The Bliss of Practice
December 2002 – February 2003
Seattle-born David Gonsalez, 38, dreamt of Tibet as a little boy, and was told by many lamas that he had practiced Dharma in his previous life. As a teen, however, he got the sense that something was missing, and started drinking – he lost touch with the spiritual connection he had, and instead of a sense of wonder, there was despair. Years later, making money by buying houses to remodel and rent out, Gonsalez felt again he was missing the point of life. He speaks to Ven. Roger Kunsang about his spiritual re-emergence, his life and Aunt Thelma.
Ven. Roger Kunsang: How did you first connect with the Dharma?
David Gonsalez: I read a book by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Kindness Clarity and Insight, when I was twenty-three. At that point, I had already decided to find some purpose to my life, other than working, and had quit my job to find a spiritual path. I read the book, and that was it – that was the beginning.
VRK: Did you have any feeling or connection with the Dharma before that?
DG: Ever since I was a little boy I was always wondering about the deeper meaning of life and the world. When my mother said that [the] things that happened were because of God, I would think, “But I watched the situation. First someone did something, and then something else, and then something happened, so why do you think that God did it?” When I was very young, about five or six, and I did something wrong, I would kneel by my bed and pray that I could experience the results of my negative actions as suffering in this life, so that I wouldn’t have to take them with me when I die.
VRK: Where do you think those thoughts come from?
DG: A lot of lamas have told me that I practiced Dharma in my previous life. When I started practicing Dharma, especially when I was meditating on tranquil abiding, I remembered dreams I had as a little boy, things about Tibet. One time I explained a dream to Geshe Khenrab, who said, “You just described the area around Ganden Monastery.” I dreamt a lot about sitting in this little room. [I saw] everything in it, the little bed, and door, where the window was, how it was made, and looking out at the valley, the way the river ran through it, and the way the mountain was. There was this feeling of being sad because I wanted to do retreat but I had some responsibility at the monastery.
VRK: Did you understand that these dreams were connected to a previous life?
DG: No. When I was young I was always trying to figure out how the concept of God and Christianity fitted into my philosophy. I created my own little religion in my head, my own sort of spiritual tradition. As a teenager I told my friends about this theory I had that a table wasn’t a table, because if you were a fly, with all these eyes, and you landed on the table, it didn’t look like a table, and it was so big that it didn’t function as a table. So the fly can’t put cups of tea on it! I had this idea that a table only appears that way because it’s a certain size in proportion to us and we use it for certain things. My friends would laugh and ask what the point was. “I don’t know,” I told them, “but there’s something going on.” In His Holiness’s book, he mentions a table in reference to emptiness. I got extremely excited because the table idea was there, but also a little deflated on realizing that all these ideas I had figured out were already in Tibetan Buddhism! [I became] extremely interested in [Tibetan Buddhism] and in one year read close to 100 books on the subject – everything I could find – one book after another for six or seven hours a day. In my first week of discovering Dharma, after reading a few books, I decided that bodhichitta and tranquil abiding were the two most important things to practice. So I would meditate one session everyday on tranquil abiding using the breath, and another on the methods to cultivate bodhichitta [the 'seven-fold cause and effect' and 'equalizing and exchanging self with others'].
VRK: But you still hadn’t met a teacher?
DG: No. After a while I went to the Sakya Monastery in Seattle and took refuge. But I really wanted to make a connection with Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition. I had felt extremely drawn to Lama Tsongkhapa and Trijang Rinpoche, whenever I would read their names – the first time I read Lama Tsongkhapa’s name I kind of spaced out for about five or ten minutes. I saw a flyer mentioning that a Gelugpa lama, and disciple of Trijang Rinpoche, was coming to Seattle. I went and met Geshe Khenrab. I saw him again after a few months in Montreal. Meanwhile I had started ngnodro [preliminary practices] and continued to meditate on tranquil abiding and bodhichitta every day. After asking some questions, Geshe-la said that I had, in fact, managed to attain the fifth mental abiding [there are nine levels], but that I should stop meditating on tranquil abiding and finish my ngndro. I was really disappointed. I had worked really hard for the last year and a half to make that much progress and at that point meditating was really easy and blissful. I asked Geshe-la on another occasion why he told me to stop. Later I should meditate on tummo (inner fire) as the object of tranquil abiding, he said, and then I would accomplish many realizations at once. “Once you attain the third or fourth mental abiding,” he continued, “then the winds will enter the central channel. At that point, all the gross distractions disappear, and your concentration becomes really powerful; the gross sinking and excitement disappear, and attaining tranquil abiding becomes very easy.” I am still waiting!
VRK: What were your conditions when you were meditating on tranquil abiding?
DG: I was in a studio apartment. I had to work really hard at it. I was working a couple days a week, and on my days off I studied Dharma books, was doing my prostrations, and in between I would meditate on tranquil abiding – in a lot of short sessions. The further I got, the more sessions I would do. In the beginning, I just did a couple of short sessions a day, then more and more sessions, then the sessions got longer and longer – a few a day for half an hour or longer. I loved that period of my life! …interview, retreat