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!]