Good Morning Burlington!
October 25th, 2013 by Kerstin Lange
Have you ever had the experience of reading a book again years after you first read it, and finding much more in it the second time around?
Momo, by Michael Ende, is such a book for me. In fact, by now I have probably read it ten times, and I am sure there will be more. In a bookstore, you would find Momo in the children’s section, and the main character is indeed a child — a girl by the name of Momo — but I have a feeling that Ende was writing at least as much for adults as he was for children.
When I first read the book, I was about fifteen, and I didn’t really ‘get’ the story. When I picked it up again in my late twenties, I began to get an inkling. After that, I knew that Ende was on to something deep. Here’s the story in a nutshell:
Momo, the little girl, had appeared on the outskirts of a small town one day and moved into an old amphitheatre. No one in the town knew where she had came from, or why she didn’t seem to have a family. At first, some well-meaning townspeople offered to arrange for a place in a children’s home for her, but Momo cheerfully declined.
As they got to know her better, the townspeople realized that there was something special about the girl Momo. Whenever they came to visit her, it seemed as though there was nothing Momo would rather do than sit and listen to them. Several of the townspeople came to her when they felt troubled or were facing difficult situations in their lives. Talking about them to Momo – even though she said very little – always helped them sort through the confusion and difficulties, and they came away seeing things much more clearly. Somehow, the way Momo listened gave them the feeling that they were valued and important.
But one day, Momo realized that fewer and fewer of her friends were coming to visit her, and that those who still came did not come nearly as often as they used to. She wondered whether they no longer liked her, but that did not seem to be it. But the friends who came always looked worried now, and even talking to Momo did not cheer them up for long.
One of Momo’s friends, a bus driver named Guido, was still coming to visit her regularly, but he was getting worried, too. The other day, while he was waiting in the barber shop to get his hair cut, he had noticed a stern-looking man in gray talking to the barber in the next room. The man wasn’t only wearing a gray suit, everything about him seemed gray – his hair, his briefcase, even his skin. Through the slightly open door, Guido could hear how the man in gray was explaining something about a savings account to the barber. But apparently the type of account he was talking about was no ordinary savings account. Though he was speaking in a low voice, Guido could hear him asking the barber how much time he spent each day working, reading to his children, visiting his aging mother, and tending to his garden. As the barber gave estimates of how much time he spent on each of these things, the man in gray took notes in a gray notebook. With a disapproving look on his gray face, he calculated out loud for the barber how much time he could save every day by cutting his visits with the sick friend in half, buying his vegetables and flowers at the store rather than growing them himself, and giving the children DVDs to watch instead of reading books to them. Finally, he pulled some papers from his gray briefcase and asked the barber to sign them. After that, he closed his briefcase, lit a gray cigar, and quickly left the barber shop. Guido could feel a chill in the air.
At this point, the story turns into quite a whodunit. You see, the men in gray are actually trying to collect all the time for themselves that the people were saving – they are time thieves! There is a hair-raising scene where the men in gray try to catch Momo. In another scene, Momo meets the enigmatic Secundus Minutus Hora, who shows her the secret of time. It is so beautiful that it is best left for your own reading pleasure and imagination. For me, the scene offers a wonderful visualization of something the Sakyong wrote in his Letter of the Morning Sun a few years ago:
“The teachings of Shambhala attempt to bring the warrior gently but confidently back to the origin of time, where [that] primordial goodness can be rediscovered. This the Dorje Dradül called the Kalapayana. Kalapa was not only the ancient capital of Shambhala, but (…) it refers to to a journey of time where the warrior goes beyond the three times — past, present, and future — and returns to the origin of time to find basic goodness.”
I don’t know if Michael Ende had ever heard of Kalapa when he wrote Momo, but he certainly knew something about the secret of time.
June 18th, 2013 by Kerstin Lange
The following is based on Peter Fried’s talk to the One Year to Live groups earlier this month.
We need to enter wholeheartedly into the experiment of imagining that we are going to die. The idea of death implies a sort of ending and beyond that ending is nothing. Otherwise it wouldn’t be an ending. But one of the things I’ve heard is that space doesn’t die. Just imagine this building, this city, this lake and those mountains abide in space. Even though the mountains will be worn down or the building fall down, the space is going to be there.
What I’ve heard is that the love and compassion, because they are not fabricated or created through effort, are latencies, are almost like they are in the fabric of space itself.
I almost don’t want to say anything at all because I don’t want to create any kind of expectation. But what we do want to do is to cultivate confidence. Otherwise trusting the mind just becomes some pretty slogan.
If we can actually relax and open our hearts, there is a certain experience that arises when we let our guard down. A lot of our anxiety creates pushing. As that begins to relax and open, as we let go of effort, then what’s there? The basis of these teachings is that as we let go and open our heart what is there is love and compassion. Then what makes death so final and frightening might not be what it is but might be what we assume it to be.
What we are trying to do is like a dry run. We don’t know but if we have assumptions, we are saying we do know. If we don’t know what death is, then why are we frightened of it?
We have an experience of being alive, and there are certain facets of being alive that alarm us deeply. We take certain measures to make ourselves safe. In Buddhist teachings, fear and hope are essentially a skewed way of seeing things. Love and compassion are symptomatic of seeing things clearly. Suffering from the point of view of these teachings is a friction. When we create the notion of a centralized being, that’s solid and real and permanent, in a universe that is in flux, then the symptom is this suffering quality. Suffering is not inherent, not like love and compassion. Suffering is a failure to be in touch with our true nature. The path is first of all the intention and then the application of the methods that bring us into contact with the true nature. When we are in contact with the true nature, things like death and dying appear and are experienced in a different way to when we have a notion of a solid self facing termination.
It’s incredibly sad what we do to ourselves. We pollute the water in our own well for no good reason. Opening, relaxing, trusting and being are just drinking from that well. What that water tastes like is love and compassion, joy and equanimity. That is what it tastes like; it’s not something that you have to put into the water.
March 17th, 2013 by Kerstin Lange
By Charlotte Brodie
In a rare, luxurious moment of relaxing and reading Smithsonian magazine, I came upon an interview with Bernard Bailyn, an historian of North America in the 1600’s and 1700’s. Here are some comments by the interviewer that I think we, as Shambhalians, can appreciate:
“ The opening section of his new book stands out for his profoundly sensitive appreciation of the sensibility of the original inhabitants whom he introduces simply as ‘Americans’ rather than ‘Native Americans.’
He captures that sensibility as well as any attempt I’ve read: ‘Their world was multitudinous, densely populated by active, sentient and sensitive spirits, spirits with consciences, memories and purposes, that surround them, instructed them, impinged on their lives at every turn. No less real for being invisible… the whole of life was a spiritual enterprise… the universe in all its movements and animations and nature was suffused with spiritual potency.’
In person, Bailyn expresses an almost poetic admiration for this sort of spirituality.
‘All the world is alive! The mountains are alive!’ ”
What a beautiful expression of sacred world.
December 17th, 2012 by Kerstin Lange
“If you’ve never eaten while crying you don’t know what life tastes like.”
As I was gathering my thoughts to write Christmas cards over the weekend, I came across this quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German poet. Somehow it seemed to fit with the news about the elementary school shootings in Connecticut. The dreadfulness of what happened made food seem quite irrelevant. And still, we need to eat – at least if we want to stay alive and functioning.
I also found this quote by Goethe:
“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
For whatever reasons, drawing on music, poetry, or art was apparently something the attacker at that school in Connecticut could not do. And this, it seems, is also the beginning of much other misery – that we humans so easily forget our place in the world, as part of all that is beautiful. So often I find myself saved from frustration, or just from everyday discouragement, by beauty – a piece of music, a poem, a beautiful picture. At these times I can see again that what sometimes makes me feel cut off from the rest of the human family is not a concrete wall, but a thin veil. Most of us at some point or another feel abandoned, lost, powerless, or attacked. Fortunately, most of us don’t feel this way all the time, or even most of the time. Fortunately, at times when we do feel that way, most of us can still remember some basic rules of civilized society, so that we don’t turn our frustration and anxiety on others.
Still, the line between these two ways of being is not as clearly defined as one might wish. Indeed, turning my frustration and anxiety on others is exactly what I do, albeit in a more limited way, when I hit back verbally at someone who upsets or criticizes me, even when the other person intended no negative message or is clearly more preoccupied with themselves than with me. And exactly that might be the kind of moment where I could remember that we each project our own movie about what is going on, and that the other person is just expressing their version of reality, rather than attacking us. To actually remember that is where music, art, and poetry come in – by helping us out of our temporary confusion and letting us feel ourselves as part of a greater whole. Even when a beautiful picture, a poem, or a piece of music is not within easy reach, we can to call to mind one that has touched us in the past – or say something kind and encouraging, to ourselves or the other person. Perhaps this is what Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has in mind when he tells us that enlightened society is built one conversation at a time.
November 30th, 2012 by Kerstin Lange
In November 2012, Burlington Shambhala Center members donated 21 food bags (and counting!) to JUMP (Joint Urban Ministry Project). As one of the 27 participating faith communities, BSC supports the mission of JUMP in providing emergency assistance to our most vulnerable neighbors. In 2011 alone, members of BSC donated over $1000 worth of shampoo and other toiletries.
Sangha member Patti Lanich volunteers at the JUMP drop in center on Saturdays. If YOU would like to become a JUMP volunteer you can talk with Patti (238-8771or firstname.lastname@example.org) or with Carol Snow (425-4123 or email@example.com).
November 4th, 2012 by Kerstin Lange
Enjoy some photos from the festivities last Friday evening, when Acharya Michael Greenleaf administered oaths to Richard Does as our new Center Director, Myra Woodruff as Shastri, and Tracy Suchocki as Director of Practice and Education. Peter Fried took his retirement oath as Center Director and Myra Woodruff hers as Director of Practice and Education. The reception that followed gave us a chance to express our deep gratitude for all the time and good work these folks are giving to the Center and to the vision of enlightened society. Thanks also to Geri Amori for coordinating the event!
May 16th, 2012 by Kerstin Lange
“For the Himalayan Buddhist, the stupa represents a living embodiment of dharmakaya, the ‘body of the doctrine’. Rather than seeing the stupa as a mere memorial or a symbolic vehicle, the Himalayan believer invests the stupa with the capacity to spur the observer towards nirvana simply by seeing or contemplating it.”
- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
By Melinda Haselton
I was excited to learn that this Sunday from 1:00 – 2:30 we are getting together as a sangha to roll mantras that will be placed inside the Stupa that Conquers All Directions at Karme Choling. This is of significance to me because when I was in college in 2003, I wrote my senior thesis on stupas. I spent a semester abroad in Nepal where I studied stupas in the Solu Khumbu region. The following summer I went to Shambhala Mountain Center and did research for Harvard University’s Pluralism Project on the Great Stupa of Dharamakaya.
Stupas existed before the Buddha’s time, but they became an integral part of Buddhism after his death. Before the Buddha died, he instructed his students to divide his ashes up and take them to the holy places where major events in his life took place. He told them to build a mound over the ashes so his students could go there to remember him and his teachings.
Over time, these small mounds evolved into elaborate constructions. As Buddhism spread throughout Asia, stupas were built wherever it went. Each culture adopted the stupa with its own unique style, so stupas’ designs vary tremendously.
Wherever they are built they carry the same meaning and purpose. They serve as a reliquary of the Buddha or other important teachers. They stand as a monument of peace, compassion and wisdom.
When they are built, the location is chosen carefully by high teachers and the design, like a mandala, is very precise. At the center of the stupa is a the life force pole. It is a central metaphysical axis that is said to connect heaven and earth. The central pole is like a magnet, attracting community and radiating positive forces. In addition, stupas are often filled with holy scriptures, prayers and relics adding an enormous amount of energy to the spiritually potent structure.
The way that Buddhists typically use stupas is by circumambulating them clockwise. The people I observed in Nepal chanted as they walked. They told me that it was a good time to pray for all beings to be free from suffering. They said it was very important to have pure thoughts while in the presence of a stupa. Because of its magnetizing qualities, it is thought that aspirations made while circling the stupa are very potent.
What I discovered in my research in Nepal is that the primary concern for many older Sherpas was to accumulate merit to ensure a good rebirth. Many hours were spent each day circumambulating and praying. According to Sang-ngag Rinpoche, ‘If one participates in a stupa’s construction and ritual activities, or honors the completed stupa with an altruistic resolve to benefit all beings, then the blessings are such that the Buddha himself could not describe.’ Because of the precise construction and sacred contents, the stupa evokes an awakened, compassionate mind in those who build it, circumambulate it and even simply look at it.
One of the things I was struck by when I did my research at Shambhala Mountain center was the sense of community people experienced by volunteering to help build the Great Stupa of Dharamkaya. Each person who picked up a paint brush or a hammer or donated money to its construction poured their altruistic energy into the creation of the stupa. Likewise, we have that opportunity with the Stupa that Conquers All Directions at Karme Choling. We can each share our aspirations and place them in this magnetizing structure so that they are radiated throughout the land and the world.
Like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said, some believe that the stupa has the “capacity to spur the observer towards nirvana simply by seeing or contemplating it.” I for one am so excited to have one of these incredible monuments in VT. It is further indication that the dharma is flourishing and available to all.
November 3rd, 2011 by Kerstin Lange
By Marianne Ward
“I believe that the purpose of our life is to seek happiness”, so states the Dalai Lama in ‘The Art of Happiness.’
Fittingly, on October 9th, a handful of people had the pleasure of welcoming John deGraaf and Laura Musikanski to the Center to hear them present on Gross National Happiness (GNH) – translation: wellbeing.
John is Executive Director of Take Back Your Time and Outreach and Communications Director of The Happiness Initiative. He has produced more than fifteen national PBS documentaries, and is the co-author of ‘Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic‘ as well as the forthcoming ‘What’s the Economy for Anyway’?
Laura Musikanski is the Executive Director of Sustainable Seattle and the Director of The Happiness Initiative.
We learned that GNH originated in Bhutan. In 1972 when the newly appointed 16-year old king was asked what he would do to increase Bhutan’s Gross National Product (GNP), he replied, “Gross National Happiness (GNH) is more important than Gross National Product”. GNH, he said, would be the goal of his reign.
And so, in time, Bhutan began to measure nine domains that affect happiness:
• Psychological wellbeing or mental health
• Physical health
• Time or work-life balance
• Cultural vitality and expression
• Social connection and relationships
• Environmental quality and access to nature
• Quality of governance
• Material wellbeing
The United Nations, too, has called on all governments to make “the pursuit of happiness” their goal and find ways to measure it.
Wellbeing is clearly so much more than the economic health of a country and cannot be measured by the GNP. War, environmental disasters, a mass influx of money into elections, and the high cost of products all increase GNP.
Yet, with the incessant daily news reports on the Gross National Product one could easily conclude that Americans are valued solely for their contribution to the economy – be it as workers, consumers, inventors, or job creating entrepreneurs.
GNH, as stated on its website, is based on the premise that the calculation of ‘wealth’ should include the preservation of the environment and quality of life issues. The goal of a society should be the integration of material development with psychological, cultural and spiritual considerations – all in harmony with the Earth.
GNH USA, based in Vermont, kicked off the movement here in the US last year with a conference in Burlington which included speakers and delegates from seven countries, including Bhutan, and 17 states and provinces.
More exciting things are to come; another conference is in the planning…stay tuned!
October 15th, 2011 by Kerstin Lange
By Jane Kramer
As a long time member of our Shambhala sangha, I invite you to take a look at the array of films showing this year at the Vermont International Film Festival in Burlington October 21st – 30th.
Of special interest to sangha members is the film “My Reincarnation”, showing the complex relationship between exiled Tibetan spiritual master Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche and his Italian-born son Yeshi.
Other topics include examples of Egyptian cinema, Cuban and Israeli-Palestinian films, animations, films about food, and a Vermont filmmakers showcase.
“A Little House in a Big House” takes us inside the Vermont Women’s prison where 45 women build a single family home from start to finish.
Anyway, check out the website for complete descriptions and times of the films.
See you at the cinema!
October 7th, 2011 by Kerstin Lange
By Carol Snow, Toni Messuri, and Patti Lanich
In our efforts for continued outreach, the Burlington Shambhala Center Team did an amazing job raising funds (and friends) for JUMP on Saturday September 24. What a wonderful way to begin our weekend celebration of the Shambhala Lineage! Our team of 7 took second place for “team fundraising” with a grand total of $934! Some of us were walkers and two intrepid warriors ran. The day was rainy and spirits were high. The total raised for JUMP was over $15,000. Many blessings!
Let’s continue our outreach practices as we all continue to raise our gaze and look beyond to parts of our city that desperately need attention. We don’t have to look too far to witness the suffering in our own home town.
Below are some examples of where the money we raised for JUMP will go:
$5 buys a load of clean laundry. Many JUMP clients without homes are camping and the flooding and rain have been especially brutal this year on these folks.
$10 buys a bus pass for a JUMP client to get around for job interviews
OR a grocery voucher to buy milk for a big family when they run out of food money at the end of the month.
$20 buys some gas for a single Dad to get back and forth to see his kids who are living out of town
OR for a veteran who needs to drive to the VA Hospital in White River.
$440 funds a whole day of JUMP where, each weekday, we help 11 clients and their families with needs similar to those above.
We thank you for your continued efforts.
Toni and Carol