News, Updates and a Timely Message – December 2009

written by: CLARKE SCOTT 

It has been a while since the last post. I promise this one will be less obscure. Since we last spoke His Holiness the Dalai Lama has visited Australia. Sydney in fact is where the teachings were held. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of the event. I spent the week traveling from just near Gosford to Sydney with friends. 90 minutes in a car each way was, believe it or not, a lot of fun.

I got to see parts of NSW I have not seen and we spent most of that time in discussion on Buddhist philosophy, meditation, and university politics. My friends – (Daniel and Ally) are also attempting PhDs. Daniel in philosophy, while Ally (Daniels’s wife) is doing philology at Harvard. The teachings were fantastic and I met several old friends as well as new ones. I should make a particular mention to Ross Bennetts, an old reader of this blog. Even if it was a rather short chat, it was nice to meet you, Ross.

At the same time as the teachings by His Holiness were taking place, there was a conference on Mind and It’s Potential going on across the road. On day two of that conference HHDL participated in a panel discussion. As sangha were given free tickets to this event many of us joined His Holiness at the conference. The panel was chaired by Natasha Mitchell from the ABC radio program – All in the Mind. You can download the MP3’s from this panel discussion here: Dialogue with the Dalai Lama Part 1 and part 2 with part 3 to come next week, I believe. Particularly listen for Alan Wallace as his training as both a meditator and researcher, I believe, sets him apart from the other Western academics on the panel.

Upon my return to Hobart, I emailed Allan to let him know just how much I admired his work. I had met Alan early in 2009 at the Mind and Life conference I attended in Dharamsala. In the email conversation that ensued, several exciting things came out as a result. And although things may change in the future, particularly as I need to check stuff with my teachers – including HHDL, it seems as if Tasmania might just be an ideal place to set up a meditation research center. A center where both contemplative practices and science takes place. Although, there are no firm details as yet, so do not get too excited. Suffice to say, I am 100% behind this project and more details as this particular dependent arising arises! Here is a little of what I had to say: “I also agree that “contemplative observatories” are vital in the ongoing collaboration between Eastern and Western thought. As you know, there is a movement in the Western philosophical tradition, albeit very small, which sees meditation as an important tool in the investigation of consciousness. However, I think what is also needed is for these meditators to be people trained, to some extent at least, in both traditions, for reporting requires a level of critical analysis and articulation that comes from study.” He agreed, adding that HHDL calls such types “hybrids”.

Next in my month of madness (that is, too busy to even get proper sleep) was the visit by His Holiness to the University of Tasmania. His Holiness was here to show support for the exchange program between Utas and the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, India. During the visit, HHDL spoke on topics such as secular ethics, population control, and faith-based not on simple-minded belief, but rather, faith-based on critical analysis and reasoning. Saying (paraphrasing a little): “it is imperative that faith is based on reasoning, for without this as a foundation, at some point in time faith will be tested and it is easy to be spiritual when things are going well. Not so, when things are not.

From what I can tell the audience was most pleased with what HHDL had to say. One Ph.D. student telling me later that he was not what she had expected. She said and I quote he was “quite pragmatic”. She particularly liked what HHDL had to say about the world’s population. This was basically that for a sustainable future we should make sure that population numbers are kept under control. He also went on to provide a solution for birth control by saying that Buddhist monks and nuns were proof of a viable solution. Although, this was somewhat of a joke. I, in fact, think HHDL really does believe this. As the spiritual vocation of monkhood and nunhood is a very rewarding and comfortable lifestyle. It is not as austere as you may think.

Anyway, back to the story. After this HHDL presented a Tibetan nun Ani Sonam with a scholarship. This was the first time she had met HHDL and she was very nervous. She was not told of this presentation until the morning of the visit. Seems this was a wise move. Then, lunch with the Dalai Lama. Yes, I had lunch with His Holiness. The photos above are from that meeting. There were about 6 of us from the School of Philosophy. Although I was supposed to be there as a photographer, I ended up being given lunch and told to sit near HHDL. What an honor, even if I felt totally uncomfortable about eating with him. I had rice and curry if you are wondering. After eating we each presented HHDL with a khata and photos were taken. Then, we were off to the entertainment center in Hobart for HHDL public talk. At this point even more extraordinary good fortune fell at my feet, as I was able to ride to the Hobart entertainment center with HHDL’s entourage. Upon arriving at the entertainment center the bus pulled into the rear of the center and the gates were locked behind us for security. So, I find myself with HHDL and entourage for the next hour moving through various backrooms of the entertainment center as HHDL speaks to politicians, reporters, and others. It was an amazing turn of events, I must say. All I was looking for was a lift to the public talk. Now, I found myself following His Holiness, witnessing his incredible ability to engage people from all levels. The activities of a Buddha, no doubt about it. As I said to one of the Professors earlier in the day HHDL is a template for our practice. That is, he embodies wisdom, compassion, and power. These words, for me, have taken on a new and profound meaning after being witness to the events that took place that day. He is, what I would like to be – a Buddha.

Clarke standing outside Sydney uni

The day after His Holiness’ visit to Tasmania I was back to Sydney for the 2009 Australian Association of Buddhist Studies (AABS) conference held at the University of Sydney. At this point, I should apologize to Arwen – a long term supporter for not finding the time to visit her and her family. Sorry, Arwen! Next time, I promise to find the time. The fact is I could have filled another day or even two with activities of various kinds. Alas, airline tickets meant I could not extend my visit.

The conference was well attended by professional academics and grad students from all over Australia and from New Zealand also. I gave a paper on Tsongkhapaian personal identity which was well received. That is to say, there was not too much descent from the participates. Needless to say, it was a fun event, held at a wonderfully old university, one in which, photo opts were amply abundant.

It has been an incredible year, marked largely by change. Traveled to India; almost died; had a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama; attended a Mind and Life conference inside His Holiness’s private residence; was told to move to Tasmania (a different state) being told: “it is important for your future”; left my monastery of 14 years; received university backed stipend funding; had lunch with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and offered a job. A year of change, indeed.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has emailed or written to me and generally shown their support for my projects in various ways. I truly appreciate your kindness and friendship. Without your help, I would not be in the position I am today. I also wish you, and your families, seasons greetings. And I look forward to hearing from you in the new year. As for me. I will go into retreat for a short while over the break. Cannot tell you what the retreat is on as it is secret. Although it is pretty cool.

So, with all that said, I say goodbye and good luck.

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