Newsletter of the Kurukulla Center
for Tibetan Buddhist Studies Number 7, June 1996

Kurukulla Center welcomes Geshe Tsulga back to Boston

A Lamp for the Path

Geshe Tsulga's teachings June 4-18 at Wisdom Publications gave those who attended a taste of what we have to look forward to this Fall. With expert and engaging translation provided by John Dunne and Sarah McClintock, Geshe-la was able to sharpen our understanding of the purpose and practice of the Buddhist path. He gave detailed instructions on the seven limbs of practice and laid the groundwork for students aspiring to keep the vows of a bodhisattva.

On the weekend of June 15th, Geshe-la performed the initiation ceremony for the practice of 1000-Arm Chenrezig. This particular transmission not only empowers practitioners to develop the qualities of great compassion that Chenrezig exemplifies, it also provides a foundation for Nyung Nä practice. On the following Tuesday, Geshe-la explained how fasting, keeping silence, doing prostrations, and so forth, during the Nyung Nä actually creates the causes to have a happy mind and to be able to continue one's practice in one's next rebirth. Tapes are available of the teachings on the Bodhisattva vows and on Nyung Nä practice.

The center owes its thanks to Eric and Angela Hoffman for hosting Geshe-la at their home during his June visit. They went out of their way to make the time a success by hosting a cookout and a puja, and by constructing, with the help of Mary Burke, Matt Weiss, and Paola Savarino, the beautiful mandala house used during the initiation ceremony.

An Early Return

We are very happy to welcome Geshe Tsulga back to Kurukulla Center for his fourth year of teachings. Geshe-la has returned earlier than expected and will be spending the summer dividing his time between Milarepa Center in Vermont and Kurukulla Center, before returning full time to Kurukulla Center from September until January. While we are sorry that Geshe-la's plans in India did not work out, we find ourselves with the opportunity of receiving more teachings than expected. We thank Geshe-la for turning his personal misfortune into an auspicious situation for all of us.

Some of you have not had the opportunity to meet Geshe-la yet. Geshe Tsulga was born and raised in Tibet. He fled during the Chinese invasion in 1959, and completed his twenty years of monastic studies at Sera Monastery in India, where he received his Geshe degree in Buddhist philosophy, roughly equivalent to a doctor of divinity. At the invitation of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Geshe-la came to the U.S.A. in 1993. He divides his time between Kadampa Center in North Carolina, Milarepa Center in Vermont, and Kurukulla Center, here in Boston. We hope you will be able benefit from Geshe-la's clear explanations this fall and winter.

Kurukulla Center is Moving

Beginning in September, Kurukulla Center's activities may be in a new space. Our current teaching space at Wisdom will no longer be available after July and due to the growth of the center, the teaching space in Jamaica Plain is not large enough for our needs. Currently, a committee is scouring the greater Boston area for a suitable space for the center. Most important is finding a teaching space large enough to accomodate the regular activities of the center, teaching room for at least 30 people. Ideally, it would be connected to living space for Geshe-la and possibly several others. We have been looking at houses and loft spaces in Somerville, and would prefer something with two floors, but we are open to other ideas or in other areas of Boston. If you have any ideas or know of possible teaching or living spaces that would be suitable for the center needs, please contact Cheryl at (617) 576-1728 or the center director at (617) 628-1953.

Geshe Michael Roach Inspires KKC Students

Geshe Michael Roach taught a weekend course in March on the 12 links of interdependent origination. He focused on the relationship between ignorance and karma, the first two links, detailing the process by which the habit of perceiving self leads one to generate non-virtuous karmic seeds and thereby suffering. The vividness of his description was so compelling that the effect on people definitely went beyond the conceptual. His teachings helped people feel, more instinctively, how karma works, how acting out of ignorance causes us to experience suffering in the future, and how doing virtuous actions results in happiness and pleasure.

Geshe-la really hit his stride talking about the ultimate antidote to rebirth, aging, sickness and death: the direct perception of emptiness. With uncanny clarity, he described the path of seeing, when, during deep meditation, a practitioner first perceives emptiness directly. He told how nothing is the same afterwards; how one can see how many lives are left for one's mental continuum before achieving enlightenment, and how one then prizes the Dharma above all else and will go to great lengths to see that it is preserved. Though his teachings lasted only a weekend, the effect was like a good retreat, and people were definitely left with a feeling of wanting to know more.

An excerpt from Geshe Michael Roach's Class:

Once you understand the definition of desire and hatred, those words are almost too strong.

You could say liking and disliking. That's much more accurate. When was the last time you liked or disliked something?...About 10 seconds ago. That guy said something too loud, or something a little obnoxious. They're running the wheel of life, that's why they're in the center. They drive the wheel of life. You have them constantly... every second.

Now here we have to get into something. Is it wrong to like nice things? There are a lot of Buddhists who feel guilty all the time, because they like Ben & Jerry's ice cream, or they don't like rain or rainy or cold days or something. And then they feel like they're not being good Buddhists, like somehow they're not stoic enough. I mean, is it wrong to like? (crowd tentatively responds "...no.") It's not. I mean you wouldn't be here if you weren't trying to get something...something nice. There are pleasant things in life and they're not bad. The beauty of a flower, good conversation with a close friend, something nice to eat or drink. Those are nice things. You can't say they're bad. And you want them. You want to avoid suffering. The whole point of Buddhist practice is to avoid suffering. Is it wrong to want to not go to the dentist anymore? It's not wrong. It's intelligent. That's what we are living for: to avoid pain and try to get some kind of happiness. That's not bad. It's not wrong. It's what drives us, and it is what will push us into paradise - Buddhist paradise. And in that paradise, I guarantee there won't be people yelling at you, and there won't be any shortage of any Ben & Jerry's ice cream. (laughter) That paradise will be beautiful, and the beauty will be very similar to the beauty here but just on a much greater level.

So it's not like if you're a Buddhist, you have to feel bad about wanting something. You better want something, or you can't get out of samsara! You better want some kind of paradise or you'll be stuck here. And you better be fed up with this kind of life, or you can't get out. So you must have those attitudes. They are not wrong. So what is the difference? This desire and hatred (points to board) is driving you into the wheel of life. Yeah, but what about the desire for paradise? What's the difference between that one and this one? (Student answers, "One's intelligent.") I like that. One's intelligent. Okay.

Jan Willis: Journeys to Wakha

We had a large turnout for the talk given by Professor Jan Willis on the status of women in Buddhism. She brought back first-hand accounts of nunneries she had visited in Ladakh after attending the Fourth International Conference on Buddhist Women last summer. The conditions of most nuns in Ladakh were disheartening, to say the least, but she also had a video tape of a puja at the nunnery at Wakha, where there is a vibrant and growing community.

Definitions and Definienda

A 12-week course on Sautrantika logic and debate was taught by Ven. Connie Miller to an enthusiastic group of students. Her clear teaching style combined with numerous examples and explanations allowed everyone to gain an understanding of this subject. We are very grateful to her for generously giving her time and energy in teaching this class.

Sunday Morning Discussion Group

Our group has been very fruitful this spring. About 10 to 15 center members met regularly to discuss Lama Zopa Rinpoche's The Door to Satisfaction and do some group practice (we have done Green Tara and Chenrezig practices). The class continues through the summer. We are currently discussing Lama Yeshe's The Light of Dharma, a text specifically aimed at Western students. The discussions and practices are open to all.

Monday Night Introduction to Meditation Class

Ven. Lozang Trinlae gave two months of teachings on preparatory practices, refuge, the four seals of Buddhism, and the four noble truths. This was followed in April by a very popular four-week series on karma taught by Dr. Nick Ribush. David Strom led discussions and meditations on Vajrasattva purification and on the selflessness of persons and phenomena. Wendy Cook lead a four-week series of analytical meditations on the lam-rim in July.

Special July Teachings

Geshe Tsulga returns to Boston in July for three evenings of teachings: The Three Principal Aspects of the Path on July 23rd and Purification in Tibetan Buddhism - The Bodhisattva's Confession of Downfalls on July 24th and 25th.

The Buddhist path to enlightenment can be divided most simply into three aspects: renunciation, bodhicitta, and the correct view of emptiness. Together they form the foundation, the method and the result of the path, and any sucessful practice must incorporate all three of these aspects.

The Bodhisattva's Confession of Downfalls, sometimes called Prostration to the 35 Buddhas, is a very powerful method for purification of negative actions of body, speech and mind.

Each class will start at 7:00 p.m. and will be held at Wisdom Publications.

A Skillful Vacation

In addition, we hope that center members will take advantage of the Chenrezig initiation by participating in the Nyung Nä weekend retreat at Milarepa Center from July 19-22. The Nyung Nä purification practice can be done without the initiation, but has added potential when coupled with the full Chenrezig initiation. Geshe-la will also be leading additional retreats and giving teachings at Milarepa Center. These include a Yamantaka retreat (August 3-24). Please contact Milarepa Center for more details: (802)633-4136.

Cultivating Method and Wisdom:

Geshe Tsulga's Fall Teaching Schedule

Sometimes we forget what a rare opportunity it is to be able to receive teachings from a qualified Buddhist master right here in Boston week after week. The basis for maintaining these fortunate circumstances is the students' enthusiasm and sincere attempts to integrate the teachings into their hearts and minds. Miraculously we have once again created the causes and conditions for Geshe Tsulga to return to Boston and teach through the end of 1996, possibly into 1997.

Beginning after Labor Day, Geshe-la will teach every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. In planning the Fall offering of teachings, our aim was to provide a balance between the development of method (great compassion) and wisdom (understanding emptiness).

The Sunday teachings focus on The Six Mahayana Perfections of generosity, patience, ethical behavior, effort, meditation and wisdom. These 6 virtuous activities form the basis of the Mahayana practice, and their practice goes far beyond our ordinary notions of these terms. Geshe-la will spend one week on each of the first five perfections, and then four weeks on the perfection of wisdom, giving a commentary on the Heart Sutra. Since teachings on emptiness are so easily misunderstood, four weeks on the perfection of wisdom should be tremendously helpful.

Wednesday evenings will be devoted to a series of topics: The Four Noble Truths, Developing Bodhicitta, The Guru Yoga of Je Tsong Khapa and The Two Truths. This series will provide everyone a welcome opportunity to study these particular practices and important Buddhist ideas in more depth.

As last year, we will request Geshe-la for two initiations towards the end of 1996. These initiations allow one to practice the sadhana, or special practice, dedicated to the initiation deity. These Tantric practices are considered the quickest, most powerful methods for dispelling delusions and suffering. Last year Geshe-la gave Four-Armed Chenrezig and Green Tara initiations. So far, students have requested White Tara, Vajrasattva and Manjushri initiations. Please let Suzanne Persyn know your preference, as we are very open to lobbying on behalf of your favorite deity.

From Selfishness to Compassion

Beginning Monday, July 29, Dr. Nick Ribush will teach a 5-week class on The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, based on commentaries by His Holiness the Dali Lama and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Recommended reading for the class will be Perfect Freedom, a transcript from Wisdom Publications. Cost for the class is $35 for non-members ($8/session), free for center members. The location of the class is in Brookline. Call (617) 731-2912 for directions and info.

Puja Schedule

The center will be holding regularly scheduled pujas led by Wendy Cook. If you would like to attend and are not on the center member phone list, please call Wendy at (617) 731-2912 and you will be notified about the location and times of the upcoming pujas.

July 23 Tara Puja
July 25 Guru Puja
August 6 Tara Puja
August 8 Guru Puja
August 22 Tara Puja
August 24 Guru Puja

Thank You!

We would like to express our thanks to the leaders of previous Monday and Tuesday night classes for dedicating their time and energy for the students and the center. Additional thanks to Dr. Nick for donating the proceeds from his Cambridge Center for Adult Education classes to the center, and to Distant Horizons travel company for their generous donation of a computer.

We would also like to thank Sara McLintock, John Dunne and Pasang Tenzin, who have very generously agreed to translate for Geshe-la this year. Without them, Geshe-la's store of Buddhist knowledge would be unavailable to us.

The Monks' Fund

At Geshe la's request, Kurukulla Center has established a fund to support Geshe-la's students at Sera Monastery in India. Most of them are refugees from the repressive government in Tibet, who struggle to preserve Tibetan religion and culture on a subsistence standard of living. Simply by avoiding one trashy movie a month and donating the ticket price to the Monk's Fund, you can help the Tibetan people and help preserve the precious Dharma teachings.

Thanks to Wendy Cook for all the work she has done in organizing the Monk's fund, and to Angela Suescún-Hoffman for taking over from Wendy. To sponsor a monk, please call Angela at (617) 254-8727.

For those who wish to do more, Geshe-la has asked all the centers he visits to raise funds for new living and dining quarters for his students in India. These monks currently live 6 to 8 to a bedroom, and have no dining space at all. The estimated cost of such a structure is $25,000, a fraction of the cost of a comparable building here. If you are interested in helping with this long term project, please contact Bill Judge at Kadampa Center at (919) 859-3433.

Help Kurukulla Center, Help Yourself

As an all volunteer organization, Kurukulla Center relies completely on your membership contributions and other donations for its existence. We would like to deeply thank all our members for their continued support through their membership in the Center and encourage more newcomers to participate in this way. Your memberships have kept us active since our founding in 1990, and has helped us support Geshe Tsulga and sponsor visits from great teachers such as Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, Dagchen Rinpoche, Geshe Jampa, Geshe Sopa, Geshe Tseten, Geshe Gyeltsen, Geshe Michael Roach and many other monks, nuns and lay people.

Your memberships ensure that we can continue to support Geshe Tsulga and other visiting Lamas, so that the sufferings of all Boston area residents can be alleviated through practicing the teachings of the Buddha. With this motivation, your membership contributions become a virtuous act benefiting not only yourself but all sentient beings; even if you hate being reminded when it is time to pay your dues. (We hate even more to remind you!)

So please join our membership list: monthly contributions are $25 for individuals, $40 for couples. Members receive discounts on most of our teachings, and receive free copies of the Mandala, the newsletter of the FPMT. If you can't afford that amount, all contributions are most welcome. Kurukulla Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit institution, so all contributions are tax deductible. Thank you!

Special Center Needs

We also have a great need for 10 to 15 new cushion sets for the center in preparation for the Fall teachings, as many of you can attest to. A cushion and mat set costs $60. As a special offer, the Center will be offering painted clay statues of Akshobya Buddha to persons who contribute at least $25 towards the cushion fund. These hand painted tsa-tsa's contain earth from Boudha Stupa in Kathmandu, and should be placed on your altar or other place of respect. Remember while the benefit of membership may take a while to ripen, the benefits of sitting on a new cushion are immediate and obvious!

Finally, if you would also like to offer your time to benefit the center and all the people who attend, we have several committees that are in need of volunteers. If you would like to help with the organizing the teaching schedule, publicity (flyers/newsletters/advertisements), fund raising, membership, pujas/initiations and with Geshe Tsulga's needs (transportation/shopping etc), please contact Suzanne Persyn