Background of Tushita Meditation Center
Tushita Meditation Centre is one of the primary centers that makes Tibetan (Mahayana) Buddhism accessible to the Western world. It is the largest Western-friendly Mahayana center in India, and the second largest in Asia second only to its sister center Kopan Monastery in Nepal. Tushita frequently offers Intro to Buddhism Courses in English. They require people to complete this course to take any of their advanced courses, even if the person has experience with Buddhism. Below, I’ll review the pros and cons of Tushita. Here is a link to their website btw.
The Good of Tushita
Tushita’s Gompa “meditation hall”
It’s beautiful, grand, and full of traditional Tibetan Buddhist art. There is plenty of space for everyone and the energy here is high (although perhaps not as high as in Thai temples).
Tushita is affordable
After being in India for a while, the oft abused monetization of spirituality can be frustrating and disheartening. After spending a while encountering many money-minded ashrams, yoga teachers, and “gurus,” it is very refreshing to find a center that does not seem to prioritize profit over spirituality. Tushita collects a small fare (somewhere around the equivalent of $10/day) for residential courses to cover the cost of accommodation, maintenance, and your 3 tasty daily meals. Perhaps any access collection is donated to medicine for sick monks in the community or other social projects. However, the teachers, management, and some of the other staff do not collect any money. I certainly could not complain about the nominal fee considering what the food and facilities provided.
Tushita Meditation Centre is in the tranquil mountains of McLoed Ganj, Dharmsala, India
Removed from any noise, fog rolls through the surrounding forest creating a mystical feel.
The Intro to Buddhism course has a communal feel
Everyone there has good intentions fostering compassion and loving-kindness. You feel like you are in a community at Tushita, even though you can’t talk to people during the course except for one hour. After the course, I recommend staying in the area for a while to spend some time with all of the people with whom you just went on this journey.
Tushita Meditation Centre has an awesome Buddhist library
Any Buddhist text you could want is available here. You can check the books out so even if you don’t want to take the course, you can stay in nearby Dharamkot or McLoed Ganj and enjoy what this library has to offer.
The food at Tushita is great – every single vegetarian meal
And there are many vegan options. While it is all you can eat, in the spirit of Buddhism, meditators should practice moderation.
The resident monkeys at Tushita
Some would not consider them a pro of this course because they confidently jump on the table and steal your food and may possibly slap you in the process. But they also play around the facility, swim in a little pond on the property, and provide endless entertainment. I personally loved them, even in all their mischief.
The Not as Good of Tushita
The American Buddhist teacher/monk teaching Tibetan Buddhism
There are two main leaders of the course – the meditation instructor and the Buddhism teacher. Our meditation teacher was spectacular. I could not have asked for anyone better. However, the Buddhism teacher was quite far from ideal. In the Tibetan Buddhist capital of the world, Tushita brought in an American monk living in Bangalore. Despite being a monk for 14 years, he was still totally stuck in his ego. He tried to make a joke out of everything like a child starved for attention. Even when he did lead meditations, he couldn’t help himself from making childish jokes. The crowd was predominantly Israeli and most of the students had practically no prior exposure to Buddhism. Therefore, many question arose, typically for clarification of his English or of complicated concepts (many of which were presented unnecessarily and had little to do with Buddhism). He often replied aggressively or condescendingly to these questions and usually refused to answer them at all. The compassion that he was preaching seemed to be lacking.
The teacher changes from course to course so this is not necessarily indicative of all courses. But the person they brought in to lead this course was disappointing and makes me question Tushita’s selection of teachers. I think it is rare for beginner courses to be led by Tibetan monks.
Tushita is less structured than a Vipassana and more structured than university
Tushita visitors are free to go on smoke breaks right outside of the premises.
The smoke break area becomes a sort of rebel hang out where people break the silence they are supposed to keep and indulge in a cycle of bad karma Buddhist retreats should be aiming to help their guests break. The allowance to smoke, which is not afforded in Vipassana, provides space for people to deepen addiction and rebel consciousness , who inevitably (albeit unconsciously) spread addiction and intoxication consciousness to the rest of the community. It can be dangerous to mix these low-level consciousnesses with people who are connecting to their higher consciousness, perhaps for the first time. It’s like the energetic equivalent of someone having sex in one corner of a room while a monk offers guidance in another corner. However, the teacher also didn’t take the course so seriously so the students couldn’t be expected to?
There is no official lights out at Tushita Meditation Centre
Also, while there is a recommended bedtime, there are no lights out, meaning other people in your dorm can stay up reading with headlamps on all hours of the night, which they might so be sure to bring a sleeping mask. Due to the more philosophical rather than experiential approach of this course, this seems to be a good decision on Tushita’s part.
Attendance to Buddhism lectures and meditation is mandatory at Tushita
While visitors do have down time where they can read, write, meditate, think, smoke, or do whatever else, visitors are required to attend all lectures and meditations. In a Vipassana, I would think this is great. However, I found attending the lectures to be irritating and counterproductive for me and after several days, I resolved not to attend them. I was able to successfully skip class by burrowing into unpatrolled balconies and rooftops with Buddhist books and yoga, but I was technically breaking the center’s policies. Another rebel reader who I met at one of my hideouts, an adorable Russian lady in her 60s, was caught out of class once and told that if she did not want to attend the lectures that she was welcome to leave. Fortunately, her new spot where she met me was covert enough that she was not spotted again. So I would consider the requirement to attend lectures as a negative only if the teacher is unqualified and if visitors are using their ditch time productively.
Tushita’s management isn’t always so friendly
There was a German abbess, and two volunteers – English and Israeli women – who ran most of the operations at the center. While their service to the center is honorable, they were all quite condescending, terse, and passive aggressive. Everything from booking the retreat to checking in to addressing any questions was unpleasant because of their less than welcoming energy.
Is Tibetan Buddhism a spiritual practice or a religion?
In short, I found Tibetan Buddhism to be more of a religion than a spiritual practice where rituals, chants, intellectualization, and visualizations are prioritized over being connected to the present moment and stepping into the grace of good karma and love. I could say the exact opposite about Theravada Buddhism (the Buddhism of Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka that practices Vipassana). I will write a whole article about my thoughts on Tibetan Buddhism soon.
One thing to be aware of for now. Tibetan Buddhism is quite “heady.” While in Theravada, the focus is on meditation and observing internal processes and sensations, Tibetan Buddhism seems to really focus on dialogue and conceptualization. Monks debate. Tibetan Buddhist sip coffee while trying to unravel the meaning of long-dead teachers (lamas and rinpoches). And everyone seems to be searching for their teacher. There is a lot to think about and I find that it is easy to get lost in all of the thought and to miss the point. In Theravada Buddhism, you just observe and all of the answers seem to come to you, making for a much more natural, right-brained, in-the-moment practice. Sure, a guide may be helpful to you, but only in so far as saying things you already know and thus affirming your realization of them. The teachers of Tibetan Buddhism often tell you things you wouldn’t just know and then you have to spend all of this time trying to understand it. If you experience “how” to be, all of the details click into place. I would say that Tibetan Buddhism tries to work from the details into the “how” and consequentially gets stuck. The logic-focus and over-intellectualization of Buddhism is an aspect of the Tushita Intro to Buddhism course that I would consider negative.
I should preface by noting that my opinion is just an opinion. I have spent the last few years practicing yoga and attending multiple Vipassana retreats. My experience with spiritual practices, age, outlook on life, and cultural and travel background all influence my perception of this course. There were people from every corner of life at this course and we all experience things differently. Consider how similarly your outlook on life might be to mine before choosing how seriously you take my recommendations.
Are you new to Buddhism?
Buddhism brings so much positivity and goodness into people’s lives. Any expression of Buddhism can do something positive for you. If Tushita is the only means of connecting to Buddhism that you are open to at the moment, go ahead and do the retreat, or at least stay in the area and hang out in the Buddhist library in Tushita.
Intro to Buddhism Course at Tushita Meditation Center or a Vipassana Retreat?
However, for anyone who might be interested in doing a Vipassana, do that instead. Really, you can do it. Anyone can do it, even though it might seem difficult. It is so beneficial, bringing positivity into every moment of your life. There happens to be a Vipassana center right next to Tushita. Attending a retreat there would be a far better use of 10-days.
Are you far along into your spiritual journey?
For anyone who has experience with Theravada Buddhism or Vipassana, I have an open recommendation. The wats of Thailand and a Vipassana retreat are where my journey with spirituality began (at least in this life). Before settling on a spiritual path, I wanted to sample a bit of everything. I tried many yogas and studied much about the different traditions of Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism was the only other path that remained interesting to me and I wanted to have more experience with it. This retreat provided that to me and showed me that Theravada really is the way for me. Perhaps you are in a similar situation. Perhaps this article and My Tibetan Buddhism article provide enough information to offer some guidance for you. If not, if you feel attracted to Tibetan Buddhism and want to explore it, do the Tushita course. Humans learn more from experience than from articles on a screen, so go ahead and see what your experience shows you. Your heart will know what to do.
Would I take the Intro to Buddhism Course if I knew what I know now?
In short, no. While the course answered many questions I had about Tibetan Buddhism, the answers to those questions lead me to Theravada Buddhism and Vipassana. With what I know now, I can see that a more experiential and more serious retreat focusing more on meditation and ideally under the guidance of well-practiced monk would be far more useful. Before attending this Intro to Buddhism course, I had enrolled in a month long Buddhism Course (“The November Course”) at Kopan Monastery, the sister center of Tushita in Kathmandu, Nepal. After completing the course at Tushita, I dropped my enrollment for the November Course at Kopan. Instead, I will do a teacher training course in Kundalini Yoga at Nada Yoga School and do a 3-week silent meditation retreat at a Thai Vipassana temple.