Lama Dondrup shares details on the teachings that will be featured in the annual sangha retreat.
This month, I have the honor of teaching Sukhasiddhi Foundation’s annual sangha retreat with Lama Drupgyu. Usually a residential retreat held at the beautiful Santa Sabina Center on the campus of Dominican University, this year’s retreat has the twist of being held on Zoom — a new, creative format for practicing together. It is a unique opportunity to feel what the essence of sangha is: the intimate connection that is present whether physically close or at a distance.
The retreat will begin on Monday, June 22 with the Medicine Buddha empowerment which will be offered by Lama Palden. This will be followed by five full days of practice and teachings. There will be periods of silent and of movement meditation during the day, and a Medicine Buddha puja in the evening. Lama Drupgyu will be offering Mahamudra teachings that draw from the Shangpa Kagyu text Ga’u Ma in the afternoons and I will have the pleasure of teaching from the Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje’s text, Pointing Out the Dharmakaya in the mornings.
Pointing Out the Dharmakaya is a text close to my heart. Studying it was a part of the curriculum of the three-year retreat I did. It was one of the few books that we were able to have in retreat, so I deeply appreciate the time spent with it and have much gratitude for the brilliant and effective techniques it presents. The text is fundamentally a collection of five tools for looking at the nature of mind. Depending on the type of fixation one may be experiencing, one can choose the technique that will be most effective with that particular flavor of fixation. I find it to be extraordinarily precise and helpful in this way.
What is Mahamudra?
Mahamudra is a practice of relaxing directly into our present experience and recognizing its true nature. Maha means great and mudra means seal or symbol. This refers to the truth that everything in our human experience is an expression of the emptiness of the vast, open nature of mind. Any experience we have can be a gateway to recognizing the nature of mind. The totality of our experience is the Great Symbol for the nature of reality.
There is a natural progression in coming to practice Mahamudra. We begin with bringing the mind into a state of non-distraction or calm abiding (shamatha). We then look directly at our experience with the penetrating, thorough practice of vipashyana to recognize its true nature. Once we recognize the true nature of our experience we rest in that true nature with ease, relaxation, and simplicity; Mahamudra.
The Pointing Out the Dharmakaya text is essentially an instruction manual that walks us through this process of coming to recognize mind’s true nature. As the retreat will be for those who have experience doing shamatha meditation, and have received some Mahamudra teachings, I will be focusing on the Vipashyana of Mahamudra section of this text in the retreat. These teachings guide us to look directly at our mind in various ways. Because this is most effective when done in the context of practice, the teachings will be experiential in nature. We will engage in periods of meditation followed by discussing our experiences.
Origin of the teachings
Pointing Out the Dharmakaya is one of the Ninth Karmapa’s three well-known texts on Mahamudra. The Karmapas have been central in the transmission of the Mahamudra teachings. Of the many texts that the Ninth Karmapa wrote, he is most known for his three texts on Mahamudra. They can be distinguished by their length. Pointing Out the Dharmakaya is the most concise of the three. His mid-length text is Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance, and the longest of the three is Ocean of Definitive Meaning. These treatises have played a major role in transmitting the Mahamudra teachings in Tibet, and now in the West.
To have access to these profound teachings and to have them translated into English is indeed a blessing. Having had the opportunity to visit the Ninth Karmapa’s monastic seat, Tsurphu, in central Tibet, where he wrote these three Mahamudra texts, served to deepen my connection to them. It has been a great blessing to be able to study these writings that are such a direct transmission and an honor to be able to share them with you.