by Julie, Volunteer from USA
I came to New Life Foundation for help with a long-term alcohol addiction. This is the fourth retreat I’ve attended here. Although I’ve studied Buddhism before, I knew very little about Tibetan Buddhism.
The first morning of our retreat, Lama Rinchen performed a dedication ceremony for our new meditation hall. While chanting for an extended period, he poured oil and placed a cookie in four cups. Nearby, a fire was crackling, awaiting our offerings. Using books he provided, we repeated prayers and chants with the Lama. When it was time, he asked one of us to pour the contents of the four cups into the fire. Plain yogurt was poured first. Then, bit-by-bit, a big pot of fried rice was burned. This ceremony is an ancient tradition from Tibet, the purpose being to placate the “non-visible owners of the land” (the spirits).
The main focus of the retreat was Shamatha (calm abiding) meditation and Vipashyana (insight) meditation. If you practice Shamatha meditation regularly enough, your habitual thoughts and negative emotions will disappear. In this state, their attachments and aversions will also disappear. Attachment is caused by seeing yourself as different and separate from everyone else. This is a state of delusion, which, according to Buddhism, is one of the Three Poisons. Attachment can manifest itself in feeling attached to one’s family, one’s job, or even one’s favorite shirt. Attachment leads to much suffering and unhappiness, which is why Buddhism frequently focuses on this topic.
After you’ve practiced Shamatha meditation, you can move on to Vipashyana meditation–usually translated as “insight.” However, in Tibetan Buddhism, Vipashyana is more accurately translated as “superior seeing” or “supreme wisdom.” During Vipashyana meditation, we directly examine our moment-to-moment experience. By doing this, we gain clarity, which eventually leads to supreme wisdom. The calmness provided by Shamatha meditation and the clarity provided by Vipashyana meditation give us the freedom to be in the present moment.
It is very clear to me that Lama Rinchen is highly-trained and very learned. He was eager to answer questions, none of which stumped him. I found his sense of humor charming and it always made me smile. He looked dignified sitting on his raised platform in front of the Buddha statue. But he constantly found humor in the simple things, making me wonder why I usually don’t.
Before each practice, the Lama asked us to take refuge. We took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (teachings of the Buddha), and the Sangha (the Buddhist community), repeating the words three times. At the end of each practice, the Lama asked us to dedicate our merit. We dedicated our merit to all sentient beings in the universe, wishing them freedom from suffering. This was a perfect retreat for New Life, since New Life’s purpose is to free people from suffering.