Monday, December 21, 2009

Interview with Ian Ives

This interview is part of a series of interviews with young people studying and practising the Dharma. We hope these interviews are useful and inspiring for you.
The idea came about through being inspired by another series of interviews conducted by Lotsawa House with experienced Tibetan translators.

This is an interview with Ian Ives conducted by Han Kop. It took place in February 2009 on the rooftop of the Rigpa Shedra accommodation in Parping, Nepal.
Download the full document or read an excerpt here:

So we can start with the obvious question, how did you meet the dharma?

When I was about 14, my dad was sort of searching around for spiritual paths and so forth, very curious, and someone gave him the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. He read it and at the time a close friend of his had just died tragically and the book really connected with him, and I was sort of interested in everything he was doing, so he went to the local Rigpa centre. It was a very small group in Oregon, he may have gone once without me, but either the first time or the second I went with him, and they were playing audio tapes of Ian Maxwell, it was a series on the four immeasureables, I think it was starting with equanimity, and I just loved it, just immediately. From then on I went to that Rigpa course every week for 4 years, until I went to college. Yeah, and then I soon picked up the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and read that and was just totally mesmerized, even though my friends thought I was kind of nuts talking about mantras and bardos and whatever, it was completely…weird, but for me it was just sort of immediately, you know, it was the right thing. That was about 14 years ago.

And how did it then develop, you read all the books and?

Well, no I didn’t read very many books, I really had the Tibetan book of living and Dying and I listened to Rigpa-link tapes, I think I read a couple books by the Dalai lama, but I never really read that widely, especially when I was younger and mainly these Sunday evenings we’d go and we just listened to tapes of Rinpoche or read passages from TBLD and just reflect on it and do some meditation. Very simple, there weren’t courses or anything. And the group at a certain point was meeting at my father’s house, and I became a bit more involved and sometimes when the main instructor wasn’t there I’d lead the meditations.

The first time I ever saw Sogyal Rinpoche he just popped his head into the Tibetan class I was attending in Lerab Ling and wrote on the board in Tibetan ‘it’s easy’. That was it, and then he left. And then a few days later he actually gave a teaching. It was quite a special teachings because it was mainly these sort of residents of Lerab Ling and people who had come out of retreat. I can’t quite remember what he taught on but I just remember my mind being kind of blown, and at the end of it someone sort of pulled me aside and said ‘you want to meet Rinpoche?’. I said yeah and came out and I met him on the little bridge to his apartment and they said ‘you know this boy has come from America and he’s here’. Rinpoche didn’t say anything, I just handed him my mala and he blessed it. And I just had this feeling of, that I had met for the first time someone who loved me completely unconditionally, and I was just.. I think I then walked around in the fog and just sobbed for like two hours after that. That really sticks with me, meeting Rinpoche.

Did you encounter any difficulties in the beginning? How did your friends and family react to your getting involved with the Dharma?

They were actually quite open. I was in a real liberal university town, and so people were pretty open too that. Actually I had one friend who started coming to the Rigpa group with me as well, she came for two or three years actually, she was quite into it, and my other friends was also kind of investigating other kinds of spirituality especially as we got older like 17,18. So it was cool actually, and we’d have discussions about it. My mom was quite skeptical at first and of course the grandparents thought it was just a phase, that I was gonna grow out of it, and questions like, “Will Santa Claus still come if you’re a Buddhist?” And mom was just sort of debating me, and because I was quite young and mom’s a professor of law she could easily win the debates so I would lose them. But still it didn’t really faze me, I knew it was a good thing. This was my thing and yeah, I did not have too much difficulties.

And did you find any practices in the beginning which really worked for you?

I guess it was mainly just a lot of meditation in the beginning , and I really connected with the Benza Guru mantra, pretty early on, and I remember being quite inspired reading the chapter on guru yoga and the different phases described in TBLD. Then when I got to college I was more and more quite inspired by the bodhicitta, and I think in 1999 or 2000 I received teaching on the Bodhicharyavatara from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in Vancouver and from then on I would read that book like almost every day, like different parts of it out loud, I just loved it totally. I did my ngöndro in a very funny way you know, just totally out of order, because there wasn’t clear guidance, and over a period of like ten years.

But before that you did university as well, how did it relate to you being a Buddhist?

I didn’t study Buddhism at all at the university. I mean sometimes it didn’t relate at all, I mean more and more as I was in the Dharma…I was in international studies and the tracks that you would follow was you would go to the united nations or state department and government, or become a lawyer, or work for a non-governmental organization ,those were the kind of typical things you would do. But more and more I just wanted to study the dharma. I mean it was really good , I really appreciated getting this awareness of the world and a lot of knowledge and also a lot of skill in writing English, which has proved extremely useful. And I did some traveling, I spent time in South Africa and the Middle East and that was really eye opening.

But there were also times… I remember I was at the Dalai Lama’s teachings in 2000 and I came back to university and I walked straight into my political science class and they were talking about these different theories of liberalism and realism and neo-mercantilism and I remember my first thought being this is just such crap you know. This is totally useless, but then after a few days you know I sort of consigned myself to it again, I resigned or whatever the word is. By the time university was done I was just ready to be done you know. Partially also my parents paid my way and I had to just get my diploma or my mom would have blown, popped a couple of ribs out you know. I just had to finish.

Could you tell me more about going to the Shedra in Nepal?

I think for young people to study the Dharma in a sort of traditional way, for some of us to really do that is absolutely crucial for the survival of the Dharma in the future. I think if there’s not a group of people who from relatively young age really spend a long time really learning the teachings traditionally then there’s no way we’re really gonna be able to translate them authentically into the West for a Western audience. And its really, I mean the studies are the basis for everything. For the practice, for continuing the lineage in the future.

I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility and I think it’s so important for as many people to do that as possible. And also it’s just, the benefit for yourself, really studying the teachings. In the west you know we are really educated , we’re very intelligent people and so I mean for me and I think for a lot of others, you don’t just immediately have irreversible faith for the teachings when you hear them. And without that you’re not really able to communicate them in a powerful way to others.
But by really studying and through really understanding and reflecting on the teachings, really questioning them, just again and again and again, you will slowly start to see how extraordinary they are, and how true they are and how logical and just absolutely amazing, just beyond this world. I mean, they’re not from ordinary mind you know, and I think that really then carries over into your practice and to your ability to help the great teachers like Rinpoche and to help others, the studies is just so important, yep.

And in what way is it different, the study at the shedra and at the university?

The main difference is you’re studying your own mind. This is what Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche would say, when you study things in Western university’s its all sort of abstract and out there. But here, even though the teachings sometimes can be quite dense themselves, ultimately it comes down to you, it comes back to your mind, your suffering, your enlightenment and that of others, so its infinitely more practical and infinitely more personal then the other studies and in that way I think infinitely more satisfying.

Do you want to say something about what was the best thing and what was the worst thing during your time in the Dharma?

It’s always good to end with the best thing so.., so the worst thing, I mean all the worst things are just my own mind, my own sort of habits and it’s really important, especially if you’re studying, not to neglect the really basic points of the teaching. I mean like Tsoknyi Rinpoche says, this whole point about being a healthy human being, really having that respect and love for yourself. And just the basic what the Dharma is about; removing suffering, wanting to be happy, wanting to be free from suffering. I think the hardest things usually come when I loose touch with those things and then the teachings can kind of get a little bit used by ego and twisted around a bit, and that’s usually where all the problems come from.

I think the best thing is again and again feeling like there is nothing more meaningful I could possibly do with my life then this and just how extraordinary it is that I have this opportunity to do this. And there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing when I think about it. I mean sometimes on a bad day I could think you know, there’s still time I can still drop this and go to law school. And then you think about it for a while, and you’re just like god yeah, that would really be kind of boring dull life, and I really would feel I’m neglecting something quite important. I think that’s the best thing, really that sense of incredible meaning and value.

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