Gen Kelsang Dawa is a western Buddhist monk and the Resident Teacher at Khedrubje Centre on the NSW Central Coast. Originally from the UK, he studied at Nagarjuna Kadampa Meditation Centre for 5 years before returning to Australia in 2004. He has since taught Buddhism and meditation in Brisbane, Melbourne and now the Central Coast. This questionnaire was originally featured in ‘Gnostic’ magazine.
1) What does your name or title mean?
Kelsang (meaning “Fortunate one”) is my ‘family’ name and comes from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who ordained me. Dawa is my ‘first’ name. It means ‘Glorious Moon’. Fortunate Glorious Moon – something to live up to.
2) Your religious/spiritual belief? I’m a monk within the Kadampa Buddhist tradition. As a Buddhist, my lineage goes back two and a half millennia to Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. As a Kadampa, I follow the example of the Indian teacher Atisha, who founded the Old Kadampa Tradition in the 11th century, and the Tibetan teacher Je Tsongkhapa who revitalised this tradition in the 14th century, when it became know as the ‘New Kadampa Tradition’.
3) How did you come to your beliefs?
The main catalyst was an open mind. Then, the right conditions came together and I found myself picking up a flyer for meditation and Buddhism in my local library. By the time I heard my first dharma teaching, I was already living in a Buddhist community.
4) How have they shaped you personally?
They’ve helped me to have a more measured response to my problems. I’m not such a drama queen these days! I particularly like Buddha’s teachings on ‘Buddha nature’, which is our essential nature. Underneath all the bad habits, suspect intentions and ulterior motives we all have a good heart. Holding this understanding in mind has helped me so much in my relationships with people.
5) What are your challenges spiritually?
Training my mind! The heart of Kadampa Buddhist practice is to recognise that everything that happens can be part of your spiritual life. If I’m stuck in traffic, I try to practice patience. If someone points out my shortcomings, I try to practice humility and accept it, or have a peaceful mind when I tell them I don’t agree! This way, there’s never a time when I’m without the opportunity to develop a positive mind.
6) How does your practice take form?
My entire life is my practice. The only real distinction is between my normal practice of ‘meditation’ and then the ‘meditation break’ – which is the rest of my day. I start the day retaking my ordination vows – basically remembering who I am, and my goals. From 7-8am I do ‘puja’, (a chanted meditation) with 20 minutes for silent contemplation. It’s a huge source of my daily inspiration. During the day I may be preparing a teaching, updating websites, designing or distributing publicity, giving a talk somewhere or having a day off. I’m pretty busy – contrary to popular belief, meditators aren’t always gazing at their navel – we’re Modern Buddhists now.
7) Where will you go when you leave your body?
According to Buddhism our mind has no beginning and no end – we are eternal beings. There’s a Tibetan saying that I’m particularly fond of – ‘everybody dies, but no one is dead’. The mind is not the brain; it’s not a physical thing which can be photographed or operated on. Death is therefore the separation of our body and mind. Our body is like a guest house for our mind; so when we die we ‘check out’, then make our way through an intermediate state known as the bardo before ‘checking in’ to our next life, with a new body. To appreciate this view, it’s helpful to contemplate the process of falling asleep, dreaming and waking up, because falling asleep is similar to death, dreams are similar to the intermediate state, and waking is similar to rebirth.