It has been one month since I drove from Massachusetts with my girlfriend Greta down to the glorious city of New York to celebrate the end of the decade. It was the last few days of a seven week stay in the US. During these weeks I received crucial teachings on meditation and dying from my lama Sogyal Rinpoche at the Rigpa retreat in San Diego, arranged my first photography exhibits in the US, prepared for the upcoming months at Rigpa Shedra East in Nepal, and enjoyed the time with my better half and her family on the east coast. After experiencing New Year’s Eve in New York, where I missed the abundant fireworks I am so used to in Germany, it was time to move eastwards again. Flying part of my journey in the new Airbus A380 (how nice!), I reached Kathmandu 24 hours later.
Pigeon Dance in Boudha, KathmanduWhile I write, we are already coming to the end of the first of the four months of intensive study here. The time has been passing quickly. This year's Shedra East, the 6th since its inception in 2006, has a different face. A bunch of older students who have been studying here regularly over the past few years have new jobs which prevented them from attending this year. You are missed! The management team also looks different. I myself belong to the small staff who put their minds and hearts into enabling students to learn what the Lord Buddha was trying to communicate. This is my second time teaching the classical aspect of the Tibetan language after 2009. In addition to the intensive six days a week beginners' class I am also leading the two upper levels of reading comprehension. Altogether I am teaching twice a day. And just like before, I am realizing that teaching is the best way to learn!
Lords of the Boudha Stupa
The text class this year is focusing on Mipham Rinpoche's commentary on the Ornament of Clear Realization (in Sanskrit Abhisamayalankara) which is itself an illuminating treatise on the difficult to understand Perfection of Wisdom-Sutras. It was taught by the future Buddha Maitreya to Asanga, the founder of the Chittamatra school of Buddhist philosophy. It is the first time Shedra students have had to deal with no English translation of a text being available. Concentrated listening and revision are thus more important than ever this year. However this caused some advanced students to begin working on translating the text into English!
Even though a considerable amount of work still lies ahead of me before I am capable of sitting next to a Khenpo and translating, the months at Rigpa's Tibetan Translator Training in Namdroling last summer dramatically increased my understanding of spoken Tibetan. However without my existing experience in Buddhist studies many aspects of this text would surely induce headaches. Khenpo Sonam Tobden is teaching the Shedra for the 4th time this year, and I am now often able to follow his Tibetan directly. Without a Buddhist studies background mere knowledge of the Tibetan language wouldn't be sufficient for translating Buddhist philosophical concepts! The moment a new idea is being introduced I often find myself understanding hardly anything. In order to increase our ability to understand this profound treatise we recite the Heart Sutra at the beginning of each class. It is the most popular sutra of the prajñaparamita collection.
I conclude my first description of my 2011 activities in Asia as the last rays of the setting sun reach through my window. More entries will follow.
I am also happy to communicate that the Shedra East in 2012 will be endowed with two new aspects. It will be the first time that two text classes will be held simultaneously. It will also be the first time that experienced students can embark upon tantric studies here in Pharping! Click here for more info.