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Early December, no telling what the weather will bring, but not expecting anything spectacular. As I transit past Richmond and beyond Williamsburg, the leaves are still aflame – beginning to remain on the trees, like I’m traveling back in time. In actuality I’m heading toward the moderate temps of the coastal climate. The leaves are beautiful as I get into Newport News – reds and oranges still hanging on for dear life, or fearing to let go – both metaphors sound quite familiar.
I cross multiple bridges across great swaths of water – the mighty James and parts of the Chesapeake, on my way to Portsmouth, where I will be staying during this blessed weekend. I am extraordinarily grateful for my hosts’ hospitality and kindness – unrivaled. Flowers next to my bed, simple yet Amazing. Crows and vultures give way to gulls and pelicans – yes, I am near a Great Ocean.
Friday evening. Drupon reviews several vital pieces for the upcoming full Saturday and Sunday – the precious nature of Tantric teachings – do not take one grain of tantra for granted as it can be the cause of liberation. Virginia Blum translates. Tantra is imbued with the living blessings of an ancient lineage of authentic masters. Don’t spread these teachings to just anybody, as wrong view can make teachings on emptiness lead to extreme nihilistic tailspins. (Don’t worry, I won’t say too much.) He mentioned that authentic practice relaxes the mind and makes it more malleable. Drupon says that despite not (m)any in the audience being ready to practice these advanced teachings, he says that if we develop a solid, stable foundation, then any teachings and practice become a method for accumulating merit and wisdom. [Sounds to me like a foundation I have not yet formulated.]
The Six Yogas of Naropa are an advanced set of teachings and practices. First, practice the Outer Preliminaries – the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind (toward Enlightenment) – these could take a year each. Although I have also heard of people taking 10 days for each of these while they are in solitary (closed) retreat. Next, complete the Ngondro practices (inner preliminaries) – these can take one to twenty years depending on one’s level of dedication. Then move on to work on the Five Fold Path of Mahamudra – we are looking at three to twenty further years… (Anyone else out of breath yet…? Huff, huff… pant, pant.) And then, if you are in retreat and you have your teacher’s blessing, then you can practice these potent, subtle-body-clarifying Yogas.
I do not plan to say much more about the actual practices myself. I am grossly under-qualified. But I will share a curious anecdote or two… Five years ago, when I first met Drupon (before I knew he was my root lama – oh, another tangent, I would normally never have chosen a root lama so soon if several extraordinary events did not occur…), I did not know much at all about Tibetan Buddhism. I had just taken several classes on Craniosacral Therapy, Reiki and Zapchen Somatics and done a little bit of chanting with some of the local Sangha members, not that I knew what I was doing or saying. But I felt drawn to the Dharma. Anyway, when I first met the Drupon, I eventually had the chance to have an interview with him. Of course, in my ignorant / extremely naive state… I asked him to teach me Dream Yoga (not knowing it was one of the Six Yogas of Naropa, an advanced practice, and of course not evening knowing what or who Naropa was…). He promptly said, “Have you finished your prostrations?” Huh?
“What does that mean?” I thought, “How do you finish?” So my answer was honest and I said no. Then he told me that he would teach me Dream Yoga when I did so. Later, when he found out how naive [read ignorant] I was, he told me to first meditate on the Four Thoughts (that Turn the Mind). It took me more than a year to understand what that meant… In case you have not gotten the picture, I am one slow bloke! 🙂 And now, between May of 2006 and December of 2010, I’m still not finished with my prostrations… But I just had the good fortune to attend Drupon’s teaching on Dream Yoga… Very curious indeed. Maybe something clicked into place?
Saturday teachings were on Clear Light. Also known as Radiant Light or Inner Radiance or Luminous Clarity.
Sunday’s teachings were on Dream Yoga and a little bit on the Bardos.
Several things I will say that I took away from this weekend are these: Drupon emphasized over and over again how important it is to practice now, while we have the leisures and endowments. He stressed this because Clear Light and Dream Yoga are two practices used to purify the Bardo state (the realm we enter when we die). In order to have a decent shot at enlightenment when we transition at the time of death, we must practice now, we must familiarize ourselves with the process. That way we have a good chance of recognizing the illusory Bardo realms for what they are. Or we can be fortunate and conscious as we glimpse the true nature of the mind (Clear Light). And if we choose not to practice meditation, then at least we can try to make ourselves as calm and clear headed as possible around the time of death. It seems very important according to numerous traditions (makes sense).
No matter what though, do not do any advanced practices without the explicit permission of a qualified teacher. Drupon was very clear on this point. He said, “No one in this room is to do these practices outside of retreat… These are [extremely] potent practices and you need to have [serious containment and] guidance.” This was the first time I heard him speak so firmly. Which pretty much cleared it up for me – I doubt I will do these practices (consciously, purposely) in this lifetime, as I plan to marry and have a family…
Wow – what a downer! Only the retreat-oriented Dharma can bring marriage and loving partnership to its knees… But on the bright side! Our karma manifests in so many wonderful ways – meaning I am looking enthusiastically ahead to growth through relationship yoga. And speaking of which, I am very grateful for my karma of being able to spend a weekend with my teacher. No matter what is involved. And as I mentioned, I was twice as blessed, as a potent teaching was involved too.
Oh – and I received an Ayurvedic transmission from my hosts. They shared much information from their recent adventures to India where they did much yoga and cleansing of their diets. Yay! Time to take better care of what I put in my body. 🙂 Of course!!
[By the way, forgive any mistakes I have made in attempting to convey Drupon’s words. Any errors are on the part of me, an ordinary, afflicted human being. This was powerful subject matter to be sure. And it is my intention to merely be clear, humble and honest.]