With the kind permission of Thomas Zachmeier,
a filmaker at Conscious Action Network.
Thomas lives in Berlin.
Vila Verde, Portugal
A number of years ago while teaching on the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje’s shorter mahamudra text named ‘Pointing Out the Dharmakaya’, Ringu Tulku sowed the seeds for this year’s summer-camp topic, when he introduced the idea of group practice for accumulating merit. He explained that one hundred people reciting the Vajrasattva mantra in unison, or at least together in one place and as part of a shared practice session, the number of mantras recited would be multiplied for the benefit of each person in the room, according to how many are reciting. One mala of mantras recited by each person would count for 10,000 if we recited together as a group of one hundred.
In 2007, I had attended the annual Monlam teachings when His Holiness Karmapa had introduced a ‘Brief Preliminary Practice’ (Ngöndro ), and had received the transmission given especially for the use of Westerners who have ‘such busy lives and so little time’. It was the first time that His Holiness had ventured to speak in English to such a large gathering; he had expressed his nervousness at the task, and his delight at the ‘easy bit’ – the Vajrasattva Mantra. This brief practice, he said, could be recited by Westerners in English, and each section was to be repeated only 10,000 times.
And so it happened: under the tutelage of Ringu Tulku, this year, we experimented, in a Christian monastery in the north of Portugal, to see if one complete Ngöndro might be completed by 150 people during 6 days of group practice. The concession of a brief text, in English, combined with help from 150 other people seemed like a very suitable arrangement, but with one adjustment. Between us we were to complete a full 100,000 repetitions of each practice: contemplating the Four Thoughts and raising Bodhicitta, reciting the Refuge Prayer and doing Prostrations, practising Vajrasattva, making Mandala Offerings, and practising Guru Yoga. For those of us with creaky bodies who had a hard time prostrating, these could be bartered for Mantras or Mandala Offerings, as no one was counting who did what as long as it was accomplished. It was a foolproof and authentic sangha support system!
Rinpoche has suggested that by approaching ngondro later on the Path, we are better prepared to benefit from doing so, because a novice practitioner often misses the point and becomes preoccupied with achieving the target numbers, a common mistake which can be a hindrance to furthering one’s understanding. Ngöndro is a means to purify karma- misguided or negative action – and in particular, prostrations engage with the natural tendency towards pride, often the least obvious klesha or obstacle to realisation, and the last one to fully purify on the path.
Ringu Tulku taught twice each day, morning and afternoon, giving instructions before practice sessions. To encourage us he first he told the story of Patrul Rinpoche’s student who developed the ability for astral travel while in ngondro retreat. It is said that Patrul Rinpoche’s own practice was Ngöndro , and he prostrated 100 times everyday for the whole of his life. There are, according to Ringu Tulku, several ways to become a Buddha: by ripening your own qualities you will grow into buddhahood, but will not be recognised by others. Sakyamuni also taught that once a person develops their qualities they must continue and create a buddhafield wherein many more beings can benefit, and that will identify him or her as a Buddha. It is said that a person who practises the preliminaries will never be born into a lower realm, and the action of the week of practising together in this way would also create a permanent and positive link between us all.
Portugal in August is extremely warm, so prostrations were practised before breakfast, and dozens of us lined up along the cool corridors, (or, for the really wise with toughened knees, on cold marble floors that had the extra bonus of a polished surface).
It feels somewhat counter-productive and hard to justify, totting up repetitions to achieve daily targets, having been told that the quality of practise is primary if we are to fully benefit, and this is the downside of believing we should ‘complete’ a Ngöndro , but in the spirit of the week we set to and applied body and mind to that end. The days were full, and the usual socialising that happens over the retreat became less imperative as we engaged with the practice. The mornings were spent in silence unless questions arose in the teaching sessions, the sun shone outside, the river flowed at the bottom of the hill, the usual pesky mosquitoes took a blessed holiday, perhaps busy with their own Ngöndro . We ate three times a day and we practised, beginning at 7 am and finishing by 8 pm for supper. Each day numbers were handed in. Francois oversaw the counting and the next day’s programme would be adjusted accordingly to ensure full quotas in all fields. There was concern that prostrations might lose out to Guru Yoga, or that we wouldn’t finish the Offering Mandalas, and there was irritation when bare feet walked on hard uncooked saffron rice, or even worse, precious stones.
For the Guru Yoga we avidly recited Karmapa Khyenno, and reached double our quota in two sessions. Rinpoche feels that the wording to the prayer of the four kayas is just not inspiring enough in the way it is translated, and is hoping an aspiring poet will write a version that will do it justice, it seems the current translation is too literal and cumbersome, the Tibetan version is so beautiful.
Rinpoche gave wonderful teachings on Guru yoga, reminding us to remain intelligent and critical, to examine and wait and, if one’s personal teacher is not yet to be found, to consider looking to Vajradhara or Sakyamuni, because they will be the essence of your teacher when that person appears. We may have many teachers, and each will feed into the other, but once the heart teacher is met it will be clear and the relationship and the progress on the path should flourish.
One evening, Rinpoche gave a Vajrasattva empowerment coming from the Nyingma tradition, describing the deity embracing a consort: wisdom and skilful means in primordial union. Giving a narrative alongside the liturgy, he built up the visualisation for us as he relayed the instruction, reminding us all the time that everything that arises through the visualisation is an aspect of our mind, nothing more. His description of the visualisation provided us with an exquisite and uncompromisingly clear understanding of the practice. At the finish, the room was quite silent, full of awe, expectant and wanting, but he just he reminded us he was hungry. It was time for supper.
The final count for the week was impressive as all recitations were completed and there were plenty left over to make up for miscounts. We also managed to watch a documentary on Gene Smith, watch a gorgeous slide presentation on Rigul, from whence Francois has just returned with much news. Some gathered for stories and songs or walks to the river with Rinpoche, and we absorbed the incredible news that His Holiness Karmapa will visit Germany in three weeks time.
In the interest of future practice, in case anyone thinks they have completed Ngöndro – Ringu Tulku finished by simply saying that now we just know how to do it.
The Summercamp next year will again be at Vila Verde, the first week in August, and will be organised by Lama Tsultrim and the Portugese Sangha, as Tsering Paldron enters retreat.
Annie Dibble is currently co-ordinator for Bodhicharya Ireland, and a Tara Rokpa Therapist. In another life she recently retired from teaching 3rd level art and design and is now working to create supportive links between weavers in India, Nepal and Dublin.
This was my first Summer camp with Ringu Tulku and I chose to attend for two reasons. The first was the wish to learn how to practice the Ngondro properly and the second because Ringu Tulku has proven to be a good teacher on other Dharma topics. The experience was amazing. The clarity of Rinpoche’s teaching from the powers of the Refuge Prayer to the line by line explanation of Guru Yoga has certainly given me a good understanding and I have confidence to continue the practice that my own teacher has asked me to practice. As part of the Retreat the aim was to reach 100,000 of each of the four parts of the Ngondro and I can still hear the sound of rice as it formed many Mandalas and as a group we achieved our blessings. The empowerment that drew the teaching to a close was exactly that – very powerful and ended with us all joining katas while holding candles as brothers and sisters in the Dharma. Add to that the beautiful Portuguese sunshine and the opportunity to practice in the sun, something those of us from Scotland have seen little of this year, a very busy and deeply meaningful retreat. Jenni Campbell
Ten days after the event my response to this year’s summercamp is mainly one of gratitude. Immense gratitude to Rinpoche, to Tsering and to Lama Tsultrim for facilitating a complete short Ngondro practice in one week and also indebtedness to the young, strong and energetic members of the group who managed to carry along with them those of us who are somewhat older and could only do our best. Back in London my wish is to stabilise all that I have received, integrate it into my practice, but first to learn off by heart the 100 syllable mantra that I had not come across before.
Thus, I am to be seen on tubes and buses muttering mantras to myself, hoping other people think I am talking into an invisible mobile phone. This task seems to me to be of the utmost importance and serves to help me to stay in touch with the benefits of the Ngondro practices for all of Rinpoche’s sangha, both those who were at summer camp and everyone else too. Lynda Miller
You couldn’t say there was a best part of the Ngondro because the practice was so well delivered by Rinpoche La and so well paced and every part complemented the whole experience: a valuable practice of the interconnectedness of Buddhist philosophy. Wandering through and around the grapevines reciting the vajrasattva 100-syllable mantra, the mandala offering, the prostrations and doing Guru Yoga all contributed to this unique experience. On the last evening, the sangha consolidated the experience by joining katas and lighting candles.
Thank you to Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, Lama Tsultrim and Tsering Paldron for planning and facilitating this event.
My Experience of the Summer Camp
About the People…
I thought a week of closer proximity to Ringu Tulku might help me understand why he calls himself ‘the lazy lama’. It didn’t. Relaxed, yes, but lazy? Most important to me, he seemed congruent: what he taught, he embodied. His teaching was clear and accessible, presented with both strength and modesty. He revealed glimpses of his profound knowledge and awareness, and more than once I thought how tolerant he must be of the comparative ignorance of the rest of us. It was of enormous help to me that Rinpoche gave Ngondro teachings in a way that they were practical and relevant to our lives and our concerns. His humour helped: I found it healing to laugh with him and everyone else.
The ‘everyone else’ is significant, too. Not surprising, the robed and lay people who cherish Ringu Tulku seem refreshingly balanced. While the wide-ranging conversations I enjoyed with the ones I met were distracting because they evoked in me much reflection, they mostly were heart-warming and inspiring.
About the Practice…
For years I have found reasons and excuses to evade Ngondro practice – despite having attended teachings on Ngondro given by HE Tai Situpa at Samye Ling who taught that Ngondro practice is the portal to Mahamudra and despite knowing that positive repetition engenders positive change in the mind.
I registered for the 2015 summer camp with now-or-never resolve and with considerable trepidation. As the result of an ongoing family ordeal, I arrived at the camp too tired to ‘struggle’. “Don’t think about it, just do it,” I told myself. For the first couple of days, I could barely keep awake during the teachings and was glad for the helpful physical component of the practices. Being new among a diverse collection of people gave my sleepy mind abundant material for judgement, analysis, fantasy; and I observed it sluggishly moving in habitual ways, attempting to organise the sensory information I encountered in order to help me feel comfortable.
Gradually, I woke up a little and settled into the practice with genuine appreciation. I was able to notice the care with which the organisers had worked with Rinpoche in arranging for the texts, the translations, the structure. I felt the strong support of the practice of the ‘everyone else’. The mantra music in my head greeted me when I woke each morning and stayed with me throughout the day, and I welcomed stirrings of devotion. I felt an inner release when Ringu Tullku included the name of Akong Rinpoche, whom I had followed since the 1980’s, when he led us in singing the hauntingly lovely ‘Calling the Guru from Afar’ prayer.
I returned home less weary, and with the realisation that while a part of my mind had focused on the practice of Ngondro, something more subtle had taken place of which I had been unaware at the time. For example, I was astonished that the anxiety I had felt about a particular distressing situation somehow had evaporated. This reminded me that a most effective inspiration for more Dharma practice is practice!
See also Remembering Harry.
Meena with her son
We are sitting on the bus taking us from the Bodhicharya Summer Camp in Casa da Torre to Braga in northern Portugal. All around us is chatter and laughter and the sound of children having a wonderful time.
Minna says that in her home town in Helsinki, Finland, there is a Bodhicharya Study Group which has been running for about 6-years. There is also a Palpung Centre to which Rinpoche attends when he is invited. Besides these, there is a Samye Dzong and a Nyingma Centre. In the Study Group, there are only five-people, but maybe this is because there are also so many other Buddhist activities in the city, she tells me.
When the conversation turns to Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, Minna says, There was a time in my life when everything was quite sorted out and everything was going nicely and I had moved from another town to Helsinki. My son was about seven-years old and he went to his first class in school and we had a nice place to live and I had nice work. Everything was there.
What was it that brought a change to her life? Continue reading
Bodhicharya Summer Camp
14-20 July 2014
Casa da Torre, Braga, Portugal
The Camp was hosted for the third year running by Bodhicharya Portugal at Casa da Torre, near Braga, from 14 to 21 July. With around 110 participants from 20 different countries, mainly European, the atmosphere was lively, the discussion animated, a chance to renew old friendships and make new ones.
Ringu Tulku’s teachings continued and concluded the study of Dakpo Tashi Namgyal’s magisterial text, Mahᾱmudrᾱ, The Moonlight: Quintessence of Mind and Meditation, which he had started four years previously in Lusse, France. He made it clear from the outset, however, that study of a text is only the beginning: we must use this study to work on ourselves, which is the main meditation. Ultimately it is our practice and we must integrate the teaching at the level on which we find ourselves. Throughout the week’s teachings, he stressed the Dharma as a living reality, and this somewhat forbidding text was made accessible to us by our knowledge that our teacher had been there himself and was reporting back from the land of realisation for samsaric beings at an earlier stage on the Path. And yet he managed, consistently, but without any diminution of the text’s austere wisdom, to open it up to our understanding.
Under the walnut tree in Palpung Sera Nevada is both a retreat centre and a mountain farm run under auspices of Khenting Tai Situ Rinpoche, the 12th Tai Situpa.It is located two thousand meters up in the Sierra Nevada of Andalucia in Spain and is about about 3 hours drive from Granada airport.
The name of Palpung Sera Nevada was chosen for this amazing place by Tai Situ Rinpoche. It has just been completed and is now open to all who wish to develop their spiritual practice. At the end of July 2014 I have had the privilege to stay and do a short 4 day solitary retreat here. The full details of Palpung Sera Nevada are available on this website: www.palpungseranevada.com
Palpung Sera Nevada has been a labour of love for two good friends of mine, Isa and Humphrey. I first came to know Isa and Humphrey when I was running Akong Rinpoche’s Dharma centre some 22 years ago in Glasgow. I used to help Isa and Humphrey run a mobile soup kitchen for Glasgow’s homeless. Three years ago Isa and Humphrey sold their home near Glasgow, Scotland and were able to purchase 4 hectares of land and a run down farmhouse in the National Park of Sierra Nevada in Spain. They are both devoted students of Tai Situ Rinpoche and have been guided by him for over 35 years in their practice.
There are three things which make this place very special. Firstly, both Isa and Humphrey have been devoted Dharma practitioners and have experienced at first hand the difficulties doing serious practice in far flung places. They fully understand the importance of a safe, accessible yet secluded location where people on the spiritual path can do some serious practice.
Andy with Rinpoche at the summer camp in Portugal, 2014
25 years ago I was trying to write a research methodology text book but was unable to so due to severe writers block. This was making the lives of my friends in Glasgow a misery. One day someone suggested that I go to a quiet place and complete the book and then return and behave as a normal human being again. A few days later I found myself in a Tibetan monastery called Samye Ling in the borders of Scotland. Here I managed to complete the section of the book I was responsible for (it was a collaboration) the book is entitled Management Research and was eventually published by Sage publications in 1990.
The day after I managed to complete writing the book I rewarded myself with a walk in the forest adjacent to the Samye Ling monastery. It was here that had my first encounter with a Tibetan Lama who I was later came to know as Ringu Tulku Rinpoche. Continue reading
The Four Noble Truths is the first teaching that Buddha gave after his awakening. It builds the foundation of all Buddhist teachings and defines their purpose: the cessation of suffering.
We are sitting in the quiet quadrangle of Casa da Torre. There is the sound of birds in the distance. In the centre of the square is a white statue of Saint Mary, mother of Jesus. The Casa da Torre is situated four miles north of Braga in Portugal and is a Jesuit centre for Spirituality and Culture. We are attending Ringu Tulku’s summer camp and people from many different countries have arrived to listen to the teachings on Mahamudra – The Moonlight by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal.
On the bench beside me is Tanya: born in Croatia, having been brought up in Bosnia before moving to Serbia, she speaks to me in perfect English and in a pleasing Eastern European accent, I like to say I’m from Yugoslavia.
I met Ringu Tulku Rinpoche in Boulder, Colorado where I lived for about eight-years or so. I met him in 1998. Tanya was there with her husband who wanted to study at Naropa University. Not being interested in Buddhism at that time, although she was interested in studying dharma while he studied, Tanya worked as a nurse in a hospital. However, she did meet some of the senior students of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche while she was in Boulder, but because of her lack of English at that time, her understanding of Buddhism was limited.
Audience for the Karma Kagyu organisation heads at Kamalashila.
Photo: Francois Henrard
For many years Ringu Tulku Rinpoche has worked increasingly closely with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa and the Indian Government to make way for a visit of His Holiness to Europe to give teachings. Four separate applications were made in the past 10 years, but only the last was successful, and only after all hope for success had been given up. No-one could have envisaged either the scale at which it finally took place, or the magnitude of the impact that the visit would have, from start to finish.
It was clear however when Ringu Tulku Rinpoche gave his ecstatic thanks after the Karma Pakshi empowerment on the final day, that he was indebted to not only the tireless teams of the German Karma Kagyu Trust, Bodhicharya Berlin, Rigpa and all the international volunteers who worked on the ground; but also the German and Indian Governments who cleared the way for His Holiness to travel to Europe. It was a massive undertaking, an achievement that will doubtless benefit countless beings way beyond our imaginings.
The 17th Karmapa arrived in Frankfurt on Sunday 25th May, and was brought to a private location for several days to acclimatise, before he was swiftly moved into an almost too busy schedule for the ten days that followed. When His Holiness arrived at Langenfeld he got out of his car and slowly walked the incline to the Kamalashila Centre nodding and waving to those en route. The road was lined with members of Buddhist communities from all over the world as well as local residents who joined us on the road to cheer and wave, they also had the privilege of homes that bordered the street, and upstairs windows giving great views.
Lama Shenga hanging flags at Kamalashila Stupa
J Where were you born?
? I was born high up in the mountains.
J What brought you to Scotland?
? My husband is from Scotland. I married a Scotsman.
J Where did you meet him?
? I met him in my own country.
J Do you have a strong national identity being stretched between you own country and Scotland?
? No, I don’t. Because I was brought up in a different country from the one I was born in and I now live in Scotland. I have lived in Scotland most of my life.
J I’ve heard that you’ve been around the world. Why?
? It was mainly my husband’s idea, to go around the world: to take a break and travel because travelling is not something I really enjoy. I don’t enjoy travelling so much. But my husband always wanted to go off. And I thought it was a good idea to take a break from my work and go and be in a place where I’ve never been.
Hello to all the readers of Many Roads.
Up here in Scotland the days are becoming colder and the nights longer. Out come the warm clothes, hats, gloves, thermals and scarves. That’s how it is in the autumnal, northern hemisphere. The scattering of leaves on the pavements adds a certain melancholic poignancy to the season.
There is a feeling that we are in for a long, cold winter.
However, a warm thanks to the readers who have posted comments on the published articles. Your thoughts are welcome.
Several new articles have been published recently. There has been positive feedback on Anni Dibble’s heart-felt article A Tribute to Akong Rinpoche.
Dr Sangeeta Rajbhandary has written about the recent festival of Ghantakarna in Kathmandu. There is very little separation between Buddhist and Hindus in the valley, thus the Hindu/Buddhist in the title.
The Ten Commandments for Foreign Travel in India by Upasana Pokhriyal contains some invaluable advice for both seasoned and new travellers in India, and especially for women in the context of recent events in the country.
And Ani Rinchen Khandro, a nun based at Samye Dzong in Edinburgh, has written an account of her discovery of Buddhism in her article Approaching Buddhism, and her subsequent experience on retreat and after on Holy Island.
Mail Chimp sends out any new articles on a weekly basis to subscribers. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do this at the bottom of the About tab on the Many Roads site.
Wishing everyone a peaceful and relaxed time this coming season and hoping to hear from you soon.
I am shocked and shattered to know that Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche has passed away at the hands of murderers in Chengdu on 8th of October along with his nephew and driver. I feel so helpless and lonely without his strong and courageous presence.
I knew Akong Rinpoche since I was 9 years old. Continue reading
Rebirth of the Soul
Desperately trying to exclude,
The mists of choice, fury, like from dislike, voices of opinion,
All of which rattle,
The demons that make the path unstable.
Not easily discarded, they are strong and persistent,
Unable to be destroyed,
Awareness is the only weapon,
It can keep them at bay. Continue reading