On July 23rd of this year, my family went to the U.S. for six weeks. While of course I am sad to see them go and I miss them, I decided to really try use my Summer for retreat. When I was in Geneva, I had the great good fortune to have a large chunk of my summer off where I could focus on the Dharma, go to Manjushri and the Summer Festival, etc. This was really precious time for me, and it is one of the main reasons why I switched to teaching as a career at that time. The last couple of summers were difficult in that respect, but this year I had a great opportunity. I remember what Venerable Tharchin said: if you have an opportunity to focus on your Dharma practice and you seize the opportunity, you create the causes to have even better opportunities to practice in the future. But if you have a good opportunity and you squander it, you burn up the karma on your mind to have any time to practice and you will face more and more obstacles in your practice. Principally for this reason, I made this summer my retreat.
But, as per my karma right now, my retreat had to be a non-conventional one. Normally, when we do retreat, we want to cease all of our normal activities, go into solitude and focus on training our mind. But I had to work and deal with my normal business during this time. One of the biggest things my new life has taught me is that everything depends upon your mind. If I adopt a “mind of retreat,” then I can transform any set of appearances into an experience of doing retreat. And if we lack such a mind of retreat, even if externally we have all of the conditions of a retreat, we are not actually doing retreat at all. So I view whatever appears to my mind once I “go into retreat” as the conditions that Dorje Shugden has arranged for me to train my mind with. Different experiences at work, etc., then become emanted appearances during my retreat. With such a view, we then naturally “take the bait” and work on training our mind in whatever way seems the most approrpiate given the circumstances. In this way, our normal life becomes our retreat. So anyways, this is what I tried to do this summer!
So what are my main conclusions:
- It is so very important to reconnect with Sangha, especially at the international festivals. I had the fantastic good fortune to be able to go to the first half of the second week of the Summer Festival. Gen-la Dekyong gave the Je Tsongkhapa empowerment and a commentary to the practice of the Yoga of Buddha Heruka. This is exactly my daily practice, so it couldn’t have been more perfect. But it was also so very important to me to have had the opportunity to reconnect with my Sangha friends. Without Sangha contact, it is very easy to have our practice gradually decline. But when we have an opportunity to go to a festival, it recharges us and reorients us to be back in alignment with the tradition. I realized very clearly from this experience how important it is to do whatever I can to make it to the major festivals (to the extent that my karma reasonably allows). I am definitely going to try make it to Portugal.
- It is likewise very important to always be on a study program of some kind. From 1994 until 2010 I was on a study program. Most of this was by correspondance but also at Manjushri. But in early 2010 I simply couldn’t keep up with anything so I stopped. This was a really big deal at the time. But since then I gradually lost the desire to be on a study program. But when I went to the Summer Festival and had a great conversation with my “mother” Gen Wangchog of Mexico, I realized how important it is that I restart my correspondance studies. I then had a meeting with Venerable Tharchin, who I have been doing correspondance with for years, and I committed to restarting, though at a very slow pace. He said “wonderful.” So after I got back, almost every night I could, I listened to one of the classes (Heart of Wisdom). This has really helped me get back to how I was before. I am going to really try continue during the school year, but at the very least I am going to try use all of my summers in this way.
- I recalled how my main (and indeed only) practice should be to rely upon my guru’s mind alone. I once did a retreat many years ago where I came to this as a monumental conclusion. This conclusion stayed with me until the end of my time in Geneva. But like so many other things, gradually I lost this conclusion and this approach to my practice. Two things this summer helped me recall this conclusion. First, I watched the TimeLife DVD series on the Bible. The Bible is basically one incredible story after another of people who relied upon God alone (basically, the same idea). Second, Gen-la Dekyong’s teachings and example exuded one very clear message: our main practice should be to rely upon the spiritual guide alone. These two together helped me recall clearly my conclusion from my retreat from so many years ago. Since then, I have been rediscovering what it means to do this in every aspect of our practice.
- For me, writing is a method of meditation. Geshe-la defines meditation very broadly by saying meditation is the mixing of our mind with virtue. With this definition, we can be meditating all of the time in everything we do. If we can master doing this, we can be just like the practitioners of old who dedicated their whole life to wandering the forest and practicing. When I write about the Dharma, it forces me to clarify my own thinking and understanding, and in doing so, it helps reveal things to me like a giant contemplation. I don’t know if my writings are of any benefit to anybody who might read this blog, but I do know that writing for this blog is for me a major part of my “meditation” practice. I have done a lot of studies in my life, and this has trained my mind to think through writing (theses, dissertations, etc.). So it is only normal that for me writing will be a spiritual practice. It is the same for those who are into art, theatre, music or even different sports. Different people express themselves and understand the world through a different experience and skill set, so it is only normal that the method of spiritual practice that will work the best for us is the one that corresponds with our experience and skill set. Just as we need Kadampa bloggers, we need Kadampa artists, actors and playrights, musicians and why not sports teams (anybody for a Kadampa World Cup soccer tournament?). But don’t worry, I will stick to writing… 😉
- The NKT has completely reinvented itself around Modern Buddhism. The feeling I got at the Summer Festival was Modern Buddhism has become the NKT’s main platform upon which it launches itself into the future. When I first read Modern Buddhism, I realized it was the synthesis of everything that Geshe-la had taught us up until then. It is his crown jewel. But it has become so much more than that, it now seems to be the organizing principle around which the tradition will expand in the next era. In particular, Geshe-la introduced two huge institutional reforms to the NKT. First, he created a new study program called the Special Teacher Training Program. The way it works is it takes 37 of the tradition’s best and brightest budding bodhisattvas who wish to become Resident Teachers, and it brings them to Manjushri for a 6 month intensive study of Modern Buddhism taught by none other than Gen-la Dekyong herself. You just don’t get any better than that. These 37 spend all day every day together for 6 months going over every word of Modern Buddhism and internalizing deeply its meaning. They also form powerful karmic connections with one another (the class of 2012), creating a web of an extremely close and supportive Sangha. These individuals are then sent to the four corners of the world to become Resident Teachers in some center somewhere in the world, yet due to their close connections and modern social media, they can stay very close to each other. But they will all be teaching Dharma from the perspective of Modern Buddhism. The second major reform he introduced was the new city program. He wants to open centers in the busist parts of downtown (where the people are…) and teach Modern Buddhism and some other books as part of a new special program. The people who go through these would then, quite likely, find themselves joining FP and TTP in traditional centers. This means that for the most part going forward those who enter into the tradition will do so through the door of Modern Buddhism. All of this has profound implications: if we are to align ourselves with the tradition and the tradition itself is aligning itself with the presentation in Modern Buddhim, then it is a good idea for us as practitioners to align our own individual practice and understanding of Dharma according to the presentation in Modern Buddhism. Everything that came before was the preliminaries… 😉
- The biggest external thing that happened this summer was we found out we are going to China for our next assignment. This has tremendous implications for the trajectory of the lives of everybody in my family. So we have one more year in Brussels, then we go back to Washington, D.C. for a year when I will be learning Chinese, and then in April 2014 we head off to China. The kids will probably stay behind in D.C. to finish the school year then go to Spokane until August like they usualy do. Then they will join me in Chengdu! Chengdu is the last major city before Tibet. It is, for all practical purposes, China’s backwater. This will be an incredible experience. I obviously have a lot of karma with Tibet given that my Spiritual Guide is Tibetan. China is also the fastest growing country and the new emerging superpower. The relationship between the United States and China is probably the most important geo-political relationship the United States has. I will be able to observe China’s rise and globalization from the perspective of its backwater. It is an incredible vantage point on the world, when you think about it – it is where Tibet (where Lama Tsongkhapa emerged) interesects China while it is emerging as the next global superpower. This will also be an incredible opportunity for my kids, because the story of their professional lifetime will be the rise of Asia in general and China in particular. This will be incredibly valuable experience (especially if they learn some Chinese) for a wide variety of careers. This assignment also makes it probable that I will do other assignments in Asia, such as Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Kuala Limpour, Bangkok, etc. This is an area that the NKT is growing quickly in and where some of the tradition’s best teachers are stationed. As Kadam Morten said, “everything we did in the West is really just the preliminaries for what is to come – Asia!” When we think about the direction the world is going, this makes total sense that this is where the tradition is going.