It seems like such a big question, how did I get introduced to Buddhism because in some of my practices, I felt like it was always here, I’ve always been here, it will be here after this form is gone. But in actual terms, I guess it was about when I was 16, and this was what early seventies. I read Herman Hesse’s books and Arthur and I was like, Oh, I’m the Buddha. And then it was a time with a lot of eastern philosophy and mysticism coming through the country, and I started doing yoga at that point and reading various books and I was turned on to. And then it was probably closer to when I was, let’s see, 18, when I moved to California from New York City and I wound up in this small community where one of the teachers was a Zen teacher. one of the people there was a Zen teacher, and they held sessions there. So I started learning more about Buddhism, but it still wasn’t of much interest to me. I was always more of a dancer, social person and kinesthetic doing yoga. And then when I moved to Hawaii, I was living on Maui, and that was what the late seventies, maybe early eighties. We had Lama Tenzin moved there and a friend who helped bring him there as a resident, Lama said to me, Oh, you should take refuge. We have this lama coming. And I was like, Sure, sounds like a cool idea. Good thing to do. But then what I noticed when I would go to the temple there, the Gamper, as it’s called in Tibetan, that the teachings were boring and long and I’d fall asleep and the teacher didn’t speak English, and it was like such a strong focus. I was like, I’d never do this stuff, but I really like the teacher and going to other high lamas that would come to Maui. I also was living in Maui at that point, and there was a lot of Sufi influence, and I was I loved that because it was a lot of movement and chanting and devotion. And then someone said, Oh, well, you can participate in the mandala dance when this high lama is coming from California, and that was Lama, Taj and Rinpoche. And at the time, my son was really young, so I couldn’t participate in the full weekend of the mandala dance of the 21 praises of Torah. So I thought, Oh, I’ll just do part of the offering goddesses dance. And when I went to one of the teachings with Lamotrigine Rinpoche, it was a red Torah evening and it was a stormy evening and it was in the House of Zen, which is also a yoga studio. And to me, the whole Earth shook and everything was just so illuminated and my heart just flew open and it was like, I didn’t think about, you know, should I be on this path? It was just like, I’m going to do Ninja. These are the foundational practices, and I love this man, and this is incredible. And it was kind of funny. The memory that comes the next day, I ran into the friend that was sitting next to me, and she’s like, That Lama didn’t do anything for me. How did you feel? And I was like, Didn’t you feel the Earth move? And so I realize it’s a very personal thing, just like we resonate with certain friends and we don’t resonate with other people. And I just felt this hard connection with lamotrigine and.
I think it drew me more to want to go deeper in Vitaliano was, I remember reading an interview with Chuck Tuku from the Spirit Rock Insight meditation newspaper. And he said, Well, you know, if you want to get from California to New York, you could walk. You could ride a bicycle. You could drive a car, you could take an airplane. And vision is kind of like taking the airplane like you will get there much quicker. So I felt that. You know, you there was a sense of that, Viviana would really help work deeply with the personality. And I still wasn’t a practitioner at that point. And I think what drew me in was again being with lamotrigine Empeché who touched my heart. It’s like you’re falling in love. But it’s not even with a person, although there is this personality that is embodying such a fullness and wholeness and completeness. And so because it’s coming from such a big tradition, there’s a kind of weight to it. It’s not something made up, it’s built upon. And when you think about, you know, an excellent musician and how much they have to practice to get that way. Well, here I am working with this teacher who was raised with another lion of a teacher who was raised by a lion of the teacher. So there’s just this very visceral, grounded quality to it.
I think when it comes to articulating how did everything feed into me just walking on this path? I’m reminded when I was studying the yoga sutras with my first yoga teacher and in Patanjali’s sutures, there is something that like at first, we might go to the spiritual path. Let me do a better analogy. So at first, we think, Oh, I need to get a birthday present for my friend. And you go to the mall and you’re like, Look at our around all these different stores, you know, it’s like, I don’t know what to get, and then you pick something out. And then the next year you go, Oh, I’m just going to go to this store and get a present for my friend. And then the next year you go, I know exactly what they need. I can just order it online. What I’m getting at with the spiritual path is we’re in a day and age where there is a smorgasbord, but something in you stirred and you’re called to explore this. So it’s not the same as buying a present for somebody in a store. Maybe a better metaphor is trying on 18 different pairs of shoes. And which ones give you that sense of, Oh, this shoe fits? This is comfortable for what my needs are. It might be good to have an intention. You know, I need more clarity in my life. I need more compassion. I have a lot of angst emotionally. I have old traumas. So for myself, it wasn’t really a conscious decision, so much as there was always this seed of curiosity of what are we doing here? And I think it kind of started when I was about five years old. I still remember this one day where I was in the kitchen, which was connected to the dining room, and my mother and sister and brother were fighting and screaming, and it was kind of dramatic. And I was just watching them from this really centered place, and I was thinking, don’t they know they could just be happy, like? And that quality? Is my quest that quest for freedom? And I don’t even always like to use the word happiness anymore because in our Western view culture that can mean buying the next thing using the right toothpaste, getting the right makeup or driving the right car, you get the picture secular materialism. And that’s not what drew me. It was more that sense of inner freedom. And I did grow up in a cultural time period where there was a lot of people experimenting with that out of freedom. And so I had a lot of out of freedom, partially because my parents were just like the third kid, you know, she could do what she want. So I was hitchhiking cross-country at 16 years old, living a very free lifestyle. And. I lived to a commune when I was 18, and I guess when I was 22, I moved to Hawaii and it was then when I was introduced to Buddhism. And why I think I went deeper was because there was something that really caught me about that sense of freedom. And I felt like I’ve lived a very free lifestyle. You know, I’ve really never I’ve never worked in corporate America. I had a waitress stint for a little while, but otherwise I’ve always been creatively self-employed. But there was still something that pee beneath the 23 mattresses that we hear about and myths of. Why don’t I feel free inside? And so that’s what really has led me. And even though I might not have said how many years ago is this 40 years ago that I’m following an intuition or feeling my felt sense? That is what was happening. You know, I was also a tuning to what I would call that greater presence of guidance that the Buddhist literature that I’ve read, I mean, that’s really articulated there is this force called the essays that guides the birds to know where to find their next meal guides animals and it’s guiding humans. But there’s kind of a lot of static in between that static has been released and more effaced since I started working more deeply with the Buddhist path, which helped inform my yoga practices. Because really, when I started yoga, most people think of yoga as asanas, but I started because I had read Autobiography of a Yogi. And it was like, Oh, I want to levitate. I want to learn how to transcend. And it was really through these practices of wanting to transcend that. I went full circle and came back to grounded right on this earth because this is where we’re living. And it was hard for me to be grounded and on this earth because of such a tumultuous type childhood that. I kind of say to people that vision is like root canal work, it’s going to dig it all up, whatever’s rotten know and not to say that we have anything rotten because again, this has informed me it’s all beautiful. But when we’re young and experience overwhelming emotional situations and we can’t quite kind of digest it, it’s awesome to be able to transcend it and just be in that bliss state. And, you know, I’m the Buddha. But to really have compassion, we start with compassion for our own self, and that means bearing witness to all the pain and challenges that we ourselves have all had in this culture.
The other practice I have been drawn towards a lot lately and have really appreciated is the good practice and should literally means like cutting through and we’re cutting through the personality. And I found with doing it, it’s helping me for one to notice what is the personality? How am I identified with it? And how am I loosening the grip of that identification, which is where there’s freedom? During one long retreat with lamotrigine Empeché, he brought up the point of We don’t want to have these practices like a patch on our pants that can fall off but make it a deep footprint in the heart . So it feels like layer after layer that the weight of history and the transmission of these practices, we’re using our mind, we’re using our speech and we’re using our body. We’ve got bells and drums, and that’s a way that we make it more real. That’s the way I’ve made it more real in my life.
I looked at it like the more present I could be in myself, the more present I could be with my son and see what are his needs. And I was living in what I would call a very kind of spiritual community. We were living in somewhat of an idyllic place in Hawaii, and friends, parents were all on the same page with exploring spirituality. And we created our own preschool and we taught the children with love and kindness and also firm boundaries that we’re partners on this path, this human journey and at the same time, I’m the parent. And these are the boundaries, and this is how we can be with each other. So if some of the kids did something really out of hand, you would have to do an amendment. You know, it’s not just saying, I’m sorry. You know, it’s like, Well, what will you do to help remedy this? So we wanted to make it a living example of how do we communicate so much of our lives are about communication, whether it’s verbal communication or the unseen communication. So when we had this preschool, we were bringing all of these spiritual practices of compassion and loving kindness and playfulness, which might be compared to emptiness or transcendence. You know, how do we be as playful as a child? I remember meeting one teacher who had spent many years in a Chinese torture camp and then came out, came to the West, wound up marrying a Westerner and had four kids. But his countenance, you know, in his early sixties is ageless. Presence was the countenance of a happy go lucky five year old. So this was an aspiration that we, as parents had. And that’s what I felt to give to my son and what we as a community. So there was the community support that I had. We heard the term it takes a village to raise a child. And we acted like that with each other. Sometimes kids can’t hear from their own parent, a firm boundary. So another parent had the freedom to step up and do that. No, you can’t talk to your mother like that. That is not appropriate, you know? And so that’s how I bring it in, and I brought my son to retreat with me. He was around it so often, and then as a teenager, up until he was 16, maybe 17, he went to a Buddhist retreat with me and he’d been to Sufi retreats. And then he said to me one morning at breakfast that he just had no interest in religion at all, that he felt religion was really a detriment because it brought about so much wars. He goes, I think there should be a religion based on kindness, and my heart just kind of closed because really , that is what the Dalai Lama started saying, and that is what Buddhism is about. So the way that translated in a very practical way in my son’s life was as a teenager when they were all being kind of typical teenagers of drinking and partying that he said to his friends because we lived on the ground floor, his bedroom window was right off of the parking lot that if anybody was too drunk to drive. No questions asked. Just come to his room, climb in the window, and he’ll drive them home the next morning. I did not know about this for a couple of years afterwards, but again when I heard about it, oddly enough, I was proud of him because it was a practical thing. You don’t want to die in drunk driving or harm anyone else. So how do we make these teachings practical? And no, he’s not on a particular Buddhist path or any path, or even a meditative path. But these practices are within him to be a good human being, an upright citizen.
When I first saw them on the dance of the 21 praised Tara, my son was maybe two years old and it was on the cliff outside of Kawai. We were on the grass, the ocean was behind us and I was just so touched by the devotion and the well in Hawaii. We call it Moana, like the essence, the spirit, the unseen potential or that quality that we don’t always label with words. And I was so touched by that. And really, my thoughts were. You know, I’d be too shy to get up and do that dance in front of somebody because like even though it’s a proscribed dance, there’s a choreography to it. There’s also a point. one minute long where you’re choreographing the four lines of one of Tara’s praises. So each person gets to find their creativity of How do I express this? What the quality is saying and. I was just drawn into the practice and slowly, slowly over the years, it was just something the women got together to do. Yes, there were men, they were protectors around the circle. So we’d come together for the annual Mother Festival that was suggested by Typekit to Rinpoche because when he saw the dance that time, he also is struck by the level of devotion and said someone will wake up doing this dance. What I love about the mandala dance is that it draws a wide net. It cast a wide net, so it attracts people who could care less about Buddhism or meditation. There are people who come in who have no clue about Buddhism or meditation, but just something in them says, Wow, this sounds intriguing, and I like dressing up. The whole idea behind sacred dance in all cultures that have sacred dance is there is an aspect of dressing up, dressing the part you’re embodying that, you know, even when we’re putting on makeup to look like Tara, you know, a lot of women never wear makeup. But there’s a way that we’re meant to embody. Tara and Tara is really just a symbol of the great feminine principle, whether you’re male or female, and somehow patterns get revealed. You know, one woman, it’s just like, Oh, this sounds like a cool thing to do. And she got involved that weekend practice and she just started crying about. She goes, I don’t even know where these tears are coming from. So it’s like there’s a purification inherent in this. But we’re not asking anybody to sign on the bottom line. You don’t need to have any kind of surgery on it. Empowerment. Certainly, if you are interested in the Buddhist path, I do see and feel personally how this practice helps understand the path better and embody the practice. But there are many people who have no interest in that. They just think, Wow, this feels really good and this is really special or, oh, I love going out and being seen. Some people are never seen in their life. So we had one woman that year after year she would dance with us, and there was always a lot of like, no move here. Do that, you know, like moving her around. I was like, Oh my God, this is so annoying. And then I find out that she’s autistic. It’s like, Oh, well, that us explains what’s going on. But she moved out of that like autistic ID, and the qualities that she started cultivating was she didn’t need all of this assistance and health. And all of a sudden, she’s like traveling to foreign countries, exploring her heritage so it can help people in very practical ways. We’ve had women with disabilities learn how to do this, whether you’re in wheelchairs or, you know, we’ve had people in wheelchairs, so it’s meant to be inclusive for everyone. And so there’s things that come up. For instance, one Tara, as we like to call the women, would come into the central triangle as Tara, and you’re meant to point your face towards the apex so that you could be burst out of the triangle. Even though she’d been doing this dance at least once a year for probably 20 years, she would get into the circle and always wind up being backwards. And then she shared, You know, I was a breech baby and I was like, Oh, how interesting breech babies are backwards, they should be moving head out. So it was like somehow acknowledging that unconscious truth of what happened with her body, somehow she was able to be birthed straight in the mandala after that. So you don’t have to know anything about Buddhism and Volker Empeché, a great teacher. When he saw the dance, he said people who see the dance will receive as much blessings as the people who are doing the dance. And we who were students of UNAM tubed and always wanted him to see this dance when he finally saw it. After years and years of Come on, we really want to share this with you. He, as this amazing teacher who grew up in Tibet, realized that same fact it was as if we were all practicing to. Whether the winds in the air are moved and we feel that in our consciousness. And like I said, you don’t have to know a thing about Buddhism. But if you do, it really does seem to deepen the benefits of your own personal practice or draw you in. Can I share one story about that so that I was just reminded of one woman who grew up in India? She is from Indian heritage and her parents grew up in the British rule, in a big city and really gave up all of Hinduism and any traditional stuff and were very intelligent, intellectual, being very British. And we didn’t talk about religion or anything in her family. And she wound up following the path of academia and became a Ph.D. psychologist, went to school in the states, became a professor of psychology and a big university, and also felt like there was something missing. So when she encountered the model, the dance of the 21 praises of Tara and started dancing it, something started awakening inside of her. That was the missing link to bridge both worlds that she lived in, and over time, she wound up turning more and more into Tibetan Buddhist practices and then eventually became a nun with Lamas up this foundation because it just drew her in. So we don’t know what that great mystery has in store for us. We feel as to data that we’re here to uplift humanity with joyful, sacred practices, dancing, you know, the arts and bringing in music and dance, and that will appeal to various people. We were at the socketed to Buddhist Women’s Conference, which happens every other year, and we were teaching the mandala dance and one woman came in and she grew up in Asia. She was in Asia, she was a professional dancer, and she walked into the room and she shared with us later. But her first impression was like, These aren’t dancers, you know, there’s tall, skinny, fat, you know, all different colors and ways of being in the world. And she was going to like, do her dance because she had performed Buddhist sacred dance in other venues professionally. She said by the end of the weekend and after she had performed, she was like, This really faces the ego wasn’t my ego that was dancing. It was something else that was coming through. And this was something that Tibetan picked up on. Also that it can help cultivate this level of devotion where we’re not hooked into our intellectual mind, our ego, quick thinking mind of look at me, it’s a way to help taste that formless energy that moves through form. How the dance began was that Premiere Dacera was friends with the Maui Lama Lama Tenzin because Hindi was both their second languages and he never learned English, so he and Premadasa would connect, and he asked if she would help translate the mandala. Not that sorry that if she would help translate the practice of the 21 praises of Torah and at the time Premadasa had been living in India for many years, was a trained classical Indian dancer and she was like, I can’t sit and meditate. I like to dance, I move around. And he was like, That’s fine, just, you know, read the chants, walk the hills, you know, whatever you need to do. And so she started reading the chants and. Felt that Tara started walking in front of her in debt. No way. Rewind. Oh, OK. So plummeting and asked premadasa to walk the hills and read these chants and just help him translate to English. And so she lived in a quite remote area on Maui and was walking the hills, singing these praises, and she felt that Tara started dancing in front of her. And Tara started dancing within her. And so. A few days later, somebody came to her and said, you know, I was dreaming of a golden spiral all night, does that mean anything to you? And that’s how the choreography dropped in to Premiere, the Hazara and the Mundell. The dance of the 21 phrases was created. It was meant to be also danced by people who were not professional dancers. And at first one, Premiere heard that through our friend Lauren, who had the dream about the golden spiral. It was like, No, this is for everyone. And Premiere gathered some women and the choreography is such that. Women walk out into a crescent moon shape, the crescent moon symbol has been the symbol of femininity for ages, you know, the Greek goddesses. And so then from that crescent moon, we start walking in a golden spiral. And in that golden spiral, we finally can figure out where this sensual Tara Tara, number zero, is in the center. There’s a triangle around her, then a circle of six and a circle of nine seen from above. It forms the shape of a peace symbol. And we’re bringing that, and all of this is based on the traditional Tibetan Buddhist sadhana. So we start out with refuge and body cheetah with the crescent moon. As we’re going into the golden spiral, we’re doing the seven branch offerings, and then we begin with the praises of Tara. So first, the central Tara, the green Tara, where all the tourists come from, the concentric circles open on the side. So it’s kind of like the womb is birthing this central Tara. And the woman dancing will choreograph the five lines of the essential Tara. And when she’s done dancing, she moves back into the spiral, which begins to turn on the chant of On Duty. Today, Soha and Tara, number one, moves out swift protection, and she choreographed the four lines. So all the 21 praises have four lines, and she’s heard that choreographs in her own way how to display what the first Tara is about, born from the tier of Chen Razi. And then when she’s done dancing again, the spiral is formally turning inside. So there’s a star that moves into the center of the triangle, and that’s the next one to be birthed. And when we go through all of those 21 praises, then at the end we have offering dances you where purifying the Earth, the air, all of the elements you know again, built upon this term by Chugg, your link power terma is something that just dropped in to him in the 1800s. This sadness of Tara. And then this dance and putting the English words to it dropped into Premiere Dussehra, as she sometimes teases like me of all people, you know? And yet she’s held this vision for so long. So we’ve done those three circular dances, and then we unwind the mandala and where? Oh, yes, one of those three circles is giving its tongue when ultimately we’re taking the suffering of the world and we’re bringing that in to Tara’s fire and then bringing out Tara’s light. The first time I had heard about Tanglin, you know, giving and taking and a lot of people like, I’m not going to take in somebody’s stuff. And what I realized by doing the mandala dance was when we get to that third turning of the circle that I’ve become Tara, I am acting as if Tara. So it’s not me, Phyllis, the personality taking in the suffering of the world. I am noticing it, the personalities, noticing it and then taking it as being burned. And Tara’s life and what’s being sent out is Tara’s wisdom and compassion. And there’s things like ferocious compassion, you know, sometimes you just have to say no. And the Rathcoole deities, you know, it’s like stamping feet because it takes a lot of force to counterbalance the negative energies that are in the human condition. So we after those four circles, we unwind the mandala back to the crescent moon and then dedicate the benefit. Now on Maui, the intention that Premiere felt was if this was a dance to empower women and all our male friends on Maui, we’re like, Well, we want to dance to. So then men had the position of being the protectors, which is also part of the traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice. You always do protectors to open the space, create the space, protect the space. Just like we want to protect our home, we lock the door. We’re able to be ourselves in our own home. So the whole role of the protectors is to hold the space. What is the space doing? It’s helping to generate wisdom, compassion and the power to share that with the rest of the world.
Kind of a big question in the sense of, you know, when you first fall in love. How do you know that’s the person that you’re in love with or how did that happen? Some people write a list and then they go, Oh, they fit the list and then they open their heart. But with. The teacher I used to describe climate targets and Empeché like a tuning fork when I’m with him, I become in tune with my essence and I. Feel that that’s so important for us. But we are mostly identified with our ego, and Tibetan Buddhism is coming from a very different culture. And there was a point and I know it was my own clashes, emotional defilement that were coming up and I was kind of feeling angry with my teacher and it’s like all he did and whatever and. I realized he I was looking at his personality and all teachers have personalities, and that’s not what the practice is about . So it’s tricky to say, Oh, have peer review like, you know, we want to see the teachers of Buddha, but if you haven’t had that inner experience, then you don’t know what you’re looking for. So we attach to personality, which of course, is wonderful to have a clear, clean personality. But as we’ve seen, too much devotion mindlessly has hurt a lot of people so that the teachings couldn’t come through. So we need to have our discerning mind and also that heart of devotion. For me, I guess it was always from for something greater than me, for a wholeness that I knew already existed in me. And meeting my teacher was here. He’s an embodiment, and he could show me how to walk this path. And. Even he said that at first there’s the teacher and then there’s the teachings, and then there’s awareness and. I know I felt kind of lost after my teacher died, not fully. I still kept with my practice, but I felt like there was something drifting because I didn’t have that physical presence and in a way I felt that was him drawing me in to work with this other teacher with Sharma to more silent meditation still calm abiding, which when you work with leisure Yana, there is a lot of ritual. There’s a lot of Tibetan chanting, and that’s what I feel is bringing all of these emotional things up. But I’m the one that has to work with it. You know, so often my teacher would say and like the Buddha said, you know, it’s like you could lead a horse to water and you can’t make them drink . We are being given this banquet. How do we take it in and find nourishment and assimilate it into our lives? I think the teacher relationship is really important. And if we had a secular way of describing it, it could be learning to play an instrument. You know, first you’re playing the scales and you might get mad at the teacher like Neil. I want to be creative. And by learning those foundational practices through the teacher, at some point you will be taught creative songs and putting that together. And for some people, they go the next step, and they’re being very creative with something new. And it’s not about the teacher anymore. And I don’t want to say sound sacrilegious or anything. This is my experience and what I’ve seen from other teachers. You know, we’re born and we all have personalities. So how do we distinguish what is the teacher’s personality and what is the essence that they’re leading to?