Saturday, February 4, 2017

India Adventure III: Retreat with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and then farewell, India.

My shared taxi reached Palpung Sherabling Monastic Seat,  (Sherabling) in the early evening on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. It had been a beautiful drive through the Himalayan countryside near sunset, from McLeod Ganj to this monastic community set in the woods outside of Baijnath, not far from Bir.

Sherabling is the seat of the 12th Kenting Tai Situpa, Pema Donyo Nyingche Wangpo (Tai Situ Rinpoche). He is one of the highest ranking lamas of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. (His Holiness the 17th Karmapa and Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche are also Karma Kagyu.)

While this was not my first time receiving a teaching from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, it was my first visit to Sherabling and I was charmed by the setting. The monastery is set in the middle of the woods. Prayer flags strung from tree to tree fluttered high above us as our taxi driver navigated the narrow, pine needle covered roads outside of Sherabling.

Road to Sherabling.

Road to Sherabling.
I had come to attend a five day teaching with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche entitled Mahamudra Moonlight Beam Transmission. This was my first retreat in the Karma Kagyu tradition, and my first retreat focused on meditation techniques.

Welcome to Sherabling.
The teachings were held in a gompa located on one of the upper floors of one of the larger and newer buildings on the Sherabling campus.

Sherabling. The building were the retreat was held.
Sherabling. The building where the retreat was  held.
All of the retreat's activities took place within this one building, with the exception of some of the accommodation. I moved from a shared room with my friend Aniko in one of the older buildings to the dormitory in the new, big building. I shared the dormitory with five nice western women.

Lobby of the new building, where all of the retreat activities took place.

My dormitory room. I had the bed on the far left in this photo.
We had a good amount of teaching time but we also had the chance to relax and catch up with friends, too. A few of my friends had come to Sherabling for the retreat. It was a nice way to end my time in India.

Our retreat schedule.
I attended the Tara Puja at 6AM on the first day, and tried to make it there at least one more time during the retreat. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche didn't join us for those; they were led by some of the monks.

Otherwise, our first teaching with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche began at 9AM. Prior to that breakfast was served first in the dining halls inside, and then it was moved outside to the big tent where we had lunch and dinner. All of the meals were served buffet style. I had heard the food would be good, and that was true.

Before the teachings began we would recite prayers in unison from the books set out for our use on racks outside of the temple.

Prayer book cover.
Prayer book table of contents.
I enjoyed reciting the Dakpo Kagyu Lineage Prayer, which was new to me. We recited it in tune in Tibetan, just as the prayers were done at the Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya.

First page of the Dakpo Kagyu Lineage Prayer as it appears in the prayer book.
The top line is Tibetan, written in Tibetan script.
The second line is the phonetically spelled Tibetan.

Great Vajradhara, Tilopa, Naropa,

Marpa, Mila, Lord of Dharma Gampopa,
Knower of the Three Times, omniscient Karmapa,
Holders of the four great and eight lesser lineages --
Drikung, Tag-lung, Tsalpa, these three; glorious Drukpa and so on --
Masters of the profound path of Mahamudra,
Incomparable protectors of beings, the Takpo Kagyu,
I supplicate you, the Kagyu gurus.
I hold your lineage; grant your blessings so that I will follow your example.

Revulsion is the foot of meditation, as is taught.
To this meditator who is not attached to food and wealth,
Who cuts the ties to this life,
Grant your blessings so that I have no desire for honor and gain.

Devotion is the head of meditation, as is taught.
The guru opens the gate to the treasury of oral instructions.
To this meditator who continually supplicates him
Grant your blessings, so that genuine devotion is born in me.

Awareness is the body of meditation, as is taught.
Whatever arises is fresh--the essence of realization.
To this meditator who rests simply without altering it
Grant your blessings so that my meditation is free from conception.

The essence of thought is dharmakaya, as is taught.
Nothing whatever but everything arises from it.
To this meditator who arises in unceasing play
Grant your blessings so that I realize the inseparability of samsara and nirvana.

Through all my births may I not be separated from the perfect guru
And so enjoy the splendor of dharma.
Perfecting the virtues of the paths and bhumis,
May I speedily attain the state of Vajradhara.

May precious bodhicitta be born in those in whom it has not arisen.
Having arisen, may it not degenerate, and may it continue to develop more and more.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche at Sherabling. Photo by Palpung Institute.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche taught us the foundations of Mahamudra Meditation as explained in the text Moonbeams of Mahamudra. This text and the text Mahamudra Ocean of Definitive Meaning are the two major Mahamudra texts for the Kagyu lineage. The first focuses more on the knowledge needed to practice Mahamudra, while the second is more oriented towards the practice of Mahamudra.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche teaching at Sherabling. Photo by Palpung Institute.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche had the Tibetan language and the English translations out in front of him at all times during class. He would reference the two and highlight errors in the translation, to try to ensure we were receiving the proper instruction on Mahamudra.

Text used in the retreat.
In 2014 His Holiness the 17th Karmapa gave a talk about Mahamudra at the Root Institute in Bodhgaya:

“Mahamudra texts say one must not pursue mental afflictions, but when they arise, one shouldn’t worry about it. For example, someone on a journey will see various scenery. One doesn’t have to stop seeing what one sees, nor does one have to be alarmed. The journey must go on. We tend to claim ownership of what is on the path. Rather it is a journey of noticing mental afflictions, looking at their essential nature. Then mental afflictions will become powerless because they are not automatically equipped with the power to overwhelm us. By feeding them, mental afflictions gain strength. Whatever is concocted like lies, must come to the surface. If one doesn’t entertain it, the mental afflictions will be defeated by themselves. We have to confront the afflictions with all means and methods and if we can weaken their power we can tame and even uproot them. All dharmas come to the same point. All the profound instructions aim to uproot our mental afflictions. It is important to understand this."

His Holiness the 17th Karmapa taught on Mahamudra in Sarnath in 2011; you can watch the teachings here.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche at Sherabling. Photo by Palpung Institute.
The Mahamudra Moonlight Beam Transmission Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche was giving us from May 12 - May 16, 2016 was the first in a series of five retreats on the same topic. The first two years were designed to be more introductory but by the third year students will need to make a real commitment to the practice in order to attend the retreat.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche teaching at Sherabling. Photo by Palpung Institute.
I somehow got a nice seat in the temple. Each student was given a number, which corresponded to a labeled seat in the temple.

I was seat # 094. This is my seat and white desk.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche teaching. I'm in the middle, laughing. Photo by Palpung Institute.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche teaching at Sherabling. Photo by Palpung Institute.

I spent one lunch break exploring the Sherabling campus with my friend Yaron, who was also in the retreat.
A temple at Sherabling.
Same temple at Sherabling.
During the lunch breaks we also got to watch and help socialize Tai Situ Rinpoche's three puppies. If I remember the story correctly, Tai Situ Rinpoche found them on the side of the road in bad condition and brought them home to Sherabling. They were frisky and adorable.

Sherabling puppies.

Sherabling puppies.
I walked around Sherabling later in the evening one night, and heard the monks debating in a walled in courtyard. I peered in through an open doorway and got to take in the scene and their voices as they echoed off of the walls. It turned out to be a beautiful evening.

I enjoyed being able to spend these five days with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. His teachings on meditation were so helpful. I think of them often.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche retreat at Sherabling. Photo by Palpung Institute.
During the retreat, Venerable Jampa Dorje who had been my main contact leading up to my arrival at Sherabling, and who continued to direct and manage retreat logistics on site, announced that we would be able to meet individually with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.

I was able to meet with him towards the end of the retreat.

Waiting in the hallway outside of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche's rooms for my name to be called.
Meeting with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in his rooms.
Part of the practice we did during the retreat included the Long Life Prayer for Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. We were given photocopies of the prayer for use during the retreat. It makes me happy to see it once again, here.

Long Life Prayer for Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.
At the conclusion of the retreat we did long life prayers for our teacher, and got to approach him at his throne one at a time to offer him a khata and receive his blessing. It was beautiful. He also performed the refuge ceremony. We all got together for a group photo with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. It was a memorable retreat.
Group photo with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. I'm somewhere near the middle.
Photo by Palpung Institute.
I published a blog post from the Sherabling internet cafe before I left for Delhi on the overnight bus, so that I could catch my flight from the Delhi airport back to the US.

I left Sherabling on May 16, 2016 arriving in Delhi on the morning of May 17. Before going to the airport that night I stopped to visit with Jayanti, a good friend of my mom and I, who lives in Delhi.

Dirty shoes at the end of six months in India.
Propped up against a wall with my travel backpack outside of a Delhi metro station.
I had heard Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche would be flying out of the Delhi airport soon, but you can't imagine my surprise when I actually saw him and the attendant who took our picture. I had already checked my bag, and was walking towards the India Immigration counters to present my passport and visa when I saw them leaning over a counter, filling out the government forms. I walked by, beaming, bowed with hands folded and said "Tashi Delek, Rinpoche." He gave me a huge smile and said "Tashi Delek."

We waited in nearby lines for over an hour before passing through the India Immigration counters and on to our separate flights. The last I saw, his attendant was standing at the counter in front of an immigration official, processing paperwork. I know they had a safe trip because my mom saw them shortly thereafter when Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche taught in the US.


Then, when I boarded my flight from Delhi and flipped through the movie selection, I found Kung Fu Panda 3. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche had quoted Kung Fu Panda during the retreat. I smiled as soon as I saw the reference right there on the plane. Of course I had to watch the film.
Kung Fu Panda 3 on my flight.
And then I was back in New York. India Adventure III had come to a close.

Welcome to New York ... more specifically JFK airport.

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