What makes you suffer

What do you know about the word “I”? Have you ever thought about it? Is it good to focus on the “I” or not?

Actually, most of us only focus on the “I” because we believe in the existence of a separate self. An “I” that wants to be successful, rich, happy, famous etc.

We (the monks of Phajoding) wonder why all the people are always ready to do everything for the “I” (themselves). The majority of people in the world have never realised that all the suffering comes from focusing on the ‘I’ and the yearning for one’s own happiness. Did you realise that most people’s happiness is like dew on a blade of grass, disappearing quickly as the sun rises in the sky? This is because the happiness most of us seek and experience is the happiness that comes from attachment and the satisfying of this “I”. If we consider everyone’s happiness as our responsibility and that everyone’s happiness is our own, wouldn’t this state of mind reduce our suffering and disappointment when thing don’t work out our way and work out for our friends and enemies?

As Buddhists, we believe that all the living beings have once been our mother and they have cherished us with lots of love and care. If this is so and they are suffering now, what good is your own happiness while others are suffering?

Why do people in the world say harsh words and harm others?  It is because of their anger that someone has hurt them in some way. If you have not pacified the enemy of your anger then combating others and continuing to think bad thoughts about them will only make your anger multiply and increase your suffering. Because of your anger you disturb not only your mind but the mind of others which leads to unhappiness and more suffering in the world. It’s like walking in a room full of thorns with no shoes – you cannot avoid the pain and suffering of the prick. Instead isn’t it better to wear good shoes then you protect yourself from suffering. We can wear good shoes by feeling compassion for others rather than focusing only on ourselves.

Whether one is a believer or not, just by practicing the basic acts of compassion and human values, one can contribute to the preservation of Buddha’s words of wisdom along with the maintenance of global peace and stability in an age of religious and political turmoil.

Nima Tshering

Nima Tshering

By Nima Tshering (Manchester) aged 20 years.

Karma: Beyond Buddhism to universal relevance

Karma is a Sanskrit word that means ‘action’ and a fundamental principle of Buddhism. It is a Buddhist law that means each and every action we take has a result or reaction that will manifest in our futures.

Positive actions will lead to positive results, such as good re-births, being treated well by others, good health, being surrounded by caring friends and family and also increased happiness for ourselves and those around us.

Negative actions will lead to unfortunate results such as bad re-births, being unable to achieve what we want, being mistreated by others, and experiencing a lot of suffering.

Thus, Karma is also known as a law of cause and effect. In a practical sense it can also be viewed as evolutionary action since through our positive actions we are evolving our mind and setting up positive causes and conditions to influence our current and future lives.

If we make a conscious effort to engage in positive actions and refrain from negative actions it then follows that we (our mind) will experience more happiness and less suffering. In this way, Karma is intricately related to the state of our mind (the topic of the previous blog post).

Up till now our world has primarily placed its focus on the law of demand and supply – consumption and production (which has given rise to a culture of materialism, competition, attachment, greed and an overemphasis on the physical realm) as the driver and focus of our global economy. Believing that we possess only one life has compounded this culture. Many agree that the foundation on which our current economic system is based is inherently unbalanced and flawed.

When viewed from an ethical perspective, believing that our actions have no lasting personal consequences and that we possess only one life reduces the responsibility one feels for ones actions, each other and our environment. Therefore, holding onto such an attitude does not contribute to a sustainable and happy life (in fact it is the cause of much environmental degradation and suffering). If we can open up and transform our minds to embrace an understanding of the law of Karma and the possibility that the mind may survive physical death, the suffering and challenges that we are currently facing on a personal and global level could be greatly reduced.

From a secular stance, an understanding of the law of Karma and reincarnation (the belief that our mind survives physical death) could assist in solving the crises of the environment and spirit that we are now facing across the globe. Moving from an economy obsessed with economic development and the physical realm to one that values and respects relationships with each other and nature and promotes cultural and spiritual development is the key and also the challenge of the 21st Century.

In this light Karma can be viewed as a universal law that can apply to all beings – one that goes beyond religion to encompass a holistic, sustainable and practical way of living. In other words it means we are the creators of our own happiness and future rather than giving our power away to an external entity, person or circumstance. We are the architects of our own heaven and hell so to speak. The more people who adopt this attitude the greater the sense of responsibility generated and the greater chance we have of achieving a happy life.

A bit more on Karma…….

There are many types of Karmas: international, national and individual. All are intricately interrelated and only understood in their full complexity by an enlightened being like Buddha – someone who has realized the ultimate nature of reality.

It is said that even in each different colour of the peacocks’ feather there are traces of Karma left from many different causes – but only someone like the Buddha can explain in detail their causes because he has eliminated all the subtle defilements within his consciousness and can perceive the ultimate nature of reality. The law of Karma can thus contribute to a deeper understanding of biological evolution since it acknowledges the mind (not just genetics) as a determinant of ones circumstances and physical characteristics.

Buddhists believe that when we do an action with our body, speech or mind, a subtle imprint is left on our mind stream which (depending on the causes and conditions) will ripen at some time in the future.

So, according to Buddhist belief, we cannot escape from the law of Karma – it is a fact of life, just like drinking poison you cannot escape getting sick whether you believe it is harmful or not.

But not all Karma is weighted the same. By this we mean that the strength of the results of your actions will depend on the following five factors:

  • Whether the action is repeated
  • Whether the action is done with an underlying intention (those aware of the law of Karma and who have spiritual insights have a greater responsibility to act with morality than those who unconsciously perform negative actions) – is the action performed out of self-interest or to harm or is it performed to benefit?
  • Whether the action is done without regret
  • Whether the action is done to a being who possesses extraordinary spiritual qualities or those whom hold positions of respect (like your parents, your teacher, your guru)
  • Whether the action is done to those who have benefited you in the past.

All of the above variables determine how powerfully the karmic forces will impact your future experience. A very simple example would be if you killed a dog unintentionally due to a car accident versus if you intentionally set out to kill the dog. Killing the dog unintentionally bears much less negative karma than if your intention was to kill.

Another interesting factor is that Karma increases, which means that if we do a negative action and do not apply an opposing force such as a virtuous action or a purifying practice, then the negative Karma increases exponentially, causing us much suffering. However, if we do even the smallest positive action – like giving milk to a starving kitten this action will continue to bring benefits, if we do not do negative actions to counteract it.

Karma also doesn’t decay like external things or ever become inoperative.

Buddha said: “If you want to know your past life, look into your present condition and if you want to know your future life look at your present action

So whatever we do for others, we are creating Karma. Good or bad karma depends on our actions and motivation. Think of a set of identical twins. Despite the same physical characteristics they have different personalities and experience different life circumstances and opportunities. This is because their personality and life experience are a consequence of their past actions which were driven by their mind – it’s thoughts, choices and subsequent actions.

The good news is that everything is impermanent, which means that our negative Karma is never permanent. The negative imprints on our mind can be purified. In Buddhism we do purification practices that involve feeling regret for our negative actions, reliance and devotion to the Buddha, feeling compassion for those we have harmed, utilizing the power of remedy which involves doing positive actions to counteract the negative imprints and the determination and promise to ourselves not to repeat the same negative actions again. Whether we are Buddhist or not we can feel regret, compassion and promise to ourselves not to repeat the negative action.

Up till now science has been unable to prove with certainty that we only possess one life. In fact, there have been many instances where children have recounted previous lives and the details confirmed. Therefore, from a practical and secular perspective, if we at least try and live our lives with an understanding of the law of Karma and open up to the possibility that our mind may survive physical death, greater inner purpose and responsibility for others and our environment will naturally arise which, in turn, will lead to greater levels of inner and outer happiness.

What is mind?

Another word for mind is consciousness. The mind is the embarkation point, the focal point and also the culmination point of Buddhism. The teachings of the Buddha help us to understand, shape and free the mind from delusions and suffering by transforming the ordinary mind into an enlightened mind. This has led scientists and other western scholars to describe Buddhism as ‘a science of the mind’.

So from a Buddhist perspective it is very important to understand the mind. There are two main reasons for this.

First, there is a close connection between the mind and karma (the law of cause and effect – a fundamental tenet of Buddhism) and second, our state of mind plays an important role in our experience of happiness and suffering (suffering is what Buddhism seeks to eliminate).

So what is mind?

In order to explain what mind is, it’s easiest to start with what mind is not.

Many people believe that the mind is the brain. Some think it is the heart. Some even think that it comes from a God. But in Buddhism we believe that the mind is a non-physical kind of energy and its function is to know and experience. Physical aspects like the condition of our physical body (if we are sick and suffering) can influence the mind and so can the actions and words of others, but the mind itself is not a physical entity. Similarly our state of mind plays a major role in how we perceive reality as well as our physical and mental well-being – but it is non-physical. It has no colour, shape, size, location, weight or any other physical characteristic. There is a constant interplay between the mind and the physical and external world, and this can cause on-going suffering since we are trapped in cyclical samsaric existence.

The mind can be said to be the sum total of all our conscious and unconscious experiences. The quest for Buddhists is to transform one’s mind to a state where it escapes the cycle of birth, death and suffering – a state that is clear, all knowing and perceives ultimate reality as opposed to relative reality (the illusionary reality as seen through the filter of our clouded/obscured mind)

The mind has two main qualities: clarity and knowingness (awareness). Without these qualities it cannot be labeled the mind. The mind is aware of one’s experiences and in order to exist it must be able to sense and perceive objects. It also reflects everything it experiences; good things and bad things just like a mirror.

Before I explain more it is important to mention that there are different levels of the mind that can be simply described as gross and subtle levels.

The gross mind encompasses the five senses and emotions such as anger, jealousy, love etc. But the subtle mind is very difficult to detect and is known as ‘the clear light mind’. This clear light mind has no beginning and end and it is this mind that Buddhists believe journeys from life to life in a process known as reincarnation.

Have you ever thought that the mind of a baby rat knows how to catch mice and a kitten’s mind knows how to suckle milk without being taught by their parents? This is all because of habits and actions of previous lives. Also some children from a very young age are naturally compassionate while others are very impatient and cruel even though their parents have never taught them how to hurt other living beings.  Buddhists believe that these behaviour or personality types are due to previous lives. It is the imprints on the subtle mind from previous lives that carry over to the present life and manifest in different character traits due to the law of karma. Karma is a very complicated topic (the basis of another blog post I think) but for now it’s important just to understand that the mind is intricately connected to karma.

So the true nature of our mind is clarity and awareness – free of emotion – just like the crystal clear stillness of the ocean. Our unenlightened mind is a beginning-less continuum, an ever-flowing mountain steam, changing from moment to moment depending on if we are happy or sad, feeling physical pain or pleasurable sensations.

Emotions (both positive and negative), sensations and negative thoughts can make the mind unclear, just like waves disturb a crystal clear ocean. The aim of Buddhist practice is to attain (and maintain) the crystal clear nature of our mind. This can be achieved through following the Buddha’s teachings and mediation techniques that are essentially based on compassion and wisdom.

It was during Buddha’s third teaching (there are three main teachings) that he declared that all beings possess “Buddha nature” (Tathagatagarbha in Sanskrit) and have the potential to reach enlightenment. It is the clear light mind that contains the aspects of Buddha nature – a mind that has realized wisdom and emptiness.

Remember I said that one of the main characteristics of the mind is its ability to know? Well, the path to enlightenment requires the continued development of understanding, or knowingness. And to continue to develop it until we have a clear light mind that understands and knows everything (Buddhahood or enlightenment).

The problem (especially in our modern world) is that we have become attached to our sense of separateness – the “I” or the ego. Our mind thinks that this is who we are but it is not. We are lost in a sea of confusion – grasping to form rather than spending time developing our awareness. For example the ego can make us angry and upset, as it is always grasping for external things to create happiness and to end suffering. When ego-addictions such as food, shopping and serial relationships do not end our suffering, we crave more of these external stimuli. This vicious cycle traps a person in a ‘samsaric existence’ – of wanting, gaining temporary happiness and relief from suffering that leads only to more wanting.

Our mind in this state is out of control– unconsciously influenced by external forces due to the belief in a separate self. This complete delusion is not an accurate reflection of the true nature of our mind, and thus reality. This confusion is like clouds passing through a blue sky. If you can clear away the clouds you are left with the clear blue sky, which is the true nature of our mind that will then accurately reflect the ultimate nature of reality. Buddhists are aiming to clear their mind of these clouds in order to reveal the blue sky  – the true nature of our mind.

Put simply: the clear light mind is the fundamental state of our mind– a blissfulness and happiness that can’t be lost. In this state of mind, ultimate truth is indivisible from relative truth. There is no separation – all is one.

In the words of Shakyamuni Buddha:

“ The nature of the mind is unity of awareness and emptiness…. the nature of mind is clear light”

By Lopen Namgay Tenzin.

(Sub-editing by Sasha Wakefield)

The sound of 2 hands clapping: debating at Phajoding

Some of you may have read on Phajoding’s Facebook page that the monks recently had the great fortune of being taught the skill of debating by a close monastic friend of Lama Namgay who is studying at the famous Gelugpa University known as Sera Je in Southern India.

In Tibetan Buddhism there are four principle schools – Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu & Gelug. The State religion of Bhutan, Drukpa Kagyu, is a branch of the Kagyu lineage of which Phajoding Monastery forms a part. All the schools use debating to varying degrees as a tool to gain a deeper insight into the true nature of reality, however it is the Gelugpa lineage that places the most emphasis on this discipline.

History and context

The art of debating within Tibetan Buddhism dates back over 900 years. Marpa (one of the main founders of the Kagyu lineage) brought the tradition of debate to Tibet from India. However it was Lama Tsongkhapa (the founder of the Gelugpa school of Buddhism) who extensively developed the practice of debate along with detailed topics of logic, which became a defining characteristic of the Gelugpa tradition (of which HH Dalai Lama is the most recognizable figure).

Due to the contemplative nature of the lineage teachings of the Kagyu Masters such as Marpa and Milarepa, more focus was placed on meditation and yogic practice rather then academics within the Kagyu lineage, including the Drukpa Kagyu sect in Bhutan. Both Chimi Dorji (the Principal of Phajoding) and the head teacher (Lama Namgay) have completed their three-year meditation retreat – the highest level of formal study within the Drukpa Kagyu lineage. But that’s not to say that debating is excluded from the Kagyu lineage – it’s just not as important as meditative practice.

Recently, due to the generosity of an expert debater from Sera Je, the monks of Phajoding had a chance to try their hand (literally) at the art of debating.

For ease of understanding, Lama Namgay and Khenpo Chimi Dorji have provided the following answers to some questions about debating within a monastic context.

What is the purpose of debating?

The central purpose of monastic debating is to conquer the misconceptions of the mind in order to establish the correct view (the true nature of reality). The true nature of reality is reached through careful analysis of the state of existence of ordinary phenomena – the basis of our lived reality.

Debating allows one to understand a dharma topic more clearly which subsequently makes it easier to meditate upon it in the future. Additionally you don’t forget the topic easily and may even get realizations of the subject during the debate. So if you have the proper motivation then debating can be similar to an analytical meditation.

The ultimate aim of debating however is to assist in clearing away of a wrong conception within ones mind in order to become free of suffering.

Why is debating such an active exercise? Do the hand gestures mean anything?

To begin, the two monks engaging in the debate recite a ritual invocation of Manjushree, the Bodhisattva of wisdom in a loud high-pitched tone.

The challenger or questioner (who is standing) then bows to the responder (who is sitting) as a sign of respect. It is also seen as a strategy to instill in him a false sense of security.

The questioner asks the responder a question based on a dharma topic (e.g. the four noble truths *) and a series of back and forth exchanges ensue between the questioner and the responder. The questioner’s aim is to try to defeat the responder with logic and quotes from the scriptures.

As you can imagine and as the photos reveal, the debate becomes increasingly heated and physically intense, with plenty of forceful clapping and verbal exchanges.

An action-packed debate!

An action-packed debate!

All the movements within a debate have meaning. When the challenger is asking the responder a question, at the end of the question he claps his right hand down onto his left hand while stomping his left foot forward. (It is only the challenger who engages in the clapping).

The stomping of the left foot forward represents shutting the door on the cycle of death and re-birth (samsara). The right hand represents compassion and altruistic intention and the left hand represents wisdom and the bringing together of the two hands signifies that it’s through the combination of compassion and wisdom that one can eliminate the wrong view from one’s mind and realize Buddhahood.

Two debates going on at once

Two debates going on at once

The drawing up and lifting of the right hand after the clap symbolizes the intention of helping all sentient beings escape samsara and reach Buddhahood and the holding out of the left hand of wisdom (grasping some mala beads) symbolizes keeping the door to re-birth shut.

The monks learning the correct placement of the hands and mala beads.

The monks learning the correct placement of the hands and mala beads.

The aim of the responder is to give logical and consistent responses to the challenger’s questions without contradicting himself. If the challenger (through the use of logic and quotes) demonstrates that the responder has contradicted himself, the challenger wraps his shawl (zhen) around his waist to symbolize his understanding and to win. By shaming and embarrassing, the defeated monk is encouraged to study the dharma more diligently. Even the mattress that the defeated is sitting on is snatched from under him in an attempt to humiliate him into more intensive dharma study.

Though this action may seem harsh to the uninitiated, we need to bear in mind that the motivation of all these actions is to help one achieve the mind of enlightenment. In this way debating should not be viewed as a zero sum game but a reciprocal and altruistic activity with win-win outcomes.

Do the monks engaging in this practice focus their minds on winning the debate? Wouldn’t this environment bring out their competitive nature?

This is one of the challenges and dangers of the art of debating. It is easy for the challenger in particular to become proud and egotistical if he is winning the debate and also because he is assuming the dominant position. So during the debate it is important to have the intention of wanting to free others from delusions and suffering. If pride, anger or jealously do arise the debaters have to promptly put an end to these negative afflictions to avoid the creation of bad karma.

Conclusion

The benefits of debating are manifold. Not only does it acts a tool to dispel any wrong views but also enables the monks to increase their mental sharpness and inner clarity, develop their analytical capacity and their ability to clearly express ideas. Debating in this context can assist the monks in processing the increasing flood of information they are receiving from the modern world, placing them in an advantageous position of being able to make informed and intelligent choices.

So there you have it. Debating 101. We hope we’ve done the topic justice and apologize if there are still some unanswered questions. Please feel free to post any questions under this blog or on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/PhajodingMonastery?ref=hl)

Those travelling to Phajoding in the future may now not only hear the sound of chanting but the sound of two hands clapping.

* The four noble truths are the essential truths that encapsulate Buddha’s teachings. They are: life is suffering (Dukkha), the cause of suffering is attachment (Samudaya), suffering can be stopped (Nirodha), there is a path that can stop suffering (Magga). This path is known as the eight-fold path or the middle way approach.

Gyelwa Shakya Rinchen returns to Phajoding

Hello everyone. The other day we had a very special visitor here at Phajoding. The reincarnation of the Gyelwa Shakya Rinchen came to visit all of us here and I spent a long time talking with him about his studies, plans for the future and what we should be teaching the monks here. Some of you may remember that Gyelwa Shakya Rinchen was the one who built all the temples here at Phajoding in the 18th century. He was also famous for being the 9th Je Khenpo (Chief Abbott of the central monk body of Bhutan) and was the heart disciple of Milarepa as well.

Gyalwa Shakya Rinchen tulku

Gyelwa Shakya Rinchen tulku

The Gyelwa Shakya Rinchen reincarnation (or tulku) is now nearly 16 years old and is studying at Nalanda Buddhist Institute in Punakha under the care and instruction of Venerable Dorji Lopen – Bhutan’s second highest religious figure after the Je Khenpo. As well as Phajoding, the Gyelwa Shakya also founded the Nalanda Buddhist Institute.

He’s quite a tall and very compassionate young man who is very interested in photography and computers. Actually, he knows a lot about computers and showed me a really nice slide show of his photos with music that he made of a recent hiking trip into the mountains.

He will finish his Masters of Buddhist studies in the next 3-4 years then he told me that he wants to come to Phajoding to complete his 3 year meditation retreat. While he was here he selected the site where he wants to build a small house for himself.  Once it is built (hopefully by the end of the year) he told me that he wants to come here often, whenever he has a break from his studies. All the monks are really excited about this news.

Once he completes his 3-year meditation retreat at Phajoding he said that he is going to permanently live here to teach the monks.

During our conversations while we were having tea together he mentioned 2 important points:

Firstly, he stressed that it was very important to teach the monks debating because it will help to stimulate their critical thinking and be the cause for a deeper understanding of Buddha’s teachings.

Secondly, he also stressed to me the importance of teaching the boys the English language. He said that without English the monks wouldn’t gain the full respect of the Bhutanese people (mainly those who are educated) as they can’t communicate the complexity and wisdom of what they have been taught properly. He is worried that some people think that monks are illiterate because they can’t speak English despite having a deep knowledge of Buddha’s teachings. He was emphasizing to me the importance of sharing Buddha’s precious knowledge with everyone. I told him that I am personally already teaching the monks English and he was very happy about this.

He really likes the web site that we have set up to help the monks and congratulated us on our initiative and concern for Phajoding and the young boys.

This is such good news for Phajoding and we are all very happy to have welcomed him here

While he was here he also met with the high lama that lives at Phajoding who is commonly known amongst the Bhutanese as Yanglop (Lopen Chuki Lotay). He was previously one of the 5 high lamas of the Central Monk Body. I hope you like the photos that I took.

by Lopen Namgay Tenzin

Gyalwa Shakya Rinchen tulku greeting Yanglop

Gyalwa Shakya Rinchen tulku greeting Yanglop

GW Rinpoche & Yanglop

The Pel Dechhog Khorlo Dompa Wang (known as the Chakrasamvara Wang in Sanskrit)

This particular Wang took place recently in Punakha from the 27th December 2012 – 10th January 2013 and was bestowed by the Je Khenpo (the Chief Abbott of the Central Monk Body of Bhutan).

People from all over Bhutan and the world descended on Punakha

People from all over Bhutan and the world descended on Punakha

Devout pilgrims

Devout pilgrims

Close to 200,000 devotees (over a ¼ of the population of Bhutan) congregated to receive the blessing including the Royal family, Government dignitaries and disciples from as far away as Taiwan, Sikkim, Nepal, Ladakh and many other nations. Over 7000 monks and nuns were in attendance.

His Majesty the 5th King with Bhutanese Tulkus and Masters

His Majesty the 5th King with Bhutanese Tulkus and Masters

Given that the population of the Punakha valley is normally 20,000 this was a phenomenal influx of people, which was a boon for the local economy but also placed enormous pressure on the local infrastructure such as the sewerage systems and water. According to Lama Namgay, however, everyone managed to cope extremely well given the conditions and was grateful for such a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

All the monks from Phajoding attended. Lama Namgay arranged a bus to ferry them to Punakha and organised their accommodation at a traditional farmhouse, offered free of charge by a local monk. He also brought all the rice and vegetables from Thimphu to feed them for the entire duration of the teachings. This was lucky, since the price of food, accommodation and transport had tripled as a result of the captive audience! The normal taxi fare from Thimphu to Punakha is 200ng ($4 USD) however during the Wang it escalated to 700ng ($14 USD).

What is a Wang?

Wang (pronounced wong) is the Tibetan word for empowerment or initiation, which in essence means ‘power’.The Wang takes the form of a ceremony in which the Buddhist master places a disciple in touch with a particular tantric Deity and empowers him to recite the Deity’s mantra, visualize him/herself as the Deity and meditate on the enlightened qualities of the Deity’s mind for the purpose of achieving the mind of enlightenment. Only a qualified Buddhist master can transmit the Wang.

The benefits of receiving the Wang are manifold. By merely hearing and having the motivation to attend an empowerment creates the causes and conditions to purify defilements and accumulate merit. It also increases one’s chances of achieving enlightenment or Buddhahood, in one lifetime.

In Buddhism there are three main paths (or Yanas) – Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Buddha taught these different paths, as he did not want followers to adhere dogmatically to one particular doctrine. Rather, he encouraged people to question what he taught and decide on which path to follow, depending on their level of development and individual interpretation.

In order to practice the Vajrayana tradition, one has to receive the Wang (empowerment), Lung (oral transmissions) and Tri (Instructions on how to practice). This Vajra tradition involves the process of realizing our inherent Buddha nature through the visualization of ourselves as the Deity and practicing sacred meditations. Disciples may choose to take on different levels of commitment. For example, a person who maintains the commitment to conscientiously practice the meditations and visualizations will achieve greater results than a person who receives the Wang simply as a blessing.

Given the Pel Dechhog Khorlo Dompa is a major Wang, numerous initiations and instructions were given by the Je Khenpo but since these instructions are considered very sacred and secret, Lama Namgay will not be offering a detailed explanation here.

What he did say was that the minds of most people were unable to grasp the totality of the Wang since “the vessel (the mind) must be made of silver in order to receive the milk of the White Mountain lion or else it will break”. So I guess most of us don’t have a silver vessel for the mind…. but those who were motivated to attend the empowerment (or even listen to it on BBS) can look forward to accrued benefits having planted the seed which (given the right conditions in the future) could quite possibly transform our minds into that silver vessel of Buddhahood.

Lama Namgay- bottom right

Lama Namgay- bottom right

What is the significance of this particular Wang?

Pel Dechhog Khorlo Dompa is the main deity (yidam) in the Drukpa Kagyu tradition and the empowerment is thus known as the mother tantra. Within the context of emptiness it is the embodiment of the ultimate truth represented by Vajradhara (Cheku Dorji Chang).

Merely hearing such a powerful empowerment has the potential to purify ones defilements and be a cause for the accumulation of great merit.

All the rituals in the empowerment serve to temporarily transform our normal way of perceiving reality. For instance, when incense is burned, it transforms our normal perception of smell. When music is performed, it transforms our normal perception of sound etc. The various instructions on meditation serve to cultivate an aspect of the enlightened mind.

Monks and nuns who go on to further tantric practice and instructions develop a clear light mind and this is when this Wang is very powerful.

A sea of monks

A sea of monks

An unconditional act of wisdom and compassion

On the last day of the gathering, the Je Khenpo explained the existence of the 6 realms of Samsara (realms which experience the uncontrollable forces of recurring death and rebirth; bringing many problems and sufferings). These realms comprise the hell realm, the hungry ghost realm, the animal realm, the human realm, the asura realm and the sura realm.

The Je Khenpo mentioned that our prayers and visualizations can only marginally affect the lower two realms and our physical assistance and prayers towards animals can help in liberating them from Samsara by only 1%. Escaping the lower realms largely depends on the expiration or ‘burning off’ of the mind’s negative karma. So in this context he urged everyone to pray and visualize and do everything possible to help fellow human beings who were suffering from physical, emotional or spiritual hardships. Doing so will generate great benefit and positive karma for the giver and the receiver. Compassion and altruism being the key drivers that contribute to ones spiritual development.

The Je Khenpo then shared his worldly riches offering $200,000 USD to buy a heart machine (echocardiogram) for the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu, $70,000 USD to buy a kidney dialysis machine, and $10,000 USD to the Mongar regional referral hospital in the remote east of Bhutan for bus fares for the patients and their next of kin who are unable to come to Thimphu for treatment due to income poverty.

To Lama Namgay, the Je Khenpo is “a very precious and rare jewel”

“He renounced everything. Offered empowerments and teachings to us and gave all of his riches to others but he is very happy”.

“Some people are billionaires however are unable to offer a cup of tea to others. But one day it will go to others naturally – whether we like it or not.” Lama Namgay added.

JANG CHUB SEM CHOG RINPOCHE


(The Bodhicittas the precious Lamas)

MA KYE PA NAM KYE GYUR CHIG

(
May the ones not yet born be born)

KYE PA NYAM PA MEY PAR YANG


(May the ones who are born not degenerate)

GONG NE GONG DU PEL BAR SHOG

(
But arise and grow forever)

A New Years message

” Dear friends,

Hope all of you are well and preparing for enjoyment for the New Year holiday.

Khenpo Chimi Dorji and I would like to wish you all A HAPPY NEW YEAR for 2013. May this New Year bring you all peace, happiness and success. And also may you all become the source of happiness for all the other sentient beings.

Friends, we celebrate New Year with having fun by giving best wishes and care to each other and having celebrations. Shortly, everyone is being happy. So I deeply wish you all have happy times for the rest of the days to come, full of compassion and concern to each other.

With this wish, I would like to say two things:

We should enjoy our holiday by having delicious meal, meeting nice people etc but we should also be aware and make this New Year celebration a reminder of impermanence of our life. Seconds become minutes, minutes become hours, hour becomes days and days become months and months become years and we travel closer and closer to death. This New Year is one year closer to our death and this previous year will never come back.

And another thing is that during such time, we think, care and wish the best for those we know but how wonderful it would be if we could think and care about other beings like poor people, suffering people and especially all the numberless animals, who need care, love and peace and attention from us. If we care for them with a compassionate mind and don’t harm them, they naturally gain peace and happiness from each of us. So please try to reduce ordering fish, meat, prawns and chicken etc.when you go to a restaurant, in order to save these animals’ lives. You probably think you are not a killer but logically the amount of meat you eat is the amount of harm and killing you are doing. The form of the body of a human and an animal are different but the desire for happiness and the aversion to suffering is completely the same. So the more we avoid eating meat the more we are saving animals’ lives and reducing suffering of innocent animals.

I think we eat meat because of the taste of the meat but if we analyse our motivation deeply, the taste we can enjoy is only when the meat is on our tongue and once it goes beyond the tongue down our throat and stomach then whatever it is, whether meat or anything is the same,we can’t taste it !! if we keep the meat on our tongue to taste for a long time many people will laugh at us – imagine if we did this !! So the taste we can feel is only for less than a minute. So what we need to solve our hunger can be solved by even bread, rice, fruit, nuts, cheese and vegetables. So try to eat meat only sometimes and focus on creating happiness rather than suffering.

May we all generate compassion for all the other sentient beings. Happy New Year 2013″.

Lama Namgay

A monastic education

We’ve been receiving quite a number of enquiries lately about the monastic curriculum at Phajoding and its importance to modern day Bhutan. Given that the monks have just completed their end of year exams, we thought it timely to explain some of these issues in this blog. It is by no means intended to be a definitive nor thorough account of the complexities involved, but as best as we can within this format, we will answer the questions posed to us about the “What” and “Why” of a monastic education.

Traditionally, education in Bhutan took place only in the monasteries. “Modern” education was largely imported from India and the West in the late 1950’s and with this came the introduction of essentially Western ideals and values generating tensions between tradition and modernity, that continues to this day. In response, Bhutan has created a unique development philosophy. In a world first, Bhutan requires that any development be culturally, economically and environmentally sustainable to measurably enhance the Gross National Happiness (GNH)[1] of its people.

As part of this, Bhutan promotes modern education to provide for the economic needs of the country whilst at the same time ensuring that its unique Buddhist culture and value system is preserved through traditional monastic education. As Bhutan prepares to implement its 11th five-year plan (2013-2018) guided by the philosophy of GNH, the preservation of Bhutan’s cultural traditional values will continue to be infused into Bhutan’s modern education curriculum.

But will this be enough to stem the tide of young Bhutanese students increasingly lured into desiring a life of excessive consumption and glorified materialism touted by the West?

Lama Namgay recently posed this question: ‘How can the monks and monastic education better serve the youth studying within the modern education system?’ This line of enquiry strikes at the heart of the need to find a balance between tradition and modernity.

What is the relevance of monastic education in modern day Bhutan?

This is what Lama Namgay and Khenpo Chimi Dorji expressed recently:

…………It is important that everyone tries to understand the basic teachings of Buddha because it can help them so much and also help them help their families, strangers, in fact all sentient beings. If they focus their mind on developing wisdom and compassion then they will not grasp for external things to make them at peace and happy which ultimately are the causes of unhappiness due to the law of impermanence. If the students in schools understand properly the Buddhist teachings at an early age this will help them to discover peace and inner happiness and help them to spread this to others they come in contact with.

There are many very educated Buddhist masters in Bhutan but it is difficult for them to communicate such wisdom, as they cannot speak English. Therefore, to maximize the potential of the Bhutanese school children, monks should be taught English so they can share these precious teachings with them.

This is our wish

Memorisation of prayers in the main class room

____________________ 

The value placed on a monastic education is directly tied to the importance placed on traditional Buddhist values and culture. Given that Bhutan’s Buddhist culture and traditional values form the foundation of its national identity and GNH philosophy, monastic education is therefore crucial to ensuring that its culture and values are upheld and preserved.

The institution of monastic education is clearly important for Bhutan’s Buddhist population in general but (as touched on earlier by Lama Namgay and Khenpo Chimi) it is particularly relevant to the youth within the modern education system. Monks who have attained a high level of training and who are repositories of spiritual knowledge can counterbalance the process of modernization that perpetuates values that run contrary to Bhutan’s traditional belief systems. They are well positioned to help modern educators shape the youth into highly educated, compassionate and wise individuals, and strengthen the GNH guided education curriculum.

The only problem standing in the way of this is the need to develop the English speaking skills of the many qualified monastics. English is the main medium of instruction in schools (Dzongka is taught as a separate subject). Therefore efforts need to be made to formally introduce English language instruction into the monastic curriculum to facilitate this vitally important transfer of spiritual wisdom to Bhutan’s school aged population.

As mentioned in a previous post, Lama Namgay has already taken measures to begin to teach their students basic English. Opening up the lines of communication between traditional and modern education systems will stimulate debate and discussion and a two way exchange of ideas, which will go a long way to reducing any tensions.

What do the monks learn at Phajoding?

Phajoding serves as a Lopdra, which is equivalent to a primary school education, and recently they have begun to offer a Shedra curriculum, which is equivalent to a high school education. The medium of instruction is Chökey (Classical Tibetan) and Dzongkha (the national language).

The ultimate goal of a monastic education is to provide the student with the tools to attain the mind of enlightenment (a state referred to as an absence of worldly suffering or duhkha in Sanskrit – where the mind is fully awakened) and the generation of Bodhicitta (the seeking of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings). Teachings largely comprise training in Buddhist philosophy, learning Buddhist poetry and grammar, handwriting, the memorization of prayers, contemplation on the spiritual wisdom of revered Buddhist masters in addition to instructions in the Buddhist art forms such as performing various rituals, playing Buddhist instruments, molding butter sculpture offerings, thangka painting and lama dancing.

Playing the Dungchen – the Buddhist long horn

Those in the Lopdra are being taught Buddhist art forms, Dzongkar handwriting and the meaning of various prayers that have to be committed to memory.

The students in the Shedra are currently being taught about the Buddhacarita or the life of the Buddha, which was written by the Indian philosopher/poet Aśvaghoşa. Written in Sanskrit, it is one of the most famous biographies of Buddha’s life.

They are also learning about the Vinaya, which is a set of rules or a code of conduct that the monastic community abides by. It differs from the dharma (Buddhist teachings) in that it relates to discipline. What Lama Namgay is attempting to teach the monks is for them to not just blindly accept these vows but to understand the underlying principles of the vows and why the Buddha proposed them. In this way the monks will be able to direct their mind away from worldly attachments and towards the dharma.

Studying for the exams

After an “all nighter”

What were they examined on?

The junior student’s recent exams primarily comprised the demonstration of competencies in various Buddhist instruments (cymbals, drums, large and small horns, conch shells and bells) and the recitation of certain prayers in front of the Principal of Phajoding (Khenpo Chimi Dorji) and independent examiners. The prayers covered areas from aspirations to meet one’s master to prayers for those suffering and for those who have passed away. According to Lama Namgay this section was the most nerve racking for the students. They were also examined on how well they could write the Dzongka alphabet.

The younger students doing their Dzongka written exam

In contrast, the senior students’ exams were purely written. They were examined on the Vinaya vows in addition to questions on the life of the Buddha.

All students have an examination number to ensure impartiality with their exam papers being sent away to other monasteries for marking. Similarly, the teachers at Phajoding receive exam papers to be marked from other monasteries.

The results are due to be released around the 10th January then they are officially on holidays until mid February 2013.

A typical day

5.30 – Wake up bell

5:30- 6am – Prayers

6-8am – Studies (memorizing text)

8-9am – Tea break (have only tea with some biscuits)

9-10.30am – Teachings (Buddhist philosophy)

10.30-12pm – English lesson.

12 -1pm  – Lunch break (curry and rice)

1 – 3pm – Ritual teachings

3-4pm– Debating based on Buddhist teachings.

4-5pm– Evening prayers.

5-6pm– Dinner time (curry and rice).

6- 9pm– Reading and contemplating the text learnt in the morning.

9pm– Bedtime

# Maths, computer skills , environmental and agricultural studies are taught on the weekends. Lama Namgay and Khenpo Chimi are introducing these life skills in order to provide these young boys with additional options should they choose to leave the monastery for a secular life.

An English lesson. Lama Namgay makes the monks take it in turns to lead the class under his supervision to give them a sense of empowerment

Conclusion

Monastic education is not “a walk in the park”! It involves a rigorous training schedule in Buddhist philosophy, the Buddhist arts and Buddhist discipline with the aim of guiding the student closer towards enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. On the other hand, Bhutan’s wisely chosen development path based on the principles of GNH ensures that school-aged children will be highly educated, innovative, adaptable with a strong sense of their unique cultural identity and Buddhist values.

Can the monastic body play a role in shaping and shoring up a modern education system? Quite possibly. But for this to occur efforts must be made to actively introduce formal English language instruction into all monastic schools and provide opportunities for monastics to be invited into the schools to impart wisdom and answer questions. In this way the relevance of monastic education and the teachings of Buddha will open a doorway for the creation of mutual respect, understanding and sharing of information between the modern and the traditional – a truly educational “middle-way” approach.


[1] GNH is a development philosophy guided by values in order to secure the peace and happiness of the nation. It has 4 main pillars pertaining to equitable economic development, cultural preservation, environmental sustainability and good governance. A GNH Index is used as an evaluation tool for the purposes of results based planning to ensure that development truly contributes to the achievement of GNH within Bhutan.

A message from Dom from Denmark

Quite unexpectedly, I landed at Phajoding on the evening of the 28th Sep 2012.

When I landed on the doorstep of Phajoding Monastery, my knowledge of Buddhism, the monastery and a monk’s life was limited to…..

“Buddhism was about vegetarianism, no killing, meditation, believing that nothing is real and everything is a creation of our imagination”.

“A monastery is a place where the men go to escape from nagging women”.

“A monk’s life is about eating, praying and sleeping”.

After my 2 nights at Phajoding, I now understand that……

Buddhism – is a philosophy of life.

Phajoding monastery is a place where orphaned, disadvantaged and unwanted boys are cared for. In the West, such a place is called an orphanage. It is a place for them to live and to learn about Buddhist teachings. In Phajoding monastery, whilst most of their time is taken up with Buddhist studies they are also taught English and organic gardening. They also have a plan to extend the curriculum to include maths, environmental studies and teaching of practical skills such as carpentry and general building.

Monks are normally sent to the monastery though a few make the decision themselves to come voluntarily. It’s definitely not just about eating, praying and sleeping! It take 17 years of study to obtain a Master degree in Buddhist study.

We all believe that children need to be kept warm in the wintertime, have enough food to eat and a place where they can feel safe to live and to study. Phajoding provides this support on a very low budget from the government and the stress to make ends meet is on-going for Khenpo Chimi Dorji and Lama Namgay. They need our help to continue to do this and to care for more disadvantaged boys in the future. Education is the only way to get out of poverty, for those of us who have been through this path; we know it well.

The monks with their new coats……. just in time for winter!

I was so grateful that all my friends promptly rallied to support the needs of the Phajoding Project. The crew who contributed towards the purchase of the heaters and warm coats included friends from Denmark, Netherland, Finland, Bulgaria, Ireland, Brazil, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. They have truly shown compassion without borders!

The 20 heaters which were carried up by the monks

The monks huddle around a heater to keep warm

Here is what they said:

“As a Catholic and a Christian, it is my duty to help anyone in need regardless of creed or color. Having said that, I and everyone else should all the more help the monks because they, with the little they have are helping all God’s living creatures through their teachings. The more monks the better the world will be because of their way of life. Simple arithmetics”. 

– Julietta Nielsen, Denmark

“When Dom told me how Lama Namgay Tenzin expressed worry about how to pay for the winter coats, which he got for his young fellow monks, I was touched – almost to tears. This is such a simple need and most of us will take this simple remedy against cold for granted.

In this world, where greed, anger and fear are setting the agenda for many of our actions and desires, I almost despair. How can we ever hope to create a world where peaceful coexistence, without pain and suffering, become the way of live? 

But when I learn about the monks from Phajoding Monastery, I know that there is still hope for us. Despite an unsure future, always lacking funds and all the basic amenities, which many of us take for granted to such as an extend that we regard them as indispensable necessities, these people insist on their simple lifestyle, focusing on inner values rather than volatile material wealth.

It takes such tremendous strength to live their lives of peaceful coexistence and compassion. Most of us can never hope to achieve this. Yet, my hope is that Namgay and his fellow monks will serve as a beacon of guidance and inspiration for the rest of us, regardless of our religion, race, nationality and political observance.

May we, through their actions, learn how to respect and care for our fellow beings. And experience the joy of giving – rather than taking”. 

– Niels Olesen, Denmark

“Unconditional love is a gift everyone can afford to give and receive. We love to send endless comfort and joy to touch the world of Monks. And we wish that our love makes the world go round”.

– Couple from the Netherlands

“The contribution made is little as compared to the monks in Phajoding who have only basic things to survive and my admiration to volunteers who gives more than us”.

– Mary Yeong, Singapore

“A little love and concern shown, in whatever and whichever way, goes a long way in bringing a smile on the faces of the children”.

– Ms Tee and Mr Leong , Malaysia

“Those when a child have experienced the joy of receiving something, can truly understand the joy of being able to help those who really need.

Despite of my very small contribution, I am very glad to know that the children in Phajoding have received something to make their daily life a little bit easier.

I wish the best opportunities for them in the near future”.

– Carolina Farias Christensen, Brazil

“In thank for their kindness in reminding us………

 The rundown buildings remind us how lucky we are to have a roof over our head, food within reach, clothes to keep warm – things that we take for granted. 

 The cheerful smiles remind us that happiness lies beyond material success – a thought that may take many of us years to realize, if ever.

 Their unconditional giving reminds us that we are in far better position to give a helping hand to our fellow human being”.

–  Vicky Poulsen, Hong Kong

“Having seen how much the spirit and culture of the place inspired my friend Dom, it was a pleasure to make a donation to the work at Phajoding.

All the more so as a relatively small donation, taken together with similar donations from others, can make a difference.

It is inspiring to support, in a small way, people who have very little material goods compared to what most people in Europe take for granted, but who nevertheless have what seems to be a very high motivation to make the best of what they do have”.

– Ed Garvey, Ireland

“With Best Regards”

– Marianna V Kaneva, Bulgaria

“Helping others in need makes your life more meaningful, and you can feel the happiness in your heart”.

– Yu Hui Wang, China

                                   Thank you everyone for your kindness,

                                    Dom

Turnips – an important ingredient on the Phajoding menu

Turnips (Yung Dok in Dzongkha) or Brassica Rapa (for those who are botanically minded) are a prominent root vegetable in Bhutanese cooking. And since they taste the best when they are grown in cooler temperatures (ideally between 5° – 24° Celsius) Phajoding provides a perfect environment for their cultivation. Well-drained soil and a good rainfall are also important prerequisites for a healthy crop so given that Phajoding is in the water catchment zone for the Thimphu valley and positioned on a well-drained slope you’d expect the quality and quantity of the Phajoding turnips to be high. The photo below can demonstrate the quantity but to determine the quality you’ll have to make a trip to Phajoding and taste for yourself! But speaking from personal experience- I can attest that they are of a superior quality. 

The root of the turnip is used to make a Bhutanese curry known as Yung Dok Datse or turnip cheese. For those of you who want to serve up something different to your family or friends, Lama Namgay has kindly offered to share his recipe, which is always served with rice.

Lama Namgay’s Yung Dok Datse

Ingredients

3 medium sized turnips

3-4 large green chillies * (slice lengthwise and remove seeds according to taste).

2 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons oil

1 tsp salt

1 soup bowl of water

½ cup of local grated cheese (which is similar to a paneer cheese)

(* A word of caution: chillies are treated more like a vegetable rather than a spice in Bhutan which makes the Bhutanese cuisine range from hotter to hottest)

Preparation

Peel the turnips and cut into desired shapes. Chop the chillies in slices and crush the garlic. Start off first by cooking the turnips, chillies and garlic with the salt and oil. When the turnips are more or less cooked add the cheese and place the lid on the pan and lower heat. Further cook till the cheese melts and blends well with the other ingredients.

Voila – Yung Dok Datse!

The resourcefulness of the Bhutanese people is demonstrated by the way they also utilize the turnip leaves to make a delicious soup called Lom Jaju (Turnip leaf soup). Lama Namgay has taken this great shot of the turnip leaves drying in the cool mountain air. Provided that there is no rain, it takes around 2 weeks for the leaves to be fully dried.

Lama Namgay’s Lom Jaju

Ingredients

1 bunch of dried turnip leaves

1 tsp chilli powder

1 ball of cheese (diameter of approx. 5cm)

1 tbsp of oil

Salt

Preparation

Wash and boil the turnip leaves. Strain the turnip leaves and preserve the water. Chop leaves into small pieces and cook in water for about 20 minutes. Add the oil, chilli powder, salt and cheese. Continue cooking till the cheese melts and make sure you mix the soup properly. Add salt to taste and serve with rice.

This is a wonderful vegetarian dish that keeps the monk’s warm during the winter months.

Happy cooking!