Saturday 31 October 2015

A Pilgrimage to Southerndown

Nagk'chang Rinpoche, Southerndown 2015
In early October some apprentices accompanied Ngak'chang Rinpoche on a pilgrimage to Southerndown on the coast of South Wales not far from Cardiff. It was during the same weekend that Khandro Déchen and another groups of pilgrims were making their journey into Yolmo, bayul, a Hidden Land, and an area of very special significance in Nepal.

In the United Kingdom the Aro gTér Lineage has two sites of pilgrimage, one is Bird Rock, where Chris Haydon completed his fundraising walk recently, (read more here) and Southerndown.

Southerndown has significance as being the place where Ngak'chang Rinpoche and some apprentices made a visit with one of Ngak'chang Rinpoche's Root Lamas, the late great Nyigma master Khordong gTérchen Tulku Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche for a picnic. This was in 1983 when the Aro gTér Lineage was little known and the Aro Sangha not as large or as far reaching as it is today. Visits from Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche to stay with Ngak’chang Rinpoche were relatively frequent and  apprentices were able to receive teachings.

The day out came to be acquire significance as Ngak’chang Rinpoche recalls:
‘A picnic had been planned, but when the day arrived so did torrential rain – of the unremitting kind which is common in Wales. Apprentices arrived nonetheless and were introduced to Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche, who surprised everyone by showing no sign of abandoning the picnic. We set out for Southerndown, with the thought that it might possibly be clearer an hour’s drive from Cardiff – but that did not turn out to be the case. The rain thrashed down for the extent of the journey
Kyabjé Chhi'mèd Rig'dzin Rinpoche and Ngak'chang Rinpoche
to such a degree that it was, at times, necessary to drive below 20mph as if we were in a thick fog. We finally arrived at Southerndown under a lowering sky and continuous rain, but no sooner had we turned into the car park than the rain began to ease. At the moment when Kyabjé Rinpoche opened the car door a ray of sunshine flickered through a crack in the cloud-base and from that moment on, the rain stopped. We had our picnic; Kyabjé Rinpoche gave a wonderful teaching on Dzogchen men-ngak-dé; and we returned to the cars. Then – as soon as Kyabjé Rinpoche’s car door closed, the rain burst out of the sky again as if a tap has suddenly been turned on. It then rained the entire drive back to Cardiff.’

During our visit we found our way to the rocks where the picnic had taken place and Ngak’chang Rinpoche recounted the story for us all,  then we found places along the cliff to practice in silence for some time. Some of us had painted stones with Guru Rinpoche mantra and these we left amidst the rocks and gathered more on which to paint more mantra.

Afterwards, when we gathered together again, Ngakpa ‘ö-Dzin observed:

'There was a sense of connection, in the present time with the pilgrims in Nepal, and in the present place with Kyabjé Chhi'mèd Rig'dzin Rinpoche.'

Apprentices with their colourful shawls gather around Ngak'chang Rinpoche
Practising at Southerndown
Stones with Guru Rinpoche Mantra
 Over the next few posts we shall feature some accounts from pilgrims who went to Yolmo.

The Drala Jong project seeks to create a home for the Aro gTér Lineage. Please see the Appeal page for more information about the Drala Jong project and how to help.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

The Lattè Box

, fundraising for Drala Jong

The Lattè Box

, by Ngakma Shadröl Wangmo

A couple of years ago I was thinking about how I, as a person with a small income, could come up with something like $1000 to donate to Drala Jong. It occurred to me that there was something I'd heard of called 'saving money' and though I'd never previously tried it myself, I thought it could be applied to this situation. So I came up with the idea of the Lattè Box.

The idea of the Lattè Box is that every day, instead of taking myself out to a café for my [required] morning coffee, I would dose myself at home and put $3 into the Lattè Box. Since I was going out for coffee nearly every day and sometimes spending more than $3 (although I never actually order lattès because I hate milk) I knew I could probably afford it.

Q: Why would I call it a Lattè Box if I never actually drank lattès? Why not call it a Coffee Box? Or a Caffeine Addiction Receptacle? Huh?

A: Because 'lattè box' sounds interesting and exotic and somewhat artistic. 'Coffee box' is awkward and inelegant. 'Caffeine addiction receptacle' sounds like a spittoon.

Onward: I happened to have a skull-sized black box with a matching cover which I thought would look nice sitting on my small black iron table, so I cut a slit in the top of the box and designated it as the official Lattè Box. Each day I dragged three dollar bills ('notes' for you British) out of my wallet and stuffed them through the slit into the box.

Problem #1: Not having the right change. Some days I only had a five-dollar bill. Or even a ten or twenty. The obvious solution was to make change from the Lattè Box itself, since it had a bunch of ones in it. BIG MISTAKE! [See What I Have Learned at the end of this narrative.]

Problem #2: Not having enough cash. Some days I just didn't have much cash on hand. I could go to the bank and get some, yes, but that would mean walking the vast distance (a few city blocks) to the bank and sometimes I just didn't feel like it. Especially when it was cold or raining. I realize that this confession of supreme laziness is not making me look very good. Oh well. At any rate, there was something of a Psychological Barrier to leaving the house just to get $3 to put in the Lattè Box. Usually I just figured I'd make it up in a day or so when the universe flowed some more cash in my direction or I had to go to the bank for some other, more compelling reason. Also BIG MISTAKE! 

Things went on pretty smoothly for several months. Money was accumulating in the box in spite of my now having gotten in the habit of making change from its contents (putting in a twenty and taking out a ten and two fives, for example). Soon the Lattè Box only contained large bills which made it even more likely I would delay my daily contribution if I didn't have the exact change.

And this led to an even bigger problem. A barrier had been breached. One night a delivery of Chinese takeout food arrived and I found I didn't have enough cash to pay for it so I opened up the Lattè Box and 'borrowed' some. BIG BIG MISTAKE!

After this discipline started to break down. I acknowledge that it is all my own fault rather than that the method doesn't work. I got too casual about the box and was often making change, borrowing and replacing, etc. Naturally the numbers got muddled. I'm leaving out a lot of specific details because I don't want this to get too long. Studies Have Shown that people don't like long emails.

The result of all this behavior was that at the end of the year I didn't have even close to the $1000 I thought I could easily accumulate. I still think it is not the method which is at fault but the execution. I will explain.

What I Have Learned

They make piggy banks out of ceramic with a small slot exactly because then you can't take money out once you put it in without busting open the pig. Breaching the in/out barrier is definitely a mistake. The money has to go in and stay there till it all comes out at the end. 'Borrowing' from the bank is a road to ruin.

Also, one has to be absolutely strict about paying in the $3 every day and not skipping it for a few days and figuring I'll put in $15 five days from now to make it up. It's too easy to get confused, or to forget about it. 

My Lattè Box had an easily removable cover so I could reach in there any time and play with the money, make change, borrow, steal, whatever, and tell myself I'd settle up and then forget. I ended up paying the Drala Jong contribution in installments because I had robbed the box too many times. That still worked but it would have been a lot easier if I'd just left the money in the box. Khandro Déchen pointed out that since you can contribute even small amounts easily via the Total Giving website [or PayPal], she just contributes the proceeds whenever she sells one of her streptocarpus plants rather than saving the money in an envelope or something. This is a great idea. The piggy bank would also work. It just needs to be something where you can't get the money back out. Or maybe you just need to be a more disciplined person than I am. Do as I say, not as I do.

The Drala Jong project seeks to create a home for the Aro gTér Lineage. Please see the Appeal page for more information about the Drala Jong project and how to help.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Drala Jong-A Bayul in Progress, Visions of Drala Jong

This post by Ngakma Yeshé Zértsal is the first of a series called 'visions of Drala Jong', posts by the Brevet Lamas of the the Aro gTér Lineage, senior disciples of the Lineage Holders who are Brevet Lamas or teachers in training and who have on their own students.

Drala Jong-A Bayul in Progress

As a practitioner of the Aro gTér for over twenty years and a Zen student before coming upon this luxurious path, I have had the opportunity to meet many great Lamas and Roshis and practice in places rife with the power of realization. It seems we as individuals and as a sangha pilgrimage to great places of practice—caves, shrines and stupas—for connection to our Buddhist heritage as well as for inspiration. Ancient artifacts, relics and artistic depictions of realization fill us with joyful tears as our awareness grows beyond our own thoughts and small wishes.

Whenever I have attended a retreat, heard a teaching or meditated in a place where practice has accumulated I am drawn into its expansive ethos much like being in the presence of Great Lamas like my own.

To me, this is bayul—Hidden Land—the kind we encounter near the stupa in Bodhanath, in Padmasambhava and Milarepa caves of realization and wherever sincere practice is manifest.

This is what I see Drala Jong becoming—a bayul. A place where the exquisitely direct and shimmering practices and teachings that comprise the Aro gTérma, and as lived and transmitted by Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen, will collect. A place where students will reside, practice, attend retreats and teachings and commence private retreats for varying periods of time. A place of practice established for new arrivals to enter and avail themselves of its bounty.

I have been a brevet lama or teacher-in-training for a short while and am grateful for the opportunity to share this lineage with others.

The Drala Jong project seeks to create a home for the Aro gTér Lineage. Please see the Appeal page for more information about the Drala Jong project and how to help.

Saturday 3 October 2015

Retreat Centre Appeal : Yoga - Dance

Gar’cham (sometimes called ‘Lama Dance’) is a system of sacred dance. The movements are part of a moving meditation practice, that, like others in the Vajrayana Buddhism involves visualisation by the dancers which is maintained throughout the length of the dance, whether the dancer is still or in motion.

Whilst some such dances are reserved for advanced practitioners, others may either be viewed by members of the public or in part learned by them. One such dance from the Aro gTér lineage is ‘phurba dance’.

Cham, like yoga, can be performed indoors or out, and we intend to build a dual-purpose facility at Drala Jong capable of being used for both purposes.

The Drala Jong project seeks to create a home for the Aro gTér Lineage. Please see the Appeal page for more information about the Drala Jong project and how to help.