"The world we live in is getting smaller and peoples actions have tremendous impact. In the era in wich we live people cannot get away with cllinging to their beliefs. I dont have any personal attachment or clinging to being a Buddhist. We need to step outside the boundaries of Buddhism and really go out and share the benefits of our Buddhist practise with the rest of the world. " / HHG Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Bus Society

The life with a sangha as I see it, is to expand the mind from its most cloistered corners, and get all of once juicy differences and crisp angels mirrored back by others, without away to retaliate. It is about practicing choicelessness.

A sangha consists of a group of potential friends, enemies and those that one feels indifferent for. Just as anywhere. Like on a bus.

Thats why I call this "The Bus Society".

One is living very close together in a small container, full time, where there is no choices around meeting someone or not. What ever and who ever is right there in your face, weather you like it or not, around the clock. One might resist it at first, but eventually its gonna start seeping in and start dancing on your lack of patience, like a laughing skeleton. There is no way but to surrender to the rawness of it all. Once own shortcomings become very vividly alive and mirrored back in full color when living in community.
This is how we learn from each other.

People of all sorts and walks of life may constitute a sangha, and finding deeper relationships within a community is quite unusual, no matter where you are. Its not like calling all your best friends together and say; Hey, lets go live together. Its more like you would step in to any city bus, preferably one youve never been on before and suggest the same thing; Hey, lets go live together!

There is the guy you would never have thought of even have a cup of tea with who now shares your seat, the woman whos core values are so the opposite to yours that a mere Halo at the breakfast table makes you long for a turtle shell to crawl in to. There is those who tickles your curiosity who never looks in your direction, and those you are to afraid of to talk to. Small, big, with tattoos, and without, but everyone has scares. They come in all colors and sizes, and they are not getting off at the next stop...

You share your bathroom, your few toys and goodies, your good moods and your worst moments with these fellow companions of the bus society 24/7.

Youre up close with your most hidden secrets, your failures, strengths and shortcomings. The longer you stay the longer you get a chance to be boiled thoroughly, and get your edges softened. Emerging from the sangha soup as a tender and tasty potato or carrot might take a while though. Most of us are hard boiled eggs all ready that instead needs to be cracked open. O´boy, hope no one needs to be cracked open! Just softly boiled to perfect tenderness. ;-)

I see part of sangha life as an investment in the living Dharma, for the  sake of all living beings. The insights we get through abandoning our comfort zones and stirring right at the edges of our limited worlds is what invites us to expand and soften in to a more peaceful and harmonious frame of mind. Unless you push it to far to fast...and starts to sink instead.

Many ideas of what it might be to live in community and in a monastery or nunnery fall apart when you enter one and become a part of it.
Thats a good thing, because it opens up the potential to see what it really is, and what is really true and what needs to be addressed. What it really means to be living in community wont be limited to our own approval, it will just show it self on our doorstep as it is, and we take it from there to the cushion. Bringing what ever ripens to the path and use it as potential fertilizers to our capacity to grow beyond our current limitations.

Its hard work to get the bus society rolling harmoniously, as most of us just want to come to gorgeously ready served tables and not get our sleeves soiled or stained by uncomfortable truths. Especially not about ourselves.

The strength of being more then one that together digs in to create the sustainable foundations for a continuation of stable sangha lives are needed.

We are much stronger together then alone, and we will continue to need each other in order to anchor a foundation for sangha life that can mirror back our own uncomfortable truths, and befriend them, for the sake of all beings.
All of us who are willing to walk the path are all channels for the Dharma, no matter shape or form, and the way the way will show it self is through walking it - step by step towards selflessness.

"The Charnel Ground"  - composed in Bodhgaya January 2009

Im walking the charnel ground.
Theres a shuffle by the tree.

I am this moment.
How can you be in love with a moment?

Now Im here.
Now Im gone.

Im the place between breathing in
and breathing out.

Now Im here.
Now Im gone.

Im the space embracing the leave.

The leave will drop,
fall to the ground
and follow the wind.

I am the leave.

Now Im here.
Now Im gone.

I am walking the charnel ground.
There is a shuffle by the tree.

Monday, May 27, 2013

This Isolated Position

"A Western Buddhist Nuns perspective"

Being an Island as to one self is not a chosen position in this form, but a living fact for many of us western nuns in the Buddhist Vajrayana tradition.

In the old days nuns and monks were embraced in to a Monastic environment as they took theyre vows, and thereby entered the Sangha. That is not the case of today. At least not for us westerners. Were on our own. No support, no home base, and in most cases no education is given to us either, unless we pay for it. We have to find our own ways to sustain our selves, and make sure we have the finances to keep us going.

Seeking out the genuine living Buddha Dharma we many times find our selves in environments and cultures that are foreign to us. Environments that are providing a reality of shelter and food that are challenging our possibilities to stay healthy. Despite the facts of immune and digestive systems braking down when traveling abroad, we need the closeness it gives us to the living dharma, the masters and the pilgrimage sites. Cultural differences are inevitable and the gap to be bridged over, between western and eastern monastics frame of mind, needs to be taken in to consideration.

Youre old world is gone and there is no new world to enter.
Many of our family members and old friends rejects us, or feel alienated to our new world. Even with the best of intentions and most sincere efforts to adopt a compassionate heart from our side, especially towards those who misunderstand us or carry prejudice about our choice of life, we meet many challenges with our old relations and some closed doors. From our side its a path of no return once you've seen the futility's of Samsara. Then its even harder, not to say impossible to stay satisfied in the loop of the projected dream world. It becomes like a mutual vomiting. The worldly world spits you out, while the created self cracks open, and sheds its old engagement in the worldly concerns. Yes, we are abandoning a wrecked ship, and with us we carry the wish to rescue everyone, including our selves, who is also about to drown in the stormy waves of birth, sickness, old age and death.

No turning back. No where to go.
We take ordination for life just to discover that the social context in which to grow and learn from are deprived from us. So we become individual satellites floating around in the world of Buddhism with our twinkling search lights. Its a very lonely position. Most of us doesn't last very long. During my first year as a nun more then 8 western monastics in my immediate surroundings disrobed. It was very discouraging. With a heavy heart I looked at these seniors of mine thinking; - Is that the way were all gonna go?! 

With the lack of a supportive environment to up hold Shakyamuni Buddhas teachings in the West, then how is it going to be done, and by whom? There has to be some inspiring examples of the Buddha some where in the West in order for the Dharma to stay available and be upheld. Best case scenario monks and nuns are setting examples of spiritual discipline and acting as inspiration to others, which is the foundational prerequisite for the Buddha Dharma to stay alive. We have so much more time to devote to practice, and there is so much merits arising with every breath taken while holding the vows of a monastic.

As long as we dont fall prey to becoming "lay people in robes," due to lack of support for a monastic life style as westerners, we might be able to continuously be the spearheads for the path of sanity called Buddhism.

For many grown up westerners that enters this path its a choice of following the awakening heart. No one else made this choice for us. Many of us did it out of a a sincere longing to find out the truth and nothing but the truth, no matter what. The path of enlightenment is not to be used as an escape from not being able to live up to the values of society, not being able to start a family, shying away from coming out of the closet as a homosexual or using it as a retirement plan. To run away from not being able to live up to mainstream core values will not create a fertile soil for sustained monasticism, nor be helpful for the individual to grow up in a genuine sense, and take responsibility to face one self.

For us westerners there is very seldom any Monasteries or Nunneries to turn to. Especially as nuns were kind of left in the gutter.

It becomes a contradictory situation were we on one hand are not supported, and on the other hand not are encouraged to take an employment and keep a household. So then how is a westerner in robes supposed to survive and develop? If you have a sincere aspiration to give your life to the Buddha Dharma but there is no social structure there to hold you, youre more or less forced to become a loner that no one can relate to, and thats not a very sustainable situation.

Staying Alive
Few individuals has stubbornly succeeded to keep them selves for decades on this lonely path to enlightenment. Those are the handful of living legends that we admire today, but whose lives hardly can stand as role models, as theyre exceptions to the commonality.

My path as a western nun in this tradition has been very blessed in so many ways, and in other ways its also reflecting a typical scenario of what happens to many westerners who enters this path. No home. No Sangha. No support.

Those of us who are interested in philosophical studies usually struggle to get an education, and end up financing it our selves. If we can. Some occasionally do take temporary employments back home in the West to fill up the emptying bank account, and a very few fortunate once has financial support from Buddhist lay people, usually for some limited time. Most western nuns Ive met end up staying in separate apartments and pay for theyre own lodging, travels and food. They might never have had the good fortune to live with other nuns or to get some formal training. Many give up after 3 years or so...

Integrating Monasticism in our Modern World
There is a few things we can do to integrate our selves in the worldly sense without having to disrobe, but its a very delicate balance as how to make the monastic tradition functional in our times. Some crafts, such as Translating, Creating Sacred Music, Graphic design and Architecture is usually fine, as long as were not harming anyone or braking our root vows.

Those who find the opportunity to commit them selves to a monastery or dharma center soon become aware of the tendency for those institutions to be fertile grounds for power struggles. When creating monasteries and dharma centers that involves monastic presence, the main responsibility of carrying for worldly concerns, should in an ideal world, be in the hands of the lay practioners, not the monastics. While the Abbots and spiritual directors should preferably be monastics. For us to be able to hold the Vinaya and Pratimoksha rules in our day and age, we need a collaboration with the lay sangha as in the traditional way. The Vinaya principle and the continuity of the original tradition needs to be followed as much as we can, as its a path proven to re-ignite our inherent recognition of our true nature. Here we find the importance of the virtuous collaboration of the four pillars by staying true to these 2600 years of vintage ideas.

Not to tight, not to loose
On the other hand you many time ripen a bitter practice when becoming to tight around the principals of training that the Buddha laid down in the Vinaya. A tendency that is especially strong among the westerners, as this life style is something we often didnt grow up with, and therefor not always fall in to so naturally. As nuns we are furthermore being expected to be the second class citizens in the Monastic world, so it seems as we easily fall in to the "good girl trap," trying to prove our selves as a worthy existence in this medieval system.

What the Vinaya is concerned, its about how to live a healthy life all together. Its an extended form of yogic life, not a book of hardcore rules that you will be punished for when not following them exquisitely. Punishment and original sin doesnt exist in Buddhism. So hitting our selves on the head when we fail to be perfect picture book nuns wont help anyone. Our true inherent nature is good, pure and awake, and the only thing that separates us from the Buddhas are that they have recognized this goodness within them selves, while we ordinary beings fail to do so. Because of this ignorance it is useful with some guidelines, without becoming to rigid about the whole idea.

Then there are certain things that can only be upheld within a monastic tradition, and others where there is not much difference between laypractioners and monastics. In our tradition things has slightly degenerated trying to fit the pure learned lifestyle of the monastics with a life of rock stars on motorbikes. On the other hand, standing to much outside of modern day society will not be helpful as how to integrate Buddhism in our time either.

In the old days diligent lay practitioners were living around the monastery and kept it going, but where do we find such motivation today in a society that are filled with values and ways of life that not always are so helpful...How do we go from a place of encouraged self indulgence to a shared space of basic sanity?
We need to find away. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Spiritual Heritage

”The Water-Cloud Sangha”(Mahayana Buddhism/Zen)
Yasutani Roshi was born to a poor mother who was fortold by a nun that she was going to give birth to a priest. The nun gave her a bead from a rossary, and told her to swollow it. When the baby boy was born he had his hand clasped around the very same bead...This boy was first adopted to another family, and then sent away to a monastery at age five and again to another temple at age eleven. When he came in to a fight with an older boy he was again sent away. This time to a Soto Zen Temple.

Later he came to question this branch of zen buddhism as well as the Rinzai branch, and became known as a quite controversial and fiery person. And jet his training contributed to his synthesis of the practices and insights emphasized in Soto and Rinzai respectively.

Yasutani Roshi has become known and indirectly influenced many people through the book ”Three Pillars of Zen”, compiled by Phillip Kapleau, who was one of his diciples. Philip Kapleau founded the Rochester Zen Center in the US, where Bodhin Kjolhede-Roshi became his successor. A branch of centers, known as ”The Water-Cloud Sangha” branched out from these teachers around the world, including Stockholm Zen Center. This is where I started to practise in my early teens, and first came across the Prajna Paramita Hridaya ”The Heart Sutra”, as well as traditional sitting and walking meditation.

”The Saraswati Order”(Hatha Yoga)
The Goddess Saraswati is the goddess of wisdom, music and art. And chanting from the heart is one of the very strong practises emphasized within the everyday life of the Saraswati order.

The founder Swami Sivananda Saraswati was born in Tamil Nadu, India. Naturally inclined toward spiritual and religious practice, already as a child, he became one of the 20th centurys most highly regarded spiritual teachers. Part from being a medical doctor and a spiritual leader he also came to be an author of over 200 books on yoga and vedanta who established ”The Divine Life Society” and ”Sivananda Ashrams” in India.

He sent his close diciple Swami Vishnudevananda to the west where he in turn established Hatha Yoga and Sivananda Ashrams. Swami Vishnudevananda is considered one of the greatest and most dynamic yogis of modern times. Not only did he live the philosophy and practice of yoga he learned from his great master, he also passed it on to his own students so that everyone would have the opportunity to reach the goal of self-realization.

Ive been trained under the guidence of several Sivananda Yoga teachers, as well as been a long term karma yogi at several of the Sivanada Ashrams around the world. From these experiences chanting and devotional music grow in to an even stronger part of my own practise. And it has ever since been a part of my teaching style.

”The Thai Forest Tradition” (Theravada Buddhism)
This tradition uses remote areas, preferably wilderness and forest dwellings as training grounds, and are considered orthodox, conservative and ascetic. The Venerable thai meditation master Ajahn Chah came to be the main teacher of prominent practioners such as Ajahn Sumedho, Ajahn Brahmavamso and Jack Kornfield, who have paved way for modern time Buddhism in the west. I first met this tradition in 2005 at the Amaravati Monastery in England, where I came to spend time during repeated visits for a number of years. In particular with the wise and inspiring nuns sangha. It was also there that I sat my first ”Rains Retreat”. (3 month retreat).

”The Karma Kagyu tradition” (Vajrayana Buddhism)
A Tibetan branch of Buddhism, refered to as the prescious practise lineage, established by Ven.Gampopa Sönam Rinchen, spiritual heir of prominent Tibetan and Indian Yogis. He was a handsome medical doctor and monk who became one of the formost diciples of the highly regarded singing yogi Jetsun Milarepa. Gampopas presence in this time and universe had been prophesied by the Buddha Shakyamuni, and can be read about in several of the sutras.

One of Gampopas greatest diciples was the 1th Gyalwang Karmapa; Dusum Khyenpa, who was trained in the Kadampa tradition. He became the first of 21 incarnations to carry out the awakened activity of the Karmapas as the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage.

My main teacher; the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, was born to a family of nomads in Tibet in 1985 under auspicious circumstances. He showed to be a very loving and compassionate boy, a tulku, and was found by a search party of high Tibetan Lamas at age seven (7). Recognized as the 17th incarnation of the Karmapas he was brought to his seat; the Tsurphu Monastery, founded by the first Karmapa. At the turn of the last century he made a miraculous escape over the mountains to India, where he has been reciding ever since.

I had the good fortune to meet the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa through a wonder of causes and conditions coming together in Bodhgaya India in 2006. An encounter which left a profound imprint in me. I went back to see him in early 2009, and took temporary monastic ordination the same year under the guidence of VV Thrangu Rinpoche and Ani Pema Chodrön. This was followed by a novice ordination at Palpung Sherabling Monastery, in Bir India with Kenting Tai Situpa Rinpoche in 2010, where I was already a student. The years following that Ive been recieving formal training as a nun from the Tibetan masters in India and Nepal.

Ive practised, studied and taught based on Buddhist and Yoga traditions over the past 30 years. Listed here is a brief description of the lineages to which I refer to as my main spiritual heritage.

Its with a deep bow and heartfelt appreciation to all my teachers, mentors and students that I walk the pathless path.  /Ven. Karma Chimey Lhatso