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

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 Zen Buddhism

My First Public Talk

I gave my first “public talk” Tuesday night at the Zen Center. It was the first public talk we’ve had in a very long time, so no one from the public showed up. Except my husband – who is not technically a “member” of the Zen Center – so he sort of counts. Some of my sangha-mates were there, and it was nice to have their support.

My husband asked me a number of good questions. Some of them were from his Taoist perspective, others were from his trying to pretend to be a newbie. All were helpful. Some of my sangha friends asked questions, too. Other times, they jumped in and answered my husband’s questions. It was all quite lively and engaging. The question and answer period ran longer than my talk!

I’m relieved to have survived my turn. I’m pleased with how it went. My friends (and I include my husband in this) gave me some helpful feedback. I know the next time I come up in the rotation, I’ll do an even better job.

Posted in Zen Buddhism

On Speech

“I vow not to make the bad karma of lying, exaggerating, causing trouble between people, or cursing others.”

Adapted from “Understanding Zen Forms and Rituals” handbook of the Golden Wind Zen Center.

Posted in Zen Buddhism

The Four Great Vows

Several members of my Zen Center and I are studying to become dharma teachers. (“Dharma” is best translated as “teachings,” thought I’ve seen it as “law.”) We’re beginning at the beginning: studying vows. One set that we say after each evening’s meditation is the Four Great Vows. Tonight we received some wonderful instruction on what these really mean at various levels

Sentient beings are numberless; we vow to save them all.

Delusions are endless; we vow to cut through them all.

The teachings are infinite; we vow to learn them all.

The Buddha way is inconceivable; we vow to attain it.