In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe-la says "'Self' and 'other' are relative terms, rather like 'this mountain' and 'that mountain ... 'This' and 'that' therefore depend upon our point of reference. This is also true of self and other. By climbing down the mountain of self, it is possible to ascend the mountain of other, and thereby cherish others as much as we presently cherish ourself."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Update on Paul, Prayer Requests

In a development his doctors called "unusual," things are looking up for PaulA. I think we know why that is. The power of prayer!
Please keep them coming, especially tomorrow, the 29th, when we make long prayers to our Protector, Dorje Shugden.
Please dedicate not just for Paul, but also for others with cancer (for which my list is much too long but includes Cathy, Ken, Petra, and Ingrid), and everyone else who is suffering mentally as well as physically. Please don't forget to pray for those who are barely aware of their suffering, because they may be in the worst position of all.
Thank you.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Prayers for Tamara's Sister

Please pray for Tamara's sister Cathy, who was recently diagnosed with cancer and will be having surgery, hopefully next month.
Many of you know Tamara, who used to be near Seattle and now lives in paradise. She has worked very hard for the NKT in various capacities over the years and would appreciate your dedications in support of her sister.
Many thanks.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Inspiring Videos of Kadampa Buddhism in South Africa

Kadampa Buddhism is meant for everyone, as Gen-la Dekyong reminded us this year. She even suggested we check our minds to see if there isn't a thought that it as only for a certain kind of person - say, an alternative type - when Geshe-la's vision is "Everyone Welcome."

You can see how widely appealing it is by watching these lovely recent videos from South Africa on YouTube:
Where Can I Find You?
Buddhist Meditation Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa

There used to be other videos there, but I can't find them; I also tried a Google search and checking without success. I'd love to hear if you know of others.

You can see more about Kadampa Dharma in South Africa on their websites and Facebook pages:
Cape Town Tushita Center FB and Website
Johannesburg Vajrapani Center Website
Durban Mahasidda Center Website

By the way, if you're interested in this kind of news about Kadampa Buddhism, you can sign up for their occasional emails at, near the bottom of the page, just above The Learning Zone section, where it has a space for you to enter your email address then click Subscribe.

It's also very inspiring to see the worldwide map of Kadampa Centers. May it be filled with more and more of those pins indicating Temples, KMCs, Centers, Retreat Centers, Schools, and someday maybe even hospices, retirement communities, and whatever else would be beneficial.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Tranquil Retreat

"Tranquil" as in peaceful - it's not as though I got anywhere close to tranquil abiding, although there was some overall movement in that direction.
The silent Tranquil Abiding retreat in Petaluma was healthy and concentrated.
We were very well taken care of by the people at KMC San Francisco and the retreat venue, Walker Creek Ranch. (This was the first time they'd used this retreat venue, because they have to cook at their regular place and for a silent retreat they wanted a place that would do the food.)
Even though we'd never met, Sangha SusanT kindly picked us R and me up at the airport, drove us to the retreat, and when it was over, dropped us off at the Dharma house, where we'd arranged with Admin Cate to stay.
The food was delicious and nutritious, and in large quantities, which made a big difference for me because the corticosteriod Dex I'm taking makes me very hungry. They even made vegan and gluten-free dishes for us.
But when I said healthy, I wasn't just thinking primarily about the food. There was fresh air and a clean environment, and a sky full of stars at night - but there was also something that felt really healthy about the meditations, which I've never seen that way, and I wasn't focusing on a healing practice - in fact, I was trying to get rid of my body.

There were a lot of animals, from deer who were obviously used to visitors at Walker Creek and  who you could also see on the hills surrounding the site (I even saw two young bucks butting heads), to lots of bird life, including many vultures to remind me of death and a hawk to remind me of trying to soar during meditation rather than constantly flapping my wings like many of the other birds around; I like to think of myself as a baby hawk. There were the raccoons we'd been warned about who did indeed try to use their little hands to open the doors to our cabins. They raise goats and chickens, next to their large vegetable garden that they harvested to feed us.

The animal that made the biggest impression on me, however, was this cattle, who helped me generate bodhichitta, because he was just down the road from the meditation hall but was incapable of spiritual practice:

I wish I'd gotten a photo of the empty pair of slippers that appeared one day outside one of the cabins. They were like a conceptual art piece, eerily conveying the emptiness of the body.

More importantly the feeling in the gompa was very concentrated. There were almost 60 people and almost no noise. (I find it funny that I had to put in my hearing aids for the silent retreat! Without them I couldn't hear the dings that signaled the approach of the end of each session and the end. They also mask my mild tinnitus.)
You know how when you're at a big Buddhist gathering like a Festival or a Celebration, and most everyone is happy, even when it's crowded and rainy, and you get a glimpse of how powerful these teachings are and get the sense that world peace is actually possible? I had a similar sense of the collective power of our minds meditating together at the retreat. I felt swept up by the meditative concentration in the room. I realized everyone wouldn't have to immediately adopt the teachings to be affected by them. It's similar to the way we feel anxious and hurried when we're in those kinds of environments ... but the exact opposite. It was so clear how we affect each other.

It was also concentrated in that so much seemed to happen over those four short days. We started Friday evening, after dinner, with a wonderful introduction to the retreat by Gen Choma, and an hour later we were in complete silence. The schedule had five 1-hour sessions Saturday and Sunday, and I was very happy to be able to do four of them each day. Monday we did one last silent session, following by Wishfulfilling Jewel puja with tsog offering as a transition out of silence.

At the preparatory teaching months ago, we had been advised not to meditate on our chosen object for more than 30 minutes, following teachings from Ven Tharchin, the longtime Retreat Master at Tharpaland Retreat Center. At the retreat the group would do Guru Founder and Liberating Prayer with audio at the beginning of each session, and then each retreater would do their chosen prayers before meditation. Because those prayers don't take 30 minutes, I'd had to think about how to fill the time. In addition to adding a preliminary meditation to generate bodhichitta and longer pauses to receive blessings, I took the prayers at a slower pace. That turned out to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the retreat, like a scenic drive through familiar territory usually driven at a faster speed.

Some sessions were more concentrated than others, of course, especially on the Dex, but after every one I was eager to try again. It felt like playing a video game: When you lose a round, you immediately want to restart, and after much repeated effort, you occasionally advance to the next level.

Monday night we'd arranged to stay at the Dharma house, which is a short BART ride from their Center. As you may know, Saraha was the first NKT Center in the U.S., and the Dharma house was the original Center. It felt like a pilgrimage. I learned more about some of the history, including Teachers who'd served there such as Gen Losang and that Gen Choma had been their long-time Admin Director. I first knew her as a Teacher in New Bedford, MA, and had no idea she had that much karma with San Fran.

KMC SF is actively looking for a retreat place for our tradition on the West Coast, and I think Gen Choma even visited one on the way back from Walker Creek. As part of the dedication at the end of the retreat, we prayed that more retreat centers would appear all over the world. May everyone have the opportunity to enjoy this meditative experience.

There are more photos of the retreat, the Center and the Dharma house online if you're interested. Check out the old statues.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Good Results

Yesterday I got the results of my tumor-marker blood test: As with 2 of the 3 other patients in this study whose results I've heard, it dropped in half (in my case from 35.5 to 17, which is in the normal range). This treatment is working!
When you're on a clinical trial, everything is determined by the detailed protocol, which specifies a CT scan in a month. If it shows that the 4 small tumors in my abdomen are gone, and nothing new has appeared, I will officially be in remission and will no longer get the chemo drugs, but will continue with the experimental drug.
Thank you, as always, for your prayers - I know what a difference they make.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Preparing for Silent Retreat

Tomorrow R and I are headed to the Bay Area for a weekend unguided silent retreat. There are 58 retreaters signed up!
As you might expect, to prepare for it, we have been trying to improve our concentration, trying to prevent distraction. What I have been surprised at is how much I have been focusing on trying to avoid noise in the meditation room. This is a truly silent retreat - like the kind they do at Tharpaland Retreat Center in Scotland, where Geshe-la did a 3-year retreat and I had the very good fortune to do two week-long guided silent retreats with Ven Tharchin.
KMC San Francisco (!), formerly known as Saraha Center (the first NKT Center in the U.S.), has been great about helping us prepare. As you may know, silence at Tharpaland means no whispering but also no eye contact or gestures. The solitary retreaters there typically pull up their hoods (which makes sense given the weather in Scotland) and wear sunglasses (in a climate that's usually quite free of sun) when they go for walks. You have to turn in your cell phone. The only person you can communicate with if absolutely necessary is the Retreat Coordinator, who you contact in a note.

As part of the excellent introduction to the retreat that Gen Choma gave a couple of months ago,  and that they kindly recorded so that we would be able to benefit from it, she explained how to prevent any distracting sounds in the gompa. As as Tharpaland, you are taught how damaging it can be if someone is deep in meditation and there is a sudden loud sound. I heard a story of an advanced meditator whose inner winds were messed up when someone dropped a pot; he had great difficulty meditating for months. If you have to sneeze or cough, you teach yourself to make a small preliminary throat-clearing kind of sound as a warning to others. At this retreat, water bottles in the gompa are discouraged unless medically necessary. You are supposed to have memorized your sadhana so that there is no sound of ruffling pages. Newer meditators were directed to create a one-page version of their prayers. We were encouraged to notice any habits we have that might bother others, including cracking your joints (which I never used to be able to do but a few months ago, I started cracking my neck in the gompa), wearing noisy nylon clothes, foot tapping, etc. Gen Choma read a funny list of annoying things that meditators do that came from a student. One of the other things I notice I sometimes do is sighing. I have stopped whispering my prayers.

This Summer at our annual Lamrim retreat, I started working with being more physically still and have been continuing to try to train in it during other retreats. (I bought my zabuton, the bigger meditation cushion that goes underneath the cushion you put your butt directly on, from a local company called Still Sitting - a good name I think.) I was noticing that I'd scratch my face or rub my hand through my hair (another new habit, probably from the delight of having hair) -completely unnecessary distractions for me and others.

Another retreat tip I hadn't heard before is to stop listening to music a few days before starting, because you are likely to hear those sounds in your head when you're trying to focus on something more virtuous. It's more pronounced now because, in solidarity with my brother's family, whose house was inundated with water from the big storm, and as a former Joisey Girl who is a long-time fan, ("Born to Run" in the migratory sense), I have been listening to Bruce Springsteen's "My City in Ruins," which has the rousing chorus, "Come on, rise up!" My sister sent our family a video she found that had post-storm photos of my brother's beloved shore town with that as its soundtrack, and it made me cry.

As you may have noticed, there are a lot of tangents here. It gives you an idea of how my mind's working these days, because the other twist in all of this is that I am taking a drug that really helps me feel better but that revs up my mind. The last two weeks we were dogsitting my sister-in-law's terrier, so I've named it my terrier mind - like a monkey mind but worse, darting here and there, refusing to settle down and rest. This drug also affects my memory.

In addition to summarizing some of the key information about concentration and training in tranquil abiding from Joyful Path, Gen Choma's introduction also included valuable advice from someone who's obviously a dedicated meditator. She was just here in Seattle giving us the highlights from the International Fall Festival in Spain and mentioned meditation tips there too, such as noticing her hand position in meditation as an indicator of her mental state: She said when her thumbs are pressed together too tightly, her mind is pushing too hard but that when the oval of her hands starts to collapse, her concentration is flagging. I also starred her advice about how to reset yourself when your meditation isn't going well, by backing up and requesting blessings, and if you need to, going back through the prayers, all the way to refuge if needed.

Big thanks to Gen Choma, Admin Cate, EPC Michelle and Retreat Coordinator Eva, who are making it very easy for us to attend. Eva was one of my roommates at Summer Festival and first told me about the retreat. The power of Sangha again! She thought training in tranquil abiding would be a wonderful offering to our Guru in Portugal next Fall.

I am very much looking forward to the retreat, even with these handicaps. I am not planning on doing every session, expecting that I may need to rest, being content to take walks and read Dharma, just trying to create good causes for the future. There's no reason I can't continue this training on my own, and we may even request a Tranquil Abiding Retreat in Seattle.

For fun, I tell myself The Dudette Abides ... or tries to. (That's a reference to the quotable cult movie The Big Lebowski, which stars Jeff Bridges as a pothead bowler. There's a car in our neighborhood that has "The Dude Abides" bumper sticker.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NKT Video of Latest Developments

A really good summary of the latest developments: Nice photos of Special Teacher Training Program, commercial centers around the world, new retreat center on Minorca, Portugal Temple photos, Chinese edition of Modern Buddhism (already sold out!), public talks all over China, study groups in coffeeshops in China, many photos of kids at Tara school, children's books coming next month, and news of Portugal Festival with Geshe-la.

Also, the Portugal website is up and says registration opens next Feb and has an FAQ.
Hope to see you there.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Trial Update

Yesterday I got my 3rd treatment and it went well. The Principal Investigator of the study stopped by when I was getting my weekly chemo infusion that's part of the trial and told me that 2 of the 3 patients in the group that started a month before me, at half my dose of the new drug, had their tumor markers drop by half! In just 4 weeks!

But I am still under the care of my beloved oncologist. Treatments go pretty much as they always have.

I wish everyone who was sick had a doctor like my oncologist. He has decades of experience treating cancer and is one of the leading experts in Seattle. He treats everyone from VIPs to charity cases and gives every patient as much time as they need! When chemo nurses have cancer, they go to him, and I learned of him from Uma. Oh, and he does email, quickly answering the long lists of questions I send him when I am starting a new treatment. He is also happy answering them in person, but I like email for some things and check in with him to make sure I am not abusing the privilege. When test results come in late, he will call me on a Friday night because he knows I want to hear them as soon as possible. He is also a husband, father and grandfather, who his nurses tell me dotes on his granddaughter. He publishes research with an assistant. Also his beautiful photos are hung around the offices. I don't know how he does it, but in his 60s he is still a mountain climber! I think  he is an emanation.

I have to say, one difference with this trial is takes a lot of mindfulness and attention to detail. I am starting to get into the rhythm, but I had to make myself a detailed schedule and write myself notes so that I can keep track, because I take the experimental drug at home, twice a day for 3 days.

My main side effect so far has been fatigue. The first week I just felt lousy - I should have taken the optional drug my oncologist suggested, because it makes a huge difference for me, although it further complicates my drug schedule. When I take it, I don't even feel like I'm on chemo.

This coming week I am off treatment - and R and I are off to the Tranquil Abiding Retreat run by KMC San Francisco.

Thank you so much, as always, for your support.


Friday, November 2, 2012


It's all lies - everything and everyone we see is a lie.
They will all say they exist. They will insist.
They will claim they are solid, real things and beings.
It is not true. Do not believe them.

They are tall tales, all of them - whoppers of immense proportions.
Do not be taken in.

They are all false. Mistaken. Wrong.
Distortions. Dishonesty after dishonesty. Deceptions and deceit.
Fabrications, all of it.
Do not fall for it.

Sometimes, for fun, I think of the Who lyric, "Won't get fooled again." And then am immediately fooled again, taken in by appearances.

Of course, we want insight into the true nature of reality, but we really don't like being duped.

And you thought I was going to write about the election, didn't you? : )

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lessons from the Storm

We know that we can learn from everything and everyone, and the storm is such a big opportunity for spiritual learning, especially for those of us who aren't directly affect and can more easily step back to contemplate it. (One of the main reasons I write this blog is so that others can learn from my experiences without having to experience them directly for themselves. For me, having cancer has been wonderful for my spiritual practice, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone.)

This disaster reminds me of the things I take for granted. I have renewed gratitude for the living beings who provide everything I need. In particular, I have been appreciating that I can flick a switch and have light, and that the heat comes on automatically. It's been raining a lot here, but the roof keeps us dry, as does my raincoat when I go out for walks with the dog. We have a fridge and freezer and pantry full of healthy food, with more where that came from just down the street. I can get in the car, travel a smooth, safe road, and go wherever I like. All thanks to the kindness of others. That's not even mentioning all the workers who have been rescuing the stranded, looking after the injured, providing shelter for the displaced, keeping the streets safe, clearing downed trees, pumping water out of roads, tunnels and buildings, getting transportation moving again, and on and on.

Renunciation also comes quickly to mind. We often convince ourselves we are in control, but a huge storm like this reveals otherwise. It is a natural disaster - this kind of sudden disruptive event in our lives is entirely natural in samsara. Whether it is losing a job, getting sick, or dying - it happens all the time. I don't want to live in a world where such dangers could strike anyone at any time.

That feeling slides easily into compassion for all the manifest suffering created by the storm. I saw an interview on TV with a couple who had a lot of water damage to the house they had been working on themselves for years. The man described how he had laid every plank of the floor and built every wall in the house. There was a lot of sadness at the loss but also the fortitude to fix it. It did, however, make me think of an elaborate sandcastle inevitably swept away by the incoming tide. My body is like that: I can build every cell of it, over and over, but there is no ordinary way to prevent it from being eroded by the tides of aging and death.

Speaking of death, I'd like to quote from a beautifully written New York Times article titled Storm Deaths, Mystery, Fate and Bad Timing
They stepped in the wrong puddle. They walked the dog at the wrong moment. Or they did exactly what all the emergency experts instructed them to do — they huddled inside and waited for its anger to go away.
Hurricane Sandy, in the wily and savage way of natural disasters, expressed its full assortment of lethal methods as it hit the East Coast on Monday night. In its howling sweep, the authorities said the storm claimed at least 40 lives in eight states.
They were infants and adolescents, people embarking on careers and those looking back on them — the ones who paid the ultimate price of this most destructive of storms. In Franklin Township, Pa., an 8-year-old boy was crushed by a tree when he ran outside to check on his family’s calves. A woman died in Somerset County, Pa., when her car slid off a snowy road.
Most of all, it was the trees. Uprooted or cracked by the furious winds, they became weapons that flattened cars, houses and pedestrians. But also, a woman was killed by a severed power line. A man was swept by flooding waters out of his house and through the glass of a store. The power blinked off for a 75-year-old woman on a respirator, and a heart attack killed her.
And the storm left its share of mysteries. A parking lot attendant was found dead in a subterranean parking garage in TriBeCa, the precise cause unclear. The body of an unidentified woman washed up on Georgica Beach in East Hampton, on Long Island.
Some people died and no one knew, not for hours, not until the storm backed away and moved on. ...
Death is coming, one way or another; let's make the most of this precious human life while we still can.

KMC NYC After the Storm

I was happy to see on the Kadampa Meditation Center New York City's Facebook page that their Center is fine but without power. (They are in lower Manhattan, and just moved into a beautiful new space on the first floor! That location seemed perfect for making it easy for people to find them and easily stop by ... until the low elevation seemed to put them at great risk for water damage.)
Their website shows that they are planning to have a class Sunday at 1pm, and 3 classes next week on "The Wake of the Storm." I rejoice! May many New Yorkers find true refuge from the storm there. At a time like this, having the Center open is such a public service. A disaster also provides an opening for things to change, and I am praying that we will all learn more about the real face of samsara and the healing nature of peace as a result.