The dharma quest begins

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One of the things I am determined to start doing is checking out other Buddhist traditions and teachers.  Reading their books is one thing, but to visit in person is entirely another. 

My quest started in  my own backyard of Point Richmond.  There is a historic old church downtown that was formally known as Linsley Chapel (and I think it had a brief incarnation as Gaia House), but is now called the Dakini Temple, run by the Dharmata Foundation.   I can’t find out much about their lineage, but I believe they say it is they are Vajrayana and the teacher is a young Tibetan monk named Anam Thubten Rimpoche.

The meditation hall was decorated quite simply.  Surprisingly so considering the Tibetan origins of the teacher.  There were three large thankas (Tibetan deity paintings), but no statues or offering bowls or other offerings.  With few decorations, the beauty of the Julia Morgan designed building itself stood out.  (The chapel used to be a popular wedding rental – not sure if it still available for those).  There were close to 100 people there, mostly seated on floor cushions, though folding chairs were available. 

When the Rimpoche entered the hall, there was no big ceremony – no standing up, no prostrations.  He simply sat down and began the meditation without a word.  I didn’t have a good session because I was distracted by all the noise of people coming in late, and by my own judgements of everyone around me.  The two people who were seated in front of me were driving me crazy!  They kept exchanging “meaningful” looks during the dharma talk, and the fellow was obviously not comfortable sitting on the floor so he changed his position every minute or two, and eventually he and his girlfriend ended up in some odd pretzel position with their arms and legs intertwined.  I appreciated the relaxed atmosphere, but they were taking it too far! 

The first half of the service was meditation, recitation of the Heart Sutra and chanting of the its mantra, recitation of a prayer by Shantideva, some Tonglen visualization and finally dedication.   There was a brief break and then everyone came back for the dharma talk.  While the Rimpoche’s English was accented, I found him easy to understand.  He was teaching on Emptiness, my favorite topic!   His manner was very gentle and thoughtful with the rare touch of humor.  My initial impression is good.

It was interesting watching my mind though.  In addition to all the judging I was doing of the other people there (who were almost all white, middle-class and middle-aged – just like me), I found myself holding myself back from trying to jump in immediately and find out about all their offerings and becoming a member.  I’ve always had a tendency to jump for the comfort of commitment when I find something that is “good enough” whether that be a car, a place to live, a partner or a spiritual path.  I’m determined not to fall into that pattern again.  

The quest continues.

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10 responses »

  1. when I find something that is “good enough” . . .

    aint this the whole enchelada? nothing ever is much more than that, is it? eye real eye like the idea that yer takin a good look around but me thinks “good enough” is all they is. Watt makes one system batter than an udder? seams two me ifin you kin “work it” for what you need then that’s “good enough” and the pretzel twins just become part of the scenery = nothing special one way or the other – but “they” will always be “there” in one form or the other.

    If you connect with the teacher/teachings then that all that really matters imo. Maybe in the end you’ll find you are just a student of Geshe Kelsang just not a part of the NKT – there is a difference right?

    if yer lookin fur sangha with some die verse city try the babtists

  2. What a great quest to be on! It sounds like your approach is so sound, too. I wouldn’t want to settle on a spiritual teacher or approach at all. The experience with all the latecomers and shifting and such does sound distracting. I imagine some would say that’s the point. But it does feel good when you find a certain degree of respect toward the zendo, the space, the stillness, the quiet. Silence.

  3. Mellow NOT- good point about “good enough.” I’m not in search of perfection. That doesn’t exist. To be happy with “good enough” is to practice contentment. However, my trait is to grasp at the first “good enough” and end the quest. Here, the end isn’t really the point, there is no need to stop at one “good enough” – especially not the first one I encounter. I want this to be a journey to try and learn something from each teacher. Eventually, yes, I do believe you need to settle on a path and a teacher to make real progress. Perhaps I will return to Geshe-la. Perhaps not.

    Right now I really feel like I need a teacher to inspire me. I can get the dharma in books, but there is nothing like a teacher who inspires you to truly practice the path. Someone for you can develop some admiring faith. With all the recent upheaval and what not in the NKT, and my own troubles with my former teacher, I’m not feeling really inspired by anyone these days in the NKT.

    I don’t believe I’m really searching for sangha. I’m quite happy with my gang of rag-tag NKT rebels (present company included).

    Ybonsey – normally noise doesn’t bother me all that much. But, I guess it did feel like I was bothered by the lack of respect people were showing each other by insisting to get settled while people were meditating, when they could have just sat quietly in one of the chairs in back until the meditation was over. I guess the distraction really wasn’t the noise, but my own noisy judgments about “those people”. Trucks, sirens, mariachi music? No problem. But someone not acting in accordance with my standards of behavior? Well, just watch my monkey mind go into full chatter mode.

  4. eye gotchya there = makes a lota sense = lookin at the his story of buddha he did quite a bit of searching before he got to his magic. I suppose if a teacher doesn’t inspire admiring faith then they can’t really perform that function for us no matter how realized they are. As use yewl it sounds like you have a good heart and an open honest mind sew thatz purty much all thatz required from where eye m sittin = there rest is as you say part of “the quest”.

  5. Its a beautiful thing, discovering new Sangha friends, even if you’re not really looking for them. All Centres are different. Not even all NKT Centres are the same. It depends on what your teacher is like, and the nature and character of the community you’re in. I’m very lucky to be at the one I am in in Sydney, which is excpetional I think. So it’s not even all about the tradition sometimes. I’ve found an FPMT Centre that’s nice, but it’s just not as good. At least it’s the same essential lineage, with the same basis in Lam Rim etc, so I still go there for my bit on the side (so to speak).

  6. yeah, I’ve been reading books and stuff for a long time, but haven’t found a good sangha. I haven’t really tried, but it’s also hard when you don’t have a car. I suppose I should really get to it, but life gets so busy. *Sigh*

    I like your blog though- I’ll be back.

  7. I’m really glad to have found this blog-I”m an NKT practitioner who is having the exact same “doubts” that you are. Like you, I haven’t lost faith in the Three Jewels, but I”m not sure I’m in the right place, but it’s just so damn convenient, and my current teacher is great. But I worry about the future of the NKT itself, what happens after Geshe-la? I am strongly considering shopping around, but there isn’t an active FPMT center close to me and I’m not sure I have the discipline to do their at home study course.

    So, I enjoy your blog and I”ll be back…….

  8. hit the wrong key and sent my message by mistake…

    there’s a tradition of checking out a Lama for 12 yrs before accepting them. What it means when you do accept him/her, I’m not sure, and I guess it also doesn’t mean they neccessarily accept you either. Then you can find the guru you really connect with, and they can go off to another country, go back to Tibet, be killed, etc. Has happened to lots of us. I say, if you enjoyed the talk, come back for more. My Rinpoche says that no one got enlightenment without a teacher and the blessing of the lineage. Tibetan Buddhists are very into getting all those blessings and empowerments.

    As for finding a perfect or even decent sangha, there are always people you like or don’t at these things. And spiritual groups often attract the unbalanced, so it’s just part of sangha life.

    Good luck with your search.

  9. The rest of my message got lost, but wanted to say I also recently went to the Dakini temple for the first time. I also was distracted by all the later comers, some seemingly unaware of all the noise and disturbance they were causing; they didn’t even try to be quiet. But the temple does make a point that the doors are locked and nobody allowed in late. Seems they don’t enforce it though.

    My friend did a 2-yr program with Anam Thubten and likes him very much and liked the program. I also like him, but he’s just a backup for if my Rinpoche has to leave. I found a teacher I feel very connected to, but if he has to leave, I don’t want to be without a teacher. I totally feel I want someone with the lineage and knowledge that I can get teachings with. Otherwise it’s just another book to read. I think the transmission of teachings and lineage are important to Tibetan Buddhism. Read Blazing Splendor. The Lamas in that memoir of Tulku Urgyen spend all their time collecting Teachings and empowerments. There really is something to it all.

  10. Hi Padma –

    I’m hearing more and more good things about Anam Thubten, so I’m very excited to be meeting with him this Sunday. I guess my only concern is that he seems to travel a lot, so I’m concerned about continuity. When I was with the NKT, I was involved in a study course that met twice a week. I like that level of involvement.

    It’s certainly an interesting journey, and I just need to be patient and enjoy the ride.

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