Saturday, January 23, 2010

The seminal source and driving force that is India

YALAHA, FL -- There is a consistent thread of conversation, at times fully discussed, at others merely hinted at, among those of us Western dharma students in India, and it concerns "going back home."

It’s odd. India, the way I and so many dharma students experience it, can be unceasingly challenging and difficult. Budget traveling in India means hard and too-short beds, shared toilet-less bathrooms, no heat on cold nights, frustrating language struggles, exhaust fumes, respiratory infections and diarrhea, cold showers, plans and schedules gone awry. It is physically punishing. The smell of shit is everywhere, the poverty is overwhelming, the suffering in the streets immense. Dodging people, buffalo, cows, rickshaws and the nerve-jarring horns of tuk-tuks (motor-rickshaws) and motorbikes gets exhausting. The dust is everywhere, making eyes water and throats burn. Westerners are stand-out targets of touts, merchants and beggars. Being a half-day ahead of everyone back home, on the other side of the planet, there is frequent loneliness.

And yet . . . and yet, the idea of the time there coming to an end . . . climbing on a plane to fly back home, and being back in the familiar . . . is, for many Western dharma students, horrifying. You don’t even have to verbalize it, just mention to whomever you’re speaking with that "next Tuesday I’m going back home" and for a few moments the conversation stops and eyes lock in empathic understanding.


I remember a few years ago in Nepal. A five-week retreat at a hilltop monastery overlooking the city of Kathmandu was coming to an end, it had been a month of retreat, never once leaving the monastery, a month of teachings and meditations, a month of refuge, simply wonderful, and I was talking with a couple of Australian women who had been in the retreat. We were gazing down at the city, and one of the women expressed a regretful fear that in a few days it would be time to go back "down into that."

I’ve had this conversation with many people, different angles, different time-frames, but always the same . . . dharma practice takes root in India, but in the West it gets lost in the rush, and the idea of the loss is frightening. Too hard to maintain practice. Mind pollution. Old habits. Cultural crap. No support. The potent and endearing mind treasures of Himalayan Buddhism, so rich in India, vanish . . . like crashing out of a deep, wondrous dream of the high holy Himalayas in downtown Cleveland.

Even with all the difficulties of being/living in India, while there, dharma practice is easier, seems more real. And when one is immersed in it, its preciousness and beauty are part of everything one is, but the idea of leaving this place, and losing touch with this part of the self . . .

The plane ticket home has a date that is fast approaching . . .


I've been back back in Yalaha for nine full days now. The "re-entry" has been painless, it appears that I am long past the effects of jet-lag, and truth is, India has become for me another one of my neighborhoods, joining New York City and northern California as places I feel at home in, and have no great sadness at leaving.

Perhaps once a place becomes home, one never really leaves it, there’s always influences and aspects of these places that are indelibly part of the mind, part of who and what and why we are. India and noCal and NYC are with me -- ARE me -- everywhere I go.

An equanimity settles in. Regardless of where we are -- India or Florida or Timbuktu -- there is always work to do, manifestations of our dharma practices constantly being put to use. I remember a quote from Ani Tenzin Palmo, a very articulate and wise nun, who was once asked what her main practice is. Her reply: "whatever and whoever is coming toward me is my practice."

So, one week back in Florida, I try to keep this in mind.

I did not count the days in India dreading the trip home, rather I welcomed it; opportunities to use what I have learned await.

Things have been busy, time with friends and kids, getting back into the swing of work with conference calls, business negotiations, etc. Dharma-wise: two nights of teachings, a lecture combining the nature of mind and an appreciation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama before a large group of para-psychology buffs, and leading the first of seven Saturday morning meditation classes.

It's no secret how much I love being in India, how through the sickness (not this past time!) and hardships I have discovered such exquisite richness and freedom to grow. How I gain clarity and strength of mind through what I am so very fortunate to experience.

But I enjoy, vastly, being home too. The Buddhist teachings tell us that the perfection of generosity is a key component for a mind that is happy, and it is my honor and privilege to bring back what I have learned and share it with so many wonderful people.

The Buddha taught there are three major "types" of generosity. Each of them stems from the mind of interconnected altruism, that understands the more we are able to help others, the more we help ourselves be able to help others . . . this is the seed of bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment.

The three types of generosity are (1) the giving of things, (2) the giving of teachings, and (3) the giving of fearlessness. A short description of each:

Giving of Things
The first is the three types of generosity is the giving of wealth, be it material resources or our time and energy.

Giving of Teaching
Second is the giving of teaching. By teaching others, we are helping them to learn how to rely more on themselves. We give material resources to try to solve immediate needs. But, if we want to solve needs that are more far-reaching, we teach. It is not necessary to have exceptional skills. Simply teach whatever we are good at and what others are not.

Giving of Fearlessness
Third is the giving of fearlessness. It is to remove the insecurities, worries, and fears of others, whether the "other" is human or non-human. This giving can be the sharing of a kind word, the giving of our strength and stability, or our understanding. When we relieve the worries and fears of others, and help them to feel more secure, they will be able to find peace and self-respect.


I have a long way to go before generosity is "perfected" in my mind, but one of the seminal sources and driving forces of whatever generosity does abide in my mind is India. So beautiful, so difficult, so intense, so enlightening . . . uniquely precious in so many different ways, but at the end of the day, for me, it is primarily a source of experience, a place of learning, the deep well whose precious water I bring back to share with others.

In this way, India -- and the Tibetan people and their practices I was introduced to there, whose philosophies and understandings and methods I’ve welcomed and allowed to resonate in my mind -- has provided me with the greatest gift I believe one can ever receive -- the awakening of generosity.

Like a gramatically complete sentence, generosity needs an object, so, if you’re reading this and are a Chenrezig Projecteer, or a participant in any of the events we sponsor, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share India’s fantastic insights and wisdoms with you. I will do the very best I can to communicate and (karma willing), help touch your mind with this same core component of true confidence and happiness -- generosity.

Next week we'll examine the Buddha's Four Immeasurables, with a focus on equanimity, the fertile ground from which dharma blossoms. We are all so fortunate.

Stopping the finger now, thanks for reading.