Here are some frequently asked questions about the KTC Center and our lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is a system of meditation, self-examination and self-awareness whose goal is understanding the nature of the mind, and using that knowledge to free oneself and others from the sufferings of the world.
While all beings thirst for happiness, few can find true peace of mind. In fact, many of the ways in which people seek happiness only cause more suffering. This is because ego-centered attachment, aversion and indifference create a mental atmosphere of confusion that makes it difficult for us to relate openly and honestly with ourselves and with the world around us. This confusion can be dissolved through the practice of meditation and the development of compassion, which enables us to unravel our negative ego-centered patterns so we may approach the world and its sufferings with a sense of gentleness and inner strength. Buddhism stresses the basic sanity and goodness of individuals, called “Buddha nature” and teaches that this sanity and goodness, if freed from the clouds of extreme emotions and confusion, can develop into enlightened awareness.
Buddhism was first expounded in our historical era, in the 6th century B.C., by Prince Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Shakyamuni Buddha. After the death of the Buddha, Buddhism spread to many different countries. In each country it developed differently, based on cultural diversity and the needs of different people. The Buddhism that came to Tibet, called Vajrayana Buddhism, was derived from the Indian Buddhist tradition of Tantra – a practice that uses everyday experiences, even negative ones, to uncover the basic sanity and goodness of the enlightened mind. In the high and isolated land of Tibet, Vajrayana Buddhism flourished.
What is the basic practice?
Meditation is the basic practice of all Buddhist traditions throughout the world. Several methods of meditation exist, based on the three types or vehicles of practice. Buddhist doctrine maintains that a stable and sane mind is attainable through the use of three methods: 1) Developing a relationship with a spiritual guide or friend; 2) Realizing how our potential can be developed; and 3) Turning inward with meditation.
What is a Lama?
Lama (Tibetan: བླ་མ་, Wylie: bla-ma; “chief” or “high priest”) is a title for a Tibetan teacher of the Dharma. The name is similar to the Sanskrit term guru.
Historically, the term was used for venerated spiritual masters or heads of monasteries. Today the title can be used as an honorific title conferred on a monk, nun or (in the Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya schools) advanced tantric practitioner to designate a level of spiritual attainment and authority to teach, or may be part of a title such as Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama, applied to a lineage of reincarnate lamas (Tulkus).
Perhaps due to misunderstandings by early western scholars attempting to understand Tibetan Buddhism, the term Lama has historically been erroneously applied to Tibetan monks in general. Similarly, Tibetan Buddhism was referred to as Lamaism by early western scholars and travelers who perhaps did not understand that what they were witnessing was a form of Buddhism; they may also have been unaware of the distinction between Tibetan Buddhism and Bön. The term Lamaism is now considered by some to be derogatory. (from Wikipedia)
What is the Kagyu Lineage?
There are four major lineages, or teaching traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Our center represents one of these, the Kagyu lineage, which traces its history back to 1000 A.D. The Kagyu lineage is called the “practice lineage” because of its emphasis on meditation practice. It is also known as the “whispering lineage” because its highest teachings are passed orally from teacher to student in an unbroken line. His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa is recognized as the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage. He is a highly realized meditation master who represents the lineage and embodies its accumulated spiritual energy.
How did the Kagyu Lineage come to the West?
The Chinese invasion of 1959 forced Tibetan Buddhist Lamas to leave their country as refugees. His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa established his main monastery in Rumtek, Sikkim, as the international headquarters for the Kagyu lineage. Kagyu Lamas spread the teachings throughout the world, establishing centers in North and South America, Europe and Southeast Asia. In 1978, H.H. Karmapa founded Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD), located on a 20-acre site of richly forested land in the Catskill Mountains above Woodstock, New York (3 hour drive from New York City). Study and meditation programs are conducted year-round by the Venerable Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and other fine resident Lamas. You can learn about the scheduled activities at KTD by visiting KTC Dallas or by contacting KTD through their website: www.kagyu.org.
What are the KTCs?
His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa and Venerable Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche also established centers called Karma Thegsum Choling (KTC). This name means “Place of the Buddha’s teaching of the Three Vehicles”. There are currently over 21 KTC centers across North America, South America, and Taiwan.
What is KTC Dallas?
KTC Dallas was founded in 1984 by the Venerable Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. The center provides a regular schedule of sitting and chanting meditation, as well as educational programs and discussion groups. Many programs are open to the public, and one need not be a Buddhist to participate in the weekly meditation and discussion sessions. The center hosts visits by Kagyu Lamas every year, in addition to our resident teacher, Lama Dudjom Dorjee.
KTC Dallas is managed by local practitioners who provide beginning level meditation and Dharma instruction to anyone interested.
Lama Dudjom Dorjee is the resident Lama at KTC Dallas. He teaches here and throughout the United States. Annually there are Nyungnes and an out of town retreat conducted by Lama Dudjom Dorjee. Lama Dorjee is available for interviews upon request. The sangha of KTC Dallas feels very fortunate to have his guidance.
Is Buddhism for everyone, or do I have to take a special vow and become a monk or nun?
The Buddha’s teachings and instructions are available to any being with the means and fortunate opportunity to access them. In general, the aim of a Buddhist practitioner is to benefit all sentient beings in the universe(s), seen or unseen. To restrict the teachings to a select few who are able to dedicate their lives in a monastic setting would be contrary to the essence of Buddhism. Basically, we are all in this together and wherever you are right now is a good place to start ending your suffering, and the suffering of others. To benefit from spiritual practice, from a Buddhist perspective, there are no racial, gender, educational, financial, or age prerequisites!
There is a helpful metaphor which states that the Buddha is a doctor, all sentient beings are the sick patients (sick in that we are confused and suffering), and his teaching, known as the Dharma, is the medicine. In this sense, each being must take the remedy and “dosage” that is appropriate for them and their life. As a practitioner progresses through the Dharma, there are opportunities to take vows as a way of deepening his commitment and accountability-increasing his dosage, so to speak.
In short, to explore the Buddhist path you need to be no one other than who you are right now. It is said that the Buddha’s compassion is like the sun, giving warmth and shining light to all things on earth indiscriminately. Based on this principle of equanimity, there is no bias in the heart of the Buddha. All beings are equally deserving of the liberation from suffering that the Buddha teaches.
Is this a cult?
In many ways, the Buddhism represented by the Dallas KTC is quite the opposite of a cult. While a cult situation often involves the complete surrender of material, emotional, and spiritual assets to a charismatic leader, Buddhism stresses complete personal responsibility and accountability for one’s life. While in some stages of Buddhist practice extreme devotion and dedication to the teacher are necessary, this shouldn’t be mistaken as a “blind faith” that requires you to somehow betray your better judgment.
Buddhism has existed for over 2,500 years. The Dallas KTC represents a lineage of Buddhism that developed in Tibet, called Vajrayana Buddhism. Even more specifically, Vajrayana Buddhism has 4 primary “schools” or lineages. The Dallas KTC represents the Karma Kagyu school of Vajrayana Buddhism and we are an official center under the guidance of the lineage’s most respected and achieved teachers.
If you ever feel uncertain or uncomfortable about a situation at the center, you are encouraged to speak with a KTC board member or any senior student.
To visit the KTC Center, is there a dress code or particular form of clothing that would be best to wear?
The short answer is “No”- there are no special dress codes or regulations for the center. However, there are a couple of basic concepts to keep in mind when deciding how to dress:
When meditating or receiving a teaching in the shrine room you will be sitting on the ground in a cross-legged position. Wear something that allows your body to get into this position. Don’t worry, we have chairs for participants who are unable to sit on the floor.
You will be removing your shoes to enter the shrine room, so footwear that slips on and off easily is not a bad idea. However, this is just an idea and any pair of shoes that get you to the center is fine!
2) Mutual Respect:
People at the center are there to focus their minds on meditation and spiritual practice, so clothing that might distract them is not recommended. For example, low-cut or revealing clothing might be discouraged. There are no fashion police – just use your best judgment!
Shorts are generally not recommended but definitely not restricted. It might depend on the context. For example, for a simple Sunday meditation in the middle of August shorts might be fine (this is Texas), but to attend a teaching by the lama or other respected teacher shorts might be less appropriate.
Coming to the center to deepen and develop your spiritual experience is a big step that takes a lot of guts. You are entering an environment in which you don’t know what to expect, so wear something in which you feel good about yourself.
Basic hygiene-remember that odors can be a distraction as well. No manicure/pedicure necessary, but use basic judgment in considering your impact on those around you. Strong perfumes can be a distraction as well. Dress in Buddhist practice is a very individual choice.
The bottom line is to feel comfortable and consider the context. You may want to imagine that you’ll be in the presence of a Buddha-how do you want to present yourself? The answer to that will be very individual.