Three Year Retreat Activitiesby Lama Lodu Rinpoche
On November 23rd, 2005, six monks and one nun entered into a traditional Three Year Retreat. We know that as we are human beings, that some people can overcome these obstacles and that others cannot battle these obstacles, for various reasons. One monk departed within three weeks and another left immediately after, and then one more monk left after six months. These people dedicated their life to Buddhist practice and devotion to the lineage, but sometimes conditions do not allow them to complete what they set out to do. No one left because of anger to the lineage or a dislike of practice, and none had any contradiction with the teacher or their Dharma brothers, or with the practices themselves. As even one day of retreat is greatly positive, this does not mean that they failed, but this is just the way human beings are. They possess Buddha nature, and the potential to obtain Buddhahood in the future. Moreover, they have imprinted their habitual patterns more deeply towards the Dharma and the lineage. There is no cause for disappointment, but only for rejoicing that they worked very hard for a short time, and so we dedicate that merit to all sentient beings. It is better than nothing!
The rest of the monks and one nun continued their practice, but their effort and their diligence, devotion and compassion increased just like a waxing moon. It was very pleasant and pleasurable to see their maturity. Their practice started with Vajrakilaya, continued with Ngondro preliminary practice and then on to Seven Points Mind Training, Hayagriva, Four Deities, then to Vajrayogini Outer practice, Inner and Secret practices with a Seven Day Drub.Chen. At the conclusion of the Drub.Chen was a self-empowerment and fire puja. Following this, we had Chakrasamvara, again with a Seven Day Drub.Chen, self-empowerment and fire puja. After this was the Five Tantric Deities, with another Seven Day Drub.Chen, self empowerment and fire puja. Then came Mystic Heat Yoga, Illusory Body Yoga, Dream Yoga, Clear Light Yoga, Powa Yoga and Bardo Yoga. For every day thereafter, the retreatants practiced daily mystic heat yoga practice with physical exercises to purify the channels, winds and bindu. Following this were the White Dakini and Red Dakini, with each having a Drub-Chen and self-empowerment. Then there was Mahamudra for a few months. This included Shinay, Vipassana and more advanced topics as part of the Amulet Mahamudra practice. Following this was a one-month Chod Drub.Chen ending with a fire puja, followed by Niguma long-life practice and then Sukhasiddhi long-life practices.
The daily practice would start at 3:40 AM with the chopen striking the gong 108 times every morning. This marked the start of the individual cabin session, which began with Waking Yoga, Ngondro, the individual practice for that part of curriculum, and then ending with Water Puja. Then, they gathered at the shrine for the first morning group practice which started at 6:30 AM in the morning. This was Green Tara puja followed by a Tsang Incense Puja, and then repentence and confession for violation of vows and their renewal every day. After this was breakfast from 8 AM to 9 AM, and then the second individual session began. This continued to 11:30 AM and then lunch from 11:30 AM to 1 PM. From 1PM to 3 PM was the third individual session followed by the daily yoga session in the Yoga Tent. At 3:30 PM they all gathered for the daily Drub.Tab Mahakala Practice. This began with Five Tantric Deities and ended with daily Smoke Offering puja and Prayer for the Deceased. This dedication is not only to recently deceased and needy people but for all sentient beings. At 5PM to 6:30 PM was the evening break, and then the fourth individual cabin session started from 6:30 PM on to 8 PM. At 8 PM every night they practiced Vajrakilaya and Chod and then went to bed at 9 PM.
In additional to all of this, there were four Tsok practices for Dakini Day (25th of the Tibetan Calendar, Vajrayogini Tsok Sadhana), Guru Rinpoche Day (10th day of the Tibetan Calendar, Chakrasamvara Tsok Sadhana), Full Moon Day (15th day of the Tibetan Calendar, Five Tantric Deities Tsok Sadhana), then before the New Moon Day (30th day of the Tibetan Calendar, Month-End GuSu Mahakala practice, the expanded form of the Mahakala Sadhana – this includes Five Tantric Deities, Hayagriva Mahakala Drub.Tab and Ka.Kong, extended Nga Sol, White Mahakala with White Mahakala Nga Sol, and Summoning Auspicious Energy). Each of these tsoks had extensive torma offerings, which was the responsibility of the Chopen, “Altar Master”. This is a very difficult month for that person, as that person has not too much chance to do sessions or practice. This person must strike the gong before and after each session, assemble the tormas, construct the altar, take down the altar, and perform all ceremonial puja duties and offerings. There’s also a lot of things that you can learn with this job, but there’s very little time to even breathe during all these responsibilities. Also, someone has to take a turn as chanting master to lead the puja, and at the beginning it is very hard because there is lots of studying to do at night and then lead chanting during the day. This is a learning process, but if really don’t understand what you’re doing it can be very discouraging. For most people who complete this curriculum it takes Three Years, Three Months and Three Days, but this time they had six weeks extra due to my schedule. Then, we began to start the preparations for the Gate Opening Ceremony.
Outside, people gathered all needed materials for the ceremony, and preparations were made for constructing the large altar and shrine. Different Lamas were invited from different states and different countries, and materials were budgeted for what would be needed during the practice itself. The gate opened in the early morning at 8 o’clock April 7th, 2009; from April 6th the families and friends gathered around the Retreat Compound waiting to see their loved ones come out. Before the gate opened, there was a ritual ceremony to the Wisdom Protector and Local Deities, giving them thanks for protection and a successful completion. After that, 50-70 guests squeezed in to the small shrine room. Inside, we had some ceremony and prayer and I gave a short talk, and then I gave this joyful and happy entourage welcome and some teaching. Both Tibetan Lamas and Western Lamas, Dharma Friends, relatives, loved ones, all these people were gathered. The 7th through 9th was spent decorating the altar, creating and decorating the tormas, and adorning the shrine room, with both Tibetan Lama and Western Lama gathered together along with Dharma friends. On the morning of April 10th, 4 AM we started the ceremony. From that point onward, there was non-stop mantra recitation and long sadhana ritual three times during the day and three times during the night up until the morning of April 16th at 6 AM. At this time, the mantra stopped and we began to ceremoniously go uphill to the stupa site and make a ritual ceremonial offering of the tormas. Within the hour, the sun rose, and we returned ceremoniously and concluded the ceremony. Then, we had a Ganachakra tsok offering, and then auspicious prayers and a dedication of the merit to all sentient beings. I gave a short talk, and we ended happily and joyfully with everyone completely fulfilled. A few witnessed reported seeing a rainbow around the sun after the fire ceremony near the stupa site; most people were quite busy with these activities but it was very joyful to just be there!