Hi, my name is Amber Onaga, and I live in New York. Home of UFOs and aliens, but I was not born Buddhist. I was born Jewish to a not religious family, but culturally a Jewish family in the great white suburbs of New York. And there was a lot of money, but not a lot of happiness. And I don’t think I wouldn’t have been able to put my finger on that at the time. But I certainly saw a lot of people with money and without a lot of joy. And then in terms of my upbringing, we were culturally Jewish, but not religious, and that’s tough. Because there’s a lot of pathos that people like to make fun of, which can be very amusing if you’re not in it, sort of the Larry David kind of thing, but it’s very painful when you’re living it. And I call it sort of the shtetl mentality of there are a lot of first generation people in the immigrants parents came from the Holocaust are very close. And it’s not talked about it, but the pain is there. So that’s a difficult place to be and when it’s not exposed and brought to the light. But yet you’re dealing with this pain that’s never talked about. So in Temple, I did do my bat mitzvah when I was 13, I translated transliterated my half Torah, which means I sounded it out and wrote it out in English and figured it out myself and didn’t have a lot of connection to it. A botanist was like, You have a big party. People bring money, but I didn’t. There was no heart connection to it, and I guess I didn’t realize that that was how these things could come together. Culture, spirituality, religion feeling just wasn’t taught to us. So when I was sort of floating through my twenties and thirties as a very, very sad girl. I would isolate myself, this is very common, right, so it has off this negative chain of events, you feel isolated and disassociated from the world, and so you start blaming. And so all these poisons come in again. I had no language, no framework to talk about this. I didn’t understand what I was doing to myself. I just knew I was a very, very sad girl who is starting to make money, who owned her own apartment, who from the outside world looked to have. All of the things that anyone could want. And actually, I I never really wanted these things, it just. It just happened, and then I said, no, I’m I’m sure that these are not the seeds of happiness. So I started Airbnb being my apartment and living in a van on an ashram. And starting to identify the seeds of sadness and happiness, and this was before I realized I was Buddhist, but I was doing a lot of yoga and I was spending a lot of time on this ashram. So that was a beautiful. I was doing two yoga classes a day, so I was very open. And then I was living with people who are also very open hearted so I could start to even without finding maybe my teachers or my framework to explore these things. And that was a very rich time for me. I decided I was going to move out of Manhattan, which is very chaotic and overwhelming it into Brooklyn, so that was starting to bring a little more peace into my life, and I moved in with a fellow Dharma practitioner, although we weren’t Dharma practitioners at the time, and she had these extraordinary dreams that I was sure were not dreams absolutely was piercing. The veil of what we understand is reality. And I’m nobody special, I have no experience interpreting dreams, but I could feel my way through and at some point I said. You know, you need to stop this, it’s really serious. You’re messing with something that we don’t understand, and I think we need to find you a teacher. And so I said, you know, there’s a monastery in Woodstock. You know, I don’t know where any of this is coming from. This is just like. So I brought her to the monastery in Woodstock to find her teacher and of course, everything open for me there. That’s the beauty of doing something selfless because the whole world opens for you. And then in turn, on my birthday, she, the same practitioner, said she had gone for one or two things and started to make a connection at the monastery. So she said, Let me take you up there for your birthday and they’re doing the refuge ceremony. OK, the refuge ceremony. I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t contextualize what is revered me wonderful, and this is very unlike me. It’s very unlike me to just kind of follow. I usually like, what am I doing and what is it mean? And let me understand. We go up, we drive up to Woodstock, we go into the shrine. People are getting ready for the refuge ceremony. She disappears. She comes back. She said, Oh, people who are taking refuge have to sit here in front of Empeché. OK? It’s so silly to me. So when I sat there in front of them, we were repeating in Tibetan. And I took refuge and they cut my hair, they gave me a name and I’m Buddhist and I get tough with the lung. I have no idea what I just did. We had a lovely evening. OK, so we go back. And then a few weeks later, we wanted to go up to to the monastery for a retreat together, so we’re looking what are they offering? And there’s this new kampo here. Something about love the environment. We thought, Oh, that sounds really cute. We love the environment. And so, so many things happened when I went for this first retreat. This is where I met my first teacher, my first teacher, Kemper Tanjung Kampo ten. This was so I had no frame of reference for months. I had never met any Tibetans. So this is a very unusual, unusual Tibetan. Very unusual among. Very unusual teacher. Very open hearted. And he literally grabbed me with two hands. Literally like this. And that’s how, you know, they’re just they they draw you into the practice. And he said to my friend and I, he said, Oh, you two, you two are a little bit different. I can see you two a little bit different. And he has this smirk, OK? And we’re doing yoga in the morning and we’re, you know, we’re having so much fun and we’re outside and doing walking meditation and. We’re learning about compassion and body side first. So that was my first retreat, and then after that it was it was just wonderful and my mind and heart opening and it I just kept going back in again and again to the monastery. And then a few months later, for new years, we went, so they called first light. So you have a little ceremony the night before on like American ears, but then the next day you have the candles lit. And first light. It’s beautiful. You’re doing puja as the sun comes up. And the night before, you know, Campbell, he grabbed me and he said, are you are you coming in the morning to first sight? Oh, well, Campbell, it’s very early. Oh, no problem, no problem. You don’t have to come. But all sentient beings are relying on you. But but no problem. Don’t come. I said, Campo, this is very close to Jewish to Jewish guilt, he said, no, no, no, no, we don’t have guilt Tibetans. We don’t have guilt, we don’t have this. OK, I’m sorry. Yes, I got up and went. I got up and went to first light in the morning, and then ten days later, he did a summit, a retreat. So I went I couldn’t do the whole retreat I was, I was working, but I did some other. And I’d never actually done any formal meditation in yoga, of course, it’s implicit in its inherent, depending on the yoga teacher, some it’s more inherent, some it’s less. Some consider everything a meditation. But I never had any really formal meditation instruction. So that was like just so weird and bizarre and puts your mouth like this and your and your drooling and it’s your eyes are dry and you just think I cannot do this, I can’t. My tongue in the roof of my mouth, it’s so awkward all these y y. And then at some point it becomes natural. You can’t believe it. It’s just like. Oh, my God, I’m doing it. So it was so awkward and so bizarre, and then he was showing us walking meditation. Oh, OK, so it’s not just sitting, it’s more applicable. You can take it out in the world. That was such a gift. I think a lot of students maybe get stuck in this sitting meditation. Or attach the idea that this is how you meditate and there’s one way to meditate, and Campbell really showed me from the beginning that there’s many ways to meditate, it’s where’s our mind ? And so I think because I came to DARMA late and because I had such an open hearted, unusual, joyful teacher for first teacher. I got a lot of the transmissions very quick. Karmakar, you lineage, they consider themselves the practice lineage. And I think that’s true, they really throw you in the deep end. For me, this is 100% I had taken refuge. I’d been to four sites, some practicing every day. I’m living in Brooklyn. I’m practicing every day. You get up in the morning before work, and we practice. And one day I turned to my derma system and I just said, am I Buddhist? And she’s laughing at me. She she said, don’t you know your Buddhist since you took refuge? I said. I am. She said, yes, I said, you tricked me. Said what? I said, you treat me, I didn’t even know, she said she didn’t deny it, she said, I’m so sorry. So in a fascinating way, I really feel like I stepped in shit and became Buddhist, I feel like the accidental Buddhist I. I know I was Buddhist before I realized, and this is why I was so isolated and disaffected from the world because I just didn’t understand who I was. And so it was such a comfort to realize that I’m Buddhist, there’s a language of framework there, people who believe what I believe, who understand what I believe.
Thinking about teachers and the meaning in my life. Of course, they’re one of the three jewels, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, so Buddha, we have masters and teachers. I know before realizing I was Buddhist, I was definitely out there in the world looking for my teachers, looking for my gurus, looking for my mentors, feeling like I was falling short . In some ways. And then when I met the monks, I far I found I’ve I really think that these are my teachers, these are my people. So what does that mean? I remember Campbell. He would always teach about spiritual friend. Right? He wouldn’t even talk about a teacher. He talk about a spiritual friend. And this is sort of. Developing, figuring out who is your teacher, and so just this idea of don’t put anyone on a pedestal, don’t make anyone your enemy, so make everyone your friend with equanimity. And so that is how I thought of my first teacher as a spiritual friend. And I think this was very useful for me. I love how. You know, even when Tibetans, if it’s Karmapa and if he’s sitting up on a throne, but he’s still sitting with his legs crossed, and so there’s. This very grounded feeling about being taught by Tibetans in the monastic setting because you’re sitting on the ground. You know, your legs are crossed. In some ways, it’s familiar to me and in the ways of being a student, but in some ways it’s not at all. It’s a totally different kind of classroom. And one thing that Kembo did beautifully is take it outside of the shrine room and out into the world. And I think this allowed me to start seeing everything as my teacher. And even when you walk into the monastery, you know, the teachings are above Buddha. So the path itself, the teachings itself are above the teacher. And so to understand this is your teacher, for now, everything is impermanent and take the teachings and then find your teachers everywhere. And so that that is really works for me. It’s transformed my ability to have personal relationships with people because instead of saying you’re a pain in the ass, you know you think this is my teaching, you’re my teacher. As much as I am for you. And that gets you out of blaming people. That gets you into treating everyone with equanimity. So I just feel that this this type of teaching situation was very profound for me. It opened me up in all the right ways. It might not be right for everyone. I think people learn in different ways. They need different modes, different techniques, different technologies. For some reason, this felt right to me. And so that’s how I sort of knew this is my teacher. Everything felt right. Everything resonated and all of the things of like, I don’t have the money, I don’t have the time to do this. They didn’t exist. When things feel right, you don’t have to question them. And so it felt right. People told me at the time, Oh, you’re supposed to ask, Will you be my teacher? Will you be my teacher? I thought, Oh, this is so bizarre. But one day Kembo literally said, Oh, I’m so glad you are my student, because now you have to do anything I tell you to do. And he laughed, and I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t, as I found out later with 100,000. I just thought both. I think also I could accept this type of understanding because the age I found it out, so my teachers are basically my same age, maybe a little older, maybe a little younger. So it’s easier to view them with equanimity and say, Oh, they’ve had access to these teachings, but there’s nothing that I also can’t accomplish if I have the same sort of devotion and practice. This is a beautiful example for me. And then it started spreading out. So I’m in Woodstock and all these great masters are coming and then I don’t have any guilt or anxiety or I saw suffering. Some students would have suffering when another great master would come this. But I want to take teachings from this teacher. I feel disloyal to this first teacher, and I always thought this was so strange because actually the teachings are what’s important. So, yeah, I think I was extremely lucky in having such a generous first teacher that showed me that the teachings are everywhere. And so when these great masters would come, it was very easy for me to sit and be open and take in the teachings. And call them teacher, don’t call them teacher, not worry so much about what is the label. But what did I take from it? How am I integrating this into my life? And so yes, I’ve been very fortunate that photography has put me in front of many great masters. Of course, being Buddhist is primarily what put me there. Having a love and a talent for photography. But. I got to be in positions that I might not have been in. So it’s hard to say what I’ve sort them out as teachers. That’s such an interesting question. I find the llamas, so. Fascinating, their practice and their story and their culture, and somehow that was going to come into my life and infuse me. Somehow or other. But the photography has given me a different element. Like a different layer of access to these teachers and some of the teachings that I might not have had, I think there’s this one picture I love of Menger Empeché. He had just wrapped teaching in Boston. And he’s walking out of the room and he’s coming right toward me. And so the whole room turns. There’s this beautiful wave of energy and love in the photo, he’s doing this to me. With this joy and the whole room with this incredible wave of love and devotion was coming to me just because of geometry and I happened to be physically behind him. And so. Seeking out the teachings is almost not the point being in the presence of these teachers is enough because the transmission comes through. So even if I had not heard anything there, Empeché had taught about. That way, he looked at me, that love is such a great master with so much understanding to give so freely. This is the transmission and then the gift of photography to be able to go back later and think about it and look at it, what was I feeling? Why? So it gave me another level and layer of awareness where I could go back afterward. What was I thinking? What was going on? Just sort of a chronicle of what was? And it showed things that are normally invisible, you cannot normally see an energy wave, a lovely, but you certainly can see the reaction , the response to it. So. Probably one of my great teachings is that. The privilege, the honor, the joy is just to be in the presence of these masters, the transmissions will come through if you’re open to it, if you’re open to it. And so that’s why I feel I relish some of my time with these days more. Having dinner with them, doing normal meditation, that’s the thing we started doing at the monastery Momo meditation, so we’d make a vegetarian momo together and do mantra. Right, and and what is the teaching? Well, you can do drama while making dinner. Campbell told us, You’re not cleaning the counter, you’re cleaning minds. Right? So we can infuse everything with dharma and Dara Nature can infuse us with all the lessons that we need. And I don’t know if this would have happened if I had found dharma in New York City. I think. It’s hard to say and realizations come as they come, and we can’t really predict. There’s so many distractions in New York City. And so moving out here and turning toward drama, this this was this is my unveiling, this is my uncovering, this is me taking off. The layers. This is truly me revealing my true natures is moving to nature, being close to the monastery, spending my time chanting, even I don’t know why. I don’t know why I feel a profound shift. I don’t even maybe understand it. But look, I drive my car to the store. I have no idea how my car works, but I know it works. And so I believe in it and I trust it and so dharma. I might really have no idea of what it is, but I know it works. You can you can see it. You can feel it. You maybe can’t touch it. And I work in Alzheimer’s. I work for an Alzheimer’s foundation, so things are very scientific. People are very proud to hang their hat on, you know, the scientific method. But in many ways, I see science as a manipulation of nature, and I see dharma as an observation of nature. Right. And working with nature. So science is good. It’s wonderful and it’s necessary, but it’s only one small part of the picture. I feel that Dharma is the big picture, and the scientific method is one way it fits in there. But Damas expansive. And this is how we should think of our teachers. I remember Typekit said that when the 16th Karmapa died. It was the most extraordinary experience, he said, because he went from being in one place to being every place. And this is how I feel about true teachers. My first teacher came in the form of Kembo and looked like this and talked like this and have moves like this. But that is just one form. Even while listening to Kampo speak, I could. I could see. What was behind the facade? It’s it’s a strange thing to say, there’s some things I don’t ever really talk about, but sometimes the Masters will let you see sort of the great Oz that’s that’s pulling the strings. And so I don’t know if you’ll let me see it or I did, but I. We shouldn’t be so caught up with these, these facades of horror teachers appear to be. We’re just lucky that we find them in human form in a way that they’re giving us the teachings that we can relate to. But they’re everywhere and everything, and hopefully the teachers that that you find will expose you to this in such a direct way that you don’t have to fumble around, you will understand I don’t have to feel guilty. I don’t have to feel sad. Teacher passes away. They fall from grace. It’s OK. It’s OK, it’s all impermanent. And then what do we do with this? The Dharma should support how we respond to this. If there’s a scandal, if someone dies, whatever it is, the Dharma should support us. And that’s I think you ask me, how do we know that this is my home? That’s how I know. Because when adversity comes. This this this this supported me in a way that I didn’t have before.
Fruit of Practice
So when I think about how Buddhism and Dharma has transformed my life. I think the most profound thing is in my connection to people. I think understanding. Compassion and interdependence. I have been so fundamental in. Allowing me to stop blaming other people for my problems and to have much more empathy for their problems. You know, my mom’s a psychoanalyst, I grew up in America, we’re very self-focused here. We’re very rugged individualism. You know, this is what I was taught from being a very small child. There’s nothing about compassion and interdependence, which seems. Bizarre because it has nothing to do with Dharma and or Buddhism, this is like playing nice in the sandbox and how we get along well. Sort of have a lack of that is problematic, and then to have a lack of conversation and awareness about that is problematic. So even though I was always very outgoing, you know, I don’t think anyone would say she’s a loner. There was a lot going on for me internally. There was a lot of suffering and a lot of sadness and feeling. Isolated, which now I understand is completely normal, this is this is the human condition, but when you’re going through it, you’re like, it’s just me. And that’s a sad world to be in. And so. When you start first, you start meditating, and so this is it seems like a solitary practice. And so then you think, well, why do people come together to do this? This is. Bizarre. But that’s what a Sangha is you come together to in collaboration, but to have your own individual practice, but for the energy to come together. So that was profound for me to start to be taught the skills for a very individual and in many ways, self focused practice. But. Then at the size of your awareness, are there other practitioners, right? So it’s like this, this soft awareness and this energy is coming from them and it’s such a beautiful thing even, you know , in Karmakar, you. My lineage, we do frustrations and you think, why do they have to undergo retreats? Why would people get together to do frustrations while the energy? And the sharing, you know, that’s enough. You don’t you don’t even necessarily need to go from the outer to the inner to the secret, just to come together to share energy and to motivate each other is really profound. So that started to change my mind, right? How can I do a solitary practice but in concert with people? And maybe be alone, but not isolated. Right, so understanding this and then starting to meet monastics who had been in retreat, who are not in relationship and they were some of the most fulfilled. Outgoing, well-traveled people, and to start having this other idea of there are people in Western society that are satisfied that are not in partnerships that are not looking for it, but live in community so. Wow, this is really starting to change my mind about what is alone, what is isolated, what is community, and so then. You maybe start with some more interesting meditation techniques, so like tungsten. And actually, my first teacher, one of his other names was Karma. Tomlin’s so tongue when it’s giving and receiving. And. Probably every spiritual tradition has some form of this. It. It seems obvious. But so what you do is you send out all the good with your whole heart. And you take all the bad with your whole heart, so you take all the suffering, all the ugliness, the war, the poverty, the sickness. And you willingly take it in and you filter it through your heart and then you send out love and light. And so you can’t do this in isolation, right, there is all of a sudden. You have to involve other people and other entities and other energies, and so the more sad you feel, the more you can send this out and do this practice if you have suffering. Oh, I understand the suffering of other beings. So your suffering has a meaning now it has a perfect a purpose. I understand now the wisdom comes the insights. I can share this. Oh, OK. So we don’t have to suffer in isolation anymore, and we don’t have to suffer for no reason anymore. And now that we understand how to transform our own suffering, we can start to understand how to transform other people’s suffering. I can just remember before being Buddhists, being in my apartment, the place was wrecked, it looked like the wall. You know, after he trashed the place. If you guys your Pink Floyd plant fence, you trashed the place and then lined everything up like pills. I mean, just. In the most bizarre chaos that was reflecting my mental state. And then. As these things slowly started to change, so I was changing my environment, I went from Brooklyn, then I moved to Woodstock. Now I’m ten minutes from the monastery, so now I can go up and down, it will I can go every day , I can do two times a day, I can do three times a day, so. I didn’t, you know, I said, Oh, well, I’m moving here because the monastery is here and I can go practice, but it’s. It’s so profound the things that I actually needed that I wasn’t acknowledging before and then. Taking the time in the space, in the awareness, I need nature. All this chaos is. Really poisoning me, and this is not to say that the city is poison for everyone, so. We wake up in our own mental afflictions or we wake up in our own nectar, and I didn’t know that before I thought we all wake up or we wake up and it’s, you know, you’re just kind of carried along by life and that thing happened to me and that thing happened to me. But when you’re Buddhist and you accept karma? It’s not about blame, it’s about responsibility. I can work with this. It’s not about this is fucked up. OK, so maybe this is fucked up cause condition, in fact, how did I get here? OK. The city is not serving me anymore, no problem, let me lay the cause condition effect, so I moved to Woodstock. Now I’m near the monastery. Now I can start to practice. Now I can live in peace. Now I can pick raspberries from the rain in the morning, you know, and walk to the store down the street and the mushrooms are fresh forage. So all of a sudden nature is starting to come closer to me. Because I’m opening my heart to Buddha, Dharma Sangha, I just simply say I want to be closer to the monastery. And so many beautiful things fall into place. And I think. I’m sure people that are very devout with their religion, they live through the lens of that religion, they must. But I didn’t live through any discernible lens, I don’t believe, until I discovered Dharma. So, you know, I’m an accidental Jew because I’m born that way and we have the shtick and the pathos, and you’re sort of bumbling through life for me. Sarcasm was my defense. It was probably 80% of the way I communicated. So when I started chanting, no, now I’m paying more attention to my words. Now, I’m paying more attention to the fact that, you know, Sanskrit, it’s it’s not just the meaning they the sound creates meaning. Oh, so my sarcasm. These things are creating meaning these things are creating ripples. These things are creating karma, I was just not. Not an awareness of this before. So the Dharma lens, it’s funny to see Dharma Lens in a way because they always talk about removing obscuration. So the idea is we all have Buddha nature. We’re born with Buddha nature. And then human afflictions, and so we’re just cleaning a mirror and we’re slowly taking away subscriptions, so we have the Buddha nature. We don’t need to put anything, we need to take it away. Campo used to say until age five, all children are Buddhas. Then they learn to lie, not Buddha anymore. But this is such a beautiful thing, because so many religions teach. You’re born into sin, you have to do this practice to raise yourself out of sin and you’ll never be God. You can be the most devout, the most spiritual, but there’s you and there’s God. But in Buddhism. The more you practice, the more devoted you are, the more you can attain to the God realm. There’s no separation. And so this, for me is my understanding of what a religion is and is not, and this may be wrong , but that there’s God and there’s practitioners and you cannot ever attain that. Whereas in Buddhism, all of the magical where the wild things are wonderful creatures, you see, these were human beings that through great practice and devotion, attained enlightenment and took on these forms. And I love this idea. This means that no mistake is too great. Practice and devotion. Well. It will not erase it, but it will wash it clean, right, and it will start to dissolve it. So our calm is our karma and what we’ve done is what we’ve done. But that can that can feed us and that can be fuel for devotion and practice. So for me. I really used this. And then finding the dancing was just another beautiful layer of depth. But the first few years of my practice was very much sitting and chanting. And I found that I had a great love for this. It was very surprising to me because I don’t think of myself as someone who likes to sing. I don’t think I did like to sing before or even likes the sound of my own voice. But enchanting, you can drone, so you don’t have to hit the managers is all about you and everyone’s like, Wow, such good chanting are so amazing. So it’s it’s really joyful. You don’t feel that I hit the wrong note and I did this wrong. Everyone’s making mistakes. They ring the bell at the wrong time. You know, he makes mistakes. I found a great joy in chanting. But that did take some cultivation. I remember when I first sat down to do green Tara Puja, I find this so ironic because Tara’s my great, my major, my main practice now. But I sat down to do Tara Puja at the monastery and it was torture. Torture, you repeat, you repeat the phrases seven times, at least I could not listen to these phrases one more time. I could not go back and do again and so fast this was I wanted to scream, put my heard. I felt like in Bikram yoga when they turn the heat up and you want to run out screaming I. But I stayed. I stayed. I stayed. And Campbell used to say, It’s OK if you can’t tan, just follow with your eyes. And it seems so ridiculous. You feel so remedial. Your I’m 42 years old and I’m falling in my eyes. And slowly, slowly, it starts to make sense. Slowly, your eyes a word and slowly, maybe go on you to find something you can chat with and slowly it. It starts to make sense and then. This this great joy started happening in this Pooja for me. Where’s the torture just turned into like bliss, where I thought, Oh, I’m so lucky we can do the prison again, and I have another chance to get it right and not make mistakes or as before, I just thought I am a failure. You know, so it’s again through that dharma lens of seeing a struggle or opportunity. So sitting through the the whole Buddha enjoy became, you know, that was a great accomplishment for me. When you talk about like. What is the effect of this? It’s almost easier to ask people who know me because it’s so it can be so hard to articulate. This is what’s going on with me. But for people who are observing outside, I think it’s such a dramatic shift that it’s almost. I don’t know, it’s really it’s hard to talk about. Being Buddhist. So you feel connected to the Sangha, right? That’s something I’d never heard before in these spiritual practitioners, but you feel connected to the past, present and future. So we talk about this as the three times. And so I’d never had that with my Jewish lineage, I didn’t I didn’t feel connected to the practice, I didn’t feel connected to God. I felt connected in this sarcastic, sticky way culturally. But not like a true connection. And so something with my collar, I realized this much has been chanted. How many times for how long by how many practitioners and how many star systems? So you start they talk about the teachings, the scolding, all of this unbroken gold, Amala and we’re all, you know, beads and it’s passed on from teacher to student and you know, there’s no end and then you. And that’s that’s what the chanting brought me this connection to this practice that’s been going on for. I don’t know how long and the same words and the same ritual. So even though I’m pretty unconventional, I don’t love ritual pomp and circumstance. That connection was profound. I never experienced anything like that. So it can just seem like, Oh, you’re waving incense and if you don’t know what you’re doing? But the connection and the offering. Really touched me. Jews, we would never put food on an altar. For Buddha, now we’re going to eat that, we would you would know you put it in your purse. You know, you’re taking the butter pad, sit in the soy classroom. This is real. This is real. So putting out food making offerings the best you. This is totally radical for me. Totally radical for me and. You’re automatically forced into a position of abundance because you have to acknowledge I have enough to give. Oh, I must have abundance and gratitude. I have all this abundance. I have enough to give. So it’s. Is this almost instantaneous mind shift, and you don’t even know it’s happened because you’re going through the motions, you know, maybe fake it till you make it make offerings and all of a sudden you this becomes your normal. Way of being. And so I think as a person growing up with privilege and not being aware of it, you’re taking, taking, taking, taking, taking. Without awareness. And so, as you know, as a white woman, this is this is my job, this is my duty. You know, I have to spend the rest of this life giving and and serving. And just. Living by example. However much I do or don’t understand outer, inner and secret, it doesn’t matter. I have to live with compassion. I have to give. I have to serve and then find as deep meaning as I can. But a much wiser person than me will see this and they’ll take it so much farther, right? So we we just have to, you know, stay in our understanding, give what we can give. And really feel joy about that, I just I didn’t have any joy. Wow, I didn’t have any joy before I was going to say I didn’t have any joy in giving four, but I think I didn’t have any joy before. I think it was a pleasure and fleeting. And so chanting brings a joy that’s undescribable. It’s undescribable, that’s single point of focus. It’s sort of like the way I see a marathon runners, I think they’re the biggest freaks of nature because they’re doing it for no reason other than that the joy of doing this completely bizarre thing . And that’s how I feel about chanting it’s if you don’t do it, it’s so bizarre. Why? What is the what is the reason there’s no purpose except for the thing that you’re doing? And so it. It becomes its own purpose. I remember I’d be driving up to the monastery, you know, 5:50 in the morning for agreeing to put it to somebody like, why am I doing this? And what I told myself is, as long as you don’t know why you’re doing this, keep doing this. And that’s what I did. If I’m questioning, why am I doing this, you need to keep practicing. And so. That beginner’s mind, that baby Buddha thing, I hope I never lose this, I hope I stay in this in this life.
Pitfalls of Teacher Relationship
There are definitely a lot of. There are potentially a lot of pitfalls to the teacher student relationship in the West, and I can only speak about the West because I’m a Westerner in the West. But then there’s this unique opportunity when this beautiful tradition comes from the East. And then how do these things? Find convergence. And it’s really messy, and that’s a good thing. That’s what makes it real dharma practice, right? So how do we fix this? So in certain ways, maybe it’s like sort of the perfect storm that’s rife for obstacle and struggle. So I have seen I feel a lot of suffering because there are a lot of scandals and there have been recently. They tend to be sexual in nature, but it’s not really the point, it’s about abuse of power. What is relevant? And so this is, of course, as a Westerner, this is relevant. We have conflicts like this all the time, but there are a lot of laws sort of governing this and rules about it. But when you’re in the monastery setting, these things don’t really apply. So the outside. Laws don’t really apply unless something is really grossly mismanaged. It’s almost like it’s it’s it’s it’s its own world and you have to. Start to figure out what do I want my student teacher relationship to be? But that’s very difficult. We don’t have a good frame of reference. And then I think for the part of the llamas, they also see us very differently and they’re trying to what is the Western mind? Why do we why do they do this? Why are they doing that? And. They come to our culture, so there’s more of us than them, and so they’re trying to understand us and we are trying to be like them. And this can. This can create conflict and it can lay the groundwork for abuse, unfortunately. When we’re chanting, Sana’s praising a human being and then this human being comes into our presence. Are we seeing them as a human, are we seeing them as a god, or are we seeing this as a deity so there can be a lot of confusion? When I met Karmapa. He seemed like a very extraordinary human being to me, and I was very clear on that that this was a very extraordinary human being and I saw him doing mystical things with his energy. But I was very clear that this was a young man who had had a lot of practice and a lot of incredible instruction. But he is a human being, also trying to make his way in the world and very open and vulnerable. And this is a very lucky example, I think. Most teachers probably try to have it all together, just like we, we all walk around in the world. Wisdom, compassion, power, I have it all together and we don’t like to show our pain. We don’t like to show our vulnerability. As we get older, we realize vulnerability is what actually brings us together. And so maybe some of the teachers fall a little bit into this trap where they are so venerated they come from this culture , it is the pure land, you know, politically we feel very sorry for them, so we have empathy and then we think, Oh, they’re these enlightened masters, they come from the sky and they have this knowledge that we really want and they seem to operate in a way that’s very different from us. So we want what they have so already. This is laying the groundwork for problems, right? So we’re putting them on a pedestal. We’re putting ourselves down here with the lowly practitioners. And so, you know, how do we find that equanimity? Hopefully, we all have teachers that are helping us do this. Or if they’re not, they make a mistake that’s so big that we can do nothing but come to the conclusion that they are only human and this is impermanent and the teachings will hold me up. But for most people, it’s somewhere in the middle, and there’s a lot of ambivalence. And a teacher might tell you to do something that you don’t feel comfortable with. From what I’ve observed, people do it. I saw someone who needed knee surgery because they did all the frustrations they were told to do and blew their knee out . Or people who will even just in sitting meditation, be so uncomfortable. That they couldn’t possibly be meditating. But the teachers doing it like this, so I have to try to do it like this and so people are trying to imitate. They’re not trying to create their own practice. So because of where I was in Woodstock and this being the North American seat of camp, I think. You know, the really was wonderful venerated llamas get sent there. And then when they made mistakes, I was able to step outside of it and really just say they’re human. They’re there. There are people in robes. And let me do tongue in for them, let me give and receive. Let me send sympathy and love and energy and compassion to them and take in their suffering. And help them try to understand us, you know, I would say to Campbell, you know, maybe we can try this, this will help with the Western mind. So to make them our spiritual friend and say, Oh, I have something to offer, I can teach them about my culture and language. one Lama who I knew he he took off his robes and he said to me, I am a failed monk. I said, no, you’re a great success story because you were honest, you were honest. You took your robes off before you broke your vows. And when he wanted to take his rubs off, he called Karmapa and he said. You know, I want to take my robes off, Karmapa said, fine, change the color of your robe, keep teaching. So it used to be in Karmakar, you everyone wear the red robe and then at some point they made a distinction between, you know, monastics and other teachers. So the white robe? OK, change. No problem. And even after he felt I’m a failed monk, he even. No, no. And I told him, now you’re so relatable to us. Not that you weren’t before, but again with I venerated Lama. He’s just like us. So I hope. Everyone can find two teachers like this true masters like this. And if not, can find the teachings that will lead them to these teachers because, as they say, you can read a book, but a book cannot read you. So we do need teachers, we books, knowledge, saga. It’s wonderful, it’s necessary. It’s it’s part of it. But we do need teachers.
Yeah, so we’re talking about ideas of devotion and worship. And I do think this concept of worship, maybe. Sets Buddhism a little bit aside from what our other and maybe more mainstream religions because. It’s not it’s not worship in in the typical sense, you’re not bowing down to them and saying, you are above me, I am below you, even if you see your practitioner doing frustrations. So they are trying to dissolve their own ego, right? I why do I do practice? I’m trying to dissolve my own ego, right? So I talk about compassion and interdependence, interdependence, what does this mean? So you and me, we’re the same. Well, are we? And then how do you work with that in a practical world? So. I think the beauty of of the Yugo that we do with the Tara dancing. So first, you start there’s 1,000,000 tiny Atari’s out there in the sky and very small, just like little points of light and through the practice, you’re slowly. Bringing their closer and then Tara is in the sky in front of you. She’s the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen. There’s light flowing through her, so she’s translucent and she’s looking you with enormous, unconditional love in pouring her nectar down into you. Well, like, what is all of this mean and how do I I don’t even relate to this. So something about the dance. The music. It’s like the crescendo something naturally allows you like a wave like to bring Tara into you. And I’m sure people have their own way of visualizing and it may be very easy for them, but for me, it’s not necessarily so easy. So the dance. Something about the movement and imagining her coming toward me and then pouring the nectar down into me, right? So it’s not me worshiping her, it’s her loving me and me. Understanding that, right, so we’re dissolving the barrier between the two of us, which seems very hokey between human beings, except maybe like sex, like we don’t have a lot of ways to really. Come together in a profound way. And so this is an attempt to teach us to dissolve the ego. Bring the data, which is just an enlightened human being, a being filled with light inside of us so that we can be a being filled with light. And this is what happens to me when I dance, I can. I can feel pretty crappy at the beginning of the dance, and I feel like this after. And. You can see the difference. You can feel the difference. This is a very visceral thing, and I’m talking about it, so it sounds abstract. So I invite everyone to come, try to our dancing or come try. So guru yoga, so bring the deity inside of you. So then when you see this crazy, you know, a tank or some painting or something very wild looking in a monastery , while you say that was an enlightened human being and that is an exaggerated aspect of something that I need to deal with within myself. So maybe why am I so drawn to my color while I think I am very wrathful? Which is. It can be positive and it can be negative, sometimes you have to be very rough one, sometimes it is not called for. So I think in my life before, when I was enmeshed in sarcasm and sadness. I was raffle, but not not in a good way, not in. Not in a weird way, and it wasn’t doing any good for anyone. But now when I see my collar. I see something that looks. Perhaps very scary and very wild, but to me is the wild side of myself that can be tamed through practice, through discipline , through drumming, right? So maybe this is why I was so drawn to the McCollough practice. So wild, so outrageous looking and then. Can be pacified through our practice. Right, and so we can. Stop seeing these dead is a separate and start to bring them into us of, Oh, now maybe I can see you and stop seeing you a separate. Or maybe when I see you and I criticize you, I realize these are the things I’m criticizing myself, right? So to see you have this practice of almost seeing our ego outside of us and depicted in a different way. Oh no, it’s not my enemy. Oh, now I’m going to bring it into myself and make friends with it. So I’m sure this is like a very baby Buddha understanding of what Guru Yoga is because I am a beginner with this. But at the most primary level, these things that seem outside of ourselves, so wild, so outrageous. So inhuman. OK, how can I work with this? How can I understand this? How can I make a part of myself and even if I cannot? How can I erase judgment or animosity and start to OK? I could love that. I could. I could see beauty in that. So the Tibetan artwork and representations, they were so different. For me, it was nothing I’d ever seen before, but maybe in a way that was good. Maybe it kind of shocked my system into like having to grapple with What is this? Why are they showing this? And, you know, they say, Oh, this is not mail, this is not female, it’s it’s both. Well. They all have conundrum inherent, how is this possible and then to say, Oh, this is this is the heart of the practice, I can accept two things that seem equal and opposite. And bring them together, so my colleague seems wild, untamed. I can tear myself through this wild practice.
Yeah, so people do have lots of different challenges with their or practice or maybe entering the Dharma, it can seem intimidating. And so, of course, we all come from our own perspectives, have a wide variety of reasons why this might be true, but some of it, I think, is the Western mindset. Kind of an all or nothing thing. And a scientific method of inquiry where we need to have proof. Right. And so, you know, darkness about middle road. So it’s about finding the equanimity. And so what we’re taught as Westerners is all or nothing and prove it. And so it takes time. Time is time and space or these magic elements, which help the drama unfold. So a barrier to entry is like, Oh, well, I’ll have to spend all my time doing that, you know, I’ll have to spend ten hours a day meditating. You know, this idea of what practice is and what renunciation is and what discipline is. For me, discipline is freedom. Discipline is freedom. Discipline is freedom to be as wild as I am and get shit done, right? So that’s why I love Dharma like I can be as wild and free as I want and you’re supposed to be. But with discipline. And. I think it’s really easy, actually to prove that Dharma works, you just do it. I mean, I literally invite anyone for one week to to do Dharma, practice every day and then do the insights tracker and just see where is my mind and how is it working for me? I feel that it was so quick and profound for me. It went from, you know, living in the city, sort of surrounding the place that I was very unhappy to living out in the country, going to the monastery every day. And it seemed effortless because there had been so much struggle before. And then I had really sat with my misery. So another barrier to entry is we just don’t want to sit with our misery. We we want to be happy and we want to be joyful, and we think it should be immediate. And we hear stories of, you know, the master flicked me in the forehead and I became enlightened, so we think that’s going to happen to me. The master is going to throw the shoe at me and I’m going to become enlightened, and it’s it’s pretty rare that way. And so I think we need to get out of this binary thinking and this scientific method and this all or nothing and move more toward equanimity and more toward a let me try it and see how do I feel, right? So Dharma is all about feeling before you practice, you generate loving kindness and then you. And so. Do I feel more loving kindness throughout the day than I did without the Dharma practice and to really ask yourself very honestly, and if you don’t, it’s not for you. It’s not for you. And find the thing that’s for you. So in terms of when I started knowingly practice Dharma, I don’t think I had obstacles because I had so many before and I had grappled for so long and then very consciously once I started living mostly in a van on an ashram and really grappling with the seeds of unhappiness and the seeds of happiness. And then once I knowingly enter Dogma, it was a lot of effortless effort. But so much has come before that. But now there’s so much joy in the discipline and there’s so much freedom. So like, push through the discomfort, like tear your hair out if you want to, but stay in the room through all the praises and just see how do you feel and. And track it and see is your energy raised, is your wisdom razor, are the insights raised? And then, you know, do something wild like go on a trip to India. I did. I was already immersed in drama, but I went on myself on my own three weeks. I got a ticket and I went, Immerse yourself, just drop yourself in some place that supports this kind of practice. In the northeast, there’s a place where you can go do Vipassana silent meditation for ten days. It’s free. It’s it’s somewhere in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. So I think there are many opportunities if we focus on it, to immerse ourselves in Dharma. And then just see, how do I feel? What what does this mean to me or what? How what is this generating? What kind of insights? So don’t don’t plan, just do something wild, you know, go to India, you go to a monastery and just, you know, go to retreat, do this crazy ten day silent retreat. Give give yourself on away. And and see what does it feel like to not communicate with people and to not have money and to not have TV? And what’s happening with my mind? My personal observation is, yes, we have lots of barriers, but it’s not usually really the money or the time we can say that it is , but it isn’t, you know, Jews, we have a saying, we say it’s not the money, it’s just the money. So, you know, do it just just do it, Campbell used to say some practices make time, they don’t take time. Dharma practice one at first. It’s taking time and I have to think about this. I prepare. Where does my text? Oh my God. But then it becomes second nature. And if you don’t have it, it’s like, Where’s my food? Where’s my nourishment? So throw out your western mindset. You know, drop yourself like an alien somewhere. Just do it.
I think I struggled a lot more with people, with my role in the world before reeling, before realizing I was Buddhist because I didn’t know who I was and have any framework. I didn’t have any language. I didn’t have people around me that thought the way I did, all I could see was like, I don’t think like other people. So you start separating, you start blaming and then it’s really hard to have personal relationships, so I had one. Probably the most significant, you know, other personal relationship, it was like an on off 16 year relationship that was mostly hidden and secret. Actually, most people don’t know this about me, and it was very painful. And there was a lot of love. But it didn’t work. And so before Dharma, this was just it was just it was devastation, there’s no other way to describe it. It was. Like lying on the floor of my trashed apartment in just fits of. Being completely lost in the world and and thinking, how should I ask myself? I mean, the things that people don’t talk about, you know, like what is the point? Why am I doing this? And so being this kind of relationship with a man at that time was totally devastating and completely consuming, completely consuming, like go to work and then just come home and like crumble. So with Dharma. OK. There’s love there. OK, so we have karma. It may be positive, it may maybe negative are OK, something to work with, right? So you meet someone, you fall madly in love. It’s destiny and there’s love there. But is this connection good, is it positive, is the negative, is it neutral? So we just it’s good. It’s love. We put everything into that category, even though it’s causing us great suffering and then trying to reconcile these things. So for me, anything I associated with love is also causing me great suffering and I couldn’t reconcile these things. So when Dermot started coming into my life, maybe this is negative karma and burning off. Not is an excuse for bad behavior. But as an explanation to say there is a past, there is a history. Something has happened here. It’s it’s deep. We don’t even understand it. And we would come together and go apart and come together and go apart. And I had such great attachment to this person. I was just fixated on This is my soul mate. This is my one true love. I know what this means. I read the books. I’ve seen The Princess Bride really diluted by this westernized ideal of love and the female and how she should be. I mean, the truth is, I’m nothing like any of those females. This is why I never felt like I fit in like these princess things. I don’t relate to any of it. But yet I’m trying to fit myself into this role. This idea I have of what a relationship should be. And it was not working. It was not working. And I’m trying to be someone that I’m not. Not understanding, Dharma tells us, take away the layers, this is not pleasing anybody. So you think you’re acting in a way that’s not really I’m acting in a way, it’s not really myself. I think it’s pleasing the other person. Actually, it isn’t because I’m not myself. Now they’re not acting like themselves. And then this person that I’m in love with is having all kinds of personal struggle. But all I can say is I want what I want. You should be mine. I should be worth. So not having that empathy. For what he was going through, because the separation, it’s me and you’re causing me pain by this. But Dharma helps you dissolve that, so it doesn’t say that bad behavior is OK, and it doesn’t say that we should invite pain and suffering to learn lessons . But it does say that we can take so much from it. So this person that I had such great attachment to that I couldn’t let go. I didn’t want to leave the city, even though I knew I shouldn’t be living in the city anymore. Oh, we’ll run into each other. All see him this and that. So the monastery, in a practical way, just gave me an excuse to move away from the city. And it allowed me to start extricating myself emotionally from this relationship. There’s karma, but maybe it’s negative. OK, good, good. You better burn off that karma. Send love in that direction. And this idea of my one true love and its destiny, all these things completely disappeared when I embraced Darwin, when I read why, when I embraced reincarnation, because the teaching, the understanding is that every time being on the planet has been your mother, brother, sister, lover, uncle, aunt, cousin, dog, every sent him being a not just human. So this person that I think I’m so in love with it, I’m such attachment. Actually, maybe the love is more like a friend what it should be, or more like a mother’s son. Right? So starting to dissolve this idea of here’s this I am that he is separate and that I have to hold on to have something right. This is this is a great tragedy for many of us. This attachment, like you, hold on tighter and tighter and actually it’s it’s slipping away more and more. So, you know, when we take prayer hands, Tibetans, you know, we’re holding a precious jewel. We’re holding an egg. We don’t want to hold it too tight. We’ll break it. We don’t want to hold it. To lose will drop it. And so my personal relation just before it was rigid and tight because I love you. It’s such a misunderstanding and such a misunderstanding of what love is. You know, love is expansive. As is wisdom mind this this is the understanding, it’s not limited, it is expansive, and it doesn’t hold on tight and it’s not rigid, and Premiere always tells us, you know, you have to relax is the most important thing. So the thing that held me back the most before, which was this restrictive idea of love, I think, is what’s liberating me now through this understanding of the drama, but not without. Great pain and suffering. And now, you know, my boyfriend, the personal relationship that I’m in. We’re trying to approach it in a different way. It’s not easy. It’s not easy. We have many conflicts, and he’s not a Dharma practitioner, per se. And so that could seem like an obstacle, but I don’t believe that. I think. We can connect to. Where we put our attention before with this love relationship, I have with myopically focused on this one person and there was a lot of suffering.
Tara Mandala Dance
So when I met Premiere, the tires were coming to Katie, I didn’t know anything about dancing Taras, I didn’t know anything about Takata and fellow Dharma practitioners. She grabbed my arm again, grabbing of the arm. Can you photograph a thing? Do you have a camera? OK? And there were about 50 or 60 people dancing in the courtyard somewhere, Taras, that had come to dance and somewhere people around the monastery and some were llamas and Campbell, Carter, Empeché and the lamas were all on the train stairs watching. It was so auspicious, it was so sweet. And at this time, I’d done sitting meditation and I’d done puja and chanting and drumming and some walking meditation. But dance meditation? No, this is not. This is not something I had been exposed to. But I did grow up dancing. And so dance is a creative form of expression is very inherent to me. I started taking lessons when I was two, so it’s. It’s it’s very natural to me, and in some ways, actually the tar dancing, it could maybe not even be considered dancing because it’s really a moving meditation. It’s very gentle movements and some people do it sitting down because their body doesn’t allow. And some people are visualizing it because, you know, there’s there’s something going on with their health or whatever it is, and that’s also tar dancing. So when we practiced hard dance and we were practicing with body speech and mind. So the Tibetans are always talking about body speech mind. But what is this whole dancing makes it so clear, right? So for Tibetans, the brain is the body, the mind is in the heart. And so the speech is here. So. We can practice with body speech, mind, we can dance with our body and we can chant and sing, and we can visualize and do good yoga. So this Tara dancing so seamlessly brings together all of these things that can seem abstract or how can I do all these things at once ? I can’t focus on all these things at once, right? And then something that comes back around the Kembo, how do I love the tree? So the joy of the practice. So I talked about the torture of the the repetition of the tar appraises and how it became joy and how you have to sit for a long time and maybe that torture is good. I will say it’s good for some people, some of us do need to sit with our misery. But some people are ready to stand up and dance in joy. What I love about the dancing also is it’s something we do in life, people dance in life for so many reasons. It’s not Oh, when we’re practicing, we do this and then it’s separate. There’s no separation. People dance in celebration. They dance for a religion. They dance for exercise. They dance to express something. So dance is a thing that we do anyway. And speaking, chanting, singing, it’s a thing we do anyway and visualizing it’s a thing we do anyway. And so the dance brings it all together. And nobody says stand up and dance in joy when, when, when your body moves and you take these poses, your whole body takes on joy. And then you know what we’re learning from neuroscience is this is actually it’s changing the neuroplasticity in your brain. It’s making new connections. You’re you’re actually emitting light. So when we talk about a Devah, which is a being filled with light. So people get it can get very caught up in deities and gods, but we’re all devils, we’re all beings filled with light and this is what we’re doing when we dance is we’re sending our light out into the world. And or we’re taking if we’re doing the tongue, then we’re taking the negative and then we pull the light out and we send it out. And also, you know, Dharma practice has outer enter in secret, and this also can be very abstract and you’re like, Am I stuck at this? And I think it’s this, it’s that. But that’s what I love about dance is you can just do the outer dance. Take the position with your body is. And your mood has lifted, your psyche has lifted. You’re you’re giving, you’re offering you’re doing things with your body that are good for your digestion, that are stretching your muscles . So in every way you’re it’s like it’s like a holiday for your body, like I dance to every morning with the song on Zoom at 8:15 a.m. and this is my staycation. This is my body speech and mind vacation that I have every single day because I get to think about nothing. Nothing. And. Let my body do what it wants to do and let the vibration take me, and as the Sun is rising, believe I’m helping the Sun rise and I’m offering the sunlight, so I start every day in gratitude. And this this is this is the most basic principle of of dharma is starting every practice and gratitude. So the dance gives you this, even if you’re not paying attention, it’s it’s teaching you the dharma, and then I lead the Taj out to preliminaries in the morning, so it’s the same every day. It’s the preliminaries begin or mine basic doesn’t matter how well you know it, how well you did it yesterday. How was your body yesterday? So here we are today and we do the basics. So we start with the power of motivation. And all these beautiful dancers were created by premadasa, but also many other dancers over the years. Many people dream these dances and lamas requested and such a beautiful collaboration how these dances were developed. So we start with the prayer motivation. Why are we here? Well. Yeah, you could kind of stop there and spend the rest of your life there and be a very deep drama practitioner to just grapple with these things. What is my motivation? Then we dance Shanti Deva. With the wish to free all beings, I rely on the enlightened ones, their teachings and the exalted community until I reach enlightenment. I can work with this, I this gives me something to do until I reach a moment on its journey is active. And it’s possible in this lifetime you can truly set this aspiration, I will attain enlightenment, do you? It doesn’t matter because the practice will take you so far in your life will have such good ripples that you will lay the karma to attain enlightenment in your subsequent lifetimes. So. We dance pure motivation, we danced, chanted Eva, and then refuge in bodhichitta. And so we’re taking refuge, refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, but also in Tara. We’re specifically taking refuge in Tara. And this is a beautiful practice for me, this is not for everyone. People should take refuge wherever they can lay down their burden. That’s where you take refuge. It doesn’t have to be. A person doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be a practice. It’s where you lay down your burdens. So it’s Tara for me. And what’s so wonderful about having Tara as the place to lay down your burden is Tara is not a teacher that will die. Tara is always there, Tara always loves me, so Tara is a constant throughout all of my lifetimes. Tara cannot fall from grace. Tara cannot tell me the wrong thing. So I feel that. Having an exalted place of refuge like this for many people will be very comforting and a very important part of their practice not to supplant teachers. So we we danced refuge in bodhichitta and then we danced Harris 21 qualities. And so this is my medicine. This we dance from time zero wisdom, compassion, power. We dance through all these emotions from peaceful to wrathful. This is therapy. In 45 minutes before I start my workday, I can have all these emotions and have physicalize them and release them. And then have a mantra party in between. Thank you, Tara. So this is my practice every day. And the dance is naturally equipped to be a vehicle for drama practice. It just. If we’re doing it, so if we’re visualizing we start with tar out here and we bring her inside of us and eventually Tara’s inside out of us and is us. But that’s OK. Even if I’m not doing that, I can dance if I forget it and I’m distracted. Oh, slowly, OK? I remember. So wherever you are, even if yesterday you had a perfect practice and today I terrible practice, you know, Campbell used to say even one second of pure meditation is better than one hour of sitting and wandering. And I truly believe this, the beauty of dancing on Zoom is people can always join for the whole thing. So this is you talk about modern Buddhism, right? And really, how does the practice evolve to the place and the time in the practitioners? So if you’re doing a retreat and someone comes late, oh no, no, no, this is not acceptable. But if somebody because they’re special needs child had to be served breakfast, but then could come to dance the quality? Yes. I want you to come if somebody is doing other Buddhist practice before and then can only come down to the quality. So it has. Zoom COVID, it is allowed our practice to evolve if if we will allow it in beautiful and profound ways. Many teachers before COVID would not do teachings on Zoom. You had to come in person. Now you need to be in person for a true transmission. I do understand that. But the times are changing and the understanding is changing, and now they’re saying, oh, you know, we can give it to a transmission on Zoom. It’s possible. So when I started dancing with the with the song of Premiere did not believe this could be done. We will not be in sync. You cannot teach and hear the music. There are all these problems. But what’s the teaching non-attachment? Let it go. Now it’s possible we don’t need to be in sync, it doesn’t matter why. Because the visualization, it’s what’s what’s important. Oh well, your hands are not here. It doesn’t matter the intention. Right? So all these things that were so important and even our teachers grasped onto fell away with COVID. And all these wonderful teachings are available online, so there’s this great proliferation of teachings. But at the same time, something can be recovered through an embassy told us, he said. Pick one lineage. If you ever hope to make it to the ocean, pick one river and drink deeply. Right, so we want to drink the water and we want to get to the ocean. This is enlightenment. It doesn’t matter which stream, pick one wisdom, tradition and drink deeply from that stream because you will not make it to enlightenment if you’re running around. And this is how I feel about the tar practice every day. Come back to the very basic this you can use your precious body as a vehicle for enlightenment. I believe this way because Earth is school. We are given our bodies for a reason. If this is not a vehicle for enlightenment, there’s no purpose. And the dance is showing us that, that we can do this. Many of the dancers would not call themselves Buddhists. They might. Many have many other traditions Sufi dancers. But there’s no barrier. See, everyone can come dance together in equanimity, whatever they call themselves, what they don’t call themselves. We dance in praise of the divine feminine, not female, feminine. This is everybody. This is the antidote to the toxic masculinity that’s destroying our world. This this is my true belief that every day that I dance, I invoke the divine feminine. This is the medicine and this is the medicine that we can share. If you feel helpless, if you feel hopeless, if you feel disaffected, why do people turn on music and jam? Wow. You can have a whole other devotional element and a whole song of people around the world who are doing this and spreading this wave of love. Right? So we, Tadashi, we’re the only Tibetan Buddhist who dance. Tara actually Nuri. Buddhists, they dance Tara. But Tibetans, when they dance, the deities, only the lamas dance, the lay people don’t, so there’s a lot of separation. And this dance dissolves all those separations. We’ve danced with lamas. We’ve danced with men, women, babies, pregnant people, transsexuals. There’s no barrier. We’re all dancing in praise of the divine divine feminine. And yet just another thing about COVID. COVID with such a beautiful cove, it is such a beautiful opportunity for our teachers to let go of their ideas of what teaching is and what Buddhism is. And so I’ve seen our teachers ex plant expand likewise and flourish just like Premiere at the beginning of COVID. And now we have monthly teachings and we dance together. So we used to have just teachings and talk, but now we stand up and dance. All the barriers have dissolved, and my sense is that other Sundays are probably doing this to. Now that we’re coming up on almost two years of COVID. I don’t want us to go back to the way we were before because. Understanding karma, that’s what brought us into these circumstances, so certainly we shouldn’t. But there is a lot of resistance even to offering a virtual element to things that were in person. I think now that that’s dissolved. There’s more acknowledgment that there are very devoted hungry students all over the world that for a variety of reasons, cannot come and they shouldn’t be cut off from the teachings. And then the virtual saga we will always meet once a year in person, at least once a year to our data. That was like for so many reasons. But now we dance together every day. So people are actually they know the practice better, it’s not like, oh, we get together maybe once a month and the full moon, which is ecstatic and wonderful. When we do that, we I do a gathering on the full moon and and the new moon, and you cannot supplant. Dancing together in communities, so the tired dancing was created to be danced in community, and when you do it, you know why when you hold. So there’s a lot of hand-holding and touching, which is. Potentially problematic and needs to be addressed because of COVID, so even when we dance on Zoom, we have made some adjustments when we would hold hands before we about it. Songhua just in acknowledgment that this this practice should change with the times. We don’t want to have a museum to Buddhism. We want to be living Buddhism. And because dance, aside from dancing, teaches balance, flexibility, partnership, equanimity, so many lessons are inherent in dancing that when you overlay drama on it , it seems like a recipe for success for many people. Or one tool in your tool belt that you can use with other tools and use enjoy. The Tara dancing is profound for a lot of women because we just don’t have female representation. We certainly don’t in Buddhism, except for Tara and out there in the world, we don’t have a lot of positive. Things to model ourselves after, I don’t. I don’t think I ever picked a woman and was like, I want to be her. I don’t remember having those kinds of role models growing up. I mean, it was a different time. Women obviously have more and more opportunities, I was born in the seventies, so I was certainly not born in a restrictive time for women. But Tara is the first female that I can consciously remember, saying I’m going to model my life after Tara. And. Try to emulate her, not try to be her. Try to bring her inside of myself. So all of her good qualities, I can become like, who I’m supposed to be. Which is a being filled with light, and I don’t think I know any more than that, but that’s a pretty good goal. If I can work toward that, the other lessons come, I don’t need to seek out anything else if I just keep going back to. Work your hardest to become a being filled with light, the other the other practices will come. I’m sure other tar dancers would have different descriptions about what they’re doing and why and how they relate to it. And that is so wonderful. That is so beautiful. That’s what brings the richness of the practice, right? Because then in the Sangha, we can share, you know, something Premier’s talked about in seven points of mind training is it’s very clear what the point of Dharma is. This is to increase our insights.
Oh, I love yoga. I do. It’s a wonderful thing. I think for a long time, I thought it was just physical postures. Yoga asanas, which is primarily what’s taught in the West. Which is a wonderful thing, I realized, actually when I started practicing yoga as an adult that I had been taught as a child, they just didn’t call it yoga. So it was very natural for me to start practicing this as an adult. It probably actually did, it started at the YMCA in Chicago, so it really was like an exercise thing. It wasn’t. I wasn’t like seeking out something spiritual. I was working out of the gym. I said, there’s yoga once a week. Oh, how wonderful. This was lucky because this was an older black woman teaching yoga, which. An amazing, amazing first teacher as an adult, she was she said, I couldn’t even do splits until I was 50. So you want to talk about inspiration? And I loved the way that she taught, because. We practiced in a circle. I didn’t realize how special this was at the time. So even the teacher is not nobody’s in front, nobody’s behind, so there’s this equanimity. Right? And then if maybe we’re not sure how to do something, we we have different examples we can see and not feel self-conscious and. And so she would also she would teach us, but then at the end, because she’d say, Oh, are there any postures you want to do? So it’s like this very open hearted, beautiful way of teaching yoga, and I just thought this was normal. And then when I went to other yoga classes, which were maybe a little more. Regimented and more in like a gym class kind of way, I got great benefit from that, but it really was exercise. I’m not sure if the idea that yoga was anything more than that. Wow, I don’t even know when that first entered my consciousness. I was still working out in the in the gym lifestyle, and I had this wonderful yoga teacher named Jed. He dressed all in black, for one thing, which is quite unusual for a yoga teacher, they’re always, you know, and white and look like saints and say All in black, OK, OK, this guy’s a little different. And he would chant to us the whole class. He didn’t play any music he sang to us. So your heart can’t help but start to open, even if you’re not aware of this, it’s on the subtle level. Then he would have us. To the whole class with your eyes closed. So he was starting to bring on to a vibrational level and an internal level, something that had been very external until that point and had been external in a wonderful way. It it. It was making me feel good, it was bringing me community, you are accomplishing something and you and your body is responding. But to close your eyes and take it inside. So now you’re going from the outer to the inner, and he didn’t say this, but so I’m starting to be introduced to this. That was an extraordinary gift, especially to have that in a gym setting, so you could hear the barbells and Madonna blaring the background, chanting to us . Maybe this was my first inkling that there was something a little more something a little more. And then after I got away from the gym mentality, I started going to gym a empty in New York City. That was a very wise choice for me. So I was in so much of the sadness I was living in the city crying on my way to work. I mean, it was it was pathetic, poor little rich girl. And sometimes the best thing. The only good thing I did was to take my ass to yoga that day. And so not only, you know, good things are happening with your body, but so it’s a level of starting to take care of yourself. So even you’ve you’ve been a total shit to yourself, you are completely neglecting yourself, but you’ve got your ass to yoga today. Are. So you can start to hang your hat on that like I did one good thing for myself. It had it was really beneficial. I was nicer to people. So actually my yoga practice, which seems like nothing but exercise, maybe nicer to people. So, you know, their small repeal is starting to happen. But I was I was still really in the sadness and then I sort of going to the monastery on the weekends and I met Campo. Oh, we’re going to do the Himalayan Yoga Himalayan yoga. It’s healing. I have no idea. And a lot of it is actually OK. So everyone talks about tomorrow and it’s this this great practice. OK, well, they were doing the yoga for the same reason why they lived in houses without heat in the winter. And so they were doing the yoga to keep themselves warm. This is what they did. And so this is how Kembo taught us. So. It went from being exercise. To starting to have something of a of a of a spiritual practice and then more pragmatism even beyond exercise, which is as a way of living like the nature that you live in, this can inform your yoga practice. Oh OK. OK, that’s interesting, I I want to think about this, and he would have us do really weird things, jogging sprints and like when we would not think of this is yoga, but he’s trying to break all of our ideas of what is yoga, what is not yoga and just do OK. So that was interesting. And then he said to me, You are going to take yoga teacher training and you’re going to teach the yoga. OK. OK. Campo, OK. And. I think if the suggestion they come to me earlier, I would not have accepted this. I think I struggle too much with ego before and not ego in the way that you think I am more like. I deflect compliments, you know, I shy away from the camera. And so the idea of teaching was. Radical to me and not. That’s something that I’ve ever taken seriously, I have I’ve had other teachers tell me in the past I should teach and I do not take it seriously. But I think finding Dharma so late and having had so many personal struggles like with men in relationships, which really is an ego struggle because. You’re not understanding who you are, you’re not setting boundaries, right? So you’re not understanding the interdependence. I had so much suffering and so much struggle. And then he said, You’re going to do this now, OK? And it was it was time, it was time I was ready. So then yoga became about teaching and sharing and serving. So yoga is definitely transforming for me, which is lucky it didn’t get stuck in just the physical asana. But I also didn’t really find my teachers until the monks found me. So I found teachers and people, you know, think things, things were coming in. Things were seeping in. But I don’t feel that I found my teacher right until I found the monks. But yoga was transforming, and so then I did this teacher training, and then I started leading retreats at the monastery for four Dharma practitioners. So not for people who are normal yoga this that the head by no, these are Dharma practitioners who want to add an element of yoga. So that was beautiful and fortunate. Having that offered in an environment that was integrating it with other practices and not segregating and saying, this is yoga, this is the one thing or putting it in a box, right? It was saying you can meditate and you can share and you can do walking meditation and you can serve and cook for people and do all these things. So yoga was in a process of unfolding for me and then also sort of merging with Dharma. And this allowed me to accept that I could teach and lead. So when Premiere offered to me, do you want to do the teacher training program for the dancing? OK. And actually, I didn’t do anything with it at first, it just kind of sat there. But then when I was ready it, it all happened so fast. OK, I’m ready and just. Start leading, so yoga in a way, a kind of it made me realize I could be a teacher. I mean, that’s like a really long, winding story, but this limited idea of a Western idea of yoga and the path, it took me on it. It really is. It made me realize how integrated yoga truly is and how we do a disservice when we segment it. And I’ve also. Well, you can, again, with the teachings being so available, so you need to have your teacher because you can start to work with these really powerful practices and they do not take you in the right direction. Why? Because these practices bring power, they do, and with that can come great ego, right? And I truly believe that dissolving the ego is the last barrier to enlightenment. When you’re just like, right at the gate, that’s it. Can you be more powerful, be better and know that and still have total compassion? There’s no way I could have done this before. I was not in the teacher mindset and I was in S&M and separation and slowly and because of these teachers who believed in me yoga made me realize who I am. I hope it does that for everyone.