Sunday, June 25, 2006


This morning we were awakened by banging on the door at 6:20 am. We'd heard that His Holiness was teaching in the afternoon, so this was a big surprise - it turned out that there was a morning teaching after all, and we needed to rush up to the temple to get our seats. Halfway up the hill I discovered I'd forgot my ID, so I had to come back down the hill to get it. It's uphill both ways to the teaching, so you don't get a break.

I lucked out - Sharon was here when I got back, and was about to lead a group up to the shortcut, so I followed along. She dragged us up the hill, hooked a left up a staircase I hadn't known was there, and dragged us through a maze of interconnected staircases and paths that ran between houses. It's a very ad-hoc path. There's one place where in order to avoid slipping and falling in the mud, you have to use some basic mountaineering techniques (mainly, being very careful how you transfer your balance from one foot to the other).

The path goes almost straight up the side of the mountain, finally levels off just about when you think you're going to have a heart attack, then runs along the back of some monks' dormitories, and finally dumps you down a steep road that comes out in the area in front of His Holiness' temple.

When I arrived, I found Andrea sitting on the pavilion nearly alone - apparently "come up immediately" means "in a couple of hours" here. The teachings this time have been sponsored by a group from Taiwan, so the main translation is in Chinese, and us furriners had to listen on FM radios to his Holiness' English translator, the same man you hear whenever you listen to his Holiness teaching in the United States.

Supposedly about three thousand people came for the teachings. The Diamond Mountain contingent has a space in the back off to the right, but under the pavilion. So we were surrounded by familiar faces, but quite a few unfamiliar ones too, including the nice Tibetan man who was sitting behind me. He looked like he was about eighty years old, and at a couple of points while we were waiting for His Holiness to arrive, he used me as a crutch to sit up and move around. Once His Holiness arrived he stayed where he was.

The setting for the teachings is a lovely open space, quite large. There's a temple in the middle, with lots of doors on all the walls, which are open. His Holiness sits inside, so you generally can't actually see him from the pavilion.

Outside the temple there's a walk that you can follow around it, and then lots and lots of concrete covered with reed mats, cardboard boxes, thin blankets, or whatever people thought to bring when they were setting up for the teaching. This whole area is roofed over by a pavilion, but there are skylights everywhere, so it's filled with lovely indirect sunlight. The temples are all painted yellow, so you feel like you're sitting in the middle of a buttercup.

I think many of the sponsors were seated inside the temple with His Holiness - whenever his Holiness cracked a joke, you'd hear laughing inside of the temple in time with the Chinese translator.

The space to the right of the temple is set aside for "foreigners;" the space in front of the temple for nuns and monks, and then there is more seating for the nuns and monks behind and above the temple, and also in a small temple off to the left, the Kalachakra temple.

When we arrived, it was like the beginning of a flea market, when the first vendors are arriving and setting up. About an hour in, it started to get a tiny bit crowded. People kept filing in right up until the time that his Holiness arrived, and after that as well; when he arrived, the place was mostly packed solid.

His Holiness was all over the map with his teachings in the morning - he wanted to introduce the "beginners" to the Dharma, so he talked about the Four Noble Truths first, and then taught about the actions that you need to follow as a result of these truths.

Then he talked about different levels of practitioner, and wove into that the three turnings of the wheel - first the turning which is mostly preserved in the Pali Canon, which talks predominantly about impermanence and about achieving individual freedom from suffering, then about the second and third turnings, which appear predominantly in the Sanskrit texts preserved in China and Tibet after the fall of the monasteries in India in the ninth century.

The second turning he described as being the turning about the pervasive lack of a self-nature to things; he contrasted this to the third turning of the wheel, where the Buddha emphasized the lack of a self-nature to external objects.

He want on to talk about the controversy about whether or not the teachings of the second and third turnings are authentic, and about how Master Bhavaviveka refuted the assertion that some schools make that the latter two turnings were not authentic. I would have liked it if he'd gone into more detail about this, but I don't remember him doing so, perhaps because I was drifting in and out of a light doze during this part of the teaching. I'm feeling a little bit better now, but I was really exhausted from yesterday's events, and it can be very hard to concentrate when you're that tired.

Anyway, His Holiness eventually wrapped up his gentle introduction to the deepest technical issues of the Dharma and started in on the Bodhicharyavatara. He talked about how Master Shantideva followed the system of Arya Nagarjuna in writing this teaching, covering both the "vast" and "profound" branches of the Arya Nagarjuna's teachings. "Vast" refers to the activities of bodhisattvas; "profound" to the teachings on emptiness.

His commentary got as far into the book as the statement of intention to complete it; traditionally a Dharma book starts out with a title, followed by a statement of praise, the object of which varies depending on the topic of the book. Here it was the Buddhas and their children (bodhisattvas), because this is a book about the activities of the Bodhisattva.

The third part of the beginning of a traditional Dharma book is the statement of intent, where the author explains why, even though the Buddha already taught the same thing, he is writing a book about it too, what benefit might come from the approach that the book takes to the subject, and a promise to complete the book or die trying. There are Dharma books, really good ones, that end in the middle of a sentence because the author kept at it throughout their life and was still working on it when they passed away, perhaps with pen still in hand.

Anyway, the teaching just suddenly stopped - I'm sure His Holiness made some sort of gesture, but we of course didn't see it, and then we stood up and he came out and walked by us down the stairs. He looks good; we've been concerned about his health, but he was moving nicely and very radiant.

Andrea wanted to get out and get some food, so we beat a hasty retreat. She went with Elly to have lunch near the teaching site; I went back to the hotel, which is where I am now. It was nice to have a cup of coffee, a bowl of porridge, and a pancake. I'm not sure what to do next - I guess I'll work on yesterday's journal entry. Yesterday was a very eventful day.


It's raining so hard that the road outside is a river right now, and not only can't you see the hills, you can't see very far up the street. I half-swallowed once during my shower, so I was feeling a bit paranoid - I gargled with soda water and drank a whole bottle of it, hoping the acid and no sugar would be an unpalatable environment for any little friends that might have hitched a ride in my alimentary canal. But now I'm drinking black tea and debating whether to add sugar - paranoia doesn't last forever. If I get sick tonight, I'll have a pretty good theory as to why.

One of the recurring things that's been going on for the past couple of days is that I'm trying to get a SIM card for my phone. In order to issue a SIM card here, they need proof of residency, which basically means they need someone to vouch for me. The vouching is quite formal - they need a letter that's got the official stamp of a local registered business. Plus they need a passport photo. It's quite a hassle.

Why do I need a cell phone card? I'm not sure I really do, but I wanted to call my father for his birthday, which was several days ago, and it's also nice to have a walkie-talkie - I really could have used one yesterday.

The rain has gotten heavier as I've been writing this. I'm surprised this town doesn't just wash down the hill. Of course, the one thing that seems to be *really* well-maintained here are the gutters - each street has a three-feet-deep, one- or two-foot wide cement gutter, even if the street itself isn't paved.

Andrea and I are having dinner in the hotel, partly because it's too wet to handle going outside even a short distance (sorry, dad, no email tonight) and partly because we're just enjoying the experience of cocooning here. The restaurant is quite good.


The rain got even heavier. Sheets of it are blowing by the windows. The local spirits are clearly having a big party.


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