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DHARMA AND THE MODERN WORLD
In May 2014 several Maitripa College students and staff participated in a two-day homiletics workshop led by Rev. Dr. Marilyn Sewell. Homiletics is concerned with the composition and delivery of a sermon or other religious discourse. After the workshop, several of the participants offered their homilies during the regular public teachings with Yangsi Rinpoche at Maitripa College. In addition, several of the students shared their homilies with Mandala.
By John Alberts
As Western Tibetan Buddhists, we’re prone to look at things not in terms of days or years, but eons. With fluent ease, we speak about infinite lives and cause and effect, but sometimes I wonder if focusing too much on past and future lives doesn’t have an abstracting effect on the world in which we Buddhists currently live.
What does it really mean, for example, to say that our lives are in the service of all sentient beings if we remain silent while one in four children goes hungry in the wealthiest country in the history of the world? Could it be true that perhaps we overlook our own dying oceans in favor of a living ocean somewhere in a future land?
As an aspiring Buddhist, I believe in the infinite continuity of all life. I also believe that the vows to which we commit ourselves are a delicate balancing act of dedication and immense self-compassion. But we must not distance ourselves from the fact that our consumption-based, competition-centered culture in America is killing us – literally and spiritually – and I fear that American Buddhism, with all of its promise, might be failing to provide the kind of leadership this country so desperately needs.
I didn’t always see it this way, though. It was Mark Twain that noted, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” This was certainly the case for me in the early fall of 2008 when my beloved wife, Jeanne, and I set out on the adventure of a lifetime that took us to all seven continents. It was a magical time – a world without clocks and mirrors. Like so many of you who’ve enjoyed the privilege of traveling abroad, I came home with new eyes and a fresh perspective – not only of myself, but also of my country.
Upon my return, what struck me almost immediately was the bleakness of American life after the financial crash of 2008. I couldn’t escape the deadness I saw all around – the dead eyes in the shopping malls, the dead speech of the politicians, and with income inequality at historic levels, I couldn’t escape the deadness of the American Dream. The land that had given us rock-‘n’-roll, baseball, the Civil Rights Movement, Billie Holliday, Jonas Salk and Thomas Edison had capitulated to processed food, mass incarceration and celebrity gossip that had reduced us to a pathological state of perpetual adolescence. What had been hidden in plain sight for me was that my people had become a nation of hungry ghosts.
It is for this reason that I believe the United States needs a compassionate insurrection. Not one with Molotov cocktails or burning streets, but one fought with the most insurmountable weapon of all – the great inner fire of inexhaustible love. We don’t need another revolution where we exchange one set of spineless technocrats out for another. We need a 21st century revolution to overthrow the mind that created these problems in the first place – namely the mind of fear, separation and self-addiction.
I believe American Buddhism has much to offer our sisters and brothers in this cause. For decades now, American culture has perceived Buddhism with a kind of strange and mysterious awe. It has been treated as an exotic, Eastern mix of mantras, stupas, laughing buddhas, fat buddhas, transcendental meditation and ideas like emptiness, which Westerners still regularly interpret as “nothingness.” But thanks in large part to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s tireless efforts, the ideals of Buddhism and America have become quite complementary. A country that was founded, in theory, on the principle that all human beings are equal and have the right to be free, and the high, aspirational nature of Buddhism no longer need to shy away from each other.
In the face of greed destroying us from the inside out, Buddhism offers alternatives of simplicity and generosity. In these times where war and militarism are hardly even questioned, the Dharma offers nonviolence as a way of life for courageous people. And as we race to poison our oceans and clear-cut our forests at the peril of all sentient beings, Buddhism offers the wisdom of interdependence as the way to link arms in the struggle to co-create a new, life-sustaining world.
I believe we can and must awaken the radical intersection of fierce compassion and deep democracy for the sake of all beings. The time has come for us to unleash our inner fire and, in so doing, we will shine that brilliant light that the Buddha himself made known was possible.
John Alberts holds advanced degrees in social ethics and human rights from Union Theological Seminary and Harvard University. He is a continuing education student at Maitripa College and can be reached at [email protected].
DHARMA AND THE MODERN WORLD
In May 2014 several Maitripa College students and staff participated in a two-day homiletics workshop led by Rev. Dr. Marilyn Sewell. Homiletics is concerned with the composition and delivery of a sermon or other religious discourse. After the workshop, several of the participants offered their homilies during the regular public teachings with Yangsi Rinpoche at Maitripa College. In addition, several of the students shared their homilies with Mandala. “You Are Not Alone” is also available in Spanish, translated by Alberto Fournier.
By Namdrol Miranda Adams
“You are not alone.” My husband whispers this in my ear every so often as we drift off to sleep.
One of my favorite quotations from our kind teacher Lama Zopa Rinpoche also says: “You are not alone because all the time there are numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas surrounding you, everywhere loving you, guiding you. That is what they do.”
Do you feel alone?
Two years and a bit ago, in December of 2011, I had a massive stroke in my living room at home. I was 35 years old. I was completely by myself, but I was not alone.
This dramatic event was followed by nearly a year in and out of hospital, which included nine brain surgeries (I’m not joking), massive amounts of physical therapy, a four-hour psychiatric exam, and a dishonorable discharge from a rehab facility, where I was literally asked to leave for not taking orders well.
I “died” twice and was successfully revived. I bled out on two different operating tables and had massive blood transfusions. I had to learn to walk again. I had to learn to pee again. The experience was overflowing with pain, humiliation, frustration, and sadness.
But in my memory it is suffused with love, laughter, and offerings of pink water bowls.
Every waking moment of my life during this time was filled with visits, phone calls, reading letters, and hearing stories from those closest to me, about the friends, family, and community members gathered around the world, around Portland, and outside my hospital room door in prayer, in hope, and in love.
Do you feel alone?
As my stroke was beginning at home, I fell to the floor with a massive headache, and I thought to myself, “Is something wrong? Should I call an ambulance? Or should I just go to bed?” At that moment, I literally saw two of my teachers in front of me, saying, “Yes. Something is very wrong. Call for help.”
So I did. By the time the ambulance arrived I was nearly unconscious. All my vital signs ceased in the ambulance, and I was revived. I woke up in the hospital several days later.
Do you feel alone?
Throughout all the rest of the healing and surgeries, I continued to have very clear dreams and visions of my teachers. I also continued to receive unflagging support, kind thoughts, and prayers from my family, friends, and community. My teachers, mom, sisters, and spiritual friends were at my side without interruption. I felt continuously supported, loved, and cared for.
It was during this time that I understood for real the benefit of community, and why we call it the “Sangha Jewel.”
Community is precious indeed.
And we are not alone.
Please join me in one minute of silent meditation to reflect on these words:
“I take refuge in my spiritual community.”
I wish to extend particular and heartfelt gratitude to my brothers and sisters in my communities at Institut Vajra Yogini and Nalanda Monastery in France; Ganden Shedrup Ling in Puerto Rico; Maitripa College and the International Office of FPMT in Portland, Oregon; Deer Park in Oregon, Wisconsin; and the monks and nuns who worked for my benefit in various places in India and Nepal. Your kindness will never be forgotten.
Namdrol Miranda Adams holds an MA in Education with a focus on Educational Leadership and Policy from Portland State University, and a BA in English Literature from New York University. An assistant to Yangsi Rinpoche since 1999, she is one of the founding members of Maitripa College and currently serves as its dean.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke to a sold-out crowd at the University of Portland on the first of his 3-day visit to the state of Oregon on the U.S. West Coast. As part of Maitripa College’s His Holiness the Dalai Lama Environmental Summit, His Holiness took part in a morning interfaith panel discussion on Thursday, May 9, about the environment. In the afternoon, His Holiness spoke on the importance of having a healthy mind as both a way of having a healthier body and also a way of creating a healthy environment.
Maitripa College is the first Buddhist college in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and is affiliated with FPMT. At the end of the day, Maitripa president Yangsi Rinpoche thanked His Holiness for returning for his second visit to Portland, Oregon, and requested His Holiness have a long life.
His Holiness visits Maitripa College and FPMT International Office on Friday, May 10, as the Environmental Summit continues. His Holiness takes part in Maitripa’s graduation program “Life after Life.”
The Oregonian had extensive coverage of Maitripa College prior to the event. You can find all the news and coverage of the 3-day event online, including links to live webcasts. Visit His Holiness’ website for news on all of His Holiness’ events and travels.
If you like what you read on Mandala, consider becoming a Friend of FPMT, which supports our work. Friends of FPMT at the Basic level and higher receive the print magazine Mandala, delivered quarterly to their homes.
FPMT News Around the World
Preparation for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Maitripa College and FPMT International Office are in full swing. With His Holiness arriving in Oregon in two weeks, staff and volunteers are bustling around the Southeast Portland building that is shared by Mandala, International Office, and Maitripa College. This week’s activities span from hanging new prayer flags to finalizing some of the details of three days of events; from talking to reporters to folding 10,000 khatas; and from applying fresh paint to sewing colorful banners for all the windows.
Carl Jensen, office manager for International Office, describes the scene in the building as calm. “People have settled into their various roles for the preparations and are hitting their stride. They’re doing amazing work,” Carl said.
May 9-11, His Holiness participates in an Environmental Summit hosted by Maitripa College. His Holiness will be joined by interfaith community leaders, noted environmentalists and elected officials. Maitripa College is affiliated with FPMT and is the only Buddhist College in the Northwestern United States.
Mandala magazine recently talked with Yangsi Rinpoche, president of Maitripa College, about the event. Rinpoche is pleased with how the arrangements are coming together. Mandala will offer a first-hand coverage of the events with His Holiness on our blog and in our next issue, which will include Yangsi Rinpoche’s thoughts on why it is important to consider the environment.
If you’d like to receive the next issue of Mandala magazine, become a Friend of FPMT. Mandala is a benefit of the Friends of FPMT program, which supports the work of FPMT International Office, dedicated to supporting the fulfillment of all the wishes of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
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