Saturday, December 19, 2009

From Heart Sutra to Karmapa

Have just completed my second day here in the Indian state of Bihar, and it was eventful . . . a two hour drive with some folks to a town called Rajgir and then a hike up the mountain to the Vulture’s Peak, the site of the deliverance of one of Buddhism’s most important teachings, the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, aka the Heart Sutra.

After sitting in meditation in the cave that is known as “Shariputra’s Cave” and many readings aloud of the Sutra’s text, and recitations of the well-known mantra (Tadyatha Om Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha) it was a hike back down the hill in the cool air and rapidly warming sun of Indian winter, lunch in Rajgir and a visit to Nalanda, the Buddhist center of learning from 427 to 1197 CE.

Nalanda has been called one of the first great universities in recorded history. At its peak, it attracted scholars and students from many parts of the globe e.g., China, Greece etc., and housed thousands of monks and teachers. A favorite site of the Buddha (both pre- and post-enlightenment), it is uniquely beautiful, peaceful and inspirational. And oh, the history . . . for those of you in our recently completed Bodicharyavatara class, Nalanda was where Shantideva’s initial teaching of the text occurred. Today it is ruins, but find a nice shady place in the soft grass, and sit, and . . .

After a jarring, gritty, people/cow/buffalo/truck/dog-dodging jeep ride through the Biharian countryside and villages, it is good to be back in Bodhgaya, while my mind is soaring, my body is tired and sore. And here comes my old Indian friend, the smoke-fog-smog-induced cough and sore throat.

The Karmapa teaches Nagarjuna

So, a large day, and all in all, a fantastic lead-in for tomorrow . . . the beginning of three days of teachings from HH the 17th Karmapa!

It is quite exciting and the town is buzzing. His Holiness’ teachings total 10 hours over the next three days (morning and afternoon sessions) in the huge, beautiful and newly built Kagyu temple, not far from where the Dalai Lama’s teachings will take place after the new year. He will be teaching in Tibetan with simultaneous English translation.

And these teachings should be quite precious, the Karmapa will be transmitting Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend – a work frequently quoted by Tsong-Kha-Pa in our own Lam-rim teachings. The Letter is said to be the earliest overview of the major points of the Mahayana sutras. The great Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna (1st - 2nd century A.D.) wrote it as a letter of advice to a king with whom he was friendly.

Despite its short length (only 123 verses), Letter to a Friend is condidered to be a monument in the Indian Buddhist tradition. It covers the whole Mahayana path with clarity and memorable imagery, perhaps why it's so widely quoted by Tibet's great masters and scholars in the many commentaries they have written on the Buddhist path. (This text was later reorganized and expanded as a foundational element of the Tibetan lam-rim literature on the graded stages of the path to enlightenment.)

It is incredible to be here; this will be a noteworthy teaching, so beneficial to the minds of those in attendance. If this was America (well, truth is, a teaching of this sort would not take place in the West), it would be hugely expensive and much in demand. Here in India there is no charge (same as HHDL’s teachings), and through the methodology in which the advance registration was handled, everyone will have a chance to sit directly in front of him – and to receive a personal blessing – during one of the five sessions.

So that’s what’s happening here in dusty little Bodhgaya . . . there’s no rest for the weary but/and it is all good, call it intense dharma mind-seeding. It’s why so many travel so hard to get here (sharing my jeep to Rajgir today was a Canadian, a Swede, a German, a Londoner, a Swiss and a Singaporean).

And how precious to have Nagarjuna’s wisdom presented by someone as brilliant and articulate as the Karmapa, undoubtedly Tibetan Buddhism’s brightest rising Bodhisattva star.

All in this far-away place, where enlightenment has been known to happen . . .

More soon, stoppng the finger now.