Last week I took part in a home retreat for the Discovering the Heart of Buddhism course. The week long retreat was taking place at The Hermitage of the Awakened Heart, the home of Lama Shenpen and a Tibetan Buddhist retreat centre near Criccieth, Gwynedd, North Wales.
Along with many others, I was taking part from home, joining in online with teaching and Formless Meditation sessions.
The retreat covered some of the core DHB subjects of Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity. These three qualities are the three inseparable elements of our inherent Buddha-nature, also called the Indestructible Heart Essence. These qualities are intrinsic to us and never leave us, they only get distorted by our delusion. If we could only realise the perfect nature of these three qualities as they truly are, we would realise the True Nature of Mind which is enlightenment.
Each day of the retreat there was a timetable of meditation, a morning teaching from Lama Shenpen, and more formless meditation and discussions in the afternoon. On the last day of the retreat there would be the official ‘transmission’ by Lama Shenpen. This is the formal recognition of the teaching being passed down to us via the teaching lineage, held by Lama Shenpen.
When signing up as an online participant I asked whether receiving the transmission would be the same if you’re ‘only’ joining in online. Was it less meaningful if you’re not there in person? Dashu from The Hermitage replied:
“It is all a matter of view. If you can see that in reality space and time are not what we think they are. That our notion of me here, you there are not as separate as we usually think, then of course it is the same as being here in person.
People joining online have found it really affecting for them.
It also depends on how strongly you can keep the boundaries you set for yourself. I think it has a power. Even if you set them quite loosely, being honest with yourself about making them work rather than setting them too tight and not achieving them and then having to feel bad about it.”
I found this incredibly helpful! If I set my intention and boundaries and created a special time and place for receiving the teachings and practicing the meditation, and let go of my concepts of time and space, I might be able to sense and connect to it as a powerful experience.
Because I’m still in recovery mode and have very limited energy, I set my retreat boundaries fairly loose to being with. I didn’t want to give myself any extra pressure, so I wrote down my intentions as wanting to join in the live teachings as much as possible, with at least one early morning formless meditation session.
It’s important to let other people know about your retreat if it affects them. So I chatted with my husband about what I wanted to do, i.e. use the living room undisturbed, first thing in the morning for meditation, then switching rooms once he was up and about, as he works from home, if he needed to work in the room. That worked out well, as when he was ready to start work, the main teaching session was finishing anyway.
What I did find though, was because I’d set my boundaries very loosely, on the first day I felt like I wasn’t creating the ‘right’ space for the specialness of the situation and found my mind wondering and dulling out or getting easily distracted.
I realised I needed more, clearer boundaries and to create more of a special occasion of it each morning. So I set up a pattern of making sure my phone wasn’t in the same room so I couldn’t be tempted to answer any texts or messages and I’d light incense next to my small Buddha in the lounge as an offering, to create a sacred space and to signify the start of the session.
I found those clearer boundaries, gave more power and sense of occasion to the session, and in turn I was more focussed and open to the teachings.
I was pleased that I’d managed to keep to my retreat intentions: I was up (even if by the skin of my teeth some days!) and listening to all the live sessions (9am-10.30am) each morning, apart from one where I had a visitor and another when I had to leave the season early as had to go out, but I did catch up later on the audio links.
I took part in one 7am meditation session as planned and was able to tune in live for the transmission on the last day, which I didn’t want to miss.
The transmission was also a offering to Lama Shenpen. The room was decorated and rice thrown as well as the mandala offering set at the shine. I used to struggle with the ‘religiousness’ of ritual and ceremony, but I am much more open and have a greater understanding of its purpose these days.
It’s about acknowledging the specialness and auspiciousness of the occasion and the importance and power of the teaching lineage and its adhisthana (blessing). If it wasn’t given a ceremony, it wouldn’t feel or be treated as special, so its acknowledging and appreciating it in a particular way. Lama Shenpen then led us through a guided meditation and afterwards blessed everyone in turn, including those of us online.
What was interesting was how emotional the transmission session felt. There was a genuine feeling of something special, of the power of our heart connections, and the great power of the lineage with the Dharma and adhisthana flowing through it via Lama Shenpen. I was surprised just how powerful that felt from afar, and it looped back round nicely to Dashu’s initial comments about letting go of space and time, and concepts of ‘here’ and ‘there’!
I really did have a sense of the timelessness and spacelessness of the Truth and power of the Dharma, and was very grateful to the Awakened Heart Sangha for being able to receive the teaching in the way that I did, and really appreciated being able to participate.