Report from Retreat One, May 25 to May 30, 2012
At a time when so much of the world is in conflict and confusion, the second edition of Retreat 1 in the Discovering the Dharma series provided a warm environment for cultivating the wellness of all sentient beings by deepening our understanding and practice of Buddhadharma. For five days we were skillfully introduced into many aspects of beginning daily practice by H.E. Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche. During this time, the Venerable Khenchen Rinpoche held and protected the space to ensure an obstacle free environment. Traveling from as far as Asia, Europe, and all over America, approximately 50 of us gathered together in the peaceful surroundings of the Dharmakaya Retreat Center in Cochecton, New York. Whether repeating Retreat 1 or being a first timer, Rinpoche’s teachings were equally stimulating and rewarding for all of us.
Starting with a detailed introduction to Shamatha meditation, Rinpoche covered many aspects of a well rounded and sincere daily practice. We explored the nine progressive stages of mental development and learned the challenges and necessary attitude for a fruitful shamatha practice using the traditional analogy of taming the drunken elephant. We learned the importance of meditation by familiarizing ourselves with the karmas and the kleshas, and reflected on how to cultivate a positive energy of mind by looking at the 8 worldly concerns and working towards a more appreciative attitude for what we have and for others’ feelings.
Moving into the importance of bodhicitta, Rinpoche started with the inspiring story of Asanga and the 12 years he spent in retreat trying to see Maitreya. Using this story to highlight the importance of the Four Immeasurables, we looked at compassion and loving-kindness as two sides of the same thing, the essential tools for adding spiritual depth to our practice, and working towards mental purification. LoJong was also taught as a fundamental aspect of this process, helping us to develop an increasing attitude of awareness on our acts and thoughts throughout our daily lives. Rinpoche then blessed us with an introduction to Tonglen – a powerful practice to help alleviate the suffering of all beings.
On Monday we took a field trip to the future site of the Mahamudra Hermitage in Cragsmoor, NY and sat in a beautiful grove of aspens while Rinpoche stretched our mental muscles with a brief discourse on the three natures. He then immediately gave an active demonstration on the paramita of patience as we endlessly questioned him on this topic over the next several days. We concluded the field trip by gathering together for a group picture using the scenic environment as a backdrop.
Throughout the days we were guided in many variations of Shamatha, with sitting and walking meditation, and other types of meditation, as well as being given ample opportunities to lead ourselves in these practices. As part of the retreat, we were encouraged to observe functional speech, and a table was set for those who wanted to use silence during the meal-time as an additional source of practice. Our bodies were kept healthy, light and alert with an amazing array of delicious vegetarian dishes. Nightly group discussions brought us further together as a community and offered an invaluable means to deepen our understanding of the day’s lessons.
The event concluded with a Gratitude Mandala Offering to our very beloved teacher. After that, we celebrated the by now traditional raffle of beautiful Dharma gifts, which were blessed and handed out by Khenchen Rinpoche. Overall, the retreat was a great experience that inspired and strengthened our commitment to our practice. We hope it will be of benefit to many beings, as it was for us all.
Report from Retreat Four, May 30 to June 2, 2012
Retreat 4 provided a slightly more intimate setting as approximately 25 of us gathered for an introduction to the Tantric practices of Vajrayana. There was a prerequisite of having attended the first three retreats and, for the first time, name tags became superfluous as we gathered together with a strong feeling of family and trust. For the following three days, we were blessed with cool spring weather and good friends to accompany us on our journey into the next level of practice.
We began with an evening talk on the differences between Sutra and Tantra, as well as the key aspects of this traditionally orally transmitted practice. We then had the good fortune to be led by Rinpoche in a short tantric meditation. On day two we briefly overviewed the history of Tantric practices, and looked at the four main types, focusing specifically on the Kriya and Charya methods. Delving into the specifics of Kriya Tantra, we received very detailed instructions that were put into practice throughout the sessions of guided meditation, as well as prayers and prostrations that were programmed at different times of the daily schedule. Day three was an introduction to Nyene practice, committing ourselves to specific precepts on personal attitudes, engaging in a short practice of fasting, and continuing Tantric meditations.
There were many auspicious elements that helped us progress throughout the retreat – Rinpoche’s skillfull ability to transmit the Dharma; Khenchen Rinpoche’s protection of the field through his practice; the amazing vegetarian food to sustain our bodies; the great organization of the whole event and the quietness and greenness of the retreat environment. As a way of expressing our gratitude to our teacher, we ended the retreat with a Mandala Offering and both a strong individual and collective commitment of intensifying our practice in accord with the teachings received. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have been able to attend such a valuable event, and sincerely wish that we will be able to use what we have learned for the benefit of all beings.