April 17, 2011
It’s so nice to see everybody. You know . . . you guys all fell off the map for THREE YEARS! Nice to see you’re back.
From the little we’ve heard, it sounds like the world started falling apart the minute we were sealed into retreat. More than one person wrote me that we picked a good three years to miss.
After our six months of silence last year, a frequent question from correspondents was, what was it like?
In one way, not much different from the rest of the two-plus years of retreat so far, since we are silent anyway all but one-and-a-half hours of each day.
But…in other ways, very different.
Losar Tashi Delek! Happy Tibetan New Year! (as of February 14)
I don’t know if our local groundhog saw his/her shadow on February 2. (As you know, every day is Groundhog Day here in retreat.) My bet is s/he didn’t, as it was overcast most of the day and it’s been wicked cold for weeks. But, groundhog or no, one thing this February is guaranteed to bring is:
Warning: Another exhortation to meditate!
December 2009-January 2010
I rarely have time to look out the window these days, as I sometimes did earlier in retreat. Looking at the mind turns out to be much more compelling anyway. But I do occasionally have a chance to rest my mind in the winter view of the Hudson River. My favorite time is sunrise.
Our venerable Retreat Master at PTC Monastery, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, completed two three-year retreats before escaping from occupied Tibet at the age of 20 and has subsequently led many such retreats in India, New York, and Tibet over nearly 50 years, most of them begun under the guidance of his own Lama, the late renowned meditation master Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche. From his vast experience, he assures us that the secrets of three-year retreat are to practice diligently without allowing yourself to become distracted, to keep a joyful mind and look upon everyone with love and compassion in all circumstances, and always to remember the impermanence of your situation so you don’t waste any time. There may be more, but I don’t remember them offhand.
I will take questions now.
We passed the halfway mark of the three-year, three-month, three-day retreat during the summer, and are now speeding down the hill toward our re-entry into the world we left behind in January 2008. It is hard to believe so much time has passed, and equally hard to believe the rest will be over just as quickly.
Halfway through, I feel I know about half as much as when I came in—and hopefully the second half will be enough time to clear out the rest.
This is the final month of our first year of three-year retreat. On January 5, 2009, year two begins.
Lama Norlha Rinpoche used to say that during the first year of retreat, everyone always thinks they made a big mistake, but for the last two years, they never want to leave. He also says the first year can seem a little slow, but the second year is really fast, and the third year speeds by before you know it. I imagine that third year will be a bit like an Amtrak through train whizzing by the Metro-North platform in New Hamburg. I’ve seen six previous retreats begin and end, and I know that no matter what you’re doing, three years are gone in a flash, like a dream. One is gone already!
I took refuge with Lama Norlha Rinpoche on October 29, 1980.
I had met him just a few days earlier, when I attended a meditation session at his center in New York City with my friend Carolyn. I never expected to be a Tibetan Buddhist; I was more attracted to the economy of Zen practice. But in a year or so of meditating at Zen centers in NYC, I had somehow not yet connected directly with a teacher.
I went to Lama Norlha’s center just to see what it was like. After an evening of chanting, a short teaching, and a brief interview, I had no idea what this strange practice was about, but I knew for sure that I had found my teacher.
Three-year retreat, year one, month 12
Our mindfulness of impermanence at Nigu Ling is heightened at this time of year by two venerable black walnut trees overlooking our tiny fenced yard. From midsummer through early fall, there is a continual rain of walnuts onto the gravel walking path that encircles the house. Each walnut, fully encased, is about the size, weight and color of a tennis ball but without the bounce, and they pick up quite a bit of speed in their plunge from the tiptop branches of these lofty trees.
Ha, ha, it’s not really 4:00 a.m. as I write this. I just wanted to echo the title of the first post I wrote, a year ago this month. Normally at 4:00 a.m., we are starting our first meditation session (tun) of the day. Each morning between 4:00 and 5:35, we must complete 100 each of the preliminary practices: prostrations, Dorje Sempa (Vajrasattva), the mandala offering, and Guru Yoga, now that we have finished the intensive accumulation of 111,111 of each of those practices. The other three meditation sessions of the day are devoted mostly to our current main practice.