I was thinking of our big temple in Ulverston, England, for example, the original temple for world peace based on the mandala of Heruka. This seems to have a very clear structure, with pillars and chairs in rows, ordained at the front and lay at the back, orderly rules for behavior, and even security. However, it’s also clear that this temple is the home of the Dakinis — they’re everywhere. If you look up at the walls, you will see that they have escaped from the glassed-in shrine cabinet and are flying around the room 😉
The Heroes and Dakinis who are the emanations of Heruka and Vajrayogini pervade everywhere throughout this world, and people receive their blessings and special care.
Relating to the unobstructed power and blessings of the Dakinis and Dakas, what is it and where does it come from? Bliss and emptiness — ecstatic compassion and non-dual wisdom. Not super reality, just reality.
Remembering them and how they have our back gives us immense freedom, an immense feeling of flight. We can think, I am a Space Goer. Or a Sky Dancer. As mentioned earlier, that is the meaning of “khandro”, the Tibetan word for Dakini.
I have noticed that the Dakinis always laugh when I take myself or anyone else too seriously. We can get wrapped up with appearances, even or especially if they seem to be virtuous — and this can make us rigid and/or judgmental of ourself and others. If we begin to feel heavy, even a little, then we need to remember our Dakini nature, remember who we really are at heart. Wild, that is untamed by ordinary conceptions, and compassionately blissful.
The still point of the turning world
I’ve always loved this quote by TS Eliot:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is.
In the sphere of emptiness anything is possible. Everything is a momentary manifestation of the emptiness of our blissful clear light mind, like a pure dream, a pure dance. Our Spiritual Guide and the Sky Dancers will give us everything we ever wanted, providing from our side we are doing the daily work of loving all beings and overcoming self-grasping and hallucinations. That’s the deal.
“Don’t squeeze me!”, a lover once told me, because, as it turned out, he had a broken rib. Like a moth enjoying a flame without feeling the need to fly right into it, we can learn to blissfully enjoy the mere appearance of everything providing we give up the grasping.
Our Spiritual Guide and Dakinis will take us wherever we want to go, so where exactly is that?!
What is the deepest compassion?
Another name for Dakini is “khachö”, which literally means “space (or sky) enjoyer”! (Same “chö” as in Buddha’s Enjoyment Body (chö ku) for those of you interested in etymology or impressing people at parties.) Dakinis and Dakas are always enjoying themselves. That is surely what we want for ourselves and everyone?
I have noticed in the past some survivors’ guilt, “How can I aim at being all happy and cheerful inside when so many people are suffering so grievously?” But I’ve come to see that I don’t need to be drowning as well in order to commiserate with others who are drowning – no, it’s better to be happy, it’s ok to be blissful, and that joy is meaningful. The best, or in fact only, place from which to help pull people out of the wretched ocean of samsara is the dry land of reality; and reality IS bliss and emptiness.
What is real compassion, what do we really want for everyone? If your Spiritual Guide, for example, only wanted you to be free from this headache or from this financial quandary, would that be enough for you? I doubt it. He is our Spiritual Guide because he wants us to be free from ALL delusions and mistaken appearances, in other words to be free from suffering and experience the reality of enlightenment day and night. I think we have to want that for everyone. That seems to be real love and compassion.
Jewel in the box
Je Tsongkhapa revitalized the organization and moral discipline of the spiritual communities of Tibet. And he did this not to create an assembly of goody two shoes just for its own sake, let alone an organization of uptight practitioners; but in order to help everyone everywhere realize their outer, inner, and secret natures, ie, get enlightened. Venerable Geshe Kelsang has been doing exactly the same since he arrived in the West in 1977.
If we get caught up in the appearances of our organization such that we become institutionalized, I think we run the danger of losing the plot. To me that would be like having a jewel box without a jewel inside it. What is the jewel of our tradition? Bliss and emptiness, enlightenment. This lies at the heart of our tradition and is our common destination. So, if we want to fly in the sky, we don’t repress that feeling, believing that we are not ready for it or that it is somehow dangerous.
In that meeting with my teacher, he also talked about the importance of women practitioners and Dakinis – and then he transformed into a Dakini and walked around the room. On the surface he is a pure, kind, reliable Buddhist monk. Inside he is always motivated by universal love and compassion. And deep down, who is he secretly?!
So, Dakinis are trying to get us up into the sky, we just have to go with it. If you’re ever feeling a bit squished, a bit rigid or repressed, worrying what other people are thinking of you, for example, don’t be. Or if you’re pushing, stop. If you have a chip on your shoulder, stop. All those worldly concerns, let go of them. That’s not what our tradition is about. If you ask me, anyway.
Instead, we need to remember our outer, inner, and secret natures: we need to be outwardly ethically kind and a relatable, trustworthy example, inwardly deeply loving, and secretly FREE.
If we practice like this, we will be receiving joyful blessings day and night – and blessings lift our mind and help us see that everything is in fact ok. Even delusions and mistaken appearances are ok because they are not really there, and therefore we will overcome them. Whenever they arise, they are helpfully reminding us that they are there to be dissolved away, like mist in the sunshine of wisdom and compassion.
We talk about “the precious celestial mansion as extensive as the three thousand worlds” – and I believe that this is what we are doing with the New Kadampa Tradition. We are building Heruka and Vajrayogini’s powerfully blessed mandala everywhere, for everyone; and the Dakas and Dakinis are simply longing to help us.
I wrote this article several years ago … the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) has probably tripled in size and impact since then 🙂 I’ve added some things to update it, including a beautiful video. There are lots of great comments on this article, and I’d love you to share your own.
Today I asked the question on Facebook “What, if anything, does NKT day mean to you?”
A lot of you reading this have never heard of NKT Day, so it means absolutely nothing to you 😉 If the rest of you are anything like me, you might give it no thought until the actual day is upon us, unless you’re in charge of organizing events around it.
But it is a day that people who like Kadampa Buddhism celebrate on the first Saturday of every April, and is in its own way as important as Easter or Christmas is to Christians. I like celebrating holy days, even those in other traditions (the more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned – “holiday” after all means “vacation” in British English.) So I thought it might be good to do an article on what it is people are actually celebrating this Saturday, with input from Facebook friends and others.
Forty years of kindness
Since I wrote this, this wonderful video has also appeared to mark the 40 years that Venerable Geshe-la has now been working for us, and it includes information on many aspects of his life that I have not been able to even touch upon in this short article:
In brief, NKT day commemorates the founding of the New Kadampa Tradition ~ International Kadampa Buddhist Union by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in 1991. Kadampa Centers worldwide hold all sorts of enjoyable celebratory events.
The centers, the 22 genius books, and so on all originate from the kindness and skill of this physically tiny but spiritually gargantuan man who arrived in the West 40 years ago with nothing except his robes, his rosary, and two texts.
Through his profound experiences of Buddha’s teachings, his powerful wish to help, and the blessing and permission of his teacher, Trijang Rinpoche, Geshe Kelsang has created something truly epic. The Kadampa Buddhist tradition was close to extinction in Tibet, and through his (and others’) efforts there are now over a thousand centers in the West, and some thriving monasteries in the east.
Kadampa Buddhism is also known as “modern Buddhism” because it is a new presentation of all of Buddha’s teachings that is entirely authentic — leaving nothing out and adding nothing — yet practical and accessible for people all over the modern world.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books
Why is it that these books are so effective? Why has Modern Buddhism been downloaded so many times, for example? Why have millions of people now read his books? Here are just a few of my ideas on that.
These teachings come from someone who, you quickly figure out, has complete experience of what he’s talking about. All of them are based on a 2500 year old tradition that has been tried and tested by many generations of meditators, including him. They are not just someone’s new idea.
Geshe Kelsang is an expert. He has consistently been discovering better and better ways to introduce the entire teachings of Buddha to a worldwide audience without diluting them down, and I think it is fair to say that it has never been done on this scale before. (The NKT is supposedly the fastest growing Buddhist organization.) I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time so I could help prepare a lot of these books, so I’ve read them all many times. But I still find new and spine-tingling insights in them whenever I pick them up to read them again.
Geshe Kelsang is happy. I think it is very rare to find someone so happy, or to find a book written by someone who’s always happy. Other books can do a lot for us, but not necessarily make us so happy.
The books cover the entire array of Buddhist teachings and practices, from A to Z. Some of them are like thick text books, containing extremely detailed investigations on, say, Buddha’s teachings on ultimate truth or the profound creative practices contained within the Highest Yoga Tantra teachings. Geshe Kelsang has explained absolutely everything with a clarity, skill and practicality that I can barely fathom. And he has done this all in our own language(s).
Geshe Kelsang has managed to explain vast and profound topics in increasingly accessible books, one of the latest being Modern Buddhism. This manages to contain every single meaning of Sutra and Tantra within its 400+ pages without it becoming incomprehensible, in fact quite the opposite. It is so rich, and yet so simple at the same time. No one could pull this off unless they had direct experience of all the subject matter combined with a skill formidable enough to be able to relate it to a new audience. And Geshe-la is offering this book for free to everyone in this world who wants it.
If I physically teach, a few thousand people will benefit, but if I write my teachings, millions of people will benefit for all time.
I could go on and on about the books. Don’t get me started. In truth, I cannot imagine my life without them.
NKT study and meditation programs
Based on the books, Geshe Kelsang has arranged three study and meditation programs that are proving to be a very effective way for people to take Buddha’s teachings to heart and make continual, steady progress. He has laid the foundations for modern-day Buddhist practice on whichever level people choose to participate, and without contradicting their culture or politics — from northern Europe to Kwa-Zulu Natal. Based on these programs, the NKT has been able to establish thousands upon thousands of centers and groups of students worldwide in response to demand.
Temples and Centers
There are beautiful temples for world peace going up all over the world, including at the International Kadampa Retreat Center near the Grand Canyon in Arizona, where the ground has just been broken. At these temples, the teachings are available and prayers for world peace are being offered up all the time. And prayers work.
When I started out in 1981, Buddhist Centers were always out in the sticks, not obvious, and self-contained like the monasteries of Tibet. Now the commercial spaces being created all over the world are very much a public service, part of the fabric of modern life, found in the middle of cities everywhere, open and accessible to all the people walking by. People show up to relax at a lunchtime breathing meditation, and find themselves with access to an entire path to enlightenment. These centers remind me of portals to a better world.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s background
Just the briefest potted history for now… Geshe-la (as he is affectionately known) was born in 1931, auspiciously or suspiciously enough on Dharmachakra Day, or Buddha’s Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day. He entered the monastery aged 8 and, according to accounts by his classmates, was a very kind child who also spent a lot of time meditating on the stages of the path to enlightenment (Lamrim), even meditating through the night on many occasions. He studied and meditated on all Buddha’s teachings.
In 1959 the Chinese invaded Tibet and he fled to India with nothing but his robes and a couple of texts, but he apparently stayed happy, transforming adverse conditions into the spiritual path. He entered deep meditative retreat for 18 years until his teacher, the great Trijang Rinpoche, asked him to teach in the West. So he came to Manjushri Institute in 1977.
When he was flying over the sprawl of greater London he asked his translator: “How many people are down there?!” When the answer came back “about ten million,” he replied in surprise, “There are only five million people in Tibet!” And it looks like he is trying to help them all and more — I and many others are a product of that.
Geshe Kelsang has helped bring Buddhism into the modern world stripped of its cultural overlay and separated from politics. He learnt English as quickly as he could, discreetly got British citizenship so he was free to do what he wanted, and started to help people through his teachings, books, example, and personal advice. To begin with, his audience was small – we could all fit comfortably in the so-called North Wing gompa of Manjushri Centre. Now, of course, it is rather large. In Portugal next year, I have no idea how everyone is going to fit. (Update: Over 7,000 received teachings and empowerments in Portugal, many saying that it was the most magical time of their lives.)
Geshe Kelsang from Day One has trained equally four types of teacher – lay, ordained, male, female – in a radical departure from the male- and monk-centric way things were done in Tibet. As you may know, the current General Spiritual Director of the NKT is a nun. So, in fact, is one of the retired Deputy Spiritual Directors. The tradition is run by women! Generations of monks are turning in their graves…
When I got interested in the early 1980s, I thought it was a bit of a stretch when Geshe-la asked me to begin teaching a branch in Bath, South England, considering we were based in Yorkshire (and was foolish enough to tell him so) – but luckily my own complete lack of vision did not make a jot of difference. Down to Bath I went each week, and branches were started all over England in response to requests. Nowadays Geshe Kelsang is bringing Buddhism to the entire world – the corpus of all Buddha’s teachings are being translated into many different languages, and, because Geshe Kelsang has emphasized the training of qualified modern teachers, this looks set to continue.
As someone (whose name I have misplaced) put it a few years ago:
“The real genius is for someone steeped in the Buddhist tradition that arose in a completely different culture and time to be able to translate that perfectly so that it is accessible to those raised in a completely different culture, a modern culture. And to do this without in any way diluting it or losing its profundity and lineage. That’s the genius. And I think we can say that Geshe-la has pulled it off rather masterfully.”
Why does everyone call him “Geshe-la”?
Kadampas regularly refer to Geshe Kelsang as “Geshe-la.” This is like an informal title, or a term of endearment. “Geshe” is short for the Tibetan Ge way shey nyen, which literally means “spiritual friend,” and “la” denotes affection or respect.
Kadampa Buddhism in South Africa
The Founder of Buddhism in our world, Buddha Shakyamuni, appeared at a time of upheaval in India (eg, a migration from the countryside into the cities), when he could bring in his radical ideas and they could take root. To my mind, Ven Geshe-la has appeared in our world at another time of upheaval, just in time to catch the wave of globalization (including the internet) so that he can spread modern Buddhism not just in India, not just in Tibet (as his predecessor Je Tsongkhapa did), but throughout the entire planet.
As mentioned, there are now centers in over 40 countries and Temples for world peace going up everywhere, including Texas, and you can’t get much further West than that. Buddhism’s transcendent understanding of reality — its far-reaching, devastating, yet utterly do-able wisdom and compassion — is more needed than ever. Modern Buddhism is an idea whose time has come.
Meanwhile back East …
Since I first wrote this article, The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra in Tibetan was written in response to repeated requests over many years by Tibetan Lamas, who respect Geshe-la as the main holder of the Mahamudra lineage transmitted by Trijang Dorjechang (Ven Geshe-la’s Guru, and the Guru of all the greatest Lamas in Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition of the last century).
Hundreds of monasteries and centers in Je Tsongkhapa’s Kadampa Tradition are now flourishing because Geshe Kelsang stood up for these practitioners at their time of greatest need, empowering them to wrest themselves and their religion away from Tibetan politics. These Centers are not part of the New Kadampa Tradition as they follow Tibetan cultural traditions (though not politics), but they are our spiritual brothers and sisters. Geshe Kelsang is now revered in India, Nepal, and Tibet, his picture can be seen everywhere, his teachings studied widely.
Why Kadampa Buddhism is modern Buddhism, not Tibetan Buddhism
What people are saying on Facebook so far in response to the question above
From my point of view, NKT is a representation of Geshe-la’s kindness to present Buddha’s teachings to our modern world. His teachings captivate the western audience and encourage us to finally put Buddha’s teachings into practice. ~ Geronimo Esparza-Dykstra
NKT is a buffet of small bites that allow me to fill my life to capacity with digestible portions of wisdom catered to the Western world. ~ Toby Tullis
Yes, a MUCH happier mind thanks to Geshe-la. Buddha was right, pass it on! ~ Sara Pitt
Well, NKT has meant to me a much calmer mind to allow me to be who I truly am. ~ Rita Marie Loy
It means balance. ~ Gail Dyson
The practice of universal love for all living beings (seen and unseen). ~ Brenda McI
NKT Day means a celebration of the path towards mental freedom and more compassion in the world, one heart at a time! ~ Ike Lichtenstein
To celebrate our good fortune of having such a wonderful tradition and web of kindness. Thanks Geshe-la! ~ Kelsang Chokyi
As time goes by the meaning goes deeper and is less easy to express in words. I’ve always liked the idea though… as I learn to relax and be natural, how more & more the warmth of my Guru’s blessings seep in, and slowly each one of the 1,000 petals of the lotus of my heart start to open. ~ Kelsang Lekpa
Wisdom and compassion. ~ Francesca Gallo
Appreciation for these wonderful teachings, teachers and Sangha… off and online. ~ Bill Purchase
NKT: giving Westerners a rare access point to the precious Buddhadharma since 1991. ~ Thomas Ythan Jones
I think NKT Day is like King Yeshe O day. It reminds me of the effort and sacrifice made by Geshe-la and many others to keep pure Buddhadharma alive in the world. ~ Sally Carter
Every day is NKT day for me. Every day I thank Geshe-la and request him to keep me in his service for as long as space exists. ~ Hank Ford
Geshe Kelsang’s life and deeds are a powerful example of how tremendous the effect even just one person’s pure practice can have.
I live in a small town in the UK that has very little culture or religious diversity. There is a beautiful New Kadampa Tradition centre in the town with 2 shrine rooms. Other than this there is no sign of Buddhism or Buddha’s teachings nearby, so I feel very grateful for Geshe Kelsang’s hard work in spreading Dharma in so many places in this modern world. Without his efforts there would be no Dharma in this area.
Geshe Kelsang must have gone through a lot of difficulties in the beginning when he first arrived in the western world. It was a completely different environment for him, the weather, the food, the culture, the language etc. Despite the difficulties he faced, he managed to spread the Dharma so far and wide.
NKT have grown from strength to strength and become so much of an inspiration for so many other centres around the world. My own Lama and center refers often to the works of Geshe-la and use his books as study materials. So it’s not just the people who are his direct students from NKT. I hope people know that it is also many other Buddhists around the world, like my own little Sangha, who are benefitting from his teachings and compassion.
Here’s another tribute I found to Geshe Kelsang, a brief sketch of some of his life and deeds so far.
Your turn: There is plenty more where all this came from, and please add to the comments. What, if anything, does NKT Day mean to you?
My teacher, Geshe Kelsang, started a tradition of Festivals and Celebrations in the New Kadampa Tradition many years ago, calling them “spiritual vacations”, and explaining their contribution in keeping the New Kadampa Tradition community and tradition strong. The Summer Festival — held at the mother ship Manjushri Centre in the first Kadampa Temple for World Peace — is two weeks long and attracts the most visitors from all around the world. I think of it as the equivalent of the Great Prayer Festival (“Monlam Festival”) founded in 1409 by Je Tsongkhapa in Tibet, also two weeks long and comprising teachings, meditations, inspiring company and other good stuff.
Although Geshe Kelsang did not teach at this year’s Festival (he will with any luck teach in Portugal in 2013), the show went on! And this year there has been a very nice new development – blog articles written from the unique perspectives of Festival goers from all over the world, some new to Festivals, some old hands. I’ve enjoyed reading these because they contain some real gems and show that Kadampa Buddhism can be and is being practiced by a large diversity of modern-day people at all levels and for all sorts of reasons. For reasons explained on this page, Where are the Kadampas?, I reckon the more bloggers the merrier 🙂
Just to add to the mix, here is an article of my own that I wrote about Festivals some years ago. Of course this Summer Festival is almost over, but not to worry if you missed it, there will be more than enough Festivals, courses and retreats all over the world in the years to come. Pick your vacation spot — there will probably be a Festival there sooner or later 😉
Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that many of these benefits of a Festival apply to any meditation retreat we might do, even on our own. People always seem to love it when they can take a day or two, or a week, or even longer to recharge their spiritual batteries by focusing on meditation and reading. That is why it is called reTREAT!
Here is the original article:
Why go to a Festival?
Anyone whose life is full of irritations, stress, and pain, whether physical or mental, needs a vacation from time to time. Just getting away from the usual routine and surroundings alleviates stress, promotes relaxation, and gives us some mental space with which to establish more positive attitudes.
However, thinking about it, what do we have now to show for our last vacation, other than a few souvenirs, a depleted bank account and a fading tan?! It seems, unfortunately, that the effects are almost always pretty fleeting. The temporary escape ends, but the same problems still seem to be there waiting for us when we get home to our unmowed lawn and back to work. What has changed? Have we come up with new behavioral strategies or spiritual insights, or are we thinking and feeling the same old things? How much impact has our investment of time and energy actually had? If it is back to business as usual, we are in danger of becoming so reinvolved with the details and hectic busyness of everyday living that we forget the deeper meaning and experiences of life.
That is why Festivals are so welcome – because they give us our well-earned break, but they also set us up for months, years, even lifetimes to come. This is because a Festival is designed to be a “meaningful vacation” or a “spiritual vacation”. It represents a chance to go to an exciting new place and to relax and unwind, for sure, but it is also far more satisfying and productive than being a passive sightseer. It gives us the opportunity to find a deep and lasting mental peace by working on our minds, which is the essence of the Buddhist way of life. It gives us more knowledge and skills to deal with our problems in the present, as soon as we get back to work and home. We learn to live life in a more comfortable, healthy and meaningful manner. It provides long-lasting spiritual benefits and blessings that continue long after the vacation is over.
Last but not least, during a Festival we can make friends with inspiring people from all round the world who can provide us with support and encouragement. (Update to this article 2011: Then we can continue to meet up with them the rest of the year on Facebook… 😉
Update: This latest one, just in, is my personal favorite:
“I wished to have the stabilisers off my bike and Tubchen wished for everyone to be happy. And then we took Tsog back to Mummy and had a midnight feast. I felt grown up.”
Also just in, the co-director of The Life of Buddha, Julie, gives some fascinating insights into acting and directing and its relationship with practicing Dharma. (For more on Kisogatami’s moving story, see the death article, Preparing for Something?)