Beyond Religion – Awakening the self

His Holiness the Dalai Lama talks about seeing the greater, bigger picture where beings are interconnected, in order to create a bright and harmonious future.


Living as a western monastic

In this interesting article, Venerble Thuben Chodron outlines the differences in living conditions for monastics in an asian setting and monastics in a western setting, and the particular set of challenges that western monastics face. She mentions:

Tibetans grow up with Buddhism and monastics. They know what the life of a monastic entails and when they ordain, they are welcomed into a monastery where they live with monastic relatives and others who are from the same area of Tibet as they are. While Tibetan monastics in general are not rich, the senior monastics take care of the juniors, providing them with room, board, and teachings, and together they share the experience of living in community.

The situation for Western monastics is considerably different. There are very few monasteries where they can stay in the West. They may live in a Dharma center, in which case they often spend long hours doing volunteer work building the center or planning activities for the lay people. They usually do not receive special training as monastics because the Dharma centers are designed principally for lay people. Tibetan monastics are sponsored at Dharma centers and receive offerings and stipends, most of which they send to support their disciples in India and Tibet. However, many Western monastics have to work at jobs in the city in order to support themselves as some Dharma centers ask the monastics to pay in addition to volunteering their services. They do not have time to study and practice the Dharma, which inhibits their ability to serve the lay people by teaching and setting a good example. Keeping their vows is very difficult for those who must work in the city, and many do not survive as monastics.

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Spread of Tibetan Buddhism in the West

In an interesting interview with Roger Jackson, Buddhist professor and teacher, he talks about his experience of teaching Dharma to different groups in the west. He mentions:

In centers I mostly keep to the tradition. Most of my Dharma center teaching is working through Indian Buddhist texts with American Dharma students at Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery in Minneapolis. From Geshe Sopa, I learned the value of teaching directly from texts, so I present the text more or less as a geshe would—though I’m far from being a geshe!

A college or university is different. I teach by topic, and assign readings from various sources. Above all, I don’t teach “Dharma.” I help students understand Buddhism from an academic point of view. That includes the ideas from great texts, but from multiple perspectives rather than a single authority. In a typical class, I spend a few weeks on philosophy, making sure people know about the four noble truths, emptiness, the bodhisattva path, and so forth, but then I take them into areas like anthropology, sociology and cultural studies. For instance, we will investigate what Buddhism looks like on the ground in Sri Lanka or Tibet. And then we might examine a difficult ethical issue from a Buddhist perspective.

Regarding what has changed since the 1960s, he mentions:

Gelug centers have mostly stayed quite traditional. They still focus on lamrim, for example, without much Westernization. Students sometimes want more meditation, but that’s an adjustment Gelug centers haven’t always made. One result is a steady trickle of Gelug students going to Nyingma teachers to learn Dzogchen. John MakranskyAnne Klein, and B. Alan Wallaceare prominent examples. So that’s one issue to consider. Another is how centers can serve both ordinary people and more serious practitioners. Mingyur Rinpoche, a Kagyu-Nyingma master, has created two tracks in his Tergar organization: one for busy lay people with a secular orientation, and the second for those who want to do a more “Buddhist” practice. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also stresses basic teachings for secular people, and more intense practice for those so inclined. I wonder if Gelug organizations should consider creating different tracks as well.

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Practicing Tonglen

In this interesting article, Pema Chodron gives concise and practical advice on the practice of Tonglen. She mentions:

Tonglen practice, also known as “taking and sending,” reverses our usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. In tonglen practice, we visualize taking in the pain of others with every in-breath and sending out whatever will benefit them on the out-breath. In the process, we become liberated from age- old patterns of selfishness. We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others.

Tonglen awakens our compassion and introduces us to a far bigger view of reality. It introduces us to the unlimited spaciousness of shunyata (emptiness). By doing the practice, we begin to connect with the open dimension of our being.

Tonglen can be done for those who are ill, those who are dying or have died, or those who are in pain of any kind. It can be done as a formal meditation practice or right on the spot at any time. If we are out walking and we see someone in pain, we can breathe in that person’s pain and send out relief to them.

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Raising children with a bodhichitta motivation

Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave an interesting talk on how to raise chidlren with a bodhichitta motviation. An excerpt from the transcript:

On the other hand, if you allow yourself to come under the influence of the eight worldly concerns, when your children do something to please you, something that you like, you will happily take care of them. However, when they do something that is contrary to your wishes, something that upsets you or makes you angry, it is possible that you may even be tempted to give them up entirely. This change in your attitude happens because of your attachment to your own happiness.

With bodhicitta, you will feel that your children are the most precious and the kindest beings in your life. Of course, in general, all sentient beings are precious and kind, but parents need to specifically remember that their children are included among those sentient beings. If you have this attitude, you will take care of them with a healthy, positive mind, rather than with a negative emotional mind and the pain of attachment. Always keep in mind that your children are the most precious and kindest beings in your life and that you are responsible for taking care of them.

Click here to read the rest of the transcript

Rebel Spirit and Buddhism

Here’s an interesting write up by Mitra Brunnholz, from Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s organization, Nalandabodhi. Regarding the rebel spirit, he mentions:

Are we in touch with our rebel spirit, always questioning and testing? Can we take our “no fear” approach too far? Or by rigidly holding to the “right” rules and rituals, are we actually losing spiritual ground and just shoring up the ego? Is it possible to cut ourselves off from our own clarity and wisdom, all the while thinking we’re playing it safe?

The nonconformist, revolutionary spirit is found in many great historical teachers in all the Buddhist traditions.

If you’ve read even a little about the life of the Buddha—or seen the movie—you know he wasn’t just a navel-gazing holy man detached from the cares of a suffering world. He was passionate about discovering the truth about life and his existence as a human being. That passion led him to break away from the established religious doctrines of his time and, after his awakening, to found a community based on egalitarian principles.

In the Buddha’s community, for example, the caste system was thrown out—untouchables and brahmins were equal aspirants on the path to enlightenment.  That may not sound shocking to you now, but ask yourself: would you dare to seat the Pope or the Dalai Lama next to a homeless person at your dinner party?

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