Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Part 10: Dharma Brothers, Sisters and Elders...

Now I am going to attempt to describe a little of the people I meet at Root Institute. I hope they will forgive me if somehow my description of them has inadvertently put them in a bad light.

First the people who share the same dormitory as me. As I mentioned, I was the only Asian in the room that sleeps 11 persons. One of the first persons I made friends with was Roman. He is a French student. Must be in early twenties, a new Buddhist (just received the Three Refuges at the 3-day Introduction to Buddhism by Ven. Sangye Kandro. He speaks English with a French accent. He is tall and lanky. He slept opposite of my bed.

The person who slept on my left was also a French, but older than Roman. He seldom talk to me and sometimes ignore my "hi"s. Maybe because of that, I have a feeling he dosnot like me very much. Only at the end of the retreat, he warmed up a bit to me. I donot know his name. And there were 2 or 3 other French..Hmmm, did France invade India?...hahaha...! Anyway, one of these other French guys, a burly huge guy, took the ordination vows on the early morning the day after the retreat! Now I know why he look restless the last few days of the retreat. Was he having last minute doubts (??) . He was mostly bald and not much hair left to cut anyway. Anyway, I feel proud of him and another guy who became monks and 4 other ladies who became nuns.

2 beds away on the left was a US war veteran and he now works with a construction company in the US. He reminded me of Hitler because he has a plaster patch on his upper lip..reminded me of Hitler's moustache! :-P He looked fierce and I was afraid of him initially. In fact, I don't like him very much from day one...and I have a feeling some of the others donot like him very much especially after he insisted the lights be switched off for him to sleep on the first day! hahaha...
Due to the patch I think he might be the one who snored at night, causing sleepness nights on the first 2 nights. It was so loud. On the 2nd night, there was the same loud snore, only this time every time he snored "GNORRR", someone else on the opposite side (not sure if it was Roman or not) would follow with a "Phewww" . So, it sounded like music - GNORR Pheww, GNORR Pheww, was so funny I nearly wanted to laugh out loud! O-yes, I did eventually talk to this US war veteran. During one of the Q&A session with Ven. Sangye Kandro, he asked how to explain the many rituals in Vajrayana to Western students. He said Western students mostly are not familiar with these rituals. He was not satisfied with Ven. Sangye Kandro's answer which was very general and too simple (due to the many new students present there). A few days later, I had lunch (or was it dinner?) with him and I told him even Asian Buddhists not familiar with Vajrayana would find Vajrayana rituals and practices hard to comprehend. I suggested to him that perhaps these rituals aid in the path to enlightenment and that was why Vajrayana was called the swift path. He agreed with my explanation.

Then there was another US guy from Alaska..yes, far, right? He walked with me to the Mahabodhi stupa on the 26th I think. The day I bought the robes, which I mistook for a vest that look like a lama's robe. Actually it was a lama's robe! I even tried to put it on and I told myself I would wear it on puja days. I felt proud to wear it. Actually later I found out it was the robe of high lamas or abbots. was so funny. After I found out I asked Rinpoche's assistant , Jampa if I could give it to Rinpoche. He said it was not Rinpoche's size and the cutting was different. I checked with Ven. Tsapel later and she said the cuttign was corrct and she suggested I could offer it to Rinpoche. If Rinpoche could not wear it, he will give it to someone else. That's up to him then. I took up that advice and offered it to Rinpoche. It was auspicious actually, because on the 6th January 2007, I had read on the notice board that Rinpoche himself would be offering the annual robes to Buddha Sakyamuni at the Mahabodhi stupa. It was with that motivation in mind that I offered it to him.

Then there was the guy from England who never smiled to me, never talked to me until the last day when he was about to leave. That also I was the one who approached him. He slept at the far corner on the opposite row of beds. Right on his opposite was Matthew, a native Hawaiian (I think - because he has a tanned look and dark hair) . He was nice to me and someone who considered me as friend. At night he would be alone at the Maitreya statue making light offerings and circumambulating in the cold. I was amazed at his practice. He regarded the Dalai Lama as his guru and also Lama Zopa Rinpoche and another. He had already taken refuge and had taken some high Yoga Tantric initiations before, including Kalacakra from HH Dalai Lama. He is currently studying Tibetan at Dharamsala. Then there is another guy who didnot stay inside Root Institute (he stayed outside at oen of the hotels) and he smoked like chimney. Everytime he smoked, he would go outside the gates. No smoking allowed inside Roots. There was naother guy that looked liek chinese but actually not, from Netherlands. He also stayed outside and had to travel to Roots. If the lecture finsihes late, they had to go back late too. Another girl of chinese descent is also from Netherlands.

Besides Chung Han from LDC, there were 3 other girls - Sharon and Priscilla (the 2 most beautiful Asian girls I think :-) ) Then there was ...hmmm..Oh No! I forgot her name...she wear braces and she's short, and has short curly hair.... was it Mandy? She said she is "not a big fan of Rinpoche"...but came because Ven. Sangye Kandro is her heart guru and Ven. Thubten CHodron is her root guru. I find her friendly and helpful. She and her Singaporean friends (one more elderly lady and I thought is her son) bought small bottles of medicated oil for the many people coughing and having flu. Even though it didnot help much, still it's her thoughtfulness that matters. Then there was Ng (?) Swee Kim, the VP of Singapore's Amitabha Buddhist Center (ABC). He is so devoted and took the 8 precepts for almost the entire retreat except the first day! I think among the friends here, he talked the most to me.

At Root Institute, among the many elders I met was Ven. Tenzin Tsapel from Chenresig Institute, Ven. Damcho (the one who maintains the Sanghata Sutra website and responsible for the translation), Ven. Chonyi (an elderly nun who introduced me at Ven. Damcho who said she will be so interested in my story because Sanghata Sutra brought me to Rinpoche), Ven. Sarah Tresher (I just loved her voice when she led in the prayers), Ven. Mindrol (I am sure she was there but forgotten how she looked like), Ven. Namdrol (there were 2 Ven. Namdrols - one of which is a student of Khenrinpoche, and the other the assistant for Ven. Roger serving Rinpoche at Rinpoche's residence). Ven. Dekyong is the nun in charge of the library and previously served at Singapore's ABC. There was one embarassing moment in which I had to ask someone whether this Sangha was "a nun or monk?" My goodness!??!

And of course, Ven. Roger is so huge. He has a tattoo on his arms (I suppose from his "before Buddhist) days and he wears a red thread on his arms as does Swee Kim. And I suppose others too. I presume these must be those who had taken some level or kind of Highest Yoga Tantra.
Ven. Roger always looked stern to me like some protective diety. Yeah, maybe he is!

So, the above people and others I have not mentioned were my brothers, sisters and elders during my stay at Root Institute. Each one of them has made an impact no matter how small on me, and it is this brother-sisterliness that kept the entire FPMT family together. And we feel like a close knit least it felt so at the retreat!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Part 9: Serving the Lama

One interesting incident happened on the Saturday 30 Dec 2006. At about the time scheduled for Rinpoche to begin lecture after the visit to the Stupas (3pm), I was rushing back from the Great Stupa, had a quick shower and was preparing to walk to the Gompa. The lecture was to have begun early. Usually it is at 4pm. At that time, I saw a lama about the size of Khenrinpoche Lama Lhundrup walking in a hurry in front of the Maitreya Statue and asking Melissa (Root's Spiritual Program Coordinator) someone something. He doesnot seem satisfied and looked worried. Then seeing me, he waved his hands to me and called me over. He asked me to take me to see Rinpoche.

I have no idea who he was but said to myself, I cannot reject giving my service to a lama, ...any lama. He was walking with a walking-stick, so I took held him by the hand and we went to the building where Rinpoche was staying. He had been informed that Rinpoche would be meeting the students at 4pm, so he had to hurry to see Rinpoche. He had some offerings to give Rinpoche. So I helped him up the stairs and Rinpoche's assistant I think his name is Jampa (Kopan's puja chant leader) was there to greet lama. Lama took out some fruits and Jampa put them on a plate and took them inside. He then sat on a chair and keep asking Jampa what Rinpoche was doing and if there was someone with him. I asked him what is his name, and he said "Geshe Tsering". Jampa said Rinpoche was doing some practices. Ven. Roger (Rinpoche's personal assistant and recently appointed President of FPMT) was also inside. I was asked to massge his tired legs. The lama was getting nervous and moved to sit inside the lounge area. I went in too to massage his legs and knees.

A short while later Ven. Roger came outside and talked to Lama. And then Ven. Roger had his lunch ( very late lunch!!) . Ven. Roger signalled me outside and said that the lecture had begun. And asked me if I wanted to go attend the lecture at the gompa. He said that they could take care of lama from then. After all , he said even when lama goes inside I would not be allowed inside (to meet with Rinpoche). I knew inside my heart that Ven. Roger thought that I was like trying to sneak inside to meet with Rinpoche. But I never had any such thoughts. I wanted to serve him by relieveing him of his pain in the legs. It was over 3pm and Rinpoche still didnot come out of the private chambers. He was giving consultation with a lady. After sometime, the lady came out and I think it was the other assistant - Sangpo- that said Lama could now go in.
At last Lama went inside to meet with Rinpoche.

While they talked and I heard Rinpoche laughed a lot (he was obviously happy to meet with lama), I met with Chung Han (of LDC) and he told me then that that lama was the late Lama Yeshe's brother! I almost floored...I had no inkling I was serving the Lama Yeshe's own brother?? Wow, I was actually massaging Geshe Tsering's legs and I didnot know?! What ever gave me this opportunity to serve him? It certainly felt like I was serving Lama Yeshe himself. At least I imagined it that way! Lama came out about 15 minutes later and I walked him out. Then he wanted to meet with the Librarian (Ven. Dekyong) but Venerable was already in the gompa and could not be disturbed. So he went to the kitchen and meet with the kitchen Indian staffs. They seemed to have known him and served him with some bread and milktea. Lama gave me his milktea, he said he doesnot want it. I took it since lama insisted but it was too hot to drink. Lama then went inside the kitchen and I (as attendant) had the duty to follow him. I oput the bread and milktea to oneside and went with him. He gave blessing to the staffs and then I walked him to the gates. He said no need but I had the duty to walk him there nevertheless. Half-way he stopped and searched his bag as if he wanted to give me something. But all he had were the balance of the fruits for Rinpoche. There was nothign else and he walked on. To me, lama didnot have to give me anything. To be given this opportunity to serve him was all that I needed. I paid the rickshaw 20 rps and asked if he had 10rps change. The rickshaw peddlar returned me 10 rps and I passed them to lama/ Lama refused to accpt initially. But I insisted and just said if he cannot accept it, then he should donate the money to the Great Stupa on my behalf. It was only then that he accepted my small gift to him. Small amount, but it was a pure gift from my heart. I waved goodbye to him and wished him all the best. I hope we will meet again.

Then I rushed back to the gompa and was told Rinpoche's teachings would start at 4.30 pm (just as I had overheard earlier at Rinpoche's building when Ven. Roger was talking to the recently appointed Director of Root (Ms Sally Dudgeon). During the teachings, Rinpoche certainly knew about the event even though I didnot meet him once at the chambers. He didnot see me with the lama. But he knew and immediately at the start of the teachings he said serving the lama will bring inconceivable benefits and realisations. It was my consolation because I had felt a little disappointed that Ven. Roger didnot arrange a private inteview for me with Rinpoche. I had felt that CHung Han and some of the others from LDC and ABC (Singapore center) were more closer to Ven. Roger and they had so many opportunity to talk to Rinpoche and ask him things, and observed him doing the pujas/practices... whereas I was so distant from Rinpoche. During that evening's teachings, a lot of his teachings directly hit me point blank. His dharnma teachings seem to be aiming at the problems that I had and had wanted to ask him. I had passed him a letter to him on the 28th asking for advice on my practice and a certain personal problem I have. The teachings that evening certainly was prove again that he was my Buddha and there was so much kindness in him to accept me even thought I was not the most pure hearted, morally pure student. There was so many flaws in me , yet Rinpoche accepted me with kindness. And gave me teachings that would be useful to me. I felt thankful that he knew my innermost heart.

That day was also that day I observed tha 8th precepts and it was certainly wonderful serving the lama. I had doubts for a few days whether I could observed it or not. I kept thinking of my stomach/gastric problems. But then I told myself that I must not miss this chance. There are many people who took it. I reminded myself of the verse in the "Source of all my good qualities" ... " protect my vows even though it cost me my life". It means if I take the precepts, I must not break it even if I were to be threatened to give up my precepts or die, not to mention gastric. Protecting ones vows and precepts are much more important. And I have also read Rinpoche's explanation that taking even one precept will create skies of merits. So I undertook the 8 precepts with these motivation in mind and woke up early (5am) that day and join a dozen others in taking the 8 mahayana precepts. The day ended without much of any stomach problems. I guessed I worried too much...hahaha!

It was a GREAT DAY! 8 precepts. Serving Lama Yeshe's brother. Rinpoche's teachings that serving the lama was the best thing to do, and his advices for my practice. One word: WOW!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Part 8: The Retreat Schedule

The retreat schedule was very tight. Except for the breaks in between for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and shorter breaks for morning and afternoon tea, there was no time allocated time for relaxation or "free" time. Even the 2 hours after lunch was not as "free" time. They were meant for us to go to the Stupa to practice prostrations and circumambulations. And we were adviced to do the Maitreya Sadhana at the Stupa, and visualise the Stupa as Maitreya Buddha. It was especially powerful to practice there. The concentration was especially powerful. Believe me, it is! I saw our retreat master, Ven. Sangye Kandro practiced right in front of the Bodhi Tree. After her session ended, I saw her face changed, I donot know what was her meditation nor what meditation diety she had practiced but her face certainly turned into diety-like. I could feel it that her visualisation was so powerful, she practically became a walking diety!

Rinpoche wanted it to be part of the retreat practice. Of course, there were no one to force us to go there and punish us if we donot circumambulate or prostrate, but it depends very much on our own self-discipline. If we take the time to go to sleep, then you might as well don't attend this retreat! Go home to sleep, don't waste time at Root Institute!

It is with this motivation, that I took every visit to the Stupa very seriously. Only on several occasions I took oppurtunity to take pictures. Other than that, I would circumambulate as many times as I can and prostrate several times. Of course, I am not up to the level of those lamas and lay Buddhists who prostrate so many hundreds of times a day...I really salute them!

Anyway, the retreat starts at 5 am every day for those intending to observe the 8 precepts. For the rest, it starts either at 5.30am or 6am. After the 8 precepts transmission of vows, the senior retreatants would do the 35 Buddhas' Prostrations and followed by Lama Chopa and Jorcho. Those who are newer to Buddhism, they were given guided lessons on meditations in the smaller gompa at the back. After breakfast, both groups join in the main gompa to do the Maitreya Meditation Sadhana. The joined group would first do the 35 Buddhas Prostartions first before the sadhana. After the short "milk tea" morning break, we continued with repeat of the Maitreya Sadhana until lunch time. After lunch, it is Stupa practice time until 4pm when we gathered back at the gompa to attend Rinpoche's teaching or another round of Maitreya Sadhana. The retreat was structured such that we practice the Maitreya Sadhana many many times repeatedly. And we were asked to observed the vow of silence at least until lunch time. Even after then, we were not supposed to mindlessly chatter about. After all, we were doing retreat, not playing games!

Rinpoche's teaching schedule is legendary for its timing. We just had to be prepared for any last minute changes all the time. The schedule changed practically every day for the first few days, then stable a bit only to change in the last 2 days. Due to Rinpoche had to attend to many of his students and projects, there were many unscheduled calls to him or sometimes he would see a need to do an immediate practice to clear an obstacle for someone or something, he would attend to it. Therefore his schedules had to be changed constantly. But it always turn out to be blessings and right for everyone. Noone ever feel tired waiting for Rinpoche, but they do feel unable to maintain the wakefulness state especially if the teachings drag on into the late nights or early mornings. This happened on the first night which ended at 1.30am (by the time we go to bed) and the last day which ended only at 4am. I did feel sleepy on a few occasions during the teachings and was trying hard to keep awake. However, generally I felt great especially towards the end during the Taking Refuge and 5 Lay Vows and where everyone lined up to offer thanka to Rinpoche for the last teaching session and to offer money! OK, that will be the subject of another part.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Part 7: At the Original Maitreya Project Land

On the 1st day of the retreat proper we were told that Rinpoche would do a 1000-offerings at the Maitreya Project Land. Everyone was wondering: what? At Kushinagar? If Kushinagar, then it will take about 2-3 hours from here. Could it be? Or is there another Maitreya Project land? We found out later that it is at the original site fo the Maitreya Project before it was moved to Kushinagar. A smaller statue of Maitreya is still at the Bodhgaya site and a group of us went there by Jeep in the afternoon to prepare the tables, rows and rows of water bowls filled with rice or water. We were divided into groups with the guidance of a group leader. I was tasked with handing the empty bowl to the tall American guy ("Tim" I think) and he would scoop a bowl of rice grains and handed it back to me , so I can put it back in position on the table and hand him another empty bowl.

I did that until about 4pm plus. The pain in my leg was killing me, I had to go back to put some oitment. Even though it was annoucned that Rinpoche would be coming for a short "inspection" trip at about 5pm with the someone (this someone turned out to be MK Sen and his wife, he has just been appointed as the director of the project at Bodhgaya - more of this below), I could not stay for it. Anyway I wanted to go for the Orientation at 4.30pm at the gompa. So, I went back with Swee Kim of ABC and a few others.

After the Orientation, Swee Kim and I took a ride at the rickshaw to the project site at a cost of 20 Rps each! But that was the price to pay since I could not walk much. Some of the others took the tut-tut outside the main road and it only cost 15 Rps each person. We had been told the teaching would be on the open air and it can be cold. We had been warned to talk our jackets, extra blankets, etc. "Cold hell" in Pure Land? hahaha... The rickshaw ride back to the site was cold and when we arrived, all the lamps and water bowls were already set up. I pick a spot nearer to the front so that it would not be that cold. Rinpoche arrived at about 8pm and we did the Maitreya Puja. And some teachings in between. Hot milk tea was served when it got colder at night. At one point we were asked to moved in closer to Rinpoche because there was still some space there and so that the people at the back could move closer. If it was cold at the front, I just imagine those at the back must be freezing cold! I was sitting right next to Rinpoche's right side. I was so fortunate!

O-yes, the toilet...there was no toilet near where we did the puja. We had to walk about 500 feet to the administrative building for the toilet. And it was dark along the way, worst I donot have a torch light! Luckily there was a group of Singaporeans and we huddled together to go to the toilet. Ealier in the evening, I went ot the toilet with Roman, my dorm mate from France.

Initially when I saw MK Sen , I thought he was Rinpoche's brother. His face looked a bit like him and I thought the beautiful lady that came too was a "Datin" from KL's Losang Dragpa Center (LDC). Actually she was his wife and MK Sen is the VP of LDC. She was just sitting next to me at the beginning of the puja when I sat in front of Rinpoche in the inner side just in front of the offering tables. Not in the front row behind the Sangha where initially I sat. MK had been appointed to revive the project at Bodhgaya but with the much smaller statue already there. He said he was shocked upon hearing the news. He used the word "almost floored". As someone said, "You need not go to Rinpoche. When the time is right, he will find you." He gave himself a 30 year timeline for the project to complete. As I found out from the director of the main Maitreya Project at Kushinagar, a simple signature of approval can take 10 years! No wonder the project seems to be dragging at its feet!

It is Rinpoche's wish to fulfil Lama Yeshe's vision to built as many Maitreya statues as possible here in India as well as hopefully, in other places around the world later. The finished the puja and teachings well late into the night at 12 midnight. But we had been warned that it will be like that - cold and late - yet with Rinpoche around, everything was bearable. Bearable because we were there to create skies of merits and offer them to the success of the project and to all sentient beings. At the end of the dedication, Rinpoche mentioned something about sponsors - from LDC, and I spontaneously mentioned "Penang!". I donot know why I did that but it made Rinpoche turned to me and laughed , "Penang?". Rinpoche had such a good humor.

All through the puja, I had the benefit of knowing Rinpoche's incredible mind. He could really read my thoughts. The moment I think of something, or wished that he would mention something, Rinpoche really said it in the next few seconds. Once he was dedicating to sentient beings, and Rinpoche was specifically mentioning "...crickets, bugs..." Then it occurred in my mind "Cockcroach..Rinpoche, cockcroach...". The next thing I heard was "cockcroach" from Rinpoche's lips! Incredible. Then there was the time when Rinpoche dedicated to success of FPMT centers.."I quickly thought in my mind, "May Rinpoche dediocate the merits to CGC so that CGC could own its own property soon". The next thing Rinpoche mentioend was that FPMT centers would have enough money to own its own building or pay off debts!

Not once, but twice. I am convinced! And again it happened back at the gompa on the last day of the teachings. He just read my thoughts and gave advice to be on guard against tsunamis of emotions, negative actions, etc. He said something like we should declare war on these negativities. And he just know what I needed to hear...what would benefit most considering the problems I have. He somehow knows my innermost problems! It was a great experience there.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Part 6: Meeting with the Buddha

I hurriedly did a few rounds of circumambulation around the Stupa, got the Buddha robe and quickly got back before it gets dark. In Bodhgaya, around this time fo the year, day time is shorter. It gets dark at 6pm- the same darkness as 8pm back in my hometown. The time difference is about 2 and a half hour.

The office had pinned a notice that Rinpoche would arrive at 5pm that day. I thought I had missed him, but thanks to some blessing, when I got back at RI, I found out that there would be a delay. Rinpoche would only arrive at nioght but not sure what time. We will just have to wait. Thank goodness I didnot follow the KL group to the Stupa at night because I would have missed Rinpoche.

As the night grew darker and darker, my heart grew with much anticipation. Wow - my first time with Rinpoche. Wow! The time I had been waiting for. Finanly at about 11pm, Rinpoche's blue jeep drove in, and out comes the Magnificent Guru!

He was smaller in built than I had in mind, but larger in life than I thought. There was a long line of waiting eager devotees/potential devotees each with a kata cloth in hand. I could not find the yellow golden kata I thought I had brought here with me, so I bought a new kata. When Rinpoche reached me, I said to him " It's so nice to see you ...". I think he put the kata over my head and laughed (or smiled and said "Yes" I am not sure) and held my head with both his hands. I saw that for the others before me, he was very quick in putting the kata over their heads. He was tired by now with all the travelling. He needed rest and there was not going to be any teaching for that night.

I retired that night feeling so happy, almost estatic ..kept thinking over and over again Rinpoche's blessing of me awhile ago. That was my first meeting with the Guru. Good night my dear Magnificent Guru! Thanks for the sight of you and the blessing!

Friday, January 5, 2007

Part 5: Mahabodhi Stupa and HH the Karmapa

After arrival and checking in, I went to the Mahabodhi Stupa alone. Actually I was supposed to go with the KL people but I after waiting for some time and could not find them, and moreover my watch time was stopped (it fell down in the bath room!) and hence, I was not aware at the time we were supposed to meet. Anyhow, those KL people didnot go in the afternoon, they went in the evening, after dinner.

I went there by riding on a rickshaw - it's about 15 minutes ride from the gate. There would usually be a few rickshaw peddlars at Root's gate waiting for potential customers. If there were none, then you need to walk out a bit to the main road, that will take you 10 minutes walk through the paddy fileds, along the way you will see a lot of cowdungs lay everywhere. These local people would pick the cowdungs with both hands and put it on the road side for it to dry. For them, they see it as money or fuel or somekind of cement to patch up their wall. But for most of us, we shun those dirty "shit". See how different our perceptions are. The same thing but different mind see it differently. This is a good example that objects have no inherent existence. Emptiness is form. Form is emptiness.

All along the narrow road to the Great Stupa, there were rickshaws, motorbikes, tut-tuts like those in Thailand, old rusty cars and occasionally you see some new cars. And the culture here seems to be that you need to hon to every vehicle you pass by. Initially it was quite annoying. Everywhere they go, they would sound their hon or ring their bicycle bell when from my own judgement most were not necessary at all. All these noise make the road seem busier than the roads backhome such as Penang Road. I guess maybe because the road have no lines and were not properly divided into lanes. Or maybe it has become part of their road culture. I don't know but after one or two days you get used to the hons and rings on the road.

There were smaller temples all along that stretch of road: Cambodian, Thai, Japanese, there is supposed to be a Korean but I didnot see it, Chinese temple, and of course, Nyingma, Gelug and other such Tibetan-styled temples. And needless to say, motels lined up all along the way to the Mahabodhi Stupa for the many tourists. Towards the Stupa, there were petty traders manning stalls selling from clothes, fruits, beads, bells, and other Buddhist prayer accessories. The scene reminded me of the night markets ("pasar malam" in Malay) back home in Malaysia. It was busy and you can see hundreds of saffron-robed lamas - young and old - almost everywhere. There wasnot much time for shopping really, but yet time and again I had reminded myself that the reason I was there was not for shopping. It's for the Maitreya Retreat and my aim was seeking some kind of realisation (even if a little) from Rinpoche. If I had wanted shopping, then I might as well stay home - there's a spranging new shopping mall back in Penang.

At the main gate, there I saw the majestic Stupa. Rising up into the sky, it seemed to greet me and at that moment I just felt extremely grateful for the Buddha's blessings to enable me to actually be there - on the same earth that the Buddha walked more than 2500 years ago. I saw hundreds of people diligently doing full length prostrations all around the Stupa. They have special planks and hand cushions, so it does appear like they were just sliding down the plank. But I believe their hearts were sincere. I circumambulated the outer ring before going inside. Had to take off my shoes. Went in the main shrine and saw the monk changing the Buddha's robes. Devotees would go to him and offer robes for the Buddhas and he would take out the old one and put in the new one. Then there was the "black thing" on the floor - a monk explained to me that it belonged to a Hindu god. If I am not mistaken, it is Siva's footprint. Devotees would bow their head to the footprint or offer money/flowers. I followed others and bowed. Outside the shrine, there were two standing Buddhas and I bowed down to the one on the right. Immediately I felt a gush of tears flowing to my eyes, as if Buddha was really there. There I laid my claim to full enlightenment just as Sakyamuni Buddha did, by aspiring to full enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. Later I did the same thing to the footprints of the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree. I felt the same emotion there. It happened many times on different visits to the Stupa.

On several days of the retreat, we were requested to go to the Stupa to do our practice. So, I did several sessions of Maitreya sadhana there. And we were also taught what to recite before circumambulation and while circumambulating. Several mantras were orally transmitted to us. We were also taught to visualise numberless bodies of ourselves while prostrating and reciting. The experience was tremendous and so was the merits and blessings from this practice. The practice would not be complete without dedication of merits. So, Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught us how to dedicate the merits the proper way.

O-yes, and on a Friday (29th Dec I think), HH karmapa was teaching at the Mahabodhi Stupa compound. He was just right near the Bodhi Tree. I caught many glimpses of him. Ming, Sharon and Priscilla from LDC all were trying to catch him in their phone cameras. I think Sharon got a really close-up shot at him. I got one too but not that close-up. Later they had a brief meet-up session with HH Karmapa and he gave them mani pills. I was so frustrated that noone told me about it even though I was with them. But it's okay - it was not much of a problem Just to catch a glimpse of the Karmapa is considered very blessed indeed!

On another occasion, I went to his temple nearer to Root to listen briefly to his teachings. I saw him from very far. Actually this was the first glimpse. The Stupa was the second. The third glimpse was when on the way to the Stupa on the Saturday (30st), his jeep and entourage sped by. The rickshaw I was on had to stop upon hearing the police siren. His face was calm yet attractive just like the Buddha's. I am considered blessed already. By the way, I learned that Root Institute has hosted him to give a teaching there once before. I think in early 2006. Root also hosted other teachers like HH Dudjom Rinpoche and HH Ling Rinpoche.

I think I definitely will return back to this holy place again and again. Hopefully my wife will come too next time. She'll fall in love with it. Hahaha!

No money could buy that experience I had at the Stupa. No money...!

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Part 4: Root Institute

A Brief History (extracted from
Root Institute for Wisdom Culture came about at the wish of Lama Thubten Yeshe, a highly qualified and respected teacher of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
'Lama' as he was known to his students, passed away in 1984 after having spent the last 15 years of his life tirelessly sharing the Buddha's message of wisdom and compassion with thousands of Western and Indian students. After his passing, his reincarnation was officially recognized by His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama in the form of a young Spanish boy, Tenzin Osel.
Lama Yeshe inspired many centres around the world under the banner of the FPMT, the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. This organization now has a membership of over 110 centres with varying purposes such as monasteries, schools, leprosy projects, retreat centres, publishing houses, city centres and hospices. The activity of each centre depends upon the needs of the local community. All of these centres however, are inspired by the universal Buddhist ethic of compassion for other living beings.
It was the intention of Lama Yeshe that Root Institute be a dynamic centre where the Buddhist ideals of universal responsibility and education could be taught and practiced.
Also, due to India's role as the source of the Buddhist teachings, her kindness to the Tibetan people and continued support of Buddhadharma, Lama Yeshe wanted Root Institute to preserve and spread the rich variety of India's ancient wisdom culture in its religious, philosophical, educational and cultural manifestations.
Today, Root Institute is under the spiritual directorship of Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, the heart disciple of Lama Yeshe, who took over the responsibility of the FPMT after Lama Yeshe's passing. The Institute is a multi-faceted Dharma centre providing for the needs of both spiritual seekers and the local community.
His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama visited and kindly blessed Root Institute in 1989 and again in 1998, expressing the opinion that it will be of immense benefit to the numerous people who visit Bodhgaya throughout the year. His Holiness was particularly pleased with our social work projects.

Root Institute was started in the 1980s and Rinpoche remembered very well even the first house that was built by an Indian benefactor. On his last day, he introduced us to the lady and his daughter. RI is indeed guarded by a 10 foot wall all around it. And there were guards outside the gates. Outside on the gates, we written clearly for whosoever steps inside it:

1. No Killing
2. No Stealing
3. No Sexual activity
4. No Lying
5. No taking intoxicants (including tobacco)

It stated that it is a semi-monastic center with monks and nuns living inside, therefore these serve as policies for everyone who steps inside. I have to walk a bit on stony, dusty earth before I saw somebody. I quickly wave to the huge Western lady (compared to me, that is) and she turned and greeted me. She turned out to be Ms Karein, the person I had been corresponding with from RI before I came here. She was very friendly and asked me to put my luggage outside the office because it was lunch time. And because it was Christmas day, a special Christmas luncheon was done. The requested donation was 120 Rps. Well, I put the dishes on the dinner plate and went up at the dining place above the kitchen. It was an open air dining place with no lights. So , in the evenings, we usually eat in the dark, lit only by the dim lights from lights below and the kitchen light.

There I met Chung Han. He was talking to Sally who is the new director of RI. And another girl, Helen who is Karien's assistant. I see a lot of Western volunteers and staffs here. They come from all over the FPMT centers worldwide. An estimate 120-150 participants were expected to this Maitreya Retreat. Out of this total, I would estimate that 90% are Western, the only participants from Asia were from Malaysia, Singapore, India and maybe one or two from taiwan (but I am not sure). By West, I meant those from Spain, France, England, the Netherlands, various parts of USA such as Hawaii, Seattle, Oregon, San Jose, Washington, and others. There were also a number from various parts of Australia, mostly from various FPMT centers there.

The participants were split between those who are experienced practitioners...i.e. already taken Highest Yoga Tantra and those who are only beginners. About 30 students had taken the 3-day Introduction to Buddhism course prior to this Maitreya Retreat. And most of them were Westerners. But yet, I learned that at least one of them was not really new to Buddhism, they took it because Ven. Sangye Kandro was going to teach meditation. And they had never formally learned meditation before, and they didnot want to miss the opportunity to learn from the experience Western nun who wrote "How to Mediate?" I believe there were more of such persons.

Anyway, I was provided a bed in the dormitary that sleeps about 11 persons. It's just above the office. Root institute is just such a wonderful place to practice. The big sitting Maitreya statue and the stupas surrounding it provide such a wonderful place for us to circumambulate on daily basis. And it's also a place for us to do lights and flower offering. My journal would not be complete if I donot mention also the toilets. OK, it's not clean as 5-star hotel standard, but it's livable. Some are "flushable", while some have to pour water to drain our pee and poos. And I kinda have got the habit of not throwing the tissues into the bowl after spenidng one week there. We have to throw them into waste backets provided.

O-yes, the gompa is very beautiful. It is supposedly the only gompa that also houses 4 Kadampa lamas besides Lama Atisha. Rinpoche informed that he had given instructions for the 4 other Kadampa lamas to be there on the altar. Then his disciples had people commissioned to build them. I'll try to post the pictures later.

Part 3: The Arrival

As Christmas day approached, i.e. the day of my flight departure my heart beat with anticipation, but really not sure what to anticipate...hahaha...I will be going there without any friends. Except for Chung Han who is from LDC, the sister center in KL, other than that, noone else from CGC would be going for this Maitreya Retreat. I felt lonely, but for me it's okay...although I would love it if my wife could have gone too. She kept saying she could not take leave because her lousy company allows only 2 persons to take leave at any one day. Later she found out that her boss herself took leave. That means 3 persons. You see, the boss take leave - can. But the staffs want to take -cannot! Not fair, right? Either no karma, or didnot try hard enough. Whatever it was, it's too late now. Next time.

As I checked beyond the airport immigration counter, I kept looking behind to see my wife. Poor fellow, she'll be alone! Kinda miss her already at that time!

Upon arrival at the new Bangkok Suvarnabumi airport, I thought it was big and the signs and directions was superb. But I thought the design of the roof was ugly. I like KLIA roof design- something like palm trees better.
Anyway, the wait there was about an hour and I knew I was at the correct waiting Gate to Bodhgaya when I saw several monks there - several chinese nuns and korean monks. There were also a few Westerners whom I knew were Buddhists because they were fingering malas and/or walking meditating. Later a group of Lamas came. At the waiting gate, I met with a Taiwanese lady who offered me a ride to Bodhgaya town from the Gaya Airport once we arrive at the airport. Wow, I donot know what lucky star I have, there seems to be people helping me all along the way. Blessings from the Guru? That must be it!

Her name is Miss Lin (Lim in hokkien) and she is with a group organising a series of talks by HH Karmapa at the Karmapa temple at Bodhgaya.She said there will be someone holding a card at the airport and i can "tumpang" (board) her taxi if I want. In Bodhgaya they use 4WDs as taxi.She was very friendly.

The Gaya airport turn out to be kind of empty. Controlled more by militants, who also acted as the airport staffs. There were noone at the checkout immigration counter when our group (TG8820 flight) arrived. We had to wait and finally there was someone who had to check and write everything manually. They donot use computers there except for the bag scanners (as I found out on the day of departure).

Bodhgaya seems to me like a dusty land. Mostly lived by farmers whose income I am unsure could meet the day's expenses or not. They were living from hand to mouth on daily basis. As the Malay saying: Kias Pagi Makan Pagi, Kias Petang Makan Petang. They were so backward materially that I thought things didnot change much from the Buddha's era. Even spiritually, I am not sure if they had benefitted much from the stream of Buddhist tourism to that region. There are a lot of lamas there but most of them were foreign/immigrants. Sure, you have the Indian people setting up small hotels and all kinds of traders but generally I donot see much progress materially or spiritually for the indigenous Indian people. It is due to this first hand experience of the life here that I could really understand the Supreme Wisdom and Compassion of the late Lama Yeshe who envisioned the Maitreya Project and set up Root Institute here in Bodhgaya. Lama Zopa Rinpoche said Lama Yeshe is kinder the the Buddhas of the 3 times. Seriously, it is not exaggerating. Some people think that by making donation and contributing this and that aid would help these people. Yes, it would but only in the short term. But even sometimes, short term benefit also may not come. Like what happened top all the food and water when it arrived in the remote parts of Africa. All the water became stale, undrinkable. All the help of the generous public could not help them. Why? Lama Zopa Rinpoche explained that it is due to the people's deep karma. In order to truely help them, you need to enable themselves to generate the merits. Having them involve in building of the Maitreya Buddha and letting them see such huge statue even from a distant, will have the momentum to change their karma for the entire region. I am truely convinced of this now. Ordinary people will not have seen that effect. Only a great Buddha like Lama Yeshe would be able to envision such a project that would truely benefit the people. And also by establishing Root Institute where they have a Dharma programme in Hindi, Lama Yeshe had enabled the Dharma to return back to the original Indian people. Lama Yeshe's contributions are beyond description but often goes under-appreciated!

Part 2: Trip of My Life

This trip to Bodhgaya, India is a major milestone in my life. And this is for many reasons; mainly consisting of many "firsts" as below: -

1. first trip to India
2. first trip to Bodhgaya
3. first long overseas trip (excluding Singapore - which is near Malaysia and anyway, I didnot stay that long in Singapore, and also excluding Bangkok 2 years back because that was a working visit)
4. first visit to Root Institute
5. first official meditation retreat
6. first meeting with K Lama Zopa Rinpoche
7. first observation of the 8 precepts (although I am not sure I it was also my first breaking of it. You see, a small piece of food fragment that got stuck in my teeth had got out into my mouth. I swallowed it before it occurred to me that it could be eating. However, that happened during the time the precepts was being given. ??? Did 35 Buddhas confession anyway.)
8. first visit to Mahabodhi Stupa - first circumambulation and prostrations there as well
9. first physical sight of HH Karmapa
10. first Christmas and New Year celebration outside of my hometown, away from all the din and hyper craziness. For the first time, it was spent in a quiet holy surrounding, and we greeted the New Year together with K Lama Zopa Rinpoche reminding us to sacrifice a little mundane pleasure for long term happiness and importance of cutting delusions. IMO, that was the best ever New Year celebration!

Is that all? Hmmm...I thought there were more. hahah...anyway, will add in if there was any left out. Anyway, I feel very much grateful at my fortune and I just hope I did not scounder it away. Otherwise, that would be my great misfortune.

Part 1: Prior to going to Maireya Retreat

Days before my day of departure, i.e. 25th December 2006, I was already felling excited. Yet at the same time feeling uncertain how it will be. I had many thoughts in my will I react on my first sight of Lama Zopa, How will he react upon meeting me? Maybe due to my "misdeeds" and all the wrongs I have done, maybe he would scold me there and then to purify me? And I have also been thinking of the gift that I was going to give him. I already thought of the gifts a month ago. I thought of a ".....something...." and topped with "something" to signify my high regard for LZR. haha...I'm sorry I cannot disclose what it is here because it can be silly to some people. But to me, that is how I see Lama Zopa...sort of a spiritual super super enlightened being!

So, I bought the "...something..." at Gurney Plaza (Parkson) but later discovered Jaya Jusco sold the same thing at a cheaper price. But it's only a few ringgit difference, so it's ok! But then, now I worry whether Rinpoche would accept my gift or not. It's will be my very first face to face meeting with him - who wouldn't be worried? I am reminded that the first meeting with a guru is the most important thing and will determine how much teachings and realisations you will receive from him. Many people just missed that vital first meeting. So, I thought it was important I got it correct!

Anyway, the day was fast approaching. I had the visa done, I had the ticket bought, thought of buying a smaller luggage - but then discovered it would not be enough to contain all the things I need to bring with me. I also bought a wool long john from one of the winter clothing shop at the new Queensbay Mall. I was not sure if I needed wool but then luckily my decision was correct. Even with wool, I still felt cold in the nights and early mornings. Very chilly!

Aunty Betty asked me to get a mala for her and also 1 or 2 non-wooden Buddha statues. She said about 3-4 inches height. I am not sure if I can get the Buddha statues because it can be heavy, and anyway not sure if will have time. In the end, I only manage to get her a mala. But the special thing is this mala is blessed by Rinpoche. My aunty is very lucky.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

My first blog...

Hi...My name's Valen. This is my first blog..hahaha...happy new year 2007 to everyone!! I will try to write something on the Maitreya Retreat which was held from 26th-31st Dec 2006 at Root Institute, Bodhgaya , India. If you need to email me something, please leave your email at the comment here, and I will surely reply. Have a very blessed day!