Friday, January 12, 2007

Part 8: The Retreat Schedule

The retreat schedule was very tight. Except for the breaks in between for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and shorter breaks for morning and afternoon tea, there was no time allocated time for relaxation or "free" time. Even the 2 hours after lunch was not as "free" time. They were meant for us to go to the Stupa to practice prostrations and circumambulations. And we were adviced to do the Maitreya Sadhana at the Stupa, and visualise the Stupa as Maitreya Buddha. It was especially powerful to practice there. The concentration was especially powerful. Believe me, it is! I saw our retreat master, Ven. Sangye Kandro practiced right in front of the Bodhi Tree. After her session ended, I saw her face changed, I donot know what was her meditation nor what meditation diety she had practiced but her face certainly turned into diety-like. I could feel it that her visualisation was so powerful, she practically became a walking diety!

Rinpoche wanted it to be part of the retreat practice. Of course, there were no one to force us to go there and punish us if we donot circumambulate or prostrate, but it depends very much on our own self-discipline. If we take the time to go to sleep, then you might as well don't attend this retreat! Go home to sleep, don't waste time at Root Institute!

It is with this motivation, that I took every visit to the Stupa very seriously. Only on several occasions I took oppurtunity to take pictures. Other than that, I would circumambulate as many times as I can and prostrate several times. Of course, I am not up to the level of those lamas and lay Buddhists who prostrate so many hundreds of times a day...I really salute them!

Anyway, the retreat starts at 5 am every day for those intending to observe the 8 precepts. For the rest, it starts either at 5.30am or 6am. After the 8 precepts transmission of vows, the senior retreatants would do the 35 Buddhas' Prostrations and followed by Lama Chopa and Jorcho. Those who are newer to Buddhism, they were given guided lessons on meditations in the smaller gompa at the back. After breakfast, both groups join in the main gompa to do the Maitreya Meditation Sadhana. The joined group would first do the 35 Buddhas Prostartions first before the sadhana. After the short "milk tea" morning break, we continued with repeat of the Maitreya Sadhana until lunch time. After lunch, it is Stupa practice time until 4pm when we gathered back at the gompa to attend Rinpoche's teaching or another round of Maitreya Sadhana. The retreat was structured such that we practice the Maitreya Sadhana many many times repeatedly. And we were asked to observed the vow of silence at least until lunch time. Even after then, we were not supposed to mindlessly chatter about. After all, we were doing retreat, not playing games!

Rinpoche's teaching schedule is legendary for its timing. We just had to be prepared for any last minute changes all the time. The schedule changed practically every day for the first few days, then stable a bit only to change in the last 2 days. Due to Rinpoche had to attend to many of his students and projects, there were many unscheduled calls to him or sometimes he would see a need to do an immediate practice to clear an obstacle for someone or something, he would attend to it. Therefore his schedules had to be changed constantly. But it always turn out to be blessings and right for everyone. Noone ever feel tired waiting for Rinpoche, but they do feel unable to maintain the wakefulness state especially if the teachings drag on into the late nights or early mornings. This happened on the first night which ended at 1.30am (by the time we go to bed) and the last day which ended only at 4am. I did feel sleepy on a few occasions during the teachings and was trying hard to keep awake. However, generally I felt great especially towards the end during the Taking Refuge and 5 Lay Vows and where everyone lined up to offer thanka to Rinpoche for the last teaching session and to offer money! OK, that will be the subject of another part.

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