The Heart of the Practice: Spiritual and Health Benefits of Mantra Recitations June 24, 2023 17:05
If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, click HERE for the audio link.
Did you know that reciting mantras can be good for your heart?
I love it when I can find science-based articles that support concrete benefits to a regular meditation practice, and I found an article that addressed the benefits of mantra recitations, specifically.
I recently read an interesting article from an online medical journal (National Library of Medicine). It concluded that reciting mantras can have a positive effect on heart health and respiration.
This article, by Luciano Bernardi, an associate professor of medicine, along with several other researchers, physicians, and professors, conducted an experiment that analyzed the heart rates and breathing patterns of twenty-three healthy adults during periods of free talking compared to sessions of reciting the Ave Maria prayer in Latin and the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra.
The title of this article is “Effect of Rosary Prayer and Mantras on Autonomic Cardiovascular Rhythms.” Feel free to read the details of this study, if you like.
Ultimately, what these researchers found is that reciting the prayer and mantra slowed the respiration rate to six breaths per minute. Recitations also enhanced heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity.
Apparently, a slow respiratory rate has favorable effects on cardiovascular and respiratory function. It increases the oxygenation of blood in the body, it increases a sense of calm and wellbeing, and it improves irregular breathing patterns.
This study also concluded that reciting the rosary or a mantra is not only an important spiritual practice; it is also a beneficial health practice.
Additionally, Bernardi, et al, happened to mention in this article an important historical connection between the prayer and the mantra.
According to the article, the rosary was introduced to “Europe by the crusaders, who took it from the Arabs, who in turn took it from Tibetan monks and the yoga masters of India. This supports the hypothesis that the similar characteristics and effects of these mantras and of the rosary may not be a simple coincidence.”
This detail points to another relevant benefit of a daily recitation practice—one that fosters a sense of interconnection and community with others.
I attend weekly Dharma teachings at TMBCC in Bloomington. Typically, before the Dharma talk begins, we chant prayers together, and after the talk, we chant dedication prayers. It’s the only time during the week where I have the opportunity to chant with others. The rest of the time, I’m on my own with my personal practice.
Even though these prayers are relatively brief and take just a few minutes to recite, having an opportunity to share a collective mantra/prayer practice with others fosters a sense of interconnection and community with other sangha members.
It’s a soothing, calming, shared experience, and it’s a beautiful way to frame Geshe Kunga’s teachings.
Compared to the monasteries that we visited in India, our temple is very small. Our voices may not echo and reverberate in vast temples with high ceilings and polished marble floors, but we are joining together in a communal, shared practice—reciting, reading, and breathing together in a shared, sacred space.
Some of us are very familiar with this weekly practice, and some may be first-time visitors, but all are welcome as we recite these prayers together.
I’m grateful to be able to travel to Bloomington for these weekly teachings. I’m also grateful to have been able to travel to India a few months ago where we visited beautiful monasteries with high ceilings and polished marble floors (Drepung Gomang Monastery in South India, and Namgyal Monastery in North India).
Listening to hundreds of monks chanting together, filling these beautiful spaces with cadences and rhythms of sacred sound in Tibetan and Sanskrit was an amazing, meaningful opportunity. Their voices lulled us into a peaceful, tranquil state and fostered a strong sense of connection, interconnection, and community.
If you don't have a daily mantra practice yet, I highly recommend it. A daily recitation practice will not only benefit your physical health, but it will also benefit your spiritual and emotional wellbeing. Om Mani Padme Hum is a wonderful mantra to recite on the daily, and if you need a mala, I have several to choose from in the current Middle Moon Malas collection.
I hope you are enjoying this beautiful summer season, and I hope this month's article was beneficial in some way. I look forward to sharing another article with you next month.
Interdependence and the Trip of a Lifetime: The Balance of Giving and Receiving December 31, 2022 13:33
(View from Namgyal Monastery, HHDL's temple in Dharamshala)
If you prefer to listen to this month's blog post, please click HERE for the audio link.
Americans, in general, are a bit fussy about independence. We like to be able to do things "all by ourselves," and many of us are hesitant to accept help from others. However, one of the biggest lessons that my Buddhist practice has taught me is that we are constantly riding the waves of our own personal and collective karmas, and that because of various causes and conditions, no one journeys through life alone--we are interdependent beings, whether we realize it or not. Life is more fun when you realize it, though.
I was very fortunate to be able to travel with a group of Dharma friends to India in November. We spent a week near a monastery in South India, and then we went to Dharamshala in North India for a week or so.
This truly was an amazing trip of a lifetime, and it would not have been possible without the presence, assistance, patience, kindness, compassion, generosity, expertise, and effort of many, many others.
One of the biggest lessons of this trip for me focused on the importance of giving and receiving--especially maintaining a healthy balance between these two actions.
Too much giving--especially feeling pressured to give, can leave me feeling depleted and exhausted. By the same token, too much receiving makes me feel uncomfortable, undeserving, selfish, and mired in the grippy tangle of attachment.
This trip was a beautiful dance of give and receive, and our group members were willing participants in its choreography.
One of the things we were grateful for was the delicious food we enjoyed while in India. While we were in Delhi, we were invited to a dinner at the Tashi Kyil Guest House and were served steaming platters of momos, veggies, fresh bread, and cups of hot chai.
I remember hearing the clatter of dishes, pots, and pans--the hiss of steam--the spray of water in the kitchen. Many hands were involved in preparing this meal, and it was delicious.
We enjoyed all of the meals during our trip, whether they were served in fancy hotels or prepared in tiny local restaurants, like Dolma's Kitchen in Dharamshala, where all the food was made from scratch--the tea from the Norbulinka Cafe, the cheesecake and yogurt mousse from a tiny restaurant near Namgyal Monastery--and all those wonderful honey lemon ginger teas and cappuccinos.
No matter where we went, we were greeted with warm, smiling faces and sincere service. We pooled our rupees and took turns paying for each other's meals. It was a beautiful exchange of give and receive--one fueled by meaningful service and gratitude.
(Geshe Kunga treated us to tea at an outdoor cafe along the kora in Dharamshala)
We did not partake in street food. However, one of my favorite meals was "soup in a bucket." Our teacher, Geshe Kunga, who took very good care of us throughout this trip, sent us an urgent message one evening to come to the temple. We hurried down dark, crowded streets to Namgyal Monastery to be greeted by Geshe-lak, who served us steaming bowls of spicy vegetable soup with thick, hand-made noodles from a large metal bucket. He had sponsored a dinner and wanted to share it with us, too. Monks from Namgyal prepared it for their sangha members. We sat on metal benches at the Dalai Lama's temple and enjoyed the warm, savory soup that was lovingly prepared by many monks for the benefit of many others.
(Mmmm...mmmmm...good. Sangha members enjoying homemade soup)
Interdependence was literally all around us--and it was not limited to restaurants and coffee shops. It was with us in the bustling Delhi airport--it was with us in traffic as taxi drivers gracefully chauffeured us among other cars, trucks, tuk tuks, scooters, pedestrians, and even livestock on crowded streets.
Interdependence was with us as we navigated our way on foot through narrow alleyways of the Tibetan Quarter in Manju ka Tila, busy markets near Hubballi, and the sloping network of streets in McCleod Ganj.
We had so much to be thankful for on this trip, but the day before Thanksgiving, we had the opportunity of a lifetime--our group had an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
I can't begin to fathom all of the causes and conditions that had to align in order for this meeting to occur, but we were beyond appreciative.
I remember waking up at 3:00 AM in my hotel room at the Serkong House. I was too keyed up to practice, so I sat in bed and chanted the long Chenrezig mantra. I made a cup of tea, continued to chant, and waited.
Later, I showered, changed into a chupa (Traditional Tibetan dress) and pangden (apron) and met the rest of our group in the lobby at 6:15 AM.
We walked to the temple in the cool darkness. A black feral dog walked with us, escorting us most of the way to Namgyal Monastery. I was a little nervous about our meeting, but continuing to chant the Chenrezig mantra helped me remain calm, clear, and focused.
Geshe Kunga was waiting for us at the gate, and we walked to the office where we all took Covid tests. Our group was scheduled to meet with HHDL last that morning.
We showed our passports, went through security, and waited. We placed objects that we brought with us for HHDL to bless on a small table. I brought my white Selenite mala and a small quarter mala that I had made for someone special and gave these to the attending monk.
When it was time, our group was ushered upstairs to a room where couches and several chairs were arranged on either side of HHDL's seat in the middle of the room. Once we were seated, we remained very quiet as attending monks bustled quietly around us. One brought in a tray of beautiful statues and placed it on a nearby table.
We could hear groups of people just outside the door, and occasionally, HHDL's voice and gentle laugh as he patiently greeted those who came to see him, along with the rapid shutter clicks of a camera.
We waited quietly in the room for thirty minutes or so. Geshe Kunga gave each of us a Medicine Buddha statue from the tray to offer to HHDL. We unfurled our khatags that we brought and rested the statues on them in our laps. Then, His Holiness quietly entered the room, flanked by attending monks who guided him to his seat. All of my nervousness melted away, and I felt very calm and at ease in his presence.
Takster Rinpoche, a young lama who is connected to our Bloomington center, was kneeling on the floor beside him. Our connection to this young lama is the reason why our group was here--and why this private audience was possible.
His Holiness was very kind and nurturing to the young Rinpoche. He affectionately touched his head and patted him as he talked to us. He encouraged Rinpoche to continue his studies, and he emphasized that this was very important. His sincerity and encouragement were quite moving for all of us, particularly for Rinpoche, who wept quietly as he spoke to him.
Afterwards, attending monks helped us to line up with our offerings. At the last moment, while I was waiting in line, one of the monks, Geshe Sangay, gave me a beautiful jeweled conch shell to offer as well.
My mind was calm, and my hands were full with beautiful offerings. When it was my turn, I knelt down before HHDL as attending monks collected the offerings; in turn, they gave me a small Buddha statue that had been blessed by HHDL. We met eyes and smiled. He held my gaze briefly, leaned forward to pat my cheek, and brought his forehead to touch mine.
No words were spoken--and they weren't necessary-- it was merely a quiet exchange of sincerity, joy, compassion, and gratitude.
He placed the khatag around my neck, attending monks helped me to my feet, and they led me out of the room.
Our group gathered our things and blessed items and took several group photos in front of the temple. We walked back to the Serkong House for breakfast in a blissful state--among fellow pedestrians, scooters, tuk tuks, vendors, monastics, and feral dogs. I have never felt a stronger sense of connection to all of humanity in my life. I felt calm, connected, and interconnected to everyone and everything around me. It was a beautiful experience and a memory that I will treasure always.
(Meeting HHDL was a joy)
(Dharma friends with HHDL)
(Group photo with our group outside HHDL's office)
Every day of this trip was an adventure, and every day revealed the reality and significance of interdependence.
Meeting His Holiness was an amazing and meaningful opportunity, but I was hoping to meet someone else who was just as special to me.
I have been sponsoring a nun through the Tibetan Nuns Project for several years. Venerable Tsundue Palmo resides at Tilokpur nunnery, which is about an hour away from Dharamshala. Before our trip, I had reached out to TNP administrators to see if it would be possible to arrange a visit during our trip. Our schedule was tight and unpredictable, but many hearts and hands came together again to bring Venerable to Dolma Ling, a nunnery much closer to Dharamshala.
Honestly, I was a little more nervous about meeting her than I was meeting HHDL. Our group had rented a car and traveled to Gyuto Monastery first. The buildings were painted bright yellow, birds were everywhere, and young monks were chanting mantras from open windows. It was a beautiful, sunny day--Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.
Then, we traveled to nearby Dolma Ling and met with Tenzin, who helped make this meeting possible. After a few minutes, a car arrived at the nunnery, and I was able to meet Ven.Tsundue Palmo in person. I was surrounded by my Dharma friends when Tenzin introduced us. I offered Venerable a khatag, a donation in a bright orange envelope, and the quarter mala that I had made for her, which had been blessed by HHDL the day before.
Venerable was very soft-spoken, peaceful, and pleasant. Tenzin took us on a tour of Dolma Ling nunnery, and we stopped by the office so my friends could make prayer requests and donations to TNP. Then, we invited Venerable to join us for lunch at nearby Norbulinka, a beautiful monastery with a museum, restaurant, and gift shop.
Another member of our group, Victor, happened to be connected with the project manager at Norbulinka, Nyima, and she graciously treated our group to lunch and a tour of Norbulinka. It was another wonderful day--and interdependence made it all possible.
It was a joy meeting Venerable in person, and it definitely strengthened my motivation to continue to support her and the Tibetan Nuns Project.
(Victor taking a photo of me offering a khatag to Venerable Tsundue Palmo)
(Venerable and I --a joyous meeting)
(Venerable after lunch at Norbulinka)
Our group was riding the waves of our collective good karma, but it wasn't finished with us yet. Another member of our group, David, had met with Rinchen Khando Choegyal years ago when he had traveled to India in the 70s. This previous meeting with her was extremely inspiring and meaningful for him, so he reached out and managed to arrange a private audience with her and our group.
Rinchen-lak is the founder and special advisor of The Tibetan Nuns Project. She is the former Minister of Education in the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, and she is the founding President of the Tibetan Women's Association. Oh, and she's also HHDL's sister-in-law.
Later in the week, we rented a car and drove to Kashmir Cottage to meet with her. We were seated in a small, airy room where her attendant brought us glasses of ginger tea.
She was very kind and generous with her time. We talked with her for an hour. She told us that her family was originally from Kham in Tibet, and her family came to India in 1958, a year before the Chinese invaded Tibet.
She came from a wealthy family and was able to attend school. Rinchen-lak later married the Dalai Lama's brother, and she started a bakery to provide food for other Tibetan refugees. She also helped provide clean water for the nuns at Tilokpur (the same nunnery where Ven. now resides) and opened Kashmir Cottage as a guest house.
She worked very hard to ensure that the nuns were fed and cared for--that they had qualified teachers and received a good education. She emphasized practical, foundational matters, tending to the physical wellbeing and mental health for the nuns as well as practicing Dharma.
Rinchen-lak was a kind-hearted, generous host, but in hearing her story, she was also wise, fiercely determined, and dedicated to helping the Tibetan people and to preserving the Dharma and Tibetan culture. Her work in educating and supporting Tibetan Buddhist nuns is beyond inspiring, and her primary message to us was..."For everything that you have, now it is time to give something back."
This is the essence of interdependence.
(Rinchen Khando Choegyal at Kashmir Cottage)
(David expresses his gratitude)
(Dharma friends with Rinchen-lak)
These were just some of the highlights of our trip to India. There were actually many other examples and many more wonderful people that I could have mentioned in this article.
I am very grateful to have experienced all of the events of this trip with my Dharma friends. Much gratitude to Geshe Kunga and TMBCC for making this trip possible. My hope is that sharing these moments with you will be of benefit as well.
May you give and receive with an open heart.
May you graciously accept help from others and offer help when you can.
May 2023 offer you many blessings, adventures, and opportunities.
May you continue to learn, grow, practice, and flourish in the coming New Year.
(Geshe-lak flanked by monk friends in Dharamshala)
Embracing the Benefits of Fall: Learning to Let Go October 29, 2022 14:06
If you would prefer to listen to this month's blog offering, please click HERE for the audio link.
This autumn season is blazing with color in Indiana. The maples and oaks are letting go of their leaves in brilliant red, orange, gold, and sepia colors. Nature is throwing a party, and everyone is invited.
While I'm enjoying this colorful season, I'm also grappling with an undercurrent of anxiety. A few factors are contributing to this mild, but steady uneasiness.
1. I have a trip of a lifetime coming up in mid November. A group of dharma friends and I will be traveling to India in a few weeks. We'll be attending an important ceremony at a monastery in South India, and then we'll be headed to Dharamshala to attend a live teaching with H.H. the Dalai Lama.
I have been fussing with the details and preparations for this trip for months: securing a visa, arranging for required vaccinations, thinking about what to pack (for two climates), downloading necessary travel apps, etc. I have been navigating feelings of anticipation and excitement as well as the worry of uncertainty.
2. This trip occurs during a time when I usually attend an important event as a vendor. Because my mala biz is online, and I don't have a brick and mortar shop, attending events like Indy Holistic Hub's Wellbeing Fest in Indianapolis helps to boost my success and sustainability, and it also allows people in the community to see and purchase my malas in person.
As a result, I've been grappling with uncertainties about my business. I've been questioning and ruminating about whether what I do is relevant. I've been worrying about where I can find those who appreciate what I do--and where they can find me, so that they can use these malas to not only benefit their own personal practice, but they can also be of benefit to others.
I've been grappling with feelings of doubt and of not feeling worthy or relevant.
3. I recently attended an event earlier this month hosted by Shades of Becoming a Mom, Inc. It was a wonderful, meaningful ceremony dedicated to women and families who had experienced pregnancy, infant, or child loss.
In preparation for this event, I had created several quarter malas made with gemstones suited for dealing with grief and healing from loss. I was grateful to sell a few of them, and I was also very grateful to be invited to participate as a vendor at this event. I met some kind-hearted, gracious people.
However, those seeds of doubt and worry surfaced again. I was comparing this event to the Wellbeing Fest from last year, which is not a fair comparison at all. The audiences and intentions of these events are completely different--and making comparisons only makes me spiral into hopelessness and dread.
4. I am still trying to overcome my conditioning to believe that being busy and productive are marks of success. I taught English at a large high school for nearly twenty years. In this environment, I was frenetically, frantically busy--too busy, really...
too busy to think
too busy to enjoy what I was doing
too busy to have time with my family
too busy to have any kind of restorative personal practices
too busy to effectively take care of myself
This level of chaotic effort was not healthy or helpful for me or anyone around me. In many ways, I felt like a useless failure during this time.
Thankfully, I transferred to a smaller school in the same district, and things did improve, at first. I wasn't as stressed, and I felt like what I was doing (teaching young people to think and write and reflect) mattered. Even though I was teaching in a smaller school, and the work environment was more healthy and supportive, it didn't take long for the commitments and pressures of teaching--the endless initiatives, the daily meetings, the constant stream of collecting data and proctoring various standardized tests--all the things that interfered rather than enhanced teaching--all of these things took over like kudzu--and I felt that stranglehold pull of stress, anxiety, and doubt once again.
About ten years ago, I transitioned to a part-time tutoring position at this same small school. Once again, things improved.
I had more time to help students one-on-one. Because this is a part-time position, I also had time to take care of myself. I had time to read, to spend time with my family, to practice yoga and Feldenkrais lessons, to travel to Bloomington for dharma talks, to create malas--and to start my mala business. For the first time, my life felt balanced.
Fall is a season of facing and celebrating change. Each year, month, day, moment is different from those that came before, and I have a choice about how to approach these constant changes.
Instead of planting seeds of doubt and worry about traveling to new, exciting places, not selling malas, missing an event that I can attend next year, I am taking inspiration from these beautiful fall leaves and giving myself permission to let go of expectations, attachments, patterns, behaviors, and thoughts that no longer serve me.
I don't need to be so busy that I can't think clearly or take care of myself and others.
I don't have to sell X number of malas or put unnecessary pressure on myself to feel as though I matter.
I don't need to do more or exert unnecessary effort in order to feel productive or relevant.
This fall season is speaking to me, and the trees in my front yard are modeling what I need to do--to let go--to rest--to restore.
They are encouraging me to recognize and acknowledge the wisdom and confidence that I already have within me--and to have faith that a new growing season is coming.
They are reminding me to trust that the right people will find me and the malas on my online shop.
They are validating that what I do matters in a quiet way--and that what I do will encourage others to find their own paths as well.
Creativity can't be forced, and endless effort is not productive. It often leads to burnout and exhaustion. This fallow time is necessary, and it's giving me more time to devote to other interests and adventures.
I am embracing change during this beautiful season. In a couple of weeks, I will be going to India. I have never been there before, and I don't have any expectations or comparisons. I am open to having an adventure with my dharma friends and receiving any benefits that may come our way.
I am leaving my worries, doubts, and neurotic musings behind. May they drift to the ground like dry leaves and drift away with the wind, or sink into brown grass and nourish the soil underneath.
I look forward to sharing more details about this trip with you soon.
In the meantime, if you feel compelled to purchase a mala from the online shop, now is actually a good time. I am more than happy to send them your way before I depart.
May you reap the benefits of this beautiful season as well, and may these words and malas be of benefit.