Lama Kathy Wesley's talks follow the ordered tradition of discourse that goes back at least as far as Buddha Shakyamuni. They are well-structured with frequent references to sources: past lineage masters and her own teachers. She relates the topic to events of every-day life and her own experience.
She is particularly skillful in a bilingual setting such as ours in Montreal, where the train of thought needs to be broken into segments so as not to tax the translator nor cause either group to have to sit too long in anticipation. She maintains a rhythm of words that suits the flow of ideas.
Lama Kathy (Gyurme Chotso) has been a student of Khenpo Karthar, abbot of KTD, since 1977. She is a freelance writer, and a graduate of Ohio State University:
Nov. 8, 2003
Lama Kathy Wesley (Gyurme Chotso) was at Rigpe Dorje Centre, where she taught on the Six Perfections following the system of Gampopa in his Jewel Ornament of Liberation.
All beings have Buddha-nature, which is like a gem, but of all forms of life only our precious human existence permits the development called Awakening or Enlightenment. When that Nature begins to shine in its setting of flesh and blood, then we notice it -- it is as a Jewel.
The lama, herself, can be considered a kind of jewel, a sort of rare pearl that increases in radiance the more it is held. Unfortunately, it seems that here without the glamour of Tibetan culture and language, not as many people are drawn to attend. It is somewhat ironic, since those who discover Himalayan Buddhism are sometimes discouraged by its patriarchal face, complaining that the situation reminds them too much of their unhappy experiences with Catholicism !
Lama Kathy, who is also a journalist, is very clear, meticulous as to her sources, and concise. She also has great rhythm when translation is required, as in this case where French was needed. She does not assume we all accept the cultural context of ancient Buddhism or of Tibetan culture, frequently saying things such as "IF you believe in (karma, incarnation or whatever concept.)" This approach should be very liberating for contemporary Western students.
Besides referring to her own teachers, Khenpo Karthar of KTD and Thrangu
Rinpoche, among others, she flavours her discourse with anecdotes of her own. She is
especially kind, attentive and generous at sharing experience, and also at
aiming to give practical dharma advice that suits a student's level.
Gampopa was a physician from Kham (an East Tibetan province now mainly absorbed by China) and was also the teacher of Dusum Khyenpa, who was later known as the First Karmapa. [He lived about a hundred years before the esteemed Jewish philosopher- physician, Maimonides (1135-1204) known as "Rambam," and their rational perspectives and even their actual biographies have much in common. Both had reputations, that spread far and wide, so they were called to the court of the most powerful ruler of their day and age. Both these great doctor-philosopher-teachers emphasized Generosity as the basis for all the other virtues. They both recognized that] it requires a certain special perspective in order to begin to act in a truly generous way. Clarification of the concept is needed before we can know how, what, where and when to be generous in a truly beneficial way.
According to Gampopa, there are three kinds of gift: material that sustains life such as food, clothing and money; dharma objects, and teachings.
When we are good at practicing Generosity, then we are able to go on to the next
"Perfection" (or, virtue) which is "Right Conduct." I am sure this was not the first time I heard this
view, but yesterday I experienced a feeling of surprise at the idea of the 6 virtues as a single, progressive system (which forms the basis for
the Hinayana stage of dharma.)
Jewel: We are stuck with the redundancy expressed in the phrase "jewel ornament" because of the reputation of the text by this English title. A precious stone -- a gem-- becomes a jewel when it is altered in some way to make it fit for use as an ornament -- something to embellish the body or its clothing. Usually this entails setting it in precious metal or drilling it so that it may be sewn or tied.
April 6 - 8, 2001, Montreal, Qc.
On Sat. afternoon, Lama Kathy spoke about the various kinds of prayer in the wider context of so jong, or Buddhist confession.1. Aspirations that express bodhicitta or intention to benefit others, 2. Confession practice consisting of: a. reliance upon objects of refuge (buddhas and bodhisattvas) and request that they be present as witnesses to our intention to improve, b. regret for past actions and resolve not to repeat wrongdoing, c. remedy is instituted in the form of practices such as the Seven-branch Prayer or others as in the Great Path by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, and in the saying of mantras, then d. resolve not to repeat the wrong.
Confession works by helping removing the negative influence not only of present deeds but of past karma. Lama Kathy compared negativities to weeds that may infest our lawn. They tend to be very hardy with roots that go very deep. Unless the right tool is properly used, we may think we have removed the offending plant, but it returns again and again.
She suggested that so jong be done at the end of every day. We go over the deeds of the day, purifying negativities and dedicating the merit of our beneficial behaviour.
She said it is good to do mantras at the moment that we are conscious of having done a negative thing, but also later to resolve not to do so again. When we drive through yellow lights over and over, each time at the moment of awareness of danger we may tend to say mantras -there is definitely benefit in doing that - but we need to abandon the willful or selfish driving habit.
3. Supplication prayers such as Calling the Guru From Afar in which we practice the "mahamudra of devotion" 4. Prayers of commitment such as the mahayana refuge prayer, 5. Mantras which are in fact, very short prayers. remove afflictive states of mind leaving no room for negativities to intrude and replaces them with positive thought-activities, and also 6. "Tangible" prayers such as emanate from the use of prayer flags and wheels. They act by "flavoring" the environment in a positive way.
She admitted that we cannot see the immediate impact of these, but neither can we when we say mantras. However, she told us that frequently people who normally suffer anxiety or pain notice that it disappears when they are in the presence of enlightened beings such as HH Dalai Lama or HH Karmapa. They feel happy, too.
For skeptics, she added that at least they are a harmless form of expression.
Dedication prayers are different from aspiration prayers in that they can act as a seal or a stabilizer - especially those composed by enlightened beings. An example of one of those is the 4-line prayer concerning Manjushri and Samantabhadra.
She compared the benefit of doing prayers as part of a lineage or in a group to the benefit attained by a single drop of water when it is part of the ocean. When it is alone it can easily evaporate.
The supreme aspiration prayer is perhaps Ch. 3 in Shantideva's Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way. It enumerates a multitude of manners in which we can aspire to be of benefit to beings, "May I become anything needed by any being."
Lama Kathy particularly commented on the aspiration to become medicine for those who are ill. She said that, "Of course, I have no proof, but I would not be surprised" to discover that the great medical breakthroughs of our time are due to such aspirations by bodhisattvas.
Dedication prayers can also consist of the offering of anything that is enjoyable or beautiful including personal experiences, to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. " In this way we accumulate merit not only for ourselves but also for others."
She reminded us of Bokar Rinpoche's book in which he gives examples of prayers to say on various daily occurrences and activities, such as going up or down stairs.
She told us that even going to sleep provides an opportunity for transformative prayers. Khenpo Karthar had said that the state of sleep is karmic-ly neutral. She humourously likened it to the taste of tofu -- we can flavor our experience of sleep and dreaming by reminding ourselves to have positive thoughts so that we may benefit beings even in our sleep.
With the practice of meditation, we can gain more and more control over our own lives which is desirable since karma is continually being created.
We agreed that once a person becomes a conscious agent, someone who through these practices is aware of consequences of activity it is not easy to fall back to a mindless way of acting in the world.
There were a few questions after the teaching:
1. Q: How do we dedicate a practice to one individual without neglecting others?
A: We dedicate it to all, and one in particular.
2. Sharing comment about scientific study of benefits of prayer on cardiac surgery patients.
3. Q. (One of the most often asked questions) Does not this concern for our own karma contradict the selflessness* of the bodhisattva attitude? ( It goes against the view that nature is Emptiness? Lama Yeshe Gyamtso uses the phrase "concordant with [or not concordant with] Emptiness"
A: Until we attain the first bhumi we need this concern - it provides the motivation. We need to overcome bak chak [Tib.] or habitual patterns.
The lama further said that in daily life, there is that line between arrogance and "low self-esteem" that will be found and followed.
She spoke also of the benefits of rejoicing in the merit of others, citing Lama Lodru. It permits the accumulation of merit, but it also helps with overcoming the negativity that is jealousy. It also can mentally assist and lend support to those in public life who are involved in doing good works.
5. Q: How can we pray for others not engaged in the spiritual endeavor or in Buddhism?
A. We must be careful not to be too forceful in this matter. Sometimes people will feel threatened; that in your commitment to Buddhism, you are in some way rejecting them. We need to reassure them by continuing to care for them.
Also, we can pray that they be benefited by the dharma in the future.
People who have a dislike for religion often suffer great pain; we need to be open so that they do not feel that they are in any way being judged.
6. Q. When I am sometimes sharp with my grandchild, am I breaking my vow?
A The only way for a Mahayanist to break the bodhisattva vow is to say: "Even if I could help you, I would not!"
We need to renew our vow morning and evening. It is also included in the 4-line Refuge vow that we take.
The Questioner was glad to learn that the vow was not such a fragile one.
The lama chuckled and revealed that the samaya associated with Vajrayana vows are very fragile, and that in that state there is a remedy at hand in the [100-syllable] Vajrasattva mantra.