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As readers may have noticed, I have been working excessively at the local ski resort for the past few weeks, and as a result, I needed a breather. Thankfully I received one this past weekend, as the Tibetan Meditation Center in Frederick Maryland had to postpone their Losar celebrations for a week, as they were dealing with 3 to 4 feet of snow. Saturday was a Manjushri teaching and blessing ceremony (an empowerment) and then on Sunday we had a Lama Chopa practice, a Tsok feast and then outside for a Losar smoke offering.
Amidst enormous piles of snow, I spent the weekend with Khenpo and friends at the TMC. They were hit by two blizzards in the course of five days, leaving them with more than three feet of snow to deal with. Khenpo and Michael (the manager) had just shoveled the roof, and I chipped in with shoveling the deck. Even after a couple weeks of melting, there was much work to be done.
“A true hero is one who conquers their internal afflicted emotions, not one who conquers outer enemies.” ~paraphrase of Shantideva’s quote from the Bodhicaryavatara
Khenpo Tsultrim Tenzin led the ceremonies, as he was the only lama on the mountain (for the weekend). Saturday, we had about 15 people show up for the Manjushri blessing and teachings. This was precious, as I had not received teachings on Manjushri from a Kagyu lama. Khenpo led us through the blessing ceremony, in a thorough fashion, with plenty of inspiring explanation. Then in the afternoon he taught on the actual practice of Manjushri; I had been fending off a cold, so I needed a nap. I turned up the speakers in the main house however, so I dreamed off and on about receiving Dharma teachings. I am hoping we can still receive the teachings at some level when we sleep near the shrine room… Is that a stretch?
Saturday night, Khenpo was kind enough to let me watch the Olympics in his room, as he both watched and sent emails. I enjoyed and am grateful for a deeper connection with him as we discussed several topics, both superficial and more in depth.
Then on Sunday, despite a very limited parking arrangement (there was a path wide enough for two cars to park in, about ten deep), we had about 75 people show up. It was kind of comical – every five minutes or so, someone would check in asking – “who is the owner of a brown / black <blank>? We need you to move your vehicle as you are blocking the way in / out.” This happened at least five times.
Lama Chopa, according to my limited understanding, is a practice where we make offerings to the entire Drikung Kagyu lineage, especially to Lord Jigten Sumgon, the founder of the lineage and to the lineage holders up thru the present. Then we ask for and receive their blessings, and if we are offering a Tsok feast, we get to partake of the blessed food during the ceremony. There were about 15 college students there, some from Georgetown University and others from Gettysburg College – some of them had many questions and were reluctant to participate, however, Ngedun – the resident Frederick Md. Drikung Kagyu Western monk – was able to pacify most of their worries. I’m glad he offered to distribute some Tsok food and give limited teachings as he was doing so.
Then we went outside for the smoke offering. This is known as a Sang offering in Tibetan. Someone had done a lot (!) of work shoveling snow from around the kiln, enough for us to have about 30 people join the smoke offering ceremony circle. The only two monastics were Khenpo and Ngedun, so I stood between them as they needed someone to hold the text. Khenpo played the cymbals and Ngedun played the huge drum. Unfortunately I did not take any pictures of this actual ceremony, as I was busily flipping pages and inhaling the blessings of the smoke… ugh. However I am very glad I did so. Actually there was a woman present with multiple cameras from the Washington Post – she said they were changing their “On Faith” section and she was doing a project on Buddhism. So I might have my picture in the Post (small chance).
People continued to arrive throughout the day, and a couple of families arrived in the afternoon after all the ceremonies were complete. I was in charge of driving Khenpo back to Charlottesville as he was joining us for a mid-week teaching and then he is heading down to Va. Beach to bless their new shrine room and give teachings.
On the road, Khenpo asked me how school was coming along. Was I finished yet? Uhhh… Well I had to answer him and we got into an inspiring conversation. I told him that “I still did not know what I want to do when I grow up.” Considering I am turning 31 next month, this is a bit of a sensitive topic for me. I guess I have shame arising as a result of being in school off and on for 12 years – and still not having graduated. He asked further into what was holding me back and I told him. Then he mentioned something quite valuable – he said, that for me to be this close to finishing school (I just need one more semester of classes), despite my not knowing what I want to do, is like someone planning an extravagant vacation, booking the tickets and going to the beautiful new country. But then, once they arrive, they go to their hotel and just stay in the hotel the whole time. They do not see the beautiful sights around them and then they just head back home – so what was the point of their vacation? They wasted all that time and money for what? Yes, I get it – I just have to finish school and allow life to unfold as I do so.
May all sentient beings cultivate a connection with compassionate wisdom beings.