Winter Sangha Retreat Begins

December 23rd 2008

Tonight we began the annual Winter Sangha Retreat with Jigme Rinpoche. Usually this retreat happens in Europe, but because of the Rinchen Terdzo and the opening of the monastery, the retreat is happening here in Chandragiri. This year the Ripa Sangha will hear talks both from Jigme Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. This may be the first group retreat joining our sanghas on Ripa land just as last year’s Gesar festival was the first on Shambhala land.

Lhuntrul Rinpoche will be making his English-language teaching debut this week too. This came as a pleasant surprise to us when it was announced last night. I have been wondering what he is like. He has a broad smile and takes great care when he carries the abhisheka implements to the crowd at the end of each day. I don’t know much about him yet, but he is said to have a fluffy white puppy that once in a while turns up in the shrine room at the end of the morning lungs, snuggled in the folds of someone’s maroon outer robe.

The winter retreat teachings are being given after dinner at the old Ripa Monastery. It is about a minute’s walk from the new monastery complex. The building is quite small and stands in a shaded compound with some older monks’ quarters making a little square in front. The old monastery seems very peaceful and is a reminder of the humble beginnings for the Tibetans here in India.

The shrine room itself makes up most of the building, it is 30 by 30 feet. It has four columns in the middle, and has a small gallery in the center to let in extra light from above. In front, behind a wood framed glass panel is the same motif of statues as in the main temple—a statue of the Buddha in seated meditation flanked by Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara on the Buddha’s left, and Padmasambhava on his right. These statues are simply carved and painted. They fill the space with a gentle radiance. The walls are have no frescoes, everything looks slightly faded from decades of candle and incense smoke. The space has the atmosphere of the ancient shrine rooms I have visited in Tibet except that much of the structure has been done with stone or concrete, not wood. How difficult it must have been for people to leave home with such finality.

The Ripa sangha is an international group. The students are German, French, Spanish, Italian, Swiss, American, Canadian and Russian. The packed shrine room also includes English-speaking students from Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Before Jigme Rinpoche arrived, preparatory remarks were made in French, Spanish and English. The sound system includes additional microphones for simultaneous French and Spanish translations. Several students eagerly awaited the talk with sparkling blue earphones in hand.

Jigme Rinpoche arrived a little after eight and gave a short talk after welcoming us to the retreat. He said that much of what he wanted to say was already included in the letter he sent out last week, and added some things I found of interest. A major point that struck me was that one of the main things that makes an empowerment possible is the fact that all of us have within us the pure being, the buddha nature. An abhisheka is not adding anything new, but is instead clearing away the stains around what is already there. Jigme Rinpoche explained that related to the symbolism of being washed in the start of all the empowerments. Having faith in own our buddha nature, our own pure being, is one of the requisites to receiving an empowerment. It’s the way to open up.

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