Newsletter of the Kurukulla Center
for Tibetan Buddhist Studies

Number 8, August 1996

Geshe Tsulga To Make Boston His Residence

Kurukulla center recently made a formal request to Geshe Tsulga asking him to make Boston his permanent residence, and we are very happy to announce that Geshe-la has accepted our request and will live in Boston year-round. Previously Geshe-la divided his time between three FPMT centers on the east coast by staying at each center for four consecutive months each year. This change represents an incredible opportunity for all of us here in Boston to receive the benefits of Geshe-la's teachings on a more consistent basis.

Geshe Tsulga will maintain a particularly close connection with our sister center in Vermont, Milarepa Center, and will also travel to other centers on the East Coast and in Canada, giving teachings to benefit those who live in these areas.

New Location for Fall Teachings

Beginning with the first teaching of the fall season on September 8th, we will be gathering at a new location. Following a tip from center member Emilio Briceno, we have made an agreement with the Friends Society of Cambridge (Quakers) to hold our twice-weekly events at their meetinghouse. The location is very convenient to Harvard Square and is located in a pleasant and quiet enclave of religious organizations in Longfellow Park.

Opportunities to Volunteer at Kurukulla Center

As an all-volunteer organization, Kurukulla Center relies entirely on the donated time of our members to keep the center alive and flourishing. Please look over the list of committees and see if you would like to help out. This is a great way to help the center as well as meeting other members and becoming involved in our community. We are not asking for a large commitment either in terms of time per week or length of involvement, but we do ask that committee members help out for the rest of 1996 at least.

Here is the list of existing committees and members. Thanks so much to all of you who have already volunteered to help out.

  • Teacher Hospitality Committee: Angela Hoffman (coordinator)
  • Puja/Initiation Committee: Wendy Cook (coordinator), Paola Savarino, Matt Weiss
  • Publicity: Suzanne Persyn (coordinator), Steve Rosenberg (newsletter), David Strom (flyers/layout)
  • Fund raising: Cheryl Bentsen, Suzanne Persyn (coordinators)
  • Advertising: Jim Grant , David Strom.
  • Throne Building Committee: Dan Howlett, Eric Hoffman.
  • Space Search Committee: Cheryl Bentsen (coordinator), Kerry O'Brien, Matt Weiss, Wendy Cook, Emilio Briceno

Fund-Raising Successes

First, we would like to thank Tony LaGreca for donating the $500 necessary for the building of a proper teaching throne. Dan Howlett and Eric Hoffman are generously donating their time and knowledge for its construction. Thanks to Cheryl Bentsen for her donation of a color monitor for the center's computer..

We have also successfully raised about $250 for new cushions for the center, through the sale of khatags and malas. Some of the malas were donated by John Fahlstrom. As many of you can attest to, we still have a shortage of cushion/mat sets. We would like to raise another $250 or so, so that we can purchase a total of 8 or 9 sets.

Finally, we would like to thank all our members, old and new, for their donations of time and money. Our center exists only for the purpose of benefiting as many sentient beings as possible by bringing the precious Dharma teachings to our area. As much as you have benefited from the teachings, please thank Geshe-la and our Spiritual Director, Lama Zopa Rinpoche. And please remember to thank our Center Director, Suzanne Persyn, for all her hours of work for the center. May all our activities be dedicated to extending these benefits to all beings until complete enlightenment is attained.

Fall Teachings with Geshe Tsulga

We are looking forward greatly to our fourth year of teachings with Geshe Tsulga this fall. Geshe-la's depth of knowledge of Buddhist scripture and philosophy, combined with his warm style, is always a welcome event in our lives. Each year the number of students at Geshe-la's teachings has increased, and we hope even more Bostonians/New Englanders will benefit from Geshe-la's presence this year.

As described in detail on the enclosed flyer, Geshe-la will keep himself and all of us very busy this year with teachings on the Six Mahayana Perfections, with an emphasis on teachings on emptiness, as well as classes on the Four Noble Truths, Developing Bodhicitta, a Commentary on Ganden Lhagyama, and the Two Truths. In addition, Geshe-la has kindly agreed to give a Vajrasattva and a White Manjushri initiation, so we are indeed very fortunate to have so many precious teachings and initiations available. Geshe-la works very hard to prepare these teachings, so please reward him (and yourself of course) with your presence this fall. And please take a minute to thank our excellent translators, John Dunne, Sarah McClintock and Pasang Tenzin, for making Geshe-la's explanations clearly available to us.

Vajrasattva and White Manjushri Initiations

Our greatest and heartfelt thanks is due to Geshe-la for agreeing to give two further initiations this fall. These initiations authorize us to practice the sadhana, or specific practice, related to the initiation deity. These tantric practices are considered the quickest method for overcoming obstacles to enlightenment, as they allow us to relate directly to the enlightened energy embodied by these enlightened beings. In particular, the practice of Vajrasattva is usually connected with purification practices, antidotes for our disabling feelings of inadequacy/failure/ contamination-whatever you call it. The practice of Manjushri emphasizes the development of the wisdom understanding emptiness, and the use of this wisdom to overcome our deluded views of the world and of ourselves.

The Vajrasattva initiation will be followed by a retreat at Milarepa Center, over the Thanksgiving day weekend. For more information on this retreat, please contact Milarepa Center at (802) 633-4136. While the initiations are given without a retreat commitment, the retreat gives us all a wonderful opportunity to learn the practice under Geshe-la's guidance.

Advice From Geshe Tsulga

Bodhicitta Motivation

Whenever I teach the Dharma, I always say that we must check our motivation. We must have a good motivation for listening to the Dharma. The Dharma that I am teaching to you is the Dharma of the Mahayana vehicle, the great vehicle, the universal vehicle. Those of you who are here listening to the Dharma should be those who are approaching the Mahayana path. Now, when one is practicing the Dharma, what determines whether one is actually engaged in Mahayana practice? The thing that determines whether one is engaged in Mahayana practice is whether the intention to benefit others exists in one's mind while engaged in the practice. For this reason, the person who is practicing Dharma needs to integrate the mind of Bodhicitta, the mind of enlightment, with their own individual mind. Now we hear this term bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment, all the time, but we need to find out in our own minds what it is. It is not enough just to hear about it. You need to think, "In order to help sentient beings, I will become a buddha." Now once that thought has arisen, the mind that holds that thought, from the time it has arisen to the time you attain buddhahood, is the mind of awakening, bodhicitta mind. That very mind that wishes to attain enlightenment for the sake of sentient beings is precisely the motivation that is required here to make this and any other pracice into a Mahayana practice. That is the motivation you should have while listening to these teachings.

Advice to Kurukulla Center Members

We are here at these teachings on the basis of the kindness of Kurukulla Center. I'm giving teachings and you are receiving teachings out of that kindness. But we shouldn't think that this Dharma center we have here is just something just for ourselves, just for each of us. Rather, we should make it something that our children can enjoy, and our children's children can enjoy. We should make it something that endures. And therefore, all of us need to come together, we all need to coordinate and make it so that this center can be a very benificial and a very lively center. Now I myself am not doing anything great here, but I am very pleased with the people in this center and I have great respect for all of you.

Art & the Spiritual Path

Kurukulla Center members are fortunate to have several talented artists amongst us. Recently, two of them spoke with David Strom on how Buddhism has influenced their lives and their work.

Rachel Paxton

I've been making art for about 15 years and painting (I started off as a weaver). Within the last 2 or 3 years I've been earning my living through my art.

I've always thought of my art as a spiritual path and I think that concept is thrown around all the time in art school and with artists and its almost a given that art-making is a spiritual path, but nobody really explains to you what that means or how to go about that path, where you are on that path, any of it. It's all very very vague...

Because I've had success it made me look at that path even more closely and say, "Well what the heck, I'm successful, does that mean I'm spiritual now? Have I reached the goal? And what was the goal anyway?" ...When I heard the paramitas spelled out it was perfect, it's exactly what happens in the process [of making art] and that's what totally turned me on to Buddhism-the way they spell it out clearly with all those little steps. There's nothing vague about what you're supposed to be doing.

I think I always went back and forth between "this is a spiritual pursuit" and "I am just a tradesman making a craft." Mostly I would think it was a spiritual pursuit, but sometimes I would flip back to thinking it was a craft: I'm just learning to make a good painting and there's nothing transcendent about this. Now, I think I know what is transcendent about it and what is not transcendent about it. I was going much more into "this is just a craft" as I started earning my living through it, and had to find those smaller and smaller little changes to keep myself going...I was losing interest. What was driving me was the fact that it sold, not to find out more about life. It was not an act of discovery any more, it was an act of endurance. Through understanding meditation and mindfulness I think I've understood how that can be applied to the process of painting and how you can watch your mind and how the process of letting go of external thoughts and coming back to your focus is what we do while we're painting. It's totally what we do, but we're not aware of it unless we're actually watching our mind.

Lotus Arrow: Does your art have more value if you are mindful when you are painting?
Rachel: No. I don't feel like it affects the art at all. It just helps me know myself more...

The other thing that's really interesting is the idea of being a direct perceiver. The way we're taught to draw art is to draw the negative spaces around the object as shapes. It's a way to get your mind not to think "table," because your mind automatically turns into "my image of a table looks like this." Buddhism is about the way we perceive and not having projections and not classifying as good, bad, or indifferent when we encounter something...At a certain point you want to put your emotions in, and you want to say, "table is good...table is ugly"...but if you really want to portray it realistically, at some point you have to be a direct perceiver...

Paola Savarino

Lotus Arrow: What is the greatest benefit your Buddhist practice has brought you?
Paola: I have a great joy in painting, you can kind of tell that. I love painting. I could care less about some aspects of painting, but it's pleasurable to do it. I'm feeling like that about the rest of my life too, which is mainly why I need to paint less...I don't need to escape. (I used to think it was pure: it's one of the closest things to spirituality in work if you're an artist, and you know when someone's a little further up there than someone else.) Instead of trying to get a kick or an escape, I'm searching for something specific, I'm directing that now, because, as a Buddhist, I say if it isn't Dharma it's a waste of time. But, you know, I've had a lot of life, I've experienced a lot. As an old woman I think I have a right to say that. But the Dharma is really expanding and growing for me. It's layer after layer. And, at times, it's really subtle. At times it's superficially so simple: sitting in a room and just taking teachings, and that's easy-that's the easy part. My whole life seems to be full, more so all the time. Painting is just a part of that. I can give up painting. I've spent my whole life doing nothing but painting. But I could go into a religious community, I believe, and never paint a thing again. Or I could take a job putting gold leaf on statues the rest of my life and be very content. You know, if I could do something and function for a community that would be great. Because I like giving back.

Lotus Arrow: How long have you been a Buddhist now?
Paola: I've been a Buddhist for two years. I think I was always drawn to Buddhist philosophy, even from a young age...didn't really relate to Zen, couldn't grasp it, probably because I'm too visual. There's a real connection for me within tantra...Just hanging around statues of Buddha in the MFA from any culture, you leave a better person. I was walking around looking at all the different smiles. I spend a lot of time looking at buddhas' mouths, the varieties. I think we've oversimplified the buddha image so far in some of the western art and the graphic art, that we haven't seen all the subtle things yet, the things that one can do. There isn't just one buddha, and to put the same mouth on all the buddhas wouldn't make sense...so I'm trying to perfect a smile... Actually, I'm really fond of buddhas' ears. I just love looking at buddhas' ears...

Membership Fee to Increase this Fall

Our expenses naturally increase during Geshe-la's time in Boston. As detailed below, our expenses this fall will run about $1400 per month, which must be covered entirely by membership donations and income from teachings. Since 1988 we have had a membership scale of $25/month. Beginning this fall the management committee has decided to increase membership to $40/month, with all teachings except initiations free. (The donation is $25/month for students and low-income folks.) This works out to an offering of about $5 a teaching and will increase the center's capacity to support Geshe-la's presence on a more full-time basis here in Boston.

How to Stay on Kurukulla center's Mailing List

As you can see below, we spend about $1500/year on publicity, with much of the expense going into printing and postage costs. As a result, beginning at the end of this year, we will begin eliminating names of those we haven't heard from recently. If you appreciate our newsletters and flyers and would like to continue receiving them, please send $5 to cover mailing costs for one year. (Active members and participants need not send anything.) Thank-you very much.

Financial Report 1995

Geshe-la and translator:

Rent                          $ 3,440

Stipends                        1,200

Food                            1,000

Utilities/phone                   400

Incidentals                       400

Travel from India               1,000

Domestic travel                   200

Health insurance                  600

Offerings                         700

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Annual Teacher Expenses:      $ 8,940


Post office box		           44

Postage			          400

Printing                        1,000

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Annual Publicity Expenses:     $1,444

Other Expenses:

FPMT dues                         300

Regional meeting expenses         100

Space fees                        100

Annual Miscellaneous Expenses: $  500

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Total 1995 Expenses:         $ 10,884

Fall 1996 Estimated Expenses

Monthly Expenses:

Teaching Space                  $ 325

Geshe-la's Food & Utilities       150

Offerings                         150

Health Insurance                  135

Translators                       320

Publicity                         120

Materials for Init./Pujas          20

Storage space rental               65

FPMT dues                          25

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Total Monthly Expenses        $ 1,350


Transportation (air tickets-India etc.) estimated: $ 1200/yr

Visa/Green Card expenses: $ ???