A Thousand Journeys Towards Enlightenment
MY Journey Back to the Dharma
By Yael, Israel
Since I was 5 years old (this is my earliest recollection) I knew that Israel, where I was born to a Jewish family, was not my home. Every weekend, early morning when everyone was asleep, I used to sit myself and remind to myself in total conviction that "My home is far and high" – though I did not have a clue then what that meant. I always felt myself to be very "religious" and I did not know what that meant either. At the age of about 14 – 15 I tried going deeper into Judaism but felt nothing and after a month I stopped that, never again. I loved reading about faraway places and loved traveling, but only in 1990, did I start a conscious journey to find my sources of spirituality, "my home". It happened during a tour of Ireland, where a series of spiritual occurrences were initiated spontaneously. It started with my first sight of Ireland, while landing, seeing the "13 shades of green" and feeling utter happiness like "coming home" with a very powerful "Déjà vu" feeling. Right after, walking the streets of Dublin for the first time, people treated me like I had lived there all my life. Other tourists also came up to me for directions in the city, and telling them that I am a first time tourist just like them awarded me with nasty looks and remarks of how unkind and what a liar I was, why would I not help them……
Years after that trip, when I started to have other recollections from past lives, I remembered a play I once saw in London about a Catholic nun in severe retreat in Ireland of the middle ages and that bomb-like effect it had on me and things started to fall in place concerning my past connections to Ireland. In Ireland, I also went into a spontaneous meditation in which I experienced a strong rooted connection to everything in the universe and after that I was in such inner joy for three months, glowing and all, that people came up to ask me what wonderful thing has happened to me …..
Again I did not have a clue myself – I just knew, now with a strong sense of purpose, that I must find that joy again and this time for good…..
So, I started searching, I travelled all around Europe and after that I started touring the Far East of Asia. I still had no idea what my destination was, but I knew I had to find my "home". Landing in China in 1993 I again felt a very powerful "Déjà vu". Thinking I went crazy, as China should have felt a "strange place", but I felt SO "at home" – nothing was strange, food was like medicine to me and the sights, and like in Ireland, even the local Chinese people treated me very differently from other tourists. Back in Israel, I started studying and taking courses on China – history, culture, the lot. I loved it all but knew I had not quite arrived yet to my destination. Around that time, I started to have very vivid pictures of two places in my mind. Even though they were very clear, I had no idea where these places were, the view of the surroundings felt like nothing I ever saw with my own eyes. Along with the pictures in my mind, I also started to have a very deep sense of longing – but longing to what……
I visited quite a few countries in the Far East but my next clue came up in Bali, Indonesia. I was always scared of visiting India – all the "brainwashing" people in the West are used too, and I used to declare then that "India would be the last place for me to visit". But the Buddhas came up with a bright solution for me….
I landed in Bali, which is a Hindu island and immediately became enchanted with the place and the culture. Nearly went into a trance in the holiest temple during the holiest festivities there. So, the next year, when the China courses organizers were invited to bring with them to Dharamsala India a group of Israelis as guests of the Tibetan government in exile, I was the first one to join that group. I knew nothing about Tibet or Tibetans or Buddhism, and my incentive to join the group was the second part of the trip – the Indian Himalayas (Ladakh). I thought that would be my one chance in life to see the Himalayas…..
On the train going up to the North of India, the Tibetan organizers somehow spotted me withing the group and asked me to join and tell them about the Jewish history and in return told me the Tibetan story. By the time we got to Dharamsala the next morning, I was already deep inside the Tibetan story – it felt like remembering. In Dharamsala I saw for the first time in this life Tibetan monks and I just wanted to follow them and talk to them, with this going on in my mind: "I don’t know what this is all about, but I know it is very very good"….
The next morning our group was invited to a teaching by a very senior Lama and he started off by talking about Karma. I never believed in a creating "GOD" – the concept sounded totally illogical to me. And there was this old Lama who for the first time explained to me that we are the ones responsible for our lives and the choices we make are what determines whatever, good and bad, happens to us (unless we purify that karma first). I wanted to jump for joy! First time I hear something sensible, I had no doubt at all, the concept felt totally natural to me and I also had no doubt about past and future lives. I started feeling I am at the threshold of "my home". When I had to go back to my life in Israel, I became very confused. In Israel there are no Tibetans, no Buddhists, no temples, no permanent centers, no residing Lamas. What was I? Am I Jewish or am I a Buddhist?
The end of 1995 was personally for me the worst year of my life. During those difficult times, in a miraculous way, I got my hands on a CD of Lama Gyurme chanting and I used to listen to it every night before sleep with such feelings of longing that tears would come to my eyes. All I wanted was to listen to this chanting. Little did I know that these were chantings from the Karma Kagyu school – I did not even know back then of the Karma Kagyu. It just felt connected to my heart, my core of being. One night I woke up and spontaneously cried out 3 times: "I do not know Who You are, I don’t know where You are – but I know you are there, so please COME AND TAKE ME HOME". I still had no clue Who I was calling to, Who is my spiritual teacher, I just knew He was there and listening……
In 1996 I took a guided tour of all India. South, West, East and North. One of the places included in the tour was the Indian State of Sikkim, specifically Rumtek monastery, the Seat of HH The Gyalwang Karmapa, Head of the Karma Kagyu School. When I arrived there, I had no idea about who He is and even about the Karma Kagyu School. None. But at the monastery I had a very emotional experience concerning recognizing His face.
In 1997 I joined a tour to Tibet, and that sealed for me the question. I arrived HOME. Landing at Lhasa airport and taking the 45 minutes bus (back then) to the city I recognized one of the two clear "strange" images I carried in my mind all these years. There it was in front of me. I felt so emotional, I started crying and all I wanted was to get up in the bus and shout with all I had in me: "I AM FINALLY HOMEEEEEE!"
Standing in fromt of the Chomolangma Mt. (Mt. Everest, as Westerners call it) it sealed for me once and for all the questions of "Who am I"? I felt like I underwent a personal initiation experience there, back to Buddhism, and that was it. No more questions about my spiritual and even mundane home of so many past lives, and the reason why I never I belonged to my current place of birth. But still something was missing…..Who and where is my spiritual guide and teacher and all that this entails.
While in Tibet many "above nature" experiences happened to me all along the way, ending at one of Milarepa's caves approaching Nepal border. It took me years afterward to understand realize and internalize myself the many meanings of all these very profound experiences and this process still continues……
There are many more such stories and experiences but it would need a whole book….maybe one day. In the next years all kinds of experiences occurred, which now I know, were all stemming from that 1995 desperate cry in the night to my Guru to take me home. He led the way, all if it, in such a skillful way, preparing me, so that one day I would be able to recognize Him myself. As it should be. And that day came in the summer of 2005 – when I heard for the first time in this life HH The 17th Gyalwang KARMAPA chanting. I never heard it before in this life but I fully and utterly recognized it. And so, I left all me belongings on the floor, not caring about anything else, and ran toward him "shouting" in my mind (I did not want to get arrested shouting it out loud…): "Here I am – take me HOME". I had NO doubt He can hear me. HH The KARMAPA turned His head toward me and gave me a big smile. And the rest, as they say, is History……
Ow, and I also recognized the other clear image of a place I had my mind many years back – my hometown of many lifetimes in Eastern Tibet….. I saw the place on TV and the people there confirmed to me the place I knew in my mind and just saw for the first time in this life……
My Journey towards Buddhism
By Sharon, Qld Australia
Like most journeys, my path to Buddhism wasn’t in a straight line or a forward motion. It started, stopped, rested for a while and then started again. The journey began meanderingly when I attended The Relaxation Centre in Brisbane. It had three to four small rooms in an old building across from the Fortitude Valley police station. The centre offered courses such as Deep Relaxation, Find your Purpose and Freeing Yourself from Within. It was one of those new age places, which were rare in Queensland in the 1980s. I got hooked into exploring how the mind worked and our relationship to it. I would attend courses after work and on weekends when I first moved to Brisbane in 1982.
When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1989, I took solace and drew strength from what I had learnt from the classes. I gave her books like On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Rossand, You Can Heal your Life by Louise Hay, but by then she was too sick to be able to grasp much of it. It helped me to understand what she would go through.
My mother was dead within six months of her diagnosis. I was grief struck. At the time, I was working and studying part time at university and I managed to hold it together for about eighteen months. The year after her death I resigned from my job so that I could study full time in order to finish my degree. Once it was finished and I had that piece of paper in my hand, my world crashed. I was drowning in a sea of delayed grief. A friend suggested I get help, find someone to talk to who would be able to help me.
I have forgotten how I chose the counsellor, but we clicked straight away. Early into our sessions she mentioned that there was a Buddhist Centre across the road – the Langri Tangpa Centre (LTC),and that it would be worthwhile exploring the courses they had on offer. In those days the centre was on a busy road in an old Queenslander house. The classes were conducted on the side verandah which was set up as a Gompa - a Tibetan monastery. LTC was located in the home of Inta McKimm, which she ran right up until her death. By the time I started attending LTC, Inta had passed away, and her daughter Miffi was teaching the introductory courses.
The next significant point of my journey towards Buddhism came in 1992 when the Dalai Lama came to Brisbane and gave a free talk at Albert Park in the centre of Brisbane. By then I was more interested in what Buddhism was really about, but I kept this to myself. Queensland was still feeling its way after being held in the grips of a deep-seated conservative and corrupt government, making many people suspicious of outsiders who were interested in different ideas or ways of life, such a Buddhism.
I started to drive to the Sunshine Coast and stay at the Chenrezig Institute to attend teachings. I found the centre – set high on a hill with a mix of tropical and native trees – calming and therapeutic. I had also found my tribe amongst the teachers and other attendees. This was a group of people to whom I could relate on so many levels.
It was during one of my visits to Chenrezig that I decided to travel further afield to explore Buddhism, after learning that most of the Tibetan masters could be found in Nepal and India.
In the year 2001 I quit my job, rented out my house and booked a twelve-month ticket to Kathmandu. With a redundancy in hand, I was open and ready to learn all that this part of the world had to offer. My first stop in Nepal was to volunteer in a small school just outside Kathmandu. I lived with a large local extended family and found what it was like to belong again.On my first day, the family held a small ceremony to welcome me as the fourteenth member of the family and subsequently included me in all the family celebrations.
On my days off, I would visit Boudhanath, the largest Tibetan stupa in Nepal. The shrine dominated the skyline on the outskirts of Kathmandu, and I enjoyed circumambulating the outside of the stupa with the Tibetan refugees. It was like a homecoming. I felt like I was being swept up in a tide of warm and soothing water, fluid and comforting.
I also visited Swayambhunath, another significant Buddhist shrine perched high on a hill on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Swayambhunath is known as the monkey temple and is a temple where local people visit to make offerings. Further up in the hills, on a ridge of the Kathmandu Valley was Kopan Monastery, the important seat of Lama Zopa Rinpoche – well known in the West as the spiritual head of FPMT – the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Kopan had an exquisite and elaborate temple which felt a thousand light years away from the bland Christian churches I had attended as a child.
There was also a small meditation centre near the middle of Kathmandu. I saw an advertisement for it in the tourist area and decided to sign up for the three day, live in silent retreat. After years of feeling my way, visiting Buddhist places and attending the odd teaching, I was ready to take the plunge. I was terrified of how I would cope with the silence and the thought of spending three long days of complete silence filled me with dread. The teacher, an Italian Buddhist nun called Siliana, was very warm and encouraging. She told me not to worry, that everything would be okay. She was right. I got the silence bit okay but found that my mind was like a yoyo on the end of a piece of string; continually falling and being wound back up before falling again. On the last day I could feel my mind had less of the highs and the lows, and I wanted more.
My next stop was Dharamsala in India, the home of the Dalai Lama. On my first visit of five days, the Dalai Lama was hosting private audiences, where visitors could register to offer him a khata - a white scarf, traditionally offered in Tibet as a gesture of welcome and good luck in all its sincerity. It was an event that changed the course of my life.
Over the next few years, I returned to Australia before going to work in Japan for a year. During that time, I attended a Zen temple but felt that Tibetan Buddhism was my chosen path.
After my stint in Japan, I returned to Dharamsala and started to pursue my studies of Buddhism more seriously, attending many courses and retreats. In May 2004, I flew to Kathmandu to attend a 10-day course at the Kopan Monastery. At the end of the retreat I formally took Buddhists take refuge. Buddhist take refuge in the Three Jewels or Triple Gem (also known as the ‘Three Refuges’). Later that year, I attended the November course back at Kopan Monastery. It is a month-long course, mostly held in silence. It was a far cry from that three day retreat a few years previous.
My Buddhist journey is still ongoing. Even though my serious study was in the early years, I still meditate regularly and try to adhere to a Buddhist way of life. I attend teachings at my local Buddhist Centre, Chenrezig Institute and engage in socially active Buddhism by being on the national committee of Sakyadhita Australia – an organisation for Buddhist Women. On a professional level, I run Buddhist Pilgrimages to India and Japan on a yearly basis. This has allowed me to embrace Buddhism in al laspects of my life. A quantum leap from feeling terrified as I wheeled my suitcase into that small centre in Kathmandu nearly twenty years ago.