Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vibrant Visit From a Precious Teacher

For an 86-year-old gentleman, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche—my beloved refuge lama—positively glows with vibrant, loving, compassionate energy. It was wonderful to see him looking so well, and to connect even briefly with his travelling companions, Lama Karma Drodul (pictured on the right, above) and Lama Gelongma Karuna Tara. All three are shining presences at KTD, and that shine glows all the brighter when they are out and about in what my mom would call "the real world" with all the rest of us, as they were this weekend in North Central Florida.

Rinpoche drew a capacity crowd to his talk about "Keeping an Open Heart in Difficult Times" on Friday night at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Gainesville, where I took the picture above. The talk—held on the night of the closest and maybe brightest full moon of the year—provided a great opportunity for people who aren't familiar with Buddhism to ask questions.

Saturday's teachings, held at the Florida School of Massage, were even better—targeted messages about the importance of lovingkindness, compassion, and bodhicitta (enlightened heart).

Chanting the Karma Kagyu lineage prayer on Saturday morning, I got a strong image of all of us gathered together somewhere in a green Tibetan valley, surrounded by snowy mountains. In "reality," it was rainy and chilly outside of our big meeting room; we could watch the rain through glass doors that gave us a great view of the woods behind the school.

So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised when Rinpoche explained that our precious human birth is not acquired by accident, and that our opportunity to meet teachers in this life comes from the pure aspirations that we have made in past lives—not just from whatever good deeds we have done in the past.

I guess I hadn't realized that aspiration was that important! And so I wonder...could my flash of us all chanting together in Tibet have some grounding in a reality that is even more real than what we label "the real world"? Perhaps we were all together at one time, at least in the spirit of making aspirations to meet this outstanding teacher.

At one point, Lama Gelongma Karuna Tara, the nun who travelled with Rinpoche, got up to place one of her cushions behind his back. I guess she could see that he was uncomfortable. Rinpoche gave a delightful grin with a big "thumb's up" sign. One of our sangha members, concerned for the lady lama, then took her a replacement cushion, which got another big grin and "thumb's up" from Rinpoche. He's just so...precious (in the highest, best sense of the word). Just those grins and thumbs' ups lifted our spirits.

Among the many things Rinpoche talked about, a few stood out.

Often we may wonder if our dharma practice is bearing fruit. Here are some signs of successful practice: You have less anger and fewer discursive thoughts. You are able to remain calm in all kinds of situations. Your communication with others becomes more open and genuine.

Bodhicitta has two primary aspects, pervasive and profound. Pervasive bodhicitta means you want to help ALL sentient beings, not just those you care about. Profound bodhicitta means you want to establish all sentient beings in the state of ultimate enlightenment.

On the importance of confidence and trust in your practice: "If you have these, your progress will be swift."

Because Tibet was invaded and so many teachers came to the West, we are now able to practice dharma here when before, we could not do so. "You are very fortunate. You must not waste any of your precious time."

At lunch with Rinpoche and a small group, a large video of Ireland was showing on a far wall. Rinpoche turned around to watch it in silence while the rest of us chatted. The Irish scenery was very beautiful, and I got a wild hair.

"Can you translate something to Rinpoche for me?" I asked Lama Karma Drodul, and he agreed.

I told Rinpoche that the seat of the high kings of Ireland was called Tara, and that Ireland has a legendary race of people called the sidhe and that word has always reminded me of the Sanskrit siddhi, or powers that can be gained on the path to enlightenment—so I have always wondered if there might be some long-ago connection between the lands of India or Tibet and the land of my ancestors.

Rinpoche just smiled at that thought, but then said, "I know about that land" (meaning Ireland) "and how they have fought for a long time for independence from the British, and I know about their horses."

Aha! So there ARE parallels between Ireland and Tibet!

I had to miss Sunday's teaching because I had to work. Hopefully I can find someone to fill me in, or I can purchase a copy of one of the tapes people were making.

Many, many people from the local sangha worked long and hard to make Rinpoche's visit successful; my profound thanks go out to all of them!

Homage always to our precious teachers, shining like jewels in the darkness of samsaric confusion.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Change of Venue for Rinpoche's Teachings Is Official

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche's teachings on Saturday and Sunday, January 30-31, will be held at the Florida School of Massage on U.S. Highway 441, just south of Gainesville and just north of Paynes Prairie. The building is on the east side of the highway.

I have confirmed this information, and we are awaiting the official announcement from Gainesville KTC which I have been told is forthcoming.

The public talk on Friday night remains at the Unitarian Universalist Church on NW 34th Street in Gainesville, as previously advertised.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Change of Venue for Rinpoche's Teachings

I am hearing rumblings that Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche will not be teaching on Saturday and Sunday at Sanctuary, but rather at the Florida School of Massage.

Since I doubt if I will be able to confirm this and do another post before this weekend, I urge anyone who is interested in the Saturday and Sunday teachings to immediately email:

for further, accurate information.

Sorry, a phone number was not provided on the flyer I received.

May all beings benefit from our precious teachers!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche in Gainesville

I would be remiss if I didn't post this announcement: Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche—abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York—will be in Gainesville, Florida, for a public talk and weekend teachings January 29-31.

The public talk on "Keeping an Open Heart in Difficult Times" is 7 p.m. Friday, January 29, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. The Saturday and Sunday teachings are at Sanctuary Center.

For more information, email:

Rinpoche is an amazing teacher. He is 86 years old. This is a rare opportunity.

(Remember that you can click on the flyer, above, for a better view.)

Some Really Frozen Grass

At the tail end of our spell of hard freezes, the grass in our yard turned a very unusual yet lovely burnt sienna color.

I can't remember ever seeing grass quite this color before. I'm glad I took a picture of it when I did, because later we had rain and today the grass is a completely different color–more of a nondescript beige.

I wonder how long it will be before the grass is green again?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A 100-Year Record Cold Spell

I've counted 12 nights in a row that our low temperature has been below freezing, with quite a few nights of hard freezes included. Our local paper says that this spell of freezing weather is the longest recorded in the past 100 years.

Forrest reminded me that this prolonged cold spell could make for a very beautiful spring.

Tonight's low is forecast to be in the mid 30s. That's above freezing. It almost feels like we should have a party!

Plus, as I left work tonight, I was greeted by this beautiful sky—clouds like this everywhere, over the whole sky from north to south and east to west. Just beautiful.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Spell of Long, Hard Freezes

We are deep into what is most likely going to be a record-setting number of days of hard freezes, more than I can ever remember all at once and definitely longer than the ice storm spell of 1989.

Yesterday, there was snow to the south of us–Ocala and Orlando areas–but our air was too dry to permit the white stuff to make it to the ground, for which we are cursing our luck because if it's going to be this cold, we might as well have something pretty to look at!

This morning when I got in my car to go to work (yes, I work on Sundays), it was 16 degrees and the frost had painted these beautiful little star-like designs on the side of my car. (You can click on the picture, above, for a better view.) Driving in to work on a rural highway, it was frosty on both sides of the road, and as I was driving there were bright little twinkly lights emanating from the frost.

I keep hoping we will at least get one of our beautiful heavy frosts, so I can post a picture of something besides my car in the cold weather—but so far the frost has not been heavy enough to really show up well in a photograph. I guess the air has been too dry.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


The last time it was this cold for this long was in the winter of 1989, when I moved back to Florida from California. Two days before Christmas, there was an ice storm—which I had never experienced before, and may never experience again.

This week, we have had several straight days of hard freezes, with more to come. I know that much of the rest of the country is in much worse shape from the cold than we are, but since we're only used to a couple of days of hard freezes at a time, we are really feeling it.

This morning, three faucets in the bathroom (sink, tub, shower) weren't producing hot water. My husband had to crawl up into the attic and thaw the pipes out with a hair dryer; very luckily, none of them was broken. Tonight, our freezing temps start at about 8 p.m., and you'd better believe we will be leaving those faucets on to drip.

Here's a big OM MANI PADME HUNG for all animals and humans that have to be outside tonight. (That's the bodhisattva Chenrezig's mantra that carries many blessings.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

What Is Happening to Our Springs, and What Can We Do About It?

Florida's priceless jewels—the freshwater springs that exist here in one of the largest concentrations if not THE largest concentration in the world—are in trouble.

Springs that I remember being crystalline blue are now tinged with green, victims of rising pollution levels. Springs that used to draw tourists and swimmers have quit flowing and dried up entirely, victims of increased withdrawal of water from the aquifer by water bottling companies, agriculture, and an increasing human population.

What's worse is that there doesn't appear to be any kind of coherent statewide agreement that the degradation of our springs is a huge problem that needs to be fixed.

Our legislators are too afraid of angering business, agribusiness, and private citizens to put in place any new protections that might save our springs.

Most of our water management districts view their roles as being limited to issuing permits to whoever wants our water, never mind the effects on the environment.

Bureaucratic territorialism rears its ugly head whenever federal involvement or help is mentioned.

For all their good intentions, local environmental groups are limited in their abilities to influence collective vision and/or legislation.

Probably the worst part of the whole situation is that any kind of protective action that might do some good gets bogged down in arguments about scientific data.

Now, before you jump to conclusions, let me assure you that I am not anti-science. As someone who struggled for the first 18 years of her life with recurrent tonsil infections, I would never have made it to ripe old age if it hadn't been for the scientific advancements that brought us antibiotics. Science is a wonderful system for investigating the natural world, but we have been sold a bill of goods if we have come to believe that science has all the answers—it doesn't.

For every piece of data that "proves" a water permit will not adversely affect a local river or spring, there exists another piece of data that "proves" said permit will do damage.

So since it's the new year—traditionally a time for looking forward as well as backward—I will make a prediction:

The fate of Florida's springs, and the solution to Florida's potential water wars, hangs in the balance of spirit, not science.

The questions of who owns the water, who can have access to it, who can charge for it, whether or not it should be moved or removed, and whether or not our springs are worth preserving for future generations, are not questions that can be answered by science. These are ethical, moral, and even spiritual questions at their cores, and the only way I think we can come to agreement about what we need to do is to elevate the dialogue to include the ethical, moral, and spiritual considerations that surround our use of natural resources and stewardship of the planet.

Luckily, some of our best-known religious leaders are beginning to speak out about such problems. Just this past week the Pope gave an address titled, "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation," in which he made the following points:

"Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources?" the pope asked Friday. "All these are issues with a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development."

"Technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency," while preparing "sustainable strategies to satisfy the energy needs of the present and future generations," he said.

While researching Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and popular pastor of a huge megachurch in California, who has acknowledged that environmental stewardship is an important issue for Christians, I discovered the Evangelical Environmental Network's web site. The organization aims to "educate, inspire, and mobilize Christians in their effort to care for God's creation, to be faithful stewards of God's provision, and to advocate for actions and policies that honor God and protect the environment."

His Holiness Urgyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, recently launched a web site dedicated to the environment and what we can do to help it. Karmapa is providing leadership through publications, conferences—and even graphic design and jewelry design—to encourage people to become more aware of the environment and more active in protecting it.

So I remain hopeful—even in the face of multiple reasons to doubt!—that Floridians can agree that our springs are worth saving, even though that will mean some very fundamental changes in the lifestyles to which we have all become accustomed.

If we can't preserve the best our environment has to offer us here, where can we expect it to be preserved? If we can't do it now, then when?

And, isn't it really true that the way we treat the environment reflects the way we treat ourselves?

P.S. Here's another blog entry that deals with these questions, from the Ecological Buddhism blog.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Starry Gate/A Supplication from the Queen of Vajra Space

Our gate has been decorated for Christmas and the New Year's celebrations. As I contemplated the star motif (one of my favorites), I was reminded of Machik Labdron's secret name, "Queen of Vajra Space."

And since the arrival of a new year or new decade is often a time when we are receptive to inspiration for new projects, I offer the following—Machik Labdron's supplication to Sonam Lama, one of her teachers, for a teaching that Machik wished to receive. May it bring benefit.

Homage to all lamas
Who teach the timeless wisdom of intrinsic awareness.
Homage to the yidam deities
Who surely grant spiritual powers.
Homage to all the buddhas
Who have total renunciation and realization.
Homage to the sacred Dharma
That brings peace and freedom from desire.
Homage to all the sangha
Where offerings become meaningful.
Homage to the dharma protectors
Who surely clear up obstacles.
From now until enlightenment,
I supplicate all of you.
I go for refuge in you.
I offer the five sense desirables.
I confess each and every misdeed.
I rejoice in the virtue of all beings.
I supplicate you to turn the dharma wheel.
Please stay and do not pass beyond our pain.
I dedicate the roots of virtue to help beings.

-from Machik's Complete Explanation, Snow Lion, 2003, pp. 81-82.