Friday, December 11, 2009

Funny Conversations 3

Pema Chodron: "Ani Damchoe Wangmo!  One four three!"

Me: (thinking a moment) "I love you, too."

Ngawang Sherab:  "ga re za?"

Pema Chodron: "One zer na I, four zer na love, three zer na you."

(from the balcony outside) Lobsang Palmo*:  Damchoe Wangmo!  One four three!

Me:  "Khyerang la one four three lo!"


Tibetan words:

ga re za = what did you say?

zer na= if you say that it means...

khyed rang la = to you

lo= not sure how to translate this, cute, girly way to end your sentences, very common among young nuns.


* Lobsang Palmo is a very Eastern Tibetan nun who speaks no English, except, apparently "one four three".

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Funny Conversations 2

Me: "How much is a ticket to Kolkata?

Ticket Agent/Coffee bean retailer:  "You want to go to Kolkata with a K or Calcutta with a C?"

Me: "They are the same place."

Agent: "They are the same place?"

Me: "You are an Indian, why are you asking me?"

-- in Kushalnagar village

Monday, December 07, 2009

Overheard at the nunnery

"Don't ask questions to the exam supervisors.  You've had a whole year to learn these things.  And besides, it has been so many years since we've studied these things - we've forgotten everything."

--a Lopon speaking at the shedra meeting on 'How to write final exams'

Friday, December 04, 2009

Howarts vs. Namdroling Monastery

Hogwarts is a castle.

Namdroling is comprised of a few dozen buildings, centered around four temples - which are somewhat castle-like.

Hogwarts is divided into Houses.

Namdroling's charter forbids the formation of organizations based on race, views, because these could lead to schisms in the Sangha... like the rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor.

Hogwarts has Harry Potter, the Chosen One.

Namdroling has dozens of chosen ones, ie. reincarnate lamas.

Hogwarts educates young witches and wizards.

Namdroling educates monks and nuns, most of whom have no magical powers.

Hogwarts gets attacked by Lord Voldermort.

Namdroling gets attacked by... excessive hot weather? bus loads of tourists? bees?

Hogwarts' professors are masters of various types of magic.

Namdroling's lamas are masters of the various methods of attaining enlightenment.

Hogwarts students learn how to perform magic.

Namdroling students learn to cut through illusion with wisdom.

Hogwarts exists in the imagination of the world.

Namdroling exists in the world which exists in the imagination.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What this blog isn't

Sometimes I wonder if I should post moving Dharma teachings, or photos of great masters, or discuss Buddhism related events in the media... or even (gag, choke, choke) talk about my practice, but that just isn't what this blog is about.  I am writing this blog as a reflection of my thoughts and my life, as a record for myself, my friends, and my family, and as a (rather tinted) window into nun life in general.  There are lots of blogs and websites out there where monastic and non-monastic bloggers post beautiful and insightful articles.  There are also a lot of people who post inspiring quotes and photos on Facebook.  That really is great.  And meaningful.
Me, I'm just a narcissistic sophist who happens to be ordained as a nun and happens to live in a Buddhist monastery in India.  All I can reflect is my own experience, which is limited, and samsaric. Thanks, for those of you who visit my blog.  Sorry your visit hasn't been more meaningful. If this is your first taste of Buddhism, please don't stop here - there is a lot more out there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

How I get through exams, in 18 steps

1. attend class, try to pay attention, possibly even take notes in class
2. for oh lets say the first month of the school year - study after class, debate about what was taught that same day
3. then yarne starts - spend the time out of class spazing about debating exams
4. after yarne - the fear starts - exams are coming, churn out some possible exam answers
5. reading month - realize that i could have prepared a lot more during the year
6. panic, consider not writing exams
7. realize that would delay graduation
8. consider not graduating at all, imagine moving back to Canada
9. the day comes when we have to formally sign up to write the exams - sign up
10. realize what I just did
11. resign myself to actually writing the exams
12. panic
13. blog about it, apparently
14. study
15. give up hope of being the highest scoring student in the class
16. attempt to abandon fear of failing completely
17.having abandoned hope and fear - rest in the thought 'just passing is enough'
18. attempt to do so

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why my class shouldn't be trusted with butter lamps

When we complete the study of a text we make offerings to the three jewels and to our teacher.  Yesterday we lit 108 butter lamps in our classroom. These lamps were special because half of them were filled not from the semi-solid butter substitute we usually use, but with regular cooking oil.  From the moment they were lit they started smoking.  By the end of the day our once white classroom was stained grey with soot.

This reminded me of the time we almost burned down our altar when I was in second year. The altar cloth covering the wooden altar caught fire from a butter lamp.  The wood itself didn't catch, thank the Buddha!

Again last year we lit butter lamps below some tormas.  This caused the butter decorations on them to melt, staining our shelves with melted butter.

I hope my class can come up with a better legacy than destruction.  Luckily we have three more years to work on this, and all our buildings are solid concrete.

Friday, November 06, 2009

We are nearing the end of another year of studies here at Namdroling.  My last class will be next Monday morning, which is the Buddhist holy day Lhabab Duchen and thus a very auspicious day to complete our endeavors.  There will then be eleven days of break and perhaps pujas for His Holiness' swift rebirth.   The next week will usher in that time which is my most favorite as well as most stressful - Reading Month aka. rangjong - the independent study period before exams.
For a few days this week I was the one and only foreign student residing at this monastery.  My good friend D. has left, at least temporarily, and M.L. is also off site.  Yesterday, however, I noticed a Chinese nun has arrived, so I'm no longer the only international student, not that it matters much, really.  I rarely think of my self as being 'other' while living here amongst the nuns.  I asked my classmates once, "Do you see me as your classmate or as a foreigner?" They replied, "When we see you from far away, we see a foreigner.  When we see you up close we see our classmate."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pramana rant

This afternoon I spent about an hour fruitlessly paging through Mipham's Pramanavartika commentary (legs bshad snang ba'i gter) looking for the line "gzhal bya rang mtshan gcig kho na*" in root text by Dharmakirti. At debate I asked my classmates about this often quoted line, they assured me: "It is there! Look on page 46." I had indeed already checked that page a few times already- because it seemed that is exactly there that quote should be. After debate a classmate, determined to show me the quote was there, showed me the page. What we found a very similar line: "rang gi mtshan nyid gcig gzhal bya**". It was then that I started wondering if this was a quote from Pramanavartika or perhaps a certain other extremely well known Pramana text-- Sakyapandita's tshad ma rigs gter. I googled it - two verbatim hits, one citing Sapan. I paged through the root text of rig ter. There it was! So... unless Sapan is quoting Dharmakirti and I am too blind to see it, I believe Sapan may have said it first. Next time I'll google it first.

*the objects to be examined are individually characterized only

** individually characterized objects only are the objects to be examined

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Changes at our nunnery

What was once: Is now:

And now we see:
Which is hopefully laying the ground for:Instead of:

Although... Hmmm....

The last two images are courtesy of the Library of Congress Archives.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Not long ago we began studying the 3rd chapter of Mipham's commentary on tshad ma rnam 'grel aka pramanavartika. We study its four chapters over four years. Last year was awfully difficult. It was only through great effort, debate, and classroom discussion that we were able to figure out what Mipham and Dharmakirti were attempting to tell us. This year's installment has been enjoyable so far because it is continuing to discuss those topics, namely the nature of generally characterized phenomena and the way they are perceived by the conceptual mind.
Meanwhile we are almost finished our reading of Paltrul's General Commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom. In this case I fear the stuggle and subsequent understanding of the text still lie ahead of me.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Last week I didn't have classes so I managed to get some serious studying done. I can't say I know the subjects well, but certainly a bit better than before. A scary thought is: three months from now I'll have already written my last final exam for my sixth year of shedra. Until then I'll be spending a lot of time alternately feeling anxious about the impending exams and planning how to spend my winter vacation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I finally finished giving my root text. By 'give' I mean recite in the presence of my teacher. This year's root text was very hard to learn - because it is not in verse. Check it out at Lotsawa House , and imagine memorizing it in Tibetan. Yeah.

Quite some time ago Ven. T.G. asked me how I memorize. I memorize fragments, then link them together until I have a few pages worth then I recite it to my teacher. I memorize the fragments by spending a few minutes memorizing each one, then a few minutes doing something else (like watching a video), then when my timer rings I try to remember what I just memorized. I also recite when I am cleaning and cooking. When I wake up in the morning I try to remember what I memorized the previous day. Memorizing right before going to sleep can be very effective, but it gives me nightmares in which the words are spinning around in my head. It is also useful to recite the whole text once a day - but I rarely do this, much to my own loss.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Well, I've been back for almost a week now. My studying is going well so far. In fact, I feel like it is the beginning of the school year - which is to say, I feel enthusiastic about learning. I've been working on my root text and plan to offer part of it (ie. recite it) to my teacher on Monday. In between studying I've set up a Ning network for monks and nuns in the Tibetan tradition. If you are ordained and want an invitation just send me an email at damchoe at gmail dot com. This enterprise is aided by the fact that my building has finally been connected to the Indian government electricity. That's right - more than twelve hours of light a day!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

So my ‘semester abroad’ ended predictably with several days of train, airplane, car, bus, and rickshaw, finally brining me back to the nunnery on August 30th. Now, I am trying to catch up with my class work, not to mention finish my memorization requirement. When I consider taking the rest of this year off and restarting sixth year next spring, I remember Tulku Pema Wangyal Rinpoche telling me, “Don’t let anything interrupt your studies.” As Rinpoche displayed his omniscience twice during our stay in Dordogne, I’m going to do my best to keep my nose in the books. I may not blog much but I’ll post some photos.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

On August 25th, we were to go to Nyima Dzong, in Provence. That morning, however, Khenpo got a phone call and declared we would be returning to India. He had to go to Bhutan post haste. In the morning, Khenpo addressed the entire assembly of Rigpa students- some fifteen hundred people from around the world. We met with Sogyal Rinpoche again and he led us out of the temple. As we drove out of Lerab Ling, Rinpoche led his students, who had all gathered around the temple, in chanting the Verses of the Eight Auspicious Ones, it was very moving. We took the lightning-fast TVG train to Paris.
The next morning, Sogyal Rinpoche and Khen Rinpoche blessed the many images, statues and artifacts of the temple. Khenpo continued his teachings in the morning then concluded them in the afternoon session. I had some quality time with the lotsawas and other friends. Unlike Chanteloube, I had many opportunities to assist Khen Rinpoche as his translator and servant. I insisted that Lerab Ling’s own translator, G., translate Khenpo’s oral teachings as he is just so much more skilled than I am, but in daily life translations I was glad to have something to do. That evening, I nerd bonded with some of my new friends among the monastics.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yesterday, we said our goodbyes at Chanteloube. Then we drove from Dordogne to Lerab Ling, which is near the Spanish border. Sogyal Rinpoche greeted Khen Rinpoche in front of the temple and then we all adjourned to the top floor of the temple to enjoy the traditional Tibetan food of welcome– sweet rice and tea. This morning we visited visited Khandros Tsering Chodron and Mayum. The Lotsawa House translators introduced the Rigpa Mandala. We met Rinpoche several times during the day. In the afternoon Khen Rinpoche began his teachings on Longchenpa’s Thirty Pieces of Advice from the Heart. This evening I chatted with the local monks and nuns.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Khen Rinpoche, Ani Jinpa, and Ani Yann

Yesterday I translated an empowerment for the first time! I translated the text in advance and read it off my computer during the ritual. I discovered if the lama speaks quickly I also speak quickly, I’ll need to work on that. It was a great experience and I’d love to do more of the same. In other news, I finally gave 30% of my root text memorization. I hope to give a bit more before we go back to India next week. It is hard and time is short. I am so behind in my studies it is ridiculous. France is great, but I study better in India.
I seem to have fallen off track with my daily updates. Comment more, it will help... In the last few days I have had wonderful talks with Tulku Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, as well as two of the Padmakara translators. I’ve gained great inspiration for my future and for my present practice. I feel like there are several avenues awaiting me once I graduate from shedra. At the same time, I feel like I have so much more to learn and practice! Rinpoche told us about Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche and Dudjom Rinpoche. How very precious to hear these stories while staying in a house where they lived and taught.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Yesterday Khen Rinpoche completed this year’s installment of his on-going teachings on Yontan Dzod. If all goes as planned, he’ll return to complete the text next spring. Today he gave the reading transmission for Ngalso Korsum and Choying Dzod. I got to translate a little today, because Venerable Mattieu had to leave yesterday. It is a bit intimidating to translate in front of a room full of translators and three-year retreat graduates! I also visited the new offices of Padmakara Translations. I felt how normal people feel when they visit a movie set and meet their favorite movie stars. Sigh… Sometimes I feel like a child among grown-ups.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Les Esyees

It’s late at night at La Sonnerie. I can hear rave music playing somewhere… The last few days have been pretty much the same. Teachings in the morning. A nap. Then studying in the afternoons. Sometimes when I wake up from my siesta I can hear Khenpo teaching privately in the room next door. Sometimes he is even teaching in my dreams. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the mind and afflictive emotions. I’m certain the Dharma has the answers. I’ve studied them, I know them. But the practice doesn’t sit itself. The path doesn’t traverse itself. Time to sleep, but when will I wake up?

Friday, August 14, 2009


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kangyur Rinpoche's stupa

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

We saw some wonderful fireworks last night at Leon sur Verze. Today we continued on with the teachings. I can’t say I was a very good vessel for the teachings, having missed out on sleep last night, but I managed to stay awake. After a nap I started trying to study (I’m so behind!) but A. and D. came over. Nonetheless, I did manage to read for perhaps twenty minutes, then when I walked into the dining room (on my way to the kitchen for coffee), well hello there was Tulku Pema Wangyal Rinpoche. What ensued was a very nice afternoon with Rinpoche, Khenpo, and A. and D.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunday, August 09, 2009

We finished this year's installment of Nagarjuna's Letter to a Friend. Perhaps it will be completed next year. I met a young French monk, Venerable A., he says he'd like to learn Tibetan and study in our shedra. I hope he can do so. Before I came to India I imagined I'd find many international students at Namdroling, but actually there are very few. I also had the pleasure of seeing my dear old friends A. and D., two of my fellow injees at Namdroling. I think we'll be spending a lot more time together in the days to come. Injee is the Tibetan word for white folk.

8 August 2009

Khenpo didn’t even have a bruise from the door incident, thank Buddha! Today was a busy day with two teachings. We had Yontan Dzod in the morning and then in the afternoon Khenpo resumed his ongoing teachings on Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend. Mattieu is translating into English for the morning and French for the afternoon, he really is tremendously skilled. I’m also enjoying spending time with Venerable S. a British monk. I’ve never met a Westerner who speaks such flawless fluent Tibetan! J.C. too is a veteran translator and is great fun to talk with.
In the evening I got to work on my memorization for shedra.

7 August 2009

I can already feel myself getting attached to life in France. In ways it is like being back in Canada- the luxuries of electricity day and night, hot showers, and high-speed internet. The food is rather better, though. I can feel myself getting healthier from all this wonderful organic vegetarian food. Our dharma friend J.C. is constantly brining us fruit, vegetables, bread, and amazing French cheese. Yeah, yeah I know… I’m an awful glutton and I’ll never leave samsara.
We had more teachings in the afternoon. Khenpo had a bit of a run-in with a glass door. He commented, “If I had horns, the glass would have broken.”

6 August 2009

I woke up at about 4 am (7:30 am India time). I did some practice and spent several hours studying for shedra. In the afternoon, Khenpo began his first teachings of this tour. For most of the last decade he has been gradually teaching Yontan Dzod to the translators and three year retreat graduates here at Chanteloube. We are very luckly to have the peerless Matthieu Ricard as our translator for these teachings. Although I am on this trip as a translator for Khenpo, I am still in training and my skills are poor. Dharma teachings don’t get more difficult to translate than what we are studying now.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

5 August 2009

We had a big breakfast and took a taxi to Station Austerlitz. The taxi driver was enthusiastic about Buddhism and even had a Dalai Lama book in his car. I finally got some coffee after a tough 24 hours surviving on tea. There was this weird painting – which appears (to me and Pema) to be a monk with his lower robe over his head, perhaps taking a nap. We took the train to Brieve where we were met by several members of the Padmakara translation group. We drove to La Sonnerie, a wonderful farm house near Chanteloube where many sublime beings have stayed and taught over the years.

4 August 2009

We flew on Air France to Paris. It took 8.5 hours and yes, flying with your lama and his attendant is more fun than flying alone. It was really frigid in the plane, Ani Pema actually caught a cold. We were met at the CDG airport by Ani Ngawang Chodron who took us to the Paris version of Shechen House- a very beautiful flat near L’arc de Triomphe. Later in the day we did some visa business and I caught glimpses of the Eiffle Tower and the Champs de Elysees. Back at the flat I helped Ani Ngawang with the cooking and learned some new vegetable chopping techniques.

3 August 2009

I spent a long day at Shechen house not doing much, trying to keep cool in boiling Delhi. The high point was greeting Rabjam Rinpoche who arrived at the house on his way to Taiwan. I started climbing the huge mountain of studying which I must summit in order to keep up with my class at the nunnery. I’m reading Khenpo Tsewang Sonam’s wonderful Abhisamayalankara commentary. The author is said by some to be one of the best students produced by our shedra at Namdroling. At the airport I had some nice chats with the check-in and immigration officials. We flew out of Delhi just after midnight.

Friday, August 07, 2009

2 August 2009

I took the bus out to the shiny new Bengaluru International Airport. I had been missing my coffee that morning, so I took advantage of both the Coffee Day and the Barista Coffee at the airport. I love coffee and I love that the Tibetan medicine I’ve been taking lets me drink more of it without ill effect. Earlier, my mother had advised me: “Try not to drink to much coffee or eat too many carbs.” Sorry Mom, I’m going to Europe. I was met at the Delhi airport by Ani Pema and two new Dharma friends. We spent the night at Shechen House where Khenpo was staying.

1 August 2009

I spent the morning thinking: I’m not supposed to be leaving shedra in the middle of the year and I’m not ready to translate, especially for Khenpo. The head disciplinarian Ani Y.W. gave me some encouragement, “By doing this you will be serving not only Khenpo, but our monastery and nunnery. You will be developing your own skills as well. We are all very happy you are going and will pray for you.” That did help me feel better. In the afternoon, I took the bus to Bangalore and stayed in a small hotel in Gandhinagar, near the bus station. I took some neat photos on the way.

A temple under construction.

This looks more like Canada than India.

My 'Semester Abroad'

I have decided to post 108 words about each day of my trip to France. Here's how it all started:

Two weeks ago, I went to translate for Khenchen Pema Sherab Rinpoche in Bangalore. His original translator had fallen ill. The next day I joked to the translator: "Don't worry if you are too sick to go to Europe, I'll go in your place and you can stay here and write my exams." Not catching the end bit of that sentence, he replied, "That's a good idea!" I spent the next two weeks getting ready. I got permission to miss classes but still be allowed to write our final exams. Due to visa issues we weren’t sure the trip would happen, but it came together in the end.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Debate, Part 1

I'm still studying the Dharma, I always will be a student, but at this point I certainly don't see myself as a teacher. That being said, I have given a few talks here and there. In June, I gave my first talk at a Palyul lineage Buddhist center, namely Thubten Lekshey Ling Dharma Subhshita in Bengaluru (Bangalore). I promised at the talk that I would post a review of the main topics, so here is part one.

I explained the basics of debate as it is carried out in Tibetan Buddhism. We use logic to inquire about the Dharma. The Buddha says:

Monks and wise ones,
Just as you would burn, cut and burnish gold
Examine my teachings
Do not accept them out of faith.

Likewise Mipham Rinpoche has taught:

If the teachings of the Victor, which are logical,
Are extablished through logic,
And thus by the path of logic certainty is developed
The true result of the logical teachings will be seen.

So, logic is important. We begin our study of logic by learning the four points of relationship between things. Identical, seperate, three points, and four points. For example:

Identical: impermanent and caused are identical, they are different names for the same thing. Thus, whatever is impermanent is caused, whatever is caused is impermanent. Here identical means a singular entity. Not in the broader sense of identical objects, such as identical twins.

Seperate: permanent and impermanent are seperate. Whatever is permanent is not impermanent and vice versa. A pot and a pillar are seperate. Two identical twins would also be seperate, since there is nothing which is both of them.

3 Points: impermanent and knowable; All which is impermanent is knowable, not all which is knowable is impermanent. Thus we have something which is both: physical matter. Something which is knowable but not impermanent: space. Something which is neither: rabbit horns (not knowable because rabbits don't have horns, nor impermanent because they do not exist.)

4 Points: wisdom and permanent. That which is both: the wisdom of a Buddha. That which is wisdom but not permanent: the wisdom of a bodhisattva on the path of learning. That which is permanent but not wisdom: space. That which is neither wisdom nor permanent: matter.

Here are some more approachable examples:

3 Points: A ring and a gold ring. That which is both: A gold ring. That which is gold but not a ring: A gold brick. That which is neither: a silver ring.

4 Points: A ring and gold: That which is both: a gold ring. That which is gold but not a ring: a gold brick. That which is a ring but not gold: a silver ring. That which is neither: a necklace.

3 Points: American and American president: He who is both: Barrak Obama. American but not president: Hillary Clinton. Neither: the Queen of England.

4 Points: American and president: both: Obama. American but not president Hillary. President but not American: The president of any other country (unless he or she holds American citizenship). Neither: the citizen of any other country who is not a president.

Thus, we can examine both mundane phenomena and philosophical terms as to wether they are the same, different, or intersect with three or four points.

For example, let's debate on compassion:

Me: Are compassion and bodhicitta identical, seperate, three points or four points?

You: Three points.

Me: What are the three points?

You: All bodhichitta is compassionate, not all compassion is bodhichitta.

Me: What is that which is compassion but not bodhichitta?

You: Worldly compassion which is not embraced by the wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others is not bodhichitta.

Me: So if compassion is not united with the wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others it is not bodhichitta?

You: Yes, that is correct.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Funny conversations...

I've been meaning to post some of the funny conversations I've had. Early this morning:

ROOMATE: Ani Damchoe Wangmo! Did you drop 200 rupees (about U.S. five dollars) in the toilet?

ME: Uh...

RM: Someone dropped 200 rupees in the toilet!

ME: (cringing at the thought of Gandhi-ji's visage getting dirty in our toilet) Did you take it out?

RM: (points to two wet 100 rupee notes drying on the window sill) So it isn't yours?

ME. I don't think so.

RM: I think it is mine. I took a shower last night. (yes, we shower in our toilet stall, for privacy)

ME: Well... if you are not sure you could offer it (for a puja). But... maybe you shouldn't offer those exact bills because...

BOTH OF US: They fell in the toilet! (laughter)

Monday, June 08, 2009

How I spent my 29th birthday

I started my day with some coffee and practice. Talked to my mother and brother on the phone. Read my first few birthday wishes on facebook. Read a book Konchog gave me about the Mongolian folk hero lama Danzan Rabjaa. Studied Devangari, the alphabet common to Hindi and Sanskrit. Called Khenpo Pema Sherab's attendant to ask about a reading transmission for a certain text, told to come tomorrow morning. Had lunch. Got an hour of electricity around noon. Read more birthday wishes on facebook. Had a shower. Spent half an hour using Teach2000 to study the definitions of the five paths. Worked on memorizing the titles of the 17 Prajnaparamitra sutras and 21 Indian commentaries on them. At 3 pm went to First Camp for cappucinno with some Western friends and one Nepalese ani (most Tibetans don't follow birthdays). Inhaled a lot of fumes from the generator next to the cafe. Went back to the nunnery. Bought some momos from the vendor at the gate. Went back to my room. Ate chips for dinner and had another coffee, because hey its my birthday. Went to my friend's room to charge my computer. Messed around on the internet. Felt sorry about Aung San Suu Kii's situation. Taught my friend who speaks about five words of English how to say 'Shame on you.' Took fully charged laptop back to my room. Wrote this blog.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

What I'm up to in shedra land

We've been having classes in the evening instead of the usually 8:30 am because our days have been filled with puja for our lama's passing. Despite the very sad reason for it, I found I like class in the evening much more than in the morning. I've felt sharper.

In a month we've only gotten to page 22 of Paltrul Rinpoche's General Commentary (spyi don) on Abhisamalankara. It is typical to go this slowly at the beginning of a text. The first quatrains of many shastras are not only homages to the Buddhas and so on, but contain pith summaries of the main points of the texts.

Our teacher asked us if we would like him to teach us Haribhadra's Abhisamayalankara commentary Short Commentary Clear in Meaning ('grel chung don gsal) at the same time, or wait until after we finished the General Commentary. We voted on it and the result is we are covering each section in the General Commentary then following it with the same section in the Short Commentary.

The Short Commentary is interesting to read because it is a Tibetan translation of an Indian Commentary. This means its Tibetan is unusual; it has been bent and stretched to be an exact translation of the original Sanskrit. These days some Dharma students complain that the English translations of Tibetan texts and sadhanas are hard understand, filled with 'translator speak'. Well, if that's true, at least there is a precedent for it in history.

On the side, to try to shore up my understanding of the above texts, I am reading Khenpo Tsewang Sonam's commentary The New Radiance ('od snang gsar pa), as well as Botrul Tenpa'i Nyima's Words of Maitreya (ma pham zhal lung), and occasionaly looking at Tsongkapa's Golden Rosary (legs bshad gser phreng).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Statues in Zangdogpalri Temple

Vajrasattva leaned...
Shakyamuni's eyes became uneven...

Guru Rinpoche seemed about to weep.

Still More Blessings...

More Blessings

Blessings at Namdroling

Saturday, May 02, 2009


Ani Tsewang on tea duty in Bodhgaya.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Daily list

Everyday I try to:

  • meditate
  • study for shedra
  • exercise
  • practice handwriting (because it matters on our exams, doh!)
  • read academic books and articles
  • memorize root text
  • tidy my room
Things I do which sometimes hinder me in accomplishing all of the above:

  • read Harry Potter fan fiction
  • watch television serials on DVD
  • Facebook
  • eat irresponsibly (which messes up my blood sugar and turns me into a zombie)
If I were all-powerful I would:

  • Add more hours to the day so I could do everything on both lists (except maybe the zombie thing)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Penor Rinpoche with Yangthang Rinpoche

In November 2008, Yangthang Rinpoche came to Namdroling to lead pujas for His Holiness Penor Rinpoche's long life. This picture was taken at a picnic held to celebrate the completion of the pujas.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


With another school year comes another 15 pages of root text I have to memorize.  A page means one two-sided Tibetan pecha page.  If the root text is in stanzas, which it usually is, that means 8 to 10 stanzas per page.

Most teachers do not require us to give all 15 pages in one go.  I usually give 4 or 5 pages at a time then start memorizing the next section. There is a deadline for providing proof of our memorization, the last day of the rainy season retreat (this year September 17th).  If a student fails to complete the memorization test by that time, she has to give 25 pages before classes end two months later.   For some people the deadline is no problem because they can somehow memorize hundreds of pages with ease.  Anyone who memorizes over one hundred pages receives present. 

Occasionally teachers insist that the student recites every stanza of the pages she is claiming to have memorized.  More often the teacher will get the student to start at the beginning of the text, then after a few stanzas the teacher will read the first line of a stanza part way through the text.  The student then continues reciting from that point until the teacher is satisfied.  This may be repeated a few times depending on how many pages are being given.

I'm not a great memorizer, but for the last four years I've managed to get through the memorization tests.  I remind myself that at other monasteries students must memorize every word of every root text on their curriculum. The truth is, the meaning always shines forth so much brighter when I am taught the commentary to text I have memorized.  I've told myself that someday I will memorize the Way of the Bodhisattva in English.  I think that would be a wonderful text to have written in my heart.   For now I'll have to start on Abhisamayalankara and the Seventy Points.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Memories of Sikkim

In February I was meditating at Norbugang in Yuksum, Sikkim and these little friends came to see what was going on.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Back to school

I've challenged myself to post on this blog everyday for a week. To that end…

We began shedra classes last Monday.  I'm in sixth year now.  We've started the year with Paltrul Rinpoche's general commentary on the Ornament of Realization (Abhisamayalankara).  The root text itself is a commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom.   This is a famously difficult subject.  So far we are just on the third page, so I'll have to let you know how it goes.  I have yet to meet a Tibetan text that wasn't difficult to understand.

Khenchen Pema Sherab and Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso were both quite enthusiastic about this text, as though they were excited I was getting the chance to study it.  People often say that if you do well on Abhidharmakosa (in fourth year) you will do well on Abhisamayalankara.  I had a great teacher for Abhidharma, Dolpo Tulku Rinpoche.  He really put in a lot of energy and joy.  He helped keep us keen on day after day of enumerations and definitions. All the same, I was glad to say goodbye to dear old Abhidharma.  

Sixth year is the last year we focus primarily on sutra traditions.  For the final three years of our program we mainly study tantra.    So I am aspiring to be diligent and give the Perfection of Wisdom the attention it deserves and to go for a more complete understanding of the Mahayana than I currently possess.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A letter to my lama, Penor Rinpoche

Dear Rinpoche,

Seven days ago you entered into your final meditation of this life. Even now you rest in equipoise. Our community is united in practice, both here in India and in every place where your teachings have found resonance.

There came a point when it became certain you were going to leave us.  It broke our hearts to see you so ill. We asked the dakinis and the buddhas not to call you, but still you had to go. Any one of would have give up our body to restore yours if such a thing were possible.  To us you are far more than a teacher, or parent, or doctor, you are the very sun who illuminates our lives.

The lamas have taught that when students fail to keep their samaya it shortens the teachers' life.  Rinpoche, I am so sorry for shortening your life. I am sorry for not being a good nun.  I am sorry for not having compassion for beings.  I am sorry for not practicing the six perfections.  I am sorry for not meditating on the profound truth. 

Rinpoche you have taught us the profound path of tantra again and again.  You have taught us exceedingly high teachings.  You taught us even though we were not all ready or capable.  Thank you, Rinpoche, for putting your life on the line for us.  You knew we were just beginners and yet you fulfilled our highest wishes.

I am sorry, Rinpoche, that I did not practice better.  I am sorry I let time slip away while engaged in worldly matters. I am sorry that I have been the mere shadow of a practitioner.  I thought that the tantric samayas were utterly beyond me as an ordinary person.  I am sorry I didn't try.  I am sorry for my lack of pure view.  I am sorry for fighting with my fellow students. I am sorry for not maintaining the continuity of practice. I am sorry for not eliminating my wrong views. I am so sorry for shortening your life. I lay this at your feet from the depth of my heart. I confess everything now in the midst of your Dharmakaya heart.

Who could do what you have done?  Who could nurture tens of thousands of monks, nuns, yogis, and lay people? Who could turn the wheel of Dharma year after year all over the world? Who could build so many monasteries, temples, and dharma centers? We can barely take care of ourselves, Rinpoche.  You have done all these things and more, it is astonishing.

Rinpoche there is nothing that I could offer you now that would prolong your life.  Someday soon your mind will leave your body and you will go on to your next destination.  If you decide to go to a pure land, I wouldn't blame you.  We your students have been ungrateful and probably quite disappointing to you.  I do hope, though, that you will come back soon. 

The only offering I can make to you now is my heart, Rinpoche, and to make these vows in the presence of your Dharmakaya heart:  I vow to never abandon the path of Dharma. I vow to truly take the three jewels as my guides in life.  You were so kind to ordain me, Rinpoche, I vow to keep these precepts you have given me. From now on I will remember bodhichitta everyday.  I will restrain my self from hurting beings.  I will try to love them and care for them and help them. I will lead a Dharma life.  Wherever I go, I will go towards the Dharma.  Whatever I do, I will do Dharma.  Whenever I am lost I will take the three jewels as my guides.  From now on I will exert myself in the path of the secret mantra.  During meditation and in daily life I will practice to the best of my ability.  I vow to go farther and deeper in my studies, so that I may go father and deeper in my practice.  And when I practice, it will be for all beings.  Not just for my self.  I will practice so that beings may be rescued from samsara. 

Thank you, Rinpoche, thank you for everything.  Thank you personally for these vows, these teachings, this monastery, this education.  Thank you Rinpoche for what you have given us.  Thank for what you have done for beings.  We can see only the material expressions of your kindness, but I am certain there is much much more.  I believe you have been benefiting beings with your every thought, word, and breath, for your whole life.  That is amazing, Rinpoche, I pray someday all beings will be like you.

From my heart,

Damchoe Wangmo

Monday, January 05, 2009

You are a Westerner who has been living in a Tibetan community in India too long if:

  • you have yama (sinitus)
  • you do the head wobble thing
  • you start sentences with "We Tibetans..."
  • you start sentences with "Those Injees..."
  • you speak Tibetan to Indians and Hindi to Tibetans
  • you don't know the word in Tibetan you say it in Hindi
  • you say "shit" (in English) every time you drop something
  • you don't know the name of any vegetables in Tibetan but you do in Hindi or Chinese
  • you'd actually prefer to have butter tea
  • prefer to tell people phone numbers in Chinese or English rather than Tibetan
  • you point with your lips
  • you think this post is funny because it is true