In response to my video on the most recent blog (vlog) swap, I wanted to take a little more time to explain in detail why, and how, I am where I am now on the path. For the past 4 1/2 years, minus some assistance from some dharma friends, I’ve been “unaffiliated” with any Buddhist group. Until this point, I really and truly thought it would stay that way.
Recently, I was even quoted in Buddhadharma magazine about my non-affiliation…
Individual practice is definitely a plus sometimes, because we are not following someone just for the sake of having a teacher. On the other hand, though, we can get stuck and need help. I know my practice has gone stale from time to time and I’ve had a question or two to ask. I’ve reached out to many people—through the internet, phone calls, and attending dharma talks—and asked some close friends who are also on the path.
A teacher can be found anywhere. I know, because my main teachers, or “root gurus” as they are sometimes called, are my children. I learn many things from them, such as patience, compassion, and right speech.
To sum it up, individual practice can be very enlightening, but sometimes we need a nudge or some guidance from someone who may have traveled a bit farther along the path. The great thing is, we can take the advice and implement it, or reflect on it to make sure it is right for us. Regardless, the fact of the matter is it’s up to us how we do it. But the key is doing it!
I’ve been to teachings from a range of Buddhist schools, from Korean Kwan Um Zen, Zen from the Thich Nhat Hanh perspective, Theravada/ Insight Meditation and Tibetan. I’ve been on two retreats, one with the Kwan Um school and the other, more recently, at Insight Meditation Society. At various points, I thought I had found a path, maybe it was just the bliss from the experiences I was having (as you’ll see from the posts linked).
My first experience with a Buddhist center was in New Bedford, MA. It was at a place called Serlingpa. Unbeknown to me, this was a “controversial” center as they were affiliated with the NKT (read a post about it here, mind you it was from 3 years ago). I attended the center for a couple of months, but after reading more and more about the controversy I decided I didn’t want to keep attending.
During that time I had read alot of books, again from various traditions, teachers, etc. One of them, Noah Levine, was coming to the Cape for a teaching. I really enjoyed, still do, the way Noah spins the dharma. His approach is not cookie cutter at all, it’s quite the opposite. He teaches as if the dharma is a call to arms, a literal spiritual revolution. Yes, power to the people!
Throughout all of this, I never felt a like any particular school “fit. As a matter of fact, I believed it was unnecessary to pick one. My argument being, the Buddha was not into a particular school, he had no lineage, etc. I mean, he did it his way, he found enlightenment by himself. I felt like that was the path for me, to do it alone.
Last year I was lucky enough to attend a teaching given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Up until this point, I was still unaffiliated. But, for whatever reason, I have always been drawn to Tibetan Buddhism, which is odd for me with all it’s deities and such. I’ve been adamant in my belief that there are no such things as gods, demons, messiahs or even deities.
I think the hardest part of all at the beginning, for me, was the use of deities. I’ve never been one to worship, or have faith in an other worldly being. As I started to investigate it more and more though I learned that, for the most part, the deities in Tibetan Buddhism are used more for visualization purposes. Just as reflecting on images or teachings of the Buddha himself, meditation using certain deities is very helpful to one’s practice. Certain deities are meant to invoke different mind sets or emotions. Tara, the mother of all Buddhas, is a good one to meditate on, especially when doing the practice of kindness to our mothers. Her image is used in unison with the image of our own mothers, bringing together both forms to create a strong sense of compassion and care for the persons that brought us into this marvelous world.
In an interview from 1982, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said “If you follow Buddha-dharma, the deities meditated upon should have a sound reference to the teachings of Buddha Vajradhara. They cannot be arbitrarily created nor can they be blended with those of other methods. It is best to follow with diligence the path most suited to you. If you choose Buddhadharma, practise it purely. Then, if you achieve its results, fine; if you mix practices and achieve nothing, you shouldn’t blame Dharma. Of the various Buddhist meditational deities, the best is Buddha. If you like others, practice them; if you don’t, simply take Buddha.”
Anyway, to me they are not only meditative visualizations but a reminder of the goal I have set for myself, that being staying on this path and truly living the Dharma. Having said that I continues to look further and delve a bit deeper. Soon after the event with His Holiness there was a teacher from Cambridge, MA coming to the Cape to give an empowerment. I thought it would either strengthen my draw to this school or deter from following it.
Lama Migmar, a Tibetan lama in the Sakya lineage and also a Buddhist chaplain at Harvard University, was giving the Green Tara empowerment. Tara, it is believed, was born from the tears of Chenrezig. When Chenrezig started thinking that he couldn’t save all beings he was saddened and bore tears. From those tears Tara came to be and she told Chenrezig, better yet vowed to him, that she would help in his quest to help all beings end suffering.
At the end of the teaching/ empowerment, Lama Migmar gave those in attendance the opportunity to take refuge and precepts. I had taken refuge and precepts before, this time it felt a little more solid. For those that took refuge and precepts, Lama gave us all dharma names. Maybe that’s where I felt more tuned in, because of the name. Like the deities, having a new dharma name is a constant reminder of the practice and path one is on. The name I was given is Kunga Tashi. The Kunga part is specific to the Sakya lineage, Lama Migmar explained to me the name in it’s totality means joyful auspicious one.
Some months later, he was slated to come back to the Cape to teach again. Between the teachings I had been in contact with him a couple of times. One of my calls to him was seeking advice on what to do for a friend who had a family member pass away. He recommended that I chant the Buddha’s mantra, which I did for a few nights. Although it would be nice to be closer in distance, to learn more from him, I feel a decent connection with Lama Migmar. He came to teach again a few weeks ago. I was able to talk with him a little one on one. In order to progress a bit further as far as the empowerments he’s given go, he agreed to meet with me at some point and advise me how to practice the Green Tara Sadhana.
Recently, I was also able to sit in on a teaching with Tulku Tsori Rinpoche. His teaching was based on the topic, a strong belief in Tibetan Buddhism, of all beings at one point having been our mothers. This particular subject has always resonated with me since I first heard this. If you are a believer in rebirth it makes alot of sense. No one knows how many lifetimes we’ve lived since beginingless time. That being the case, the idea is, at some point every being has been our mother at one point and time and we should treat each being as such.
As I mentioned in the video for the vlog swap, it’s feels comfortable to follow this style of Buddhism. Maybe at some point that will change and something else will feel more like home, but right now I am happy and content to be practicing. I am also grateful to have found some people in this tradition willing to help me navigate when I get lost, and steer me in the right direction.