Monday, May 24, 2010


last month, i attended a course on buddhism at the tushita meditation center, up in the pretty mountains of dharamkot, above dharamsala. our instructor was robina courtin (technically, "venerable" robina courtin), a kickass australian punk-turned-politco-turned-feminist-turned-kung fu practitioner-turned-nun.

robina speaks a lot, and fast, and i'm a bit of a compulsive note taker. so i wrote and wrote and wrote. and sometimes made doodles in the margins of the people, things, or concepts around. here are some of them.

 everywhere you looked were strings of prayer flags, with the blue one [always the first flag] torn or missing. tushita was crawling with monkeys and they seemed to have a particular attachment or aversion to the blue ones. some karma they're gathering!

in buddhism, as in hinduism, the higher something is kept, the more respect it is being accorded. this is how we were told to keep all the books on buddhism we'd buy. some people became quite militant about these rules--someone once almost yelled at me for keeping a book by the dalai lama face down on a table!

the meditation hall had a huge statue of tushita's patron buddha [in a way], the tsongkhapa. this is my bad portrait of his shiny golden face in a kicky yellow cap.

he had very kind, slightly worried, eyes.

and his room was decorated with these long technicolor silk pieces, which looked like many ties sewn together. the colors, robina explained, are to awaken the senses, encourage mindfulness. i loved the concept of mindfulness. it was the simplest but most meaningful takeaway for me.

i also learned to think of bugs and rodents and all general creepy things as "sentient beings" with minds, whose past negative karma had given them a birth in the lower realm. i realized as a human i can introduce kindness into their lives [by, yknow, not stamping them], thereby helping to improve their karma. my little hut in the forest was home to many such sentient beings. i was terrified the first night i was there, but after i humbly explained to them i was not going to harm them and i'd love it if they left me alone too, i relaxed and fell asleep. for the next ten days, we co-existed most peacefully.

some of the concepts were much tougher to understand. emptiness, for instance, sounds simple when you think of it in terms of physical objects but much tougher when applied to ourselves. here it is in the context of a chair: a chair is a name given to a collection of many different things [legs, seat, back]. if you take away these components, you are not left with something separate called a chair. so also people are collections of the causes and conditions that brought them to being. take those causes away and there is no separate "me" or "i" left behind.

yeah, it really twisted my mind into knots. next week, i'm going back to tushita for a 9-day course during which we will only discuss emptiness! whooo.

the meditation practices were also really hard for me at first. i eventually slipped into the groove after all the kicking and screaming, but it still always kind of felt like this doodle. the object was to have one part of your mind quietly observing all the other parts of your mind, all your other thoughts. i'd be happily sitting on my cushion thinking i was doing a damn good job of it [and being aware of the fact that i was thinking this] when it would suddenly hit me that there was in fact a giant mountain of thoughts and feelings and things standing behind my observing mind! then i'd get into this power struggle with my mind to drag the mountain in front of the observer. that's around the time the kicking and screaming would start.

i also loved observing the people in the course with me. many became good friends and alliances through the sometimes difficult process. most i just observed from a distance. our course was to be conducted in total silence so it was fascinating how much body language said about them. this is will [or the back of his head and the top of his back tattoo], a large american who was my neighbor, group member, ashram-buddy.

marie was danish. she wore a pretty head scarf and asked interesting questions in a really happy sounding voice.

brian from ireland sitting on a yellow cushion in a geometric shirt and pocket flaps a-flapping.

neil was an irish farmer with an incomprehensible accent and a scholarly manner.

[the girly with the balloon wasn't at the course, she just played in my head.]

the lastest and loveliest thing to show about tushita is this:

on our last day, i walked into the meditation hall and found this scrap of paper sitting on my low orange table. i'm not sure if it was left there for me or flew to me from someone else's table, but i guess it was meant for me in a way. i may forget the teachings but i'm never going to forget the moment in which i saw this and laughed right out loud to myself. i've kept it in my wallet and it makes me happyhappy every time.