Sadhana of Mahamudra

There are twelve of us signed up for the weekend retreat, including the instructor, who has traveled from Boulder, Colorado to provide instruction in the Sadhana of Mahamudra. This sadhana, or practice, is done on the new moon and the full moon and was discovered in 1968 by the founder of the Shambhala teachings, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

It is said that the practice contains profound elements of both the Nyingma and the Kagyu lineages, two of the four main Buddhist lineages coming out of Tibet. It is a devotional practice that evokes the awakened state through supplication to Dorje Trollo Karma Pakshi. DTKP is seamless blend of Nyingma and Kagyu concepts manifesting in the form of a deity.

(Ya’ with me, so far?)

A premise of this sadhana, and Buddhism in general, is that our suffering is due to the fact that we project the very world of which we are afraid. We are at once the creators of our own suffering and the seeds of our own enlightenment. The Sadhana of Mahamudra is done twice a month during times when energies are drastically shifting, and both craziness and wisdom manifest in the relative world in notable ways. By approaching this practice with devotion and a sense of fearless certainty, we agree to allow for the possibility that anything could happen while taking the vow, creating the visualization, supplicating the gurus, chanting the mantra, resting the mind in the mandala of mahamudra, or any other instance for that matter.

So we sit. And we study. And we chant and chant and chant for hours each day. At the end, we feast and toast and sing and offer amrita. Sake and roast beef and torma serve as specific symbols for our feasting. There is leftover food that has been blessed and so we send everyone on their way with this abundance, because blessed food cannot be thrown away. If it not going to be consumed, it must be offered (into the river, for example – something that flows, moves, etc.).

I wanted to tell you about the nuances of my experience. I wanted to tell you about eating the roast beef, which almost made me gag (I have excluded red meat from my diet for ten years). I wanted to tell you how I ate it anyway, because it symbolizes aggression. Consuming it is symbolic of relinquishing yourself from its power, among other things. I wanted to tell you about AS, a 26-year-old practitioner who is going to dive school (at a cost of $8,000) for four months so he can get an off-shore job with a company in Houston (the agreement has practically been made already) and earn up to $80,000 in one year. AD is going to do this because in 2009, the next round of three-year retreats starts (this one will be in Australia) and AD wants to go. But it costs $60,000 to go on the three year retreat, even though his head teacher has invited him to do it. AD’s got to get certified, pay to feed and house himself, pay for a bit of travel over the next few years, and he’s got to keep that job. You do the math. It could happen. Then again,

“You never know how things will turn out,” AD reminds me. His hands are soft and he fumbles with the toothpicks as we prepare the trays of food for the feast. All the students pick on him at the dive school because he is slower at things, though not by any lack of intelligence. “You never know. We’ll just see…”

This, from the same man who told me last night that getting yelled at is really no different than getting a hug. By which he meant that it’s all just energy. By which he meant, basically, that he has been liberated from passion, aggression, and prejudice. By which he meant, in a nutshell, that he was hard core on the path to enlightenment and living in the world was just par for the course, part of the deal, the birth he’d been given so might as well make the most of it. Of course, he’s too humble to admit any of that, but it’s not everyday that you meet a 26-year-old whose primary goal is the three-year retreat.

I wanted to tell you all of this and more. But when I go into retreat and come out, all my stories have unwound themselves through the course of meditating and sitting and chanting for so long. The details that ordinarily make a story unique are lost to me if I try to imagine writing them down. When I am on retreat, I am in retreat and therefore not an observer; not the fly on the wall I so often prefer to be. It’s good for me to dive in like this. And tonight, this week, being back out in the world – all of that is already starting to pull me back out of it.

And so it is. Details and stories will come back to me, soon enough. For now, I do not miss them, and that is a true sign of retreat.

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