Lama Tenam at KTC: 7 things that make us Buddhist

Lama Tenam, who is Guru Vajradhara Kenting Tai Situpa’s longtime executive secretary and a beloved friend of KTC Monastery, gave a teaching at KTC this afternoon, and summarized for us his thoughts on the seven essential characteristics of a Buddhist.

I saw it via livestream, the video of which is available on demand by clicking  here (the fee is $20 to support livestreaming costs). More good news: a second teaching on “How to Deal with Emotions,” is now available via the same link. Both teachings are in English, and though Lama Tenam occasionally double-checks with the audience to make sure he’s got the right word, his English is quite excellent.

Here are the 7 characteristics that make us Buddhist, according to Lama Tenam. The full explanation is on  the video.

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37 practices: verse 4

4. To let go of attachment to this lifetime

Old friends I’ve known as long as I remember, / One day we’ll have to go our separate ways.

Material possessions I’ve worked hard for / Will be enjoyed by someone else one day.

This consciousness, a guest, will leave my body, / The guest house where for all my life it’s stayed.

To let go of attachment to this lifetime: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 4 chanted 3x

verses 1-4 chanted 1x

Alternate second line, offered by Kathi Rogers:

“Material possessions I’ve worked hard for / Will end up in the dumpster anyway.” 🙂

The fourth preparation for the path of awakening is to study, contemplate, and meditate on impermanence. We are all very familiar with the idea of impermanence by now. Truly understood, it is the single most powerful motivator to seek a place of solitude and engage in practice without delay. Why it often doesn’t work that way, according to a Western teacher I studied Tibetan with in the 1980s, is that understanding impermanence intellectually isn’t enough to stop us from continuing to relate to everything in our life as solid and permanent. We still get upset over passing trivialities, and/or waste our entire precious human existence on busyness and distraction.

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37 practices: verse 3

3. To rely on solitude

When I avoid conditions that disturb me, / Emotional afflictions lose their strength.

When there are no distractions to engage me, / My dharma practice grows to fill the space.

Awareness – knowing – rigpa clarifies, / And certainty in dharma dawns and thrives.

On solitude and silence to rely: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 3 chanted 3x.

verses 1-3 chanted 1x.

Verse 3!  I think this may the hardest challenge of all in our 21st-century lives so rich with technology and other distractions. We will spend another week on verse 3, so please continue your study, contemplation, and meditation on it.

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37 practices: verse 2

2. To leave your homeland

While those I love can stir up a tsunami, / And those I hate can burn me up like fire,

When I don’t care I lose my moral compass / And dark delusion permeates my mind.

To give up all my habits and reactions — This homeland where I’ve dwelt from life to life:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 2 chanted 3x.

Verses 1 and 2 chanted 1x.

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37 practices translation notes: verse 2

Translation notes are for those who would like to go a little deeper into the Tibetan language and translation process.

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Lotus pods

A few days ago at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. The heat wave took out most of the blossoms, but the pods are nice, too.

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37 practices: verse 1

1: To study, contemplate, and meditate

This precious human life’s so hard to find, / Its freedoms and resources like a boat

To navigate samsara’s endless sea / And set myself and other beings free.

For that, without distraction, day and night / To study, contemplate, and meditate:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 1 chanted 3x.

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37 practices: infrastructure

An audio recording of each class (except the first one) is linked at the bottom of each post, and also via the 37 practices link in the blogroll (right column of this page). I sometimes forget I’m being recorded.  🙂 Any errors are all mine. 

Overall structure of the 37 practices: I mentioned yesterday that the 37 practices both serve as a lam rim (step-by-step guide to the path) and fall within the traditional class of instructions known as mind training (lo jong). The root text, by Gyalse Ngulchu Togme Zangpo, is very concise: 37 verses with a couple of extras at the beginning and end, fitting entirely within 11 pages in Dilgo Khyentse‘s commentary, The Heart of Compassion. (The rest of the book consists of Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary on each verse plus some introductory chapters and quite useful appendices, notes, and index.)

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37 practices: prelude

Interspersed with other topics, you will now find, in progress, starting in June 2017, a study guide for a class I’m teaching on the classic text 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva by Gyalse Ngulchu Togme Zangpo. I’m posting materials here for those who miss a class and for anyone else who is interested.

Why study a text written centuries ago in a culture that had very little in common with the sophisticated, technologically-oriented lifestyle of 21st-century Westerners? 1) Frankly, human nature doesn’t seem to have evolved all that much, if any. We still face all the same problems Togme Zangpo did. 2) This very concise root text is a complete guide to the step-by-step path of awakening to our full potential as human beings, aka a lamrim, like The Jewel Ornament of Liberation; PLUS a mind training text like the Seven Points of Mind Training (see Jamgon Kongtrul’s Great Path of Awakening) and Shantideva’s A Bodhisattva’s Way of Life–ALL THIS in just 37 short verses plus a couple of extras at the beginning and end. But wait–there’s more!

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In which I am pursued by a hungry blue heron

In recent years, this heron (or maybe several, but I’ve always seen just one at a time) has regularly hung out by the koi pond in Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Visitors pay their quarter and toss in a handful of pellets, the fish surface for their breakfast, et voila: the heron breakfasts, too.  Herons are usually quite shy, but this one is now savvy enough to stay put when a visitor appears with pellets, and today it got quite close and followed me around. I cleverly threw my pellets on the opposite side of the path from where the heron was poised to strike, so it had to go back and forth, which is a slow process for a heron on foot, and the only breakfast served while I was there was to the koi.

As a Buddhist, I feel I can’t prefer fish over herons or vice versa–they all have an equal desire to live and an equal need to sustain themselves. But I always try to err on the side of not contributing to anyone’s immediate peril.

heron lgbg 7-1-17

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