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I attended a Vajrakilaya Drupchen recently, organized by the White Lotus Buddhist Center of Rochester New York. It was a relatively brief retreat, and especially so for me. In this post though, I intend to objectively describe the structure and locale of the retreat.
It was held at a beautiful Zen Center (Chapin Mill) just outside of Batavia, New York, which was about forty minutes from Rochester. On Monday, Garchen Rinpoche and Bu Nyima arrived at the airport. We met them there and then went out to lunch at a spacious country club. That night, Garchen Rinpoche gave an empowerment for Vajrakilaya, and it seemed there were at least 120 people in attendance.
Then, Tuesday through Friday, the Drupchen structure took effect: we took shifts at night so there was always someone chanting the mantra in the shrine room. We also took turns with eating, so again there was always a continuous recitation occurring. We did a morning session from 9 – 12, an afternoon session from 2 – 5 and then an evening session from 7 – 9 pm Tues – Thurs. During these sessions, we did the same prayers with a few additions depending on whether it was the morning (where tormas were offered), afternoon or evening. After the empowerment, our numbers dropped a little, but there may have been 80 – 100 people there for Tuesdays sessions.
The prayers were done both in English and in Tibetan. I really, really appreciated how someone (or multiple someones) had put a lot of effort into re-translating the text such that we could chant the English words in the same melody as the Tibetan. I’m assuming this meant shaving syllables off the old translations, choosing the right words to fit the syllable needs and that must have taken some time and skill! I say this because the English chanting seemed just as powerful as the Tibetan, and I had never encountered this before. In general, we did English during the morning session, Tibetan in the afternoon, and then English again in the late evening session. Then on our night shifts, my group did the prayers in Tibetan again. I did not attend the other groups, so I’m assuming they also did the prayers in Tibetan.
If you are wondering what the night shifts looked like, we split up into three groups. And we had to divide the 9 pm to 7 am time up into three, so there were three shifts – 9:00 – 12:20; 12:20 – 3:40 and then 3:40 to 7:00. We switched shifts each night, and with three nights, we got to do each shift once. It was very intense as you might imagine. I will explain more about this in future (more subjective) posts.
There were a total of seven Lamas and monks – Garchen Rinpoche, Bu Nyima (one of Garchen Rinpoche’s attendants and a very competent Lama in his own right), Lama Apu (he acted as the main shrine and mandala keeper), Drupon Rinchen Dorje, and Khenpo Samdrup – a teacher from the Gar Drolma Center of Ohio. There was a teacher there named Karma Rinchen – I believe he mentioned that he was presently a resident teacher at a Ri-mey (non-sectarian) center in New York. After I asked several questions about his background, it seems he has done one or more 3 year retreats in Lapchi. And finally, there was a Western monk from New York. His name was Karma Tsondru. They all sat to the right of Garchen Rinpoche’s throne.
The center where these teachings and retreat was held was simply stunning in its brilliant simplicity and it was situated in beautiful woods and quiet nature. Occasionally we could hear a train if we were outside, and on one occasion a couple of Army helicopters flew over, but for the most part there were only bird songs, the cries of hawks, butterflies and the rare rattlesnake sighting. We felt like we were way out in the middle of nowhere, truly a tranquil setting!
There was a large pond closer to the entrance of the property. Then there were two houses, one of which used to be the mill house. Then at the end of the winding, open driveway was the large spacious Zen Center building itself. There was lodging available in the center – there were many single rooms, a few rooms with three beds and then several rooms with four beds (which is what I slept in). All totaled, I suspect the center could accommodate at least 50 – 60 retreatants, if not more. There was a reception area, an incredibly tranquil central courtyard, a large Zendo and several smaller shrine rooms. We used a large, long room downstairs as the shrine room.
The gardens and flowers and walking paths were all very well kept, with benches scattered throughout the peaceful grounds. I found a nice bench nestled away in the large bushes and woods on the first day. It was next to a gurgling creek, so it was quite pleasant to sit in the light drizzle.
The shrine room was very long and quite wide, allowing us to fit at least 120 people on the first night for the empowerment, with ample space for people to circumambulate the mandala. Plus the area in front of the Lamas had extra space as well.
There were red roses in each of the dozen windows of the shrine room, along with fresh flowers on the mandala. Many colorful tormas, offerings, water bowls and candles also adorned the shrine / mandala. I will say more about this in the next post.