Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Way of the Lotsawa

Since my last post, which seems like an eon ago, much has happened. In the last blog post which was quite at the beginning of the Rigpa Shedra 2011, I wrote about my experience of a dharmic life studying and teaching in Nepal. The shedra concluded at the end of April. At that point four months of teaching Tibetan on three levels, studying Mipham Rinpoche’s commentary on the great treatise Abhisamayalamkara, and being part of the shedra staff was behind me. Leaving the little hillside village of Pharping, I flew to New York City to reunite with my woman and meet friends. The first evening I found myself having dinner with four close buddies from Rigpa, all of whom participated in the Three Year retreat and only one who was actually American. I really love this international life of meeting people I know wherever I travel and especially connecting with my Rigpa colleagues.

After a few days in Massachusetts I journeyed to Hamburg, Germany to attend my brother and sister–inlaw’s wedding celebration. Seeing my family and old friends charged my ‘family’ batteries which tend to run a bit low as I am rarely returning to my homeland these days. Less than 10 days later I went back to the US. I was able to continue studying Tibetan and finish off a translation I had begun but unfortunately not as much as I had planned. I became heavily involved in my hobby of photography as suddenly I had three exhibits to set up. After my first show at GoBerry in Northampton this past winter with the theme of ‘Tibetans in Exile’, I was given the opportunity to hang photos at Pleasant Street Tea Company in Gloucester. Additionally, I had two successive shows scheduled in Northampton taking place in July and August. The theme of these recent shows is titled ‘The Splendor of Asia’ (click to see all images) and contains photos from Nepal and India. This is of course a reason to celebrate. Despite the work involved and the time it takes away from my Tibetan affairs, I am still glad I can do these things as so many work aspects need to be considered and looked at. This means my organizational and communicative brain departments have become highly trained!

One of the photos from my exhibits: The Boudha Stupa, Kathmandu.

At the end of my trip to the US, Greta and I were able to attend the Wisdom of Awareness retreat at Garrison Institute in New York state. For five days, Sogyal Rinpoche and Tsoknyi Rinpoche gave a number of wonderful teachings. In addition American teachers Daniel and Tara Goleman and Sharon Salzberg gave talks to an eager and engaged audience. For the first time, I witnessed the coming together of traditional Buddhist teachings and western psychological-therapeutic knowledge and research. As I have a certain amount of experience in both fields, I was glad to see both forms of mind analysis collaborating and cooperating more and more. As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche had foreseen, “Buddhism will come to the West as a psychology”. Practising the Buddha’s teachings without a knowledge and awareness of the neurotic patterns present in so many western people can become what some call ‘spiritual bypassing’, i.e. not dealing with our fundamental emotions and mental complications. I had been asked to document the retreat with photos which I was happy to do. I feel having good photos of our lamas is something very important, for our personal present use and for posterity.

Sogyal Rinpoche during the Garrison Retreat

Soon again I found myself hopping onto planes which would bring me to the Indian business metropolis of Bangalore. Having arrived there in the middle of the night, a high standard bus (the only kind of bus I’m taking in India after my accident last year) dropped me off in Kushal Nagar after a five hour drive. A fifteen minutes rickshaw drive led me to my final destination, Namdroling Monastery or the Golden Temple, as the local Indians call it. I arrived later than planned, yet still in advance to help set up Rigpa’s second Tibetan Translator Training. Despite some previous correspondences with the monastery, a good amount of organizational work was still necessary. After a few days and in time for the training to begin we had arranged a class room, a khenpo to teach, and monk and nun lobpöns who would be our conversational partners. Now the second week is almost over and I am happy with the format and schedule of the programme.

Our Translation class with current khenpo Karma Tsering.

The Tashi Delek Restaurant Gang

Here at Namdroling, in the early mornings I am speaking to a lay Tibetan, a friend of ours, practicing my colloquial Tibetan. Later on a khenpo teaches the group on a text and we take turns attempting to interpret. The khenpo’s dialect pronounciations are different. For instance vowel sounds are different than how they are taught to be pronounced in books. But after all, not a single Tibetan speaks according to them anyway. After lunch I have another tutor session with a lobpön from Khenpo Jigme Phüntsok’s monastery of Larung Gar in Tibet. He and I are getting along very well but his accent is so strong making it a challenge. One of the exercises that we do is to go over the part of the text which was covered in the class, using a mix of colloquial and classical Tibetan to describe its content. The whole point is to concentrate on Dharma Tibetan. In the afternoon my last class is a grammar class for colloquial Tibetan after which I have time for my personal studies. Our small group, which currently consists of three students plus two teaching members, resides in two guesthouses, one which is in Namdroling, the other is close by. I make daily circumambulations of the massive monastery which takes twenty minutes but which incorporates my walk to the surrounding restaurants where I eat and practice my language skills with the locals.

Admiring the Hero.

Giving way to India's holy cows

Besides attending formal classes and engaging in personal studies, I also try to have conversations with monks and whoever I can begin a talk with. In general, I’m trying to speak Tibetan as much as possible. Putting into practice what one is learning is the secret, no matter how hard and often discouraging learning Tibetan is. 

Tip: Double-click the photos to view them in larger size!

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