After driving through dense fog at 8 am, we arrived at Palden Shangpa La Boulaye
, Kalu Rinpoche’s primary center in France. As the sun began to stream through the mist, a line of small stupas greeted us. Next we were welcomed by an impressive Bhutanese lhakhang
(Tibetan for house of the gods – what they call temples). Before I could enter, I heard a voice say, “Kalu Rinpoche is calling you.” Turning around I saw Rinpoche striding towards me, and I hurried to greet him. After a warm embrace, he escorted me into the lhakhang to show off the altar he had arranged for the monlam. Large framed photos of the previous Kalu Rinpoche, the Karmapa, Situ Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama, along with large brightly colored tormas and offerings, adorned the shrine. Three massive statues, fashioned from clay and elegantly painted, stood behind the altar: Guru Rinpoche, Shakyamuni Buddha and Green Tara.
Rinpoche put his heart, time and love into this first ever Shangpa Monlam. A monlam is a prayer, and a large monlam like this one is where the lamas and attendees make many prayers for all beings’ benefit, which of course includes praying that all beings receive what they need and desire and live in harmony and peace. I heard later from Lama Drupgyu (yes, he’s here, along with three friends from the three-year retreat I did in 1982-85) that Rinpoche has made a special effort to personally greet all his lamas and longtime dharma students.
The first day also saw a flurry of kisses and hugs French style as old dharma friends from around the world reunited. In addition to Europeans, representatives from various Shangpa centers around the world were in attendance. Argentina, Brazil, Korea, the States and six of us from Sukhasiddhi. Joyfully, if a little sleepily for those who have traveled far to be here, we practiced the Monlam Chöga together, among other prayers. Chagdrukpa and Chenrezig meditations are to be done each evening.
DAY TWO Started getting into stride with the prayers we are chanting together. The primary text is the Monlam Chöga, written by the first Kalu Rinpoche. We are adding in a seven-branch prayer, and doing many repetitions. It’s a joy to do the meditations of the Chagdrukpa (Six-arm Mahakala) torma offering in the evening along with Chenrezig (bodhisattva of compassion), just like we do at our June retreat, with Kalu Rinpoche and so many of our dharma brothers and sisters from all over the world.
Lama Döndrup, along with Sukhasiddhi teachers Annik Brunet, Pat Berube and sangha members Rick Halsted and Karla Downing, are representing Sukhasiddhi Foundation. This is a full immersion monlam experience for them, along with hearing contemporary talks by Kalu Rinpoche.
For one of the sessions today, Rinpoche led students in doing prostrations and circumambulations together, while the lamas kept chanting the prayers.
Part of the inspiration for Kalu Rinpoche to create this monlam was to get Shangpa students from around the world together so everyone can get to know each other better and inspire each other in practice and teaching. Many of the people here – the Asians, Europeans and North and South Americans – I have met over the years, but I’ve never had a chance to really get to know them.
The lamas, teachers and center representatives are eating together, along with Rinpoche, so that is an opportunity to get to know people better. Rolling hills of grass and flowers surround the buildings, so there are plenty of places to sit and talk at the breaks. Rinpoche also encouraged people to approach one of the many lamas with any questions they have. He feels that this is our big dharma family.
Some of us are already planning to invite our sanghas at home to come next year – we think Rinpoche will keep up the monlams now that he has started.
Stayed in bed at the hotel except for a walk to la pharmacie and to have a salade niçoise for lunch. My eyes gave out yesterday, red as Mars and in the sun dripping continually. Fortunately, late yesterday afternoon, with the brilliant setting sun illuminating the tent, our sangha member Rick Halsted had his needles with him and gave me acupuncture, and his dear wife Karla worked on my feet. Alas, though it greatly helped, the condition was only slightly better the next morning, hence the necessity of ruling out conjunctivitis before I possibly infected the assembly.
DAY FIVE Having ruled out anything contagious, I made my way with the Sukhasiddhi teachers back to La Boulaye. Our last day of the actual monlam, the energy has been processed as if a giant Vitamix had separated the essence from the dross. My feeling was that the blessing of the awakened beings of our lineage had been intimately involved in this process.
During the tsok that concluded the monlam, Rinpoche encouraged us to mingle with each other as dharma family and get to know each other better. He said, “Ask someone sitting close to you where they are from, what they like to eat, what they like to do, and so on, concluding with what yidam they practice.” The latter amused us long-time students, as traditionally one does not share about our personal meditation practice.
Today was a day of empowerment and great celebration. Rinpoche’s clarity filled the lhakhang (temple) as he bestowed the Chagdrukpa transmission upon us.
Kindly, he explained in depth the origin of Chagdrukpa, and then how to meditate during the wang. (The meditation for the practice is always different from the wang.) Hundreds more dharma students came to receive the initiation. At one point I heard a buzzing sound and thought that it was a swarm of bees outside the massive doors, then as I caught a glance, I thought someone was playing with an airborne spacecraft, but it turned out to be a small news drone.
At the conclusion of the transmission Rinpoche acknowledged each center leader and offered a beautiful consecrated statue to each center.
The French Prefecture and his entourage arrived to have lunch with Rinpoche, and I ended up serving their plates, as the main organizers were busy being interviewed for French TV.
Lunch was followed by more people arriving from neighboring areas to view the lama dancing.
Dressed as Mahakala, Rinpoche led the dancers in the first lama dance. It mightily reminded me of the many hours I had spent with the 16th Karmapa watching both lama and lhamo (goddess, performed by lay women) dances at his monastery in Sikkim in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
Happy and exhausted, we searched for Rinpoche, as he had told me to come with the Sukhasiddhi teachers for an interview that day. It was our last chance to speak with him. Lama Drupgyu spotted him under a tree, sitting on the grass in the shade. He graciously welcomed us and we had a leisurely talk. A joyful ending to a week of meditation, prayers for all beings and the renewal of our spiritual family.