Our topic is the retreat experience. My personal retreat experience is limited, but sometimes sharing information with those interested in meditation practices is useful. There is not much to say about my inner retreat experience. You all know the purpose of retreat. We study and contemplate the teachings and then meditate on them. Each is a deeper level of understanding. These are called the three wisdoms. The third, meditation, is most important. But all three are interconnected. Study needs to be done properly so you can follow with the other two. Without study it will be hard to do the contemplation and meditation. Naropa said you should study well so that you can say the direction clearly. Without study it is difficult to have a clear direction. Then you contemplate the different subjects. But if you spend all your time in study and contemplation, you won't grasp the essence. This arises from meditation practice. Practice is more from the heart. The other two are more intellectual. But you cannot have the one without the others.

It's a big challenge to be well educated. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance. Without them you cannot achieve wisdom. At an early age I started to study After my graduation in 1990 I felt a little proud. But at some point I became aware this was only study. The study led me into meditation practice. There are also a lot of challenge in meditation. After graduation, my lineage master wanted me to teach other students, even though I wanted to meditate instead. So I followed the master's advice and taught at Dehra Dun. At the time not many people wanted to teach. I taught three to five hundred students for five years with three or four other teachers. Most of the students were from Tibet or from remote areas of India. In 1995 I came to the United States and did more teaching. I saw my meditation experience was limited, so I started a three year retreat in 2000.

My case was a little different than others. I took so long because I couldn't find a suitable master. My heart was very close to Garchen Rinpoche, from who I got the introduction to the nature of mind. So I got the blessing from him as well as other masters. My retreat was pretty traditional. Since then I have spent as much time as I can doing meditation practice. I have confidence that the practices will lead me to clear understanding.

If you push too hard in practice, it can be a problem. To understand the two wisdoms, you need many supports in study and practice to overcome the obstacles to understanding. There are the preliminary practices such as prostrations and offerings to gather merit. If merit is gained, the understanding becomes easy. It wasn't easy transforming study into meditation. I used to love to read books. I fell asleep reading, surrounded by books. It's sometimes a little tough to make the transition to meditation. It took me time, but sometimes I still study. When I read now, sometimes I close the book and do meditation.. It takes time and the blessings of the masters. I'm so happy to see people study in the West. My masters said a half hour of practice is more powerful than an hour of study. You need a balance.

Retreat requires many things. It's very important to have a very quiet place so the mind can settle down. The great masters meditated in the high mountains. They established calm and inner understanding. In the countryside the elements are purer, the air is cleaner and the water purer. As a result of their retreat practice their countenance shone and they were healthier Most of the masters of the past gained realization in the mountains.

No matter whether you meditate with family and friends or in the mountains, it has one purpose, to understand the importance of loving kindness and compassion. In retreat you see the true nature of samsara. Sometimes practitioners find it easy to do retreat, but when they come out, they have a hard time dealing with people. This is due to not understanding the nature of samsara. I have some idea why I went to the mountains to do retreat. The purpose of meditation is to develop kindness and compassion. But sometimes people who don't go into retreat have much greater compassion. When I go back and forth between isolated retreat and my family and then coming to America a teaching and going back to retreat, then I understand things.

Kindness arises from the wisdom mind, so the wisdom is necessary to have. Understand the truth of impermanence and things like that. Whether you accept it is up to the individual. But the truth is there so you cannot change it. The reality of impermanence is there, even though you don't want to lose your parents and friends. But the more you understand impermanence, the more kindness arises. Impermanence doesn't mean you can't have family or wealth. But you should lead humble lives. Impermanence is the antidote to laziness, according to the Buddha. I gave a talk about impermanence to the doctors and nurses at a hospice. Practice is inseparable from loving kindness and compassion. The more you understand, the greater the understanding. No matter how high the understanding in mahamudra or dzogchen, without compassion you haven't really seen them. In my mind when upsets arise, thinking of compassion dispels them. So I can see the benefits of compassion. Practice has to be from the heart.

Early in the morning when you do meditation, just relax. It comes down to the wisdom of mindfulness. True mindfulness is primordial wisdom. There are many ways to apply mindfulness in daily life and meditation practice. There are different stages to mindfulness. Whether we practice sutra or tantra, mindfulness is necessary. Mindfulness is inseparable from loving kindness and compassion. But when we introduce them, we need to use different words.

There were many reasons to go to Tibet and I spent two weeks there. It was good, but also challenging. I had a couple who gave me barley flour, black tea and cow dung to burn. I went to Nepal and tried to use the cow dung to make a fire, but it took me nearly an hour to make one cup of tea. So there were simple challenges like making fires and cooking.

Tibet is almost nothing now. In the East of Tibet it wasn't that easy for me. It was a challenge. I thought how the early masters must have had great mental strength to practice under these conditions. When I saw where Milarepa practiced, it was nearly unbelievable. But there are still some great practitioners there, including some young nuns that I met. That encouraged me to practice. I got some good energy from them. One meditator was almost fifteen years in the mountains. He only wanted to stay there and practice. But not everyone can do that.

Q: Did you take practice texts with you?

A: I do have texts. It's more useful to have practical texts. Rather than texts what's more important is the oral instructions that go from master to student. In Vajrayana the importance of the master is emphasized. Once you meditate the recollection of the master's instruction arises. Sometimes the vision of the master can arise to great practitioners or they hear their instructions. [Lama's cell phone rings.]

Q: How long were you Tibet?

A: A couple weeks.

Q: Were you born there?

A: No, in India.

Supplicating the lama through prayers is very helpful. When doing this, sometimes the understanding comes. When master talks to the student, the talk is heart to heart and there is no need to write it down. Sometimes feelings of sadness arise and thinking of the master clears them up. Talking to other practitioners is also helpful. The bodhisattva could be anywhere. In tantra you should see everyone as an enlightened being.

Q: Which texts did you take with you on retreat?

A: it depends on which practice you do. I tried to study the Kagyupa lineage, especially the Drikung lineage, so I kept the practical texts from this tradition to study. The descriptions of the natural mind were useful. It's important to have a master who understands the capacity of the student and can introduce the correct instructions at the right time.

Q: Where is your master located?

A: He's in Tibet now and is 70 years old. I hear his health is a little concern now. When I meet him I feel very comfortable. It's like talking with a good friend. Because of his love and compassion, he gave me the direct introduction. It took me a little time to understand.. If I ask to talk to him for an hour, he'll give me the time. He told me keep your love and compassion. If you lose it, you have destroyed your practice. Since we have this human life, we can change any time. We don't have to stay in our current situation. We have the opportunity to change and that's what makes this life precious.

Q: How do we work with distractions in meditation like when my leg hurts? Can you tell us how to more effectively open our heart?

A: For your first question, you can practice yoga so your seated posture is more comfortable. Too much pain is not good. It's good to have knowledge first about the meditation so that you see its value. Without meditation it's impossible to have true insight. When you meditate it becomes easier to be patient. It gives you inner strength. Through my meditation I saw how we are constantly creating karma. Our thoughts are like clouds gathering in the sky. Thought after thought is like that. The most important meditation technique is to see this. To see this clearly we need to meditate again and again. Before I did purification practices just because that was the custom. Then I saw their importance.

Q: Did feelings of fear ever arise during retreat?

A: Yes, that happened many times. Supplication and strong prayer to the lineage masters help. Also you must have strong trust in your own heart. With strong prayer the fear just disappears. When I was in New Mexico and in Milarepa's cave I experienced fear. The entrance to Milarepa's cave is small but inside it is very large. I was worried about wild animals and it was dark. I only had a few candles, so I had to conserve them. I thought maybe a rock would fall on me and I would die. During the day I inspected the cave to make sure there was no rock about to fall. In remote areas you can hear scary noises. But when you read the stories of the great masters, you can see they experienced similar things.

Q: Did other people come to try to use the cave?

A: No, the property belongs to my lineage and they knew i was using it. It's said that the truly dedicated meditators of my lineage will not die or lack provisions in retreat.

April 22, 2006
Susquehanna Yoga Center