Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Way of the Lotsawa

Since my last post, which seems like an eon ago, much has happened. In the last blog post which was quite at the beginning of the Rigpa Shedra 2011, I wrote about my experience of a dharmic life studying and teaching in Nepal. The shedra concluded at the end of April. At that point four months of teaching Tibetan on three levels, studying Mipham Rinpoche’s commentary on the great treatise Abhisamayalamkara, and being part of the shedra staff was behind me. Leaving the little hillside village of Pharping, I flew to New York City to reunite with my woman and meet friends. The first evening I found myself having dinner with four close buddies from Rigpa, all of whom participated in the Three Year retreat and only one who was actually American. I really love this international life of meeting people I know wherever I travel and especially connecting with my Rigpa colleagues.

After a few days in Massachusetts I journeyed to Hamburg, Germany to attend my brother and sister–inlaw’s wedding celebration. Seeing my family and old friends charged my ‘family’ batteries which tend to run a bit low as I am rarely returning to my homeland these days. Less than 10 days later I went back to the US. I was able to continue studying Tibetan and finish off a translation I had begun but unfortunately not as much as I had planned. I became heavily involved in my hobby of photography as suddenly I had three exhibits to set up. After my first show at GoBerry in Northampton this past winter with the theme of ‘Tibetans in Exile’, I was given the opportunity to hang photos at Pleasant Street Tea Company in Gloucester. Additionally, I had two successive shows scheduled in Northampton taking place in July and August. The theme of these recent shows is titled ‘The Splendor of Asia’ (click to see all images) and contains photos from Nepal and India. This is of course a reason to celebrate. Despite the work involved and the time it takes away from my Tibetan affairs, I am still glad I can do these things as so many work aspects need to be considered and looked at. This means my organizational and communicative brain departments have become highly trained!

One of the photos from my exhibits: The Boudha Stupa, Kathmandu.

At the end of my trip to the US, Greta and I were able to attend the Wisdom of Awareness retreat at Garrison Institute in New York state. For five days, Sogyal Rinpoche and Tsoknyi Rinpoche gave a number of wonderful teachings. In addition American teachers Daniel and Tara Goleman and Sharon Salzberg gave talks to an eager and engaged audience. For the first time, I witnessed the coming together of traditional Buddhist teachings and western psychological-therapeutic knowledge and research. As I have a certain amount of experience in both fields, I was glad to see both forms of mind analysis collaborating and cooperating more and more. As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche had foreseen, “Buddhism will come to the West as a psychology”. Practising the Buddha’s teachings without a knowledge and awareness of the neurotic patterns present in so many western people can become what some call ‘spiritual bypassing’, i.e. not dealing with our fundamental emotions and mental complications. I had been asked to document the retreat with photos which I was happy to do. I feel having good photos of our lamas is something very important, for our personal present use and for posterity.

Sogyal Rinpoche during the Garrison Retreat

Soon again I found myself hopping onto planes which would bring me to the Indian business metropolis of Bangalore. Having arrived there in the middle of the night, a high standard bus (the only kind of bus I’m taking in India after my accident last year) dropped me off in Kushal Nagar after a five hour drive. A fifteen minutes rickshaw drive led me to my final destination, Namdroling Monastery or the Golden Temple, as the local Indians call it. I arrived later than planned, yet still in advance to help set up Rigpa’s second Tibetan Translator Training. Despite some previous correspondences with the monastery, a good amount of organizational work was still necessary. After a few days and in time for the training to begin we had arranged a class room, a khenpo to teach, and monk and nun lobpöns who would be our conversational partners. Now the second week is almost over and I am happy with the format and schedule of the programme.

Our Translation class with current khenpo Karma Tsering.

The Tashi Delek Restaurant Gang

Here at Namdroling, in the early mornings I am speaking to a lay Tibetan, a friend of ours, practicing my colloquial Tibetan. Later on a khenpo teaches the group on a text and we take turns attempting to interpret. The khenpo’s dialect pronounciations are different. For instance vowel sounds are different than how they are taught to be pronounced in books. But after all, not a single Tibetan speaks according to them anyway. After lunch I have another tutor session with a lobpön from Khenpo Jigme Phüntsok’s monastery of Larung Gar in Tibet. He and I are getting along very well but his accent is so strong making it a challenge. One of the exercises that we do is to go over the part of the text which was covered in the class, using a mix of colloquial and classical Tibetan to describe its content. The whole point is to concentrate on Dharma Tibetan. In the afternoon my last class is a grammar class for colloquial Tibetan after which I have time for my personal studies. Our small group, which currently consists of three students plus two teaching members, resides in two guesthouses, one which is in Namdroling, the other is close by. I make daily circumambulations of the massive monastery which takes twenty minutes but which incorporates my walk to the surrounding restaurants where I eat and practice my language skills with the locals.

Admiring the Hero.

Giving way to India's holy cows

Besides attending formal classes and engaging in personal studies, I also try to have conversations with monks and whoever I can begin a talk with. In general, I’m trying to speak Tibetan as much as possible. Putting into practice what one is learning is the secret, no matter how hard and often discouraging learning Tibetan is. 

Tip: Double-click the photos to view them in larger size!

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Perfection of Wisdom

The afternoon sun is shining into my room, generously adding some warmth on a cold day. Looking out my window I see the prayer flags fluttering lightly in the soft January breeze between the buildings of the Nyingma Palyul Retreat Centre. I am back in Nepal, a country without heaters, but in which you can find and study the precious teachings of the Buddha better than in nearly any country in the world.  

It has been one month since I drove from Massachusetts with my girlfriend Greta down to the glorious city of New York to celebrate the end of the decade. It was the last few days of a seven week stay in the US. During these weeks I received crucial teachings on meditation and dying from my lama Sogyal Rinpoche at the Rigpa retreat in San Diego, arranged my first photography exhibits in the US, prepared for the upcoming months at Rigpa Shedra East in Nepal, and enjoyed the time with my better half and her family on the east coast. After experiencing New Year’s Eve in New York, where I missed the abundant fireworks I am so used to in Germany, it was time to move eastwards again. Flying part of my journey in the new Airbus A380 (how nice!), I reached Kathmandu 24 hours later.

Pharping Kids

Pigeon Dance in Boudha, Kathmandu

While I write, we are already coming to the end of the first of the four months of intensive study here. The time has been passing quickly. This year's Shedra East, the 6th since its inception in 2006, has a different face. A bunch of older students who have been studying here regularly over the past few years have new jobs which prevented them from attending this year. You are missed! The management team also looks different. I myself belong to the small staff who put their minds and hearts into enabling students to learn what the Lord Buddha was trying to communicate. This is my second time teaching the classical aspect of the Tibetan language after 2009. In addition to the intensive six days a week beginners' class I am also leading the two upper levels of reading comprehension. Altogether I am teaching twice a day. And just like before, I am realizing that teaching is the best way to learn! 

Illuminating the World

Lords of the Boudha Stupa

The text class this year is focusing on Mipham Rinpoche's commentary on the Ornament of Clear Realization (in Sanskrit Abhisamayalankara) which is itself an illuminating treatise on the difficult to understand Perfection of Wisdom-Sutras. It was taught by the future Buddha Maitreya to Asanga, the founder of the Chittamatra school of Buddhist philosophy. It is the first time Shedra students have had to deal with no English translation of a text being available. Concentrated listening and revision are thus more important than ever this year. However this caused some advanced students to begin working on translating the text into English!

Puja above the Asura Cave
Even though a considerable amount of work still lies ahead of me before I am capable of sitting next to a Khenpo and translating, the months at Rigpa's Tibetan Translator Training in Namdroling last summer dramatically increased my understanding of spoken Tibetan. However without my existing experience in Buddhist studies many aspects of this text would surely induce headaches. Khenpo Sonam Tobden is teaching the Shedra for the 4th time this year, and I am now often able to follow his Tibetan directly. Without a Buddhist studies background mere knowledge of the Tibetan language wouldn't be sufficient for translating Buddhist philosophical concepts! The moment a new idea is being introduced I often find myself understanding hardly anything. In order to increase our ability to understand this profound treatise we recite the Heart Sutra at the beginning of each class. It is the most popular sutra of the prajñaparamita collection.
I conclude my first description of my 2011 activities in Asia as the last rays of the setting sun reach through my window. More entries will follow.

Having Time

I am also happy to communicate that the Shedra East in 2012 will be endowed with two new aspects. It will be the first time that two text classes will be held simultaneously. It will also be the first time that experienced students can embark upon tantric studies here in Pharping! Click here for more info.
Tashi Delek.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Summer in Tibetan India

It has now been a bit more than three months since I last left an obvious sign of life on this blog. Since mid-June I have been studying Tibetan down here in the Karnataka state of India, at the great Nyingma monastery of Namdroling. Of course I have to call the place I am in India, but this is a Tibetan settlement area, dominated by Tibetans and monasteries. Besides Namdroling you can also find the even bigger monastery of Sera around the corner as well as a few other monasteries. All four schools of Tibetan Buddhism have established institutions here. Any foreigner who's interested in spending time here requires a special permit, otherwise a five year long, rather unpleasant stay in a little prison cell in an Indian town can end the journey!

Here we are, a few Western students aiming at getting to know this, for us, so different a language. And I can definitely say I have learned during the past months and weeks. As the structure and nature of the Tibetan language has basically nothing in common with the languages I know, my brain has got a lot of work to do to figure things out. But just like anything you start with, the beginning is usually difficult, and it's all a matter of time until there is more of a flow. So I just have to get out on the streets and find the next Tibetan and open my mouth. And the more I have been learning the easier it has gotten to do that. I have become less discouraged to engage with Tibetans as my brain's synapses have become more used to building these strange sentences. And I think a major indication for having become accustomed to a language is the ability to understand and make jokes, and I am making more and more use of this aspect!

Lord of Fruits

My day usually still starts with some practice of the Ngöndro, followed by a breakfast of tea and yummy porridge enriched by fruit, to give me the strength I need for the upcoming marathon of studying and speaking. These days, for basically three months now, I have been translating a young monk scholar for one hour around noon. After having gone through some parts of the Khenjuk, the Gateway to Knowledge, Mipham Rinpoche's important treatise on Buddhist Philosophy and Metaphysics, we made use of a short description given by the late Kyabjé Penor Rinpoche, founder of Namdroling, on the life of the Buddha, the Buddha's twelve deeds. At the end of last week we embarked upon the Kunzang Lama'i Shyalung, the Words of my Perfect Teacher, Patrul Rinpoche's essential overview of the Longchen Nyingtik Ngöndro. Every morning I prepare my translation for that class, and as our teacher has realized that I am now getting most of what he says, he has speeded up. But without my preparation and a little Dharma background, I would quickly be lost. And in any case, listening to a language one is not yet very fluent in, taking notes of the main words and ideas while keeping in mind the context at the same time, requires the brain to utilize its full capacity. Three months ago I was on quite a different level. So it makes me happy to see my progress in such a difficult undertaking. In the afternoon I see my conversation partner, another monk, for one hour. And in the early evening we have a class in which a teacher from Namdroling goes through the Khenjuk with us and is translated by a fellow student.

The days are filled with routine, but that can make you accomplish quite a bit as it prevents distractions from sabotaging your endeavours, if you can maintain the discipline. Another good means that ensures this, is to be put on the spot like I am every day when translating.

Balcony View

But when looking at the monks and nuns we are surrounded by, who study hard for many years and usually possess a very thorough knowledge of the Dharma, I often find myself envying them not only for their understanding but especially for their level of relaxation. This balance of focused and regular study combined with a down-to-earth attitude, joy and spaciousness is crucial, but for us Westerners it seems to be difficult to achieve.

Monks leaving a Lhakhang

The weather here, now, is very conducive to our training. It's warm but not hot. Here and there it rains but generally not a lot. (Did you get the rhyme?!) It's very peaceful, people are warm-hearted and relaxed. There's not much to do. Many Tibetans in the different settlements spend their days sitting on their verandas, reciting mantras, drinking tea and doing a bit of chit-chat. Little worries. There's not much going on.

Mani Girls

At the end of August/beginning of September an event took place in the area that was the biggest 'piece of entertainment' this year: For four days His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to the region of Bylakuppe (that's the name of this area). He mainly visited the monasteries of Sera and Namdroling and participated in the conclusion of the first National General Meeting of Tibetans which had begun a few days before his arrival. With a bit of effort I was able to obtain a press card for these days which allowed me to get very close to the Dalai Lama and take photos. Not only could I take a number of beautiful photos of His Holiness, but I also used the opportunity to document the beauty and diversity of Tibetan life in exile. Besides many thousands of monks and nuns there were also thousands of lay Tibetans around, including many who had travelled down here to see their beloved leader. For me it was a strenuous but very special time, as being so close to this amazing being was such a wonderful experience which probably won't happen again too soon! In a few days time you should be able to read a fuller report about His Holiness' visit here.

The Dalai Lama grants the Long Life empowerment of White Tara at Sera

A little Prayer

Human Compassion

Please visit my flickr-album for more photos of this wonderful happening.

Riksha Sweeties in Mysore

Now we have only three weeks left before this first translator training will conclude. I am happy to return to my culture and dear ones, it often has not been easy for me to be away from all of them so long, especially after my bus accident and after having already spent four months in Nepal earlier this year. But I am also very much aware of the unique chance I have been given to do what I am doing here. Some wondrous powers out there have been guiding me along this path and opening up more and more possibilities to learn and develop myself. After some days in Delhi (looking forward to that!), I will head down to the south-western coast of France to dive into the atlantic waters, having been away from them for more than four years. Then I will pay a visit to Lerab Ling at the end of October and after two weeks in Hamburg I will travel to the land of Obama.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tibetan Translator Training in Namdroling

After having spent a month in Hamburg relaxing and recovering from my accident in Nepal (see last post), I felt healed and strong enough to enter an airplane once again, and begin my journey to South India. Except for a trip to Sikkim three years ago and a few days in Delhi this June, I haven't spent much time in India before. It has now been 3 weeks since I arrived in Bangalore and reached Namdroling Monastery near Bylakuppe in the Karnataka state some hours later by bus. The bus I was on appeared to be western by standard, the drivers were wearing white uniforms and the TV showed the latest piece of Bollywood entertainment. Nevertheless I had to deal with many frightening situations during the ride. These buses are likely the fastest vehicles on the highway. But just like in Nepal, the streets are shared with cows, people riding bicycles and crossing pedestrians. With all these factors the drivers have plenty of encounters where they have to manoeuvre for position. My body got tense frequently. I was relieved when we finally arrived at our destination, Kushal Nagar.

What is happening in Namdroling? The monastery of Namdroling, founded by the late Kyabjé Penor Rinpoche, is the biggest Nyingma monastery outside of Tibet. It is home to thousands of studying and practising monks. Close by is the 'Ani Gompa', the section of the monastery where the nuns live. Also at Namdroling is the famous Ngagyur Nyingma Insitute, the Shedra of Namdroling, which was established by Khenpo Namdrol, the host of the Rigpa Shedra in Pharping, and Khenpo Tsöndrü.

The Zangdok Palri temple

The Shedra East in Nepal took place for the 5th time this year. Now a few Shedra students, including myself, are participating in Rigpa's first Tibetan Translator Training here in Namdroling. For 5 months, this year, students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Tibetan language. Even though this is India, there is a growing number of Tibetan settlements around Namdroling as well as near the great Gelug monastery of Sera Jé which is only 10 minutes away. This means that in addition to the monks and nuns there are many Tibetans to speak with. And this is our mission, learning to speak and understand Tibetan.

One of my first translation attempts. Can you see the smoke?

The programme offers classes of reading comprehension, a translators' training class where we are learning to translate a lobpön (a monk who graduated from the Shedra and who needs another 3 years of teaching experience before becoming a Khenpo), and a teaching class where a lobpön guides us through a philosophical text which is translated into English. The following day we re-listen to the recording of the teaching from the previous day at a slower pace along with explanations by our instructor.

Around Namdroling

Monks recite the Kangyur in the community hall of camp #4

The Tibetan language is quite different than western languages. It can take a good amount of time for the brain to sort out the words and to put them in an order that we are used to. This process makes for an experience often accompanied by alternating joy and frustration. But I guess this is not uncommon in learning any language.

Not far away from Namdroling is the little town of Kushal Nagar reachable by a motor riksha. We occasionally go there on the weekends to buy things we need which are not available in the shops around Namdroling. Besides that the place here is pretty shanti. There is not much to do and so we can concentrate on learning and speaking Tibetan. Another factor which is conducive to delight body and mind are the cheap mangos, coconuts and pineapples that are sold at some stands. Delicious! The nature is lush here and in addition to the many fields around the Tibetan camps palm trees can be seen everywhere. It's monsoon season now which means that there is hardly a day that passes without rain. At least these days there is not too much of it, but still you better not forget your umbrella at home!

 No hustle and bustle, shanti shanti. 

It's not that people here haven't seen westerners before, but as a special permit is required to stay in this area, which can take months to obtain, the monks, nuns and local Tibetans are not used to having injies, the Tibetan word for westerners, around. Eventually the idea is that the students who study here will live together with families in order to be exposed to Tibetan as much as possible and also to experience first-hand the Tibetan culture versus reading about it in a book. For most of us this is not yet the case and it will require more patience and maybe effort to make this ideal situation happen.

One thing that shouldn't be forgotten is that the world cup is also happening. In case you thought that monks don't know how to have a good time, you are wrong. Occasionally I go to the monastery compound and watch the games with a bunch of monks. Sometimes I come a bit too late and when I walk through the main gate and cross the courtyard, I can hear the screams of monks coming out of the windows when a goal was shot or missed. Being a German some of them seem to be particularly excited to talk to me!

Recently, to celebrate the Local deities' day, dzamling chisang, the Tibetans from our settlement invited us to join them in buses, drive to a hill in the vicinity and offer thousands of little paper prayer flags. In the afternoon we had a picnic with them at the foot of the hill. The excursion allowed us closer contact with them so we could apply the Tibetan language skills we've learned so far. It was a really nice experience and I think the Tibetans enjoyed having us around too. It was only after that I learned about the apparent significance of that hill. At the bottom there is a cave which many of us climbed into at one location and exited from another spot. There seem to be different opinions about who dwelt there. Some associate the cave with the great Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna, others say it was the Mahasiddha Padampa Sangye who spent time in it. My tutor, a lobpön, who currently teaches the 'Introduction to the Middle Way', Uma la Jukpa, at the Namdroling Shedra, the same text we were studying in Pharping last winter, showed me a passage in the book with a quote from the Lankavatara Sutra which predicts Nagarjuna's appearance in the South of India and mentions the name of that hill!

Above the clouds

Ki ki so so lha gyal lo!

Find more photos here.

So, I guess it's time for me to go out, have a fresh mango juice and find a victim for my broken Tibetan! 

Ps. Double-click the photos for a larger version. More are soon to appear on my flickr-site.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Change of plans

In my understanding a blog is a means to provide other people with regular updates and news about recent developments. My last entry is older than three months, and certainly many things have happened in that time, but somehow I have not been able to sit down and communicate them here. Well, now there is time to do that. A number of interesting events have taken place at the Shedra as well as in my personal life. For reports on Shedra activities please visit the Shedra Website.

Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche's new monastery at Situpaila/Kathmandu, Nepal.

The 5th Shedra East ended a month ago. Afterwards we all dispersed into the four directions. I had planed to travel to Sikkim and then to Bhutan in order to participate in the 2nd event of the Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Centennial Celebrations and also to attend a weekend teaching by Sogyal Rinpoche in Bhutan's capital Thimpu. But my destiny was a different one...

 Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche with lamas during the celebrations at Shechen, Kathmandu.

After the end of the Shedra I spent a few days in Kathmandu to relax and do the last things that needed to be taken care of. I left the city on the afternoon of April 29th in a night bus to the eastern border town of Karkavitta. Three years ago I had made exactly the same trip, so I thought I knew what was awaiting me. My girlfriend Greta and I entered the bus which was of lesser quality than the one of my first journey, as far as I can remember. In that moment the pre-monsoon weather blessed us with a strong shower of rain. It dripped down onto our seats while the bus was making its way out of the Kathmandu valley. It takes the bus a while to drive down the mountain roads before reaching the flat plains of the Terrai region in the south of Nepal. While the clouds darkened the sky the bus driver thought it would be a good idea to drive down the slippery roads fast and to overtake any possible vehicle. Already then we were feeling pretty anxious, but as there are no other buses going into our direction nor any guest houses to stay in we stayed seated and practised for a safe ride. The night was rough, we caught air from our seats dozens of times! And then, the darkness of the night was just about to give way to the first signs of brightness, I realized something funny was happening to our bus. In the next instant of my consciousness I found myself lying in the bus, realizing we must have crashed! I felt dizzy but fine. We had been sitting on the left side of the bus and it landed on its right side, to our fortune, I guess. I got up quickly and realized I was bleeding from the head somehow. Immediately we gathered the bags we had brought into the bus and left it through the wind shield which had completely shattered. Greta wrapped scarves and a katak which was blessed by Chatral Rinpoche around my head and then tried to find our main bags and organize transport to a hospital. After a few minutes we were in a kind of ambulance that eventually took us to the Neuro Hospital of Nepal's second largest city of Biratnagar. During the ride the driver thought it's important to stop for a pee! With us was a guy whose foot got cut off through the accident! Having arrived at the hospital it took a little while before I got a CT scan and my head got cleaned and stitched. Greta was with me all the time and making sure the doctors took care of me well and paying attention to sanitation.

 A hooligan after a fight? A cyborg? An actor with makeup? The first day in the hospital!

In addition to our personal situation the Maoists had to begin another of their (transport) strikes in Nepal. After having abandoned the journey to Sikkim we also had to let go of going to Bhutan for the Khyentse Rinpoche celebrations and the visit of Sogyal Rinpoche. That was sad!

Immediately on that day we received tremendous help in every area by an international network of lamas, family, friends, and institutions. This accident and the situation in the hospital was a great lesson for me. Basically from the first day onwards I turned my mind more inwardly and stopped 'having to do things'. Even though I generally enjoy my activities, often they are governed by this neurotic thinking. I was mainly resting and connected with the Three Jewels and people around me in my heart.

One day, after the doctor had given me his ok, together with my friend Norbu I left the hospital to drive in an ambulance to the police station close to the place where the accident happened in order to get our luggage back. At 5am we got into an ambulance that the hospital's administrator had arranged for us. Because of the strike only ambulances (with injured people!) are allowed on the streets or police vehicles. The police station was supposed to be approx. 2h away from the hospital. Being in Nepal it was not really surprising that the ambulance's gas tank was almost empty when we got into it! The two factors of 'early in the morning' and 'having a transport strike' created the perfect conditions for us to fuel the car! It was only at the fourth gas station that they were willing to provide us, an ambulance with an injured person, with gas! This country is truly crazy! We were expecting to be stopped by Maoists at some point or another, but from that point onwards everything went smoothly! I was practising pretty much the whole journey. Instead of Maoists the greatest threat to our safe drive were the hundreds of goats, dogs and cows that occupied the streets and just didn't give a damn about a car approaching them with 80km/h! The police officers were very friendly and helpful. They hadn't taken anything from our stuff! Without our lamas', sanghas' and friends' support I am sure it wouldn't have been that easy if not impossible at all! I was glad we got the luggage back.

The moment after the crash

We spent more than a week in the hospital. We flew to Kathmandu and continued our trip to Delhi. We stayed at the same hotel as Sogyal Rinpoche, who was happy to see us. He gave us a strong blessing to remove further obstacles. But not only Rinpoche was at the hotel. When arriving on our floor, armed security was guarding the other end of the floor: His Holiness the Dalai Lama was residing there! The hotel is very close to the airport so he was ready for an early morning departure for teachings in the US. Someone had detected his cook and two of his Tibetan bodyguards. Wow! After some inquiry we were told His Holiness would leave at 2am. After a short nap we woke up at 1.45 and went down to the lobby. We waited and waited and finally went up again only to find out he had already left at 1.45am! We missed saying goodbye to him by only a few minutes. What a bummer! We were really sad about not having been able to greet him and offer katas, and also missing the possibility of having His Holiness blowing on my bandaged head, hehe.

Sogyal Rinpoche at Ka Nying Shedrup Ling, Kathmandu

After a long journey I arrived in Hamburg, where I am now resting and recovering. Soon I will make my way once again towards the east, to study Tibetan in Namdroling/India...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wonderful World

The great Stupa of Boudhanath, Kathmandu

I am back in the east, in Nepal, in Pharping. Two months have already passed. Of course I had intended to post a new entry much earlier, but on the one hand the Shedra, as usual, keeps me busy and on the other hand I did write something, just somewhere else. What has happened so far? Right at the beginning we had the good fortune to receive instructions by Tsoknyi Rinpoche, son of the great Dzogchen yogi Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and close friend of Sogyal Rinpoche. On this occasion even Mr. Richard Gere came to Pharping and joined us in our little class room for Rinpoche's teachings. You can find a more extensive report on this event, and on the very relevant advice that Tsoknyi Rinpoche gave, as well as on a few other happenings here.

The annual Losar Group Photo

At the end of January I made my way up to Nagi Gompa, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's hermitage in the mountains north of Kathmandu. Like every year, at that time, the resident nuns and the lamas, among them this year Tulku Urgyen's incarnation Urgyen Jigme Rabsel Dawa, who had 'returned' to Nagi Gompa after 14 years, performed the Ngakso Drupchen. Also present were Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's sons Tsikey Chokling and Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, as well as Chokling Rinpoche's son and older brother of Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche, Phakchok Rinpoche. I spent the night in the shrine hall where a few nuns and other practitioners continued the practice throughout the night. On the following day, which began at 3 am, the lamas distributed the siddhi substances. Even though it was not possible for me to attend the whole drupchen, at least on that day I was able to be there, at this amazing place.

Lamas distributing the siddhis substances

It has now been three weeks since the new Tibetan year, the Iron Tiger Year, 2137, has begun. And it was three weeks ago that I left the hills of our village and went down to Kathmandu. It was the week of our Losar break, the Tibetan New Year's eve. Instead of spending some relaxing days in the valley, I was involved in activities which had me spending time with some of the teachers who are close to Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa. That was exciting but also tiring, since it mainly took place in the bustle of Boudha, the quasi-Tibetan quarter of the capital. And on top of that I was also involved in organizing the visit of my teacher. Just before Rinpoche arrived, I took the opportunity to travel to the east of the city, close to Swayambhunath, where Tsoknyi and Mingyur Rinpoche taught on Loving Kindness and Compassion. Unfortunately I was not able to attend more than one of the three days of teachings, but that was already very inspiring.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche teaching at Ösel Ling

The visit of Sogyal Rinpoche to Kathmandu was mainly due to one event: The opening ceremony of 'Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Centennial Celebrations'. The year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one of the greatest Tibetan Buddhist masters of the 20th century and one of the root teachers of Sogyal Rinpoche. Many of the greatest and most important Tibetan Buddhist teachers alive made their way to Shechen Monastery in Boudha to participate in this very special event! Please click here for a report on this event, and here for my photo gallery.

Khyenste Yangsi Rinpoche during the celebration

Sogyal Rinpoche and Khenpo Namdrol, host of the Rigpa Shedra East

This first post would be incomplete if I didn't write some words about the everyday life in the Shedra. Khenpo Sonam Tobden teaches on the Introduction to the Middle Way, Chandrakirti's treatise on Nagarjuna's Root Verses on the Middle Way. Even though I attend the class, I don't put much emphasis on home studies with regard to it. Instead I focus on Tibetan this year, and so I spend my time mainly working with different Tibetan texts and also going much more into the modern colloqiual Tibetan with the help of our lovely tutor Jigme-la as well as Khenpo himself. There is some process I would say... Altogether I spend less time in classes and more in my room, I enjoy it, hehe! Of course, self-discipline is required when doing things on your own! One of my favorite distractions from my regular studies, luckily a fruitful one, is my world of Dharma photography. If you are interested in the results, have a look at my new online photo website or at my facebook photos.

Class 2010

To conclude: the Buddhist teachings emphasize the fact that everything is linked to everything else, and that, by realizing this, our view of things and events as well as our actions with regard to others and ourselves, need to be permeated by gratitude and an attitude of love and compassion. So, in accordance with that, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to my precious teacher Sogyal Rinpoche and all those people who made and make it possible that I am here and able to do what I do. On this occasion I would like to thank especially those who support me financially. You know who you are. I feel very blessed! May all your help enable me to give back what I have learned and understood over the years to as many sentient beings as possible.

Sarva Mangalam!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Conclusion

The 3-Year-Retreat in Lerab Ling is over. On the 21st of November Sogyal Rinpoche practised together with his students for the last time within the framework of this event. Never before in the history of the world a retreat like this, in which more than 450 students participated, has taken place. So much practice, so many teachings, so many invited teachers, so much blessing and so much personal transformation!
This last day began at 6.30am with the long life-practice of Chimé Phakmé Nyingtik, followed by the daily practices of Riwo Sangchö and Tendrel Nyesel Tsok. At noon Sogyal Rinpoche joined the Sangha, and after another short practice-time the Tenshyuk ceremony could start. It was a firework of performances which all delivered the message of "Thank You, Rinpoche!". Rinpoche's work and training of his students found expression not only in various personal stories of transformation, but also in the way of how these perfomances and media-products like films were produced. It was amazing! And Rinpoche and everybody present enjoyed it.
Without a longer break the ceremony and the conclusion of the practices took as long as 8pm in the evening, and to top it all, a proper fireworks display took place above the lake with the statue of Guru Rinpoche. Afterwards everybody rushed to the exquisite buffet in the former teaching tent. The very last hours of this retreat were celebrated by again various live performances and lots of music and dancing. I was very happy to see that after having been isolated from the rest of the normal world for such a long time, people haven't lost their love of partying. And in my opinion, it was the best Rigpa party ever!
Sogyal Rinpoche practising at the feet of his Root-Lama Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö.
Khandro Tsering Chödrön, resident at Lerab Ling, in front of the looks-like-me-statue of Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö.
Lama Yönten heading the group of students that offer statues, texts, precious substances etc. for the long life of Sogyal Rinpoche.
Lerab Ling's nuns cheerfully watching a movie about themselves.