On my way to the Kagyu Monlam prayer festival in Wappingers Falls NY this week, I was treated to a parade of natural beauty.
Yes, there are traffic jams on I-80 through Pennsylvania and New York, but there’s also the Laurel Highlands in western Pennsylvania (where I routed myself to enjoy the breath-taking sights of mountains and mist along I-99) and the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, covered in midsummer’s deep green.
There’s also the rivers – the nightly Susquehanna and the Hudson, among others. Add in a mix of sun, clouds and rain, and it’s a perfect trip for offerings.
Yes, you heard right. Offerings.
Anyone who travels with me will tell you that when we sail over the highway bridges, I recite mantras and greet local water spirits and complement them on their beautiful homes, and thank mountain guardians for being patrons of dharma and protecting all in their shadows.
It’s eccentric, I suppose, but I come by it honestly. Years ago, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, while walking with a few of us through Blendon Woods Metro Park in Columbus, shared that in his homeland of Tibet, nomads didn’t have a lot of money, but still were able to make vast offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas through the use of their imaginations.
“They didn’t have silver or gold or jewels, but they could offer the white snow mountains, that sparkled like diamonds,” he said. And they would offer whatever natural beauty they found within their sight. By doing so, he said, they cultivated a mind of virtue, and strengthened their connection to enlightened beings and, by extension, their own enlightenment.
From that day onward, I sought to incorporate this practice into my everyday life. Without specific advice, everything became fair game: meals set before me, the wealth in glowing cities seen from the air, the happiness of children on the playground, the beauty in spring flowers and summer rains.
At first, I thought this sort of “present moment” practice was just “a Tibetan thing,” as I noticed that Tibetans – particularly those raised in nomad families – seemed keenly aware of their world in ways we miss. But the more I practiced it, the more I realized that nationality didn’t matter – it was all a matter of intention, and skill.
This sort of practice takes two skills: pure intention, and mindfulness.
Mindfulness, cultivated through basic meditation (shamatha), brings us into familiarity with our moment-to-moment thoughts, feelings, sensations, and experiences. And pure intention – such as the pure intention to honor the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or to benefit sentient beings through the practice of love and compassion and bodhicitta – is the best possible “idle thought” we could put into our minds at any moment.
Through mindfulness, we can be aware of our thoughts and can make the conscious choice about what to do with our thoughts – where to invest our energy, our intentions, and so on – in order to “steer” our minds in a positive (i.e., more awakened) direction.
The need for this in daily life is easy to see. So busy are we these days – with our families, jobs, and many responsibilities – that few of us know anything else that’s going on around us. We may know what the season is because of the weather, but we don’t know what phase the moon is in, or what the sky looks like after dark.
Meditation cultivates awareness of the world – the entire world – and with this awareness, a chance to expand our vision beyond the visible horizon opens up.
Offering everything in sight (and beyond it) to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas matches our imagination to the size of mind itself, and gives us a glimpse of the limitless mind that we call “Buddha Nature.” It also impels us to let go in the most intimate sense of everything we would normally grasp, making daily sense experiences the foundation for transcendent awareness.
So when the afternoon sun lights up a field of flowers, the moon hangs full in a cloudy sky, or the night gives you a scattering of stars, practice this simple combination of pure intention and mindfulness, and bring the awakened ones into your field of experience. And while you’re at it, dedicate the goodness to Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, who first taught us this practice, for his long life, good health, and ever-expanding dharma activity!
The Journey Home: This Week’s Highlights
By now many of you will have seen the drawings of the proposed new KTC shrine building that were shared during our June 21 Sangha Meeting. The drawings were made by Keith Spruce of Milwaukee, who is working on the Karmapa 16 Center near Chicago, and were based on the surveys about building size and rooms and such that the KTC Board conducted in February. The plans reflect the requests of the community, with some room for future growth.
Keith visited us June 21 and attended our first East Franklinton Review Board meeting. He also showed the plans and answered questions during the June 21 Sangha Meeting. Next week, he will be back in Columbus for an important review of the plans with the City of Columbus’ Building and Zoning Department.
Once those reviews are done, we go back to the EFRB for a final review – and, we hope, an approval – that will take us to the next step, which is meeting with contractors to see if we can get the best work for the best price. Meanwhile, the Board also will be working on a “Capital Campaign” – an organized method of raising the money that will be needed to build the structure Keith designed.
As of now, our biggest need is prayers – so if you could recite the Tashi Prayer each day with the intention that all obstacles to the KTC’s “journey home” be removed and purified, and that we find all the workers, volunteers, helpers, and money we need to bring our sangha home – that would be appreciated!!!