Lighting a Lamp in the White House for Peace and Healing

Lighting a Lamp in the White House for Peace and Healing

May 26, 2021

For the first time in the US history, the celebration of Vesak — the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of the Buddha — was held in the White House.

The event was coordinated by Wangmo Dixey, President of the International Buddhist Association of America through the good offices of Shekar Narasimhan, President of the Dharma Into Action Foundation. Lamps were lit and prayers offered by the Most Venerable Uparatana (Sri Lankan/American) on behalf of the Theravada tradition; Rev. Marvin Harada (Japanese/ American) on behalf of the Mahayana tradition and Venerable Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche (Tibetan/American) on behalf of the Vajrayana tradition. 

An official statement has also been released by President Biden:

“Jill and I extend our warmest wishes to Buddhists in the United States and around the world as they celebrate Vesak, a day honoring the birth, enlightenment, and passing of the Buddha. The ceremonial lighting of a lamp, the symbol of this holiday that has been celebrated for over 2,500 years, reminds us of Buddhism’s teachings of compassion, humility, and selflessness that endure today. On this day, we also commemorate the many contributions of Buddhists in America who enrich our communities and our country as we all work together toward brighter days ahead.” — President Joe Biden 

Official White House photos by Cameron White

“It is wonderful that prayers were offered from all three great traditions of Buddhist practice here, at the heart of American democracy. It is so auspicious that this should happen on this day of celebration of the life and teachings of the Buddha. May the prayers we offer today bring peace and healing to all peoples, particularly to our brothers and sisters in India, the heartland of the Dharma, and may the light that radiates from here, the White House of America, bring wisdom and harmony to the whole world. We are lighting a million lamps today to honor this historical moment in our Buddhist history in America.” — Wangmo Dixey, President of the International Buddhist Association of America

“Today Buddhists in the US and across the world honor Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing with the celebration of Vesak—a symbol of compassion, unity and care for each other. These lessons couldn’t be more important today. Doug and I wish a Happy Vesak to all who celebrate!” — Vice President Kamala Harris via Twitter 

“On this occasion, we celebrate the invaluable contributions of Buddhist communities the world over. We join these communities in recommitting ourselves to upholding the universal principles of compassion, peace and respect for human dignity. May this day inspire us all to reflect on our shared values and to collectively work to build a better world for Buddhists and people of all belief traditions.” — US Secretary of State Tony Blinken via Twitter

 “Vesak, one of the most important Buddhist festivals, is a time of reflection on the Buddha’s teachings of peace, compassion, and enlightenment, and reminds us of the importance of USAID’s work to advance the cause of human dignity and serve those most in need. On this day, we commemorate the many contributions of Buddhists to humanity’s progress and recommit ourselves to building a more enlightened and peaceful world.” — US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power via separate statement 

We are pleased the White House has celebrated Vesak for the first time ever with the Second Gentleman, Mr. Douglas Emhoff, lighting a candle in the White House in the presence of three Venerables representing Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana traditions. This is also the first time for all of them to come together under #peaceloveunity. 

Most Venerable Uparatana (Sri Lankan/American) on behalf of the Theravada tradition; Rev. Marvin Harada (Japanese/ American) on behalf of the Mahayana tradition and Venerable Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche (Tibetan/American) on behalf of the Vajrayana tradition. 

Skillful Means: Work-Study as Full-Time Practice

Skillful Means: Work-Study as Full-Time Practice

For staff members who live and work on site at Nyingma Institute (NI), our focus is on work as a form of practice, a place where we can begin to see, interact, and be differently. This field of the everyday is where we train in activating intention, transforming self-limiting habits and patterns, and developing inner goodness and well-being.

Our approach is guided by rich fields of study based on Tarthang Rinpoche’s books and teachings. As students in the classes and workshops here, we gain experience with meditation, Kum Nye Tibetan yoga, awareness practices, and modes of inquiry. Our time on the cushion flows into the post-meditation practice of tending to the so-called mundane tasks of running an organization and supporting a community as a testing ground for expanding one’s ability to find fulfillment, nourishment, and meaning. We engage with mind, body, and senses on a path that is deeply personal, yet reveals a potential for awakening that is shared by all beings.

The core staff here is usually comprised of a small group of about 6 – 9 individuals, in addition to the deans. We welcome applicants who would like to see if they might be a good fit at this point in their journeys. At the time of these responses in spring 2020, “Y” was the newest, having transitioned from a renter to working full-time on projects for Nyingma Institute about a year prior; “H” is a dedicated community member who had served full-time for seven years; and “P” for thirteen years.

 

Why did you become interested in doing work-study at Nyingma Institute?

  • Y: I was already living here plus some financial circumstances plus some job opportunities. Once I joined I started to appreciate the study aspect of it, but at first it was because of needing a job and housing.
  • H: I love nature and am interested in Buddhism, so I applied for Ratna Ling, one of our sister organizations in the forest, but in the end I ended up in downtown Berkeley and later in Nyingma Institute.
  • P: I graduated from college in 2006 and was looking around for what to do next with my life. Also, I had just begun meditating, liked the idea of being in a community, and tended to go for immersive experiences where you can be all in.

Describe the transition process for you of moving into the work-study lifestyle

  • Y: It feels like your world becomes more focused on this area. It became a more enclosed kind of lifestyle, and that was noticeable in transition. I was living here before, though, so the transition wasn’t too difficult.
  • H: This kind of lifestyle is not too different than I used to lead: You work and you study, sort of a monotonous life that suits me anyway.
  • P: The location is gorgeous, and the people here are kind and genuine, so that part was great, although I had to adjust my expectations about what it means to live in a spiritual community. (I think we all have to after the honeymoon period of being here, but in different ways depending on our own concepts and assumptions.) As a student, I didn’t have many belongings so moving in was straightforward. Getting used to a six-day work week was an adjustment in the beginning, but now it seems very normal. Being on a small stipend also meant that I had to watch my budget differently, but everything major is pretty much provided: room, meals, so it’s doable. It also motivated me to get creative, for instance learning to cut my own hair, and to question what I really need, rather than wanting something out of habit.

What jobs/roles do you perform as part of your work?

  • Y: I work on the garden project [with construction], but also help out with the plumbing, fixing things, and making sure all the doors are locked. Mostly maintenance and whatever small building projects might come up.
  • H: Whatever needs to be done and I have the ability to complete it, I take it and make it a fun project for me. I like to be challenged and feel it is very rewarding when I acquire some knowledge/skill and perform appropriately. I did front desk job, lead people for work study, cleaning rooms, woodworking, cooking, ironing, translating, babysitting, bookkeeping, etc.
  • P: This has fluctuated greatly over the years. Currently I help the deans with projects, and also with the day-to-day processes of running the organization somewhat on an as-needed basis. As we are here for a while, we tend to fall into specific roles that suit our abilities and care for the needs of the organization, while still wearing many hats.

What classes or programs are you taking?

  • Y: The classes I have taken are Transforming Negative Emotions, In the Words of Buddha, and a meditation class.
  • H: Meditation, Kum Nye, Path of Liberation, Reading Sutras, Nyingma Psychology, Tibetan Chanting, Ngondro, and Tibetan Language over the years.
  • P: I’m currently learning about Vajrasattva practice in Lama Palzang’s meditation class, taking the Kum Nye Teacher Training program, and also I’m in the Sutra studies class with Pema, Hugh, and Richard.

Describe a typical day at NI

  • Y: Make coffee, meditate, then at 9 AM the garden crew discusses what to do for the day, work, lunch, work, dinner, more work sometimes after if I’m feeling inspired.
  • H: Morning Kum Nye, Morning Meditation, day at work (mostly bookkeeping these days), communal prayer & chanting followed by evening classes
  • P: Morning practice, set intention for the day, work-practice, lunch, do the dishes, work-practice, dedicate merit, dinner, then class or back for a little more work or practice. It’s simple, but can be very full! Same schedule Mondays through Saturdays, rest on Sundays.

What do you find fulfilling about your work? About your classes?

  • Y: I can immediately see the changes I’ve made, which is the first level of gratifying. I like using my body, getting stronger. The garden hopefully one day will benefit many people. The classes have helped me with identifying my thoughts and emotions.
  • H: It is practice at work the whole day: this is the best part of my living here, and also being with like-minded people.
  • P: It’s not the work itself necessarily, but the entire system or vision that it all fits together with. Work itself can be explored on different levels. It also provides energy, focus, and is a crucible for observing mind and challenging our own patterns. Classes provide a different kind of space, and especially in the beginning they provide crucial clues, orientation, background, and tools for how to go about the rest of your day. The work and classes are all part of what’s given to us, a means of reflection and exploration through which we get to know our patterns, habits, and mind.

Describe what it is like for you to live in a communal setting

  • Y: Not lonely. I was worried at first about so many people being around, but I have grown into it. It’s been good for me to have to interact with people. I like being able to do things that are good for everyone. I like it when we can all come together and do stuff together. I think it’s good. I like how the tasks are delegated.
  • H: I am surrounded by like-minded and trustworthy people; I can talk to them and they may shed dharma lights on my situation at the moment. Beside my co-workers, there are also many experienced teachers/students who can encourage me by their examples.
  • P: It’s like training in the art of relating to others and letting go of the little things. Also, seeing how your own patterns get mirrored in how you perceive the environment and situations, noticing the ripples of emotionality, and observing the cause and effect of your actions.

Have you noticed any self-improvement from your experience here? If so, what specifically?

  • Y: I have noticed that my communication skills have improved. I’ve also become more organized and attentive to how I leave communal spaces.
  • H: Honestly speaking, I feel that a good potential had been seeded in me before I arrived here; I used to be a very conscientious learner for whatever I did and tried hard to ace it. The Nyingma community expects you to do your best in whatever you do and equally supports you to accomplish it. Specifically saying, well, for example, I was not a lover of cooking especially for many people, but I managed to do it and brought to the table the food making people wow.
  • P: The biggest shift for me was probably early on, seeing that what was described in the books and brought to life in classes felt authentic, and that the practices were very simple yet effective. I could prove it to myself in my experience, whether these things worked. That being said, seeing that it works once is different from being able to live in that space more and more. It’s a process, not a switch that gets flipped. To sum it up, I’m probably more confident, balanced, and grounded.

Describe how your volunteer work benefits others

  • Y: If we finish this garden people will be able to use it and practice in it. One day I’d like to teach a class or be able to give back in other ways too. Sustaining the place is also important.
  • H: Through many classes and practices and through many examples of people here, I learn the importance of the Bodhisattva’s vow working only for others; to live here and help this place run smoothly is, I believe, one of the many ways to benefit others. I am happy that I am a part of that big vision.
  • P: Working here, we’re part of a much larger group of organizations or projects than is immediately apparent. These organizations are connected to the Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist tradition that flows through Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, and that we are helping extend. Our work is connected to cultural preservation projects in Asia, as well as the coming of these teachings on how mind works into our setting here. The teachings are precious, in that they point at the heart of experience, how suffering works (or doesn’t work), and toward being an altruistic, compassionate, and wiser being. If we can keep all this available and alive, it’s a thread of wisdom that has the potential for great benefit.

How would you describe what NI does?

  • Y: Spreading the teachings of the dharma is important for anyone in general. It keeps the tradition alive. We support the preservation of Tibet’s dharma tradition. Before COVID, people could come here and practice and seek refuge here.
  • H: Nyingma Institute lives the Tibetan Buddhism and its Bodhisattva vision in the world by educating and showing examples. NI has classes and workshops for Buddhist Study, Buddhist Psychology, Meditation, Kum Nye Tibetan Yoga, Tibetan Prayers and Mantra Chanting, Tibetan Language, Tibetan Buddhist art, and Sunday Morning Kum Nye and Evening Free Dharma Talk and Monthly Women’s Meditation Gathering and so forth. If you are interested in starting study groups and practice groups, you may find like-minded people easily.
  • P: Nyingma Institute has historically been a gateway to our organizations, and where many long-term volunteers first enter. We offer programs to the general public, including classes, workshops, and retreats on many topics, some of which focus on well-being and being human in a more general way, while others approach mind through traditional Buddhist practices. On a day to day basis, we do all the things that any non-profit, educational center would need to do. We clean bathrooms, repair the buildings and grounds, garden, cook, do the dishes, do bookkeeping, deal with IT problems, host retreatants, run errands, get supplies, answer questions from students, respond to faculty, file legal and tax related forms, email students about upcoming programs, post on social media. We also live, work, and practice together with the intention to grow and cultivate our hearts and minds through service. We are a community with many different rings of participation. By volunteering here, you kind of get to jump into the deep end, and then catch up on what is going on here at the same time.

What would you say to someone who was interested in volunteering?

  • Y: Maybe come check it and shadow to see what you think. It’s not for everybody. Some aspects that are beneficial to have are self-reliance and a good work ethic. Be prepared to work. Maybe take a class first and see what you think.
  • H: If you want to come and immerse in this life style, live in the present and do your best while you are here. It’s better not to think this is the transitional point that you may bow out anytime you encounter difficulties. I don’t believe any moment of our lives become wasted if we live sincerely moment to moment. Eventually we will see the fruit and flowers. Anyone who considers to be part of this community in the first place, I feel that person already has a great potential to survive NI.
  • P: It can be incredibly rewarding, challenging, and worthwhile. It’s also not for everyone! In some ways, things are kind of hidden beneath the mundane. It’s all very normal, and yet there is great potential. Come with an open heart, an interest in service, and the intention to work on yourself. Let your time here be a gift of positive energy, effort, and care to the organizations, to the broader mission of benefitting others, and to the possibility of cultivating simple goodness within.

We welcome new participants to our immersive work-study program, the  minimum commitment for which is six months. To learn more and apply, please send us an email and visit the page on work-study (click the button below). 

Padmakara Garden: A Lotus Beginning to Unfold

Padmakara Garden:  A Lotus Beginning to Unfold

November 28, 2020

 

Dear Community and Friends,

A big thank you for your support and to our dedicated Padmakara Garden team, who have been sheltering-in-place and working safely on site through the turbulent months of 2020.

Since our last update, large decorative boulders have been selected and nudged carefully into place via forklift. The main stairs to the garden have been framed and poured with terracotta colored concrete. A pump and filtration system for the pond and waterfalls has been installed. A crisscross grid of steel rods has been woven into the foundation of the plaza and the walkway around the Prayer Wheel House and covered in concrete. The latest touch has been mortaring stone (Santa Barbara split stone and Mount Moriah wall stone) into place on the fountain wall, a task requiring artistry, a discerning eye, strong arms, and the occasional chiseling. 

Next is the final layer of the plaza itself, which will be laid with Peruvian stone and feature a lotus design at its center.

Our small group of residents, who practice, live, and work together, celebrated the harvest in a spirit of gratitude on November 26, 2020 with a plentiful spread of vegetarian food, and the completion of the fountain wall, which was turned on for the first time that day!

Though we will remain closed to the public until it is safe to reopen, our vision for a beautiful contemplative space is starting to come to life, and we look forward to holding classes in the garden—meditation, Kum Nye Tibetan yoga, and other fields of study—as well as simply offering a space of refuge and beauty to you, our students, and the local community to visit, reflect, and practice in.

 

Warmest wishes, 

Your friends at the Nyingma Institute

The Garden team:  Yuji, Kris, Katie, and Emily

The completed fountain wall (short video!)

Autumn celebration with residents

From left to right:  New stairs to the garden; the steel rod grid underlaying the plaza; after the concrete pour; affixing stone to the fountain wall. 

Offering the Caring Anthem

Offering the Caring Anthem

We at the Nyingma Institute, dedicated to the Buddhist path of healing the causes of suffering and generating a positive momentum of body, speech and mind offer these words from Tarthang Tulku’s Caring book for all of us, inter-connected and all equally precious:

 

Caring’s Anthem

 

Caring knows every place—but caring knows no position.

Caring is not afraid to get its hands dirty, working in the sun.

Caring loves methods, and the joy of broader knowledge.

Caring does not rule or discriminate.

If there is caring, nobody will have to go lower;

nobody will ever get bullied or beaten up.

 

Caring is wisdom; wise caring prevents problems.

Caring can take care of impatience.

Caring can prevent not-knowing;

This sublime knowing could be knowable because I try

and do not give up.

 

This is the heart of my caring: what I know, I practice.

I am not ready to give up.

 

My caring is continuity, wisdom and compassion.

Caring continues, on behalf of body and mind.

Time is precious: I need to take care, constantly.

Caring with consistency is not a concept. Embody it! I will, too.

 

To promote caring, we need to listen. We need to listen

to what the problem is.

We need to look at why there is trouble:

Trees are falling down. Garbage is not picked up. People

are yelling and screaming, people are in pain.

 

 

This is the heart of my caring: what I know, I practice.

I am not ready to give up.

 

Look: look around. Listen to them, for they are your friends.

Investigate the motivations.

Ask: What are they looking for, what do they want to say?

What is the position they take? What are the claims staked,

and what the consequences?

What is ignorance doing here; what is missing?

And we, when we look at them: what are we missing?

What misinterpretation, what tortured self wastes away in chains?

 

When we feel sympathy, sorrow, we are beginning to invite caring.

 

We can be like hunters, searching: what is the problem?

Someone does not know why they are unhappy.

You track it down: it’s because of lack of care,

because of ignorance.

 

They lost their hearts, their heads, and they don’t even know.

There’s work to do, but we’ll get them back.

 

 

This is the heart of my caring: what I know, I practice.

I am not ready to give up.

Tribute to Jack van der Meulen

A Tribute to Jack van der Meulen

On February 12, 2020, at the end of the annual Longchenpa chant, long-time Kum Nye teacher and beloved Nyingma community member Jack van der Meulen died in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after a debilitating disease. Jack taught at the Nyingma Institute for over 25 years.

“Jack’s kind and gentle spirit shone through everything he did,” wrote former Nyingma Institute Dean Sylvia Gretchen, “Deeply devoted to Nyingma, he offered students at the Institute a reliable path to self-awareness and relaxation through Kum Nye. His legacy endures in their lives and in the lives of all of us who knew him.”

“Jack was a loving, kind, open-hearted being who introduced countless people to the treasures of Kum Nye and the spiritual life,” wrote Kum Nye teacher Peggy Kincaid. Peggy recalled that she first got to know Jack when she began teaching at the Institute, more than two decades before:

As a beginning Kum Nye teacher I attended Jack’s classes wanting to learn and understand how he taught Kum Nye.  When Jack walked into the meditation room he was a striking figure, tall, lanky and back then, with a long ponytail.

Jack had a way of contacting space. That was an important aspect of his teaching and what I most remember learning from him. For new students of Kum Nye who were anxious or unfamiliar with meditation and sitting in stillness, Jack was patient and attentive guiding his students inward.

Barry Schieber, another former Dean of the Nyingma Institute, pointed out that Jack “was dedicated and reliable. Small virtues that often go unnoticed.”

Kum Nye teacher Santosh Philip  began taking Kum Nye classes when Jack started teaching at the Nyingma Institute and had Jack as one of his first teachers:

Clearly Jack was doing something right, since I have practiced Kum Nye ever since then and teach Kum Nye. On the first day I remember asking him: “How did people figure out these exercises and how can you come up with a new one?” At that time he told me that he didn’t know. Many years later, as he was teaching I got an insight about how to make new exercises. It came completely from the way Jack was teaching. I told him that he had shown me. I still go up to the Nyingma Institute thinking he will be there and that I can go to his class. When I teach a workshop, I think he will be teaching with me. Maybe he is.

Jack’s impact on his students emerges clearly in this memory by his student Diana Shapiro:

Jack was and is an irreplaceable teacher and an irreplaceable influence in my life for many years.  I started practicing Sunday Kum Nye back in 2000 so I was fortunate enough to have taken countless classes from him.

Jack was a really important teacher to me.  He taught me how to enjoy my human embodiment.  I can never repay that!  I learned from him that the energetic and sensory experiences of my body are a source of great relaxation, joy and even delight.  He taught me about being gentle with myself.  He taught me how to feel like a water plant, both literally and figuratively, deeply grounded and firm but at the same time flexible and open.

Peggy Kincaid also mentioned that she was able “to spend time with Jack and his wife Candace outside the Nyingma Institute and he was as much a devoted husband as he was Kum Nye teacher.”

Nyingma Institute Kum Nye teacher Abbe Blum recalled Jack’s and Candace’s generosity, their combined care and devotion for the Institute itself—from the meditation room, and the upkeep of the building, to concern for the well-being and progress of students. “Chanting during the 2020 Longchenpa Ceremony with Jack in my heart, I would look at the glass table top that he and Candace had had specially cut for the altar with the great wish that he be blessed and protected by the Nyingma lineage, the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas.”

We along with Peggy Kincaid want to “offer gratitude for his dedication to the Dharma. His was a life well-lived.”

Jack at work in the Nyingma Institute kitchen

Jack “flying” in front of the altar at the Nyingma Institute

Jack with Candace

Ways to Help: Seeking a Used Car

April 25, 2020

Hi everyone, 

After 8 years of service our reliable donated car, a grey 2005 Volvo S40, has started having transmission problems and is no longer safe to drive. Unfortunately, the value of the car is less than that of the replacement part needed, so it is time to bid farewell to this trusty steed. 

We rely on this vehicle for all procurement and transportation needs, for everything from picking up weekly groceries and supplies, to retrieving medication for those in our community without transportation, to picking up retreatants and stranded volunteers in emergencies.

As a residential community, one person handles procurement for the entire group. This includes the organization of, ordering, and pickup of items as necessary. We’d like to thank this person (Caz!) for her ongoing support, and also to replace this very necessary tool — a vehicle — as soon as we can. (As context, our culture is one of full-time volunteers who live and work on site as staff. We like to think that living and working together is both a good way to practice and to have a lighter impact on the environment.) 

At the moment, we are sheltering in place and relying heavily on deliveries, however we still need a working vehicle to rely on for emergencies.

We are seeking recommendations for a safe, lightly-used car to purchase, one without major repairs needed, for transporting supplies and people. If you have a friend or trustworthy acquaintance who is selling a car of this description, please put us in touch. 

Thank you for your help and support!

In gratitude, 

NI Residential Staff 

May 29, 2020 

Update:  We have been gifted a well-maintained, lightly-used car! Thank you so much to our dear friend for the donation. 

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