Virginia Family Reunion, July 14 -16, 2014

all photos by walt opie


San Francisco, May 19, 2014

all photos by walt opie


India 2010 - From the Bus Photos

I went on a 3-week trip to Northern India in late January and early February. These are four images I took from the window of our bus as we traversed the country. My favorite is the kid playing badminton--if you look closely you can see the shuttlecock in mid-air.

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Unmistaken Child: Film Review on Greencine

I wrote a new film review for Greencine.com recently:

Unmistaken Child

Reviewer: Walt Opie
Rating (out of 5): ****

You don't necessarily have to believe in reincarnation to practice Buddhism, nor to appreciate Unmistaken Child (2008), an engaging documentary on this subject by Israeli director Nati Baratz. Now out on DVD after a very brief outing in theaters, this film was shot beautifully by a small crew (often just Baratz himself) who serve as our proverbial "fly on the wall," allowing us incredible access into the inner workings of the Tibetan Buddhist system of picking reincarnated lamas. Call it Kundun meets Hoop Dreams and you might start to get the idea.

Describing the story of this film almost takes away from it, as the real pleasures are to be enjoyed in the simple moments along the way. But the gist of it is this: Unmistaken Child tells the true account of the search by an extremely devoted and quietly charming young Tibetan monk, Tenzin Zopa, for the reincarnation of his recently deceased 84-year-old master, Geshe Lama Konchog. The master was deeply revered for having spent 26 years practicing alone in a mountain cave (Tibetans apparently referred to him as "the modern-day Milarepa" which is high praise indeed). In the film, we go from the back corridors of the Tibetan government-in-exile's Dharamsala, India offices to the actual cave, or what's left of it, where Lama Konchog once lived. We tag along as Tenzin Zopa sets off on his rather overwhelming mission to find a young child who can be "unmistakenly" identified as the reincarnation of his beloved teacher. We watch him interview young children and their families in hope of discovering the correct signs that point back to his master. And we see what happens once a young boy has finally been selected, even watching as the boy gets his head shaved for the first time, which doesn't seem to go as smoothly as Tenzin Zopa expected.

In the director's press notes on the making of his film he notes how fortunate he was just to get permission from another high lama to film at all, and then had to agree not to show the footage to anyone until after the Dalai Lama (who does make a brief appearance here) had officially confirmed the reincarnation depicted in the film. As Baratz writes, "For three years, I had to keep this movie a secret, which was an extremely complicated issue, since I had to finance all the filming privately, and could show the materials to no one."

I am grateful to Baratz for sticking it out, because his film shows us in stunning detail what it means to search for, and perhaps find, a reincarnated master from the viewpoint of the Tibetans themselves. It's a rare gift, whether you choose to accept its core assumption of reincarnation or not. Unmistaken Child is a truly fascinating peek behind the scenes into Tibetan Buddhist culture as it is being carried out even today.

Walt Opie is a Bay Area writer and a practicing Buddhist in the Theravada tradition. He also currently serves as Communications Coordinator at Spirit Rock Meditation Center.



Meditation Instructions from U Tejaniya

Observing Minds Want to Know

By Sayadaw U Tejaniya - http://sayadawutejaniya.org/

BEFORE WE START practicing mindfulness meditation, we must know how to practice. We need to have the right information and a clear understanding of the practice to work with awareness intelligently. This information will work at the back of your mind when you meditate.

1. Meditating is watching and waiting patiently with awareness and understanding. Meditation is not trying to experience something you have read about or heard about.

2. When meditating, both the body and mind should be comfortable.

3. You are not trying to make things turn out the way you want them to happen. You are trying to know what is happening as it is.

4. You have to accept and watch both good and bad experiences. You want only good experiences? You don’t want even the tiniest unpleasant experience? Is this reasonable? Is this the way of the dhamma?

5. Don’t feel disturbed by the thinking mind. You are not practicing to prevent thinking, but rather to recognize and acknowledge thinking whenever it arises.

6. The object of attention is not really important: the observing mind that is working to be aware is of real importance. If the observing is done with the right attitude, any object is the right object.

7. Just pay attention to the present moment. Don’t get lost in thoughts about the past. Don’t get carried away by thoughts about the future.

From Don’t Look Down On the Defilements: They Will Laugh at You, © Ashin Tejaniya.



Julia Butterfly Hill - Interview Excerpt

Here's an interesting excerpt from an interview with Julia Butterfly Hill, the well-known activist who lived near the top of a giant redwood tree (named Luna) for 738 days about ten years ago as a protest action. She is also profiled in today's SF Chronicle here.

Belvia Rooks (Shift In Action): And what was the personal aspect of your journey that led you or called you to the West coast and the Headwaters forest?

Julia Butterfly Hill: In August of 1996 I was designated driver. A friend called me and asked me to come and get her because she had been drinking, and I took a taxi over to her, and we got in her car and we literally only made it out of the parking lot to a first stop when we were rear-ended by a drunk driver. She had a two-door hatchback and he had a Ford Bronco, and he hit us so hard that the stereo broke out of the stereo console and bent around the stick shift, and the steering wheel of the car went into my skull. It took about ten months of physical and cognitive therapy to recover from the damage that happened to my short-term memory and my motor skills as a result of that impact. During that time I started looking at the question between real value and perceived value, and I realized that a majority of my life had been spent chasing after perceived value and as a result I never felt completely fulfilled. I never felt completely actualized as a human being. And there is nothing like a steering wheel in your skull to steer you in a whole new direction. [laughs]

So that steering wheel literally and figuratively steered me in a new direction of trying to figure out what is real value, what has my life be a life that has such deep and profound meaning for me that it pulls me out of bed in the morning and makes me joyful and completely inspired to be alive. I didn't know where that journey was going to take me, I was just clear that that was the journey I was going to take. And then two weeks after my last doctor released me from the therapy from the wreck, I had acquaintances who were heading West who needed someone else to go along to help cover the expenses, and having grown up traveling...I enjoy traveling and I had not been able to as the result of having to be in physical and cognitive therapy, so I signed on for the trip. And in California I felt, by some deep intuitive knowing, that I was supposed to stay in California. I had no clear reason why, I just knew I was supposed to--so I gave them some money for the rest of their trip, and said, "Have a good trip," and I stayed in California, and then found out about the redwoods, and a few months later was in Luna.



How to Make Fewer Mistakes

Untitled (SF,CA) photo by walt opie

How to Make Fewer Mistakes

We all make mistakes from time to time. Life is about learning to make our mistakes less often. To realize this goal, we have a policy in our monastery that monks are allowed to make mistakes. When the monks are not afraid to make mistakes, they don’t make so many.

–Ajahn Brahm, from Opening the Door of Your Heart (Lothian Books)