Monday, October 27, 2014

The Shangpa Monlam in France 2014

Lama Palden Drolma

Kalu Rinpoche with his three year retreat grads who were in attendance
After driving through dense fog at 8 am, we arrived at Palden Shangpa La Boulaye, Kalu Rinpoche’s primary center in France. As the sun began to stream through the mist, a line of small stupas greeted us. Next we were welcomed by an impressive Bhutanese lhakhang (Tibetan for house of the gods – what they call temples). Before I could enter, I heard a voice say, “Kalu Rinpoche is calling you.” Turning around I saw Rinpoche striding towards me, and I hurried to greet him. After a warm embrace, he escorted me into the lhakhang to show off the altar he had arranged for the Monlam.

Rinpoche put his heart, time and love into this first ever Shangpa Monlam. A Monlam is a prayer, and a large Monlam like this one is where the lamas and attendees make many prayers for all beings’ benefit, which of course includes praying that all beings receive what they need and desire and live in harmony and peace. He had placed nametags for the lamas of his centers and sat the senior lamas in a row together— from East and West, male and female, with all the other lamas and three year retreat grads in rows behind. All the other dharma practitioners sat on the sides and in back. The large lhakhang holds 500 people or so.

Palden Shangpa La Boulaye Temple in Burgundy, France
In addition to Europeans, representatives from various Shangpa centers around the world were in attendance. Argentina, Brazil, Korea, the States and six of us from Sukhasiddhi. Joyfully, we practiced together for a week. Part of the inspiration for Kalu Rinpoche to create this Monlam was to get Shangpa students from around the world together so everyone can get to know each other better and inspire each other in practice and teaching. Many of the people here – the Asians, Europeans and North and South Americans – I have met over the years, but I’ve never had a chance to really get to know them.

The lamas, teachers and center representatives are eating together, along with Rinpoche, so that is an opportunity to get to know other teachers better. Other participants are also renewing old friendships and creating new. Rolling hills of grass and flowers surround the buildings, so there are plenty of places to sit and talk at the breaks. Rinpoche also encouraged people to approach one of the many lamas with any questions they have. He feels that this is our big dharma family. Some of us are already planning to invite our sanghas at home to come in two years.

Our last day of the actual Monlam, I felt as if the energy of all the people in the lhakhang has been processed like a giant Vitamix had separated the essence from the dross. My feeling was that the blessing of the awakened beings of our lineage had been intimately involved in this process. I felt like we were being purified by our meditation and chanting together.

We concluded the Monlam with a tsok, a tantric Buddhist meditation ritual where both actual and imagined food, flowers and many pleasing things are offered to the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Noble Sangha and the Three Roots: Gurus, Yidams (awakened beings that we meditate on, for ex. Chenrezig- the bodhisattva of compassion), and the Dakinis and Protectors as the third root. At a certain point in the meditation, all the participants share the food and drink together, sing long life songs for our gurus and then at the end dedicate the merit to all beings.

Kalu Rinpoche with Lama Palden Drolma
Following the Monlam itself we had a last day together of empowerment and great celebration. Rinpoche’s clarity filled the temple as he bestowed the blessing transmission of the enlightened protector, the fierce form of Chenrezig, known as Chagdrukpa, upon us. Hundreds more dharma students came to receive this blessing. At one point I heard a buzzing sound and thought that it was a swarm of bees outside the massive doors, then as I caught a glance, I thought someone was playing with an airborne spacecraft. It turned out to be a small news drone! Luckily it stayed outside the temple!

At the conclusion of the transmission Rinpoche acknowledged each center leader and offered a beautiful consecrated statue to each center.

The French Prefecture and his entourage arrived to have lunch with Rinpoche, and I ended up serving their plates, as the main organizers were busy being interviewed for French TV.

Lunch was followed by more people arriving from neighboring areas to view the lama dancing. Dressed as Mahakala, Rinpoche led the dancers in the first lama dance. It mightily reminded me of the many hours I had spent with the 16th Karmapa watching both lama and lhamo (goddess, performed by lay women) dances at his monastery in Sikkim in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

We left satiated with the dharma and warmth of our teacher’s and dharma sister and brother’s love.

Lama Palden Drolma: Founder and Spiritual Director of Sukhasiddhi Foundation

Lama Palden Drolma (left)
She completed the traditional Tibetan Buddhist three-year retreat in the Shangpa and Karma Kagyu lineages under the previous Kalu Rinpoche’s guidance in 1985. In 1986 she became one of the first Western women to be authorized as a lama in the Vajrayana tradition. In addition to Kalu Rinpoche, she has studied with many of the great Tibetan masters from all lineages, including the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Tai Situ Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Dezhung Rinpoche, Dudjom Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama.
With overwhelming gratitude to her gurus, Lama Palden transmits, trains and mentors students, passing on the profound and precious teachings and practices that enable one to reach full and complete awakening in this lifetime. She focuses on translating Vajrayana Buddhist principles and practices in ways that make them accessible to Westerners. Lama Palden was profiled in Shambhala Sun magazine as one of the women “changing the face of Buddhism.”

Lama Palden’s background is in comparative mysticism and psychology. As a licensed psychotherapist she has done groundbreaking work in the intersection of the spiritual and psychological aspects of our humanity. She is deeply committed, as was her root guru, Khabje Kalu Rinpoche, to ecumenicalism and interspirituality.

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