#Buddhist Cosmology in my #Retreat

Tibetan Buddhists view our experience in a variety of ways that I, as a Westerner, have found very difficult to accept. In fact, the first time I heard about the “6 Realms,” I thought the teacher was joking around or being metaphoric, and when I realized he was quite serious, I was outraged and insulted. How could he expect me, an adult woman, to believe in such “fairy-tale-like” settings, characters and circumstances as “Hell Realms,” “Hungry Ghosts,” “Demi-Gods” and “Gods”? I could understand and accept the “Human” and “Animal” realms just fine; here we are. Not so sure about their being two separate “realms,” but I could let that be. The rest were much harder to believe, especially since most humans can’t see or visit these supposed realms or their inhabitants.

In subsequent years, I read and heard teachings about the 6 Realms in which some teachers did explain the metaphoric nature of the experiences of beings in these realms, without renouncing their actual existence. I could live with that. I certainly have direct experience, myself, with individuals’ or my own experiences corresponding exactly to those of the creatures who inhabit each of the lesser-known 4 realms listed above.

Contemplation of the experiences and circumstances of beings in all 6 Realms, particularly those that are painful, difficult, frightening or desperate, both for purposes of developing an understanding of others’ feelings and situations as well as to generate compassion toward, or at least acceptance of those very different from our own is key to Tibetan Buddhist practice. Through this intense contemplation and using our imagination to attempt to inhabit the very bodies and minds of these beings in their extremes of circumstances, we are therefore led to understand the impermanence of all who live on this 6-Realms- samsaric wheel of life, to pray for ourselves and all beings to attain liberation from it. That all beings, including ourselves, attain freedom from endlessly being reincarnated into one Realm or another with ceaseless suffering and no chance of liberation of our minds or bodies from this suffering, which is the definition of samsara, is the primary goal of Buddhist practice.

For the first portion of my retreat, this is the contemplation and these are the goals I am attempting to accomplish.

Starting with the “God” Realm, which is distinguished by its lush, extremely easy and comfortable circumstances, providing its inhabitants with abundant riches and resources, all that they could wish for in material goods, food, and luxuries, more than anyone could ever need or want, I immediately see that I live in what many in our world would consider a God Realm. I may personally not live at its pinnacle, but I know people who do and I live very close to having complete autonomy, which is in itself a God realm experience. I spend these days noticing the riches, the freedoms, the leisure I have and that many around me have.

I am grateful, appreciating deeply how differently I could be living, how those right near me are actually living with fewer resources and having more difficulties than I, even though I very much need to find another job (unemployed, again), have particular aches and pains and never enough money. I have the riches of dharma, unmatched by any material goods.

This is the perfect time, these are the perfect teachings, I have the perfect teacher, I am part of the perfect sangha (assembly of masters and student practitioners), these are the perfect circumstances. I could not be more fortunate. May all beings benefit.

Difficulties “getting into” Retreat mode

How does a retreat begin?

The first teaching I remember receiving about doing meditation retreats provided this helpful guide: However long a retreat is, a meditator spends about 1/3 of it “getting in,” 1/3 being in, and 1/3 returning to ordinary life.

Here are my difficulties with getting into Retreat mode:

1) My mind won’t settle. I feel restless, antsy, unable to settle, as if there are other things I’m supposed to/would rather be doing. Suddenly, every undone thing looms large, especially if I have the unfortunate coincidence of being at home. Certainly I should first clean everything, re-arrange everything, organize everything, catch up on filing and correspondence, pay bills early, balance my checkbook, contact this or that friend or family member, etc.? Of course, these tasks do not present themselves as “urgent” until after I begin my Retreat!

2) My body won’t settle. My body’s condition becomes much more intrusive: every itch, every ache, every pain, every need. “Oh, I’m so thirsty. Oh, I’m so hungry. I really need a nap. Oh, I really need to stretch, to move, to walk, to change position.” My hair is too long; it’s too short. I have to file my nails. What’s going on with that mole? I have to pee again. “Is it lunchtime, yet? I should probably have a lot of smaller meals and not wait for lunchtime.” I yawn incessantly. I should take my shower now. I writhe. Every part that can make a pitch for my attention does. My back hurts, my legs hurt, my neck hurts, my shoulders hurt. I’m so tired. On and on and on.

3) My speech won’t settle. I talk to myself. Most of #2 and #1 are said ALOUD. I give myself instructions, encouragement, admonishment, kindness, ruthlessness, strictness, permission: everything is said, more than once, WHILE I am chanting mantra in my mind, which makes the visualization and actual practice mostly crap on a stick. Did I mention that I criticize myself? I talk to my teacher (who isn’t here, of course, and can’t hear me; at least, I hope he can’t hear me. He would be mighty bothered if he could). I talk to the objects of my devotion, subjects of my visualization, previous masters and teachers. They mostly do not answer me. I talk in my sleep.

4) I make and do not stick to a schedule. If I’m not at a retreat center whose meal times require me to be somewhere 3 times a day and around which I revolve everything else, it takes a while to convince my “inner whiny girl” to stick to a schedule. Even harder, I’m discovering, is sticking to a schedule that changes many times per week and includes “ordinary life.” This is a new challenge, and even though I’m on Day 3, I’m not feeling good about how I’m doing with it, yet. Did I mention self-criticism?

5) I am a “next-thing” junkie. Whatever I’m doing, I obsess about what is next and seem to want to be “there” (until I get there). I’m also obsessed with time measurements. I waste concentration “doing the math”: if it takes me X # of minutes or hours to accomplish Y how many hours or days is it until this section is completed? How long until my next break? How long until break is over? How much sleep am I getting? How long have I been doing this part? How much longer must I continue to do this part? When do I get to do the next thing? What’s for my next snack/meal? What about after that? After that? After that?

6) I have too much to do. Since I am doing a home retreat, there is no one “serving” it, or me. I have to do all life’s regular chores and do retreat, also. Since I’ve had it “both ways,” I can say I infinitely prefer being at a retreat center (and so grateful for the times I have been) and not having my home, chores, and responsibilities facing me all day, every day. But, it’s not my karma right now to have that privilege. So, here I am. Stuck with questions and decisions (more to obsess about). “When do I shop? When do I clean? When should I do other chores? When to cook? What do I prepare? What about snacks? When do I clean up the kitchen/do dishes?”

This retreat is planned to last at least 4 1/2 months (until Losar, Tibetan New Year, 3/2/14), or until I complete the assignments and feel “cooked,” whichever comes second.

Doing the math (see #5, above): I started Oct. 18. If I go until March 2, that is 13 + 30 + 31 + 31 + 28 + 2 days = 135 days. I am taking “off” a few days around American New Year’s for family visits, so call it 129 days. 1/3 of 129 = 43. My 43rd day is Nov. 30.

I remember clearly from previous retreats (lasting from 1/2-day to 11 weeks, for me) how getting into retreat is always gradual and difficult, until it isn’t. Just like life.

I can now officially relax, stop kvetching, and just be with what is (KIND OF THE POINT!!!) until November 30 or thereabouts, since that is how long it may take me to “get into” this retreat fully.

By then, I’ll be deeply “in” it and won’t be obsessing, anyway….at least, until about mid-January. Sigh.

#Buddhist #retreat happening at home 10/18/13 – 3/2/14 Day 2

At the direction of my amazing teacher, Padma Drimed Norbu (known as Lama Drimed, or LD in these pages), of the #Tibetan #Buddhist #Nyingma Longchen Nyingtik #Vajrayana school/lineage, to whom I am eternally grateful, I began a partial retreat at home yesterday, on the day of the lunar eclipse/full moon, 10/18/13. I plan to continue for parts of almost every day through Losar (Tibetan New Year, 3/2/14) by spending at least 4 and usually 6 or more hours per day meditating and studying.

What will I be doing? Special daily practices, including “The Heart Sutra,” Prajnaparamita; the preliminary practices, Rushan, for Thödgal, which is part of Dzogchen (Great Perfection) in the Nyingma school; reading about the Rushan practices from teachings of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (both of our root teacher, who passed from that body in 2002) about how and why to do these practices; contemplating CTR’s and LD’s teachings; doing the exercises related to those teachings; and offering full moon tsogs (ritual meditation practice with food/alcohol feast offerings).

So, yesterday was the first full moon of this retreat period, the entry day I chose, for the first tsog. For various reasons, mostly personal preference, it has been several years since I offered a tsog, but it all came back to me (except the melodies, but that’s all right; I mostly chanted/read in English rather than Tibetan, to feel the meanings of each part, anyway). It was very comforting, soothing, moving: like coming home to familiar friends and sacred locations, words and experiences. My emotions, thoughts and mental states were uplifted by doing these practices and offering tsog.

For those unfamiliar, a Tibetan Vajrayana ritual tsog has several parts in the Nyingma tradition, and each has many layers of meaning and intention. First and foremost, the tsog is a generosity practice. Included in it are recognition of one’s true nature, repeatedly, so that all the rest of the ritual occurs with more success and depth: we make auspicious wishes for the benefit of all beings, evoke gratitude to and devotion to our teachers (the lineage masters), going all the way back to the Buddha; chant/read many reminders of our highest motivations and how best to practice and conduct ourselves in our lives; we are constantly pointed to the illusory nature of all phenomena and ways (“skillful means”) to pierce the illusions to see absolute truth (“wisdom”). Throughout the ritual are repetitions and images in great detail that lead one’s mind to focus its attention on the “four immeasurables”: compassion, rejoicing in others’ fortune (sympathetic joy), love and equanimity.

Quite often we are led to rest our minds in the spaciousness of awareness (rigpa), which includes all four of these, all in nonduality. The candle light (“butterlamps”), bowls filled with water, flowers, incense, ringing of the bell, snapping of the drum, mudras (ritual hand gestures), posture, arrangements of items and order of the sadhana (written text for the ritual) are all offered for these purposes with nothing withheld, and even more are offered in and via our imagination, to benefit all beings. We acknowledge and feel remorse for (“confess”) our mistakes in practice and in life, pledging to do better in the future with the support of these truths and methods.

We ask for the help of all enlightened beings who exist in every form by inviting them to partake of this tsog and all of our offerings. Over and over, musically and mentally, chanting and visualizing, we give and give, everything we are and have.

By the end of the four-hour tsog ritual, I felt cleaned out, refreshed, re-opened, delighted, anchored and ready for the commitment I’m making to this sequence of mini-retreat days and their activities. My mind sparkled.

The eclipse wasn’t visible (too much sunlight in this part of CA at its peak at around 6 PM), but I felt the energy of my tsog and the rightness of the timing in every cell of my being. I slept better than I’ve slept in I don’t know how long and awoke energized and happy.

These next several months bring many challenges: I’m still job-hunting; still marketing Volume I, This Changes Everything, The Spanners Series, which goes up as an ebook via Smashwords next month (as soon as cover art is completed); still writing and hope to be finishing first draft and several revisions of Volume II, This Changes My Family and My Life Forever; starting Volumes III and IV and pieces of the others up to X of The Spanners Series; still swimming almost daily at least 45 minutes; still trying to improve my health and maintain improvements gained.

Even so, this is the best time: I just received the teachings and instructions from Lama Drimed earlier this week for the first time; I am alive and relatively healthy; I can make my own schedule (at least, until I get a job); and, I have the leisure and luxury to put myself into this retreat.

So, I’m doing it.

For those of you who have read this far, thanks. This retreat and my writing schedule are the reasons I will not be answering the phone or email, not be online or available, for many hours over the next several months. I dedicate the merit of my practice to the benefit of you: my friends, my family, my readers/viewers, and to all beings.

I plan to write about my retreat (to the degree I am allowed; most of the details and experiences are not for the public) here on my blog.

Stay tuned! Be well and best to you all!

#Buddhist #retreat happening at home 10/18/13 – 3/2/14 Day 2

At the direction of my amazing teacher, Padma Drimed Norbu (known as Lama Drimed, or LD in these pages), of the #Tibetan #Buddhist #Nyingma Longchen Nyingtik #Vajrayana school/lineage, to whom I am eternally grateful, I began a partial retreat at home yesterday, on the day of the lunar eclipse/full moon, 10/18/13. I plan to continue for parts of almost every day through Losar (Tibetan New Year, 3/2/14) by spending at least 4 and usually 6 or more hours per day meditating and studying.

What will I be doing? Special daily practices, including “The Heart Sutra,” Prajnaparamita; the preliminary practices, Rushan, for Thödgal, which is part of Dzogchen (Great Perfection) in the Nyingma school; reading about the Rushan practices from teachings of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (both of our root teacher, who passed from that body in 2002) about how and why to do these practices; contemplating CTR’s and LD’s teachings; doing the exercises related to those teachings; and offering full moon tsogs (ritual meditation practice with food/alcohol feast offerings).

So, yesterday was the first full moon of this retreat period, the entry day I chose, for the first tsog. For various reasons, mostly personal preference, it has been several years since I offered a tsog, but it all came back to me (except the melodies, but that’s all right; I mostly chanted/read in English rather than Tibetan, to feel the meanings of each part, anyway). It was very comforting, soothing, moving: like coming home to familiar friends and sacred locations, words and experiences. My emotions, thoughts and mental states were uplifted by doing these practices and offering tsog.

For those unfamiliar, a Tibetan Vajrayana ritual tsog has several parts in the Nyingma tradition, and each has many layers of meaning and intention. First and foremost, the tsog is a generosity practice. Included in it are recognition of one’s true nature, repeatedly, so that all the rest of the ritual occurs with more success and depth: we make auspicious wishes for the benefit of all beings, evoke gratitude to and devotion to our teachers (the lineage masters), going all the way back to the Buddha; chant/read many reminders of our highest motivations and how best to practice and conduct ourselves in our lives; we are constantly pointed to the illusory nature of all phenomena and ways (“skillful means”) to pierce the illusions to see absolute truth (“wisdom”). Throughout the ritual are repetitions and images in great detail that lead one’s mind to focus its attention on the “four immeasurables”: compassion, rejoicing in others’ fortune (sympathetic joy), love and equanimity.

Quite often we are led to rest our minds in the spaciousness of awareness (rigpa), which includes all four of these, all in nonduality. The candle light (“butterlamps”), bowls filled with water, flowers, incense, ringing of the bell, snapping of the drum, mudras (ritual hand gestures), posture, arrangements of items and order of the sadhana (written text for the ritual) are all offered for these purposes with nothing withheld, and even more are offered in and via our imagination, to benefit all beings. We acknowledge and feel remorse for (“confess”) our mistakes in practice and in life, pledging to do better in the future with the support of these truths and methods.

We ask for the help of all enlightened beings who exist in every form by inviting them to partake of this tsog and all of our offerings. Over and over, musically and mentally, chanting and visualizing, we give and give, everything we are and have.

By the end of the four-hour tsog ritual, I felt cleaned out, refreshed, re-opened, delighted, anchored and ready for the commitment I’m making to this sequence of mini-retreat days and their activities. My mind sparkled.

The eclipse wasn’t visible (too much sunlight in this part of CA at its peak at around 6 PM), but I felt the energy of my tsog and the rightness of the timing in every cell of my being. I slept better than I’ve slept in I don’t know how long and awoke energized and happy.

These next several months bring many challenges: I’m still job-hunting; still marketing Volume I, This Changes Everything, The Spanners Series, which goes up as an ebook via Smashwords next month (as soon as cover art is completed); still writing and hope to be finishing first draft and several revisions of Volume II, This Changes My Family and My Life Forever; starting Volumes III and IV and pieces of the others up to X of The Spanners Series; still swimming almost daily at least 45 minutes; still trying to improve my health and maintain improvements gained.

Even so, this is the best time: I just received the teachings and instructions from Lama Drimed earlier this week for the first time; I am alive and relatively healthy; I can make my own schedule (at least, until I get a job); and, I have the leisure and luxury to put myself into this retreat.

So, I’m doing it.

For those of you who have read this far, thanks. This retreat and my writing schedule are the reasons I will not be answering the phone or email, not be online or available, for many hours over the next several months. I dedicate the merit of my practice to the benefit of you: my friends, my family, my readers/viewers, and to all beings.

I plan to write about my retreat (to the degree I am allowed; most of the details and experiences are not for the public) here on my blog.

Stay tuned! Be well and best to you all!