A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN FPMT LAMA
Ven. Sangye Khadro, in Spain from Singapore in February, interviewed Geshe Lobsang Tsultrim of Nagarjuna-Barcelona, helped by residents nun Ven. Encarna and Isabel Arocena. Geshe-la speaks Spanish and a little English, but uses Tibetan when he teaches. His translator is Ven. Encarna.
Q: Please tell us when and how you came to Spain?
GLT: I came to Spain in 1981. There was a group of Spanish people who had met the Dharma and were interested in having a lama. It wasn’t a center, just a group who had met Lama Yeshe and requested Lama to send someone. I knew Lama Yeshe almost from childhood as we were together in Sera Monastery in Tibet. At first Lama Yeshe asked me to go to Australia, but at that time I was studying in the Tantric College and I wanted to finish my studies. When I finished in Tantric College I went to Kopan and told Lama Yeshe I was ready to go to Australia but Lama had already found someone else to go to Australia. But someone was needed in Spain.
I had doubts about coming to the West and teaching Western people, but because of my friendship with Lama Yeshe, I wanted to follow Lama’s request. I asked the advice of my teacher, Song Rinpoche, and he told me that it was very beneficial to come to Spain.
For the first year and a half, I would come to Barcelona once a month to teach a group of people, and from time to time I would teach in Madrid. In 1982 when His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to Spain, Lama Yeshe came also, and he told me it was not so good to be isolated in the countryside and that I should come to Barcelona and start a center here. After coming to Barcelona, I would spend one week each month teaching in Madrid.
Every year we would hold three retreats in the Barcelona area and people would come from other cities – Granada, Valencia, Onteniente and other parts of Spain. Through these retreats people came to know about Buddhism and started groups in their cities, and eventually these groups developed into centers. The groups would invite me to come and teach in their cities. There are also groups in Ibiza and Menorca which haven’t become centers, but they still request teachings sometimes.
Even through there were these groups and people interested in Buddhism, there were very few people who were really interested. Even to pay the rent for the center in Barcelona was very difficult; sometimes we had huge debts to pay. But slowly that has changed, especially over the last eight years. Now there are more people who are really following and benefiting from the teachings. There are some who have been coming to the teachings every week for years. There are also those who come just for a while and then disappear, but because it’s a big city, there are always people who come and go.
Q: What is your daily schedule?
GLT: I get up between five and six, depending on how late I went to bed. I wash and clean the room, set up offerings on the altar and do some prostrations. Then I do some commitments until 10:30 or 11:00. At that time I may see some visitors, or do some special ritual. After that I study until lunchtime, which is two o’clock.
After lunch I again do practices until 5:30 or six, which is the main time I see visitors. Both Buddhists and non-Buddhists come to see me. Some of the visitors have Dharma questions, some have questions about work or family, but the majority are people who are sick, physically or mentally. I make observations to determine which practice or mantra they should do, and I give them the transmission for these practices. I also sometimes do puja for them. Many people have received much benefit from these practices, and what is most important is that they develop faith in the Dharma and start coming to the teachings and begin to practice Dharma. There is one man with AIDS who has been coming for more than ten years, and he is much better now than he was, and there are also people with cancer who come. I think that if people really practice from the heart they can be cured of their sicknesses. Those who experience benefit then bring other people – friends, relatives or colleagues from work – to the center.
Then at eight we have activities at the center – I teach on Mondays and Thursdays, and on Tuesdays we do Tara puja. After these activities I have dinner, around 10:30, and then I do more practices, and then go to bed.
Q: What is the purpose of the puja you do every Friday morning, with lots of offerings?
GLT: That puja is for people who request prayers, for example to remove obstacles. Also, Lama Zopa requested me to make offerings on Tuesdays and Fridays to eliminate obstacles to all the centers, and for all his wishes for the centers to be accomplished. I see which kind of puja to do, and the offerings are bought with money people give. Here in Spain people have much devotion and like to make offerings with food, candles, etc. It’s very important for us to make many offerings to the merit field – the gurus, yidams, buddhas, bodhisattvas, etc. – because it’s a way to create merit and through this merit we can accomplish our wishes.
Q: As you’ve had fifteen years’ experience teaching in the West, do you have any advice for Western students?
GLT: Yes. I have known lots of Western people, mainly Spanish, and they realize that Dharma is the cause of happiness and mental peace, and as they wish for this mental peace they make a strong connection with the Dharma. In this way they are similar to all beings. The advice I would like to give to Westerners is to use the Dharma in a meaningful way, to try to look to your own minds and try to understand how your minds are working and then develop positive thoughts. Through developing positive thoughts your actions and words will be more positive and beneficial. Don’t leave your understanding of Dharma on the intellectual level, but be really careful in the way you talk to and deal with others, in your life and your relationships. Teachings and practice should come together completely with your life. It’s not possible to come to teachings and know a lot about the teachings and practices, but then your life is separate from that.
I emphasize again and again that students must try to be careful; they should watch their mind so that when they talk, act and think, they are positive and really bring the teachings into practice. Right speech is being honest and sincere, not trying to distort reality because of your own interests.
For older students, who are very close to the Dharma, I emphasize the necessity of being very aware because other people look to you a lot, and really expect you to behave in a way that is a good example of a Dharma practitioner.