Buddhism in Gainesville, Florida

Noted Lama Visits Gainesville

Buddhist Lama

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche

On Friday, October 21, 2011, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche appeared at the Historic Church of Gainesville on NE First Street in Gainesville, Florida, to speak on “Buddhism and Family Life.” After his formal talk, he entertained a variety of other topics in a question-and-answer period. Bardor Rinpoche is recognized as an incarnate lama by His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa.

Shortly after 7 pm, the lama was assisted to the podium by two monks, as he has been experiencing some difficulty walking since a stroke in early 2010.  He was greeted by an audience of several hundred people who bowed with respect, some by prostrating themselves.  Several members of the audience brought white silk scarves to be blessed by the lama.

Once the lama was seated, his gestures were fluid and his face animated. Although he spoke exclusively in Tibetan, the audience sat in almost complete silence attending his words.  Several minutes of speaking were followed by several minutes of translation.  The gathering ended at 9 pm.  Copies of his book, Living in Compassion, were sold at the exit by his wife and several assistants.

Highlights of the Talk

• A brief history of Buddhist sanghas since the sixth century.

• The importance of honesty in family communications balanced with tact and loving-kindness.

• The necessity of selective autonomy in a marriage or domestic partnership (as opposed to the total autonomy of single life).

• The spiritual benefits of supporting a partner fully and desiring the best for him or her.

• The importance of avoiding competition in a partnership.

• The dangers of subtly sabotaging a partner in order to be “top dog.”

Highlights of the Q&A Period

• The difference between the Western concepts of guilt and regret from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective. Translation of the question posed by an audience member took a few moments because there is only one Tibetan word to cover both concepts. However, as the translator pointed out, Tibetan Buddhists recognize shades of regret/guilt.  Bardor Rinpoche pointed out that we call “regret” is considered positive as it gives one the opportunity to expunge a behavior or thought pattern. “Guilt” is a negative emotion because it allows one to stay mired in identification with the behavior.

• The long-term consequences of blaming our parents for our present problems because of what they “did to us.”  Problems our parents caused us are usually due to “karmic knots” of their own—which are an inescapable part of any human’s life. Parents rarely intend to do their children harm.

• Dealing with the trauma of having had severely abusive parents. Survivors of extreme parental abuse are more likely to heal from childhood wounds when they realize that their abusive parents had karmic knots so severe and overwhelming that they resulted in out-of-control behavior.

• The absence of God in the Buddhist belief system. Buddhists generally do not believe that the world was created by a supernatural being nor that any divinity controls the course of our lives.  Our spiritual welfare begins and ends with us.

• Belief (or non-belief) in evolution.  Most Buddhists believe that while evolution of the human species occurred in the past, we are probably now in an era of “devolution.”  This view applies to humanity in general, not to individual humans, who are still capable of upward evolution through their lives.

• The personal meaning of Buddhist practice and the concept of enlightenment. While words and concepts are important, they are only tools that lead us to the wordless experience of enlightenment and self-knowledge.

• The challenges of raising children in Western culture today. Parents are more likely to help their children survive today’s culture if they themselves seek tranquility through meditation.

• The reasons that children fall into destructive lifestyles. Bardor Rinpoche believes that out-of-control behaviors in maturing children are often the result of earlier parental overindulgence and failure to set healthy boundaries.

Bardor Rinpoche’s Background

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche was born in 1949 in Tibet. During childhood, he lived a nomadic life with his family, who were yak herders. When he was ten years old, he and his family escaped to India because of increased Communist oppression. A failed Tibetan uprising in 1959 caused the escalation of political persecution, causing many lamas to flee the country. Bardor Rinpoche’s parents died in Assam, India, shortly after their relocation due to health problems associated with the drastic climate change. Later he moved to Rumtek, Sikkim, and began his formal Buddhist training.

In 2003, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche founded  Kunzang Palchen Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist Center in Red Hook, New York. He resides on the other side of the Hudson River from the Center.    He also teaches at other Buddhist centers throughout North America. The mission of the Center in Red Hook is to offer Western students the teachings of all major schools of Tibetan Buddhism—but most particularly the teachings and practices of the lineage of Terchen Barway Dorje. More about Bardor Rinpoche and the Center can be found at http://www.kunzang.org/btr-bio.html


“Living in Compassion”

Living in Compassion was published by Bardor Rinpoche in 2004 (Rinchen Publications, Kingston NY, 171 pp). The book is divided into three sections: 1) understanding karma in our personal and family relationships; 2) a commentary on The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, a noted Tibetan text on the path of compassion and wisdom; and 3)  discussion of the six perfections–generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. The paperback can be purchased for less than $17.00 from one of Amazon’s subsidiary booksellers at http://www.amazon.com.

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My Three Monkeys—Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary

I don’t actually own three monkeys. I sponsor them at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, just north of Gainesville. It all started in 1998 when I visited the sanctuary and met Kari Bagnall, the founder. She’d opened Jungle Friends a year earlier after a successful career as a decorator in Las Vegas. She brought 13 rescued monkeys with her to central Florida and intended to to devote her life to primate rescue.

Two weeks before I met my first monkey, Cappy—a capuchin in his thirties—Kari found him an outdoor crate near Las Vegas, where he’d been exposed to all weather.  He was near death. Formerly, he’d been the long-time pet of an elderly woman who had been put in a nursing home. Cappy was lucky to survive the plane trip to Florida.

The day I met Cappy, he screamed with delight as I approached his mesh enclosure.  Perhaps I reminded him of his former owner.  He extended his little hand toward me through the wire, wanting to touch me. I was smitten. Our friendship grew over the years. As soon as Cappy spotted me crossing the property and walking toward his habitat, he began making happy cries and reaching through the mesh.  While I always brought his favorite treats, his first priority was our greeting ritual.  Only when he settled down to soft, sweet “woo-woo” sounds would he accept the grapes, bananas, or peanuts I brought.

Cappy was later joined by Puchi, another capuchin. Puchi had been picked up by police on a freeway outside Chicago—badly burned and in need of medical care. Apparently he’d escaped from a residential fire.  Unable to locate his owners, wildlife authorities made arrangements for his transfer to Jungle Friends in Florida. When I met Puchi, he was pretty banged up.  Besides his other problems, he had an infected eye that eventually had to be removed.

Cappy and Puchi were a good match. Cappy, the big brother, doted on Puchi—grooming him so much that most of the hair not burned off in the fire was plucked off. Cappy taught Puchi to treat me like a VIP, so now I had two monkeys greeting me with joyful screams. Because I worried that Puchi’s disfigurement might discourage other sponsors, he became my second adopted monkey.

A year later Cappy and Puchi welcomed a third capuchin, Lucy.  Suffering from advanced cancer, Lucy was frail and very sick. But at Cappy’s side, she glowed with pleasure as he groomed her, picking through her hair for whatever it is monkeys find there. Now I had Lucy to consider, too.  Who is going to sponsor a monkey dying of cancer?  I decided it would be me.

One morning after the trio had been together for several months, Kari called me with a heavy voice.  Lucy had a seizure, she said, and died suddenly.  Not only that—Cappy died about an hour later of a heart attack. The stress of Lucy’s last throes must have been fatal for him. I was prepared for Lucy’s death but not Cappy’s. I went through my days stunned for a long time.

The deaths of Cappy and Lucy were much harder for Puchi, who’d lost his monkey family in the space of a few hours.  During the weeks of finding himself alone, Puchi poked around his habitat listlessly.  The Jungle Friends staff went out of their way to cheer him up and I visited more often, bringing his favorite treats. Puchi’s spirits remained low until Kari placed him with two other capuchins—Chi-Chi, a former circus monkey, and Wendell, a refugee from a sanctuary unable to treat his severe medical problems.  Currently all three monkeys, in their thirties, live together happily and in good health.

Becoming a sponsor has allowed me to make friends with monkeys without owning them as pets—a move that almost always ends in tragedy. Visiting Cappy, Puchi and Lucy and following their lives, they became part of mine. Every time I visit the sanctuary, I walk around the beautiful habitats that house more than one hundred healthy, happy capuchins and other monkey species. They scamper through trees and shrubs, swing on ropes, and run through overhead passages from one habitat to the other. These happy monkeys once led miserable lives of confinement and ill treatment as circus performers, breeding stock for exotic pet traders, laboratory subjects, and pets of disenchanted owners.

Monkey sponsorship costs as little as ten dollars a month. Information about how to join the Jungle Friends community of sponsors is available at http://www.junglefriends.org.

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Arguing About Religion

Do you ever argue about religion thinking you’ll convince the other person that you’re right?  How often do you change their beliefs? Buddhists call this “unskilled speech.” It doesn’t work.  Heated discussions rarely change anyone’s mind. They just arouse angry emotions.

John Cobb, a Christian advocate of interfaith dialogue advises us to avoid religious topics unless our minds are open to new ideas and we want to understand the views of others. Discussions of spirituality are fine when they don’t get us worked up—when we can listen to others with a receptive, curious mind. They cause ill feelings when our intention is to convert others to our way of thinking.

This principle extends to other cherished beliefs, too. My triggers for debate are the sport of hunting, the “right to life” movement, and violence in the media.  The Buddhists refer to the triggers that hook us as “shenpa.”  Shenpa turns us from thoughtful, reasonable people into emotional, angry ones.  Since calmness is usually out of my reach when shenpa strikes, my best move is to divert the conversation politely before I get caught up in the desire to win.

According to Buddhist principles—clinging to people, material possessions, and even long-held beliefs causes us to suffer in the long run.  It’s easy to build an identity around these things.  The thought of losing them frightens us, so we defend them at all costs, sometimes leading us to violence.

We can make an ego out of religious identity as easily as anything else.

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