Arizona Retreat Reflection
Standing at the silent ridge, watching the steaming sun rise over the mountains beyond, I thought of our great fortune of not needing to be in Tibet to hear and practice the Holy Dharma. Here, in Oracle, Arizona, we had our own ‘Roof of the World’.
Our Holy Lama Marut bought us into this divine Mandala -- of quiet desert twilight and raging monsoon rains, of nectar-sipping butterflies and grumbling skunks and offerings-eating pigs. A Pure Land we were so fortunate to enter into, become silent within, and let life settle a little.
One of the main issues I kept coming back to on my personal retreat was the question of doubt… the dark cloud that can destroy our ability to dive head-first and warrior-like into practice. Fundamentally, for me, it is one of the main obstacles to happiness.
We must keep reinvesting in, tending to, and taking care of our precious faith – in the Guru, the teachings and ourselves. We must take time to remember how much has changed as a result of our practice, how much better we can cope with life, how much more compassion we may now have for others. We must be constantly grateful for the rare teachings the Guru has generously given to us, and know how much they have helped.
There are so many ways we sabotage our own practice and I notice that one of my tendencies is to conveniently forget the hundred things that are going “right” and cling obsessively to the one thing that is going “wrong.” Instead of concentrating on gratitude for the multitude of blessings and miracles (and thereby creating the karma for more), we obsess over the one thing we want to change… thinking “and then I’ll be happy!”
Faith in our Holy Teacher will help us when these upheavals come. Guru Yoga invites us to see the Guru in all things, which includes seeing the seemingly problematic people and events in our lives as perfect – perfect reflections of our past, and perfect opportunities for purification and practice.
We must have faith that the Guru knows exactly what we need to hold us up, even when we feel as though we are drowning. Ani Pema Chodron says this of her teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, in her inspiring practice of Guru Yoga:
“It wasn't trust that he would be predictable or follow some kind of reliable code. It was trust that his only motivation was to help people. His whole teaching was about leading people away from holding on to some kind of security. And I wanted my foundations rocked. I wanted to actually be free of habitual patterns which keep the ground under my feet and maintain that false security which denies death. Things are not permanent, they don't last, there is no final security. He was always trying to teach us to relax into the insecurity, into the groundlessness. He taught me about how to live.”
We must have complete faith that the Guru is only ever helping us drop the burning coals we are clinging onto. If He or She is the Buddha then there is no doubt, actually, that whatever they are doing, and whatever they are asking you to do, is a perfect teaching or test designed to get you enlightened as quickly as possible. Faith in yourself is therefore paramount in having the confidence to stay when the ground begins to shake.
Confidence is a helpful antidote to doubt, but we also need a deep sense of humility to both surrender to and serve the Lama. We have to get our small selves out of the way; the self that coddles the mental afflictions that keep us suffering and running back to our safe, habitual patterns that hold us in samsara.
Particularly in retreat, we are asking specifically for these afflictions to show themselves so that we can do battle with them, destroy them, transform them. Even so, it is difficult to not be surprised when they come! And even more difficult to stay and work with what they are showing you. Yet after the habitual, samsaric patterns don’t work, with faith we must take ourselves over and over again back to the three principal paths, back to the first steps of Buddhism 101, and back to our perfect Guru – He will be there, happily waiting for us.
With highest gratitude to our Holy Lama Marut, for always being there for us during retreat; for watching over us, performing perfect and magical ceremonies tirelessly and offering His Diamond words of Dharma we could wear like jewels on our ears.
Please stay, Lama Marut, thank You for all You do for us, and all living beings
Arizona Retreat Reflection
By Julie Upton
The place was Oracle, Arizona. The mission if they chose to accept it was individual silent meditation for the month of July. Fifteen of Lama Marut’s tantric students accepted the mission. Some stayed in for a few days, some for one week, others for two weeks; the rest took the whole month.
Silent meditation retreats in our immediate Buddhist lineage are not uncommon. Lama Marut’s teachers and the founders of Diamond Mountain University, Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally, completed a great retreat of 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days in 2003.
This retreat was held at the C.O.D. Ranch in Oracle, Arizona. Oracle is only 35 miles north of Tucson and yet very different. It sits at an elevation of 4500 feet on the northeastern slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National forest. Mesquite trees and cactus of all varieties surround the property, which is also home to amazing creatures such as bobcats (Lama Marut saw one during an early morning jog), cardinals (of the red variety!), hummingbirds, deer, butterflies, and rabbits. The winner of the most talked about creatures were the scorpions which had the biggest effect on the retreat as many of us encountered them daily, some of the group even getting stung. It was good for us to know that scorpion stings from this region would not cause death.
I have to admit I was a little hesitant about doing this retreat at first, not about being silent or alone for a month, but about being in Arizona during one of the hottest months of the year. We must have all done some real nice things for others in the past because as it turned out the first 10 days or so were very, very hot but, after that, the monsoon rains came and never left. I would say it rained almost every day from then on cooling off the place immensely. I saw rainbows and double rainbows; Ernie says he saw a triple rainbow (oh the karma). It was perfect (to me).
Ernie Jones was the angel who prepared food for us every day. A pastry chef by trade, he made us amazing vegetarian meals so we did not have to use our mind’s energy thinking about food. After Ernie made the meals fellow student, Morgan Williams delivered them to each of our rooms like clockwork everyday at 1pm. The two of them truly made it possible for us to be there, as they were our go-to people for anything we needed.
Retreats can be intense, especially for people who are used to being busy all the time. All of a sudden you are alone with nothing but your mind, prayers, and time. But, retreat is also a time of magic. A time to practice everything you have been taught by your holy Lama and make strides in your practice. The biggest benefit I got out of my retreat was putting into practice what I have been taught over the past year. Through time spent in retreat my practice is now truly a part of my being inside and out. Other benefits I have received are the ability to sit longer and go deeper into my meditations, and to see old patterns in myself that I feel I need to change.
Being alone with my mind for a month was hard at times, but the thing that really pulled me through was something Lama Marut has taught me over and over again…REJOICING. Every time I got upset or freaked out I would rejoice for being there, because I know that there is nothing else more important than changing my mind into an enlightened one. The funny thing is that since I have been out, my mind has been afflicted, and I am realizing right now while writing this article that I need to rejoice more. It is such a huge karma to be able to study Buddhism with so many great teachers that unless I keep rejoicing, the karma could shift and go away. So please rejoice with me now for every good thing in our lives so we can all perpetuate the seed that will eventually flower into Ultimate Happiness. Mission accomplished.
Massachussetts Retreat Reflection
By Lauren Benjamin
Learning How to be Happy at Windhover
So – say one morning you wake up feeling unhappy. What do you do? Look around for the person or situation that is making you unhappy to see if you can change it or them, right? “Absolutely wrong” says Venerable Sumati Marut, “and the precise way to perpetuate my unhappiness.” How to get to ultimate happiness was the topic of this year’s teachings at the third annual Windhover Retreat held in Rockport, Massachusetts August 20 -26th. Lama Marut came to Windhover, in all his monastic glory, to teach us the real source of true happiness and give us practical advices on how to achieve it.
Apparently anyone who saw the flyer for this retreat couldn’t resist coming. There were people from as far away as Connecticut and Maine, as well as a strong LA/Tucson contingent of Lama Marut’s long time students. So many people, in fact, that we outgrew two different meeting halls and Lindsay Crouse, Master of Ceremonies, had to rent a tent to comfortably accommodate the crowd. At some points we were over 200 people!
Besides the idyllic setting that is the Windhover Performing Arts Center, with its beautiful chapel, rustic cabins and sloping meadow – is this paradise? – there were myriad events that attracted people. Zorie Barber and Rob Haggerty taught Tibetan Heart Yoga Series One every morning, to rave reviews. This is the practice that links the meditation of taking away pain and giving happiness to breathing and asana practice, the key being that we are doing our yoga for the benefit of someone else. World renowned yoga teacher, Kelly Morris, stepped in one morning to bring her unique style, and Julie Upton taught over the weekend.
On the fourth night there was a beautiful vow ceremony during which 11 people took various kinds of vows. This included two students from LA – further forging the bond between ACI-LA and the radiant, open-hearted and devoted folks who make up the Cape Ann Sangha, taught by LA’s Rick Blue and Lindsay Crouse, and nurtured by Cape Ann’s Phil Salzman.
Everyone ate like kings and queens, dining on catered vegetarian meals. Attendees were constantly lending a hand, showing the true bodhisattva spirit. Rick and Lindsay conducted daily Q&As and people talking everywhere about how to stay happy in the face of whatever vicissitudes life appears to bring. Oh, and lets not forget the ocean swims some of us took when the days got nice and hot.
Then there was the main attraction: Lama Marut. With his audacious irreverence and western perspective and metaphors – from Star Trek to rap music – this Holy Lama has everyone laughing sometimes before, sometimes after, and usually simultaneous with, delivering the most profound and heart-felt teachings of the spiritual tradition that is called Buddhism. Always making the point that not only do all spiritual traditions teach how to be happy, they have the monopoly on teaching it accurately, and unabashedly stating that “if we’re not gettin’ it, we’re not doin’ it right.” No one who listened could mistake his irreverence for anything other than the best way to get our attention, as well as the deepest respect and love he has for the teachings, for his own Teachers and for us.
Imagine coming to believe that the steady awareness of death is the first step to achieving true happiness. How counter-intuitive, how perfect! Imagine becoming convinced – or even opening your mind enough to consider the possibility – that true happiness is possible! Happiness not tied to the boat, the bigger boat, the girl/boyfriend, the job and the other things you will eventually lose but is, rather, a steady, calm and perpetual joy that comes from within, arising from how you’ve treated others in the past. Imagine, even more radically, becoming convinced to “kill your television” (complete with sound effects of rifle shot) because, unless you see what you are watching as something that will take you to enlightenment, they are worse than time-wasters; they are toxic. Or being convinced to be grateful to those who annoy you, or to believe in the mantra “Om, I have enough, ah hum” (which, to his surprise, appeared emblazoned on tee-shirts the second day.) And imagine having the chance to hear frank responses – filled with the deepest compassion of hard truth – to questions about caring for the dying and preparing for it yourself. And these were just the afternoon teachings!!
The evening teachings were filled with advices on how to “work hard and ‘chillax’” (you kinda; have to say it out loud to get its meaning) and to “relax into the insecurity” (from Pema Chodron.) And especially, realizing that if you’re unhappy or suffering because you don’t have enough money, enough love, enough joy, it’s because you live by the mantra: “what about me?” (credited to Mipham.) So stop that! And if you’re happily floating on the Annisquam river with a cold one in your hand, it’s because you made sure everyone else got a cold one first. So keep doing that, and dedicate it to floating your way to Buddha paradise!
It was truly a joy to see, and participate with, everyone as we shared experiences and understandings, questions and possible answers, struggles and laughter. It was an amazing time in an amazing place with amazing company. So is this paradise? Decidedly so – according to the teachings – paradise that we created with our good actions towards others. Now the trick is to create it to last forever!!!