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Retreat questions and discussion

Retreat questions and discussion

Part of a series of teachings given during the Winter Retreat in November 2007 and from January to March 2008 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • If a person doesn’t have the Medicine Buddha initiation how do you do the visualization?
  • How do you do the mantra, visualization and the lamrim meditation?
  • When the sadhana says we are to experience bliss how do you do that?
  • How fast should we do the sadhana?
  • If you are working on a particular illness should you visualize the light coming into that area of your body?
  • What things disqualify mantras from being counted?
  • Dealing with restlessness and discomfort during the meditation session.
  • Things that come up in your mind during retreat.

Medicine Buddha retreat: Q&A regarding the sadhana (download)

Cultivating motivation

Let’s cultivate our motivation and think that we’re fortunate to be able to do retreat and have a very diligent intention to learn the practice well and then to do the practice well. So that we can heal ourselves and others from the afflictions of ignorance, anger, attachment, and to be of benefit to ourselves and others now and in the future all the way up until full enlightenment.

Questions and answers

This is a Q&A session, so you start.

Audience: I have a question. There’s one part that I’m not clear on. We do the generation where it’s top generation. In the end of the sadhana or in that section about the light coming in three times and then it talks about the light radiating out, is that light radiating out. Is that light radiating out from the Medicine Buddha on top of your head or from your heart or does it matter?

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Okay, so it’s the one for those who have not received.

Audience: Yes. The last sentence.

VTC: At that point Medicine Buddha’s on top of your head so the light radiates out from him. Other questions?

Audience: When the sadhana talks about the seed syllable being OM and when Khensur Rinpoche gave the initiation he had the seed syllable as HUNG.

VTC: Yes, I remember that.

Audience: And it’s HUNG in my sadhana that I have. Not this, but my other sadhana that I have and the way I learned it.

Audience: And this particular sadhana actually doesn’t have as much to do with the seed syllable.

VTC: Yes. I think it’s fine if you want to put HUNG instead of OM. Yes. Because I remember he said that.

Audience: So if a person has the initiations for self-generation and we do that. I’m kind of hooking into what you said this morning, the minute we wake up we’re Medicine Buddha then we’re doing the sadhana, are we Medicine Buddha with Medicine Buddha on our head or are we again in ordinary form when we do the self-generation in the sadhana?

VTC: Well, you start out in this sadhana in conventional form, but the basic thing is, if you’re able to hold the divine dignity of being Medicine Buddha all day, you’re doing really well. But you might just get into the hall and figure out that you’ve visualized your self as Medicine Buddha when you first got up and forgot it thereafter. In any case you could be in normal form with Medicine Buddha above your head. Or you could be Medicine Buddha with Medicine Buddha above your head, but you relax the divine dignity at that point if you do it like that, because if you’re really feeling strongly that you’re Medicine Buddha then you won’t have anything to purify, but of course we don’t usually feel like we have nothing to purify. So you can relax your divine identity at that point so you feel once again you have something to purify.

Audience: What I’ve been doing at home and I don’t know if this what we are to do, so I just want to know if when we say the request to Medicine Buddha in succession with the colors….

VTC: The Medicine Buddha with the what, the colors?

Audience: The part where we’re supposed to say three or seven times we’ve being saying it once in the hall; “To the fully realized destroyer of all defilements.” When I set up that visual I use the seven parts of my chakra system and I imagine the Buddha in each part of my system just doing something very similar to what their names are, for that part of my being and they’re healing me.

VTC: No, the Medicine Buddhas are on top of your head. They are not in your chakras. They are on top of your head.

Audience: Then when they come in or dissolve?

VTC: Then you do exactly as the sadhana says. One dissolves into the next, to the next, to the next so you’re left with just the Medicine Buddha on top of your head and then if you’re doing the self-generation then he dissolves into you, you dissolve into emptiness then reappear as the Medicine Buddha. Okay? No, don’t go changing the sadhana and putting Medicine Buddhas in your chakras.

Audience: I just thought because of what their names were corresponded…

VTC: You might be familiar with the Buddhist system of chakras or the Hindu system or the New Age system. There are a lot of different descriptions of the chakras and the functions. It’s better to stick to this sadhana as it’s done here.

Audience: I have a question that might be a little bit related. When meditating on emptiness, is it space-like emptiness or is it like the Buddha?

VTC: When you’re meditating on emptiness and the Medicine Buddha dissolves into you, that’s the space-like emptiness, trying to see beings as empty of inherent existence. And then when you appear, if you’re doing the self-generation, when you appear as the Medicine Buddha, that’s the appearance factor. So it’s an illusory appearance, that’s also empty. But that’s where you have the appearance and emptiness combined. But when Medicine Buddha dissolves into you, after you do the request, there you’re just meditating on the emptiness of inherent existence. So, there’s no me, no Medicine Buddha. It doesn’t mean there’s nothingness. It means there are no inherently existing things.

Audience: Are we also going to lead a question on lamrim topic?

VTC: Yes.

Audience: When we’re doing it in silence, when we’re chanting the mantra silently?

VTC: No. It’s better when you’re doing the mantra to try and do the visualization. Then after you stop the mantra do the lamrim meditation. If for some reason you’re finding it difficult to stay focused on the visualization, then if you find it helpful you can also think of the lamrim during the time, put the mantra in the background and think of the lamrim too, while you’re reciting. But I think it works better and is a little less fatiguing if you do the mantra and the visualization together, then stop them and do the lamrim.

Although, sometimes you can think, sometimes if your mind’s wandering a lot and it helps to hook it to the lamrim you can do that, and then the light radiates out from the Medicine Buddha sending out those lamrim realizations to all the sentient beings.

Audience: I’m still not clear Venerable, when we’re doing, like we’re having a session where we’re doing a whole lot of mantra recitation, but we’re primarily doing the visualization and then one part of that when we normally stop and do some lamrim if there was time we’d pick the mantra back up after you’ve completed the analytical meditation?

VTC: You could pick the mantra back up. It’s usually, you do the mantra, finish that, then you do the analytic meditation, then you dedicate. You know at the end if you want to do one or two malas of mantra recitation to send the realization out to sentient beings, I think that’s okay. But, you don’t want to be jumping back, five minutes here, five minutes there; this and that, this and that. That’s not too helpful.

Audience: I have another question about counting because that tends to get me a little bit bent out of shape.

VTC: Yes, if you prefer not to count that’s okay.

Audience: But, would this be a reasonable approach, to, well, I’ve figured out roughly what would be required per day to complete the 111,111 mantras.

VTC: She’s smart. She’s figured out the math already. You should give it to everybody else so they won’t have to spend time in their sessions doing it.

Audience: So here are my questions; maybe it sounds too mechanical, but in order to subdue the worry factor from my mind, I would like to do what I think is, will do it per day, for the mantras first and then go into the lamrim.

VTC: That’s fine.

Audience: That’s okay?

VTC: Yes. Look, if anybody sees her worrying, just tell her, “Relax.”

Audience: Are there different ways when you’re doing the self-generation, that you dissolve the self-generation, because it’s not really written in here at all.

VTC: Yes, it leaves you as the Medicine Buddha. You could just stay with yourself as Medicine Buddha at the end, because it’s not like there’s a simple form and a complex form. Some of the deities that have complex forms you dissolve at the end and then you manifest in the simple form of the deity. Because then you don’t have to….

Audience: …worry about a thousand arms, only four.

VTC: Yes, so you can just stay as that, or if you want to just one more time just dissolve into emptiness and appear as Medicine Buddha, that’s fine.

Audience: Is there significance to this? Someone told me that this is one of the few deities that doesn’t have a consort.

VTC: No, that’s not true. The only deities that have consorts are the ones in the highest class tantra. The ones in the other three classes of tantra, I don’t believe do. And this is from kriya tantra. And anyway, Medicine Buddha’s a monk.

Audience: And Vajrasattva’s not?

VTC: No. Vajrasattva is dressed in celestial silks and ornaments. Medicine Buddha’s appearing in the monastic robes and no ornaments

Audience: So when it says that we experience bliss, what is that supposed to….

VTC: What is this bliss we’re supposed to feel?

Audience: A little warmth in my heart maybe I can get that, but what are we looking for?

VTC: Well, this maybe is our koan: what does it feel like to feel blissful? Well, there’s no dissatisfaction. There’s no self-denigration. There’s no judgmental mind. So you have to kind of think. Maybe this is our little koan to investigate. What does it mean to feel blissful?

Audience: I have a related question. Most of our afflictions seem like they, you know how you’re always supposed to do 180 degrees opposite usually than what you’re doing? So that implies to me that there is an opposite. Like hatred. Or, like patience and hatred. Or anger and love are kind of opposite qualities, so what is the opposite of attachment? Is it contentment?

VTC: The opposite of attachment, I think would be non-attachment, which is a mind that is just balanced and satisfied. We don’t know what that means, do we?[Laughter]

Audience: Maybe I’d recognize it a little better what attachment was if I could find the other….

Audience: So where it says three times or seven times, is there a set amount of times we’re supposed to do it? Are we progressing to do it seven times?

VTC: I think that at the beginning it’s probably better to do it more times, because we space out and we don’t really understand what it means. I think the point of having us repeat things is so that we think about them more. So sometimes if you’re doing the sadhana in a brief way you might just say it once, or if you have the kind of mind that says, you know that gets bogged down in all the repetition, then say it fewer times. These are things to say and to think about when you’re saying them. I mean, he’s the subduer of all defilements. What does that mean? This is going to send you back into the refuge chapter of the lamrim to look at the qualities of Tathagata, the qualities of a Buddha. We’re praising the Medicine Buddha with all these epithets, so what do they mean? It helps us to think about the qualities of an enlightened one and pay respect to them and aim out mind at attaining them. So, some people like to do more, some people like to do less, in terms of the repetition. So see what works for you and you might do it different number of times at different times.

Audience: I think we had chosen the one time because we were wanting to extend the time for our lamrim meditations and give them more attention, so that’s why we were just doing it once, but, because it takes a lot of time to do the three, much less the seven and we were cutting into the lamrim meditation time.

VTC: Right, and when you say them, I mean if you hear Zopa Rinpoche say these things. I can’t even talk that fast. [Venerable reading some of the sadhana very, very fast] You know, he would do it in even half that time. It doesn’t mean you have to say, [Venerable speaking extremely slowly] “To the fully realized destroyer of all defilements.”

So it’s what’s going on in your mind, not the speed that’s important. Some people prefer to say it slowly because they’re not so familiar with the meaning of the different things. Other people who are more familiar can say it very quickly. Other people who fall asleep, may find it easier to say it quickly. The slowness, or quickly, that’s up to the individual and again, I think it’s nice, in terms of the speed of the sadhana, when it’s led, you know sometimes people lead it at the same speed, but when you’re doing it on your own, you don’t have to do it the same speed as the whole group. Like the Tibetans, when they do chanting, there’s always a slow version, a medium version and a fast version and they bring out different attributes. See what works for you best at any particular time and do that.

Audience: So starting this weekend, we were actually going to start leading the practices to where we only lead the 35 Buddha practice itself, set the motivation and then we were going to go right into doing it silent until the bell. Should we….

VTC: I think it’s good at the beginning of the retreat, that at the first session every day, that it’s led. Because some people are not so familiar with the sadhana. Am I correct? Maybe a whole cycle of everybody doing it once and then check up and see how you are. Because even then you still have all the other sessions in silence. But I think that some people are not so familiar with it that it’s helpful. And also it helps you when you have to lead it. When other people lead it, sometimes, (Venerable mumbling the sadhana softly) and then when you lead it, when you have to do it, it’s like, “Wait a minute, which part goes where? I can’t remember it.” So when you have to say it and speak it out loud, it makes you pay more attention. So that’s very beneficial.

Audience: Speaking of leading, it seems like there’s some guidelines around, setting motivation that I need to get refreshed on, like something someone said about not using quotes, I don’t know.

VTC: Okay, in the setting motivation in the morning, I think it’s fine if you use quotes, but use quotes from the Buddha’s sutras or from the particular text that are taught in our tradition. Don’t start using the Bible and, you know, Zen Masters may be good for you personally but maybe not for the group. Stay within, you know, use quotes from Shantideva, that’s fine, or something from Lama Tsongkhapa, or the Pali Sutras, you know, if you find something inspiring. So, that’s fine to do.

Audience: …because I think the first year these people were bringing in paragraphs of what Lama Yeshe would say about attachment. They would read a paragraph and that was the motivation. So you were saying, we need your motivation, not somebody else’s.

VTC: Right.You can bring a quote in and make a few comments after that. So if you want to read a paragraph from Lama Yeshe that’s fine, but then kind of say something on your own, after that to help you think about it. The quotations can be very inspiring sometimes. It also helps us to make sure we’re understanding a Dharma point correctly. Sometimes we think, “Oh well, I’ll talk about attachment.” So attachment means, you know, we invent our own definition. Okay?

Audience: I was just going to ask very briefly, when you’re focusing on healing a particular illness, like I’m trying to focus on doing Medicine Buddha for my allergies a little bit. Do you want to actually focus on the light coming into that particular area?

VTC: Okay, so if you’re working on purifying an illness, you can think of light coming into that particular area, or if there’s pain, or something going on there, but especially think of purifying the karma, the cause of the illness. Also do some taking and giving meditation for other people who have that illness. Because in that way, if you do that, then you say, “Okay, I accept having this. I’m not fighting it. I’m not pushing it away. I accept it. I’m taking on the suffering of others; using it to destroy my own self-centered mind. Yes, then giving health and joy and happiness to others.” So you can do both, purify yourself and do the taking and giving.

Audience: And related to that, when you’re doing Medicine Buddha for another person with their illness….

VTC: Yes, if you’re doing Medicine Buddha for somebody who has an illness, you can imagine that person in front of you and Medicine Buddha on their head, then doing that. If you’re doing the self-generation as Medicine Buddha, then you can be Medicine Buddha sending the light out to them. But, at the same time, they might be somebody you know, but think of all sentient beings too. Don’t just think of the one person you’re attached to.

Audience: At what point could you do the taking and giving meditation?

VTC: After the mantra. Or you can do it while you’re doing the mantra. I’m sure Medicine Buddha does taking and giving. You look pensive.

Audience: No, I’m just processing.

VTC: Yes, you weren’t happy with my response to your question [about chakras].

Audience: No. No. I appreciate what you say. Because I think that, I’ve come to realize more and more, it’s important to use what is and not add to whatever necessarily works for you.

VTC: As a kind of far out version, and I’m not saying you’re doing this. Somebody once told me they were doing a recording and they really liked the Tara mantra and they had such a good melody, so they just added some more syllables to the Tara mantra and then chanted it and recorded it and they were selling it as a Tara mantra, so it’s like, no. We don’t do that.

Audience: Speaking of mantras I was wondering, does Medicine Buddha have a long mantra as well?

VTC: Yes. It’s in the sadhana.And also, you don’t have to say the tayata, every time. You can just do the, Om bekandze, bekandze maha bekandze randza samungate soha, if you want to do just that. But, yes, the long one’s in here.

Audience: When we talk about adding things and inventing things, considering when we read on the lamrim, there’s an outline and it’s in the, am I right, in the meditation hall. We have three or four binders here, so we stick very closely to that, or….

VTC: Okay, so when leading the lamrim meditation, you can use those outlines, or what you can do is, I mean the outline on precious human life is longer in the regular lamrim. That’s a simplified outline so you can use the longer one. Or when you’re explaining it, the outlines are fairly standard in all the lamrim texts. But, you can explain each point a little bit. You don’t have to read the lamrim outline. Yes, the outline is just to help you, but you know when you’re doing it, you’re thinking about it and you can bring in what you’ve read on a particular topic. And it’s helpful to put it in your own language.

Audience: I would ask that people don’t just talk the whole time, you know, sometimes we get that and people will just talk their own thing they’re talking about, which is great but then they don’t give you time to contemplate what they’re talking about and then move on to the next point.

VTC: Yes, so you just want to give a little bit and leave some silence for people to think.

Then after everyone had led once you’ll do the morning session in silence except that the 35 Buddhas and the morning mantras and the motivation are read aloud. The lamrim will be done in silence. People might go through the lamrim at a different rate. So, I think it’s good to go through the lamrim in sequence. But some people may really get into a particular meditation and stay there a few days and other people may go on. Or if you have an especially powerful affliction one day, then go directly to the meditation that deals with that one. Do not stop. Do not pass go, go directly to that meditation.

Audience: I was wondering about for the last session of the day are we doing Vajrasattva?

VTC: Yes. Yes. And that’s silent. However, if you prefer to do Medicine Buddha the last session of the day, that’s also fine. So the last session of the day you can do either Medicine Buddha or Vajrasattva.

Audience: Because we do that in silence.

VTC: And there’s no reading during the meditation sessions. So, please don’t sit and read a book during it. And if you turn pages, have things laid out on your table so you have to turn as few pages as possible. And if you do, (sound of rustling pages), don’t do it like that. Okay, and what else.

Audience: No journaling.

VTC: Yes, no journaling, don’t write during the meditation sessions. Meditation sessions are for meditating only. Okay, and, yes, no journaling, no reading, no counting the turkeys out the window. Once you leave the session you’re out and you don’t count the mantra you recited during that session, if you leave it.

Audience: An experience I had last night. It’s just real quick. I was doing the Medicine Buddha and, oh no, I was doing Vajrasattva and then all of a sudden, the Medicine Buddha came up and the mantras, but I want to do this mantra … and I usually do this mantra, not this one. So have you ever seen that?

VTC: Oh Yes. You know, I remember the first time I was having teachings on this and they say when you’re counting mantras there’s a lot of things that disqualify mantras you recite. So if in the middle of reciting one rosary you start reciting the mantra of another deity, then you have to start all over at the beginning. So, I remember when I heard that, I thought, “Gee, that hasn’t happened to me.” and, “How would that ever happen?.” Well, it happens.

Audience: Because I want to both, sometimes.

VTC: You do what you started out doing. You don’t switch. It’s not, “om vajrasattva, bekandze … ha, ha, ha, ha … randza samungate….”

Other questions? Concerns?

When you set your seat, you stay on that seat. Unless you have severe injuries, and those people have already talked to me, you don’t stand up in the middle of the session. If you have to move your legs, do that. But don’t do it the first time your mind says to do it, because then you’ll never sit still. And so part of doing the retreat is learning to deal with the restless physical energy that you have.Forget about being comfortable. You will never find the perfect meditation cushion. So just get something that works reasonably well.If your knees hurt, sometimes people prop them up. You want to get away from making your meditation cushion either like a throne, or your empire. You know some people’s meditation area, by the time the retreat…. There’s a cushion here, and one there and one there, and one here and different sizes and shapes. And then you have your pink box of tissues and your yellow box of tissues and your water bottle and this mala and fifteen books and your favorite color blanket and fifteen book covers and all your little pictures lined up. And you have your own little empire. Your meditation cushion should be extremely simple. There’s the zabuton. There’s the zafu. There’s the table, your Medicine Buddha text, your mala. You can have a box of tissues. You’re not drinking during the sadhana, so don’t bring any water in there. I was never allowed to drink in the middle of doing the mantra. You can bring your water in there, but if you drink in the middle of the mantra, you don’t count any of the mantras. You don’t bring your snacks to eat during meditation, and a few sweets for dessert. And your glass cleaner and your nasal spray, your nail file.

Okay, other questions?

Audience: What are all the things that disqualify the mantras?

VTC: If you start saying another mantra, if you’re slurring syllables [Venerable gives an example of slurring while saying a mantra) On the other hand it doesn’t mean you have to go (Venerable over-enunciating syllables). You say it smoothly (Demonstrates proper enunciation) You don’t leave syllables out or mix syllables up, if you fart, if you sneeze, if you yawn, if you drink or eat, then you start your mantra over again at the beginning. If you get distracted, but that one we won’t enforce otherwise you won’t get anything done (laughter). If you’re way out in never-never-land, then don’t count those mantras. Coughing, falling asleep.

Audience: Uh oh.

VTC: You’ve got to get your little plastic bowl. Yes, if you have trouble staying awake, then you put a little plastic dish with some water in, on top of your head. And you will stay awake. The other solution is that you have Achala kitty sit on your lap and that way you won’t move.

Audience: When we do the recitation we’re doing it on the breath, in a whisper almost.

VTC: Yes. They say you want to do it very lowly, you know in a low voice, but actually, you don’t want the people next to you to hear. You can just have your mouth open a little but not mouthing everything because sometimes people’s mouths make noise. So if somebody throws something at you…. You know when you put your mala down, you know, the table makes sound. You might have your mala holder put it on top so it doesn’t make any sound. If you take your dentures out, then do it quietly.

Okay, people who would like to write to inmates who are doing the retreat please let me know. We’ll give you some addresses of people to write to. Inmates often appreciate that. We found that it’s very good for people doing the retreat too. I remember the first year we got a letter back from one inmate that said, “I’m doing okay, I’m doing the practice regularly. It has some challenges. I’m in a room with 300 people, I’m on the upper bunk and the bare light bulb is about two and a half feet in front of me, but I’m doing the sadhana every day.” So, when you get letters like this, it works wonders, people stop complaining, because you realize you have incredibly good conditions here to be able to practice.

Audience: Didn’t he also describe it as a heavy metal rock concert except for the hours between two and three in the morning?

VTC: Yes, because there were people playing music and watching television and quarreling and screaming and all sorts of things like that. So it really makes you see that you can endure a little bit of noise if your neighbor puts their mala down on the table and you hear it. It’s really not the end of the world.

I’ll warn you now. It’s so funny during retreat because you learn everything about everybody. You’re silent but you know who likes to scrape in right the session starts, and who’s early, who waits patiently and who waits impatiently. And you learn how everybody walks. You’ll learn how everybody eats. You’ll learn who’s in a good mood in the morning and who’s in a bad mood. Who’s in a good mood at night and who’s in a bad mood. So you’ll learn all these things, who doesn’t throw their tissue away and who does, who leaves hair in the shower and who doesn’t. You just kind of learn these things and then you can tell Kathleen to remind people about certain things and then when they still keep doing them.

The mind gets critical. Your mind will start saying, “Why doesn’t somebody part their hair on the other side,” “Why doesn’t somebody….” You’ll come up with all kinds of different sorts of things. And it’ll seem like it’s the biggest, most horrible thing happening in this universe that some didn’t shovel the snow in the right way. Or someone’s socks smell or that they smell. Whatever it is and you’ll just, oh, how can I sit in the hall one more minute with this person? Just realize that it has nothing to do with the other person. It’s your own mind. Just use that as part of your practice, cultivating patience and compassion and some fortitude.

Audience: Similarly if you feel some one’s mad at you….

VTC: Yes, for sure, at least sometime in the retreat you will feel like everybody in the hall is friends with each other and none of them like you. You’ll feel that at some point during the retreat, that everybody hates you and that’s the reason why they left the door ajar when they closed it. And that’s why they left the knife in the peanut butter thing was because they just knew that would drive you crazy and they did it deliberately. And then other days you’ll walk into the hall and you’ll feel like you’re the leader and you’re the best one in the world and they should all follow your example and how fortunate they are to have you in the hall. So even if you fidget they are just so fortunate to have you there, so they should just be patient with it. So you’ll see your mind doing all sorts of things.

You want to tell your story?

Audience: Oh, I know which one this is, my first retreat. I was down in the retreat cabin for most of the, we started in December and it was the first Vajrasattva. I spent the first six weeks of that retreat feeling like, I was the only person, I felt so excluded. Part of it was, I had this little retreat cabin thing going on down there, you know, so it manifested in my mind as everybody was keeping me out of the retreat. Nobody loved me. Nobody cared about me. There was all this bonding going on in the house and there I was in my little cabin down there feeling like some little orphan Annie. I was making myself miserable. I had everybody against me. I was just pouting and sulking and everybody seemed to be having a wonderful retreat except me. Then, finally at one of the Q&As, that’s where things kind of come out. And I told everybody the experience and everybody was like absolutely stunned that I was having these feelings. Not only just me having the experience, but also feeling that that’s what was going on with all of them. They said, “Gosh, no, we miss you. We wish you were up here.” But I had this whole thing like I was on the outside looking in this whole time. But that took me six weeks. So don’t do that.

What’s interesting is if you have any kind of you have any kind of pattern in relationship to group dynamics, whether you always feel you’re on the in of the group, the out of the group, whether you feel you’re the renegade or the clown or whatever, it gets really magnified in dynamics like this. Around the dining room table, in the meditation hall, all these kind of dynamics, whenever you’re real closet skeleton is they come out and enlarge. Anyway, it passes.

VTC: Yes, we just kind of trust each other’s good will in all of that.

Audience: You just end up loving everybody. I mean, I just love the way it is in retreat in that regard. It’s nice to not have to deal with language and just be with each other through everything. Some days are going to be really bumpy, you know and it’s nice to be able to just have this space and just be with your own mind and your own heart and not have somebody come up and try to comfort you, or fix you, or ask you all sorts of questions. It’s really nice to have that space.

VTC: But do take care of each other. If somebody looks sick, make sure they rest. If somebody looks really depressed or bummed out, give them a hug and support each other in the practice.

Audience: If you see anybody’s trying to fill their luggage or starring very longingly down at the end of the driveway, do something. (Lots of laughter)

Audience: We should mention that if you’re going to miss a session, leave a note on the kitchen counter so that we know, because we should come looking for you if we don’t see a note. Or if you’re going to leave, let people know, because that happens sometimes on retreat.

VTC: Nobody’s left on a winter retreat. Everybody feels like leaving. You know one time or another, you’ll think, “I’m just going to run down that hill screaming. But I’ve go to wait for them to plow it.”

Audience: This winter thing is smart.

Audience: They said that at Cloud Mountain, people leave all the time and a lot of the times they don’t let anybody know.

VTC: Yes, but you know this is a different kind of thing. In terms of missing some sessions, you only miss sessions because you’re really sick. You don’t miss sessions because you don’t feel like going. You don’t miss sessions because you’re a little bit tired. You go to everything. Because if you don’t learn to deal with your mind, what are you going to do. I mean, if you’re really, totally, flat-out exhausted, then sleep during a break time. But don’t be up and around busy during the break time, then get to session and you’re too tired. And like she said, leave us a note there. If you go for a walk, well I think the snow’s too deep now to go for a walk, but even later, you know it’s better to go just with somebody else, but in silence, after the snow gets a little bit less.


Due to this merit may we soon
Attain the enlightened state of Medicine Buddha
That we may be able to liberate
All sentient beings from their suffering

May the precious bodhi mind
Not yet born arise and grow
May that born have no decline
But increase for ever more

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.

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