CLOSING THE GATES
(This is the 21st in a series of reminiscences by Lama Lodu Rinpoche)
Before returning to India after giving the Kalachakra initiation in San Francisco, Kalu Rinpoche told me that he would like me to prepare a group of students for the traditional Kagyu three-year retreat—the third such retreat ever to be performed in America. Among my students in San Francisco and Eugene there were several who had told me they hoped to eventually undertake the three-year retreat and I knew they were mature and serious in their practice, so I began their education in the techniques and disciplines they would need to carry this out. Most of them were already in various stages of the ngondro preparatory practices, which are a prerequisite of the three-year retreat, and the rest of them set to work diligently on completing ngondro. They also all undertook an intensive study of the Tibetan language.
By the time Kalu Rinpoche came to San Francisco in 1986 to give the Red Chenrezig initiation, nine women and ten men had completed the preliminary preparations and were ready for ordination. Before the retreat was to begin at Marcola, Oregon, on the 20 acres we had bought a few years before, Kalu Rinpoche gave two weeks of preparatory initiations—the Circle of the Five Golden Dharmas—at a secluded mountain home in Azalea that belonged to one of the students. In addition to the KDK students, there were about 25 more students from Kalu Rinpoche’s Vancouver center. The initiations took two weeks and during this time nearly every one of the Kagyu lamas who were then living in the west came to assist Kalu Rinpoche in these intense and rigorous teachings. I remember feeling truly awed as I watched this group of mature and devoted students, who only a few years before were brand new to Dharma practice, now receiving these incredibly complex, esoteric initiations.
We then went to the Marcola land where Kalu Rinpoche gave careful instructions in the monastic vows and restrictions and in between these, I shaved their heads and Lama Tsang Tsing taught them about how to arrange and care for their robes and other details of daily monastic life. It was interesting to see that it was the older students who seemed happiest and most eager to begin the retreat. In the younger ones you could see a little bit of nervousness and hesitation about the prospect of leaving their accustomed world for three years, three months, and three days. But their devotion came together with Kalu Rinpoche’s great compassion and the preparations proceeded without any obstacles.
The next morning Kalu Rinpoche ordained the retreatants and the two cooks, led the monks and nuns into their respective compounds, and with great ceremony and visible joy, closed the gates behind them.
Inside, it took awhile for the younger students to adapt but they were determined and eventually they were all able to settle down to the rigors of their new cloistered lives. As it turned out, after about a year, two people—one man and one woman—left the retreat because of physical and mental difficulties. They made their decisions with seriousness and sadness and those who remained felt the loss, but the harmony and integrity of the retreat was in no way diminished.
After closing the gates at Marcola, Kalu Rinpoche went on to do the same at Vancouver. I travelled with him and during our travels he expressed his happiness about these students whose dedication was so great that they would sacrifice their worldly lives in this way. He said that the seeds of the Buddhist teachings that had been planted in the West were now truly thriving and he felt unshakable confidence that the practice of Dharma in America would be strong and enduring.
Of course I could not know it then, but this was to be the last time my beloved guru would ever come to KDK.
Oregon Three Year Retreat Group, prior to ordination, along with His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche (upper middle), Lama Lodu Rinpoche (left) and Lama Tsang Tsing (lower middle)