Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, May 03, 2007


This is an excerpt from a news story. For the full story, click on the title of this post. Do you have such faith?


A Tibetan monk who was tortured for his religious beliefs shares his thoughts about compassion

Monday, April 23, 2007

Last week, as the news broke about the attacks that killed 33 people at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, I was editing this week's interview with Phagyab Rinpoche, a Tibetan lama who survived torture by Chinese officials. Amid the incessant drone of televised experts, each one loudly advocating his or her pet project or policy as the antidote for the unbelievable horror in Virginia, Rinpoche's peaceful response to the terror and violence in his own life struck a singular chord.

Born in 1966, almost 20 years after the People's Republic of China invaded Tibet, Rinpoche grew up amid the chaos of Chairman Mao's communist collectivization experiment and the Cultural Revolution. He became a monk at 12 and fled Tibet at 18 in search of an advanced monastic education. Monasteries in occupied Tibet are barred from teaching the core of the traditional monastic curriculum, which includes philosophy, debate and logic. So he made his way to Dharmsala, India, where a diaspora community has coalesced around the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled political and spiritual leader.

In 1995, the Dalai Lama asked him to return to Tibet to help revive Buddhism. He agreed to go, and as the abbot of Ashi Monastery in eastern Tibet he soon became known for his ability to perform Tantric obstacle-clearing rituals to assist individuals in their physical and emotional healing. Despite warnings from the Chinese government, Rinpoche continued these activities and was arrested, imprisoned and tortured. He escaped to New York in 2003 and was later granted full political asylum.

These days, Rinpoche maintains a seven-hour daily Tantric meditation practice and regularly teaches and performs Buddhist services in the New York metropolitan area, where he lives. At present, he is collaborating with the Helen Graham Park Foundation in Miami, Fla., a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering collaboration between the modern sciences and the world's wisdom traditions to help humanity meet the challenges of the 21st century. Rinpoche, who ran a workshop on transformation and healing in Occidental last weekend, spoke with me through an interpreter, Marina Illich. Our interview took place before the tragedy at Virginia Tech, but I later asked him to share his thoughts on how we can heal and prevent such horrors from happening again.

You grew up in a traditional nomad family based in the Nyagchu region of Kham, in eastern Tibet. Was it difficult for you to adjust to life in New York City?

When I first came to New York, the hectic and fast-paced climate was certainly a challenge for my daily practice of meditation and contemplation, but ultimately it wasn't really a problem. As long as I kept focused on my main goal, which is to help others and to be able to share what little knowledge I have, I felt relaxed.

When you arrived in the United States, you were not in good physical shape. Among other serious health conditions, you were told by doctors that your foot needed to be amputated. How are you doing now?

I had a whole series of health difficulties, starting with my foot, which was severely injured due to torture by Chinese authorities. When I first arrived, I could barely take two steps or put any pressure on my leg. I also experienced severe damage to some of my vertebrae due to tuberculosis and subsequently developed diabetes.

Now, however, I can walk [as] freely as I could before I was injured. As for the diabetes, it's pretty much cleared up, and I can tolerate sweets just fine when I choose to have a few. I'd been told I'd need to be on medication and a strict diet all of my life, but that seems to not be so now. I am tremendously relieved and thrilled!

I read that you credit meditation with helping you heal. Can you tell me about that?

I believe that the healing came as a result of the deep conviction that I have in the power of the practices that I do day after day, including meditation, visualizations and recitations. These practices were instrumental in healing the conditions I experienced.

What's an example of a particular practice?

I think the main one that helped me is the practice of tsa-lung, which refers to meditating on the subtle wind as a means to mobilize the subtle mind. Our body is made up on a subtle level of many channels through which winds run -- the three main ones running through the center of the body. And in an ordinary individual, that main channel that runs through the center of the body doesn't actually operate optimally. As long as this central channel isn't opened, it won't be able to function, which means that the two subsidiary channels on the right and left side of it also cannot do their work properly. But through practice one can actually open up the central channel, which allows the winds of the body, or "lung" [prana], to flow freely. And when this happens, one can dispel all kinds of diseases in the body, which are the result of imbalances in the winds.

When you say "wind" -- would that be the energy that flows through the body? This obviously isn't an easy concept for the average Westerner to grasp.

Yes, wind moves the body's energy and keeps it flowing. It takes years and years to master. In the 42 years of my life thus far, I have had the opportunity to spend a good 27 to 28 years honing these skills. The more one practices, the more one develops conviction in the power of these methodologies. I've been able to experience for myself how this works and how it is beneficial to the body and the mind.

As the Buddha instructed, we should always check any teachings based on our own personal experience. The more experience I have been able to gather, the more I have been able to compare that experience with what's written in the [sacred] texts and teachings. My conviction in the power of these methods has grown tremendously over the years.

You have been through some incredibly challenging times in your life. How do you move past all of that and live a life that is dedicated to love and forgiveness?

The main practices I observe are compassion, loving kindness and trying to develop the mind so that it is singularly focused on helping others. This is called the Bodhisattva vow. I also contemplate the teaching of karma, the fact that everything that happens to me that I don't like -- that I perceive as an obstacle -- is actually the result of karmic causes that I have planted in the past.

When I'm thinking about compassion, I'm thinking about how all suffering that happens to me is happening to others. We are all the same in that we have to go through such extensive hardships in this life. Then I imagine taking all of their suffering and giving back to them all the joy that there can be in the world. And so I meditate: May I take upon myself all the suffering of these beings and, as a result of that deep-seated intention, may they become completely free of all the suffering that is afflicting them. By doing that practice, I find my heart really lightens and opens up.

Some people might think that you have had enough suffering to focus on in your own life.

Everything that we experience -- all the suffering in this life and in this body -- is due to karma we have created in previous lifetimes. If we can use this life and these obstacles as a means to completely purify our minds and grow spiritually, then we get closer to the final goal, which is full enlightenment. There is no way to achieve [that goal] until we have purified all the causes of negativity inside of us.

So we have to apply ourselves with our body and our actions, with our words and our thoughts, and with our intentions. And when we do that, then we think: "These problems I'm experiencing, they are actually invaluable to me in growing, and more so if I can actually visualize taking on other people's problems. Then I'm really developing the Bodhisattva mind, which is the main goal."

Do you ever feel angry toward the people who tortured you?

[He begins to cry.] How could I have that thought, the thought of anger? The people who tortured me and hurt me, they were not acting under their own control. They were acting under the influence of a mind filled with a misunderstanding of the nature of reality.

The first thing I think about is actually how grateful I should be to these people, because in our Buddhist tradition we accept the concept of rebirth. And by that logic, everybody has been our parent at some point in this cycle of samsara, or suffering.

When I think about my parents in this life, how much love, how much gratitude do I feel towards them for all that they have done for me! By that logic, these people, these same people who are hurting me now, were the source of my sustenance in countless lives before. They nurtured and nourished me and took care of me, so actually, they were the source of such immense grace and kindness to me. And when I think about that, I can only feel gratitude in return.

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