Spirit Catcher

By M. Tye Wolfe, Ithaca Times, Aug 8, 2007

Ithaca, New York (USA) -- Ithacans, at least those not in perennial meditation, have noticed the growing Buddhist presence in the city. On July 4, Tibetan Buddhist monks blessed an area by Route 96B on which a new 15,000-square-foot monastery is set to be built.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is scheduled to bless the ground and speak at the State Theatre this October. But many non-Tibetan Ithacans are also practicing Buddhists. The eastern religion is increasingly practiced by Westerners, some of whom have studied in Asian monasteries and earned the status of Lama, or teacher.

From August 10-12, Lama Tsering will give Tibetan Buddhist teachings at Tara House on 101 Linn Street. This meditation space, located in a striking red building next to the Cascadilla Gorge, was designated less than a year ago for the study and practice of Vajrayana Buddhism. Lama Tsering is its current director.

"We are creating conditions for others to participate and enjoy the wisdom methods of the Vajrayana Buddhism and the benefits that arise from meditation practice," said organizer Lizzy Kitney, who lives at Tara House. "With regular visits by our teachers, called Lamas, we listen to the teachings to learn the methods of the Dharma and with the support of the sangha, the community of fellow practitioners."

To laypeople, Buddhists might describe the Dharma as a "universal law or truth;" it is often translated as a "right way of living" or "proper conduct," for those seeking enlightenment.

Several schools and sub-schools of Buddhism exist. A notable aspect of Vajrayana Buddhism is that it believes an accelerated path to enlightenment is possible via tantric techniques. Earlier schools tend to see enlightenment, or nirvana, as something requiring many lifetimes. Vajrayana is an aspect of the Nyingma School of Buddhism, the oldest of the religion's four schools.

In addition to hosting teachers, Tara House hosts twice weekly meetings featuring meditation, mantra and study. It is under the auspices of the Chagdud Gonpa Foundation, an international organization founded in 1983 by H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, a Tibetan artist and physician who died in 2002. The original monastery of Chagdud Gonpa, built in 1431, still stands, and operates, in Tibet.

Lama Tsering was born in Spokane, Washington and became interested in Buddhism after hearing a series of lectures by Sogyal Rinpoche in early 1979; she later became his translator, accompanying him across North America, Europe and Australia for eleven years.

Kitney says a focus of her teachings has been on cultivating compassion, training the mind, and applying Buddhist principles to every day life. Under Chagdud's supervision, she completed a three-year retreat and was ordained as a lama in 1995. The same year, she was asked to conduct a six-month teaching tour in Brazil, and subsequently became the resident Lama in Såo Paolo.

On August 10, Lama Tsering will teach from 7-9:30pm on "The Nature of the Mind." The next day from 10-5pm, her lesson will concern Tonglen Meditation. On August 12, from 10-5pm, she will discuss the Red Tara practice, where she will offer Bodhisattva vows.

For further information, call 256-0670 or visit www.chagdudithaca.googlepages.com.