor, founder of Karuna,  took care that the ones who spoke only French did not feel excluded.  Everyone received the necessary instructions, and he promised to follow up in detail what anyone had not understood, either because of language or the complexity of detail that, for many, appeared to be fairly challenging.  

Ven. Ralo Rinpoche was sensitive to that fact and strove to explain the details of visualization and symbolism as much as the limited time would allow.

Pierre Cardinal is a student of HH Dudjom Rinpoche (d. 1987) and Dilgo Khyentse (d. 1991) Rinpoche, among others, and through his practice of determination and patience, the Karuna Group has recently taken a more tangible form with the blessings and support of that lineage.  His report follows:

"Ven. Ngagpa Ralo Rinpoche was accompanied by his mandala, namely his Sangyum Tenzin Dolma, their 16 year-old son, Ven. Kyung Trul Rinpoche, an emanation of Gyalwa Chöyang, one of Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava's twenty-five original disciples, the one with the horse-head on top of his own head...,) their aides Tsewang Rigzin and Rigzin Dorje, their translator Mr. Yönden, and the director of Rinpoche's centre just outside Washington. D.C. ..., Mr. Pema Gyalpo (Steven Tung).

On Saturday, Sept. 15, Rinpoche transmitted the Rigzin Düpa (Eight Vidyadharas) Initiation of the Longchen Nying Thig, of the Dharmakaya level, along with the lung and instructions. Then, he transmitted the lung for the ngöndro of the late Dzogchenpa Kyabje Kangyur Rinpoche, along with the tsa-lung --  9 breathing exercises accompanying this ngöndro.

Sunday, Sept. 16, Rinpoche transmitted (with lung & instructions, the Vajrakilaya (Dorje Phurba) Initiation that was transmitted to Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, Nyak Jnana Kumara, which is the same as the one Guru Rinpoche practiced at Yangleshö, to overcome the harmful energies that he had encountered.

Later he gave all who were present the instructions for Kangyur Rinpoche's ngöndro. We also received the lung to all of the Daily Recitation Prayers of the Dordogne Centre (La Sonnerie/Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling) of Ven. Pema Wangyal Rinpoche and Ven. Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche, sons of Kangyur Rinpoche.

Those initiations were transmitted in an elaborate fashion, with full rituals, and the actual mandalas constructed in my living room.

Tsog/pujas were also performed, as well as Green Tara and Amitayus practices. Rinpoche's whole stay and compassionate skillful activities were rather impressive.

Monday, Rinpoche agreed to hold medical consultations for a dozen, or so individuals ... and distributed medical incense as well as various other medicines, according to each one's needs.

Rinpoche was extremely generous both with his time, and with presents of all kinds to all who attended. Rudraksha malas were given to everyone who took the Vajrakilaya initiation; thangka reproductions of Guru Rinpoche and of Vajrakilaya; mendrup; jendüs; a Kalachakra protection sticker, were also given to all.

Two clay tormas; two original thangkas -- of Guru Rinpoche and of Vajrakilaya; a  large phurba, and seven large silver water- offering bowls were presented by Rinpoche to Groupe Karuna Group for the unobstructed establishment of the Dharma in Montreal.

Rinpoche took a lot of his time blessing everyone's Dharma objects: pictures, malas, dorjes & tilbus, p'hurbas, etc. 

We received a true shower of blessings and precious heart advice from a highly realized master who promised to return; perhaps next year, for a closed retreat in the wilderness."

"We pray for Rinpoche's health, long life and speedy return.  Let us all practice, no matter what the circumstances, and uphold the samaya!"

   ~ Shubham!"

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July 1, 2001

Since my car has been unreliable in the recent heat wave, I decided not to risk traveling to Montreal.  Though I missed an impromptu visit by a notable Nyingma lama, and also Lama Tenpa's teaching at Rigpe Dorje, I was able to benefit from the Yamantaka [Tib. Dorje Jigje] purification offered by Venerable Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Jamyang.

This was at the Manjushri Centre in Longueuil, QC (705 chemin-Chambly, corner Lemoyne. Tel. (450) 677-5038.  Email manjushri_cntr@geocities.com)

Khenpo Lobsang Jamyang was born in 1933, East Tibet.  He was a student at Sera, and a graduate of Gyurmed Tantric College in Lhasa.  

The centre, at first in the basement of a modest bungalow not far from the Metro station, now has an excellent northeast-facing location in a former Polynesian restaurant with lots of interior space and adequate parking. 

There is a 2-storey A-frame space before the shrine that is lighted with 20 hanging lights arranged in 4 rows.  New rupas from Nepal have recently been installed. 

There are three resident monks. Translation is offered in 3 languages: English, French and often, Vietnamese.  A meal is served on Sundays after the 10:30 morning service which did not end today until 12:30.  

There were between 120 and 150 people there, and with the help of the 2 friendly, attentive and conscientious monks moving among  the people on blue cushions or seated on the two rows of chairs, the various purifications went very smoothly.  A full complement of traditional musical  instruments were used.  The jaling, a kind of shawm or shenai,  was especially  well-played especially at the end when it heralded the departure of the deity.

Yamantaka is a wrathful bull-headed manifestation of Manjushri, the patron bodhisattva of the Gelugpa denomination.  For this purification ritual, the lama who has generated the deity in his own preparation beforehand, is visualized by the congregation in this terrifying form, very dark-blue in colour and possessing the implements and abilities to purify all negativities including any karmic debts incurred to beings of all 6 realms.  He can heal/ cure imperfections of the physical and of the 'spiritual' body.  

Before our arrival, Khen Rinpoche had generated the deity and also prepared a special torma of tsampa dough in the form of a detailed figure with joined hands.  This had been placed in a large dish along with a 5-coloured thread mandala with a large blue-black centre. It had a cloud stick on each side. 

I. The ritual began with an Invocation in which music and incense were offered on our behalf, we then visualized that out of infinite compassion, benevolent beings accepted our invitation.

We were each given a ball of tsampa with which to absorb body fluids and aches and pains.  This we rolled  into a cylinder and then in our left hands, we squeezed it in such a way as to produce 6 indentations standing for the 6 realms.  These lin-cha were placed into the dish along with coins standing for karmic debts.  

There are 7 procedures in all.  When they entailed an implement, Khenpo as Dorje Jigje would hold it saying the mantras, and the monks would circulate among us using them on his behalf.

II General washing 1.  The vase containing nectar (amrita) was poured on our heads to symbolically wash us.  As it drips we imagine it removes impurities from our lower parts.  2. Particular washing: We receive some in our cupped hands,  sip it and  rinse our mouths. 

III Cleansing:. 1. We are dusted with a duster of peacock feathers which we see as a vajra on moon disc emitting the 5 colours that symbolize the 5 wisdoms.   2. We are beaten on the back with a bamboo whisk.

IV. General expulsion of poisons as we spit the 3 poisons of anger, attachment and ignorance into the dish. 

V. Particular purifications of each of 5 elements that work on the channels: 1. earth:  a small cup of earth is touched to us to absorb bone and skin ailments 2. water is sprinkled  to heal fluids such as blood and lymph 3. Fire in the form of plain burning incense sticks are waved before us to heal fevers. 4. Air in the form of plain 2-stick paper fans which we blow on  to heal breath and 'winds'. 5. Space is symbolized by a small (4 ") metal convex mirror that absorbs mental afflictions.

VI. The dish with the large torma and the ling chos is placed outside and we visualize our negativities and poisons going out with them.  The lama as Yamantaka expels the negativities and warns them not to return. Another set of tormas, 3 red with white chakras, and 3 light offerings, the central one with an image atop it,  is sent after the ling cho dish.

VII There was a great fanfare, as we imagine the approach of Lord Yamantaka who  then sets a ring of protection around each person with the touch of his vajra. 

A loud heroic jaling [long horn] solo with rising and then descending arpeggios concluded the ritual.  

The lama graciously thanked us.  People offered kathas and envelopes.

  • Read about the view that 5 spirits  reside with an individual.

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Aug. 26, 2000

Ushnishavijaya Empowerment by Khenpo Karthar at KTD  

I arrived, disoriented and stiff after the usual 6-hour trip [it can take only 5 hours] but was quickly restored by the good coffee and delicious cheese-apricot pinwheels at Bread Alone at 22 Mill Hill in the village of Woodstock across from the Village Green, just before the turn-off to go up the mountain. 

To un-stiffen and collect myself a bit before proceeding to the 'ashram', I checked out the Mower's Saturday flea Market (Maple Lane) under the baking bright sun.  There was lots of stuff there conducive to thoughts of impermanence and the transitory nature of existence.  

In memory I was transported to Goa, India and the Anjuna market of a good 20 or so years ago.  That's probably because there were even some familiar faces -- there was certainly some of the same stuff on the tables, and decorating the bodies of the people behind them. 

Each time I make it up to the area, I am reminded of the summer of 1969 and the great gathering in Bethel, New York at Max Yasgur's farm.  Click here if you want to read about the Woodstock dream, what happened afterwards, or the about the August Magic Meadow reunions.  [The Meadow is on Meads Mountain Road, past Karma Triyana and downhill across from it.]

Did you know that one of the reservoirs west of the Hudson River that serves the City [New York] is called the Ashokan reservoir ?! King Ashoka (304-232 BCE) was the great Maurya dynasty ruler of India who, after his conversion to Buddhism, posted lion pillar edicts around his realm to promote peace and harmony.  The town of West Hurley, now right near Woodstock, had to be moved to its present location when the reservoir flooded its original site.

The Town of Woodstock is in Ulster County, NY.

The Catskills area is well-known for hiking and camping.  The price of real estate in the eastern Catskills area is astonishing; you can still get a "small cabin with great view on 5 acres for $180,000 U.S."  On the other hand, luxurious new constructions pay annual taxes of over $10, 000 despite the fact that if you have a long driveway, in the winter you might find yourself having to snowshoe in and out since the Town does not plow private roads.

I arrived to find the parking lot full, but while I was contemplating a sweaty walk up from the secondary lot not far from the Meadow, someone pulled out just as the afternoon's teaching was about to begin. I took it as an auspicious beginning.  

After checking in with Sharon Lang, who is now woman-ing the office,  I managed to see Maureen, devoted chef and skillful meal coordinator, at her post in the KTD kitchen. It is reassuring  that she is still there despite the changes that, of necessity, are taking place. 

There is no visible sign yet of the prospective addition intended primarily as a residence for monastics that is to face the Temple site.  Though 3 million dollars was donated, there remains more than another 3 to go.  I did notice, though, that the special quarters above the shrine room are undergoing some improvements.

The little white and grey cat was at her post, and greeted me politely when I went to the bench at the front gate.  There I saw Julie, who is currently working at television production, and Peter, who recently received a whole lot of new stock for Namse Bangdzo, the KTD store.

Everyone appeared to me to look as if they had been working very hard - as they do particularly from the time of the 10-day teaching through the end of summer.  There has also been the added responsibility of introducing new interns and staff to the way things are done, and the excitement of events surrounding His Holiness' emergence from Tibet that seems to have contributed a sense of urgency.

Stalking the Wild . . . 

On a busy weekend, there is often no other way to get to see someone just for a brief exchange except by lying in wait.  Though I do not think that I, myself, would appreciate 'hungry' fans popping out of all sorts of unlikely corners, there was a gift I wanted to deliver.

Accordingly, I laid out a shawl on the grass beside the side steps in the shade [it was easily 90 degrees in the bright sun] and did not have long to wait before Khenpo and his translator emerged from the 'Tara entrance' of the Temple. I was impressed by the attention, patience and generosity with which Khenpo Karthar, who had just finished a day of teaching, waited for me to approach.  But I was even more appreciative of the way he did not make me feel embarrassed by his not being embarrassed when I explained that, in fact, it was the translator with whom I wanted to speak.

Lama Yeshe Gyamtso looked prosperous and poised in his relatively new estate, and though gracious, he did not at that moment recognize me, I am fairly sure.  

Mission accomplished, I took my things up to the dorm thinking that finally there was time for a much needed nap.  It never happened, for as I went out to the car again for something, synchronicity kicked in bringing me face to face with friends and an invitation to supper at the Little Bear on Rt. 212 in Bearsville, a hamlet of Woodstock.

I recommend this Chinese restaurant; the food, service and woodsy stream-side setting are all great. 

The Empowerment  

The highpoint of one of the final weekends of teaching for this season by Khenpo Karthar, beloved abbot of Karma Triyana, was the Ushnisha-vijaya initiation.  As is customary in the case of tantric initiations, Refuge was a prerequisite, and so the proceedings did not begin until the conclusion of that formal and private, auspicious ceremony.

Leaving their shoes in the entrance hall, over a 100 people entered in a queue. Assistants met us at the door to the shrine room with a bumpa of water and a receptacle with which to purify our speech [rinse and spit].  We were also offered the container of rice so that we could take the handfuls needed as offerings. We set up a mat and cushion if there was none already in place. Some few people with stiff joints chose folding chairs to place against the rear wall of the hall by the doors through which we had entered. 

The main shrine was filled to capacity, including the seats reserved for monastics, and the aisle where the television crew was installed.  Besides those who had come for the weekend teaching on selected topics from the 17th century retreat manual of Karma Chakme, was a large contingent from New York City, and several practitioners from the area's KTC .  Thankfully, it was not too warm.

As the lamas took their places, we prostrated three times as is customary.  This is not in subjugation to a person but to honour the Buddha, his Organization and his Method or Doctrine. And also to prepare ourselves for the experience to come, to center ourselves, as it were.

In attendance on Khenpo was the relatively new teacher, his nephew, the mild and meticulous monk, Karma Dodhul, and Lama Yeshe Gyamtso, a very professional, that is, accurate and effacing translator, who is a very good teacher in his own right.  

His competence is in contrast with the intermittent bouts of throat-clearing, and hemming and hawing that were not so much an indication of the ill-health of  former translators, as of a lack of fluency, not of either language [Tibetan and English] necessarily, but of a consistently coherent dharma vocabulary and perhaps, their own understanding of it.  

Khenpo Rinpoche is a clear, concise and considerate teacher.  He led us through the usual opening prayers with a brief explanation for newcomers.  Then, following the Buddha's example, he first established the context, described the imagery, and then outlined the procedure of the sadhana.  He then went through it step by step explaining or reviewing concepts and symbolism.

Sri Ushnishavijaya is a tantric deity whose practice confers longevity. She is especially honoured in Nepal and areas near it.  Her name is an epithet meaning {She of the] Raised Crown [characteristic of a buddha's skull] Embodying Long-life.  (If you are a fan of the tv show The Simpsons, you may remember that the Bengali shopkeeper, Apu, has a friend named Vijay.)

Her name occurs in three sutras, said Khenpo, and the sadhana we were to be introduced to was from a text translated by Chandragomin.  It is of the class of practices considered Kriya Yoga.

The deity is to be thought of as seated in vajra posture enclosed in a stupa with the deities of the four directions below her.  She is pale, young and beautiful, and clothed in white, having three faces and eight arms, six of which hold various objects including a double vajra, but prominent among them is the vase of amrita or nectar of immortality that she holds at her lap.  Her two empty hands are making the symbolic gestures of conferring blessings, and offering protection. 

She has the third eye [in each forehead] of the fully awakened or enlightened being. The blue face to her left shows her biting her lower lip in an expression of self-restraint.  The other implements she holds are symbolic of qualities that confer ultimate happiness.   

Her realm is the Akanishta heaven where she sits in a lotus on a moon mat. Above her is Amitabha, who is red in colour, of whom she is an emanation [the image we were given at the end has her holding him in the palm of her hand], and Khenpo said that she is not different from White Tara and Amitayus.  (She combines the two, in my opinion.) 

There are several empowerments that usually comprise the initiation into a tantric practice. In this instance, Khenpo, who is in his 70's, twice made the rounds of every single individual in the hall touching us with, and then pouring water from, the peacock- feather-adorned copper bumpa [a vase with a spout, like a teapot without the handle-loop; there is instead a wide lip where the cover is, but it is not usually held in one hand for long].   How was it that he did not seem to run out of water?  

He described the rays of different colours emanating from Ushnishavijaya's five chakras to our own conferring the blessings that together contribute to a long life.  Khenpo Karthar described the way in which we are to think of her and ourselves in relation to her.  He ensured that we could all say and remember her mantra by asking that we chant it as we went up to his seat one by one to receive a picture of the deity as we thanked him with kathas [white silk scarves] and offerings [usually of a sum of money in a white or sometimes, red, envelope - this is entirely voluntary and is done discretely].

Also, while we were at the front, we were offered the sweets including pieces of meat jerky that comprised the offerings of food to the deity.  Afterwards, some people took handfuls of the "leftovers" to favour their friends and family at home.  

Since this is a tantric initiation, I have purposely omitted certain details of the visualization and the explanations, as well as the mantra. There are prerequisites for many of this type of practice.  Even though nowadays, most of this information is available in publications  or on-line,  for any tantric practice to be effective, a person needs the empowerment of someone authorized [and able] to transmit it."

AND

"There are few, no matter how practiced, who can keep up with Arthur's chanting of the Green Tara sadhana.  A sort of terror mixed with great feelings of anxiety and inadequacy has been known to strike the most experienced of practitioners, and I confess that I was sorely tempted to hang around outside and watch through the lighted windows, the fumbling at  pages and the subtle exchange of glances as the no longer unsuspecting devotees find themselves caught in the web of racing sound.

But delighting in the misfortune of others is not conducive to enlightenment, and I thought I recognized the W of Casseopeia, and her bright daughter Andromeda, and a cool breeze was freshening. As it was too dark for me to have a go at the mountain roads without a clammy white-knuckled grip, I opted for a peaceful cup of coffee sipped along with the rising of the sun.

After stowing my bag taking care not to slam the car trunk, I crunched my way on gravel through patches of darkness that could as easily be treacherous pits as simple shadows.  

In the kitchen, someone not yet awake enough to be cheery was knocking out warm loaves of yeasty fresh bread.  They did not introduce themselves nor express any interest in who I might be except to convey a faint disapproval at my intrusion.  They had no authority, I guess, to offer any of the bread, and so I went about the making of that fresh coffee.  

The refreshing star-spangled night began slowly to lighten and, though I was not at all looking forward to the long trip home, this time I was rather glad to be off.   Namgyelma's  mantra prevented my falling asleep at the wheel a few times and she contributed to my safe return to La Belle Province. "

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July 2000

In July, I was invited to a truly astounding exhibit at the Glenbow Museum of Calgary, Alberta.  Entitled Many Faces, Many Paths this collection contains exceptionally fine pieces, both Hindu and Buddhist. The web site which dates from 1997 does a good job of explaining the Indian artefacts.

Among the Buddhist ones are the Gandharva schist carvings of the historical Buddha in a state of near-starvation preceding his determination to sit in meditation, and the one of the first turning of the Wheel that will be familiar to any student of classical art.  

Not shown on the website are some of the bronzes obviously looted from Tibetan temples probably during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the late 1960's. They include a pair of larger-than-life guardians: Vajrapani and Palden Lhamo on her mule.

I was so moved by these presences in the land of "Udderly Art", a copycat [cf. Chicago, and another town's pigs] city-wide series of decorated fiberglass Holsteins, that I felt tears rising.  I had the urge to fully prostrate before them, but did not want to embarrass my friend.

Since most other visitors that Saturday were there to see images and art of local wildlife and, sadly, the stuffed skins of some of the more resplendent examples, I managed to circumambulate the room and bow to the great bronzes and grey stone carvings in relative privacy. 

We are grateful to the prosperous person who made this remarkable collection available to Canadians, and any traveler to Calgary should certainly visit the exhibit.  It is very sad, though, that these objects could not be maintained at the sites for which they were intended.  But we are fortunate that they are there for us in the foothills of the Rockies, and hope that many people will be liberated at the sight of them.

The Glenbow has many other remarkable collections, and I am sure the aboriginal peoples, especially, will feel the conflicting emotions that I experienced.  Yet museums do play an important custodial role, and we can be grateful for that, at least. 

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May 2000    

J. Foley's visit to Samye Ling, Scotland

John just got back from a weekend workshop on Chenrezig, and said he had a great time.  

Although this oldest of Tibetan Buddhist centres in the West had been beset by scandal, he  felt " . . . this is more a reflection of the generous spirit of those who live and practice there, than a condemnation -- along the lines of blaming a rape victim, in my opinion."

"It is way out in Eskadalemuir, the country north of Carlisle.  To get there from Wales seems to be a straight shot (relative to most of the routes here in the UK! I'm an American living in Yorkshire) up the West coast... an easy drive if you go by car.

The temple is beautiful, the "living building" (dining room, kitchen, admin. center ) is an old house, but quite comfortable. Dorm rooms have up to 6 or so beds.  There are private rooms available and you can put a tent up in the field between the main temple and the river (which I may do next time... it looks like fun). Good tea room, nice shops for tapes, practice supplies, etc.

Food is vegetarian and the main meal is at noon in a small dining room, with a light soup in the evening.

Open to everyone, cushions provided and the temple is heated.  Group sitting (one hour) in the morning and the evening, with Mahakala in the afternoon, Chenrezig in the evening, Tara in the morning. 

Monks and lay folks are helpful and friendly but if you are there to concentrate on a practice folks will leave you to it.

 I'm American and it is wonderful to see a truly monastic/lay situation taking root here. The teapot is always on, everyone does their own dishes (except during high traffic periods, like noon meal on weekends, probably.)

I will definitely be going back, probably in a couple of weeks and plan on making regular personal retreats up there.  They have a good web site  but it, of course, does not do justice to the people or the place."

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October 17th, 1999

H.E. XII Jamgon Tai Situ gave the Karma Pakshi Empowerment at Kagyu Thubten Choling in Wappinger's Falls, NY.

"The KTC is by the Hudson River outside Poughkeepsie, in Wappinger's Falls, Dutchess County, NY, about 1 hour from New York City, where it occupies a wooden building from the glory days of the Catskills, the 1950's.  The Stars and Stripes is flown in front of the portico, but to the left of the 16th Karmapa's flag.  The spacious dining area is an addition to what is now the back of the building where its glass patio doors overlook the Hudson.

On the inland side, there is a small shop/reception area referred to as the foyer which connects to the 3rd floor shrine room via a narrow flight of stairs.  What may have once been a sort of  "widow's walk" above the 2nd floor sleeping quarters of this large chalet was filled to capacity with over 200 people at 2:30 pm on the 17th of October, 1999.

There is ample parking at the end of the one-lane country gravel drive bordered by picturesque woods that contain more colourful deciduous trees than are found farther north.  The calm squirrels chattering on a fallen tree provided the reminder that this was a Buddhist area -- a cheering sight after the carnage on the Northway and I-87 which provoked  a japa-mala of Opameh  mantras from me.

I had arrived while people were just finishing their lunch, many seated on the retaining wall facing the shore.  My only companions on the ride south had been my own neuroses, and so I was very happy to see some fellow Montrealers since, as is usual in sangha gatherings I am sad to say, there were  few smiles or words of greeting for a newcomer.

I found my way inside, and when asked if I would like to eat something, I helped myself to the leftovers.  Taking a little salad, tofu in tomato sauce and instant coffee later cost me Can. $11.  My misunderstanding the nature of the invitation  was due to the lingering daze borne of 6 hours on the road which was aggravated by the anxiety accompanying hyper-attention necessitated by an unfamiliar  route further complicated by the danger my indecision at crossroads posed to the other drivers along with their various reactions.  Now THERE was a good lesson on the everyday state of consciousness .

By the way,  it may be simpler for drivers traveling southwards on I-87 to continue on past the recommended exit until the next, #7, which emerges onto route 84 and leads directly to 9 South;  this will also eliminate the 75- cent bridge toll.

Ani Sonam who is responsible for registration was most capable and pleasant despite the usual press of last-minute arrivals, taking care to tell a friend  where to find me.

The initiation was preceded by a Refuge ceremony and also a Lay Precepts ceremony.  (panch' shila); only those taking these vows were admitted past the velvet rope at the foot of the stairs.  This afforded some time in which  to notice faces from KTD, and to observe Buddhist women's fashion solutions to the problem of sitting cross-legged while retaining some degree of modesty. The threat of Lyme disease carried by ticks found in the woods of the Adirondacks, as elsewhere, necessitated, in any case, the wearing of trousers/slacks for those who had been  there for awhile.   Many people here seem to identify the wine colour of our lamas' chubas with their own devotion to Tibetan Buddhism, and it was a popular choice for people of both sexes.

Unfortunately, pictures of Karma Pakshi went on sale (at US $3) after I had already put my wallet back in the car.  I was afraid if I returned to get my money, I would be late.

I was not the only person who had brought their own cushion, but I was glad to see that there were two rows of folding chairs at the back besides the usual complement of zafus and small gomdens on the long mats and carpets.  As the room filled to capacity, I had a brief thought for the integrity of the floor, not to mention that of the safety inspector.

Besides His Eminence Tai Situ and his attendant, Lama Norlha and another senior Tibetan lama, there were 18 monks and nuns, including novices present sitting as is usually the case in rows perpendicular to the shrine and the teacher's throne.  Most "religious" were American, if comportment and pronunciation are any indication.   There was a distinct summer camp type of feeling to the activity of the small groups of retreatants which is quite understandable.

I have often wondered why it is that in a culture where musical ability is so much admired, there is such a resistance to the echoing of the sounds that primarily comprise a language. This is not a trivial observation since our tradition relies on mantra.  I suspect it has to do partly with the ethnocentrism for which many North American travelers are famous, but also with a certain self-consciousness or  fear of seeming ridiculous in another's estimation.  Here, however, it had a converse consequence, especially in contrast with His Eminence's excellent eloquence and meticulous elocution in at least three languages.

His Eminence is an excellent speaker of English with a rather neutral Asian accent, that is neither distinctly Indian nor Tibetan.  A dignified yet colloquial choice of words is expressed in a refined but resonant lower-tenor tone.  The teaching on this occasion was minimal yet he did refer to topics that had been raised in the course he had just completed that morning on Gampopa

In that regard, H E Tai Situ twice reminded us that,

"There is no buddha-by-accident; that will never happen."

The actual proceedings began as usual with the Refuge Vow and since it was to be followed with the administering of the Bodhisattva Vow, His Eminence pointed out that now we should say, not "until I attain enlightenment (in this lifetime)" but rather "until all beings without (any) exception are liberated"; that decision is what distinguishes the Mahayana from the Hinayana form of Buddhism.

He reminded us of the importance of intention  in the arousal of bodhicitta,  the desire to help all others achieve buddhahood where all signifies that no being may be excluded -  not even one's enemies, and intention is also what is paramount when we consider our wish to purify ourselves of defilements or kleshas when we confess our errors.

Then followed verses expressive of our own joy and our delight in sharing that emotion.  The ritual was reminiscent of the Refuge Ceremony in this expression, and in other ways such as the bestowal of a new name.  Tai Situpa explained this in such a way that we might think of the term Bodhisattva as a sort of rank; one would not usually refer to oneself as  'Bodhisattva Sherab' for example, but in a  ritual context one would do so.

He recounted the origin of the puja: It originated in a vision that the Second Karmapa Karma Pakshi had had which became known as the Five Oceans.  Immediately that His Eminence began to chant the words of  the actual sadhana, there was a dramatic sense of empowerment in the most literal meaning of that word.

Details were not given concerning the visualizations and ritual practices, but the stages of the empowerment (eleven) were enumerated and explained.   The realization
"That the 'Buddha resides in each of us at all times,' is not a presumptuous remark."
is only one of the many blessings bestowed upon initiates in this empowerment.

Tai Situpa addressed the unspoken question regarding samaya attached to this initiation by saying that  one should not undertake any commitment at the time that one would  not be able to fulfill.

The ceremony concluded with His Eminence's blessing of two trays of malas that people had presented beforehand.  The laughter when the congregation saw the heaped trays had partly to do with the fact that everyone thought they were one of just a few to have the desire for a "blessed-by-Tai Situpa " rosary. I thought I had missed that opportunity,  but considering that  I was wearing mine as I received the vase empowerment at His Eminence's hand, I did not get left out.  Besides, during that time the others' beads were nowhere near His Eminence!

Bodhisattvas or not, there seemed to be a bit of turmoil over who got whose rosary and what had happened to the missing ones.

All in all, as someone I know is given to say, "Well. That was nice!"  (I always assume this is not said facetiously but rather as an understatement.)

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The Lay Precepts or 5 Vows1. Not to take any life  2. Not to lie/speak falsely  3. Not to commit sexual misconduct/adultery  4.  Not to use intoxicants   5.  Not to take what is not given (to steal.) 

 

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