This is first in a series in which I conduct short interviews with teachers from different Buddhist lineages in an attempt to promote non-sectarianism while at the same time developing a deep appreciation for our differences. Dawer Shonu, or Dashu, has been a student of Lama Shenpen Hookham for many years and is a senior student within the Awakened Heart Sangha.
How did you discover Buddhism? At what point did you know you had found your path?
I remember watching the twin towers burning and thought I saw someone jump from a window. I cried hard. I remember thinking ‘what can I do to help these people?’ – a very loud clear question in my mind. I saw immediately the retribution and suffering that would be caused as a result of what had happened. I knew that millions of people would die, not just those in the buildings. And I felt so helpless.
Then shortly after, I saw a trailer for a documentary about the Buddha. Something rang a bell and I knew I would have to watch it. It was such a strong intention that I must watch.
After that I went out to a book shop and bought the Dhammapada. The first line I read was:
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world
And something inside me changed. It was the ‘Lion’s roar’ – I heard the word of the Buddha and it resonated something very deep. I knew it to be true.
Somehow all of these events seem to be linked in my mind and significant to each other, even if I didn’t really understand it fully.
I knew from then that it would take over my world and I would have a need to commit myself to it fully. It took many years for me to move out of my old life style and into one that is more conducive to practice of meditation and wholesomeness but the intention was very strong right at the beginning.
Could you describe the qualities or personality of your particular lineage?
I’m not sure I am qualified to answer this question. It’s so varied and broad and I only know a very small part of it. My teacher has spent her life trying to introduce Westerners to the essence of the Tibetan tradition – as a consequence, I don’t have a full overview on the qualities or personalities of the lineage – but what I can say is that I experience the lineage as a living force of some kind. It is the whole of the teaching, the Enlightened mandala from which the Buddhas’ realisation is transmitted to those who are practicing within the mandala.
This is embodied in the teachers that I come into contact with, as best they can, of course – and the rest is dependent on the openness, clarity and sensitivity of myself as a student. It is up to us as students to listen and reflect on the teachings, remain as open as we can and trust that the Truth the lineage is expressing will manifest over time in our hearts and the world.
What is the importance of love and compassion in your tradition?
I am fairly confident that the whole of the path is to open us to the realisation that we are interconnected in very deep and profound ways, that love and compassion are more than ‘important’ – that they are none other than our true nature and the nature of reality itself if we can but realise it.
Has your experience of reality changed through your practice of meditation and could you say a little about that?
Meditation is one part of the whole. The teachings, the activity of the teacher, those friends who I practice alongside, reflection, study of the texts and so on, lead to a broader understanding of the mind and reality. The whole ‘world’ of the practice is integral to everything else. Meditation then becomes something that goes hand in hand with it. It helps to bring confidence in the nature of mind and that the nature of mind is not different or separate from the nature of reality.
Then this effects the way I see the world, which in turn effects the way I behave in the world and interact with those in my life (and those I don’t know), which effects the way I approach the teachings, which effects the way I see the world… and so on in a spiral of deepening understanding. On a good day.
What obstacles do you foresee for Buddhism in the west?
I suppose our ‘reductionist’ scientific mentality. That somehow we can explain it all away in terms of concepts and chemicals. The Dharma is subtle and beyond what we think the world is. It’s not easy for us to move out of the very convincing scientific view.
Hopefully the two will come together, but one of my teachers (a Mathematician) says it’s dangerous to throw Buddhism in with science, because when science is proved wrong, which is inevitable, then that implies Buddhism will be proved wrong too.
So perhaps it is better to move away from Buddhism and any kind of ‘ism’ and into the search for Truth. The truth beyond concepts. And for that we need it pointed out to us by good teachers.
Also, it takes a strong sense of commitment to the path, which isn’t so easy to come across. We like to have things that are quick and easy to explain. A weekend course on Mahamudra and we think we know what it is. A Facebook meme that hits the spot.
Have we got the confidence, faith, patience, whatever, to fully commit ourselves to the search for Truth?
You can find out more about Dashu, Lama Shenpen and the Awakened Heart Sangha here.