Project Description

Phyllis, Vancouver WA

When were you first exposed to dharma?

The short simple answer is that I had an experience when I was 5, that I didn’t understand until I began practicing the Buddhist path. I felt that these practices chose me, they landed in my lap.

The details:
I was first introduced to Eastern philosophy when I was about 15. At 16 I read Hesse’s book, “Siddhartha”, and thought, “Ok, I’m the Buddha!” I began to explore yoga at that age, and it was a time of many eastern ways of being introduced into our culture. I came across chanters of various traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism on the streets of NYC where I grew up. I went to CA. when I was 18 and was in a small community that also practiced Zen and held sesshins (which I only explored briefly). Yoga (including Patanjali’s sutras and other Vedic literature) became more of a consistent practice and part of my life when I was 22. I took Refuge with Lama Tenzin probably in 1979 when he first moved to Maui, HI. (where I lived for 21 years). I had no idea what that was about at the time! I did it because the friend that kept asking Kalu Rinpoche to send a teacher to live on Maui, said I should take refuge. It seemed like a cool thing to do, but at the time, even though I’d go to various Tibetan Buddhist teachings (and many high Lamas had been invited to Maui), I thought, ‘this is too complicated, and the meditations are too boring – I’d never be interested in Tibetan Buddhism’.

I was drawn to mystical practices though when introduced to Gurumayi, it filled my devotional heart. I meditated and did yoga and and went to the Siddha Yoga Ashram for many years (maybe ‘82 – 1992). Maui was also a melting pot of many spiritual traditions, and most people I knew were involved in yoga, hinduism, sufism, and buddhism, and whatever earth based rituals were enlivening! The Mandala Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara was first conceived and offered on Maui, and I was there when it was offered to Tai Situ Rinpoche. I was deeply moved by it, but felt too shy to ever dance in something like that. By 1993 I had started to have some interesting kundalini experiences but did not find satisfactory answers to my questions in the Siddha Yoga lineage. One night I had a dream with Gurumayi and she said she couldn’t give me what I wanted, I should go elsewhere. I began praying to find a teacher. I dabbled a bit with Sufism, until….

Before Lama Tharchin Rinpoche came to Maui, a friend said that there was an amazing Lama coming and I could be part of the offering dances to him (through Taradhatu), so I participated. At one of the Red Tara teachings he gave, my heart burst open and I knew he was my teacher. I started doing the Dudjom Tersar ngondro, and also began to dance the Mandala of the 21 Praises of Tara. That’s when I felt that these practices picked me. Vajrayana practice (Nyngma tradition in particular) was just what was in front of me and what I resonated with.

How has the path manifest in your daily experience? Does it reflect in your work and relationships?

To me, it’s all about integration. I’ve become a kinder, less self centered person by doing these practices. I’ve learned to work with and integrate emotions (with the help of Western psychology too). It’s reflected in my work because at a young age I knew I couldn’t fit into the ‘status quo corporate world’, and have been mainly self-employed my whole adult life. I was moved to volunteer and coordinate teachers – was the main coordinator of Vajrayana Foundation on Maui., and then for Anam Thubten (who I had first met through the Vajrayana Foundation) when they came to Maui, and then when I moved to Seattle area. I began volunteering to teach mindfulness to my grandsons’ third grade class last year, and was so appreciated by the students, that now I teach mindfulness to the three fourth grade classes at his school.

If you explore other lineages within buddhism, how did you come to decide on which lineage was right for you?

As mentioned, it seems like the Nyngma lineage is what came to me. I have studied and worked with Gelupas, and Bon, and Kagyu teachers – but my heart practice tends to come back to the Nyngma lineage!

Lama Tharchin Rinpoche still teaches me even though he left his body in 2013. I felt it was him that led me to pick up again with Anam Thubten – who I study and practice with now. As one teacher said to me when I wondered about working with different teachers, “Make your river as wide as it needs to be”. So I feel that there are quite a few streams that feed into my river of ‘awakening’.

What are some of your practices/rituals that you do to support your spiritual development

(meditation/prayers and etc)

Yeshe Tsogyal practice, Shamata/Vipassana, Chod, Riwo Sangchod, Mandala Dance (Taradhatu dances), and Focusing (a western practice)

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Phyvilss altar consists of many of the teaches/objects that inspire her practice.

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One of Phyillis's favorite mudra from her dance practice.

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Sky gazing practice.

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To me, it’s all about integration. I’ve become a kinder, less self centered person by doing these practices.

Which sangha do you normally attend ?

Dorje Ling, Samden Ling, Nritya Mandala Mahavihara, Taradhatu, KCC Portland. Being around others on the path of awakening is always a comforting feeling for me.

What is your primarily profession?

I now use the term ‘Health Educator’ as the umbrella term for the facets of my work which are: Yoga Teacher/Therapist, HypnoBirthing Educator, and rep for the BEMER Medical Device. I taught Yoga Therapy for 17 years at a Womens’ Addiction Recovery Center, and needed to not bring religious terms into my work with people. But what I noticed was that after my Tibetan Buddhist retreats (anywhere from 1 – 3 weeks; once or twice a year), I was able to speak with more clarity, in a secular way, to people who are in recovery using the twelve step program. My compassion increased and I even had a hand-out from the yoga world about how we’re all in recovery from samsara (delusions of falsely seeing the world)!

I’ve also done silk painting and when I paint my Rainbow Silk scarves, I chant a prosperity mantra. (and tell some people about that when they buy a scarf)

Being a rep for a Medical Device, I meet lots of sick people, and my practice helps keep me compassionate, and often I will chant (without them knowing, or if I feel they’re open to it, I let them know) the Medicine Buddha mantra for their healing (also do that at the end of yoga class when people are in savasana)

Do you think your personality or background influence the lineage/practices that resonate with you?

Yes! Best example: We were having an opening celebration of a Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana retreat center on the Big Island of Hawaii (Orgyen Dechen Cho Dzang – Land of Lotus Light). We invited other spiritual groups from the Island to join us in the tsok (a food offering feast). During the ritual we also throw a lot of rice around the room. At the end of the ritual, we all got up to put food on our plates. I filled my plate with all kinds of different foods, piled high, (typical of Feast offerings) and I then noticed the Zen priest sitting there in his simple black robe (us Hawaiian Vajrayana practitioners were wearing colorful sarongs with a maroon shawl draped over it). He was sitting straight and tall and had a few small bites of 3 different foods on his plate, eating slowly.

I then thought, “I’m definitely more Vajrayana than Zen!”. Wild and colorful….as many of the Tibetans I’ve met!