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The V-Voice   August 2012




directorsbox Should we have waited?  Maybe. But next Spring 2013 seemed so far away!  And our plans for a retreat on mindful eating—a simple technique for responding to food as a spiritual practice with natural health benefits...well, it just could not wait!   

On August 24-26, Vajrapani offers a new and exciting kind of workshop—Mindful Eating.  Venerable Jampa Sangmo, a Buddhist nun and director of Mind-Body-Spirit Programs at Kaiser Permanente, and Andrea Lieberstein join us to serve as a guide in this simple-yet-profound technique of mindful-eating.

Our eating habits have changed so dramatically in the past two generations. We used to eat when we were hungry; but not any more. Now the types of 'mindless' eating include emotional eating, spontaneous eating, unconscious eating, habitual eating or even "clearing your plate" eating.  I found meditating on all of my own kinds of mindless eating pretty sobering.

The Mindful Eating Retreat is about getting the support many of us need to bring mindfulness back into our eating habits. Because this connects us directly back to aspects of compassionate attention to the world about us, each meal promises to advance one in spiritual engagement.  For those unable to attend the retreat, this issue of V-Voice has some resources and articles that may get you thinking about it like it did us!

You’ll find an interview and short video from retreat leader Andrea Lieberstein. Co-leader Venerable Jampa Sangmo shares her personal experiences of mindful eating. Some of us staff have already started on this journey and Venerable Drolma shares her experience of applying some of the principles in a book review.

Wishing you a mindful eating month of August, wherever you are! 

Fabienne Pradelle

PS: Behind the scenes, we're working on developing an online meditation program. We created a questionnaire to identify the kinds of support you most need. We'd love to hear from YOU. Fill out the survey and you may win the prize of a $80 FPMT Store voucher!



A short while ago, we received this heart-warming letter and a generous donation from Richard Leboeuf.  Richard volunteered at Vajrapani for one year in 2007. At the moment, he's traveling the country with a sideshow where he preforms as a juggler, firedancer and sword swallower.

"I hope everything is well at Vajrapani. Thank you to everyone there for everything you try to do to help preserve and spread the teachings.
I know it can be hard to be there sometimes and I know you've all made sacrifices in order to be there. But everything in life is a trade-off and what you're doing there is so worthwhile and great.  And I want you to know that I, countless students, and our lamas, all appreciate what it is you all do.  So thank you!
I love you all very much. Take care, meditate, pray and get enlightened.

                              Big Love,



Click image to watch video
Click image of Andrea to watch video

How do the mind and body connect in your opinion?

The mind and body are intimately connected. If, on the other hand, we perceive something as a threat, a cascade of reactions occur in the body that we call "flight or fight" or stress response. Our bodies undergo a rise of cortisol, blood pressure, and increase in heart rate and muscle tension.  If we are having pleasant thoughts and/or experiences, a set of hormones and chemicals are released, that leave us feeling good. Our muscles relax, breathing becomes slower, blood pressure decreases and our digestion improves. 
If the perceived threats or stressors are not resolved, they can lead to the experience of chronic stress—a ubiquitous condition these days.  Mindfulness helps bring awareness to our experience so that we disengage and disidentify with our habits of thought which fuel stress. This allows for the opportunity for new ad balanced responses to emerge.

How does the practice of mindful eating improve people's lives?

When we pay attention to our eating, savoring the full experience of each bite it brings us into the present moment. The pleasure experienced from eating in this way can improve digestion and absorption of nutrients. It helps to elicit the relaxation response. When we bring awareness to hunger, fullness and satisfaction levels we can eat in a way more closely aligned with our body's actual needs. We may eat less but actually enjoy it more.
Another component of mindful eating is creating right relationship with what we choose to eat. There is an immense amount of nutrition knowledge out there. Each person is encouraged to find their right relationship to what they eat through knowledge of nutrition (there are good books written on this topic based on research, literature reviews, and evidence-based nutrition information or by going to a dietitian or other evidence-based nutrition professional) and using this information in a way personalized to you. Mindful eating is a journey into the present moment, finding the right relationship to a balance of healthy nourishing foods and learning to eat in a way that is satisfying, healthful and brings energy, vitality and well-being

What do people mean when they say "you are what you eat?"
Our bodies are literally made up of what we eat, drink and the oxygen from the air that we breath, directly incorporating the protein, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and energy that we take in through our food as needed.  So it makes sense to provide our bodies with the best quality and purest sources of food that we can. There is research that suggests the intention put into preparing our food also can affect our experience of it. Food prepared with love and consciousness is reported as tasting better!
Along with "what" we eat, it's just as important in mindful eating practice to be consistent with the choices we make moment to moment, day by day and leave the guilt, shame and self-criticism behind. Mindfulness practiced over time helps us to do so. We can develop the capacity to bring kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance to our thoughts, feelings, and experiences around eating and enjoy food more.  If we have a more nourishing, stress-free relationship to the food we eat, we may find that its increased nourishment means we need less of it! And by setting time aside to really enjoy our food and eat mindfully our bodies will be more relaxed and ready to fully receive all that the food gives.

Could you please share with the readers your professional background?
My work is based on an approach called "Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT)" developed by Jean Kristeller. I train health professionals and the general public in this approach through workshops and retreats. In my private coaching practice, I help establish a sound grounding in mindfulness and build upon this by offering a variety of mindful eating, evidenced-based nutrition and awareness practices to incorporate slowly and realistically in a way that is sustainable over time.
Andrea Lieberstein is a mindfulness-based nutritionist, stress management coach, trainer, inspirational speaker, registered dietitian and certified hypnotherapist.  For over 20 years, she has helped people transform their lives through  mindfulness training, stress management, nutrition and lifestyle change.  She will be leading Vajrapani's upcoming Mindful Eating Retreat with Venerable Jampa Sangmo.

by Venerable Jampa Sangmo


During the 1980’s, I studied Vapassana and began doing several long retreats with various teachers.  On retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Master, I heard an extensive talk on eating mindfully.  It, of course, is one thing to receive a teaching and another to have some understanding.  So it wasn’t until later, in the middle of 10-day Vapassana retreat at Vajrapani, that I came to experience what eating mindfully means as it relates to cooling the mind. 

I had harbored a longstanding distaste of all tomatoes, in particular cherry tomatoes; however, one day this is what happened to be served at lunch.  As I was sitting outside on the wooden table, enjoying one of those exceptionally warm California days, I finally decided to bite into the tomato.  An unexpected burst of exquisite flavor exploded in my mouth.  It was then realized that I had never really experienced the flavor of a tomato before. I had been caught up in my preconceived notions and unable to be in the moment. The taste was wondrous and the memory still lingers.

When my journey finally led me to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, I became inspired by the teachings of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. He would frequently talk about the kindness of all beings.  It is this teaching that has shaped my view of the world and remains a motivation for my practice.  In thinking now about the tomato, I acknowledge the seed, the warm air from the sun, the rain from the sky, and all nourishing aspects that help to create its existence. I recognize all the beings that make up its formation, including the soil and water, the farmers, the workers that carefully harvest and package the containers; the truck drivers loading the crop and driving the highways to bring to the local market.  I think of the shared knowledge of how to grow and transport a crop and all the kindness involved in its undertaking.

When I look deeply in the quiet of my meditation I have come to realize that it involved the entire universe to bring me that tomato and how fortunate I am to have had such an experience.  Gratitude arises.  To me this is eating mindfully.  This is living mindfully. 

Jampa Sangmo leads drop-in meditation classes and retreats at Land of Medicine Buddha. She has an extensive background in working in the Arts; Mental Health and Social Services.  She has studied with several Buddhist Masters including Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Choden Rinpoche, Ribur Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  In 2008 she took robes with her teacher Khensur Jampa Tegchok Rinpoche and in 2009 she took Getsul Vows with Choden Rinpoche.


BODHI & ME, cont.d

Ven Jangchup and Bodhi
Following a family tragedy, Venerable Jangchup and Bodhi found each other; and later, through the grace of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, they were invited to Vajrapani where Venerable Jangchup resides in ongoing retreat. 

“Bodhi & Me (Cont’d)” is a regular feature of V-Voice.

(…You must pull yourself together!... HEY!!!...)

“I’m sorry.  What did you say?”

(…I said that you must pull yourself together.  You’re not concentrating.  You’ve been this way for weeks…)

“Yes, well, what I’m going through is called ‘grieving’.”

 (…Why are you grieving? Certainly not for your father?  Your father is playing golf…)

“Bodhi, my father died three weeks ago.  He was ninety-seven years old.  Don’t you remember?  You and I flew to San Diego so that I could go to the funeral.”

(…Please dearest Venerable Jangchup, please!! I beg of you.  Don’t talk like that!...)

“—He was old and he’d been failing for sometime.  I’ve had prayers offered at Kopan.”

(…Exactly what a good son should do.  Now forget about him…)

 “And do what?  As it is, I stay in the house and eat ice cream all day.”

(…Why aren’t you writing your book?...)

“I’ve lost interest.”

(…I don’t know why you’re sp unhappy when your father is having a fine time playing golf.  Or maybe he’s in his garden picking avocadoes…)

“I am telling you: He is dead.


“Bodhi, my feelings are that this is natural. People feel bad when...”

(…It is NOT natural.  Your father was fine, but then he began to worry that maybe his time was up.  That’s how it starts.  I’ve told you before, if you don’t think about it, it won’t happen to you…)

“I suppose by ‘it’ you mean ‘dying’—“


“I’m sorry but that’s nonsense.  Everybody—everything living—must die.”

(…Why not imagine lying in the sun and having your back rubbed?...)

“That doesn’t sound particularly appealing.  Remember, I’m not a dog.”

(…Well then, think about eating lots and lots of ice cream…”)

“You know what’s funny?  I don’t really like ice cream.”

“…Well what about prunes?  You like prunes!...)

“Bodhi, what’s wrong with you?”

(…My dear Jangchup, I want you beside me for forever and ever.  We are going to live for forever so don’t think otherwise, don’t even say the word and I promise you…)

“But my father is really—!”

(…—Hush!  Your father is golfing.  He’s having such a good game that he intends to stay out and play another eighteen holes, and then maybe another eighteen.  And the night-lights will automatically come on, flooding the green with lovely illumination and he’ll play another eighteen.  Think of the matter that way and I promise you that a certain unpleasant something won’t ever happen to you.  I PROMISE.  Believe me…)



Tibetan vowels

Dear V-Voice:

In joining the Dharma-Dozen, I said I hoped to get more teachings, to continue to read texts, to learn the Tibetan alphabet, and finally to laugh more each day.  As for an account of my progress, here goes:

My resolution to delve more deeply into the Dharma by receiving teachings from high lamas was met earlier this spring when I had the good fortune to be in Long Beach when the Dalai Lama came to give teachings.  What can I say?  It was wonderful.  I've also gotten teachings from Choden Rinpoche at Ananda and from Geshe Gedun who recently returned to San Diego.

I can say that I've also kept up with my reading.  The books--always the books.

Perhaps most challenging was giving myself the task of learning the Tibetan alphabet in order to read and write letters.  Accordingly, I have since taken up "classic" Uchen script using the Tibetan calligraphy book, available from the FPMT store.  (I found it definitely worthwhile to invest in cheap calligraphy pens as Western style "roller ball pens" and pencils lack the wedge that is so important in differentiating some letters like da and ta.)  I make flashcards as there is something about physically producing the letters and randomizing the order when drilling that make them stick in my memory much better.  When I go back through the flashcards I only miss a few, and I can sometimes sound out words from texts.  

So far I grade myself somewhere between a B (good) and C (satisfactory) for my work.

Finally, as for laughing every day--I never miss!  In addition to "Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ho" from a couple of daily practices with 100 syllable mantras, like Dr. Rogers in the early '70s Firesign Theater parody, I am easily amused.  I often find myself laughing at the foibles of others and the "output" of my own monkey mind.

That's it.  I know a haiku about the "artist mind" soaring gracefully above the crowd, but as it ends on a slightly risque note so I close with a private chuckle and a wish for the best for all V-Voice readers that the rest of 2012 be a good year for your Dharma practice.

Carl Wheeler

Reviewed by Venerable Drolma

Mindful EatingIn anticipation of the Mindful Eating retreat at Vajrapani, I read the book Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays.

One of my favorite meditations from the book is that of tracing the "path of kindness" that has brought the food to my plate.  Before tasting the food, at each meal I take a private journey back, reflecting on all the many people and sentient beings (like pollinating bees) whose efforts have produced the nutritious and delicious food I see before me.  Interestingly, as I have become more aware, I have also become more restrained in my eating! (I was surprised to discover that I was opening my mouth for the next forkful before having really tasted what I had in my mouth.)  So now I make sure I swallow one bite before gathering up the next forkful! 

I have changed my eating as well as my relationship with food and urge others to read her book and enjoy this same thrilling revitalization and to join me at the upcoming "Mindful Eating" retreat on August 24th through 26th.


Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Heidi

Last month I had written an article explaining my plans to be transitioning away from Vajrapani at the end of July, yet a few days before the article was to be sent out in our last e-news, something happened, changing my plans in an instant.    

It took me a long time to come to the decision to leave Vajrapani as it is a true spiritual home to me.  Yet I thought I needed to leave in order to grow and be able to express myself more fully.  I had created a box of self imposed limitations around me and believed that not only did I need to go in order to connect deeper to others, but that Vajrapani would be better off with someone else to help it grow. 

I thought so long on this transition that I did not ask for advice as to whether or not I should actually stay or go.  I thought part of my growth was to listen to inner guidance and also, to be totally honest, I didn’t think I was prepared to follow advice should it be to stay. 

I did feel in my heart though that I needed to at least tell Lama Zopa Rinpoche these plans.  So when I finally had the chance at a tea party at our sister center, Land of Medicine Buddha, to quickly tell Rinpoche my plans while offering a kata, the two word reply I received was, “I rejoice.”  Confused at first, I continued to look at Rinpoche questioningly and he nodded and nodded, looking me straight in the eyes saying again, “I rejoice.”  I wasn’t really sure what it meant, but my heart felt more at ease.

Then a week or so later, I received an email with a message from Rinpoche saying he checked and it came out best for me to continue on at Vajrapani for three more years.

My jaw dropped, I laughed a little, thought, WOW, this is big news! And then I cried.  As these waves of different emotions passed through me, something else started to rise up from within.  I felt alive, every cell in my body awake, attentive to this turn of events and open to Rinpoche’s presence. 

Can I do this? I asked myself.  Can I expand, open, and grow while still being here?  I wanted to follow Rinpoche’s advice, but could I?  After about an hour, with help from my spiritual friends, I realized my heart was open to this and that I wanted to try.  After all, if the root of the path is following the advice of one’s teacher, what else is more meaningful?

Perhaps I needed to let go first, facing my fears around leaving Vajrapani, until it could be given back to me.  Whatever the reason, my trust and love in Rinpoche continues to grow.  I feel so grateful for the chance to be able to follow my teacher’s advice that a renewed sense of energy and purpose has started to grow within me once again.

Thank you Rinpoche and thank you to everyone for all your support.

With a heart full of gratitude,

Heidi Oehler has lived and worked at Vajrapani Institute for the past five years.  She serves as our Spiritual Program Coordinator.

Vajrapani Institute Programs

Mindful Eating Retreat, August 24-26 with Andrea Lieberstein, MPH, RD, and Venerable Jampa Sangmo

The Four Noble Truths: From Captivity to Freedom, August 30-September 3 with Jon Landaw & Emily Hsu

Psychology of Tantra, October 5-8 with Rob Preece

All 2012 retreats are open for registration.  To see a complete list, please visit our 2012 retreat schedule

Upcoming FPMT BAY Programs

The Bay Area offers a variety of FPMT Centers & Projects focusing on dharma, secular & essential education, art, social services, and monastic organizations.  

Institute for Creating Compassionate Cultures
Foundation Training
August 24, 25, 26 at Tara Redwood School

Land Of Medicine Buddha (Soquel, CA)
Medicine Buddha Jangwa
with Geshe Nagwang Dakpa
September 8, 10am

Tse Chen Ling
Has moved to a new location and is in transition.
Current Schedule

Gyalwa Gyatso Buddhist Center
Engaging in the Bodhisattva's Deeds
with Emily Hsu
Thursdays, September 6 through December 13, at 7pm


In This Issue




Vajrapani Institute is an affiliate of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition

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Vajrapani Institute
P.O. Box 2130
Boulder Creek, CA, 95006

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