Dungse Jampal Norbu’s Visit to Western Washington

 

A year in planning, Dungse Jampal Norbu’s first teaching tour on the west coast was about to begin. It was Friday, April 15 and three members of the MSB Sangha – Mary Mooney, Peter Matranga and I – were gathered at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport waiting to greet him. I say “waiting”, but the truth is that we were still folding our khatas, when a relaxed Jampal greeted us warmly. His flight from Denver had arrived early, and there he was looking very dapper in his tweed cap and designer sun glasses, dispelling any anxieties we had about his visit.

After leaving the airport, we drove to Nalanda West, where Dungse la would stay for the next three nights. Nalanda West is a Tibetan Buddhist event and retreat center in north Seattle. It is also the Seattle home of Nalandabodhi, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s Sangha. There has been a strong connection between our two Sanghas and both Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche and Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel have taught and stayed at Nalanda West.

Dungse la’s first talk was that evening at Antioch University Seattle, where I am on the faculty. The subject was Buddhism and the Environment because his visit coincided with Earth Week which is widely celebrated at colleges and universities in the Seattle area. In his talk, he emphasized that materialism and consumerism do not lead to happiness. True contentment comes from within - an inner attitude of mind that understands that we are part of the environment, not separate or disconnected from it. The audience of about 25 students were most appreciative of his remarks, and there was a lively and lengthy Q&A session.    

On Saturday, Dungse la led his first online tsok. It was held at Peter’s apartment and about a dozen people participated from far and wide. Despite Mary and Peter’s thorough and careful preparations, we lost wi-fi connection several times. This interrupted the flow a bit, but we carried on and made the best of the situation. True to his sense of humor, Dungse la joked that perhaps he had caused the problem because he was sitting between the router and the computer. Sure enough, when he moved the computer closer to the router, the wi-fi signal returned and did not go out again.

After two events in two days, Sunday was a day for sightseeing. Accompanied by Mary and Peter, Dungse la visited the Asian Art Museum, located inside Volunteer Park – a large park in the Capitol Hill district. The visit was well timed, as the museum’s current featured exhibition was Journey to Dunhuang: Buddhist Art of the Silk Road Caves. While looking at the exhibit, he shared some insights about what it represented. Dungse la, Mary and Peter also toured the Seattle Japanese Garden in the nearby Washington Park Arboretum and he showed them some Qigong exercises under a pagoda.

On Monday, Jampal, Mary and I traveled about 30 miles south to the University of Washington campus at Tacoma. In the afternoon, Dungse la gave a guest lecture to a class on Buddhism. His topic was The Four Noble Truths and his explanation of this basic teaching was one of the best I have ever heard. What made it so good was that he made each Truth relevant to today’s world, discussing them in a way that was easy for non-Buddhists to understand. After a delicious dinner in a Japanese restaurant nearby, Jampal gave an evening talk on Buddhism and the Environment to about fifty students, faculty and members of the public. Similar to the one at Antioch, this talk also focused on cultivating inner happiness and seeing our inter-connectedness with all life. For me, the most memorable thing he said that evening was, “We have infinite influence and zero control over life.” You can access his talk at the University of Washington Tacoma here.  

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in Bellingham on the coast near the Canadian border, where Mary and her husband, Ken, live. On Tuesday evening, Dungse la gave a public talk at the Bellingham Insight Meditation Society on Engaging the World with Genuine Compassion. He filled the house with about sixty people, drawing many to the group's weekly meetings for the first time. The next day he gave guest lectures at two different classes at the University of Western Washington – one on karma and the other on the iconography of women in Tibetan Buddhism. Both were well-attended, with lively Q&A exchanges. After these talks, Wednesday evening turned international, as Mary and Ken drove Dungse la across the border to Vancouver, B.C., to have dinner with an old friend, Nicholas and Natasha Carter’s son Josh, who had driven down from his college 90 minutes to the north.

Thursday was another busy day, with a trip to Edmonds Community College just north of Seattle for a “brown bag” lunchtime seminar, followed by an evening talk back at Nalanda West. For the talk at Edmonds event, Jampal dutifully brought along a brown bag, although it turned out not to contain lunch - we had already had a splendid meal at the campus café, run by students from the Culinary Arts program. Instead, it contained a book he had recently purchased. About fifty people attended this talk – another on Buddhism and the Environment. Afterwards, Jampal was interviewed by Tim Hohn, chair of the Department of Horticulture. His lunchtime seminar talk can be found here, and the interview here. Both will be used with students and posted on the Edmonds Community College website.

After driving back to Nalanda West in the afternoon, Dungse la gave an evening dharma talk on Bringing Compassion into this Digital Era to an audience of about 20 people, with another 15 – 20 participating through live streaming. This talk covered a lot of ground, but what stood out for me was the distinction he drew between connection and inter-connection. He said, “two people who are handcuffed together but dislike each other are connected, but they are not inter-connected.” The digital age may connect many people with each other, but are they inter-connected? Do they have relationships of reciprocity, mutual respect and love? The digital age can enhance connections, but it does not guarantee inter-connection.   

I would like to close with some general observations: First, over the week, Dungse la directly touched the lives of almost 350 people, many of them young people close to him in age. The easy, relaxed and sometimes humorous way in which he talked about the Buddha’s dharma was easy to understand and naturally drew people in. In particular, he was very skilled at responding to questions and clearly relished dialogue with his audiences. His spontaneous responses were often impressive in their thoughtfulness and depth.  

Second, Jampal displayed not only an interest in, but a considerable depth of knowledge about a wide range of subjects, including mathematics, horticulture, Asian food, fuzzy logic, computer games, and many others. It is perhaps no coincidence that one of his passions is visiting bookstores and he spent several hours browsing the shelves in several local establishments. In one of them, he was delighted to find and purchase an early edition of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. So if you are ever involved in organizing a tour for Jampal, I strongly recommend including time to visit some local bookstores.

Third, many of his talks emphasized the importance of having loving and compassionate intentions and how inter-connected we are with each other and with the environment. If his talks had an overriding single message, this might have been it.

With thanks to Peter Matranga, Mary Mooney, and Ken (Mary’s husband), who all made this visit possible. And most of all to Dungse Jampal Norbu, who graced us with his presence.

Until next time…

Kate Davies