The West Fire

Tuesday afternoon, July 27, at around 2:40 pm, I headed into town to do my volunteering at the library. But I got no more than around 300 yards down the road, when I saw smoke from a fire off to the right. A couple of trucks were parked along the road, and a fire truck was just arriving. Merle, our Property Owners Association President, was parked on the other side of the road. She told me to go back and park alongside the road—they wanted to leave the road clear for firefighters. She said someone had been clearing brush, and a spark from his equipment had started a fire. At the time, it was still confined to that one property, but the fire was clearly getting bigger even as we talked. She kept one eye on the blaze, and saw flames shoot 30 feet high!

I told her I would just turn around and go home, which I did. I called my mom next door to let her know what was happening, then called the library to tell them I wouldn’t be coming.

Not long after that, one of our neighbors and volunteer firefighter, George, came by to tell us to evacuate. The fire was getting out of control and we needed to get out. So I called my mom again and we started hurriedly packing. I threw my laptop/iPod/books/bandages into bags and a lot of random clothes into my suitcase. I told mom to bring her stuff and her cat down to my place, and I’d fix a cardboard box with holes in the top for her to use as a carrier for her cat. I needed to do that for one of my cats, too, since she’d outgrown her carrier ages ago and I’d never gotten around to getting a new one. I continued packing and soon Mom arrived with her cat, Buddy.

Then George came back. “We have to go right now! Take what you’ve got and let’s go!” (more…)

Written by Cody Nelson in: daily ramble |

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 |

H.H. the Dalai Lama Teaching Event: Friday Afternoon

The first thing I did when morning session ended was go find some food! My line companion had taken off about a half hour before the end of the morning session—she had a cough and wasn’t feeling very well. So I was on my own for the rest of the time.I was happy to see a number of vegan options at the convention center cafeteria. I guess with a gathering of Buddhists, they would make sure to have plenty of vegetarian options available! I ended up having deep-fried tofu with stir-fried vegetables and white rice, some watermelon, and a bottle of water. It really hit the spot!

After lunch, I got in one of the long lines to the women’s restrooms, where I struck up a conversation with a few others, including a Vietnamese woman who’d flown down from San Francisco with some friends. She had a book of some of the Dalai Lama’s lectures, written in Vietnamese and English, which she said was available free at a stand near the entrance to the arena, so after I made it through the line, I went and picked up a copy, leaving a five dollar donation. I haven’t read much of it yet, but it’s quite similar to the things he was speaking about that day, so it’s a good reference to remember and learn more.

And then, once I had a book and a shirt to carry around, I decided I needed a bag to put them in, so I found a yellow cloth bag like the ones the monks carry and bought it. There were so many beautiful things on sale there, I could have spent a fortune, but I decided I didn’t need any more stuff, and my mala and shirt and bag and book were enough.

I headed back to my seat about an hour before the 2 pm session was scheduled to start, and read my book while I waited for the Dalai Lama to return.

When the Dalai Lama came back, he continued talking about the Four Noble Truths. The first truth is the truth of suffering. The Buddha talks about three types of suffering: First is “the suffering of suffering,” which is what we ordinarily think of as suffering: the pain of birth, sickness, aging, death. Even animals feel these kinds of suffering, so there’s no reason to go into it in detail. As long as we are subject to the process of rebirth, we all live within the cycle of birth and death and are subject to these kinds of suffering.

Second, there is the suffering of change. These are experiences we would ordinarily think of as pleasurable, but they cannot last, and, for unenlightened beings, they will inevitably bring pain. When you gain fame or wealth or buy nice things, at first they will bring you pleasure, but after a while the pleasure fades and you will start to feel frustrated or dissatisfied and want more. The nature of things is to change. Everything that seems beautiful and good will bring suffering in the end.

Finally, there is the suffering of conditioning. An unenlightened being exists in a state of suffering, or samsara, due to ignorance. As long as we remain unaware of the true nature of things, we cannot escape the continued arising of new troubles and pains. This state of existence is the basis for painful experiences in this life, as well as the causes and conditions of suffering in the future.

He also talked about karma, which is basically the causes and effects he described when talking about Dependent Origination, except that karma only applies to the actions and thoughts that are intentional. Karma is simply the conditions that arise due to one’s intentions and actions. Positive or virtuous actions are those that lead to joy and happiness, while negative actions result in pain and suffering.

Then we took the Bodhicitta Intention. Those of us who intended to take it were asked to kneel, if we could where we were sitting. In the balcony, the seats could be put up, so pushed mine up and knelt in the floor. It was a bit awkward, but doable. There were some other instructions about visualizing doing prostrations, making an offering, and so forth, and then we repeated the Bodhicitta Prayer three times. Thankfully, it was given in English by the translator, so I knew what I was saying!

After that was the Amitabha Buddha Permission Initiation. To be honest, I’m not sure what that was all about. We were asked to visualize the Amitahba Buddha at the crown of our head, and the Dalai Lama chanted in Tibetan, while holding a vajra and ringing a bell. (Here’s an Explanation of the Amitabha Initiation I found. Yay for the Internet!)

And that was it for Friday. I had hoped to find time to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific while I was in Long Beach, but the only real spot for it would have been after the Friday sessions ended. I thought about it, but was too tired and hungry to do anything at that point except head back to the hotel, rest a bit, then have dinner in the hotel restaurant (wearing my new long-sleeved shirt so I didn’t freeze, yay!). I read a bit and went to bed early, hoping to get a good night’s sleep for Saturday’s morning session and the drive back home.

To be continued

Written by Cody Nelson in: buddhism,vacation |

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