JULY 2007

ACI LA Newsletter


n last month’s newsletter, Venerable Marut encouraged us to remember that we suffer because we mistake the way things really exist. We suffer because we ignorantly yearn for, and then attach ourselves to, things that do not exist the way we think they do. In order to gain real happiness, Venerable Marut encouraged us to identify our attachments– and then work to eliminate them.

This month, Venerable Marut reminds us that we must let go of our attachments to suffering and its causes in order to allow for the possibility of something higher to emerge. He acknowledges that it is hard to let go, but reminds us that we must cultivate an even stronger desire for rebirth into happiness. It is from this true happiness that that we will overcome the attachments we have to the very things that are causing our suffering.

We hope this month’s newsletter supports your spiritual practice and provides you resources to overcome suffering and get really happy.

  This Month
  A Message from Brian (Venerable Marut)
  Student Contributions
  Student Reflections
  Dharma Flicks
  Dharma Website of the Month
  Dharma Book of the Month
  Dharma Podcasts: Recent Audio Uploads
  Current ACI-LA Classes
  Teachers in the News
  Thank You
  ACI LA Home


ACI LA Newsletter


A Message From Brian (Venerable Marut)


Many people come to the spiritual life out of a sense of depression and desperation, or at least a strong longing for an alternative to the difficulties they are confronted with in life. There is nothing like a good disaster (tragic loss of a loved one, professional failure or major setback, financial catastrophe, or a heart-wrenching breakup of a long-term relationship) when it comes to gaining clarity about the true nature of this suffering life.

It is, however, when our pain is greatest that we are most open to thinking differently about the usual and fruitless pursuits of happiness we mostly are engaged in the worldly life. These hard times open up a great possibility for us. When we have really been slapped down by life we can be truly receptive to the prospect of radical change and transformation – and for many of us, perhaps only then. Because the floor has dropped out from underneath us we are more willing to take the leap and try to do something really different with our lives.

But we shouldn’t then assume that the spiritual life itself will be without its own difficulties, that it will be some kind of haven from all hardship where we can just relax and not have to exert ourselves in any way. While the spiritual life does indeed offer us the only hope we have for ultimate peace and relief from suffering, getting to that end is often filled with challenges and struggles.

It’s hard to let go of the old and familiar in order to embrace the new and unknown. But it is also our only chance at true happiness.

The world’s religions are awash in images that emphasize the need to die in order to be reborn. Christianity, of course, is wholly centered on the story of Christ’s death and resurrection – the victory over death and the mere human and the subsequent ascension into the glory of the divine. But most, if not all, of the world religions agree that we must give up (“die”) to our old ways of life if we are to obtain a “rebirth” out of suffering and into a new, eternal life of bliss.

Understanding this need to die to our old, suffering selves can help us face the hard times with a different attitude and perspective.

A strong, dedicated practitioner does not shirk away from those experiences in life that encourage and hasten the necessary detachment or “death” to the worldly life and the suffering that characterizes each and every dimension of it. The spiritual warrior will not try to avoid at all costs those painful encounters that teach, indelibly and unforgettably, the truth of suffering and the need to practice hard in order to escape and transcend it.

The German mystic, Zen master, and psychotherapist, Karlfried Graf von Durckheim has written the following in his book, “The Way of Transformation”

The man who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it, thus making of it a ‘raft that leads to the far shore.’ Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring. Thus, the aim of practice is not to develop an attitude which allows a man to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can ever trouble him. On the contrary, practice should teach him to let himself be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken and battered – that is to say, it should enable him to dare to let go his futile hankering after harmony, surcease from pain, and a comfortable life in order that he may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose him, that which awaits him beyond the world of opposites. The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world. . . . Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of annihilation can our contact with Divine Being, which is beyond annihilation, become firm and stable.

We must learn to “expose ourselves over and over again to annihilation.” We cannot become butterflies unless we give up being caterpillars. We must die to be reborn. We must let go of our attachments to suffering and its causes and to a lower conceptualization of the self in order to allow for the possibility of something higher to emerge.

It’s hard to let go. We fear death. But we must cultivate an even stronger desire for rebirth into happiness that will overcome the perverse attachments we have to the very things that are killing us.

We’ll then be able to embrace those time in our spiritual practice that help us cut away the bonds of suffering quickly. . . even when that severing seems so traumatic and painful


With all good wishes,






ACI LA Newsletter

  tudent Contributions

An Angel Called Helena

By Irma Gomés Danel

During his stay in Los Angeles our Holy Lama Marut encouraged us to detach from many things, and His Holy Speech enunciated how we need to detach even from The Source, our precious Lama, so we can find the Lama in everything and everyone around us.

Given that I live far away from my Holy Lama and any Dharma center, I took this advice to heart and started to look more seriously for teachings in unexpected places and situations.

This week, an Angel called Helena greeted me with a smile and without even knowing my name offered to use her own washer to do my laundry, because "why take my things to the cleaner's?"  I had the opportunity of watching her at work for a whole week.  She treated everyone around her in very special ways. She cares a lot about her staff and is friends with them. She knows what goes on in their life and helps them and makes sure they get paid a good salary. She works until midnight yet she takes the time to go looking for a present on somebody's birthday. She will walk people to their car in the rain so that no one gets wet, and will offer randomly a free glass of wine to a visitor.

I was also showered with kindnesses and gifts from Helena. She takes pleasure on giving without expecting anything in return. It was like "giving" and "surprising others" was what brought her joy. And it did. She never stopped smiling.  Helena is kindness, great fun and taking care of others. And Helena's greatest present was her teaching.

I started thinking of all the times I hold back because I'm afraid to give it all, when I don't care to make an extra effort to allow others feel special, to give what is precious, to think that if I keep whatever object it will bring me happiness. The difference between Helena and myself is that I would have asked one of my staff to accompany a guest to their car on a rainy day. But she thinks of her staff too. How un-Helena am I most of the time!

Today I want to thank my Teacher Helena, who runs a hotel in Tavistock, England, for reminding me the meaning of equanimity and the secret fun practice of giving precious things to strangers.
May we all encounter many Helenas all around!




  tudent Relfections

Reflections on Dharma Debate

By Genevieve Bertone

And you thought Monday’s were tough already! Well, try adding a deeply philosophical debate class to the end! You would think that this would result in a complete brain overload, but actually the Monday classes have been incredibly engaging, fun, and inspirational.

A fun combination of disciplined study, active debate, and meandering philosophizing, the class truly helps you explore your own understanding by challenging someone else’s. Watching a debate often spurs you to think of points you would make if you were in the debaters position. During a class debate, you can raise points about debates you are observing and are allowed to tag team in on either the attacker or defender’s side. This results in a very interactive and explorative process.

Debate is actually just a venue for exploring important concepts of Buddhist philosophy. You may not realize how great or little your understanding of these concepts is until you actually try to defend them…articulately no less! Well, I have to admit thus far most of the in class debates have been less than articulate (with the exception of when Cliff jumps in to prod one of us, of course!).

In fact, I think Scout, Cliff and Leigh’s two-year-old son, has the best debate stance in class. Working through the new terminology, ritual, culture, and attitude together under the graceful guidance of Cliff has been a true learning experience.


Reflections on Meditation and Yoga Asana Retreat with Ani Pelma

By Leigh Spencer

Any opportunity to be around Ani Pelma is a blessing. I know that.

But, I didn’t think I was going to get anything significant out of the retreat. Okay, besides caring for others. So I thought I’d get SOMETHING out of it. Preparing meals and cleaning up after 12 retreatants has to plant some good ones, right? And since these retreatants kept cleaning up after themselves, that part was incredibly easy. But I was also going to be with Scout, who’s almost 2. I wasn’t going to be silent with him. I would miss most of the teachings. Maybe I’d get in a few yoga classes, and what was this whole fire puja thing anyway?

Well I’m happy to say I was wrong. Like I said, caring for the retreatants was a breeze. Switching out with Cliff to hear some of the teachings and some of the yoga was a great way to balance the intensity of wrangling an almost 2-year old. Not to mention, I was in an idyllic state park. Just being silent some of the time helps you clear your mind and focus on what’s important. Doing more yoga feels good. The fire puja was an experience we all promised to repeat regularly. Oops, I just out-ed our idea. We better start working on that.

We asked Ani Pelma to come back and teach in the spring. She said “yes”. I can’t wait to do it again.





ACI LA Newsletter

  Dharma Flicks

Implicit Dharma - The Incredibles

Fifteen years ago, superheroes walked the streets of Metroville, performing acts of great heroism and inspiring many to follow their example. But a string of lawsuits by disgruntled people they'd helped lead to political and public outcry, and the Supers are forced into retirement and government-funded anonymity. Bob Parr used to be Mr. Incredible, one of the greatest and strongest Supers. Now though, he lives a mundane life as a suburban insurance agent. Although his wife Helen (formerly Elastigirl) has moved on and is more concerned with raising their children than battling evil, Bob still yearns for the good old days - and his chance comes when he is approached by a shadowy government organization and asked to join their numbers. But all is not as it seems, and Bob will find himself trapped by an embittered enemy. In the end, the suburban Supers are forced into action to save their endangered father. The Incredibles is a great family movie for a warm summer evening at home. We can see in Mr. Super and later in his family that the spark of Boddhichitta is always present and no matter how removed we may sometimes feel from our highest selves, we always have the opportunity to achieve our potential with the simplest acts of kindness and compassion.


Explicit Dharma - On Life and Enlightenment: Principles of Buddhism with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

"On Life and Enlightenment" explores the various manifestations of Tibetan Buddhism. Especially poignant about this video is its ability to make the practices of cultivating wisdom and compassion resonate with the expansive, awe inspiring landscapes of the Himalaya. This 5-part program journeys to the monasteries in Tibet and India and gives rare access to the spiritual journeys that thousands of Buddhist monks undergo in their rigorous training and ancient rituals. The path to enlightenment is presented through these insightful teachings and techniques.





ACI LA Newsletter

  Dharma Website of the Month

We thought it might be useful to bring to your attention a valuable dharma-oriented website each month. There are so many great dharma sites on the web…

Web Site of the month:

We are very pleased to feature as the website of the month! Snow Lion Publications is the premier English-language publisher of scholarly and trade books about Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Their website contains a wealth of resources.

The site includes a dharma store that highlights recent Snow Lion Publications releases as well as books on Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture. The site also provides audio teachings, book reviews, Buddhist cards and other accoutrement. The book reviews are particularly thorough and well researched. You can sign up for weekly quotes from the Dalai Lama and even check out some Buddhist astrology.




If you come across a site that you’d like others to know about, please email Shannon and contribute to this part of the newsletter.





  Dharma Book of the Month

Cultivating Compassion

by Jeffrey Hopkins

“Joy is the opposite of Jealousy.” Pieces of beautiful insightful wisdom can be found in Jeffrey Hopkins’ book Cultivating Compassion.
After spending 10 years as his Holiness the Dalai Lama translator, it’s not surprising that Hopkins would write a very clear and comprehensive book on the art of developing Compassion. A wonderful companion to a constant practice, a little everyday will provide the insight desired to cultivate one of the wings of Buddhism. Each chapter is a step towards the education and expansion of Compassion. Jeffrey Hopkins gives us a clear way to experience the impressive potential of mind training, and the transformative power of Buddhism. What masters have been developing over thousands of years, in an easy to read book. Pretty cool!

Click to purchase from Amazon:





  Dharma Podcasts: Recent Audio Uploads

Dharma Poscast

You can watch Dharma flicks, read Dharma books and now you can hear Dharma pod casts. Life in the modern world certainly makes life easy for a practitioner to get wonderful access to teachings!

Feautured Dharma Podcast: Your Amazing Life, Part I
Taken from the Tibetan Heart Yoga Teacher Training C
Three Jewels Bookstore, New York City
March 14, 2007.

The lam rim or “steps on the path” starts with what is called “leisure and fortune.”  In this podcast, Lama Marut presents the first of a two part discussion of what an amazing opportunity this kind of life affords us . . . if we take advantage of it.
All the new Dharma podcasts can be found at: /teach_marut-yoga_phil.html

New Dharma podcasts include:

A Conversation on the Yoga Sutra, with Dr. Douglas Brooks, New Hope, PA

The Purpose of Yoga, NYC 

Tibetan Heart Yoga, Teacher Training, Tucson, AZ 

Yoga & Meditation, NYC 

Emptiness and Arya Nagarjuna, Three Jewels, NYC

Explorations in Emptiness, Los Angeles

If you enjoy having access to these wonderful Dharma podcasts, please make sure to comment in the comments section on iTunes.

Also, make sure to subscribe to keep up to date on the digital downloads! Click on the subscription button at and/or and enter your email address to receive podcast updates. You’ll receive an email announcement when new podcasts of teachings are uploaded to either site.



Dharma Videos

You can watch Dharma flicks, read Dharma books, hear Dharma podcasts and now you can watch Dharma videos.

Featured Dharma video: Explorations of Emptiness
June 21st, 2007
Three Jewels
New York, NY

You can view the featured Dharma video on Google at:

You can view the featured Dharma video on iTunes at: 

For a complete list of Venerable Marut’s video teachings, please visit:

Current ACI-LA Classes
ACI classes are free and open to the public.





  eachers in the News

Windhover Retreat

Submitted by an ACI-LA student
Written By Gail McCarthy
Found in the Gloucester Daily Times

Lindsay Crouse, a film and television actress with roots in Annisquam, found a spiritual path that she wanted to share with Cape Ann residents.

Nearly three years ago, she organized a Buddhist educational program to spread the knowledge and serenity Buddhism has brought her.

Her efforts met with a greater community response than she imagined. Now she is preparing for the third annual retreat at Windhover in Rockport from Aug. 20 to 26.

Only about 30 people had signed up three weeks before the first retreat in 2005.

“I had no doubt that there were many who would love the retreat, but I needed to get the word out. After an article in the local newspaper, 250 people called me in the next week and a half,” she said. “It was an incredible response. But what really moved me were the stories that poured out of people to a complete stranger.”

They shared with Crouse tales of family difficulties, the death of someone close, their inability to hold on to relationships, their confusion about what their lives meant, their need for a “timeout.”

From that seed, a growing local movement has blossomed to include people of all faiths. Crouse is quick to say that practicing Buddhism can be just a piece of someone’s spiritual practice and in no way excludes those who follow a particular religion. There is room for both, she said in a recent interview in Gloucester.

“I have often said that Buddhism took my Christianity out of the attic and shined it up,” she said.

Crouse, an Academy Award-nominee for best supporting actress in 1984’s “Places in the Heart,” knows about stress, in part, from life as an actress in Los Angeles and Hollywood, and raising a family.

The first retreat sought to clear up any misunderstandings about the practice of Buddhism. Last year’s retreat focused on compassion. The subject this year is happiness.

“Quite a lot has happened in the wake of the first two retreats,” Crouse said. “Lama Brian Smith and folks on Cape Ann are now a mutual admiration society. He enjoyed his time teaching here so much, and holds his students with such high regard, that he has promised to come here three times a year. People responded with great enthusiasm to his warm, witty and masterful teaching style, and have found what he has to say immediately useful to their lives.”

Smith is a renowned Tibetan Buddhist monk and a published Sanskrit scholar who has served as professor of comparative religion at Columbia University and professor emeritus of the same subject at the University of California at Riverside.

When Smith returned last December to teach for four nights at the Rockport Community Center, almost 400 people attended, a surprise considering the busy time of year.

After these teachings, Crouse hosted a salon at her house for those who wished to talk further about how to apply Buddhist principles to their lives.

“Sixty people crammed into my little living room in Annisquam,” she said.

Paul McPherson of Gloucester, who is not a Buddhist, nonetheless was interested in the retreat and attended some of the events organized by Crouse.

“This is absolutely about learning,” he said.

McPherson said he enjoyed the teachings by Smith, who could share his knowledge with a sense of humor and teach about finding happiness in life.

Crouse said her life has changed in the wake of her work here.

“For me personally, this is the fulfillment of a dream. Four years ago, I was sitting in a class in what was then the unordained Brian Smith’s small apartment in Venice Beach, and it struck me that the place that I loved most in the world — Cape Ann — would be a wonderful place for him to teach,” she said. “I love the people here and I love the spirit of the place, which has a particular sensibility that comes from living with the harsh winters, the rocks, the woods, the glorious summers, the light, the sea.”

Crouse, a lifelong Annisquam summer resident, believes perhaps the austerities of this area make for a hard-bitten discipline in the residents here and render them “frank and real.”

“But when summer wins out, or the light travels across the bay, there is a sense of magic. No one on Cape Ann would deny it,” she said. “Everyone who lives here feels a deep devotion to this place. Discipline, devotion and a sense of magic are the most powerful elements of any spiritual path. So Cape Ann and Venerable Brian Smith have come together easily.”

For information on the retreat, call 310-990-1425 or 978-282-4996, or email:

Diamond Mountain

Submitted by an ACI-LA student
Written By Mae Lee Sun
Found in the Tucson Weekly

Faces of Buddhism: Tucson is becoming a hotbed of Buddhist activity. Is the religion's popularity a significant trend or just a passing fad

Part-time Tucsonan John Brady has made a habit out of trekking on foot up steep mountainsides and bouncing around SUVs on rugged dirt roads in the Himalayas, battling harsh conditions and struggling with language along the way.

He does all of this while searching for sacred Buddhist books called pechas. In Ladakh, the northeast region of India bordering Tibet, he's found some. They're at Lamayuru, a spectacular Buddhist monastery built in the 10th century at an altitude of 12,000 feet.

The great mahasiddha (mystic) Naropa is said to have meditated here, possibly reading or writing the Kangyur, as some of these pechas are called, which contain the actual words of the Buddha; or perhaps the Tengyur, those pechas that possess commentaries.

Some are oddly shaped books, 4 by 20 inches, often covered in dust; many are crumbling. Some are just plates of script, carved out of wooden blocks, or written in pure gold or charcoal ink, on palm leaves and rice paper stacked together.

Inside this storehouse of knowledge--knowledge that many Tibetan lamas claim offers the potential to change the world--are lines like the "Eight Verses for Developing the Good Heart," written 1,000 years ago by Dorje Senge of Langri Tang. It's translated into English as:

May I think of every living being
As more precious than a wish-giving gem
For reaching the ultimate goal,
And so always hold them dear.

When I'm with another, wherever we are,
May I see myself as the lowest.
May I hold the other as the highest,
From the bottom of my heart.

As I go through the day may I watch my mind,
To see if a negative thought has come;
If it does may I stop it right there, with force,
Since it hurts myself and others

The goal of Brady--as executive director of the Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP)--is to give the world access to these works. ACIP is a nonprofit organization started by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Geshe Michael Roach, who calls the Tucson area home, for the purpose of digitally preserving and disseminating ancient Tibetan, Sanskrit and Yogic manuscripts. ACIP employs nearly 100 monks, nuns, university students and Tibetan refugees throughout India, Mongolia and New York City. To date, they have transcribed more than 450,000 pages from nearly 5,000 separate works.

Dressed in saffron and yellow ocher robes, guys with names like Tenzing Dakden and Ngawang Namgyal sit in computer centers at Sera Mey Tibetan Monastery (where Roach trained) in Mysore, India, and at similar monasteries and refugee-settlement camps, where they feverishly transliterate and input the complex Tibetan fonts and language into English.

"These texts, some dating as far back as the ninth century, include rare works by several early Dalai Lamas," says Brady, who claims that his studies of these texts have changed his life. "They're scattered all over the world, mostly in monasteries in Tibet, Nepal and India, or hidden in private collections somewhere. We've made them available free to anyone who wants them."

Brady says that he worked in the corporate world for 20 years until a decade ago, even creating the gift-with-purchase program during the Christmas season for Estée Lauder cosmetics.

"The idea of making a direct, positive contribution to society was certainly missing with what I was doing. ... (It was a) very lucrative business, but definitely contributing to the problem environmentally and in other ways. I quit my job to run ACIP and have never looked back. The levels of reward in my universe are extraordinary."

Brady and his bunch of keyboarding monks, however, are not the only ones who have responded to Buddhism's teachings in this way. Ever since Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, left the comfort of a princely life to unravel the causes of suffering 2,500 years ago, millions of people have made use of these works to create a different reality for themselves and to address issues, from poverty to war. Roach, a Princeton-educated scholar who grew up in Phoenix, embarked on this spiritual path, immersing himself in the texts to make sense of why his mother, father and brother died. After more than two decades of study and retreat in India, he re-engaged the world, starting numerous projects in New York City--including ACIP--before coming to Southern Arizona.

The information--positing that there is a way to be free from suffering--has proved powerful enough to catapult Buddhism into the mainstream, even though the latest U.S. Census information puts the percentage of documented Buddhists in the country at only 0.5 percent. But the true numbers are shrouded in mystery: There's no centralized authority with which to register as a Buddhist, and most information is derived from anonymous respondents who self-identify in sample polls.

The wheels of the Buddhist bandwagon were engaged after some of America's hottest personalities, including Richard Gere, became students of the Dalai Lama in the early '80s. Even Lisa Simpson declared she was Buddhist in an episode of The Simpsons, and Steven Seagal was recognized as a reincarnated meditation master by a Tibetan high lama. Many people in both the academic and Buddhist communities have continued to question whether Buddhism's extended "coming out" in the West during the past 50 years is a true spiritual trend, or merely a fad.

Whether it's all a trend or a fad, in Tucson, talks by Roach have packed venues, and his Holiness the Dalai Lama has visited the city twice--in 1993 and 2005.

Venerable Sumati Marut (aka Brian Smith) is sitting cross-legged on a round, black cushion placed front and center at a midtown yoga studio. The attractive Westerner just completed a two-hour talk on patience with a dozen attentive students.

The 50-something retired from his job as a professor of religious studies at the University of California at Riverside to take up the robes of a monk, choosing Tucson as his home base to be near Roach. He gives talks around the country and is attracting a following in his own right.

Marut says the countercultural history of Tucson and the starkness of the desert environment are some of the conditions that may have fostered Buddhism's growth here. After all, many spiritual traditions have sprung from the desert.

Jim Dey, a friend of mine who is a high-tech transplant from Santa Cruz, Calif., eagerly arrived in Tucson to help spread Roach's angle on Buddhism by donating his labor to build a retreat center and university, called Diamond Mountain (DM), on 1,000 acres of wilderness in Bowie. True to the guru tradition in Tibetan Buddhism, Dey wanted to be physically close to Roach while immersing himself deeper in the mind practice. He is one of at least three dozen people who claim to have recently moved to Tucson to study under Roach, with the eventual goal of becoming teachers themselves.

"It was a carrot-and-a-stick thing: I couldn't support my family in California with the price of housing there, so I came here to help caretake DM and attend classes."

Dey says Buddhism is "not as mystical as one might think. Buddhism gives you 100 percent responsibility for what happens to you, for your own happiness. If you and the world around you don't feel significantly better, if you're not happier and more sane, then you're missing something. That should be true for any path and/or religion that you're on."

Dey admits he'd like to be a "dharma bum," a term derived from the Jack Kerouac novel of the same name that's been used ever since the 1950s to describe the carefree lifestyle of those pursuing truth through the study of Buddhist teachings.

But Dey is not a bum. He's an administrative "temp" who lives "frugally," unlike monastics, who traditionally rely on "dana"--the financial generosity of others--to support themselves. But with the lower cost of living in Tucson, Dey asserts he doesn't need much to live on, giving him the flexibility that he needs to be a dharma bum part-time until the right conditions gel.

"Would Neo want to be plugged back into the Matrix?" Dey asks. "Once you've seen for yourself that most of what you've been taught about finding happiness is false, you can't go back and pretend everything will be OK."

Dey's wife, Allison, has opened a Buddhist gift shop and spiritual community center on Sixth Street called Three Jewels. Even though it exists independently from DM, the center serves as a portal to link people to Roach's programs. Next to the children's toys, yoga mats and books about the life of the Buddha, you'll find 18 study courses designed by the controversial Roach sitting prominently on shelves in the lending library--they were formed mainly around the texts Brady helped extract. The mini-fridge a few feet away is stocked with fruit juice and sodas. Coffee and tea are always available for free as a way to entice the public to stop by. Whatever gets dropped into the plastic donation jar pays the rent and overhead.

Three mornings a week and on Monday afternoons, a handful of people arrive to engage in zazen (silent sitting) and walking meditation with Urban Zendo, a nonsectarian meditation group that was formed by local Zen students living downtown--myself included--to support Three Jewels. In the past six months, less than a handful of people have consistently shown up, but the group continues to meet anyway, having now formed the loose notion of a "sangha," or another Buddhist practice community.

A few are members of the Zen Desert Sangha (ZDS), located on Martin Street off of Fort Lowell Road. One of Tucson's oldest continual formal Buddhist centers, ZDS celebrated its 25th birthday in May.

The "Roshi" or "old master" at ZDS is a small, gray-haired man wearing black slacks with Birkenstocks and oversized glasses. You'd never guess that Roshi Pat Hawk was both a Zen master and a Roman Catholic priest. He became familiar with Zen when it gained popularity in the United States during the 1950s, thanks to the beat poets Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, who encountered it through the writings of Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki. Roshi Hawk started teaching at ZDS in 1988 when the individuals who founded it asked that he guide them. He says Buddhists benefit from an active, engaged community.

"People practicing Buddhism need to be surrounded by support so they don't go off the deep end, especially now that meditative traditions in the West have been taken over by psychology," he says. "That support has to be somebody competent who has gone through transformation themselves so they know when to push and when to back off, because it is a very difficult path and not at all attractive or colorful."

Hawk notes ZDS is continuing to grow, albeit slowly, for the same reason Marut mentions: People are trying to make sense of their lives in a world full of conflict, poverty and environmental devastation.
As popular as Buddhism is, Hawk feels it's not necessarily an indicator that Buddhism is alive and well. The core group of students who are referred to as "members" at ZDS has held steadily at about 30, even though the mailing list is much longer. Just a fraction of the people exposed enter into the monastic life or take it on as a layperson. Hawk has Christian and Jewish students who study Buddhism but aren't necessarily giving up or changing their primary religion. Neither is Hawk. This classification ambiguity contributes to the difficulty in gathering statistics about whether Buddhism is actually spreading, or if it's just more visible.

Hawk says the important thing is to "be on the 'Way' and not sit down under an exclusive street sign," considering that the traditional Buddhist cocktail of intense study and meditation doesn't mix with the busy, independent American personality.

"If the form of the practice doesn't hold together--meaning if Buddhism tries too hard to accommodate American needs, like getting rid of devotional practices, rituals and the tradition of working with a teacher--it will lose its fundamental purpose," Hawk asserts.

He sounds a bit contradictory, but on one level, he has captured the essence of a Zen koan--stories, statements or dialogues that demand you abandon logic to figure stuff out for yourself.

The ethnic Buddhist community in the U.S. views the survival of the dharma (the basic rules underlying life and existence) in a more pragmatic way. Lan Nguyen arrived in Tucson from Bac-Lien, a town south of Saigon, in 1980, along with dozens of other mostly Buddhist refugees from Vietnam and Southeast Asia. She's standing in front of a market near Grant Road and Stone Avenue with about 15 other women, children and men.

Each is holding a bag or shopping cart full of bananas, cookies, cans of Coke and Asian pears to give "alms" or "offerings" to the 30 barefoot and golden-robed Vietnamese monks and nuns who are circling the building to mark the occasion of the Buddha's birthday in May. Only two attendees speak English, and all are associated with the ornately decorated Minh Dang Quang Buddhist temple just off of Oracle Road, where on Sundays, Nguyen attends services spoken in Vietnamese.

"I heard about this group from other Vietnamese in California. Otherwise, there wouldn't be anything here. (Word of mouth) is how many people found out about it, which is good, because it is a place to go and learn how to be a good person," she says.

Sister Thich Nu Lien Thuy, a resident nun, feels the temple uniquely provides for the refugees and ethnic Buddhists from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia who have relocated to Tucson. The need is so great, her group has opened several other temples in Phoenix and Chandler, where 400 people have come to events. (One of the Buddhist temples in Phoenix's west valley also has the dubious distinction of being the site of Arizona's worst mass murder. In 1991, two rampaging teenagers killed nine people at Wat Promkunaram in Waddell.)

Sister Thuy is young, with a round face and shaved head. She directs a handful of nuns to gather the fruit and alms that will be offered in gratitude to all sentient beings during a ceremony in the shrine room. Most who are milling about the sparsely decorated kitchen, flooded with fluorescent lights, have similar stories about male family members being captured during the Vietnam War, or "re-educated" by the communist government after the conflict's completion.

Finding refuge in Buddhist teachings and scriptures advocating forgiveness and inner peace was the only way to survive the difficulties, she says. Smiling, Thuy shares a piece of her story.

"When I was 13 years old, my father was taken away by communist troops. They told us he would be back in two weeks, but he wasn't. I prayed every night for his return and said I would become a Buddhist nun if he did. He showed up eight years later, and he agreed that that's what I should do."

She applied for and was granted a religious-worker passport in the mid-'80s to serve the Vietnamese refugees who landed in the United States. Friends and neighbors chipped in to pay the fee.

"When people came to this country, they got physical help relocating, but there wasn't anyone or any place to go to address their spiritual needs. (Now if) they have a problem with alcohol or anger, or their kids get into mischief, they know they can come here, and we calm them down and teach them to have respect for their parents and grandparents. Sometimes, they just need someone to talk to who can understand what they're going through."

The temple recently began offering an early Sunday service in English for Westerners, to be more inclusive. People from the temple regularly visit nursing homes and prisons to serve people who cannot come to them. Dao Chuan, a 71-year-old Western monk from the temple, is the on-call Buddhist chaplain at Northwest Medical Center, Tucson Medical Center and Tucson Heart Hospital. He recently performed a "refuge" ceremony for seven inmates, at the Arizona State Prison Complex on South Wilmot Road, who officially wanted to enter the Buddhist path. He's even on the agenda to give the invocation at the Tucson City Council meeting in July--city officials said the Buddhist invocation will be the first in years, if not ever--with a representative from a different Buddhist group scheduled to do so in September.

Unofficially, there are now more than 20 different Buddhist groups in Tucson alone. The configurations seem endless.

On a Sunday afternoon, a tall, stout man in a white shirt and blue jeans sits at small, square table at Bentley's on Speedway Boulevard. He's sketching a design for a "stupa," a sacred monument that houses relics of enlightened teachers. There are way too many of these relics at his home, and he's likely to collect more by hanging out with people like the man sitting across from him, a visiting lama from Tibet wearing a red robe.

Cliff Leftwich, a former vice president of Pima Community College downtown, has been practicing Buddhism for more than half of the 37-year-old Khenchen Prachhimba Dorjee Rinpoche's life.

Rinpoche (meaning "precious one," a formal address to a high lama) barely speaks English, but he has come directly to Tucson from his monastery in Kham, Tibet, to support the work of Leftwich, who helped establish Dharmakirti College, a scholastic practice and teaching center in the Drikung Kagyu and Rimé tradition. It's not affiliated with Diamond Mountain or Roach. It's existed like a "terma," or hidden teaching, since the mid-1990s, but was formally incorporated in 2000.

With a wide smile under his long, black goatee, Rinpoche playfully switches the pointed felt hat he's wearing from the yellow side to the red. He does it, he says, "to keep the knowledge inside my head and to remember my teacher." In between jesting, he chants from a book he's written--a memory of a previous incarnation of himself as Padma Dagnag Lingpa, a high Rinpoche who can be traced back to being a disciple of Padmasambhava, credited with bringing Buddhism from India to Tibet in the ninth century.

Having resided in Tucson for one year now, Rinpoche wants to pass on as much information as possible, because he feels Buddhism may not survive as a living spiritual tradition, even though organizations like ACIP are working to preserve its history.

His concern, Leftwich says, is real. Rinpoche's predecessor died in his late 30s, and Rinpoche wonders: If he, too, were to die early, who would do the work he's doing?

"The problem is that good and bad things are mixed, and it takes a lot of wisdom and compassion to find the right path in the midst of it," Rinpoche says. "... It takes a very good heart and sincere motivation to help sentient beings. ... If there were sufficient enough people with these qualities ... the difficulties would change--there would be more peace and less conflict in the world."

If you peruse the bulletin boards at coffee shops and other dharma-friendly vortices like the yoga studios throughout the city, you'll see seductive fliers for offerings ranging from "Overcoming Anger" to "Meditation for Drunks, Rock Stars and the Rest of Us." All are programs sponsored by various Buddhist groups who at their core are using the same information contained in the texts John Brady has been working to preserve.

Brady is in Asia working to save the original messages that could assist in saving and spreading Buddhism in the West, but a teaching revealed by the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche--the Tibetan most credited with paving the way for Buddhism in the United States--posits that Buddhism will eventually die out. He claimed a degenerate or dark force will arrive, and the teachings, teachers and dharma seekers will be adulterated for personal gain and power.

Khenchen Prachhimba Dorjee Rinpoche says he doesn't think Chogyam Trungpa was far off.




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Thank you to Venerable Marut for his kindness in coming to teach the Dharma here in Los Angeles and around the world. Thank you to Lauren Benjamin, Cliff Spencer, Rick Blue, Lindsay Crouse, Summer Moore, and Stéphane Dreyfus for their kindness in continuing to teach here in Los Angeles.

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