Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Heart is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out

In the many months that have passed since our exceptional experience together with His Holiness the Karmapa, Karen and Damcho have been busy turning those teachings into a book, as planned.

Their work is done and nothing left but the printers and shippers to do their task.

It will be released on Feburary 19, but the book is already available for pre-ordering from Amazon.

The book will be hardcover but people who pre-order are guaranteed a big discount. Tell your friends!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


With a familiar sound, the pages of my notebook from the weeks in India fall open. With only 10 pages of journal entries, it’s cover to cover with notes from our group prep sessions and sessions with His Holiness. Reading the inked words scrawled across the page, the humility and gratitude felt towards the experience and the distinctive heartache particular to missing H.H. and the group rises from where it lives under the busyness of daily life back in America.

Many of us who traveled to India hope to inspire change; we are change-makers, idealistic yet jaded, fighting to respond to injustices and to make a difference.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you are a change-maker too. Whether it’s wishing that someday women will be able to walk alone at night without fear, buying at a farmer’s market, working as a teacher, mentor, or giving advice to a friend, all of us have causes we advocate and things we want to change. We visualize a world that is better, safer, happier. But, if you’re anything like me, you can only feel so much before overwhelm, depression, and burnout hits. Would we be happier if we just didn’t know? Ignorance, after all, is said to be bliss.

To be a change-maker, to be an activist, to be a person who is intentional about the impact of our purchases, choices, and words, means opening oneself to seeing and feeling deeply. And that vulnerability is scary.

With gentleness and wisdom, H.H. spoke to us again and again about the importance of seeing the humanity and tenderness within everyone and to be strong in activism while never holding an us/them mentality. Day after day he spoke about ways of making the world a kinder and more equal place. Day after day his words and demeanor of humor, generosity, and profound wisdom wore away my cynicism and burnout and left me with energy, intention, and humbleness. He gave me a new view on how to be an activist.

I wish everyone could have had the experience that I did in India. Unfortunately that is not possible. I very much hope and believe that the book conveying H.H. teaching will be moving and profound. I am so very glad that each of you will have the chance to have your own experience of his teachings and I hope that it will leave you with much to think about and renewed strength to address whatever challenges face you.

Until next time,

Katie Ferrell

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Last class

[Note from blogmaster: As some of the students are posting their running journals after the fact, the entries may appear out of order. But we leave them in the order in which they are posted to allow you to follow their reflections as they unfold. This reflects on the last meeting but will not be the last post on this blog!]

During our last formal session together, His Holiness offered the students these final words of advice:

"Remember that you are not a machine. Do not live the life of a robot. Be a full human being. In other words, live in the fullness of love and affection for all those around you.

"Soon you will be returning to your homes. Though we will be separating physically, we need not separate mentally. Our affection for each other can keep us close. We can remain connected through our good heart.

"We can always see the stars twinkling in the sky. In the same way, wherever you will be in the world, you can be a lamp brightening the space around you. In the evenings after dusk, I often go out on my terrace and look at the stars. When I do so and then close my eyes, I make the prayer now that I will be able to see each of you with my mind’s eye, twinkling brightly wherever you are."

I believe there were a few students whose eyes did not moisten. Together, teacher and students went outside after this session to take the group photo you see above.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fourth meeting

[Dateline: May 9, Dharamsala] Today we had our fourth meeting with the Karmapa and discussed issues dealing with consumption and greed. One question I would like to start out with is: what do you identify yourself with? Many people identify with their occupation or their religion, but there is a large portion of the population who might identify with their social status mainly centered around what they can afford--a nice house, nice car, etc. We create these products. We label them and sell them. This means we should be in control of them since we are their creator, but in reality a lot of the time we are controlled by the objects we own. Similarly, participating in the business world we must have the most up-to-date technology to portray to others we are not only on top of the latest trends but also part of the most evolved network for communicating. What the Karmapa said, that seems so clear and easy, is that we should identify with happiness. We all think that we need these things in order to achieve happiness. This idea reminds me of Kierkegaard's idea of reaching something called Absolute Happiness. This seems impossible with the system we have set up, which has new technology every month whereas you need to disconnect from your attachments to these newer forms of electronics so that absolute happiness can be achieved through interactions and changes to the natural environment. We make machines and machines run us. We are buying in to the exploitations of impermanence. The true wealth is the wealth of contentment. This is something you can actually attain yourself. Once you purchase these newer forms of technology you immediately feel some delight, but how long does that last? We should appreciate the wonder of the ordinariness of things. The corporations who run these systems are consuming with unlimited greed. Having the products give the illusion of unlimited potential and unlimited choice. We have the choices to get what ever kind of product we want and what ever color we want in order to fit the product into our life. Yet it is our greed that is unlimited. Humans need to realize that greed is not our nature.

These ideas were all brought up in the Karmapa's teaching, and I am attempting to share what I have learned form him. Some of these concepts are very easy to realize. They might be better explained by him, but this is my synthesis of what he was saying.

After the talk, we sang "This little light of mine" for the Karmapa. He was given a drum and I played the Banjolin I had brought along. We all joined in and sang it to him. It was our offering of our culture for his wisdom, and I think that the meaning surpassed the cultural boundaries.
I also was able to show him how to play the instrument that I made for him and he learned to play a couple of notes. The entire day was very meaningful for everyone. I look forward to learning from him again tomorrow.

It is amazing how lucky we are to be sharing in this relationship of cultural exchange and especially considering that there are so many people who deserve to hear these words than just the small group here. People come from all around the world just for blessing from him and here we are able to meet with him consecutively for 2 hours at a time. His time is so valuable, that I hope that we can continue to meet with him. Thank you for reading. Hopefully my presentation of the words from the Karmapa retain some of his meaning, and I hope we can all learn from the experience that I and my fellow students are so lucky to be having.

First meeting

Hello One and ALL from the past.

Yesterday (May 4) we met the 17th Karmapa: something that very, very few people do, at least in the setting that we had. We met him in his monastery while he was giving out his blessings, but then we were escorted back in to the library where he spends much of his time. This was a very nerve-racking experience for me, because we began by presenting him with gifts that we brought. I had brought a one-stringed instrument I had made last year and he seemed to enjoy it. I also had given him a song I wrote to one of his poems. This was the most difficult part of the meeting for me. We all sat and watched him listen to it on an mp3 player. I really did not want to be there, but I had to realize how many times in anyone's lifetime does an extremely important lama listen to a piece of music you composed? I sat and absorbed everything he dished out. At the end he seemed to be very pleased and genuine with his response..."It's over? Thank you."

His English is very good, but sometimes there needed to be a translator helping him along. Once we got over the introductions we were able to ask him some questions. He answered very straightforwardly, and we could tell he was being completely sincere. I can tell that these meetings we are having with him are going to be beneficial for all parties involved and for the rest of the world as well. His Holiness seemed to lounge back on his seat in the middle of the session, which I take as an indication that he felt comfortable with us.

We know that these meetings we are having are very special and no one else has been given this opportunity before. This was very apparent to us, and this was why it was so nerve-racking, but the Karmapa really just seems to want to meet with us and have it be as comfortable as possible. He made it very clear how new these interactions were to him. Even longtime students of his do not had such opportunities to be in such close quarters for extended periods, and ask such questions. Most people are given 15 minutes and we were given 12 sessions approximately two hours each. This is truly an experience that will impact a lot of people. I will write more soon.

I will leave you with a quote from the Karmapa that really put me at ease.

"We have all been living together on this earth. We just had not had the opportunity to introduce ourselves before."

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

[Note from blogmaster: In the first photo above, Patrick has just offered His Holiness the instrument he made for His Holiness from recycled materials found in Redlands. In the lower photo, His Holiness has placed a ceremonial white scarf around Patrick's neck, as a blessing and farewell gesture.]

Watching a movie

His Holiness the Karmapa presented the  Buddhist notion of non-attachment with a simple yet profound metaphor - that we all live our lives as if we are in a movie. The characters, including ourselves, are fabricated beings. We give them names and identities according to their family, education, socioeconomic location, surrounding culture and media, etc. We then attach ourselves to these characters. We cry, we laugh, we feel rage and elation, or attachment and aversion. We allow ourselves to get overwhelmed and discouraged by the suffering we experience or the changes we undergo. But non-attachment is a realizing that it is all just a movie. It's a recognition that our thoughts and visions have been clouded with the many fabrications, projections, and illusions inside the movie and that we actually have a second "I" watching. This second "I" can see from all angles and can therefore respond with greater awareness and compassion. So what if we were able to step back from particularly overwhelming moments of life and respond to it as if we were watching a movie?

[Note from blogmaster: In the photo above, taking during our concluding dinner, the fabricated I we call 'Nina' offers her beautiful voice in singing a song called Ah World! composed by His Holiness... and renders it jazz style!]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A thing or two about comics

I have been an avid reader of comics for thirteen years now, especially ones involving capes and tights. I study comics at the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies. I co-taught a college course with a fellow student on comics in the spring semester of 2010 entitled Seduction of the Innocent to sixteen other students. I pride myself on my knowledge and understanding of the ninth art and particularly the superhero genre. I have a pretty impressive comic collection including but not limited to: a few golden age green lanterns signed by Martin Nodell, the first appearance of Hal Jordan, multiple pages of original comic art, and an entire wall full of trade paperbacks, graphic albums, and anthologies. I express my hubris to showcase my complete and total ignorance about what it means to be heroic, and how little I have actually learned from the superheroes that I claim to adore. His Holiness gave me a better understanding of heroism in one conversation on consumerism and greed than my thirteen years of devout readership of all the superheroes that I have been worshipping my whole life.

I was sitting in his Holiness’ library, fervently taking notes, surrounded by my peers and numerous books that I cannot read. His Holiness was addressing that we need to bring about change on an individual level. “Relying on the government is difficult because who has the foresight to see what is good for a country and its people. Big corporations have their own agendas. We cannot put it on others because we are the consumers.” That made sense to me because I am terrified of organizations that are too large for me to perceive. Some might say that I am paranoid, but I quote Spider Jerusalem and say, “Paranoia is just possession of all the facts.”

His Holiness continued, “Everyone is responsible and at fault because the world has become a small family. Damaging any part of the world, or anyone in it will come back cyclically. We need to change behaviors on an individual level. We need to honor the enormous amount of responsibility and the great amount of work that needs to be undertaken.” That seemed reasonable enough to me, His Holiness’ generation, of which I am part, is going to face tremendous adversity dealing with the many global issues that we will face in our lifetime.

Then he said, and I will never forget it: “We are the protectors, each and every one of us,” which is when my ears perked up; I put my pencil down, and began to really listen.

He continued his lecture explaining that it takes noble aspiration to be a hero and noble resolve to manifest noble conduct. Responsibility is a heroic endeavor. Uncle Ben’s words rang out in my mind. Noble conduct means being pioneers in steering towards new directions, and the first step required to do so is education. Batman’s lifetime of training second only to his compassionate will to never take a life shined out like the Bat-signal.

I was forced to acknowledge that I have been reading superhero comics for all the wrong reasons. I ignored the moral responsibility that these characters uphold because I have been blinded by the power that frequently overshadows the responsibility. I felt like Lex Luthor - green with jealousy or orange for avarice - looking to covet whatever he cannot possess. I did not dream of protecting the weak and saving the day, but dreamt of what it would be like to fly, throw cars, melt stuff, and teleport. What it would be like to be loved by all, to have to answer to no one, and to have a super computer and a butler to do all of the stuff I don’t want to do. I fantasized about escaping this reality, where I frequently feel so impotent, to live in one where I could do anything.

You see - I always kind of assumed that I would get superpowers at some point. I think a lot of permanent adolescents like myself do, at least that is my justification. I had done the homework – years of backbreaking research into the most suitable powers, how to construct a foolproof secret identity, and where the best possible secret lair would be. I have been anxiously looking for an arch nemesis more than I have been looking for true love. I have explored alien abductions, gamma radiation, and cosmic rays. I have spent years avoiding my Earthly responsibilities thinking about the day when I finally get my long deserved superpowers, sliding into some spandex made of unstable molecules (it breathes well, and I have sensitive skin), and saving the day.

It never occurred to me that I haven’t gotten superpowers because I haven’t tried saving the day without them. I had fallen into the fickle and deceptive display of phenomenon all around me. Surrendered to it because of gullibility. I had accepted the system as it is, swallowed the red pill, and have been waking up, wrapped in a cozy blanket of ignorance every morning since then.

I do not need superpowers to do the right thing. I never did. I do not need to be bitten by a radioactive arachnid, or have billions of dollars to do what is right. I do not need super speed, a magic ring or hammer, or adamantium claws. I do not need to be the ruler of a kingdom, made of stone, or be able to read people’s minds. What I need is to follow the example of the characters I know and love, and do what is right, especially when it is difficult. It is kind of a tough pill to swallow, but it feels fantastic, even spectacular or amazing, to feel awake and alive for the very first time.

I bring this up because I have always wanted to work with comics and education. I just never knew how to do it, but now I think I am starting to. The powers and abilities, beautiful covers, and complex continuities are what drew me into comics. What kept me reading, though, and will keep me reading, is the way these characters turn their struggle into heroism through perseverance. The way they continue to show compassion to everyone and never give up.

I may never have realized that had I not had the opportunity to listen His Holiness’ insightful words. I am forever indebted to him for showing me what has been right in front of my face for years: that power comes from within. I have always been ready; I was just looking in all of the wrong places.


Brendan Mead.

"The Moon is the Keeper of My Love" Song Lyrics

Note from blogmaster: The following are lyrics to a song composed by Brendan Mead and Patrick Sundlof, and performed by them for His Holiness during the concluding dinner, as pictured here. When Ani Damcho explained to His Holiness during the dinner that Brendan had written the lyrics, Brendan clarified that in fact, the lyrics were mainly His Holiness' own words. In one of the teachings given to the students, His Holiness the Karmapa had described his own aspiration to make his own love for the world very vast, to send it out to the moon and let the moon keep it for him so that that love could shine out for all.

Check back later for an mp3 recording of Brendan and Patrick performing the song.

The Moon is the Keeper of My Love
- by Brendan Mead and Patrick Sundlof

The moon is the keeper of my love
Even when it wanes it still prepares to wax
the moon goes in cycles, like this life to the next
Follow your course and believe in your best
Trust the moon and its path

The moon is the keeper of my love
Even when it wants, it is still full
Just look up to see the light beaming from above
Don’t grasp at it let its shine be your pull
Through the night to the day

The moon is cradled by the earth
Rising on the same path taking the course
Shining down lighting your way
Keeping you safe until the day when
you can return to my loving embrace

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ten Topics

Over the course of several months before arriving in India, the University of Redlands students developed a list of ten topics and wrote abstracts presenting their particular interests and views on each issue. The topics were divided into area of concern for their own lives and areas of concern for the world. They then devoted an entire class to exploring that topic, expressing their aspirations and hearing His Holiness the Karmapa's advice for addressing the issue, followed by an extended question and answer session with him.

Social Issues

Consumerism and Greed
Social Justice
The Environment
Food Justice
Gender Inequality

Personal Issues

Finding a Meaningful Livelihood
Integrating Spirituality
Healthy Relationships
Conflict Resolution

As the students reflect on all they received in their time with His Holiness the Karmapa, they will be posting their experiences and thoughts on these topics here.