Images of Tara, Mother of All Buddhas

Recently Jetsunma donated dozens of her personal thangkas to the Temple.  She is also surrounding herself with sacred images and prayer flags. Jetsunma has taught about how the deities with their various implements represent different aspects and qualities of enlightened nature, which is our true nature.  Therefore to look at a thangka or statue of a Buddhist deity is a reminder of our own true nature and enlightened qualities.  We thank Jetsunma for her tremendous generosity and for this extraordinary reminder of what we truly are.

This month in honor of our Mothers, all motherly sentient beings, who have cared for us in this and countless lifetimes, we would like to share with you some of the beautiful thangka images of Tara, Mother of all the Buddhas.

May these images be a reminder to you of your true nature.

Click on each image below to get a closer look.

The Magnetic Temple

The following is a post by a new student, sharing her personal journey of discovery on the Buddhist path. 

by Kristin Laing

I don’t get to Kunzang Palyul Choling as often as I would like. I live in Fairfax and work in Chantilly. On Friday nights during rush hour, Poolesville, MD – home to KPC – might as well be on the moon for what it takes to get there. Even on Sundays, getting out to the country isn’t easy. The effort, however, is SO WORTH IT. There is something so transformative, so rejuvenating, so uplifting about wading through the tidal wave of traffic to spend some time at KPC.

First, there’s the drive. I’ve taken to saying the Seven Line Prayer to keep me calm on the Beltway till I reach River Road. Once on it, you drive through Potomac, passing churches, neighborhoods, BIG mansions. There are almost always cyclists on Sundays – bright and colorful, like a live action modern painting, struggling up and coasting down the hills as suburb gives way to forest. Right now, the canopy is bright green with the bloom of Spring; the air is fresher, smelling sweet and damp from the river nearby and its streams occasionally running under the road. You reach a point where it seems like the road is ending, but you’ve just made it to another, lesser traveled portion of River Road – you are in the country now. You pass beautiful gardens surrounding farm houses and wide open fields, a historic schoolhouse. By the time you reach the driveway of KPC, the stresses of samsara (the state of suffering all sentient beings are in) have faded. You feel like you’re home.

Inside KPC on a Sunday, the building is buzzing like a beehive.  Maroon and yellow fill the hallways as ordained flutter through their preparations for teachings, tsog, a crystal tour or a talk about Jetsunma’s early years. The bookstore is full of students and visitors. The prayer vigil continues in the prayer room, while Dharma is being taught in the other meeting room. DELICIOUS smells waft from the kitchen/diningroom where Noreen prepares the lunch that will nourish body so that mind can open for teaching. Noreen is funny and direct, or is that direct and funny about it. She is also humble and loving. It makes her food taste better!

The Dharma teaching is from the archives again, a disappointment for me. Jetsunma came home when I prayed for her to, because I needed help praying for all of the sentient beings in my life. Maybe I’m kidding myself that she came back to Maryland after being gone so long, but it makes me smile to think that maybe she heard or sensed my call. So, I have to laugh when I arrive at the temple with our possible physical introduction visualized, to find that it ain’t happenin’ today either. I KNOW she is making me let it go before she appears to me. And I know that when we do finally meet, it will be as void of fanfare as any 2 people meeting for the first time, so I also need to let go of the maternal/fellow NYer hug that is part of that visualization. The day I arrive at the temple visualizing only my practice, there she will be… I’m working on it, Jetsunma!

It’s 3pm. I have been at the temple since 11am and it’s like no time has passed at all. I have absorbed Dharma, giggled along with the women who are now ordained, who tell the stories of the early days before and just after Jetsunma became Jetsunma, about her amazing presence and the work of their own paths. I am sitting in a lazy boy chair now, feigning an attempt to write my next blog entry, but the temple is still buzzing with laughter and conversation. It’s like Thanksgiving, without the fighting or football. Noreen appears from the lunchroom and asks who will make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Occupy DC – it’s just the thing to refocus my energy! Somewhere around the middle of the 2nd loaf of spreading peanut butter on bread, I realize how good I feel. I am a part of a family that I am helping to be nourished, and they nourish me – mentally, physically, spiritually – right back.

Holly sits down nearby and becomes the unwitting co-victim to my onslaught of questions. She and Noreen patiently answer every question – just the question I ask and no more. Because of this exchange, days later I would realize the difference between someone who practices Buddhism and someone who possesses knowledge of Buddhism. Someone who practices Buddhism answers only the question that is asked, as if there is an understanding that your path has taken you to the question you are asking at that moment, and the path is YOURS to discover at your pace. The practicing Buddhist only shares as much as you ask. The person who possesses knowledge, however, doesn’t wait for a question. He or she hears something familiar sounding and shares his or her interpretation of that knowledge without hearing that a question hasn’t been asked. This difference makes me appreciate Holly and Noreen, and all of the patient members of my sangha (spiritual group) all the more.

The sun is shining brightly outside, the air is cool but the promise of warmer days is on its breath as I make my way to the Enlightenment Stupa in what has now become my parting ritual with the temple. The stupa BEAMS white light in the sunshine, the prayer flags framing it in color, the burning incense is pleasant to smell, the soft ground supports each step as I pray for my loved ones and friends, and for all sentient beings.

I am walking down the driveway to my car parked along the roadside. It is after 4pm and it is time to re-enter civilization. My head says I must, but my heart wants to stay. I don’t want to go back ‘there’ where nobody understands me or my new enthusiasm for Buddhism. The people who are selflessly loving and caring are so rare amid the self-serving who are lost in the Matrix of samsara. I want to stay where I am welcomed and loved unconditionally. It is an attachment I am sure I have to work on.

So is the attachment of excitement over finding my path. I doubt I will achieve Enlightenment within this precious life because I doubt I will ever let go of the attachment of excitement. I’m okay with that. I have found Dharma, I have found the path. For THIS soul – that is a huge leap forward. Maybe I will earn enough merit this time around to come back as something fun like a Border Collie in the next life!

And so it begins

The following is a post by Kristin who is new to Buddhism, sharing her personal journey of discovery on the Buddhist path. 

My name is Kristin Laing and I am a brand new Buddhist. At least I think am – I was told that to convert to Buddhism (take refuge) I pray my intention to Buddha (Guru Rinpoche) and I will be on the path. I did that. Oh, and that I need to say the Seven Line Prayer 10,000 times – to start. I’m working on that. Oh, and that if I am looking for the formula, instruction manual, or someone to kneel before to have my shoulders touched by a sword, I need to let all that go. That is just not how Buddhism works.

I have spent most of my life on the outside of organized religion. I was baptized and went to church every Sunday with my family, but there were times when I rejected any notion of religion or spirituality with every fiber of my brain.  But that never felt quite right either. It was the influence of my earthy-crunchy/new age sister (I say this with the utmost respect for my sister and all who follow a different path – my sister laughs when I refer to her this way) who kept me from straying very far from a value system of kindness to self and others.

A big spiritual shift occurred when I read The Celestine Prophecy. I was entranced by this book, swept up by the notion that we are all connected, that we give and receive energy from the people and world and universe around us. It supported my inner-compass to be kind to everyone around me, regardless of what it could do for me; to give to others from a selfless place and THAT was the energy that fed me. And that is where my spirituality has been hanging out until now.

A guy I had been dating is a regular at Kunzang Palyul Choling (KPC) and invited me to join him there one day – I could not wait to visit! He didn’t tell me much, so I was surprised and excited to learn that the temple’s leader is not just a woman, but also an American – from BROOKLYN (I’m a New Yorker myself)! When we finally made it to the temple, while at first a little overwhelmed by how different it was than any religious center I had ever been to, I never felt uncomfortable or out of place. Even my usual shyness around people I don’t know was relieved. I was noticed, but left to my own devices to explore and experience for myself. I was so grateful for being given the time to absorb my surroundings and ask questions when I was finally ready to ask them.

It was not long before I realized that I had come home, and when that happened, I got super impatient to be a Buddhist – NOW. I needed to know EVERYTHING there was to know – NOWWWW.

I frustrated myself looking for quick answers to becoming a ‘full-fledged’ Buddhist. The KPC website is rife with information, but I couldn’t make sense of it. There is a whole new lexicon of terms to absorb – Bodhicitta (even now I have to look it up because I get it confused with Bodhisattva, Samsara, Dakini, Tsog. There are words that I have heard many times in my life, but didn’t know their meaning – Dharma, Buddha, Guru, Lama. There is a whole new belief system that goes so very much deeper than that which I have been following on my own for so long, a very different, deeply layered explanation of life and death and everything in between to learn about and decide if it fits (it does). Tibetan is spoken during most blessings, prayers, and practices and can be overwhelming for the ears. Almost every prayer is first written in Tibetan calligraphy, with a phonetic translation so that the non-speaker can attempt to sound out the words, and is then followed by English, but it is not simply read and immediately understood. It’s like reading Shakespeare for the first time.  There are many layers of meaning to absorb.

There is SO MUCH to wrap my brain around – but I want to be a Buddhist NOW!

It turns out I was a typical Westerner, approaching Buddhism with an obsessive need to collect achievements and information in order to be considered a Buddhist, rather than opening my heart and mind to it. I didn’t understand the point of saying the Seven Line Prayer 10,000 times. I didn’t understand what it meant. Nuns and monks would only answer that it means different things depending on where you are in your ‘practice’. I didn’t know what ‘practice’ referred to. I Googled it, but still didn’t understand why this prayer was going to help me get on the path. I got frustrated because I didn’t feel like anyone was helping me.

I went into the bookstore and asked for an ‘Idiot’s guide to Buddhism’. The folks in the store spent no less than an hour working with me to figure out which book would be the most helpful, but there were so many to choose from – no one book that could show me what I need to do to become a Buddhist and I was impatient – reading a whole book to get the answers I sought would take too long!

The frustration continued – if this was meant for me, why wasn’t I getting it? Why was I still so very much on the outside? I got so frustrated I let it go. I begrudgingly began tripping over the Tibetan version of the Seven Line Prayer. I did theater in school; memorizing seven lines should be a breeze – WRONG! The words had no meaning, and they didn’t rhyme, and the sounds of the words were unlike any language I have learned to date. Then I got flustered with the idea of saying it 10,000 times. Struggle, struggle, squirm, squirm. And then one day, about a month ago, I got it.

I was halfway through a mala of the Seven Line Prayer when I realized that I was saying the Tibetan words as though I had been saying them all my life. My mind was open, my heart was open, an image of Guru Rinpoche even popped up in my head while I was saying it. I realized that in the act of saying it, I was meditating, slowing down my obsessive need to become a Buddhist. I had stopped pushing it, stopped forcing it. I started reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche – only little bits and pieces at a time, but it too forced me to slow down and open up, and it started to fall into place. I listened to live webcast Dharma teachings and got to the temple. I was a fool to think that because I’ve been accidentally practicing Buddhist values I would instantly know everything there is to know about Buddhism. I need to ease up on myself and stop acting like I’m behind the eight ball because in three months’ time I haven’t mastered Buddhism. Where’s the fun in knowing everything all at once anyway – I LOVE surprises!

And you know the best part? I went back to the KPC website looking for the calendar, and decided to troll the site again. There, I found MANY answers to questions I couldn’t find there three months ago. WHERE DID ALL THIS INFORMATION COME FROM? There is no way this stuff was here before! The moment I let go and slowed down, my eyes and mind were able to see what I sought. It was THEN that I realized that I need to SLOOOOW DOOOOOWN and let Buddhism reveal itself to me as it sees fit. The harder I try, the more elusive it is. Slow down, open my heart, open my mind, and check my ego at the door.

And so it begins…

Dharma Book Discussion Group

An Open Heart by Dalai Lama

Throughout July and August KPC will host a book club to discuss An Open Heart, Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama and Nicholas Vreeland.

This book explores fundamental elements of our Dharma path including karma, loving kindness, a good heart and bodhicitta.

Class dates will be the following Fridays at 7p.m.: July 1, 8,15, 29; Aug 5, 19, 26.

The book is available in the Mani Jewel Gift Store or you can order the book here…