Venerable Robina Courtin is a very challenging woman. She is on a spiritual path towards Enlightenment but it is probably fair to say that she isn’t quite there yet. Born in Australia and raised by a Catholic Mother she always had religious leanings and was expected to be a priest in her early years because it was all she talked about. Suffering abuse from her father in what was a loving but confused childhood home she says that she was always looking for the answers to life. Catholicism wasn’t to be her path though as she rebelled against boarding school life at the convent and discovered Billie Holiday.
Her life led her to London and a time of sex, drugs and Jazz; she then got heavily into left wing politics, supporting the Black Panthers and living with a group of radical lesbian feminists. I didn’t know this about her before I signed up for the Buddhist Philosophy and Meditation course at the Tushita Centre in Dharamkot, Dharamsala, but I was delighted to have the experience of learning from her. Tushita has been holding these teachings since 1971 in Nepal and since 1972 in the site at Dharamkot. It was founded by Lama Thubten Yeshe and his main student Lama Zopa Rinpoche after demand from Westerners in the ’60s. Since Lama Yeshe died in 1984 Lama Zopa has been the Spiritual Director and encouraged the current format of courses which is accesible to all.
Our 10 day residential course was one of the regular they hold between February and November each year. Mostly held in silence it consists of a series of lectures and meditation sessions for the first 8 days with only limited time for discussion, while the last 2 days are for more dedicated meditation.
By the end of our course I felt a great sense of peace and had learnt a new way to look at my problems and life in general. Covering the basics of Buddhist Philosophy from the four noble truths through to contemplating death and always bringing the thinking back to the contemplation achieved through meditation.
The teachings were really interesting and gave so much food for thought.
Since then I have watched this video of Jill Bolte Taylor with the left brain hemisphere damaged and it was quite apt because the Buddhist thing is all about living in the present moment and being mindful that your actions are subject to but also cause karma to be created so that the law of cause and effect is working.
It was fascinating to hear some of the theories. Our suffering is caused by delusions that this current physical form is inherently “me” and that actually the “mind” is beginningless and endless and that our rebirths mean that we are all interconnected but what is carried through is tendencies to certain actions. The suffering is all because we look at issues from the point of view of an “inherent I” so that however we see people it is merely from our point of view.
So we see friends as friends because they do nice things for us while we are indifferent to strangers, but this is an impermanent state which could change at any moment, so we should treat all sentient beings with equal amounts of love and compassion.
It is our “attachment” to people or things that cause us to suffer because when they let us down or cause us pain (leave us for example) we put the blame on them and we are hurt.
The path to true happiness according to the Buddha is that we should look inside our own minds for happiness and not rely on external stimulus or sensory pleasure in order to be satisfied with what we have.
It made a lot of sense for me because I guess I’ve grasped too hard sometimes for things which should have been more natural – the idea is that what causes our suffering is getting over attached to objects or people. Rather than being in a state of pure love and compassion for people, where you want to be with someone simply because you want them to be happy and you want their interests first we judge based on what they do for us and then get jealous or upset when they don’t live up to our expectations or treat us in the way that we want them to.
It gives very practical methods to deal with emotions that can be excessive in one way or another, being negative or conversely overly delighted with things are both likely to lead to suffering in the end through either disappointment or depression so it is important to find a middle way
I’m not even going to try to go into any more detail in terms of the philosophy because there are far better references than me to explain this stuff and going on a retreat like this one was also a great way of learning with a likeminded bunch of people.
Even though, or perhaps because, the retreat was held mostly in silence, there were interesting bonds created between the entire group and when we finally got together outside of the Gompa it was as if we had been friends for years.