I get a certain feeling in certain places. I’ve tried to determine if it’s a memory, an association, a flashback, a deja-vu or what. I’m pretty sure it’s a spiritual experience, but I’ve tried to be objective. The places where I feel this feeling are often where lamas dwell, teach, have made blessings and so on. During the weekend of teachings by His Holiness Dalai Lama (April 27-29th, 2007) in San Francisco, I had this feeling almost constantly.
We drove down from Portland on Wednesday. It took 11 hours. We stayed with a friend of a nun I know who had a parrot that spoke Russian, Spanish, English and Tara mantras in a constant stream, like a digital mix with reverb. It was quite interesting, if not somewhat creepy. As we were leaving in the morning, our host told us a story of a scientist lady she knows who uses a special spectral photography to shoot aura energies. While in New York, they did a test where the nun did a control shoot without her mala, and one with the mala. Without the mala, her aura was thin, as she’s been sickly for some time. With the mala on, however, there were a spectrum of light energies surrounding and penetrating her aura. The scientist lady speculates that these are enlightened beings who are attracted to holy objects. In Buddhism, we often work with visualizing, for example, that when we take refuge, that all infinite beings from beginningless time take refuge with us. Or when we do a prostration, that all beings prostrate with us. This is a particular point in Vajrayana Buddhist practices, where deities are visualized and believed to be present. I found this story interesting, as I’ve often noted when taking teachings that there are many beings present with the teacher as he speaks with the authority and blessing of the lineage masters.
We got to San Francisco and found the Tse Chen Ling Dharma Center. The basement houses traveling monks and Venerable Robina’s Liberation Prison Project. As we walked in the door Marilyn and Barry from Canada were arriving. I know them from last year’s Kopan West Lam Rim retreat with Robina, as well as our last visit to Vancouver, B.C. to see H.H. Robina greeted us warmly, and we went downstairs to get to work. Everyone upstairs was running around preparing the center for Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s arrival from Santa Cruz. He and several very prominent Geshes (lamas with ‘doctorates’ in Buddhist scripture) were going to do a Guru Puja for His Holiness. That was an added bonus for us, as we had no idea LZR was going to be staying at the center during teachings.
I recently started writing letters for LPP at Ven. Robina’s request. We talk to inmates who have a serious interest in the Dharma, acting as friends and spiritual teachers. It was nice to connect with the people who I’ve only known via email. Everyone was very nice. Tysa worked on a project for their bookstore and I did some database work. After a couple of hours, we realized that everyone was getting ready to go greet H.H. at his hotel. I hadn’t counted on such an amazing opportunity, so we jumped at the chance to give rides over to the Fairmount Hotel.
We waited out front of the hotel for about 45 minutes while the secret policia and hotel knuckleheads tried to push the crowds back. It’s pretty funny when they try to strong-arm monks on robes. The monks just ignored them and only moved back when physically pushed. H.H. arrived by limo, and the security paramilitary team sprang into position. The Dalai Lama was protected, and that’s what matters. He went over to one side and touched the heads of some monks, presumably blessing them, before coming over to our side to do the same thing. You can see pictures of this scene at the link above. He came over where I was and spoke to the Geshe-la from Tse Chen Ling for a moment. I put my hand out, hoping he would high-five me, or slap a blessing on me. It’s obvious that if he acknowledged every person that he’d never get anything done, so it’s cool that that didn’t happen. He looked at me though, and I consider that a powerful blessing.
Later that night, after doing more work at LPP, we went upstairs to find the place PACKED wall-to-wall with Buddhists from Portland, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and more. We all lined up outside to offer kata to LZR as he arrived. There are pictures of this as well. Now, the thing with Lama Zopa Rinpoche is that he’s a very, very powerful being. When he shows up, people come out of the woodwork to see him. An otherwise empty center will be jammed to the brim. Tysa met LZR when he came to Portland, before she took refuge. I remember when he walked in to Maitripa. He stopped and looked at her, as if he were very happy to see her. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that Venerable Ingrid was staying with us at the time, and that she is in many respects an agent of LZR’s Guru Mandala. If you think this sounds weird, don’t worry, it’s not. But it is heavy, and psychic, and profound. Not weird though. Tysa had gone ahead of me in line to offer kata and evidently LZR didn’t say anything to the first 20 people or so, until he got to Tysa. She’s since taken refuge in the Kagyu tradition and has become a practitioner. Well LZR stopped at Tysa, looked at her and asked, “How are you?” before moving on down the line. I find this very interesting. Then when he got to me, he gave me this funny look, like, “man, are you causing trouble again?”.
Let me explain the effect that LZR has on me, and from what I’ve heard, many others. He teaches you what you need to be taught. He can see where you’re at, and he breaks it down, right then and there, on the spot. With a look. Anyone who’s spent any time at all around gurus knows how this works and that it works. So his teaching to me became evident by the time I got home from the trip.
We went to Oakland and stayed with my friend from Maureen from retreat last summer. I try to stay in touch with people over email if possible, to keep the relationships alive. We took BART over to the Bill Graham Civic Center each day, taking 2 hour teachings in the morning and afternoon. We hung out with many different friends and acquaintances during the lunch breaks. See photos. The monks and nuns from different traditions were all seated on the stage with His Holiness. Lama Zopa Rinpoche was up front, with his head down almost the whole time. The topic was Dependent Origination, via some verses by Nagarjuna and Tsongkapa. H.H. taught in Tibetan, with his amazing translator Geshe (?) breaking it down flawlessly in English for us. I think if you’re really interested in this topic, grab a copy of Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way by Nagarjuna and have at it. This text is perhaps the cornerstone of the Mahdyamika philosophical school, of which the Gelugpa tradition is founded. It’s all about Emptiness.
His Holiness offered the Bodhisattva refuge vow (Vow of the Awakened Mind) after the talks on emptiness. I took my Bodhisattva Vow with Lama Zopa Rinpoche in November, 2006, but I really felt like my selfishness and self-centeredness got the best of me since then. I had thought I needed to take it again in the presence of a Master as soon as possible, but I hadn’t known when that would happen. So when I saw the first stanza on the big screen of the auditorium, I knew that this was the time, and that there was no higher Master with whom to reaffirm my vow. This made me very happy, and I didn’t realize it until later that LZR knew this would happen, and that was the teaching he had for me. It’s really quite beautiful how all of these things work together. So I said the prayer with whole heartedness, in the presence of the Buddha, and all Enlightened Beings, trillions upon gazillions of them who must have been there in that auditorium, at that time, with His Holiness Dalai Lama. If they were ever anywhere, they would be there then. I’m sure if I had that spectral camera, they’d show up in the image. So with this conviction, I retook my vow.
Following the refuge vow, a Gyuto monk from Gyuto Vajrayana Center , the San Jose monastery that sponsored the event, gave thanks. As he talked, his voice cracked and he was obviously overcome with gratitude and emotion. When he got to the end of his thank you, his heart exploded. The last few words broke though the lump in his throat, and he tearfully finished up. I had a lot of moments during this trip, but I’ll say that this one I felt most deeply. Frankly, I think the monk expressed what all 4500 of us were feeling. This was evidenced by the silence of the auditorium as His Holiness Dalai Lama was leaving. You could feel his presence throughout the building. The air was thick with it. The room stood, hands together, in devotion and gratitude. The world famous Gyuto monks sang a Long Life Prayer for His Holiness for about an hour afterwards. Most people stayed for this. You can see them with yellow hats in the photos.
That night Tysa and I walked through a cemetery, thinking about the Chod practice that we’re about to learn, taking pictures of black cats, feeding candy to a strange rodent, and winding down. The next morning at 0630 we headed home. We didn’t realize it, but Hwy 80 had burned down as we passed it, heading out of Oakland back towards Portland. We drove most of the next 9 hours in silence.
With the wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha,
Until I reach full enlightenment.
Inspired by wisdom and compassion,
Today, in the Buddha’s presence,
I generate the mind of full awakening
For the benefit of all sentient beings.
As long as space remains
As long as sentient beings remain
Until then may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world.
–His Holiness the Dalai Lama
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