The highlight of the year happened at the end of the year. It was something to look forward to in the future, and then suddenly it was now, and we were collecting her from the airport. Our first international visitor, the Venerable Tenzin Palmo. She gave a Public Talk at the Anglican Church Hall, which was attended by over 200 people. The atmosphere was beautiful, the stage looked beautiful, and everything went beautifully. The spirit of the evening was captured in the below email:


Dear Leela, thanks xxx so much for organizing the talk … it was so lovely. Wasn’t she such an incredible teacher of truth and humility? I really think the topic was well chosen and widely beneficial to everyone from all walks of life. As I walked into the hall … the Buddhist chanting, the slides and the energy I was overcome with a deep sense of knowingness and past life experience so real and profound I had tears in my eyes and an inner peace of knowingness and genuine bliss – I felt as though my DNA or cells were changing and playing and reforming lasting for hours afterwards. Thank you, love Annie.


The topic of the talk was ‘Living a Meaningful Life’ and Tenzin Palmo gave a wonderful talk based on the six paramitas: generosity, ethics, patience, effort, meditation and wisdom. Following a spiritual path, cultivating one’s mind in positive ways, and trying to be a helpful and beneficial force in this world, gives us direction and meaning in life.


Many people have everything they want in life, and yet they are plagued by a sense of meaninglessness. Our materialistic society encourages us to direct our life energy towards endlessly satisfying self-centered desires: my wants, my needs, my ambitions, my dreams. The search for happiness and fulfillment is directed outwards and the inner being is totally neglected. Life seems to have lost deeper meaning, purpose and value, and problems with alcohol, drugs, emotional disorders like stress and depression, are increasing. People are alienated from themselves, from others, and from nature, and this is causing tremendous suffering and damage in the world.


On Friday morning, Tenzin Palmo had breakfast with the Anglican Church Minister, Father Rhodes, who kindly allowed us to use the Church Hall. Afterwards, we took her for a lovely walk in the forest and along the sea cliffs at Harkerville. Our visitors so enjoy the beautiful nature in this area. She told a story of a man who had developed the ability to communicate with animals. He telepathically ‘spoke’ to his dog, who told him: ‘You humans are so stupid. You are so in your heads, that you are completely cut off from your hearts, your intuition, and your wisdom. You have lost your connection with others and with the world around you and this is why you are so miserable.’ And we think we are the most advanced species on earth! 


Tenzin Palmo is practical, down to earth, easy to understand, and conveys the teachings in a way that everyone can relate to. She is warm and humble, caring and wise, and has the capacity of touching people’s hearts. This might be personally prejudiced, but I think her being a woman has something to do with it!


After the talk there were questions, and so much wisdom was revealed in the answers. Questions are helpful to everyone, because we share the same basic human nature and we have similar problems. We all want happiness and we all don’t want suffering. This is what most of our questions are about: how to be happy. How not to suffer. There is a movie called ‘The Secret’ but it misses the crucial point: that the real secret to happiness lies in making others happy. It is ironic that when we focus exclusively on our own happiness, we become more self-absorbed and unhappy. When we focus more on the happiness of others, this brings us happiness. The Dalai Lama says this is being ‘wisely selfish’!


A young lady in a wheelchair asked how to handle physical suffering. Tenzin Palmo gently told her that even if there is physical suffering, the mind can be free. The mind is more important. (In Tibetan the words ‘mind’ and ‘heart’ are used interchangeably, as they are so connected you cannot separate them.)


Someone asked how to deal with all the suffering in the world if you allow your heart to open and let it in. Tenzin Palmo said that an open heart has the capacity to absorb suffering. It was important to take time to replenish yourself, to strengthen yourself, then you can better handle things. You need to breathe in and you need to breathe out. Difficult situations are good for growth. If we always want things comfortable and nice, we are no better than our pet cat, always seeking the most comfy spot to lie in. When you reach the point where you know that you can handle anything that life throws you, then you go beyond hope and fear – hope that things will go our way and fear that they won’t.


Living in the cave for so many years on her own, facing hardships and problems, some of which were life threatening, facing the depths of one’s mind, with no place to go when the going gets tough, one senses that she has reached this place of openness and fearlessness. She is soft and caring like a wise grandmother, and yet her mind is strong and solid like a rocky mountain cave. A mountain stands proud and unmoving in all weather. Likewise her mind remains unaffected by the weather of life. Such a stable mind is the result of many, many years of meditation practice. There is a feeling of tremendous ease about her – the peace that comes when all worries and concerns have been transcended. The Buddha called this ‘gone beyond’, gone beyond the trials and tribulations of this world, resting in a far greater reality than the one that seems so real to our senses. The one that we are so caught up in – the dramas of our lives, which cause us so much suffering, and which we see as so real and overwhelming.


I love spending time with monastics – they have a sense of lightness that worldly people usually don’t have, weighed down as they are by the heavy burdens they carry. Far from loosing the world, those who have renounced the worldly life gain the world in a way that is so much more free and easy. This doesn’t mean that they don’t take on responsibilities – many have much larger ‘families’ than the average 2 children, supporting many, sometimes hundreds, of younger student monastics. Yet there is no stress, no heaviness. They don’t take it all so seriously, like we do. For us it is a matter of life and death, for them they are beyond life and death. Totally centered in a place that remains untouched by the play of life. Witnessing the changing seasons and times from a place that is beyond the confines of this world and yet contains it all.


We drove her down the coast and stayed for her next talk. There was a question about how to smell the roses. The lady was tired of doing endless healing - there are so many wounds in the psyche if we allow ourselves to become aware of them - not only from this life but what we may carry from past lives, and what we may share as collective conditioning and karma. Tenzin Palmo said it is important to be aware of negativity so that we can transform it. But it is equally important to be aware of the sunshine, and nurture and cultivate the positive aspects of our psyche. But even more important, is to realize that the true nature of mind is beyond both sunshine and shadows. Ah this!


We are so caught up in and identified with our thoughts and emotions we think this is who we are. We are not our thoughts and emotions. We are so much more. We need to step back and see what is behind them. We are vast and limitless, open and spacious, like the sky. Identity must shift from the clouds to the sky. This is our Buddha Nature, our true nature. When you rest in this pure non-dual awareness 24 hours a day, not just having glimpses of it in meditation, then you become a Buddha, one who is awake to the true nature of reality, as opposed to being under the influence of the illusions and projections of our mind. This awareness is clear and radiant, filled with light, intelligence, wisdom, compassion and loving-kindness. Some call it God. Some call it Buddha Nature. Some call it our Divine Essence. Names are names, but all religions and spiritual paths point to that which lies beyond the names, the formless beyond the form. This is the abiding eternal reality.


What a way to end the year! Since the beginning I have had a feeling of being supported by the whole universe. Sometimes things flow so remarkably that one feels this was meant to be and you are just doing a small part in helping to make it happen. The joy in being able to share this remarkable and inspiring woman with others is the reward of my work. I will treasure the memory of this special evening in Plett for a long time. What a delight to meet Tenzin Palmo and spend a few days in her company.


Now for a well-deserved rest. Our Centre will be closed for December and January during the holiday season. I am going to India (again!) – back to Bodhgaya, place of enlightenment of the Buddha. This time for the Monlams or prayers for world peace and teachings by the Karmapa, followed by a Kadampa Mind Training Retreat by Lama Zopa, and Mahamudra teachings by Mingyur Rinpoche. We will reopen in February 2008 and next year’s programme will be available after I have been inspired and replenished myself! Time to breathe out and time to breathe in.


Wishing everyone a new year filled with joy and peace, loving-kindness, courage and strength, non-fear, generosity, ethics, patience, effort, meditation, wisdom and other enlightened qualities. May all beings enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May we all realize our enlightened nature, and may we learn to abide in the open spacious presence of the enlightened heart/mind. Love Leela and Maurice xxx



SAT CHIT ANAND namaste to you Buddha-to-be! 

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