[This post was written upon my return to the West.)
If one goes on retreat or does a series of retreats, long or short, it can sometimes take months or years to understand the meaning and the impact of what of the experience. The more one brings to meditation during a retreat, the more far-ranging the effect it can have on one’s life. While I did have some sense of what the Rinchen Terdzo meant to the Sakyong and to Shambhala before I came to India, I had little idea what receiving three months of transmissions in group retreat would mean to me. It will no doubt be some time before I understand the depth of the impact of attending the Rinchen Terdzo, but I want to share some preliminary reflections with you at the end of the blog.
One major point of insight came in the context being at the Rinchen Terdzo and receiving hundreds of empowerments for practices that I am unlikely to do. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche warned against receiving lots of empowerments without an intention to practice them when he taught on spiritual materialism, our tendency to convert the spiritual path into something to secure our own emotional world of attachment and thus avoid genuine surrender into the meaning of the dharma. Over the years, while admiring people who attended long empowerments like the Rinchen Terdzo, I sometimes wondered what was the point of doing such a thing in light of the Vidyadhara’s teachings.
There was an irony to my predicament because a few years back Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche asked me to go on pilgrimage in Asia dressed in white like Milarepa or a sadhu. Though there are white-robed lineages within the Tibetan tradition, until that pilgrimage I viewed Westerners in that sort of attire as potentially misguided and overdramatic. Once I was dressed in robes like that myself and enduring the direct praise, criticism, curiosity and avoidance of Western and Asian monastics and lay people alike, I was forced to confront some of my own spiritual conceit and armchair prejudice. I realized that something that seemed materialistic on the outside could be transformed by a dharmic outlook and application of practice. Living the experience from the inside helped me see some of my naïveté and lack of understanding.
Attending three months of empowerments turned out to be an active process of opening up to His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche, one of the most accomplished disciples of the Vidyadhara. I realized that the point of being at the Rinchen Terdzo wasn’t to gather teachings I might not practice, but to learn from a realized teacher who was showing me how to practice. I came to see the Rinchen Terdzo as a group retreat and an opportunity to witness the Sakyong’s path, rather than making it an avoidance of my own path while gathering personal credentials. This seemed to be the case for the other western participants as well.
The environment at the Rinchen Terdzo was remarkably respectful and grounded. The straightforward, earthy engagement with the process by devoted practitioners in the Tibetan community, and, in particular the senior monastics who worked tirelessly to support the event, was humbling and inspiring to participate in. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote a great deal about a level of boredom that isn’t agitated, but is gentle, appreciative and aware. In many ways, the Rinchen Terdzo was like a dathun except the focus was not on sitting meditation, but on opening to a teacher and the lineage over and over again. This situation is invaluable for anyone seriously engaged in vajrayana practice. As the weeks went by in Orissa I found myself increasingly grateful to the Sakyong for asking me to come.
While in Orissa I saw more vividly the difference between an ordinary practitioner like myself and someone like Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche who has the responsibilities of passing on the lineage to his successor and of training tens of thousands of others. As I watched his devotion and confidence while he participated in the countless rituals His Eminence was conducted from the throne, I could see how the Sakyong’s years of study with the Vidyadhara, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche and many others have ripened him into an extraordinary being. Many conversations with the Sakyong left me amazed by the breadth of his vision and understanding. I was often humbled by the kind and patient way he dealt with my speed while walking me through a variety of complex topics. Often I would wince when reviewing our discussions because of the number of points I’d missed the first time around.
His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche impressed me tremendously. He seems to be 100% about carrying on the practice tradition. The Rinchen Terdzo placed incredible demands on him, yet I never saw anything other than good humor and luminous brilliance from start to finish as he presented the teachings over the winter. I do not think a person without genuine realization can accomplish that. It gave me a glimpse of how hard people worked to the preserve the dharma in Tibet, and it gave a glimpse into the degree of training that gave us Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It was very edifying to witness all of this. It is easy to take the dharma for granted in this age of email, fast food, and mail-order shopping.
For my own practice, it is still difficult to say what I have gained. Jigme Rinpoche, during an opening meeting with the western students in December, said that we would be receiving a lot of seeds. I’ve heard this kind of statement for years and not appreciated the meaning of it. It sounds like something we say to people to cheer them up in case they don’t get the full impact some spiritual event. The truth is that the only person in the history of the dharma who completely realized the meaning of an empowerment on the spot was King Indrabhuti, the first tantric student of the Buddha. The rest of us have seeds of enlightenment planted within us that are our responsibility to ripen. In Orissa I began to get some small sense of how significant these seeds are. This came through in moments like seeing the Sakyong’s determination and joy to receive his father’s lineage of the main Nyingma termas in order to pass it on the future Sakyong. The memory of His Eminence’s presence continues to be a reminder not only of the seed, but also of the fruition.
These were some of the major things that have come to mind in regards to attending the Rinchen Terdzo. May all beings quickly realize the wisdom inherent in their own nature, their basic goodness. May all genuine spiritual traditions nurture and open all beings into the path of complete enlightenment.