Long ago, I used to be able to make it to every festival, teaching and event. I was a teacher, was able to go to the ITTP in the summer and fully plugged in to the tradition. It was probably the best time of my life. Then, in 2008, my karma totally shifted and all of that was taken away. As I have explained before, there was a big landslide at my house, causing us to lose our home. In the ensuing lawsuit, we lost all our money and I became heavily indebted to my brother. They sold the school where my wife and I were working and the new owners got rid of free tuition for the kids of teachers – the result being we lost the schooling for our kids. This forced us to have to return to the U.S. I had to abandon being a resident teacher. Losing all of this was really hard, but I was going to teach at least a GP when I got to Dallas. But we got back to the U.S. and my wife unexpectedly got pregnant with twins. We could no longer afford our life now with five kids, I had no spare time whatsoever to teach, so I had to abandon that as well. I had a dream around this time where I died, was reborn in a completely different context, but was still a practitioner. It was time to build a new life from scratch. I had to find a new job. I got a job with the State Department and became a diplomat. We went to Brussels, there my wife almost died of multiple pulmonary embolisms, and it was a long, hard recovery. We then went back to Washington and in the middle of my language training we were told my family can’t come with me to China, so we had to be separated for a year. While separated my father flips out, says untold hurtful things towards me and my wife and concludes he doesn’t want to have a relationship with me anymore. Not only was this very hard to manage emotionally, it unleashed in me a deep anger, indeed rage, that I had never known before. This ruined or serverely damaged many of my other relationships with other members of my family, making it emotionally impossible to “go home” to where all my extended family is, so we lost any sense of home anywhere. We were then transferred to Taiwan for another year of language training which required me to study 11 hours a day 6 days a week, plus all my responsibilities as a father and husband. After we got settled, all of the cumulative stress of this long arc finally caught up to us and my wife fell into a deep depression. It was a very heavy and dark time. The lawsuit from the landslide finally ended, we won it but due to the Eurozone crisis the value of the euro plummeted but I had to pay my brother back in dollars – so I didn’t have enough money to pay him back by a huge sum. Then in November of last year, the renters of the landslide house left and the house remains vacant to this day at a cost of $3,000 a month, so even though my salary is decent all of our money has to go towards this to avoid bankruptcy. And all of this time, I have basically been alone in having to deal with this – no access to a Dharma center, teachings, Sangha, or really anybody I could turn to.
The karma miraculously arranged itself for me to come to Toronto. About a week ago I had a dream where I learned that my mother is in hell due to her suicide and she is calling out to me for help but I am currently unable to do anything to help her. All of the emotional blockage I had erected since I was 13 when she told me she was done being a mother came crashing down and I felt in my heart 30 years of repressed emotional pain about everything from my relationship with her.
I got to Toronto and during the morning meditation on bodhichitta, I completely broke down. All of the emotional weight of these last eight years, plus everything with my mother, came crashing down on me. But it did so in the context of a bodhichitta meditation. Gen-la Jampa was encouraging us to imagine what it will be like when I am enlightened. I saw all of this suffering around me – my wife, my kids, her sister, mother and father, my father, my mother and my heart cracked open. I so wanted to help all of them, but I am unable to do so – I lack the ability, time and strength. I just started crying uncontrolledly but knew why I was there.
I then had lunch with Kadam Lucy, where I proceeded to explain all of this and all that I had been through and how hard it had been on me, crying once again at all the suffering around me that I am unable to do much about. It was really the first time I had been able to just talk and say everything that was on my heart to somebody who I know was filled with love for me and Dharma wisdom. She has always been there for me, and that caused me to start crying as well. But when I was done talking, I felt for the first time like I could taste the other side of this long arc of suffering. It was all out and I no longer felt alone.
Then we did the Heruka empowerment preparations. To be honest, I struggled the whole time to stay awake, exhausted from the jet lag and the emotional drain of the morning. I then met with Gen Lekma, my first teacher. As we were walking to find some place to talk, we kept running into old Sangha friends from my time in L.A. I then explained everything above to Gen Lekma, and telling it a second time seemed less bad than the first time. Lekma received my story with her love and understanding. I felt more distance from my story.
While waiting for the puja, I was sitting at the table and saw my old friend Raj. We used to hang out at ITTPs and talk deep Dharma. Incredibly smart guy. He told me his story, and he too basically had an 8 year arc of suffering and felt that this festival in Toronto was the first time in a long time that he had made it to the surface. I felt like we were two planets who each went on an eight year orbit and we finally resynced up. We then did the Wishfulfilling Jewel puja, again I struggled just to stay awake. I gave up trying to do the sadhana itself, and instead just stared at Dorje Shugden recalling how he has been my rock throughout this entire period. Without him, I would not have gotten through it. With him, I was able to grow as a result of it. Dorje Shugden is my man.
I then went to dinner with my very dear friend Jay. We first met 15 years ago during the NKT-chat days. I love Jay. He is sincerity in all its forms, and just wants to give love to the world. He is honest with himself about his struggles and he works hard to follow his wisdom even though our natural tendencies are to not. He is my vajra brother and I love him dearly.
During the preparations for the empowerment, we receive blessed kusha grass to help us receive clear dreams. I only remember one dream where underneath the surface of a stairwell were countless icky insects and then I woke up realizing I have a lot I need to purify.
The next day was the Heruka empowerment day, and as I was walking in I saw Maitri, my dear friend from my Santa Barbara days. She is the one behind the scenes that makes all of the festivals run. Everybody there might not know her, but without her none of us would have our festivals. As I was chatting with her, my vajra sister Nicole – who was also with us in Santa Barbara – came up and gave us both a hug. It was like a family reunion. We were able to sit next to each other for the morning empowerment session. Before the session, she told me her story. In a very short period of time, 5 or 6 of the people closest to her in her life died. As she told her story, I realized that all of my own suffering over these last many years was nothing – it all started to feel so insignificant. She powerfully said, “for me, I can now condense the entire lamrim into two words – ‘Brian died.’ Sitting next to her, I realized she is the sister I never had. Of anybody in this world who is not my family, there is no one who is more family than her. I resolved from now on to always stay close and to know her as my eternal sister.
I then had lunch with a former student of mine from Switzerland. She was able to tell me her whole story over the last seven years since I left Switzerland. Like the rest of us, she has had her trials and tribulations. Dorje Shugden creates for us the situations we need to realize and confront our delusions and our tendency to enter into a cycle of going to the extreme of Dharma but repressing our attachment to samsara until eventually it blows and we go to the extreme of samsara while feeling guilty that we should be doing some extreme version of Dharma. Samsara eventually doesn’t deliver pleasure like it used to and we create these extreme intentions of becoming Milarepa and so the cycle continues. She was able to share with me the latest news of Switzerland, all of my old friends and students, and how things were going with the center there. While we were talking, the new teacher in Geneva came up. It was basically all of my Geneva karma was ripening and I was getting a glimpse into how things have unfolded after that chapter in my life.
On my way back from lunch I ran into Maria Tonella. Even though I have maybe spent a total of 15 minutes “live” with her, she has become a very close friend on-line through all of the Facebook groups. Like Jay from the NKT-chat days, she has become a very dear Sangha friend. She was there with her son, who is now Admin Director in Mexico, and her other son is ordained. I always knew she was good, but then I met her son. What a nice guy, pure kindness and pure heart. Her son is an emanation of her love.
During the Heruka empowerment, I couldn’t help but realize just how flawless Gen-la Khyenrab has become. There is not a single wasted word, and it feels as if everything he says is Geshe-la speaking through him. He has gotten himself completely out of the way and has become an unobstructed conduit for Geshe-la in this world. He really made me feel as if I had been transported to the pure land where he cleansed us as a vessel and placed within us everything we ned to become Buddha Heruka.
After the empowerment, I then went to dinner with my dear friend Kadam Olivier. We also have not really had a good, long talk since before my life changed with the landslide. I remember meeting with him at Manjushri, before any of the above happened, with this strange feeling that my life of being able to come to festivals, etc., was going to come to an end and it probably wouldn’t be until my 50s until I would be completely back. I knew nothing of what was to come, but had this feeling. Olivier was able to tell me his story of all that has happened to him in the last seven, eight years. What a story! He has been through an emotional roller coaster of death and rebirth not unlike my own. I had told my story enough times at that point that I frankly didn’t really feel the need to do so anymore. It was just a story and I felt like it was now mostly behind me.
The next morning, I went early to meet with a friend, but wound up being significantly earlier than I intended, which worked out well because I was able to ave a long conversation with Maitri. Like Nicole, she is a dear friend from way back. She was there my very first day of entering the Dharma. It would be hard to find somebody more unassuming and kind. Despite organizing all the festivals and have an important role within the NKT, she is always calm and kind, never frazzled. She doesn’t even seem to see all that she does for others, all she sees is how great everyone else is.
I then met with Dominique, someone I first met in Paris almost 20 years ago. We are very lucky to have a really close karmic relationship and no matter what is going on, he is always eager to learn more about the Dharma. We were able to be next to each other during the Vajrayogini empowerment and he had all sorts of really tough questions about various paradoxes in the Dharma. He even came with me all the way to the airport just so we could continue to discuss the Dharma. Even though he is a great guy, he unnecessarily always feels like he is not good enough. If he is reading this, all he needs to know is he is doing just fine. Be happy with your practice. Be happy with the person you are becoming.
The conclusion I have reached from this festival is my time prior to 8 years ago was like my time in school where I was able to learn some Dharma and forge some lifelong friendships. Geshe-la then scattered us to the four winds, Dorje Shugden gave us all individually tailored lessons in the truth of samsara’s suffering. But throughout it all, we held on to the Dharma, our faith in Geshe-la and we all grew through these terrible experiences. We actually had to put into practice all that we had been taught before, and bring the Dharma from the head down into our hearts. The net Geshe-la has cast is vast and we each have our own place in the mandala. We do not need to live up to any predetermined vision of what it means to be a good Kadampa, but rather we just need to learn how to radically accept ourselves and accept our karma and bring the Dharma into our corner of samsara.
Before coming to Toronto, my good friend James Morgan, who has been my vajra brother side by side at festival after festival over the years, and who has been with me on-line in from NKT-chat to my blog to being willing to hold up the mirror showing me my stupidity, told me, “before you go to Toronto, watch Kung Fu Panda 3.” Of course I thought that was a ridiculous thing to say, but when I got on the plane to come to Toronto there were no good movies, but there was Kung Fu Panda 3 so I said I might as well watch it. In the movie, the hapless Panda somehow became responsible for defeating the big bad guy. His teacher told him that now he needs to teach. He tried to teach like his teacher taught him, but that didn’t work at all. His teacher then said the Panda doesn’t need to become like the teacher, rather he needs to become the best him he can be and do things his way. He realized the way to defeat the bad guy was to to train each person in his village to become the best them they could be. It is the same with samsara. Geshe-la doesn’t want us to all become the same, rather he wants us to accept ourselves and accept our karma and become the best us we can be by bringing the Kadam Dharma into our lives and using it to overcome our most challenging adversities. We need to become the magic crystal of cherishing love in our little corner of samsara. The net he has cast in this world is wide, and we are each part of it in our own way. So yeah, James is right, watch Kung Fu Panda 3.