Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rabbit Rescue Report

Through the incredible kindness of a Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar reader, who drove eight hours down to the desert to fetch me, I was able to travel yet another two hours further south, to a place called Rowland Heights: to the multimillion dollar home of a Chinese family from Beijing.

Arriving in the backyard of said home, I found four rabbits existing in absolutely terrible, terrible conditions. I removed them immediately, and brought them home, and you see them here in their triage cages, as I start to work with them.

Pictured above is the head troublemaker -- the Daddy -- who has lived on for two years eating nothing but lettuce; spoiled lettuce at that, got from the garbage bins of nearby grocery stores. Now, it was 108.5 F up in the desert, and down at Rowland Heights it was maybe running 95F to 100F, but he was housed in a dark, stinking, noisy, chicken coop with no water. He was prostrate in his cage, panting heavily, rolling over on his side.

Now, here is where it starts to get ugly. I asked the young lady of the house, together with her mother, why none of the rabbits had any water. I was told that they "Get enough water from the lettuce."

Above are the "Two Sisters." The rabbit in the back has been terribly traumatized, and is constantly protected by her sister. I do not know if she will ever be restored. They were in the cage below the male rabbit -- in the same filthy chicken coop, surrounded by aggressive, noisy chickens, who pecked at the rabbits through the cages. The hind legs of the Two Sisters are dyed green from permanently standing in layers of wet lettuce. 

This Little Stinker is six weeks old, the son of the male rabbit pictured above. His mother died in childbirth. He was kept in the same horrible conditions, but in the bottom cage, so the chickens could reach him easier. He was dehydrating, almost at the point of death. When he peed on me, his urine was so hot as to scalding.

None of these rabbits know how to eat rabbit food. None of these rabbits know how to get water from a water bottle. They are so scared and traumatized that they will not even take water from a water bowl.

I am concentrating on the Little Stinker and the Shy Sister first. I think Daddy and Big Sister will pull through O.K., so they come next. Of the four, I think Shy Sister has the worst chance of survival, followed by Little Stinker.

How can people of obvious wealth -- considerable wealth -- and the ability to care lavishly for themselves, stoop so low as to leave these rabbits in squalid conditions? They spoke roughly to the rabbits, saying many callous things that led me to believe they thought of the rabbits as mere playthings, upon which to vent their wicked impulses.

I feel so sorry for those people.

So, I am occupied caring for these poor critters, and I hope I can save them all.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pleasure Like Heaven

New flags for Padmasambhava's Birthday, for Khandro-la

Those whose pleasure is like heaven
Are destined to be open and lovely.
My own love is just like this,
The dear child of heaven.

Like a blazing light,
With shining face,
My dear one -- a mind
So brilliant and limpid, so fascinating.

Their towering bodies,
Their majesty spent.
Conjoined deities rest,
My dear one, they are elegant and still.

My love is malleable, it is
The ornament of many things.
It is considered special and, in
Being special, it exhibits clarity.

Oh, my sweet one,
It satisfies desires.
The body ceases, but
Its precious form remains.

Into a far land of forever,
I shall trot out to meet you,
My own love,
In a place unattainable by day.

On this side, heaven
Appears calm and wide.
In speaking of it, perhaps,
When free of thought, I shall sing everything.

Through the prayer of good action,
May we experience no obstruction.
Oh, let us make the choice
And remain inseparable.

Fifth Noyon Khutagtu Danzanravjaa (1803-1856)

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Guru Rinpoche's Birthday

Today is the tenth day of the sixth Tibetan month: Padmasambhava's Birthday according to the Lama Gongdu terma. I guess it would not be out of place to offer birthday cake for this evening's six o'clock puja. 

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

BREAKING: Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche Dies in Australia

Shambhala news outlets are reporting the sudden death this morning of Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche, 57, of an apparent heart attack, at Melbourne, Australia.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Truths, Noble and Ignoble

So, today we celebrate and attempt to recognize the first turning of the Wheel of the Dharma. What we are trying to recognize is not some historical event, like the Fourth of July, although that sort of historical recognition is, I think, inherently present in the form of a shared idea -- that Buddha was enlightened beneath the Bodhi Tree, that he sat for seven weeks, that there was this dialogue between Buddha and divinities, and so forth. 

Nobody alive today was there when these events supposedly happened. There is no contemporaneous record. There is just a simple, ex-post-facto agreement to agree. This is not peculiar to Buddhism's protohistory. This is how we humans do business on everything. We agree to agree that some proposition happened a certain way, and the agreement makes the proposition so. Our "truths" consist, then, of a series of agreements.

And, then again, some of our truths rise to a level above aggregate assumption; they rise to the level of nobility.

There are many, many versions or descriptions of the Four Noble Truths that we have agreed to agree Buddha delivered on or about the event commemorated by today's holiday. The one I like best is the one His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave in Helsinki, in 1988; later codified in his book Dzogchen: Heart Essence of the Great Perfection, underwritten by Sogyal Rinpoche twelve or thirteen years ago, and first published by the now defunct Snow Lion Publications in 2000. These are comments published under the title "Four Truths, Four Seals and Dzogchen."

"The general structure of Buddhist practice," said His Holiness, "is based on what are called the Four Noble Truths, which the Buddha taught in his very first public teaching. They constitute the foundation for the entire Buddhist path. They are:
  1. the truth of suffering
  2. the truth of its origin
  3. the truth of its cessation
  4. the truth of the path which leads to that cessation"
He continues:
"Buddha's teaching on the Four Noble Truths is based on the natural needs and desires of all living beings. All of us have a natural instinct to desire happiness and avoid suffering. Therefore the practice of Dharma should be a technique whereby we can fullfil that need. Since what we desire is happiness and what we do not desire is suffering, Buddha first taught the truth of suffering, so that we would be able to recognize suffering for what it is."
Now, you stop and think --- "Well, suffering should be easy enough to understand: no great insight there" --- but, you are mistaken. In many ways, suffering is the least understood aspect of our human existence. 

There is an entire apparatus, maintained by our false friend the ego, designed to convince us that we are not suffering, or if we are suffering, it is through no fault of our own. 

Suffering stays locked in our subconscious as an ever-present possibility, but one that we strive to avoid by means of suffering's own cause. 

This is quite profound. 

We think we might like to go for a swim. We throw an imaginary life preserver into a mirage, and then drown when the illusion evaporates.

You ask a hundred Buddhists, "Four Noble Truths?" and they will answer right enough: "Great stuff! Our stuff, you know? Buddhist stuff!" But, of those hundred, maybe one will be prepared to truly admit and fully accept the concept that we are suffering. 

Today, there are hundreds of articles on the Four Noble Truths being published all over the known Buddhist universe, and they are all illustrated with shiny pictures of Buddha teaching attentive and gifted students. 

You will note our illustration is of Buddha about to get a rock on his head. Why? Because, this world is suffering. Even Buddha had trouble with his relatives and wound up dying of food poisoning. This is not coming from "outside." This is coming from "inside." This is the mirage, remember?

Dalai Lama continues:
"Then although we may enjoy certain degrees of happiness even while we are subject to suffering, true happiness will always elude us as long as we carry the causes of suffering inside us. This is why in the second noble truth Buddha taught the importance of eliminating the origin of suffering, by first of all identifying it. With the third noble truth, he explained that as a result of recognizing that origin of suffering there is cessation, a state that is free from all suffering. Buddha then taught the fourth noble truth, the path that will ultimately lead us to that cessation."
These words are like a stout bridge to comfort. Please do not dismiss them as "too basic," or "baby stuff." To the contrary, it is through sound understanding of these principles that we can meet, and extract the benefit, of every situation, no matter how that situation is at first perceived.

I will give you just a quick example from recent personal experience. Everyone who knows me, knows that I had a rabbit as a companion, and that I was very attached to this rabbit. Many have heard that this rabbit passed away last month, and that I openly grieved for him. I loved him very much, you see? So, the grief was intense.

Because I have had the grand fortune to listen to many realized teachers, I jumped straight into the middle of this grief, to the point where I was incapacitated and exhausted. But, at the same time, miraculously, something else was taking place. 

I began removing the causes of the suffering, one by one, and as I did so, the treasure of bodhicitta began to glow. 

I immediately recognized that I would extend the love I had for my friend to all rabbits, to all sentient beings, and direct this to the eradication of the illusion of suffering that I was sharing with them -- this basic suffering of separation from ones we love, which arises from mistakenly divided perception of attachment and aversion: attachment to ones we love, and aversion to ones we don't love -- all of this born of the basic failure to recognize emptiness. 

That is where the compassion effortlessly arises, you see? No sloppy stuff needed. When you allow yourself to accept emptiness as it is, compassion needs no other cultivation. 

For example: I thought of all the simple, little children who had lost a pet rabbit, and how they cried, and how this was fundamentally essenceless... unnecessary... opposed to that which was an ever-present reality.... preventable.... curable. You get the idea, I am sure. You don't have to beat around, working gimmicks, and contrivances. Your heart breaks, bodhicitta awakes, that's all it takes. A thing that might otherwise be tightly fabricated, or constricted, becomes utterly spacious, all by itself.

Well, it is easy enough when you have a bodhisattva come as a rabbit to teach you. But, what if some terrible old man dies? What if some awful old customer like me passes away, much to everyone's enjoyment and relief? You might want to go out dining, and drinking. You might want to dance on the grave. If you had enough to drink, you might want to piss on the grave. Sounds like this might take a little bit more work, doesn't it?

What does Dalai Lama say?
"The conclusion, then, which we can derive from the teaching on the Four Noble Truths, is that this suffering that we do not want, and the happiness we long for, are both dependent, in the sense that they only arise in dependence upon their causes and conditions. The teaching on the Four Noble Truths in fact teaches us the principle of interdependent origination. Happiness, it shows us, comes about only as a result of the interaction of causes and conditions. At the same time, suffering can be avoided, but only if we are able to put an end to the causes and conditions that give rise to it. The teaching on the Four Noble Truths points out that this is our responsibility and we should take the initiative, on our own, to pursue a path that will lead to this end."
Regardless of whether we are mourning and grieving a beloved pet or gleefully urinating on some hated enemy's last resting place, we are delicately balanced on the intersection of knots in a net. 

Imagine you are trying to walk across a huge net, a hundred feet above the ground. Just to make it more interesting, imagine that you are trying to do this with your eyes closed. One false step, and you will fall to your doom. Meanwhile, in which direction are you going? You slide along the string until you reach a knot. Now you have four choices: slide back the way you came, or keep sliding in one of the three other directions. More than this, you see, there is an up and a down. 

I don't know about you, but the first thing I would do is stop, and open my eyes. Surely, this is some sort of suffering, but what sort?

Dalai Lama says:
"How to recognize suffering as suffering? There are three levels or types of suffering. The first is suffering which is obvious, technically called 'the suffering of suffering.' The second is 'the suffering of change,' and the third, 'the pervasive suffering of conditioning.'
1) 'The suffering of suffering' refers to all those self-evident experiences of suffering, like pain for example,  which we would normally identify as suffering.
2) 'The suffering of change' refers to experiences that we usually regard with pleasure or happiness but which, when we are engaged in them for too long, end up leading to frustration, dissatisfaction, and suffering... . The experience that we initially thought of as pleasure or happiness is revealed as something which does not last, since it changes into feelings of dissatisfaction. This kind of suffering is 'the suffering of change.'
3) The third type of suffering, 'the pervasive suffering of conditioning,' embodies a recognition which is unique to Buddhism. To explain this third level of suffering in greater detail, the fundamental tenets of Buddhist philosophy known as the four 'seals' or axioms of Buddhism need to be understood."
So, we will stop right here, and reflect that in this, the explanation of the first of the Four Noble Truths, in the very preliminary stages of discussion, we are being introduced to the greatest gift anyone could possibly give, i.e. the Four Seals. 

In the West, you never used to hear very much about the Four Seals. The teachers who came in the last century barely examined the subject. However, this is actually quite important. You might say it is ultimately important. Five years ago, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse wrote an entire book on the subject, What Makes You Not a Buddhist, which turned out to be one of the four or five truly indispensable commentaries on Buddhism in the English language. I like this book so much I always give away copies to people I meet. 

The Four Seals are simple enough to state, and I believe Khyentse Rinpoche states them best as follows:
  • All compounded things are impermanent.
  • All emotions are pain.
  • All things have no inherent existence.
  • Nirvana is beyond concepts.
Actually, he does this a little more deeply and uniquely:
  • If you cannot accept that all compounded or fabricated things are impermanent, if you believe that there is some essential substance or concept that is permanent, then you are not a Buddhist.
  • If you cannot accept that all emotions are pain, if you believe that actually some emotions are purely pleasurable, then you are not a Buddhist.
  • If you cannot accept that all phenomena are illusory and empty, if you believe that certain things do exist inherently, then you are not a Buddhist.
  • And if you think that enlightenment exists within the spheres of time, space, and power, then you are not a Buddhist.
So, here we have the answer to crossing the net, and what to do about the soggy, soggy grave of that hateful old man. Not so difficult anymore, is it?

So, then, today is Chokhor Duchen for 2012. 

We believe that everything we do today -- positive or negative -- has a result that magnifies ten million times. All the Buddhists will be busy doing meritorious deeds, right up to the last fraction of a second of the full twenty-four hours.

I am in the western United States, in a high desert called the Mojave, and about all I have to offer you is this little appreciation -- as it comes to mind -- of great teachings and great teachers:

Watch out for falling rocks.

If there is any benefit, let it be yours.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Chokhor Duchen July 23, 2012

Chokhor Duchen -- one of our wonderful "ten million days" -- falls on Monday, 23 July 2012. So, what are we celebrating?

Chokhor Duchen celebrates the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma. For seven weeks following his enlightenment, Buddha did not teach. Yet, after encouragement from Indra and Brahma, he turned the Wheel of the Dharma, at Sarnath, teaching the Four Noble Truths.

What to do with today? Click this link and find out what we'll be doing.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"People can do this, but nobody does it."

She has never known a moment without pain. At eight, her leg was crushed in an avalanche and had to be crudely amputated in the field. At twenty-two, she was disowned by her family. When she was five months pregnant with her daughter, the baby's father left for good, never to be seen again.

But somehow.


Somehow, she made her way to America. Somehow, she found a minimum-wage job as a home health caregiver.

The years passed. To save money, she slept in the same bed with her 25 year old daughter, who has a minimum wage job cleaning out city buses.

The pair saved every penny they could earn. All they asked for was an honest wage for honest work.

Somehow, this past Sunday, Mrs. Dayangji Sherpa, from a one bedroom walk-up apartment in Woodside, Queens, New York, took USD $50,000. --- her entire life's savings -- and commissioned the full reading of the Kangyur, dedicating it to the welfare of all sentient beings. According to the New York Times, "For nearly 40 days, ending last week, about a dozen monks called from around the region read eight hours a day, aloud and simultaneously, seated cross-legged in a converted brick church in Elmhurst."

I pray that the name of Dayangji Sherpa, and that of her daughter Nima, be remembered forever in this land of America. 

One remark she made, in particular, sticks in my mind: "People can do this, but nobody does it."

May It Be Auspicious!

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

For Days Like These

"Though I've entered the path of the Dharma, I haven't put a stop to my erring ways.

Though I've entered the door of the Mahayana, I'm devoid of any beneficial thought for others.

Though I've received the four empowerments, I do not practice the development and completion phases of meditation.

O lama, free me from straying from the path!

Though I've not realized the View, I act as if a master of 'crazy wisdom'.

Though I'm distracted in my meditation, I let myself get stuck in mental gossip and concepts.

Though it's my own actions at fault, it's someone else that I blame.

O lama, free me from becoming to arrogant and opinionated, so stubborn and insensitive!

Though I may die tomorrow, I am full of craving for places, clothes and wealth.

Though I'm quite old, I'm not mature enough to have the slightest renunciation for samsara.

Though I've truly heard only a little dharma teaching, I pride myself on all my knowledge.

O lama, free me from such ignorance!

Though I may be rushing into danger, I go Dharma-socializing in crowds and public places, thinking I'm on a noble Dharma trip.

Though appearing calm and speaking softly, I haven't got rid of the attachment and aversion boiling inside.

O lama, free me from these eight samsaric dharmas!

Quickly rouse me from this deep sleep of ignorance!
Quickly set me free from this dismal self-imprisonment!

- Song of Renunciation, from the Longchen Nyingtik ngöndro, a revelation by Jigmé Lingpa

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dalai Lama Enthrones American New Abbot of Rato Monastery

Comes now great, good fortune in which we may all rejoice. His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has enthroned former New York photographer and long time serious dharma student Nicholas "Nicky" Vreeland (grandson of the late, legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland) as the new abbot of Rato Monastery in southern India.

This is the first time a Westerner has been afforded such a high honor.

Meeting the Dalai Lama in 1979 led Vreeland to take ordination in 1985, and begin studies at the monastery he now leads. When he first arrived, there were 27 monks. There are now about 100 monks, between the ages of 6 and 90.

Upon granting the responsibility, the Dalai Lama told Vreeland, "Your special duty is to bridge Tibetan tradition and the Western world."

In addition to his new duties, Vreeland will continue as Director of The Tibet Center, in New York.

"His Holiness wishes to bring Western ideas into the Tibetan Buddhist monastic system," Vreeland remarked during a recent PBS interview. "And that comes from his recognition that is is essential ... that there be new air brought into these institutions."

May all things be in accord with Nicholas Vreeland's generous wishes for the benefit of all sentient beings, may his accomplishments be effortless, and may the word "obstacle" not even be heard. May we all support him in any and every way we can.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Think It Through

"Like anyone else, I too have the potential for violence; I too have anger in me. However, I try to recall that anger is a destructive emotion. I remind myself that scientists now say that anger is bad for our health; it eats into our immune system. So, anger destroys our peace of mind and our physical health. We shouldn't welcome it or think of it as natural or as a friend." -- H.H. Dalai Lama XIV

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Friday, July 06, 2012

Never Leave Us

Happy Birthday to 
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet

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