The five day retreat this May was an unforgettable time – five days together with Rinpoche and Khenchen Rinpoche in the simple yet freshly transformed UTBF Retreat Center in Cochecton, New York, under the northern spring sun. From May 23 to 28, 2008, the first ever group retreat in the U.S. under Rinpoche's direct guidance took place.
There were forty-three participants of the full program, as well as several additional participants in the one-day program with Vesak celebration which was open to non-retreatants (a continuation of the annual one-day Vesak celebrations that Rinpoche has been holding for many years now).
This was also the first retreat with a new comprehensive series of teachings designed by Rinpoche, with the title "Discovering the Dharma". The program progresses through fifteen subject areas covering major topics in Mayahana Buddism. In this first introduction of the program, Rinpoche talked extensively on how to meditate, focusing on shamata meditation – calming and steadying the mind toward a single point of concentration.
Hand in glove with shamata meditation practices are the practice of loving kindness and compassion. These in turn support one's development of Boddhicitta – the desire to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings. And so, the five-day retreat concentrated equally on practices to develop these important qualities within each person. Within this framework, the key points of mental purification – traditionally named “Lojong” - were introduced, along with a number of skills and tips for daily practice to bring home. These instructions form the basis – the foundation – for rapid development in the path of mental awareness that ultimately leads to enlightenment.
Overall, five topics among the fifteen were covered in the retreat. These were: The Mind – Cultivate Positive Energy, How to Meditate – Enhance Concentration and Calm our Mind, Mental Purification – Uncover Attachments and Learn to Let Go, Taking Refuge – Give Yourself the Gift of Commitment to Practice, and Daily Practice – Establish Consistency and Skills to be Successful.
Ample time was given for sitting and walking meditation. The participants exchanged their experience in meditation and understanding of the teachings through group discussions at the end of each day.
Bart Mendel, the appointed "MC" for the retreat made the following comments during one of the sessions: "In many ways this is a momentous occasion. It represents the decades of work by Rinpoche preparing to teach students in the US." Indeed, it was momentous – and very powerful. It was clear from the energy and interactions of the participants that these five days had a significant effect on all.
The retreat brought together students from around the world. Rinpoche's students came from as far away as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Seattle and Miami. It also showed how much can be achieved preparing and facilitating such an event in a short time when a handful of dedicated volunteers work together.
We thank Rinpoche for this remarkable event – and for the many blessings bestowed on all.