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 |

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

The first session was scheduled to begin at 9:30 Friday morning. but it was recommended that we arrive at the Convention Center two to three hours early  in order to have time to go through security. My hotel was right across the street from the Convention Center, so at least I didn’t have far to go!

I set my alarm for 7 am, thinking I’d try to get out the door by 7:30 am. But I slept badly again and was awake early, so I dragged myself out of bed at 6:30 am and set about getting ready. I was so tired my head hurt, my stomach was queasy, and I felt absolutely miserable. I considered skipping the morning session, but I knew I’d be sorry if I came all that way and didn’t even make the effort to go. I told myself that I could always leave early, but I had to at least give it a chance. So I drank my cocoa and took a shower and firmly kicked myself out the door .

Once I got out of the hotel, I was fine. The morning was sunny and pleasant, and I joined the crowds of people heading towards the Convention Center entrance. At the end of a long line, I met another woman who was attending alone, and we had a nice time chatting while we meandered around the parking lot and up to the door. We had to go through metal detectors and have our bags searched before going in. We weren’t allowed to take in cameras, cell phones, outside food or drink, anything resembling a weapon, signs or banners—a whole list of stuff.

The tickets were not reserved seating, but were divided into four sections. My line companion and I had tickets for the balcony section, so we went up and found seats together.

There was still over an hour to go before the teaching was scheduled to begin, so I went to check out the dealers. I had no idea there were going to be so many interesting things for sale! There were quite a few dealers selling art, jewelry, clothing, books, and other items, mostly Buddhist-related but some not. I bought myself a new mala (prayer beads, like a Buddhist rosary) made of Bodhi seeds with a few turquoise and red beads. I have already enjoyed chanting 108 “Kwan Seum Bosal” several times with it.

I also bought a long-sleeved shirt made in India, decorated with embroidery and sequins. Something to wear to dinner that night so I wouldn’t freeze! I had to ask the woman behind the counter and several other shoppers to help me choose a color, since there were no mirrors. The first shirt I picked, in a mustard-gold color, was a unanimous “No! You need another color!” Heh. The dark green one I picked next was a hit.

Then I went back to my seat, and presently the Dalai Lama arrived. My line companion said she’d heard that 12,000 people were expected to attend, and the Long Beach Arena was nearly full. The stage was set up with four tapestries hanging in back. Two large ones depicted the Amitabha Buddha and the Medicine Buddha. In the center of the stage was a large throne-like chair with red and gold designs, on which the Dalai Lama sat cross-legged. In front of the Dalai Lama, monks sat on cushions, facing towards the center of the stage.

The Dalai Lama began by asking three of the monks to chant the Heart Sutra, first in Sanskrit, then Chinese, then Vietnamese. The Dalai Lama himself chanted it in Tibetan. I only know it in Korean, but it was interesting to hear it in the other languages. Then the Dalai Lama spoke for a while in English, talking about his belief that all religions are valuable and have the same ultimate goal, which is to lead people to have compassion and loving kindness, and to be happy. He said that no one religion is right for everyone, so it’s good that there are many different religions for people to choose from. He believes that all religions should strive to exist together in harmony.

He thinks that people should stay in the traditional religion of their culture, as long as it helps them. He said that he’d talked to many practitioners of other religions and found them to be sincere and dedicated to their beliefs.

Then he explained a bit about Buddhism, saying that it’s different from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other religions that believe in a Creator God, being a non-theistic religion that believes in emptiness: that there is no concrete, unchanging reality at the heart of things. He also talked about what he thought people could gain by learning about Buddhism. A Buddhist, of course, wants to learn the teachings of the Buddha. A religious person who isn’t Buddhist can gain an understanding of other religions, and learn how Buddhist teachings can provide insight to complement their own religion’s teachings. A non-religious person can appreciate the parts of Buddhist teaching that are based on intellectual thought and reasoning and have no specific religious connotation.

Then he switched to talking in his own language, Tibetan, to talk about Buddhist concepts. An English translator spoke after he did. Translations in Chinese and Vietnamese were also available via FM receivers. (This part of the talk was a bit dry and I had some trouble paying attention, especially since I was still so sleepy. My mind would wander while the Dalai Lama talked, then all of a sudden I’d realize the translator had taken over and I’d missed half of what he said! I should have taken notes.)

He talked about the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the origin of suffering, the truth of cessation, and the truth of the path leading to cessation. The Four Noble Truths are based on the principle of Dependent Origination, which states that all things arise due to the causes and conditions that create them. Nothing exists as an independent object; everything comes about as the result of causes and effects. Therefore, suffering only exists due to conditions that arise to cause it, and so it is possible to remove the causes and conditions of suffering. He said that if suffering were inevitable and unchangeable, there would be no point in dwelling on its existence! The whole point of talking about suffering is that it is possible to remove its causes and eliminate it.

The morning session lasted two hours. The afternoon session was for the Amitabha Buddha Permission Initiation. The Dalai Lama said that the Amitabha Initiation would only take a few minutes, so he would first continue talking about the Four Noble Truths, and he would also offer the Bodhicitta Intention to Buddhists who wished to take it.

Before we broke for lunch, it was announced that if we intended to take the Bodhicitta Intention, we should eat strictly vegetarian that day. Which caused me a bit of concern, because I’d already drunk cocoa for breakfast, which has milk in it. By “strict vegetarian,” did he mean no animals, or no animal products at all? Would milk be okay? What about the fact that I’d drunk it before I knew about the vow? I decided finally that I would eat vegan for lunch, and take the vow.

To be continued.

Written by Cody Nelson in: buddhism,vacation |

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