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Ask Ani-la

   If you have any questions regarding the material on this web site or any questions about the Dharma or your application and practice of the teachings, Ani Tenzin invites you to ask her and she will respond as her schedule permits. Your name will be kept confidential and if you request, your question and Ani-la's response will not be posted. Otherwise, all questions and answers will be posted below.

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Ask Ani-la E-mail

(The most recent questions are at the top.  Ven. Kacho's responses appear in yellow print below:)

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Dear Ven Kacho:

My lama is a very learned geshe and I know he has Bodhicitta. His main
teaching focus is the Lam Rim although I know he is likely quite
accomplished in the Tantras as well. I also know (and he is probably right)
that without renunciation and a good understanding of Samsara, the Tantras
just won't work. Personally, I would like to study Tantra, but, am pretty
well stuck in the muck of Samsara, that is the disturbing emotions and
feelings that I experience (too much of the time). Of course, I could
probably find a different lama pretty easily who gives Tantric initiations
and my geshe would probably just shrug his shoulders if I asked him about
it. (Although, I know he really disapproves). What is your advice onTantric 
initiations while still struggling with the Lam Rim? Would it even
be harmful to practice Tantra without having really had the full
realizations of the Lam Rim?

Thank You:
Joe

Dear Joe,

Thank you for your letter. I can understand your wish to pursue further studies and interest in Tantra, yes, it seems so 
mysterious when we can't just lay our hands on it. I agree with your teacher and feel it important to establish a strong, 
stable practice of meditation and study, and interest in the Dharma. From there a stable practice in Tantra can ensue. 
In general we are fickle and tire easily; we give up on things when we lose interest. Actually, there is little difference 
from a Chenresig (Avalokitesvara) or Tara practice into tantra. The difference comes in visualization and stability of 
mind. Specifically, one begins to visualize oneself as the deity rather than just receiving the blessings of the deity. That 
is the main difference but when you think about it, the main thing is to develop compassion and stability in concentrating 
our mind.

But as you can see from this point, if we get lazy with our regular meditation practice it doesn't help in either case. Also, 
in tantra, there is the commitment to keep tantric precepts...really, to uphold a view of being and engaging in the deeds 
of a bodhisattva or Buddha. There are prayers and commitments to engage in everyday. So, I think your teacher is really 
trying to assist his students in establishing this iron hard foundation so you can be strong and stable in your practice before 
venturing into tantra. That is, saying we will keep all these commitments and daily prayers when we don't know our fickle 
minds very well. What you can do is see how you do in upholding the precepts and vows you have now really well. If you 
have Refuge and bodhisattva vows, if you have marriage and other family commitments, etc. Try to keep those purely as a 
bodhisattva in your daily life. Review the 10 unwholesome and 10 wholesome actions everyday before you venture into your 
activities and observe how you are with them very closely. At the end of the day review them again. This will help you prepare 
for Tantra when the time is right.

Good luck in your practices. Your interest is really good. Deepen them in your daily interactions with love, wisdom 
and compassion.

Best wishes,

Tenzin

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Dear Ani-la,
 Is it true that once somebody has an intellectual understanding of
emptiness
they are free from the lower realms?

Thanks,Z.R.

 

Dear Zack,

I spoke with my teacher Ven. Geshe Gyeltsen about your question. I knew that an intellectual understanding of 
emptiness did not free one from samsara but Ven. Geshela says it does not free one from the lower realms either. 
An intellectual understanding is only book learning; not a direct experience or understanding. We need to do a lot 
of personal work meditating and contemplating and creating a deep understanding.

Sorry to take so long to reply. Hope this helps.

Best wishes,

Tenzin

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> Dear Tenzin; I am grateful for your reply. Are there Women Lamas in America or where?
molly

Dear Molly,  
I will answer your letter as I can and preface my replies with ***

*** There are women lamas in America and in the east as well. There is one lay woman teacher 
who was recognized in the Washington, DC area by Penor Rinpoche and there are several women 
who have completed the traditional 3 year, 3 month retreat who adopted the title Lama through 
Kalu Rinpoche, who established this tradition. There are quite a few women who have completed 
this retreat who choose not to use this title either. Additionally, I don't think just completing a retreat 
necessarily earns one this title. There should also be change in the mind and conduct of the practitioner.

There needs to be some clarification of the word lama. Perhaps for your friends who were doing
business in Nepal their family name was Lama. I have met several people who have the name "lama" because 
of being a family name just as in our western world we have people named Jesus, King, Abbot, etc. So you 
need to decipher this in the east as well.

Then there are persons who someone may consider their mentor and main teacher and out of respect and love 
call their mentor Lama. It may or may not be someone who was recognized by a greater community, monastery, 
previous teacher, attendants, etc. but out of respect and love.

There are persons who have been recognized as Lama by a monastic or lay community, by other recognized 
teachers who prove themselves to be wonderful teachers, guides and practitioners in their own right. There are 
some who have been recognized and then fall because of impropriety, misconduct, etc.

We are in samsara, suffering of cyclic existence. It is important not to accept people just from a name or surface 
qualities. It is important to check up carefully and examine someone for yourself before you accept someone as a 
high, holy teacher. There seems to be prolific use of titles and names these days. Sometimes common people with 
no names come to the west and are suddenly called high, holy beings. Where did this come from? We have to check 
and see for ourselves. We may find someone who is a wonderful teacher and a sense of respect comes from that. But 
we have karma with that person and others may see someone very ordinary. You will observe that in your life around you. 
We think highly of a friend and another friend does not like that person, and vice versa. So we have to be careful.

The teachers say as we would be careful in purchasing a piece of gold, we would check its quality, by burning, 
rubbing, etc. and /or the store's reputability regarding their claims, so should we be careful in choosing a teacher or calling
someone a teacher, not just accept someone blindly.

>I have read that it is very difficult for a woman to hold a position of authority in Buddhist traditions, being required to bow and 
subjugate oneself to new monks even if a woman had been practicing the teachings for years. Is that true or only a
myth?

***Women and men both have to develop credibility through their own conduct, study and practice. Why do we look for position 
and authority without qualifications? Traditionally, however, women did not have the opportunities that men did in furthering their 
education. Neither was this true in our own country some generations ago. But now conditions have been changing for women in the 
east as well and are becoming well educated. We must not fault the entire society and point fingers at them when we are coming out 
of the same complications ourselves.

***In general, monastics are venerated because of having taken up the life of a renunciate. Monastics should conduct themselves 
properly, men and women. But there is in the tradition a patriarchal vein of nuns who have been practising for years still sitting in a 
lower position of a new monk. One reason is because monks and nuns sit separately anyway becuase of the rule of celibacy. Another 
way to look at it is not to throw out all the good parts of the tradition because of some point as this, but to gain confidence in oneself 
and one's own practise and work. If you think about karma and reincarnation which Buddhists believe in, we have all been reborn 
many times as men and women. The benefits I receive in my practice as a nun are numerous; I don't wish to dwell on the one point 
of women's rights. Yet, I work to help the nuns in their education and developing more self-confidence in their practices.

>When I was living in Nepal for a year and a half in the mid-nineties, I met many male lamas who were business men (painting and 
selling thankas and other sacred items and also serving as
Tibetan doctors) but never a woman.

*** There are many women doctors too and that number is increasing.

> Someone suggested these lamas were of the Tibetan 'Bo' tradition whose orientation was more shamanistic and not affiliated 
with a traditional sect. Can you
explain this? Can these men call themselves a 'lama' by choice?  Or must they be inducted thru 
a ceremony?

*** The Bon tradition is a pre-Buddhist tradition of which I am not so familiar.

> I am trying to understand the role of women who follow Buddha's teachings. I have read about Gautama's cousin Ananda, 
advocating for offering the teachings to
women. Can you suggest further readings? I appreciate your guidance in these matters. 
In loving Oneness, 
Molly.

***There is a new book out called "Choosing Simplicity" about the vows of female monastics.  There is also "The First Buddhist Women" 
by Susan Murcott, and published by Parallax Press, "Meetings with Remarkable Women, Buddhist Teachers in America", 
by Friedman, published by Shambala.

Hope this helps,

Best wishes,

Tenzin Kacho

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Can a woman become a lama?  From my impressions in Nepal, Lama's are similar to shaman's;  would you agree? 
Or how would you describe the role of the lama in the community?  I am very grateful to you for consideration of my questions. 
In loving oneness, mollie

Dear Molly,

Thank you for your letter. Yes, women can become lamas. It is more rare but there are women lamas. On the level of 
being spiritual friends for their communities, you could say lamas and shamans are similar. But just as different spiritual 
faiths have different philosophies and goals, their aspirations and views are different. If one seeks an excellent spiritual 
path for oneself, one must check carefully both the teachers and their paths and where they lead.

Best wishes to you on your spiritual journey,

Tenzin

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Question regarding Tibetan ettiquette

Hello,

Blake from Redding Ca here. I have been a Buddhist for many years, and
this weekend I am hosting 10 Tibetan monks for dinner as they travel through
our area. When they arrive at my house, would it be appropriate to give them
Katags (white scarfs)? And, is their anything else I can do make them feel
welcome and at ease at my house?

Thank you for your time,
In Peace,

Blake

Katags are lovely to offer when you welcome the monks to your home. Our American 
hospitality is always good to rely upon however, don't get tooo casual. Be relaxed, offer 
them tea and ask about their travels.

Have your place be neat and clean. Because they are monks, honor them that way. Don't 
have inappropriate pictures or things about. Or for that matter, any things that are especially 
precious or sentimental, breakable, put away since there are so many of them and accidents 
sometimes do happen.

They might like sodas and snacks too if dinner will be awhile after they arrive. Have a 
wonderful time and thank you so much for your generosity and friendship.

Best wishes,

Tenzin

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Dear Ani-la, 
My son is getting married next week in a civil ceremony. Do you know
of any wedding blessings? Thank you and bless you,

Maggie

Dear Maggie

The Metta Sutra is always helpful and inspiring.

METTA SUTTA (from Sutta Nipata No. 8)

“This is what should be accomplished by one who is wise, who seeks the good and has attained peace: 
Let one be strenuous, upright and sincere, without pride, (easily) contented and joyous; let one not be 
submerged by the things of the world; let one not take upon oneself the burden of riches; let one’s senses 
be controlled; let one be wise but not puffed up; let one not desire great possessions (even) for one’s family.
Let one do nothing that is mean, or that the wise would reprove.
May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
in high or middle, or low realms of existence,
small or great, visible or invisible, near or far,
born or to be born,
May all beings be happy.
Let none deceive another nor despise any being in any state;
let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life watches over and
protects her only child, so with a boundless mind should one
cherish all living things, suffusing love over the entire world,
above, below, and all around without limit; so let one cultivate
an infinite goodwill toward the whole world.
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, during all one’s
waking hours let one cherish the thought that this way of
living is the best in the world.
Abandoning vain discussion, having a clear vision, freed from
Sense appetites, one who is made perfect will never again know rebirth.

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Dear Ani-la,
Is it true that once somebody has an intellectual understanding of
emptiness they are free from the lower realms?

Thanks,
Z.R.

Dear ZR,

I spoke with my teacher Ven. Geshe Gyeltsen about your question. I knew that an intellectual understanding of 
emptiness did not free one from samsara but Ven. Geshela says it does not free one from the lower realms either. 
An intellectual understanding is only book learning; not a direct experience or understanding. We need to do a lot 
of personal work meditating and contemplating and creating a deep understanding.
Sorry to take so long to reply. Hope this helps.
Best wishes,

Tenzin

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Dear Ven. Kacho
To put my problem in a nutshell ....I work with a thief!  The owner knows it, but the man is a money maker for him, (even though the company name is at stake due to this persons ethics).  He steals other's calls, and business in general. I've read about the Karma of such things entering into one's life due to previous mis-doings.  I can accept this almost all the time, but wish there  was a proper prayer, or something, for me to try to avert my thoughts to when I'm under a constant "barage". I try to "give" good thoughts to him, and be twice as ethical in my deals to try to set some sort of example that good wins out....seems currently it hasn't!  I don't know if I'm expressing myself very well...haven't slept much lately and am sort of confused. Any words of wisdom would be appreciated.
Thanks,  Michael

Dear Michael,
If the company name is at stake, your own job and reputation is at stake too. You may want to speak to the owner privately. You won't have to
talk about karma but focus on ethics, liabilities, future customers and sales. As the word leaks out or people find that they have been taken
advantage of, swindled, robbed or however it manifests, sales will begin to diminish. This person is also creating chaos among the employees 
and in the office. If the owner does not wish to address the problem, you may want to quietly start looking for another job. The owner will begin to understand that he is sacrificing other aspects of his company by compromising with this fellow. If sales dollars are more important to
him, he may continue to host such actions. You have to be willing enough to be detached from this job even though its been good for you too. 

I'm sorry you are experiencing this as I know this job was otherwise very fulfilling for you in working with people looking for mobile homes. 
When you sit quietly with your meditations, you can also use this dilemma as an object of analysis. Start your meditation, bring your concentration
to your breath for a few minutes and observe what skillful means or words to say arise. When upset, or fixating on disturbances, bring your
attention back to your breath and try to maintain attention, awareness, allowing the tension to come to equilibrium. Then continue with the
observation. Try this and let me know how you do with this.

Best wishes,
Tenzin

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Dear Ven. Kacho

I do the Nyung Ney practice occasionally and now that I am retired and have more time I would like to do 
Eight Nyung Ney (consecutively).
Also about ten years ago I made a promise to always do tsog on the two 
tenth days.
So my question is what do I do when the tsog day falls on the first (preparatory) day of a Nyung Ney? 
What if the tsog day falls on the second (total fast) day of
a Nyung Ney? Do I taste the mamsa and madana?
Sincerely,

Richard

Dear Richard,

Yes, you can taste the sacred substances because it is part of the practice. But don't make a meal of the tsog 
offerings. I rejoice in your good works, determination and effort. May your Dharma practice bring you great peace, 
understanding and fulfilment.
Best wishes,

Tenzin Kacho

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Dear Ani-la,

>I have been listening (&contemplating/meditating) to Geshela's
"tele-teachings" at Sandra K's home for a while now. Tonight he
talked about the different types of rebirth: spontaneous, egg, womb,
and
heat. I do not understand which beings are reborn via heat?

***Beings born by heat are sentient beings that are born following ice thaws, etc. 
So I think it may be that they are dormant through a winter season or longer times. 
They need the condition of heat to take birth. I personally think they are then egg born, 
or remain in some casing during their gestation or dormant stages.

Geshela said that hell and god beings are spontaneous, egg: animal?? 

*** yes, eg. birds, turtles, snakes, etc. , womb: human and animal?? 

*** Yes. heat:??

*** see above.

Where do devas and hungry ghosts fit in ?.. 

*** I will ask Ven. Geshela on this one.

Lama Tsong Khapa has discussed the notion of conceptual and non-conceptual realizations of emptiness. I suppose the conceptual
realization of emptiness is ascertained by analytical meditation where
one realizes and truly understands that all things including oneself
lack
inherent existence (special insight?).

 *** Yes.

Is the non-conceptual view of emptiness the DIRECT perception of emptiness experienced only by fully
realized Buddhas or can Bodhisattvas or even ordinary beings develop
some level of non-conceptual realization of emptiness?

*** Yes, we can all develop realization of emptiness, especially on an intellectual level. When a person develops direct perception of emptiness, then they are no longer an ordinary being. Because at that point, one understands interdependence and no longer commits any negative actions. S/he will still have to purify karma accumulated in the past but it is the beginning of their liberation from cyclic existence.

>May all beings benefit from these exchanges and gifts of the Dharma

>jewel that emanates from our Spiritual Guides with the care of the sublime

>Sangha jewel!

>Sincerely,

>

>Paul P.

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Dear Anilah Tenzin,

I had a question to inquire of you. I am a practitioner in the United 
States and I have studied Buddhism of all the four Tibetan Traditions.
I've come across an issue while traveling in Dharamsala that I cannot get 
information on and I'd like to ask you. I hope it will not be offensive. I 
would like my question to you confidential and I will keep your answer 
confidential.

1.What is this issue on Dorje Shugden? Why is this practice banned? I've 
met people from England that practice it and swear by it and then I've met 
people from Australia while in Dharamsala who advise against it. What is 
this issue?

2.The friends I met from England told me many people practice it in the U.S. 
and that your centres practice it. They told me that Ven. Geshe Tultrim 
Gyeten (I hope the spelling is correct) also practices it in secret. How 
does he manage that and have a good relationship with His Holiness?

3.I am also interested in this practice of Dorje Shugden. Do you recommend 
it and why or why not? I do not have any protector practice and from what 
my friends in England says, I think I need it. My main practice is Tara.

I found your site and email on the internet. I hope to get a speedy answer 
from you with respect to your busy schedule. Thank you and looking forward 
to hearing from you. I need to "enlightening" answers!

Regards,

BYC

Dear BYC,

Thank you for your letter and your inquiry about this protector issue. 
 I am not able to tell you too much because I purposely decided not to 
get too involved. I did not want to develop a strong aversion, take 
sides or become opinionated about this but I will tell you what little 
I know.

I will answer your questions prefaced with *** below.

***This was a practice taken up by HH the Dalai Lama for a little 
while when he was trying to get information and make decisions 
regarding the situation in Tibet. Later on His Holiness among others 
felt that this protector was sectarian and he asked that people stop 
practicing this and that there are many other protector practices one 
can engage in. Then he asked that those who wished to study and take 
initiations with him not practice this. Or, if people wished to 
practice this, then not to take initiations from him.

*** I spoke with Ven. Geshe Gyeltsen about this to confirm what I knew 
and he said to tell you very clearly that he listened to His 
Holiness's request and no longer practices this. He also asked that 
you please tell the persons you heard from that in fact he does not 
practice this at all since the request. He said their are no secrets 
and he is very clear with His Holiness and with any and everyone about 
this.

***Geshela suggests that you follow His Holiness's advise but if you 
don't wish to that is up to you. ***Again, Geshela repeats His 
Holiness's suggestions that there are many other protectors one can 
engage practice in and not have to take up a controversial one. Also, 
if you are practicing in all four traditions, why would you wish to 
practice a protector that leans toward a sectarian view and practice? 
Additionally, when you think about practice, we take refuge in the 
Buddha first and we need our spiritual teachers to help guide us. 
When you look at lineage or refuge trees, the protectors are not at 
equal level with the Buddhas and our teachers.

***I hope my responses haven't been offensive to you either and that 
I've mentioned something you can use to make your decisions. 

*** Best wishes to you,
Tenzin Kacho

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Dear Ven. Kacho,
I am a college art student who is also doing a biology major. I
spend a lot of my time making art that relates to Buddhism. Does this
bring merit that other sentient beings can benefit from? Is there anything
I can do to make the process of art-making into dharma practice. Many
times, I say Tara's mantra (I feel very close to Tara) or sometimes
Chenrezi's 6 syllable mantra while doing artwork. Any suggestions. I
realize this question is kind of a unique situation.

Thanks and regards,
K
P.S I listen to your practices and the chants on the web-site while making
my art. I like your audio clips of practices and I wish I could meet you
someday.

Dear Krishna,

Thank you for your letter. I'm glad you are making art related to Buddhism. I hope everyone who 
sees and experiences your work is uplifted and thinks of benefitting others. Before you begin your 
works you can set a positive motivation that all your efforts and results help further your spiritual 
progress and benefits all sentient beings. And when you are done working each day, you can dedicate 
the merits and benefit you receive towards everyone's happiness and enlightenment. This way, all your 
work becomes positive. It will also help you be less attached to the results and what happens and what 
people feel and say about your work, because the underlying point is for everyone's happiness.

Reciting mantras and listening to Dharma talks while you work is great; I hope it gives you lots of 
inspiration too. And I hope to meet you and see your work one day as well.

Best wishes,
Tenzin Kacho

 

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Dear Ani-La,
Tashideleks!
My name is O.S. and I am a 20 year old Guy from India, and belong to the Indian decent.
Some three years ago I was introduced to The Tibetan way of life and Tibetan Buddhism by
some friends. I have two questions please :-

1) I would like to convert to Buddhism would that mean that i will have to give up the concept of God, 
I want you to know that I still do beleive in a creator (God) ?
2) How and where can I learn Tibetan in Chandigarh (UT), India?
Thanking You for Your Kind Time....
Sincerely
O.S.

Dear O.S.,
Thank you for your letter. I appreciate your interest and apologize for taking so long to get back to you. 
I will reply to your questions preceded by *** below.

*** There are wonderful devotional practices in the different Indian spiritual traditions and India is one country where the people are much more connected to their spiritual faith than in others particularly in the west. His Holiness the Dalai Lama suggests and even encourages people to stay with their traditional faith. He says that our interest in Buddhism can be utilized in the way of enhancing one's faith, incorporating what is beneficial and letting the rest be. Perhaps this may be a good way for you to study Buddhism too.

Regarding the concept of a creator God, Buddhism does not have this idea of a being who created everything and is not subject to what he created. But Buddhism does have the ideas of practising generosity, compassion and kindness to others and the infallible workings of karma, cause and effect. We study the idea of interdependent origination of all phenomena; that everything arises from being dependently related and therefore has no separate, independent self existence. This also applies to where we are born and with what conditions (health, wealth, societal associations, and our habitual tendencies among other things.


***Chandigarh is very close to Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. You might want to go and visit there sometimes. And there are many young Tibetans going to school in Chandigarh. Perhaps you could inquire to see who can share with you more of the teachings of Buddhism there. Sometimes there are monks and nuns who wear regular clothes and attend colleges and maybe someone like that is in Chandigarh.

I hope this has been of help to you and again, I am sorry to respond so late to your letter.
With best wishes,
Tenzin Kacho


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Venerable Tenzin,

I'm a very infrequent practitioner. I sit once, sometimes twice, a week
for half an hour at the most. I occasionally take a few mindful breaths.
Every now and then I join a Tibetan group for sitting and a lesson. I
have experiences in both the Zen and the Tibetan traditions, and I'm
drawn more to Zen literature than to the Tibetan-tradition books. I also
attend a Christian church once or twice a month, "say grace" over meals
with my wife, read Hindu mystics, Jewish novelists and Sufi poetry. Am I
a lost cause? Should I focus on one of the above? Does time spent doing
creative, artistic work with good intentions toward sentient beings
count for much?

Sincerely,
Lots of BIG Questions
Eric

Dear Eric,
(or should I respond, "Dear Lots of BIG questions"). Well, you're my
first "Ask Ani-la" respondent! I don't think you're a lost cause but
maybe a floating cause. And my teachers say its fine to shop and learn
about different practices etc. But at some point you may want to examine
or study a path more deeply and then you'll naturally make some choices.
Until then, your explorations may not be strong but you are getting a
"taste" of different paths.

sincerely,

"Ask Ani"
(ps. did you know ani means aunty in Tibetan?)

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