Part 2 Interview: Alejandro Anastasio, Martial Arts and Dharma Teacher, Sees a Special Relationship Between Martial Arts and Buddhism: Dharma in Action
In part one of our interview with dynamic Dharma Teacher AlejAndro Anastasio, he revealed how he came to Buddhism, how martial arts influenced his practice, and how mhe met his own teacher Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche. (Part 1 of this interview here>>)
As we continued to speak, AlejAndro —the director of the Boise Dharma Centre in Idaho — elaborated on the importance of martial arts in his practice, and why teaching Dharma (and martial arts) to children is so important. And, of course, more on his greatest inspiration, his teacher
BW: Are martial arts another interest, or is does it play a role in your Dharma practice?
I am a third degree black belt in Aikido and have two other Black belts in Karate and Jujitsu. I owned and operated a full time professional martial school for ten years. I actually lived in my school. That is where my teacher would teach for the next few years after we first met in Boise, Idaho.
Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche really likes Aikido. He came to watch a number of my classes and many kid classes. When I go on my yearly 5-week internship with my teacher he often asks has me to teach Aikido to the other students on retreat.
Once he asked me to describe Aikido to him in just one sentence. I said, “it is Dharma in motion.” Then he said for me to say it in a different way. “Tactile practice in compassion,” was my response. In a very real way my martial art practice compliments my Dharma work as much as my Dharma work and practice compliments my martial art practice.
For me there is a very special relationship in the Martial Arts and the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. There is a deep connection between the Martial Arts and Buddhism that goes back to when the Monk Bodhidharma left India for China in about 549 A.D. and stayed at the Shaolin Temple.
BW: We first met because you made beautiful silver mala counters for me when I was doing a counting retreat. Tell us about how that started?
Yes, I make small runs of high quality Buddhist supplies. I make mala counters. I also make some malas and offer many types of bhum counters. All this revolves around counting mantra recitations.
As a Vajrayana practitioner specific amounts of recitations are simply part of our practice. Tracking them properly and accurately is critically important.
I was having trouble finding long-term accurate mala counters to track my recitations. I searched online buying what I could find. High quality was not as hard to find as accurate. I wanted more variety in sizes and colors with quality sterling silver parts that would last the test of time. After paying good money for counters that were either too lose or too tight, would often break apart way to soon, and would only work at looking good, I decided to make my own. After much trial and error and some inventing I started to create mala counter that were sterling silver, had variety in cord color and in sizes, and had very good tension over long periods of time and usage.
BW: Your students asked you to make counters for them?
Yes, my students started to ask if they could buy some from me. As the requests kept coming in I started to make more. At some point I decided to expand to help and support the Buddhist practice of others. I spent some time gathering my supplies and building products. Then I put a website together and got on etsy.com. I currently offer my supplies to all practitioners in a global market. I do this as a way to support and enhance the practice of fellow Buddhists and as a way to express my artistic qualities.
BW: How to you bring this all together, the public speaking, Dharma teaching, martial arts and mala craft?
I am very fortunate to be able to have some creativity, beneficial speaking skills, and a strong body.
To have the karmic overtones to enjoy life with one hand is truly a blessing to share.
It is an interesting life to live as a professional speaker, a martial artist, an artist who builds Buddhist supplies, and be the director and authorized Dharma teacher of the Boise Dharma Center. At the root of all of this is Buddhism. The one aspect that unites these multiple personalities is the Dharma. All these facets of my life may seems very different. But at the core of all that I do, express, and share truly has to do with my true desire to end my suffering and to be a condition to helps other be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. I could not be who I am right now without Buddhism and the guidance of my Vajra Master Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche.
BW: When did you first begin to formally teach Dharma and martial arts to children?
Back in 2004 I was asked if I would be willing to teach Buddhism to kids in the Hidden Springs community near Boise, Idaho. A member of our sangha lived there and also had two of her children in my Aikido kids classes. I asked my Teacher if it would be okay for me to teach an ongoing kids class and he said, “yes AlejAndro! Do it!”
I taught 5-8 year olds for about thirty minutes and them to 9-14 year olds for the next 45 minutes. This was held at the sangha member’s house. As it grew it started to become quite the event. It was very well attended with many children. The parents were all from the Hidden Springs Community and it had quite the family feel. Adults would bring food and refreshments and enjoyed each other’s company as I taught to their children. Many of the parents started to attend the kid’s classes. They often said to me how much they learned listening to Buddhist teachings for children as they were easy to understand and profound.
This was a very special time and memory for me as a Dharma Teacher. Having my beginning start with a children class means a lot to me. Over the next ten years I have often held classes just for kids when there was a need or demand. We even had a “Buddha for Kids” teaching taught by Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche at my Aikido school. To this day children are always welcome at the Boise Dharma Center.
BW: You are director of Boise Dharma Center. Tell us about your Sangha’s activities. You
The Boise Dharma Center (BDC) is located in Boise, Idaho USA. We have been operating and offering classes, retreats, and workshops for over 14 years. I have had the honor and privilege of being with the BDC since we formally became a sangha under Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche. We are a small center offering Dzogchen Vajrayana teachings. We have the great fortune of having an Authentic Dzogchen Sacred Shine Set put together by our Teacher. Additionally, I have been collecting smaller Buddha Statues for the last 16 years and have over 1100 total that stand at the BDC. We have a lot of younger people in our center with a good mix of ages overall. In general we go deep and have a lot of laughter.
One of the main areas of teaching topics I offer at the BDC is the awareness of the practice of practice. We cover many topics at the BDC such as meditation, visualization, purification, prostration practice, mantra recitation, and deep scholastic study. In saying all of that it is the teaching on sincere practice that is taught often by me. My Teacher would often say, “if you want sincere result you must have sincere practice. “Convenient practice yields convenient result.”
I have personally taken this to heart. Once a student asked me what is means to practice with sincerity. As I was sharing with them what I have experienced they ever so kindly interrupted and reframed their question to, “how do you practice with sincerity.” It was at that time I started to contemplate what it means to practice with sincerity. At some point I thought that even practice takes practice. It takes practice to sit for long periods of time. It takes practice to be able to say mantras and sit for long periods of time. It takes practice to visualize deeply while reciting mantra and sitting for long periods of time. Sometimes you just need to practice your practice. Then practicing with sincerity has a stronger foundation to plant, root, and grow.
BW: What are the main areas of practice?
Two areas of focus I enjoy teaching are the practice of Purification and the power of positive thinking (or sometimes referred to as pure thinking). I am inspired to teach on purification as it is something I have practiced deeply with profound results. I have a special connection to Vajrasattva and appreciate the visualization of the Dzogchen Lineage and Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche. Often our Teacher reminds us “there is no negative karma that you cannot purify.” I find this statement very liberating and it resonates with me. Additionally, I experience many people who want to bring their suffering to an end. What better way to help people than to teach the power of purification?
I also appreciate teaching on the power of thinking. If one does not believe thinking has power it is hard to believe positive thinking has more power. If one does not believe positive thinking has power it is hard to believe Bodhicitta has even more power. Our teacher has taught us to realize the power of our thinking.
Spending my entire life with one hand has allowed me to really look at my thinking and how powerful it is. Growing up I had a lot of obstacles dealing with the negative thinking of other imposed on me. Because some people thought things were impossible for a one-handed kid does not mean it is true or I should believe it. When I was very young I decided it was me who was going to decide if something was possible or not. I have accomplished many things in this one-handed life.
So much of it has to do with the power of my thinking. Thinking has unlimited power. If the quality of your thinking has limitations, self doubt, or the “I can’t” attitude you give unlimitedly powerful powerlessness to your reality and the reality you are creating.
So much of my Dharma teaching and personal professional speaking is about the power of our thinking to overcome our perceived and preconceived limitations. It is how I think about my one-handed life that has allowed me to earn three black belts and run a professional Aikido school. It is the power of my thinking that allowed me to ride my bicycle from Seattle to Chicago, be ranked top 20 in the United States in collegiate pocket billiards, and accomplish many other things in this one-handed life. Even to show a 5-year child how I tie my shoes has incredible merit. When people see how happy I am in my one-handed body it helps them and inspires them to be happy in the their body.
Inset: Tibetan Buddhist Master Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche (excerpt from dzogchenlineage.org)
Great Perfection of Wisdom lineage holder Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche was born in Tibet, where he began training in Buddhism at the age of five at the Dzogchen Monastery. He has been recognized as the reincarnation of enlightened Tibetan master Gedun Chopel, who is the emanation of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of the Buddha’s Wisdom. He received the transmissions and teachings of the Sutras, Tantras and Shastras from forty-two Buddhist masters and the complete empowerments and instruction of the Dzogchen Tantras from his root masters Khenchen Padma Tsewang, Drupchen Chatral Chochyab, and Guru Dechen Namdrol.
He studied and taught for ten years at the Dzogchen Shri Singha Five Sciences University the five major sciences of Fine Arts, Medicine, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Buddhism, as well as the five minor sciences of Poetics, Synonymy, Prosody, Drama, and Astrology. For seven years he meditated in the Siltrom Mountain caves in the Holy Dzogchen area of Tibet, under difficult conditions, with little food and only a few tattered clothes. During that time, he recited millions of mantras and was directly granted the blessings of Buddha Shakyamuni, Padmasambhava, Shri Singha, Bodhisattva Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Tara. Continuously he studies and practices with diligence, as well as being patient, disciplined, and generous to others. He is always radiating wonderful blessings and healing powers of wisdom to all beings and all elements.
Rinpoche is the thirty-third holder of the Dzogchen lineage, lama of Dzogchen Monastery, a Professor of the Dzogchen Shri Singha University, Spiritual Leader of Dzogchen Shri Singha International, Founder of the Dzogchen Shri Singha Dharma Centers, and Director of Dzogchen Shri Singha International Charitable Organizations. He has written more than thirty books on the five major sciences. He currently teaches Dharma and gives practice training to thousands of students, in more than forty countries around the world.
About AlejAndro Anastasio
AlejAndro Anastasio is an authorized Dharma teacher who has studied Buddhism for the past 14 years under the direction of his root teacher, H.E. Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche. He has attended numerous weeklong retreats with Khenpo Rinpoche, including the 2012, 2013, and 2016 Dzogchen Lineage One Month Internship, where he received instructions and blessings to teach. AlejAndro has taught Buddhism in four countries and teaches often in the United States. AlejAndro’s Dharma teachings are simple, deep and humorous, with a focus on application in one’s daily life. He is currently the director of the Boise Dharma Center in Boise, Idaho.
AlejAndro is also a life long professional artist and internationally renowned inspirational speaker. Currently he works for the Bureau of Reclamation as a graphic designer but also travels the world inspiring and entertaining people with his storytelling and professional speaking about living life with one hand. In 2014 He was a semi finalist in the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking and offered a TEDx Talk in 2015 and will again in 2017. With a focus on youth empowerment he has shared his entertaining and enlightening message of the power of our thinking and the ability to turn adversity into unlimited power with audiences of all ages across seven countries.
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Author | Buddha Weekly
Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.