Surrounded by snow capped Himalayan mountains and home to thousand of Tibetan refugees (including His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama), is the city of Dharamsala. Within this city is a town named McLeod Ganj. In the this town is the wonderful Tushita Meditation Centre.
While exploring India for three months on my own, I made a last minute decision to take a trip to McLeod Ganj where I spent a couple of weeks studying Buddhism and Tibetan history. The first week of my stay in Mcleod Ganj was spent at the Tushita Meditation Centre for the study and practice of Buddhism from the Tibetan Mahayana tradition. Here I learned about, and put into practice, the teaching of the Buddha in a course titled “Introduction to Buddhism.” The teachings, meditations and practices I learned are based on the tradition of Lama Tsong Khapa of Tibet (the Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism), as taught to us by Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. The course itself was taught by the very intelligent and humorous Venerable Robina Courtin. Over the course of five very full days, Venerable Robina Courtin taught myself and 76 others in the class about Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and meditation from a modern perspective. She instructed the class in a way that we could apply this ancient wisdom to increase peace, happiness, and compassion in your daily lives.
Each day started and ended in silence except for discussions during the teachings. At 6AM in the meditation/learning hall, we spent the first 45 minutes meditating. Meditation followed by breakfast that usually consisted of porridge, fruit, bread, peanut butter and chai. The rest of the morning was spent in the meditation/learning hall where we covered the following topics:
- The Mind and Emotions
- Love and Compassion
- The Nature of Reality
At noon, we braked for lunch which consisted of many different, but always healthy, vegetarian food. Lunch was followed by karma yoga. For those who are not aware, karma yoga refers to daily tasks that everyone staying at the centre is assigned to do as selfless work. The rest of the late afternoon into the evening was spent in the meditation/learning centre for more teachings until 6:30PM. After the last teaching of the day, we had dinner which was usually a lighter vegetarian soup that varied daily. Dinner was followed by another 45 minute meditation session which was followed by bedtime at 9PM.
In our beds at night, we were encouraged to write in our journals or read material that we were given on Tibetan Buddhism. I usually spent this time doing a little reading and a lot of writing. I didn’t write much during the lectures because I figured that the important lessons that I needed in my life at the time would stick with me. This played out to be true. I found it very helpful to write, in my own words, what I learned from the teachings each day. Now, I can always refer to my journal if I’m looking for inspiration that will bring more peace and happiness into my life.
I found the five days I spent at Tushita to be more challenging than the week I spent at Phool Chati Ashram. Perhaps it’s because I was taking in such profound information in such short time that I became mentally exhausted. I found it harder to be more disciplined and focused on what I was learning, but the benefits I reaped in such little time was huge. There was one afternoon where I was lying in the sun not thinking but only observing a blade of grass. At that moment, everything around me became brighter and exciting. I had not felt that way over something so simple since a month before when I was at Phool Chati Ashram. However, this specific moment stuck out as different because it was at that moment I realized the excitement I felt over this blade of grass is how I felt as a child about everything. As a child, every object and especially nature seemed to be very exciting and the world was endless of possibilities. I could sit outside and play with stones or dirt for hours and be the happiest being on the planet. Everything was simple and not as complex as it “appears” to adults. I felt like a kid again, and it felt great!
On the last night of the course, a ceremony was held at the stupa located just outside the meditation/learning hall. A stupa is the earliest, and some consider most significant, architectural Buddhist expression-monument in Buddhism and is used by Buddhists as a place of worship. Myself, along with the 76 other students, lit candles and placed them around the stupa. The light of the candles symbolizes burning away our mental afflictions of desire, aggression, greed, jealousy, pride and so forth. Once the last person in the group lit their two candles, the entire stupa illuminated. The entire group sat for an hour below the stupa meditating. The entire experience was beautiful and uplifting.
A year has passed since I took this curse, yet I continue to use what I learned in the course in my daily life. The teachings impacted me greatly and made me even more curious for life. Most importantly I am able to find myself feeling more and more like a “kid” about the simple things in life, specifically nature. For me, that is the greatest gift I gained from this experience. I would highly recommend this course or any of the Buddhist courses at Tushita Mediation Centre.
Have you studied Buddhism before? What are your thoughts on this ancient philosophy?