Reflections on the 2019 Sādhana Ritual Course at Gomde Cooperstown
Sādhana Ritual Course Comes to North America for the First Time at Gomde Cooperstown
As Tibetan Buddhism has become more established around the world, many people have had the opportunity to hear teachings, learn meditation practices, receive empowerments, and engage in practice. But often these are experienced as more or less discrete events—an empowerment here, a meditation retreat there. How does it all cohere? To answer this question, a decade or so ago, I was drawn to Phakchok Rinpoche’s Nine Yanas program, which has moved sequentially year by year through the different vehicles and practices of the entire Buddhist tradition, from the Shravaka and Pratyekabuddha yanas through Mahayana, then through the outer and inner tantras.
Here, with Dharma friends, one comes to understand in a systematic way the entire Buddhist tradition. It has been profound and life-changing to be part of this and I am deeply grateful for it. What an extraordinary opportunity! This year, Tulku Migmar Tsering kindly came to Rangjung Yeshe Gomde Cooperstown and for a week in July, taught the first Sādhana Ritual Course.
How does this course correspond to the Nine Yanas? A sādhana ritual course seamlessly fits into the sequence by systematically developing our knowledge of the sādhanas that are integral to the Vajrayana tradition. After all, we have all seen or know about the ritual aspects of Vajrayana practices—the often colorful tormas made of barley flour and other ingredients, the different mudras or flowing hand movements, and the sometimes elaborate symbolism of different ritual practices within the Vajrayana traditions. But how is one to learn these in detail in the West? Our Sādhana Ritual Course answers that question.
Tulku Migmar went through the details of the Trinley Nyingpo sādhana, providing meticulous explanations of the sādhana, while also teaching how to make tormas for different uses, how to properly do mudras and where to use the bell, vajra, and damaru (drum), and of course, weaving in explanations of how to understand the sādhana in the larger contexts of the Chokgyur Lingpa and Vajrayana tradition as a whole. Tulku-la emphasized that it is part of learning to make mistakes, that what matters most is our aspiration. After all, how else can one learn? A perfectly shaped torma, or a perfectly executed mudra comes with practice and experience.
Tulku Migmar’s often humorous and always radiant exposition was fluently translated into English by Oriane Sherap Lhamo, who also is responsible for the translation and publication of a more-than-400-page Lhasey Lotsawa chant book in a new book-style format rather than the Tibetan-style pecha.
Featuring the Samye logo in red, Tibetan text in blue, and English translation in black, it is a strikingly beautiful, elegant, comprehensive resource.
Not having somewhere else to remark on it, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the expert and inventive cooking of our locally based chef, Nikki Aldi.
Continuing the Improvements at Gomde Cooperstown
For those who haven’t been to Gomde Cooperstown recently, there have been still more improvements, in particular to the main lhakhang. I remember well Nine Yanas’ first year, when Lama Michael Friedman had assembled interlocking wooden pallets to form a platform on the (former) horse barn floor, and we helped haul them into place to provide an area for practice and teachings. Phakchok Rinpoche occasionally wryly reminisces about those days. This year the lhakhang is still again much improved, with new metal siding and beautiful wood trim and windows.
During the Sādhana Ritual Course, Barry Brownell, Michael Friedman, and Chris Sikelianos (in between teachings and practice time) managed to install copper-covered platforms with sertogs (golden cupolas) on the roof. The sertogs were consecrated by Tulku Migmar and Lama Michael Friedman, much in the way statues are. They transform the building.
Beyond the wisdom, grace, and kindness of Tulku Migmar, beyond the warmheartedness of seeing Dharma friends again in this both familiar and remarkable place, and beyond the ritual details, I came away with a deeper understanding of just how vast and extraordinary this tradition is. The magnitude of the sādhana cycle to which Trinley Nyingpo belongs, brought into the world through a terma revelation, is really inconceivable. We were introduced only to a sliver of its immensity. We learned and practiced a great deal on a more or less monastic schedule (waking well before dawn, ending after 9 p.m.), but in the context of the sādhana cycle as a whole, it was really more a detailed introduction.
Rejoicing in a Precious Opportunity
Driving home across familiar smooth Canadian highways back to Michigan’s rougher roads punctuated with orange-and-white barrels, I reflected on how fortunate we are to be given such resources to experience and practice the authentic Buddhadharma. Tsunma Jamyang who had also assisted throughout the summer programs, remarked in conversation that in this brief period of a week, participants had been given everything they needed for practice, and that’s absolutely true. I also came away with a deepened sense of how all the variegated elements of the Buddhist tradition, the Vajrayana, and the Chokgyur Lingpa tradition all form an interlocking wisdom whole, with an enormous range of means and methods for meditation and practice.
We are so fortunate to have such opportunities at Gomde Cooperstown; it really is quite rare.
Siddhir astu! (May there be success!)