A Reflective Moment

I haven’t been feeling the journal-style entries lately, yet my mind becomes obscure when I don’t keep up with them. At the beginning of this semester, I tried to do weekly recaps, and it was very beneficial – kind of a written unwinding of each week as it passed. I got lazy due to an overwhelming amount of work (if that makes sense), and after a while this didn’t happen. As I try to keep up with my own assignments and grading duties (both of which I’m currently behind in), I put this on the back burner. In actuality, it should stay on the front end of the stove, as it tends to keep me rational and in a knowledge-synthesizing reflective state.

Today I spent the bulk of my afternoon in a room with about ten others listening to the teachings of a Tibetan Lama of the Kagyu lineage. There’s something to be said for my recent karmic good fortune. Last week in Los Angeles, I was able to spend a large chunk of time with a Tibetan scholar who had previously been a translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL). I walked away from that experience feeling invigorated and full of keen direction for my studies. Then today, I was able to spend the day with a Lama who was HHDL’s previous physician. I walked away from this experience feeling still and reflective. There’s a reason for this.

Today I was introduced to Tonglin practice. Essentially you fulfill this practice by using visualization (beginning with yourself) and breathing in your own suffering as if it were a smoky haze. The exhale is a radiant [healthy] white light that is cleansed of this suffering, thereby transmuting the bad into the good via the breath. This was an intense experience for me. After visualizing yourself and being specific about the types of suffering you were inhaling, you begin to visualize others: your partner, your family, your friends, your pets, your community, your enemies, your state, your country, your continent, all of mankind – you get the picture. It can be any combination of these things, or a chronology of them, or you can choose to focus all of your energy on one person per session. The goal, naturally, is to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion toward all sentient beings. I allowed myself to breathe in the suffering of whomever my thoughts dragged in front of me. This included several family members and friends, including those I have not seen in years, however it also included exes. Truly cultivating compassion for those who have hurt you (regardless of whether it was intentional) is a difficult task. Oftentimes we block out these experiences. What I found today through Tonglin practice is that these experiences will be the first to arise, as they are the ones that have caused you suffering in the past – the ones that clog your mind. Therefore it becomes a personal attempt to reconcile this suffering and be compassionate toward them. I have one particular ex that haunts my daily thoughts and likely always will. The relationship ended badly as a result of a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications. There is much to be compassionate about. Today was good.

A word about Los Angeles: it was an entirely amazing experience and I am so grateful to have gone. I feel silly for allowing the previously negative feelings of others taint my anticipation of the conference or the society at large. I met several incredible people and I feel as though every one of them helped to shift my path toward ‘the right’ direction, even if it was just an inch or two, and especially if they didn’t mean to. I discovered new mentors, had far more fun than I should have, and experienced a new landscape. Stepping outside your normal routine with others allows you to become closer to them, and in this way I feel much closer to several brilliant people from my program as well. I have an entire notebook full of notes to fill these pages with, and it will be slow-coming and backdated to reflect the dates of the conference.

A few last notes for now before this turns into a rant:

1. I am so grateful for the new friends I’ve made here since I’ve moved to Florida. I can’t imagine myself having gone anywhere else. I do hope that other colleagues here realize how unique it is to have such a warm, receptive, and consistently supportive environment. I’m saying this after having spent a fantastic evening with most of them around a fire and being necessarily silly.

2. My partner returns from Boston tomorrow. This requires several profoundly thankful deep breaths of expectancy. November has been demanding as we’ve barely seen each other.

3. There are only a couple weeks left to this semester, which has flown by. I am looking forward to a new one where I feel a bit more comfortable in my shoes: I don’t have to feel around for expectations, friends/support, or a routine. I’m looking forward to a new set of courses: Field & Lab, Music of India, and a Seminar in Ethnomusicology that will be full of anthropological theory. I’ll be performing more as well – which is something I miss dearly.

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4 comments

  1. Read with much interest.

    I have recently been reading (and writing in response to) the love-poetry of the 6th Dalai Lama. Also I was recently shown a brief video clip of the present DL, which struck me greatly. I would like to share my thoughts about these things with you, maybe in a further comment, maybe elsewhere.

    I am very glad to read note 1 towards the end of this blog entry.

      1. I’m afraid I don’t have it. It was on a study DVD a friend had, and I don’t know whether it is available elsewhere (e.g. YouTube) but I will find out. If I can’t get it I can at least describe it, in context, and you will see why it made a great impression.

  2. Om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha

    I want to share this comment (further to my previous one) not only with you, but with anyone who may read your blog and who may lean towards Dharma, in interest, belief, or curiosity. I don’t know what else to do with it. I’m sorry it is so long and only peripherally relevant to your main post.

    Some time ago you taught me the Heart Sutra. I don’t believe in reincarnation and karma, but sometimes I feel I ought to behave as though I did. When I wrote (for you) the second half of my fable “A Child of the Air” in which a female bodhisattva who shares many possible attributes with Avalokiteśvara journeys south from the Himalayas, eventually reaching the Thar Desert but along the way giving her physical life to a female demon, for no other reason than that compassion knows no boundaries, the story simply flowed as though it was inevitable that it should be written.

    I have recently been reading the love poetry of the 6th Dalai Lama. He died at the age of twenty-three, never fully took his vows as a monk, and resisted somewhat his role as reincarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion. He preferred wine, archery, poetry, and women. To a western mind there seems no logic in his being regarded as the reincarnation of an almost-buddha, and even the Dzungars proclaimed an alternative 6th Dalai Lama.

    The present Dalai Lama, the 14th, is a man I love – probably for all the wrong reasons. He is the first to be thrust into an international role, because his period has coincided with an explosion in world-wide mass media. He often appears awkward, giggly, and gauche in his dealings with visiting Western “celebrities”. His selected homilies on Facebook sometimes seem banal, and it often appears as though he is trying too hard to be “all things to all men” in a modern, liberal context. I get tired of seeing photos of his public engagements. On the other hand he insists he is “just an ordinary monk”, and this is often borne out by what I have seen of his dealings with his Tibetan followers, who truly revere him, in which he seems to be practical, almost mundane. I was struck by a very short piece of film footage I saw of him a while ago, in which he is interviewing a Tibetan refugee. The interview takes place in a very simple room. The refugee sits on the floor, bent over in an attitude of reverence; the Dalai Lama sits forward in his armchair, also bent over as though to shorten the distance between him and the refugee and de-emphasise their relative status. At the end of the interview both men rise and put their foreheads together, and in a spontaneous gesture of compassion, the Dalai Lama gently clasps the other’s head in his hands and kisses his forehead.

    Even the present Dalai Lama does not know what will happen after he is gone. A non-Tibetan Dalai Lama? A female Dalai Lama? No Dalai Lama at all? He is not keeping a tally of his karma and weighing up the probabilities of his next reincarnation for, it seems, the very reason that there is no logic to the process. But truly it seems to me not to be a matter of direct consequence, or of punishment for the sins of a present life. It is more an inevitability. For whatever reason, a certain life must cycle in samsara until its release. When I think of the 6th Dalai Lama I remember a well-known image in Mahayana Buddhism – a bodhisattva sits in the lotus position, a naked woman sits on his lap, facing him, her limbs wrapped round his body, her lips on his – it is a plainly erotic image; but when one focuses on this image, gradually the eroticism begins to fade away, the image becomes meaningless, and if one remembers anything at all it is that such things are transient. Thus it becomes of less importance that one reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara was a hedonistic man who died young. Somehow – and we are not asked to puzzle out why – Avalokiteśvara inevitably lived through this particular life in samsara. And that is all there is to it.

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