Today the decision was made for me to head to these (it turns out) great teachings. Let me set some context here for a moment. Over the past few days I have not been taking the greatest care of my body. I have been frustrated with lack of progress on the “acquiring a job” front, so I was taking out my frustration by piddling around with computer games and watching movies. I lost some sleep and finally my body told me it had had enough – I developed a cold sore, which is the first in a LONG time (see my posts about how to prevent cold sores – I have become pretty adept at this). And on top of that, a day after the cold sore sprouted, I started to develop a stye in my left eye. Not fun. I knew I needed some rest.
I skipped the teachings yesterday which I really wanted to attend, but I had to nap. And thankfully rest I did! My friends, one of whom came down from Virginia, definitely missed me. Luckily I was able to pull myself together and grab dinner and a beer with them. By the way, down here in Tampa, Florida, driving to meet friends can be a major endeavor – meeting them at St. Petersburg Beach, I drove 90 miles round trip… Yeah, so I missed the Dharma teachings which were a little closer than that, but I would drive 90 miles for good company and good food. You betcha (especially after a refreshing 3 hour nap)!
Anyway, I had some dreams last night which forcibly grabbed my attention. Apparently one of the definitions of “nightmare” is a dream that wakes you up. Well I had a series of 3 or 4 dreams, two of which woke me up, but they were not “bad” dreams at all. Woke Me Up At 4:30 AM. I never wake up that early. In one of the dreams, my name was called out by a mysterious voice. Yeah, like I was saying – it got my attention!!! So, at 4:30 AM, I said to myself: “if I am meant to go to these teachings on Nagas, show me a dream about snakes.” [Note – Nagas are serpent like creatures, hence my reference to snakes.] Well, wouldn’t you know it, in the next dream there I was wandering around a school and when I went up some stairs, there were two little ringed snakes at the top. I turned around, not knowing if they were venomous. Back to the story. I now knew I was going to the teachings.
So I’m awake at 5:00 AM. The teachings don’t start for another 4 hours. I’m excited, because I haven’t had this much dream confirmation about something in years, and I am really interested to learn more about Nagas and the practice of making offerings to them to pacify them. [Note 2 – Naga Pujas are not about worshipping Nagas (unless you consider some of the Nagas Kings to be Bodhisattvas, which may be the case I would learn later), but rather about pacifying their sickness or anger about our polluting this planet which they “share” with us.]
So I try to go back to sleep one more time. Not much luck. 5:30 AM I get up and do some Shamatha sitting meditation. Figured why not? I’m awake and I’m excited and I have energy. Might as well sit. I light some incense and sit on my cushion. Not bad. It is overcast outside or else I would watch the sun rise. Aw Shucks!! 5:30 AM I fart around, study some Tibetan, do some gentle yoga. Finally it is time to eat breakfast and then get out the door. Remember what I said about the commutes down here? Seriously, this must be one of the worst cities in country for driving times. The teachings are “close to me” this time – 25 miles away. Good Grief! But fortunately they are well worth the drive!
My eye stye is kind of burning as I meet all these new people. It is a Nyingma teaching, so I only know one or two people until some friends arrive later. (Nyingma is one of the main four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, but different from the lineage I primarily practice which is Drikung Kagyu.) Lama Dawa is the Rinpoche, the teacher. In this case, the word Rinpoche is correct. Lama Dawa is from a very respectable lineage and he has had some incredible teachers in his own right – His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche among others… So yeah, Lama Dawa is legitimate! And he is witty, and funny and engaging. Oh and his English is exquisite. He is short in stature with a soft voice, but he more than makes up for it, drawing you in and then surprising you with some Zapchen or crazy funny wisdom. I am pleasantly caught by surprise multiple times! [Note 3 – One of way I measure a teacher is by looking at her or his students. Using this ruler, Lama Dawa gains even more strength because I met two of his pupils who completed their traditional three year retreats under him. And they were very grounded, gentle and clear headed individuals!]
I had some expectations going in about what a Naga Puja is / was. Most of my expectations were accurate. But what I did not expect was that a Naga Puja is very similar in some ways to a Dzambhala offering (Jambhala – the Buddhist deity of wealth and abundance). This actually makes sense considering Nagas are said to be the guardians of treasures – whether precious metals or precious stones or precious Dharma texts, etc. So why not appeal to them for wealth?!
I was expecting more to do with water, because Nagas are said to live in or near water. I knew that the Naga offerings went into water, but not during the actual practice. Rather, we did the prayers and offerings as a group, indoors, chanting the offering mantras and collectively pouring the milky water over the three whites and three sweets, popcorn and Naga Medicine balls in a big Dzambhala offering bowl. So it took time but we finally used up the offerings and wrapped up the practice.
I learned a ton about Nagas. I thought I knew something coming in, but I had never had full teachings specifically about Nagas before. So yeah, I had something more to learn to say the least!
In my next post, I will share some of what I learned.
Thank you for staying with me! By the way, any errors in my description of the practice are my own fault. This was taught well, many questions were asked and answered well. And I am most grateful to have been a part of it!