Electronic Journal from Sakyadhita USA
Issue No. 8 Fall 2015
Practicing as an e-Buddhist in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico
By Alessandra Otero
Alessandra Otero was born, raised and still lives in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island that is a Commonwealth of the United States. She holds a masters degree in Information Sciences and works as an academic librarian at the University of Puerto Rico.
Not so long ago, I had the wonderful fortune to meet Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo when she visited Puerto Rico for the first time. After lecturing on shamata and the Four Immeasurables, she talked about Sakyadhita International Association for Buddhist Women and its efforts to give a voice to Buddhist women by facilitating a platform for us to share knowledge and experiences. She encouraged us to learn about and support Sakyadhita. At that moment, I became curious about it. Thus, back home, I read the website (www.sakyadhita.org) and discovered Sakyadhita USA (www.sakyadhitausa.org) and joined its email list. This small action brought me here. For the first time, thanks to the efforts of the Buddhist women elders, my voice is going to be heard. Thus, it is my hope that the following story benefits you and instantly fills your heart with joy and hope.
This is my first time sharing my brief experience in the Buddhist Path. For me, the support of the online Sangha has an important role in the development of my Dharma path. Therefore, I encourage those practitioners who lack a Dharma center near their homes to be open to the possibilities that the World Wide Web offers. Likewise, we can be grateful for having access to information, and for the efforts of the people who work to make teachings available throughout the World Wide Web. Furthermore, we can live the path with joy and with the understanding that being far away from a Dharma center should not become an obstacle to start and move forward on the path.
My first encounter with Buddhism was in a Photography course where the professor talked about the importance of meditation in our daily life. He recommended that we read the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and view the video teachings archived on the website of Ganden Shedrub Ling Buddhist Center (GSL) — a Gelugpa center in San Juan, Puerto Rico. http://www.budismopuertorico.org/site
While this Buddhist center is in Puerto Rico, it is three hours away from my home. Thus, it was an obstacle for me to physically participate in their events and educational programs. However, thanks to the generosity of the information technicians and those willing to make Dharma available online, I was able to have access to the jewels of wisdom available on their website. At that time, I really felt fortunate for having a computer and Internet access. Actually, I still am grateful!
The heart of the Buddha's teachings by Tsunma Lhundup Damchö was my first series of video teachings and a step towards understanding what Buddhism is about and what it really means to live the Dharma teachings. As my interest in Buddhist philosophy about compassion and wisdom grew, I enrolled in online retreats and courses developed by the Darmadatta Community (DC) (https://www.facebook.com/comunidad.dharmadatta?hc_location=timeline) — a community of Buddhist nuns guided by His Holiness 17th Gyalwang Karmapa — and the FPMT Education Services (http://fpmt.org/education/). Furthermore, I started to visit the GSL center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, occasionally. In one of those visits I met Yangsi Rinpoche, the president of Maitripa College and the spiritual director of the center with whom I took the refuge vows and teachings.
Even though I was able to move near GSL for a short time, the conditions were not favorable for me to visit it regularly. At the same time, I felt an urge to find a way to continue deepening in the Buddha’s teachings and to make the study of Dharma a daily practice. At this point, the virtual spaces of the Darmadatta Community (DC) gained importance for me as a Sangha community, and their online educational programs at Facebuda.org (www.facebuda.org) and Instituto Budadharma (http://institutobudadharma.org/) became my 24/7 Dharma Centers. Both were developed by the Dharmadatta Community with the volunteer support of many Dharma students of different Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico, Argentina, Spain, and Puerto Rico, among others. The main purpose of the programs is to provide free access to Dharma teachings in Spanish. The only condition to access them is to have a good Internet connection, an electronic device, and the determination to learn.
Every Sunday through Facebuda.org (www.facebuda.org ) — a Dharma channel for the Spanish speaking community — live teachings are offered to keep up learning how to transform daily habits into Dharma practice. At the end of each session, a practical exercise is assigned with the purpose of applying what we have learned. This helped me establish a daily practice. Thanks to the existence of Facebuda.org (www.facebuda.org ), free access to an array of Dharma teachers is possible too. Teachings from Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, Venerable Thubten Chodron and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche have been streamed, just to name a few.
The Instituto Budadharma (http://institutobudadharma.org/ ), on the other hand, has played an important role as a formal educational program. Its online courses have helped me make the study of Dharma a daily practice and to really understand the concepts of karma, samsara and refuge. Moreover, it facilitates a virtual classroom, known as Sala de Meditación Virtual (http://budismoenlinea.ning.com/ ), for practicing different daily meditation methods.
The determination of the Dharmadatta nuns to create online and on-site opportunities for us Spanish speaking people to practice the Dharma led me to meet Venerable Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche in 2013 during a Chenrezig retreat at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) Monastery (http://www.kagyu.org/ktd/monastery/) in New York. This was the most meaningful moment of my path. With this meeting, I had a profound understanding of Guru devotion and discovered a deep connection with Chenrezig. A year later Rinponche became my main teacher, and His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa my root guru.
In spite of my attempts to move near a Dharma center (be it San Juan or New York), different causes and conditions have obliged me to stay at Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. I do not feel discourage, however, by this situation. Keeping a joyful and thankful attitude toward my present circumstances has helped me understand that what you have now is what you really need to advance on the path. Thus, I continue viewing online teachings and following social media to stay up-to-date on retreat opportunities and online courses. Furthermore, every year I tried to visit KTD, but it is not always possible to have the budget to do so. Given this situation, the World Wide Web remains my main alternative for accessing teachings from great masters and to connect and be supported by the Sangha.
In sum, I consider myself a "www" Buddhist, a net Buddhist or online Buddhist student, a Dharma practitioner who would not exist without the online community support, especially the support of the Dharmadatta Community that works tirelessly to make Dharma teachings available. Without their contribution and the advent of the new technologies, Buddhism would still be something unfamiliar to me. Thus, I am really grateful for the creators of the electronic devices, software developers, information professionals, and the Buddhist teachers that make use of these technologies to spread Dharma seeds all over the world.