Newsletter of the
Kurukulla Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies

Number 13, Spring 1998

Lama Zopa Sighted in Boston

When Lama Zopa Rinpoche postponed his scheduled Fall 1997 trip to teach in Boston until Spring 1998, and when, as this year dawned it also became clear that even that wouldn't happen, some of us began to wonder what kind of karma we'd need to create in order to finally receive teachings from Rinpoche in Boston. Thus it was a joyous surprise to receive a call from Rinpoche's attendant, Ven. Roger Kunsang, on Thursday, March 12, telling us that Rinpoche would be arriving in Boston 'the day after tomorrow.' The downside was that this visit would last less than 48 hours and was essentially for private purposes. Therefore, Rinpoche would not have time to teach or to see most of the many people who would have wanted to see him.

Upon arriving Saturday evening, Rinpoche and Roger came to the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, where they had dinner. Rinpoche then went to a student's house west of Boston, where he stayed during his brief visit. On Monday, Rinpoche visited Wisdom Publications' new office in Somerville, after which Rinpoche offered lunch at the new Tibetan restaurant to Kurukulla's Geshe Tsulga, Wisdom and LYWA staff, and a small number of Kurukulla regulars. That afternoon, Rinpoche and Roger got on a plane and left again. Rinpoche's entire visit was almost like a dream, and even this brief encounter brought home to us the powerful joy he receives and gives to others through living a life infused with Dharma. We now hope that our karma has moved up a notch or two and that, before too long, Rinpoche will accept our many invitations and constant prayers for him to give extensive teachings in Boston.

East Meets West
in Buddhist Scholars Series

The role of the scholar is not to debunk, but to keep people honest. So said Georges Dreyfus, during the first of three lectures in the Kurukulla Center Buddhist Scholars Series. Such honesty was welcome, especially to keep ourselves honest - to prevent us from disengaging our Dharma practice from our western cultural contexts.

Over three Sundays in January and February, Dreyfus, Kate Wheeler, and John Makransky discussed how western Tibetan Buddhists are establishing western Buddhist traditions that differ from those practiced in Tibet. Dreyfus spoke about the historical roots of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy; Wheeler led discussions on the role of desire in daily practice; and Makransky lectured on the need to combine historical consciousness with one's practice. Unlike Orientalists of the past - those who studied Buddhism as outsiders - Dreyfus, Wheeler, and Makransky combine the intellectual rigor of western scholarship with the spiritual rigor of their own individual Dharma practices.

Dreyfus, Assistant Professor of Religion at Williams College, studied at monasteries in both Switzerland and India, where he became the first westerner to earn a Geshe degree. Wheeler was a Buddhist nun in Burma and is a meditation teacher trained in Theravadan and Tibetan traditions. She is a contributing editor for Tricycle magazine and an award-winning fiction writer. Makransky, a Buddhist practitioner for over 20 years, trained with Geshe Sopa at the University of Wisconsin. He is a professor of Buddhist Studies at Boston College. All three energetically incorporated in their discussions the joys and struggles of their own Dharma practices.

Wheeler invited us to examine how desire can both threaten and sustain our practice. She reminded us that desire is 'just a feeling.' The key to working with this feeling is to construct a middle way 'between suppression and indulgence.' As for finding the correct middle way, Wheeler said, 'You can't boil it down to one strategy - ever.' Desire and practice take too many forms to assume that only one method works, she said. The lively question and answer session that followed Wheeler's lecture lived up to her emphasis on multiple methods of practice. Wheeler led lucid discussions on questions ranging through basic inquiries about desires for rich desserts, to more complex inquiries into how Buddhism's approach to desire might differ from that of Western religious traditions.

Makransky worked from an essay in his forthcoming book, Buddhist Theology. His lecture focused on how we can develop new appreciation for the tremendous wealth of sacred practices that emerge when Buddhism is transplanted into a new culture. Makransky encouraged us to 'take possession of the Dharma' in ways that can balance western and eastern modes of inquiry. Such an approach, Makransky said, could help western Tibetan Buddhists create an 'irreducible pluralism' of sacred practices.

The Buddhist Scholars Series complemented the traditional teachings of monks and nuns offered by Kurukulla Center, inviting westerners to both embrace and evaluate the rich Tibetan tradition. Addressing what Makransky perceived as the dangers of naively adopting practices within a religious tradition without being aware if they carry a sectarian bias, he stressed that we need to 'receive as much as we can from all sources of practice, rather than uncritically accept past traditions of sectarianism.'

 Interview With Geshe Tsulga

Kurukulla Center member Cheryl Bentsen interviewed Geshe Tsulga about his recent trip to India, the direction of Buddhism in the West, and the future of the Kurukulla Center.

Invited to America by the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), Ven. Geshe Tsulga (Tsultrim Chöpel) arrived in December 1992. Since then he has been dividing his teaching time between three of the FPMT's east coast centers: the Kadampa Center near Raleigh, North Carolina, the Milarepa Center in Barnet, Vermont, and Kurukulla Center in Boston. Last year, Geshe-la's first book, a biography of his root guru, Losang Thupten, was published in India. His is finishing up another book, a history Dargey Monastery, which the Chinese destroyed. The following conversation took place over tea and biscuits while sitting at the kitchen table in Geshe-la's apartment in Somerville, with the assistance of translator Pasang Tenzin.

Q. Geshe-la, what was the event that took you back to India this winter?
A: There was a big inauguration for the new temple hall at Sera Monastery in Mysore, in south India. His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to give a very special teaching that, if I missed, I probably wouldn't be able to get it again in this life. His Holiness taught a text on emptiness by Khedrup Je, a direct disciple of Je Tsongkhapa. I also went back to visit my students, relatives, and cousins whom I had not seen for a couple of years. They had been writing to me, telling me to come and visit.

Q: Did you always want to be a monk?
A: I never thought about it. But when I was seven-years-old, my parents nominated me to Dargey Monastery, the local monastery in Kham. At age eleven I entered the monastery, became a monk, and began my studies.

Q. Tell us about your family.
A. I had two sisters and eight brothers. I was the sixth of the ten. My father was a businessman selling tea leaves, animal skins, and horns. My mother looked after the family. After the Chinese occupation in 1959, my younger brother and I fled on March 12th to India. The rest of my family remained in eastern Tibet. Two of my bothers and one sister are still alive; the rest of my family have died. One of my elder brothers died because of torture by the Chinese. The others have no specific stories of having suffered torture, but they did suffer the abuse of the social conditions under occupation, such as starvation. The brother who was tortured was an activist who used to fight for the welfare of his community. He always raised his voice and demonstrated. As a result, the Chinese beat him at a demonstration, and he became ill and died. The Chinese destroyed the old Dargey Monastery. My father died in 1958. My mother died in 1965. My younger brother, Jampa Palden, who fled with me to India, was a monk for about thirteen years, but then he disrobed. He died in India in a bus crash in 1973. During the years I spent in India, I kept in touch with my family through letters. But here in the United States, the correspondence is more difficult and letters postmarked USA might cause problems for my relatives in Tibet.

Q: When was the exile Sera Monastery established in south India?
A: It was started around 1970, when the local government in the Indian state of Karnataka, in Mysore, agreed to give us the land to build it. The government felt that installing a Tibetan Buddhist monastery would help the local Indian community develop financially. And that is what happened. The Tibetan settlement really benefited the local community in terms of social welfare and business. The Indians were made up mostly of Hindus, Christians and some Muslims. The Indians have learned from the Tibetans, much as they did in Dharamsala

Q. Who was your main teacher at Sera?
A. Losang Thupten was one of my root gurus. I also consider H.H. the Dalai Lama as my root guru. I started studying with Losang Thupten when I was 17 years-old, back in Lhasa, in Tibet.

Q.How did you know that Losang Thupten was your root teacher?
A. Back in Tibet when I was sixteen, Geshe Jampa Khedup, who was the root guru of Losang Thupten, came to my home province, Kham, and told me that I should go to Lhasa and begin teachings with Losang Thupten. At age 17, I joined Sera Je in Lhasa. I didn't know that Losang Thupten was my root guru when I first met him. That happens over time, by observing him and taking his teachings. As time goes by, you develop a special relationship with your guru. I analyzed him for about twelve years before I knew he was a root guru for me. I thought about the kindness of this teacher to me over those twelve years.

Q: When did you first travel overseas?
A: In 1993 I traveled to Kadampa Center in North Carolina and stayed for four months. I also traveled to Milarepa and Kurukulla Center that year.

Q: How did that come about?
A: In 1990 I first met Lama Zopa (spiritual director of the FPMT) at Sera Monastery, and he asked me if I was interested in giving teachings in the West. I told him that I had no experience giving teachings to western students, and I didn't know if it would really benefit the students or not. Lama Zopa thought about it for a while and said he thought I could benefit western students. I then asked Lama Zopa if he would do a divination. After two days, Rinpoche came back and told me that the divination came out positive for me to teach in the West, and I accepted.

Q. How does your experience in the West compare with what you imagined in India?
A: When I look back, I remember how I was concerned about using a translator for teachings. Would the translator be able to convey what I was teaching? Now when I look back, it is not that bad. This is the only way it can work. After the first two months in North Carolina, I didn't think I was benefiting the students in the West. So I wrote a prayer for western students. After that, things went smoother. So now I am more confident that the students are receiving my teachings. In the West, I find the students are quite intelligent, so there is no problem giving teachings. My greatest mission to the West is putting some imprints in the minds of western people who can benefit.

Q: Can you comment on the growing interest in Buddhism in the West?
A: Everybody wants happiness. For people with deep hearts, it comes down to the point where you realize that, to experience happiness, you must create the cause. The working of cause and effect is taught in Buddhism.

Q: Some of the ways that westerners practice Buddhism might be suspect, mixed with so-called New Age principles, a little of this, a little of that. Is the distortion of Buddhist teachings a problem in the West?
A: Those practices that take bits and pieces from everywhere and call it a Buddhist practice might not be a Buddhist practice. It might not be benefiting anybody at all. But it is like a person who takes poison - he or she is the one who gets hurt. People who have a distorted view won't have a clear view of Buddhist practices, and they will not get the benefit.

Q: As a result of your experiences in the West, is there anything in particular you can bring back to your students in India?
A: I definitely tell the monks at Sera how I give teachings in the West, how I use examples to communicate. Talking to Tibetan students, I don't have to go through all the examples because they know all the terms.

Q: Nowadays young monks and nuns in India are likely to have more exposure to the outside world than you did at the same age. The young monks might watch international TV, play video games, or even surf the Internet. We hear about monks coming to the West and giving up their vows or their practice. How do you as a senior monk with experience in the West deal with this problem?
A: This is the main fear that I have always, and I find it is a very dangerous thing to bring young monks to the West. A lot of my students in India write to me telling me they want to come to the West. I don't pay attention to their requests. I tell my students they must stay in the monastery until they are age 45, and after that, they will be mature enough to come to the West without distraction. I might fool them by telling them don't be in a hurry to come to the West, if you miss me, I will come to India to visit you, you don't need to come to the West.

Q: How are we (the western students) doing in your assessment?
A: When I think about my students at Kurukulla Center, the thing that comes to mind is that they are very attentive to the teachings and getting involved with the practices. But the biggest concern right now is that we don't have a center. I wish the students would get together and donate money to have a place of our own. The students need to take the initiative.

Q: Is there something you'd like to say to your Kurukulla Center students?
A: A lot of old students aren't coming to the center at all, and I don't know what the reason is for that. I wish that all the students whether new or old would attend teachings and develop a special relationship between all the students there. That is how we are going to develop the center.

 Spring Smorgasbord

With our dear Geshe-la back at Sera Monastery in India from the end of December until the middle of February, the spring schedule lent itself to a variety of people stepping forward to share their experience and expertise. The Center benefited once again from a visit by Ven. Robina Courtin, who generously gave a weekend of teachings on Karma and Emptiness January 2 - 4. David Strom led guided meditation sessions on Sundays, while on Wednesdays Wendy Cook shared her knowledge and experience of the Thirty Five Buddhas purification practice. For those of us fortunate enough to attend, it was a wonderfully challenging experience both spiritually and physically. Wendy also led Guru Pujas at her residence in Brookline and facilitated the Lam Rim study group session on Sunday mornings. After returning from India in mid-February, Geshe Tsulga resumed his teachings, focusing on 'The King of Prayers of Ways High and Sublime' and 'The Foundation of All Good Qualities', respectively. We are fortunate to have received Geshe-la's commentaries on these beautiful texts, as they help us to transform our minds by familiarizing ourselves with the lam-rim and providing a guide for the development of compassion and the attainment of bodhicitta.

The Great Importance of Inner Education

Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche

Whatever work we do, there are two things to learn. The first is how to do external work properly, how to do our jobs. This is what we learn in school and college and what most people in the world are educated to do. But that alone is not sufficient; it is nowhere near enough to ensure that all our actions serve as the unmistaken cause of happiness. Expert knowledge in only how to perform external actions never solves any problem completely. Outer education alone brings neither satisfaction nor fulfillment to our hearts. Therefore, we must not neglect the second - inner - education, which teaches us the correct attitude with which we should perform our tasks and live our lives.

It is of the utmost importance that we understand how to use our minds correctly when we do the things we do. There is no other choice. Why? If, for example, you're working as a secretary or cooking with Dharma motivation - such as, for example, thoughts of your own happiness beyond this life or the wish to bring happiness to others - then whatever you do becomes the cause of happiness, such as a good rebirth in the next life. Better still, if you have bodhicitta motivation, the determination to reach enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, all your actions - secretarial work, cooking or whatever else you do - become the cause of all sentient beings' enlightenment.

Thus you can see that internal work - how you use your mind, how you motivate your actions - is far more important than external work, because it is this that determines whether what you do becomes the cause of happiness or that of suffering. Instruction in this, how to live using our mind correctly, is what's missing in our schools' curricula. How to live intelligently is not taught in our schools, universities or colleges.

Because we get paid for doing our jobs, they appear to us, and we believe them to be, the cause of happiness. In reality, no matter how perfectly we do our jobs, how skilled we are or how many billions of dollars we make, since we are acting out of worldly motivation, the attachment clinging to this life, rather than becoming the cause of happiness, our work becomes the cause of suffering instead.

In fact, our jobs serve simply as a condition for our receiving our pay checks. The principal cause of getting paid is good karma, which we created previously through having given generously to others, made offerings to the Three Jewels of Refuge or other holy objects, and so forth. It is also previous good karma that got us the job in the first place, the job which itself then became just a condition, or a support, for our receiving money.

There are many people around the world who have not been educated in schools or colleges but are extremely well off, possessing enough wealth to support several lives, without ever having had to do a day's work in their lives. This demonstrates that what is commonly known as success - wealth and reputation - can be achieved without the need for either outer education or what's called a 'profession.'

Excerpted from a booklet forthcoming from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, 'How to Make the Daily Life Meaningful.'

Welcome Tsen-la!

Kurkulla Center is happy to welcome Ani Tsering Tuladhar (Tsen-la) to Boston for the months of April and May, as she has kindly agreed to translate for Geshe Tsulga. A Tibetan by birth, she attended Catholic schools growing up in India. She took ordination over twenty years ago while studying with Lama Yeshe in Nepal and went on to found Khachoe Gakyil Nunnery on the hillside next to Kopan in Kathmandu. For the last couple years she has been living in the United States, giving American students of the Dharma the benefit of her excellent translating skills. She came to Boston in 1996 as translator for the touring monks from Sera-Je Monastery. We are happy to have you here!