What We Receive

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This is a doodle I did in the translation cabin today. It was my first time doing an official simultaneous translation, for the Interreligious Meeting between Jigme Rinpoche and Archbishop Le Gall of Toulouse. Since Rinpoche speaks in English, I had downtime in between translating the archbishop, for which I was grateful because, on account of all the Bible quotes and references to concepts I have mostly not encountered (consecrated virgins anyone…?), the translation required a good deal of focus and some ingenuity to go along with it.

Though I’ve been translating written material pretty much since I arrived at Dhagpo, up till now there hasn’t been a particular need for a native English speaker to do oral translation. But as the center welcomes more anglophones, and particularly native or germanic anglophones, it seems there’s a growing demand. I don’t know how it will all sync up with the rest of my responsibilities, but generally speaking…I’m pretty tickled by the idea of doing more of this. Having an activity for the center that also brings me in contact with the teachings is a wish I’ve had for a long time, since my current main activity often involves being elsewhere during teachings (making lunch and going to morning teachings don’t fit so well together).

And I’m grateful to have begun this new adventure on this particular weekend. The exchange between Rinpoche and Archbishop Le Gall took place as part of Dhagpo’s 40th anniversary and also in connection with Jigme Rinpoche’s summer course, with a special focus on gratitude for the master teachers and the transmission they have ensured. We collectively received instructions and permission to practice the Guru Yoga of the 16th Karmapa and the empowerment of the 15th Karmapa, which go together. Rinpoche reminded us yet again of how blessing is a connection with the qualities of the bodhisattvas. We receive blessing when we commit, with confidence, to practice and the path, and thus open ourselves to its effect.

It’s methodical and, in this way, reassuring, to me at least. Being able to open a new door in supporting the transmission of these teachings during these days so pregnant with gratitude and so entwined with history is as good a symbolic as a girl could ask for.

Emaho! (…a term which comes from certain Tibetan prayers and is generally translated as “Oh wonder!” It’s a kind of exaltation of joy and compassion that rolls off the tongue easily such that it becomes a frequent exclamation in times like these…times of gratitude, times of change.)

Still Here In The Best Way

No photos…no background…not even much to say.

I apologize for the silence, for the absence. It’s been a bit selfish, honestly, all of the hum and buzz I haven’t been able to share because I’ve been so busy living it.

Karmapa arrives tomorrow. The kitchen is probably eighty-five percent of the way to its final state, but good enough for now. Some tiles to redo on the walls, a little bit of electrical work that we’ve temporarily sorted out with extension cords…we do what we can after all! Somehow, all of life feels more alive in these moments where we act together. Where the meaning is apparent because we act directly out of gratitude–for our teachers, for the teachings, for the path itself.

The garden is set up with tables for ninety. The fridges are full; the dishes are clean; the beds are made. The dining room could use a bit of dusting; the kitchen schedule needs to be printed, but all told…we’re ready.

Internally, as much as externally, I think. Karmapa coming is like a door opening wide…you just accept everything. Otherwise you lose yourself in the details–the organization, the expectation, the easy trap of busy-ness, stress and importance. And this is not point. After all, what’s the good of a bodhisattva if we don’t let his presence take us beyond the ordinary?

What that will turn out to be, this next week long, I can only imagine. But honestly, I’m trying not to, but rather just to let the moments come one by one and see what they become.

Apologies again for the silence, but guess what…other people are keeping up the good work! If you want to know more about the happenings, check out Dhagpo’s fortieth anniversary blog. There’ll be new articles every day. Not sure yet if English translation will be immediate or come a bit later, but at the very least there will be pictures and you can always Google translate if you’re curious for more. 😉

Promise to be back like usual when the blessing calms down just a little. Miss you guys. See you on the other side…

The Week, The Weekend, And Honey Ginger Cake With Sour Cherry Jam

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Today I am just happy.

When I look back at this week, it has been so full. Weekdays can barely be distinguished from weekends but somehow there is a balance amidst all the activity. Meetings beyond count. 20 hours and 800 lines of event budgeting. Driving lessons. Dinner out with friends. Time spent working with the construction team on the new kitchen; time spent constructing the plan for Karmapa’s visit with the kitchen team. The community mini-retreat that is our monthly morning of group practice. A talk with my sister; e-mails with my parents. The first of a series of community discussions about our Future, capital F and what we’d like to share about it with Karmapa when he comes.

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No moment has lacked richness. I did so incredibly many productive things and somehow still had time to make this cake and have a cup of tea with friends this afternoon. I know my two a.m. budget finish line from last night will make me tired tomorrow, but mostly I’m stunned that I’m not already flat on my ass.

This same amount of busy-ness and activity in the past would have knocked me over. I’d have been sick and tired and grumpy as hell. I think partly I have learned how to do more, but also I have learned how to fret less. When I see a whole crap ton of things to do coming, I’m not immediately petrified that it is totally impossible for me to do them and thus not immediately incapacitated and totaly stressed throughout it all. From all of the doing that I’ve been doing at Dhagpo these last two years, I’ve developed some confidence that…I can accomplish things.
And that if I can’t, I can say so and find a way to work with that.

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There’s also another aspect. Which is this place and its people. There’s something in the water, or the trees, or the history, or maybe something much less abstract than that. I think it’s what we call blessing. That often sounds so mystical, but Jigme Rinpoche is quick to remind us that blessing is anything but mystical. It’s practical.

As I grasp it, blessing works like this: understanding leads to change, and both understanding and change develop exponentially more with a group, and multi-exponentially more with a qualified guide who can point you in the right direction to help you refine your understanding.

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At Dhagpo, we have all the pieces. We are blessed. Hard work becomes less hard because it is meaningful and shared, and what we normally think of as not-directly productive (ahem, lieeesure) becomes productive because it supports the bonds that help us work well together. Even cake is a practice when it is an offering.

And so, I’m both grateful to be able to and quite happy to offer you this springtime version of French spice cake. Like typical French pain d’épices, this cake is honey-rich and has a good dose of ginger. But unlike typical French pain d’épices this cake does not have the I-suppose-nostalgic-but-always-disappointing texture of cardboard. And it does have a touch of allspice for additional depth and a generous spread of sour cherry jam for that springtime boost. Moist, surprisingly light, and delightfully simple to make (No creaming butter! Yay for French baking techniques!), it’s perfect for a Sunday afternoon on the deck, or however you like.

Recipe…

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Day 7: This Is Blessing

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So, this is pretty much it, Nepal. Today was the day where we did all the things.

We trundled through town at eight in the morning to Boudhanath Stupa, A white massive with a golden peak and glimmering eyes of wisdom on each of the four sides of its crest. We spun prayer wheel after prayer wheel, pausing only to make a donation to add to the blowing strands of prayer flags strung from the top of the stupa to its outer edges and to prostrate in the summer sun on the aged wooden planks laid out before the vast, luminous dome.

But of course practice must be balanced with forays into worldly life to check its effects, so we paused before lunch to do the shops. Dharma shopping isn’t much less exhausting than regular shopping in terms of choice and visual stimulus and decision-making, but it’s extra joyful because all of the objects are beautiful, sacred, and inspiring, and people tend to dharma shop for others more than for ourselves, which turns out much more gratifying.

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Favorite finds of the day include mottled green and pink stone beads for mala making, textured rice paper for cards, and a carved stamp with the symbol for the victory banner of the dharma, which I connect to because it’s my refuge name. I also might really like dharma shopping because it involves lots of stones and gems. I briefly wanted to be a lapidary as a kid, and though the career aspirations didn’t last, my fascination with mineral objects remains. I treated myself to the great pleasure of picking out a smoky topaz and a white opal to offer for the Buddha statue in Dhagpo’s Institute when it gets formally filled later this year.

I managed to finish all my errands before lunch, and took a few final turns around the stupa. For the first time all week, my mind became patient, open space and my thoughts settled naturally on making wishes. The tin rattling of the prayer wheels echoed the unreeling of my aspirations—come back to us soon; stay with us even in your absence; let us all become bright in the aura of your radiance. Away from the monastery, away from responsibility and activity, the utter brilliance of the moments I have lived these last few days finally seeped into me. I felt some lurching and tears rising inside and I let it. This feeling that throws me sobbing on the ground at times turns out not be loss but gratitude. So I multiplied it a million times, a million times and million times, and offered it to the Buddhas. I like this system; it’s pretty nice actually.

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We ate lunch on a rooftop terrace staring straight into the eyes of the stupa. Boudha, Katmandu, the valley, Nepal…this place is as special as everyone said. Since I’ve been here, my days and thus my mind have been permeated with pictures of enlightened beings, mantra repetitions, the sound of ceremonial instruments, and the smell of incense. I have been as grumpy, as tired, as uncertain and as heartbroken here as I ever have been in other places in my life, but here, whenever I pause to look up or catch my breath, what appears grounds me and inspires me.

The momos were as good as they’re cracked up to be. Mine were cheesy and onion-y on the inside, and chewy and tender on the outside. Win. We ate fast. Rumors said Karmapa would give blessing at two at Shar Minub. The rumors were true, and we found ourselves in the steaming upper temple room at Shar Minub, packed liked devoted sardines into the space before our teacher.

Karmapa said a lot of things today, but these two stuck out: “I don’t think there really is a change. This is about continuity. What can we continue?” That Shamarpa’s wisdom, his blessing, his guidance, and simply his mind, are with us always and wherever. Only his physical manifestation has departed. So really, this transition is about the connection we are able to uphold and not at all about the state-of-being or location of a man. Which I suppose we knew, but everything’s more convincing when Karmapa says it. His knowing is a stable, integrated knowing and not the kind of hopeful, intellectual knowing that I’ve got going.

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And then he said, “Go back to your daily lives with courage.” Which I think I might need. We arrive in Paris at eight p.m., which is four hours later in Nepal and in our bodies. We drive six-to-eight hours home to arrive at some unholy hour of the morning, and the next day Shabdrung Rinpoche’s course beings and we get going as if we’d never left.

Except not. Because we have left. Because we lived this week. And gave and saw and shared and practiced and received. Because the words of our teachers and the power of their minds have left their imprints on us, and we are different to whatever extent we can let them sink into us.

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We walked the 350 steep, stone stairs up to Swayambhu after Karmapa’s teaching. We arrived streaming sweat and aching. This place is one of Shamarpa’s places. His past reincarnations helped establish it and nurture it. His picture is on the altar of the tiny temple for what it’s worth, and I found it worth a lot. I bent my forehead to the picture frame and quiet came. I didn’t want to step away, but I am learning how. How to carry closeness with me; how to connect to being cared for.

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When we left Shar Minub this afternoon, people started gathering and pointing to the sky. I looked up. I’m getting used to this whole rainbow thing. There may still be a part of me that wants to record all the dates and locations of all the rainbows in relation to all the dates and locations of all the auspicious dharma happenings and see if there’s really any statistical significance in their appearances. And then the rest of me understands that it matters truly not at all whether there are more or less or where and when they are. It think it only matters that when we see them, we feel loved and capable of loving, inspired by wisdom and capable of becoming wise. Still though, I can’t help starting to believe. Rainbows equal masters; equal enlightened mind. Today was statistically significant.

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We were trudging down the pitted road and I was staring at my shoes and I sloped forward. When I gazed up from the gray mud and gravel, at first I only saw clouds. A high contrast puff lingering in front of the afternoon sun. As my vision adjusted to the brightness, I looked for crepuscular rays, those dramatic beams of light that typically jut from behind illuminated clouds. But there weren’t any. There was a diffuse aureole of gentle luminosity, steadily deepening from white to pastel to Technicolor rainbow. I’ve never seen a rainbow cloud before. It looked like how I imagine the aurora borealis, but steady rather than wavering and more varied in its hues. It was beautiful. Gazing up at the gentle, colored glow felt like the warmest hug. I thought, “Hi.”

And then I tucked the rainbow into my heart, and held it there, and kept on walking.

Day 5: Karmapa Comes And Meaning Comes

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In the pocket of my purse, I have one crushed marigold. I slid it off a thread this morning outside the monastery. Its cold, soft petals yielded against my fingertips. Strands and strands of flowers hung over the truck that carried Rinpoche to us yesterday. After all the uncertainty and all the waiting, it now feels only natural that he is here. He couldn’t have made this easy; it wouldn’t have been his style.

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Today was a card catalogue of varicolored moments. The deep red of the practice room and the oily tan slick of butter tea as our voices intoned the words for “calling the lama from afar.” I held the notes with my whole heart. A blue-grey house of juxtaposed rectangles, where I waited to serve tea, and the burgundy robes of the monks I met there. Rabke, from Kalimpong shedra, the academy from whence will come many or most of our future teachers, said to me, “Rinpoche told us that we will study hard and when we finish we will each work three years for him and then we can choose where we will go to teach. He said to us, ‘You are all my sons, and you will do as I ask.’”

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He paused quiet for a moment and then added, “We are very lucky to have known such a great lama.” I thought of the waves of Bordeaux-cloaked bodies, the sea of shaved heads, bare left shoulders, and open gazes. I wonder, “Who are these young men and women that look so alike to me?” Each of them has likes and dislikes and memories and dreams of his and her own, and each of them, like me and the band of Westerners whose stories and ways and wonderings I know much more in detail is mourning. We are so many orphans.

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The afternoon was colored brown, the lacquer tint of the biography booklet I handed out by the hundreds, winding my way through the rows of meditators and offering Asian style, the book in my right hand with my left hand to my elbow as a gesture of respect to give with both hands. There was a slash of green as I sat on the hillside, staring over the valley at the old monastery, a cappuccino colored compound tucked behind the new brick buildings. The ten-year retreat monks live here, nearly the last handful of practitioners in the modern world who keep all 253 traditional vows of the ethical discipline. And just in front, on the opposite rooftop, the cremation stupa received its final adornments for tomorrow’s ceremony. I saw a Pantone of silk flags and painted medallions. The rest is shrouded, waiting for the final moment.

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Dusk fell blue-grey with a smear of rainbow beside the monastery. I wondered if it was a nod from Shamarpa to his disciple. The bands of color appeared just as we assembled to receive Karmapa on his arrival. The road turned crimson and gold with robes and prayer scarves as thousands of people lined the street in welcome and expectation. “We are like children at times,” I couldn’t help but think. I stood by the door a ways back, to see but hoping not to disturb. After the flags and horns and drums had past, Karmapa alit from the car and the crowd pressed forward to meet him.

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All of the love and eagerness fused into a collective surge. The flowers meant to be strewn at his feet jumped out of the offering hands from the impact of those behind. Golden petals struck Karmapa’s temples and his brow. I tried to step back but found myself moved forward. Jigme Rinpoche appeared, sentinel and protector, striding forward, his sturdy arms pressing back the bodies like Moses parting the Red Sea. My eyes stung and my throat closed. I glimpsed for maybe spare seconds a raised arm, a focused gaze, the tops of their precious heads, but just this–and awareness hit me like the salty cold of the ocean.

It’s not a memory or an idea. It’s not a concept and it’s not so clear in words. It’s a sudden snap of understanding. Blessing so often feels like a rising light, something gentle and clarifying. This was like a breaking window. All of the holds barred inside of me exploded like shattered glass. There are no more adjustments or attempts for revisions–this is living and we are here. Tomorrow, something ends and something new begins. E ma ho!