Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Epilogue

9-29-08 Long Beach, CA
9:30 AM

I had a very pleasant ride to the airport with Teresa. She’s a gracious and generous woman. She drives a hybrid – and the shuttle I took getting from the airport to Spirit Rock last week was a hybrid – so both directions I got to leave a smaller carbon footprint.

Christine picked me up at the airport with her new boyfriend. (Funny how much things can change in a week.) He’s nice and the 3 of us had dinner at Super Mex, where Michael & I had our post-wedding lunch. Making small talk with a stranger, even an easy-going one like James, was taxing and I was glad to be home.

Ivy came running to meet me! I love that kitty. Hopefully, we can get the dogs today. I miss them.

Michael will be home [from Japan] in a few hours. Yea! I fed my depression demon again today, and I’m going to be working with it for a month. I’m still in a calm, quiet space. I don’t know how long it will last, & it doesn’t matter. I’m here now.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Day 8

9:30 AM

Notes from Lama Tsultrim’s closing talk

How to set up a Prajna Paramita shrine. “If one worships Prajna Paramita, one has honored all Buddhas, past, present & future.” – “Buddhist Goddesses of India.” Copy of the 8,000 line sutra, wrapped in yellow cloth, placed on the shrine. In Prajna Paramita temples, that is the object that is revered. An image of her on the shrine or hanging behind [is fine, too]. “Of course, you have to actually read the sutra.” Edward Conze has a good translation.

I asked if all Tibetan chants were this soft. No. 🙂 Tsultrim learned this “melody” for the Prajna Paramita mantra from Alan Ginsberg, who learned it from Gary Snyder. “It’s a lineage!”

“The past has been erased from your heart. But let me tell you who you are.” Tara to Machig.

Then we did another dyad. I had my same lovely partner. The first question was how the sacred feminine manifests in me. Then we did “let me tell you who you are.” My partner saw me as a wise goddess, with wings, who can float. She saw me as manifesting balance in my relationship with my husband, in my work, & in my own feminine & masculine attributes. I saw her as Green Tara, ready to take on the issues of her time, while learning to love & care for herself.

Notes from Anna’s closing talk

We can’t jump over the difficult parts of our lives. No “spiritual bypass.” Employ various methods, because no one practice does everything. “If it did, we would teach it to you.” We need to integrate & stabilize the deep retreat experience into our lives. That is a way of practicing the dharma.

One of the most liberating practices is investigation. Inquiry. What is this demon? How do I feed it? Deep questioning. What is this? Who am I?

Balance between movement & stillness, study & practice, relationships & aloneness.

We finished the retreat as we began, with Tsultrim leading us in the Prajna Paramita manta.

A lady named Teresa is giving me a ride to the airport. I have some powerful karma with a different Teresa – so much so that I have a negative association with the name. I am taking this gift from the universe as an opportunity to get over it.

11:54 AM
I spoke briefly with Tsultrim & told her I’d like to study with her, while continuing my Zen practice. She advised me to start with Kapala Training I – which happens to be offered during the time Michael will be in Laguna Seca. And so my karma unfolds…

I made friends with the woman I had had trouble liking. I spoke to her just now and she’s quite nice! Isn’t that interesting…?

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Day 7

11:00 AM
Notes from Lama Tsultrim’s talk

Prayer for the Post Meditation
May my visions become like the deities’, may my sounds become like mantras, and may my awareness be like the state of dharmakaya. – 1st line. This prayer is said to be the last words of a lama.

Tsultrim’s long life prayer was written by her teacher at the request of one of her students. Tibetan tradition is that as Buddha was dying, he said, “If you’d asked me, Ananda [one of his main students], I would have stayed longer.” So long life prayers for teachers are common.

[After her talk,] we did Prajna Paramita practice with her guiding it. Very nice.

Closing Schedule


2:30 Sitting

3:00 Closing announcements

4:00 Open

5:15 Dinner

6:00 Working Meditation

6:45 Sitting/Sky gazing

7:20 Stretch Break

7:30 Tara Mandala slide slow – upper walking hall


6:30 Sitting/Sky gazing

7:15 Breakfast

9:00 Pack/Clean room

9:30-11:00 Closing Session

11:35 AM
Notes from Debra’s talk

When we’re not resting in absolute truth, we have the tools to deal with relative truth. Meaning we can take the practice off the mat and into the world. What is the part of my identity that is keeping me from my true self? Who am I?

Repeating Question meditation: “Who are you?” asked by a partner. Don’t try to get somewhere. Just attempt to describe the indescribable. Giving it words can allow it to become embodied. It doesn’t have to make sense; it’s an exploration.

I had my same partner. While listening, I had no trouble staying grounded for a change. I saw myself as Prajna Paramita, yellow, luminous & radiant. My lower two arms were in my lap, keeping me grounded. My upper two arms were made of golden light, reaching around to encircle the young woman in font of me. I was fully grounded & holding her at the same time. Then I realized, as I listened to who she is, that she is Green Tara. 🙂

Afterwards, we had Q&A with the teachers.

Tsultrim: in tantric Buddhism, a woman is in her power during menstruation. The blood was sacred & placed on the altar. The sun is a feminine symbol & the moon a male symbol.

Anna: menopause was estrogen withdrawal, like withdrawing from a drug. It’s a teaching on the power of this body. Then there’s a sense of “that’s not who I am, either.”

Tsultrim: “Machig is depicted as luminous. Dancing. And naked!” She practiced in cemeteries, carrying menstrual blood in a skull cup.

4:58 PM
Wild turkeys make a very cute, high-pitched little sound when they’re pecking the ground for food. It sounds nothing like “gobble.”

I’ve written several times that I “miss” Michael. Yet I don’t feel sad or lonely. I simply look forward to seeing him again. Coming here has been very good for me. It’s kept me sane (sane-ish) while he’s been in Japan.

10:00 PM
Another amazing day comes to a close. I’m happy to be returning home. I have savored my time on retreat, and now it’s time for the next course.

Tsultrim is a manifestation of Machig. I’ve known this on a subtle level for several days, and then it burst upon my consciousness this morning. Tonight, in the optional session when she showed slides of Tara Mandala, she told us how two different Lamas (one in Tibet, one in Nepal) had officially recognized her as an emanation of Machig.

Tsultrim did book signings tonight, & I actually stood in line for this! (Very unlike me.) Of course, I didn’t stand in line long, since I was fourth in line. When my turn came, I asked Tsultrim if I could give her a bow from my tradition. She smiled and said yes. So I bowed like I do for the Zen Master: standing bow, full prostration, standing bow. She smiled her radiant smile and said, “Thank you.” And then she suggested I teach Prajna Paramita at the Zen Center! I told her I’d love to, and I meant it. Should be an interesting talk with my teacher.

It didn’t occur to me until I started to write this down that something fairly significant has happened: a Tibetan lama has given a Zen Buddhist permission to teach a Tibetan practice in a Zen Center. Whoa. [It is unusual for traditions to “cross-pollinate” like this, and also unusual for a teacher to permit someone who has not studied with them for a long time to pass on their teachings.]

One of the things I love about Tsultrim is her total lack of exclusivity in her teachings and approach. She reminds me of all that attracted me to Tibetan Buddhism 10 years ago. It might even have been enough to lure me back if it weren’t for my ever-deepening connection with my Zen Master.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Day 6

8:30 AM

I still haven’t made it to the pre-dawn Prajna Paramita practice. Oh, well. I never went to sunrise services as a Christian or a Wiccan, I don’t see why I should start now as a Buddhist! *lol* There have only been three things in my life to motivate me to get up that early: fishing with my dad, watching my husband’s motorcycle racing, and running half-marathons. I don’t count work, because I’ll change jobs if one makes me get up too early.

Here, there is the added element of the cold. I wake up every morning with my back stiff and hurting from arthritis. Going outside, where it’s even colder, and sitting motionless in what is not a comfortable position to begin with just doesn’t seem like a good idea. Every morning I set my alarm. Every morning I test the temperature. And every morning I crawl back under the covers and sleep one more precious hour. And, a new development in my life, I don’t feel guilty for it.

10:40 AM
Tsultrim spoke on feeding demons with a partner and put on a demonstration. Very powerful practice, though there’s no one in my life I trust enough to do this with.

12:12 PM
We just practiced feeding our demons with a partner. I felt a gentle hand on my back, & it was the young woman I had partnered with for inquiry practice. With a radiant, open smile, she asked, “Do you have a partner?” And so I did.

I fed my demon of resentment of Michael’s trying to help a woman as part of his volunteer work.

Notes from Tsultrim’s talk on the Demon Tracking Form

Types: inner, outer, exultation, ego.
Name: depression, resentment, etc.

You can have subsequent dialogues with the ally to help make decisions. It’s trusting your own wise heart, not farming out your power to someone else.

Allies & demons may change forms over time. The demon may live somewhere else in your body, too.

If you have a huge core issue, work with it each day for one month. Some demons may be like the heads on a hydra, with the core issue being its immortal head.

2:55 PM
Rather than fall asleep again during the 2:30 sitting meditation, I did tea drinking meditation. It was very helpful.

I’m learning to relate to a power greater than myself as either Tara (for compassion and most other things) or Prajna Paramita (for inner wisdom & decision making.)

4:00 PM
Notes from group interview with Tsultrim

Staying awake during mediation: nap, eat less, wear less. If that doesn’t do it, it’s karma.

“Fourth time”: beyond past, present & future. Also known as the “fourth moment.” Experience of awareness that isn’t conditioned by time.

Let mind look at mind; then either rest or “flop” (or “drop.”)

Prajna Paramita is before opposites.

[Spoken to a cancer patient] Use your time to find the unconditioned state. If you die, that’s where you want to go. If you live, that’s where you want to be.

9 Purification Breaths [performed at the beginning of Prajna Paramita practice]
First three: use the left hand, visualize dark blue smoke for anger and aversion.
Second three: use the right hand, visualize dark red smoke for clinging, desire, attachment, grasping.
Third three: hands down, visualize ash colored smoke for ignorance & delusion.

Tsultrim said she never had a female teacher. “I’ve been working on becoming the teacher I wanted to find.” We talked about my Zen practice & Prajna Paramita practice, and she said, “Turn that wall into the sky!” [Zen is an indoor activity; Tibetan Buddhism is largely outdoor.] We laughed.

If your mind wanders during Prajna Paramita practice, try glancing down at Machig’s last instructions and read a few lines.

None of us would have met these teachings & teachers without a karmic connection and lifetimes of practice and merit.

Another yogi asked if she should ask permission to integrate these practices into her normal practice. Tsultrim: “I stopped asking permission a while ago.” Right on! “I would never have written my book if I asked permission.”

Try holding energy in the lower abdomen so it doesn’t ping-pong thru the body. Hold the muscles above & below with slight tension, but relax the belly in between.

“Buddhist Goddesses of India” by Miranda Shaw.

Prajna Paramita is the great mother beyond gender. The state of Prajna Paramita has no gender.

In conclusion, being in Tsultrim’s presence is a lot like being with Zen Master Bob: both are enlightened teachers. I feel blessed to have studied with each of them.

6:01 PM
One of my fellow yogis has “I C U MARA” tattooed twice around her wrist. I love it!

I identified my desire for a shawl as a want, not a need. I looked thru the stack one last time & saw one that hadn’t been out before. I was instantly drawn to it. After wasting entirely to much time deciding what to do, I bought the fool thing. It was the right decision. Just looking at it makes me smile. I wore it home from the bookstore, I was so excited about having it.

As much as I could live like this forever, I look forward to going home. I miss Michael very much. I miss my pets, especially Sparky. That dog & I have a connection: he’s my familiar. I love the rest of my animal friends just as much, but I’m closest to him.

I hope I can bring these Tibetan practices into my life. I aspire to do so.

9:34 PM
Sunset Prajna Paramita practice was wonderful. The visualizations are getting easier, but I still find the body posture challenging to maintain.

Afterward, we went into the mediation hall and Tsultrim and 4 of her (female!) students did a Chod ceremony for us, complete with drums and bells. I could feel my body & mind receiving the healing energy! Wonderful!

I’d like to study with Tsultrim again some day. I feel a very strong connection to her and her teachings. Zen is still my home, however.

I’m concerned about my diet here. I’m hungry all the time unless I consume extra proteins, and then my calorie and fat intake go up. Ugh. I’m afraid to get on the scale when I get home. At least my clothes fit fine still.

I see so much wildlife that I’ve stopped noting it here. Deer, wild turkeys, and lots of lizards are my daily companions.

For the last few days, I’ve been able to hear my heartbeat all the time I’m meditating in the hall. I know what it sounds like, thanks to the sonogram technician who turned the sound up for me.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Day 5

8:35 AM

I’ve had a realization: my arthritis in my spine is too painful for me to sit still in the pre-dawn cold. I will not be able to do the outdoor sunrise Prajna Paramita practice. I choose to avoid the pain, accepting that it is my choice to do so.

Last night while we were meditating on the hillside, some deer walked past us on the road. Talk about meditation causing a reversal in the universe!

9:40 AM
Notes from Lama Tsultrim‘s talk and Q&A

Lineages of Buddhism: 3 yanas
Hinayana does not equal Theravadan
(Check out “Journey to India” by a French woman.)
In India, Buddha is still considered an incarnation of Vishnu.

Tripitika –
Sutra: teachings
[An illegible word, because I can’t read my own writing]: Code of ethic for monastics
Abby dharma: philosophy

Early on, meetings of Buddhist leaders took place about every 100 years. By the 3rd meeting or so, Mahayana and Theravada spilt off. Theravadan was considered the “true” Buddhism. Others saw a priest caste developing & questioned the authority of the arhats. Theravadan moved into Southeast Asia (Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma). The rest started as forest monks in SE India, but later moved into Northwest and central India, & into monasteries. The became Mahayana & moved into China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Pakistan, & Afghanistan.

Prajna Paramita started as a feminine presence in Mahayana, but wasn’t embodied. In the tantric period, female teachers appeared. Mandalas started to be used. Yab yum figures represent sacred sexuality. Working with the body, speech mind. It’s about the stuff of this world. During this period, Buddhism went to Tibet.

“Caste” actually means color. Darker skinned people were in India, perhaps from Africa, and had been matri-focal. They got pushed into lower classes during the Aryan invasion. The women of that caste continued to teach tantra, especially during the “tantric period.”

The “M” sound is associated with the feminine in many cultures, including India; hence “mum” (pronounced “moan”) for Prajna Paramita.

There is a channel between your eyes and heart. Light coming through the eyes activates something in the heart. If you experience eye strain [during meditation], relax the muscles behind the eyes, or imagine seeing all around, 360 degrees.

“Only a Buddhist could get tied up in grasping at emptiness!” – Debra

The purpose of working with deities: imitation through identification, like a child imitates its mother. How does it feel to have four arms, be golden yellow, be made of light, and be emanating wisdom?

Female mantras turn to the left, or counterclockwise. Male mantras turn to the right.

12:00 PM
Notes from Lama Tsultrim’s Q&A, continued.

Purpose of the perineum muscle hold in Prajna Paramita meditation: closes a gate to prevent energy leakage. (Personally, I find it helps me focus on the fact that I’m female – a fact I rarely consciously think about outside sex and flirting.) It keeps the presence in the body. It can create a feeling of bliss, which is our true nature. Bliss is our birthright, circulating in our subtle body. It’s not something we have to get from outside or someone else.

Keep your gaze stable in Prajna Paramita practice, it helps to avoid thinking. Ideally, don’t blink – but don’t try not to blink! Remove glasses.

Keep your mouth open during Prajna Paramita practice – just to a relaxed, natural degree. Very important!

[Prajna Paramita’s matra: Om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.]
Om – actually aom or aum. The syllable that contains everything.
Gate – gone
Paragate – gone beyond
Parasamgate – gone completely beyond
Bodhi – awakening
Svaha – so be it

A flower – a bee wouldn’t call it a flower, nor would a dog. Every being has a different experience of that flower, so there is no absolute flower. At what point does its flowerness manifest such that we call it a flower? Emptiness! Yet it takes the form of flower at some point. Both form & emptiness are contained within it.

Not clinging is not the same as not connected. Real relaxation is very connecting. We don’t have the tension & holding in between, or the feeling of what we’re not getting.

Sophia is a wisdom goddess, like Prajna Paramita. Mother Mary is more like Tara – embodiment of compassion. Sophia & Prajna Paramita deal with inner knowing; unmediated knowing that doesn’t go through the priest or lama. Her teachings were active at the time of Christ, & later suppressed. She was never a real person, but an archetype.

3:10 PM
After lunch today, I hiked up to the forest altar. I found a walking stick near the base of the trail, perhaps left by another yogi, & took it with me in case of rattlesnakes or bears. (Like it would help!) It was good for balance.

The altar clearing was lovely, with several statues scattered about as if they had grown there organically. Many people had left items there over the years – faded photographs of people and dogs, shells, painted rocks, natural rocks, malas, feathers, bits of paper, and more. A woman was laying down along the low retaining wall, so I took a seat at the far end from her.

Being with all these mementos of grief made me think of my father. The first anniversary of his death is coming up in less than two weeks, and I’ve been missing him very strongly lately. I began to think I had made a mistake in going there and was about to leave.

Then I had a thought: There are no mistakes; there is only karma. (I don’t know if I believe this, but it’s what I thought at the time.) So I stayed and let my tears fall silently.

I thought about how I feel when I hear a joke my dad would like, and then get that sickening lurch in my gut when I remember I’ll never get to tell him. I thought how I’d never get to ask his fatherly advice again, or hold his hand.

All this while, I was looking at a statue of Kwan Yin, because she was closet to me. Like Tara, she is a goddess of compassion. I spontaneously began to pray silently to her. I asked her to watch over my father and give him the motherly love he was lacking in his life. I don’t know why that prayer came to me. I had always known that Daddy and Grandma were never close, and I knew that it pained him. He worked very had her whole life to be a good son to her, and she always doted on one of his brothers. Perhaps my subconscious – or my Buddha nature – put it all together. All I know is that I felt better after I prayed that prayer. I felt that some cosmic unfinished business was at last complete.

I was sniffling quite a bit by then, and so, I suddenly realized, was the other woman in the altar clearing. She moved from lying down to sitting up, and I hurriedly wiped my eyes in embarrassment. I stood up to go, and wouldn’t you know it, she got up at the same time!

She came rushing the entire two paces over to me and put her hands on my upper arms. We each saw the tears in each other’s eyes and immediately moved to embrace. We shared a long hug, tight and warm, both of us sniffling. Finally, it relaxed naturally and we pulled back, still touching. The tears were still there, but now there were smiles, too. In those moments, she became Kwan Yin to me. She was the very goddess of compassion, the personification of sympathetic love. Then we released each other, turning opposite directions to begin our separate journeys down the hillside.

As I reached the trailhead, I placed the walking stick alongside the path. It’s to the right as you head up, “handle” end placed so it’s easy to grasp. May it be of as much benefit to the next woman.

6:15 PM

I’m reading “Machig’s Last Testament,” which Tsultrim read to us the other day, and I got to this part:

Once discursive thoughts are totally abandoned,
Dharmakaya is not other than that.

And I got it! I went “Ah…!” which is the one-syllable reduction of Prajna Paramita. And Prajna Paramita is a (1 of 3) dharmakaya. Ah, indeed. Isn’t that interesting…?

9:08 PM
I had another encounter with Kwan Yin/Tara this afternoon. After my run (same course, 3 minutes off Tuesday’s time – Yea!) I had a feeling I had forgotten something. I had thought about leaving an “offering,” but I didn’t have anything I felt was appropriate. I had a lot of strange thoughts around this issue, but ultimately I decided to go back to the forest altar and wait for further instructions.

This journey turned into a pilgrimage. I was coming from a different point on the land & took a different path. It was steeper, rougher, and turned into what I realized was nothing more than a game trail. Shortly after that realization, the trail ended. At least I found a pretty green rock, which I pocketed.

I found my way back to the meditation hall. [Which is pretty remarkable when you understand that I’ve gotten lost in my own city while using a GPS.] Then I did what we always do when our meditation is thrown off: I began again.

And somehow, leaving from the exact same point I had left from scarcely three house before, I took yet another trail. What the hell, I thought, I don’t know why I’m doing this anyway; let’s see where this leads.

Luckily, it led to the forest altar. Nobody was there this time, and I felt comfortable looking at the objects people had left there. Then I sat in front of Kwan Yin and meditated for a while.

I got up to go because I wanted to be back in time for Prajna Paramita practice. I said to Kwan Yin, “I don’t know why you brought me up here.” And then I remembered the rock in my pocket and set it in front of her. “But here. You can have this. It’s isn’t much, but it’s a pretty green.”

I felt an immediate sense of peace and realized I had done what I came to do. Buddhism isn’t what I’d consider a quid pro quo religion, but I felt I was making a stronger connection with the universe, as manifested by this goddess.

“I don’t know where this relationship is going,” I said to Kwan Yin. “you tell me.” Then I bowed to her – which is really my own Buddha nature – and headed back down.

After sunset Prajna Paramita practice, which was rich and deep, I went to do my work meditation in the kitchen. I really enjoy working with those 3 women. We’ve gone from being 4 individuals to being a team. We can usually anticipate each other now, and we’ve cut our work time by about 1/3 as a result.

I really miss Michael. And not just because of the erotic dreams I’ve been having about him, either! I look forward to showing him all I’ve learned here. I can’t really explain it, it’s beyond words. So I’ll show him Zen-style: by being the best wife I can as I deepen my practice. I had joking asked him what he was going to bring me back from Japan, & he asked what I was going to bring him from Spirit Rock. I told him, “a better wife.”

This time in retreat has strengthened my commitment to a regular meditation practice. I already have in mind where I can fit it in my daily routine. Everything’s in flux right now, anyway, as I transition from fixed hours to freelancing, so this is a good time for schedule changes.

The practice of feeding my demons has completely banished the depression I’d been battling since April, and that had nearly killed me in July. Funny what happens when you shift your paradigm from fighting to feeding. Of course, as Somerset Maugham said, “It’s easy to be a holy man on a mountaintop.” (I’ll forgive him the masculine reference since the character who spoke that line was a man referring to himself.)

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Day 4

11:30 AM

Notes from Lama Tsultrim’s talk

Feeding Your Demons
You let go of your end in a tug of war. “When you let go of your end in a tug of war, there is no more war.”

Demon: anything keeping us from being in the true nature of mind. What’s draining my energy right now? Depression, self-hatred, anger, a relationship issue? (“As tempting as that is, “they” are not the demon. Our reaction to them is the demon.”)

Needs are underneath the wants. Ex: wanting to eat ice cream all the time. Need is to feel safe.

We practiced the meditation. I worked with my demon depression, which it turns out is also fear & loneliness. It was a very profound experience. I look forward to incorporating this & the Prajna Paramita practice into my life.

Notes, Con’t.

Fighting the demons makes them more powerful. This idea of feeding them was developed by an 11th Century woman. [Machig Lapdron] (Though Buddha didn’t feed [the demon] Mara, he didn’t fight him, either.)

4:35 PM
Notes from group interview with Debra [Chamberlin-Taylor]

Discursive thinking may be felt as a tug. Note the tug and return to the present moment. If the tug keeps returning, there are options: feed the demon, look directly at the thought. These sensations (doubt, interruptions) are common right before a breakthrough moment – like how Mara redoubled his efforts right before the Buddha awakened.

Thoughts on the deficient feminine from a fellow yogi: it’s the shadow. It’s the whining, nagging, fussing we see ourselves do & want to stop, and see other women do & want to make them stop. At the same time, men are meeting their own shadows.

From another yogi, on the pre-dawn Prajna Paramita practice (that I skipped due to arthritis and cold): “if every woman on the planet greeted her day like this, I can’t imagine what we can’t heal.”

From another yogi: drawn to the power of the female. She said, “I see what my sister sitting right next to me is going through. Wow!” I like the “sister” reference, whereas until this week, I never liked it. Isn’t that interesting…?

Acronyms from the same yogi:
Divine Sacred Feminine = D.S.F. (Debra reminded us that this is a poetic term, not a technical one.)
deficient feminine = d.f.

Debra: female is the embodiment, male is the transcendent. We need full balance, as represented by Prajna Paramita. Prajna Paramita practice is perennial truth in a feminine form.

6:15 PM
Today has been a day of stillness. I returned to the bookstore largely because I enjoy its ambiance. It’s a pleasant break in a day of hard training. I found a gift for my friend Christine: a quartz crystal mala. It has good feminine energy. She can treat it as jewelry, too, if she wishes. I also found a few things I’d been wanting for myself at ridiculously low prices. The best part: coming & going I met a herd of deer. I had a chat with one of the does on my way out. Her body relaxed and her tail stopped twitching as I assured her, “I’m an herbivore, myself.”

I need to talk to Zen Master Bob about how to incorporate these teachings into my practice.

9:28 PM
We did outdoor Prajna Paramita practice at sunset. I need a warmer shawl. I hadn’t planned to buy one, but I may have to in order to participate fully. Rationalization? I don’t think so. I’d much rather buy more books & jewelry than a shawl! I’ll sleep on it.

I had some meditation periods today that went so smoothly, I couldn’t believe it when time was up. I also had a kensho moment at the end of tonight’s Prajna Paramita practice. When I dissolved the goddess, I dissolved, too. There was nothing left but emptiness, and yet “I” was aware of the emptiness & aware that it contained everything. It lasted a while, even after “I” became aware of “myself” again.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Day 3

9:45 AM

Notes from Lama Tsultrim’s talk [Tsultrim Allione]

Jna – ancient Indian goddess of inner knowing. Same root at gnosis. Old Testament Sophia – mentioned in proverbs. Her influence was felt in Europe at the time of Christ, when Prajna Paramita appeared in India. Eruption from the collective unconscious? (Note to self: Look up Sophia; who was this chick?) [Female embodiment of wisdom in Hellenistic philosophy and religion, Gnosticism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholic mysticism, and Protestant mysticism.]

Prajna Paramita is the mother, or source, of all Buddhas. She is the wisdom that we all pass through en route to Buddhahood.

She represents non-dual truth. Her sutra grew to 100,000 lines. People realized it was out of control, and by 500, it was reduced to one sound: Ah…! Later it become the Heart Sutra.

Buddhist deities are symbolic embodiments of enlightened qualities.

We practiced assuming the body positions the goddess is represented in, visualizing the different things she holds.

Notes, Con’t.

The Gnostic gospels state that Christ’s teachings were the transmission of gnosis: inner wisdom, no clergy required.

Vajra: masculine symbol, frequently held by Prajna Paramita. Upper 5 points are the 5 skandas [form, feeling, perceptions, impulses, consciousness]. Lower 5 points are 5 wisdoms (or 5 male Buddhas). Ball in the center is emptiness, where the transformation occurs. The vajra represents masculine skillful means and compassion.

In her other hand, Prajna Paramita holds the Prajna Paramita Sutra, representing the feminine. Her other hands are in the mudra of teaching: relative truth & absolute truth, both hands around the wheel of dharma.

She sits on a lion throne – like Buddha, & Neolithic images of the earth mother goddess.

Dharmakaya – a class of deities who are formless, even though Prajna Paramita is shown as embodied. She is an abstract principle, the feminine matrix.

Other “deities,” like Tara, are not archetypes. They are energy fields we can attune to. They exist whether we believe in them or not, because they made a commitment to be.

Prajna Paramita is golden; south; earth; transformation of pride to wisdom and equanimity.

Namo: Sanskrit for homage.

2:15 PM
Backing up a bit – I got in a run today, right after breakfast. Nearly 2 miles of hills. I walked past the turkeys, just like I do dogs, so they wouldn’t chase me! Also, I passed 3 gorgeous horses several times as I ran out & back twice.

I went back to the bookstore. Nothing speaks to me for Michael. But I did get myself a pendant with White Tara on one side and Green Tara on the other. It was affordable, & the nice lady gave me a cord for it. It turns out I didn’t need her assistance: purchases are on the honor system. Put your credit card info on the form & slip it in the slot! Amazing.

5:07 PM
I took a nap this afternoon! I kept dozing off during the 2:30 sit, I had a headache, & my legs hurt even though I moved from the floor to a chair earlier today. (Too late on the chair, apparently.) So I let my body & mind rest.

6:30 PM
I’m looking at the handout from Lama Tsultrim, and her center – Tara Mandala – is in Pagosa Springs, CO. I spend a week in Pagosa Springs once. What are the odds? The wheel of karma, perhaps?

6:50 PM
Notes from Lama Tsultrim’s talk

Prajna Paramita is no thing in herself, but has the potential to “give birth” to everything.

“Womb of totality” – awareness of the vastness of space.

Meditation: turns the universe around – by stopping our habitual, destructive, grasping behaviors, & turning them around.

Instinct is karmic patterning. The body we end up with is important. Cats want to kill. “As soon as you get a cat body, you’re going to want to kill things.”

The bodhisattva vow can never be accomplished. The work never ends. “It’s like working in the Post Office.”

9:11 PM
Tsultrim finished giving us transmission of the Prajna Paramita practice. It has the potential to be very powerful in my life.

I’m wearing my new Tara talisman to bed tonight. I want to infuse it with the energy of the sacred feminine, like charging a battery. When I got here, I was wearing a wonderful pendant Ron & Julie gave me, covered in symbols of many faiths. I was drawing energy from it, as it came charged with their love, when I got to this new place. But I’m home, here, now, and comfortable. For a while this afternoon, I was wearing both. Now it’s just Tara.

It is a widespread Buddhist custom to stand when senior teachers come in & out of the room. In Zen, we do it for Zen Masters. Tibetans do so for Lamas. I had stood for both Zen Masters and Lamas before – all of them male. It occurred to me today that Tsultrim is the first woman teacher I’ve stood for. I have very confusing emotions around this [that it’s never happened before], so I’m not going to make anything by thinking about it. I have noted it & will move on.

I feel a strong kinship with the different teachers in training here. They keep time during meditation, serve their teachers water, record the talks, & follow their teachers into group interviews. Some of the duties are similar to what I do at my Zen Center. These women will be my contemporaries in teaching the dharma, if we all stay the path.

I had a snack after work meditation in the kitchen today. (How did they get purple cauliflower, anyway?) I had a thin corn cake with organic peanut butter and 1/2 cup soymilk. I’m hungry constantly here, & I’m hoping this will keep me from waking up hungry. I don’t think the food is very well nutritionally balanced. They are trying to accommodate people’s allergies, and with only about 100 people to feed including staff and teachers, they can’t offer a lot of options. If I work on getting some protein snacks during the day, I think I’ll be okay.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Vipassana

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Day 2

1:25 PM

I decided to sleep through the early meditation this morning. Wonderfully luminous!

There was a herd of 4 small deer outside my door this morning. They watched me put my shoes on. Yesterday, I walked past 2 wild turkeys 6′ away.

The teachings on the sacred feminine so far have focused on how to be compassionate & care for others without giving yourself away. We did a partnered meditation called “inquiry” where one person speculates aloud on a suggested subject while the other listens deeply without getting out of herself. I’ve done deep listening, but never with this focus. It’s hard! Hard training.

Out subjects have been (1) ways the deficient feminine manifests in our lives, and (2) ways the sacred feminine manifests.

I have decided not to go running today. One of the managers told me they advise against it on vipassana retreats, but if I must go, go downhill from the residential area. Since I have a group interview with a teacher at 4 today, I’ll check with her. I don’t want to do something counterproductive to my – or another yogi’s – retreat experience.

My new mantra/koan:

Isn’t that interesting…?

3:47 PM
I went to the bookstore looking for gifts. This was just a recon mission: no buying today. On the walk back, I encountered a herd of 5 deer, & 2 wild turkeys. Damn, those are big birds.

I enjoyed the free-form movement practice. Part belly dance, part yoga, part stretching. It almost became nap practice for me at the end when we were all stretched out on the floor. “Connect to the earth like no one needs anything from you for the next few minutes,” said the teacher [Julie Wester]. Wow! What a concept! I thought I had an unending string of responsibilities to countless people.

4:45 PM
Notes from group interview with Anna [Douglas]

On noble silence: “For women, it’s an invitation not to caretake.”

She told me to go running.

“Trust our own knowing. As women, this is something that needs refining.”

With the silence, I had no trouble liking everyone. Now that I’ve talked to some of the women in a group, however, I get to practice not judging!

9:45 PM
Dinner was good. Anna gave a dharma talk on Prajna Paramita, the goddess – but mostly on what the sacred feminine means & can mean to the world. This retreat is helping me build self-esteem & grow more comfortable in my roles that are gender-based.

I enjoy my night job of veggie washer. Very relaxing and satisfying. I wonder what dish those 15 lbs. of parsnips are going to turn up in…

Lights out.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Day 1

9-21-08 Spirit Rock
4:15 PM

Christine picked me up. We stopped & had hot tea on the way to the airport. I look forward to seeing her next week when she picks me up.

The flight was fine. Had an entire HS [high school] football team aboard. As a fellow passenger said, “Way too much testosterone on this flight.”

Met Babs & caught the shuttle. She’s a “back to the land” rancher who raises Percherons. I enjoyed her company. We got to SR early so we went hiking. Beautiful vistas in the rolling hills! Saw a fawn & several hawks.

My roommate, Kate, seems nice. Very mindful.

My work meditation is to wash vegetables. How appropriate! I did this at Deer Park [Monastery] & hated it. I volunteered for it here from the available jobs so I can practice detachment – or non-attachment. Now, I’m off to get trained. I wonder how much training I’ll need in washing vegetables…

7:30 PM
Dinner was good, though light. Lunch is the big meal here.

I managed to avoid washing any of the 40 lbs. of bok choy! I did help wash 13 lbs. of roma tomatoes, 8 lbs. of bell peppers, & 1/2 flat of cherry tomatoes. The other members of my veggie washing team are Regina, Barbara, & Micha (who just got married to her girlfriend of 21 years!)

Kate & I have set up our home & basic ground rules. We have established that she is the window expert & I do the blinds. We managed to “fix” both.

I hope Michael did well in his [motorcycle] race. I think of him often. The only reason I regret not brining a camera is that I would have liked to share images of this place with him.

9:30 PM
The opening session was great. Chanting the prajna paramita [mantra] – 80 to 90 women – chanting at a pitch I can reach rather than too low. Lots (too much?) estrogen in the room. 🙂

It’s so quiet here, I can hear my tinnitus constantly. I could even hear my heart beat during meditation, though, curiously, only on the inhalations.

The talk opened with a quote from Ammachi about how feminine energy is needed to save the world. Something certainly is needed. I hope I can help.

Now it’s off to sleep. I look at my wedding ring tattoo, remembering the night Michael & I got them – & then went dancing at Miss Kitty’s! I think I just found the one sacred thing that only I share with him…

1st interview
Anna 4:00 Rm 1 9/22/08


6:00 Wake Up

6:30 Morning Sitting Meditation/Sky gazing

7:15 Breakfast Meditation

8:00 Walking Meditation

9:00 Sitting Meditation

9:30 Teachings

10:30 Walking Meditation

11:00 Sitting Meditation

11:30 Teachings

12:30 Lunch Meditation

2:30 Sitting Meditation

3:00 Movement or Walking Meditation

4:00 Sitting Meditation or Small Group Interviews

4:45 Walking Meditation

5:15 Dinner Meditation

6:45 Sitting Meditation/Sky gazing

7:20 Stretch Break

7:30 Teachings

8:30 Working Meditation (Washing Vegetables)

9:00 Sitting Meditation

9:30 Sleep

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Prologue

I’ve been wanting to express my experiences on my recent retreat. I’ve decided the most effective way to do that is to publish the journal I kept while there. I kept a hand-written one, so that involves my typing it all up. I’m going to publish one day’s worth of journaling every few days on here. It’s a lot; I wrote a ton. (Zen Masters don’t let you take notes during most of their talks, so when the Tibetan Lama said we could, I took her up on it!)

A few notes on editing. First, I will omit references that could cause someone else embarrassment or difficulty. Second, some of the notes on teachings are incomplete as I took them to supplement hand-outs, not as a total record-keeping system. Finally, there may be inaccuracies. I was not familiar with Tibetan Buddhism prior to this retreat, and there may be some teachings I misunderstood.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this blog report on my retreat should be taken as instructional; it is offered for entertainment and inspiration.

The retreat was on Awakening Through the Sacred Feminine and was held at Spirit Rock in Woodacre, CA , September 21-28, 2008. Enjoy. Namaste!