Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wine Tasting Notes: Budget Wines (and Three Wineries)

Okay, so unless you are financially very comfortable indeed, you probably aren't drinking $30+ bottles of wine as an everyday type of thing. Here's a review of some of the more affordable wines we've tasted in the past few months.

I have to say, I just can't tolerate 90% of wines that go for less than $13 or so, so I don't even bother with them. Some people can drink them and be fine with it and probably that is because we all look for different things when it comes to wine. I suppose it's like "lite beer": some of my friends drink it, and enjoy it, and that's great for them. For me, I can't touch the stuff. So what is meant by "budget wines" here is really wines in the $13-$20 range (the price of wines varies quite a bit from region to region, so these wines might be 20% cheaper or more expensive where you are located).

I also recently went on a guided tour of the Sonoma and Napa wine country about three weeks ago, so I'm including some impressions from those estates at the end of this post. We only visited three wineries (Madonna, Cline and Sebastiani), and tasted about five to seven wines at each. I didn't take as detailed notes on those as I would on wines I taste at home, and the tasting conditions were not exactly ideal, so the reviews are more along the lines of general impressions.

The Good:

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir, Sonoma Russian River Valley, 2012. ($20). Very deep red color, nose is fruity, dark cherries. Mouthfeel is medium to full body with tons of fruit: very fruit-forward, delicious and chewy, with just a little bit of peppery bite. A pleasing finish, if not terribly long or complex. This is a very quaffable, enjoyable wine--very approachable with a mouthwatering quality. Not a meditative wine by any means, but if you can find it in the $20-$25 range (I've seen it go as high as $28), it's a very nice for regular drinking. This wine made me want to explore the better Pinot Noirs that California has to offer. Would recommend having it with food, but you can drink it straight. We picked up a half-case. 89 pts.

Domaine Brocard, Chablis, 2012. ($20) Nose is very nice, young fruit. Stony minerality in the mouth, good bracing acidity. Although the varietal of Chablis is Chardonnay, you know you're not drinking a Californian or Australian Chardonnay when you have this wine: while you get the fruit, you also get the stony terroir of the region. Very dry, very excellent! Really like this wine. 90 pts.

D'Arenberg, "Hermit Crab," Voignier/Marsanne, 2012. ($13). This is a great value and an excellent white wine from Australia that is a blend of the Voignier and Marsanne varietals--which makes for a nice change if you're more used to drinking Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios or the other more common whites. Nose is open and very fruity with underripe fruit notes. Very smooth, pretty full mouthfeel. On the palate, there is overwhelming fresh young fruit that stays throughout a surprisingly long finish for such a young and inexpensive wine. Goes well with Thai curry or sashimi. Would be good with shellfish. The strong, full fruit on this wine is evident from nose to palate to finish. Light and refreshing. Worth repeating as everyday wine, and something you can have with Asian food. 89 pts.

The Okay:

Laurent Reverdy, Sancerre. ($13). We picked this up at Trader Joe's. Sancerre is one of my favorite whites for everday drinking with food (goes great with seafood, especially lobster, white fish, shellfish), and it's unusual to find one at this price, so my expectations were low. Nice light nose of fruity underripe apples and green grapes, apricots, pears. Medium acidity. Lightweight feel in the mouth without much strong character. Medium sweetness--I've noticed some Sancerres can be very dry and mineral, but and some lean towards a lot of sweetness in the mouth--this one leans a bit in that sweet direction (Not that it is a sweet wine, of course!). Minimal minerality for a Sancerre: you're not really getting the classic terroir here. Not much finish. All in all, not bad for a comfortable lunch wine but not that memorable. Still, at this price, I would consider repeating. But I do love Sancerre! If you're not that into Sancerre or Sauvignon Blanc, I'd probably look for a better example to introduce you to the joys of this type of wine. 86 pts. 

Louis Jadot, Macon-Villages, 2013. ($13) Another Trader Joe's wine. Jadot is a very big producer in the French Burgundy region, as well as an old one (dating back to 1859), but it seems that the domaine manages to maintain a remarkably high quality across their wines while keeping prices low. Their Macon-Villages is naturally a French Chardonnay, and has a pale yellow color, somewhat golden, but very pale and translucent--not the deep gold you would get from some Chardonnays. Nose is nice: green granny smith apples, macintosh apples, green grapes, trace of green olives--overall light and refreshing. Mouthfeel is medium light, but not too light. In the mouth, you get a bit of the bite, acidity and crispness you'd want in a Macon, and just a trace of the minerality from the terroir, combined with some nice underripe fruit (again green apples, citrus, maybe a trace of pears and melon), but it's actually quite smooth in the mouth, and some may prefer that to the biting acidity of some Chablis, finding it more accessible. Medium finish with a trace of minerality there also. This is a very approachable wine. Light, refreshing, but with enough there to keep you interested and to remind you that this is a French Chardonnay. A lunchtime wine for us. Worth repeating at the price. 88 pts.

The Not So Good:

Au Bon Climat, Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, California. ($17). A world apart from the Frei Brother Pinot. Color is very light, translucent light red, almost pinkish, and gives you the impression of a very lightweight wine. Not much in the way of aromatics; sweetens slightly with more alcohol in the nose after 45 mins, but be careful because this wine can't breathe long before it turns vinegary. The light impression from the eye is confirmed in the mouth: light mouthfeel, light bodied, very insubstantial. Taste is of light cherries. I keep using the word "light" -- well, this is one of the lightest reds we've had in a long while! Finish is minimal. Not terribly impressive. I suppose if people are really turned off by heavy reds and prefer whites, and don't like much terroir, earthiness or complexity in their wines, they might go for this. Personally, it seems to represent the downside of Californian Pinots: it has neither the fruit you would want from a modern, new world wine, nor the character, complexity and terroir you would want from a French Burgundy. Wouldn't repeat. 80 pts.

Jacques Bourgignon, Chablis. ($13) Another wine from Trader Joe's, bought mainly for the price. This wine is a world away from the Brocard Chablis reviewed above. You're getting very little fruit and no terroir at all here. No minerality, complexity or character, and not much bite in the acidity. I've read people say that if you consider this a Chablis, you'll be terribly disappointed (as I was) but if you think of it as just a Chardonnay in comparison to $10 Californian Chardonnays, you may find it more acceptible. That may be true, but I don't drink $10 Californian Chardonnays, so I found it not worth repeating. A much better bet (for the same price) is the Louis Jadot Chablis, also available at Trader Joe's. 80 pts.

Domaine LaFage, "Nicolas," Grenache, 2012 ($17). Okay so Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave this French wine, which is 100% Grenache, 93 points -- an incredibly high score for a wine that costs $12-$17 most places in the US. You may see wines that cost $30-$80 getting scores of 93. So naturally, when a wine gets 93 points, you have certain expectations. When I tasted this wine, though, I thought "What was Mr Parker smoking when he gave this wine a 93?" What I didn't realize is that when you see that label that says "Robert Parker's Wine Advocate" and then has the score and description, it does not mean that the review and score actually came from Robert Parker. In this case, the score comes from a young associate, Jeb Dunnuck, who was hired by WA about a year ago (in 2013). Mr Parker has given responsibilities for the Rhone Valley, France, to this fellow. That's rather unfortunate, in my opinion, because I love Rhone Valley wines, and Mr Parker is a real authority on that area. If Mr Dunnuck (a software writer and blogger, according to the Wine Advocate) is the new voice for WA for Rhones, I am somewhat concerned, at least based on his review of this one. 

Now for the wine itself: The color is medium dark; nose is of new leather and a bit of earthy terroir; mouthfeel is medium, chew and earthy; finish is medium but not complex. Yes, you can tell it's a Grenache and you can tell it's French, and no it's not terrible. 

But Mr Dunnuck calls it "an off-the-hook value" and he also writes: "it offers layers of kirsch, underbrush, licorice and serious floral notes in its medium to full-bodied, elegant and seamless profile. Getting a big "wow" in the notes and showing fine tannin and serious length, it should be snatched up by savvy readers." Just can't agree with that. The fruit is muted, there's nothing elegant and seemless about the profile, and although the wine does have a medium-length finish, there's nothing particularly elegant or refined about it: it's a straightforward finish that doesn't change or show complexity as it develops (it doesn't develop). All in all, if you can find this wine at $12, then it might be worth a try. To be fair, Mr Parker himself reviewed the 2010 vintage and gave it 90+ pts. Maybe the bottle we had was defective, but we didn't taste any defects. Wouldn't repeat. We give it 83 pts.

Sauternes, Haut Charmes 2009. ($13). Sauternes is our favorite dessert wine. This is an inexpensive offering: a bit too sticky sweet, with not much complexity, somewhat enjoyable but certainly not a great example of what a Sauternes could be. Would not repeat. 80 pts.

And lastly, the three Californian wineries:

Madonna Estate. This is a small winery in the Carneros region of Sonoma that doesn't have very good distribution, so you're not likely to find their wines in your local wine shops. The winery is on a very pretty piece of land and is very nice to visit. The staff were friendly and it was nice to see their oak barrels--all French oak. I tasted the Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Merlot and Dolcetto and found them all to be sub-par. Their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was a better offering, but not worth the price they were asking ($30-$35).

Cline. Almost everyone on the tour agreed that Cline offered the best wines of the three wineries we visited. I tasted a decent Pinos Gris with underripe green fruit, apple nose; light and refreshing; definitely drinkable and could probably hold its own alongside Italian versions of this varietal. Their Viognier was a bit less enjoyable but still drinkable. I was eager to try their Mourvèdre, since this grape is typical of the Rhone valley and isn't that popular in the new world, but I found it a bit overpowering, and not terribly enjoyable. Rhone wines don't typically try 100% Mourvèdre, which is what this was. Maybe it's better when tempered with other varietals. Their Syrah was better -- decent but not exciting. Overall, good wines, though.

Sebastiani. This winery has the nicest grounds: beautiful and extensive with a nice museum inside and park benches outside. Really lovely and worth a visit. Everyone agreed this was the nicest of the wineries we visited. The wines were not very impressive though. Their Chardonnay had a greenish color, green taste, and was quite mediocre. Their Pinot Noir had no nose, weak color, but not awful in the mouth. Their Merlot -- not as bad as some Merlots -- but Merlot is not my varietal and this one didn't change my mind. Cab Sauvignon was the best of the bunch with some aromatics in the nose, decent mouthfeel, chewy and a smooth finish -- maybe 85-86 pts for that one -- I think it goes for $14 or so.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Wine Tasting Notes: Rhone Valley #1

A little while ago my wife and I started drinking wine again, after a hiatus of 10 years. Our honeymoon had been a trip to the wine countries of Italy and France (after a start in Austria), so we are again returning to that part of the world for our wine tasting adventures. She prefers Italian wines, I prefer French, so our tasting reflects that -- although the fact that I recently visited the Napa and Sonoma valley regions means that I am now slightly more open to the possibility of Californian -- and we've always enjoyed the affordability and quaffability of Australians (I know there are very expensive and classy Australian wines, too -- but I've yet to be able to enjoy one).

France and Italy are both vast wine regions. Within France, we've concentrated mainly on the Rhone valley, and within Italy, mainly in the Tuscany area. Even within the Rhone valley, our focus has been mainly on the appelations of Chateauneuf du Pape, Cote Rotie, Gigondas, and Hermitage. 

Decent Chateauneuf du Pape's generally run in the $30-$40 range, although the best run up to $80-$100, so these are not cheap wines, but they have a character that one is never going to find elsewhere: mainly because of the terroir (the characteristics of the land where the vines grow), but also because they are primarily made from the Grenache grape varietal, which isn't that popular in California or Australia. Typically, most of a CdP is Grenache, with some other varietals mixed in.

Cote Rotie and Hermitage are typically more expensive, especially the latter, but also often less approachable when young. Hermitage, for example, shouldn't really be drunk until 10-15 years old at least. Gigondas lies on the other end of the spectrum: they used to be cheaper than Chateauneuf du Pape wines, but recently they have been creeping up in price and now the better Gigondas go for $35-$45, with some much higher than that. Still, they can be found in the $25-$30 range and are typically much better than a standard Cotes du Rhone or Cotes du Rhone Villages table wine.

Below are the first of the bunch, all tasted in October and November, 2014.

Chateauneuf du Pape, Giraud, "Premices," 2011 ($32). Nose is of dark cherries, cassis, just slight earthiness, deep fruit -- not an exceptionally complex bouquet, but very nice and fruit-forward. Medium to full bodied in mouth. Fruity, modern (not too heavy or earthy) and yet still classy tasting with character of the terroir. Finish is medium length and has a real bite: black pepper and even cayenne pepper, but in a good way! This wine is excellent, and one of the best CdP's we have tried in this price range. While not super complex, it is a wonderful blend of modern and traditional. Ready to drink now. 92 pts.

Chateauneuf du Pape, Quiot, "Les Couversets", ($30). Nice, dark, overripe black fruit--black cherries, blackcurrants, cassis. Restrained nose, chewy and velvety in mouth, decent complexity, contemplative. Not extraordinary but very nice. Drinkable without food. Low tannins. 90 pts.

Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine Duclaux, 2007 ($41). Nose is complex of medium leather and black fruit, very deep and complex. In mouth the wine has medium body, low alcohol, black pepper, mulling spices, and leather, very low fruit -- more old fruit or dried fruit. Finish is long, complex, contemplative. This is a high class wine with a bit of a mystical, magical quality. Strong sense of the terroir here. Gives the feeling it will improve with some age. Wonderful wine--less approachable than the Giraud "Premices" but also a bit deeper and more profound. 93 pts.

Cote Rotie, Jasmin, 2005 ($30). Nose is of cassis and fruit, new leather, licorice--a nice bouquet. Feels tight and quite light bodied in the mouth. Taste is tart, tight. Not much finish. High alcohol. After an hour, nose is sweeter, caramel and cinnamon. We picked up this wine because it's a relatively low price for a Cote Rotie, but this is disappointing for the region. While the nose is suggestive, it doesn't deliver in the mouth or finish. Possible that it needs more aging, but much more likely is that it's just not a terribly good Cote Rotie. 87 pts.

Gigondas, Chateau du Trignon, ($31). Incredible nose of floral and dark fruit, very fruit-forward, and that continues on into the taste. Medium body mouthfeel, biting acidity, full of fruit, with a nice finish. A very enjoyable and excellent wine. Doesn't have the earthiness, complexity, or terroir-feel of the CdP's of course, but you probably wouldn't want that in this wine anyway. For those who enjoy fruit-forward Californian or Australian wines and want to try out a French Rhone valley wine, this would be a good one to go for. 91 pts.

Well, that's it for the first set. We went back and got 3 more bottles of the Chateau du Trignon Gigondas, would have picked up another Domaine Duclaux (but it was sold out) and are hoping to pick up another two bottles of the "Premices." Those three were our favorites and are all excellent.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011



Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hakodate: A hidden treasure

Hakodate one of my favorite cities in the world. The old town (motomachi) is built on a peninsula that just out between two seas and rests on the side of Hakodate mountain, which overlooks the rest of the city. The views from atop Hakodate Mountain (you can go up to the top using a ropeway car) or Motomachi, a bit further down the mountain, are spectacular, particularly since Motomachi has some wonderful architecture, particularly the beautiful churches, temples and shrines that are intermingled with old traditional Japanese style homes, many of which now house highly atmospheric cafes and restaurants.

It is often said that Hokkaido, with its spaciousness, colder climate, and European influences, combines the best of Japan and the West. This adage rings true for me. The people in Hokkaido seem more relaxed and have a different style to those in the more heavily populated areas of Japan, such as the metro-Tokyo area, with its super high-fashion and its bustling subway stations. Hokkaido was settled only recently, and so it's almost like Japan's "Wild West" (although there's nothing much really wild about it). It feels much more "outdoorsie" and open, and is often praised for the beauty of its nature. Yet it still has the incredible food, service, and amenities that the rest of Japan enjoys, making it the perfect place to visit, whether you like outdoors activities or not.

Here are 10 great things to see/do/eat/visit when you're in Hakodate:

1. Milk products. Hokkaido is well known for its dairy farms. They take good care of their cows and the milk products here are out of this world. I highly recommend trying some of the local milk puddings (utterly unlike anything called "pudding" in the US), and the ubiquitous "soft cream" (soft-serve ice cream) -- again, try the "raw milk" flavor first (called "nama miruku"). It's delightful! Also amazing are the milk confitures that you can get in a stall in the Kanemori red-brick warehouse shopping center. Their most popular one--Camambert--is ridiculously good.

2. Ramen. Ramen (Chinese noodle soup) is one of the great things you can get in Japan, but can't really get anywhere else. Although technically you can order Ramen in Japanese restaurants in the West, it's nothing like the real thing. Most places in Japan have specialty ramen, and Hokkaido has its own style, too. Despite being a chain, "Ajisai" restaurants in Hakodate make great ramen, using squid in the broth (Hakodate is famous for its squid--but don't worry, there's no actual squid in the ramen). I'd recommend the "shio ramen", but the others are good, too.

3. Cafes. Hakodate has some incredible little cafes that are rich with their own personalities. Each one has its own character, and many of them are rustic in style. Although cafes are beloved all over Japan, Hakodate cafes are typically much less commercial-feeling than those in the bigger cities on the main island. My favorites are: Peacepiece Cafe, Cafe Tutu, and Cafe Mountain Books (all in Motomachi). Peacepiece is very old school, and has the most serious coffee-maker as its owner or "master" ("mastaa"). Cafe Tutu has incredible milk-based drinks (try the hot almond milk, or hot caramel milk--delicious!). Cafe Mountain Books has one of the most beautiful views of any cafe I've ever been too, and is wonderfully relaxing, with tons of books and magazines to browse through. I was also introduced to Priscilla Ahn's newest album there, since the master was playing it. Another great cafe near Goryokaku is "Peaberry," which has nice tea and cake sets. Also worth checking out is the traditional English tea house in the old British consulate (also in Motomachi).

4. Restaurants. For the best food try: 1) Sprout, 2) Pazar Bazar (a tiny Turkish restaurant run by a young Japanese couple with amazing food and a great little atmosphere), 3) Ajisai Ramen. Hakodate is also known for its squid, as mentioned, and other seafood. To get the freshest seafood, go to the morning seafood market (located in Motomachi) before noon. Also worth checking out is the Carl Raymon sausage shop/restaurant/museum (yes, it's all three!). You can get hot dogs, chilli dogs, etc., here, but it's really worth checking out the museum upstairs to learn about the life of Carl Raymon, a German who emigrated to Hakodate, married a Japanese woman, and started a sausage factory in his adopted homeland. He lived for 93 years (died in 1987) was a peace advocate, and suggested that Hokkaido focus more on dairy farming (which is now one of its major industries). Oh, and he also designed what is now the flag for the European Union! A remarkable person and a symbol of what kind of a city Hakodate is.

5. Goryokaku. This pentagonal fort was built just before the Meiji restoration in the 1860s, and housed a beautiful housing complex for the Magistrate and local government. That structure only lasted 3 years before it was destroyed in the war to unify Japan, and it lay dormant until 2010, when it was rebuilt. The first time I went to Goryokaku in 2009, it was just a nice park -- still worth seeing. But now that the Magistrate's house has been rebuilt, it's definitely worth a trip. The reconstruction of the house is incredible in terms of the detail and the level of the workmanship. Do take a moment to watch the video on the reconstruction that is shown continuously inside. The wooden architecture used no metal nails, so wooden beams were fitted and locked together, and in some cases bamboo nails were employed. You can also head up the Goryokaku tower for nice views of the city (although the Mt Hakodate Ropeway is probably a better choice for views).

6. Soundtra. Near Goryokaku is one of the gems of Hakodate, the little cafe called "Soundtra." It doesn't look like much (although the cafe inside is surprisingly good, and I'd recommend the "hotto sando set" (hot sandwiches with tea or coffee). But what is great about Soundtra is its music selection. On the walls are a selection of new and independent music from around the world, and you can listen to anything, for as long as you like, on the headphones and CD players provided. The CD's are handily arranged by country of origin, recommendations (including seasonal recommendations), and the "My favorites" section of the "master"/owner. When you've made your selection, you can retire to the back room where the cafe is located, where you can have a coffee and snack and browse magazines. Soundtra introduced me to "The Innocence Mission," "The Weepies," "Azure Ray" and others. In fact, I didn't realize how vibrant the Indie music scene in the US was until exploring that music through this cafe.

7. Mt Hakodate. It's worth taking the ropeway up Mt Hakodate to get the night view. There's a cafe and restaurant up there, and it's considered a romantic spot. There's not much to do up there, though, apart from sip a coffee and take some pictures. On the way back down, people then wander the streets of Motomachi around the churches as they make there way back to the main part of the city.

8. Onuma Quasi-National Park. I'm not sure why it's "quasi" but this is a wonderful park that is worth a visit if you are staying in Hakodate. It's only a 17-minute train ride away by express train from the Hakodate JR train station. Once you're there, it's a large park with two huge, interconnected lakes, that you can walk (or better, bike) around. There's a short 50-minute walking trail that takes you between the two lakes through some islands. There is a great restaurant along the way, called "Table de Rivage", where I'd highly recommend the Onuma Beef Steak (local beef) and the blueberry tart (yum!). Also recommended is renting a paddle boat or row boat (only 1000 yen for an hour) and heading out into the middle of the lake. The lake is so vast, that it's really a thrill to get out there, although you feel a bit unsafe when a big motor boat rides by and your little row boat rocks back and forth (yeow!). You can also ride one of those motor boats if you don't feel like paddling or rowing out yourself.

9. Hotel of choice. There are a lot of housing choices for a stay in Hakodate, but two stand out for me. The first is the very large "La Vista Bay" hotel next to the Kanemori red-brick warehouse shops (kind of on the edge of Motomachi towards the JR train station). Although pricey and a bit out of character compared to the low-rise and old-fashioned architecture of Motomachi, La Vista Bay boasts very nice rooms that are a mixture of the modern and the tradition, and its best feature is its roof-top onset and rotenburo (hot spring bath and outdoor hot spring bath). You get incredible views of the city while relaxing in a steaming hot bath, and if you step outside to the outdoor bath, you can enjoy the view with the cool night air against your skin. My wife and I have been there in both the summer and the winter (when there was snow falling and ice around the tubs), and the winter experience was even more amazing! Truly unlike anything else I've ever experienced. Being able to change into your nice provided pajama-like outfit, hop up to the top floor for the onsen, enjoy your nice soak with the view, then come out and relax in the waiting area (which also has an incredible view) while licking the freely provided milk bars (bars of ice cream) to relax and read a magazine or newspaper, is truly a luxurious experience. Rates are US$200-$300 depending on season (and exchange rate...)

10. Guest house of choice. If you'd prefer a more low-key (and cheaper) option, then Garden House Cha Cha is a great bet. It only has 6 rooms, and sits atop Cafe Mountain Books (mentioned above -- a great cafe). Each room is very spacious and has a kitchenette for cooking and a nice Japanese soaking tub with a great view. Both bathrooms and main rooms have large windows that overlook the city, and since you're situated right behind the Russian Orthodox Church, you get a great view of this church and both bodies of water on either side of Motomachi. The downsatirs rooms sleep 2-3, and the upstairs rooms have lofts and can accommodate up to 6 (the 3 people in the loft would sleep on futons, though, Japanese style). There is internet, but not wireless, so you need to plug in the LAN line into your laptop. Rates are Y110,000 - Y130,000 (about US$140-170) with the upstairs rooms (with lofts) being the pricier ones.

Well, that's it. There's so much more, but I'll save the rest for later. I hope you make it to Hakodate and explore this wonderful city.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Albert Einstein quote

"A human being is a part of a whole, called by us 'universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Eight Verses of Mind Training

Here is the Tibetan text, plus an English translation of it, of the "Eight Verses of Mind Training," one of the most beloved texts of the blo-sbyong (lojong) or "mind training" tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. His Holiness the Dalai Lama recites these verses every day and suggests that others who want to cultivate compassion do the same. He also says that if he's stuck waiting for a flight or something like that, he contemplates these verses rather than getting upset, thereby making valuable use of the time. It would be great if more people followed his example!



bdag ni sems can thams cad la
yid bzhin nor bu las lhag pa’i
don mchog sgrub pa’i sems pa yis
rtag tu gces par ‘dzin par shog

May I, with the thought
of accomplishing for all sentient beings
the supreme welfare that surpasses a wish-fulfilling jewel
always cherish them.

gang du su dang ‘grogs pa’i tse
bdag nyid kun las dman blta zhing
gzhan la bsam pa thag pa yis
mchog tu gces par ‘dzin par shog

Whenever I associate with others
May I view myself as inferior to all,
And may I with a sincere mind
Cherish others as supreme.

spyod lam kun tu rang rgyud la
rtog cing nyon mongs skyes ma thag
bdag gzhan ma rungs byed pas na
btsan thabs gdong nas bzlog par shog

In all spheres of activities, may I examine my own mind
And as soon as afflictive emotions arise
Since they are not beneficial to myself and others
May I forcefully reverse them.

rang bzhin ngan pa’i sems can dang
sdig sdug drag pos non mthong tshe
rin chen gter dang ‘phrad pa bzhin
rnyed par dka’ bas gces ‘dzin shog

When I see a sentient being of bad nature
Extremely afflicted by non-virtue and suffering,
May I cherish them, because they are so hard to find,
Like meeting with a precious jewel.

gdag la gzhan gyi phrag dog gis
bshe skur la sogs mi rigs pa’i
gyong kha rang gis len pa dang
gyal kha gzhan la ‘bul bar shog

When others become very jealous of me
And do unreasonable things like deprecating me,
May I take the defeat [on myself],
And offer them the victory.

gang la bdag gis phan btags pa’i
re ba che ba gang zhig gis
shin tu mi rigs gnod byed na’ng
bshes gnyen dam par blta bar shog

When someone whom I have helped
And of whom I have great expectations [in return],
Unfairly causes me great harm
May I see them as a holy spiritual teacher.

mdor na dgnos sam brgyud pa yis
phan bde ma lus kun la ‘bul
ma yi gnod dang sdug bsngal kun
gsang bas bdag la len par shog

In brief, directly or indirectly,
May I offer help and happiness without exception to all,
And secretly take upon myself
All the harms and suffering of my mothers.

de dag kun kyang chos brgyad kyi
rtog pa’i dri mas ma sbags shing
chos kun sgyu mar shes pa’i blos
zhen med ‘ching ba las drol shog

And may all of these [practices] be unstained
By conceptual distortions of the eight worldly concerns
And by knowing all phenomena to be like illusions
May I be freed from bondage, without attachment.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Tong-Len Charitable Trust: Fighting poverty by aiding the homeless children in India

In Dharamsala, India, the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile, a Tibetan monk from Sera Monastery has founded a charitable organization dedicated to helping the children of homeless beggars in India. He came across this idea after seeing children rummaging for food among refuse at a garbage dump, eating leftovers that would be considered inedible by any person under normal conditions. Moved by compassion, he began feeding a few of the children every day, but then became aware of other communities of beggars where the children were in even worse shape than those he had seen. He then established the Tong-len Charitable Trust, a program that takes the homeless children of beggars and offers them education, as well as offering compensation to their families (who would otherwise use them to beg for money) and engaging in other activities to promote systemic change to fight poverty, one child at a time, in India.

According to international organizations such as the World Bank, around two billion people in the world live in poverty, if one defines that as earning under $2 a day, and one billion live in extreme poverty, defined at less than $1 a day. According to UNICEF, thirty to forty thousand children die each day of starvation. When thinking about how to address such deep and troubling problems, the issues can seem staggering, but Ven. Jamyang and his supporters at Tong-Len are tackling the problem in the only way that is truly practicable: by taking action and helping individual children in an individual area one child and one family at a time. If more people look to his example and start more organizations like this, that would be a major step towards addressing this terrible situation.

Here's the link to their website: