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DHARMA AND THE MODERN WORLD
By Ven. Nangsel, director of Mahamudra Centre
Mahamudra Centre, an FPMT retreat center in Colville, New Zealand, hosted an eight-day lam-rim retreat with Khadro-la (Rangjung Neljorma Khadro Namsel Drolma). The well attended retreat, which ran April 27-May 4, was described as “extraordinary” and “beyond words.” Ven. Nangsel, Mahamudra Centre director, shared with Mandala highlights from the retreat.
From the beginning, students quickly realized we were experiencing something rare and special when Khadro-la looked at us directly and said simply, “It’s not easy to practice Dharma, is it!” From there she took new and old students alike in hand, giving many examples of how as students we go astray in the practice of the Dharma, practicing for the material comfort of this life – food, clothes and good reputation – and endlessly engaging in practice, performing rituals, our commitments and mantras without any real understanding of what we are doing. Khadro-la was crystal clear: Dharma is about mental transformation, and if we are not experiencing positive results from our practice, looking to the Dharma for shortcomings isn’t the answer. Instead, we need to recognize the negativity associated with self-cherishing and self-grasping and see the faults in our own attitudes.
Khadro-la emphasized we must use our human intelligence as prayer alone is not enough. Khadro-la taught about the importance of taking time to take refuge properly, the essential role and importance of the guru, impermanence and death, karma, suffering, bodhichitta and emptiness. She exhorted us to identify what are mistaken states of mind and what are unmistaken states of mind and be able to distinguish between the two. Students need to know how negative mind states trigger confusion, what their results and functions are, and how they give rise to suffering for the self and others. Without this understanding, Khadro-la emphasized, it is impossible to generate realizations. It is crucial to use our human intelligence through contemplation and meditation to cultivate the basis for the realizations, she said, and to strive to purify negativities and obscurations and to accumulate vast amounts of merit. By realizing emptiness and how the mind and phenomena truly abide, then unmistaken behavior, imbued by love and compassion and honesty, will naturally arise.
Students were captivated by Khadro-la’s teachings and her blend of humor and directness, which cut through our excuses and misunderstandings. Students were moved to the depths of their hearts. They said things like, “I thought I was practicing Dharma all these years, but really I had no idea.” We were seeing our mistakes and faults, shown to us in such a way that we were inspired to listen intently to what we must do. At the end of the retreat we experienced great joy in the Dharma and left with renewed faith, inspiration, devotion, understanding, a strong determination to eliminate self-cherishing and self-grasping, and to engage in practice from the heart with the truth, honesty and perseverance Khadro-la was so vigorously exhorting us to do.
At the conclusion of the teachings, students thanked Khadro-la and sang a waiata (a New Zealander song of farewell), all was accompanied by an outpouring of our love and gratitude. Khadro-la, her translator and attendants had shown such incredible kindness to us.
The last afternoon, Khadro-la invited us to make offerings to the animals in the ocean at Waititi Bay, followed by a picnic. It was such a lovely afternoon. In the evening we did Guru Puja with tsog. At the end of the puja, Khadro-la spontaneously broke into song. Again it went straight to our hearts, many of us moved to tears by the beauty of her song. I didn’t know what it was then, but Claire Barde, the translator, later told me it was Chöd.
We have been utterly and completely blessed and will remember this for the rest of our lives.
Khadro-la told us that “[Mahamudra Centre] is very beautiful and favorable for retreat – one of the best places for retreat” and indicated several times that she will return to Mahamudra Centre in the future. How wonderful! We hope when the time comes that you’ll join us!
You can learn more about Mahamudra Centre by visiting their website.
TAKING CARE OF THE SELF: RECOVERY AND ADDICTION
As part of Mahamudra Centre’s work to develop a Buddhist-based program for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, Ven. Choyni Taylor recently presented a series of workshops for counselors as well as those in recovery, based on her new book Enough!: A Buddhist Approach to Finding Release from Addictive Patterns. The workshops offered practical step by step methods to finding freedom from addiction and compulsion and the negative thoughts that fuel them. Bryce H. who has been involved with MMC’s addiction program had this to say …
“The Buddhist contribution to the field of drug and alcohol counseling has generally been centered on using mindfulness to foster client awareness of feelings and cravings. However, research also points to the role of complex ‘information highways’ involved with the attention, behavioral and motivational centers of the brain being engaged in the abusive or dependent use of substances. These centers reward us for behavior that helps us survive (drinking water, eating food, having sex, raising our children, etc.). These are engaged and rewarded by the neurotransmitter dopamine. Drugs that can make you dependent will also activate these centers and provide that neurotransmitter to guide you to the reward of the drug. The best way to undo this is to learn to build new pathways and new coping responses. To learn and develop new pathways, the brain must practice. This can be done through visualization.
“Ven. Chonyi’s workshops were very helpful. She elucidated and designed a series of meditations/visualizations that guide the client to rework many of their dysfunctional pathways. With her background in psychotherapy, Venerable also worked with the emotional background to these events.
“All of the counselors (and I spoke to most of them) who attended remarked how useful it was to learn concrete ways of dealing with these embedded information pathways. In addition, Venerable showed us how to design visualizations directly with the client and how to integrate the Buddhist approach to wisdom and compassion for both the client and ourselves. Brendon, a social worker, said of the teachings: “Venerable taught us really useful ways to design meditations that engender wisdom and compassion for ourselves and for our clients and help us both to rework redundant emotional patterning that could lead to suffering.”
Those wanting to work on their addictive patterns were similarly impressed and found Ven. Chonyi’s workshops practical and transformative.
Turn to page 49 of the January-March 2011 issue to read an excerpt from Enough!: A Buddhist Approach to Finding Release from Addictive Patterns by Ven. Chonyi Taylor.
This section of Mandala, Animal Liberation, features stories of your work to eliminate suffering for all sentient beings.
Please send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
By Ven. Tenzin Chogkyi
The students and staff of Mahamudra Centre in New Zealand had an incredible experience just a few days after Christmas. We got a call that there was a pod of pilot whales stranded on a beach nearby, and Ven. Nangsel, the director, the rest of the staff and students, and I spent hours pouring water over them to keep them cool and wet until the tide came in close enough so that we could swim them out for release. It was an amazing experience, although I discovered that monastic robes are not the most convenient outfit in which to guide/wrestle a 20-foot whale out to sea!
It was an extraordinary experience. Of course, I hope it never happens again, but I feel fortunate to have been able to help, to be so close to these incredible animals. I kept meditating on compassion the whole time, although at times it was so sad and overwhelming! Some died before we arrived, but we were able to keep the others alive until we could release them. Over 100 people rallied to help save these animals, which are sacred to the indigenous Maori people. It was human nature at its best, with everyone from toddlers to grandmothers working harmoniously together to save their lives.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche has taught extensively on methods for benefiting sick and dying animals. Liberating Animals (book) and Recitations for Animals (CD) are both available through the FPMT Foundation Store.
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The reason we are unhappy is because we have extreme craving for sense objects – samsaric objects – and we grasp at them. We are seeking to solve our problems, but we are not seeking in the right place. The right place is our ego-grasping.
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