Category Archives: new kadampa tradition

The question

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Since I left the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) close to five years ago, I’ve been spiritually promiscuous. I’ve tried on a number of Vipassana teachers and sanghas in hopes of finding some place that feels like home. I’ve toyed with a local Dzogchen teacher, studied Mahamudra with a Vajrayana teacher and earlier this week, I returned from a six-day retreat that combined Dzogchen and Vipassana.

Usually when I return from retreat there is a bit of an afterglow. The real world seems rather harsh in comparison to the quiet I feel inside. That wasn’t the case this time. It was an odd retreat. Not bad. Just different than what I’m been used to at past retreats at Spirit Rock.  This retreat was co-led by two heavy hitters in the Dzogchen and Vipassana worlds (whom I’m not going to name simply because I don’t want this blog to show up when someone Googles them).   The main draw for me was the Vipassana teacher who literally wrote the book on Metta/LovingKindness. But, since I had been dipping my toes back into the world of Tibetan Buddhism, I was also interested in what the Dzogchen master had to say.

I wish I had been warned that this was primarily a Dzogchen retreat with an emphasis on the teachings (approx three-to-four hours a day from the Rinpoche and another hour from Ms. Metta).  In the past, I’m used to four-to-five hours a day of sitting meditation, plus another two-to-three doing walking meditation. During this retreat I barely broke two hours of meditation per day, and the walking meditation breaks were really just 15 minute stretch breaks.

Which is not to say the teachings weren’t amazing. They truly were. All the things I loved about Tibetan Buddhism – the intellectual rigor, the precision, and the magical infusion of “blessings” – came flooding back to me. Ah, why did I ever leave?  But, then in the evenings, when Ms. Metta gave her teachings based in the Theravada tradition, I was reminded why I had changed direction. There is a beautiful simplicity and practicality, a psychological resonance, and a strong sense of morality.  I have found a teacher and a sangha I connect with and my practice is strong, why would I want to stray off this path?

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A big step

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It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about my spiritual quests.  I mean,  originally, way back when, that was sort of the point of this whole blog.  I even named it Stumbling Along The Path to imply that this blog would be about one woman’s foibles as she pursues a spiritual path, a Buddhist path, a path to enlightenment even.   I documented my life both in, but mostly out of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT).  Since I left the NKT about a year and a half ago, I’ve been seeing different teachers and traditions, though nothing steady.  When I stumbled out of the NKT I was left somewhat bruised and a little wary.  While it didn’t stop me from continuing along the path,  my steps were a bit more tentative.  I didn’t want to start plodding along another path until I was fairly certain of where  it would lead.

Today, however, I’ve taken a big step.  You see, I’ve been flirting with Theravadan Buddhism for a while now.  I took a series of classes in Vipassana meditation last year, and would, when I could find parking (that is another post all together) go to teachings in Berkeley.  And then a few weeks back, on quite the spur of the moment,  I signed up for the first of three ten-week classes at Spirit Rock called “Essential Dharma”.   And while I have not been as diligent about doing the homework and readings as I probably should be, I do appreciate having that weekly obligation that keeps me engaged in my practice.   I’ve found without some structure, it becomes far too easy for me to stray from any practice at all.

But today, I finally dove in and signed up for a week-long residential retreat out at Spirit Rock. Silent retreat.  Getting up at the crack of dawn retreat.  Sharing a room with a complete stranger and a communal bathroom down the hall retreat.  I’m equal parts excited and nervous.  I’m nervous because adhering to a rigid early morning schedule is not my thing, and especially a little scared of not having access to any means of escape from my own mind.  No computers, no phone, no TV, no idle chatter.  But, I am excited about the prospect of being able to really deepen my practice and develop my concentration.

Back in my NKT days, I used to tell people that I was going “on retreat” when I was going to an NKT Festival.  I think it was just easier that way.  If I had told them I  was going to a “festival” I would have to explain how being stuck in a moldy hotel in the Catskills or priory in Northern England was in any way festive.  But, while we were all sequestered away from the “real” world for a period of time, retreating in our own way, it was far from austere and contemplative.   And yes, I did do the Vajrayogini retreat where I spent two of the weeks alone and fairly concentrated, but I was in the comfort of my own home, my protective cocoon.  So, this coming retreat feels like it will be my first real, serious meditation retreat.

I trust I will be in good hands.   Unlike in the NKT where your teacher may have less experience than you in terms of practice, the teachers at Spirit Rock have been around the practice for a very long time, and are very experienced in leading retreats.  So, when my head starts to explode, I feel safe that I’ll get good counsel from one of the retreat leaders.

Now, if I can only get over my fear of communal bathrooms, I think I’ll be all right.

Feeeeelings, nothing more

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A week or so back in the discussion of my post Severed Ties, some of the usual suspects and I were having a discussion about what is the role, if any, for feelings in our Buddhist practice.  It’s an interesting topic because I think there is a lot of misunderstanding that happens when it comes to how deal with our feelings when our ultimate goal is to go, go, completely go, completely and perfectly go beyond them.

One of the things I’ve noticed since I’ve left the New Kadampa Tradition is that I’m once again being OK with simply experiencing what I’m experiencing in terms of feelings, and not trying to transform them into something virtuous, or ignore them by telling myself they are just merely delusions arising from my self-grasping, self-cherishing mind. 

They’re tricky little buggers, those feelings.  On one hand, like the other four aggregates (aka  skandhas), feeling is empty of inherent existence.  Its nature is impermanent, insubstantial, temporary.  I mean, honestly, where are these feelings that feel so damn real?  Can you point to them?  What ever happened to that intense feelings you had for that cute boy or girl from junior high?  How is it that this person you loved so completely this morning, is now the object of your fury tonight?

OK, great, they’re empty.  So, I can just ignore them, right?  Sure, you can try that and see how far you get.  Pour yourself a drink, or pop yourself another Valium.  Enjoy your stress-related heart attack.  Or say hello to Mr. Depression.  So, from a Buddhist perspective, what in the hell do we do? Read the rest of this entry

Severed ties

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Even though I have not attended any classes or been affiliated with any New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) center for almost a year now, I find that the NKT is still something I end up talking about quite a bit whether on this blog or with my friends. There were many reasons that I left, none of which had to do with the quality of people I met there. Many, if not most of my good friends are people I met in the NKT. Some are, like myself, completely out of the organization, and others are still in but most definitely questioning their involvement, particularly in light of the recent protests against the Dalai Lama.

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Wrathful or ridiculous?

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What do you think about when you see someone in Buddhist robes? Me, what immediately comes to mind is respect (of course, your reaction may be “why are these men wearing dresses?”). The robes say to me that this is someone who is totally committed to living according to Buddha’s teachings. This is a person who is willing to forgo a lot of worldly pleasures in order to dedicate their lives to enlightenment. No matter what their faults may be, I had to give them mad props for their dedication.

As I have written about previously, the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), a group with whom that was a huge part of my life for 10 years, is out dogging the Dalai Lama at series of speaking engagements. The NKT (under the guise of the Western Shugden Society (WSS)) is trying to bring to the media’s attention the plight of practitioners of the practice of Dorje Shugden. If you read the comments section of my previous post, you can see that it is a very controversial and heated topic. Me, I’m sitting squarely on the fence about the larger issue. However, I do not agree whatsoever with the strategy of the protests and the language being used.

On the website of the WSS, they proudly display pictures of the protests with a sea of maroon and yellow robes – monks and nuns holding signs calling the Dalai Lama and liar and pumping their fists in the air chanting. They are not chanting OM MANE PADME HUM or OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASOMGATE BODHI SOHA, chants of compassion and wisdom, but rather “Dalai Lama stop lying”. In this sea of shaven head monks and nuns I see familiar faces. There is Gen-la Dekyong. I used to love her teachings. Her lovely Irish lilt and her humor really enhanced the inspiring teachings she gave. But, now, featured in photograph after photograph shouting, pumping her fist in the air, she appears ugly, angry and haggard. And there is a former teacher of mine, bullhorn in hand. Seeing him didn’t surprise me too much. He always had that warrior type of energy. My sense is that he probably found the protest to be great fun – an outlet for all that testosterone that he has to keep bottled up.

But there was one photograph amidst the dozens that hit me in the gut. There was my last teacher in the NKT. That was the relationship that pushed me to the edge and ultimately out of the organization. As has already been documented, we had a pretty turbulent relationship. Yet, I cared about her a lot. I put up with a lot of her personal weaknesses out of respect and love. She always struck me as frail, both physically and mentally. I knew her dark secrets and cut her some slack because of them.

Yet, there she was, with her fist in the air like the rest of them. It hit me in the gut. And I don’t even know why. Maybe it’s like seeing a picture of an old boyfriend with their new girlfriend. It’s not like you want them back, but it still smarts a bit to see how they have moved on. Who knows what I expected from her. I know to disagree with the protests can get even the most experienced and faithful teacher sent into exile. But, I guess I didn’t expect her to make the extra effort to show up in London for the protest. I just feel so disappointed in her. She would say these are wrathful actions. I say they are ridiculous.

The sight of dozens of ordained monks and nuns used to be so inspiring. Seeing the lot of them at festivals, seeing their gentleness, their faith and their dedication would help me aspire to practice the teachings and acquire those traits for myself. I don’t see that now.

It’s a bit of a loss, really. But, I guess no one ever said stripping away every illusion wouldn’t be painful.

Virtuous confusion

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Back when I was in the NKT (New Kadampa Tradition) it was highly discouraged to read other Buddhist authors other than Geshe-la, or to take teachings from other traditions. If you did you were deemed a “mixer” and therefore not serious about your spiritual path. And while there was no written rule to this effect, once you got past the introductory programs, it was became pretty evident. The reason for this, we were told, was that it would divert us from the path that Geshe-la very clearly delineated in his books and study programs, and in general would just confuse us.

And you know what? They were absolutely right. Ever since I have started reading other Buddhist authors and exploring other traditions, I am confused. Which is refreshing. And disquieting. Refreshingly disquieting. Definitely not comfortable.

There was great comfort in my good fortune to happen upon Kadampa Buddhism and the very clearly laid out teachings. I will be forever grateful for their study programs which gave me such a good grounding in basic Buddhist principles. The fact that it was a fairly rigorous study program appealed to me and played to my strengths. I’ve always been a bit of a smarty pants. I catch on to intellectual concepts very easily, and can piece them together with other concepts to get a sense of the bigger picture. I’m good that way. With physical endeavors, not so much. But sitting on my ass thinking about shit? Oh bring it on, baby.

The method of meditation that I learned combined analytical contemplation with placement meditation. In other words, we would be meditating on an idea we had learned in our studies. In the analytical part of the contemplation we would deeply consider the topic, compare it with our own experience, use our imagination, etc. Once we had gotten to the object of the meditation – a determination or conclusion – we would focus on our mind on that single-pointedly, trying to deepen that feeling or thought and taking it from a merely intellectual construct to something we know in our heart. Our basic practice was Lam Rim – aka, the stages of the path – and by doing our round of the 21 meditations we would become deeply familiar with all the stages of the path to enlightenment. And while by doing this practice for a decade I definitely have a good grounding in the Buddhist path, but I think like many of my friends and others I have known in the NKT, I got a bit too fascinated by the map, and lost sight of the ultimate destination – enlightenment.

My new teacher, Anam Thubten, is not big on categorizing himself in terms of tradition. He’s slippery, that one. But, he keeps hitting home the point that we have to go beyond mere concepts because on the other side, there lies enlightenment. Great. Awesome. Count me in. I loves me some Heart Sutra. Yet, when I sit down to meditate and try to let go on my concepts, well . . . I just end up focusing on my breathing, which isn’t the point either.

So, since I seem to be lacking in any kind of practice of awareness or mindfulness, I decided to take an six week Introduction to Vipassana course at out Spirit Rock. Spirit Rock and Vipassana feels worlds away from the my experience in Tibetan traditions. So, there was a part of me that was desperately trying to fit what the young, very soft-spoken teacher was saying with what I already knew. I even mentally rolled our eyes when he asked us to lay on the floor and do an exercise I consider more a part of yoga than I do Buddhism. Oh lordy, aware of my body? I don’t do body awareness, thank you very much. May I get back in my head, please?

But, I’m staying open and giving it a try. It’s just another facet of the jewel that I haven’t explored yet. I need to suspend my judgment, and just let the questions arise and not stress out when the answers don’t come.

Dirty Laundry

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As far as the major religions go, Buddhism has a pretty good reputation. In general, we don’t go around embarrassing ourselves in public on a major scale. You’ve never seen stories about pedophile Buddhist monks, nor are we associated with terrorism in people’s minds. We don’t have any problems with evolution and seem to be pretty chill with the whole gay marriage thing. Our panties don’t tend to get into a twist about other people’s very personal choices. Overall, we don’t tend to make a big fuss or even statements about political matters. And hell, and the most famous Buddhist in the world is a beloved public figure with a great laugh, twinkly eyes and a Nobel Peace Prize under his robes, to boot.

So, when the whole issue of Tibet comes up, the Dalai Lama and the Tibet supporters tend to get a very sympathetic hearing. Even people who don’t understand the whole history of the issue tend to come down on the side of Tibet simply because the picture in their minds of the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monks and nuns is that of peace and compassion. This positive image is a huge weapon in the arsenal of the pro-Tibet camp.

Oh? What’s this? Why are these Buddhist monks and nuns protesting the Dalai Lama? Oh lordy, lordy, it’s Tibetan Buddhism’s dirty laundry getting strung up for all the world to see. It’s the Dorje Shudgden controversy rearing its ugly head again.

The controversy is quite complex and there are plenty of resources on the web on both sides if you really want to dig deep. (Also for further information about the NKT that is free from the NKT PR machine, please see go here) However, here’s a thumbnail sketch from my perspective: Years ago, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (aka Geshe-la) who is the founder of the New Kadampa Tradition got into a rift with the Dalai Lama over a dharma protector/demon (depending on your view) named Dorje Shugden. My feeble understanding is that the Dalai Lama views Dorje Shugden as a demon who is out to harm the Dalai Lama as well as the future of Tibet. In 1996 he asked his followers to no longer engage in any practices worshipping/propitiating to Dorje Shugden. To do so would be to go against His Holiness’ well being as well as the Tibetan cause. Geshe-la, on the other hand, views Dorje Shugden to be an integral part of the lineage that both he and the Dalai Lama share. In fact, to NOT do Dorje Shugden practice would be going against their teacher Trijang Rimpoche. In Tibet, after the ban, reports say that Dorje Shugden practitioners were being oppressed and harassed. The conflict gets ugly and people on both sides are harmed, and even murdered. Geshe-la joins the fight on the side of the Shugden practitioners and calls for his students in the NKT to protest the Dalai Lama outside his speaking engagements in the States and Europe. The reputation of the NKT got pretty tarnished. Geshe-la eventually gave up the cause publicly. The NKT continued to practice Shugden. Outside certain Tibetan Buddhist circles no one really cared.

Apparently, because there has been recent activity against Shugden practitioners in Tibet, the NKT is once again taking up the picket line against the Dalai Lama. When I first heard this, I shook my head in dismay. While my NKT days are now behind me, I still have good friends who study and practice within the NKT. These may be very confusing times for them. I remember when I was asked to participate in the protests of a decade ago. Here I was this relatively new practitioner, and being offered a free trip to New York City. New York City!? I love New York! Oh, if I accept the free trip, I have to participate in the protest against the Dalai Lama . . . uh . . . um . . . no, no thank you. The issue made me uncomfortable then, and it makes me uncomfortable now.

I don’t know who is wrong or who is right, or if there is even a wrong or a right in the matter. If the Dalai Lama is truly oppressing the people who wish to practice Shugden, that is wrong. Right? I mean, most people would agree that religious intolerance is wrong, and when we see it happening, good hearted people should stand up for the oppressed. Yet, doesn’t the Dalai Lama, as the spiritual leader of most of Tibetan Buddhism, have a right to change doctrine? But, what about his role as the political leader of Tibet? Can you truly have both a political and spiritual leader without advocating a theocracy? Tibet is really the only country I know where people long for the old days of the theocracy.

I guess my real problem is the timing of these protests. With the Beijing Olympics putting the Tibet issue on the front page, how messed up is it that a splinter group comes and tries to move the spotlight into this little known corner of Tibetan infighting. I mean, come on . . . Also, the NKT, as an organization seems to be going through some turbulent times and people’s faith is really being put to the test. Who knows, maybe that is the point. Maybe the point is shake people out of their comfort zone, to strip them of their attachment to good reputation and to test if they truly have reliance upon their spiritual guide. I don’t understand it. I’m really hoping that the reasons behind the protests do have to do with religious freedom and justice, and not anger or power or wanting to suck up to the Chinese government.

I’m glad this is not my battle. I don’t want to fight. All I can do is pray: may everyone be happy, and may everyone be free from misery.

Spirtuality for the masses?

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A year or so ago, that very concept of spirituality for the masses would have made me wince, and perhaps smile meekly and say “whatever works”. However, inside I would harbor my doubts and my judgments about any path that wasn’t mine. You see, I was a spiritual snob. I’m not proud of it, but there it is.

I never considered myself a fundamentalist by any stretch. I did believe that there are many paths up the mountain, and many qualified guides, so I never believed that the New Kadampa Tradition had the exclusive pipeline to enlightenment. Yet, I believed that to get to the top of the mountain it took effort, lots and lots of effort, and study, and time and devotion and more time and more effort . . . I had amassed a vast array of empowerments, and vows and commitments, believing the hype that I needed to take full advantage of all the precious spiritual opportunities that came my way. We had the “pure” tradition, after all, so as long as I went along with the program my enlightenment was guaranteed. So, why read other teachers? It’ll just cause confusion. It made sense to me, and still does to some extent, to find one guide up the mountain and follow him/her no matter how arduous the path. Jumping from guide to guide, from path to path, will only slow down your journey to enlightenment. And that would be foolish, right?

With the help of my new teacher, Anam Thubten Rinpoche, I recognize that all I was really doing was adding a new layer of identity (or ego) – that of “Buddhist”. I was replacing my mundane delusions with the beautiful illusions of Buddhism. Rather than search for the ultimate truth, I was busy decorating my very conventional truths with tangkas and statues and all the other trappings of a “good” Tibetan Buddhist. Anam admits that he is a bit of a one trick pony as a teacher. All he teaches is emptiness, the ultimate truth. Our Buddha nature is not merely this seed that needs watering to grow into full Buddhahood, but is rather here with us now, fully grown. We merely have drop all the layers of illusions, beautiful or not, for it to be revealed.

A few weeks back, my friend John and I went to Carmel for some teachings by Anam (sorry, I probably should be calling him Rinpoche or some such term of respect, but it feels like an affectation). It was a great weekend, and it was wonderful to get some one-on-one time with him. During one of the breaks, we were talking to a woman whom I think of as his assistant. Let’s call her Natalia. She had a book by Eckhart Tolle with her and was telling us about these webinars that Oprah, of all people, was doing with him. Immediately, I felt my snob mind kick in. Eckhart Tolle? Oh plu-eeze. I tried to read the Power of Now a while back and I simply couldn’t get through it. It felt like it was watered down Buddhism, and since I was studying the real thing, I figured this guy had nothing to teach me. Oprah? I have proudly said I have never watched her show. Anyway, Natalia handed us the book and said basically these were teachings on emptiness, and isn’t it amazing that millions of people are tuning in each week. Looking through the book briefly, it did appear that guy really did have something to say. And it was indeed pretty amazing that millions of people were even interested in how to let go of the ego, rather than how to build it up.

Perhaps there is indeed a spiritual revolution going on, and it has nothing to do with religion. Perhaps it will be a TV personality that points the way by introducing the masses to teachers who distill the wisdom of many traditions to a form that people can understand and practice. Who am I to poo-poo it? Personally I don’t care if someone worships Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, a blade of grass, a Phillips screwdriver, or nothing at all. As long as whatever they practice or believe leads them to be a kinder, more caring person towards all living beings, and not merely those who believe or look as they do, I don’t care what form their spirituality takes. If more people were happy and at peace with themselves the world would be a far, far better place. And that’s what we all want, isn’t it? So whether it is Buddha or Oprah who leads us there, it doesn’t really matter to me anymore.

You’re blowin’ my mind, man

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It’s not often that I get a dharma teaching where I leave out thinking “whoa, I think my mind has been blown.” Have I walked out feeling inspired? Sure. Chided? Yes. Challenged? No doubt. But the teaching on Sunday by Anam Thubten Rinpoche was really amazing. I felt like I got called out on ten years of incorrect dharma practice. My friends, were likewise moved.

In the teaching, the Rinpoche talked about there being only two paths: the path of awakening and the path of ignorance. Yet, many of us believe that there is a third path, this very inherent path that will lead to a very inherent enlightenment. A solid path. A path where one can measure one’s progress by certain milestones. A path filled with many different practices and rituals. Yup, that’s the one I’ve been on. Busted. But, if there is no path, and no instant enlightenment, what in the hell are we doing?

My friends, also NKT rebels, went to lunch afterwards and mulled this over (apparently very loudly, as someone with whom we spoke later said that after we left the restaurant was very quiet.) and looked forward to getting some clarity when we had our meeting with Rinpoche after lunch.

One of the things I know I struggle with, and I believe my friends do also, is how to we view Geshe-la, now that we are no longer with/contemplating leaving/still peripherally involved with his tradition, the NKT. For the most part, I’m feeling at ease with my decision to leave, and only occasionally engage in negativity while my friend John tends to get caught up in a lot confusion and guilt. And I think we both feel a bit embarrassed at having to tell people we are refugees from the NKT expecting that people from other traditions will heap scorn upon us, or pity us for falling for the cult. Of course, none of those things have happened. In fact, quite the opposite.

After lunch, we headed back to the temple to wait for our appointment with Rinpoche. And, as usual, we are the most boisterous people in the room. A woman sits down with us and starts asking us question since she hadn’t seen around before. We mention that our previous teacher was Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and braced ourselves for a negative response. Instead the woman paused for a very long time, and we thought she was going to start crying. “Oh my god, I love him. I’ve loved him ever since I picked up one of his books. You’ve gotten teachings from him? You are so, so fortunate.”

When our turn came to see Rinpoche, John was our designated spokesperson. He explained that we were long time students of Geshe-la, and now we feel as if we were traveling the third path. One of the first things the Rinpoche said was how fortunate we were to have studied and learned so much, and that we need to have a heart full of gratitude towards our teacher that had taken us to this point. But, he said we need to make a U-turn. He prescribed for a practice that includes daily recitation of the Heart Sutra and a prayer by Shantideva. That works for me for now.

In the hours that have passed since our meeting, it is hard to remember his exact words. They feel so light that it is hard to hold on them. Meeting him in person confirmed my impression from his teachings that he is the real deal. I’ve only met one other person like him where I felt that sort of lightness, that lack of ego obstructions.

I’m not feeling the need to follow the NKT Survivor forums anymore. I wish all my friends who remain in the NKT the best, and I wish for them to find peace and happiness. And for those who have left, may they likewise find peace and happiness and teachers who can help them along their journey. Geshe-la still has a place on my shrine, and while I may no longer be seeing him as my spiritual guide, I’m sure he would be pleased that I’m still loving practicing and loving the dharma.

The comfort of the familiar

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One of my old (or shall I say former, he’d hate to be called old) meditation students asked me if I wouldn’t mind accompanying him to the main regional NKT temple to hear a teaching. He was growing weary of the relentless cheerfulness of the teacher who had replaced me and was considering coming into the City for the weekly class if he liked the teacher better. So, I agreed to meet him for dinner and to take in a teaching at the temple.

It has been at least two months since I have attended anything sponsored by the NKT, which is the longest I’ve been away in the ten years I was involved. I’ve been off doing my own thing and enjoying it thoroughly. And during this time, I’ve been following the very busy NKT Survivors email discussion list, which validated that I was doing the right thing by leaving. Many people on that forum feel as if the NKT has done them great harm and feel quite angry, and/or are fully convinced that the NKT is an evil cult. I have been trying to maintain a mind of equanimity about the organization, and even gratitude for the dharma I have learned there.

It was odd to be in the temple again. So many beautiful statues and thangkas. It felt like the giant Buddha statue greeted me as an old friend. The room was filled with unfamiliar faces, but as I began to settle in I started seeing old, good “Buddha buds” scattered in the audience. The teacher was warm, unassuming and self-deprecating. Her teaching style gives you a lot of space to come to your own conclusions. Yet, because of everything I knew, everything I had been through I couldn’t completely relax into it.

It felt like seeing an ex-boyfriend with whom you had an amicable break. He wasn’t a bad guy, in fact he had a lot of good qualities. But, there were reasons why you broke up. Good reasons. Yet, when you see him again you are drawn in by the familiarity, the acceptance and all the good memories. You start to trivialize all the bad stuff – he wasn’t really all that bad. Sure, maybe he could be a little creepy and controlling at times, but isn’t that what intimacy is all about? I mean, once you get close enough, everyone can seem at least a little creepy, right? Right?

That draw of familiarity and acceptance is powerful. It’s probably the same dynamic that keeps people in bad, even destructive, relationships. It would be so easy to just stay. No questing, no questioning. Take the bad with the good. If I could just focus on my practice and not pay attention to all the annoying merit grabbers or some of the more cult-like aspects of the organization, it would be fine, just fine. Here have a homemade cookie. Have a cup of kool-aid . . .

No. No thank you.

The quest continues. My friends and I have a meeting in a couple of weeks with the teacher from the Dakini Temple, Anan Thubten Rinpoche. We opted to meet with him together as we are all NKT refugees and have similar questions and concerns. I’ve been to three of his teachings so far and I’ve been impressed (for lack of a better word). There is also another trip or two scheduled out to Spirit Rock, and another teacher I would like to check just across the Bay. And the writings of Pema Chodron continue to touch my heart and blow my mind.

And I just keep a-stumblin’ . . .

This, that, and the other thing

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This: The other night I was very pleasantly surprised to get emails from both of my teenage nieces thanking me for the Amazon gift cards I sent them for Christmas. This is the first time I have ever received any acknowledgment, much less thanks for the annual sending of the $25 Amazon gift card.

My brother, the girls’ father, and I have been estranged for about a decade now. And even before that the relationship was strained and before that there was another period of estrangement. Our most recent estrangment started after I “came out” to him as a Buddhist. As a fundamentalist Christian, I guess he didn’t want me to have a bad influence on his children. Who knows? But, even though I hadn’t seen the girls since they were very young, every year I sent them Amazon gift cards, and every year it went unacknowledged. I never knew if they got them, or if they got them if they knew they were from me. But, it was the only connection I had with them, so eventually I let go of all expectations of gratitude and sent the cards and hoped the kids were able to buy something fun with them.

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My year in review

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Today is the first day off I’ve had in months (except, of course, weekends and holidays). I’m looking forward to just lounging around in my jammies, doing some reading and just puttering around the house.

With the project at work installed and working properly, I’ve had some time to reflect on my crazy year and to start thinking about what I want for the year ahead.

January: At this time last year, I was doing my Vajrayogini counting retreat in the comfort of my own home. It was a month of solitude, eight to ten hours a day of meditation, chanting and mantra recitation, and ultimately, a sore butt. I was amazed I was capable of such discipline and focus, being as I am a very lazy Buddhist. It’s hard to say what I got out of it spiritually, but in retrospect I believe it gave me the self-assurance and self-confidence to get through the bumpy months ahead. Something definitely deepened, but it’s hard to put a label on it.

February & March: I was appointed Education Program Coordinator at my dharma center, which meant much more responsibility and hours. During this time, I also had to tell my teacher that, in short, she was a bitch. Drama ensued.

April: I moved a mere 50 yards away from an apartment where I had lived for nine years to a cute little cottage. In nine years it’s pretty easy to accumulate lot of shit. Listened to the boyfriend’s nonstop griping about how many books I owned. Every time I packed up a box of books he would inquire “OK, these are for donation, right?” And almost every time I would say “no, those are keepers”. Moving, no matter how far away is a painful process. But, my little cottage is so much nicer, and I have managed to keep it much neater.

May & June: The workload at the dharma center doubled with many events and projects that had to be accomplished by mid-June. Between the dharma center, a full time job and the boyfriend, I had very little time to myself. And when I don’t get enough quiet time to myself, it’s hard to function. Depression starts to set in.

July & August: My beloved cat, Nomie got very sick and died. Damn, I loved that cat, and still really miss her. I canceled my planned trip to the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) Summer Festival in England in order to help her either recover or die. My dharma teacher, who as in England at the time offered zero support. My faith was shaken. My depression deepened.

September: A small woodland creature hops into my life. I name him Mr. Binkles. At first he is sweet and cuddly, and then after a week or two he becomes the feistiest, most ornery little bugger I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. My relationship with my teacher continues to deteriorate. I announced I’m taking a break from my duties at the dharma center. My depression starts to lift as I start to plan on my post-NKT life.

October: My teacher is deported. And while there was some drama as to who was going to take over her classes, I feel freed from whatever binds I still had with the NKT. The depression is a thing of the past. Mr. Binkles gets neutered and becomes a much nicer pet. Sasquatch, my sweet, gentle, very large and very strong Maine Coon cat, loses his mind, bites me hard and sends me to the ER.

November & December: Work takes over my life. Weekends and 60 – 70 hour weeks. Lots of pressure, many, many hours. However, I remain pretty happy. New dharma teachers are entering my life through books, friends, and I even find a Buddhist temple a mere few blocks away. Despite the holidays and the unrelenting work, my mood was pretty good.

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While there were certainly losses last year, on the whole I think I came out of it in the plus column. As my built-in sangha started to collapse, if I wanted to maintain these relationships, I had bring these friends into the whole of life. Maintaining friendships has always been challenging for me. Picking up the phone simply to chat and touch base was unheard of. Now, I actually have to consider getting more minutes on my cell phone plan. I feel so fortunate to have the friends I do.

I bare no anger or grudge against my former NKT teachers and associates. We’re all just trying our best. The NKT provided the structure and support I needed to start a practice and to understand Buddha’s teachings. But, I no longer need those training wheels. I can ride this bike on my own now, and it feels very exciting and liberating.

For this next year, I want to find some way to help people directly. But, I’m still figuring that out. It would be nice if I found a spiritual home, but if I don’t, I sure plan on enjoying the journey.

Thank you all for reading. And I wish you all health & happiness in the new year and for always.