Promoting Vegetaranism: an Interview
Phayul[Sunday, December 19, 2004 11:51]
"Where Tibetans go, butchers flourish," they say. But this is soon to end if efforts of a lone Tibetan youth is to bear fruit. Tenzin Kunga Luding, a Tibetan youth is on a mission to bring about vegetarianism in the Tibetan society. He agrees it is a gradual process though. But he believes every Tibetan will one day embrace vegetarianism. Phayul reporter Nilza Angmo caught up with him recently, excerpts...

Could you tell us a bit about yourself first?

I was born at the Sakya Tibetan Settlement in H.P., India, where my father, then Member of Parliament of the Tibetan government-in-exile, was also serving as the General Secretary of this settlement. He was one of the pioneers who introduced the Tibetan Green Book. Since my childhood I had always been very interested in helping the helpless and the needy like collecting funds for the Somalians affected by famine, raising funds for the Tibetans in Manali who were affected by the mob violence, etc. I have served as a General Secretary of Sakyapa Ngorgon Charitable Society and Samyeling GRS Welfare Association in Majnu-Ka-Tilla. I am happy to say that during our tenure with the Welfare association, we were able to obtain licenses for shops and restaurants in our colony, sponsor needy children, build gates for the colony, improve relations with police and concerned authorities, etc. For our hard work we received community service award from the Local Assembly and Welfare Office which was presented by Kungo Tashi Wangdi la, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Delhi.

What prompted you to start this society?

As a child I was extremely fond of meat unlike my sister who rejected meat or its soup right from her infancy. I relished meat not knowing how it came about, till I was about 10-11 years old when someone narrated me for the first time how cattles were packed in trucks, unloaded, and mercilessly slaughtered. The suffering of these animals that were forced to be our food touched my heart right through. Since then I gave up meat. To make up for it, I used to consume lots of milk and eggs, as school books, movies, health magazines and everyone around my world believed these two things were healthy and necessary and I felt the same too. Then one day I read Maneka Gandhi's book "Heads and Tails". This book was the turning point of my life and it enlightened me about lots of ugly things that I knew for the first time. I realized that these foods (eggs, meat, and animal dairy products) were not only causing so much of unnecessary sufferings to animals but were harmful to our precious health and environment as well. I then chose to be a Vegan. At that time hardly anyone had heard of this term and almost everybody opposed or was skeptical of it. But I had the full support of my family, even though they were concerned of my health. I knew what I was doing and I stuck firm to my belief. I knew that compassion and loving-kindness form the core teachings of our 'Buddha Dharma' and so propagation of vegetarianism was even more important in our community. I waited long time for a related group to come up in our community, but nothing surfaced. Finally, I took it upon myself to get things started and thus how we have the first Tibetan vegetarian and vegan group called "Tibetans For Vegetarian Society (T4VS). It is a registered non-profit charitable trust. I consider it as our community's share of contribution for the development of a globally healthy, happy and humane environment. Everybody is welcome to join us whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian, Buddhist or non Buddhist.

This society was founded in 1997, and it was registered in 2004, why?

The following were the chief reasons for the delay:
" In the initial stages, I was basically working all by myself and had very few people who could understand me.
" It was a daunting task and there were many skepticism, pressure, and economic problems. Everywhere I turned to, there were people who ate meat and thought it was just a fad on my part. Some thought I had gone crazy or fighting a loosing battle.
" Since it was a new thing for our community I neither got any financial nor moral support. I literary had to dig into my own pockets or borrow money from my family to carry out activities such as to rescue animals, compile a magazine for free distribution, give an appeal in the Tibetan Review, etc.
" It was a gradual progress. Slowly my hard work seemed to pay off and I began to receive genuine appreciation or sympathy from people. Since this year our government was celebrating Tibetan Vegetarian Year I felt it was the perfect occasion to strengthen our group and seek legitimate registration. I invited a few like-minded people to discuss the matter and they expressed their desire to join the organization. So, on the 6th August, 2004 we got ourselves registered as a non-profit Trust.
What is your opinion present dietary habit of the Tibetan community?

I can only comment on what I have seen in the Tibetan community in India specially the ones I have been to. I am happy to observe that our food variety has improved and people are getting more health conscious. Most Tibetans have now included legumes in their regular diet which is very important. More people are turning to vegetarianism, specially the younger generation, which is wonderful. We have now started to gift fruits and juices in place of eggs and butter which was in the past a regular feature when visiting a guest. In fact I feel we must introduce fruits on a daily basis. I would love to see Soya bean dairy products replace animal dairy products. It is not only healthier, and ethical, but also an environment friendly option. On the whole I think there is some awareness to remain healthy seeped in the minds of our people and we must continue to follow in the same direction.

What kind of activities do you organize to create awareness of the benefits of a vegetarianism?

We wish to explore every possible means to reach people. So far we have shown documentaries to public and students, put up posters, given appeals in Tibetan Review, distributed pamphlets and stickers, sent video CD's to every settlement and few big monastic institutions in India. We ran a signature campaign persuading all the Tibetan restaurants and meat sellers in Majnu-Ka Tilla and Budh Vihar colony to observe a meatless day on full moon's day during the Saga Dawa month. Recently we organized a very successful concert in Majnu-Ka-Tilla as a part of celebration of the Tibetan Vegetarian Year (2004-2005) with the well-known Shambala Band, Pa-Tsering, Dhondup Tashi, etc. Phuntsok Topden, a youngster of our board member, has also started a "Green Friday" movement in his settlement. On this day many people of his settlement abstain from eating meat. As we have already registered our domain i.e. we are now on the phase of developing a web site for it. Alongside this, we are working to make a new video documentary to be shown in year 2005. We also hope to organize the first Vegetarian congress in our Tibetan society in the nearby future.

Recently you had the honour of having an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, tell us about that.

Despite His Holiness' tight schedule, he was kind enough to grant us an audience for about half an hour. We all felt so blessed and privileged. We were actually there to seek his blessings and capture his message on vegetarianism in video to show to people. His Holiness enquired what let me to start this group and was very pleased to know the ethical reasons behind it. During the conversation one significant thing he sadly noted was that in Tibet these days there are many meat sellers outside the Potala Palace which were never there before. His Holiness advised us to continue the efforts undeterred and felt it would be more helpful to expand the work to various parts of the world including Tibet. And just before we were departing I mustered all my courage and requested His Holiness to be our Patron-In-Chief which he has happily obliged. This is a land mark in the Tibetan history to have a Dalai Lama as Patron-In-Chief of a registered vegetarian and vegan organization. We will be showing the video recording of this message as planned in 2005 but now one can view it in Bod Gyalo's monthly video news too. In all, the audience has motivated me and the board members to work harder and consolidated our belief.

(We wish to inform that majority of the financial assistance has been from the Private office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.)

A few words to the Tibetan community?
I would like our people to read the book, "The Food Revolution" by John Robbins, which will give an insight into the need for plant based diet and my belief. One can also visit some good websites like,,, and What I am doing is nothing new; it has always been there in our Buddhist scriptures. I am only trying to follow these teachings by propagating love and compassion with respect for nature. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, also stresses often the need to cultivate a good human heart for the benefit of all living beings. Therefore it would be nice to see people trying to give up or reduce meat for a week, month, or for whatever limit of time they could. Meat is no more a matter of survival for us. With exposure to large varieties of nutritious vegetarian food, improved technology, better transportation system, and advancements of knowledge in various fields it is so much easier for us to give up meat than our predecessors.
Lastly, I conclude with the favorite lines of His Holiness written by Shanti Deva which has always motivated me. I hope it does the same to you all.

As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain
Until then, may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world.


Thich Nhat Hanh
September 19, 2003 Episode no. 703

Q: What is it that you teach, and that Buddhism teaches, that Christians and Jews and Muslims should listen to?
A: I realize that many elements of the Buddhist teaching can be found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam. I think if Buddhism can help, it is the concrete methods of practice. We have the same kind of teaching, but in Buddhism there are more concrete tools [to] help you to realize what you want to realize, namely more understanding, more compassion, and absence of discrimination.

Q: Can a person be both a Buddhist and a Christian?
A: Sure. There are many, many Christians who practice Buddhism, and they become better and better Christians all the time. In my retreats over in Europe and America, there have been Catholic priests [and] Protestant ministers receiving the teaching and practice formally. They even receive the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts, and they don't see any conflict between the teaching of the Buddha and the teaching of Jesus.

Q: But Christians believe in a personal God and in the divinity of Jesus. How do those beliefs fit with Buddhism?
A: There are many levels of Christianity. There are many notions about God. To believe that God is a person is just one of the notions of God that you can find in Christianity. So, we should not say that there is one Christianity. There are many Christianities.

Q: Do other religions have teachings that are helpful to Buddhists?
A: Sure. When you learn about the teaching and the practice of another tradition, you always have a chance to understand your own teaching and practice.

Q: Are all religions true? Is one religion truer than the others?
A: Well, if we are to speak about cooking traditions, we can see that there are good things in every tradition of cooking, but there are a lot of differences. A tradition may become corrupt, and we should try to heal the corruption. We should try to dig in order to restore the best values of that tradition. And this must be done in every tradition, including Buddhism. Buddhism can get corrupted, and the true values of Buddhism could be corrupted by the wrong practice, the wrong teaching. And that is why there should be always effort to free Buddhism from these wrong teaching and practices in order to develop, to unearth, to restore the true values. And this should be true in other traditions, as well.

Q: Is it possible for you to sum up the essence of the true values of Buddhism?
A: Buddhism teaches us not to try to run away from suffering. You have to confront suffering. You have to look deeply into the nature of suffering in order to recognize its cause, the making of the suffering. Suffering is the First Noble Truth, and the making of the suffering -- namely, the roots of suffering -- is the Second Noble Truth. Once you understand the roots of suffering, the Fourth Noble Truth -- the path leading to the transformation of suffering -- is revealed. And if you go on that path -- namely, the path of right thinking, right speech, and right action -- then you can transform your suffering.

If you practice in a community, you help the community to transform suffering. And if you practice as a nation, you help the whole nation to transform suffering.

The Buddha spoke about suffering in terms of food. Nothing can survive without food, even your love. If you don't feed your love properly, your love will die. Your suffering is there because you have been feeding it. If violence, hate, despair, and fear are there, it is because you have been feeding them by your unmindful consumption. Therefore, if you know how to recognize the source of the nutrients of your suffering, and if you know how to cut off that source of nutrition, then the suffering will have to vanish.

This is a very important teaching for our time, because the amount of violence and craving in us and in our children comes from our practice of unmindful consumption -- watching television, reading magazines, having poisonous conversation. We bring a lot of poisons and toxins into our body and into our consciousness. If you don't stop producing these toxic items, and if we don't know how to protect ourselves by mindful consumption of these items, there's no way out.

Q: For everybody and particularly for Americans you would recommend what? Less consumption? Less television?
A: Not less, but right consumption. There are very wonderful television programs that can water the seed of understanding, compassion, joy, and happiness in us. We don't have to consume them less, but we have to refrain from consuming the kind of television programs that can mean to our body and mind a lot of craving, a lot of violence, and despair. It's not a problem of less or more, but right or wrong -- right consumption, mindful consumption.

Q: How do you define "engaged Buddhism"?
A: Engaged Buddhism is just globalism. When you have enough understanding and compassion in you, then that amount of understanding and compassion will try to express itself in action. And your practice should help you to cultivate more understanding and compassion. If not, it's not true practice. When you have these two kinds of energies, they always seek to express [themselves] in social action. And that is called "Engaged Buddhism" -- Buddhism applied in your family life, in the life of your society.

Suppose you sit in meditation, and you hear the bombs falling around, because meditation is to be aware of what is going on in yourself and around you. If you hear the bomb falling, you know that you have to go out and help. But you try to help in such a way that you can be keen, be calm, and at peace, with the concentration in you, and not lose yourself in the act of service. That is what we call "Engaged Buddhism" -- active, but still maintaining the spiritual element within yourself.

Q: We have violence all around us. As you observe what is going on in the world and in this country, does it seem to you we are becoming more violent?
A: Yes, the level of violence in society is very high -- violence in families, violence in schools, violence on the streets. We do not seem to focus our efforts in order to transform that violence; we are trying to seek violence outside and to invest all our time and energies and money in order to fight violence outside. But we don't know that violence is there within ourselves, within our society.

There are ways to transform and to reduce the amount of suffering in our families, in our schools; but people have not done much in order to do that. We, as practitioners of transformation and healing -- we know how to do it, how to help reduce the level of violence in our families, in our schools. And we don't need money to do it. We need only people who know how to do it in order to make the plans, and to do it on a national level. I hope that people in this country will begin to think about that seriously and will move quickly in order to help in that direction.

Q: Are there times when it is necessary to use violence in order to protect yourself, or protect your family, or your country?
A: If you see someone who is trying to shoot, to destroy, you have to do your best in order to prevent him or her from doing so. You must. But you must do it out of your compassion, your willingness to protect, and not out of anger. That is the key point. If you need to use force, you have to use it, but you have to make sure that you act out of compassion and a willingness to protect, not out of anger.

Q: After 9-11 two years ago, Americans generally wanted to respond right away with force. Were we right, or not, to attack Afghanistan?
A: Well, if you look deeply, you see that you have not been able to remove terrorism, especially in the mind of the people. You might have created more violence, hate, and fear in the mind of people. You have not succeeded in removing terrorism, both in [its] appearance, its expression, and in the mind of the people. That is why you have to reflect deeply on the situation and see whether there are different ways of doing it more effectively.

Q: Were we wrong to attack Iraq?
A: I think America is now caught in Iraq, like in Vietnam not very long ago. You believed that search-and-destroy is the right path. In Vietnam, the United States tried to search-and-destroy the communists in the North and in Cambodia. But the more you continue that kind of operation, the more communists you have created; and, finally, you had to withdraw.

I am afraid that you are doing exactly the same thing in Iraq. You are investing a lot of money, human lives, time, and resources in Iraq. You may think that there are states, there are countries, that sponsor terrorism around Iraq. There are six or seven countries listed by the State Department as sponsors of terrorism. If you continue to think in terms of search-and-destroy, you will have to bring troops into these countries also. That is a very dangerous way of thinking. Using violence to suppress violence is not the correct way.

America has to wake up to that reality. America has to see other means. America is powerful enough to help with peace and reconciliation, not with violence.


Interview with Thomas Doctor

SNOW LION: Speech of Delight is a translation of Jamgön Ju Mipham's commentary on the Ornament of the Middle Way by the Indian Buddhist master Shantarakshita. What interested you most about this book as you worked on its translation?
THOMAS: Speech of Delight covers a lot of territory, but it is consistent in how it uses reason as a tool that can lead us to profound insight and experience. It makes us aware of the strong link between critical investigation and the direct experience of the richness of reality. What stands out for me is Mipham Rinpoche's unique ability to present deep and profound philosophical issues in an extraordinarily direct and experiential way. Whatever subject Mipham treats, no matter how complex and intricate the philosophical issues may be, he always lets his Dzogchen perspective shine through. Mipham's philosophical discussions exemplify the classical aphorism that "all Buddhist scriptures and treatises must dawn as oral instruction."

SNOW LION: How did you first encounter this text?
THOMAS: In 1993, my teacher, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, arranged for the monks at his monastery to study Speech of Delight at their monastic college. At that time I was a student living in Kathmandu, and I had the good fortune of sitting in on the classes. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche told me that he would like Speech of Delight to be available in English, and that I should begin to work toward producing a translation. I continued to study Tibetan and philosophy at the monastery, and in 1997 I began working on a draft translation. The translation here is due to Rinpoche's expert guidance and the elaborate explanations and generous support that I received from the monastery's professors.

SNOW LION: Why is this text so important for the English-speaking world?
THOMAS: Mipham authored hundreds of texts during his lifetime. He is esteemed as one of the truly great scholars and spiritual adepts of Tibet. Speech of Delight is considered his most important exposition of Sutra literature, and I've heard it described by Tibetan masters as constituting "Mipham's eyes," indicating that when studying this text we may achieve his vision.
Actually, many Westerners have told me how, by working through the sharp reasonings of Shantarakshita and Mipham, which deconstruct our normative ways of thinking, they begin to see everything in new, refreshing and meaningful ways. This is evidence that Speech of Delight presents clear instructions for developing a capacity to realize the natural condition of things, using an inquiry that is sharp, free, and truly open-minded.

SNOW LION: Speech of Delight is not only Madhyamaka reasoning, but also treats many different aspects of Buddhist view and philosophy. Can you elaborate on that?
THOMAS: Another thing that tends to happen when studying Speech of Delight is that one comes to realize the great richness of the Buddhist teachings and develops a profound appreciation for the diversity and multiplicity of the Dharma. Shantarakshita's is an approach of integration and he makes skillful use of the full spectrum of Buddhist views and perspectives. Mipham praises the Ornament of the Middle Way as truly vast and profound, and his commentary explains what he means by that. In this way, Speech of Delight is a real treasury for the serious student of Buddhism. Since nowadays more and more people seem to be interested in studying Buddhist philosophy in depth, both at universities and traditional centers of learning like the Tibetan style shedras, I am especially happy that Snow Lion has welcomed my wish to let this translation be accompanied by the original Tibetan text. This makes it a very practical edition for institutions such as the Centre for Buddhist Studies here in Kathmandu.

SNOW LION: In Nepal, at the Centre for Buddhist Studies where you translate and teach, Speech of Delight has been taught to Westerners several times-how suitable is this text for a Western audience?
THOMAS: When they first meet the Buddha's teachings, it seems that many Westerners feel some unease with respect to issues of faith and devotion. Speech of Delight addresses this and makes it clear that without an honest and sharp investigation of the Buddhist teachings we will, as Shantarakshita says it, never be fully satisfied. When engaging intimately with the logical reasonings presented by Shantarakshita and Mipham, one cannot help but appreciate the kind of compassionate fearlessness that Madhyamaka philosophy represents in the way that it inquires into our presuppositions about ourselves and our world, suspending the deceptive comfort of any conceptual safety nets that we may otherwise rely on in our lives. Nothing is left untouched. Everything is taken up and made the object of an open-ended examination that does not presuppose anything at all.
I believe that this spirit, which I find truly extraordinary, is particularly relevant for a Western audience at this present time when the influence of science is felt everywhere and people have come to develop a natural respect for the critical mind and the conclusions that it may lead us to. I think there are many people in the West who, like myself, will find great inspiration in Shantarakshita's and Mipham's beautiful and practical no-nonsense approach to the spiritual path.


Interview with Ven . Thubten Chodron
Interviewed by Wendy Chuang & Teresa Cheng
Transcribed by Wendy Chuang & Alan Chiu

Happiness and suffering comes from our mind, not from outside; I always thought that attachment was wonderful. When I heard the Buddha's teaching and looked at my experience, I think the Buddha was really right.
Q: How old were you when you met Buddhism?
A: I was 24. I was teaching elementary school, and I was going to graduate school.
Q: Could you talk about the reason that you became a nun?
A: I grew up during the Vietnam War. As a young person I had a lot of questions. I was wondering why they are fighting a war commending peace. I was wondering what the purpose of life was. I couldn't find any answers for these kinds of questions from adults such as my parents, family, friends or teachers. Nobody could give me answers that satisfied me. Similarly, when I went to the religious people that I grew up with, their answers didn't make any sense to me either. Their whole idea of God never makes sense to me. "Why does the God create, and if He created, why didn't He do a better job?" I couldn't figure it out, so when I went to college I just abandoned religion altogether, but I still have those questions. Later on, I was in graduate school and I was teaching, I saw a flyer about a meditation course led by two Tibetan monks, so I decided to go. I was only going to go for part of the course, but I wind up staying for all 3 weeks, because it was so interesting. One of the things they said was that you didn't have to believe in everything they said. I really liked that idea, because I was so tired of people telling me what the truth was, and what I have to believe, because none of that makes any sense to me. So they were the people who said, "We just teach you. You think about it and see if it makes sense to you." So when I heard the teachings and started meditating on them, I really saw that they described my life. Even though the Buddha lived 2,500 or 2,600 years ago, what he was talking about applied to me in the modern America. I went to this meditation course in the summer of 1975, and I was supposed to go back to teaching that autumn. But Buddhism affected me so strongly that rather than going back to teach, I quitted my job and went to Nepal, because in 1975, it was very difficult to find Dharma teachers teaching in English in America. Everything is in Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese, and I didn't know any of those languages. My teachers spoke English, but they lived in Nepal, so I went half way around the world; that's what I had to do.
Q: So at that time you chose Tibetan Buddhism because you had no choice?
A: First of all, I didn't know there were different Buddhist traditions; all I knew was that I went to these masters and they helped me, so I came back again and again. I never really knew until much later that there are different traditions and things like that. I love my teacher's writing and I have been going to them.
Q: What is the difference before and after you met Buddhism?
A: Huge differences! I was so confused before, because things didn't make sense. What Buddhism gave me was a worldview that could explain my life experience, why things are the way they are, and what I can do to possibly make a change. One of the changes was that I stopped being confused. Another change was when I was in college, together with the confusion (who am I; what I want to do; nobody loves me; how all the kids feel when they are making the transition to adulthood) I had a lot of depression. So I went through this period feeling so low in spirit; what is the purpose of it? Since I met Buddhism, I had none of that, because Buddhism establishes the purpose and meaning of life, and there is something positive that we can do. It makes a huge difference! In terms of anger, Buddhism also helps me so much with my anger. It helps me to be much more tolerant of people, much more accepting, and also accepting myself. I still have a long way to go, and I'm still in progress.
Q: What inspired you in Buddhism that led you to become a nun?
A: What really impacted me in the Buddhist teachings was the whole idea that happiness and suffering comes from our mind, not from outside; and the Buddha also pointed out how selfishness, anger, and attachment are the causes of suffering, because I never really thought of that before. I always thought that attachment was wonderful. When I heard the Buddha's teaching and looked at my experience, I think the Buddha was really right. When he talked about ignorance, anger, and attachment cause suffering, that is true. When he talked about karma, that makes a lot of sense to me. Because when I was growing up, I was always thinking: "Why are things the way they are? Why was I born me?" I grew up in America, and I was so aware of people who were poor in the world, and I kept thinking: "How come I had such a comfortable life?" I think it's not right; it's not fair; how come it's like this. So when I heard about karma, that explained to me how the present situation evolved; and when I heard about compassion and bodhicitta, it explained to me what I can do to change the situation, because it didn't feel right to me. So Buddhism gave me that kind of avenue.
Q: What Buddhist book has affected you the most?
A: I have to say Lama Tsong-kha-pa's book Lam rim chen mo - it translates as Stages of the Path to Enlightenment - has affected me the most, because in it he took all the sutras and commentaries and laid it out in a gradual way. When the Buddha taught, he wandered and gave different teaching to different people, but here we are, and we don't know what to study first, what to study next, and how does it fit together. That book is very good in presenting it in a very methodical way. First you meditate on this, then you mediate on that and so on. I appreciate its methodical approach. Another thing that attracted me to Buddhism is, for example, everybody said, "Love thy neighbor as thy self", but I didn't see anybody who did, and I couldn't either, because you can't just say to yourself that I got to love everybody; that doesn't change how you feel. But what Lama Tsong-kha-pa did is he took the Buddhist teachings and arranged them in a way so that you can see how to go about changing your mind, and becoming seeing other sentient beings in a more affectionate way, developing equanimity, love and compassion towards them. He taught you exactly how to meditate in order to develop that. I really like that. You can't just say "I should be patient. I should love them," because "I should" don't change our minds. Especially telling ourselves how we should feel, that didn't change how we do feel. We need a method to look into our mind to see how what we're feeling is incorrect: When I'm angry, I'm not perceiving reality correctly. That's why my anger is something to be abandoned, because it does not perceive things as they are. This kind of analytical way, to analytically look into the mind and change it, is very important to me. So I think overall that is probably the book that influenced me the most.
Q: What was the most memorable phrase you can remember from your teachers?
A: There are two that come to my mind:
1. One time Lama Yeshe had asked me to lead a meditation course. I was a new nun at that time and didn't feel like I knew very much to share with other people, so I went to Lama and I told him that "I can't do this. I don't' know enough." He looked at me and replied "You are selfish." "WOW" was my response. So what that meant to me was that even though I'm not a bodhissatva, I should still help in a way that I'm capable of, instead of refusing it. So that really made an impact on me.
2. I remembered very clearly another thing that he did. He was talking to all the sanghas at that time, and he picked up his pearl beads and said, "Your mantra should be: I'm the servant to others. I'm the servant to others. I'm the servant to others." He clicked his beads and said, "This is what you should remember over and over again." So these are the two that came to mind. I have a lot of other teachings with my teachers, too.
Q: Does teaching elementary school help you in teaching dharma?
A: I was always learning how to teach. When I studied education, it was during the time of Open Classroom. They were encouraging teachers to let students explore and learn according to their interest. So that may have influenced me a lot in terms of having a lot of discussion groups. But I haven't consciously taken anything I learned about teaching and use it in teaching dharma. No, I haven't done that.
Q: After you ordained, have you ever read the Bible again?
A: I never read the Bible again after I ordained, but Buddhism has helped me to understand teachings from Judaism and Christianity better than I did before, because those are the two I was most familiar with as a child. I came to understand things better that I didn't understand as a child after I have met Buddhism. But I never had much interest in the Bible to go and read it. I don't know; it never did it for me. I tried to read it before, and I went to Sunday school, but it just made me have more questions. I tried to learn and understand it before, but it just wasn't for me. But I have to respect the fact that it is for other people. Like at this Catholic-Buddhist nuns' conference I just went to. It was so beautiful to see the Catholic nuns; they are wonderful women, and some of them have been ordained for forty, fifty years, and really are people with integrity and deep spirituality. At the same time, they were very interested in learning from us Buddhists about how to tame the mind, and how to work with the mind. They were asking so many questions along that line.
Q: How do you reflect on 911 and Iraqi war as a Buddhist practitioner?
A: I can't tell anybody what their political views should be, because I don't think that is my role. Also Buddhists may have a variety of political views. But I figure the Buddhist reflections are important. First of all, when we are harmed, to ask ourselves, "what did I do to get myself in this situation?" instead of looking outward and just blaming somebody else. My hope is that America would do some self-reflection about what did we do in relationship to other countries, that brought up so much hostility towards us. Because I think if we reflect on some of our economic policies, some of our political policies, some of the things that the CIA has done, we might find why other countries don't trust us. We should do some self-reflection, because that's what Buddhism has always encouraged us to do. Like the present Iraqi war, it's very clear that we don't have the support of the international communities. Why? Another thing along that line is to reflect on what is our motivation, because the Buddha always taught to try have genuine, pure motivation, and not a selfish one, or a fake one that looks good but is actually corrupt. In the case of the Iraqi war, we're saying "we want to liberate the Iraqis." but I don't remember any Iraqis asking us to liberate them. It becomes very clear that U.S. is doing it, firstly, because it wants Iraq's oil to support our very luxurious lifestyle; and secondly, we want a military base in the Middle East, so we can threaten other countries so they will go along with our economic policies, so that we can have more riches. With that kind of motivation no wonder other countries don't trust us. So I think we have to, as individuals as well, look at our consumer lifestyle, because we're only a small percentage of the world population, yet we use enormous percentage of world's resources, and its not correct. Also because the Buddha taught us "Cherish others. Only if we take care of other people and society can we really be happy." The world is so interconnected now, that only if we have actually served the people of other countries and meet their needs, instead of taking advantage of them, can we have happiness. So I think these are different Buddhist principles that can be used. To go learn and really help people of other countries, and do it according to their culture and their value system, and not try to make everybody become capitalist like America is, because I don't think that is necessarily the right way for everybody. And also, really respecting other peoples' cultures, instead of insisting that they should have our culture, where sex and violence is so prominent. Why are we exporting our fascination with sex and violence to other countries when that is harming our own country to start with? Respecting other cultures is very important. And democracy, you can't just go into a country and tell everybody it's going to be democratic. Because the people have to learn what that means, and in some cultures they have other ways of making decisions, and other ways of choosing leaders. We have to respect that.
Q: Many religious people believe their religion is the best. What's your view?
A: From the Buddhist viewpoint, we say that all religions have something good in them. And each sentient being has their own disposition, and their own way of thinking, so it's up to each person to find what religion makes sense to them according to their individual ways of thinking. All the religions teach ethical conducts; all the religions teach restraint from harming others; they all teach generosity and being kind. So the theological part of whether you believe in God or Allah, or Buddhists don't believe in a Creator That part is not so important just in terms of living a wholesome life, getting along, and creating a peaceful world. In Buddhism, we're very glad that there is multiplicity in religions, because that way everybody can choose what is suitable for them. Also, what I find interesting in Mahayana Buddhism is how they talked about the great bodhissattva superior and different courses according to different sentient being's mentality and talent. We can even look at Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed perhaps as bodhisattvas who appeared at that time in history in order to help those people. Or we can look at Mother Teresa as a bodhisattva. I think a lot of problems we have in religion now and how religion is being used as a political force is because people aren't really practicing the teachings that they're saying that they are. Because I think if Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed came here and saw what people were doing in their names, they would be horrified.
Q: What was the intention of your books?
A: I never intended to write a book. What happened was that when I was in Singapore, people kept asking the same Dharma questions over and over again. Then one lady gave me a computer though I didn't ask for one. Then another man came and said, "We have this tradition of printing book for free distribution in Singapore. If you ever want a book, I will help you print it." These three things came together, and I started writing a series of questions and answers. My first copy was a little book called I Wonder Why published in Singapore. I later revised it twice and added more questions and answers, and it became Buddhism for Beginners that was printed in the US.
I was teaching young people in Singapore, and I remembered them saying, "Can you recommend to me a good book in English, that doesn't have a lot of complicated Dharma vocabulary in Chinese, Tibetan, Pali, or Sanskrit, something that I can give to my mother or my friend to read?" And I can't think of anything, so I thought: if you want something and you like something That's how Open Heart Clear Mind and Taming the Monkey Mind came out.
Transforming the Heart is actually a book by my teacher Geshe Jampa Tegchok. He gave me some of his teachings and said, "If you want to, please make these into a book." So I did.
Blossoms of the Dharma came about because in 1996, I helped to organize a three-week educational program for Buddhist nuns in Bodhigaya. We had nuns from Taiwan and Western nuns that gave talks and teachings. I edited the vinaya teachings from that to make a book called Choosing Simplicity, a Commentary on the Bhikshuni Pratimoksha (the nuns' vows.) I made the talks of Western and Asian nuns into the book Blossoms of the Dharma. Because I felt we need more information about monasticism, and also we need to hear the nuns' voices, what do women do, because most things are done by men.
Q: What is your vision for Sravasti Abbey?
A: People who grew up in the West need a monastery in the West where they can train. In the Tibetan tradition in America, there is not a training monastery. There are a few monks and nuns living here and there, but not a monastery where you can actually go and get trained or be supported. The situation of the Western monastics in the Tibetan tradition now is different than other monastics. Because the Tibetans themselves are refugees, they can't support the Western monastics. In fact, they look to the Westerners to help support the Tibetan monasteries, because they have to build their monasteries in the refugee community in India. So the Western monastics in the Tibetan tradition have no support. There is no church that takes care of us; the Tibetan community can't take care of us. People are trying to keep their vows, but how do you keep your vows when you have to somehow get money just to eat, and to have a place to live? For that reason, it's very difficult for people to keep their vows. I ordained 26 years ago, and somehow I managed and never worked at a job. But there were times when it's quite difficult for me financially. And then I see other people now who had a job, but they had to put on lay clothes and grew their hair out. How can you live like a monastic if you have to do that just to survive? I feel a monastery is really essential so that these people can live and train.
Also there is so much need in this country and other Western countries for dharma teachers in English. If you have a monastery, then people who have studied and practiced can become teachers in English, and they can come out and help the community.
The 3rd thing is that lots of lay people live a very stressful life, and they can come and stay in the monastery, and live with the community, maybe do some retreat, learn the Dharma, offer service to the community. They need some place for them to go where they can get in touch with their inner dharma practice and their own spiritual values. And it will be nice to have activities for young people there. So that's kind of my vision. I want it to be in a rural setting, where there is lots of land, where also the beauty of nature helps relax the mind, but close enough to the city so that people can come. And also a large piece of land, so that you don't have a housing development or shopping mall next door 20 years from now. The most pressing need is the financial support to get the land and to build the buildings we need. Without the place you can't do anything else. Once we have the land, we can start building on it. Then we will need furniture, and equipments, etc. We can also use people who have talent-architects, construction workers, different fund raising skills, and computer skills. I think it would be nice to get more of the teachings in English (on the web site translated into Chinese and other languages. Then we can have more books in Chinese. We can have more short, informal (not technical language) books in English and Chinese for children, so they can read too.
Q: How would you proceed in teaching Dharma to the young generation in US?
A: First of all, I try, in terms of the structure of the course, short Dharma talks, short meditations, and also discussion groups and exercises. Because I think the kids can learn along when they can voice their own thoughts. For example, years ago when I was in Singapore with some students, I led a discussion group and the questions was "What qualities do you look for in friends?" So this is something that teenagers think about, "What makes somebody a good friend?" So I asked everybody to go around and talk about it. It was very interesting that, in the end, when we assembled all the things that people said, it became apparent that abandoning the 10 negative actions, and doing the 10 positive actions was the root of being a good friend. Because kids would say, "I want a friend who I can trust, somebody who doesn't talk bad behind my back." There it is, right in the list of 10 positive/negative actions. So if you do it through discussions like that, and then you say, "Look, the Buddha said something similar." Then they go, "Oh yeah, the Buddha is really smart." So this opens their mind to think about other things the Buddha said.


Interview with Ven Balacitta
Conducted by Akincana
SBS's first samanera has found what he had been searching for in the Sanctuary.

Venerable, for starters could you tell us briefly about your background?
I was born in Kuala Lumpur in 1964 and grew up in the outskirts, amidst rubber and oil palm estates.

How did you encounter Buddhism?
I was actually born into a Buddhist family. So Buddhist values have been ingrained in me from young. However, being young I was not actually aware of their significance until now. At that time I only knew that certain things were right to do and certain things were wrong and should be avoided.

During my early twenties, I went from one temple to another. I was -dissatisfied and confused with what I encountered. Then I met a Theravadin monk who -advised me to go to a monastery in Thailand to learn, if I was interested in Buddhism. So in 1988 I left for Thailand. I was actually in a forest monastery called Wat Pah Nanachat in NE Thailand. It was there that I first came in touch with life in a forest monastery setting. I liked the idea of living in seclusion. I was happy during my two-month stay there.

So where did you go from there?
After Thailand my purpose in life became clearer. On returning to Malaysia, I started attending talks at the Brickfields Maha -Vihara.

Have you ever been into any other religion apart from Buddhism?
Yes, I was with Sai Baba for a while. It was quite attractive to me then. But my visits to the Brickfields Maha Vihara changed the course of my spiritual life. I wanted to renounce but didn't know where to go. I hadn't heard of any forest monasteries in Malaysia. I thought these could be found overseas only.

How then did you know about SBS?
I actually learnt about SBS by accident. I happened to pick up an SBS newsletter on the free publication bookshelf in SJBA. I looked at the cover and I put it back thinking that it must be somewhere overseas. Then, I don't know what made me take a second look. I realised then that it was in Malaysia, and it was a forest monastery at that. So I was immediately interested and rang the SBS office to make -inquiries. --I actually wanted to be ordained as a monk at that time but was told that I had to go through life here as a postulant first. So, after a trial stay here for about a week as a prospective postulant, I went back to settle all my affairs in KL and returned to SBS at the end of May 2002.

Did you encounter any objections from your family when you decided to leave lay life?
Yes, but not from everybody. Anyway, what is there to object? I believe I have performed my duties as a son. I have worked hard to give my brother an education as my father passed away when we were very young. So why should they object when I am now fulfilling my own destiny? But I admit that the most difficult part was to let go.

You are SBS's first postulant. Can you tell us about your trials and tribulations -during the one year as a postulant?
Life as a postulant was really difficult especially in the first few months. It was most difficult trying to separate lay life from spiritual life. I was neither a lay person nor a monk. Being the first postulant, I had no role model to follow. So memories of a lay life pulled me by one hand, and the desire to be a monk, the other. Moreover, I had to adapt to a new environment and a new routine. In SBS, we have to walk down hill and up hill for pindacara. I found this pretty demanding at first, but now I am strong, healthy and happy. It is worth all the hardship I have endured so far.

The indecisiveness as to which side I should go was harrowing. So in the process anger and fear arose. This sort of torment erupted on and off throughout the year.

One day I talked to Bhante about this and asked for his advice. He told me that I had to decide for myself which way I wanted to go. He couldn't make that decision for me. But he did tell me that I was making good progress as a postulant. When I said that I was not aware of that, he gave an analogy. He said that when a woodcutter first uses an axe the handle is smooth. But after years of usage an -imprint of his grip can be seen on the handle although he may not have noticed when it first started to become apparent. It is the same in my case, he said. That remark spurred me on.

Devotees have said that you were not very communicative as a postulant. Is that part of your nature or were you asked to keep your distance from lay people so as not to compromise your practice?
Nobody asked me to do that. Actually, Bhante did say that I was not friendly and asked me to change. But I felt that keeping my distance would help me improve in my practice. When I was a layman I used to be good at entertaining guests because it was part of my job. But now I am on the path of practice to become enlightened and if I were to do that sort of entertaining my practice would be compromised. So I decided that it would be better to keep quiet and concentrate on my practice. Please forgive me, dear devotees.

You are making history by being the first monk to be ordained in SBS. What was your reaction and feelings on your ordination?
In a way I was rather disappointed -because I thought I was going to be -ordained as a bhikkhu (monk). Anyway, if it is SBS rules and regulations, I can accept it. I am -actually happy now.

A monk needs only four basic requisites, i.e. robes, food, shelter and medicine. I believe that no matter where I am ordained, the quality of the requisites will be more or less the same. But I think it must be my good kamma to be ordained in SBS because here the practice is made easier with the support of the faithful -devotees and of course, with the guidance of a very dedicated teacher, Ven Aggacitta.

Devotees have -remarked that you look very good and seem happier in robes. What do you think?
I don't know about looking good, but I do feel happy. To be ordained was my target. To tell you the truth, I thought earlier that some kind of bad kamma might prevent me from being ordained. But now that I have been ordained, it is proof that I have not committed such appalling kamma. So how can I not look very happy?

Pali (a language in which Gotama Buddha's The teachings are preserved) name "Balacitta" was chosen for you. Did you have a hand in choosing it? What does it mean in lay terms?
No, I did not have a hand in choosing it, but I was the first to read it aloud when I was in Bhante's office. It means "powerful mind' and I am happy with it.

In a year's time, you will be ordained as a bhikkhu. Are you looking forward to it and will your name be changed again?
Yes, being a bhikkhu has been my goal all this while. If no unforeseen circumstances pull me away from the holy life I will definitely want to be ordained in a year's time. As for the name, let the Master -decide. I am satisfied with the present name but if the Master thinks that by changing it I can become a better person, I will also be happy to accept it.

Do you have any parting words or advice for aspiring monks and lay Buddhists?
For those who aspire to become monks, it is already their good kamma to make such an aspiration. No need for much advice. But if they can enjoy being in seclusion and can meditate well, I believe that they will be able to become happy monks.

However, I would like to say something here. People have different levels of intelligence. So if someone comes and requests for monkhood training, I feel that he should not be turned away or be discouraged. Every aspiring monastic should be given a chance to prove himself. So I hope SBS does not accept students based only on one's education and level of intelligence.

My parting words for lay Buddhists are, "May all of you be well, happy, healthy and beautiful. May you all become stronger each day in your practice." Sadhu (well done). Thank you very much.

Thank you for your time, Venerable. We wish you the best in your chosen path. May your progress be swift and smooth. Sadhu.


Interview with Venerable Bhikkhuni Kusuma
by Pennie White
'The Buddhist Hour' Radio Broadcast
Hillside Radio 87.6 FM & 88.0 FM , Victoria, Australia

Pennie: Venerable Bhikkhuni Kusuma. Thank you for joining us on the Buddhist Hour. Welcome. We enjoyed your visit to our Centre on Wednesday. Thank you.
Venerable Kusuma: Thank you also, it's my good luck.
Pennie: Your teaching on how we can strengthen our practice has inspired this week's radio broadcast script.
Venerable Kusuma: I think I enjoy being with you. It's a great blessing for me too.
Pennie: Thank you. This Teaching has been written down, and is online at
Venerable Kusuma: Thank you, Pennie.
Pennie: During your visit on Wednesday, we requested that you teach us about svakattho, so that this high Teaching may be recorded. We request that you share this Teaching with us today.
Venerable Kusuma: Okay. It is the six attributes of the Dhamma. Svakattho bhagavata dhammo sanditthiko akaliko ehipassiko opaneyyiko paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi. There is a little story which is very interesting. It seems when the Buddha was there living in Savatthi a certain Monk by the name of Upavana, who was very young and beautiful to look at, came up to the Buddha and told him, Venerable Sir, I don't understand what is the meaning of svakatto bhagavata dhammo. What is the meaning of sanditthiko akaliko ehipassiko opaneyyiko paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi? So I like to explain to you a little bit of what the Buddha's reply was.
Pennie: Please do.
Venerable Kusuma: Then the Buddha said "he's a young man, beautiful, and a Monk, Upavana he said "Well, Upavana, suppose you saw a beautiful figure, and then there arose lust in your mind, and then you became aware of the lust in your mind. At that time, all these six attributes of the Dhamma are established in your mind.
Now I'll try to explain to you how it comes to be established. Now, all that Upavana did was, becoming aware of the lust in his own mind. That means he's seeing the truth, because it's a reality in his mind which only he can see from first-hand experience. Nobody else can see that. He himself has discovered an empirical truth, an absolute truth. It's not something read in books, it's not something taught to him by his teachers, he himself has experienced this truth, that he himself has understood by observing his mind. And then he understood, there is in me, lust in my mind.
Then, this is right view, this is sanditthiko, ditthi means rushti, rushti means view. He has seen a truth. In his mind he has seen a reality, so this is the establishment of sanditthiko. Then as soon as he sees his own lust, he comes out of it, because his observation of lust is by a different thought moment, arising out of wisdom. So as soon as wisdom arises in his mind, the lust already is suppressed momentarily, and now it is wisdom that is in his mind. So no two thoughts arise at the same time, so the lust has already subsided, and now wisdom has taken over, and wisdom is there. The time lapse for the lust to subside, and for wisdom to arise is one thought moment, which is an extremely short period of time.
Akaliko means that there is no time lapse between akaliko, and here is one moment in lust and one moment in wisdom. There is no time difference. That is akaliko. Immediate result. Ehipassiko is "come and see". Now he is the winner. He has come to a point of inviting anyone to "come and see". All this life I was under temptation of lust and here I have been restored. I have resurrected myself from the lust. I am no more a victim of it. I have come out of it. And he can, with confidence, call someone and say "Look at this. I have something very valuable. I am the master of my mind. I am with wisdom. You too can, if you want, come out of your unwholesomeness, by merely seeing it". So now he is inviting "come and see" (ehipassiko).
Opaneyikko means onward-leading, that is to say, I have no more unwholesomeness in my mind. I am in wisdom and in wholesomeness, and that is onward-leading, towards divinity, towards a divine life, and also towards nibbana, the final cessation of all greed. So that is opaneyyikko; onward-leading.
Ehipassiko, opaneyyikko, paccattam veditabbo means pratyaksha, experiencable by the wise. Vinnuhi means wise, so now he is a wise person who has experienced his own lust and also experienced with wisdom how he overcame lust. So these are the six attributes of the Dhamma which are established in your mind on seeing your own defilement.
Pennie: Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu. Thank you.
Venerable Kusuma: I'm also happy. I'm so happy that you are asking me such deep questions, and it will be an experience for you to practise this Dhamma.
Pennie: Thank you. Could you please give us a brief history of the Bhikkuni order?
Venerable Kusuma: The Bhikkuni order was established in the 3rd century B.C. in Sri Lanka, and we have an unbroken lineage from the time of the Buddha, when Mahapajapati first became a Bhikkuni under the Buddha, and this lineage, the unbroken lineage, the robe order, was preserved in Sri Lanka when Bhikkuni Sanghamitta, that is the daughter of Emperor Asoka of India, visited Sri Lanka with a retinue of Bhikkunis in the 3rd century B.C. and there established a Bhikkuni order in Sri Lanka.
There is history, ancient chronicles have reported this, and it is in the history of all the Buddhist countries also, that in Sri Lanka the Bhikkuni order flourished with many, many Arhant Bhikkunis, who had gained stages of sainthood, even in Sri Lanka, and for thirteen centuries, Sri Lanka had this Bhikkuni order, and this is another historical fact, that in the 6th century A.D., that is, nearly 900 years after, the Sri Lankan Bhikkunis took an arduous trip by ships, sailing ships, in quite a dangerous crossing, to go over to China, along the Silk Road. A trade ship took them to China, and they established the Bhikkuni order in China. That was 900 years after.
But then Sri Lanka lost the order, and then for the last 1,000 years, we didn't have any Bhikkunis in Sri Lanka, but our lineage is still preserved. From China it went to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and now all those countries have the Bhikkuni lineage. There are many thousands of Bhikkunis. All are descendants of the Sri Lankan Bhikkunis. No other Bhikkunis ever travelled to any of these countries, apart from this Sri Lankan lineage, and now recently, maybe six years ago, we made a very big effort to get back our lineage, and I am very happy to say that I was invited to lead this first Sri Lankan Bhikkunis in the recent past. And then we received the lineage and became ordained as Bhikkunis in India, in Sarnath, the place where the Buddha preached the first sermon to the five ascetics, and we became ordained under the Korean Sangha.
So now in Sri Lanka we have about 400 Bhikkunis, and we are practising the Theravada Pali vinaya, the Rules of Discipline that were originally handed over by the Buddha himself, and we don't know Mahayana, we don't know Korean language, but we merely took the robe order, the bowl and the robe, and now we practise according to the Pali tradition, the Theravada vinaya, the Bhikkuni vinaya.
Pennie: Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu. We are most privileged to have you with us today, Venerable Bhikkhuni Kusuma.
Venerable Kusuma: Thank you.
Pennie: I understand that you will head the Ayya Khema International Buddha Mandir once building is complete in Sri Lanka. Can you please tell us about this noble project?
Venerable Kusuma: Yes. I've been very close to Ayya Khema. In fact, she once came to my house before she became ordained. It was my luck that somebody in Thailand gave her my address, and she wanted to visit Sri Lanka. She first came to my house. I was so happy. We became very close, and then she became ordained as a ten-precept Nun in Sri Lanka. Very soon she became very popular, and went around Sri Lanka giving lectures, talks, on Dhamma and meditation, and I was the fortunate person to be her interpreter, often into Singhala.
Later, very recently, she died in Germany, and I was invited to Germany to conduct a lecture tour, and it was a tremendous success, from Berlin, Stuttgart, Hamburg, and down to Munich, I gave many, many lectures, and at the end of it some of them wanted to visit me in Sri Lanka, and I said "Don't come, I don't even have a proper place". Most of them gave me gifts, and we started this Buddha Mandir. And now the roof, it has come to roof level, and I think after I return to Sri Lanka, I should be able to complete this. Also I take this opportunity to invite you to come and see this little place. It's only a small one, a five-roomed small place.
Pennie: Thank you very much. Online at is information about the Ayya Khema International Buddha Mandir and also an address where donations are welcome to help this noble project. Our Teacher extends an invitation to you to visit our Centre before you leave Australia this time.
Venerable Kusuma: Yes, thank you.
Pennie: Bhikkhuni Kusuma, on behalf of our Teacher Master John D. Hughes and the Members of the Buddhist Discussion Centre (Upwey) Ltd., thank you for speaking with us today on the Buddhist Hour.
Venerable Kusuma: Thank you. It was my pleasure. Thank you.


It can be very simple
An interview with Ajahn Sundara

Thank you, Ajahn, for taking the time to talk with us this morning. Let me start by asking you something simple: What do you feel is the essence of dharma?
[Laughter.] This is not such a simple question… The essence of dharma is liberation. Liberation from dukkha, from suffering in its widest meaning. And also liberation from any kind of delusion, any kind of ignorance.
Sometimes liberation is portrayed as a goal at the end of one's path, and at other times one hears about moments of liberation and freedom. Can you clarify this?
Liberation is not out there somewhere, or an event that will happen sometime in the future. It begins right here right now. Many conditions are supporting the time when one might have a profound experience of letting go of some particular blind spot or pattern of attachment. Even though nirvana is presented as a goal-the goal of final liberation-each moment is a moment where there is a possibility of liberating the mind from its habitual grasping, its clinging, its blindness. So it's the goal, and at the same time it's happening in the moment. These do not contradict one another.
What do these moments feel like, when you actually experience insight?
It's not like a major fireworks experience, where everything is suddenly just blown apart. For me, it can be very simple: just suddenly noticing an habitual way of the mind seeing things. You contact the world, and suddenly you see the dukkha and you KNOW. You just see the experience of tension, and the actual tanhà [craving] behind it. You can experience both the wanting-and then the relaxing into that experience and allowing it to just be there. You see that you can stop acting on it.
When it becomes clear that grasping is the cause of dukkha, you just let go. Instead of clinging, you just release it. The peace that comes from releasing, that is nirodha, the experience of cessation, the third noble truth which is often hardly even noticed. The mind, under the influence of ego, is more inclined to notice what is exciting or interesting. Usually you might be pushing away the experience, or grasping it, or struggling with it, or making something out of it, or becoming it. And then, in this moment of insight, you see these as just reactive responses that we usually have out of ignorance towards our mind states, our bodily experiences, and so on. Cessation is peaceful: the ending of grasping, the ending of our problems, the ending of ME with my story and all its complexities.
You realize that there is no one there. The mind with its thoughts, feeling and perception just seems to arise out of nowhere, and disappears, and arise again. It is only through our delusion that we are constantly building up a sense of self around that, creating what we hope is some kind of secure landscape. We construct a person, again and again, out of our misapprehension of physical and mental phenomena.
So the noble truths are really revealed in experience moment after moment?
Yes. If you are awake.
And how do we wake up, or remain awake, in order to see these things in our experience?
Paradoxically, the experience of dukkha is part of our waking up. Somehow I've noticed that most human beings around me-including myself-seem to be spurred on by the experience of unsatisfactoriness. I don't think any one of us is looking for that, or wants it, and it's not necessarily unsatisfactory in thesense of being unhappy. But often with the experience of dukkha comes the realization that you are asleep; there is a lack of mindfulness, a lack of awareness and energy. A kind of contraction has already begun, and then suddenly you realize that you are not aware. You are not really present with what's happening. You are seeing the world through the veil of habits, the veil of misery and depression, excitement, anger or frustration. As a well known teacher says, you are not meeting the moment as a fresh moment.
Do you mean that you need to be awake to see the noble truths in your experience, and at the same time, by seeing them, you wake up?
That's right. When you really see suffering, you have already come to that place of wakefulness, which is not clinging and grasping. So in a way by seeing suffering, you have also almost seen the ending of suffering. It's not like a linear sequence in time, one, two, three, four. It's more like the case of a hand touching a cinder of hot coal. As soon as you pick it up you drop it, because you just know it is hot. You don't wait, you just drop it. At some point it becomes as urgent as this.
And what might you say to help a person who can see the unsatisfactoriness arising again and again in their experience, but somehow just can't seem to manage to see the holding that is underlying and causing it?
We all go through this. We can often feel the misery of dukkha and not be able to drop it. It is as if we were addicted to it. I think all of us are in the same boat. But this is where practice makes a difference. With meditation we have tools that help us to investigate the nature of our experiences and to see our habitual grasping. Much of the practice is about being very patient and willing to bear with our habits until they run out of fuel.
It's as though we were starting a program of detox: it doesn't feel so good. We can experience the withdrawal symptoms of addiction to delusion. For a while you just feel very ill at ease because you are not feeding the habits of grasping. Many people come to practice thinking, "Oh, it's going to be really nice. I'm going to find peace, and I'll be confident and more clear." They don't realize that actually when you enter the practice, you enter a strong fire.
And what helps us make the breakthrough? Is it just the gradual effects of patiently returning our attention to the present? Or is it a momentum that grows from moments of insight getting closer together, or more deep?
Sometimes it is just a matter of patiently bearing with difficult states of mind, mood, emotion, perceptions, old conditionning and so on. As we keep taking refuge in mindfulness, moment by moment, we are not fueling our habits and our grasping begins to loosen up. It does not seem like very much at first, yet you begin to notice how certain situations, certain people, certain moods that used to agitate your mind do not have any hold anymore.
When I first learned about practice, my teacher emphasized right view. His teaching constantly reminded me to observe experiences as changing-and to notice when there was suffering or not. Paying attention, I began to be aware when I took things personally and when I did not, when the sense of self was present or not. The more it hurt, I noticed, the more I was invested in what I experienced. I was noticing the patterns of attachment in my life and the lack of inherent seflhood of the mind.
I think sometimes in the West we see the practice and the path of training the mind in a way that is a little narrow. We think of it, perhaps, as a technique or some kind of special conditions to reach a breakthrough. We often forget that every aspect of life is a tool to realize Dhamma. Everything in life influences us, and awareness is key. Awareness of mistakes can take us right into the fire. Sometimes not getting it quite right is what wakes you up, much more sharply than developing a lot of techniques to be aware. Transformation sometimes needs fire, and we don't have to be afraid of the heat that's generated by the shadow side of our personality.
But what is the wisdom component of that? For many people, when their ego gets thrown down, they feel bad about themselves; and this can just fuel more unskillful states. What is the crucial factor that will allow one to use this as a tool for growth rather than for further suffering?
Wisdom can help discern the suffering that perpetuates itself and the suffering that takes us to the end of suffering. Most people identify with what they experience. So when they feel miserable, they don't know how to let awareness reflect back their experiences. If we are still desperately clinging to being successful, or being loved, or being praised, or being famous, or whatever-then we won't be able to see the bigger picture. We won't be able to reach the state of peace that Ajahn Chah was pointing to when he said:
"If you let go of a little you have a little peace. If you let go of a lot you have a lot of peace. And if you let go completely, then you have complete peace."
When you have seen through insight that the things we crave are not really worth making ourselves miserable, it becomes possible to be at peace with whatever is happening.
Is this easier to do in a monastic environment?
Certainly in the beginning it's easier to practice in an environment where people share a common interest and commitment, and whose lifestyle is designed to support the practice and realization of Dhamma. It is also an advantage to be away from a lot of situations where the worldly assumptions hold undisputed sway. In our Western secular society, to be famous, and successful, and loved, and praised is the only goal isn't it? That is what you are brought up to believe from childhood. But when you are in a monastic environment for a while you have many encouragement to just drop the whole thing and to see what happens when you don't cling to these ideals. There are also very clear ethical standards, which is a big help.Sila (morality) provides clear guidelines that remind us to be mindful of all aspects of our life: mind, body, speech and our interaction with the outside world. But these guidelines would not be very useful if they were seen simply as another set of ideas to be clung to. Wisdom and a compassionate attitude must be present to use them skilfully, and to realise that our mistakes as well as our success are valuable material for practice.
So even as a monastic you still have an occasional opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them?
Occasional? [Laughter] People have such a funny idea about monasticism. It's a place where your shortcomings become magnified and you have to face yourself as you are rather than as an ideal you may be trying to uphold. You have many mirrors of yourself in a community. It can be quite a shock sometimes to realize how many identities you are living with!
How did you come to the dharma? Who has been your teacher?
I always think of Thomas Merton and Krishnamurti as the people who gave me an inkling of an inquiring mind and the dimension of awareness. But it all really began for me with Ajahn Sumedho. I met him early in 1978, when he came to visit the university where I was studying at the time. One of the students, who had been a monk with Ajahn Chah, had started a Buddhist Society where some meditation was being taught.
What really struck me is that Ajahn Sumedho was describing in his talks a lifestyle which I had been looking for but never imagined I could ever find in our culture. I had always lived in metropolitan areas, in a world of artists and intellectuals where tranquility and peace was not exactly the aim of life. He spoke of the simple lifestyle of a monk in Thailand and I saw somebody who was intelligent, reflective, bright and humorous. He embodied qualities which I appreciated. I remembered his humor more than anything.
There was a certain freshness about his outlook on things that was very reassuring. Having trained as a dancer, I was familiar with the kind of focused attention and concentration you need to be in the present moment. You can't dance by thinking, or with a manual in your hands-you've got to be right there. I was looking for something that could sustain that experience of presence in my every day life, but there was nothing in our society that seemed able to provide this.
Presumably as a dancer you were well trained in mindfulness and concentration. If these are factors that lead to awakening, why don't all dancers have wisdom?
Well, concentration and a certain degree of mindfulness are present, but not what the Buddha calls right mindfulness. There was no shortage of suffering and opportunity to see the Dhamma, yet I didn't know how to find a skillful way to deal with it. Even though I had learned a lot about the body, I did not know what it was about. It was a bit like a doctor who might know every detail about the human body, but who is totally ignorant of its real nature. I eventually found the dancer's world ego-centered and narcissistic.
So how did you get from there to the monastic community?
Inspired by the teaching of Krishnamurti, I started inquiring into what I was feeling and thinking, sitting quietly and simply being present. In the stillness there was a strong awareness of the restlessness of the mind, the fear, the agitation, the frustration and so on. It was like opening the gates to all that which did not want to be present. And I began to see how mind and body interacted with one another, which triggered my curiosity: "Oh that's very interesting. What's going on here?" I had never known that I was living with such an active mind and body. All sorts of things were becoming conscious, not just difficult aspects of the mind but also some very positive ones, which came as a surprise. Suddenly I felt a great wish to be generous, and not being so preoccupied with myself, I had more time and wanted to share what I had. So there was a slow transformation happening, beyond my control.
This was a very unfamiliar experience, because like most people I thought that my strength and ability to act and respond to life came from getting actively involved-not by relaxing and just being at peace in the present moment. Yet so many experiences were coming up by doing nothing, by just being present. There were also some changes in my professional and personal life taking place, raising many questions which I knew had no real answer. Somehow the answers were not so important, but I felt that the questions were.
We're getting closer. And the final step?
The turning point was a retreat with Ajahn Sumedho. I discovered that I loved getting up at four o'clock in the morning and eating only one meal a day. I did get totally bored, miserable, hungry and critical at times-yet to me, because of the presence of mindfulness, it was ten days in heaven! I discovered that I had enough space to see my critical mind reflected everywhere: "I don't like him. I don't like it here. She's not practicing right" and enough compassion to let things be. This incredible simplicity of the present moment, and all this energy to just be here and now and to notice what was going on in the mind, fascinated me.
However, the last thing I thought is that I would wind up at a monastery. I had all sorts of ideas and plans for the years ahead. And at some point I was talking to Ajahn Sumedho about all of this-going on about the greatness of the challenges of the world. When I stopped he just said "Yes, and it's a matter of knowing where the world is, isn't it?" And that was like a lightening bolt. It changed everything. Suddenly I realized something that I had read in many books, that I was actually making my world and was free to lead my life as I wanted
So "The world is in this fathom-long body." [M1:82] Is that what he was referring to?
Yes. "You cannot reach the end of the world by walking, but you cannot end dukkha without going to the end of the world" the Buddha said. I didn't realize the impact it had until I realized my mind had stopped somehow. Soon thereafter I thought, "Well, ten days did a jolly good job. How about three months? That should sort yourself out for the rest of your life." Of course, that first month turned out to be so fascinating I stayed on, and eventually joined the order of nuns.
And how developed was the nun's community at that point?
Well, there was nothing. We were four laywomen who happen to come to the monastery at about the same time. We were ordained together a few weeks later. Learning to live together under the same roof was an extraordinary classroom. We were four incredibly strong individuals-very different. [Laughter] It was an entirely different lifestyle for all of us, to suddenly find ourselves with three other people day in and day out in really rough conditions. In the early years the monastery was a really tough place to live. It was virtually a building site, stripped from the cellar up to the roof. It was cold and damp, and there was a kind of spooky atmosphere at times.
We got up at four and had to be up at the main house at five o'clock in morning. Since we were fifteen minute's walk up a tiny deserted lane from the bottom of a hill, we had to get up even earlier than the men. Each week there was an all-night vigil where we meditated until four or five o'clock in the morning. We lived on one meal a day, we didn't have breakfast for two years. Being French (food is important!), that was really quite a drastic change for me. [Laughter] A real mind-stopper!
And there must have been some special difficulties around the fact that nuns and monks were relatively close together?
Yes, of course. It was quite an extraordinary situation. The monks had just moved from Thailand to the West, in an entirely different culture. They did not have the support of an Asian society that is predominantly Buddhist, and had never lived close to nuns. Personally, not knowing much about this tradition, it wasn't too bad as I remember at the time, because I just took on board the situation as it was. As a female monastic I never felt particularly inferior in those days-I think I was too conceited to feel that I was inferior, anyway. But I have to say we were very well treated, very respected. I am often asked questions like "How can you cope with the fact that women are subordinate to men" [according the ancient monastic codes] and so on. This has been an issue in our community not just for the nuns but for the monks too, and has not been an easy one. We have had to learn to work with a situation that challenges much of our conditioning around being strong and independent western women. The practice helps us respond to the way things are, rather than projecting some sort of ideals onto a monastic form which is to be used as a skillful means rather than an end in itself. But this is an ongoing challenge, and the question remains: "How do we relate to this whole convention skillfully, and translate into our culture a tradition that is so incredibly different from what we know in the West?"
In the last decade, the nun's community has become much more independent, and administers its own internal affairs. The responsibilities of running the monastery are shared, and most decisions are made by a group of senior monks and nuns. Over the years a great mutual respect between the male and female members of the community has developed.
In this and many other ways there seems to be a good deal of evolution in the modern Sangha.
I have noticed, since I have been in the United States more over the last ten years, that there is a sense of growing interest in monastic life that I had not seen so much before. There seems to be a deeper understanding of what monastic life means for us, and a greater interest in supporting monastics. I think the more understanding there is between the lay community and the monastic community, the more mutual respect naturally develops. This will surely benefit and enrich each other's experience and quality of practice. It was not too long ago that more polarity existed, and I feel this is a really positive development.
The growing connection between our Sangha on the one hand, and the larger retreat centers in America such as IMS and Spirit Rock is very heart-warming. I was at Spirit Rock recently when Ajahn Sumedho was there teaching a group of senior lay dharma teachers, and was very happy to see a bit more of the harmony within the communities of which the Buddha so often spoke when he reminded us to meet often, meet in concord, and part in concord.
Any last thoughts, Sister?
I would just like to express my gratitude and appreciation to everyone at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies and at the Insight Meditation Society for the kindness, generosity and support that I have received during my three-month stay, and to thank particularly those who made it possible for me to spend the Vassa here.


Lessons To Be Learned from the Adaptation of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia
Interview with Dr. Alexander Berzin
Buddhists for Peace, vol. 12, no. 1, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 1990, 54.

Dr. Alexander Berzin, an American Buddhologist who resides now at Dharamsala, India, was in Mongolia recently at the invitation of the ABCP Secretary-General. He agreed to give the following interview for Buddhists for Peace.
Question: What is your impression of visiting Mongolia and the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace (ABCP) Headquarters?
Answer: I am very happy and honored to have had the opportunity to visit Mongolia and the ABCP Headquarters. I grew up in the United States, in New Jersey, not too far from the Kalmyk Mongolian community there. The first lama I ever met was the Mongolian Geshe Wangyal in 1967. Ever since then, I have had the great wish to come to Mongolia. In December 1985, I met the Ven. Khambo Lama Gaadan in Bodh Gaya, India, at the occasion of the Kalachakra initiation given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. At that time, I expressed to him my wish to visit his country. Now this wish has come true.
Question: How do you find Mongolia being as a Buddhist country?
Answer: I am deeply impressed with Mongolia. It is especially wonderful to see the Buddhist traditions being upheld so strongly. I have had the opportunity while here to visit not only Ulaanbaatar, but also Erdene Zu Monastery and the villages of Khujirt and Karakhorum. The faith and devotion of both the city and village people in Buddhism is very deep. The enthusiasm of the old, former monks to restart their traditions with the reopening of some of the old monasteries is very moving. I have met with several excellent, well-trained young monks and, based on my impressions of them, I think the future of Buddhism in Mongolia looks very hopeful.
Question: Could you find something interesting for your research work from this visit?
Answer: I am deeply involved with the teaching and development of Buddhism around the world, especially with the problems of the translation of the Tibetan tradition and its adaptation to foreign countries and cultures. I have lectured in about thirty-seven countries in North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Africa, Asia and Australasia. My visit to Mongolia has been extremely helpful for my work. Mongolia was the first country to which the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism spread and was translated. There is a great deal that can be learned from the example of this experience. For instance, there is much discussion in foreign countries about whether Sanskrit terms should be used in translations, whether rituals should be chanted and debates held in Tibetan or in translation, whether the monks' robes can be modified, whether the medical and astrological systems can have further modern developments, and so on. The experiences of the Mongolians with these questions is invaluable for helping other cultures face the same issues. Also, on the level of my own personal research interests, I have been able to learn a great deal about the lineages and spread of the Kalachakra and astrology systems from Tibet into Mongolia.
Question: What do you think of the perspectives for collaborating with ABCP in the future?
Answer: I plan to share what I have learned in Mongolia with the various Universities and research institutions, as well as Buddhist centers to which I travel and lecture around the world. The fact that Mongolian medicine has added its own tradition of massage to Tibetan medicine and adopted local herbs to the making of medicines, and the fact that Mongolian astrology has modified the Tibetan system to fit with local conditions will, I am sure, stimulate further research into these areas. Particularly useful will be the experiences of translating the Buddhist scriptures, the Kanjur and Tanjur, from Tibetan into Mongolian, and the traditional methods for teaching young Mongolians the classical Tibetan language. As more people around the world become aware of the Mongolian experience, I think this will stimulate further research. The ABCP plays a very important role in coordinating and making possible such research for the translation and development of Buddhism around the world. I hope that I will be able to continue participating in such projects.
Question: Would you tell us a few words for the readers of BUDDHISTS FOR PEACE?
Answer: Buddhism is in a very vital position for being able to help bring about world peace. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says, the world needs both material as well as spiritual progress. If there are only material values, then if now we have a bomb that can destroy the world a hundred times and someone develops one that can destroy it a thousand times, that would be progress and would be considered good. But we must also take into consideration the human values. On the other hand, if there is only spiritual development and the people have nothing to eat, this also will not do. Therefore, if Buddhism and science can work hand in hand, there is real hope for lasting peace and happiness in the world.


No Escape for the Ego
An interview with Venerable Master Sheng-yen
by Carter Phipps

When it comes to the topic of ego in the spiritual life, few people have staked out the territory like the Zen masters. To read their stories is to enter another world, one where commitment, humility, devotion and insight take on larger-than-life significance and one thing matters above all else: to slay the ego once and for all, and in doing so to achieve enlightenment, to deeply realize one's Buddha-nature in this life. Indeed, few people could honestly claim the fortitude of spirit required to withstand the ego-destroying tactics of the Zen teachers of yore who, in stories that have become legends, resorted to often outrageous acts of enlightened wisdom in order to shock, jolt and awaken their students from the nightmare of ego-centered existence. Zen Buddhism, it would seem, has never been a path for the faint of heart, a testament, perhaps, to the First Zen Patriarch, Bodhidharma, who sat facing a wall for nine years to demonstrate his commitment to the path of enlightenment. Even in the modern era, we find echoes of Bodhidharma's resolve in the stories of contemporary practitioners, like the now-classic My Struggle to Become a Zen Monk by Morinaga Soko. In his efforts to gain admittance into the monastic life, Soko spent three days crouched beneath the wooden steps at the entrance to one Japanese Zen monastery enduring what is called "niwazume," a test of character designed to ensure that only the most determined make it through the outer gates. Exposed to the cold wind and snow, he withstood verbal assaults, psychological pressure and even physical beatings before he was finally able, with numb legs and a bloody face as evidence, to convince the monks inside that he had the humility and resolve to take up the austere life of a Zen monk. Those who aren't willing to pay the high price of slaying the ego, in other words, need not even apply.
So from the moment we decided to present an investigation of the nature of ego in this issue, we began a search for a Zen master who could speak from his own experience of the trials of this rigorous path beyond the ego a search that eventually led us to the venerable master of Ch'an Buddhism Sheng-yen. The word "ch'an" is the Chinese translation of the Indian term "dhyana," a Sanskrit word meaning meditation, and as Buddhism eventually spread from China to Japan, it was translated there as the term much more familiar to our Western ears: Zen. Sheng-yen, according to his most recent book, Subtle Wisdom, was initiated into Ch'an Buddhism at the age of thirteen when he left behind home and family to take up the robes of a novice in a Shanghai monastery, an austere and traditional temple that would be his home for the next six years. In 1949, however, a wind of revolution and change swept through China, and the Communist takeover of the mainland cut short his career as a young monk. Conscripted into the Nationalist army, Sheng-yen soon headed for Taiwan, and it was there, almost ten years later, that he experienced a powerful spiritual awakening at the age of twenty-eight. It was, he says, "the most important experience in my life up to that point." In a story that could have been taken from the pages of classic Zen literature, the young Sheng-yen was on a brief sabbatical from the military, visiting local Ch'an teachers when, while up late one night meditating, he found himself sitting near an older man, also a guest of the monastery, who impressed Sheng-yen with his steady and peaceful demeanor. Asking the elderly monk if he would answer a question or two, Sheng-yen proceeded to pour out his heart for two hours, giving voice to all of the questions that no one had been able to help him with during his many years of spiritual practice. And at the end of each question, the monk, whom Sheng-yen would later find out was actually a revered Ch'an master, would simply ask, "Is that all?" Finally, Sheng-yen had exhausted his litany of questions and, in a moment of confusion, hesitated, not knowing what to do. Bang! The monk struck the platform they were sitting on and roared, "Take all of your questions and put them down! Who has all of these questions?" The effect on Sheng-yen was immediate and profound. "In that instant all of my questions were gone," he writes. "The whole world had changed. My body ran with perspiration but felt extraordinarily light. The person I had been was laughable. I felt like I had dropped a thousand-pound burden." The words of the Buddhist sutras [scriptures], which once seemed foreign and impenetrable, now came alive as Sheng-yen's own experience. "I understood them immediately, without explanation," he writes. "I felt as if they were my own words."
As fascinating and inspiring as this story is, what was most intriguing to us, from the perspective of our investigation of ego, was not the experience itself but the way Sheng-yen responded to it. In a time when it seems that so many, after similar experiences of profound awakening, have quickly assumed that the dangers of the ego have been forever left behind, Sheng-yen came to a very different conclusion. While knowing that his perspective on life had radically changed, he also recognized that his "vexations," or the character deficiencies arising from his own ego, had not disappeared and could, under the right circumstances, still cause him trouble. It was not time to rest or to teach, he decided far from it. It was time to practice to rededicate himself to spiritual purification with all of the resolve, inspiration and determination that this deep glimpse into his true nature had given him.
So with deepened faith in the reality of a life beyond the attachments of ego, Sheng-yen once again took up the robes of a bhiksu [monk], obtaining early release from his military duties. He began to study with a well-known Ch'an master named Tung-chu, who had earned a reputation as a very demanding teacher, even by the high standards of Ch'an. Tung-chu pushed Sheng-yen hard, one day challenging him to perform prostrations, and then days later reprimanding him for the same; telling him to write, and then tearing up his essays when they were completed; even going so far as instructing him to close up the door to his room just so he could create a new one in the opposite wall.
Grateful to have returned to his interrupted monkhood and discipleship, and for the freedom to devote himself full time to spiritual life, Sheng-yen pursued his spiritual practice with great intensity. On his own initiative, he eventually decided to begin a three-year solitary retreat high in the mountains of Taiwan. Living in a small cliff-top hut with no running water or electricity and subsisting on wild potato leaves that he grew himself in his backyard, he worked to uproot the deep vexations of his own mind, to bring the full power of the Buddhist dharma to bear upon his attachment to the ego. Beginning with a half-year of prostrations (doing one for each of the almost 80,000 characters in the Lotus Sutra) he then concentrated on sitting meditation and, in his spare time, wrote and completed two books on the Buddhist teachings. Three years later, feeling at home in the quiet calm of solitary practice but convinced that his efforts to cultivate freedom from "greed, anger, arrogance and ignorance" were still incomplete, he decided to double the time of his retreat, extending to a total of six years this period of seclusion, contemplation, practice and study.
It was after he emerged from this second retreat that Sheng-yen began to feel that the time was right for him to take up the mantle of a Ch'an teacher in his own right and spread the Buddhist dharma. But having long been troubled by the extreme lack of education he had often seen among the monks and nuns of Taiwan, he first set out to obtain the formal schooling that he himself had never received during his years of retreat and practice. He headed for Japan and attended a university there, immersing himself in the subtle intricacies of the Buddhist dharma, earning a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy and, in the process, studying with well-known teachers from almost all the major schools of Japanese Zen. Later, accepting an invitation from a Buddhist association in the United States, he headed for the unfamiliar territory of America, where he launched a teaching career that would grow rapidly until it eventually encompassed communities of students from both the West and the Far East.
Currently Master Sheng-yen resides primarily in Taiwan but spends several months each year visiting his centers in the United States. As the founder of a liberal arts college near Taipei as well as several monasteries and meditation centers, the author of more than ninety books in ten different languages, a lineage holder in the two major schools of Ch'an Buddhism and personal spiritual guide to thousands of devoted students, Sheng-yen is a master who wears the threads of a great many responsibilities in the fabric of his simple monk's robe. He is credited by some for sparking a revival of Chinese Buddhism, a tradition that is today in exile from its home country a place where Sheng-yen may visit but cannot teach and where an illicit underground network is the only way to distribute Buddhist literature to the population. In a role that has some similarities to that of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Sheng-yen has spent much of his life working hard to help save and invigorate what was once an extraordinarily rich tradition, despite its continuing oppression in the very homeland where it first blossomed more than a thousand years ago.
Morinaga Soko, in writing about the lessons learned during his ordeal outside the Zen monastery where he became a monk, states, "Until you have subjected yourself to some discipline, you should not put too much faith in your own willpower. When I saw my own will crumbling at the monastery entrance, I suddenly felt I understood the reason for niwazume. As one crouches by the bench on the dirt floor, one's resolve is put to the test time and time again. . . . At the entrance to the monastery, I had learned the meaning of the courage which has its roots in faith and which remains undaunted whenever resistance is encountered." It doesn't take more than a cursory look at the spiritual life to recognize that to truly free oneself from the fetters of the ego takes courage, determination and resolve in no small measure. Sheng-yen, it seemed, was someone who had spent much of his life attempting to cultivate these very qualities. Indeed, he was a man who had been tested in the fire of the Zen path, who had given his heart and soul to a tradition that demands much of the spiritual aspirant and has a reputation for offering little if any quarter to the needs and concerns of the ego. So what would he, as a person who had truly lived and breathed the experiences most people only read about, have to say about this ancient enemy of the spiritual life? Would he be filled with the fire, intensity and passion for ego death that so many in his lineage have expressed down through the ages? Or would he, in his current role as a teacher and the public face of Buddhism to thousands of people around the world, be more palliative in his relationship to the ego, more accepting of those for whom the idea of ego death is going just a little too far and more accommodating to a Western spiritual culture in which the ego seems to have fallen from its preeminent position as the one and only obstacle between us and the gates of nirvana?

Sheng-yen talked with me one November afternoon on the second floor of his Queens, New York, meditation center. As the soft chanting of the Buddhist sutras drifted up through the wooden floorboards from the room below us, we sat together and spoke through a translator for an hour.
WIE: What is the ego according to Ch'an Buddhism?
Master Sheng-yen: In Ch'an Buddhism the idea of ego revolves around the idea of attachment or clinging. The ego originally does not exist. It is created as a result of attachment to the body and attachment to one's ideas or one's own viewpoint. But because both the body and the mind are impermanent and constantly changing over time, our attachments to them are always changing as well. And as these attachments change, the ego also changes. So from the perspective of Ch'an, the ego does not exist in the sense of being a permanent, unchanging entity. The ego does not exist independent of one's changing attachments to one's body and one's ideas.
WIE: What does it mean to go beyond the ego?
SY: There are two different ways to accomplish this transcendence of the ego. One is experiential, through experiencing the transcendence of the self. And this can be done through practice, the practice of sitting meditation and the investigation of a koan [paradoxical question]. It is possible to attain this experience without a practice, but that's very rare; most people need to do the practice. The point of this kind of practice is to essentially push the ego into a corner so that it has nowhere else to go. It cannot escape anywhere.
So the ego and the method that you are using to transcend the ego are in direct opposition to each other. As I said, the ego is based on attachment our attachment to the body and to ideas. Therefore, the method of transcending the ego is to deal with this attachment, to put down this attachment. When the ego is cornered and has nowhere to go, the only thing one can do is to put it down. And when one puts down the ego, then that is enlightenment.
WIE: Could you explain further how facing into a koan helps to "corner the ego"?
SY: In this method, you're actually not trying to solve the koan. Rather, the method involves asking the koan to give you the answer. A koan may be like, "What is wu [nothingness]?" So you keep asking and asking the koan to give you the answer to that question. But actually, it's impossible to answer. Of course, in the process of asking, your mind will give you answers, but whatever answer you get you have to reject. And you just stay with this method keep asking and keep rejecting whatever answer comes up in your mind. In the end you will develop a sense of doubt. You will not be able to ask the koan anymore. In fact, it'll be meaningless to ask anymore. Then there is nothing to do except to finally put down the self and that is when enlightenment appears in front of you. But if you ask the koan and you simply get tired, if you can't get an answer and so you just stop, that's not enlightenment. That's just laziness.
The second way to transcend the ego is the conceptual way. It happens when there's a sudden and complete change in one's viewpoint. It can happen, for example, when one's reading a sutra [Buddhist scripture] or listening to a dharma talk. In an instant, one can become enlightened. But for this to really work, a person has to already want to know the answer to the question, "What is ego, what is the self?" They have to already be engaged with this question in their own mind. And then, when they come across a particular sentence, they can suddenly recognize the answer and instantaneously realize enlightenment. One very good example is the Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng. He heard one sentence from the Diamond Sutra and got enlightened. However, for people who never think about these issues and questions in their daily life, who don't care about what the ego is and have no desire to know what the self is, this won't work. Listening to a dharma lecture or reading the sutras isn't going to help them.
WIE: What is the role of the teacher in liberating the student from his or her ego?
SY: First of all, the most important thing is that the student has to really want to know what the nature of the ego is. They need to have this burning desire to know. Then, what the teacher can do is to give the students a method or a tool to investigate and show them how to go about practicing the method. Many students may have a method and not be able to use it well. So the teacher can show a student how to use their method properly and can also show the right attitude and conceptual understanding they need in going about their practice. And if the student has a strong desire to understand the nature of their real self, then the method will be helpful. They will be able to see that this self that's based on attachment is illusory. It's not real. And when they realize this, they will also see that there's no such thing as the ego.
WIE: In your recent book Subtle Wisdom, you write, "Sometimes the mind experiences something that it takes to be enlightenment, but it is actually just the ego in a very happy state." Could you explain the difference between these two experiences between genuine enlightenment and a condition where the ego is simply, as you said, "in a very happy state"?
SY: The experience of happiness can also be a part of enlightenment; a person can feel happy whether they are enlightened or not. But usually when one is in this blissful, happy state, it is because, in that moment, one is no longer feeling burdened by one's body or by one's mind and emotions, and so one feels very at ease. However, this is not the same as liberation. One may feel very light; it doesn't mean anything. A very peaceful, blissful, happy feeling is not the same as enlightenment. Enlightenment is not being attached to any viewpoint or having any attachment to the body. There's no burden at all, and that's why one would feel happy. For example, Shakyamuni Buddha, after his enlightenment, sat under the bodhi tree for seven days to enjoy this happiness, this dharma joy from his liberation. But one can feel happiness whether one is enlightened or is not enlightened. So we need to be able to distinguish.
WIE: In your book you go on to say that this experience of the ego being in a very happy state could occur because "the ego may even be identified with the universe as a whole or with divinity." Could you explain what you mean by that?
SY: That feeling of unification with the universe is actually one kind of samadhi [meditative absorption], a result of a deep state of concentration, and when a person is at this stage, they recognize that the entire universe is the same as themselves. What happens is that one expands one's small ego outward, to include all viewpoints, to include all of the universe and everything in it. So at this point, one would no longer have individual selfish ideas or individual selfish thoughts that normally arise from the narrow, selfish ego. In fact, one may experience a tremendous power that would result from this samadhi, a power that would come from the idea that "the universe is the same as me." People who have had this kind of realization can often become very great religious leaders.
But the Buddha, after his enlightenment, did not say, "I'm the center of the universe." Neither did he say that he represented the entire universe. What he said is that the Buddha is here to encourage all sentient beings to see that ego comes from attachment, and if we can all put down this attachment, then we will be liberated. And so the Buddha sees himself as a friend, a wise friend to all sentient beings, encouraging them to understand that ego comes from attachment and encouraging everybody to practice, to put down this attachment.
So in the Buddha's nirvana, there's no more arising and no more extinguishing. There's no self no big Self, no small self and that is the true enlightenment. That's the enlightenment of the Buddha.
WIE: So if an individual is identified with the universe as a whole, is there still, in that case, an ego attachment that the individual hasn't given up?
SY: Yes.
WIE: Some of the great Ch'an and Zen patriarchs were reputed to have been very fierce teachers who would go to great lengths and use very extreme measures to liberate their students from their egos. In your books, you have written about how some of your own teachers were very tough with you as well. Is it because our attachment to the ego is so deep and so strong that these revered masters needed to employ such extreme measures to get their students to go beyond the ego?
SY: Actually, not everybody needs these harsh methods. The kind of method that is used has to match the needs of the individual student and the condition of the moment. Timing is very important. For example, when I teach my students, I only use harsh methods when it is necessary. Most of the time I use a lot of encouragement, especially for beginner students. It is for those who have been practicing for a while, who have a lot of confidence in their practice already but who still have this attachment to the ego, that I will use some harsher methods to help them to move forward. But it takes a very experienced, very good master to know when the time is right to use such methods.
WIE: Another passage from your book reads, "If your sense of self is strong, solid, and formidable, then there is no way you can experience enlightenment." What do you mean by this? Why is it difficult for a person with a strong sense of self or what Westerners would call "a strong ego" to experience enlightenment?
SY: It's not necessarily true that people who have a very strong ego cannot be enlightened. In fact, those who know that they have a strong ego may, in some cases, actually be very good candidates to practice the Buddha-dharma. You see, there is a type of person who is very egocentric yet at the same time has a strong desire for enlightenment. Because of this strong desire, they are naturally going to be very unhappy and dissatisfied with having a big ego, and that attitude will be good for their practice. When you have such a strong ego, you have to be willing to do something about it. So someone like this could be a good candidate for practicing and studying Ch'an.
Then there are also individuals who have what we would call a weaker or softer ego. This can help them, but only if they still have a real desire to deal with their ego. If they don't, they are not going to be any closer to enlightenment because they won't have any confidence in the practice. They won't have diligence in the practice. But if an individual has a weaker, softer ego and still understands that they need to practice diligently to deal with it, then we could say that these individuals, because they have both a strong desire for liberation and a smaller ego, are closer to enlightenment.
WIE: Today many Western spiritual teachers believe that traditional spiritual paths, including Buddhism, do not properly address all the needs of the modern seeker. In particular, they feel that people may need psychotherapy to supplement their spiritual practice in order to work out many of their emotional attachments and problems with their ego. Do you feel that the Ch'an path is incomplete when it comes to addressing the suffering of the modern seeker and that a person would be well advised to consider this dual approach psychotherapy and spiritual practice in their pursuit of enlightenment? Or is spiritual practice alone, if it's sincere and diligent, sufficient to free us from the ego?
SY: There are two different issues here. First, individuals who have very severe psychological problems should not use the Ch'an method. It's not good for them. If they just want to learn the beginner's sitting meditation, we will teach them and they will reap benefits from that, such as improved health. However, a person with severe problems should get a doctor to help them recover before they begin the practice of Ch'an.
But generally, for individuals who do not have severe psychiatric problems, Ch'an practice is sufficient. There's no need to get help from a psychiatrist or a therapist. In fact, sometimes psychiatrists or therapists come and seek help from me.
WIE: In the last thirty years, there have been many powerful teachers who have had profound spiritual understanding and experience and have attracted large numbers of students, but who eventually fell from grace due to corruption and scandal, sometimes in very shocking ways. Is it possible that spiritual experience and understanding could, in some cases, actually empower the ego?
SY: It's hard to say. I don't really want to comment on this. It is a problem. There are some individuals who think that they are enlightened, that they are liberated, and they also have the idea that after they're liberated, they do not need any morality; they do not need to uphold the precepts [basic obligations undertaken by Buddhists] anymore. And according to my own understanding of Buddhism I can only speak for myself here we follow Shakyamuni Buddha and if we look at the Buddha after he was enlightened, he didn't go and drink. He didn't go and hang out with women, sleep around and cheat people out of their money. And so that is what we follow. The Chinese Ch'an masters emphasize the importance of upholding the precepts.
WIE: For everyone, teachers and students?
SY: In the sutras, the Buddhist scriptures, they say that if you are really genuinely enlightened, you will naturally uphold the precepts.
WIE: You are a revered teacher with students in Taiwan and also Western students here in America. Some of the Western spiritual teachers and psychologists we have spoken to for this issue have said that the ego of Westerners is different from the ego of Easterners that Westerners are more attached to an individual self and personal identity. If that's true, then theoretically, it should generally be easier for Easterners to get enlightened than it is for Westerners. Do you agree with that? Is that your experience?
SY: This is not necessarily the case. It all depends on whether you have the desire for enlightenment whether, as I was saying, you really want to understand the nature of the ego.
WIE: You're saying that's the key to success?
SY: Yes, that's the key. You may have a weak or small ego, but if you don't care about these things and you don't have a strong desire, then you're not closer to enlightenment.


'One Year On' - An Interview with Venerable Kelsang Lodrö, August 2004
Venerable Kelsang Lodrö is a western Kadampa Buddhist monk who has been ordained for almost 10 years. He is the resident teacher at Heruka Buddhist Centre, North London. Venerable Kelsang Lodrö leads weekly meditation classes based on Geshe Kelsang's book The New Meditation Handbook at Neal's Yard, Covent Garden.
Asking the questions is Amy Belchetz, a regular at our weekly meditation classes and a student on our Foundation Programme.

Amy: How have you enjoyed your first year as London's Residential Teacher at Heruka Centre?
Venerable Lodrö: It has been an interesting year, especially with the stop/start of trying to get a Temple in London. Now Geshe-la has said to put these plans on hold because we don't need a temple to flourish the Dharma in London. We have waited a lot but now we can start acting. Geshe-la does want a temple but now is not the right time so we will focus on opening new branches around London. We have now got 21 branches.
Amy: What are your observations of London?
Venerable Lodrö: This year I have had a chance to sit back and observe. Coming in as a new teacher I have not made big changes immediately but now is the time to take Dharma out to people rather than waiting for them to come to us.

I've enjoyed being in London and bizarrely enough, even the travelling. It gives me an opportunity to make a connection with city life. I catch the tube to Covent Garden, where I teach on Tuesday evenings (7pm at Neal's Yard Meeting Rooms, 14b Neals Yard). We go to a café and get a feel for city life - it is always so busy! I've been getting a feel for London, wandering around looking at new venues for meditation classes with Ai Peng (Heruka Centre's Educational Programme Co-ordinator).

I've observed that Londoners are particularly parochial. They will travel across London to get to work but once they come home they don't want to go back. The tube makes you collectively tired - everyone seems to be yawning! I prostrate to people who get up and go out after work to attend a meditation class. Therefore we are aiming to have more venues on more doorsteps and classes at different times to suit people better.

Geshe-la says we need the medicine of Dharma. I think this is particularly true in London. I read in the newspaper recently that someone got killed in an incident of 'tube rage'. He'd accidentally stepped on the toe of a son, whose father then turned round and punched him, which resulted in him dying. Also there is a lot of racism and there is so much pressure living in a big city. Therefore, we need to apply the medicine that is found in Geshe-la's new book 'How to Solve our Human Problems'.
Amy: What are your thoughts about getting a Kadampa Buddhist Temple in London?
Venerable Lodrö: There will be a temple in London but the time is not ready yet. We have to create the causes for it to happen. There is no doubt that we are doing this at Heruka Centre. I have no doubt that if we get a commercial space to use for classes, we will fill it with up to 80 people 7 days a week. Also a café is a good front space which catches people's attention. We need a more central location than Golders Green!

Venerable Lodrö with some regulars from Heruka Buddhist Centre at the recent
Summer Festval

Amy: Can you tell us about the White Tara Empowerment that you will be granting in London from 5-7th November?
Venerable Lodrö: It will be held at University Collage, London, which is a very cool venue because it is right near Tottenham Court Road, where all the electrical shops are selling 'Modern Miracle Powers' (i.e. modern technology)! My favourite part of town! For new people, the empowerment will be a new experience but Geshe-la has demonstrated how even the most profound teachings can be made accessible.

For new people I would highly recommend the Taste of Stillness Day Course, which is on Saturday 25th September, also at University College, London. This course is ideal for beginners - it is like your meditation starter kit!
Amy: What are the new Buddhist Meditation classes held at Heruka Centre, Golders Green on Tuesday evenings at 7.30pm?
Venerable Lodrö: These are one-hour sessions, which begin with the Preparatory Prayers. An introduction to the Lamrim meditations will be given before the meditation and afterwards there will be a chance to ask any questions. These classes will be short and simple.
Amy: And is there anything else that is coming up that you would like to mention?
Venerable Lodrö: We are opening new evening meditation branch classes in Bloomsbury, Russell Square and Gloucester Road. Also, I am doing a
Peace in a Modern World tour of different venues. This will include a one-off public talk in St. Alban's on Monday 29th November from 7.30pm, which hasn't got a regular branch. In the past teachers have travelled to teach at St. Alban's from Madhyamaka Buddhist Centre in north Yorkshire!

The tour will also take me to some London branches, including Notting Hill on Monday 20th September at 7pm, Southend-on-Sea on Tuesday 21st September at 7.30pm and Islington on Tuesday 30th November at 7.30pm (these will all be held at the regular branch venues).
Amy: If people want to get involved with helping Heruka Buddhist Centre, what is the best thing to do?
Venerable Lodrö: Get the publicity on the streets! In Sydney at Mahasiddha Buddhist Centre they cover the town with postcards and get an enormous turn out for their day courses. If you have any other ideas about how you can help, do come and see me.
Amy: What are your plans for Heruka Centre in the future?
Venerable Lodrö: I love our slogan Peace is closer than you think. It would be great to raise Kadampa brand awareness of this. Peace is closer than you think means that if you want a meditation class on your block, contact us and we'll do our very best to get you one.


Opening the Doors of Perception: Buddhism and the Mind: An Interview with Mark Epstein
Psychotherapist and Buddhist writer Mark Epstein talks about the Buddhist view of mind, the power of meditation, and the processes of healing in both Buddhism and psychotherapy, in this exclusive interview.
by Kate Prendergast
Mark Epstein is one of those rare people schooled in the traditions of both East and West. A classically trained psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School, Epstein is a psychotherapist in private practice and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University. Epstein has also studied in the Buddhist tradition and practiced meditation for over 20 years. He has written two thought-provoking and influential books on the relationship between Western psychotherapy and Buddhist practice: Thoughts Without a Thinker, and Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart. He is also a consulting editor to Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Here, Mark Epstein talks to Science & Spirit about the Buddhist view of mind, the power of meditation, and the processes of healing in both Buddhism and psychotherapy.

Science & Spirit: Buddhists talk a lot about "the mind." What is the mind in Buddhism, and how is it different or similar to the Western notion of mind?
Mark Epstein: Mind can be many different things in Buddhism, the way Eskimos supposedly have 49 words for different kinds of snow. Mind can be the thinking mind, the way we in the West think of the word, or it can be consciousness, or it can be the Buddha Mind, which is the awakened mind, that which realizes its own true nature. This awakened mind has certain qualities in abundance, qualities like tolerance, patience and equanimity. We tend to think of mind as involved with thinking, or as intelligence. In Buddhism, mind has a greater scope and potential, especially in its awakened state.
S&S: You describe Buddhism as a "depth psychology." Why?
Epstein: In general, psychoanalysis and its derivatives are considered "depth psychologies" because they go beneath the surface of the psyche, into the hidden conflicts that drive behavior. In its own way, Buddhist psychology also seeks to go beneath the surface of things. Its primary tool, like psychoanalysis, is awareness. Buddhism stresses that much of our lives are lived unawares, and that by bringing attention into the present, we can learn to release ourselves from selfish preoccupations. Like psychoanalysis, Buddhism believes that it is essential to bring the attention to everything there is to observe, without judging the material. This would include feelings of anger, rage, shame, etc., that are traditionally considered to be the stuff of depth psychology.
S&S: What is the "mandala of the neurotic mind" in Buddhism?
Epstein: In Buddhism, the most popular "mandala" is that of the Wheel of Life, a visual representation of the Six Realms of Existence, traditionally the six realms into which a sentient being can reincarnate in its endless succession of lives. The Six Realms are the Human, Animal, Hell, Heaven, Hungry Ghost and Jealous God Realms. While some people take these realms literally, it is also possible to work with them metaphorically, as metaphors for the different states of mind through which we all pass in a given day. Hell realms are times of emotional torment; Heaven realms are times of happiness. Hungry Ghost realms are times of yearning or craving in which we feel like we can never be satisfied. The trick, from a Buddhist perspective, is to learn how to be in each realm without holding on and without pushing away, accepting things just as they are. This is best learned in the Human realm, where we have the intelligence and the will to attempt such things.
S&S: The idea of the "self" is also central to Buddhism. What is the relationship between the mind and the self?
Epstein: Self is central in Buddhism because the Buddha's main insight was into the transparency of the self. Mind is capable of understanding the self's transparency. In Buddhism, that is one of mind's chief functions. In Buddhism, "self" refers to the belief in an inherently existing "I," the sense that we hold, deep down, of our own separateness. It is this fundamental belief in an inherently existing self that is the cause, in the Buddha's view, of so much attachment and suffering.
S&S: What did the psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan mean when he talked about the belief in a unique personal individuality as "the mother of all illusions"?
Epstein: Harry Stack Sullivan was the founder of what became known in America as the interpersonal school of psychotherapy. He believed in the existence of relationships, but not of individuals. The British child analyst D.W. Winnicott expressed much the same thing when he said that babies don't exist, only baby-mother dyads. We exist in relationships, Sullivan realized, not as individuals.
S&S: The Buddha advocated meditation as a way of realization: a method that "permits us to traverse the waters of mind." What happens in meditation to allow this?
Epstein: In meditation, after first learning how to concentrate the mind and conquer the distractions of thought, greed, doubt and anxiety, the attention is directed to the felt sense of "I." This belief in an inherently existing self becomes the object of meditation. We have to find the self as it appears to us, personally. In trying to locate this self, we start to appreciate its transparency. One of the best times to find this sense of self is when someone has disappointed or insulted us, which in Tibetan Buddhism is referred to as times of "injured innocence," when we think to ourselves, "How could they do that to me?" That "me" is the self that does not exist, but in order to understand that it does not exist we first have to find our belief in it. Meditation is ultimately a confrontation with that belief.
S&S: What do Buddhists mean by "taming the mind"?
Epstein: Taming the mind means not being run by our reactions to events. It means not acting, or reacting, impulsively. It means learning to tolerate, or accept, the whole range of feelings. In the famous collection of Buddhist verse called the Dhammapada, there is one stanza that reads: "Anger gallops like a wild chariot. Hold it firm, steady it! Be the true charioteer." This is the taming of the mind. But this same collection also says not to use force, only to use "clear seeing" - "Force is not Dhamma, who uses it not righteous. Only he is wise who sees clearly before acting."
S&S: What is the relationship between the mind and body in Buddhism?
Epstein: In Buddhist psychology and in the medical texts of Buddhist culture, mind and body are not separate. Mind extends into body and body extends into mind. We can calm one by calming the other. Much of meditation involves "coming to the senses," bringing the attention out of the head and into the rest of the body, where it more naturally resides.
S&S: What are the problems associated with such transcendental concepts as "universal mind"?
Epstein: What does universal mind mean? The problem with the concept of a transcendental reality is that it sets up a duality in which we are always other. This leads to a feeling of inferiority and a tendency to disparage one aspect or another of our experience. Buddhists prefer the idea of "no mind" to that of a universal one.
S&S: As a practising psychotherapist and Buddhist, what is the value of therapy, and of Buddhism? Are they related?
Epstein: Both therapy and meditation use awareness as a healing force. Psychotherapy also makes exquisite use of the interpersonal relationship to reveal how a person holds himself back from the "here and now." In this way, therapy can be like a two-person meditation, in which the therapist's attention exposes the gaps in the patient's awareness.
S&S: What difficulties are there for Westerners in seeking to practice Buddhism?
Epstein: Some Westerners, like Carl Jung for example, thought that Westerners could never shed enough of their cultural baggage to understand Buddhism. He thought that Westerners should work only within their own spiritual systems. I never found this kind of a problem with Buddhism; it made sense to me from the beginning. I have found that some Westerners have difficulty practicing meditation because they are, in some way, trying to do therapy on themselves while meditating. They try to go deeply into their problems, searching for cathartic experiences or childhood memories, rather than simply noting their experience as meditation counsels. Such people are better off in a traditional psychotherapy on the side.
S&S: Buddhist practitioners talk about the states of terror and delight in advanced stages of meditation. What are these states? Do they too, eventually pass?
Epstein: As meditation progresses and deepens, the emotional states get subtler and yet more intense. States of bliss or joy, traditionally known as states of "delight," become more available and more pronounced. But states of terror, in which the self that was taken to be so real suddenly appears empty, also become strong. For a time, the meditator may feel more stressed, like the bottom is falling out. These states, like all things, eventually pass, but they require the meditator to stay present without pushing away and without holding on. They yield to a profound tranquility and equanimity.
S&S: What are the doors that Buddhism is seeking to open?
Epstein: Aldous Huxley coined the phrase "the doors of perception." These are the doors that Buddhism is seeking to open: the five sense doors and also the mind door, making us more alive to our own reality. The hardest door to open is the "personality" door. We think we know who we are, even if deep down we are not so sure. Buddhism keeps pressing on this belief, pushing us more and more into the unknown, into a state where we are not defined by who we think we are. There is the idea here of opening into a new reality, instead of being conditioned by an old one. Psychotherapy has tended to dwell on the past, on how this has conditioned who we are, while Buddhism seeks to free us from that conditioning by orienting us more towards becoming.
Kate Prendergast is Senior Writer for Science & Spirit.


Psychedelic Experience and Spiritual Practice:
A Buddhist Perspective
An Interview with Jack Kornfield
by Robert Forte

"The goal, cannot be stressed too often, is not religious experiences: it is the religious life. And with respect to the latter, psychedelic theophanies can abhort a quest as readily as, perhaps more readily than, they further it."
-- Huston Smith Forgotten Truth
RF: Jack, thanks very much for sharing your perspective. With so much said about psychedelic experience and spirituality it may help to look at psychedelics from within an extant spiritual discipline. There is a great deal in Buddhism that can illuminate psychedelic phenomena and help us to understand the curative effect - when there is a curative effect. Maybe a Buddhist perspective can help us to maximize the positive effects of psychedelic experiences and improve or reduce the negative ones.
JK: There are a couple of things I want to start with, some thoughts I have had on the subject, and we can go on from there. The first is a statement in answer to your question which asks for a Buddhist point of view on psychedelics. It is important to say that there is no Buddhist point of view on psychedelics. They are rarely found in the Buddhist tradition, if at all, and generally would be lumped in the precepts under "intoxicants." In Zen, Vajrayana, and the Theravada traditions, the three largest living traditions, there is very little mention of them, very little written, and there is no traditional point of view about the use of them. It is important to understand that. What points of view we have come from our understanding of Buddhist masters and teachers based on contemporary experience. But there is not a traditional body of knowledge in relationship to these substances that I know of.
A second point to make is that, unlike in Hinduism, which at least in its modern form uses a variety of mind-altering substances - particularly things like hashish that some sadhus use sitting by the river Ganges smoking a chillum - the fundamental relationship to psychedelics in Buddhist practice and tradition is as intoxicants.
The precept in Theravadan Buddhism for dealing with intoxicants is one of the five basic training precepts: not to kill, not to steal, not to speak falsely, not to engage in sexual misconduct, and lastly, to refrain from using intoxicants to the point of heedlessness, loss of mindfulness, or loss of awareness. It does not say not to use them and it is very explicit. It is interesting that it is worded that way: to not use intoxicants to the point of loss of consciousness or awareness. There is another translation of it which says not to use intoxicants which remove that sense of attention or awareness. Then it is left up to the individual, as are all of the precepts, to use as a guideline to become more genuinely conscious.
A third thought I have to start the conversation, and I think I mention this in Living Buddhist Masters, is that practice in the West has taken a reverse direction from spiritual practice in the Asias; particularly Buddhist practice, but Hindu as well.
In Asia the tradition has three parts. You begin with sila or virtue. This is the foundation upon which any spiritual life is built. People take care with those precepts; they do not harm. There is a development of ahimsa; which is a respectful, caring, and nonviolent relationship to the people and beings around. This allows the heart to open and the mind to quiet. Out of sila comes the various spiritual practices. They are built on that as a foundation.
The second step comes after you are living a moral and a harmonious life - without which you can not really have a quiet mind or an open heart. When your actions are in harmony, then you begin to train yourself through yoga, through concentration practices, through all different ways to begin to tame the wild and untamed monkey mind, and to use that training to open up the inner realms. This is samadhi, or concentration.
The third domain is the domain of wisdom, prajna, from which arise the kinds of insights and understandings of the play of consciousness in the realm of human experience, based on the foundation of a moral life and the training in various disciplines. When those insights arise and wisdom comes they are established on a base so they become available to you easily. They already have become integrated in your life by your discipline and your prior training - and you have a context to understand them in. What has happened in the West seems to be a reverse of that.
Many people who took LSD, mushrooms, or whatever it was, along with a little spiritual reading of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or some Zen texts, had the gates of wisdom opened to a certain extent. They began to see that their limited consciousness was only one plane and one level and that there were a thousand new things to discover about the mind. There are many new realms, new perspectives on birth and death; on the nature of mind and consciousness as the field of creation, rather than the mechanical result of having a body, the biological result; and on the myth of separation and the truth of the oneness of things. Great kinds of wisdom opened up, and for some people, their hearts too. They began to see the dance in much greater perspective.
People's obvious experience was that in order to maintain this they had to keep taking the psychedelics over and over, generally speaking, that is what happened. Even though there were some transformations from these experiences, they tended to fade for a lot of people, at least aspects of them. We might want to discuss this further....
Anyway, this is a kind of simplistic analogy to the East and West but I think there might be some crucial points to it. Following that people said, "If we can't maintain the highs of consciousness that come through the psychedelics, let's see if there is some other way." And so people undertook various kinds of spiritual disciplines. They did kundalini yoga and bastrika breathing, or they did serious hatha yoga as a sadhana, raja yoga, light and concentration exercises, visualizations, or Buddhist practices as a way to get back to those profound and compelling states that had come through psychedelics.
RF: Are you saying that it instilled in people a thirst for experiences?
JK: A thirst, that is correct.
RF: Would you say this the same thirst considered to be the cause of suffering in terms of the Buddha's second noble truth? Buddha taught that we suffer because of our desire or thirst for sensual or mental experience. Suffering is inevitable because everything is transitory, yet the thirst goes on. Even the highest mystical experiences can lead to suffering because of our tendency to become attached to that which is transitory. In other words, I wonder if these experiences can actually inflate the ego or tempt it with the possibility that even "God" is within its grasp.
JK: Well, the thirst has two sides to it. There is a useful thirst as well. When it is involved with a lot of grasping and attachment - to the extent that there is grasping and attachment - there is suffering. But psychedelics awakened in people not just a thirst, but a sense of the possibilities in exploring the mind and body, and living in a different way. Then they began to have those sensitivities and those visions without repeatedly taking psychedelics, by undertaking some spiritual discipline, yoga, or meditation. People began to see what was necessary was to take care with their speech, with their relationships, with their family, with their actions in the social community and the political world, in a way that was non-harming and that was conscious. So we have gone backwards in a way to discover that the roots of fundamental change has to do with our physical body, with our behavior, and with all those things that are called "virtue," followed by a systematic discipline. Those are the supports for long lasting or genuine access to these transformative experiences.
I would not say this is true for everyone. There may be people who actually have used psychedelics as a sadhana, as a practice. But I have been around a lot and it is really rare.
RF: Stanley Krippner once said that LSD may be an important cause for the importation of Eastern spiritual practices into this country during the 1960s. Because of LSD, as you are saying, young people sought out those maps and practices which could enable them to understand their experiences.
JK: They certainly were powerful for me. I took LSD and other psychedelics at Dartmouth though I was studying Eastern thought even before then, but they came hand-in-hand as they did for many people. It is true for the majority of American Buddhist teachers that they had experience with psychedelics either right after they started their spiritual practice or prior to it.
I even know of cases where people were genuinely transformed by their experience in the way that one would be from an enlightenment experience. They are rare. Of the many hundreds of people I know who took psychedelics I know of a few cases where people had radically transformative experiences. These were as much as an "enlightenment" as any other kind of "initial enlightenment," using the terminology of a system that has a few major satoris and then finally full enlightenment. This is something you are welcome to print. However, along with it print that I am reluctant to say it because it may be misleading. It is like winning the lottery. There are not a lot of people that win. A lot of people play and not so many people win. But the potential is there. I am not sure if it is helpful for people to hear that.
RF: There is a story about a Buddhist master who was asked if you could use drugs to attain enlightenment. He said, "I sure hope so." And when Zen Master Soeng Sahn was asked what he thought about using drugs to help in the quest for self knowledge he said: "Yes, there there are special medicines, which, if taken with the proper attitude, can facilitate self-realization." Then he added: "But if you have the proper attitude, you can take anything - take a walk, or a bath. "
Could you say more about sadhana? What is the right attitude? What are those qualities of mind and action that are basic to the Buddhist path?
JK: Okay, I am thinking if there is some linking question that comes in between these two. There is really. I will mention it briefly and then I will go into the development of sadhana.
First of all, I have the utmost respect for the power of psychedelics. They are enormously powerful. They have inspired and opened and awakened possibilities in a lot of people in really deep ways. They have provided transformative experiences. In taking a tempered view of them it does not mean that I do not have a lot of respect for them, and for the work that researchers like Stan Grof and others have done.
My sense from my own Buddhist practice and from the tradition as a teacher for many years is that people underestimate the depth of change that is required to transform oneself in a spiritual practice. It requires a very great perspective called "a long enduring mind" by one Zen master - which means it can be days, weeks, months, years, and lifetimes. The propensities or conditioned habits which we have are so powerfully and deeply ingrained that even enormously compelling visions do not change them very much. Therefore, the system of liberation taught by the Buddha, and other great masters, draws on several different aspects or elements of life to help empower such a deep transformation. The Buddha said at one point, "Not good deeds, nor good karma, nor merit, nor rapture, nor visions, nor concentration, nor insight. None of these are the reasons I teach; but the sure heart's release, this and this alone." The possibility of human liberation is the center of his teachings. The liberation from greed, hatred, delusion, and the liberation from the sense of separateness and selfishness. This is a very compelling possibility for humans and it is quite profound.
To come to this level of illumination, first one has to discover the power of those forces in the heart and mind that bind us. In the beginning it may sound like the forces of greed, hatred, and delusion are a little dislike of this and wanting of that, and not being so clear about things, being confused, or not seeing so deeply. But when you have undertaken a deep spiritual practice of whatever kind, and I will include psychedelic experiences as part of that, you begin to realize that what is meant is Greed with a capital "G," the most primal kinds of grasping; and Hatred meaning Hitler and Attila the Hun in the mind; and Delusion meaning the deepest dark night. The forces are tremendously powerful. So then how does one encounter these forces and transform them in a way that leads to genuine liberation?
First, you have to have a lot of respect for them. And a lot of people use psychedelics in very misguided ways, with wrong understanding. Some modern researchers like Stan Grof have a much greater sense for set and setting and of the power of the forces that one can deal with. Similarly in spiritual practice one needs to respect the depth of these experiences. Secondly, one has to make a conscious commitment to the journey of spiritual change - through whatever inspiration - meeting an inspiring person, inspiring reading, faith, or through psychedelic experience.
Lama Chgyam Trungpa once spoke to a group in Berkeley and when he began he said: "My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path. It is too difficult, too long, and it is too demanding. What I would suggest, if you haven't already begun, is to go to the door, ask for your money back, and go home now." He said, "This is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you and you should understand that from the beginning. So it is best not to begin. However," he said, "if you do begin, it is best to finish." He is such a lovely teacher.
For those who through some vision, faith, or reason have started, the next thing that is required, after seeing the power of these unconscious forces and of suffering in the world, is to make a commitment to the path of liberation, the path of the Bodhisattva, the path of the transformation of our being. To make that commitment wisely one has to realize that it encompasses every domain of life. This is the ground of spiritual discipline.
Spiritual discipline is based on our actions, our speech, and our relationship to people, animals and plants in the environment. It is related to our inner thoughts; to whether our minds are filled with hatred, jealousy, and greed, or of kindness, tenderness, and compassion. It has to do with our intimate relations to our families, lovers, friends, and to the people we work with. All of this is a fundamental part of spiritual practice.
So there is seeing the forces, making a commitment to transformation, and seeing that the path is really a deep and fundamental one. There is realizing that the work of transformation takes place on all the levels of body, speech, and mind. Then there is the beginning of a spiritual sadhana.
Now your question comes in: What are the kinds of disciplines, what are the parts to it? Again, this is a kind of elaboration of what I started on.
The ground for systematic spiritual practice is virtue. Virtue doesn't mean commandments and/or moralistic teachings, it is an understanding that one have the proper - John Lilly would call it the "launching pad," or to have the earth base covered. And so one begins here.
Sadhana means to keep the five basic precepts in mind: not killing or harming living beings; not stealing, not taking that which isn't given - not being piggy basically in a world of limited resources. To use proper speech, that is, words which are both true and helpful - not brutal honesty - but to see that one's speech is both true and useful. Speech is very powerful. Words can heal. Many people have been healed by a word from their estranged father, a great teacher, even from a stranger in certain circumstances. And words have the power to create tremendous harm and to start wars. To refrain from sexual misconduct means to take care with the great power of sexual energy. Sexual energy can be associated with greed, compulsion, lust, denigration, exploitation, or it can be associated with intimacy, care, communion, attention, and love. So make sure that energy is used in a non-harming way. Finally for intoxicants: not to use intoxicants to the point of heedlessness, which means not use them to escape, to cover over one's pain or difficulty, or in a regular or addicted way in which one has to use them. There has been tremendous suffering in the lives of many million alcoholics, drug abusers, and great suffering for their families. The unnecessary pain, misuse, and widespread addiction to substances generally has been a concern of legitimate spiritual traditions for thousands of years.
Even among the relatively conscious explorers of contemporary psychedelics, addiction and attachment has sometimes been a problem. Even more critical is the overly positive message about both the spiritual and the casual use of these drugs that has been adopted by quite a few people who could not handle them well at all. As many of us who have used psychedelics have discovered, it is not an easy path. What matters from the point of view of this precept is to make their use non-habitual (which probably means occasional). If one uses these substances, whether it is a glass of wine, a joint of marijuana, LSD, or mushrooms, this precept says to make that a conscious and careful part of your life. Without these precepts, if one even begins the journey, they will get lost or go off the track. You can not complete the journey until you get the basics right. This is really a very simple message...


Richard Gere
My Journey as a Buddhist

I suppose it's a sign of our current cynicism that we find it hard to believe celebrities can also be serious people. The recent prominence of "celebrity Buddhists" has brought some snide comments in the press, and even among Buddhists, but personally I am very appreciative of the actors, directors, musicians and other public figures who have brought greater awareness to the cause of Tibetan freedom and the value of Buddhist practice. These are fine artists and thoughtful people, some Buddhists, some not, among them Martin Scorsese, Leonard Cohen, Adam Yauch, Michael Stipe, Patti Smith, and of course, Richard Gere. I met Gere at his office in New York recently, and we talked about his many years of Buddhist practice, his devotion to his teacher the Dalai Lama, and his work on behalf of the dharma and the cause of the Tibetan people.
-Melvin McLeod
Melvin McLeod: What was your first encounter with Buddhism?
Richard Gere: I have two flashes. One, when I actually encountered the written dharma, and two, when I met a teacher. But before that, I was engaged in philosophical pursuit in school. So I came to it through Western philosophers, basically Bishop Berkeley.
"If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really happen?"
Yes. Subjective idealism was his thesis-reality is a function of mind. It was basically the "mind only" school that he was preaching. Quite radical, especially for a priest. I was quite taken with him. The existentialists were also interesting to me. I remember carrying around a copy of Being and Nothingness, without knowing quite why I was doing it. Later I realized that "nothingness" was not the appropriate word. "Emptiness" was really what they were searching for-not a nihilistic view but a positive one.
My first encounter with Buddhist dharma would be in my early twenties. I think like most young men I was not particularly happy. I don't know if I was suicidal, but I was pretty unhappy, and I had questions like, "Why anything?" Realizing I was probably pushing the edges of my own sanity, I was exploring late-night bookshops reading everything I could, in many different directions. Evans-Wentz's books on Tibetan Buddhism had an enormous impact on me. I just devoured them.
So many of us were inspired by those books. What did you find in them that appealed to you?
They had all the romance of a good novel, so you could really bury yourself in them, but at the same time, they offered the possibility that you could live here and be free at the same time. I hadn't even considered that as a possibility-I just wanted out-so the idea that you could be here and be out at the same time-emptiness-was revolutionary.
So the Buddhist path, particularly the Tibetan approach, was obviously drawing me, but the first tradition that I became involved in was Zen. My first teacher was Sasaki Roshi. I remember going out to L.A. for a three day sesshin [Zen meditation program]. I prepared myself by stretching my legs for months and months so I could get through it.
I had a kind of magical experience with Sasaki Roshi, a reality experience. I realized, this is work, this is work. It's not about flying through the air; it's not about any of the magic or the romance. It's serious work on your mind. That was an important part of the path for me.
Sasaki Roshi was incredibly tough and very kind at the same time. I was a total neophyte and didn't know anything. I was cocky and insecure and fucked up. But within that I was serious about wanting to learn. It got to the point at the end of the sesshin where I wouldn't even go to the dokusan [interview with the Zen master]. I felt I was so ill-equipped to deal with the koans that they had to drag me in. Finally, it got to where I would just sit there, and I remember him smiling at that point. "Now we can start working," he said. There was nothing to say-no bullshit, nothing.
When someone has such a strong intuitive connection, Buddhism suggests that it's because of karma, some past connection with the teachings.
Well, I've asked teachers about that-you know, what led me to this? They'd just laugh at me, like I thought there was some decision to it or it was just chance. Well, karma doesn't work that way. Obviously there's some very clear and definite connection with the Tibetans or this would not have happened. My life would not have expressed itself this way.
I think I've always felt that practice was my real life. I remember when I was just starting to practice meditation-24 years old, trying to come to grips with my life. I was holed up in my shitty little apartment for months at a time, just doing tai chi and doing my best to do sitting practice. I had a very clear feeling that I'd always been in meditation, that I'd never left meditation. That it was a much more substantial reality than what we normally take to be reality. That was very clear to me even then, but it's taken me this long in my life to bring it out into the world more, through more time practicing, watching my mind, trying to generate bodhicitta.
When did you meet the Dalai Lama for the first time?
I had been a Zen student for five or six years before I met His Holiness in India. We started out with a little small talk and then he said, "Oh, so you're an actor?" He thought about that a second, and then he said, "So when you do this acting and you're angry, are you really angry? When you're acting sad, are you really sad? When you cry, are you really crying?" I gave him some kind of actor answer, like it was more effective if you really believed in the emotion that you were portraying. He looked very deeply into my eyes and just started laughing. Hysterically. He was laughing at the idea that I would believe emotions are real, that I would work very hard to believe in anger and hatred and sadness and pain and suffering.
That first meeting took place in Dharmsala in a room where I see him quite often now. I can't say that the feeling has changed drastically. I am still incredibly nervous and project all kinds of things on him, which he's used to at this point. He cuts through all that stuff very quickly, because his vows are so powerful, so all-encompassing, that he is very effective and skillful at getting to the point. Because the only reason anyone would want to see him is that they want to remove suffering from their consciousness.
It completely changed my life the first time I was in the presence of His Holiness. No question about it. It wasn't like I felt, "Oh, I'm going to give away all my possessions and go to the monastery now," but it quite naturally felt that this was what I was supposed to do-work with these teachers, work within this lineage, learn whatever I could, bring myself to it. In spite of varying degrees of seriousness and commitment since then, I haven't really fallen out of that path.
Does His Holiness work with you personally, cutting your neuroses in the many ways that Buddhist teachers do, or does he teach you more by the example of his being?
There's no question that His Holiness is my root guru, and he's been quite tough with me at times. I've had to explain to people who sometimes have quite a romantic vision of His Holiness that at times he's been cross with me, but it was very skillful. At the moment he did it, I'm not saying it was pleasant for me, but there was no ego attachment from his side. I'm very thankful that he trusts me enough to be the mirror for me and not pull any punches. Mind you, the first meetings were not that way; I think he was aware how fragile I was and was being very careful. Now I think he senses that my seriousness about the teachings has increased and my own strength within the teachings has increased. He can be much tougher on me.
The Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism puts a strong emphasis on analysis. What drew you to the more intellectual approach?
Yeah, it's funny. I think what I probably would have been drawn to instinctively was Dzogchen [the Great Perfection teachings of the Nyingma school]. I think the instinct that drew me to Zen is the same one that would have taken me to Dzogchen.
The non-conceptual. Just go right to the non-conceptual space. Recently I've had some Dzogchen teachers who've been kind enough to help me, and I see how Dzogchen empowers much of the other forms of meditation that I practice. Many times Dzogchen has really zapped me into a fresh vision and allowed me to see a kind of limited track that I was falling into through conditioning and basic laziness.
But overall, I think the wiser choice for me is to work with the Gelugpas, although space is space wherever it is. I think the analytical approach-kind of finding the non-boundaries of that space-is important. In a way, one gets stability from being able to order the rational mind. When space is not there for you, the intellectual work will still keep you buoyed up. I still find myself in situations where my emotions are out of control and the anger comes up, and it's very difficult to enter pure white space at that point. So the analytical approach to working with the mind is enormously helpful. It's something very clear to fall back on and very stabilizing.
What was the progression of practices for you, to the extent that you can talk about it, after you entered the vajrayana path?
I'm a little hesitant to talk about this because, one, I don't claim to know much, and two, being a celebrity these things get quoted out of context and sometimes it's not beneficial. I can say that whatever forms of meditation I've taken on, they still involve the basic forms of refuge, generation of bodhicitta [awakened mind and heart] and dedication of merit to others. Whatever level of the teachings that my teachers allow me to hear, they still involve these basic forms.
Overall, tantra has become less romantic to me. It seems more familiar. That's an interesting stage in the process, when that particular version of reality becomes more normal. I'm not saying it's normal, in the sense of ordinary or mundane, but I can sense it being as normal as what I took to be reality before. I can trust that.
What dharma books have meant a lot to you?
People are always asking me what Buddhist books I would recommend. I always suggest Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind to someone who says, "How can I start?" I'll always include something by His Holiness. His book Kindness, Clarity and Compassion is extraordinarily good. There's wonderful stuff in there. Jeffrey Hopkins' The Tantric Distinction is very helpful. There are so many.
You go to India often. Does that give you the opportunity to practice in a less distracted environment?
Actually it's probably more distracting! When I go there, I'm just a simple student like everyone else, but I'm also this guy who can help. When I'm in India there are a lot of people who require help and it's very difficult to say no. So it's not the quietest time in my life, but just being in an environment where everyone is focusing on the dharma and where His Holiness is the center of that focus is extraordinary.
When you're in Dharmsala do you have the opportunity to study with the Dalai Lama or other teachers there?
I'll try to catch up with all my teachers. Some of them are hermits up in the hills, but they come down when His Holiness gives teachings. It's a time to catch up on all of it, and just remember. For me, it means remembering. Life here is an incredible distraction and it's very easy to get off track. Going there is an opportunity to remember, literally, what the mission is, why we're here.
Here you're involved in a world of film-making that people think of as extremely consuming, high-powered, even cut-throat.
That's all true. But it's like everyone else's life, too. It just gets into the papers, that's all. It's the same emotions. The same suffering. The same issues. No difference.
Do you find that you have a slightly split quality to your life, going back and forth between these worlds?
I find that more and more my involvement in a career, in a normal householder life, is a great challenge for deepening the teachings inside of me. If I weren't out in the marketplace, there's no way I would be able to really face the nooks and crannies and darkness inside of me. I just wouldn't see it. I'm not that tough; I'm not that smart. I need life telling me who I am, showing me my mind constantly. I wouldn't see it in a cave. The problem with me is I would probably just find some blissful state, if I could, and stay there. That would be death. I don't want that. As I said, I'm not an extraordinary practitioner. I know pretty much who I am. It's good for me to be in the world.
Are there any specific ways you try to bring dharma into your work, beyond working with your mind and trying to be a decent human being?
Well, that's a lot! That's serious shit.
That's true. But those are the challenges we all face. I was just wondering if you try to bring a Buddhist perspective to the specific world of film?
In film, we're playing with something that literally fragments reality, and being aware of the fragmentation of time and space I think lends itself to the practice, to loosening the mind. There is nothing real about film. Nothing. Even the light particles that project the film can't be proven to exist. Nothing is there. We know that when we're making it; we're the magicians doing the trick. But even we get caught up in thinking that it is all real-that these emotions are real, that this object really exists, that the camera is picking up some reality.
On the other hand, there is some magical sense that the camera sees more than our eyes do. It sees into people in a way that we don't normally. So there's a vulnerability to being in front of the camera that one doesn't have to endure in normal life. There's a certain amount of pressure and stress in that. You are being seen, you are really being seen, and there is no place to hide.
But there's no way you actually work with the product to...?
You mean teaching through that? Well, I think these things are far too mysterious to ever do that consciously, no. Undoubtedly, as ill-equipped to be a good student as I am, I've had a lot of teachings, and some have stuck. Somehow they do communicate-not because of me, but despite me. So I think there is value there. It's the same as everyone: whatever positive energies have touched them in myriad lifetimes are going to come through somehow. When you look into their eyes, when the camera comes in for a closeup, there's something there that is mysterious. There's no way you can write it, there's no way you can plan it, but a camera will pick it up in a different way than someone does sitting across the table.
How comfortable are you with your role as the spokesman for the dharma?
For the dharma? I've never, ever accepted that, and I never will. I'm not a spokesman for dharma. I lack the necessary qualities.
But you are always being asked in public about being a Buddhist.
I can talk about that only as a practitioner, from the limited point of view that I have. Although it's been many years since I started, I can't say that I know any more now than I did then. I can't say I have control over my emotions; I don't know my mind. I'm lost like everyone else. So I'm certainly not a leader. In the actual course of things, I talk about these things, but only in the sense that this is what my teachers have given me. Nothing from me.
When you are asked about Buddhism, are there certain themes you return to that you feel are helpful, such as compassion?
Absolutely. I will probably discuss wisdom and compassion in some form, that there are two poles we are here to explore-expanding our minds and expanding our hearts. At some point hopefully being able to encompass the entire universe inside mind, and the same thing with heart, with compassion, hopefully both at the same time. Inseparable.
When you say that, I'm reminded of something that struck me when I saw the Dalai Lama speak. He was teaching about compassion, as he so often does, but I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if he spoke more to a wider audience about the Buddhist understanding of wisdom, that is, emptiness. I just wondered what would happen if this revered spiritual leader said to the world, well, you know, all of this doesn't really exist in any substantive way.
Well, the Buddha had many turnings of the wheel of dharma, and I think His Holiness functions in the same way. If we are so lost in our animal natures, the best way to start to get out of that is to learn to be kind. Someone asked His Holiness, how can you teach a child to care about and respect living things? He said, see if you can get them to love and respect an insect, something we instinctively are repulsed by. If they can see its basic sentience, its potential, the fullness of what it is, with basic kindness, then that's a huge step.
I was just reading where the Dalai Lama said that he thinks mother's love is the best symbol for love and compassion, because it is totally disinterested.
Nectar. Nectar is that! [In vajrayana practice, spiritual blessings are visualized as nectar descending on the meditator.] That's mother's milk; that's coming right from mom. Absolutely.
Although you are cautious in speaking about the dharma, you are a passionate spokesman on the issue of freedom for Tibet.
I've gone through a lot of different phases with that. The anger that I might have felt twenty years ago is quite different now. We're all in the same boat here, all of us-Hitler, the Chinese, you, me, what we did in Central America. No one is devoid of the ignorance that causes all these problems. If anything, the Chinese are just creating the cause of horrendous future lifetimes for themselves, and one cannot fail to be compassionate towards them for that.
When I talk to Tibetans who were in solitary confinement for twenty or twenty-five years, they say to me, totally from their heart, that the issue is larger than what they suffered at the hands of their torturer, and that they feel pity and compassion for this person who was acting out animal nature. To be in the presence of that kind of wisdom of heart and mind-you can never go back after that.
It is remarkable that an entire people, generally, is imbued with a spirit like that.
I'm convinced that it is because it was state-oriented. Obviously, problems come with that, with no separation of church and state. But I am convinced that the great dharma kings manifested to actually create a society based on these ideas. Their institutions were designed to create good-hearted people; everything in the society was there to feed it. That became decadent-there were bad periods, there were good periods, whatever. But the gist of the society was to create good-hearted people, bodhisattvas, to create a very strong environment where people could achieve enlightenment. Imagine that in America! I mean, we have no structure for enlightenment. We have a very strong Christian heritage and Jewish heritage, one of compassion, one of altruism. Good people. But we have very little that encourages enlightenment-total liberation.
Looking at how human rights violations have come to the forefront of world consciousness, such as in Tibet and South Africa before that, the work of celebrities such as yourself who have been able to use their fame skillfully has been an important factor.
I hope that's true. It's kind of you to say. It's an odd situation. Previously I'd worked on Central America and some other political and human rights issues, and got to know the ropes a bit in working with Congress and the State Department. But that didn't really apply to this situation. Tibet was too far away, and there had been extremely limited American involvement there.
I found also that the question of His Holiness in terms of a political movement was very tricky. It's a non-violent movement, which is a problem in itself-you don't get headlines with nonviolence. And His Holiness doesn't see himself as Gandhi; he doesn't create dramatic, operatic situations.
So we've ended up taking a much steadier kind of approach. It's not about drama. It's about, little by little, building truth, and I think it's probably been deeper because of that. The senators, congressmen, legislators and parliamentarians who have got involved go way beyond what they would normally give to a cause they believed in.
I think the universality of His Holiness' words and teachings have made this so much bigger than just Tibet. When His Holiness won the Nobel Peace Prize, there was a quantum leap. He is not seen as solely a Tibetan anymore; he belongs to the world. We were talking before about what the camera picks up-just a picture of His Holiness seems to communicate so much. Just to see his face. It's arresting, and at the same time it's opening. You can imagine what it would have been like to see the Buddha. Just to see his face would put you so many steps ahead. I think a lot of what we have done is just putting His Holiness in situations where he could touch as many people as possible, which he does every time with impeccable bodhicitta.
I keep saying Tibet will be taken care of in the process, but it's about saving every sentient being, and as long as we keep our eyes on that prize, Tibet will be all right. Of course there are immediate issues to deal with in Tibet. We work on those all the time. Although we had reason to believe a more open communication with the Chinese was evolving, the optimism generated by Clinton's visit to China has not panned out. In fact, the Tibetans, as well as the pro-democracy Chinese, are experiencing the most repressive period since the late eighties, since Tienanmen Square.
I'm always impressed with a point the Dalai Lama makes which is very similar to what my own teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, presented in the Shambhala teachings. That is the need for a universal spirituality based on simple truths of human nature that transcends any particular religion, or the need for formalized religion at all. This strikes me as an extraordinarily important message.
Well, I think it's true. His Holiness says that what we all have in common is an appreciation of kindness and compassion; all the religions have this. Love. We all lean towards love. But even beyond that, he points out that billions of people don't practice a religion at all. But they have the religion of kindness. They do. Everyone responds to kindness. It's fascinating that a major religious leader espouses in effect a religion of no religion. Sure, that's what makes him larger than Tibet. It makes him larger than Buddhism. Much larger. The Buddha was larger than Buddhism.
You are able to sponsor a number of projects in support of the dharma and of Tibetan independence. I'm in kind of a unique position in that I do have some cash in my foundation, so I'm able to offer some front money to various groups to help them get projects started. Sponsoring dharma books is important to me-translation, publishing-but I think the most important thing I can do is help sponsor teachings. To work with His Holiness and help sponsor teachings in Mongolia, India, the United States and elsewhere-nothing gives me more joy.
The program we're doing this summer is four days of teachings by the Dalai Lama in New York. August 12 to 14 will be the formal teaching by His Holiness on Kamalashila's "Middle-length Stages of Meditation" and "The Thirty-seven Practices of the Bodhisattvas." That's at the Beacon Theater and there are about 3,000 tickets available. I'm sure those will sell quickly. If people can't get into that, there's going to be a free public teaching in Central Park on the fifteenth. We're guessing there will be space for twenty-five to forty thousand people, so whoever wants to come will be able to. His Holiness will give a teaching on the Eight Verses of Mind Training, a very powerful lojong teaching, one of my favorites actually. Then His Holiness will give a wang, a long life empowerment of White Tara.
I've seen His Holiness give bodhicitta teachings like these, and no one can walk away without crying. He touches so deep into the heart. He gave a teaching in Bodh Gaya last year on Khunu Lama's "In Praise of Bodhicitta," which is a long poems Just thinking about it now, I'm starting to crys So beautiful. When he was teaching on Kunu Lama's "In Praise of Bodhicitta," who was his own teachers whooosh! We were inside his heart, in the most extraordinary way. A place you can't be told about, you can't read about, nothing. You're in the presence of Buddha. I've had a lot of teachers who give wonderful teachings on wisdom, but to see someone who really, really has the big bodhicitta, real expanded bodhicittas.
So those are the teachings that I believe His Holiness is here to give. That's what touches.

For information on His Holiness' teachings in New York in August 1999, call 212-780-1999.


Sahaja is an Order Member living in Halifax. He is a sculptor, and works from his studio at Dean Clough.

Ed: How long have you been ordained?

Sahaja: 1989.

E: So you've probably seen a lot of changes?

S: I do change my socks quite regularly, yeah (laughter).

E: Do you feel like you're changing?

S: When you first come along you change a lot, don't you? Then you slow down - I'm giving a general answer, but I think it's true. And then you doubt yourself, and you think you're not changing, and then maybe sometimes you don't need to look at yourself to see that you're changing in more subtle and deeper ways as you get more subtle and deeper. Would you not agree, from your own experience?

E: I suppose my experience of you is that you've changed and become less 'crazy' in the past couple of years, and I was wondering whether you think that's true, and if so why?

S: Well, I think I'm changing and all the rest of it, but I think it's because I've been ill for a couple of years, and when you're ill you're faced with death more and that changes you. It makes you quieter or more introverted. And also, as I've come to live and hide more within my little hole at Dean Clough, I've become more of a hermit in a certain way. Although I do think I see more people, I do keep in contact with people.

E: Does that link in with what you think your role is in the Leeds Sangha?

S: Not just within the Leeds Sangha, I think I have a particular view of things because I'm not involved in the formal structures of the institution. I am very much part of the Movement but from a bit of a ... either looking from down in a ditch or looking from a certain angle. The way I see my role is - I'm on a hillside and I throw rocks at ... erm... it happens to be Rijumitra and Samanartha at the moment. I'm outside things enough to erm steer ... and I do think I've got a particularly clear view on general issues and what's going on, that people seem to recognise and respect, you know.

E: What's the significance of your tattoos; you've got the word "Jesus" on one hand and "Buddha" on the other. Isn't that a bit odd for a Buddhist?

S: Well, I was brought up an Irish Roman Catholic. I'm called Sahaja so that's a Buddhist name, I got involved with Buddhism when I was 15.

E: What does Sahaja mean?

S: 'Natural, authentic'. I was brought up with working class iconography. I come from a pretty working class, mad, crazy, dysfunctional Irish Roman Catholic family. I took loads of drugs when I was a teenager and got involved in the movement. It's just a certain angle on things: tattoos, drugs, smoking, welding, playing cards, you know, pirate ships and anchors and all that sort of crazy ... slightly the underdog, the underbelly, the flip side, the rash beneath the skin, sort of thing. So there's all that going on. When I was having that Jesus tattooed on my arm, like Jesus came through me, man, you know what I'm saying? (Laughter). I don't know, I can't really answer that question. I mean, why have I got Godzilla and King-Kong on my arm as well?

E: Yeah?

S: It's not just Jesus and Buddha, it's like Jesus and Godzilla and Kong and the Buddha. Why is all that going on? Don't ask me, mate. So, "isn't that odd for a Buddhist?"- well what is a Buddhist? What is odd? What are we trying to do with our lives? Aren't we trying to unpack or understand - and understanding isn't always verbal or conscious. You know, when you go on the mythic context retreat, or late at night when you're sweating and you're on your own in bed and you're shit scared, or when you're sitting down having a cup of tea and you're away from all the clatter and all the people asking you stupid questions (laughs) - no offence! - but all of us, what are we? We're just grubby little bits of flesh that's got some sort of thing we call a brain, and emotions, and reactions, and all the rest of it - we're a quivering mess. We're giblets walking round on legs, that's what we are (laughter). It's like, we've got to do what we've got to do, and I don't understand half the things I've got to do, but I had to do it. I've got loads of rings on, and I seem to be wearing my rings at the moment, but every now and again I take them off. Every now and again I dread my hair, every now and again I shave my hair off. I don't understand any of that - it's about finding boundaries, and recognising stuff. Maybe I'm an artist and, well, that's what artists do. So I don't think it's odd at all. In fact, I think you should be doing shit like that if you're a Buddhist, or your version of that. If you're not doing your version of that, I'll say, well, isn't that odd?

E: Being yourself, do you find that people around you act a funny way, because of the way you're being?

S: Oh yeah, yeah. You get two different reactions; people either think you're brilliant, and you're some sort of weird Tantric guru, or they think you're dead weird and uncouth - and in a way, I am both of those things, but I'm not either of those things either. At the end of the day people individually have got to sort their own shit out. People need to get on with their own lives really, you know, it's like, this is my life and if I'm loud, if I'm charismatic, if I'm uncouth, I bring all that to the grave with me. I fall over the cliff and I'm biting Kong and Godzilla right to the end, I'm down there, that's my myth. And if I choose to play it up, well, I'm going to bring that with me. If I choose to ignore it and play it down and pretend it's not happening, I'll also bring that with me. So I've got to sort my Kong and my Jesus, my Godzilla and my Buddha, my whatever it is I'm doing, out. That's what takes you there. And people have got to do their versions; and if people are more subtle, or more middle-class, or more English, or more priss, or more this, or more that ... they've got to find out what their myths are. You've got to find out what you are.

E: How do you get nourished?

S: By life itself.

E: But you must contemplate something within life that actually has meaning?

S: But you contemplate your reaction to life itself.

E: So that's all of life, you mean?

S: Well, that's the only thing that makes sense, when it comes down to it. What are you going to do, go round talking about Buddhism, Buddhism, Buddhism, the Dharma, Dharma, Dharma, Bhante, Bhante, Bhante all the time - what does that mean? What does that mean? I don't do a practice sadhana and all that sort of stuff, I just don't relate to working in that way. I think I'm quite a nihilistic, existentialist type of thinker, for want of a better word. I've had to work hard against being nihilistic. Earlier on in this interview you were saying that I seem to have changed in the past couple of years and got a bit softer or something and I said it's partly because I've been ill but it's also because I'm changing and I've recognised this very strong nihilistic, negative, existentialist, the end of the world, doom and gloom, there's no light at the end of the tunnel, and that's where I'm coming from on a certain level but I don't let it rule the roost. Or if it is ruling the roost at a particular time, I make sure that I'm not too damaged by it, or I recover from it afterwards. So I've learnt how to deal with carrying that brute of a demon around. Because that is definitely a part of my psyche. But it has shifted.

E: So if you don't do Metta Bhavana and mindfulness, or a traditional sadhana practice, how do you move away from that dark demon?

S: Because I think I'm generally aware all the time; I'm leading an active life, I'm creating stuff, I've got a vision; in order to squat in this place for getting on two years now, I've had to have the determination to say, 'This is what I want to do, I've got a purpose'. So to have that amount of power, I think there's a hell of a lot of steam and commitment within my being moving forward, and I think you do need to have something bigger than your own nihilistic experience to take you through that. Maybe when I'm 50 or 60 I might start meditating or something.

E: So have you got any idea where you're going to be and what you want to be doing in 10 years' time?

S: Well, I reckon I've got another good 10 years left to work, depending on my health. I think I'm at the peak of my working on a certain level. I could produce a lot of really interesting work in this next 10 years, so what I've been trying to do is get the funds together to get somewhere that I can live and work. And, you know, from a more spiritual point of view (but almost more normal), I just want to get more confident in myself, just more relaxed, take time out, have holidays. I've had an extreme life and I think I need to have less of an extreme life.

E: Could you see yourself changing medium, like dropping the metal, so that you could actually live and work somewhere; you might just be using clay or paper or something?

S: Yes, I've always said when the time comes I'll drop it. About 5 or 6 years ago, I got into writing poetry about Vajrasattva. I think I'd make a good writer, so I wouldn't mind writing a book or doing some more poems, but I want to get a little computer for that, a little word processor. Because sculpture takes so long, I've still got too many ideas, you know, it's like when I die there's going to be a backlog of ideas in my corpse waiting to go to the next life.

E: I've heard it said if you really want to be an artist, you can't avoid but do it, because you fall to pieces if you don't do your art. Do you think that's true in your case?

S: Well, if I didn't weld I'd be drawing, if I didn't draw I'd be writing, if I didn't write I'd be scribbling things, I'm always doing something. So what I'm saying is you're doing it all the time, and being an artist you're just much more in touch with it. I don't meditate, I don't take part in all that stuff but actually I'm very, very alive when it comes to being aware of creating and things like that. If people want to make sense of my life, they can come and look at my art; and if you look round this studio there's 10 years' worth of work in here, that's got to say something.


Samaneri Dhammananda was born as Chatsumarn Kabilsingh in Thailand in 1945. She received her B.A degree from Magadh University, Bangkok, an M.A. degree from McMaster University, Canada, and a Ph.D. degree from Magadh University, India. She was a professor of Buddhist Philosophy at Thammasat
University in Bangkok for over 20 years before she received her novice ordination from Venerable Dhammaloka Mahathera, Deputy Chief Sangharaja of Amarapura, Sri Lanka on February 6, 2001. She is the author of THAI WOMEN IN BUDDHISM and many other books on Buddhism, as well as a past President of Sakyadhita (Daughters of Buddha) International, a Buddhist women's organization.
Samaneri Dhammananda visited Malaysia in June 2002 at the invitation of the BGF. She gave talks at the lpoh Buddha Dhamma Association, Buddhist Maha Vihara and BGF. During her stay at theBGF. Lee Bee Sim interviewed her, together with Low Yin Teing and Jacyln Wee Su Yin, on why she became a nun despite the controversy of female ordination in Thailand, what she thinks about women and Buddhism and her new life now that she is ordained.

LEE BEE SIM : Your mother was amongst the first Thai women to become a nun. Was she a great influence in your decision to be a nun too?
DHAMMANADA: well, I would say my mother has some influence on my decision to be a nun. When we study and practice Buddhism over a period of time, we will develop faith in the Triple Gem. I think this faith (saddha) that I have developed is the strongest influence. But I must also say that it was my mother's Bodhisattva lifestyle that influenced my commitment. She turned our house into a temple. She said that even after ordination, her duty as a mother does not stop.
She brought us up in a temple atmosphere. That is how I learnt chanting from a very young age with the nuns.
I try to teach the devotees that the way to honor the Budha is not through making many expensive offerings but to sincerelystudy and practice what the Buddha has taught.
As a professor of Buddhism for over 20 years, how would you use your knowledge and understanding of the teachings
in your new role as a nun?
My role as a teacher does not stop when I am ordained. Previously my teaching is only confined to the academic world but now I am addressing a larger public and it may not always be academic anymore. Now I teach wholesome lifestyles for the many people who attend my lectures. In academia I provide food only for the brain but now as a Dhamma teacher, the food I provide is for the well-being of the heart. My audience has also changed: I no longer speak to only students and intellectuals. Now in my lectures I meet farmers, hawkers, housewives, businessmen and many uneducated people. So I need to know what are their needs and problems that they face in their daily lives in order to help them.
People come to my temple for different reasons. Some come for blessings and ask for amulets or to take pictures of me putting my hand on their heads. I do not turn them away but I also teach them some basic Buddhist values which they can easily understand at their level. It is like leading them up the stairs one step at a time. Some devotees would tell me they cannot come to the temple to do offering to generate merit because they have no money. I told them they do not ned money to make merit. Through practicing the dhamma they will make greater merits than
merely making offerings. So slowly we bring the masses to a better understanding of what merit making is really like. I try to teach the devotees that the way to honor the Buddha is not through making many expensive offerings but to sincerely study and practice what the Buddha has taught.

The Buddha has no gender biases. But we were told he initially hesitated to admit women as nuns. Why did he do so?
People always interpret hesitation as not a good action but this is not necessarily true. When the Buddha was first enlightened, he too hesitated to teach until invited by Brahma Sahampati. When his own stepmother and aunt Maha
Pajapati Gotami requested him for ordination, he hesitated because at that time it was socially and culturally not acceptable to have female monastics. He knew it was going to be very difficult for women to become nuns because of social norms then. So he hesitated to ensure that Maha Pajapati truly understood the implications of her request. When the Buddha rejected her request, Maha Pajapati followed him on foot for days and nights with 500 royal ladies from the palace to Vesali. She wanted to prove to the Buddha that her request was serious and based on deep-seated faith. The hesitation was also to allow the gentle ladies of the palace to realize the hardship and difficulties, including the dangers of living in a forest, that they would face when they become nuns.

It is said that because of the formation of the Order of Nuns, the Buddha's dispensation will be shortened. Did theBuddha really said such a thing?
When the Buddha allowed women to be ordained, it was because he realized women have the same spiritual potential as men to be enlightened. He therefore allowed them to become nuns. The statement that by accepting women, Buddhism
would be shortened from 1000 years to 500 years is no longer valid because the Buddha's teachings had prospered for over 2500 years. So such words could have not have come from the Buddha. He also set out the Garudarama or the Eight Important Rules in order to strengthen the sangha. So there is no question that Buddhism would decline because women become nuns. When we read the texts, we must read it critically and in its proper context. If we just read one passage in isolation and do not make references to other parts of the scriptures, we will not understand the whole essence. Sometimes we quote out of context, resulting in many negative interpretations of what the Buddha really meant.
There is this misconception that becoming a monastic is a form of escapism. What is your commment on this?
Yes, this may be truee for some people. But I also know of many people who become monks or nuns out of conviction that this is a spiritual journey they wish to pursue not just for their own happiness but the happiness of others. They become monastics out of compassion so that they can provide spiritual support to others. Many monks and nuns arevery strong spiritually and mentally, and for them ordination is not escapism.

You said compassion is a motivation why people become monks or nuns. Why is compassion so important?
Compassion seems to be given much emphasis in Mahayana Buddhism which encourages everyone to go towards the path together in one big family. In Theravada Buddhism we tend to do it individually but that does not mean there is no compassion involved. As Buddhists we must care for others besides cring for our own selves. i think this is the correct attitude. It is important we keep our precepts pure but we must not forget to develop the bodhisattva spirit of helping others. Let's say we keep to the Five Precepts steadfastly but when we see a husband beating his wife next to our house, would we still be keeping our precepts pure if we do nothing to assist the battered wife? We may interpret that it is the wife's bad karma that causes her to get the beating. However, in an engaged Buddhist attitude, we will ask where is our compassion. If we are in the position to help, we should go out and help her. How can we be happy when we see others suffering? As Buddhists I believe we should be involved in social issues.

Some people think of Buddhism as a very lonely religion because we emphasize on individual spiritual development. Waht do you think?
In our spiritual practice, it is very individual. But as I am sitting with you, I need to care for you and other sentient beings. We need to dedicate merits after our meditation. All sentient beings experience suffering in one form or another. We
should therefore be sharing our happiness together, so how can we not care for them? Sometimes we know about the importance of compassion but do not put it into practice. I would say that we need to open up and engage others. Let me take it further by saying that we also need to have this connectedness not only with sentient beings but also with the environment. Our existence is also dependent on the environment. That is how we should build up the connection so that we will become a harmonious human being.

In Buddhism, five ideal qualities of the perfect wife are mentioned. But they seem to reinforce the inferiority of women to men. Why is this so?
That teachings came out of Indian social values. That is not the uniqueness of Buddhism. In Buddhism man and woman are equal spiritually. some suttas reflected the social values of India at that time. That is why we must see the Buddha's teachings in its proper context. We must be able to distinguish the cultural context and makeup of the suttas that we read. If we can do this then we will realize the essence of the Buddha's teachings which is devoid of all discriminations. So it important for us to understand that while Buddhism gives freedom to women, it grew out of an Indian environment that does not equate women on the same level as men. If we can understand this, we will be able to appreciate what the Buddha has done to elevate the status of women in India 2500 years ago. Indeed the Buddha was going against all odds during his time.
My challenge is therefore my own spiritual practice.
What are your biggest obstacles or challenges as a Buddhist nun?
The obstacles are all within me. How can I lessen my suffering and that of others? My challenge is to get back to my original mind before it became clouded with defilementsthat I have accumulated over many, many lives. My challenge is therefore my own spiritual practice.

You were recently interviewed by CNN. I think the publicity has helped your efforts to revive the bhikkhuni sangha in Thailand. Do you see the acceptance of a bhikkhuni sangha by the Thai clergy within your lifetime?
Maybe elsewhere but not in Thailand. Anyway the interview was done in English and the large majority of people in Thailand do not listen to English. So the CNN interview may have no impact on them. But in many other parts of the world. I think there is greatr awareness of the Bhikkhuni issue. In 1993 as president of Sakyadhita (Daughters of Buddha) International, I organized a conference of nuns. The Government officials in Thailand told us not to mention the word "bhikkhuni". So, we complied but most of the participants were bhikkhunis. In 1996, the Korean bhikkhuni sangha went to Sri Lanka to give ordination to Sri Lankan nuns. In 1998, they received full ordination from the Chinese tradition together with the bhikkhu
sangha from Sri Lanka. Back in 1993, I did not expect such positive developments to happen, but it did. Then in 2001, I was ordained as a Buddhist nun in the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka. Because it was controversial for a Thai lady to be
ordained as a nun, CNN picked up the story and interviewed me. So I gave an interview to Loraine Hahn from CNN sitting in my temple in Thailand. Many people in Malaysia have seen this interview with CNN. Whether the Thai sangha wants to
accept female ordination or not, I shall leave it to them but we are talking about half the population of the country! I believe if women are allowed to be ordained, it will also benefit the bhikkhu sangha as we will be helping them propagate the Buddha's teaching of love and compassion. I think the decision as to whether females can become nuns or not in Thailand should be left to the society to decide.

There are so many problems facing women today. Is it easier for a woman to approach a female bhikkhuni to talk about her problems?
Yes, I think so because I experience it myself. That is why I give consultation to women who have problems between 2.00-5.00 pm in the temple. They may not come to listen to dhamma talks but they come to tell me about their problems.
So I guide them along the path of dhamma so that they can reduce their pain and suffering. In the process they learn to appreciate the beauty of the dhamma. I think women in Thai society have been neglected for quite a while and if there are
more Buddhist nuns, they too can provide this counseling service for the female devotees.

Last but not least, any words of inspiration for the sisters in the Dhamma, especially those who intend to become nuns?
My advice is not to rush into becoming a nun. First of all, you must study the lifestyle of a monastic. Experience taking Eight Precepts for a period of time by staying in a temple and find out if it is and environment that you like. Ordained life is very different from lay life. You must get used to it in a gradual way. For example, we are awake by 5.00 am and begin chanting at 5.30 am. Not many people are used to this type of discipline. But once you are sure about ordination, you will find that it is a very beautiful life which you will definitely cherish. EH

Lee Bee Sim is a graduate from University of Malaya with a Bachelor of Economics, specializing in Statistics. She is currently working in a market research company as a Statistics Executive. Bee Sim has been involved with Buddhist activities since her university days and is now helping out with Buddhist activties at BGF.

Form : EASTERN HORIZON , Dec.2002


Interview: Discover Tibetan Energy Yoga

Sounds True: When we think of Buddhist spiritual practice, most of us think of sitting meditation. But you teach a form of Buddhist yoga, is that right?

Lama Surya Das: Yes, Tibetan energy yoga. It's based on the six yogas of Tibetan Buddhism brought from India over one thousand years ago by Padmasambhava, the enlightened sage who founded Tibetan Buddhism. Because of this knowledge of the body's internal energy system, Tibetan Buddhists practice both the "inner yogas" of silent meditation as well as the "outer yogas" of movement, chant, and gestures of awareness. It's the only form of yoga taught in any Buddhist tradition.

ST: How is Tibetan energy yoga used as part of one's daily practice?

LSD: It's used to ground, focus, and purify us. It's a very important prelude to silent meditation. I think of it as "yoga for meditators." At the same time, energy yoga is beneficial even for those who don't meditate regularly.

ST: How does Tibetan medicine view the human energy system?

LSD: Tibetan culture is closely linked to Indian culture, so it has a similar understanding of the chakras, the pranic life force, and the nadi energy channels. Tibetan energy yoga works specifically with the body's lunar and solar energies, our receptive female energy and our active male energy. By doing these exercises, we rebalance and reharmonize these flows through our network of energy channels, and unify those two energies within the central channel of the body.

ST: What can one expect from these practices?

LSD: If you undertake this 30-minute routine as a daily or at least "dailyish" practice, I believe that it will absolutely change your life. It will restore and balance your body's energies, elevate your moods, and focus and clarify your mind. I've seen them do this again and again among those who begin doing these exercises.

ST: In addition to energy yoga, Tibetan Buddhism is also the only Buddhist tradition to teach a complete dreamwork practice. Why practice this dream yoga?

LSD: Tibetan mystical texts such as the Wheel of Luminosity and the Tibetan Book of the Dead teach that when we awaken within the dream at night, we can learn also to awaken to the illusory nature of the "daytime dream" that we call waking reality. So enlightenment would be the ultimate purpose of dream yoga. The teachings also speak of "the twenty benefits of dream yoga." Among them are: overcoming our fears and loosening our inhibitions within the "training ground" of our dreams, solving problems in the dream state, and enhancing our faculties of creativity and imagination.

ST: A key to Tibetan dream yoga is known as "Clear Light" dreaming? What is that?

LSD: Clear Light dreaming is known as "lucid dreaming" in the West. It happens when we awaken within our dream, even as we remain asleep. Many people today are getting interested in lucid dreaming, yet this is something that Tibetan yogis have been refining for over 1,500 years.

ST: Could you teach us one of these techniques?

LSD: OK. When you are ready to go to sleep, relax and close your eyes. Now, concentrate on the subtle inner light behind your eyelids. Meditate into that light as if it were a vast sky or moon. What you're trying to do is "brighten" your awareness as you're going to sleep, rather than darkening it. While you do this, silently repeat a firm and strong intention to awaken within the dream, such as: "May I awaken within the dream tonight for the benefit of all dreaming, dreamlike beings." Be patient with yourself. Just do it every night, or as often as you can, and see what happens.


Spiritual Teabreak
with Chief Ven. Dr K Sri Dhammananda
Kuala Lumpur
This spiritual tea break session is brought to you exclusively by the Buddhist News Network. Spiritual teabreak is a monthly series bringing to you thoughts of Chief Ven. Dhammananda via the Internet.

"Women have already become presidents of countries. Why can't they become nuns?!"
Those words came out softly, but the tone was firm. Chief Venerable Dr K Sri Dhammananda was not about to be polite this morning. The Maha Vihara complex today looked pale against a backdrop of gloom and grey. The day have begun on a wet note, with heavy showers making its presence felt well before dawn.
Chief was commenting on a series of articles which highlighted Thai nuns leaving their home country for Sri Lanka so that they could be ordained.
According to a Bangkok Post report on July 5, 2001 Jamnian Rattaburi became only the second Thai woman to seek ordination. The first was Buddhist scholar Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, and it has brought her under fierce attack by conservative Thai monks and laypeople. Chatsumarn, now samaneri Dhammananda, will become a full bhikkhuni after completing her two-year novicehood.
"Instead of advancing efforts to enhance understanding of the Dhamma, and extoling courage to control their minds, some Buddhists seem to be held back by outdated traditions and beliefs", explained the 82 year old venerable. "And we shouldn't blame others for saying Buddhism is backwards because we have not helped ourselves to be forward thinking."
Having born early in the last century, it is hard to believe that his thinking and mental outlook remain extremely realistic, pragmatic and relevant. Modern even. An embodiment of the timeless Dhamma perhaps, but it does say something about his ability to view contemporary issues effecting the Sangha in ways which is uncommon for members of the Buddhist clerics.
"Two months ago, at the doctorate award ceremony at the Mahachulalongkorn University, I gave a short speech to about 5,000 graduate monks", his tone mellowed as he began to emphasise his key point. "I said, other religion always say that the Buddha is not a god, but a man. So why do we Buddhist worship him? How can He bless us? Save us? They say all we worship are just idols. Now how can we counter such questions?"
He has a point. Most monks today tend to deliver mostly "book knowledge". But how many teaches their followers to face the challenges of the modern world? It is not just religious knowledge that matters, but as he says "the courage to learn how to control our own minds, so that we are not timid or scared in facing any difficulties." And then he sounded the clarion call:
"If we know what is right, there is no reason to surrender."
In not so many words, Chief highlighted what plagues the Dhammaduta (Buddhist missionary) movements all over the world. In embracing the tenets of the Dhamma, devout Buddhists have turned it into an "exclusive" religion, not realising that the Dhamma is not a dogma, maxim, doctrine, theocratic philosophy or any connotations that suggests the "closing of the mind."

Book knowledge undeciphered remain just that - theoretical information which contains high sounding words but brings only fuzzy meanings. That is why the Buddha skillfully engaged the usage of metaphors to deliver his message. As Chief explains, "during the Buddha's time, education was low and rural farming was a way of life. Given the environment as such, using stories to convey a certain discourse was the most effective method at that time." And he certainly demonstrated what he meant when he delivered this story.
"All religion teaches peace, harmony and friendship. They always talk about love, but they always find it difficult to love one another. Instead they condemm each other, treating the other party like a disease."
"One day," he continued, "our neighbour (i.e. the church just beside the vihara) wanted to organise a Christian seminar. But they had a problem. They didn't have enough place to stay for their delegates. They came to see me and asked if I could help. I said 'yes', your delegates can use the vihara classrooms as guests' accomodation for the duration of the seminar."
As the analogy goes, it doesn't matter if it is Indian sandals or Chinese clogs or American shoes, as long as it fits, just wear it. When it comes to matching deeds with words, there is no shortage of examples to showcase the depth of wisdom of this highly revered Venerable.
But the examples doesn't stop here. The next story he told was well known amongst those who were involved in establishing Buddhist hymms way back in the early eighties. For some, it even bordered on legendary scales.
"When Victor (Wee) and the Wayfarers came to see me about their wish to commence a hymm singing group, I gave them my blessings. But when they first began singing their first hymm, the orthodox elders and some members of the Sangha made a lot of noise, saying that the group was turning the vihara into a church," he reminisced. "But I stood my ground. I said, let them say what they want. If you think you are right, just go ahead."
A few years later, those simple Dhamma based hymms inspired a whole new generation of young, committed Buddhists. It also became impetus in re-igniting and rejuvenating the Buddhist youth movements all over Malaysia.
As the morning wore on, it became apparent that the sun was not going to be shining brightly. The overcast skies and the soft drizzle continue to contribute to a damp and soggy atmosphere. But that's outside.
Inside, in here, right here in the seat of this "Mahathera", the glow of Dhamma was shining brightly. The glory of the saffron robe was brightly inflamed with deep wisdom. The heat of compassion from this Venerable was giving warmth to future hopes.
And therein lies the message of today's morning teabreak:
Buddhists need to break out from their conservative shell. As we learn, we should also not close the minds to the fluid happenings of the world around us. Whether be it women seeking to become nuns, whether emphatising with other religionists "so that they could understand their religion better", whether encouraging youngsters to explore new ways to promote Buddhism, Buddhist growth can only happen with an open mind.
Let us all hope that Chief's morning teabreak message will reverbrate loud and clear through this grey and gloomy morning. And it'll only be to our benefit, for if we Buddhists know we are right, there is no reason to surrender.



(Dalai Lama) This time,the main purpose of my
visit is organized by some Nobel laureates concerning about human
rights in general, in particularly, the safety or release of Aung
San Suu Kyi, the fellow Nobel laureate as a freedom fighter. So that
is the main purpose of visit. Then, meantime, I feel great honor to
stay here, and also today the Supreme Patriarch who personally
visited me when I reached here. So I am extremely happy and feel
great honor.

(Correspondent Your holiness, do you think your visit here will
secure the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi?

(Dalai Lama) I don't know. Difficult to say. But, you see, it is
worthwhile to make every attempt. Basically, I always believe that
every human being has reponsibility for welfare, or the benefit, or
happiness of the entire humanity. Now today the world is becoming
smaller, and everything depends on one another. So therefore the
others' interest is actually our own interests. If others happy, we
will be happy. If others suffer, ultimately all suffer. So, in
reality, things are heavily dependent on one another. So therefore I
always consider, now because of the reality, now our future much
depends on our individual involvement or commitment. So for that
reason, the sense of global responsibility is now very much
relevant. The sense of global responsibility based on Karuna, based
on compassion, is now very much relevant in this modern time.
Sometimes, you see, we feel that with technology, that we are very
individual or independent, and sometimes we forget about other's
rights or others' interests. In reality, it is not that way. So
therefore, each of us we have the responsibility for the benefit of
the entire humanity. Now here, I think there are about seven Nobel
laureates now coming together. I think usually we... that also is
one ... I'm quite sure, through this way, I think we can make some
contributions. And also I will naturally, I mean obviously, it can
raise some awareness, some deeper awareness, in public mind. So
eventually I think we may achieve our goal the release of Aung San
Suu Kyi. It may take time, I think. (Laughs)

I personally, you know, I think that December '91, when I was in
Norway at the one gathering of Nobel laureates, it's a day of joint

appeal that is made, that I also signed and heartily supported. And
then last May when some political prisoners (were being) released in
Burma, then I thought this may be the appropriate time, so I also
appealed to the authority. I also (?suggested) they starting
releasing the political prisoner. So with some appreciation about
their releasing, and then I appealed that Aung San Suu Kyi that she
should release. So I personally am very much concerned about her.

First, you know, although I have never been to Burma. But through
some of my spiritual friends in Burma, I think it's a rich, Buddhist
country, and especially in the field of the practice of wipatsana
(meditation). And then second, according to some history of the
Tibetan- Burma, there are some common things. And even I think the
linguistically speaking, in Burmese words, some Tibetan words, are
also there. In fact, some historians say the very word BurmmaBurma
means the Tibetan word Phama. Phama means middle. Some Tibetan
historians say that (word indistinct) Phama, that is a Burma. Phama
means middle. The pronunciation of Burma, the Tibetan word Phama.
So, in anyway, historically, there seems ... I mean, some close,
some connection.

Then, of course, the democracy, freedom, is, I think, one of the
most important conditions for humanity. For progress, for
development, for happiness, what is it, democracy and freedom is
very very essential. Without that we cannot utilize the human
creative nature. Without that, no progress, no development, either
in spiritual or in material, in any education, in every field. So
therefore, the democracy and freedom is so sacred for humanity. Now,
the freedom of movement, everywhere, it is really worthwhile to
support. Now in Burma's case, the Aung San Suu Kyi. She, I think, I
think, some kind of, I think the special blood cells from her
father, it seems there. (Laughs) Her father, her father, the freedom
fighter, the first leader. So I have the admiration, naturally. Then
also her husband. I think I met him once, her husband, and then the
husband's twin brother. Oh, very similar. I almost made a mistake,
who is who. Because of this twin brother, he is very very similar.
It is that brother, the brother of her husband, one Tibetologist,
who has keen interested in Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism. So
through that way, I have some connection. So therefore I personally
feel some kind of personal responsibility to her.

Ed.: The original creation date of this file was 1993. We are
inferring that these events took place during that year.

(Suuhichai Yun) We will show you the second
and final part of the interview with the Dalai Lama who arrived in
Thailand two days ago to join six other Nobel laureates to pressure
the Burmese Government to release the opposition leader there, Aung
San Suu Kyi. The Dalai Lama left yesterday after a short 27-hour
visit to Thailand.

(Unidentified person) Your Holiness, do you think besides the Nobel
laureates' effort, do you think what kinds of roles Burma's
neighbors should play in helping Aung San Suu Kyi?

(Dalai Lama) I don't know. That's up to you, the Thai, Thai
Government, Thai people. You know better. (laughs)

(Sutthichai Yun) Your Holiness, apart from Burma, what is your main
concern around the world now?

(Dalai Lama) Now, in Africa state, in Africa continent, really I
think, the starvation, and also the problem of AIDS-that also I
think is very serious. Then, of course, the former Yugoslavia, a
civil war, really .... They showed many emotions, really, become out
of control. Then some other .... Then it's the former members of the
Soviet Union, member countries of the Soviet Union.

That also is one concern for me. The totalitarian... the communist
totalitarian system which has collapsed. One way, that's good. That
is a most welcome thing. At the same time, as a result, the old
system diminished, or collapsed. The new appropriate, or the sound,
the new, sound system not yet developed. So there, between there,
there is so much care for the situation there. So that also really
is concern about me ... the concern for me. Then initially, as a
Tibetan, as Dalai Lama, also there is a concern about my own

(Unidentified person) One last question... Your Holiness, what is
the next campaign you are going to launch?

(Dalai Lama) I don't know. (laughs) At the moment, I don't know.
(laughs) Generally, as a human being, you know, as a human being, I
am always concerned about the problem of motivation. As a Buddhist,
from... , and also, you see, sometimes, I introduced myself as a
Buddhist psychologist. So, from the Buddhist psychologist, from that
viewpoint, I consider the motivation is the most important factor.
So every human action, whether it has become positive or negative,
must depend on motivation. So therefore, they must take every care
about the problem of motivation. For that is the Buddhist
messagekaruna, compassion. It's the basic thing for sincere
motivation. So with the realization, all (word indistinct) being, if
not at least all human being, as brothers and sisters, as a member
of one human family. With that, it's the sense of responsibility,
the sense of concern for all others. It's the key thing. So the
promotion of the human compassion and the sense of involvement,
sense of global responsibility. Now that I feel the entire of our
future very much depend on this motivation. So here the various
different spiritual traditions have special responsibility, and
particularly the various Buddhist, we have our special
responsibility the Buddhist message, the message of love and
compassion, and the message of Buddhism (word indistinct). Now these
two things are very very relevant in modern time. And I think the
future of humanity, I think, for that, these two Buddhist messages
can be very important role.

(Sutthichai Yun) The last question Your Holiness ...

(Dalai Lama) So, so I'm quite sure, the Thai as the Buddhist
brothers sisters, you can make great contribution in this respect.

(Sutthichai Yun) Last question, Your Holiness. What is the future of
Buddhism compared to human rights and dictatorship?

(Dalai Lama) Of course, all religions have the potential to help
humanity, to help world peace. And, meantime, particularly Buddha
Dharma, since Buddha Dharma, is very much based on investigation, or
reasons. So therefore, for certain scientific-minded people, the
Buddhist message is more suitable. So therefore, the Buddha Dharma,
I think, can be important role for future. And also here, because
sometimes I feel, I notice, you see, through my own, some kind of
investigation, that today about (words indistinct) of human beings.
It seems we can divide three groups. One group, and that's a
majority. They, in their daily life, hardly know religious faith.
They may claim Buddhist, or may claim I'm Christian, I'm Muslim, but
in actual day-by-day social life, I think very little religious
influence or religious, how say, practice. That's the majority.
Their main concern is money. Nothing else. Then one group, a small
group, that I think deliberately against religion. That one extreme,
what call, usually I call extreme atheist. Because I should..


The Buddhist View of Death -
An Interview with Bhante Gunaratana
by Samaneri Sudhamma and Margot Born

M.B. What is the general Buddhist view of death?
Bhante Gunaratana: First, the definition. When the life force -- heat and consciousness -- ceases to exist, then that is called death. Death can occur: 1) when one's own kamma is exhausted, 2) when one's own life span is exhausted, that is, the span allotted for that particular life (one can only live so long and after that one has to die). 3) when both kamma and life span are exhausted together, or 4) when life ends due to accidental, unnatural causes. These are the ways that death can come.
So death in Buddhism is not the end of total existence. Death is just closing one chapter and the next chapter is opened immediately after that. These two always go immediately together-death and rebirth.
Sudhamma: People are always worried about how to prepare for death. Perhaps there are two levels to be addressed. One being how to prepare the ordinary mind for this, or what to do properly at the time of death.
The other, how to go beyond the whole cycle of birth and death. In other words, how to prepare for death by no longer being subject to death.
Bhante Gunaratana: I see. We want to talk about two types of death. One is conventional death and the other is final death. Conventional death also has two sides, one is moment-to-moment death, the other is the "actual" death that cannot be revived.
In moment-to-moment death, you seem to have survived. You still exist. But in fact everything in the body and mind is dying every given moment. And it is renewing -- being reborn. Repetitive death and renewal doesn't appear to be occurring. We seem to be alive. But you have to understand that death happens every moment. Understanding this truth is the most important step in preparing for death. That is understanding the meaning of death. If we understand this, we understand that "actual" death is just another moment. Up to that moment, I've died trillions of times. Each of those times was a momentary death.
M.B. And that, I think, is what we realize in mediation?
Bhante G. Yes, that's what we realize in meditation. Actually, if you practice insight meditation and concentration meditation, one helps to understand the other. So if you gain insight, you understand what concentration is. If you gain concentration, you understand what insight is. In a concentrated, mindful state, you really feel, experience, and know this momentary death. You feel your palpitations, your heartbeat, your nervous vibrations, your sensations changing, your perception changing, and every thought changing.
Change, simply, means momentary death. When things change, they never can be revived. When a thought-moment is dead, that thought-moment will never, ever, appear again. The death of a cell means that when it dies, it's finished. That cell can never be revived. It should not remain in the body. It should be discarded, expelled from the body, in order for other cells to grow and develop. If they aren't discarded from the body, they can grow in the body, and we can develop cancer.
Once the cell is dead, it must be discarded, just as when the human body dies, it must be discarded. It has to be gotten out of the house. It has to go somewhere to be buried or burned so that others can live a healthy, hygienic life.
This kind of thing is happening all the time. Through vipassana meditation we see moment-to-moment death, we experience it, we know it, we become fully aware, and that is the way to prepare for death. So we prepare for "actual" death on the experiential level.
We further prepare for "actual" death by looking at it logically. You just open your eyes and look around. Everything is dying all the time. You can see that trees, plants and insects die all the time. When you have lived forty years, for example, and count the number of friends, relatives, and so forth who have died, you have to one day sit down and think, "In this way I must know that with the number of my friends, my relatives, my acquaintances -- with all these people dying, now it is my turn. So in this way I know that I must die. My friends, my classmates, one by one, one by one, one by one have died. Next is my turn." So that's another way to look at death.
Another logical way to think of death is to think that all of us are made up of impermanent objects. For instance, we are made up of earth, water, fire, air. Yet tomorrow, they're not there. Therefore the elements can never remain permanent. The elements of which the body is made are subject to death, impermanence. Therefore the product is going to be impermanent, too. There's no way to stop it. Thus examining the elements of the body is another logical way of looking at death.
Once we understand the truth of death, we should think, "Now that I'm going to die, why should I be so proud of something? I'm intimidated by the thought of death; I don't have any reason to be proud of anything. I don't have any reason to hold a grudge against anybody. Sooner or later I will die, and I don't have any reason to try to hold on to anything. No matter how hard I try to hold on, it will slip away from my hand at the time of separation. So I don't need greed either. I think, that if I don't hold onto my greed, my death will be very peaceful."
The next thing to think is, "I know that I will die, I think it is good for me to die peacefully, so let me prepare for that. Let me have peace all the time." That doesn't mean that you lie on the road waiting for a truck to run over you, or that you take poison, or commit suicide. That is not the way to obtain peace. We have to live this life as long as it lasts. We have to do as we are doing. We must therefore think, "Since I'm going to die anyway, I must die peacefully."
To die peacefully, we must prepare our minds to remain peaceful. A peaceful death is a painless death.
M.B. Can you talk a little about physical pain due to illness?
Bhante G. Yes, when we meditate, we have physical pain, for example, pain in the knee. We can use this pain to prepare for the pain of a final illness. The knee pain is like cancer pain. I think that if the cancer affects our nervous system, then we're always in pain. No matter what we do, the nerves are exposed and we have pain.
Therefore, we must prepare our minds by learning to practice meditation on feelings. We determine to always look at our feelings, no matter what the feeling is, even a tiny little toothache, neck ache, any little, little ache. If we are experiencing pain, we meditate on that. When pain arises, we focus on it. We watch it as it arises, how long it remains, and then we watch it fall. Every time, a little pain has these three stages, its rising moment, its peak moment, and its passing away moment.
If we condition our mind to be with that pain, or with that feeling, then our mind can get absorbed into the feeling and become one with the feeling. If we turn against the pain, then we try to dichotomize ourselves. But if we try to accept whatever comes, we absorb into it. Even when we have intense pain, we will come to a point where the mind cannot tolerate it any further and then the mind merges with the pain. After that it doesn't matter what happens.
So before death happens, we learn to willingly accept and stay with pain, watch the pain, and not get upset with the pain. The more upset we are with the pain, the more painful it is. The more we relax with the sensation, the less painful it will be. I know some friends who have died a physically very agonizing and painful death. They refused to take medication. Yet they even explained to visitors where the cancer was, how it developed, and what stage it was in now. Instead of the visitors trying to console the patient, it was rather the patient consoling the visitors.
The patient thinks the visitors come out of sympathy, out of compassion, to give him some encouragement, but when he can relax with the pain, it is he who gives sympathy, compassion and encouragement to the visitors. So physical pain in a last illness doesn't necessarily need to prevent a peaceful death.
M.B. What about when someone has gone over the pain threshold where it's impossible to relax and soften into the pain?
Bhante G. You know, there is some pain that a person cannot handle, and then medication is necessary. But we can first try to increase the tolerance of pain by conditioning the mind and preparing it to accept the physical pain. We can condition the mind by very kindly and gently trying to advise the person to meditate. We can chant some soothing, comforting chants, play some soothing, comforting music to prepare the mind, to try to help the mind remain peaceful. Give them instructions in meditation.
You remember that women who are having labor pains are taught these days to concentrate on their breath. They keep the rhythm of breathing. When they push the baby out, they're focusing on their breath and on their body and on the pushing.
That's a very beautiful thing for us to remember. We can use this information to teach people. And these mothers have babies with less pain because they are trained to do that. So we train the mind to accept the pain. We can use the information from mothers in labor to teach dying people how to manage pain.
So therefore we have to train the mind. Instead of dealing with the physical pain first, we learn how to treat the mind first. Because these two are always cooperating. When the body becomes calm, the mind becomes calm. They're always complementary to each other.
M.B. How do you feel about painkillers?
Bhante G. I think that they have side effects. They can drop your blood pressure. Some people can't take them and they can be very dangerous. A person has to keep only a certain amount of them in his blood stream.
But meditation was invented long before medication was discovered. Now people don't pay attention to that spiritual training and they go straight away to narcotics or painkillers. Now we want to reverse the order again because the spiritual treatment is more healthy than chemical treatment.
People take all kinds of pills, you know, and they all have side effects, especially after long usage. But spiritual training will never have side effects. It always builds up. It always prolongs your life. And any side effects it may have improve your life, give a better taste to life. When you come out of a painful state, when you do these things when you're sick, they have a peaceful effect that last long after you have recovered from the painful state.
Now, to get back to death. Actually, we haven't digressed, because illness is the cause of death and illness has pain. To die very quickly without any pain is no problem. So I think talking about pain is quite fundamental for any discussion of death.
Sudhamma: We've talked about two kinds of death -- moment-to-moment and "actual." At one point you were talking about letting go of grudges and greed and having a peaceful mind. Where were you headed with that?
Bhante G: I'd like to talk about permanent death, that is, dying never to be reborn again. You are tired of this birth and death, moment by moment and life by life. So one moment begins and ends and another begins and ends. One life begins and ends and another begins and ends. We get tired of all that. Then we want death, never to be born again.
Death causes birth because there's a desire to be reborn. As long as you have that desire, you will be reborn. When the desire to be reborn is exhausted, then you won't be reborn.
And that leads us to the last stage of Enlightenment.
Sudhamma: When you were talking about death, you were talking about making the mind peaceful and you said something about "Let me have a peaceful mind. Let me have a peaceful death." Were you done with that?
Bhante G: Yes, but I do want to mention something else. When death is approaching, a person often has remorse, regret and guilt. That is another reason for fear. Since he knows that he's going to be reborn, since he's done a lot of wrong things, at the time of death, he remembers them. This is called "death-proximate thought." In death-proximate thought, in that split-second time of death, he remembers very vividly, like a flashing light, certain things that have happened. Death is still painful psychologically.
Therefore, very compassionate people, when a person is going to die, help him to have a peaceful death by first telling him the good things he's done. For instance, if he's brought up children, the compassionate person can tell the dying person how much he's done for the children and about all the other good things he's done for others. They need to remind him of the good things he's done. If he has brothers and sisters, they also can say the good things he's done. Anything he's done, planting trees, cleaning the road, they can remind him of, with conviction.
Secondly, they can ask him to think of a peaceful object, like the Buddha, a heavenly light, tranquillity and peace, the joy he's had in his life, to try to block off all the negative thoughts. Thirdly, if you have access to a religious person, a monk or a priest or someone like that, call him immediately to come and ask him to give a sermon. Although the dying person before that may have hated sermons, now he will listen to sermons, even willingly, because there's nothing else to do.
So These are things for the dying person to do and for other people to do to help him die peacefully.
M.B.: I've been reading Philip Kapleau [1]. He talks in a way that made me wonder about the self and the "no-self" and death. After reading him I thought, "How can death exist, if there's nothing to die?"
Bhante G: That sounds very abstract -- to say that there's nothing to die. That is the philosophical basis of what we're doing. In the final analysis, nothing exists. And when nothing exists, there's nothing to die.
But you have to have a very powerful state of mind to have that thought at the moment of death. Long before death, when you're healthy, you can have these sorts of thoughts, but at the moment of death, all your senses are weak. Your thinking capacity is weak. When you're on the verge of death, everything is weak.
According to the Abhidhamma [classical compilation of Buddhist psychology], there's a weak stream of thought. The conscious stream of thought is the shortest stream of thought. At other times, the stream of thought has seventeen moments. When death comes, the stream of thought has fifteen or twelve or thirteen moments. Because everything is weak, when you're almost dead, what is left is only a very little bit of your consciousness. You have no interest in anything at that stage. I don't think philosophy would work.
M.B.: I've also been reading Stephen Levine [2], and he says that if you can realize that there's nothing to hold onto anyway, you won't have such trouble letting go at the end. In his book he has many meditations about letting go.
Bhante G.: That is a good idea. The person must be reminded of the fact that he has eaten so many times in his life and all those meals are gone. What of them is left now? All his activities, all of his thoughts, all of his material possessions are gone.
So no matter how hard we try to hold onto something, it slips away from our grip. And it is a very good idea to make a person aware of this. The longer you mentally cling, the more painful it will be. It is just like tightening a fist. The harder you tighten your fist, the more painful it is. When you open your fist and loosen it you feel comfort and relief.
Similarly, at this moment, if you released your anxiety, your tension, your tightening, you would feel the relief of pain, an easing. That's a good thought -- to let go of things. And that's another thing we do in Vipassana meditation. We let go. We enjoy when we enjoy, but we don't hang on. Eat, if it's tasty and enjoy the taste! But if it's not tasty, it's distasteful, don't hold onto that!
Sudhamma: When you first talked about death, you said that there was conventional death and final death. Tell me about the final death!
Bhante G: The final death is the death of the enlightened person. An enlightened person has these thoughts. First, he thinks, "Well, I have done what was to be done. There's nothing more to do." This is the most exquisite, wonderful thought to have in mind. We can die at any moment. We don't have to wait to have this thought. Any moment we can think, "I have done so many things in my life. Those are the things I was supposed to do, and I have done them. What I'm doing now may be extra, extra duties in addition to my original duties. I can go very easily without these extra duties."
Extra duties are an enlightened person's service to the world. They are not necessary for him, but the body and mind are there, and there are beings who support the body and mind, so why not live usefully and mindfully for their benefit, to support them. So he says, " For me there is nothing more to do. I have done everything."
Secondly, and this is the enlightened person's rational thinking. It is based on the enlightened person's release of mind. He thinks, "I am liberated." This kind of thought appears in his mind without any effort, naturally.
On the other hand, whenever he thinks of his body, he knows the nature of it and has no clinging. He's in a state of letting go of all things. Therefore he has nothing personal to hold onto -- no beings or thoughts or things like that. That also comes to him very naturally.
But in some cases, in spite of all that letting go, a person still has the desire to be reborn. Perhaps he wants to be reborn in a better place or, if he's lived this life serenely, had an ideal life with an ideal wife, he might say, "I'd like to have this wife even in my next life. I want to be reborn to have the same kind of life I've had, to have the same comfort, the same emotional, spiritual satisfaction that made this life very peaceful. Therefore let me have this life again." Then no matter how noble the person is, the person will have the same life again. He will be reborn because, no matter how noble he is, he still has the desire.
But an enlightened person is nobler than that. One who is liberated doesn't even have that desire. He knows that even that is mentally created. That is sankara [a mental formation, conditioned and impermanent].
Any sankara, no matter how wholesome it appears, is impermanent. Moreover, an enlightened person knows that his death is exhausted, that is, he will never die again. To die again, you have to be born again. "So this is my final death. This is my final birth. There is no more birth, no more death for me. There is nothing beyond this." He comes to this realization. So that is what is called the final death.
When the enlightened person approaches his final death, he doesn't need any of those other consoling agents around him to help him, teachers and so forth to console his body and to console his mind.
That person also doesn't have any of the memories of those death-proximate thoughts. An ordinary person remembers the things he's done, his kamma, and he has fears about where he'll be reborn. This is called a "sign." He will have a sign of the place where he is going to be born. This means that if at the moment of death, you're going to be reborn, you may see the human mother. If you're going to be reborn as an animal, you'll see the animal.
Sudhamma: Like a face?
Bhante G.: Like a vision.
Sudhamma: A person? A womb?
Bhante G: If it's a human rebirth, maybe moisture, as in a womb. You might see a uterus and feel what it's like inside a uterus. If you're going to be reborn as a human you'll see that. If you're going to be reborn as a divine being, you'll see a peaceful place.
But when final death is approaching, you don't see any of those signs. That's why it is called "Signless." There's no sign at that moment. And that is the Buddhist view of birth, death, and liberation.
Suggested reading:
[1] "The Wheel of Birth and Death" by Philip Kapleau. (Doubleday, new Your, 1989). Kapleau is a Zen Monk, but this scholarly and practical book, which deals more specifically with the dying process than Levine's book, includes many traditions.
[2] "Who Dies? An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying" by Stephen Levine (Anchor Books, Doubleday, New York, 1982), and "A Year To Live" also by Stephen Levine.


The Consolation of Karma
Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman talks about how suffering, even through the tsunami disaster, can offer a karmic advantage.
Interview by Lisa Schneider
Robert Thurman holds the first endowed chair in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the United States, at Columbia University in New York. He is the author of the international best-seller "Inner Revolution," and the co-founder and president of Tibet House U.S., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Does karma play a role?

Abstractly speaking, karma is not really a theory of fate; it's a causal theory. And it says that anything bad that happens to you is a resonance of something bad that you perpetrated in a previous life.

The main thing about karma, what we might want to call collective karma, when there's a disaster where people haven't done anything and a terrible thing happens from nature, is that the bodhisattva, or the outside person looking at the situation, never invokes the karma theory and says, "Well, I don't have to worry about them because that was their bad karma and they got wasted and too bad--as if it were some sort of fate or a way of writing off the disaster. It should never be used that way.
The bodhisattva never accepts the absoluteness of that explanation, although she would be aware of it. She would think of it as a terrible tragedy, unprovoked and unmerited, and would try to do everything possible to save the people from the disaster and help the survivors.
On the other hand, the karma theory that everything bad that happens to me is from my own negative action in the past is always useful for the person who suffers. In other words, using the karma theory to blame the victim is good for the victim to do about themselves. This is a very surprising idea. If the victims just sit and shake their fist at the universe, shout at God (if they are theists) or shout at karma, then they weaken themselves in the sense that they have just emphasized their helplessness.
Whereas if they say, I'm going to use this disaster that happened to me as if it were expiating previous things that I did to the world that were negative, and I'm going to grow stronger from it....In other words, I can't do anything about the disaster but I can do something about my reaction to it. I'm not going to add to the suffering it has caused with a new suffering of agonizing about myself and feeling helpless and feeling angry at the external world. I'm going to take responsibility for being in the way of the disaster as part of my own karma and therefore I'm going to use this tragedy as an advantage toward freedom, towards Buddhahood.
Is that a way they can find meaning in their suffering?

They find meaning and they find advantage is the main point. They can say, this is going to be a conscious effort I'm going to do.
Now if they got killed, of course they're not going to do anything in that life. But from the Buddhist point of view, if they have a lingering memory of a catastrophe because they died in a moment of panic and fear and worry for their loved ones and so on, if they retain some memory of this death-which often the just-dead do, in the Buddhist view in the bardo, the between state-and they're saying, well, this is a terrible karma thing that happened to me and others. I will try to make my suffering a sacrifice, an expiation of previous things that I caused, and I'm going to have a better life in the future. And I'm going to try to help the beings who died, my loved ones and others, and be of more help to them in my next life.
So that they would try to take advantage in the between-state in the after-death state in order to improve their rebirth, rather than just freak out.
What solace can Buddhism offer to survivors who have lost loved ones?

The solace to survivors who have lost someone is: Well, they lost this life, I lost my contact with them, but moaning and groaning and freaking out about it and being angry about it isn't going to help. I should send them good prayers and good vibrations about their rebirth. If I dearly love them, I will pray to meet them again in the coming life, in wherever they are reborn, to make the world in general a better place for them, and vow to rejoin them (if it's a soulmate sort of thing) in another life. So the consolation of karma is not just identifying the lost beings with the embodiment of a particular life, but feeling a sense of spiritual connection to their larger continuity of life and sending good vibes toward that.
The theist says it's God's will and God took care of them and hopes to join them in heaven, which is also good consolation and sort of leaves it up to God. But the karma is seeing it as a process in which you are also a responsible actor. Otherwise the vastness of the causal mixes is so huge it's pretty incomprehensible, and no wonder some people call it God, or God's will, or providence.
But the key thing is that karma is not the exercise of a particular agency or divinity; it is an impersonal process of causality. I call it evolutionary causality.
What do you mean by that?

It's a causality by which beings evolve. Like if they do an action of a certain type, they get an effect from that action because it changes their being and their being evolves. It can evolve in a negative or a positive direction depending on whether the actions are negative or positive. In a way, karma is a biological theory just like a Western genetic biological theory. And it is very like a genetic biological theory in that it has humans being reborn as animals, animals as humans. And it adds to that also the idea of the spiritual gene or the soul gene being interwoven within that genetic rebirth process. So that your own individual consciousness can become the animal or become the god or become the human or whatever it becomes.
It's hard to generalize across cultures, but is there a traditional mourning period for Buddhists?

In the Buddhist context, they consider that the weeping and wailing and shrieking and tearing hair and clothes, that kind of thing, is not actually a good idea. It doesn't really relieve the bereaved; in fact it even pumps up their emotion. But the main point from the Buddhist point of view is that the one who just died, being still aware of what those left behind, the survivors are doing for a while--the departed one gets very anxious and upset and preserves that raw emotion as very disturbing. So whenever someone is overcome by grief, the tendency, especially in Tibetan Buddhist culture, is to try to calm that survivor down and have them think of good and positive thoughts and send good vibes.
So the nature of their grief should take the form of looking forward and being compassionate with others?

Yes, that's considered better--sincerely sending really strong caring and loving vibes toward the one who passed away. Because the main person in transition at that time, the most difficult transition, is the death-rebirth transition in the Buddhist view. The one left behind is not that drastic in the sense that they're still in their familiar embodiment, even though it may be a big disruption for them. So the priority is to send the good vibes to the departed, in the Buddhist world view.


The Emerging Western Buddhism:
An Interview with Joseph Goldstein

Joseph, IMS is soon to enter its 29th year of operation. Together with Sharon Salzberg, you have played a key role in the organization's growth. What is your vision for its next decade?
Since Sharon and I started teaching in the West in 1974, there has been a remarkable growth of interest in the Buddha's teachings - the Dharma - and in meditation practice. What started as a fringe, off-beat endeavor has since become familiar to the mainstream of our culture. IMS has responded to this growing interest in different ways: initially with the Retreat Center, which provides structured group retreats, and then more recently with The Forest Refuge. The creation of this later program came out of recognizing the value of an environment where experienced practitioners could undertake longer-term personal meditation retreats.
IMS is now at the stage where we need to nurture and support these existing programs, rather than further expand the facilities. This involves many areas of current activity, including teacher training, greater outreach to diverse communities, and upgrading of older buildings. But most strategically, we want to create and sustain a solid financial base that will provide access to the retreat experience and the teachings for future generations. My hope is that over the next decade we can build an endowment that will ensure a lasting legacy of everything that has gone before.
As Buddhism unfolds in our contemporary society, what is its relationship with Western psychology? Are there areas of overlap and influence?
Both Western and Buddhist psychology offer profound insight into the mind. It is helpful to understand where the two paradigms overlap, where they complement each other, and where they diverge. We can see the relationship of the two approaches clearly in the arena of afflictive emotions. This term is one translation of the Pali word kilesa, which also translates as 'defilement' or 'torment of mind'. I prefer 'afflictive emotions' because it points directly to those mind states that cause suffering, such as depression, fear, hatred, anger, jealousy and so on - it's a long list!
For example, if there's envy or jealousy arising in the mind, the first step in both Buddhist practice and Western psychology is to recognize what is arising. The second step is cultivating an acceptance of the emotion. We explore what the emotion is and practice being with it without selfjudgement, without condemning the state itself. So, there is recognition and acceptance - key elements common to both traditions.
Now we come to an important difference. Buddhist teachings point to the experience and realization of anatta, or selflessness. All experience is empty of self. Within the Western psychological framework, this may be an unusual concept, with greater emphasis usually given to building-up and reinforcing the sense of self.
The third step in working with afflictive emotions, where the Dharma can offer a unique contribution, is practicing nonidentification - not taking the emotion to be 'I' or 'mine'. This radical view needs careful guidance and instruction. It's not a dissociative state of denial, nor is it an unconsciousness of deep feelings. Rather, it's the full experience of the particular mind state, but without building a superstructure of self on top of it. Each emotion arises out of conditions and is simply expressing it's own nature. The 'I' and 'mine' are extra.
Do you envision a time when there will be only one Dharma? Will any of the richness within each tradition be lost if all are merged into one?
As Western Buddhist students returned from Asia over the last 30 years, and as different Asian teachers came to the West, the three major Buddhist traditions established themselves here, with each presenting a unique system of teachings. This allowed many of us the opportunity to study with teachers in the different schools of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. I don't believe that the direction we are going in will lead to these traditions melding into one. That would be a tremendous mistake; each needs to preserve its own integrity and richness.
However, once we're established in our practice, and if we are so inclined, then being open to teachings of other schools can be immensely enriching, since each tradition highlights different aspects of the Buddha's teachings. For example, the methods of mindfulness training in the Theravada schools are very precise and highly developed. In The Pali Canon, the Buddha called this the direct way to awakening. So we might say that training in mindfulness is one of the specialties of Theravada practice.
In many of the Mahayana schools, the understanding of bodhicitta - that motivation of compassion to awaken for the benefit of all beings - is highly emphasized. This was, for me, a rich addition to my vipassana, or mindfulness practice. I always knew that the results of my practice would inevitably help others, but the teachings of bodhicitta put this motivation up front. This helped energize and broaden my efforts.
There are cautions, though, in drawing on teachings from different traditions. It's not something we should rush into and take a little from each without a strong foundation in any one of them - that can lead to confusion and lack of depth. And for many people, the clarity and consistency of staying within one tradition serves their practice perfectly well. But exploring the one Dharma of freedom that underlies all the Buddhist schools can open doors that expand our view and deepen our understanding.
Can you say something about the fruits of practice? How does the path unfold?
The unfolding of the path is quite variable, depending on the regularity of daily practice, the amount of intensive, long-term meditation, and the effort we make to develop the various paramis, such as generosity, morality, lovingkindness, and so on, in our lives. When we are dedicated to our Dharma practice in these ways, we begin to see positive changes in our minds. There is greater self-acceptance. We see the workings of the mind with greater ease and we hold ourselves a little more lightly. There is also a deepening of concentration. I've seen this with my own practice. When I began to meditate, I had just finished studying philosophy in college and my mind was extremely discursive. I had no ability to concentrate at all. But my faith and confidence in the practice were strong and I just kept sitting and walking, sitting and walking. Over time, I noticed a big change - my mind actually did begin to settle down. With stronger concentration and stillness of mind, there is deeper insight. The Buddha was quite clear on this, that wisdom is born of concentration; if our minds are scattered and restless, it is difficult to see clearly.
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama has said: "My true religion is kindness." If we also include the practice of lovingkindness, of compassion, of bodhicitta, in our spiritual journey, these qualities in turn grow stronger within us. We can learn to be both kinder to ourselves and to others. We shouldn't confuse kindness to ourselves with self-indulgence; it means seeing clearly what is necessary or helpful in the moment, including, at times, really heroic effort.
What are the greatest challenges that face practitioners in the West?
One of the challenges we face is our cultural belief that results should be instant. If we don't see amazing benefits after the first week of practice, we begin to question the possibility of transformation and liberation. We need to understand - contrary to a letter we received in the early days addressed to the Instant Meditation Society - that this process is not instant; although the seed of enlightenment is always within us, it takes dedication and commitment for the fruit to ripen and mature.
The second challenge that we face is the speed and complexity of our society. The Buddha taught in much simpler times, where life was slower paced. It is important for us to take some time to slow down, and even stop for certain periods, in order to look into and train our minds.
The busyness of our lives adds a complexity to our situation as lay people: Can we live a life that is genuinely devoted to freedom and awakening? How can we integrate a daily practice and the insights from an intensive retreat into a fast-paced life filled with worldly activities? What value do we place on spiritual practice? Do we squeeze it in between other things we are doing or is it the priority in our lives? I believe we are in the middle of a great experiment: lay women and men exploring the possibility of genuine freedom. Here at IMS, we are discovering that the Retreat Center and The Forest Refuge are both part of indispensable support systems for those who do want to actualize this aspiration.
The third challenge, then, is recognizing the need to awaken from our deeply conditioned patterns of mind. Whether we subscribe to the school of sudden or gradual enlightenment, true liberation does not happen without a tremendous dedication and the strengthening of right effort. This effort can be expressed in different ways - whether it's the effort to purify the mind of the afflictive emotions, or the effort to stabilize the recognition of the nature of awareness - it still takes a sustained application of energy.
Can you shed some light on the teachings regarding Right Speech?
Right Speech is part of the Buddha's Eightfold Path - those essential steps to help us become free from suffering. To practice right speech we first need to understand the importance of motivation. Investigating and purifying our motivations is at the heart of the Buddha's teaching. It is the motivation behind our actions that most fully determines their results, not only for ourselves but also for those around us.
The practice of right speech challenges us to pay attention to the motivations behind our words. Some motivations are obvious: speech that expresses ill will or words that we intend to be divisive are clearly unwholesome. But there are subtler aspects as well. For example, it can be helpful to examine whether we habitually interject statements into a conversation that are self-referencing, as a way of reinforcing a sense of self or ego. This can happen in completely non-aggressive ways, but nevertheless may not be truly useful.
On the other side, we can practice using our speech to express lovingkindness and compassion, with words that are timely and beneficial. The Buddha gave some basic guidelines to consider: is it true and is it useful? Just because something is true doesn't mean it is always useful to say. He suggested that both criteria should be met. The practice of right speech is easy to understand, but often difficult to remember in the midst of our interactions. It thus becomes a real daily-life practice that can transform our way of being in the world.
What inspires and motivates you?
The extraordinary nature of the mind itself. The Buddha said it can be our worst enemy or greatest friend. We see that although we often live in confined corners of habituated thought and emotion, there is the real possibility of freedom. As we ask ourselves how we can find appropriate responses to the uncertainty and confusion of these times, I find inspiration in understanding that peace in the world begins with peace in our own minds. Wise and compassionate action in the world arises from wisdom and compassion within ourselves.


The Emperor's Tantric Robes
An Interview with June Campbell on Codes of Secrecy and Silence
An idealistic young Scottish woman goes East to study Buddhism. Twenty-five years later she delivers a radical and unsparing critique of religious structures in Tibet. How much of this system is taking root in West? And how much of it do we really want? June Campbell studied Tibetan Buddhism in monasteries in India in the early 1970's. Subsequently she traveled throughout India, Europe, and North America as a translator and interpreter for various Tibetan lamas. Her book "Traveler in Space" examines the patriarchy of Tibet's political, religious, and social structures, and the real and symbolic role of women in Tibetan society. Today Ms. Campbell teaches women's studies and religious studies in Edinburgh. This interview was conducted by Helen Tworkhov in New York in June 1996. All text in tinted boxes is excerpted from Traveler in Space, available in the United States from George Braziller, Inc.

Tricycle: What was your motivation for writing Traveler in Space?

Campbell: It was a way for me to work through some of the personal confusion that my own experiences left me with. Also, because as time has gone on and Tibetan Buddhism has become more popular in the West, there is much being written by people who know less about the inner workings of the Tibetan system than I, and I thought that what I had to say may be of benefit to others.

Tricycle: Are you referring to the Orientalists' view of Tibet-the kind of Shangri-la myths that still define Tibet in the popular imagination?

Campbell: Yes, but also the academic approach as well, which can take hard lines on certain issues in ways that limit the voices that are heard. Such as the role of women in what is called tantra.

From "Traveler in Space":

Buddhist tantra makes use of the notion that to enlist the passions in one's religious practice; rather than avoid them, is a potent way to realize the basic non-substantiality of all phenomena. The Buddhist tantric deities are invoked and visualized in meditation, and practitioners identify with them in such a way as to enable them not only to be released from the limitations of ego-clinging, but also to transmute the various mind poisons into various forms of wisdom or enlightenment that the deities represent. This is reputed to help break the boundaries between "self" and "other" and ultimately between all dualities that are experienced as part of mundane existence. The highest form of realization is said only to come about through the secret tantric practices that involve sexual relations, and that are depicted iconographically in many religious paintings and images. Among celibate practitioners and the "not-so-advanced," these actions are visualized in the mind during meditation as a way of experiencing the "non-dual" through the images of the dual.

Tricycle: In iconography the male and female forms are complimentary, and the facts speak of an
exchange of equal energies. Yet in your book you portray the institutions of Tibetan Buddhism as
dependent on the subjugation of women. On the other hand, Miranda Shaw, in her book Passionate Enlightenment, speaks of the tantric female masters.

Campbell: But they were all from a thousand years ago; for five hundred years tantric female voices have largely disappeared.

Tricycle: How do you explain their disappearance?

Campbell: To my understanding, it is partly explained by the very unusual social structure that developed in Tibet. Other societies developed kinship, or a monarchy- or lineages that were passed through kinship or, later on, through wealth, or other mechanisms that created a cohesive social system.

The Tibetans incorporated an aspect of Buddhist teachings that had to do with rebirth and reincarnation into the social system, so that you had divine incarnation or what are called tulkus-- little boys--that are identified as being the reincarnations of previous lamas and are born with advanced capacities for enlightenment. In other words: power by incarnation. And these boys are taken away from their mothers and from the domain of the family and raised in the all-male environments of the monasteries. And even misogyny, which was extensive in the monasteries, was used as a way of helping these young men in their practice. In order for patriarchy to survive, women had to be subjugated.

Tricycle: How did misogyny help male monastic practice?

Campbell: In the very popular text of Milarepa's life story-which all lay people and monastics read--there are many expressions of ambivalence about women: how women are polluting, how they are an obstacle to practice, that at best women can serve others and at worst they are a nuisance. At the same time, women are transcendentalized into goddesses, dakinis, female aspects of being that men must associate with in order to reach enlightenment. On the one hand, the monastic boys were cut off from women, from maternal care, from physical contact, from a daily life in which women played nurturing and essential roles, and this whole secular way of life was devalued in favor of a male-only society. And yet these boys grew into practitioners who needed women, either in symbolic form or real women as consorts, to fulfill their quest. So even misogyny, which was extensive in the monasteries, was used as a way of helping these young men in their practice. In order for patriarchy to survive, women had to be subjugated.

Tricycle: Is the tulku system responsible for silencing women?

Campbell: What I argue in the book is that if it is the case that women did once have a more prominent religious role, then it had certainly declined by the time the tulku system was introduced. I argue that early Tibetan Buddhism replaced much of the Mother Goddess worship and incorporated all the female symbolism of the Lotus Goddess into Chenrezig [the Bodhisattva of Compassion]. The tulku system was what put the tin lid on any potential for women to gain equality in the religious sphere, or for their voices to be heard. It ensured the power of the divine male. Women were excluded from the sacred domain, except under conditions laid down by men, and "tantra" was used as a means of polarizing male and female as opposites. As a result, women and their role in the system had to remain hidden. This created very ambivalent attitudes. And in order to keep alive the tantric tradition-as it was being practiced-women had to be kept secret.

Tricycle: Do you mean the actual woman and their relationship to her had to be kept secret, or that their sexual practices had to be kept secret?

Campbell: Both. Because you had lamas who openly had wives and that was quite acceptable. But a lot of them had secret consorts in addition to their wives. And then you had so-called celibate yogis who had secret consorts.

Tricycle: Are the benefits of tantric visualization practices considered parallel to actual sexual engagement?

Campbell: No. They may be presented that way in texts. But in the functioning of the system, to have an actual sexual consort is considered the most important ingredient in the path of tantra. That's where so much of the confusion and ambivalence and misogyny come into play, because you have both: the emphasis on male monastic society and, at the same time the need for women, but without the acknowledgment of the role women play. The centrality of the hidden sexual relationship is terribly important.

Tricycle: In Traveler in Space, you speak of your own sexual relationship with the late Kalu Rinpoche [1904-1989]. And the revelation was truly shocking to anyone in the West or the East who had known this master. He was considered to be a great Tibetan teacher; who was presented to the world as a celibate yogi. Most of his closest disciples did not know that he had consorts. His secret sexual life seems to have been well protected in his lifetime.

Campbell: When I have asked why details of sexual encounters often emerge after a lama's death I have been told that it is because ordinary people might misconstrue events, and lose faith in their lama, thus breaking their own personal vow of faith in him, and also helping to bring about the lama's downfall. Naturally any fall in the status of a lama who outwardly maintained a position of celibacy would threaten the whole hierarchical system of theocratic rule, itself dominated since the 1500's by monasticism, and as a consequence the heart of the society itself.

The tulku system lay at the center of the monastic way of life, and symbolically depended not only on the exclusion of women, but also on the metaphorical idea of male motherhood and divine succession. Seen in this way, any lamas outwardly transgressing the rules of the system threatened the very life of the system itself.

Tricycle: Is it your understanding that Kalu Rinpoche broke his vows?

Campbell: I don't know what his vows were. We never spoke of them. What I do know is that clearly I was not an equal in our relationship. As I understand it, the ideals of tantra are that two people come together in a ritualistic exchange of equally, valued and distinct energies. Ideally, the relationship should be reciprocal, mutual. The female would have to be seen on both sides as being as important as the male in the relationship.

My relationship with Kalu Rinpoche was not a partnership of equals. When it started. I was in my late twenties. He was almost seventy. He controlled the relationship. I was sworn to secrecy. What I am saying is that it was not a formal ritualistic relationship, nor was it the "tantric" relationship that people might like to imagine.

The etymology of the word tantra is similar in Sanskrit and Tibetan. In Sanskrit, the word means loom, or warp, but is understood as the principle underlying everything.

In Tibetan, tantra is known as ju (Tibetan rgyud), which means thread, string, or 'that which joins things together."

Tricycle: You ended up feeling sexually exploited? Used for personal indulgence?

Campbell: Obviously at the time and for some years afterwards I didn't think this. How could I? It would have caused me too much distress to see it in this light. It took me many years of thinking about the whole thing to see it differently, and to begin speaking about my experience. This wasn't easy. I tried through writing to understand why people rationalize these acts as beneficial, and it made me question a lot of things. I've got no doubts now that when a male teacher demands a relationship that involves secret sex, an imbalance of power, threats, and deception, the woman is exploited. You have to ask, "Where does the impulse to hide sexual behavior come from?" Especially if it happens in a system that supposedly values the sexual relationship. Of course, there are those who say they are consensually doing secret "tantric" practices in the belief that it's helping them become "enlightened," whatever that means. That's up to them, and if they're both saying it, that's fine.

But there's a difference between that and the imperative for women not to speak of the fact that they're having a sexual relationship at all. What's that all about if it's not about fear of being found out! And what lies behind that fear? These are the question I had to ask.

Tricycle: You were sworn to secrecy by him?

Campbell: Yes. And by the one other person who knew. A member of his entourage.

Tricycle: What might have happened if you had broken the silence?

Campbell: Well, it was assumed that I wouldn't. But I was told that in a previous life, the last life before this one, Kalu Rinpoche had a woman who caused trouble by wanting to get closer to him, or by wanting to stay with him longer. She made known her own needs, made her own demands, and he put a spell on her and she died.

Tricycle: Just the way child abusers deal with their victims: "If you tell, something bad will happen to you.

Campbell: Yes, there are many similarities. It instills fear in the context of religion. Put yourself in my
position. If I had refused to cooperate I would still have known something that was threatening to the lama and his followers. Where would I have gone from there? If I'd wanted to talk about it no one would have believed me. Some people don't believe me now. And what if I'd spoken out and the lama had denied it publicly? Could he still have been my teacher? I don't think so. As it was I was happy to comply at the time because I thought it was the right thing to do and that it would help me. But I was still very, very isolated and afraid for years to speak about it.

In my own experience, despite the absence of a Tibetan upbringing, there were quite specific motivating factors that helped to keep me silent over many years. These factors were probably similar to those which influenced Tibetan women over the centuries. . . . Firstly, there is no doubt that the secret role into which an unsuspecting woman was drawn bestowed a certain amount of personal prestige, in spite of the fact that there was no public acknowledgment of the woman's position. Secondly, by participating in intimate activities with someone considered in her own and the Buddhist community's eyes to be extremely holy, the woman was able to develop a belief that she too was in some way "holy" and the events surrounding her were karmically predisposed. Finally, despite the restrictions imposed on her, most women must have viewed their collusion as "a test of faith," and an appropriate opportunity perhaps for deepening their knowledge of the dharma and for entering 'the sacred space."

Tricycle: There are Westerners who knew you when you were with Kalu Rinpoche, who were also close disciples. They did not explicitly know what was going on at the time, yet some of them say now that they are not surprised by your book, that they "knew" without really knowing and that the sexual behavior of lamas, so-called celibate or not, is so pervasive that, in addition to their respect for your personal integrity, there would be no reason to question your veracity At the same time, students in the West who never knew Kalu Rinpoche are disputing you story. And I have already received phone calls from two Tibetan lamas in the Kalu Rinpoche lineage asking me not to publish any of your work and accusing you of making all this up, saying, in both cases, "this June Campbell had a fantasy of having an affair with Kalu Rinpoche."

Campbell: Well, it's not the first time that the "fantasy" argument has been used against women. Freud gave in to the social pressures of his day to suppress the truth about what he knew about sexual abuse and incest, and came up with the "female fantasy" theory, now totally discredited. Of course, it's understandable that those lamas should react in this way; after all, they knew nothing of what was going on. But I'd rather face up now to people abusing my character than go on denying the truth. In any case, my book isn't about Kalu Rinpoche. It is about much wider issues than my own personal experience, although obviously the effort to write it came from that experience. I left Tibetan Buddhism thirteen years ago and I spent most of those years thinking about the complexities of what happened. If what I've written is dismissed by Buddhists as irrelevant, or a fantasy, or a lie-so be it, it doesn't bother me. I know that writing the book helped me acknowledge m)r past and come to terms with a lot of difficult feelings. It helped me to understand what happened by myself and on my own terms. No one can tell me that isn't true.

Tricycle: What advice do you have for women who are currently in the position you were in twenty-five years ago?

Campbell: This is a difficult one. Twenty-five years ago I would only take advice from men in maroon robes called "Rinpoche," so I imagine women in a similar position today will be very, very unlikely to listen to a middle-aged Scotswoman, especially one who's just been slandered by Tibetan lamas as being a neurotic liar! Still, you've given me the opportunity, so I'd have to say: Don't agree to a long-term secret relationship; it's a burden you'll have to carry all your life, and in the end you'll have to be true to yourself and face up to why you entered into it. If you're afraid of what might happen next, or how you'll deal with the stresses of secrecy, try to take control of your life again. If you're being passive and compliant because he's your teacher, do as I did eventually: think for yourself, take action, and end it. Never allow part of yourself to be hidden away under threats of "bad karma" or anything else. The truth never made "bad karma." If you need to, look for supportive people to help you. If you've started to feel that in some way you're special, that maybe you've been chosen to fulfill some kind of destiny, well, think again. These kinds of thoughts won't help you to become strong in yourself. They may seem to explain things now, but they'll only hold you back in the long run.

Tricycle: What do women attracted to Vajrayana practice need to know?

Campbell: Well, they need to know that Vajrayana has a long history and social context that is worth studying before submerging themselves in the glamour of it all. That the philosophy underlying so many of the practices is very ambiguous with regard to women's place and role. That if they expect to find an encouragement of women's voices within the system, it'll be hard to find. That there is a lot of emphasis on hierarchies and status. That the system's pervaded by secrecy.

Tricycle: Is there any safeguard, and will it make a difference once the Western heirs have moved to the forefront?

Campbell: It's sad to say but I don't think any advice about standing up to teachers would stop some young women from wanting to have a safe and comfortable relationship with a male teacher and later on being exploited. I wouldn't even bother saying anything to the men who do it. Because they would only rationalize or deny everything or accuse others of all sorts of things. And it's crazy to put all the blame on the Tibetans. It's obvious that Westerners have lots of problems themselves about how to relate to gurus, and we're not exactly perfect in the ways we relate to one another as men and women. What's terrible, though, is that ordinary men and women seem to be happy to give up all responsibility when they know something's wrong and then don't act when they need to. After all: no student, no teacher. I think exactly the same issues would be around for "Western heirs," some of whom might be keen to realize, as Peter Bishop put it, their "dreams of power. "

Tricycle: Is Kalu Rinpoche less enlightened than we thought he was, or do we have to change our
understanding of what an enlightened guru is?

Campbell: It's tempting to stonewall this question altogether because I can already hear howls of outrage and indignation in some quarters at the thought of asking a mere woman about the status of a lama's enlightenment. But I don't think the issue here is about my opinion of Kalu Rinpoche, because, like everyone else's, it's highly subjective and is based on personal experience. I think it's more to do with the problems of squaring up the idea of perfection alongside what is perceived to be dubious behavior. One understanding of the "enlightened guru" is that everything about his behavior, no matter how strange or morally wrong, is a manifestation of enlightenment. That view may have been sustainable in Tibetan society-even promoted-but I think it's certain that Western society will be unable to sustain it. It's my view that if people resist looking at this question, certain groups will become more and more insular in Western society, in an attempt to protect themselves from challenge and to avoid change. They'll never go beyond a simplistic view of the guru as perfect, and the gurus themselves will never go beyond wielding complete power and being adored. To my mind this kind of insularity would either hasten the demise of the whole system, or create closed, cult-like groups that have no influence on society at all.

Tricycle: As in the case of other controversies over Buddhist teachers, the real issue here seems to be about power; and as you describe it, this power is not a corrupt or aberrant twist within the Tibetan system, but is essential to its entire social fabric. How do think this is going to play out in the West?

Campbell: Obviously those involved closely will have a better idea than I have of the ways it'll play out. But I think the issues will be around how power is being used-for example in male-female relationships, elitism, teacher-student issues, materialism. Having said that, it's very important not to lose sight of the fact that the Tibetan system's not unique in there being a link between power, religion, and gender. and it's not the first system in the world to face change or be challenged. OK, many of the Tibetan customs may seem very different, but in essence we have the same problems in the West to do with abuses of power. This is what I tried to highlight in the book--they're the same old problems but in new disguises.

Tricycle: There seem to be both Western men and Western women in the Vajrayana lineages who share your views. But unlike, say, Japanese or Korean Zen or the Thai Forest tradition, the Tibetan scene in the West is still dominated by Tibetan men who have a great deal invested in the old ways.

Campbell: It's not surprising. I think part of the problem lies in how isolated the Tibetan monastic system is. It was a very unique sort of environment in which these young boys grew up-especially the tulkus. I think that's where their need to keep control originated. After all, these young boys had little or no say in anything in their lives. Their mothers gave them up. Their identity was constructed by an institution their potential power as men was completely tied up with it. If they had desires for women they had to be kept secret. In the case of the tulkus they were worshiped as divine. It was a very unusual upbringing. In the West we've developed a different view-that children don't benefit from being brought up in institutions. I think it'll be recognized sooner or later that the monastic upbringing is not helpful in the lives of young men and boys, especially in the absence of living, loving women who are actually present, visible, and for real, inside the system. If Western boys are sent to Nepal or India for that kind of upbringing, all you'll get is a repeat of the past. They'll have difficulty giving up power, too, and they'll have ambivalent or even warped feelings about women and their place in the system. I think that if men maintain a rigid position that excludes the female dimension, it is not only harmful for women, but must be harmful for men as well, in the long run. I believe that.

The problem with any analysis of a system like this is that a lot of people assume that they need only
examine the ways in which it obviously doesn't work for women. What also seems very important to uncover now are the subtleties of the ways in which it doesn't work for men either.


The Gifts of Zen Buddhism
An Interview with Robert E. Kennedy
Robert E. Kennedy, S.J., is an American Catholic priest and a Zen master (Roshi). Ordained a priest in Japan in 1965, he was installed as a Zen teacher in 1991 and was given the title Roshi in 1997. Kennedy studied Zen with Yamada Roshi in Japan, Maezumi Roshi in Los Angeles and Bernard Glassman Roshi in New York. He is chairperson of the theology department of Saint Peter's College in Jersey City, N.J., where he teaches theology and the Japanese Language. In addition to his work at the college, he is a practicing psychotherapist in New York City, a representative at the United Nations of the Institute for Spiritual Consciousness in Politics and the author of two books, "Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit" and, forthcoming in November, 2000, "Zen Gifts to Christians." Kennedy Roshi sits with his Zen students daily at the Morning Star Zendo in Jersey City and with students in 12 other zendos located throughout the tri-state area. He conducts weekend and weeklong sesshins (Zen retreats) at various centers in the United States and in Mexico. Anna Brown, an assistant professor of political science at Saint Peter's College, conducted this interview.

[Q] How did you become involved in Zen?
I became involved in Zen through my work in Japan during the late 1950's and early 1960's. At that time, there were many Jesuits who were engaged in interfaith work with Zen Buddhists. It was through these Jesuits that I came upon the Buddhist ideal of the enlightened life.
[Q] What is an enlightened life?
"Enlightened life" is a Buddhist term for a life that is based upon wisdom and compassion. Specifically, it is a Jesuit ideal to bring gifts of greater worth to the church. This experience of wisdom and compassion is a great Buddhist gift that I thought could enrich the church in an interfaith manner.
[Q] With whom did you study Zen while you were in Japan?
I studied with Yamada Roshi in Kamakura, Japan. Father Kakichi Kadowaki, a Jesuit Roshi, who, at that time, was also a student of Yamada himself, sent me to Yamada. I mention my work with Yamada because a distinctive characteristic of the study of Zen is both personal practice and an intimate sharing of that practice with a teacher. In addition, I was convinced that Yamada embodied, on many levels, the Buddhist ideal of an insightful and compassionate life. The reality of the enlightened life that he had realized and enfleshed beautifully was the gift that I wanted to share with the church.
[Q] What does it mean to "study Zen?" How does one go about it?
Zen must he understood as a verb. In other words, it is the act of doing. What you are doing when you study Zen is nothing other than practicing a compassionate life.
More specifically, the practice of Zen is the practice of paying attention in a way that is both sustained and communal. As we know from the work of Simone Weil, prayer is nothing other than paying attention.
The Buddhist practice of daily zazen, sitting meditation, encourages its practitioners to make attention a priority in their lives. Let me emphasize here the importance of training in Zen. Usually, there is nothing that can be done in life without sustained practice and training. There is no language learned, no art form mastered without effort and a competent teacher. In Zen, experienced teachers have themselves trained for many years. Their qualifications and ability to teach have been ratified time and time again over decades of their work with experienced masters.
Though we sit quietly when we sit zazen, it is not a period of time that we use to catch up on our sleep! It is, rather, a period of time in which our minds and bodies are employed fully at the highest level. Zen is an active effort to develop the unique and full-bodied contribution to life of which each of us is capable. What we attempt to move away from are the tired and repetitive responses to life that we may have carelessly accumulated throughout the years.
[Q] You were installed as a teacher of Zen in 1991. What has been your experience of teaching Zen since then?
The teaching of Zen is really the act of paying exquisite attention to the person who is sitting right in front of you. Through such attention, I try to empower students by helping them to realize their own unique gifts and qualities.
There is no Zen "itself." Zen is always the life of the individual at the highest level of that very life. It is not about teaching facts, but is about helping each person to find his or her own strengths. This is always based upon experience and allowing each student to experience the practice in his or her own way. Teachers must never attempt to clone themselves through their students. A teacher is simply a mirror to the student's own insight.
Once students are capable, they may become facilitators of a community of Zen practitioners and reach out to share their understanding of Zen. I have trained 30 facilitators now who are my students and who are leading such groups in the United States.
[Q] What do you emphasize in your interfaith teaching of Zen, particularly with those who accompany you on the weekend and weeklong Zen retreats that you conduct frequently throughout the year?
I ask students to trust in themselves and to develop their own self-reliance through the practice of Zen. Through self-reliance the student comes to see and to appreciate the many gifts that have been given to each. Is it not God's will that each of us comes to maturity and confidence in what we have been given? That we come to act like Christ through our daily work and relationships with others? We do so, I believe, when we learn to speak in our own voice.
Now having emphasized self-reliance and the expression of God's will through our own voice, I balance this emphasis by stressing, finally, the unknowability of God. Through Zen we are able to come to grips with the apophatic tradition, or the recognition of the utter mystery of God. Certainly, in our Christian faith, we are familiar with the apophatic tradition, the tradition of prayer that is beyond words. That God is unknowable, that knowledge of God is beyond words, beyond discussion, was clearly taught by the Greek Fathers of the Church. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, writes, "The man who thinks that God can be known does not really have life; for he has been diverted from true being, to something devised by his own imagination."
[Q] The balance you strike between self-reliance and not knowing seems to help your students better appreciate two other gifts of Zen that you emphasize in your book, "Zen Gifts to Christians," the gift of impermanence and the gift of emptiness.
Yes, that balance may work well for us when we come up against what is inevitable in life, when the impermanence of life is brought fully home in sickness and death, for example. Self-reliance means that the student comes to realize that his true nature is within himself. To cite a fundamental insight of Zen: there is no thing but the self and this self contains the whole universe. Accordingly, this gift of self-reliance makes one stronger in the determination to live ones own true nature to the fullest extent possible.
There will be moments in our life, of course, when we must draw upon such strength. When the reality of sickness and death hits us full force, we have the opportunity either to sink or swim. Zen offers a way to swim within the currents of life.
Content to walk along the path of not knowing and confident in her abilities, the Zen student is now ready to face the flux of impermanence and the reality of emptiness. To face the flux of impermanence means that the student appreciates the impossibility of clinging to things--all things must pass--and is encouraged to participate in the process of life. Let us look to the 27th koan of The Blue Cliff Record to illumine this point. In this koan, a young monk asks his master, the great Master Unmon, "What will it be when the trees wither and leaves fall?" This question cannot hide the pain the monk feels as he faces the question of his own death. Unmon does not lie to him about the painful reality of death but does offer this: "Become the golden breeze of autumn and the wind that blows across the plain, the soft rain that clouds the sky."
Furthermore, in coming to terms with the reality of emptiness, the student realizes that "fundamentally, not one thing exists." In other words, there is no free standing universe but rather a universe that is one with the mind that co-creates it moment by moment.
[Q] When you speak and write about the Zen gift of emptiness, you exercise great care. Why is this?
I do so because out of all of the gifts of Zen, this one is perhaps the one that is most misunderstood in the West. By "emptiness of all things" the Zen Buddhists mean the co-origination of all things; that is, nothing is separate. Let me emphasize that emptiness, as the Zen Buddhists understand it, is not a vacuum. Emptiness is all forms: men and women, mountains and rivers, moon and stars, but all seen as interdependent and integrated.
The great fear that we often experience in life derives from our misperception of emptiness as a vacuum. But in reality, therein may lie our greatest treasure. Our misperception of emptiness is that it means isolation; but in fact it is the revealer of our greatest intimacy, our connection with everything else.
Perhaps the Zen teaching of emptiness can help us understand that the command of Christ to deny our very self is not a harsh moral command but a compassionate invitation to experience that our true self can never be independent. Our true self is unthinkable apart from its union with the whole Christ.
[Q] St. Augustine exhorts Christians, when they partake of the Eucharist, to "become who we are." We are encouraged not to wither behind words or symbols but to embody Christ.
Yes, and I will as far as to say that enlightenment is also our birthright not just as Christians but as human beings. The fact that another tradition has preserved and developed this insight and way of living is not something that should arouse our suspicion. Instead, it should provoke our gratitude.
We have here, also, the opportunity for something that is simply imperative in the world today--the friendly accommodation between the Catholic Church and Asian religious institutions, devoid of the pitfalls that have ensnared efforts at accommodation in the past.
For the Jesuits, this kind of interfaith work is an apostolic priority. This is recognized formally in the Decree of the Thirty-fourth General Congregation, in which Jesuits are called to wholehearted cooperation in promoting and supporting the truths found within the multiplicity of our world's religions.
[Q] Both in your writings about Zen and in the teisho [brief talk] that you give during sesshin, You cite the dictum of St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel always, and use words if necessary." Implied here is an active engagement in compassionate service to others. Is that the hallmark of your interfaith work in Christianity and Zen Buddhism?
>From the hands of the truly enlightened person flows the work of compassionate service as naturally as the rivers of the earth flow through their muddy banks. The Ox Herding pictures, which date from the 12th century in China, illustrate this point. These pictures trace the process of human development and transformation that one undergoes in the practice of Zen Buddhism.
In the 10th and final picture of the series, the ox herder, the seeker after truth, enters the marketplace with open hands. He is able to enter with open hands because he is a complete human being, or one who knows he is one with all that is.
One who understands himself as complete in this way does not turn his gaze from the afflicted face of the other. His gaze upon the face of the afflicted other is steadfastly attentive. For him, that face is all that exists at that moment. In such a situation, words of sympathy or encouragement do not suffice. The seeker of truth now becomes a seeker of justice and attends, without trace of self-seeking, to the material needs of the other.
To serve the other without trace of self-seeking is the living embodiment of a Zen understanding of emptiness. It is then, to cite Master Kakuan, the artist and poet of the Ox Herding pictures, that we make "the withered trees bloom."
October 19, 2000


The Happy Monk
Living Buddhism in the West
Interview with Ajahn Amaro by Inquiring Mind Magazine
After spending time with the Western monk Ajahn Amaro, one is left with the unique feeling of having been in the presence of a truly happy man, and one whose happiness is born of wisdom. Ordained by Ajahn Cha in 1979, Ajahn Amaro has spent most of his life as a monk at the Amaravati monastery in England. In recent years he has lived in Northern California for several months each winter. Soon Ajahn Amaro will be taking up permanent residence in California on 120 acres of forested land in Redwood Valley, Mendocino County, where a Theravadan monastery will be established. The land was gifted to Ajahn Sumedho, abbot of Amaravati, and to the Sanghapala Foundation by the founder of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Master Hua, who passed away this past Spring. The following interview with Ajahn Amaro was conducted by Wes Nisker and Terry Vandiver in March of 1995, on the porch of Ajahn Amaro's residence in Marin County, California.

INQUIRING MIND: How would you assess the study of Buddha Dharma and the practice of meditation now being taught in the West?
AJAHN AMARO: In the West people tend to separate their meditation practice from their lives. Ajahn Chah emphasized that "if you have time to breathe you have time to meditate." You breathe when you walk. You breathe when you stand. You breathe when you lie down.
I think part of the problem in the West is the emphasis on retreats. If you do a lot of intensive retreats you will develop strong concentration. Many of the people I meet in America have been doing retreats for 15-20 years and they are really quite accomplished concentrators. But I'm afraid they have not found much freedom.
Notice how the word "sitting" has become synonymous with meditation or with practicing Dharma. Sitting is the operative word, meaning, "I am here on my cushion, my eyes are closed, the world has dissolved into emptiness." We have learned how to concentrate our minds and then to push out our worldly irritations and responsibilities. We create this great space inside and become very good at getting rid of thoughts and feelings. Meditation can thus become rather like being in a shooting gallery with the little ducks. You can become a great marksman or markswoman, shooting down the thought ducks and the feeling ducks.
IM: Is this emphasis on intensive meditation retreats unique to the West? Or is it imported from Asian traditions?
AA: One reason for the retreat emphasis, at least in vipassana circles, is due to the Asian systems that have fostered many of our teachers and styles of practice. Goenka-ji and Mahasi Sayadaw's disciples emphasize a very controlled retreat situation as the primary path. Retreat, retreat, retreat. Those teachers have had enormous influence and have helped tens of thousands of people, but I think that their style has led to this imbalance, the unhealthy separation between life and retreat.
Of course, if you go on retreats for 20 years you can create tremendous inner space. But it can become almost like a police state. You just clear the streets of all the unruly inhabitants of your mind. And while you may get them off the streets, the guerrillas will still be active underground. So when you leave the retreat, you begin to experience your ordinary life as difficult and turbulent. Then you can't wait to get to the next retreat. I am speaking very generally here, and maybe exaggerating a bit, but I think I am describing a pattern that many of your readers will recognize.
IM: In contrast, Ajahn Chah and teachers in the Thai forest tradition did not emphasize retreats so much, and placed equal importance on community and daily life.
AA: Ajahn Chah would have us do periods of intensive practice, but we would still go out on alms round in the morning and there would always be work to do around the monastery. So even the times of intensive, formal practice were not so separated from life or so completely free of stimulus.
When you focus on creating a clear, subjective, interior space, then your life is built around trying to be in that space with as few distractions as possible. That space then becomes a counterpoint to the external world. Even though we might have great brightness of mind or experiences of selflessness within that space, those states exist in counterpoint to our family, our society, and the entire phenomenal and physical world. We are losing half the picture. Furthermore, our peace and happiness becomes completely dependent on conditions.
I have recently been addressing this issue through the story of the Buddha's enlightenment. During the course of the night, as the story goes, the Buddha-to-be made his vow not to get up from his seat until he was completely enlightened. The Lord of Illusion, Mara, tried to disturb his meditation with fearful and sensual images but was unsuccessful. By the end of the night, the Buddha's realization into truth was complete, but although he was fully awakened the armies of Mara were still around him.
Then Mara asked him, "What right do you think you have to claim enlightenment?" The Buddha then reached down and touched the earth, invoking the Earth Mother who appeared and said, "This is my true son and he has done everything necessary to claim complete and full enlightenment. He is the supremely awakened one." Then from her hair she produced a great flood of water which washed away the armies of Mara, who eventually returned carrying flowers and other offerings.
I think the story is saying that if our liberation is simply a subjective, mental, interior experience then we are only half-cooked. Wisdom has to reach out into the world. Even the Buddha has to make that gesture of humility and ask the earth for her blessing. In order for the armies of Mara to really be dispelled, we have to open our eyes and step out of that blissful interior space. For liberation to be finalized we have to touch the earth.
IM: What prompted you to become a Buddhist monk?
AA: When I first visited Ajahn Chah's monastery in Thailand, I found a group of Westerners like myself, with very similar backgrounds, who were living in the forest doing Buddhist meditation practice. And they all seemed remarkably cheerful.
When they explained their way of life and the basis of their practice, it made perfect sense to me. Previously I had assumed that freedom came from having no rules and no boundaries. I'd never really questioned that premise, even though trying to live that way had been painful and difficult. These monks suggested that I look for freedom where it could actually be found. They pointed out that the material world is filled with limits, and you don't look for that which is boundless in the place where you find limitation. They explained that by living a life which is disciplined, simple, and harmless one could discover the true freedom that inherently lies within us. Upon hearing their words, my immediate reaction was, "How could I have been so stupid?" I felt simultaneously embarrassed and relieved.
IM: Did the monk's life live up to your initial expectations?
AA: Absolutely. Even though the last thing I would have planned for myself was a lifetime of celibacy and renunciation, what I discovered was a new delight in simplicity and the deep satisfaction that comes from not actively seeking satisfaction. It is a strange but sweet irony that in the monastery I find the very delight that I was so rabidly searching for outside the monastery. It just looks like I've given up everything, but actually, the inner experience is one of great delight. In fact, this monk's life is a feast! When I was first ordained I used to think, "I don't deserve this," or "I'm not going to get away with this for very long."
IM: Are there any particular difficulties that you encounter as a Buddhist monk in the West? How do you feel walking around in robes in this culture?
AA: For me it has always seemed like the most normal thing in the world. I think, to a degree, we all feel like outsiders in life. We all feel slightly different from other people in one way or another, and being dressed like a Buddhist monk in the West is just another form of being different.
Besides, even though we are Buddhist monks and nuns, we are only alien when we are outside the monastery. Inside the monastery it is normal to have a shaved head and wear brown robes: the women have shaved heads and the men wear skirts!
Living as part of a Buddhist monastic community makes all the difference, whether you are in the West or the East. Ajahn Chah always emphasized the Sangha, the community, as a method of practice in and of itself. It wasn't a matter of living with a bunch of other people just in order to do meditation practice. The life of the community of monks and nuns was itself a method of practice and a method of liberation. Although Ajahn Chah did teach individual meditation techniques, over and over again he stressed the importance of community. I think that is one of the reasons why our monasteries have succeeded in the West.
Also, when you live in a community, then the monastic traditions make a lot of sense. They work and they work well. We aren't just trying to sustain some archaic Asian system as a curio or a formality. The life of renunciation -- living on alms, wearing the same robes as everyone else -- and all of the rules are methods whereby we train ourselves. Through those forms the heart can be liberated.
IM: Most Westerners don't seem to be very attracted to community as a path. Perhaps one reason is because that path clashes with our cultural belief in the primacy of the individual, the importance of going it alone.
AA: I would agree. Community life is about setting aside my own desires for the sake of the group. It's self-sacrifice. To the individualist, that sounds like death. But the training in communality is, for many Westerners, a blessed shift in perspective. Because what makes us suffer most of all in life is having "me" at the center of it all. Our society supports and validates that attitude, which has led to deep feelings of alienation and insecurity.
When we learn how to surrender our own urges and biases, we are not inherently giving up our freedom or denigrating our individuality. Being able to listen and to yield to other people is a way of recognizing our relationship with them and our interdependence with all the life of the planet. As we let go of our selfish demands we begin to recognize the vastness of our true nature. That dynamic is extremely important in the full development of spiritual life.
IM: Do you feel there are significant differences between being a monk in Europe or America and being a monk in Asia?
AA: One of the great blessings of Buddhist monasticism in the West is that it becomes free of the formalism, ritualism, and cultural accretions of Asia. In many ways, it is much easier for Westerners to get to the essence of the teachings. Even our Asian teachers have remarked on this. They say, "You are really lucky. We have all this cultural baggage that we have to work through with our students." Westerners don't know anything about the "-ism" of Buddhism before we start our studying and training.
IM: On the other hand, Western monks and nuns don't get as much support from the lay population as their Asian brothers and sisters.
AA: Yes, and that respect and support is very sweet. When I go to Thailand, I get treated like a visiting dignitary. In the West we still have to earn our respect. I've had people say to me, "What do you do for a living? What do you contribute to the Gross National Product?"
IM: You should just tell them you are working on the Subtle National Product.
AA: I respond by asking them what makes a nation healthy? Does it depend on how many sacks of wheat it exports or how many tons of steel it sells? Or does the health of a nation include the well-being of individuals, and furthermore, is that well-being only dependent on their physical health and comfort, or does it also involve their peace of mind? I try to expand the definition of national well-being.
IM: What are the hardest monastic rules to keep when you are living in Western culture?
AA: It is different for different people, I think, but for many of us the hardest rules are those around celibacy, maintaining a kind of evenness in our relationships with other people. And it's not just about refraining from sexual intercourse. Ordinary human affection and friendliness can easily lead to a flow of emotion that suggests something more intimate. While there is nothing wrong with that flow between human beings, when you have taken vows of celibacy, then that suggestiveness or flirtation is in violation of your commitment.
IM: What about entertainments? Do you miss listening to music?
AA: Not much, although I used to be a big music fan and listened to it all the time. Now that I don't deliberately listen to it, I find that when I do happen to hear music, it's as if I'm hearing it for the first time. Music used to be such a constant presence in my life that it had lost its power. If I hear it now, it has an astonishing quality of freshness. I am with every note, every phrase.
When we adopt the renunciate life we aren't condemning the world of the senses, per se, because that leads to aversion and negativity. Instead we are learning to accept whatever is offered to us with full appreciation. Whatever arrives is received and cherished, but we don't try to add anything. I think many people listen to music because they love the place that the music takes them to, which is the present moment. You are not thinking about anything else; you are experiencing the harmony, balance, and rhythm that the music suggests. But all of those qualities are present in a meditative mind. If we need music in order to get us there, then when there isn't music (or delicious food or beautiful surroundings or whatever it might be), we are likely to feel bereft. We immediately start to look for another experience that will take us to that place of beauty. What the precepts do is to shut the door on all our habitual sources of satisfaction so that our entire attention is directed inward. That is where we discover a beauty and clarity, and a vastness of being which is unshakable, independent of circumstances and conditions. Then when we hear a piece of music, or see a beautiful blue sky or the fine shape of a tree, that's an extra.
Believe it or not, I became a monk because I am a hedonist at heart. The fun began when I became a monk. I am not trying to be flip by saying this. For me at least, being a monk is the way I can most enjoy my life, and I do mean en-joy. My life is en-joyed, filled with joy as an ongoing experience.
IM: Everybody is going to want to ordain after they read this interview!
AA: That's fine. But remember that the joy only comes after the self-surrender and sacrifice. I think as a culture, we are afraid of sacrifice. We feel that we must own and accumulate things in order to be complete, and not just material objects but people and relationships as well. It is hard for us to understand that letting go is not a loss, not a bereavement. Of course, when we lose something that is beautiful or dear to us, there is a shadow that crosses the heart. But we enlighten that shadow with the understanding that the feeling of loss is just the karmic result of assuming that we owned anything in the first place. The renunciate life is based on the realization that we can never really possess anything.

This article is republished by DharmaNet International, with permission, for free distribution only. The interview appeared originally in Inquiring Mind, Volume 12, Number 1 (Fall 1995).
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The World is Unreliable
An interview with His Holiness Penor Rinpoche
by Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen: Rinpoche, many people in the West are becoming interested in the Buddha-dharma. You're a monk. And the Buddha himself was a monk. What are the virtues of monkhood for the spiritual aspirant?

PENOR RINPOCHE: In sutra, the Buddha taught that being a renunciate and becoming a monk will help one follow the spiritual path in a better way. First, one receives ordination and vows, and then one renounces the world and becomes a monk. With that as the basis for one's moral conduct, one will have a deeper and more firm understanding. One will have more power in the practice of the spiritual path. Being a renunciate monk is more powerful than just being a lay practitioner.

AC: The great nineteenth-century Tibetan Nyingma yogi Shabkar said, when speaking about the worldly life,
Meat, liquor, sense pleasures, worldly enjoyments-the best things of samsara are temporarily beguiling. Young brides in the full bloom of youth and beauty are expert at leading one astray. Therefore, even if you have as your companion a young daughter of the gods, have no attachment, have no desire. Why? Speaking generally, because all things of this world are without essence, impermanent, unreliable, and by their very nature lead to suffering. In particular, because domestic life is like a pit of fire, a cannibal island, a nest of poisonous snakes. Enjoying the entire array of samsaric perfections, wealth, and pleasures is like eating food mixed with poison, like licking honey on a razor blade, like the jewel on a snake's head: a single touch destroys.

Rinpoche, could you speak a little bit about the dangers of the worldly life and its pitfalls for the spiritual aspirant?

PR: It is said that if someone is attached to a minor pleasure or happiness, there is no way that person can attain a greater spiritual happiness or pleasure. In samsaric life, one is mainly influenced by the five afflicted minds of desire, hatred, anger, jealousy, and pride. And wherever there is affliction, whoever is influenced by those afflictions will naturally take rebirth in samsara endlessly. You see, there is no limit to samsara, even though there is also no essence to it.

AC: You said in an interview you recently gave in Toronto, "There is such a hunger [for the dharma] in the West. The way to receive the dharma is to find the teachings and absorb them. . . . You shouldn't just be thinking of this world. You have to think about transcendence-something other than just material life." Could you please explain what you mean by that? What is it that needs to be renounced in order to transcend the world?

PR: Many Westerners are interested in studying Buddhism and also want to follow a spiritual practice. However, we like samsara, we like this world, and we work for it and try to accomplish something within it. But there is no limit and no end to what we could try to achieve. Whatever we may achieve in this world, whether we acquire all kinds of material objects or rank, still there is nothing we can really rely upon. Everything is impermanent; it only lasts for a few moments. Things like rank or material objects do not really benefit or help anybody because when death comes, we cannot carry anything with us.

But there is a way that we can become liberated from the suffering of samsara. If we follow the Buddha's teaching as a spiritual path, then we can transcend this world from a place of real depth. We can achieve ultimate peace and happiness, enlightenment, only through the spiritual path. And that depends upon receiving teachings from a lama. It also depends upon ourselves, how much we really understand through the practice and mainly, how much we do the practice. Depending upon these things, we could experience fruition.

The vows, which are for moral conduct, are the basic ground for the spiritual path. They are like the foundation of a house. Without that basic ground, we cannot build a house. So one has to give up all the afflicted minds-desire, hatred, anger, jealousy, and pride-that which manifests from your mind and afflicts your mind and distracts you in the world. But even though we have to give up the afflicted minds, it is not very easy to abandon them immediately. That is why we have to study and then apply what we have studied to our practice. Then eventually we can completely abandon all these afflictions. So if one uses one's highest faculty or intellectual mind with much diligence, one can carry through the practice. You see, it is possible within one lifetime to get liberated, but it might take many lifetimes.

AC: The great Chatrul Rinpoche and I became friends in the early 1990s. In one of our meetings he said to me,
The most important thing is to have renunciation. If you have renunciation, it means you realize that there's actually no essence to the world. I mean, there's nothing of it. The world has no real essence; it's meaningless, the whole of samsara is just meaningless. In fact, if you have complete realization of the faults of samsara, that is realization. That means you have gone beyond samsara to understanding that this world has no ultimate meaning.

He went on to say, "Renunciation is the whole basis of the spiritual path. If you don't have renunciation, you don't have realization. . . . In the end, if you want to be free, you have to cultivate a disgust for samsara."

So I wanted to ask you Rinpoche, do you agree? What does it mean to cultivate a disgust for samsara? Why is renunciation said to be the whole basis of the spiritual path?

PR: Chatrul Rinpoche is a very great realized lama. And what he said is true. We have to see the suffering of samsara, that which makes you feel disgusted. However much effort we may put into samsaric activity, eventually we will have to see that we cannot achieve ultimate happiness that way. We have to see that samsara is impermanent and actually taste that there is no essence to it and feel that disgust. But not only that, on the other side, we have to intend to attain enlightenment, which is the opposite of samsara.

In reality, there is no real essence to samsara because everything is so temporary. It is not reliable, even for one moment. If we want to achieve enlightenment or ultimate happiness, then we have to see it in that way until we are liberated.

It is said that there is no essence in samsara. But in fact, one could also say there is an essence because all of us are bound in samsara for millions and billions of lifetimes! And even if we think that we want to do some dharma practice, we don't do it-because we are completely bound up in samsara. Just getting through spiritual practice-even one or two hours-is so difficult and we so easily get bored. But we spend our whole lifetime working in samsara, and still we do not get bored with it. That itself is the essence of samsara and the power of samsara.

Renunciation means to renounce all worldly things. If one wants to be liberated, one needs to have one's mind turned away from worldly things. Until and unless we have the intention to do that, we will not be able to apply ourselves to the practice for enlightenment.

AC: The Buddha said, "The blue-necked peacock which flies through the air never approaches the speed of the swan. Similarly, the householder can never resemble the monk who is endowed with the qualities of the sage, who meditates aloof in the jungle." Yet, an influential American Buddhist meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, says in his new bestselling book, "The sacrifices of family are like those of any demanding monastery, offering exactly the same training in renunciation, patience, steadiness, and generosity." Could that really be true?

PR: It is not true. When you are in a household, in the worldly life, even if you have spiritual training, there is always more attachment. Being a householder and wanting to have liberation from the afflictions of mind is good. But that is very difficult within those kinds of conditions. Yet even if you are in a monastery, you still need all the training so that you can get rid of those defilements. But of course it still does not mean that only by entering a monastery you can be liberated.

AC: There is a new spiritual movement being born in America at this time. It's called the "new American spirituality." One of its leading proponents, Elizabeth Lesser, says, "The unique and most positive aspect of the new American spirituality is its emphasis on self-authority." Indeed, she says, "With democratic spirituality it no longer makes sense for an [external] authority to describe to you the sacred truth and the path to discover it. In [new American spirituality], you map the journey."

Rinpoche, you come from a great tradition where success on the spiritual journey is entirely dependent upon the seeker taking refuge in the Triple Gem of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The great Nyingma Master Patrul Rinpoche said,
"No sutra, tantra, or shastra speaks of any being attaining perfect Buddhahood without having followed a spiritual teacher. We can see for ourselves that nobody has ever developed the accomplishments belonging to the stages and paths by means of their own ingenuity and prowess. Indeed, all beings, ourselves included, show particular talent in discovering the wrong paths to take-while when it comes to following the path leading to liberation and omniscience we are as confused as a blind person wandering alone in the middle of a desert plain. No one can bring back jewels from a treasure island without relying on an experienced navigator. Likewise, a spiritual teacher or companion is our true guide to liberation and omniscience, and we must follow him with respect. This is accomplished in three phases: firstly, by examining the teacher, then by following him, and finally by emulating his realization and his actions."

So how do you, Rinpoche, as head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, feel about the dharma of the new American spirituality? What is your response to the notion of self-authority on the spiritual path?

PR: What Patrul Rinpoche said is true. Even the Buddha taught in that way. All the past, present and future Buddhas had to depend upon a master who could guide them to the spiritual path that they could follow in a proper way-where there is the method to liberate. Without a master, there is no way anyone can attain enlightenment.

AC: How do you feel about the notion of democracy, which is an American ideal, being applied to the path to enlightenment?

PR: There is no benefit to following the democratic spiritual path. And there is no power that can be established through it. That is the problem. And why? It is not because they have more afflictions like hatred or anger or anything like that-they do have some compassion. But this kind of practice will not bring any result; they are just wasting time.

The main reason is this: one has to receive transmissions and blessings from the lama, the master, from someone who has the experience of what is called enlightenment, otherwise there is no real path. Having a qualified master who really knows how to guide one on the spiritual path becomes a real antidote that liberates one from the suffering of samsara. From the enlightened Buddha until the present masters, the enlightened mind has been transmitted from master to disciple. Whenever that transmission takes place, it has to be kept very pure, without breaking any precepts, samayas, or words of honor. There has to be a very pure lineage, otherwise there will be obstacles on the path and one will not achieve ultimate realization. If a seed is a little bit rotten, it will not grow.

If someone does not have that clear understanding, that clear experience, that clear realization to guide another, then others cannot really benefit. That is why we have to rely upon someone who has this kind of realization and get guidance through them. Everything depends upon having a qualified master to guide one on the path.

The path that the Buddha attained complete enlightenment by is what he has been giving in all these teachings. This is how he guided the rest of his followers: "If you do this kind of practice, then you can have this kind of liberation." In India and Tibet, there are thousands of practitioners following Buddha's teaching and instruction, and they have gotten all kinds of realization and benefit. As we carry through with our spiritual practice, one needs to have some kind of result or benefit or power. Not just a small result or benefit. We need to have the immeasurable benefit of having the ultimate realization of attaining complete enlightenment.

AC: Would you say that the notion of democratic spirituality is comfortable for the ego?

PR: Yes, it is comfortable for the ego. They think, "Oh, I have my rights." They think, "I'll just feel comfortable." This is not beneficial. If you have a seed and the seed does not have a very energetic core, even if we plant it, it will not grow to fruition.

AC: Rinpoche, these days more and more people are practicing Buddhist methods of meditation. Some practice with some understanding of the Buddha's teaching of emptiness-the teaching that all phenomena and experience is ultimately empty and without substance. Other people practice meditation without any understanding of emptiness or appreciation of its fundamental role in the Buddha's teaching. Can dharma practice lead to liberation without the practice being grounded in an understanding that emptiness is the basis of everything?

PR: In general, emptiness has many levels. Only thinking or feeling that one is experiencing emptiness doesn't necessarily lead to enlightenment. It is very difficult for someone who does not have any understanding of emptiness, or who is just doing simple meditation, to attain realization. To have realization, one has to have a path that liberates. And liberation means to be liberated from this afflicted mind. So to be liberated from this afflicted mind, one needs to have the antidote. And the antidote is the realization of selflessness, or emptiness of the self and all phenomena. But if one just carries through the practice, then slowly one reaches higher levels of the path, and in that way, slowly, one can have liberation.

AC: Can spiritual practice lead to enlightenment or liberation from the world without the practitioner inwardly renouncing his or her attachment to the world?

PR: The problem is that one will not release that attachment and will not realize emptiness.

AC: Because one is still attached to the world?

PR: Yes.


To the forest for refuge
An interview with Joseph Goldstein
September 1, 1998.

- Joseph, after practicing in India for ten years and teaching in this country for more than twenty, you have recently returned from a well-earned teaching sabbatical, in which I understand you did quite a bit of personal meditation practice. Has anything emerged from this experience, in terms of greater clarity?
- I think one of the pieces that has emerged from the time off is a greater clarity about where I'd like to put my energy in the following years. With so many newer teachers coming along who are well qualified to teach the shorter (nine- and ten-day) retreats, I'm feeling that I would like to devote more of my time to teaching yogis [meditators] who are more committed to longer term situations.
I feel that there is a need, given the development of the dharma in the West in the last quarter century or so, for some group of people to immerse themselves in long-term practice. There are some who have the time, the commitment, and the experience to do this, and I would like to help support this deepening of practice.
And why is that? What happens on a long retreat that doesn't happen on a shorter retreat?
Well, lots of things. It works on so many levels, and there are many models for talking about it. In an obvious way, it's more of a chance for the mind to quiet down, and to actually develop a deepening power of concentration and attentiveness-and that really makes possible the opening to different levels of insight and understanding.
The deepening of concentration and the quieting down of the mind provides the stability of attention, of attentiveness, which is necessary for deeper seeing of the nature of the mind and the body. When the mind is quite scattered or distracted, and we're struggling to keep bringing it back, it's very difficult to develop penetrating insight.
For most of us, the development of concentration, of an undistracted quality of mind, takes time. There are some few people who seem to have a natural ability, and can settle right into it; but from my own experience in practice, and working with so many others, I know it doesn't often come naturally. So a longer retreat provides the space for people to cultivate this important skill. A focused mind then allows us to see more clearly, both the more obvious and the very many subtle places of attachment.
The Buddha was very straightforward in his teaching: liberation happens through not clinging to anything. That's a very radical and uncompromising statement. But to me it's also very inspiring. OK, this is the work to do, and the first step is using the power of increased concentration to actually begin seeing all the places of attachment, identification and fixation of mind that are there.
So much of what we hear from dharma teachers these days has to do with the integration of mindfulness with the details of a layperson's complex daily life. This interest of yours for longer term semi-renunciate practice seems to go somewhat against that grain.
Clearly, it's really important for people to bring what they've learned in practice to their lives in the world; otherwise, both their spiritual lives and their worldly lives are very fragmented. On one level, the point of practice is to be able to live with greater freedom, greater integrity, and greater compassion in the world. And I think that the deeper people go in their practice and understanding, the more complete that integration becomes.
It is easy to say that daily life is our practice, and as an ideal, it's admirable. But whether in fact we're actually doing it in a way that's meaningful, in terms of deepening spiritual understanding -- I think that's something we all have to look at for ourselves. It's perhaps the most difficult of the paths to follow with real integrity.
One of my teachers was once asked, Is it really necessary to renounce the world in order to get liberated? He said, "Well, even the Buddha had to renounce the world!" And he had a few paramis [previously developed spiritual qualities]! So to minimize the difficulty of it, I think, is to miss the level of commitment it actually takes. When there is an opportunity for long-term practice, it allows our practice to go deeper-so that there is actually something to integrate.
It sounds paradoxical: We need to retreat from worldly lifestyles to see more deeply into our experience, and the more we are able to do that, the more depth we can then bring back into our worldly lives.
That's right. And the cycle of retreat and going back in the world, of going inside and then bringing it out-we all have different rhythms for that at different times in our lives. So much depends upon our interest, our motivation, our circumstances, lots of factors. But I think there will always be some people for whom the conditions would be right for long, uninterrupted practice. And right now, that opportunity is not easily available in the West.
In the traditional models of the Asian monastic tradition, people would leave the world, devote themselves to practice, and lead the holy life. Here in this country, at this point anyway, it's not necessarily going to take the outward form of monasticism, with many people ordaining as monks or nuns. But still I think there is a great interest in having the chance for long term practice.
I know for myself, whenever I've done what in this country would be considered a long retreat (two or three months), it always feels like I'm just getting started -- and then it's over. I've always felt sorry that the retreat was coming to an end. So both for myself and others, it would be a great opportunity for yogis to have a place that supports longer practice. That's really my vision for what could happen at the Forest Refuge.
The Forest Refuge, your new project for creating a long-term practice center in the forest between IMS and BCBS, sounds like an exciting development for the dharma in the West. [IMS: Insight Meditation Society; BCBS: Barre Center for Buddhist Studies]
It's tremendously exciting to me. It's something I have a great love for, both as something I would like to do myself, and imagining the possibility of other western yogis in that setting. Somehow, it resonates in me: The vision of people in all the Buddhist cultures over the last twenty-five hundred years, just doing this -- going off, for longer periods of time, and devoting themselves to the practice of awakening.
Do you think there are enough people in America today who are willing and able to do that?
Yes, I do. I don't have any doubt about it at all. In fact, although we are beginning with the idea of perhaps twenty-five or thirty people in long-term practice of varying lengths, I don't have any problem imagining a hundred people -- even hundreds of people! I think the dharma is well-enough established in the West now. As I go around teaching in so many places, I continually hear from people that this is just the sort of thing they are looking for: a quiet, supportive environment for settling into their practice. There are enough people who have undergone significant basic training in practice, and who are really inspired by the possibility of genuine awakening.
So much of what we've learned about awakening or liberation has been represented in traditional terms. Now that you have spent so much of your life practicing the dharma in English, so to speak, and in American culture, I wonder: Do you have a sense yourself, in contemporary terms, of what that awakening means? How might it manifest in a contemporary western personality?
That's a complex question which can be approached on a couple of different levels. Whether or not we can tell whether somebody's enlightened or awakened is always problematic, for a variety of reasons.
One is that we often confuse expressions of personality with an assessment of spiritual realization. I don't think that all personality quirks are somehow leveled out in the process of awakening. But we're so used to reacting and responding to the more superficial levels of personality that we can miss the deeper understandings that might be there. So that's on one side.
On the other side, when someone is in a certain role, it's very easy to project onto them some great awakened experience which may or may not be true. We may miss it when it's there, and we may attribute it when it's not.
And the middle way?
Well, the middle way, I think, is one of the key reference points for me -- both in my own practice, just watching my own mind, and then being with others: It is just to see the degree of self-reference that is present. To see if the self is really at the center of our life and our actions and our motivations, or to see that there is less of that. My understanding is that the deep realization of emptiness, in the Buddhist sense, really means emptiness of self. So one becomes less and less self-referential.
This is a long process, and I think we are all somewhere along a continuum, from totally self-absorbed to completely selfless. My hope is that as we all continue in our practice, whether in daily life or on long retreats, we are moving in the direction of becoming more selfless, and express that understanding by greater compassionate responsiveness.
It is not that we eliminate the personality; rather it is being not so attached or identified with it. And in that non-identification is the space to be responsive, and to help lighten the suffering that's in the world. I don't see that there's any one way to be responsive. We each will have our own expression of that.
As one reaches a certain understanding, is it natural that a person will, as they become less self-referential, be more inclined to public service?
I question whether there is any one model or any one way to manifest (though I hesitate to use this phrase) enlightened behavior. I can imagine someone staying as a recluse their whole life, yet managing from that place of great compassion and openness to influence things on other levels. I don't think we should become too dogmatic in our views of how wisdom expresses itself. For one thing, if the core piece is there -- real wisdom -- and if we view things from the perspective of rebirth and many lives, then there is lots of time to manifest wisdom in a wide variety of ways. The Jataka tales [stories of the Buddha's many previous births] provide good examples of this.
Another model for thinking about what happens in practice has to do with weakening, and hopefully finally eradicating greed, hatred, and ignorance as motive forces in the mind. Still another image that comes to mind to express the deepening of practice is the ripening or the balancing of the five spiritual faculties: faith, wisdom, concentration, energy and mindfulness.
What models of awakening do you find most compelling?
Something that has been of increasing interest to me lately is the relationship of compassion and emptiness -- or perhaps you could say wisdom and compassion -- as the two core principles of the awakened mind. What I have been inspired by, and what has transformed my own practice, is a growing understanding that compassion and emptiness are not two different things. Compassion is not a stance, but is the simple responsiveness to circumstances from a place of selflessness. So it is not that someone becomes more compassionate. Rather, the emptier we are of self, the more responsive we are.
So it is a matter of getting out of the way so compassion can manifest itself?
Yes, exactly. Compassion is the manifestation of emptiness. And that feels very liberating and inspiring to me, because when I think of a self responding to all the suffering in the world, it feels too overwhelming. There's too much suffering -- how could a self hold it? It feels like the burden is just too immense.
But when I think of compassionate action being the expression of emptiness, then it's not resting on the shoulders of anyone. It feels big enough to hold it all. And that's how I now understand the whole bodhisattva notion, the bodhisattva vow, in a way that makes sense to me. It's not a self, it's not someone doing it. It's just a natural manifestation …
Students new to the Buddhist tradition always seem to eventually ask the question, If all is emptiness, why is there compassion? How is it that this ethical quality is somehow built into the fabric of the universe?
For a few reasons, I think; and maybe this also can be seen on a couple of different levels.
One might come out of an investigation of what the root of greed or fear or hatred in the mind really is. Even looking at the matter conceptually, but then more experientially from a meditative awareness, these afflicted states seem to me very clearly rooted in a sense of self. Someone is greedy for something, or someone is angry, or fearful, or whatever -- in each case it is the notion of the self that actually feeds those unwholesome states. And so, in the absence of that sense of self, in emptiness, from where would greed arise? From where would hatred or anger arise?
This perspective is expressed in the traditional teachings when they speak of the effects of seeing through the illusion of self. Even though the other defilements, out of habit, may still arise, the root has been cut. And from that point forward those defilements will wither away, because they are no longer nourished by the sense of self. This is one way of looking at it.
From another perspective, we can see compassion arising out of an experience of non-separation. As long as there remains a sense of self, the very notion of self predicates other. With the self, there's other than self. And other than self is everyone else and everything else! And so the very notion of self carries within it, implicitly, the notion of separation. From the perspective of absence of self, there's no one there to be separate. So then it's just the interplay, the dance of elements, experience, phenomena; there's just the dance of all this -- interconnected, interrelated -- with a real sense of non-separation. And non-separation, I think, is another word for love. Again, it is not a matter of someone loving someone else, but goes beyond this to a simple manifestation of love.
And have you felt this yourself?
Oh yes, at times. At times. I am definitely a long way from the continuous experience of this simple clarity, but I have tasted it enough to know it's a possibility.
I think we want to be careful about not romanticizing or -- I don't quite know what the right word is -- perhaps glorifying this stage, because in a way I see one aspect of it as being quite commonplace. I think we all experience it a lot more than we actually acknowledge. Going though our lives, we are very often quite naturally responsive to situations of suffering. In simple ways, with no great dramatic statement, we may just feel a natural, caring connection-without a sense of acting from self, or ego, but just as a natural response to the situation. So that's one piece. I don't want to see it only in terms of some extraordinary state that we may have glimpses of, because I think that puts it in the wrong frame.
On the other side, even though we may be in that place of natural responsiveness more and more often, we don't want to become complacent and miss the very many moments when the mind does get fixated in a sense of self. It can be very subtle -- even when our basic response is wholesome, there can often be all sorts of unskillful motives mixed in.
So while I don't want to make it something extraordinary, I also think it takes an incredible quality of attentiveness not to delude ourselves, and to really be watching, in the course of the day, when we are acting from that place of ego. It happens a lot more than we think it does.
During long-term practice, we do develop a very refined sensibility of what's happening in our own lives. We can more easily catch those moments when the mind is self-referential, when it gets caught, fixated or attached. There is definitely the possibility of long retreats preparing the ground for genuine and deep transformative experiences, what I call moments of enlightenment or moments of awakening.
It's also important to recognize that these experiences are themselves something to which the self can attach, and we must take care that the self doesn't co-opt them -- as I've seen happen. All of a sudden, our life can start revolving around an experience of selflessness [laughter]. So I become the person who's had this experience of selflessness! It can be very subtle. And, it happens. Hopefully, if the experience is genuine, that eventually will be seen through and we let go of that as well.
Can you say more about your vision of this new center for long-term practice -- the Forest Refuge?
With pleasure! On a physical plane, I'm excited by the possibility of designing this center, from the ground up, specifically for the purpose of long-term practice. We want to create something that is very simple, and yet -- beautiful, harmonious, tranquil and inspiring. Something that reflects that line of T.S. Eliot: "A condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything. And all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well."
It will be in the middle of a New England forest, through which I've walked many times. It has always been both incredibly beautiful and very opening -- just walking through the woods in the space of intensive practice is wonderfully meditative. So the whole environment, both the physical structure and the natural environment, will be designed to support the practice in beautiful ways.
And we are also hoping to create a style of practice that supports people finding their own individual rhythm. Not everyone will follow a particular pre-set schedule, but each will sit and walk throughout the day as suits them best. But with the timely use of the meditation hall and the dining room, practitioners will also find the support of other people doing the same thing. I see the possibility of a wonderful combination of solitude and support of sangha at the same time. It is the way I would love to practice. It is the way I do love to practice!
So we will see you out there! And what about the teaching component? How will the Dharma be brought to this environment and to this community?
Well, I certainly am planning to devote a fair amount of my time to it. I see it as a place for experienced practitioners who are quite independent in their practice and don't need the level of support usually provided for shorter retreats. But, I can imagine perhaps weekly check-ins, occasional talks, and also a small dharma library. With the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies just next door, some people might do some simple reading or study of the classical tradition to help support and direct their practice.
Do you see the Forest Refuge as continuing IMS's tendency to be thoroughly grounded in the Theravada tradition, or would this be an opportunity to bring in a more diverse Buddhist presence? [IMS: Insight Meditation Society]
I think all the traditions of Buddhism are rooted in the basic teachings of the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness -- these are the core teachings of Buddhism, and I see these basic principles being the foundation of the center. The principle of liberation-the cultivation of a mind of no clinging -- is also universal to Buddhism, and will be a primary focus.
But these principles have been elaborated in many different ways over the centuries in different traditions, and some of these other modes of expression can be very helpful. The particular ways that we might work with these are not immediately clear to me. I think we're going to draw primarily on the IMS teachers and the cadre of senior vipassana teachers to be guiding people. But I could also imagine having some guest teachers from other traditions for periods of time if it felt appropriate. All such details are still very much in the visioning stage. But the basic foundation of where it's rooted seems quite clear to me.
I am very inspired by the whole project. And I'm hopeful that many of my colleagues will also join in.
So this new practice center is an important part of your legacy, is it not? You will have a leading role in setting it up, and you will have a continuing role -- for some decades we hope -- in guiding it along. But then you're also presumably looking towards passing it all on…
And coming back to sit in it. I'm really just preparing for my next life here. If I help to get things in place now, I'll have a place to sit when I come back next time…


Traktung Rinpoche on Dissent in Buddhism, a Revolt against Niceness
An interview posted in the Guru Ratings Forum by Matthew,
full original at

TR: Marcuse coined the phrase "The Great Refusal." The Great Refusal is the refusal to sell short our potential for liberation for the paltry comforts of consumerism. In Golok, in Tibet, they say that the desire for comfort is the death of honor and truth. My denunciation of the "Western Buddhist Movement" stems not from political conservatism but from my embrace of Marcuse's Great Refusal; the refusal to trade freedom and happiness for cheap consolation. Surya Das - the Barnum and Bailey of the dharma, Helen Tworkov - the propagandist, Stephen Batchelor - the anaemic intellectual, and Thich Nhat Hanh - the token Asian, are merely foot soldiers in service of a megalithic delusion which shapes and controls our culture. They are sheep in lion's clothing.

Marcuse wrote about their movement when he said, "The new totalitarianism manifests itself precisely in a harmonizing pluralism, where the most contradictory works and truths peacefully coexist in indifference." In the context of the struggle of the Great Refusal, I really cannot find words strong enough to express my revulsion for these peoples' activities and my disgust for their behavior.

Q: That is a strong statement. It makes me think of another criticism I have read of your writing which is that you are not nice and that what you are doing is contrary to the compassionate roots of kindness at the heart of Buddhism.

TR: Yes, it seems that to be "nice" one must cease and desist from all critical dissent and debate. To be nice, one must say things obliquely rather than directly, or better yet, say nothing at all. One should try to focus on points of agreement and smooth over differences in a fog of blandness.

This emphasis on being nice is a form of oppression. Feminists pointed this out in the 70's and encouraged us not to teach our daughters to be "nice" because it was disempowering to them. Now we just want our Buddhists to be nice. This niceness which is being referred to is what Trungpa Rinpoche called "idiot compassion." It seems that it is fine for the Western Buddhist Movement to castrate the power of the Buddhadharma, but if anyone says "Hey, wait a minute, you are distorting the teachings of liberation," then they are branded with the scarlet letter - "not nice."

This supposed niceness is in fact merely a tool for the suppression of radical critique that often takes its form in disagreement, debate and critical discussion - all forms of interaction which are historically central to Buddhism. Are we, as Western practitioners of Buddhism, so scared of our internal rage that we imagine any serious disagreement might turn into violence?

I found it interesting at the American Buddhism Conference that, while pretending to offer an "atmosphere of serious discussion and the possibility of strong disagreement," great lengths were taken to insure that there was no face to face interaction of any real depth between opposing viewpoints. The entire event was structured to protect the environment and its participants from heated debate or serious disagreement. In this fashion, we allowed ourselves the luxury and comfort of being avant-garde while saving ourselves from the discomfort of Buddha's radical critique. In other words we become, and turn Buddhism into, exactly what Marcuse predicted - tools for the mechanics of conformity (while maintaining our veneer of spiritual specialness). In short, the stance that we should not disagree or denounce is merely the command, by dominating forces, that we should conform.

This vision of being "nice and compassionate" is different from the Buddhist vision. Compassion and kindness demand strong dissension and response in the face of harmful delusion. It is, of course, a matter of motivation. The precious Buddhadharma teaches me that all people have been at one time my mother, my lover, my child, and my best friend. One day my friend becomes my enemy, and then later my friend again. When we contemplate Buddhadharma we come to a stance of vast equanimity in the midst of debate, but this equanimity does not deny the need for valid, well-reasoned response.

I understand that each of these people I have mentioned, like all of us, only wants happiness. Sadly, they are ignorant as to the causes of happiness. They are excellent examples of the manner in which those who are deeply oppressed and alienated are often completely ignorant as to the existence and source of their alienation. In fact, they confuse the sources of suffering with the cessation of suffering, and so they are like moths drawn to the flame.

Is it kinder to let the moth burn alive or to point out to the moth that the object of it's obsession is, any moment, going to become the source of its greatest suffering. What is compassion? The prefix "com" means "with" and the body of the word passion, from the root pathos, means suffering. Compassion is to be with the suffering of others; not to turn a blind eye to the suffering of all sentient beings. In the Buddhist sense, compassion means to actively remove the causes of suffering as a function of love. It is not kind, loving or compassionate to see the causes of suffering and not try and remove them.

The great Buddhist teacher Atisha said we should drive all blame into one. I am not saying that that the "one" is Surya Das or Helen Tworkov. It is, of course, ignorance. Compassion and kindness for all beings demands that we respond when, out of ignorance, someone is acting in ways which cause suffering; especially if that ignorance is dressed in the garments of the liberating wisdom tradition of Buddhadharma. Surya Das and Tworkov are seducing people who have a genuine spiritual longing into their sphere and then offering them a teaching which will never liberate them but only increase their ignorance and suffering - and presenting it as the precious Buddhadharma.

Sarlo adds: The nice Buddhists that Traktung talks about are not necessarily taking this lying down. Many Tibetan practitioners are very concerned about lineage, and Traktung's lack thereof is pointed to. That, and his association with the (questionable?) Aro gTér group are explored negatively here. Then there is this contribution offered following the post of the above to GRF:

The following is a "rating" from a long time practitioner with the Nyingma

Traktung 'Rinpoche' is one of those self-proclaimed tertons who go
around and find Tibetans to recognize him.

He used to call himself Khepa and his consort, 'Adzom Rinpoche' is
naturally an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal.

He says he's the tulku of Do Khyentse ...the crazy wisdom yogi who
was one of the three main tulkus of Jigme Lingpa (the other two being
Paltrul Rinpoche and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo)

However the only recognized emanations of Do Khyentse I know of are
Alak Zankar Rinpoche and Hungkar Dorje Rinpoche.

Traktung is a bright guy who claims to have had many intense
visionary experiences of Guru Rinpoche and others....he says his
teachings come from the mind mandate he received from Guru Rinpoche
in visions.

What he says below about the American Buddhist movement is not
something I completely disagree with...many Tibetans find this
movement to be off the mark because of its de-emphasis of the
importance of the guru...but I think Traktung may just be a part of a
different western buddhist movement...the self-proclaimed lineage
holders...which is cause for equal concern. By coming off orthodox in
his statements he makes his own movement seem more traditional and
therefore more real...but I have plenty of doubts.

All that being said....I've never met the man and don't know if he
has any realization....and I always hesitate to judge without
personal experience. But I do know that his group was linked with the
Aro group (at least for a while) and we all know there are plenty of
questions surrounding them.

And finally, also from the forwarder of the above, regarding "national" or "cultural" forms of Buddhism:

Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche said that in Tibet the Dharma was never called Tibetan Buddhism. It was called the Dharma as it has been for 2500 years. While it may be useful to delineate what form of Dharma, i.e. Sutra, Pure Land or Tantra, etc. creating divisions within the Dharma based on nationality is a false construct.

He also said that the Dharma adapts to each culture, so there is a unique flavor to the Dharma as it flourished in Tibet as opposed to say China...but the supremacy of the teaching not the location is the key factor. He said that the Dharma would likewise undergo the same adaptive process in the West, but that this process required adhering to its foundational 'rules'.

As opposed to divorcing itself from the roots of Dharma in India, Tibetans revered the Indian sources and masters of Buddhism as Buddhas. In fact only one lineage of teachings (of the 8 often cited in Tibetan writings) actually originated in Tibet and that is Chod, which was developed by the human dakini Macig Lapdron.

So the very idea of 'American Buddhists' deciding amongst themselves to divorce from the patriarchal Asian sources of the Dharma is like saying 'we no longer need to get water from its source...we're happy to sip at the tide pools left to fester here'

On a slightly different angle of approach, from what I've heard Lama Surya Das made many of these comments in a joint statement with Helen Tworkov, the editor of Tricycle. She has a distinct prejudice against Tibetan Buddhism and for Zen Buddhism. She is a feminist who was burned by a relationship with a guru and so has many issues about 'patriarchy'. So I think it may have been a case of building a consensus base among these highly visible 'American Buddhists' which prompted Surya Das' anti-patriarchy stance.

It's true that the Dharma as it comes from Tibet and as it came from the Buddha in India had a strong outward bias towards the social position of women....however in Tibetan Buddhism we have the examples of Tara who vowed to always be born a woman to prove that enlightenment is possible for all, not just men; of Yeshe Tsogyal who not only became the chief disciple of Guru Rinpoche, but also became the Guru of Tibet herself for many decades after he departed; and of Macig Lapdron, the founder of the only Tibetan originated practice lineage of Chod.

Other great examples of powerful (and feared) women are to be found in Chagdud Rinpoche's mother (see her bio Delog), in Sera Khandro, a female terton of the early 20th century, in the co-founder of the Palyul lineage, in Khandro Rinpoche, daughter of the head of the Nyingma school, Minling Trichen Rinpoche...and the list goes on.

So even though the majority of teachers may be male, and there may be a strong cultural tendency for women practitioners to remain 'secret' there is no problem with women entering, practicing and achieving the path in the Tibetan Tradition.

Chagdud Rinpoche made it a point to not only ordain many western lineage holders and lamas, but to surround himself with powerful female practitioners. Over half of the 30 some-odd westerners he has ordained as lamas have been women...

To our knowlege we know of one western teacher authorized by a true Dzogchen lineage holder to teach Dzogchen - there may be more - and this is Lama Drimed, Chagdud Rinpoche's Dzogchen lineage holder.


by Dr. Gautam Chatterjee
Its commonly believed that Pali and Tibetan language are the only vehicle of Buddhist textual traditions. But thats not a fact! As in Sanskrit language in eight ancient scripts much of the Buddhist thoughts are encoded and most of it are yet to be deciphered! Dr. Satkari Mukhopadhyay a traditional Sanskrit scholar, a historian and a linguist who knows some thirteen languages and thirty-seven scripts of the World explains the nuances of those scripts and manuscripts in an exclusive interview to Dr.Gautam Chatterjee. Pt. Mukhopadhyay,who has delved deep into study of Grammer, Vedas, Indian Philosophical Schools and Buddhism explains the growth of Buddhism in India and opens up new frontier to rediscover some of the lost heritage.

G.C.: Panditji will you kindly elaborate the textual tradition of Buddhism!
SM: Common belief is that all Buddhist works are in Pali. Thats untrue! Pali language originated as the language of Theravada School which encompasses Scripts of Sinhalise, Cambodian, Burmese etc. Ninty-nine percent of Pali literature is published. On the other hand in North India Sanskrit remained the initial linguistic vehicle where in Buddhism travelled very deep at the conceptual level, of it much is unpublished. Since the Gupta period of 1st century B.C. to mediaeval era Sanskrit remained the main language which even spreaded upto Central Asia. Sanskrit not only catered to the development of Buddhist thought but later became vehicle for Buddhist cultural exposition.
GC: How much of Sanskrit textual tradition survive today ?
SM: Not really, during the Muslim invasion much of the Monastries got destroyed and especially of Nalanda, Vikramshila etc. The repositeries of documents got destroyed so we have lost much of them. Still there were monks who escaped and carried some Mss. to
Nepal and Tibet in order to save those invaluable treasures. The Sanskrit Manuscript which went to Tibet remained unnoticed until in this century Rahul Sankrityayan could lay his hand and photographed them. Those texts are in Newari Script and Old Bengali script i.e Gaudi. Those rare manuscript photograps are available at B.R. Research Society, Bihar. Though today out of them 28 Buddhist texts are available in print but much is yet to be deciphered. For example in Newari Script the Buddhist Mahayan text
Satasahasrika Prajnaparamita, which runs into 1 lakh verses like the Mahabharata, is yet to be deciphered and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, has undertaken this task to edit this massive work.
GC: Sir, will you tell us about the ancient scripts of Sanskrit and Pali Languages which carried the Buddhist traditons down the ages?
S.M: Yes, so far Buddhist texts are concerned Sanskrit language there are seven principal scripts namely Gupta Brahmi Scripts, Kharosti, Later Gupta Brahmi , Siddhamatrika, Central Asian Brahmi with its several variations, Newari and Old Bengali or Gaudi . And in Pali language we have Sinhalise, Burmese, Thai, Cambodian, Tuatham of Laos. Pali manuscripts in these scripts are found on palmleaves.
Its important to know that except the Kharosti script all the scripts be it of Sanskrit or Pali evolved out of Brahmi script which we find in Asoka Edicts.
G.C.: Script remains a vehicle for religio cultural expansion of Buddhism in the South East Asia, how do you look at as a linguist.
SM: This is a vital question! We see that from 3rd century B.C. Buddhist socio-religious culture spreaded from Turfan to Indonesia. Historically speaking if culture or philosophy is not retained by people at large there cannot be any growth of any given philosophy or thought. Before the advent of Buddhism be it in Central Asia or in Burma to Indonesia there were no script available to record the Buddhist thought. Thus, for the retention of thoughts scripts were coined and thoughts, commentaries were further written to expand the literature of those places. Thus Buddhism has actually revolutionised the spirit of oral tradition into a vibrating textual traditons.
For example uptil 7th century A.D. Tibetans had no script of their own. Initially, oral tradition continued and in 7th century Thumi Sambhota with his team came to Northern India to develop their own scripts out of Brahmi script with the help of Indian pundits. Thus came Tibetan script wherein grammar was developed later became a meditating point for further development of Buddhist textual tradition.
Similarly, from 3th to 1st Century B.C. Buddhist oral traditon reached and thrived in Sri Lanka . The Buddhist Canon Tripitaka ,was written down in Sri Lanka, in Brahmi only in 1st century. From 6th /7th century A.D. South Indian variety of Brahmi went to Cambodia where it developed into Khmer script from which Burmese, Thai, Lao and Indonesian scripts were evolved. These scripts were used to be written in Pali as well as the regional languages thereby became a powerful vehicle for the spread and retaintion of Buddhist religion and culture in those regions. Thus Buddhism, vertually brought literacy to these regions in the field of literature, art and socio-religious cultural explosion in this region.
G.C.: Will you cite some landmark of Buddhist textual traditions?
SM: In Kharosti script we get the 2nd Century A.D. Ms. known as Gandhari Dharmapada. In 4th century Kalpanamanditika in Brahmi Script is another landmark work. From 1st century B.C.we find Buddhist canonical texts of Northern India in Later Brahmi script Aureal Stein found this immensely valuable manuscripts known as Gilgit collection. The other important mss. are the Turfan which dates from 4th to 7th century A.D. It is in Gupta Brahmi Script and its variations of Central Asian type. It contains Buddhist Canonnical texts,Jatakas,Asadanas.
Two important works are of ASVAGHOSA which were found in Nepal in Newari script. It contains 2nd century work like Buddhacaita, Saundaran. Mss. of later period was found in Nepal. Satasahashrika Prajnaparamita about which I have already told you.
Another important Ms. discovered in Tibet is Pramanavartika, a work on Buddhist Logic which was written in 7th century but this Ms. was of 13/14 century A.D
G.C.: Being a Historian of religion , you have read Buddhist texts in various perspective, can you compare Buddhism with Hinduism. I mean it is for quite some time we have been told that Lord Buddha was a critic of Vedas and his religious movement was a rebellion against Vedic religion. Do you subscribe to this theory.
SM:In a nutshell Buddhism and Hinduism are no separate two creeds as Islam and Christanity. They drew from a common heritage like different branches of a Banyan tree.So both share point of agreements with some disagreements. As Hinduism we find the importance of Gods at spiritual and cosmological levels. However, in Buddhism the God element is missing both at cosmological level and spiritual level and God is replaced with Buddha's personality which has touched the heart of all enveloping even the common people. Thus later, Buddha himself became an icon in later years. Actually Gautam Buddha revived the older Vedic values and opened the path to Moksha even for a common man. On the otherhand Hinduism talked about the four-fold Purashartha namely Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Buddhism indicated towards moksha only and it was a monastic religion.
G.C.: Then, was Gautam Buddha an atheist or Nastika?
S.M.: That the Buddha was Nastika is basically a wrong notion! As Buddha Sankhaya and Mimansik philosophy underplayed the God, then why don't you call them Nastika. I tell you actually the English word 'Atheist' and the Sanskrit 'Nastika' carry different
meanings. Let us look into etymologically and trace the meaning of Nastika from Panini's perspective. It says' He who believes in life after death(Paraloka) is Astika. Buddha believed in incarnations and rebirths so he was Astika so how can we say Gautam Buddha was a Nastika!
GC: As Buddha believed in rebirths but does the Buddhist tradition subscribe to Avatarabada or incarnation theory?
SM: Yes! As you know from common inheritance Hinduism and Buddhism believed that there is propagation of Dharma at first level then at second it flourishes and deviation follows so there are falls and falacies creeping in. To revive the Dharma and correct its stand a superman appears. In Hinduism Vishnu incarnates and in Buddhism Samyaksambudha comes to set the world order in correct direction. It is said before the appearance of Gautama Buddha there were 25 earlier Buddhas and the process is on. In Hinduism we find the trancendental Hiranyagarbha who is omnipotent and cause and restult of all but himself above from the cosmic lila. Likewise in Buddhism talked about Adi Buddha who is similarly trancendental.
G.C.: What about Buddha is being aVeda Nindaka or a critic of Veda ?
S.M.: Its true Buddha criticised Veda but only on the score of animal sacrifice. Jayadeva, the Brahmin author of the Gitagovinda, says that the Buddha criticized only those portions of the Vedas which prescribe animal sacrifice and that he did out of compassion. Ramachandra Kavi-bharati, a Buddhist poet who lived in Sri Lanka in the fourteenth century, echoed the same view and vehemently refuted the allegation of Veda-nindaka on the part of the Buddha.
Even Buddha himself supported panthinsm and talked about worshipping some deities to get certain results. He praised Vedic scholars so he actually praised Vedas alongwith his scholars.
G.C.: Will you throw some light on the pantheon angles and rituals thereof?
S.M.: In Rig Veda we find that there were 33 gods which later it is said become the 33 crores! Since the earliest days of Buddhist tradition gods like Indra, Varuna, Ishana,Yama etc were accepted in Buddhism. In Hinduism Vishnu, Saraswati, Shiva, Maha Shakti came up. In Buddhism down the ages similar things happened as pantheons with its incorportated philosophy changed its iconographic appearnce but remained almost the same. On the score of rituals and Mantras Hinduism and Buddhism have similar records and perhaps some of the rituals were borrowed by Hinduism from the Buddhist traditions.
G.C.: You have traced the cosmology,spiritual perspective but what about life for the common man that is Sanatan Dharma at the social level!
S.M.: If one embraces Buddhism, he is not cut off from the social structure,the essence remains and strata and life course continues as usual however there are elements of dichotomy. In Hindu way of life the four tier system of social order was out of Guna and Karma and the heriditary trait continues. In Buddhism, the Kshatriyas are very proud of their genealogical lineage as Gautama Buddha was from a family of the Kshatriyas. And you will be surprised to know that both in Sanskrit and Pali literature I have discovered that in the Buddha tradition of reincarnations it is said the in future Buddha would take birth in Kshatriya or Brahmin kula or family and no where else. Thus you see that Sanatan Dharma remains so in the belief system wherever Buddhism went
G.C.: Really I am enriched with this multi-tier knowldege systems available in various scripts and languages about Buddhism. But today the knowledge of scripts are passing into oblivion and direct access to the source material is becoming difficult for modern scholars. How do you see this situation.
SM: For Indological studies and Buddhist studies access to original records is very important but it is true day by day scholars are forgetting about the knowledge of those scripts. In India around 90 per cent of Indologists do not know various scripts so interpretation becomes difficult. On the otherhand Western scholars are working very hard but with the scripts and original sources they are delivering goods in better way!
In the third quarter of 19th century knowledge of scripts was greater amongst Indians. In our days those who have studied Pali knew various scripts. But today, modern scholars only know the regional and Devnagiri scripts.The study of Palaeography has declined steadly. Among modern Indian University students of Pali study Devnagari and Roman scripts with diacrtical marks. We are trying at our level to equip scholars with the knowledge of scripts. For Example IGNCA in collaboration with other Universities and academic institutions are holding workshops to teach those scripts in Palaeographic perspective.But much is yet to be done.
Dr Gautam Chatterjee


What Does It Mean to Renounce the World?
Featuring Interviews with Father William McNamara and H.H. Penor Rinpoche
by Carter Phipps

Throughout human history there have been individuals who have heard in their own hearts and minds a call to give up the world, felt a yearning, an inner demand to cast off the roles and concerns of secular society and leave behind the dictates and expectations of a worldly life. Those individuals have taken one of the most radical steps a human being can take-they have renounced the world completely and walked away in search of an unknown possibility. Whether they have been yogis, monks, fakirs, hermits, shamans, or sadhus; whether they have gone to the mountains, the desert, the forest, the cave, or the monastery; and whether they have gone alone or, like Jesus and the Buddha, created a revolution in their wake; these individuals left the concerns of the everyday far behind for a way of life that they considered to be more real, more authentic, closer to the heart of what it means to be a human being. Indeed, as we began to look into the question "What does it mean to be in the world but not of it?" for this issue of What Is Enlightenment? we knew that we would have to come to terms with the inspiring yet austere example of the world-renouncers and the great traditions of monasticism that have prospered and endured for so much of human history. Although in our modern Western culture the ideal of renunciation is often derided as a dispensable remnant of a less enlightened past, and the popularity of the monastic life has dramatically waned as a result, for most of recorded history monastic institutions have been at the forefront of humanity's spiritual aspirations. Within their hallowed halls, cloistered cells, and solitary sanctuaries, much of our modern spiritual heritage has been shaped and formed, and the great saints and mystics who have emblazoned their names on the pages of our spiritual canon have more often than not been products of these world-renouncing traditions.

What inner compulsion moves these men and women to take such a bold and unconventional step? Indeed, what inspired the young Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha-to-be, to kiss his wife and child goodbye and set out for the homeless life-a momentous decision which eventually sparked a monastic tradition that would spread across the entire Asian subcontinent, transforming lives and reshaping societies throughout half the world? What inspired Jesus to courageously step beyond the boundaries of his own spiritual heritage and passionately call on others to do the same-to leave behind everything and follow him into a life of poverty and simplicity, rejecting the Jewish conventions of the day? What made the young St. Benedict-the man who years later literally wrote the book on how to be a monk, The Rule of St. Benedict-look into the grand delights and pleasures of fifth-century Rome and see in them only a descent into spiritual degradation, causing him to abandon it all for the delights and pleasures of solitude, silence, and prayer? Their words, and the words of those who have followed them in succeeding generations, bear unequivocal witness to one deep and profound desire: the desire for simplicity, for purity of heart, for the opportunity to devote oneself wholeheartedly to the spiritual life. "Let us live happily possessing nothing," the Buddha told his monks. "Let us feed on joy like the radiant Gods." Indeed, it was the promise of this simplicity that led the Christian Desert Fathers in the fourth century to see that Christendom, in its newfound acceptance into the mainstream of the Mediterranean world, was growing lax, bourgeois, worldly. En masse, they followed the great St. Anthony into the Egyptian wilderness to strengthen their faith and soften their pride in the rugged desert life. Living as solitary hermits loosely linked in the bond of spiritual brotherhood, they single-handedly initiated the entire tradition of Christian monasticism. Perhaps they were thinking of the words of Jesus, who himself endured many trials beneath the desert sun and later warned his disciples that "No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve both the world and God."

What is "the world," this enemy of the spiritual path which so many religious traditions have vilified in their scriptures? For them the word "world" is merely a metaphor for the unwanted attachments and unwritten rules of society that can too often cater to the lower common denominators of the human condition. It is the world of the material, the world of fear and craving, the world that promises fulfillment and yet inevitably brings disappointment and suffering. It is that ever-present refrain just beneath the surface of our society that says, "have more, consume more, become more, enjoy the comforts and pleasures of the senses without worrying about the needs of the soul." "Come look at this world glittering like a royal chariot," the Buddha said to his followers. "The foolish are immersed in it but the wise do not touch it." It was no doubt that same glitter that Thomas Merton, the great Catholic contemplative, referred to when he wrote, "We must be saved from immersion in the sea of lies and passions which is called 'the world.' And we must be saved above all from that abyss of confusion and absurdity which is our own worldly self. . . . The free son of God must be rescued from the conformist slave of fantasy, passion and convention."

Of course, few have ever been interested in renouncing the world, and in this day and age there are fewer still. Yet, if we step back for a moment, it is not hard to get in touch with the attractive simplicity and extraordinary depth that is possible in a life lived free from the ever-pressing concerns of modern society. In fact, in today's world, where it can seem a great renunciation just to turn off the cell phone for a few hours, there does seem to be a growing desire for at least a temporary respite from the frenzy of the information age. Spiritual retreats are rapidly growing in popularity, and monasteries report a significant surge in requests from the laity to spend extended time within their sheltered walls. Could it be that the call to renounce the world, in some form or fashion, is simply intrinsic to the spiritual path? Historians tells us that the fires of renunciation have, in fact, been burning in spiritual men and women almost since the dawning of human civilization, beginning at least as early as the second millennium B.C.E. when the solitary Hindu ascetics were called sramanas, the Sanskrit name for recluse. Indeed, it does seem that the inner spiritual calling has almost always contained within it some innate seed of renunciation. Perhaps today that impulse is more hidden, perhaps it has been softened by the values of our world-embracing culture, and perhaps it has too long been associated with the most maligned aspects of our religious traditions-the patriarchy, a restrictive rigidity, and the false split between body and spirit. But nonetheless, in these early days of the new millennium, there are still those, like the two monks whom we interviewed for this section, whose lives express a great yearning for the simplicity of purpose and purity of being that inspired humanity's greatest sages and saints to walk away from the world with empty hands and an unburdened heart. History would seem to tell us that there always will be.

Father William McNamara experienced the calling of the renunciate life at an early age, leaving his family behind to take up monastic training when he was just thirteen. Five years later he officially ordained as a monk in the Carmelite tradition, a monastic order that received its name from the ascetic hermits who lived on the slopes of Mt. Carmel in twelfth-century Palestine, and which has included such revered figures as St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. Inspired by the example of the Christian Desert Fathers and St. Anthony in particular, Father McNamara soon headed for the remote reaches of the Arizona desert, where he pursued the contemplative life in solitude. His passion for the eremitical life would not remain a secret for long, however, and men and women soon began to seek him out for inspiration and guidance on the spiritual path. In 1960 he cofounded a new branch of the Carmelite order, the Spiritual Life Institute, with his student Mother Tessa Bielecki, and together they established several hermitages in the U.S., Canada, and Ireland. Author of numerous books on spiritual life and a leader in the movement to renew the mystical and contemplative tradition of Catholicism, Father McNamara is an articulate and passionate modern defender of the monastic and renunciate life.

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche was born in Kham, in the wilds of Eastern Tibet in 1932. Recognized at a very young age to be a tulku, the incarnation of a recently deceased enlightened master, he formally took refuge in the Buddhist teachings when he was only four years old. Receiving his training at the famous Palyul monastery, the young Penor Rinpoche was eventually installed as the eleventh throne holder in the Palyul lineage, making him the head of over 400 branch monasteries and directly responsible for thousands of monks. In 1958, at the age of twenty-six, the political circumstances caused by the Chinese invasion of Tibet forced him to flee his homeland for the safe refuge of India. Setting out on a long and perilous journey across the Himalayas, it took him three years to arrive at the northeastern Indian border, and the cost was high. Of the 300 monks and lay students who had begun the trip, only thirty survived.

Since that time Penor Rinpoche has worked tirelessly to preserve and reinvigorate the Palyul tradition, earning an extraordinary reputation as one of the most respected and honored teachers in Tibetan Buddhism. Now sixty-seven, and widely revered as a living Buddha, he is also the Supreme Head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, the oldest of the four schools in this ancient tradition. He travels around the world giving sacred teachings, empowerments, and retreats to his Tibetan and Western students, including the thousands of monks and nuns in his monasteries whom he guides on the Buddhist path of renunciation.


In Tokyo, Cultures and development - Quid Pro Quo's editor had the opportuny to meet people from SVA-Sotoshu Volunteer Association. SVA is a Japanese Buddhist NGO of a Soto Zen sect doing development work in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand. Here follow extracts from their dialogue.

QPQ - What work do you do as an NGO ?
SVA - Our NGO works in Indo-China with Buddhist monks. These monks of Theravada Buddhism are launching outstanding activities to foster the independence of local communities. We want to support them and also learn from them because they can give us lessons, in Japan, to go beyond modern progress and acquire more wisdom. We, as a Japanese NGO, attempt to support "Kaihotsen".
The word development in Japanese is "Kaihatsen".
But in Buddhism we say "Kaihôtsen". With an "a", the word is objective. But with "o", it is subjective and it means to develop oneself rather than to be developed. When we read "No life without roots", we felt the same notion was present. Kaihotsen is "internal flourishing in harmony with nature".
In Indo-China, our NGO tries to pay respect to localities. Our mimeography project in Cambodia is an example of the cultural assistance we bring, allowing local people to communicate. Even Mhong refugees were able to communicate thanks to a simple mimeograph machine. People thus create their culture. Our NGO has "only" given this simple devise so as to assist peoples' activities. That, to us, is enough. People help themselves.
A balance must be struck between the material and spiritual. For refugee camps, cultural activity is essential to avert chaos. I will tell you an anecdote which illustrates how vitally important culture is to people. One day, in our library, a mother softly tried to slip a book in khmer language into her bag. We did have to object but for her this book was a life buoy. She was about to migrate. To speak to her child about her country when installed in a third country was essential to her. That is why she wanted that book so badly and even tried to steal it. This example shows how important culture can be for the very survival of people.
QPQ - How do you feel about the economic and technical progress of Japan ?
SVA - The world sees Japan as a great success and a model for the Third World. But our values were destroyed under the slogan of "catching-up" with Europe. We "succeeded" but lost many important things. The impact of modern economics on-Buddhism was fatal. The five dragons of the Fast East (or NIC's) inspire us with the awsome feeling now that they too will pay a price ! In Japan, we lost so much ! Alienation is fatal to us. I hope the Third World will not follow our model.
QPQ - Can Buddhism offer an alternative to capitalism, now that this system reigns supreme but is leading our planet to a tragedy ? At least, can it offer a critique of dominant thinking which can help us ?
SVA - I think that Buddhism and capitalism are incompatible. But, concretely, Buddhism in Japan is too weak today. The Japanese religions are cornered into the Japanese society. Our Constitution dictates that religions can- not play a political role.
QPQ - Still political leaders everywhere in the world know our world is following a dangerous course. A man like Jacques Delors recently called upon intellectuals, artists and spiritual leaders in Europe to speak out, to offer other perspectives, more sense and depth.
SVA - Of course, some people speak out. And we need networking these people because there are many restrictions in Japanese society on social criticism. To cope with capitalism, the contro of desires is essential. Capitalism is based on infinite desires. But how can you limit your desires ? I would say we need to know that "we have enough" Also we need to acquire the idea that humans and nature live together. We are "with others" : this is a key notion. We must think of symbiosis in diversity, both in terms of nature and of culture. Buddhism says that we cannot exist without relation with others.
QPQ - Your interest in Network Cultures is based precisely on what ?
SVA - What we like about your views on Cultures and Development is that, as Europeans, you criticize the eurocentric view on development.
QPQ - May I ask whether you like that because it pleases your Japanese pride to hear a critique of Europe1or because you believe that also Japan has perhaps been and still is ethnocentric ? In other words, do you apply our criticism to Japan itself ?
SVA - The concept of Development Aid is quite new in Japan. Many Japanese studied abroad and were stimulated by Western ODA. But they felt there were limitations in this ODA concept, in the whole idea of development cooperation ! Thus, our NGO sensed that culture should be taken into account. But we could not spell out clearly what was wrong with development aid. Critical ideas on culture and development from Europe helped us to clarify our views.
QPQ - Can you give an example ?
SVA - We printed 1.000.000 books on Buddhist classical texts for refugee camps in Cambodia/Thailand. But our constituency and fellow NGOs laughed at us. Through your Network, we read that some NGOs in Europe had also sent books containing holy buddhist scriptures so as to re-equip the libraries of the pogodas in Cambodia which had been destroyed by Pol Pot. This was encouraging and interesting.
QPQ - Do you limit culture to the past ?
SVA - No. Culture can change. It is influenced by the whole world. We must not limit culture to tradition. Our notion should not be rigid. We must reinforce peoples' capacity to evolve and choose. Self esteem is important for all people as well as the Buddhist's notion of "enough". By the way, we are curious : what about Christianity ? Do Christians also speak about limitation of desires and putting a break ("enough") to consumptions ?
QPQ - I think this is a jolly good question ! Going beyond modernity and its craving for limitless accumulation and consumption is, to me, a major challenge for European culture and for Christian spirituality We must learn to dissociate ourselves and our spirituality from some of the negative aspects of modernity. Buddhism may help Christians and Westerners in general to rediscover their own roots.


What would Buddha do?
An interview
with Thich Nhat Hanh

The first thing you notice about Thich Nhat Hanh is that he walks really, really slowly. He also speaks very deliberately. And when he wants a sip of tea, he stops speaking, breathes in and out, takes a drink, lowers his cup, breathes again, and continues.
It's called mindfulness-focusing completely on what you are doing in the present moment-and the renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk believes this spiritual practice is the key to not only inner peace but global peace as well. Accustomed to being tagged naive, he continues to promote peace through his writing, speaking, and retreats. During a trip to the United States last summer, he spoke to college students, police officers, and members of Congress.
Perhaps the second best-known Buddhist in America (after the Dalai Lama), Thich Nhat Hanh traces his lineage to the Buddha himself. A monk since 16, he first gained notoriety for his efforts toward reconciliation during the Vietnam War. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 and has written extensively about peace-most recently in Creating True Peace (Free Press, 2003). Now banned from his native country, he lives at Plum Village monastery in France, and at monastic centers he founded in Vermont and California.
Is it idealistic to be a pacifist in this day and age, with terrorists and suicide bombers? Is peace possible?
Peace is always possible, and it should begin with ourselves. All of us have feelings and emotions that make us suffer, but if we don't do anything about them, we will make people around us suffer. But we can transform our own suffering and bring relief to ourselves, which will then allow us to be compassionate and gentle to others. Everybody can do it by practicing mindfulness or being in the present moment.
Individuals must learn how to bring the level of hatred and anger down in themselves and in their families so they can support our political leaders, who must do the same thing. Then, when we have enough compassion, we can help the other group of people we might have called enemies to do the same.
We all have wrong perceptions of ourselves and other people. From these wrong perceptions rise anger, hate, fear, and despair. These misperceptions are also the foundation of the willingness of terrorists to die for their cause. You cannot use bombs and shouting to help them see their own misperceptions. You have to use gentle communication. But you cannot practice gentle communication and compassion and listening if you don't have peace within yourself. Our political leaders have been trained in political science; they have not been trained in these areas. That's why spiritual leaders and others should help them.

What is an example of a wrong perception, and how could it be corrected?
Wrong perception is thinking that you are the only one who suffers. You think other people only make you suffer; they don't suffer at all. For example, suppose you think the terrorists are only people who want to destroy and have no capacity to love, to understand. You think that you have done nothing to make them hate us like that. You are just victims of these people. That is wrong perception.
As humans, we are not perfect. We may have said or done things that may have given them the idea or the feeling that we want to destroy them as a civilization, as a religion, as a country. At least, maybe we have done or said something that has given them that perception.
So we have to ask them, "Have we done anything wrong? Have we tried to hurt you? We want to listen to you, to hear why you hate us so much and have done such a thing to us. Please tell us; help us to understand your suffering, your difficulty, your despair. If we understand, we may be able to refrain from doing or saying things that may make you suffer. We may be able to help you to live in peace and to grow as a people, as a nation." During this process of deep, compassionate listening, you are able to remove the wrong perception in yourself, and then you are able to help the other person remove their wrong perceptions. Wrong perceptions are the foundation of hate and violence. Our politicians would be able to do that kind of talking if they had enough understanding and compassion in them.

Do you think that approach has been tried by America, especially since September 11?
Some of us have voiced concern and protested against war, but we have not done things in a complete way to help our political leaders to calm down, to practice looking serenely into the present situation, and to act with more understanding and compassion.
We need to convince people that peace and safety are not individual matters. That is why to help others to be safe will help us to be safe. If you allow them to be alive, then you have a small chance to also be alive. That is the insight of "interbeing," the interconnectedness of all living things.
Nothing can be accomplished alone; everything has to coexist with everything else. That is deep in the teaching of Buddhism, and also in the teaching of Christianity and Judaism. Anything that happens to the left hand also happens to the right hand. Anything the right hand does to help the left hand also helps the right hand. If we can touch that reality of interbeing, then we'll be able to make brotherhood into a reality.
I think that there are enough Americans who are enlightened, who realize it's wrong to deal with terrorism by responding with more violence. There are enough Americans who have enough compassion and understanding. They should organize and voice their wisdom very clearly to show the nation the path.
In the gospel it says when you have the light, you cannot hide it under a bushel basket. That is why we have to come together. We have to offer our light to the whole nation and to the government, to Congress.
Members of Congress need to bring peace into themselves and to listen to each other with compassion so that communication can be a reality. When communication is possible, then you can produce the collective wisdom and insight that will bring about peace for the nation and for the world.
I encourage Congress as a whole to meditate. To meditate means to have the time to be in the here and now and to practice looking deeply into our situation, into the nature of our suffering. Then out of that practice of looking deeply will come the collective insight that will be the best thing Congress can offer to the nation, to the people.

What else can people do to promote peace?
You have to promote peace education to help the people wake up to the fact that the path of violence does not work any longer. People who hate will create more terrorists and hate by using violence. This phrase "war on terror" is very misleading. I don't know why people use language in such a way. War on terror means terror on terror. In the gospels we learn very clearly that hate cannot be responded to by hate. Violence cannot be responded to by violence.
The American people are deeply religious people. They have confidence in Jesus' teaching and in God, yet their belief needs to be translated into practice. Right thinking goes along with compassion and understanding. If your thinking is categorized by hate and violence, that's not right thinking.

Why do so many Americans believe otherwise, that violence is the only answer to terrorism?
I think because so many of us have not done our job. For example, educators don't know how to deal with fear or anger within themselves so they didn't know how to help their students to bring peace to themselves when September 11 happened.
The mass media, too, often encourage violence and hate. You can report a truth without sowing the seeds of fear, anger, and hatred in your readers. Instead you can sow the seed of compassion, understanding, and insight in them. The mass media can play a very important role in helping cultivate the positive emotions in us.
And our spiritual leaders have not taught the practices to respond to the situation of suffering and confusion, especially to younger people. This is true not only of Christianity but of Judaism and Buddhism as well. We have to renew the teaching. We have to offer the kind of teaching that can respond to the actual suffering of the people.

If I were born a Catholic, I would promote the teaching of living the kingdom of God in the here and now. That is similar to Buddhism, in which the Pure Land of the Buddha is available in the here and now. You don't need to wait until tomorrow to enjoy the kingdom of God.
That is the teaching I dispense to my students. You don't need to die in order to go to the Pure Land of the Buddha. You don't need to die in order to go to the kingdom of God, because it is said that God is available to us 24 hours a day and so is his kingdom.
So if you know how to live in the present moment and be happy, you don't have to chase more fame, more profit, more power, more sex. So many people have plenty of fame and power and sex and wealth, yet they suffer very deeply. But those who live simply don't need a lot of these things and are happy in the here and now.
In the Gospel of Saint Matthew it says don't worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Care about today. That is very clear. It goes perfectly with the practice of mindfulness in Buddhism. Give us today our daily bread. Our daily bread is the joy, peace, understanding that is available, that is the kingdom of God.
But although the kingdom of God is available to you, often you are not available to the kingdom of God because you are so preoccupied with the future or with the past. That is why the practice of mindfulness is the practice of freedom. You free yourself from regret, from the concerns of the past. You free yourself from the uncertainty and the fear about the future. You go home to the present moment with freedom, and you step into the kingdom of God where you can live happily right here, right now. The kingdom of God is now or never. The Pure Land of the Buddha is now or never.

So you see Buddhism and Christianity as being compatible, working together toward peace?
Yes. The practice of mindfulness is non-sectarian. But there are many aspects of the Buddha's teaching that can also be explored and developed in order to respond to the actual suffering of the world. This is true for Judaism and Christianity, too. I think we can go deeper into the teachings of the Resurrection and the notion of creation.
But we don't want people in the West to get uprooted from their spiritual tradition. A tree with no root cannot be a happy tree. The practice of mindfulness is to help renew their own tradition. We don't want to convert Christians into Buddhists. We want Christians to be happy Christians and practicing well. We have enough Buddhists-more than we can take care of !

You are a proponent of what you call "engaged Buddhism." Why do you believe action and contem-plation have to go together?
They do go together, because if you have compassion from practicing contemplation, that energy always wants to manifest itself. You cannot stay there without doing anything.
If you are sitting in a meditation hall and you hear bombs falling and children crying, you cannot continue to sit inside. You have to walk out and help. But you help in such a way that you can still maintain your breath.
Meditation is possible outside of the meditation hall. When you cook your breakfast, you can do meditation. When you drive your car, mindfulness is possible. When your telephone rings, meditation can be used. Don't answer right away; smile and practice one breath in and one breath out to calm yourself. Going from one building to another, you can apply mindful walking. These things are very helpful.
It's hard to organize our daily life so that the practice of peace is possible. But how we drive a car, cook our breakfast, do housework can bring peace into our heart and our mind.

If, as you say in your book, people contain both seeds of violence and of peace, how can they become peaceful rather than violent?
When a person gets sick, she should be brought to a place where she can get well. If the sickness you have is a lot of despair, violence, and anger and you continue to be in an environment where these sicknesses will be encouraged every day, you cannot be healed. That is why the first step-the most important step-is to create a living environment where we can feel safe, where our children will feel safe. This is crucial.
A safe environment means a place where the seeds of anger and fear and despair and violence will not be watered every day. Instead, the seeds of compassion, the seeds of goodness, the seeds of hope will be watered every day.
For example, in our monastery, we make sure that the space we live in feels safe. We set up our practice of mindfulness. We don't read the news. We don't watch the kind of television that waters the seeds of violence and despair. We had to create a kind of family where we can be well taken care of.
We have to be mindful about what we consume. When you have a conversation, that is consumption because the conversation may be full of toxins, may be full of anger and hatred and fear. If you listen to a conversation like that for one hour, it's very toxic.
So protect yourself. Don't listen to these kinds of things. Don't watch television programs that water the seeds of fear and hatred. Watch only the programs that can reveal to you the beauty of life, the beauty of compassion and understanding.
You have to practice with a community. At the monastery, we are a kind of family, and everyone has a "second body" to take care of. I have to care for you. If you suffer, I have to be aware of that. If you have a problem or difficulty, I have to help you feel better.
We always do things together, not as individuals-retreats, public talks. It's always done as community. It is not enough just to practice as an individual. We have to organize ourselves into communities to help support each other.

In your book you offer several practices for creating an environ-ment where families can learn to practice peace. Are these really practical for modern families with children?
The family is like a piece of land where trees can grow. If the soil is not good, then how could the tree be good? For families we might not use the word meditation. We might say in a modern home there should be some place where you can sit down and practice calming yourself, breathing in and out and sitting quietly.
You could call it the breathing room. You have a room for everything-guest room, play room, dining room-but you don't have a room for your peace or for your nervous system. So have a small place, a small room where there are only some flowers and a few cushions.
When you don't feel well, you walk into that room, following your breath. You don't say anything. You don't do anything, because doing anything or saying anything when you are angry is not very good for you or for others.
Go to the breathing room and smile, closing the door behind you peacefully. Sit down on a cushion, saying, "Breathing in, I calm myself. Breathing out, I smile." And then you are OK.
If parents know how to do that, children will do it and everyone can enjoy sitting there for five minutes and practicing mindfulness before going to school and to work.
On weekends the whole family can go for a walk using the techniques of walking meditation, focusing on their breathing while walking mindfully. These things are easy to do with a little bit of training, and that is the practice of peace. Every time there is one person in the family not being peaceful, the other people will know and come and help. The key is to help-not to correct and not to punish.
You don't need to be Buddhist. When a mother sees that her son is not peaceful, she can invite him, saying, "My son, let's go together to the breathing room and sit and practice peace together." Together they sit and they breathe in and they breathe out.

So it's as simple as breathing? Some people may find that hard to believe.
The breath is somehow the link between body and mind. In our daily life, our body may be here, but our mind wanders into the future or to our projects. So when you breathe mindfully, you're bringing your mind back to your body and you become fully present. If your breathing becomes calm and harmonious, that harmony and that calm begin to penetrate into your body and your feelings.
I think Congress should do that before they open a session of discussion. I think President Bush and other members of the government have the seeds of understanding and peace and compassion in them. But they need good advisors. If their advisors know how to water these seeds, they will act in the name of peace for all of us.

Do you think America or the world is ready to hear that message now? Do you think there is a shift happening?
I think suffering plays an important role because it makes you confused. Sometimes we are too sure of our perceptions. But if you get confused, you have a chance to look deeply to get a different understanding of what is going on.
Then you can find your path. And if you know that you are on the right path, you will feel much better and then you can share your light, your peace, with other people.
The interview was conducted by Heidi Schlumpf, managing editor of U.S. Catholic.

This article appeared in the December 2003 (Volume 68; number 12: pages 18-22) issue of U.S. Catholic. It is posted here for private use only. It may not be reprinted in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of U.S. Catholic magazine. U.S. Catholic is published by the Claretians.
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Who by conference
and, who by preference,
who by inference, and who by impertinence,
and who, shall we say, is calling?

Ngala Rig'dzin Dorje, Ngakma Nor'dzin & Ngakpa 'ö-Dzin, Naljorma 'ö-Sel Nyima & Naljorpa Rang-rig, Ngakma Shardröl, Ngakma Yeshé Zér-tsal, Naljorma Ögyen Khandro, Ngakpa Namgyal, Ngakma Shé-zér and Naljorpa Bar-ché Dorje in discussion with Ngak'chang Rinpoche & Khandro Déchen
on the subject of 'Western Buddhism' / 'American Buddhism' and the 'Network of Western Buddhist Teachers'. The interview, in a shorter form, was previous published in 'vision magazine' in July 1999. This full-length interview has been edited - both abridged and augmented, at the request of Damtsig. Editing was carried out through further personal interview - in order both to provide greater detail, and to address the wider Buddhist audience. In order to simplify the text only Ngakma Shardröl Wangmo has been identified as a questioner - as she relates information specific to her attendance of the 'Conference of Western Buddhist Teachers' mentioned in the discussion.
The word heresy has a Greek root-hairesis-which means - a choosing from. That is to say - one has a group of interrelated, interactive, and interdependent spiritual coefficients - and one chooses from amongst them, and thereby damaging the whole. If one takes the example of an automobile for example one could choose to take out the spark plugs. That would constitute what is meant by a choosing from, and the result of the choosing from would be that the automobile would not function as an automobile.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche

In the degenerate era, when red faced beasts
have ruined the Vajrayana teachings
Those with white skirts will benefit sentient beings
Thence arises the need for longhaired practitioners
From the Kuntuzangpo Ralpa Nakpo mDo
Q Rinpoche, Khandro Déchen thank you for your openness and willingness to speak with us about a depressing subject such as this. Your wish, we all know-as well as the wish of all of us here-would be that you taught on the subject of Vajrayana. This is the dearest thing to our hearts-but maybe as this seems to be a pressing matter we could request some clarification.
Q The ordained sangha often find themselves having to answer difficult question during the 'Question & Answer Sessions' on Open Teaching Retreats, and so whilst we are all together, we would like to ask you to comment on a particular phenomenon of the last ten years - the 'Network of Western Buddhist Teachers'. Now . . . you are Western Buddhist Teachers - but you are not part of the Western Buddhist movement, or the 'Network of Western Buddhist Teachers' - was that a choice you made at some point?
Ngak'chang Rinpoche No. . . . actually, to be fair, it was not a choice. . . . although it would soon have become the choice we had to make.
Khandro Déchen Rinpoche and I were simply not accepted in our request for membership. We did think that this was a pity at the time, because we were keen to relate with a peer group-as Western teachers with western students. But now we are glad not to have been accepted.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes. Had we been accepted, we would have had to have resigned on discovery of their recalcitrant anti vajra master agenda. Either that . . . or we would have had our membership rescinded in short order, as we are entirely and unreservedly opposed, to what I will have to describe as 'heresy'. It is not that we are not open to discussion with people who have alternative views - but my experience of the 'Conference of Western Buddhist Teachers' in Dharamsala in 1994 was that those who did not toe the party line were effectively marginalized. If it had only been the miscreant Ngakpa Chögyam who was marginalized I would not be so sure of what I am saying - but several other were marginalized - and they were all people who upheld the rôle of the vajra master.
Q People seem to be a bit upset when the words heretic and heresy are used - do you think you could say something about that?
Ngak'chang Rinpoche [laughs] I know that heresy is not a popular word - it's not exactly part of the 'feel good an any cost' philosophy of our times. However it is the nearest word we have to describe what is happening in terms of 'Western Buddhism' and 'American Buddhism'. I think we have to look at what this words means. The word heresy has a Greek root-hairesis-which means - a choosing from. That is to say - one has a group of interrelated, interactive, and interdependent spiritual coefficients - and one chooses from amongst them, and thereby damaging the whole. If one takes the example of an automobile for example one could choose to take out the spark plugs. That would constitute what is meant by a choosing from, and the result of the choosing from would be that the automobile would not function as an automobile. Heresy doesn't just mean a different translation, a different interpretation, a different approach, a different angle, or a different way of following the teachings. We are not averse to differences of style or differences of approach. We are not averse to changes occurring - because the outer form of Dharma will change, simply because it is a form. Form changes. We have no argument with that at all. The outer form of Dharma has changed over the last several thousand years according to the many realised masters who have given their individual transmission of Dharma. There is a difference between 'change' and 'heresy' - and we must come to an understanding of that. We are not traditionalists in the sense of adhering to historical and cultural precedent for its own sake - that much must be obvious to anyone who reads our books. If one looks at the history of Buddhism one can see that throughout its many changes - it has remained the same. The outer form has changed - but the essence has remained unchanged. So the meaning of 'heresy', as we are using the word, concerns changes to the central essential definition of Dharma. The vajra master is both central and essential to Vajrayana.
Q One could therefore have Vajrayana without brocade, or without chanting - but one could not have Vajrayana without the vajra master and vajra commitment.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Quite - unless chanting was associated with the practice of a gTérma. But to take your idea further - one could say, for example - that one could have water in many different forms. There could be tap water, spring water, mineral water, sparkling water, and filtered water ad nauseum - but if someone is offering water in powder form or pellet form, it would not be water - by definition. It may well have all the trace elements which could be found in water - but without the water, you would have to add water in order for it to become water. Vajrayana without the vajra master is an oxymoron - unless one has outlandishly insufficient comprehension of Vajrayana. The problem with the word 'heresy' is that people start imagining 'witch hunts' and the persecution of people who are merely different. Beyond the emotive implications of the word 'heresy' however, there exists a real question of the evident distorting of Dharma to fit modern ideas of psychotherapy and political correctness. We are not talking about traditional versus untraditional, or orthodox versus non-orthodox. These things are nothing to worry about, and any way - we would be the last people who could possible make a fuss about divergent styles. We do, however, make a fuss about the instigation of distorted definitions of Dharma.
Q In Britain we have a law which is called the 'Trades Descriptions Act' under which people can be prosecuted for giving misleading information about their products. This is why one is no longer allowed to advertise cigarettes with claims concerning their healthy qualities. You have to be reasonably truthful about your product.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes - and a medical heretic by this definition, is a doctor who claims that tobacco is a beneficial herb when it incinerated fumes are frequently inhaled. A doctor may freely state that cigarettes provide a nicotine experience which is sensually enjoyable to many - it is not medically heretical for a doctor to make that statement, because it is a factual statement. This . . . is all I have to say, and all that really needs to be said, about the validity of the word heresy in this case of a 'Buddhist teacher' stating that the vajra master is dispensable. What were we talking about [laughs] . . .
Q You had been commenting on the 1994 'Conference of Western Buddhist Teachers' Rinpoche . . .
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Ah yes, the conference. I went there hoping to make friends, to find a peer group . . .
Khandro Déchen We thought, at the time-back in 1994-how valuable it would be, to have a peer group. We still feel that way. The 'Network of Western Buddhist Teachers' however, did not turn out to be a feasible peer group for us. Far from it . . .
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Quite - it turned out to be something, perhaps more like a political lobby - or a pressure group. That may sound a trifle declamatory, and we will probably upset people in saying this-but it is true, and so there is no purpose in dissembling. There was an evident political agenda - and there were 'prime movers' who made certain that the conference attendees did not deviate from the agenda. That was my direct experience. There was evident pressure for concordance with that agenda amongst the major spokespersons. The agenda against the vajra master (the Lama, Vajrayana teacher, or tantric guru) was there from the start, and Ngakma Shardröl and I discovered it on the first day. From the outset, it was made clear, in the most indistinct smiling manner, that the spirit of the conference was one of evolving legislation concerning the vajra master and vajra commitment. It was apparently taken for granted that a certain Tibetan mahasiddha of the previous century was 'the antichrist', and that he had done great damage to Buddhism through his teachings with regard to the vajra master. This however, was always insinuated - it was never honestly and forthrightly stated. But knowing glances were exchanged if his name was ever mentioned in any respectful context. Private conversations abounded on the subject, and changed direction should anyone appear who was not recognised as being within the accepted anti vajra master cotérie. It was not by any means an open handed honest situation as far as the prime movers were concerned. I must say now, that not everyone there was involved in pushing the party line. There were a number of straightforward and even handed people there - but the tone of the conference had been set and the tendency to go along with those who were shaping the event was difficult to resist. I must plead guilty here, for not being more vocal at the time. Had I realised that I was witnessing a concerted effort to undermine the vajra master which would continue and escalate - I would have had no choice but to have been more challenging.
Q (Ngakma Shardröl) One of the ideas which seemed to be beyond debate was that the enlightened Lamas of the past such as Padmasambhava & Yeshé Tsogyel don't exist today, and so no one can do anything extraordinary anymore - or act in any way that might not please people.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes . . . that was the gist of it. The Twenty-five Male Siddhas of Chhimphu, the Twenty-two Female Siddhas, Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Milarépa and the many other masters such as Drukpa Künlegs, and DoKhyentsé Yeshé Dorje . . . all these masters were 'of the past' and no such masters existed today. That was the premise on which all discussion was founded.
Q (Ngakma Shardröl) It was stated in such a way as to be beyond discussion - and irritation was apparent if anyone challenged the position - as if to say: "We've been through that and, we've agreed that there are no enlightened masters - you have no cause and no right to throw our group discussion into disarray by bringing up this proven fallacy. By doing so you are attempting to undermine the serious nature of our discussion."
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes. Ngakma Shardröl took issue with the premise - but was ridiculed for her pains. She was not ordained at that time, and because no one had heard of her - no one took her seriously.
Q (Ngakma Shardröl) So they just repeated the message: "We no longer have enlightened masters - and because of this, the behaviour of the vajra master can no longer reflect the style of those masters of the past." Rinpoche said that he could not accept that statement because to do so would be to deny his own experience of his Lamas - but they ignored him. We were informed at this point, that the idea (that there were no enlightened masters any more) had some sort of sanction from 'on high' - and that because of this, the subject was not up for discussion. It was a conclusive fact. There were no Naropas or Tilopas alive today and that was that.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes . . . So I said: "Nevertheless - I wish to go ion record as maintaining the contrary." . . . and left it at that. We were never presented with the exact nature of this obscure pronunciamento with regard to the current absence of enlightened masters, and it did not seem possible to persist in terms of obtaining direct information on the subject. Those few representatives of Tibetan Lamas who were present, decided to retain a noble silence on this subject. These few took no further direct issue with what was said - and this silent minority have never been heard of again in connection with the 'Network of Western Buddhist Teachers'. They-like us-were not of one mind with the core collective. It was patent that a peer group was available, but only to those who agreed with the agenda - concerning which there was no room for discussion. This was evidently not a venue in which creative open ended discussion could take place with regard to a multiplicity of views and approaches. It is extremely important that I make that clear - because we have been criticised for being narrow-minded on this subject
Khandro Déchen It is often asserted that criticisms such as ours, represent a refusal to allow diversity. The objection is that we are aggressively demanding that 'ours is the only way.'
Ngak'chang Rinpoche yes . . . and this is somewhat ironic in view of the atmosphere of the conference which Shardröl and I attended. What we found at the 'Conference of Western Buddhist Teachers', was a rigorous party line, upheld by those who demanded that theirs was the only way. This demand was not maintained in a forthright honest manner - but largely through concerted lack of interest in any other view than that which was pre-ordained by a pre-existing group of associates. Khandro Déchen and I are being direct and open handed in what we say - and this is the main reason why some people are offended by it. We are not hiding behind soft, gentle, placatory oratory. This is why it was not possible to be part of this peer group - even as polite, and courteous gainsayers.
Khandro Déchen Rinpoche went to the conference with a presentation to offer before His Holiness the Dala'i Lama. We had written the presentation together - extremely carefully. Rinpoche practised reading it every day so that he would be fluent. The presentation had been edited so that it took only five minutes to read - and he had practised it with me on sufficient occasions to be sure of that.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche This presentation was a brief outline of our work in the west with regard to the establishment of the gö kar chang lo'i dé - but it was found by the organisers, that there was no time in our week with His Holiness the Dala'i Lama at which it could be presented. There were an assortment of other presentations - most of which took twenty minutes to a half hour - and most of which could have been trimmed by some minutes, even with the most charitable view. However . . . I accepted that it was not possible. This would not have been worthy of comment, but for the fact that a speaker from Switzerland was allowed to give an un-programmed twenty minute presentation on the psychological value of masturbation for those with poor self-value. The speaker was allowed to interrupt the programme, it would appear - merely because he was 'deeply troubled' by the fact that His Holiness the Dala'i Lama had mentioned in passing that masturbation was inappropriate behaviour for monastics. The central theme of his argument in favour of masturbation was that people could misunderstand His Holiness the Dala'i Lama to be making a pronouncement that masturbation was negative per se. So . . . in this supposed conference on the subject of Buddhism in the west - masturbation was given a twenty minute airing and the subject of our work in establishing the gö-kar chang-lo'i dé was not deemed worthy of five minutes . . . Not that we have any great issue with masturbation [laughs] but those who accuse us of intolerance - would do well to consider this story, because it is merely one story in an anthology of Western Buddhist authoritarianism. Quite apart from this, there was almost no one present at the conference who would actually admit to being a teacher. No one would admit to having students either - they were all noticeably 'humble' in that respect. But now, five years or so down the road - this would appear not to be exactly the case. We are now faced by a group who are not at all shy about wishing to exert their direct influence - and to be shapers of 'The Buddhism of the Future'. So, as I say - we found no peer group there.
Khandro Déchen No - but fortunately we have since found a peer group with two wonderful Western Lamas - Traktung Rinpoche and A'dzom Rinpoche.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Traktung Rinpoche is the Mind Incarnation of DoKhyentsé Yeshé Dorje and A'dzom Rinpoche is the incarnation of Khandro Shardröl Rinchen Wangmo - who was the incarnation of the sister of DoKhyentsé Yeshé Dorje - Khandro Losèl Drölma. They are both amazing and delightful and knowing them is the most important part of our lives after our relationship with our own Root Lamas.
Q You do have Tibetan friends though and friends who are Tibetan Lamas.
Khandro Déchen Yes - We have always had Tibetan friends - but strangely enough, until we met Traktung Rinpoche and A'dzom Rinpoche we had no sense of 'peer group' at all - at least not one with whom we could discuss things from the basis of a shared formative culture. Maybe there will be other Western Lamas in the future whom we shall also come to know. There are certainly several wonderful people with whom we have been communicating on the subject at hand - but we have not yet met in person.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche I should say, with regard to the Conference, that there were several warm and friendly people there too. There was a marvellous Theravadin monk - the venerable Thanavaro. A most excellent man and evidently a dedicated practitioner. When Ngakma Shardröl was ridiculed for her enthusiasm for the vajra master as a person beyond normal frames of reference - it was venerable Thanavaro who took it upon himself to speak privately with her.
Q (Ngakma Shardröl) Yes - he said I'd been bitten by the Dharma crocodile. He was really kind, generous, and supportive of my position and said that it was sometimes hard for people to understand the rôle of the teacher. He said his teacher was much like a vajra master - even though he was not so familiar with the word.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes - he seemed to be more of a natural tantrika as a Theravadin monk than many of those who claimed experience of Vajrayana. Someone at some early point in the conference decided that it would be good to have periods of silence interspersed between all the talk. It was interesting to see who voted for that - and who did not. However - it was decided that the venerable Thanavaro should dictate when the silences should occur - and he was given a set of tingshar to assist him in his rôle. He was a sheer delight in his rôle. He did not take advantage of his rôle by striking the tingshar too often - but whenever he chose to strike them, it always seemed the perfect point at which to cause the most frustration with regard to those who wanted to dominate the talking. The silences always seemed to last just a little bit too long for some - but there was nothing that anyone could say. The venerable Thanavaro - was beyond reproach; and, he was simply carrying out the wishes of the group. A perfect example of skilful means. It was a joy to have him at the conference.
I would like at this point, to address the question of whether Khandro Déchen and myself are Western Buddhist Teachers. This could be an interesting question; because, we are Western, and we are Buddhists, and we are also teachers - but that does not mean that we are 'Western Buddhist Teachers'. We are not teachers of 'Western Buddhism'. We are not part of a new movement. We are not part of something called 'Western Buddhism' - that was the choice we made, and we made that choice as soon as it became apparent that the 'Network of Western Buddhist Teachers' was not a peer group of teachers who just happened to be western - but a movement with a particular political philosophy. This is probably the reason why we were not accepted - and why we should not have made an application for membership. Our approach was so radically different on such core issues - that there was no way in which they would have been sensible in welcoming us. We have no quarrel with having been rejected - it was the correct decision on whosever's part it was. I mean . . . why allow Genghis Khan admission to the Peace Corps? Why invite a cannibal to a vegetarian picnic?
Q (Ngakma Shardröl) It was a bit like that. We were definitely outsiders. Rinpoche pointed out at one point that the way they were asking questions of His Holiness the Dala'i Lama seemed a bit suspect [interrupted]
Ngak'chang Rinpoche [laughs] I think I was a tiny little bit more tactful than that. It was something I had noticed, and it was one of the few times I felt I had to say something. We had been engaged in a highly formalised process of generating questions to ask of His Holiness the Dala'i Lama, and it struck me as being an increasingly incomprehensible procedure. I simply could not understand why we were asking these questions - well . . . that's not true actually. I had a fairly shrewd idea, so I said: "I have a question which has been troubling me for a day of two now. I am finding that I cannot understand why we are asking these questions of His Holiness the Dala'i Lama. It strikes me that we, as teachers of what ever order, should know the answers to these questions. I feel that we all have our own answers to these questions and that we may simply be attempting to obtain a seal of approval concerning what we already hold to be true. If this is the case, then I feel we should be open about what we are doing."
Q What did they say to that?
Q (Ngakma Shardröl) The room went silent and the subject changed. That was it. I think that those who understood what Rinpoche had said and agreed - simply sat there, and those who understood and were embarrassed about being discovered changed the subject rather than risk having the whole group look too carefully into at what they were doing. Basically it was too embarrassing to deal with, and so it was shelved. I think those who disagreed with the purpose of the conference just became observers at that point.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche We certainly did. I continued to attempt to mention the gö-kar chang-lo'i dé when ever the question of sangha arose - and was almost-politely ignored.
Q (Ngakma Shardröl) There were a few 'not him again with that subject' expressions on some people's faces - but that was about it.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche It was my duty to say something - so I simply called them out whenever they used the word 'lay' inappropriately regarding the gö-kar chang-lo'i dé. I explained that the word 'lay' meant amateur, non-professional, secular, and 'not of the clergy'. I explained also that this definition was consistent in both British and American English according to several dictionaries. I amplified this point by saying that we had conducted research to the effect that this was also the case in German, Finnish, Swedish, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian. I concluded that the word 'lay' appeared only to be used by Buddhists in the West to mean 'non-celibate'. I even brought their attention to the fact that if we were to be 'politically correct' we should try to be aware that it would be a statement of prejudice against other religions who use this word 'lay' to mean 'non-celibate'. A fuss was made at one point about the importance of using the term 'people of colour' rather than other classification for non Caucasians, and I ventured, in similar vein, that 'non-celibate' is the best word for 'non-celibate'.
Q How can one describe His Holiness Düd'jom Rinpoche as a 'lay tantrika' as I have seen him described. According to the dictionaries, this means 'an amateur tantrika', 'a non-professional tantrika' or 'a tantrika who is not of the clergy'. This would be farcical - to put it mildly.
Q (Ngakma Shardröl) There was then a little head nodding and a few sheepish grins, after which they went back to using the word 'lay' in exactly the same way as they had done before, when they talked about the gö-kar chang-lo'i dé. After a few days of the conference after bringing this topics several times Rinpoche said that he would like to tell everyone that he had given up and accepted that the conference were disinterested in the gö-kar chang-lo'i dé, or in according any attention to the matters he had brought up around the use of the word lay - and that they would no longer have to hear from him on the subject. This caused a little embarrassment in which the organisers half heartedly attempted to say that Rinpoche's contribution had been valued etcetera-etcetera-etcetera. But it was clear that this was a sop to cover the embarrassment about the way he called them out on what they were doing.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes . . . that was about the shape of it. I do not want to complain too much though - I must take responsibility for the fact that I was generally quite low key. I could, in all honesty, have done much more to push the issues which I felt were important. I assume I was just too English in my manner, and didn't want to be obnoxious.
Khandro Déchen But now . . . it seems that it is not wise to be polite at conferences. It seems that unless people begin to speak out about the Western Buddhist psychologising of Dharma, many people are going to be seriously mislead.
Q What are your views on 'Western Buddhism' or 'American Buddhism' - the two terms seem to be used interchangeably - it seems important to have some fundamental understanding of what we are seeing here, in terms of Buddhist practice in the West?
Khandro Déchen I feel that it is important to start by saying that Buddhism is not actually designated according to hemisphere, continent, country, or ethnic group. There are simply schools of Buddhism. Those schools do have names, but their names arise in the context of realisation - in the context of enlightened founders. There are, what are commonly known as the Tibetan Buddhist schools: Nyingma, Kagyüd, Sakya, and Gélug. Then there are the other schools such as Ch'an, Zen, and Theravada. People do talk of 'Tibetan Buddhism', but that is not really the correct way to define the Buddhism which exists in Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh, India, China, Mongolia, and parts of Russia. This form of Buddhism did not begin in Tibet - it began in India and the land of Ögyen.
Q So 'Tibetan Buddhism' is a misnomer.
Khandro Déchen Fundamentally - yes, particularly in the context of this discussion. We use the term Tibetan Buddhism, as does almost everybody - but that is because we're stuck with it through common usage.
Q So it would be better to use another term?
Khandro Déchen No - that is not really necessary - it would just cause confusion. There are many aspects of language with which we have stuck because habit has set in amongst people. The most important point for people to understand, is that the term 'Tibetan Buddhism' was not coined by Tibetans. It was coined by Western people. So, unlike the term 'Western Buddhism' or 'American Buddhism', it doesn't constitute a chauvinistic usage on the part of Tibetans. Tibetans speak of Dharma as Dharma.
Q So we're stuck with 'Tibetan Buddhism' as the term we use to describe the Nine yanas or Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana?
Khandro Déchen But that does not have to be a problem - we simply need to be able to use the term in the knowledge that Buddhism does not belong to countries or races of people. Buddhism of any school or any tradition is for everyone, everywhere. The problem with calling anything 'Western Buddhism' or 'American Buddhism' - there is no Buddhism which is for one nationality or ethnic group. No one owns Dharma.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche And no one own samsara either.
Khandro Déchen Tibetan samsara, Welsh samsara, English samsara, American samsara, are all samsara. They are fundamentally the same. They are just differently shaded versions of the same five colours of the five elemental neuroses.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche The 'cultural differences' which seem so important to some people are quite illusory at some level. Maybe when one is first interested in exploring Dharma, 'cultural differences' may cause certain anomalies - but to a person seriously involved with Vajrayana and a personal vajra master - 'cultural differences' become irrelevant. Anyone who has seriously studied with a Lama will have come to the understanding that cultural differences are only an issue when one is not clear about the essential nature of what is being communicated.
Khandro Déchen I have noticed for example, that the famous cellist Yoyo Ma does not have obstacles with regard to playing the Bach cello sonatas. He does not have to make these pieces sound Japanese in order to enjoy playing them - and playing them extremely well. Whatever colour car one owns - it still has an engine and wheels. It's not the colour of the car which makes a difference. It's not the body styling of the car, or whether its upholstery is sumptuous or minimalist. We understand the need of Western people to be able to integrate the teachings of Vajrayana into their lives. We also realise that the outer form of Buddhism will change over the next centuries - but 'now' is not really the point in time to be manufacturing something called 'Western Buddhism'.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche 'Western Buddhism' or 'American Buddhism' will not even exist in the future, because lineages of realisation depend upon realisation - and realisation has nothing to do with the process of creating religion by committee, or by conference. That is the death of religion - or to misquote Leonard Cohen: 'Who by conference, and who by preference, who by inference, and who by impertinence - and who, shall we say, is calling?' Those in the West who are the students and disciples of Lamas and Buddhist Teachers of their respective traditions need to be attending to their part in a lengthy process of transition - and that is a transition which is likely to take several hundred years. Then what will appear in that time will probably not have a name like 'Western Buddhism' or 'American Buddhism'. The names of future traditions which may arise in the West will be derived from the enlightened masters who found them. For example - Khandro Déchen and I have no interest in calling ourselves anything other than Nyingma. We come from that tradition. We were educated within that tradition: within the Düd'jom gTér, the Chang gTér, the Khordong gTér, and the Aro gTér - the lineage we have the honour of holding and propagating in the world.
Khandro Déchen There is nothing 'Western' about what we teach. There is nothing 'Eastern' about it either. Dharma is not bound to any hemisphere, racial group, or nationality. Dharma lies beyond such definitions. If there is a Dharma for Western people, then it is a limited thing and therefore not actually Dharma.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche We may speak in contemporary English; and we may use analogies which speak to the British, Americans, and Continental Europeans - but that is not to say that we 'westernise' anything. There is nothing essentially 'Eastern' about Vajrayana which could be 'westernised'. What we teach is simply a lineage of Vajrayana which began in Tibet with the gTérma of Khyungchen Aro Lingma. We should not be in such a hurry here to change things or to manufacture entities on the basis of extremely limited experience. It would be useful for people to understand that the great Lamas of the past never actually decided to found schools or traditions. The schools, traditions, and lineages which came into being, simply came into being through the inspiration of these Lamas. Their disciples simply continued to practice in the example of their Lamas.
Khandro Déchen Why decide to found something different? Why not simply live and practise and teach - and be an example?
Ngak'chang Rinpoche If the example is worth following-if one is actually an inspiration as a human being-if one actually has realisation-if one actually works for the benefit of beings-if one is true to the essence of the teachings and is not at war with one's own training, then . . . a 'tradition' will undoubtedly arise. One does not even have to live so long as to see such a tradition come into being - it is not important. All that is important is the wider concern of maintaining the authentic stream of transmission, and one cannot maintain the authentic stream of transmission by breaking it. We are obviously being critical here, and we would like you to understand that we respect people's good intentions. People are evidently concerned about their own cultures and their own ways of life. We have no argument with that. We have no argument with teaching Dharma in a way which facilitates a genuine understanding. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a Tibetan Buddhism master who pioneered the teaching of Dharma in contemporary English - so where is the need to look any further for 'Western Buddhism' or 'American Buddhism'? We already have it. It's already arrived. What is there to change or integrate, unless one wishes to integrate spiritual materialism? This is the serious question here - and this would seem to be our major concern.
Q It seems that there's a sense in which the traditions to which the advocates of 'Western Buddhism' and 'American Buddhism' originally owed their training, were not enough. Those who are vocal amongst the 'Western Buddhist teachers' seem to combine traditions. Those with Zen training incorporate Vajrayana methodology. Those from a Theravadin background incorporate Dzogchen . . .
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes . . . Each Buddhist tradition is sufficient. Each Buddhist tradition is not only sufficient - but more than sufficient. It's impossible for me, ever, to consider ever coming to the end of the Nyingma tradition - or even one lineage within the Nyingma tradition. How could anyone-ever-imagine they could exhaust what is available in their tradition? How could anyone ever find their Buddhist tradition lacking in any way? The idea boggles me. All I can assume is that such people know only a fraction of the extent of their tradition.
Q It seems somehow avaricious . . . somehow, lacking in appreciation to want more than is available in one's own lineage. But more than that, I would imagine that wanting more could only be based on not knowing the full extent of one's lineage?
Khandro Déchen Yes - even the Aro gTér lineage, which is one of the very smallest family lineages within the Nyingma tradition is far more than enough for us. It will take me the rest of my life simply to paint all the yidams of the tradition.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche If anyone feels that they have to cross over into other Buddhist traditions it is probably because they lack a sufficient basis of knowledge and practise in their own tradition.
Q How would that apply to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche . . . didn't he incorporate some Zen disciplines into his teaching?
Ngak'chang Rinpoche I believe so. But that is another question entirely. Trungpa Rinpoche was a mahasiddha. Trungpa Rinpoche, also, did not incorporate Zen through any lack within his mastery of the Karma Kagyüd and Nyingma Lineages. It was through his friendship with the Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki that he incorporated Zen methods. There is a vast difference between two practitioners sharing aspects of their practises, and two masters who exchange transmission at the level of mastery. Padmasambhava was possibly the world's greatest and most far reaching eclectic-but that does not mean that Khandro Déchen or I would venture into any form of eclecticism.
Q For a Buddha or a mahasiddha to be an eclectic is called 'active compassion'. For others to attempt it is called vanity or megalomania.
Khandro Déchen We have seen photographs of Trungpa Rinpoche at the time when he exchanged transmissions with Shunryu Suzuki, and at that time he shaved his head and wore Zen robes as an outer symbol of having integrated those teachings at the level of realisation.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche People make the same mistake with the idea of Ri'mèd. Ri-mèd means 'without bias' and applies to the Lamas who mastered their own tradition and then proceeded to master other traditions. People like the idea of Ri'mèd because it is non-sectarian. That is good in itself, as there is too much sectarianism in the world - but Ri'mèd is not a path according to the idea of path as different from goal. Ri'mèd is a fruitional path. Ri'mèd is the celebration of the goal through experiencing the path according to other traditions. This was Trungpa Rinpoche's approach to Zen. He mastered his own lineage and then mastered the Zen lineage of Shunryu Suzuki. This is not the same as a persons who have studied and practised, but have run into ideological problems with Buddhism and decide to manufacture a new form of Buddhism which suits their own ideology. That is not Ri-mèd.
Q Right . . . and this brings to the question of conflicting ideologies. It would seem that it is foolish to cross-dress with political philosophy and spirituality. It would seem that one would have to find one's refuge in one or the other. The reason I am asking this, is because we see a lot of material nowadays from all kinds of sources which seem to treat Dharma as if it was unsuitable for Western people by virtue of it's supposed politically anachronistic infrastructure.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche What is it exactly that is being said?
Q Westerns Buddhist teachers are advocating personal experience in preference to reliance on the advice of the teacher or vajra master.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche I see . . . and this 'personal experience' is what exactly?
Q That's just it - it's an amorphous statement.
Khandro Déchen Yes . . . personal experience will lead us in almost any direction. Personal experience is quite valuable in terms of the exploration which leads people to seek out a teacher and a teaching. That is where we have to start - but one cannot call oneself a Buddhist, let alone a Vajrayana Buddhist if one prioritises one's personal experience.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Quite. And how is one expected to decide what is 'personal experience', as in 'personal experience which leads to realisation', and 'personal neurosis'?
Q Well there the answer would appear to be that one 'depends on the collective wisdom of the sangha' . . .
Q . . . in order to 'diminish the rôle of the Lama'.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche That would be almost amusing if it were not so terribly sad. The 'collective wisdom of the sangha' . . . Well . . . that's a phrase and no mistake. It is not really so simple to discuss such a statement without being offensively dismissive-is it? I mean, dismiss us as Lamas if you choose . . . but that is not really the point. The rôle of Lama cannot be diminished within Vajrayana without terminating Vajrayana as a functional proposition. Without the vajra master there is no Vajrayana.
Khandro Déchen We have some degree of sympathy for those who are attempting to deal with the cultural mismatches which may occur between the cultural forms of Eastern and Western countries - but these are early days and we need to proceed with circumspection. We have great appreciation for the Tibetan Lamas who have made their lineages available. We are obviously concerned with defining cultural aspects of the outer manifestation of Vajrayana as distinct from essential Vajrayana - but not with disrespect for Tibetan culture, or the lineages as presented by the revered Tibetan Lamas who have graciously come to the West.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche We have no desire to remove essential mechanisms from the vehicle. Petrol or should I say 'gasoline' may well be dermatologically harmful, but without it one's Harley Davidson or Vincent Black Lightning would only be capable of rolling down convenient hills. One can strip a vehicle down and expose the engine in the creation of a dragster, but if one removes parts of the engine even the most luxurious sedan will not serve its intended purpose.
Khandro Déchen We are by no means beyond the reach of criticism in terms of their failure to maintain Tibetan cultural forms, but we are respectful of those forms. We are also essentially highly traditional with respect to lineage, transmission, and the fourteen root vows of Vajrayana (with all their attendant commitments). Those who are ignorant of non-liturgical streams of Vajrayana have sometimes passed comment on our 'lack of traditional practice' merely because we represent a Tibetan non-liturgical lineage. But students of ours who have discussed their practice with Tibetan Nyingma ngak'phang Lamas in the East have always been clearly understood as authentic and traditional practitioners.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche That is an important point. We are essentially traditional. And so . . . what else is being said?
Q All manner of things . . . let's see - oh yes, there's the question of the Western Buddhist teachers saying that ' . . . negative experiences with Eastern Teachers of all the Buddhist traditions have created doubt and cynicism.' - and that is why they are taking it upon themselves to advocate changes.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Really . . . And Charles Manson was not a Western person? And no Western person has ever acted in a reprehensible manner? Any how . . . this is actually a non-sequitur in terms of the rôle of the Lama within Vajrayana. Did Milarépa's 'negative experiences' with Marpa create doubt and cynicism in him? Did this lead him to manufacture an alternative school of Buddhism? I don't think so.
Khandro Déchen Or Naropa, what of his painful experiences?
Ngak'chang Rinpoche And the many other Lamas - in terms of the experiences with their Tsa-wa'i Lamas.
Khandro Déchen Take Ngak'chang Rinpoche, for example. [laughs] He has so many stories of Kyabjé Chhi'mèd Rig'dzin Rinpoche in which he experienced what could have been causes for massive doubt and cynicism - but this doesn't seem to have happened does it? It's as if these people have never studied their lineage histories.
Q Maybe they haven't.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Maybe not - but then, how can they be teaching others if they're ignorant of the broad scope of the tradition in which they studied. It is really extraordinarily and belligerently sad. I am shocked . . . These are alarmingly immature statements. Maybe such statements have more in common with the political rhetoric with which we have become familiar in the West. We are used to statements which are designed to excite the over-excitable. The political rhetoric which inflames people is often simplistic - and usually scapegoats others: "It's the bad Eastern teachers! They're the one who are to blame! Let's start a movement against them and then we'll all be happy with our miserable puerile little neuroses. We can be safe and secure in our cocoons of dualism." This is grim . . . It is always the same when we blame others for our own pain. We have to own our own pain. We cannot blame mummy and daddy for ever. We have to grow up. History has shown us this example any times - once 'the bad people' have been done away with-we simply turn on each other. There is no end to pain through this means, and no possibility of realisation either. These ideas are all very well and good coming from career politicians, but coming from anyone who has taken vows, such statements are tragic. And the people who are making these statement expect to be taken seriously?
Q Some people are taking them seriously . . . yes.
Khandro Déchen If one takes vows and breaks them, how can one be expected to be taken seriously? It's one thing - to be critical of a person's behaviour, but that should not lead a serious practitioner to question the basic structure of the Vajrayana. But as Rinpoche said: 'this is a non-sequitur in terms of the rôle of the Lama within Vajrayana.'. Anyone who approaches the Vajrayana, has to do so as an adult - not as a child. A child can make mistakes, but one does not approach the vajra master as a child. One approaches the vajra master as an adult.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche An adult should be capable of making adult decisions. If one finds that one is not an adult, then one should look to a process of gaining maturity, rather than pretending to be an adult and making a fuss about the fact of accepting adult responsibility.
Q It would be bizarre, for example, for someone to enter the Marine Corps and end up crying about it.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche [laughs] A useful analogy - but one would have to take it further. One would have to continue the story. One would have to go to the newspapers, or even start one's own website, in order to cry publicly: "I joined the Marines and there were big mean spiteful fellows there who made me do things that I didn't particularly want to do." What would one think about a person who spoke in that way? Wouldn't one ask: "Why did you join the Marines in the first place? Didn't you read the material? Didn't you have any idea what the training would involve?" We are only looking at these questions of 'negative experiences with teachers' because we live in a society which deifies the victim. Victims have become our heroes and heroines, and that is a tragic statement. We used to have real heroes and real heroines and now we glorify professional victims.
Q So really - one should understand the rôle of the vajra master very carefully before entering into vajra relationship.
Khandro Déchen Certainly. All the traditional texts which speak of the ultimate value of the vajra master, also speak of the need to check that the teacher really is the vajra master. There is an excellent book out now, book now, called 'The Teacher-Student Relationship' by Jamgön Kongtrül the Great - translated by Ron Garry. If one wishes to know how to check the vajra master, then this would be the text to read. But of course, in order to be able to check the vajra master . . . one does actually need to enter into serious practice. How can one check someone when one has little or no meditative experience?
Ngak'chang Rinpoche And having entered vajra commitment with the vajra master on the basis of real practice experience - there is no negative experience.
Khandro Déchen There may well be discomfort at times, but that is natural. Why should there not be discomfort and confusion when one has set out upon the path of destroying dualism? How can one imagine one's dualism can be undermined and one's neuroses transformed without one's identity being challenged?
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Dualism is our clinging to reference points which substantiate us as solid, permanent, separate, continuous, and defined. Dualism is our rejection of anything which undermines our sense of being solid, permanent, separate, continuous, and defined. If we let the vajra master into our lives, he or she will definitely assault our reference points.
Q If you don't want your reference points assaulted, then you shouldn't invite the vajra master into your life.
Khandro Déchen Quite. The vajra masters of any lineage of Vajrayana would be in breech of samaya if they did not abuse duality and our addiction to duality - so why all this non-sense about 'negative experiences' in the context of the vajra master?
Ngak'chang Rinpoche There can only be abuse in a system which recognises abuse. From the point of view of Western medical science, smoking looks like abuse (particularly if one forces others to partake of secondary smoking[1]) - yet within the 'freedom culture', it is an abuse to prevent people from smoking. Within Vajrayana culture, spiritual materialism looks like abuse, yet within Western Buddhist culture it looks like a positive step. Within Vajrayana culture the delusion of personal subjectivity looks like abuse, yet within Western Buddhism the dualism of 'personal experience' looks like freedom.
Q . . . and the dualism of 'Maitreya Buddha as the sangha' shines forth like a ray of hope . . .
Khandro Déchen 'Maitreya Buddha as the sangha'? [laughs]. What do you mean?
Q It is boldly asserted on one Western Buddhist website 'the coming Buddha Maitreya will be the sangha, rather than another patriarchal Eastern boss for another 2500 years.'
Khandro Déchen That is a sad and confused comment . . . It's not even particularly rational. This can only mean that the person quoted feels that a large enough group of people are able to add up to one enlightened being . . . [laughs] as if realisation were cumulative. The person who said this must be quite young and new to Buddhism?
Q No-he's middle aged and has completed either one or two three year retreats.
Khandro Déchen I don't know what to say . . . maybe we will leave that one alone. I don't think that it requires a comment.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Indeed. So . . . as to the vajra master -Vajrayana does not recognise limitations in terms of the vajra master - and those who pass through the immigration control of the realm of Vajrayana, need to be sensible of its culture. This is not to say that the vajra master is everyone's vajra master whether they have entered vajra commitment or not. The vajra master is only the vajra master for the vajra-disciple - and the vajra disciples have to know that they are vajra disciples. Once one becomes a vajra disciple - one cannot turn back.
Q Right - that's why it is said that one becomes like a snake in a bamboo tube.
Khandro Déchen Yes - exactly. So be careful which tube you enter. The texts state this over and over again. This warning is over a thousand years old-but there is no way of making it easy through applying some sort of rule. One can only ascertain the qualities of a teacher through intensive practice.
Q That reminds me of another issue the Western Buddhist teachers have raised, they want to establish generalised criteria as to the qualification of teachers.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche That's interesting . . . It would seem that those who have this idea of wanting to diminish the rôle of the Lama, merely want to emphasise themselves as the arbiters of what is to be. This is actually vaguely ridiculous inasmuch as it's patently little more than a bid for self-importance.
Q They seem to be saying: "We don't want anyone's authority but our own - so that we can lay down the rules and be the new authorities."
Q Right - that's a wonderful choice isn't it: help us depose the King or Queen and we'll be your fascist dictators instead.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Well . . . that's how it appears. But let's say they had some good motivation . . . We should not always immediately suppose that people are entirely self-serving. I mean-there are certainly people who are 'teaching' - people who are translating Vajrayana into 'new-age' easily digestible baby food . . .
Q I read one Western Buddhist teacher's advertisement which read 'Dzogchen is more Fun'-I mean . . . more fun than what? More fun than belly dancing?
Q Yes . . . I read a blurb of some Western Buddhist teaching scheduled in Seattle. The text ran:
"We've been at the party too long. We just wanted some fun but now we're trying way too hard. There's no one else to be but ourselves, and there's nowhere else to go but where we are. This is the teaching of the Buddhas. When are you coming home?"
Q And this . . . is the teaching of the Buddhas?
Q Was this serious?
Q Yes - it supposed to be serious as far as I could tell.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Right . . . yes . . . . Maybe, it would be appropriate for those who gave teachings to be knowledgeable-to have the requisite experience-to have an authentic lineage-to have authentic experience.
Q But who tests that? Who makes the rules?
Khandro Déchen It's an individual choice. Whether someone sees someone else as a teacher is none of any one else's concern.
Q But it would appear that the Western Buddhist teachers are trying to make this choice into a group decision to be anti-teacher, and particularly anti-vajra master.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche This is nonsensical from any Buddhist standpoint - a group cannot make decisions as to who is realised and who is not. The realisation of a Lama cannot be voted into credibility by a committee. . The realisation of a Lama cannot be voted out of credibility by a committee either.
Q Group members will always have their differences anyway - so how can judgements be made?
Q And if there's disagreement in a group - how can a group know what the realisation and experience of a Lama are?
Q Yes . . . If they are not all of one mind it means that they lack the realisation to judge realisation.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche [laughs] Maybe they are all of one mind, and maybe that's the problem . . . maybe there's no real freedom there. If there were real freedom then they would be happy for free human beings to make free choices about who they chose to regard as a teacher. Only the individual can ask someone to be their Lama and be accepted as a disciple by that Lama. No one calls themselves a teacher - that designation comes from the students and disciples. It can only be the disciple who makes the decision to call someone their teacher - but once one accepts a Lama (and is accepted by a Lama) within a Vajrayana lineage, there can no longer be doubt and cynicism. Everything at that point must be integrated into the path. One must continually encourage pure-vision with regard to the person one has chosen as a vajra master.
Q So, no one can issue dictates as to who is a teacher for someone else - in terms of external criteria.
Khandro Déchen Well . . . there are certain criteria which are traditionally applied . . . One certainly needs to have completed the two 'Lama Khorlos' or 'Teacher Cycles'.
Q They're the cycles of 'study and practice' and 'retreat and accomplishment'?
Khandro Déchen Yes - that's right. A person can't merely be the student of a teacher for a few years and read a few books and then decide that they're a teacher. But that does happen, and has happened.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes - one certainly needs sufficient neurons to achieve a synapse. One requires a lineage - an if one disparages one's lineage then one has nothing to offer. If one disparages one's teacher - one breaks the root vows of Vajrayana. So there have to be criteria - but these criteria are already well established in terms of the fourteen root vows of Vajrayana.
Q Dung-sé Thrinlé Norbu Rinpoche was interviewed by Tricycle magazine in the Fall. The interview was called 'Words for the West'.
Khandro Déchen Yes - as if Dungsé Thrinlé Norbu Rinpoche was addressing Western people en masse -rather than 'Western Buddhist teachers'.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes . . . It was a journalistically adroit presentation . . . a piece of manipulative propaganda.
Q . . . with 'exposé style' photograph-strip pictures which incensed many Vajrayana practitioners.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes . . . interestingly enough a series of photographs of me were taken in the Fall of 1998 when I was teaching at Pema Osel Ling, and an unusual number of these pictures show me looking really angry [laughs]. I look viciously deranged [laughs]. I was so surprised by these pictures that I trimmed and mounted them up in the same 'exposé' style as Tricycle magazine employed for the supposedly 'angry' pictures of Dungsé Thrinlé Norbu Rinpoche.
Q It is clear that photographs can lie . . .
Q Many of those Vajrayana practitioners who have also seen the edited version in Tricycle magazine are as concerned as you are by the style in which it was presented. A number of their letters of complaint to the editor appeared on internet forums, and we sent our own to letters to tricycle - but none were published.
Q That's why we wanted to interview you about this subject. We were all deeply saddened by this scurrilous misuse of Dung-sé Thrinlé Norbu Rinpoche's words by Tricycle magazine. Did you see it?
Khandro Déchen Yes. The interview was entitled 'Words for the West' and it presented Dung-sé Thrinlé Norbu Rinpoche in a way which made it seem that he had antagonistic view of Western Buddhists . . .
Ngak'chang Rinpoche . . . which his is distinctly not the case. We have a certain familiarity with journalism and journalists, and the way in which they like to re-create reality according to their own ideas of what makes 'good copy'.
Q The journalistic tendency toward sensationalism?
Ngak'chang Rinpoche Yes, but what has been perpetrated here however is of a far more deceitful and manipulative order. Dung-sé Thrinlé Norbu Rinpoche's criticisms were all directly levelled at spokespersons actively involved with the creation of 'Western Buddhism' and 'American Buddhism', and with the attempted 'democratisation' of Vajrayana. His comments were not 'Words for the West' but words for those who use the word 'West' to identify their psycho-egalitarian revamping of the Dharmas of different traditions.
Khandro Déchen Dung-sé Thrinlé Norbu Rinpoche is far from being critical of Western teachers of Buddhism. He has, in fact, been highly supportive of those Western Lamas associated with Tharchin Rinpoche and HE Chag'düd Tulku Rinpoche.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche A well known quote from Dung-sé Thrinlé Norbu Rinpoche illuminates the way he sees the situation. He was addresses the students of the West Coast Nyingma Lamas at Tharchin Rinpoche's land about the fact that they should not discriminate between Tibetan and Western people in terms of how they received their teaching. After enumerating the excellent qualities of the Western Lamas present, Dung-sé Thrinlé Norbu Rinpoche said: "What is the difference between a Tibetan Lama and a Western Lama? The Difference is that the Tibetan Lama has a flat nose and the Western Lama has a Rocky Mountain nose."
I hope that we will see a return to authentic practice, and real friendship amongst practitioners . . . I realise that we have made some strong statements here, but we have had no choice under the circumstances - but whether this is the lion's roar of Seng-gé Dradog or the chicken's squawk of Ngakpa Chögyam will have to be left to the insight of our others.
Khandro Déchen As we said before - Rinpoche and I would rather not involve ourselves in critical comment, but we feel that it's time to show our cards.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche So here they are. Here are our cards: the Kuntuzangpo Ralpa Nakpo mDo (Kuntu bZang po ral pa nag po'i mDo) states:
In the degenerate era, when red faced beasts have ruined the Vajrayana teachings, those with white skirts will benefit sentient beings! Thence arises the need for longhaired practitioners! A carefree body donning a white skirt and head adorned with braids - this is the sky-like appearance of the trül-ku! Carefree uncut hair - this is the sky-like appearance of the long-ku! Carefree view of pure Mind - this is the chö-ku. Achieving the three spheres of being within oneself - this is the practice of Dzogchen!'
Although we are not good or even adequate examples of white-skirted long haired practitioners of the gö-kar chang-lo'i dé (gos dKar lCang lo'i sDe) - we can at least speak out against red faced beasts who attempt to ruin the opportunity of Vajrayana for others.
Ngak'chang Rinpoche & Khandro Déchen

[1] This is more particularly the case for those who abuse their children by inflicting tobacco smoke on them.


Why Sentient Beings Are Sentient Beings
Lecture Given Sunday, June 10, 1984

According to Buddhism, the original nature of sentient beings is identical to Buddha-nature. But to us this identity seems completely absent: the Buddhas are perfectly wise whereas sentient beings are profoundly ignorant. How has this difference arisen?
The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment tells us that Buddha-nature and ignorance are one. Both have existed from beginningless time. Sentient beings have always been ignorant, but this ignorance is only a different form of Buddha-nature. The identity between ignorance and Buddha-nature is similar to the identity of ice at the North Pole with the water in the ocean. The same substance can be both ice and water depending on its location. We can further extend the analogy. The ice at the North Pole is permanently frozen just as sentient beings have always been ignorant. And as some ice may occasionally melt due to climactic irregularities, some few sentient beings do attain Buddhahood. So ignorance and Buddhahood, just like ice and water, are essentially the same although they may appear different according to perspective. The difference, thus, that we perceive between Buddhas and sentient beings is really but an illusion.
This raises an interesting question. Buddhism teaches us that sentient beings can become Buddhas. But if Buddhas and sentient beings are one by nature, what is to prevent Buddhas from falling back and once more becoming sentient beings?
According to Ch'an, nirvana and samsara (birth and death) both exist and do not exist. They exist from the perspective of sentient beings because sentient beings are attached to a sense of self and thus they cling to form and appearance. Samsara and nirvana do not exist from the perspective of a Buddha because Buddha is unattached to a sense of self and is independent of form and appearance. But the Buddha will assume form and appearance for the benefit of sentient beings. A Buddha can manifest equally the dharma of samsara or nirvana depending on the needs of sentient beings. So just as water can freeze again into ice, there is nothing to prevent a Buddha from turning again into a sentient being. But sentient beings who are manifestations of Buddhas are very different from the sentient beings who have never been Buddhas. The former have become sentient beings because of their wisdom and the latter remain sentient beings because of their karma -- their impurity.
What is this impurity? It is the result of attachment to the four kinds of phenomena. The first of these is the ego, the second refers to a human being or group of people (the object of the ego), the third, an extension of the second, refers to all sentient beings, and the fourth is life, the temporal continuum of self and all others.
As illustration of the four kinds of phenomena, let us say a young man meets a girl and the two fall in love. If the two are deeply in love, it is unlikely that one day they will feel for each other and the next day they will not. More commonly, people want to remain in love forever -- even until they reach Buddhahood. People in love do not care that religion does not view great attachment very favorably. They would say, "It does not matter even if we go to hell so long as we stay in love." Here we can perceive three of the four kinds of phenomena: the ego who falls in love, the person who is beloved, and the desired continuity of love throughout time, or life. Through the couple's relationship a child is likely to be born. Its parents will aspire for it to have a great career, get married early and have a large family. Moreover, when it in turn has children, the child will probably aspire similarly, as will its own children and their children and so on throughout endless generations. Thus the third, general phenomenon of sentient beings.
I once asked someone if he wanted to become a monk. He said, "It is not that I don't want to become a monk, but my father would like to have some grandchildren." So I said, "Well, why don't you first have a son, and then become a monk? After you have a son, you will have fulfilled your obligation." He responded, "Sure, that's what I'll do." But I assured him that he would never leave home after he had a son. He would definitely want the son to marry so that he himself could have grandchildren. This is life for all sentient beings and it is without end.
These four kinds of phenomena are but a mirage arising and perishing through causes and conditions. Holding on to the phenomena as if they were real causes the attachment to ego. But the ego by itself is impossible to establish. It is only through interaction with others -- with an individual, a group, or sentient beings in the continuum of life -- that the attachment arises which is the cause of the feeling of ego or self.
Attachment can be of two kinds; it can be directed mainly towards outer objects, relationships or events, or it can be mainly self-centered. There is a mayor of certain city who is already over fifty years old and has never been married. With no family do you think that he has fewer attachments? Not at all. It is as if the city totally belongs to him. He always says, "I want my city to be like this, I want it to be like that." This is the first kind of attachment. Those whose attachment is of the second kind care little for interaction and external objects but they are deeply bound to their ego. They feel no sense of duty and exist without direction. Since the first type of attachment necessitates fulfillment of responsibilities, it is preferable to the second.
There was once a general who understood the first kind of attachment. He would assign important jobs only to men with wife and children. Having found the appropriate man for a job, he would have his family placed in a very secure environment both to prevent anxiety and to guard against his desertion.
We have seen that impurity comes as a result of attachment to the four phenomena. But what is it that indefinitely sustains impurity? I will give two answers.
When the self is erroneously taken as eternal, attachment arises not only for the self of the present but also the self of future. So as someone makes preparations for the future, he creates karma relating to the future. Having by the end of his life accumulated much karma of the future, he must be reborn to experience the consequences of this karma. Since they constantly prepare for the future, sentient beings must time after time suffer rebirth. Always thus attached, they remain impure indefinitely. This is the first answer.
My second answer pertains to practitioners on inner or outer paths who seek to reach Buddhahood, nirvana, or any kind of heavenly world. These people feel aversion to the world and a corresponding desire for escape. Practitioners on outer paths who seek residence in heavenly worlds can certainly attain their desire through accumulation of merit. But their stay in these worlds is limited, for departure is unavoidable once the energy of their previous practice is exhausted. Similarly, those Buddhists who seek Buddhahood as an escape from the world may gain entrance into the "Convenient Pure Land." Though such practitioners may feel that they have achieved nirvana, they also will find as their power subsides that they are compelled to leave. Once either of these two kinds of practitioners is forced to leave, they immediately yearn to return. Time after time they work to accumulate sufficient merit to gain respite in the heavens. Thus they never lose their attachment and remain impure indefinitely.
It is attachment which causes impurity, and it is by attachment that impurity is sustained. If the ice is to melt into water -- if sentient beings are to become Buddhas -- then there can be no attachment, no seeking, and no goal.


with Rachael Kohn
on Sunday 2/6/2002

The New Believers #4 - the Dalai Lama


He's second to the Pope as the world's most popular religious leader yet the Dalai Lama says he's not interested in converting the West to Buddhism just teaching it how to be happy in a material world. But is Buddhism itself getting too materialistic? The Dalai Lama speaks with Rachael Kohn.

We also hear from the first Westerner to be ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Professor Robert Thurman, director of Tibet House in New York City (and father of the actress Uma Thurman).

Rachael Kohn: The Dalai Lama is a key figure in the Spiritual Revolution that is changing the way we think and believe in the West. He's my guest on The New Believers, the monthly series on The Spirit of Things, here on ABC Radio National. I'm Rachael Kohn.

His title means 'Ocean of Wisdom', which he dispenses with ease and much humour to his audiences around the world. But the Dalai Lama, who is the recognised leader of Tibetan Buddhism, is careful not to drown his audiences in too many technical Buddhist concepts.

He was chosen at the age of two, in 1937, to be the 13th Dalai Lama and he embarked on a long period of monastic education, which culminated in his final examination before 20,000, qualifying him as a Geshe, or Doctor of Buddhist Philosophy.

The Tibetan scholastic tradition emphasises philosophical debate, in the monastery. But outside the monastery other aspects of the tradition are important, such as the possibility that the Buddha can be manifested in people, right here on earth. Through its practices inherited from Indian Tantric traditions, Tibetan Buddhism teaches methods for the attainment of Buddahood in this life (or in a future life). The Dalai Lama may be the Buddha himself, but he likes to emphasise that he's just an ordinary person, as you'll hear.

Also on today's program is the first Westerner ordained a Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition, Robert Thurman. A delightful man who is sure he was a koala in a past life. Well I don't know about that, but I do know that he is the father of the actress, Uma Thurman. He didn't remain a monk, but he did become an important Buddhist scholar at Columbia University, and is now Director of Tibet House, a cultural institution of the Dalai Lama in New York City.

Before we hear my interview with the Dalai Lama, recorded during his trip to Australia, just a reminder that this program is heard on Sunday, and again on Thursday at 7.10pm.

Your Holiness thank you so much for receiving me today. When I last interviewed you here in Sydney in 1996, your general outlook was optimistic. Do you have as much optimism about the spiritual well being of the world today?

Dalai Lama: Yes, basically the same. I feel that because of very painful experiences which we have learnt in the twentieth century, human beings I think have become more mature. I think, also through our own experiences now people begin to realise the importance of spirituality.

Rachael Kohn: The Buddha taught people how to avoid suffering in a material world, and you teach people how to be happy in a material world. Is this a more optimistic way, a more western way, of putting the Buddha's teaching?

Dalai Lama: No, actually I always try to promote secular ethics or human values not as a religion, not as Buddhism. Of course to Buddhists, certainly.

You see, I explain the importance of the suffering nature, then the causes of suffering, the cessation of suffering, then the ways and paths to overcome the suffering. So I always, you see, emphasise the importance of the realisation of the suffering nature.

But my partisan approach that is simply the promotion of human values, not religion, it's not a religious thing. In fact I make this always clear, in order to be good person, a warm hearted person, it is not necessarily to have religious faith. Without religious faith, there can be a nice person, a warm hearted person, and happy person.

I think that among the 6 billion, more than 6 billion human beings on this planet, strictly speaking I think the majority are non-believers. Of course officially, "I belong Christian...Judaism..." like that. But strictly speaking, in daily life, I think majority are non-believers.

Rachael Kohn: Well, non-practicing anyway. One of the ways which you promote generally, that people can achieve this happiness and avoid suffering is through meditation, which you have outlined as a nine step process and in the final step the ninth step, there is a 'perfect abiding calm'. Is that more of an ideal or a reality?

Dalai Lama: No, this one is special training for single pointed mind. So this is not for everybody practice, including myself. I'm very, very, poor in the practice of single pointed meditation, my mind is always attracted to different directions, but amongst practitioners at least whom I know, some practise this practice and again some experience this. Of course, it's certainly not easy and you need a lot of effort.

Rachael Kohn: It takes an enormous amount of inner control, you talk about especially the idea of the enemy of peace is not outside but inside one's self. What is your advice then when the enemy is clearly outside, such as today in the post-September 11th world, when we have examples of external threats. What do you advise?

Dalai Lama: Well these very unfortunate, unthinkable destructive actions, essentially come out of certain motivations, certain emotions. So these actions also actually are brought about by the inner enemy, that is negative emotion. Basically everybody, every human being wants a happy life, peaceful life. But because of our inner enemy, which for no sort of reason, simply strong emotion. So that emotion, is blind and mad. So therefore, I describe the real enemy is within ourselves. So called external enemies, also these people, once their negative emotion reduce and positive emotion increases, then these people, the same people with the same name, same face become our best friends. So the real enemy is the emotional level.

Rachael Kohn: Your Holiness, in Tibet there is one kind of Buddhism I believe and that's probably true of Dharamsala, where you have your headquarters. But in the West we see many kinds of Buddhism. People speak of Western Buddhism. What do you understand by this concept?

Dalai Lama: Buddhism, certainly is just one tradition that's come from Buddha. Whether the Therevada system, or the Vajrayana system, originally come from Buddha, within this tradition some little differences and different emphasis are there and different concepts, but basically all come from Buddha.

Now the cultural aspects is different. Therefore we call it the original Indian Buddhism, and then later Chinese Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and so on, Thai Buddhism, Sri Lanka Buddhism. Now eventually some people in the West now are showing interest about Buddhism, so eventually Buddhism that [originally] comes from India, from Asia, at the same time [gets] a cultural aspect, a more western cultural aspect, then through that way, then certainly, Western Buddhism.

Rachael Kohn: Is that a good thing?

Dalai Lama: That's good, certainly, through evolution that will come. But as far as teachings are concerned, they should be very authentic. There are some cases, what are they called New Age or something, that I think we must be very, very careful. If you call something a new religion, then of course, that's alright, but if you call something Buddhism, it must be very authentic.

Rachael Kohn: In the West there are not many monasteries, Buddhist monasteries. In fact in Christianity, monasteries were dismantled and monks and nuns went into the world, not very much away from the world. Do you see any signs of this occurring in the Sangha (community of monks and nuns), a dismantling of monastic life?

Dalai Lama: Of course in the West there are very few Buddhist monastery and nunnery, and in a few cases very few monks and nuns. Whereas in Thailand, and Sri Lanka and Burma, still I think very strong traditions remain there. So too the Tibetan community, also generally speaking I think, still quite strong traditions remain there.

I think one factor in India now, in our bigger monastery, monastic institution, the new students who enter the monastic institution, now recently the larger numbers come from Tibet, not from our own refugee community children. So now, that's an obvious development. So children in India, Tibetan young children who got an education in our school prefer some other work.

Rachael Kohn: Many years ago you dispensed with some of the traditional ceremonies associated with your role as the Dalai Lama. Why did you do that?

Dalai Lama: Actually there are some ceremony, form of ceremony, that I don't like, and don't have much meaning. After all we are refugees. Of course the way of giving teaching to the public, I always carry it in a complete informal way. I believe the formal way is sometimes an additional obstacle or barrier to communicate with another, one another. And I don't think when Buddha himself sat there, I don't think there was any formality. I don't think any elaborate ritual things. Buddha himself always went as "just a simple monk" and he'd give teachings according to circumstances and that we should follow.

Rachael Kohn: What do you think the Buddha would say to the Maitreya Project, the building of the world's biggest Buddha at the cost of $US 200 million in Bodhgaya. A place that doesn't even have sanitation, Do you think that's consistent with the Buddha's way?

Dalai Lama: I can't say on behalf of Buddha… if he was alive today. I don't know.

Of course on the human level, there are two opinions. One opinion, of course now is the construction of the Maitreya Buddha. So inevitably, this is, I think one important way to accumulate virtues. The other view is rather critical. As you mention while millions of poor people, especially young children without any education or any proper school and health-care why is it the spending a lot of money on the construction of the statue, better to spend it on health and education. That I think is quite well thinking.

So my own view, since this project is already initiated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, as a buddhist monk, any work of construction of a buddhist statue, is of course positive. So therefore I support it. And meantime I made very clear to the concerned people, now with that project the local people should get some benefit, so they've planned accordingly some education facilities and also some other sorts of project that will be of benefit to the local people.

Rachael Kohn: Your Holiness, people looking at the Buddhist web sites see that there are many things to buy, many ways to give money. Some people think Buddhism itself is becoming too much a part of the material world, maybe that's because some Hollywood stars are becoming involved in it as well. Is Buddhism becoming too materialistic?

Dalai Lama: That depends on the individual. Buddhism itself, of course as a man of Buddhism, is a way of thinking, a way of life, a way of guide, and especially I think a proper way to confront our negative emotion. That will remain, that is Buddhism.

But the construction of temples or construction of monasteries these are of course a part of the activities of the Buddha Dharma but not Buddha Dharma itself. Buddha Dharma means 'mental quality', so it's not a money matter. We can't buy with money, mental quality. So mental quality must develop through training your mind. Not by injection or straining your mind. Those people who have great merit, they may find it more easier and less obstacles, otherwise only through training your mind.



Rachael Kohn: Robert Thurman is the ebullient man who heads up Tibet House, the cultural institution of the Dalai Lama in America. Located in New York City, it's a drawcard for the rich and famous as well as ordinary folk who want to use its library or look at the excellent collection of Tibetan art in its gallery.

Thurman was a very popular professor at Columbia University, but now he spends most of his time at Tibet House, receiving guests, giving lectures and raising money for Tibetan refugees. I caught up with him last year, just before the attack on the World Trade Center, a few blocks away from Tibet House.

Here Bob Thurman explains why the Dalai Lama takes his message around the world.

Robert Thurman: The irony is that although he goes at the invitation of Buddhist groups, he very adamantly is against proselytising Buddhism and changing Christians or Jews, or even secular humanists into Buddhists.

He appeals to other world religious leaders, 'Please, please, let's not have new religious competition', which they don't heed too much in fact nowadays. But he continuously makes that plea and he'll give a Buddhist talk to lots and lots of people and he'll spend the first ten minutes of an hour about how he's not giving them this talk because he wants them to be Buddhist, he wants them to use anything that they find that's useful for their lives, he wants them to enjoy their lives more, he wants them to control their mind to find peace.

He talks about the common human religion of kindness, this type of thing, and he says, 'Don't become Buddhist', actually. Everyone gets so puzzled but I think it's good for them, he stimulates a little bit of cognitive dissonance.

Rachael Kohn: Nonetheless, wouldn't it be fair to say that he's stimulated their interest? Is the star of Tibetan Buddhism on the rise?

Robert Thurman: Well I think yes. But you have to realise that when you say that, that the star of Tibetan Buddhism has risen, you're talking about zero to 50, because it was zero 20 years ago, or 25 years ago, there was no knowledge of Tibetan even 40 years ago, except as some sort of faraway thing with a Yeti, you know, the Abominable Snowman, or something like that. And so the fact that Tibet has become known more widely by the presence of Tibetan refugees everywhere, it's something about Tibet giving a new boost to the Buddhist interest that was already there, stimulated by Zen, by Therevada Buddhism, by Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, and Tibet then sort of built on that.

And what Tibet really has brought is the kind of original Buddhist matrix that existed in India. Because Tibet was the country where Indian Buddhism went lock, stock and barrel, a thousand years ago when it was wiped out by various invasions in its homeland, which was India. But not that many have really said 'Oh, now I'm going to leave my other kind of Buddhism and become a Tibetan Buddhist', very few. And the Tibetan Buddhists don't actually encourage it.

Rachael Kohn: Tibet House has attracted the attention of a lot of celebrities. Have you consciously gone out to seek their support?

Robert Thurman: No. We haven't gone, in Tibet House, particularly to seek celebrity support.

Of course in any non-profit, when you do get celebrity support, that's when you can begin to become viable as a non-profit, because the way America works, the way our democracy works, we don't have any Princess Di, you know, we don't have a Royal Family, so charisma is focused on theatre and film celebrities, and therefore when you can attract one, when they do become interested in Tibet, then Tibet House, and they will come to Tibet House functions, then more people will come to our function, and we will be able to develop a sort of fiscal viability.

But the person who attracts them though rather is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Tibet House is his cultural centre, so that it natural some will help us on the cultural level. Mostly they have worked on the political level, you know, testifying in Congress and helping the refugee situation, and we're sort of third in line, you could say, amongst the Dalai Lama's institutions in America.

Rachael Kohn: Western spiritual thinking is often associated with a certain degree of self-centredness; to what extent do you think Buddhism is an antidote to that? Or in fact, does it promote it?

Robert Thurman: Buddhism can be exploited for self-centred reasons, it's just like any other thing can be exploited. There is no thing made by human ingenuity, and human ingenuity cannot subvert and exploit as well.

However Buddhism may be almost the hardest thing for self-centredness to exploit because the foundational philosophy of Buddhism is expressed as selflessness. In other words, that's a philosophical and also an ethical term in Buddhism that is absolutely central and they constantly harp on it. They sometimes talk about emptiness, selflessness, you know, egolessness, they have all these terms.

So although the self-centred people still manage to use Buddhism in a narcissistic way, it's hard for them, because they're constantly harping on that you have no self, that your self-obsession, or self-occupation is your worst enemy and so forth, it's constantly reinforced in Buddhist teaching. So although it makers it very difficult, it's still not foolproof.

Rachael Kohn: How well do you think Westerners understand that concept of no self?

Robert Thurman: Well I think not only Westerners, I don't think Easterners understand it very well. I think it is something which is actually rather hard to understand viscerally. It is actually easy to understand intellectually, and in a way modern materialistic culture and science agrees with it.

For example, most modern people who are materialistic, I don't mean they're greedy, I mean that philosophically, they believe that when they die they will cease to exist. Like if you want to find your social security number engraved somewhere in your heart valve, so you won't find it, you won't find a barcode on any particular joint of the spine, you know what I mean? You won't find a neurone that says 'Rachael', or that says 'Bob', it won't be a Bob neurone. And that's easy to understand intellectually. But then again, we appropriate our experience from the point of view of a functional self centre, and therefore we sort of then have a hard time connecting that intellectual understanding that there's nothing we can find easily that really is this durable self to the feeling of being a durable self.

And that's where Buddhist meditation and Buddhist critical thought and Buddhist ethics even, becomes a long, gradual, slow process of making visceral that intellectual understanding, and I might add, avoiding the mistaken idea of nihilism which modern materialism falls into. They think, well I don't really exist, so therefore nothing matters, so it doesn't matter what I do' type of thing, which is eat, drink and be merry, tomorrow we may die, and after we die we're not going to be anything, so there's no consequence. They usually don't have to finish the sentence. And so that aspect is not easily understood, and that's where all of the Buddhist methods, and all the Buddhist education focuses on that element.

Rachael Kohn: Almost going to the other side of the spectrum, Tibetan Buddhism is quite fantastical, it's filled with incredible magical scenarios, reborn Lamas and deities; how easily can Westerners believe that stuff?

Robert Thurman: It's hard for Westerners to overcome the disbelief in future life and former life which they inherit from their scientific upbringing. Buddhism presents the existence of an individual life as part of a continuity of lives, many past lives, like you and I have been all different kinds of animals, dinosaurs, I'm an American but I've even been a koala bear, you know, speaking of Australia, in a former life, I've definitely been a koala bar, and so on. And that's very hard for Americans, because we're taught that there is no irreducible spirit and therefore when we die, the body dies and the brain ceases, that's the end of you.

But, and therefore I often say when people ask 'How come Buddhism is sweeping America?' or something. I say, 'Buddhism is not yet at all sweeping America', because Buddhism is not just a few religious practices, it's not just a few abstruse magical tricks or beliefs, Buddhism is a different vision of life, including a different scientific vision of life, and it sees life as an evolutionary continuum where individuals are born and reborn infinitely actually. We'll have infinite future life, we had infinite past lives. And until that belief from the Buddhist point of view, until a person feels comfortable, feels almost at its commonsensical, that belief, that person cannot be a Buddhist actually.

Rachael Kohn: Bob Thurman, how did you come to believe that it was a commonsensical view?

Robert Thurman: Well it took time, actually.

At first I intellectually thought it was quite acceptable, because after all, no-one has ever proved that anything becomes nothing, or anybody becomes nothing, no-one has ever heard about it. Carl Sagan is not around to verify that he became nothing.

So I was open to it intellectually for that reason, but after almost a year or two of practising Buddhism and intellectually trying to hold that view, it was pointed out to me by one of my teachers that viscerally I did not hold that view, and I really only lived for what I would get out of, and I did things for what I would get out of them just in this life, and I basically considered my worry and my responsibility and my positive option even, positive horizon, was only whatever I could do or become or achieve in this life, because I really didn't viscerally think I would be facing situations after leaving this body.

But after a few years, I had a funny experience as I was walking along, buying some milk at the store for tea, for the monastery where I lived, and as I was walking along, I suddenly felt as if a pressure pushing me was had been taken away from me. In other words I suddenly realised that I had been living as if there was a beginning to my living, and I was being pushed by that beginning in a sort of a rush to get somewhere. And suddenly I realised there was nothing behind me pushing me, and there was endless space behind me. I came from an endless past, and I suddenly realised that I wasn't really rushing, there was no point in rushing to get somewhere, I would get there and I would get that milk, and there would be many more expeditions for milk for many more cups of tea.

And it just changed the way I lived, the pressure of the way I had felt, the driven-ness of the way I was living, basically. And that was kind of revelatory for me, and ever since then, the idea that there would be future experiences and future problems and future considerations, became commonsense to me.

Just like for example right here in Tibet House, I feel it's commonsense that 15th Street is still out there. I can't prove it's still out there, somebody might have blown it up in a bomb, you know, or the world might have dissolved, but I think it's there, sort of, without having to invest any energy in that, it's part of my world picture. Similarly future existence is like that to me nowadays, and to me, a person who would think that there's a yawning nothingness waiting out there for them. The burden of proof is on them because that's a very abstruse thing to think.

Rachael Kohn: Can't you also feel driven to do things for its consequences in a future life?

Robert Thurman: You can, but you have a little more time. The driving-ness is a little slower, let's say, but on the other hand, of course yes, this is a very important point. I used to debate with Carl Sagan a little bit, I had a little debate with him because he was very bent that there was no future life, and that was very crucial to the scientific world, he felt.

And in that little bit of a debate, I noticed that he was assuming that people who believed in a future life were taking it easy, therefore, he thought things would be taking care of them, like it was a naïve childish notion of immortality, so they didn't really strive in this life. Whereas I pointed out to him that people who have a notion of future life are worried about coming into a negative circumstance or having an unhappy future life. That increases the possibility of negative possibilities by a huge factor, and therefore by having future existence, did not relieve you of the burden of concern for how, what would the quality of that future be.

And in fact what the Buddhists have discovered is that can drive you to be more virtuous, to be more kind, would not be hostile to people because they might get you later, you know, even if you escaped them in this life etc. It in fact encourages people to behave a little bit better, a lot better, because they can't come with that idea of there'll be no consequence of what I do, therefore what I do ultimately won't matter. Everything matters if you have an endless consequence.


Rachael Kohn: That's Robert Thurman, scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, and Director of Tibet House, the cultural institution of the Dalai Lama in New York City. You're listening to The New Believers, Leading the Spiritual Revolution, the monthly series on The Spirit of Things, here on ABC Radio National.

Bob Thurman, you were the first Westerner to be ordained as a monk in the Tibetan tradition, and you were educated under the watchful eye of the Dalai Lama; has that made you something of a celebrity?

Robert Thurman: I don't think so, because I'm also the first person to resign from having been a monk.

You know, it's embarrassing to me, I don't like to promote the idea that I was the first person ordained as a monk, because I then did resign after a few years, which did upset His Holiness, and more than him, the older teachers who had also ordained me. But eventually they accepted that decision, they realised that the type of life that I faced here in America at that time, in the '60s, wasn't really ready for a sort of pale white monk with an extra large head, you know, shaved like Kojac or something, they weren't really ready for it, and so they accepted that decision of mine, although I regret that I wasn't able to maintain.

You do take the monks' vow in the Tibetan order for life, and it is considered a little bit shameful to renounce it if you have once taken it. So therefore I don't consider myself a celebrity, I consider myself a slight bit of a disgrace, to be honest.

Rachael Kohn: Well then, tell us why did you resign as a monk?

Robert Thurman: Because it seemed well, I fell in love with a beautiful woman, that's my human weakness. On the other hand she won't accept blame or responsibility because I had decided anyway, that being a monk without a monastery, and there is no monastery really in America for Euro-American Buddhist monks. Some Tibetan refugees come and they make sort of an ethnic monastery for their people, but there's really no social set-up for Buddhist monasticism for Euro-Americans in America yet. That's another reason why I don't consider Buddhism really sweeping America in any such way, I think that's media hype.

Rachael Kohn: Do you have any reservations about the monastic system? I mean what if we all became monastics?

Robert Thurman: If we all became monastics I would have no reservations about that, it would be excellent if we all became monastics. If we all became monastics, then we would level off the population problem, it would be definitely levelled off. We would be all living at a higher level of ethical kindness and gentleness, and pretty soon a few of us would resign and then there'd be a little bit more appropriation probably after that.

And ex-monks and nuns make good parents actually, they're more kind usually to their children, because by having been a monk or a nun for a while, they get rid of some inherited family authoritarian behaviours that often descend in secular families. I'm sure you're familiar with what I'm talking about.

And so I think it would be just fine if everybody became a monk or nun, it certainly would give the planet a break. Imagine the human population curve decreasing, getting back to one or two billion, just by people voluntarily renouncing procreation for a couple of decades, but within a few years, many would resign and you would still have a little bit of procreation, so not to worry too much.

Rachael Kohn: Well isn't there a bit of a contradiction in that? Because monastic life relies on the generous contributions of people who work hard and make money.

Robert Thurman: Well that's because not everybody is a monk you know, so many people do work and make money, and then some people who make money realise that the purpose of life is not money, and rather the purpose of money is to have a handsome life and part of a handsome life is to be generous and to give and to support non-profits, especially those that seek to preserve a culture, to preserve the environment, to preserve the world to diminish domestic violence, to reduce the population growth that is so destructive to the planet etc. and so the point is, there's really no danger of everybody becoming monastic to start with, and second, furthermore you know, if everybody were monastic, that doesn't mean that everybody would do nothing.

In fact monastics produce tremendous amount of value in history, voluntarily. They've created an enormous amount of art, they've created a tremendous amount, the medical systems of most of the countries were developed by monastics; in the West too, until the Protestants destroyed monasticism in Europe. In Asia monastics were great healers, and incredible people.

So before we dismiss monasticism out of hand based on the Protestant ethic which we have inherited, in our over-industrialised societies, we should think more carefully about what it means as an institution. That's one of my main academic points that I have written books about.

Rachael Kohn: May I ask you then, do you have any reservations about a kind of Westernisation of Buddhism?

Robert Thurman: I don't have reservations about the Westernisation of Buddhism because I think that Buddhism is more than a religion. I do think that in the current era I follow His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in thinking that it is not correct or necessary, or even beneficial, to proselytise Buddhism and like convert America to Buddhism or something, as a religion.

I completely agree that people should use Buddhist philosophy, psychology, ethical ideas, even social advances that the Buddhist societies advance, particularly the non-violence social advance that Buddhism developed so well in so many countries, I think these should be used, but they can be used perfectly well within a Jewish or Christian or secular humanist matrix.

If you add Buddhism as a religious institution and try to sort of go in and start competing with the Baptists and the Methodists and the Orthodox and the Reformed etc and the Muslims, then we're talking new religions wars, new religious competiton for market share. I think that's very, very negative and unfortunate. Buddhism actually is not just religion, it is not just a religion.

Buddhism is defined as composed of a special kind of ethics, a special kind of meditation, and a special kind of science and wisdom. And the ethics of the science are not religious, and they should interact with our educational institutions and with our legal institutions, and promoting the idea respectively of non-violence and the idea of individual insight into the nature of reality which is very, very crucial, I think for us all to gain.

And those aspects can be widely used and Westernised would mean that Western people would develop their wisdom and would develop their ethics, and that to me is very, very crucial. And so I have no reservation about that at all. But I have many reservations about the attempt to appropriate Buddhism as a new cult, as a new sort of membership group, as a new sort of 'in' group, you know, we versus them type of thing, and sort of what one Buddhist teacher calls spiritual materialism, you know having malasand wearing red costumes and doing this sort of thing. I have lots of reservations about that, certainly.

And I also have reservations about some ideas within some Buddhist writers who like modern times, you know, Westerns would say 'Oh we can be Buddhists, but we don't have to worry about forming a future life, we can be Buddhists and yet materialists.' Or they say, 'Oh we can be Buddhists, but we don't need monasteries any more, that's old-fashioned, we want everybody to work'. And so that's the modern ethics, that 'We'll be Buddhists and yet we'll be secular Buddhists'. I have much reservation about that.

Rachael Kohn: But isn't that inevitable that when Buddhism comes to the West, it will change, just as it did when it went to China and Korea?

Robert Thurman: No. When it came to China Buddhism, the Confucianism and Taoism that existed before Buddhism came there had no such concept as monasticism for example. It was considered disrespectful to your parents to shave your head, because the hair was inherited from the parents, and everyone had to work in the Confucianism thing, and had to do what, worshipped ancestors, this sort of thing. There was no such tradition in China like there was in India.

And Buddhism brought that tradition to China, and actually that tradition created a social escape valve for many women who didn't have a role except in a village working more or less like slaves, for many men who didn't want to fight in armies or who had some higher aspiration than just planting seeds, and it created a kind of matrix for what we would today call kind of liberal education where you would go and open your heart as your own purpose in life.

But Buddhism institutionally did create that over several centuries in China and Chinese Buddhism then flourished for thousands of years, and so Buddhism did create that change there.

Now in the West we have a special unique thing where we do have Catholicism, which does accept monasticism and many monks and nuns do a great deal of useful things besides spiritually purify themselves in the world. But the problem is that industrial culture has gotten all on its high horse with its technical mastery of things, and destroyed monasticism in Northern Europe, it became extremely militaristic, it has a bit triumphal attitude that we should all be secular.

Meanwhile it's facing a population explosion that is planet-destroying, a consumer pollution level that is planet destroying, and we all know about the nuclear and the high tech military weapons that loom over everybody's head, so we still are very much endangered actually by not allowing people not to produce, not allowing people to be free to pursue their spiritual development, and therefore Buddhist monasticism in industrial Protestant countries, and other countries that have adopted that ethic, would be able to reinforce say Catholic monasticism and the general idea that some people should be free and peaceful in life and should pursue their spiritual fulfilment, and that that's a worthy thing for them to do, which is something that the Catholics have maintained, but is very weakened in our country.

You know you have Thomas Merton's monastery has 25 monks on 2,000 acres. They could have 500 monks, easily. In Tibet they would have 5,000 monks actually. And that country flourished and never had famine and never had extreme poverty until invaded 50 years ago, with a high degree of monastic population, very balanced population curve, minimal destruction of their environment, and a very peaceful life, even if a little unwashed, as the Dalai Lama likes to say.

Rachael Kohn: Bob Thurman, the building of the Maitreya Project and other huge Buddhist temples are meant to draw pilgrims and tourists. Is there any worry that this is becoming a hugely competitive, even materialistic expression of Buddhism?

Robert Thurman: Well, religion is ludicrous, all religions are ludicrous from a certain point of view, from a materialistic point of view, right? I mean go to any - the Communists for example destroyed 6,250 monasteries in Tibet by saying that 'Putting all this gold in these statues of these Buddhas and things, this is ludicrous, you need the gold, you need the money, you can invest it in a sock factory or something you know.'

And in 1980 when the late Chinese leader went to Tibet and saw what a disaster the Chinese colonisation and invasion had wrought there, he gave the Tibetans total tax exemption and totally let them do what they want, and to his amazement instead of starting laundries, they rebuilt some of those monasteries that he had destroyed, that Mao had destroyed.

So people can say Yes, it's ludicrous, you should only do utilitarian things. I mean the way Protestantism has been doing utilitarian things for 350, 400 years, right? But what has it gotten us, these utilitarian things? A couple of flush toilets, yes, but it genocided the native Americans, enslaved the African American, it is threatening our environment with pollution, it is threatening our whole civilisation with militarism and with high tech weapons, and heaven knows, genetically altered food. Heaven knows what even is in our own intestine at this moment. And so too much utilitarianism seems to also put things out of balance, you see.

So the idea that somehow the spiritual destiny of the human being, and the condition, internal condition of the being of hope in the future, and a feeling of viability of life, that is just as crucial, the feeling of viability of life, that is just as crucial as some toilets and some other things. So there should be a balance, shouldn't there, between some sort of spiritual investment let's say, and actually a spiritual investment really finally should take priority because this is the great Buddhist insight, you know.

If you have a bad mind, it's just filled with surging impulses that you have no control over. You can be in the most beautiful mansion, with the most beautiful automobile, with a beautiful, well you won't have beautiful relationships because you'll be such a pain you'll drive them all away, but maybe temporarily you'll have some relationships, and you will still be miserable yourself. You will have to be on Prozac, you'll be on something because your mind will be discontented with whatever it is.

But if your mind is controlled, you live in a modest place, now you don't have to be in a sewer, you can be in a modest place, you can be peaceful, you can be contented, you can find something beautiful in a little pot of flowers outside your window, like a little old lady in Kyoto or something like that. Fine. Because the mind is balanced, the spirit is satisfied, do you see?

There's a famous writing from a thousand years ago, it says, 'If you don't like stepping on sharp things when you walk around town, you have two choices: cover the whole surface of the town with leather. That's one choice. Or make yourself a pair of shoes, that's the other choice. Which is more practical?

Rachael Kohn: Two different points of view; which would you choose? That was Robert Thurman, Buddhist scholar and Director of Tibet House, speaking to me in New York City.

The Dalai Lama's message to the West is how to find happiness in a material world. No-one would doubt that the West has been the most successful in making material wealth available to more people than anywhere else. But the East is no stranger to material extravagance. So when Lama Zopa Rimpoche announced that he was going to build the world's biggest Buddha at the pilgrimage site of Bodhgaya in the Indian State of Bihar, at a cost of $US200-million, it caused a heated debate.

Rachael Kohn: Before Bob Thurman we heard from the one and only 'laughing Buddha', the Dalai Lama. He's been our special guest for this edition of The New Believers, Leading the Spiritual Revolution, a monthly series on The Spirit of Things, here on ABC Radio National.

Now you'd expect his mental training to give him a pretty good memory, but I didn't expect the Dalai Lama to remember my hairstyle from six years ago.

Dalai Lama: Same style, your hair, or different? (LAUGHS)

Rachael Kohn: A man who I think proves that holiness and humour can go together.

The Spirit of Things is produced by me and Geoff Wood with technical production by Anne Marie De Betencourt.

Next week it's time for an organ transplant. No, you don't need your Medicare card, just a good pair of ears. We bring you the brilliant young German organist, with the unlikely name of Felix Hell. That's next week on The Spirit of Things. Till then, so long from me, Rachael Kohn.


Guests on this program:

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Robert Thurman
is a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, a former monk, and currently Director of Tibet House in New York City.


Freedom in Exile - The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama of Tibet
Author: The Dalai Lama
Publisher: Abacus

The Art of Happiness - A Handbook for Living
Author: His Holiness the Dalai Lama with H.Cutler
Publisher: Hodder, 1998

Further information:

Official Website of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile

Australia Tibet Council

Dalai Lama Australian Tour 2002
Your guide to the teachings and history of Buddhism in Tibet, your archive of ABC related programs, and your ticket to the daily activities of the Dalai Lama in Australia, including online events. Includes transcripts and many links.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Australian Tour 2002

Presenter & Executive Producer:
Rachael Kohn

Geoff Wood


Women's Liberation
Sharon Salzberg, Barbara Rhodes, Judith Simmer-Brown & Pat O'Hara

on what it means to be a woman dharma teacher
and how they'd like to see Buddhism in America evolve.
Melvin McLeod (Editor, the Shambhala Sun): To begin with, maybe you could each tell me something about how you became a Buddhist teacher.
Sharon Salzberg (Co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and author): I went to India in 1970 to look for a meditation teacher. It was an incredible time. As Westerners there, we felt like a group of adventurers. We were interested in practical teachings-it wasn't a question of becoming a Buddhist or adopting a dogma, but really bringing something into our lives.
Most of my early teachers were men, but I didn't feel much gender bias. The person who actually told me to teach was my first woman teacher, Dipa Ma. She had led an extraordinary life, with a tremendous amount of suffering and very little control over her life in an ordinary Western sense.
When she told me to teach, what she actually said was, "You really understand suffering; therefore, you should teach." I think that reflected not only what she'd been through in her life, and what I'd been through in my life, but also something within her experience as a woman-an understanding of the depths of suffering and the transformation of suffering into compassion that seemed unique. She was the model for me of how to take the losses, the tragedies and the difficulties of life, and actually use them as enrichment for my understanding of the dharma.
Judith Simmer-Brown (Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Naropa University and senior teacher (acharaya) in Shambhala International): I learned Zen practice from Suzuki Roshi and felt completely in love with the absolute present quality that he had. After his death, I met Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and felt the same kind of connection with him. As time went on, Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged me to teach dharma and to step as fully as possible into that role. He always encouraged women teachers.
In those days I never really thought much about women versus men teachers, because there were a number of both in our community. It was when my meditation students began to talk to me about the obstacles that they faced as women that I began to think about it more, and I talked to Trungpa Rinpoche about it. He had incredible sympathy for the situation of women. You got a kind of direct transmission from him that on any ultimate level, the issue of being male or female was not a problem, while obviously in our relative experience this was something that we all had to deal with.
As time went on, I realized I had a lot to figure out about what particular strengths I could bring to situations as a woman, and what support I could provide to both male and female students to sort out this issue of gender. I was helped a great deal in this by Khandro Rinpoche, a woman Tibetan teacher. There is one quote from her that I find very helpful, and consider a kind of slogan or koan for my life as a woman teacher: "If being a woman is an inspiration, use it. If it is an obstacle, try not to be bothered." That helps keep me from being snagged by my sense at times that being a woman is an obstacle, and it also helps me appreciate the qualities as a woman that I can bring to my work as a teacher.
Barbara Rhodes (Vice School Zen Master of the Kwan Um School of Zen): I met the Korean Zen master Seung Sahn in 1972. I didn't feel any obstacle being a woman, as he didn't seem to treat anybody like a woman, particularly. It was more like we were all a bunch of really yang Koreans. If you've met him, he's pretty yang, and there weren't a lot of women around, but I liked him. I really loved his teaching. He just kept stressing: Believe in yourself. Only go straight. Don't know. Ask yourself who are you. It was pretty much an androgynous practice.
At one point I asked him if there were any women Zen masters in Korea, and he said, "Oh no, of course not. Women can't attain enlightenment." He said it with a really straight face and then walked into the kitchen. I followed him in and said, "I've been with you for two years and you've always said just to believe in yourself. How can you say women can't get enlightened?" He just stared at me and pointed his finger and he said, "So you're a woman?" In other words I had grasped man/woman concept. He was saying that you can't attain enlightenment if you hold on to that self identity. I really liked that approach.
He made a few of us dharma teachers when we were pretty young students-we'd only been practicing with him about three years. He didn't distinguish whether we were men or women; he just had us start teaching.
Pat O'Hara (Soto priest and resident teacher of the Village Zendo, New York): I started reading dharma books in the late sixties, but as a single parent I found it extremely difficult to enter into any Buddhist community with a young child. It was a difficult time because I knew that I had a passion for the dharma, but I couldn't find a home that seemed conducive to my idea of mothering.
Finally, when my son was old enough in the early eighties, I began to practice at Zen Mountain Monastery with John Daido Loori Roshi, and right off he started talking about my starting to teach. My attitude was, no, I'm just here to face the wall, thank you, but he was very encouraging.
As an American teacher, he didn't have any issue of men versus women, and whenever the gender was vague in a koan, he encouraged us to switch it to female. So initially I wasn't really aware of the incredible marginalization of women that had occurred in the history of Buddhism, of all the women who had been forgotten and their names left unsaid.
Then when I began to study with Taizan Maezumi Roshi, it was like studying with a woman. It was very peculiar. He was this wonderful feminine energy and we would sit in this darkened dokusan room and cry together [laughs].
Melvin McLeod: The prominence of women in Western Buddhism now is unique in the history of Buddhism. How did it come about?
Pat O'Hara: Well, the whole feminist movement was going on at the same time Buddhism was coming to the West, and there had to be leakage back and forth.
Sharon Salzberg: What I've seen happening in the Theravada tradition is a kind of movement back to the people. So much of what was taught over the last couple of centuries didn't necessarily reflect the actual teachings of the Buddha. As a woman you were told to create merit so maybe in your next life you could be a man and get ordained and become enlightened. As Westerners began practicing, that idea exploded. There was the sense that if liberation is really possible, I want to explore it. I don't want to think about someone else doing it, or doing it in my next life. I want to know how I can actually transform my life now. So the movement toward women teachers is also a reflection of the belief that liberation is real, a real possibility for everyone. For most women teachers I know, there was no self-conscious decision to transform Buddhism. It came from wanting to change our lives, and discovering a tradition that said we really could.
Judith Simmer-Brown: I discovered feminism before I discovered Buddhism and it gave me a sense of confidence and desire for liberation. I very quickly saw that liberation would not come through feminism, but I appreciate what I learned about myself from it. It gave me an enormous yearning to be free from confusion.
Feminism inspired a sense of confidence among so many people in the seventies, and women didn't hold back spiritually. They may have held back in other areas, but in the spiritual movements, women really have sought liberation.
Melvin McLeod: To what extent is the predominance of women teachers attributable to the character of the particular Buddhist teachers who came to the West?
Judith Simmer-Brown: I've studied with quite a few Tibetan teachers and not many of them have shown the kind of encouragement toward women that I experienced from Trungpa Rinpoche. He encouraged women to overcome any sense of shyness and really step into teaching roles.
Barbara Rhodes: I've already described Zen Master Seung Sahn. I don't think he has too many feminine bones in his body. But in Korea, the nuns just love him and most of his students there are women, the ones who practice seriously with him. He has actually empowered women much more than other Zen teachers in Korea. I have to give him credit where credit's due. He's that kind of a person.
Pat o'Hara: Maezumi Roshi came to this country as a young man and just fell in love with the freedom and real thirst for the dharma here. He seemed very open to the new traditions, and part of it was that he empowered a lot of women. It's wonderful.
Melvin McLeod: I'm surprised, because it sounds like overall you haven't experienced a lot of obstacles in becoming teachers.
Judith Simmer-Brown: I think that at times women face more obstacles from other Western students than from the teachers. My women meditation students tell me about the difficulties they've had in many different settings in the Buddhist community. They can find it very difficult to hold their own and have confidence in a variety of situations.
Melvin McLeod: Do women teach the dharma in different ways than men? Are there issues you address in your teaching that are particularly close to your heart because you are a woman?
Sharon Salzberg: I teach so much about loving-kindness, and people often say to me that it's because I'm a woman. I actually like to think not. I like to think it's more a reflection of something very basic in the teachings of the Buddha. Now, was I drawn to teach about love and compassion because I am a woman? Maybe, but look at the Dalai Lama. Compassion is what he embodies and teaches, and what people seem to long for. So I'd say no, it's not about my being a woman.
Barbara Rhodes: I refer a lot in my dharma talks to what I learn from working as a nurse at a hospice, and from being a mother and a daughter. I can't help but draw on my experience of these roles, and I think if someone compliments me as a teacher, it's usually because they appreciate how I draw my hospice stories and my mother stories and my daughter stories into the teaching of Zen.
I lead a lot of meditation retreats and I feel so gratified that men come in for their koan interviews and there doesn't seem to be any thought of whether I'm less than or different; there's just a nice sense of flow back and forth. Sometimes people do say, "I'm glad you're a woman," because maybe I spent a little more time with them, or I said, "Oh you look sad," when one of our male teachers might not have said that. Sometimes I think that's a gift, but sometimes I think one of our male teachers might have given a sharper interview that would have been just as or more helpful.
So there is some difference. I think I have rounder corners than a lot of the male teachers and that can be a blessing sometimes. When my daughter was little, I would pick her up all the time, and I think I pick up my students in a way-not physically, but with that same sense of patience and loving their weaknesses if they're vulnerable, just feeling that and going into it. But of course, fathers have that quality too, and people who don't have children will have those gifts also.
Judith Simmer-Brown: In the Tibetan tradition, the wisdom aspect of the teachings is associated with the feminine, which is depicted in the form of the dakini, while the skillful means aspect of compassion is more masculine. Without joining the masculine and feminine aspects we can't become fully enlightened, and I've reflected a great deal about how this relates to my gender being female.
One thing I'm aware of is how easy it is to get hooked on gender as concept, and yet how easy it is to ignore gender altogether. In my life, I'm trying to identify the ways in which my gender might be helpful to wake things up for myself and others, and at the same time, trying to step over the ways in which my gender might be an obstacle-getting stuck in particular states of hesitation or emotionality or whatever.
For instance, I have been reflecting on how emotion can be an obstacle for women, and yet how it is also the wisdom aspect we have to offer in many situations. I'm interested in how emotions can be empowering for myself and for others-really seeing emotions in an empowered way, without falling into extremes of emotional indulgence. I have been doing a lot of teaching on romantic love and on working with the emotions of intense domestic situations, such as parenting, and in this I think there are things in my temperament and experience as a woman that might be helpful.
Melvin McLeod: What is distinct about the way a woman teacher relates to her female students, and what is different about the way she might relate to her male students?
Pat O'Hara: For me it's more about the type of person who is drawn to a woman teacher. In particular, the kind of man who is drawn to a woman teacher is probably a little different than the kind of man who is drawn to a male teacher. I asked some men students why my teaching appealed to them, and most of them said they wanted something that was open to the masculine, yet without the martial quality of traditional Zen. They liked the softer approach I offer, particularly in terms of body work-meditating in a position of ease as opposed to a position of tension, that kind of thing.
Barbara Rhodes: Women will often find me… I don't know if hard is the right word, but I've stuck with this practice and it's not an easy practice. To stand for this practice is what I try to do as a teacher, so I think they might find me an inspiration, but also too hard.
To generalize, I think women can become overemotional sometimes and men can have a hard time bringing up their emotions. So if there is some overemotionality, maybe I can inspire a woman to move toward the center, to find the strength men often have to overcome emotionality. It's not that one way's better than the other, but I do help women to realize that it doesn't help when you're overemotional. And it's the same thing with men. I encourage them to cry. I know they're right on the verge of tears and I'll kind of bring out the Kleenex box and encourage it, whereas a male teacher might not.
Sharon Salzberg: I think women tend to bring up their life situations and the traumas they've suffered more easily than men. In her very first meeting with me a woman might say, I've had a breast cancer diagnosis, or my son died, or something like that. A man might also have a tremendous source of suffering in his life, but it will be much later before he says, this is weighing on me, or I don't know what I'm going to do, or I feel like such a failure. There's not usually the same degree of vulnerability and openness expressed right away by a man.
Judith Simmer-Brown: It seems to me that initially in relationships with students there might be more sense that my gender or their gender is an issue. But once you get beyond the first couple of conversations it seems pretty irrelevant. I was talking with a woman just the other evening about her new pregnancy, her fear about being a mother and that kind of thing, and obviously there are certain life situations where gender is very relevant. But it seems the really deep issues of meditation practice are not so gender-oriented. To me, it seems important to get beyond gender-related issues to those core issues that we all share as human beings. The issues we're experiencing in our meditation practice are usually much more fundamental than these gender-related issues.
Pat O'Hara: I agree with you so much, Judith. I remember giving a talk about not being heard and not being seen as a woman. After the talk, this man came up to me and said, you know, you're talking about me and my life. That really helped me to see that in dealing with issues of sexism and racism and homophobia and that kind of thing, we're talking about everybody's experience.
Melvin McLeod: As women, what changes would you like to see in the way Buddhism is practiced in the West?
Pat O'Hara: I feel I haven't been paying enough attention to the incredible pain a lot of women feel about the lack of a matriarchal lineage in Buddhism. Women are not often written or spoken about in Buddhism. In our community, we started chanting the names of women throughout Buddhist history, and I saw the faces of the women in the room bathed in tears. Seeing their faces in tears is what woke me up to how important this is to many women.
Now I and other dharma sisters in the Zen tradition have a different attitude towards the texts, the legends and the stories-a little bit more quizzical, a little bit more ironic. You know, how could they all be men? Come on now. This is a constructed quality of all these texts, and we have to know that. It changes the way we talk about things and it changes our attitudes towards forms and services and hierarchy, the whole power relationship. Everything begins to shift a little bit, I think.
Judith Simmer-Brown: I know that women students who find themselves visualizing deities and lineage trees that are all men feel a sense of incredible loneliness and a longing for lineage figures who are female. But also, as the institutions of Western Buddhism get larger and more complex, women are finding it hard to hold their own in a variety of situations. I hear a lot of stories from my students of struggles to be included in the service of visiting teachers and in various teaching situations. These kinds of stories touch me very deeply because it's easy to miss, especially when you're a woman teacher. But it's not necessarily that way for all the women in the community.
There's another thing that needs to be remembered about the phenomenon of women in leadership positions in American Buddhism right now. There's a pattern whenever you have a new religious movement that women are often influential at the beginning, but one or two generations later they're gone. As these movements become institutionalized, the structures become increasingly patriarchal and women are moved out. So we have women Buddhist teachers now, but that may not be true for our children and grandchildren.
Barbara Rhodes: In our tradition a lot of the centers have the same basic type of mural, which is all men. There's the Buddha and all these deities, who are all men with beards and mustaches and swords and shields. I think I'm out of touch with how programmed I've been to accept that. I've been fortunate enough to have a teacher who seems to have really respected me, but it's good to hear what you both just said, because I forget how much this has on some level demoralized me and a lot of other women. I'm just used to it. I need to look at that issue more deeply.
Sharon Salzberg: The motivation that brings so many people to the dharma is looking for a sense of connection. What they find is exclusion rather than inclusion, and that's a source of tremendous suffering and heartache. So it seems very important to reach into the various traditions and bring forth the elements that provide inclusion and connection and welcoming.
Pat O'Hara: I want to say a little bit about hierarchy, because it comes up all the time in my tradition. I see my dharma sisters doing a lot of work around the teacher not always being at the apex of some hierarchy, but having a different role in different situations. People are working in groups to share the dharma, not assuming that only the teacher is going to be able to say the appropriate thing.
I think that's a very important aspect of what women can bring to Buddhism. As outsiders, not part of the hierarchy, we feel that we can criticize it, and then we begin to live that criticism and it changes the way things are done. I think that's an important element also.
Judith Simmer-Brown: Hierarchy is very important in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Yet there are ways in which hierarchy may not represent the genuine mandala principle of center and fringe. There can be privilege granted in hierarchy that is different from a true sense of spiritual authority.
I think that's an area where there may be changes, but it's hard to know what kind of changes they will be. It's extremely important for the vajrayana practitioners in American Buddhism to honor our teachers, the lineages, and the hierarchical forms that allow us to really understand what spiritual power is. And I would view the democratization of American Buddhism as a problem if we began to make everything the same for the sake of whatever problems we might have with hierarchy. But there are appropriate hierarchies and there are inappropriate hierarchies, and trying to figure that out is really important.
Sharon Salzberg: I agree. I think we need something like a hierarchy of function which doesn't demean or denigrate anyone. The distinction really needs to be made.
Judith Simmer-Brown: Earlier, Pat talked about how difficult it was for her to be member of a Buddhist community as a single parent with a two-year-old. I would love to see a solidly lay Buddhism in America that is much more receptive to the needs of families, that incorporates the whole sense of the domestic life, both for mothers and fathers. We need a Buddhism that is much more accommodating to a lay family model, one in which serious practice is still very much the foundation. Our centers and communities need to work with this in an ongoing way, becoming more creative about it.
Pat O'Hara: That's absolutely on our plate to do. Buddhism is predominently lay in this country and people have families, so for Buddhism to really grow we're going to have to find those forms that include the family. That's happening a little in different centers now, but I believe it will happen more.
Sharon Salzberg: And along with that we have to plant the seeds of a viable monastic community. Particularly for women, that's the container where a sense of lineage and of tradition can be passed on.
Melvin McLeod: Which relates to Judith's warning that women's roles can be diminished as Western Buddhism becomes more established.
Sharon Salzberg: I was thinking about that. I was thinking about the young women I know and how, because of the degree that feminism has seeped into our culture, they're very different than I was at that age, in terms of their sense of confidence in themselves, their right to be included and their sense of self-respect. Reflecting on what Judith said about women's roles diminishing, I was thinking maybe that won't happen-not because of Buddhism and not because of institutions, but because of the actual women involved.
Judith Simmer-Brown: Maybe it won't happen. That would be wonderful.

Shambhala Sun


You have to transform everything into spiritual practice
Rob Lengfeld recently became a resident at Heruka Buddhist Centre. Rob is also the teacher at our Watford branch.
Annabel Corbalan finds out why and what it means to him.

Annabel: How long have you been involved in Buddhism?
Rob: About six years.
Annabel: What made you want to move into Heruka Buddhist Centre?
Rob: Due to a cancer scare, I was led to believe I was terminally ill. I thought I wouldn't have long to live and gave myself four months. I kept thinking, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if I had ten years to practise Dharma!'
When you have death hanging over you like a shadow your spiritual practice becomes very strong, very focused. It becomes a 24-hour practice, focusing on every moment. I wasn't experiencing a sense of sadness, just a wish to really apply my practice.
So when I heard the good news that it was benign, I thought, 'Well, what's the best way to try and put this into practice?' and I realised that all the conditions I needed were right there in the Dharma Centre. You have all the conducive conditions you need and plenty of challenging conditions as well - its all there. You have to transform everything into spiritual practice.
Annabel: What have you found to be the benefits of living in a Dharma Centre?
Rob: Not having to travel to the Centre, which was time consuming. It's all on your doorstep. You can attend all the pujas and if you're doing a retreat you have your own room to rest in.
The structure of the scheduled pujas is very helpful, the power of group pujas generates great positive energy for yourself and for the Centre, which benefits everyone.
I think it's quite important if you live at the Centre to try to attend all the pujas you can. It is a way of showing why the Centre exists.
Annabel: How does living in a Dharma Centre compare with living in your own home?
Rob: Your space is curtailed - you can't bring all your worldly possessions with you.
Annabel: Do you feel you've had to make any sacrifices?
Rob: To be honest, no.
Annabel: Do you miss TV?
Rob: I gave my TV away about three and a half years ago and don't miss it at all. I left my radio at my flat, but you've got to keep in touch with what what's going on so I read a newspaper once a week.
Annabel: What about sharing a kitchen and bathroom with other people?
Rob: I've had no real problems. Making that switch wasn't difficult. In the past I was in a relationship for twenty years which obviously implied sharing and considering another person, not just pleasing myself.
Annabel: Do you think sharing living space is helpful?
Rob: Yes, you're aware of others' needs and you see jobs that need doing. Maybe someone's left washing up to do. You know the place is open to the public and visitors could come at any time, and you don't want to leave it dirty for them.
Ideally I don't think you need rotas if you treat the house as public property. If you realise people from all walks of life come to the Centre you see how important it is to maintain standards.
I think it's very positive to look at the Centre as special, as Geshe-la's home. It's not an ordinary house or community, it is special.
Annabel: Would you recommend living in a Dharma Centre to others?
Rob: It depends on the individual. What suits one person does not necessarily suit another.
But if you want to engage in Dharma practice seriously, living in a Centre provides you with every opportunity Everything's tailor-made for you.
We're really very fortunate to have the opportunity to live in the Centre. It is a great privilege. Its a privilege anyway to have a roof over your head, but to have the good fortune to be in a Dharma Centre as well makes me feel really grateful.
It's the ideal environment for listening to Dharma teachings, meditating, and putting the teachings into practice. I hope Dharma Centres flourish and that many people have the same opportunity. But it doesn't suit everybody.
Annabel: Is it a supportive community?
Rob: People are very supportive and wish the best for you. If you're not cherishing an individual in the community you're not cherishing the community. If you undermine one member of the community, you're undermining the whole community. This is true in any community, but obviously the emphasis in a spiritual community is very much on cherishing others.
I feel it is very important that we're all mutually supportive and respect each others' wishes, treating others as we would like to be treated, and respecting others.
Annabel: So, no regrets?
Rob: No, not at the moment, [giggles naughtily!] I'm very happy in the Centre.


Zen and Popular Culture
An Interview with Zenshin Roshi
By Linnea Lamar

CyberSangha: When I hear the words "emptiness" or "nothingness," I get the impression that Zen is antithetical to a "belief in something" that characterizes much religious thought. Even within the Zen tradition, to say that one believes in emptiness seems like a contradiction in logic.
Zenshin: In Zen, emptiness is a translation of the Sanskrit term "shunyata" or "voidness," but that does not imply vacuity. When we talk about "emptiness" or "nothingness" in Zen, that term really comes from the fact that the essence of Zen is Buddhism, which is grounded in the doctrine of interdependent origination. That is to say that all phenomenon exists in conjunction with all other phenomenon. Consequently, when you try to look at something's ontological structure, that is when you try to define it as an absolute thing in and of itself, it is "empty" in that what you're seeing is merely the result of your own sensual limitations or epistemological processes. It's not a matter of the thing's real being; it's a matter of the way you perceive it. So, in that respect, we use the term "emptiness" because nothing has a real validity solely in and of itself, but it is entirely relational.
That a thing's reality is relational, however, does not mean that things are not significant in and of themselves. Things are expressions of reality; they are the manifestations of reality as "thing," just as trees are the expression of the forest. The forest in turn is not manifested where there are no trees. Trouble lies in an absolute identification with either the forest or its expression as trees.
CyberSangha: It seems as though in American pop culture, this emptiness is often misconstrued as the absence of clear-cut moral principles associated with other religions.
Zenshin: The misconception concerning morality comes when you take this idea of emptiness and therefore decide, "Since nothing has an individual or separate being, all things must therefore have no value." People with this sort of attitude mistakenly try to circumvent real moral principles.
CyberSangha: Do you attribute this mistake to a superficial understanding of Zen, one that intrigues the intellect, but does not bring the teachings into actual practice?
Zenshin: First of all, you notice that Western popularizers of Zen hardly ever mention "Buddhism" in the same breath with "Zen." That's because in the popular culture there's the notion that you can somehow extrapolate the essence of Zen from Zen Buddhism and have something that's meaningful.
In a way, it's sort of a homeopathic understanding of spiritual practice: Such people think that you can extract the essence out of Zen Buddhism, dilute it to infinitesimal levels, and still possess the same thing. I'm not saying that doesn't work in regards to homeopathic medicine, but it doesn't work in regards to spiritual practice.
CyberSangha: Would you say that an intellectual understanding, such as that gained from reading scholarly books on the subject, has any value for people who sincerely wish to understand Zen?
Zenshin: Of course, an intellectual understanding is necessary. After all, the word "Zen" means meditation and is the eighth path of the Eightfold Path which includes right views, right action, right effort, right speech, and so on. But unless you are involved in actively integrating all of these factors together into your spiritual life, intellectual understanding simply will not suffice to bring about any meaningful self-transformation, which of course is the intent of Zen Buddhism. Reading scholarly books on the subject without making an attempt to fully integrate your practice into the entirety of your life is like the alcoholic who goes to an AA meeting in the morning and a cocktail lounge in the afternoon!
CyberSangha: But still, even if we hope to apply the precepts of Buddhism in any real way, it is necessary to remove our sense of self and all accompanying delusions. Therefore, as this process unfolds, are we losing something or gaining it?
Zenshin: Yes, basically most people thing of spiritual growth as gaining wisdom or adding something. But actually it's the other way around: It's getting rid of ignorance. In Buddhism there is the inherent belief that wisdom or truth is the constituent part of our nature and that ignorance is clouding it over. And so what we are trying to do is to get rid of ignorant views. As ignorant views disappear and we live a life that is more authentic and real, then we become wise and suffering seems to disappear. So it's not an additive process; it's a subtractive process.
CyberSangha: What role does meditation play in this process?
Zenshin: Meditation or "zazen," which we call sitting meditation, involves calming the mind, not by forceful effort but by simply seeing the kinds of thoughts and emotions which we possess and which possess us in a very real sense due to our identification with them. Therefore, when thoughts and emotions arise from the stream of consciousness, we will need to disassociate from them, without repressing. This same practice then carries over into our daily lives, and we begin to see the thoughts for just what they are -- usually something learned or experienced in the past. These have become identified with certain emotions and eventually with ourselves.
CyberSangha: It seems that many non-Buddhist Zen pop-culture organizations advocate the practice of meditation, also. What is the difference between these forms of meditation and that of zazen?
Zenshin: Most meditations are directed towards enhancing one's life in some way, and there's nothing wrong with that. The premise of most of these pop meditations, however, is that one can develop some kind of psychological attitude that defends oneself against reality. In Zen Buddhism, meditation is not directed towards defending oneself against the stresses of reality but rather towards confronting reality as it is and becoming one with it. This requires a world view and a way of being in the world that reinforces it.
In this way, the practice of meditation is contained within a meaningful context. The context of many New Age groups stays in flux. Or sometimes a disgruntled Zen student, due to a failure to resolve a dysfunctional relationship with their teacher, will want to trash the tradition with the teacher, thus taking the meditation out of context or inventing his or her own context. This is inviting a dangerous alchemy. Practicing Zen meditation without the context of the Eightfold Path would be like carrying water in a leaky bucket.
CyberSangha: "Enlightenment" seems to be a big word in Zen circles. Is this a definitive experience or merely another phase of the spiritual-transformation process?
Zenshin: Several books written by Western authors emphasize "satori" or "kensho," a kind of peak experience arising out of meditation in which we intensely experience the reality or ground of our being. But ENLIGHTENMENT IS REALLY A WAY OF BEING IN THE WORLD WHICH CORRESPONDS WITH THE GROUND OF OUR BEING AND THEREFORE IS AN EXPRESSION OF IT. As such, the goal of spiritual practice should be intrinsic to itself -- like any practice which has meaning. That is to say, when we practice zazen, we should be just practicing without any idea about what we're going to gain or not gain.
CyberSangha: Do special experiences such as "satori" serve any purpose?
Zenshin: Special experiences are fine; they are expressions of our practice, just like the periods of suffering that result from our ignorance. And if we use "satori" as a springboard to throw us into our practice and particularly if we use it as a springboard for compassion, that is, if we want to share this deep feeling of freedom and joy with other beings, then it's positive.
But if we allow it to insulate ourselves, and we try to get stuck in the moment, then we end up being a kind of Zen psychopath, and there's more than a few of those running around, some of which are "roshis," as a matter of fact.
CyberSangha: Sometimes I see short courses to a state of enlightenment offered, ranging from six weeks to two years. I really wonder how effective they can possibly be.
Zenshin: (Laughing) I love some of these things, too. I think my favorite was an ad in one of these New Age magazines which said, "Achieve in twenty minutes what it takes a Zen priest to achieve in twenty years." The only thing I know of that's consistent with Zen priests after twenty years is hemorrhoids. Since this thing attached to the head, it definitely was a mystical operation.
It would be wonderful if reality could be divided up into little sound bytes, but it doesn't work that way. When you're finished with your two week's short course and you have to go back into the big bad world, you feel calm and peaceful for the first forty minutes on the way home. And then somebody runs you off the road, and you've lost your entire practice. That's usually the way it works.
CyberSangha: How does a student of Zen recognize the enlightenment stage?
Zenshin: (Laughing) Well, you have to be like a Hollywood vampire. That is, when you look in the mirror, you can't see yourself. Instead, enlightenment is like two mirrors facing one another with all things reflected within them. Both mirrors are of the same substance, and there is nothing in either of them that is independent of their mutual reality.
When the mirror becomes perfectly clean, when you no longer feel a tension with the world, when your heart is so full of wisdom and compassion that little or nothing disturbs it, then you can say that you are abiding, at least for that time, in enlightenment.
CyberSangha: How long does this process take?
Zenshin: The deeper and the more you practice, the more you realize that parts of your being still require work, so you just practice. That's all. Spiritual practice is something that has no final goal, so there's no end to it. How long does it take to go nowhere? Forever, or you're already there.
You may reach Stephen Echard Roshi at the Zen Institute of San Diego (619) 582-9888. He is available for retreats, sesshins, and lectures. Echard Musgrave Roshi is a Zen Master in the Soto tradition of Japan, the largest Zen tradition in the world. He received transmission and the title Roshi in 1988 from Reverend Doctor Soyu Matsuoka, bishop of the Soto tradition, one of Japan's most respected Zen masters and patriarch of American Zen. Roshi Echard has been a Zen student for twenty-eight years and has studied under masters of the Rinzai, Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese traditions. In the following interview, Roshi Echard clarifies some of the issues surrounding the stereotypes of Zen in American pop culture. This interview was conducted by Linnea Lamar.
PHOTO: Zenshin Roshi with son, Shea.


Interview With Lama Yeshey Gyamtso
by Jim Sande

Jim Sande: Tell us about yourself, where you are from, and anything you want to say about yourself.
Lama Gyamtso: I'm from Montreal, Canada. My parents were Canadians and had no connection with Buddhism, particularly. I went to school in Montreal and got involved in Buddhism in my late teens. I went into my first three-year retreat when I was twenty-one, the second one when I was twenty-six and came out when I was thirty. And I've been teaching and translating since then.
J.S.: How old are you now?
L.G.: Thirty-four.
J.S.: Under whose guidance did you do the retreats?
L.G.: Well, the retreats I did were at Karma Thubten Chöling in Wappingers Falls. So it was under the direction of Lama Norlha. And the retreats were, in general, under the direction of Kalu Rinpoche.
J.S.: I was thinking that we could get involved in a discussion. I talked to a couple of people about the kinds of questions to ask you, and several people came up with the same kind of question, so maybe it's relevant. So I'll read to you this complex question that I wrote down and we'll take it from there.
We have tremendous expectations in our lives, maybe because we are so saturated with media images of whom we could be like or of things we could own. Many of us have a very difficult time being happy with our lives as they are. There's this big gap. Almost everyone that we meet talks about not liking their career or job, or relationship, parents, money, or their lifestyle, this is a very common kind of thing, this dissatisfaction. There is an idea of wanting a better life, and that is connected with some improvement in their career or place. And almost everyone who feels this way is simultaneously dissatisfied. And yet, on one hand, we have so much materialistically, and yet, simultaneously, we feel so terribly dissatisfied. That's one thing to respond to and maybe open up a dialogue about.
And then there is another thing which is sort of fundamental, and that is that, besides being internally at war with these issues, we seem to be externally at war with our neighbors and in adversarial relationships, and that, as a consequence, seems to make us feel, I think, terribly lonely. You can go to the mall or out driving on the highway and experience a feeling of terrible loneliness even though there are a number of people around who live in the same community and share many things, but yet we are terribly lonely in America. And I know that some people that read this can relate to this idea and would love to have some kind of relief (laughter) from these problems.
L.G.: We seem to be experiencing a great deal of pain. And when pain comes from external circumstances - being at war, being impoverished, being ill - then it's easy to account for. But, when everything is going right in our lives, and we're still not happy, it makes us investigate the situation very deeply. That is one of the things that is happening right now. And there is a great deal of hard work being done by people as individuals and people in the various helping professions in investigating what this problem is and what we can do about it. So, I think that what has to happen is an individual, either on their own or with the advice of friends or therapists or teachers or someone, has to look very carefully at their own situation and see what it is that they want that they are not getting.
Now Buddha's idea about this, as it is traditionally stated, is that the basic problem is that we are addicted to wanting. The problem is that not that we don't get what we want, but we use wanting itself as an occupation to keep us entertained, and therefore once we get what we want, it does not cure the fundamental problem. We stop wanting that, we have it, and we switch to wanting something else. So we never enjoy what we acquire and we never enjoy fully. We do enjoy, of course, to some extent, but we never enjoy fully what we experience. The way that one can transcend this, and it's easy to transcend a coarse degree of this - subtle degrees of this are another matter - but a coarse degree of this, is by somehow slowing down the speed of one's acquisitiveness, and that is one of the major reasons why people practice meditation.
There are a million different meditation techniques that people use in the Buddhist tradition and in other traditions but, fundamentally, what the proper practice of meditation is based on is somehow gently cutting through the speed of always looking for satisfaction in a future moment through some future acquisition of some kind. And that's all that's necessary in order to heal this particular problem.
Now as far as the social situation of loneliness is concerned, if you look at your own moods and at how you are with people around you, you'll see that when you're happy you are friendly and nice, and when you're unhappy you're not very nice. Especially if you feel that you are suffering more than those around you, you're not nice at all! And so what is happening is that people are becoming obsessed with their own misery. And the reason is fundamentally the same problem: we feel we shouldn't be unhappy--we have everything or most things, we know we have more than most people, and yet we seem so unhappy. And that makes us resent ourselves, we resent ourselves for feeling unhappy. And we regard ourselves as spoiled children. But we're not really like spoiled children. We're just ordinary human beings.
What is necessary from a Buddhist point of view is just simply to introduce some space into the situation. And that is the function of meditation. So if meditation is practiced properly then one becomes friendlier. One is less in a state of panicked agitation. And that makes one more able to relate to other people's needs, and more able to be sympathetic to others. Because you start to see that whatever is going wrong in our life is probably going wrong in other people's lives too. You're not the only one who's going through your particular type of pain. This gives you a sense of kinship with others that also helps minimize the suffering.
At the same time, as you relax your mind, some of what's going on starts to stop being a problem. But at the same time it's very important that people not turn meditation into some kind of get healthy quick scheme. That they have a sense - it's very important that people have a sense of their own fundamental richness, their own fundamental strength and intelligence. And this has nothing to do with who you are in particular. The very fact that you are alive is a testament to the fact that your basic nature is something good, something positive. We do not, in our tradition, regard the nature of life as neutral. We regard it as fundamentally good.
Now when we say that all experience is pervaded by suffering, we mean that there are severe problems, imperfections. But the fundamental nature of experience itself, the fundamental nature of beings having minds, is considered to be good. And this is something that is entirely traditional. We say in our tradition," kun zhi la lo chin gay wa", which means that the basic ground of experience is in its nature good or virtuous. Meditation of whatever kind has to reveal that basic ground of goodness. And if it does, then you discover that you contain the remedies to all your problems, that your fundamental mind contains, so to speak, the medicine that will cure whatever is afflicting you.
Until you reveal that ground, then you think that you are going to get the cure from outside, from your teachers, from the techniques of meditation, from books, from belief systems so forth, and teachers are necessary because teachers show one how to practice. Belief systems are less important because it has to be based on experience. But the most important thing is that practice will reveal your own basic fundamental strength, intelligence, and goodness, and because that is where the answers come from.
The answers don't come directly from books. And the answers are not conceptual, the answers are direct experience. As direct in experience as the taste of milk or the taste of sugar which can't really be described. I can say that sugar is sweet, but unless you've had it you don't even know what I am talking about. And I can describe the taste of milk but not very effectively. Well, books are like that, and, in fact, any kind of belief system is like that as well, it's only an approximation.
So meditation practice can deal with loneliness and deal with this bizarre pain that we experience. But in order to do so it has to be based on the understanding that all you're doing is revealing a fundamental excellence within you that's always been there, you're not trying to transform yourself from a bad person into a good person. All you're trying to do is remove something that is obscuring your basic nature.
J.S.: Let's see, what can we talk about? That's basically it.
L.G.: That's basically it. When you look at the various things that we are coming up with to deal with our pain, we are developing very sophisticated and, in some cases, I think, very intelligent approaches to therapy, and we're also looking at traditional disciplines such as meditation and the various things associated with traditions of meditation, and, in some cases, we are trying to find the common ground between these, but I think that the basic point of all successful approaches to healing the pain, I think what is really common to all of them is that they're based on a recognition of a fundamental excellence or goodness within the individual, him or herself. And as long as what you do is based on that I think, it will help tremendously. As long as what you do, whatever it is--it could take Buddhist form--as long as what you do is based on trying to find a cure outside yourself, something to take away your pain, I don't think it will work. So I think it depends on that, more than on what you call it, whether it's called Buddhism or not. And because as long as you are afraid to look at yourself and afraid to go deep enough in to find that ground of excellence that is underneath all this ruble that is so disturbing, then you're running away. And I think that if you stop running, and you turn back, and you start digging through the ruble, you will find that it's not so bad after all. The problem that we have is that when you say it's not so bad after all, if you hear someone say that and you're still running, you don't believe it. You think it's some kind of trick.
It's an interesting thing when Buddhism is taught to Westerners. It's very different from teaching Asians, I think, because, I can't say Asians in general, but Tibetans, unless something particularly horrible is going on, they are basically pretty cheerful people. And basically they like themselves. It's changing now because modern society is becoming much more homogenous than it used to be. The world used to be very different in different places, but we in the West at this time are always coming from a fundamental sense of poverty, a fundamental sense of depression that is poignant considering the external richness of our society.
So that means that while it may be appropriate when teaching in Tibet to lay on the fire and brimstone, because, if you lay on the fire and brimstone to a Tibetan, then he will hear the message as, "I am a fundamentally good person who needs to be careful." But if you lay on fire and brimstone in the West, people hear the message as, "I am a miserable worm who deserves misery." In fact, the message is the first, not the second, but we don't hear it that way. That's why when we teach in the West you have to be very careful to make it clear to those listening that you have respect for them and that you're not considering them to be benighted, ignorant, lost souls, miserable worms crouching in the darkness of the pit, that you recognize them as human beings who want to heal and grow. Then the whole of traditional Buddhism or any system can be taught perfectly well, but it has to be clearly presented from the very beginning that, ultimately, where you're headed is a revelation of the peoples' fundamental goodness. And that is why, for example, 'The Jewel Ornament of Liberation', begins with a chapter on Buddha nature. That's why that is the first thing presented.
J.S.: So in stepping back to what you originally said, the addiction to wanting seems to be the salient point of why there such a miserable sense of self. You find that that addiction to wanting is --
L.G.: Well, the addiction itself is not particular to our own culture and time. We just have a particular situation where it is poignantly obvious. It's easier to disguise that addiction as something else when your external circumstances are "horrific". If you are starving or if you are a political prisoner or you're physically ill, then it makes sense that you're miserable. In fact, the ultimate reason is still because of a fixation. Nevertheless, the external circumstances are very difficult. But if you're healthy and wealthy, and you're miserable, then you wonder what would make me happy? If I have all of this and I'm not happy, what do I need? And you start to realize that the one thing you lack is contentment. There's a story that - I think it was one of the emperors of China but I'm not sure - a Tibetan teacher was teaching someone in another country during what we would call the middle ages. And this person in the other country was very powerful and wealthy and who may have been an emperor of China or something similar, asked the teacher, "Who was the wealthiest person in the country of Tibet?" And the teacher said, "The wealthiest person in Tibetan history was Jetsun Milarepa." And the emperor said, "Well what did he own?" And the teacher said, "He had one cotton robe and a kind of bowl that he ate in and cooked in." And the emperor said, "Well why do you say he was the wealthiest person?" The teacher answered, "He had contentment, and that's the greatest wealth there is-- contentment!"
J.S.: It seems like we confuse the sense of contentment. Contentment for people is always the same idea, you're contented when you've had a victory or you've made a made a lot money or something.
L.G.: Well, that's sort of temporary contentment because you've filled what were your aims. But then the problem is that, once you've filled those, your aims start to expand further. And we encourage this in our society. When children grow up and go to college they are told, "Be ambitious! If you lack ambition you'll never get anywhere!" And there's some wisdom to that. There's a kind of ambition which consists of vision and is without fixation. But if it's obsessive comparison of oneself to others, then that is unhealthy because it makes you miserable. No matter who you are there will always be someone who has more or who is more. And this is true in any sphere.
So you need a kind of joyful or delighted sense of energy that keeps you moving, keeps you doing whatever it is you've chosen to do in your life. But you also need a sense of relaxation and contentment. And genuine contentment comes not from having so much, from having fulfilled certain aims that you have set out as it comes from recognizing that happiness comes from enjoying your own basic nature. Rather than enjoying something that is outside you. Because if all enjoyment in life is the temporary circumstances in which you find yourself, then there's no security, no stability in your enjoyment because they'll change. If I'm happy because I saw a good movie, then tomorrow I might be unhappy because I won't see a good movie. But if I'm happy because the movie reminded me of something fundamentally good in myself, that's different.
JS: It seems so true that people get to that point of instability, insecurity, and, in order to ease that, will just continue again to say the same thing over and over again, just continue for another goal, another acquisition, another object, another amount of money, whatever.
LG: Yeah, and that's basically the same thing that heroin addicts do. You know, you get to a certain point and that just makes you normal, so then you have to take stronger and stronger doses, until finally you overdose and die. Well, what happens to people in aggressively competitive occupations is that they--long after they have reached a level of standard of life and income, that is, that should be satisfactory to them--they are still not enjoying it because they have to, first of all, protect it from competition, and then they have to conquer further territory because they see that other people have more, and that disturbs them, prevents them from enjoying what they have.
And the irony of this kind of situation, if it degenerates into an absolute panic, is, if you have a family and a beautiful living situation, that you never enjoy them. You're never home because you've got to work more and more and more and more and more. If you don't, you're like someone driving slowly in the fast lane. I think that there is a way to take part in that lifestyle without losing groundedness. And I think that that way would consist of setting aside at least a certain amount of time every day, a small amount of time to create space. Buddhists would do the practice of meditation. And, somehow, having that little bit of space in your life would not slow down your speed of accomplishment the rest of the time, but it would relax you throughout the rest of the day because you would know that there is a bit of a gap somewhere - the domino effect of agitation--one minute's agitation produces the next minute's, and so forth--would stop. One domino would be missing, and then one of them would fall down but not knock down any other one. So I think that kind of thing is very important.
JS: It is sort of interesting when you're saying this. It is like a person, let's say, is in a position where they have acquired a lot of things, have a nice family and yet they're still driven to move forward on, conquer more territory, yet on the other hand, they could be, let's say, attacked. And that is another very common thing in the very competitive atmosphere we seem to live in. You'll read in newspapers someone is being flailed in public about their - about someone who is successful - they are vulnerable to tremendous criticism or something. It seems like when you take the case of the President, you know, he's like -
LG: That is a combination of things. Part of it is that one of the things people hold most sacred in our culture is the right to criticize those in power because the very foundation of the political culture of this country is the right to do that. And that becomes an opportunity for those who wish to discredit someone in a position of power to do so, so that it gets misused. But the fundamental right to criticize is a legitimate one, and it is unfortunate that it gets misused. But I think that, as we are seeing now, like in the case of the President, I think it is dying now to some extent.
On a more personal level, this happens to us all the time. This political philosophy is reflected now in our notion of interpersonal relationships, in relationships between men and women, and between people in general, the notion that each person has certain rights and when someone is abusing you, you have the right to give them feedback about it immediately. And while this does become a situation, occasionally, rife with misunderstandings, resentments and aggressions, I think it is still better than what we had before because even though it means people are somewhat suspicious of each other and there is sometimes a little more hesitancy to trust, it does protect people, and I think that there is a lot of good. I think that our society in general, not only in North America, but modern society, has, for the first time in human history, given a proper place to basic human rights, and that is something that does not come from any religious tradition, fundamentally. It has certainly been influenced by just about every religious tradition, and I think there is something wonderful about that, something thoroughly respectable about that. Of course, at times it gets turned into an excuse for other witch hunts with some misguided reactions to previous forms of oppression leading to new forms of oppression, but still, still, I think we are better off that way than we have ever been.
JS: One thing in circling back again and redefining another sort of feeling or observation I get, and this has to do again with the adversarial quality, the problematic adversarial quality that we are engaged in. Sometimes we see people; we don't have that friendliness or they are not friendly to us, and again we feel that loneliness. It seems almost sometimes we are unable to view other human beings simply as that, as other human beings. It is almost like there is a perception between groups of people that one group is human beings and the other group is a group of objects. It is like some kind of basis for racism -
LG: That comes from fundamental ignorance. I mean it is a fundamental fact that our basic goodness is somehow masked or filtered by ignorance, so that the light that we perceive of our own goodness is like sunlight filtered through clouds. Nevertheless, the basic nature of experience is still goodness.
Ignorance is a limitation of experience, it is not the nature of experience. Just as when you see light coming through clouds, that light is still sunlight, it's not cloud light. It's limited by clouds, the nature of that light is not clouds.
Well the nature of, I mean the characteristic of that ignorance is a lack of clarity, the fact that we don't think straight. One of the most common examples of that is we don't look at things in an environmental way, we look at things in an egocentric way. Which ironically makes us very unhappy. But we don't think that, we don't realize that. So one forgets the fact that every being equally wishes to be happy, has the same basic needs, same basic nature. And one identifies certain individuals as like oneself as a part of the retinue of I, of me, and other individuals as potential threats. And the criterion on which one makes this division is always spurious, and it can vary. Some people make it based on race, some people make it based on language, some people make it based on eye color, some people make it based on religion, political affiliation, taste in films, allegiance to sports teams, anything, we do this all the time. And we do it in subtle ways within our families, all the time. And this is the characteristic behavior of beings afflicted by ignorance which is one aspect of what we are. And there is no simple antidote to this other than learning to see oneself clearly. And if one sees oneself clearly through whatever means - meditation, therapies, a combination of the two, whatever. If one sees oneself clearly than one will see how one's thinking is muddled; how, while you and so and so are essentially the same, you have decided that you are OK and they are not because so and so voted Republican and you voted Democrat. And we are very clever at thinking up rationalizations, the biggest rationalization for prejudice is the statement, " They're prejudiced." Usually, for example, if I have liberal political tendencies, I will feel antipathy towards someone I identify as a conservative. And my rationale will be, "Because conservatives have so much aggression." And that becomes my rationale for aggression. What that means is that the fundamental nature of these prejudices is always fear. And prejudices can be individual as well as general.