Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Buddhist Grocery Store

Well, here we are, re-connected after our Buddhist retreat!!  After 10 days of silence, no Internet and being in a oasis of nature, we have definitely had to re-adjust to the 'quiet' and 'slow pace' (relative to the other Indian cities we have visited) of McLeod Ganj.

The burning question: Was it hard to not talk for 10 days? Yes at first.  And then not at all.  We pretty quickly got into the rhythm of meditation, breakfast, class, lunch, discussion group (we were broken up into small groups where we got to discuss what we were learning for 1 hour per day.  so that helped with being quiet the rest of the time), more class, more meditation, supper, night meditation.  Our first meditation started at 6:45am and we wrapped up for the day at 8:15pm which we were completely tired and pretty much just fell into bed.

 This was as we first arrived at Tushita.
Each of us was assigned a "Karma Yoga" job that we had to do daily.  Most of them were things like cleaning bathrooms, washing dishes, sweeping floors etc.  Alison and i however were assigned probably the best job ever; we were the Gong Ringers!  Picture us as the equivalent of the 10 Minuit warning bell that rang in between classes in high school, signalling "get to class!!".  Alison was the morning gong ringer- which meant she had to be up at 6am, parading around the grounds ringing the gong.  As you can imagine, she just loved getting up that early!!!  Her first question to the staff who provided us with our orientation to gonging was "So...can i sleep with the gong??".  She had 4 times to gong during the morning.  I took over the gonging at 1:50pm, and had 5 times to gong in the afternoon.  I really liked gonging.  The only downside is you had to keep track of what time it and always be aware of it! 
 Alison with the gong.

Here i am, with the gong.

 People knew us as the 'gong girls', which is a bit funny.

One of the first things that our teacher said to us was "You have come to the Grocery store of Buddhism.  There are many things on the shelves, but you don't have to buy everything.  Just take what concepts you find to make sense to you, are beneficial to you, or will strengthen your understanding of your own spiritual tradition and leave the rest.  But just because you don't buy everything, doesn't mean you have to throw the rest out, for others will find values in these things."

So, what did i find myself at the checkout with?  Too much to write here!! However, i will try to be concise with a few things that really struck me.

Buddhism has a very strong reverence for ALL life.  We heard many times "the most valuable thing every being possesses is it's life".  Of course it is widely accepted in our western society that killing other people is 'wrong', as is causing harm to our pets or being cruel to animals.  But i really felt like Buddhism takes this a step farther: we were asked at the beginning not to harm or kill the smallest insect while we were there.  It is very strange the attitude shift that occurs as a result.  All of a sudden you find yourself doing things like trying to rescue the ant that is crawling to its doom up the side of your mug into the boiling tea that is contained within instead of trying to squish the little pest!

During one of our meals i observed Alison with a fly and a wasp, which were hovering around her food, kind of fighting in the air.  Alison takes her a drop of her milk tea and pours it onto the table, and then -no word of a lie- looks on beaming with the pride i imagine something like what a parent feels, as the fly and wasp stopped fighting, and both drank from this milk drop.  And then I, coming across a scorpion on the path during a night walk to the washroom, instead of freaking out i just stood there, observing it, shocked with the thought that it was kind of cute in its own way (it was a very small scorpion... and i didn't get too close....)

Alison and I were not the only ones that noted this change in attitude towards small things: when we were allowed to talk, we met Scott from Scotland, who reported something similar.  He said that he had been rescuing small flies from his food (like fruit flies) and then he was so pleased when they kind of recovered from their swim in his food and flew off into the air.

Buddhism also has a huge focus on letting go: Not clutching things so tightly (or if you master this, not clutching to things at all).  Material possessions yes, but also emotions, attachment, and aversion.  Like all religions it notes that the source of true happiness is not from external things, but rather comes from within.

I appreciated the Buddhists answer to the age old question about the 'true nature' of people.  There is a strong emphasis on compassion for our selves and with others.   Buddhism says that all people are the same, all wanting to be happy and trying to avoid suffering.  And all of our actions are with this motivation.  But our actions are confused (because we have not yet developed our wisdom and compassion) which is why we sometimes do things which are self destructive or harm others. 

One other interesting thing, is the Dalai

Mindfulness: this is something that is becoming more of interest in the west.  What it involves is being completely present in the moment: not thinking about the past or getting caught up in hopes for the future, rather focusing your mind on what is happening right now.  One of the main techniques to develop this is meditation, and our 6:45 morning meditation was focused on developing mindfulness.  Our teacher said "Most people have the experience when they first start mediating that they cannot do it, often after 3 breaths their mind is already on something else.  Then they think not only can't i do this, my mind is actually WORSE since i started mediating!  My attention span is less.  What is really happening is you are becoming aware of how out of control your mind is." He referred to our mind as a "crazy monkey mind" as it is all over the place!

This is so true.  I realized how distracted i get...its pretty bad when you can't remember if you even did something like brush your teeth because it is so routine!  The present moment is really the only moment that exists, so when you are not present in it you are missing the potential and power you have to change in that moment.  Mindfulness is definitely one of the things that i am going to continue working on, although it is so challenging!!

I could go on and on.  Overall this experience was really really good, and definitely something i would recommend to anybody who is interested.  One thing that i really liked about this specific course was the combination of teaching and meditation.  There is a different center here where the focus is purely on mediation, and participants meditate for around 10 hours a day. This would have been killer for me, and i probably wouldn't have lasted.

Yesterday, when we were finally allowed to talk at our Graduation picnic, it was amazing how close we felt to these 60 other people- even though we had pretty much ever talked to each other!!  There was such a strong connection.  I think we felt closer to everybody than if we would have been allowed to talk during the course, as people tend to divide into groups and then stick with the same people.  So that was really cool.  Also it was neat the range of where people were from.  Most of us were "Westerners" but came from Israel, Canada, the US, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Hong Kong, Britain, Scotland, Singapore... from all over!!!  The background of people were also very diverse; some have quite a bit of experience with Buddhism, many others came from a wide range of other spiritual traditions.

I read a quote in a book from the library at Tushita,  Interfaith Insights,  which said "All religions are for the purpose of human happiness.  They all teach ethics and compassion and stress harmony among people.  Philosophically there are differences, and while recognizing those, we can still appreciate the similarities.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama once said he believes the real religion is compassion."  This was very much my experience.

I found coming from a Christian background that many of the concepts were complementary and actually gave me a lens to more closely examine Christian concepts that i find are worn into my mind without any definition or reason.  I think that sometimes there is a tendency for spiritual traditions to focus on their own tradition as "truth" and not see the value in others, or even more extreme try to convert everybody to their religion.  Another quote i really liked addressed this:  "The Dalai Lama does not think it good to pressure someone to follow a specific religion. 'Although your motivation may be sincere, the result may not be positive if you limit the right to choose and explore.  If we try to isolate ourselves from modernity, this is self destruction.  You have to face reality.  If you have sufficient reason to practice a religion, there is no need to fear (loosing people).  But if you have no sufficient reason, no value- then there is no need to hold onto it.'"

Anyways, here is a bit of my experience.  I will let Ali add more to what Tushita was like, and what her experience was :)

 Our Class.  Our teachers are in the second row, middle (black and blue shirt).

Love you all, and miss you!!


  1. What an incredible trip!! I just read about 8 blog posts in a row and I'm on the edge of my seat!!!

  2. What an incredible experience, Ms Gong Ringers! Love, Pat

  3. So, I guess you could say it was a "gong show"? Of course not!!!

    Glad you are learning so much and having such blessings along the way. Can't wait to see you again! Sorry you missed the Royal Park Ave. wedding party of the century!!!


  4. Tell us about Africa, already!!!!!


  5. hi, Caryn and Ali

    I thought you'd like to know that we plan to go for Indian food on Tuesday.

    ha ha ha ha I'm teasing. Thinking of you lots today....

    love you both to bits, Pat

  6. This trip sounds awesome. I can't wait to hear about Africa.

    Remember in Outdoor School, when we had our solo trip, and couldn't talk for just one day? Thinking about how many people had difficulties managing that, and transferring it over to your experience really makes it something remarkable.

    Here's to interesting times and new experiences.

    - Jen