Tribute To Geshe Dawa

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This is an intensely personal post and one I entrust to you as the teaching it contains has not been previously published.

Some background: On the 8th October I was informed by the Venerable Michael Yeshe, that Geshe Dawa (one of my first precious teachers) was in palliative care at home in his centre, Tashi Choling, Padstow, Sydney.  The Venerable Michael wrote:

He was very alert this morning and reciting prayers but now looks quite frail! Hard to predict how much longer he decides to stay, though I made requests to stay as long as possible as many older students are coming from all over & otherwise praying and practicing as best as they can. He acknowledged that and looks very peaceful! Back to some prayers now.

Immediately I began reciting prayers and making arrangements to fly to Sydney. As it happened, I was not able to fly till the following Wednesday.

The next day (9th) the following email arrived from Tashi Choling:

Dear Friends,

We have heard from Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Holly Ansett showed Lama Zopa Rinpoche the email message that was sent yesterday (the message that included the photo of Geshe Dawa).  The message from Holly is below:

“I showed Rinpoche and he spent some time doing prayers and then said Geshe La will be totally ok, he is totally taken care of by Tara.”

With thanks,

Tashi Choling

That night, at Tara Institute in Melbourne there was a special Guru Puja with the Venerable Geshe Doga. Geshe Doga had suggested that it would be good if we came together to recite prayers for Geshe Dawa. “Dedicate that all Geshe Dawa’s wishes might be fulfilled” Geshe Doga advised.

Many old students came as well as many newer ones who, although they may not have personally had the fortune to know Geshe Dawa were, nonetheless, keenly aware that he had been Tara Institute’s first, or more importantly,  pioneering Geshe (from 1981-84) and had forged fertile ground in the minds of those who, otherwise, had proved intractable, impervious, to the Buddhas of the past!

In the meanwhile, I had set to work transcribing from my original handwritten notes Geshe Dawa’s last weekend course given at Tara Institute 22-23 October 1983. My intention was to prepare this quickly so that it could be shared at this precious time. As work progressed, however, I realized I needed to access the original audio recordings. This slowed the transcription process down but also enabled me to start setting up a small team dedicated to transcribing–and eventually publishing–all of Geshe Dawa’s teachings given while at Tara Institute.

These included: Lo Rig [Mind and Cognition] 1981; Lo Jong [Thought Training] 1981; Vipassana [Special Insight], 1981; Commentary on Tsongkhapa’s Three Principles of the Path, 1981; Patience, 1981; Bodhisattvacharyavatara [Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life],1981-2; 1984; Drup ta [Tenets], 1981-2; Twelve Dependent Links 1982; Nagarjuna’s Ratnamala (Precious Garland) 1982; Lam Rim, 1982; Wheel of Sharp Weapons 1981 and 1984; Preliminaries of Guru Yoga, 1982; Stages of the Path, 1983; Nyung Nye, 1983; Twenty One Taras, 1983; Chandrakirti’s Supplement to the Middle Way, 1984; Mindfulness, 1984; Concentration, 1984; Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth, 1984; Heart Sutra, 1984; Final Weekend Course, 1984 (which is the source of the teaching published below).

This crucial wheel-turning body of Dharma teachings was not just crafted especially for our unruly minds but also, in a global multi-cultural sense, represents an historically-significant transmission of Sanskrit (Nalanda) and Tibetan texts and accompanying oral commentary from classic Tibetan to English-speaking domains. In this way it is reminiscent of the vast achievement of the Great Master Atisha during his extended stay in Tibet. Without the kindness of the Chinese Government and the unbelievable kindness of His Holiness the Dalai Lama who had blessed Geshe Dawa’s coming to teach in the distant red land of Australia (at the initial instigation of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche) this miracle might never have happened.

Having reflected deeply, and overwhelmed by gratitude for Geshe Dawa’s immense kindness in guiding me (and so many others) into dharma practice, it keenly struck me that working with the archive and arranging for transcriptions in this way constituted the very best offering I could make, especially if accompanied by prayers for Geshe Dawa to be always with us and guide us as does a loving mother her child. Not at all incidentally,  one of my fondest memories is of Geshe Dawa, following a 1983 teaching in Tara Institute (Crimea Street), sitting on the edge of the table, chatting and laughing with students while joyfully swinging his legs as might a mirth-filled radiant child. How could someone, anyone, be so utterly loving, so precisely alert, yet so unfathomably relaxed?

When I finally arrived in Sydney (Wednesday 11th October) it was with some trepidation as Geshe Dawa had now been in palliative care for a number of days and students who had already visited had warned me not to leave it too long, but to “get there soon.” I made my way immediately from the airport to the centre. Serendipitously, a fellow “old” dharma student had been waiting to catch the same airport train and she filled in the details of what was happening and what to expect. As it turned out, I had the great good fortune of being able to offer personal prayers in Geshe Dawa’s room and even for a brief but intensely moving moment, with permission, hold his hand. Geshe Dawa had stopped talking at that stage and his eyes were shut (having refused food and drink he was absorbing further and further into deep meditation), but I felt a wave of shimmering energy pass between us; this is something that I hesitate to put into words for fear of diminishing it.  For those several precious moments I made the most intense prayers to be able to be with Geshe Dawa again in future times. Also I fervently mentally recited the following verse (from Lama Chopa):

And thus, O venerable compassionate Gurus, we seek your blessings,
That all karmic debts, obstacles and sufferings
Of mother beings may without exception ripen upon me right now,
And that we may give our happiness and virtue to others
And thereby invest all beings in bliss.

Geshe Dawa, together with Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche and Geshe Doga had been the unbelievably precious teachers who had revealed the meaning of this verse (describing as it does, the core Tong Len or Giving and Taking Practice in the context of generating the special mind of bodhichitta) when I was still an existentially-fraught twenty-seven year old with dishevelled clothes, artistic ambitions, yet few coherent plans. How could something as apparently counter-logical (even counter-intuitive?) as exchanging self for others by willingly seeking to take on the suferring of others while giving away one’s happiness to all others make an iota of sense otherwise? Let alone form the committed basis of one’s daily practice located within a modern industrialized environment that privileges personal success and individual triumph over all else, and yes, even at the cost of others?

The rest of the day in Sydney was spent with the Sangha (among whom were included Lab Rinpoche, Geshe Yeshe Gawa, Ven Tamdin and Ven Fedor). It was an enormous privilege to be with them as they recited the Yamantaka Self-Initiation and other essential prayers. Faint movements of Geshe Dawa’s lips indicated that he was actively participating as they were all practices he had long ago memorized. That evening I returned to Melbourne and resumed work on Geshe Dawa’s archive.

On the 14th October I received official notification from Tashi Choling that “Geshe Dawa entered into clear light meditation early this morning.”

Called tukdam (Wyl. thugs dam) in Tibetan, it refers to the entry into profound meditative union with the very subtle luminous primordial mind: “the clear light of death.”[1] An advanced tantric meditator may skilfully utilize this mind and thus dwell in a rare and profound state of meditative absorption (situated between what are conventionally known as “life” and “death”) for many days during which time the body (which remains supple and glowing with some warmth at the heart) is neither disturbed nor touched so as not to disrupt the meditation. Therefore it is a very important time for the students to silently practice.

Four days later (18th October) it was reported that “our precious Geshe Dawa La’s meditation has finished.” Funeral arrangements[2] were made for the next Tuesday at Macquarie Park Crematorium.

By way of my own humble offering of homage and tribute to this extraordinary teacher who brought a cascading river of radiant pure Dharma all the way from Sera Monastery (Tibet) to the parched ears of the West, I offer (as mentioned above) the first part of my transcription of Geshe Dawa’s last weekend course at Tara Institute Melbourne. The rest will follow in the next several immediately consecutive posts.

By way of introducing this (now even more poignant) teaching, Geshe Dawa makes it clear that, from the beginning, he is giving essential advice, not from texts, but experientially, from the heart. This sign of deep intimacy with his students as well as respect for our fledgling and often quite ruffled practice was surely the greatest gift to bestow upon the eve of his departure back to India and then to Lab Monastery in Tibet (founded 14th Century) in order to care for his reincarnated guru, the (then) young Lab Kyabgon Rinpoche. On his return to Tibet, Geshe Dawa wished to teach not just the monastery Sangha but the local villagers and nomads whose culture has also been so seriously disrupted. Also, he wished to assist in the rebuilding of large portions of the monastery devastated during the Cultural Revolution.[3] I mention this as it indicates how the entire arc of Geshe Dawa’s life was shaped only to serve the needs of others.

For an official and inspiring biography of Geshe Dawa see A Lamp Dispelling the Mental Darkness of Disciples: An Essential Biography of the Great Virtuous Friend Geshe Thubten Dawö, downloadable from http://www.happymonkspublication.org/welcome-happy-monks-publication/publications-mahayana-buddhist-dharma/

 

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LAST TEACHING  GIVEN AT TARA INSTITUTE (CRIMEA STREET, MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA) OVER THE WEEKEND 22-23 OCTOBER 1984

Resident Translator: Samdup Tsering

Transcribed from audio file and personal notes with light editing:   Ross Moore.

 

PART ONE

THE VENERABLE GESHE DAWA:

In this course we do not have any specific teachings. Instead, we will deal more on the general topics such as bodhichitta, compassion and love. I shall give commentary on these according to my own opinion as much as I can. Tomorrow morning, following instruction on generating the altruistic aspiration, I will mention the precepts we have to maintain in relation to aspiring bodhichitta. Then, tomorrow afternoon, I shall mention the aspirational intention to obtain enlightenment as a promise. Those able to maintain the eight precepts of the bodhisattva vow can take the real bodhisattva (vows) while those unable to maintain or observe the eight precepts can take the bodhichitta by just aspiring.

This way of generating bodhichitta with eight promises was given by His Holiness while visiting here.[4] If anyone, during His Holiness’s visit, promised to keep the eight precepts of aspiring bodhichitta they can develop (restore) if they had any deterioration. This would be good. Otherwise you can just aspire–without promising–to such mind generations. This will be explained again later.

When we talk generally about bodhichitta, we acknowledge how its root, or foundation, is compassion. So the generation of bodhichitta is dependent upon compassion. The object of compassion is those sentient beings who are suffering immensely. Upon realizing how they are so intensely suffering we will generate a sense that their suffering is unbearable. Because we feel that we are not in a position to bear the sufferings of others we will generate a strong wish to free them from such suffering: this is the aspect of compassion. Whenever we see any being who is inflicted with this suffering and, finding it unbearable, wish to spontaneously free them from this suffering: this is compassion. Therefore the object of compassion is those beings who are suffering terribly. Arya Asanga, for example, first generated this compassion when he saw a bitch who was infected with immense sores that were rotten with maggots and eaten by many birds.[5] Likewise, the Lord Buddha also first developed beginning-compassion by focusing upon such kinds of beings.

But the great compassion is not the feeling of the unlikeness or intolerability of the suffering of just one sentient being: such a feeling is extended to all sentient beings.

At the beginning it seems quite strange and difficult to consider [include] all the sentient beings who are suffering. This is because, in that same moment we identify some sentient beings as having more happiness and wealth than others. Then there are others who we think are less [than ourselves]. Also, we notice that when we see some sentient beings with more wealth, possessions, happiness and intellect than ourselves we think: instead of me giving more wealth, happiness and resources to them, they should have mercy to me! So it seems this is the way we are likely to think. But when we investigate deeply, we realize that this perception is not so [i.e. grounded in reality].

At this moment we are quite fortunate in that we have a perfect rebirth, good living conditions, good possessions and health. And the same conditions are with others. But, although, at the moment, we do have some pleasures in regards to our body and living conditions, these good qualities are not certain. Indeed, considered as a whole, our conditions are not certain. For example, this body is uncertain: we don’t know for how long it will remain in this good condition. Nor do we know the extent of our life. This we don’t know. This is because our body at the end will be destroyed. Likewise high and low positions [status] are also uncertain and can change places in a moment. Even if a person is in a very high and powerful position in the nation, due to momentary impermanence, this can change: they might go to prison or have their position terminated. At the same time friends, relations and all intimates are also inconstant: there is nothing definite with friends and relations. Even if we have thousands of friends there is nothing definite. For instance, in the morning we might feel discomfort in regards to not seeing a dear friend. By evening this might have turned to disdain–for the night! And vice versa. This shows there is no constancy in friendship.

All this happens with just a slight mistake in speaking or something similar. Likewise with possessions and wealth. Just the slightest mistake in a business decision can cause depression. In our own case as Tibetans we left all our possessions behind in Tibet. Even we fled from that country.

The reason for all this uncertainty in our affairs and everything around us is because we are born helpless. At the same time, the four sufferings of birth, sickness, old age and death do not get stopped just because we make some wish. We don’t have power or control over all these unfortunate things. The four sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death will therefore occur without our wish and remain in every place to which we go and at all times.

It is the nature of general cyclic existence that things in the end will destruct; birth results in death; at the end of befriending [meeting} is departing [separation].[6]

For instance, all those (such as ourselves) gathering here in one place will have to eventually depart and disperse. This is the nature. Therefore the high lama Gunthang Jampalyang has said the nature of cyclic existence is like that. He speaks in a metaphorical way: “during the spring period, due to the power of the wind, some leaves gather but with the change of the wind’s power, the collection scatters. In the same way, due to the wind of our karma at the beginning we gather and then, at the end, we disperse.”[7] So the moment we are living this uncertain life: we possess some wealth, shelter, clothes and such uncertain things but, at the time of death, we possess almost nothing. We are clothes just with our skin. All our possessions we held before are now nothing. Just things of nothing! At the moment of death, whatever food is in our mouth will be the last food. So he is saying that we must say goodbye to food! Sometimes the things in our mouth cannot go inside [be even swallowed]. And meeting with our friends and relatives at that moment is perhaps the last meeting. Sometimes, when dying we can’t see, so we just feel with our hands our relatives and friends. Even the high positions and high powers we have must all be left behind.

Also, at some stage, we have to leave the body through which, at the moment [at least] we have some feeling and so forth.

Normally our bodies survive in dependence on the constituents of the four elements [earth; water; fire; air] together with their relation to consciousness. At death when the earth element dissolves, the relationship of the earth element to consciousness is exhausted. At the same time we lose the power of balance in our body. When the air element exhausts, the manner of breathing we have is no more. When the water element in our body exhausts, the whole interior of our [saliva, urine, blood, regenerative fluid etc.] dries up. When the fire element dissolves we will not have any heat in our body as we currently have.

So when the four elements in our body separate from our consciousness, at that time only consciousness remains and this will continue as a stream once the mind and body separate. This type of suffering is something that doesn’t just happen to oneself but all sentient beings due to being under the bondage of karma and afflictions. So when we see someone who, for a time, appears more wealthy and powerful than ourselves, when we think more deeply upon them we realize they also have the general sufferings of samsara. By contemplating the general sufferings of all beings[8] experienced by all samsaric beings we generate compassion. Even if for just a moment we generate it, this is a great deed and it is reasonable. In this way we don’t feel there are some sentient beings who don’t deserve my compassion.

The uncertainty of the nature of samsara is not only in this lifetime but also in the next lifetime. All things of samsara are uncertain. If we could look at the entirety of samsara through some clairvoyant power, then it would be quite funny.

For instance, during Lord Buddha’s time, his disciple Shāriputra went out for begging and came before one family. Through his clairvoyant power he investigated that family and saw that the father’s main occupation had been to fish in the river beside his house. He died and reborn as a fish in that river. The mother who had had much attachment to family and house had died and been reborn as the family’s dog. Their daughter had given birth to a son who, in a previous life, was the man who killed her father. So the daughter in this life was nursing the son who had previously killed her father while eating the fish who was her reborn father while kicking the dog who had been her mother in the previous life. So Shāriputra, commenting on what he had seen with his clairvoyance said:

“Keeping the enemy in her own lap while eating the flesh of her father and kicking her own mother: this is the nature of samsara.”[9]

So there is nothing certain in samsara.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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NOTES

Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography

[1] For an introduction to this topic (which currently falls beyond the scope of Western scientific empiricism but not emerging scientific interest), see Dalai Lama, Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying, 122-3; 128-9, 199, 208. 210. While discussing Buddhist Vajrayāna, His Holiness explained: The clear light of death is something that everyone, without exception, experiences, but there is much variation in terms of how long the experience is sustained. For some people it may last only a few seconds, for some a few minutes, for some several days or even weeks. As long as the clear light of death experience is sustained, the connection between the very subtle energy-mind and the gross physical body has not yet been severed. It’s in the process of being severed but it has not yet been completely severed. At the very moment that the severance takes place, the body begins to decay, and at that point we say death has occurred (ibid), 163-4.

[2] Contact Tashi Choling Institute, Padstow, Sydney for details.

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[3] “Lab monastery was founded by Lab Kyabgon Rinpoche (Dhenma Khenchen Yonten pal) in 14th century. He was one of the greatest students of Tsongkhapa. The supreme holders of Lab monastery were Lab Kyabgon Rinpoche, Lab Khenchen Rinpoche, Lab Tengye Rinpoche. Lab was one of the most renowned Monastery with more then one thousand monks studying and practicing Buddhist philosophy and literature. However during the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959 most of the monasteries were demolished by force leaving dead and imprisoned most of respected Lamas and Rinpoches. After the decades of the Chinese invasion of Tibet, The military rulers of the Chinese government began a policy of limited religious freedom in Tibet, releasing some prisoned lamas including the respected Tulku Sonam Tsemo. Tulku Sonam Tsemo took an initiative to rebuild Lab Monastery to some extent. Today Lab has more than six hundred monks from studying in Tibet and India.” See  https://www.facebook.com/pg/Lab-Monastery-131426533586641/about/?ref=page_internal

[4] This refers to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first Australian tour in 1982 in which he visited, over ten days, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and Perth.

[5] For a fuller account see Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche https://www.lamayeshe.com/article/chapter/asanga-and-maitreya-buddha.

[6] From the Dhammapada:

Collections in the end disperse,

Whatever rises must also fall.

All meetings end in separation,

The final end of life is death.

See Gareth Sparham, The Tibetan Dhammadapa, verse 22, 6.

[7] I have been unable to locate this quotation. Any help would be gratefully acknowledged.

[8] These are enumerated in the Lam Rim literature as follows:

  1. The bane of uncertainty
  2. The bane of being unsatisfied
  3. The bane of repeatedly leaving bodies
  4. The bane of being conceived and born over and over again
  5. The bane of moving from high to low over and over again
  6. The bane of having no one to help you

For a general over-all account see Pabongka Rinpoche, ibid, 477-86.

[9] This story, exemplifies the bane of uncertainty, is often found with slight variation. Pabongka Rinpoche’s account reads:

Our enemies, friends, parents, and so forth change places. Once, a layman’s old father always used to eat fish from the pool behind the house. The father die and was reborn as a fish in the pool. The layman’s mother was attached to the house, so she was reborn as the man’s dog. The man’s enemy had been killed for raping the man’s wife; because the enemy was so attached to her, he was reborn as her son. The son caught his father, the fish, and killed it. While he ate its meat, the dog, his mother, ate the fishbones, and so was beaten by her son. His own little son, his enemy, was sitting on his knee. Shāriputra saw this and said:

He eats his father’s flesh and hits his mother.

The enemy he killed sits on his knee.

A wife gnaws her husband’s bones.

Saṃsāra can be such a farce!

See Pabongka, Liberation, 478 (1991 edition), 478.

 

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