Newsletter of the Kurukulla Center
for Tibetan Buddhist Studies

Number 14, Fall 1998

Lama Zopa to Teach in Boston in November

It is with great joy that we announce that our esteemed spiritual director, Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, has kindly accepted the invitation of Venerable Geshe Tsulga and the students of Kurukulla Center to teach in Boston. Rinpoche is also the spiritual director of the FPMT, the international Buddhist organization to which Kurukulla belongs, and Rinpoche has thousands of students all over the world. This will be his first teaching visit to the area in more than eight years. Rinpoche will be explaining The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and offering Medicine Buddha and Tara empowerments November 21st-24th.

Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche was born in 1946 in the village of Thami in the Solo Khumbu region of Nepal, near Mount Everest. At the age of four he was recognized as the incarnation of the renowned Lawudo Lama, who had spent the last twenty years of his life meditating in a cave a couple of thousand feet up the mountain, within sight of Rinpoche's village. The late Lawudo Lama was a master of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism who expended his considerable energy in either meditating or giving teachings and advice to the local people.

When Rinpoche was ten, he and his uncle went to Tibet on pilgrimage and finished up at Domo Geshe Rinpoche's monastery at Pagri, in southern Tibet. Rinpoche stayed there until the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, when he fled to the safety of India and was placed in the refugee camp at Buxa Duar.

At Buxa, Rinpoche studied with a great Tibetan master, Geshe Rabten, who later directed Rinpoche to study with another of his students, Lama Thubten Yeshe. In 1967, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche went to Nepal, where in 1969 they established the Nepal Mahayana Centre Gompa, or Kopan Monastery. In 1970, Lama Zopa give his first one-month meditation course, a tradition that continues to this day. At the invitation of their many international students, in 1974, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche made their first trip abroad, to the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

Each summer for the next ten years the lamas would travel to the West, and as a result of these teaching tours, many new Dharma centers were established. To better organize this amazing activity, Lama Yeshe created an organization, the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). Tragically, in 1984, Lama Yeshe passed away, and in addition to his own teaching duties, Lama Zopa Rinpoche took over Lama's administrative tasks as spiritual director of the FPMT. Since that time, under Rinpoche’s wise and compassionate guidance, the organization has continued to grow, until there are now some 110 activities in more twenty countries around the world. Lama Zopa Rinpoche maintains an arduous schedule of travel, teaching, organization, retreat, personal advice, pujas, and much, much more, totally dedicated to the benefit of others. Like his predecessor, the Lawudo Lama, Rinpoche appears to have passed beyond the need for sleep.

We are extremely fortunate to welcome Rinpoche to Boston, and we hope that you will all come to hear this powerful teacher.

New Translator for Geshe-la

We are very pleased to welcome Lobsang Namgyal to Kurukulla Center to translate for Geshe Tsulga. He is 29 years-old and has been a monk at Kopan monastery since he was a small boy. Lobsang Namgyal comes to us with three years' experience translating at the Dorje Chang Institute in New Zealand, and when he left they were very sad to see him go. He hopes to continue his studies with Geshe Tsulga while he is here. Kar Sing from the Dorje Change Institute describes Lobsang Namgyal as "an extremely pleasant person and very kind. As for his translation, he has an extremely good Dharma knowledge and command of Dharma terminology." He is sure to bring great benefit to our community in conveying Geshe-la's teachings with skill and understanding. Welcome Lobsang Namgyal!

From Pain to Compassion:
A teaching by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche

One of the verses in the thought-training teaching Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, by the great bodhisattva Togme Zangpo, reads, "Even should someone spread insults about you throughout the three worlds, responding with only love for that person and praising his or her good qualities is the practice of a bodhisattva."

First of all, what does he mean by "the three worlds"? Usually it means the desire, form, and formless realms, but it can also mean beneath the earth, upon the earth, and all of space above the earth. Whichever interpretation you prefer, you can see that this person's denigration of you has spread pretty far. By comparison, what President Clinton is going through at the moment is nothing. Even though he is scorned throughout the entire country, in newspapers, on television, in other countries as well, not just one or two, but many, and is an object of derision everywhere, Togme Zangpo would say that this is nothing compared to being ridiculed throughout the three worlds. That's much more extensive. But, even if subjected to such universal contempt, instead of retaliating angrily, a bodhisattva responds with only love and compassion, and rather than trying to hurt the person who has given this harm, praises that person's good qualities instead.

So, when Togme Zangpo says that this is the practice of a bodhisattva, he's not simply describing it in the third person, "Oh, this is what those bodhisattvas do," like you're reading a biography or something. It's not just describing somebody's life, "At this time he went here, at that time he ate there, then he did that" No. He's explaining how a bodhisattva acts so that we'll be able to emulate those actions. That's the point of this text, the Thirty-seven Practices.

Our problem is that we don't know how bodhisattvas act, so in writing this text the author is showing us how to practice bodhicitta, how to follow in the footsteps of the bodhisattvas. In other words, he's detailing the way we should train our body, speech, and mind in order to become enlightened. That is the main thing. Right here is something we can practice. Say you're at a restaurant with some people and one of them is abusing or insulting you. Instead of rejecting what that person's saying, try to listen closely. Instead of reacting with doubt and fear, feeling your darkest secrets are about to be revealed-"Oh no, now he's going to tell everybody what I did, how will I be able to face these people again?"-instead of creating a big problem in your mind, burdening yourself with so much baggage, which doesn't help at all and only serves to make you more and more unhappy, simply try to change your mind. If you get up and leave, not only will you miss out on lunch, but the others will be suspicious that you do indeed have something to hide.

What you should do is just change your conception. If you sit there thinking, "Oh, it was my mistake, now I'm going to suffer," you're creating your own suffering. Nobody else is telling you to suffer or that this is suffering; you're doing it to yourself. You're playing make-believe just by the way you're thinking. Therefore, by merely continuing to sit there, you can turn the whole thing around by using your mind in a different way. By changing your mind you can free yourself from the whole problem.

Usually, what makes you unhappy is the way you think. You believe that what you're experiencing is a serious, actual, absolutely existent thing, as if it's coming at you from its own side and has nothing to do with the way you're thinking. However, deep within you is the fearful thought, "Oh, he's going to say this" In other words, your ego, your self-grasping, is scared. If you can be conscious of what's happening in your mind in such a situation, instead of responding with anger when that undesirable person utters those unpleasant words, instead of making the experience the cause of suffering, problems, and unhappiness, you can take those miserable conditions and transform them into the path to enlightenment by using them as a means of training your mind in bodhicitta. That is what bodhisattvas do, and that is what this important text, Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, teaches us to do.

Edited by Nicholas Ribush

Letter From the Director

Dear Friends,

I hope you all have been enjoying the sunny, warm weather! The summer has been a busy and exciting one at Kurukulla Center. In May, I attended the worldwide conference of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) at Kopan Monastery in Nepal. About 70 people, representing FPMT Centers, schools, and projects from all over the world, gathered to meet, share ideas, and discuss how the FPMT can be better organized to serve the steadily increasing number of organizations which make up the Foundation. I was extremely fortunate to finally meet and talk with Lama Zopa Rinpoche, FPMT's Spiritual Director. He was an inspiration, to say the least! Those of you who have met Rinpoche know what a lively, spontaneous and joyful person he is; those of you who have not met him yet will get the chance to when he visits Boston this coming November. (See lead article.)

June and July were relatively quiet, but August brought us lots of activity when we had the pleasure of hosting two visiting teachers. Ven. Neil Huston, from the Nalanda Monastery in France, gave 7 teachings over a two week period, which altogether gave a complete overview of the Buddhist path. The series was well attended, and brought in a number of new faces, to which I extend a warm welcome! Ven. Robina was here the last days of the month, and she invigorated and challenged a large crowd of old and new friends with her teachings.

Our community continues to grow, and there are often requests for courses and events that we'd love to sponsor but just are unable to fit into our schedule. The space at the Friends Meetinghouse is spacious and comfortable, and they have been kind to us, but we are limited in the amount of times we can use the space each week. Many of you know of our past and present efforts to buy or rent a building for Kurukulla Center. The effort which was started late last winter to search for space has continued, although at the present time we are focussing on preparing the Center for sustained growth. A committee has been put together to work on a long-range plan, and please feel free to let me know if you have some ideas or would like to help in any way.

I extend my sincerest thanks to all of you who have volunteered your time and energy to the Center over the summer, in particular the members of our management and planning committees. I'm very fortunate to be working with all of you!

See you soon,

Center Members News

The kurukulla center community has always been one which is constantly in flux. While we've been overjoyed to see many new faces, we've also been saddened to see the departure of some of our close friends. This summer we said our good-byes to three couples who have been at the core of our community.

Tony Trigilio and Shelly Hubman left Boston this summer to relocate to Chicago, Illinois where Tony, after completing his PhD in English, landed an Assistant Professorship at Harper College. Tony and Shelly have long been active and dedicated Center members. Tony was our newsletter editor for a time, Shelly has volunteered in countless ways, and they both were teaching Geshe Tsulga English every week. We'll all miss their lively presence at teachings and events!

Barbara Cochrane and Jonathan Alexander had only recently joined our community last fall, but they quickly became familiar faces. They are dedicated supporters and had volunteered regularly at the Center, where they first met. Barbara, our most recent newsletter editor, was accepted into American University's law school in Washington, DC. Having gotten engaged this past spring, both Barbara and Jonathan relocated to the DC area. Congratulations to them both, and we wish them the best of luck.

We almost couldn't believe our ears when we heard that another couple was also moving out of the area! Katie Smethurst and Tony Schlein are in the process of moving to New Jersey, so Katie can attend school in the area. They, too, have been supporters and volunteers for a long time, and regularly gave rides to Geshe Tsulga and translators.

The Kurukulla Center community will certainly not be the same without these six people. They have all contributed to the Center in numerous ways, and they will be sorely missed. May they all find warm communities to learn with and practice with in their new homes, and may they continue to spread their good cheer wherever they go.

Thank You!

A huge "thank you" to all who have contributed their time and talents to the Center over the past few months! There would not be enough space to list all the names of everyone who contributes, but there are a few special thank yous we'd like to make: to Debra Thornburgh, Kerry O'Brien, and Suzanne Persyn, for their work on the newly-formed Spiritual Program Committee; to Priscilla Sawa, for writing numerous drafts of our planning document; to Quentin Andrews, for sharing her skills and advice; and to Gail Keeley, for answering the phone! We'd also like to thank other members of the the Management Committee-David, Suzanne, Steve, and Nick-for their tireless efforts and steady support.

We extend a special thank you to the donors who sponsored Ven. Neil Huston's visit and enabled us to offer the classes free of charge. The series was very successful, bringing in many new faces, and interest in the Center continues to grow. Thanks go out also to those who continued to make their membership contributions during the summer months. Much of the Center's expenses continue even when there's not a full program, and the generosity of our members and other donors is very much appreciated. New members in the first half of 1998 include Thomas Alden, Mark Baard, Eric Delvin, Karen Kaye, Susan Macy, Therese Miller, Priscilla Sawa, and Nam Trung. Thanks to all!

As always, we thank Ven. Geshe Tsulga and the teachers who come to visit us for their kindness in teaching us the Dharma. And to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, our Spritual Director, we extend our deepest gratitude for guiding Kurukulla Center toward growth and setting a perfect example of how to serve others with boundless love and compassion.