Monday, January 04, 2010

A "Pure Land"

I saw the Dalai Lama today. Twice.


Today has been a pretty good day so far, is about 4:30pm, I had my first hot shower in three weeks (the hot water geyser is finally working) and went to town to meet some friends for lunch at the new little restaurant at the Shechen (Nyingma) Monastery. Quite delicious!

Before meeting I walked over to the Mahabodhi Stupa, ground zero in this incredible place, and as I arrived his Holiness, who arrived here this morning, was coming out. The path leading in to the Stupa and the walkways around it were of course closed for security, and there were thousands of people watching and chanting and prostrating as he climbed the steps, got into his waiting white Ambassador, and was driven off accompanied by what seemed to be 50% of the Indian Army.

A friend mentioned that he seems to be walking a little stooped-over; it seems so.

Later, after lunch, His Holiness was in the Ambassador, going from the Mahabodhi Museum to the Tibetan Gelug Monastery where he is staying. Again, a crowd. Again, that uniquely unmistakable feeling of lifting a few inches off the ground upon seeing him.

So things are coming closer, the teachings begin tomorrow with a transmission of Nagarjuna’s In Praise of the Transcendental. During the days following will be Atisha's Lamp of the Path to Enlightenment, Longchen Rinpoche's Mind In Comfort and Ease and Lama Tsong-Kha-Pa’s Short Version of the Stages of the Path To Enlightenment. On the last morning he will confer a long-life empowerment on those in attendance.

Speaking of Lama Atisha, his relics are on display at the Shechen Monastery where I ate lunch (no, not in the restaurant).

Tonight it’s over to the Kagyu Monastery for a traditional Tibetan music and dance exhibition, which will be attended by both the Karmapa and Dalai Lamas. Like everything here, all the teachings, free admission; just bring your passport to register for a pass.

The town is full, people from all around the world have arrived. Snake charmers, sadhus, Asians, Westerners, movie stars (Richard Gere is here, just another student, staying where I am.) The fog has lifted, it has been sunny and quite beautiful, tonight will be cool.

A “pure land” is a place where the conditions are such that the practice of Dharma is completely encouraged, supported and effortless. Bodhgaya, right now, is a pure land.


When one sees or hears His Holiness the Dalai Lama in person, one is, I believe, in the presence of a man in possession of the very best qualities humans can aspire to.

“A simple Buddhist monk” just a simple Buddhist monk” – His Holiness often says this phrase and people usually smile and think that he is being too modest, striking a pose of studied humility, trying to contradict his obvious presence of enormous charisma, radiant good humor, flashing intelligence. But read some of the many books he has written, learn more about him, talk to people who know him, and you’ll find out that he lives his life, as best he can, according to the lifestyle of just what he says he is, a simple Buddhist monk.

Of course, he does have multiple identities.

He is a human being, of course, a male, the descendent of farmers, herdsmen and strong working women of the province of Amdo in far northeastern Tibet, close to where Tibet meets Mongolia, China and Turkestan. He is a Tibetan.

After a human being, his next identity is that of a Buddhist monk, a person who has taken and maintains the vows of personal non-violence, poverty, celibacy, and spiritual honesty, and who spends most of his waking energy in the pursuit of a personal enlightenment believed to last for all time, to satisfy the self with unimaginable fullness and to benefit countless other beings.

As a monk he minimizes his distractions and maximizes his simplicity.

As a monk he works on dissolving habitual egotism, including the rigidity of his human, sexual and national identities.

As a monk he lives close to the bone, and also strives to be a universal being.

He also constantly creates – he calls it “shaping his motivation” – his working identity as a Bodhisattva, a driven being who has dedicated all his lives to the attainment of perfect enlightenment, complete wisdom and inexhaustible compassion, in order to be able to help all other beings find freedom from suffering.

He says that his religion is the common human religion of kindness, of love, of compassion, of universal responsibility. And he sees not just the pope, or grand rebbes, or other religious leaders as his spiritual peers, but everyone.

Every day he labors to lead his people and fulfill his responsibility to preserve and rule his nation, the Tibetan nation that has been under genocidal pressure for over half a century, in such mortal danger that Tibetans should be on the endangered humans list.

For his Tibetan people he is a statesman, a politician, a diplomat, a personnel manager, a chief executive officer. He maintains these duties in exile as a refugee.

He is a committed scholar and a prolific writer, researching deeply the philosophical, psychological, and religious literature of his sophisticated civilization as well as exploring the modern sciences and literatures. He studies incessantly with a variety of tutors and teaches extensively, both advanced students in the Tibetan Buddhist monastic community and the entire Tibetan populace, as well as an ever-growing public of spiritual seekers around the world. He speaks to all with clarity and sincerity, with a good sense of humor and an unfailing optimism.

He is also an accomplished meditation master, a teacher of esoteric ritual and contemplative traditions. His precise knowledge of the sacred tantric worlds, of the elaborate arts and procedures, his graceful gestures, magnificent chanting and both eloquent and profound explanations of the advanced contemplative practices leave even his veteran disciples in amazement.

And he is a peacemaker for the world, a Nobel Peace Laureate, an inspirer of world leaders both political and religious who have been fortunate enough to encounter him. His message to them never wavers: do not settle for the harmful by-products of blind institutional momentum, but take responsibility for the poor and the oppressed, use good sense and good will to solve the problems that beset our world, and do not give in to despair and cynicism while hiding behind power and privilege.

He patiently offers the alternative of constructive dialog as balm for violence and prejudice.

He is a magnificent person who can make us feel how utterly worthwhile it is to be a human being.

I saw the Dalai Lama today. Twice. His teachings begin tomorrow.

Stopping my finger now, thanks for reading.