H.H. the Dalai Lama Teaching Event: Saturday

Saturday morning, I got up at 7 am, thinking that there would be fewer people there that day, so an hour and a half would be plenty early to arrive. Wrong! The line was already very long when I got there. But I still got into the convention center with about twenty minutes to spare. I tried to do a little shopping before the session began, but was urged to go to my seat by one of the many volunteer ushers, so I found a seat in the balcony and settled in.

For this session, the Dalai Lama said he would take questions from the audience, so people could write down a question and pass it to the ushers. While they were doing that, he again had the three monks chant the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit, Chinese, and Vietnamese, and chanted it himself in Tibetan.

The questions were read by the translator and answered in English by the Dalai Lama. The one that stuck in my mind most was one that began, “Dear Dalai Lama,” which the translator repeated several times and seemed to find strange and amusing. The question was something like, In the presence of a loving God, how do you explain emptiness? The Dalai Lama just laughed and said, “If you believe in God, then the Buddhist concept of emptiness doesn’t concern you! Don’t worry about it!”

There was also a question from a woman who asked, as a mother, how can she reconcile loving her children and avoiding attachment? He replied that compassion is important, but there are two kinds of compassion. There is biased compassion, which is when you expect something in return for your kindness, and true, unbiased compassion, which is directed towards all sentient beings, even animals and insects, including your enemies. This is the compassion we should aim for. He said one should separate the Action from the Actor: you feel compassion toward the person while rejecting their actions.

Another question was about his practice. How many hours a day did he practice, and how long did he think the average person should practice each day? The Dalai Lama didn’t really answer the second part, but said that he himself gets up every day around 3:30 am and practices for three or four hours, then in the evening again he practices for one or two hours.

There were a few other questions, but I can’t remember them now. If I remember any later, I’ll edit this post.

After the questions, he prepared to offer the Bodhisattva Vow. But first, he gave a long and, to me, somewhat confusing explanation of why he thought the practice of Shugden was wrong and he rejected it, and said that traditionally, the Bodhisattva Vow was given between teacher and student, and so he asked that if anyone there was a practitioner of Shugden that they not take the vow from him. There was a bit of applause and then he went on to give the Bodhisattva Vow. I did some research online later, trying to find out exactly what Shugden was and why the Dalai Lama was against it. Apparently, it’s regarded as being cult-like and sectarian, although I couldn’t really find any details. Here is the statement on his website concerning the practice of Dolgyol (Shugden).

He also mentioned we should also vow to keep the Five Precepts: to abstain from killing, stealing, engaging in sexual misconduct, lying, or using intoxicants. He said that we should be sure we were ready to keep each precept, and that if we weren’t sure, it was okay to just vow to keep the ones we were ready for.

As we did for the Bodhicitta Intention, we knelt and visualized doing prostrations and offerings (some people went into the aisles and did actual prostrations), and then gave the vow which we were to repeat after him. But he gave it in Tibetan, so I couldn’t repeat it. I did kneel, though, and planned later to look it up and find out what I’d vowed. (I do know the basics of the Bodhisattva Vow: one vows to remain and help all beings attain enlightenment before going on to Nirvana oneself.)

(My googling shows that there are a number of different forms of the vow, some long and others short and simple. Here is a site that lists some of them. I was also fascinated to find that the Beastie Boys have a song called “Bodhisattva Vow” on their album, Ill Communication. I have that album, and am sure I’d heard the song before, but I don’t pay much attention to lyrics so I must have missed it. I immediately went to play it! Wikipedia says that profits from the track were donated to the Free Tibet movement. Another reason to like the Beastie Boys!)

Then we had the Medicine Buddha Initiation. The Medicine Buddha is traditionally depicted as being colored blue, with seven supporters. We were asked to visualize the Medicine Buddha at the crown of our head, with each of the supporters sitting above him, then to visualize each supporter, from the top, dissolving into light and joining with the one below, until they were all joined with the Medicine Buddha, who then dissolved into light and joined into our own bodies. As he’d done for the Amitahba Buddha Initiation, the Dalai Lama chanted in Tibetan, while ringing a bell and gesturing with a vajra. Here’s an album of photographs taken by ddngo1 during the Initiation.

And then it was over! I had another lunch of deep-fried tofu and stir-fry, then I went back to the dealers and tried to find something for my mom for a souvenir. But there wasn’t really anything I thought she’d like that wasn’t too expensive. I ended up buying two postcards, one of the Amitabha Buddha and one of the Medicine Buddha, from an artist who had all sorts of beautiful prints and paintings and art cards. I let her choose one, and she took the Medicine Buddha. I put the one of the Amitabha Buddha on my altar.

Finally, it was time to pack up my things and head back to Tehachapi. Fortunately, the traffic wasn’t bad on the way home. There was an accident on the 405 that slowed things down for a bit, but other than that, I sailed on home, making the drive in about two hours and forty-five minutes this time.

It was a great experience, and I hope to be able to attend another of the Dalai Lama’s teaching events one day.

Written by Cody Nelson in: buddhism,vacation |

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