A lot has happened in the past year, and I’m very excited to share it with you.
Thank you very much to everyone who supports me with prayers and in other tangible ways. I try my best to make my time meaningful to create change here in a country where misery, impermanence and uncertainty are forever on display. Increasingly, samsaric sufferings are ever more obvious.
Sri Lanka is an increasingly expensive country to live in, and each year I fret that rising costs may curtail my work here.
Thanks to Doc, Oi Loon, Maree and all other friends from Tara Institute who donate money — you make it possible for me to continue working here. And big thanks to Jenty Siswanto for sponsoring my end of year retreat in India.
Events on Full Moon Poya days in Colombo are ongoing. Talks are given to a small group of locals and others who can understand English. The focus is on how to apply dharma to our daily challenges; then we finish with some meditation. Huge thanks to the owners and staff at Om Shambala.
Golden Light Sutra
Golden Light Sutra recitations continue to play a role in purification in Sri Lanka. New copies are being printed to satisfy the requests of many people who are reciting it in private, in groups and in diverse locations.
So far, we have completed 1300 recitations and given away all the donated Sinhala copies.
Medicine Buddha Puja
There is at least one Medicine Buddha Puja each month. I have been surprised by the big impact this practice is having on people.
With a local donation, we printed 500 Singhala copies of the Medicine Buddha Puja and gave away mantra cards so people can practise at home. This is a new translation in local language.
One man heard that I had been performing pujas and requested one at his home. Afterwards, he was motivated to sponsor a Medicine Buddha Puja at the holy place of the Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura. And he brought 100 kidney patients to this event at his expense (read more below) .
Thanks to Professor Gunathilaka, who continues to translate these Mahayana texts and practices into the local Sinhala language. Confession to the 35 Buddhas is nearly completed too.
Indonesia, March 2018
I was fortunate to be invited to visit Indonesia with Ven Drolkar from Brisbane. We met Jenty at Sakyadhita conference and she organised a one month long tour of various locations. Ven Drolkar taught Mindfulness and I spoke on dharma in everyday life, using many Non Violent Communication (NVC) techniques. This was a challenging and inspiring tour with, at times, 500 people attending our talks.
We traveled the whole of Java speaking at Ekayana temples and schools. Visiting Borobudur was a huge highlight. I reintroduced Tonglen meditation which seemed to resonate with the attendees. They didn’t know Tonglen originated in their own country; however they formed an immediate connection with it. The Ekayana temples were inspiring as they are nonsectarian temples, which bring in teachers from all traditions of the Buddha’s teachings.
I was inspired by many people’s devotion and dedication to preserving dharma in Indonesia and the warm welcome we received. We also met a student of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and he invited us on a pilgrimage to Sumatra, at a future time, so we can visit where Lama Atisha studied with Serlingpa.
Bendigo, May 2018
Immediately after Indonesia, I joined Rinpoche’s retreat in Bendigo just in time to connect with 30 Sri Lankan people who were meeting Lama Zopa in a private audience. Together we received the Heart Sutra transmission from Rinpoche. They offered a dana with such devotion that Rinpoche kindly offered them a couple of hours teachings on the Mahayana path.
I offered a copy of the Sri Lankan translation of the Golden Light Sutra and the 1000 recitations that had already been completed by various people in Sri Lanka. I was hoping Rinpoche would say ‘that’s enough now’ but that didn’t happen so we keep going.
He asked that Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand be translated into Sinhala. Just this month I have found a scholar, Bertram Liyanage, who, starting early 2019, has agreed to translate this vast, historic text.
Venerable Birgit Schweberer — GLS Tour
The highlight of the year was Venerable Birgit Schweberer’s visit. It was a great honour and deeply inspiring for all of us who met her.
I discovered Ven Birgit on Facebook while I was looking to get some personal teachings and commentary on the Golden Light Sutra. We had no previous connection, so it was very gracious for her to accept my request for teachings. I was expecting notes and emails but instead, she arrived with her wonderful brother, Thomas —in person— all the way from Vienna.
Ven Birgit gave commentary on The Golden Light Sutra over two weekends — in the capital, Colombo and in Kandy. The people who attended were moved by her knowledge, teaching style and her warmth.
She also gave a talk to 30- 40 Post graduate students, young Theravadan monks, at a University on the topic of Buddha Nature. It was an historic moment.
Most locals speak only Sinhalese, so not being able to understand English continues to be a big obstacle for people taking teachings. However, Ven Birgit’s friendly openness meant we made many other friendly connections with locals as we traveled through the Mahayana holy sites reciting the Golden Light Sutra and doing many other practices.
This part of the tour was made possible thanks to a donation from Jenty’s friend, Bonnie from Jakarta, and an FPMT Merit Box grant.
Conservative locals have a perception that Mahayana sangha marry. So, my challenge was to explain that Thomas was Ven Birgit’s younger brother and not her husband. Next time, he plans to be wearing a T shirt displaying the word “Malli” which means “younger brother”.
The Schweberers most generously paid for all their costs themselves and also made a significant donation to fund the printing of a thousand new Singhala copies of the Golden Light Sutra.
This whole Tour was a greatly inspiring experience, not just for me, but for the local people who saw a Mahayana Western nun with great dharma knowledge practising whole-heartedly. She charmed everyone with her no-nonsense, easy going manner and clear communication.
We invited Ven Birgit to return next year to lead a retreat on the Golden Light Sutra so we can deepen our understanding. Lama Zopa Rinpoche has endorsed the visit and Ven Birgit plans to return in July.
Medicine Buddha Puja for Kidney Disease Patients at AnuradhapuraSri Lanka has the highest rate of kidney disease in the world and this event grew from our regular program as an offering to help victims. Over two days, 120 people recited the Golden Light Sutra in the holy site and in the evening we did Medicine Buddha Puja.
Shelter for Abused Girls
My involvement at the home for abused girls has grown.
The problem of abuse is wide spread across the country due to absent mothers, especially the mothers who go to the Middle East to work as domestic workers.
More than half of the girls cannot read or write so education is a high priority. Maths, Sinhala, Tamil, and English are now taught on a weekly basis. Also, ongoing workshops and activities are conducted by various visiting volunteers from all over the world. Although this is hugely time consuming for me, the opportunity to transform 40+ lives is very rewarding.
Interest among local and international supporters has grown steadily. Australian friends are providing education and skills-training opportunities for the girls. Maree Fowler from Melbourne has single-handedly supported the bulk of these programs (her handicraft site is here).
The addition of new social activities have enriched the girls’ lives. Pottery, art, ball games, photography, acro yoga, and dance classes have become integral to their education.
Melbourne artist Sarah New, a friend from Melbourne, stopped off for a couple of weeks on her way to Europe. She gave wonderful art lessons and left a horde of art materials, providing endless delight. A girl confided, “This is the first time I’ve ever been told I’m good at anything.”
We have started to celebrate birthdays and exam successes with cake, music and dancing. This gives the girls the opportunity to rejoice in each others’ milestones. As one 21 year old said, “I’ve never had a birthday cake before in my life”.
All the girls are about to be taken on a weekend excursion.
Even the stray dogs on the premises are benefiting, receiving some care and attention. Seven adult dogs and 13 puppies were inoculated against rabies and mange. They now get a regular meal donated by Tara Lanka. And the girls are learning to care for them and enjoy doing so.
Several major projects are planned for the upcoming year including drumming classes, painting of murals, life-skills education, and workshops on reproductive health.
With a little TLC, lives are being transformed and I feel truly blessed to be part of this change.
This is Buddhism in action.
Tara Lanka Study Group
Tara Lanka student, Dilini, has just left to join the one month course at Kopan Monastery in Nepal. She is definitely the first Tara Lanka student to attend this famous meditation retreat, perhaps the first Sri Lankan to do so. Other students are heading to Bodhgaya to attend teachings with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
In spite of the difficulties we face with language and distance, this is really a positive outcome of Tara Lanka work.
I hope you are as enthused as I am by the progress that has been made. Thank you for all the help you give to make the dharma accessible to people where and how they live in Sri Lanka.