How Lama Döndrup came to share her morning meditation practice on Facebook Live.
In the wake of the shelter in place orders, Sukhasiddhi had to quickly bring all of the offerings online in order to serve a world shocked by sudden and drastic change. Could you tell me a little about your experience of responding to to this call?
I was in my downtiime. My six-week teaching series had ended and I was starting to prepare for the next series when Covid19 rose to the level of a pandemic. Shelter in place was put into effect, and I was immediately getting requests and questions from sangha members: What will we offer online? What will we do to be of service in this crisis? In the scheme of things we acted quickly, but at the time, it felt slow. I was opening into the lineage and waiting to act until I had a sense from them as to how move forward. As with everything I offer at Sukhasiddhi, I always need to start with the lineage and not with my personal agenda — what my ego thinks would be best to do.
I was already doing the Tara who dispels epidemics practice as a way to work with the current situation. So when the requests came in, that practice was immediately in my mind. It is a profound practice, so specific for the situation we are in. It seemed ideal to offer, as well as Medicine Buddha, which is one of the best ways for us to access our own healing capacities. So how best to offer them? We had been talking about going online for a long time. We’ve done it in our programs, but not for the public.
So then my ego’s preference and what would be helpful to the world went two ways. I saw people were doing Facebook Live. I realized it was a way to reach a lot of people and to offer something that could help them cope with the uncertainty, the distancing, and the virus itself. In theory it sounded like, what a great idea and mode for this. Immediately my introverted, retreat-like ego completely contracted. There was a pivotal moment when my ego was absolutely refusing — I can’t put myself out there so openly to an unknown and potentially large audience. It was beyond what I thought I could do. I was very firm and convinced. there was no way this was going to happen.
How did you come to change your ego’s mind?
Dharma teaching is difficult for me. It’s not in alignment with my introverted self that likes to be in retreat, so it is always working an edge for me to teach. My ritual before I teach is to completely let go of the egoic struggle around it when I do three prostrations before sitting down on the teaching seat and pray that I be as clear a vessel as possible for the teaching to come through, and not have it be impacted by my personal struggle. It has become profound over the years. In this case, I let go of the struggle by taking refuge and opening to the lineage, and went from being in a place of complete refusal to within seconds, feeling like this needs to happen. It was pouring forth, when the moment before I had been in utter refusal with it.
There was the moment of struggle, then release and becoming clear. But I was continuing to go back and forth internally, feeling challenged, but moving forward. The first morning I was supposed to lead the practice, I slept straight through my alarms and woke up at 8:09 am. The practice was to start at 8:15am. I laugh about it thinking that it was either my ego trying to put its foot down or the lineage helping me to stay out of my head about whether I was comfortable doing it or not.
How did the sessions go? Was it worth going through the struggle for you?
It has gone really well. Normally when I teach, it takes a lot of energy to work with the energy of the space I’m in and the people I’m interacting with. In the Facebook live teaching, that element has been taken out and I’ve been able to direct all of that energy into the teaching. That has felt really good. That said, my teaching is usually guided by how it feels energetically in the room and how it is landing with everyone in the moment. So that has been harder, but I’m working to find new means of getting a sense of that.
Many Sukhasiddhi people have joined the Facebook Live sessions. It has been wonderful, to spend time with our regulars and it has been a sweet surprise to get to practice with many people who live further away and can’t normally come to the center. There’s a new group that have become regulars. It’s been fun, connecting with people from the UK, from Greece, from France, from across the country — people who we normally wouldn’t get to practice with at Sukhasiddhi.
It’s been eye-opening to me how much of a connection can develop online, meeting from a distance. There is a sense of sangha that I feel really strongly. I wasn’t sure that would be possible. It struck me that we are meeting in each others homes, when normally we come to Sukhasiddhi, and it’s a public space. But here on Facebook Live, we are inviting each other into our own personal practice spaces. It feels very intimate and there’s a sweetnesss that I appreciate.
How long will the Facebook Live sessions continue? And what are some of the other offerings that are going online?
The Facebook Live sessions will continue through sheltering in place on Tuesdays and Fridays at 8:15am PDT. These can be accessed on Sukhasiddhi Foundation’s Facebook page. In addition, Annik just completed a two-month offering of Tonglen practice. Barbara has continued online with the Monday meditation and Trinity and Gitte have taken their lujong class online — even added a second day. These classes are ongoing. Coming up in June, Lama Drupgyu and I will teach a Mahamudra retreat online. I will be teaching on the ninth Karmapa’s text, Pointing Out the Dharmakaya and Lama Drupgyu will be teaching the Ga’u Ma Shangpa Kagyu Mahamudra teaching. The morning the retreat begins (June 22) Lama Palden will be giving the Medicine Buddha empowerment. For anyone who has not yet taken refuge and would like to take the Medicine Buddha Empowerment, Lama Palden will also be offering a refuge ceremony on Saturday, June 20. And, with engaged practice being more important than ever, Susan Shannon will be teaching four classes on Shantideva’s text The Way of the Bodhisattva in June and July, and Lama Pat will be offering her monthly Awake in the World interactive sessions in June and July.
In addition, with the help of Leslie Shelton and Joanne Molyneaux, I have recorded a meditation that guides us to look at our emotions and beliefs about racial bias and to work with these in the context of the Five Buddha Families. It has always been important for us to embody our practice in our everyday activities, but right now, we are being called to dig deeper; to look directly at systemic and transgenerational racism and how we perpetuate it, to communicate clearly that racism in any form is unacceptable, and to work in any way we can to reverse racial injustice. I feel strongly about supporting all sangha members in this work in multiple forms. This is just one way that we will be working with this issue and it will be sent to all sangha members.