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“Aha!” Moments from the Winter Retreat


Our second East Coast Winter Retreat provided a precious time and space to listen, contemplate, and meditate with our beloved teachers. We had the great privilege to receive powerful teachings from Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyalsten, Acharya Lhakpa Tshering, and Mitra Mark Power. After the retreat, we asked participants to share some “aha!” moments of insight they experienced. Please enjoy a few “ahas!” and photographs below. (Click the photos for a full size version.)


“Lama Tenpa stated that ‘our nature is nondual present mind’, and that we can return to it by falling in love with the present moment in every moment. The key is to change our attitude with the present moment. So simple and true, yet I need to be reminded of this in every moment.”

“Lama Tenpa’s reminder to bring our intelligence to the cushion was very helpful.”


“Discernment means not only knowing what to adopt and what to reject; it also means knowing when to do so and when to restrain my critical faculties and instead to cultivate equanimity.”

“Mental afflictions–concepts mixed with belief–are the things to notice and work with. Make friends with the present moment. Grandma is ready to hug you in present moment.”



More photographs and “Aha!” moments coming soon!

Much gratitude to Karen de Luna providing the lovely photographs.

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The Difference Between a Prison and a Monastery

The following is the second excerpt in a series from Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen’s teachings from the 2015-16 Winter Retreat. See the first here. Lama Tenpa will join us again this Dec. 30 – Jan. 3— info here.

The second instruction for entering into retreat is: return to the present moment. Whatever you’re doing— walking, eating, sleeping— let it be meditation. Let it be mindfulness. The essential point is to stay in the present moment. Relax. Be in the present moment. And appreciate.

Relaxing alone is not it. We can space out, get drunk or get high… that’s not it. It’s important to be in the present moment. But we often treat the present moment as the least desirable thing. We’re bored; we want to try different things to get away from it. The present moment could be scary or ugly to us— our hell. We look for everything elsewhere. We pray about the future— “may I become…”

But the Buddha’s teaching is that the present is everything. We might regard the present moment as our samsaric hell, but we need to examine that and shift our attitude.

What’s the essential difference between a prison and a monastery? Is there no Buddha in prison? Because there’s no Buddha statue there? If there is no Buddha in prison because there is no Buddha statue there, then there is no Buddha in our heart, because there is no Buddha statue there either. Buddha is everywhere— all pervading. And if Buddha is there, then dharma and sangha are there too.

In many ways, a prison is nicer than a monastery. You have TV, a playground, a full breakfast… And you can sleep— at a monastery, you have to wake up at 3 or 4 AM! An American prison facility is so comfortable that Tibetan monks could go on retreat there!

The essential difference between a prison and a monastery is that no one wants to be there in prison. If you don’t want to be there, then that’s your prison.

So, we don’t need to change our place, wherever we’re at, right away. We just need to change our attitude. We need to say to ourselves “I’m OK to be here.” We need to accept.

The first function of wisdom and compassion is to accept things as they are. Without acceptance, there’s no wisdom or compassion— or devotion. If we don’t accept, our prison is worse. If we accept— if we change our attitude— then even wha’t spainful and ugly can be transformed. That’s the beginning of change, of transformation. Try to see the monastery in the prison, the nirvana in samsara.

author-lama-tenpa-largeSo, first, relax. Sometimes we don’t even know how to do that. We are stuck in our mindset. Then, develop an appreciation of nowness— the present moment. If we’re not willing to be in the present, our meditation is just a prayer for the future— a speculation. Appreciation of the present moment is through acceptance. If we accept the present moment, then our practice will go well.

Interested in this year’s retreat? Click for info. And get last year’s teachings for over half off.

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It’s Not So Important… Relax!

ALTG_2- 496×581The following is the first excerpt in a series from Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen’s teachings from the 2015-16 Winter Retreat. Lama Tenpa will join us again this Dec. 30 – Jan. 3— info here.

When we enter into a retreat, it’s important to consider “retreat from what?” What are we retreating from? Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen suggests that we consider it a retreat from “important things to do.” If we think: “this retreat is very important for me to do,” that’s a little bit wrong. Think of your retreat as not important— very ordinary— as in the Mahamudra notion of ordinary.

Listen! Excerpt from Lama Tenpa’s teaching (MP3 available here) 

If we’re filled up with “important things to do,” then we cannot relax. If everything is serious, then everything becomes a problem. If our dharma activity is so important, then it becomes mere worldly dharma. If we become very serious, then we’re really “half dead!”

Every meditation instruction says “relax”— especially Mahamudra.  And we are not relaxing, then forget about meditation. So, first, relax… loosen up. Lama Tenpa says, “my Buddha is not serious…. I don’t like serious teacher… Look at Khenpo [Tsultrim Gyamtso] Rinpoche, how crazy he is! He’s not serious. That’s why I chose him.” And the paths of Mahamudra and Dzogchen are relaxation— not serious.

So, consider your retreat a retreat from all important things. The first instruction for entering into retreat is: relax.

Interested in this year’s winter retreat? Click for info. And get last year’s teachings for over half off.

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by Susan Busby

Nalandabodhi Connecticut was the second stop on Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s 2013 North East  tour of New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.  In Connecticut, Rinpoche  taught on the Four Immeasurables:  love or loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity.

blue flowers http://www.freephotosbank.com/12245.html

Love is the first of the Four Immeasurables.  Rinpoche stated that religions may disagree about many things but there is no disagreement when we talk about loving-kindness. This is not some diplomatic agreement between religions, but a heartfelt agreement about the importance of this practice of loving kindness.  Here, this sense of love is not necessarily restricted to the idea of romantic love, but the meaning conveys a sense of softness, kindness, gentleness or a feeling of goodness, a sense of brotherhood, sisterhood, and harmony.  This noble heart of love and kindness gets mixed up, however, with our habitual tendency of attachment, grasping, and clinging.  In that moment when we get attached to the object of our love, we  lose our love.  When we truly and genuinely feel our heart of loving-kindness there is a sense of genuine freedom and great comfort, satisfaction, contentment and joy.  When there are many strings attached to this love, that is when we begin to feel a sense of dissatisfaction and discontentment, that nothing is enough, and then we feel a sense of lack of freedom.

The first important step in practicing loving-kindness is to practice it towards oneself, and reflect on our own nature, our own being, and then see what we desire to achieve and what we hope will not happen. We reflect on that with patience because impatience is the obstacle to love and kindness, so we practice reflecting on what we want to achieve and avoid, along with patience.   This will help us see how deeply we are habituated to desire and aversion, and how our mind is consciously or unconsciously moving toward things we want and away from things we don’t want.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/8759913601/sizes/l/Rinpoche explained that the Mahayana sense of love is based on the idea of selflessness, and the love that we are trying to connect with is love that shines from our Buddha-nature. This Buddha-nature, which is our real nature of mind, is full of wisdom and compassion in its own state, without effort or without adding anything to it.   This Buddha-nature is our true state, and has a sense of gentleness and kindness. Therefore, there is no reason to hate ourselves.   It is a controversial idea, but the Buddha’s idea is that our original state is completely pure and good.

The real heart of love is a gentle, soft, and vulnerable spot.  This vulnerability makes us afraid to fully identify with our heart and blocks us from maintaining pure selfless, egoless love.  We have love but try to shield it with armor and protection.  We don’t want people to look at us to see our vulnerability.  We do this so much that we do it towards ourselves; we shield ourselves from our own vulnerable spot so we cannot love ourselves any more.  We perpetuate this habit based on our conditioning and conditions around us.  Thus we are unable to give genuine, egoless love even to ourselves sometimes.  Rinpoche suggests that we be brave, and feel it to transform our fear and transform our blockages.  When we can feel this love–the egoless, selfless, genuine soft spot, and maintain it, then that is limitless love.  We call this love without boundary. When we can experience it, this love is genuinely beautiful.   When we can shine this love towards others, then we can bring the beauty of this love into our world.

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Lessons and Mind Training from the Boston Marathon

2013 Boston Marathon Start

by Christine (Krysha) Brooks

Training for a marathon is just as much a “head” game as it is a game of physical endurance. The main reason I do several long training runs (up to 24 miles) in the months before the Boston Marathon is to give me the confidence at the start of a race that I will be able to go the distance and finish.

Last year, as the Boston Marathon was about to start and I was going to my assigned corral, I heard the announcer say that the charity runners had raised over $11 million to run the race. He read a long list of charities – Dana Farber, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, The Heart Association, The Liver Foundation, even Newtown.   Even after running 9 Boston Marathons, I am still overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the running community.

When the race starts, runners are instantly greeted by cheering spectators lining the streets.  Kids feed the runners wedges of oranges, and pieces of bananas like they would feed animals at the zoo, and hold their hands out so you can slap them five.  People offer runners Vaseline to soothe any chafing, jelly beans for extra energy, and most importantly they offer words of encouragement like: “You’ve got great legs”, or “you’re looking great” (even though you feel like you are turning green and about to fall over), or “you can do it”! It is a wonderful exchange of energy. It is 26.2 miles of truly open hearted people celebrating the day, celebrating life, and caring for each other unconditionally as only a family can. It doesn’t matter what country you are from, the color of your skin, what religion, what political party, whether you are rich or poor, whether you are male or female, gay or straight, fast or slow, or even whether or not you have legs!  (There are marathoners who compete in wheelchairs.)

It was a perfect  day for running – sunny and cool, and I had a great run.  I turned that last corner onto Boylston Street – the last 0.2 of a mile, and I could see the finish ahead. The spectators’ voices were echoing off the buildings, fueling my tired legs and body, to carry me over the finish. I was giving it everything I had left. I was about half way to the finish when I saw the first explosion. My legs continued running toward the finish, but my mind was trying to process what happened.  Was it fireworks? Should I stop? When I saw the second explosion, I stopped. The roar of the spectators’ voices stopped too. I walked over to some people and asked if they knew what was going on? They said it could be a gas explosion or a transformer. I borrowed their phone to call my husband.

As I spoke with him, a group of about 40 police officers ran toward the finish, followed by about 30 police officers on motorcycles, followed by two fire engines, followed by a medical truck. I knew then that people had been injured. The police calmly directed people to leave the area and as we walked, people were on their cell phones reporting: 2 dead. 50 down. It had definitely been a bomb.

I was freezing. I was wearing my spandex shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. My clothes were wet because I pour water on my clothes to keep cool as I run. It was 50 degrees. After the bombings, the kind people in Boston took it to a whole new level. Another runner gave me his foil blanket, a woman invited me to come up to her company’s offices where it was warm and I could use their phones. Another runner gave me a spare pair of warm-up pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt to keep warm. A young man offered to walk me and another woman to our hotels. I was still freezing so he lent me his jacket.

Sports Illustrated CoverWhen I got to the hotel room, the Hartford Track Club organizers looked at me as if they’d seen a ghost. They track all the runners on the bus and my projected finish time based on my pace at the 40K mark was 17 seconds after the first bomb went off. They had reported me as a potentially missing person. The New Britain police chief – Chief Wardwell and another runner (who were on our bus) had gone down to the finish line medical tent to see if they could find me in case I was injured.

The news of the bombings spread quickly all over the world, and I was inundated with messages from friends and family concerned for my safety from Slovakia, Germany, London, Mexico, and all over this country. For days afterwards my neighbors were stopping me on the street, or literally running out of their houses, to give me a hug. I felt as though I had gone to my own funeral.

In the days, weeks, and months since last year’s marathon, I realized some important lessons:

Lesson #1:  People matter! Each one of us matters. People are more than a business transaction. We are all connected by our friendship and genuine concern for each other’s well being. I made a personal pledge to:  Really connect with people.  Treat people like human beings.  Look them in the eyes.  Smile.  Tell them how much I appreciate them.  Say “Thank You.”  Build real relationships.

Lesson #2:  By observing people’s reactions, I realized that an event like this releases a kind of energy into our world that flows through each person and comes out in their actions depending on the state of their mind.

Kind actions come from a kind mind. Runners who had finished the marathon ran to nearby hospitals to donate blood for the people who were injured.

My mother who tends to be fearful said: Oh there are so many dangerous people in the world. And I realized: Hmmm….Actually there were 26.2 miles of really wonderful people and only two whose minds were tragically disturbed by anger and hatred. It is very difficult to capture in words the enormity of the devastation that comes from an angry mind.

It made me look at my own mind? What am I adding to the world?

I said before that training for a marathon is just as much a “head” game as it is a game of physical endurance, so I have added a new “head” game component to my training regimen. I call it:

KIND MIND strength training!

It has three exercises:

(1) Notice how your mind is affected by the world around you.  People, TV, Music, Magazines, News, Advertisements, etc.  Advertisers and the media are in business to trigger your emotions in order to get you to buy things or do things they want you to do – like “click here”.  Just notice what emotions are being triggered for you. Don’t judge. Just notice. Leaders influence people. They can lead people in good ways and bad ways. Notice how they are influencing you.

(2) Notice how the state of your mind affects your actions.  Happy mind? Crabby mind? Are you nicer when you’ve had your coffee in the morning?

(3) Notice how your actions affect others around you.  When you leave a sink full of dirty dishes for your spouse after a burst of creative culinary inspiration, does it make them happy?

Christine (Krysha) Brooks

Christine (Krysha) Brooks

A new slogan was created in response to the Boston Marathon bombings. It is “B Strong” or Boston Strong. I like to add “B Kind” – Boston Kind.

So:  Train your body, and train your mind.   B Strong. B Kind.


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