Thursday, December 18, 2014

Opportunitites for Growth, by Curtis

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche
Curtis Dutchak, Canada
I was lucky enough around this time last year to have been introduced to a meditation group in Taipei by a French-Canadian friend of mine who was living up in Zhongli. I was then, and still am, living in Miaoli County where I teach English and volunteer at a local organic farm.

I was born and raised in western Canada and before moving to Taiwan at age 30 I primarily worked in the oil and gas industry there. Despite having an interest in Eastern culture at that time, I found it difficult to access quality teachers and groups in Canada and to tap into the wealth of knowledge that I knew was to be found in Asia. Since moving to Taiwan from Canada about 5 years ago, I have found amazing opportunities here on the island to learn about Chinese culture and broaden my perspective on life. I dove into Traditional Chinese Medicine, became actively involved with a Buddhist group here, started learning about chadao (The Way of Tea), and began practicing kungfu under a former national champion.

I was soaking up what I could but always remained open to new opportunities to learn and grow. I remember attending the first few holiday parties put together by the group and immediately being impressed with both the members of the group and their teacher Shang Rinpoche. Despite only loosely knowing the group at that time, I was welcomed with open arms and immediately invited back to future events/classes and even offered a place to stay the night for when I come up to Taipei. I picked up on a conscious awareness in many of the members of the group, and it suggested to me that this was a group that there would be many opportunities to share and grow with. I was also lucky enough the first night I made it up to the tea house to be able to sit in on a question and answer period with Shang Rinpoche. From that open question period I already started to get a good feel of a teacher that was bringing an immense amount of wisdom to the table and was willing to patiently sit down and share some of that wisdom with a group of those who wanted to listen and learn. This was a great opportunity to learn personally from somebody who I felt normally would be quite difficult to access.

Over the past year I continued to go to classes every few weeks and even asked my own questions on several occasions, which I felt were more than adequately answered. I feel that I have also benefited from the Sunday evening meditation/qigong classes. These are held by students of Shang Rinpoche and from the first class I was impressed with their level of knowledge and professionalism in conducting these classes (its always nice to see a teacher/master empowering his students to further spread the wisdom he/she has passed down to them). While furthering my knowledge in meditation, qigong, and Buddhism, I have also been able to share with the group what I have been doing with Huixiang organic farms in Miaoli county. Many of the members started ordering our farm’s organic seasonal deliveries and also expressed interest in getting involved with future events put on by the farm (for instance our farm holds a yearly event in Miaoli City, Taipei, and New Taipei City where we feed the homeless and less fortunate with some of these past events feeding nearly 2000 people). The group’s desire to get involved with events like those and others like a recent beach clean up in Wanli, show an open sharing attitude that is compassion driven (selflessly putting others first which again shows me the strength of the group and a focus that is in line with my attitude/beliefs).

I have made some good friends and feel lucky to be connected with a group that has such a promising future. I feel that getting involved with them is a good opportunity for growth indeed.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

To Be a Modern-Day Vimalakirti

Shang Rinpoche Transmission
Ven. Monks in audience at Guang Ming Temple,  Melbourne
Right after a Dharma trip to Australia, I came back to a very hectic schedule in Taipei, often with back-to-back appointments until 3-4 a.m. every day. Although it’s mentally and physically exhausting, I only need to think of the eager anticipation my guests bring and I immediately remember the enjoyment of answering their questions; that in itself relieves my fatigue. In these past few days, a group of businessmen interested in Chan (Zen) came in from Shanghai to meet with me, an appointment that had been arranged three months prior. In the meeting, I asked them which sutras they had read and they listed quite a few titles which is rare in this day and age. Their primary interest was in the Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sutra, but they felt there were parts of it that conflicted with real life. I laughed and asked my visitors if they’d heard of Huineng’s Verse of Formlessness. Two of them immediately nodded their heads and said they had read it. I quoted from the verse: 
With the mind is universally impartial, why toil to maintain the precepts?
On the virtuous path, what use is it to cultivate dhyāna (meditative absorption)?
With gratitude, one is to naturally filial in supporting one’s parents;
Righteousness gives sympathy for those above and below.
Concession ensures harmony between the noble and the lowly.
Forbearance curbs all evils.
If one is able to drill wood to create a fire,
The same diligence will see red lotus blossom grow from the mud.
Good cure is bitter in the mouth.
Loyal speech is bound to offend the ear.
By reforming transgressions one will certainly generate wisdom.
To defend shortcomings is not wise.
In daily life one must always try to benefit others.
Enlightenment does not depend on donating money.
Bodhi should only be sought for in the mind.
Why belabor seeking for the profound externally?
If you hear this explanation and practice accordingly,
The paradise is right in front of you.
Shang Rinpoche
Outside at the Buddhist Discussion Centre, Melbourne
Then I asked, “Have you been able to realize the meaning of these lines?” There was no confident affirmation from anyone. I continued, “The key to practice is to apply and train the mind – to have control over it while it remains completely spontaneous and unhampered. At all times and in all places – whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down, speaking or silent, living as a hermit or amidst hustle and bustle, at home or in a social setting – one is completely natural and at ease without experiencing any conflict or contradiction, which are signs of inadequate wisdom and stillness.” The visitors then asked, “Could Rinpoche please explain how to truly dedicate oneself to practice in the midst of a mundane life?” I replied, “Practicing all Dharmas while going beyond all forms (e.g. appearances and phenomena) – such is dedication. Studying all Dharmas and yet not being attached to them, this is Chan meditative stillness. Although human beings live in this world, full of the five poisons, it’s possible to be completely unmoved by any external circumstances. When the mind abides calmly and steadfastly, this is wisdom. This is transcending conceptual proliferations, reaching a state of unwavering stillness.”
These householders seemed to have some measure of realization after listening to my simple explanation. One of them again asked, “Rinpoche, it seems that this logic can be applied in everyday life. However, when we read your books and tried to apply the methods, we always got stuck in certain places. What could be the reason for that?” I replied, “The reason is that your foundation is not solid enough because you haven’t been practicing for that long. There is a proper sequence and a method to follow: first, you need to know that all states/ conditions are form and should be relinquished. Second, have no dualistic conceptions about any state. Third, have no thoughts about any people, events or objects. Fourth, you must be able to abandon all external conditions. Fifth, face all the different states and phenomena and then relinquish them, emptying them out of your mind. If you keep practicing accordingly, your mind will gradually become immovable. Once you develop calm impartiality towards all inner and outer states, you know you’ve reached the first stage of meditative stillness. Next comes knowing the mind doesn’t move, yet not having second thoughts regarding this stillness. It is knowing the mind is tranquil, yet not giving rise to any thoughts regarding this tranquility; gradually good and bad also generate no thoughts. Continuing, you’ll gradually see all people, events and objects, even activities (such as eating a meal, drinking tea, talking, joking and chatting) very clearly and distinctly. It’s as if a mirror in your mind was reflecting deeply into yourself and others; it is a knowing without controlling. First work toward this foundation and you will gradually pass through different states. Previously you didn’t fully understand nor have reliable practice methods from books or TV. Practice transcends rank, status, vocation, location or ethnicity.”
I then told them about the example of Master Vimalakirti for whom I have the most admiration, “When I was studying Chan in the past, I delved deep into the Vimalakirti Sutra for a long period of time. I took Master Vimalakirti’s wisdom and skillful means as a guiding principle, continuously learning from him through careful study. He’d actually achieved liberation in a previous lifetime, but due to his compassion he came back into the world to propagate the Dharma. In everything he did in normal, everyday existence, his great prajna (wisdom) and unrestrained ease shone through. He was proficient in all Buddhist practices, especially having transcended the Eight Worldly Winds. He knew which sentient beings required which Dharma for expedient practice and taught with an infinite number of approaches. He had outstanding wisdom that could rival any leader of his day and he had innumerable wealth. In order to liberate sentient beings, he often mingled with those who were disobedient, arrogant and precept-breaking. His own discipline and endurance inspired them to hasten to the study of Buddhism. Through his own meditative stillness and wisdom, he helped those with mental and physical ailments recover simply by being with them, which also increased their wisdom. Although he dressed in cutting-edge fashion, he had a majestically calm presence of mind. Although he sometimes went to the more colorful places of amusement in order to guide and teach others, his mind had long before transcended the Three Realms. His teachings caused the men and women of these bawdy places to change so that they started to use honest means of making a living. Although he was surrounded from morning to night with people and numerous admirers, his mind was unwaveringly still. Although he was dressed magnificently from head to toe, no thought of extravagance ever entered his mind. He befriended followers of other faiths and in the end, invariably succeeded in drawing them into Buddhism. He was well-versed in all the sutras and mantras, and in order to promulgate the Dharma befriended men and women, young and old, people from all walks of life; enabling them to find complete contentment. To show the proper conduct for a merchant, he became a well-known figure in their midst, earning the admiration of all.”
Shang Rinpoche Dharma
Transmission of the Dharma, Melbourne Australia
In brief, during his life everyone from kings to commoners, without exception, venerated him as much as the Buddha. He often conversed with his contemporary Buddha Shakyamuni. Ananda, and the other disciples around the Buddha, often considered themselves below Vimalakirti’s level of wisdom and debating eloquence. This kind of bodhisattva, who more than two thousand years ago blazed like a comet, was no flash in a pan or a fantasy conjured up by man. Vimalakirti is a jewel for us modern people who attempt to study Buddhism in this ocean of delusions; he remains like a clear stream for followers of Buddhism, a signpost for all modern seekers of enlightenment and liberation. My humble suggestion is that in this era, if one hopes to be of benefit to others, one cannot be bound by the orthodoxy, overemphasizing religious ceremonies or existing within narrow religious limitations. True bodhicitta is the resolve and solution for all sentient beings’ mental and physical afflictions and obstacles. Most importantly, people must be able to enjoy the benefits in their daily life and achieve true freedom and liberation upon leaving this world. This is surely the way Buddhism should be advocated in the modern world.

These are a few humble recommendations that I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, offered to the householders visiting from Shanghai who had questions regarding the problems that they (like many others) have encountered on their path of practice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Lion's Roar, by Alex

Shang Rinpoche
State Library of Victoria, Foyer
One essential quality of a Vajra Master, as stated in the texts, is that he is fearless, proclaiming the Dharma as the lion roars his reign in the grassy plains of the Savanna. In this instance, the roar was heard resounding in the lecture hall of the State Library of Victoria, where the Venerable Shang Rinpoche was invited to speak on mindfulness and healthy living in a modern context. It was a full house, and the event started out with a demonstration of the qigong Rinpoche teaches to his students, performed by a few of the latter. Following this short session of relaxation and meditation, Rinpoche made his entry and started talking in a relaxed fashion, setting all present at ease.

After this brief introduction, Rinpoche addressed the audience, stating that nowadays, so many people practice yoga, mindfulness and insight meditation. Why then is it that no one has attained the enlightenment Buddha Shakyamuni, upon reaching Buddhahood, declared every being was capable of, it being in actual fact each and every one's original nature? Having uttered such a bold statement, he went on to expound the foundational concepts of Buddhism, namely the Four Noble Truths, Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, the Thirty-seven Factors for Enlightenment and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: body, feelings, mind, and thoughts.

Shang Rinpoche
Rinpoche, On Stage During the Talk
On this last topic, Rinpoche lingered a while, sharing insights pertaining to practice as it relates to each of the four. On reaching awareness of the mind and thoughts, Rinpoche steered his way to open up on the topic of Mahayana Buddhism, the vehicle of Buddhism where the practitioner seeks awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings. At this point, he related the story of the first transmission of the lineage of Ch'an, whereby Buddha Shakyamuni, ever peaceful and composed, surprised an entire congregation of listeners by unexpectedly holding up a flower, and smiling. This spontaneous act was understood by the Venerable Mahakassapa, who simply stood up and smiled back. I had read this story before but never before had it been brought so vividly to life in my mind. Rinpoche jokingly added that people who study Ch'an therefore initially undergo quite a bit of confusion.

Shang Rinpoche
A Captive Audience
Towards the end of the talk, the tone became more conversational, as the crowd was invited to ask questions, and received answers both humorous and insightful. This relaxed interaction continued after the lecture, where a group gathered upstairs in a more intimate setting to ask more personal questions. The questions ranged from the theoretical to the personal, and when the topic of qigong came up, Rinpoche gave a personal demonstration.

As the discussion came to a close, everyone rose from their chairs feeling visibly light-hearted. As we proceeded downstairs to the exit, people were heard chatting and joking joyfully. It was quite a pleasure to behold a crowd so relaxed and at ease after having witnessed the roar of a lion.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Buddhism, My Fierce Passion, by Eric

Shang Rinpoche
Eric Canzano, USA

Michael Jordan was one of my childhood heroes. In the days when I envisioned myself, like every other boy on the block, as the next basketball superstar, I would stare up at towering #23 in the same cardboard cut-out pose every morning when I woke up. I still remember descriptions of Jordan’s early days, when he would go out to the court and make 1000s of shots over and over like a machine, practicing into the night until his mother would drag him home. The title of Jordan’s little black book still sticks with me – I Can’t Accept Not Trying.
Buddhism gets cast as a haven from the desires and passions, as a way to find inner peace and calm through long sessions of quiet sitting meditation, smiles and gentle words of Asian masters and theories about letting things go. You can almost tangibly feel the longing to be that glossy, photoshopped silhouette sitting cross-legged as they stare into a valley on the bottom of the magazine cover. You try it out and keep at it, but are puzzled when the mental tranquility starts to slip away. You wonder why you still get so upset when your partner teases you; why your chest still closes up as you race to complete yet another impossible deadline; why sitting alone in your room feels empty and uncomfortable; why the tears will not stop when your grandfather dies.
The kind of Buddhism I thought I wanted was no more than a high, a buzz that drowned out the mental noise and the struggle of existence. As soon as reality hit, I was flat on the floor, again.
In the stories of the achievers – whether they are Buddhist practitioners, presidents or Michael Jordan – not one of them makes it without constant struggle. Is it possible that anyone could walk the spiritual path without facing these same struggles that make them uncomfortable, prideful, confused, doubtful and attached? When those difficult situations march over and make quick work of us, where does the drive come to get back up and throw ourselves in the ring again?
Shang Rinpoche often asks his students, “Do you want it?” I ask myself often if I really want to study Buddhism. Does it burn within me as much as Jordan, who endured endless years of repetitive practice, criticism and discouragement from his friends and family, and countless failures? As much as Rinpoche himself, who sacrifices health, sleep and all the comforts of this world to dedicate himself to teaching his students?
If I want to feel light and free, there is no need for Buddhism; I could take a flight to Fiji and float on the waves. But inevitably we must all come back to face the battles of life. Buddhism simply gives us the tools to gain calm in the calamity. I ask Rinpoche for the guidance to keep fighting with a fierce, unwavering passion for the enlightened mind and the happiness of others.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Watch Your Thoughts, by Ricky (English / Hungarian Bilingual)

Shang Rinpoche
Ricky, Hungary
The Venerable Shang Rinpoche has often urged us to watch our thoughts. After a while, I started to realize how important it was, without a clue how to do it. Rinpoche likened our mind to a dog on a leash: when we know how to control it, we can allow it a longer leash, greater freedom. Rinpoche emphasized that this was essential, so I noted it down, again, without an inkling about its meaning.

As the years went by, I tried to be more mindful, just a little bit. Finally, I discovered that actually it is possible to discern the 'bud' of a thought, and if it is a bad, unwholesome one, we can change our focus to prevent it from 'arising'. When our thoughts are wholesome, good, we can let them 'looser' while remaining ever more mindful, of course.

That reminds me of one day when we were searching for injured animals, such as cats, out on the streets. I was on my own. I looked everywhere from small, deserted alleys to the main streets. It was nighttime, quiet. Hundreds of thoughts sped through my mind, which, as a result, felt stuffy. Suddenly I realized the pointlessness of all this 'thinking', and started to become mindful. The thoughts immediately disappeared, and all I felt was solitude. It only lasted for a short time as my meditative stillness is not that great, but it was enough for me to find out that it makes sense to watch our thoughts.

Ricky, Hungary
Esznel legy!

Shang Rinpoche gyakran figyelmeztet erre bennunket. Egy ido utan kezdtem megerteni, hogy fontos, anelkul persze, hogy tudtam volna, hogyan kell. Rinpoche a tudatunkat kutyahoz hasonlitotta: amikor tudjuk, hogyan figyeljunk ra, hosszabb porazra ereszthetjuk, nagyobb szabadsagot adhatunk neki. Rinpoche hangsulyozta, hogy ez egy alapveto dolog, igy en szorgalmasan lejegyeztem, anelkul, hogy barminemu fogalmam lett volna, mit jelent.

Az evek multaval probaltam egy picit jobban figyelni a gondolataimra. Vegul felfedeztem, hogy ha akarjuk, eszrevehetjuk az uj gondolatkezdemenyt, es ha az rossz gondolat, megelozhetjuk annak megjeleneset azzal, hogy mas dologra kezdunk el figyelni. Amikor a gondolataink jobbak, tisztabbak, hosszabbra ereszthetjuk a porazt, persze ugy, hogy tovabbra is 'esznel vagyunk'.

Errol jut eszembe, egyszer serult allatokat, pl. macskakat kerestunk az utcakon. Egyedul voltam. Vegigjartam a nagyobb utcakat es beneztem a keskeny sikatorokba is. Ejszaka volt, csend es nyugalom: gondolatok szazai szaguldottak at az agyamon, ami farasztott. Hirtelen eszembe jutott, mennyire haszontalan ez a sok gondolat, es elkezdtem figyelni rajuk. A gondolatok azonnal abbamaradtak, es joleso nyugalmat ereztem. Ez csak rovid ideig tartott, mert nem tudok jol meditalni, de ahhoz eleg volt, hogy lassam, van ertelme 'esznel lenni'.

Ricky, Magyarorszag

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dream of the Red Chamber and Prajna Wisdom?

Shang Longrik Gyatso RinpocheI’ve been an avid reader all my life. Add to that the fact that I’ve never had much to talk about with my peers and you will see why I have chosen to surround myself with collections of books, a boundless world of words. While still in elementary school, I started to familiarize myself with the classic novels of China, the chapter novels from the Ming dynasty onwards, and romantic fiction. I basically read everything, including Outlaws of the Marsh by Shi Nai’an, Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, Investiture of the Gods by Xu Zhonglin, Li Ruzhen’s Flowers in the Mirror, The Scholars by Wu Jingzi, as well as A Romance to Awaken the World by Xi Zhousheng. Furthermore, I consumed Six Records of a Floating Life by Shen Fu and The Peach Blossom Fan by Kong Shangren. Of course, there was one other classic, the legendary Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin. This book kept me company throughout three full years of winter and summer breaks. I pretty much know it like the back of my hand, each chapter, each character, each scene.

Cao Xueqin’s came from a family of officials, his paternal great-grandfather Cao Xi was once promoted to the high-pressure position of second-level imperial bodyguard in the inner palace. His paternal great-grandmother was the wet nurse to the second Qing Dynasty Emperor, Kangxi. His paternal grandfather also held the post of Imperial Censor, as well as being a calligrapher of fine repute and skilled at the composition of poetic verse. The most peculiar thing, however, was the unusually large collection of books in his home, a fact which directly contributed to Cao Xueqin's eventual success as a novelist. It is said that wealth and honor never survive more than three generations, and the Cao family fortune dwindled starting around the time of the Qing Dynasty emperor Yongzheng. While still young, Cao Xueqin had endured the gamut of life’s ups and downs, and so was more familiar than most with the subtleties of human nature and of the mind. He was also a sentimental person, an attribute which better equipped him to portray the characters of Dream of the Red Chamber in such a vivid, life-like manner. Add to this the misfortune he experienced later in life, when he often resorted to selling paintings and writing for mere sustenance. Dream of the Red Chamber was born from such circumstances, a product of nearly a decade of blood and sweat, completed under the duress of poverty and illness.

Dream of the Red Chamber has practically become a benchmark, a treasure in the realm of classical Chinese literature research, to the extent that it has become the tentpole in academic research. As such, we’ve seen the establishment of the system of Redology (the academic field devoted to the study of this work). You could say that this entire book was penned by a poor scholar whose family fortune was on the decline. Using the literary techniques of reflection and pathos, Cao Xueqin was able to use a reflective literary structure to express his own sentiments. His family's glorious history also provided ample character studies especially of the noble and wealthy and it had also exposed him to all the myriad conditions of the world. Although the male and female protagonists (surnames Jia and Lin respectively) were principally used to drive the story arc, an intensive study of Dream of the Red Chamber reveals to the keen reader a further truth. This book not only incites high praise for the author’s imagination and scholarship, furthermore, it elicits admiration and a profound awe for his competent and extensive knowledge of the arts, music, literature, and a vast array of historical anecdotes. On my part, after several readings of Red Chamber, I feel that this novel most aptly portrays the deep meaning of the phrase, “Life is just like a play, and the play is much like life.”

During middle and high school, on account of my affinity for the Diamond Sutra and Heart Sutra, I was able to recite the entire Diamond Sutra from memory. I have, on occasion, taken to reading the works of the Hundred Schools of Thought from the Warring States Periods and cross-referencing the characters, chapters, or excerpts to the various Buddhist sutras, and have gained great insights from this. The characters from Dream of the Red Chamber can be said to portray an abbreviated version of the entirety of human nature, being as they are both rich and poor, both noble and lowly, both up and down, and described in exquisite detail. We see their love and their hate, their sadness and their joy. The daily residence of the noble, the realities and helplessness of the political situation, all are revealed without reserve. Even the clothing and furniture of the times, as well as the food and diet - all are emphasized. Thus, a practitioner with a profound understanding of the Heart Sutra can experience that, even those who grow up in wealth and extravagance, experiencing a magnificent life both poetic and picturesque, in the end will also see that it was no more than dreams of grandeur, that form is none other than emptiness, and emptiness just the same as form. And so, too, with sensation, conception, volition, and consciousness. If Cao Xueqin, with his talent and wisdom, and under his circumstances, were able to meld the Buddhadharma and practice with his extraordinary life, I believe that he would certainly have been able to realize the empty nature of all phenomena, and the true meaning of the uncreated and undestroyed. It is a pity that, according to Cao Xueqin’s ultimate frustration, the begrudging reproach that he held for this world, we can see that he was unable to see past his attachments, unable to break through his stubbornness. As such, if those engaged in Redology can use the prajna wisdom of emptiness as an aid in their research, applying it to their daily lives, merging with life but remaining unaffected by it, facing their circumstances but remaining totally clear about them, employing means and yet remaining unattached, dealing with their affairs without a hint of alarm, being able to renounce the world and yet remain unrestrained by orthodoxy, this is exactly what Buddha was pointing out, the great wisdom that all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the past and present garnered from within the dirt and the filth. It is my wish that everyone can bear in mind this mantra from the end of the Heart Sutra: “Dayata Om Gate Gate Para Gate Para Sam Gate Bodhi Soha” and to seek the experience of prajna wisdom and emptiness, in the end to attain ultimate liberation.

This is a piece that I, Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche, wrote as a result of an informal discussion with a group of Redology scholars from Beijing.

High Expectations, by Mara

Shang Rinpoche
Mara Horowitz
As a teacher, I hold my elementary-aged students to high standards. They are all very young and thus their characters are still in the process of being molded by parents and teachers who guide them in what is and is not acceptable behavior. The basic moral codes of not lying and being nice to others are held in high esteem in my classroom.

It takes a lot of effort to ensure that these values are upheld and I must admit to occasionally turning a blind eye to small misdemeanors in the thoughts that if the kids don’t know I know then I don’t have to use the energy and time required to enforce the appropriate disciplinary measure.

This is definitely the lazy approach and I always notice the contrast in Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche’s pedagogical method. Rinpoche will spare no effort in ensuring that his students’ decisions and actions are ethically sound. Rinpoche will not turn a blind eye.

Any group or organization has rules and regulations that participants are required to follow.  The rules at the centre are all about morality. Rinpoche insists on honesty and respect. This is a group that focuses primarily on treating others well.

Too often people tend to deviate harshly from these basic principles when we grow up and are left to our own devices. Once free from the possibility of punishment from parents or teachers, the lines or integrity may blur. Suddenly it may seem okay to lie in order to make a bigger profit or to manipulate a situation so that the outcome falls neatly in your favour. On examination, I realize that there are many instances in my daily life where my behavior would definitely warrant a reprimand had it been performed by one of my students in my classroom. As an adult I have deviated from the exact same rules that I misleadingly try and teach to my students.

It has been refreshing to be able to be a part of and communicate with a group in which such stretches of the truth and bending of the situation in order to benefit oneself are strongly discouraged. It has changed the way I face the world and inspired me to remember those same basic lessons that I am trying to teach my 7-year-old students and to apply them to my own decisions and handling of situations.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Simple and Amazing, by Jose

Shang Rinpoche
Jose Serrati, Paraguay
After living in Taipei for two years, l went back home for a two-week visit. The visit turned into an indefinite one, after the Taiwanese consul denied me the visa to return to Taiwan.  So I just continued my Taiwanese routine in my home country, as best as I could.

I practiced qigong and a bit of meditation every day, as well as a very simple technique to observe my own thoughts, learned in the course of Shang Rinpoche’s lectures. In doing this, some very simple daily activities became interesting subjects of observation. The one l can remember best is watching buses going downhill on the street where l lived. They would go full speed with engines roaring and their wheels hitting big potholes in the asphalt with loud banging noises. The noise, the colorful buses, the water from the potholes splashing in all directions - it all created a series of shocks to my senses. My mind observed attentively.

My observation practice had turned some simple daily activities into a circus of lights and sounds. At which point l realized how much my mind had been bombarded by all these sensations, without even being aware of it. As each sensation produced an emotion, l reasoned that in the past my mind must have been jumping all around, all day long.

The best, though, came afterward, not as a result of direct observation, even though observation did play a role.

I had gone to visit a friend in an area near the biggest day market in town. The place could be described as Chinatown. There, my friend invited me to a very small street stand that sold very good empanadas. The place only had one table on the sidewalk, so we took it. Suddenly, a big truck stopped almost next to our table and a couple stepped out.

They were well dressed and wore sunglasses, so l didn’t recognize them at first. Then l did. They were my former neighbors. The woman had always been nice and friendly, but l had never liked the husband. The feeling had been mutual, to the point where we had expressed this dislike for each other in many different ways throughout the years. Even after having left that neighborhood for some years, l had always kept him in a special place in my mental gallery of unpleasant people.

So here we were, after years of not seeing each other, in the middle of Chinatown, with only one table to share. What were the odds of this encounter? The wife greeted me very friendlily and l corresponded. Then out of courtesy l invited them to sit with us and introduced my friend to them. They sat very happily and in a minute we were all talking like good old friends. I simply could not believe what was happening. I didn’t dislike this guy anymore.

l went back home and recalled the event repeatedly, observing my mind very carefully. No animosity, no bad feelings, not even a trace of them. Even after remembering incidents that involved fireworks and stones being hurled at my house by his children, the thoughts produced no angry feelings. The memories where still there, but the attached feelings had disappeared. At that point l realized what had happened: l had forgiven him. A miracle had occurred. It had happened without me even realizing it.

In trying to find an explanation for this phenomena, l can only believe that l had let go of those negative feelings. Not expressly, but as the result of other practices that involved such a process. The beneficial effects of those practices had even extended beyond the scope of my awareness. The feeling now was one of relief, lightness, and peace. How to describe it? Simply amazing.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Coming Down from the Roof, by Michelle

Michelle Bradley, USA/South Africa
I used to live in this cozy little apartment on a rooftop in Tien Mu (Taipei). I’d come back from teaching yoga, and, often exhausted by what I saw as an impure world, spend most of my free time living, what I perceived, to be a very healthy lifestyle. Everything I intentionally did had a ‘deep’ meaning behind it, and I considered myself to be very much on the spiritual path.
My first Christmas in Taipei, my friend Debbie invited me to join her and some others I’d recently met at meditation class for Christmas brunch. I declined, because I was going to stay at home for three days and run my own very peaceful retreat.  About two months after that, as you’d say in Chinese, my karmic connection with my teacher Shang Rinpoche ripened, and my whole life changed. Another way of putting it is that my whole life seemingly came undone. Following Rinpoche’s advice left me feeling how the earth must feel after an earthquake. I remember once saying, “I feel like I’m dying and I don’t know what to do to get better.” Rinpoche said so gently and genuinely, “That depends on how quickly you can learn to change.”
Change is an interesting human experience. Most people are in a constant state of yearning for the things that change can bring (e.g. peace of mind, a healthier body, better relationships) but fewer are willing to face themselves and make the changes that they need to in order to overcome their specific combination of suffering (e.g. unfulfilled relationships due to stubbornness and a bad temper, poor digestion due to an inability to relax, etc.).
Rinpoche saw crystal clear from day one what I needed to adjust and internally let go of in order to really make spiritual progress.  The journey of studying with him has clarified my path in ways otherwise unimaginable. I used to feel like I was a victim of my own mind and life circumstances. I realize now that the unintentional anger, selfishness, jealousy and arrogance pervasive in my life before would never had the chance to come to light and start to transform had I, oh so healthily, just stayed up on that rooftop in Tien Mu. Or, for that matter, been in India with hundreds of other spiritual seekers on the banks of the Ganges making a fire offering, in the pristine Himalaya meditating at summertime dharma gatherings, or in downtown Manhattan attending daily meditation and yoga classes.

Almost seven years on, the hidden mental habits that controlled my life are now mental habits that I observe in my life. I’ve learnt that being on the spiritual path doesn’t mean denying or avoiding the dark side in you or in your surroundings. Anything that is there is fodder for the path, and practice means looking at whatever arises clearly. I hope that anyone in this modern busy world who is interested in genuine spiritual enquiry and truly helping others has access to teachings as pure, wise and effective as my teacher’s are.