by Lama Annik Brunet, December 5, 2017
Sixteen years ago, Lama Palden had the inspiration to offer her serious, committed students the opportunity to do the practices usually only undertaken during the Shangpa Lineage traditional 3-year retreat – while still engaged in work and family life. She believed that doing intensive, semi-retreat practice while remaining active in the world could allow for a continuous integration of our spiritual development with the physical, psychological and sociocultural dimensions of our lives.
It has been a daring experiment! I was part of the first cohort of students, which began in 2001, and three of us from that original program just completed the full course of study. For me, this 16-year path of deep practice – outside of a closed retreat and within a supportive sangha – has been an ongoing journey of opening, maturation and integration.
Over the years, Lama Palden has continuously evolved this program, eventually creating four progressive levels – the Dharma, Bodhi, Shangpa, and Lineage training programs. The Bodhi level program is focused on the Foundation practices of Tibetan Buddhism, known as “ngöndro.” With the guidance of Lama Palden, I am currently leading this program at Sukhasiddhi.
Recently we’ve made an important change to the first two levels of study. Both the Dharma Training and Bodhi programs now allow people to practice at an individualized pace. A practice commitment is required, but students may choose to devote two-hours or more per day or only one hour if that is what’s possible within the context of their lives. They may progress very quickly through the levels of study or stay with ngöndro practice for a longer time. The Bodhi Program is now an ongoing program. At the beginning of each year, continuing students can renew their commitment and new students may join the program. While everyone may be practicing at a different pace, we all benefit from this “container” of support and the opportunity to regularly come together for study, inquiry, sharing, and group practice.
This past year, 14 students have been participating in the Bodhi program. We met for five 3-day weekends throughout the year. Each weekend included teaching, discussion, practice periods, dyads, and short interviews with the teacher. I’ve been so inspired to see how this group has come together to support one another’s practice and to witness the profound growth that has unfolded for each participant.
I believe that in this time – when we are continually drawn into shallow hits of “news” as entertainment and a constant flow of superficial social interactions – it is critical that we cultivate our capacity for sustained attention and commitment. We must rejoin the deep conversation that has spanned centuries and been kept alive by the lineages of great realizers and their skillful means. We cannot truly be present and effective in dealing with the many crises our world is facing today without connecting to the genuine ground of being and opening to the boundless light, energy and love we can potentially channel. Shangpa lineage practices provide incredibly sophisticated tools for doing just this through their direct transmission of awakened mind.
The Bodhi program gives access to a process of genuine transformation. It is a container for intensive practice both individually and in the context of a group. And as such the program is essentially a bodhisattva incubator. And that is what our time is calling us to become! Mature, grounded, open, flexible, creative bodhisattvas able to be fully present in chaotic and difficult circumstances, ready to help and to heal, and to make space for the emergence of new possibilities.
I am honored and humbled to be charged with caring for such an incubator at Sukhasiddhi and I’m very inspired by the committed bodhisattvas that are taking part in our programs here. May we continue to dedicate our practice for the benefit of all beings.