Tibetan Buddhist Class, Week Three

Every day in class is much the same in week three.  We’re going back over the practice (sadhana) getting more detail about all the visualizations.

Sadhana means “a way of accomplishing something”.  A sadhana is a discipline one follows to attain a goal. Related words include abhyāsa, which means repeated practice performed with observation and reflection and kriyā, which means action and also implies perfect execution with study and investigation.  There are sadhanas for worldly aims, e.g., money, not just spiritual ones, and for Hindu, Muslim and Sikh practitioners not just Buddhists.  There are fifteen major tantric Buddhist sadhanas and innumerable variants practiced by individual orders.

I’m starting to suspect that although this sadhana is an effective discipline for me, it will be more so if I first complete this order’s much simpler “Preliminary Practice”.   We’re now practicing more variations of this sadhana but even the shortest one has a lot of detail.

Our cheat sheet shows what to include in short, middling and long versions.   The long version includes a feast offering to the deities who are ultimately no different from ourselves.  They are what we would be if we did not have all these habits of thinking and feeling, ways of responding to what we imagine we see, which is a distorted version of reality.

I don’t understand the differences between the short and middling versions.  It’s more complicated than I thought.  There’s a central part that can be done alone as the simplest possible form of the practice but there’s not just one set of additional chants for the middling version.  There are many optional extras.  I wonder if I’ll be able to understand the difference between what’s essential and what’s an elaboration.  That’s why I’m thinking I should maybe start with something simpler.

Today there are no newspapers, bread or anything else I might want to buy because yesterday was the last day of Tihar, the festival of lights that’s preceded by the day of the dog, the day of the crow, the day of the cow and etc.

Yesterday was “brother tikka” day when sisters must honor their brothers and wish them a long life.  Brothers get the colored powder Tikka applied to their forehead and are given gifts and a feast.  If I wasn’t studying here I’d have been honored in this way by my Nepali “sisters”.

This evening I checked email.  My last Sidwell aunt got confused and swallowed all her medications a few days ago.  She isn’t expected to be able to continue living in her own room.  My second-to-last Sidwell uncle is declining fast with Parkinson’s.  I’m not ready to become the oldest living descendant of my cotton mill-hand great-grandfather, John Henry Sidwell.

Now it’s the end of week three, another free day.  I’m overwhelmed by so much effort to absorb so much that’s new.  Tibetan lamas start by learning the chants, how to make the sequence of sounds correctly, when they’re very young.  They only begin to learn the meaning later.

I thought this class was so hard because I’m used to learning in the opposite sequence, first the theory then the practice.  Then I realized that was just an idea.  I’ve always gone about things this way.  I almost drowned two times, leaping into the deep end and then trying to figure out how people swim.

Young lamas first learn to make the sounds, do the hand gestures and so forth to establish an armature, like a framework around which a sculpture is built.  It provides stability.  The chants’ sound provides a structure for one’s recognition of ever deeper levels of meaning.  If you start with words, you get confused when you learn a second set.  They get jumbled when you try to retrieve them.  Enacting the sounds works very differently.  It’s experiential and holistic.

In any case, I’m happy today is a rest day.  I walk up to Kopan Monastery to meet Choedar, the lama who came on the trek to Tsum Valley last year.  It’s so good to see him.  We talk about many things, especially Buddhist education.  Choedar manages education of the young monks here, about 60 new ones each year.  Other monasteries go to the villages to find children.  Kopan gets more applicants than it can take.  That’s because students at Kopan get both Buddhist and Western education.

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Cheodar says it’s good for the monks to understand science because it will help them relate to lay practitioners.  Monks in Tibet used to know the same things and ways as lay people.  That was better.  Also, if they change their mind about being a monk, they can reenter lay life because they will not be alienated from the larger society.

Back in my room, I do my laundry then go out and circumambulate Boudha stupa .  It starts to rain heavily.  My laundry will have to finish drying tomorrow while we start learning a new sadhana.

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