the Zendo in white, Khenpo in C’ville, spring break, cactus blossoms

Outside Zendo, a little hut under cover
Outside Zendo, a little hut under cover

This material is copyrighted by me (Kirby Moore).  Reproduction without permission is prohibited.  To support my business and blogging efforts, please visit Kirby’s website. More recently, I have begun teaching Astrology classes on Trauma-Informed Astrology, see http://www.traumainformedastrology.com for more! Thank you for visiting!

Today we got our first major (few inches) snow of the season and of course I had to take pictures of the Zendo under its cozy white blanket of frosty powder.  I have several fun pictures of it.

I had members of the Zen Sangha over recently, or I should say, up, to a potluck.  It was good to get to know them better and connect with other Buddhists in C’ville.  I think I will host one of these per month, in my home above the Zendo.

Oh- and I am turning 30 soon!  Wow – it kind of boggles my mind to hear this.  However, I have gone through my Saturn return quite well – all the little bits and pieces that were in need of maturing are coming together nicely.  <revised 2/2/10 – I still have a ton to work on!>  <Yet another revision 3/29/21 – still working on layers of maturation and growth. Just more subtlety and clarity about my needs.> My current plans, which are always subject to impermanence and change, are to do some hiking this summer, continue to see clients and students, maintain my practice and then graduate in December of 2009.  I intend to do a neat Zapchen Where is the Zendo?

retreat in one year – I need to get more clients and save up some $$.

Also, Khenpo Tsultrim Tenzin recently came to Charlottesville and taught on several topics – including Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend, Khenchen Rinpoche, Konchog Gyaltsen’s new text on Prohibitions and Permissions, and a brief Guru Yoga.  Terry Barrett helped to translate and we are ever so grateful for both of their presence and hard work.  They accomplished much in the way of translations – they have been aspiring to complete multiple projects and they did so!  Hooray!

Khenpo teaching in Ch'ville (at Tara's Den)
Khenpo teaching in Ch’ville (at Tara’s Den)

I am currently on spring break, so maybe I can write a few posts this week.  I am doing a little bit of work, a bit of relaxation, and I am enjoying reading about Tibetan Medicine in my spare time.  I recently started teaching a class on kindness to self – tools for relaxing, refreshing and practicing quality self-care.  It is exciting.  In about a month, I plan to teach more astrology as I am encountering many people who have interest.

I am having fun in my Drama (intro to acting) and Environmental Science (Virginia’s environments) classes.  It is great to move energy for a change at UVa – previously I have been entirely too cerebral with academic work.  It is a pleasant shift.  As for Envi Sci, it is very fascinating to learn about the large scale impermanence of the planet – they speak of rivers moving, shifting, transforming and pirating other streams.  The tectonic plates and mountains come and go.  Whoa – impermanence is everywhere!  How can we keep ourselves so distracted from it?

Finally, my Christmas cactus bloomed like you would not believe in January!  It was gorgeous, so much so, I think I took 20 or 30 pictures of it.  Hopefully this picture does it justice.

My heavenly Christmas cactus
My heavenly Christmas cactus

A discovery

Guru Rinpoche - Ladakh, India
Guru Rinpoche – Ladakh, India

This material is copyrighted by me (Kirby Moore).  Reproduction without permission is prohibited.  To support my business and blogging efforts, please visit Kirby’s website. More recently, I have begun teaching Astrology classes on Trauma-Informed Astrology, see http://www.traumainformedastrology.com for more! Thank you for visiting!

News Flash: Kirby is molting, a bit early perhaps

I have been receiving more bodywork recently than I have had the privilege in previous times.  Included within this caring touch is massage, and the woman who does my massages recently commented that we were “discovering secret treasures.”  She said this in response to finding muscles on my body that were extremely tight – almost to the point of unbearable pain when palpated.

I have been lying around quite a bit recently – I do not mean this with any negative connotation – napping and integrating are extremely important.  I have come to the conclusion that merely going to class full time at the University of Virginia is something to be proud of.  At the same time, I have been a little less than kind, beating myself up for spending so much down time, doing less meditation practice than usual and not quite studying everything I feel is necessary to maintain those aforementioned classes.  It is okay – no longer any reason to beat myself up!  Good job Kirby, well done.

I do a practice called Zapchen – created by Julie Henderson, PhD. – see the website http://www.zapchen.com for more info.  This is a lovely, relaxing series of exercises for lightening the mood, pulsing restrictions in the body, coaxing openness in a stabilized manner, resting in alignment and coming down out of the head and into the body.  Julie also does work with the I-Ching and she interpreted her version of this beneficial book.  It was with the help of this resource that I recently made a discovery of my own – all the down time, napping, lying in the Sun and resting on my amethyst bio-mat has been because I am in the process of molting.  “Help I’m molting!”

Actually, in all seriousness, I am looking forward to observing what my new skin will look like, at some point.  And on a different subject, of Astrology…

Currently, there is some static in the astrological sky – Uranus and Saturn are opposing, causing quite a bit of confusion and injuries of connective tissue to name a couple of issues, Mercury just came out of Retrograde, so we are recalibrating our brains and communication skills, Venus is slowing down to go into Retrograde, which could mean our likes and dislikes and our needs in relationships are shifting.  All of this plus the Sun, Mercury, Neptune, Chiron and Jupiter are all in Aquarius and Pluto is just starting to get used to being in Capricorn.  Whoa!  I need to lighten up with myself – just do what I can and let go, just continue to practice kindness and compassion to self, nurturing the inner shifts and insights.

May all be happy and free of suffering!  Om Mani Padme Hung Hri

3/26/10 – an update.  I was going to do an entire separate post about this, still might.  But guess what?  I am still molting.  Funny thing these vast, foundational transformations.  Birth trauma is being unwound, my limiting beliefs are coming up to be re-evaluated, old, tight wounds are being pulsed and stroked; I am moving toward awakeness at a snail’s pace.  Hooray!

Further revision 3/26/21: I have Pluto conjunct the Moon in my chart (it is parallel – less than one degree apart). The Hades Moon. So of course I have been transforming almost all my life. Pluto is driven to tidy up the inner landscape, to purify, to cleanse, to purge that which is tainted or rotten.

I am loving my Trauma Informed Astrology classes – where I get to share insights like these and so many more! Check out my site! www.traumainformedastrology.com

Thanks for reading!

Kirby Moore

konchog chakchen

Mani Drupchen complete

Kirby on fellow pilgrim's laps in Ladakh, India
Kirby on fellow pilgrim’s laps in Ladakh, India

This material is copyrighted by me (Kirby Moore).  Reproduction without permission is prohibited.  To support my business and blogging efforts, please visit Kirby’s website. More recently, I have begun teaching Astrology classes on Trauma-Informed Astrology, see http://www.traumainformedastrology.com for more! Thank you for visiting!

Hello again,

Back from attending Garchen Rinpoche – wow, what a being.  I think he embodies spontaneous, liberated, spacious heart – words don’t come close.  Hmm.  Well, I am a bit more grounded as a result – had the blessing of another Bodhicitta pill, as he says, (and I paraphrase) Bodhicitta is the warmth that we need to melt the ice of self grasping.

So, I think I am wrapping up the Mani Drupchen, finally.  I have a few more thoughts and considerations, but I think they will wait.  For now, here are my thoughts on how the military and Tibetan Buddhism might be similar.

Overall, there is a deep fundamental difference between say, the Army and attaining Buddhahood, however, there are some uncanny surface parallels. Apparently, not that I have conducted much research on this, Robert Thurman believes this topic to be a valid theory, considering the Buddha had been raised as a military leader when he was Prince Siddhartha.

Here is what I discovered as I sat on my cushion and pondered (distracted from meditation):

In the military there is a hierarchy among ranks and in a spiritual tradition there is also a hierarchy among lamas – maybe they know who has attained which realizations. The Retreat Master, who is sometimes known as the disciplinarian could be reflected in a Drill Sergeant role (just very compassionate and lovingly-kind beneath the crusty, rough exterior). There was quite a regimented schedule at this retreat – especially with chanting through the night – the night shifts of mantra recitation greatly reminded me of night watch in the army. In Tibetan Buddhism there are preliminary practices that one must do before taking on a tantric deity practice, these preliminary practices could be viewed as slowly advancing through the ranks – there are various “schools” one has to complete before becoming eligible for higher ranks. And in another manner, the stages of the path could be viewed similarly – for instance, the stage of accumulation, the stage of one taste, the stage of no more meditation, etc. With advancement through the “ranks,” one gains more responsibility and occasionally the little things in life get easier – for instance some of the high lamas, abbots, lineage holders, retreat masters, might be relieved from needing to prepare food.

A friend pointed out, when I mentioned this theory, that the lamas might be the officers, the monks could be seen as the enlisted personnel and the lay people (us) might be seen as the tax payers (basically watching and typically not having a clue about what is going on, at least on the subtle levels).

Thanks for reading and perhaps I will see you at the next Mani Drupchen.

Thanks for reading!

Kirby Moore

konchog chakchen

Mani Drupchen Chronicles – Part Six

This material is copyrighted by me (Kirby Moore).  Reproduction without permission is prohibited.  To support my business and blogging efforts, please visit Kirby’s website. More recently, I have begun teaching Astrology classes on Trauma-Informed Astrology, see http://www.traumainformedastrology.com for more! Thank you for visiting!

A special on prayer wheels and lamas!  Also, I have just resumed school for this spring semester, a heads up in case I lag behind on blogging.

the Lama's prayer wheel
the Lama’s prayer wheel

On the Drupchen retreat, nearly everyone who did the full retreat had a prayer wheel.  Some were new and shiny – typically copper.  Others were antique and aged – probably with years of mantra spinning under their belts.  Most prayer wheels have the mantra that we were reciting within them, and if they are spun in a clock-wise direction, the mantra goes forward, continually sending light energy out into the world.  The lamas, as you can see in the picture, had a red prayer wheel that had to sit on something – rather than being hand held.  OM MANI PADME HUNG HRI!

I definitely notice something switch in my mind when I start spinning my prayer wheel.  Especially when I go back and forth from right hand to left hand.  It is almost as if my body reverts to a state of equanimity, where it is difficult for anything to bother me.  I guess you might say a part of me has gone within as it focuses on keeping the prayers spinning round.

Here in the West, we are very blessed.  Of course, it is awful what is happening in China and in Tibet.  We cannot stay

an older prayer wheel - how many revolutions have I traveled?
an older prayer wheel – how many revolutions have I traveled?

silent about human rights violations which do not stop and which are not allowed to be witnessed by any foreign, objective media.  However, with that said, we are very, very blessed to have had the Tibetan Lamas go into exile.  Otherwise, we would not have such incredible teachers here among us.  I have heard some scholars say that here in the West, we have better access to teachers than they do in India or China (Tibet).  Seriously, stop and think about this.  We, at least in the U.S. and parts of Western Europe, have better access to high Tibetan Lamas, who are, in my opinion, some of the most spiritually realized people on the planet.  I have also heard that this is due to the heads of the lineages (of Tibetan Buddhism) sending their best monks to teach us – perhaps they want to have the best models for us.  Actually, I have also read that Westerners are not easy to teach.  We generally want instant gratification and results and when it comes to the patient, gradual path, we shy away.  With this little introduction to our good fortune, next I will introduce the monks (lamas) from the retreat.

Khenpo Tsultrim Tenzin has been in the U.S. since 2001, and his English is good enough evidence of that.  He did the translating for the retreat master, Traga Rinpoche.  Khenpo Tsultrim lives at the Tibetan Meditation Center main house where he takes care of the shrine, the center, hosting and organizing duties.  He is one of three spiritual directors of the center and his knowledge of Buddhist sutras (scriptures) and ethics is very scholarly and proficient.  If there is one of the lamas who is best at debate, it is Khenpo Tsultrim – his mind is quick and accurate, coming up with evidence and scriptural references very rapidly.

Lamas and monks on the way to the river
Lamas and monks on the way to the river

Khenpo Chopel has only recently arrived from India and Nepal.  Before that, he was the Umdze (chant master) for the Drikung Thil monastery in Tibet.  The chant master, who leads hundreds of monks in daily prayers and all the rituals must know dozens if not hundreds of prayers and texts by heart (in other words, his memory is excellent and full of juicy Drikung practices).  He is the one who facilitated and directed this Drubchen, because it was done in a method similar to the Drikung Thil monastery (the main monastery of the Drikung Kagyu in Tibet).  He is just beginning to learn English but he is gentle and his heart radiates loving-kindness and compassion.  He is a profound and thorough teacher.

Drupon Thinley Ningpo, my root lama, has also been at the TMC since 2001.  He is the TMC retreat master and he is sort of the Drupon for the East Coast – he visits centers from Florida to Boston and Chicago several times each year, where he teaches and bestows initiations into the lineage of wisdom and compassion.  Drupon helped to facilitate this Drupchen with Traga Rinpoche.

Traga Rinpoche is a profound being with a heart full of vast compassion.  He seemed ordinary, simple and humble to me, but there were times, once we were all into retreat mode (and lacking in sleep) where he let his true colors shine through and he was fully present with whoever he was speaking with or whatever activity he was doing.  He truly wears his huge, loving heart on his sleeve.  Traga Rinpoche mainly teaches at the Garchen Institute where they have retreatants (Arizona).  [Revision – 10/2009 – I believe Traga Rinpoche has moved to New Mexico where he is the head of a center in Albuquerque. Revised in 2021 – Traga Rinpoche has been back in Tibet for a number of years now where he is the primary teacher for monastics (I believe nuns in this case).]

Lama Sonam is the resident teacher in the Boston Center.  He has completed his three year retreat, and the way I will always remember him, is singing and bringing joy to all around him.  In my first Tibetan Buddhist retreat, he was also attending, and he would sing to himself or to others (and me) just spontaneously and joyfully.  It truly brightened my heart and opened me to greater possibilities of beingness.

Lama Gyaltsen is Drupon Thinley Ningpo’s attendant and one of the resident lamas of the TMC.  However, at this, and at most retreats, he did all the work behind the scenes as it were.  Every time we had a change – from morning to afternoon, from day to night, from early night to late night, we received blessings – saffron water which he was always dispensing.  He is full of helpful, modest energy and he is always helping out with whatever project is going on.  They say that the most enlightened are the most humble (and they happily take the worst jobs) and if this is true, his realization must be vast.

For more on Lamas – visit the TMC website at http://www.drikungtmc.org or visit the overall Drikung Kagyu website at http://www.drikung-kagyu.org look at the teachers section.

Thanks for reading!

Kirby Moore

konchog chakchen

Mani Drubchen Chronicles – Part Five

Dissolution of the Mandala
Dissolution of the Mandala

This material is copyrighted by me (Kirby Moore).  Reproduction without permission is prohibited.  To support my business and blogging efforts, please visit Kirby’s website. More recently, I have begun teaching Astrology classes on Trauma-Informed Astrology, see http://www.traumainformedastrology.com for more! Thank you for visiting!

So if you ask me what I accomplished on the retreat, I would have to say, I got in touch with my lemony laughter and it was very good. Although, this was not always the case, there were a couple of days where resistance and frustration nearly blindsided me – I wanted to go home, I wondered if I was crazy for sticking around and I just sat with it. On one of the first days, I was asked to throw away some food which we could not use, which I did – trudging through mud and the cold woods to do so. It was not easy to rest in equanimity as I did this. Also, on the final day, I came down with a head cold, which I have as I write this. So it was not all peaches and cream, but it was clarifying and filled with the occasional insight. Plus I got to learn a lot about the traditional method of intense Tibetan Buddhist retreats (Drubchens) and about laughing at the little things in a shrine room. I also dipped my toe into the pot of true practice – pushing my mind to its limits and then playing on that edge. Around the clock, practicing for the benefit of all beings.  <Revision on 2/2/10 – See my more recent posts of the 2009 Drupchen for further thoughts on pushing one’s mind.  I have a long, long way to go, and I think I am just beginning to scratch the surface of true practice.>

At one point I wondered about the mystery and sacred potency of the mandala, when one of the retreatants, who is a very skilled amateur photographer, tried to take about ten shots of the mandala when the two lamas who tended it briefly opened the curtain to change the tormas or water bowls. She would snap a picture from across the room, with her zoom lens, and then she would look at it (digital camera) and scowl and proceed to try another picture. It was very fascinating that she never seemed to get a good shot of the mandala during the retreat, at least not while I was awake and present. However, she took about three hundred pictures of lamas, retreatants and of the rituals the lamas performed, and those pics turned out great.  Very curious indeed. (we were not supposed to see the mandala during the 7 retreat days, seeing it before or after the retreat was permitted.)

further dissolution of sand mandala
further dissolution of sand mandala

I had a couple of vivid, easy to interpret dreams which I guess is usual for a retreat. However, with the sleep deprivation, I dreamt a lot less than I normally do (or I recalled them less). I had many various sensations wash over me – my heart throbbed, my posture improved, I almost fell asleep on my cushion. Oh yeah – speaking of cushions, I brought a new one from home and it burst on me. It was full of the little buckwheat hulls, which I prefer over the cotton stuffed one, but I forgot to take some out of it. So it sprung a leak as I was sitting and I found myself surrounded by little brown seed pods.

A friend of mine mentioned that when I meditated, I tended to have my eyes roll up into my head, which is not that unusual. However, for someone who has difficulty grounding in this world, she recommended I experiment with looking down. Therefore, I would spend one, two and sometimes three hours at a time looking down as I chanted. It was tough to counteract my usual habit for so long, but I

Becoming colorful sand
Becoming colorful sand

felt it helped to ground me, especially with so much stuff coming up for everyone.

Thanks for reading!

Mani Drubchen Chronicles – Part Four

A statue of 1000 arm Chenrezig
A statue of 1000 arm Chenrezig

This material is copyrighted by me (Kirby Moore).  Reproduction without permission is prohibited.  To support my business and blogging efforts, please visit Kirby’s website. More recently, I have begun teaching Astrology classes on Trauma-Informed Astrology, see http://www.traumainformedastrology.com for more! Thank you for visiting!

I felt like I was catching up on three years of laughter – the same amount of time I have been a full time student (a fascinating correlation). I have been very stoic and studious, to the exclusion of having much fun – it has been very beneficial, just not much lightheartedness (being a good student that is). Well let me tell you, several people at the Drubchen thought I was having a bliss trip every night – as I would sit on my cushion and laugh at seemingly nothing. I was laughing at something, but once I got going, it was difficult to stop. “Drubchen giggles” and “laughter spells” were words used to describe what happened to me at least four times. Here are a few of the things which set off my giggle fests: once, there was a meditator who had on a Buddhist retreat skirt (I forget the proper name of it – similar to a maroon kilt). He seemed to be tapping his yellow-sock-covered toe to the beat of the chant. I was fascinated by his toe’s seemingly disembodied movement (sleep deprivation will do that to a man) and then when his toe started dancing to a different beat I could not help but laugh! It was just sticking out from under the maroon skirt, like a little yellow dancing animal and I began to crack up. There were a couple of times I laughed so hard I cried and had to leave the shrine room. Another time, one of the retreatants and I were playing little harmless tricks on each other. And when he playfully stepped on my foot, I waited for him to turn his back and I deposited a little banana peel in his coffee… It took several minutes for him to realize this, but the resulting “oh gosh” and groan made my laughter roll like there was no tomorrow.  Hopefully my karma is not too bad for these little pranks.

The next laughter therapy session happened because a young man, a guy fresh to the

Many candles outside of the Drubchen
Many candles outside of the Drubchen

retreat scene, somehow fell asleep in a strange position in a chair, leaning forward on his hands and then he started audibly snoring – in the shrine room. I started giggling and I wanted to wake him, but I was laughing so hard I could not get off my cushion – tears started flowing and I dug through my Dharma bag (a purse with a Buddhist symbol on it) and luckily I found a picture of the His Holiness the Dalai Lama which seemed to sober me up. I had been looking for my ear plugs but that did the trick. Yet another time, this funny yogi said to me, “was I snoring?!”

I replied, “no, I don’t sleep in the same room as you, how would I know?”

He said, “no, I mean when I was sitting right behind you [in the shrine room]. I fell fast asleep and that is my greatest fear.” Maybe he should have talked to the young man who seemed well equipped to do so in a chair – without falling out of it. And of course, again, this got me rolling with laughter – especially once I figured out what he was referring to.

[10/26/09 Sitting here, nearly a year later, rereading my posts and revising where appropriate, I am still laughing as I read this!  Very good, very good, Yay!  – from Laughter Yoga]

Thank you for reading!

Kirby

Chronicles to resume very soon, this is recommended Full Moon practice

This material is copyrighted by me (Kirby Moore).  Reproduction without permission is prohibited.  To support my business and blogging efforts, please visit Kirby’s website. More recently, I have begun teaching Astrology classes on Trauma-Informed Astrology, see http://www.traumainformedastrology.com for more! Thank you for visiting!

Hello all,

Thank you for checking out my blog.  It definitely helps motivate me to publish posts!  Today I want to post a piece from a Buddhist prayer.  This is a great practice to do on Full Moon days – the Brief Prayer to be Reborn in the Blissful Pureland of Amitabha (the Buddha of Boundless Light). I am posting this because the reality of impermanence is coming home to me this holiday season – many people are coming down with illness or they are losing family members.  May all beings be happy and have higher rebirths!

This link is a great one to pictures of Amitabha: http://www.himalayanart.org/search/set.cfm?setid=171&page=4

Eeh Ma Ho!

Amitabha Buddha
Amitabha Buddha

In the center is the marvelous Buddha Amitabha of Boundless Light,

On the right is the Lord of Great Compassion (Chenrezig)

And on the left is Vajrpani, the Lord of Powerful Means.

All are surrounded by limitless Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Immeasurable peace and happiness is the blissful pureland of Dewachen.

When I and all beings pass from samsara,

May we be born there without taking samsaric rebirth.

May we have the blessing of meeting Amitabha face to face.

By the power and blessings of the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions,

May we attain this aspiration without hindrance.

Ta ya tha / Pan tsa dri ya awa bodha na ya svaha

Mani Drubchen Chronicles – Part 3

This material is copyrighted by me (Kirby Moore).  Reproduction without permission is prohibited.  To support my business and blogging efforts, please visit Kirby’s website. More recently, I have begun teaching Astrology classes on Trauma-Informed Astrology, see http://www.traumainformedastrology.com for more! Thank you for visiting!

What might 7 days of chanting do to someone’s voice? Lemons, tea, chai and lozenges were gulped in

the mandala with surrounding ritual items
the mandala with surrounding ritual items

abundance. However, there were times when each of us wondered if we could possibly chant the next session. Several people went temporarily hoarse, including one of the lamas – the one who speaks fluent English. Someone had homeopathic remedies for a sore throat which also seemed to help the vocal cords. The monk from Drikung Til (Khenpo Choephel – who was actually the Umze from Drikung – we are very blessed indeed) told us that they typically alternate chanting – one half of the room would do a couple series and then rest as the other half took over. We did this several times, but it did not seem to catch on. When we did alternate, it was a definite boost of energy – getting to rest a spell was like heaven.

sand mandala inside the gold curtain
sand mandala inside the gold curtain

As you can imagine, sitting in the same place, chanting the same words over and over for hours at a time can become a little repetitive, even for a seasoned yogi, which I am far from! Of course there was a visualization we were supposed to be doing as well, but it was hard to put all the pieces into place and hold them there while chanting and not falling asleep. Therefore, I became very fascinated with little things – like the manner in which the carpets seemed to slowly drift, like tectonic plates, across the room – of course it would take several days to move much, but I became sensitive to millimeters of floating and of course I had to put them back into place. Then when that became boring, the yogi sitting next to me, and I played with a little piece of glittery paper and a green sprinkle from a cupcake. We had loads of fun with these. The carpets had little flowers on them and we would put the glitter paper in the middle of a flower – like a jewel in a lotus (OM Mani Padme Hung). Are you getting the subtle humor yet? There were several occasions where he pretended to be averse to my putting little pieces of lint and dirt on his “side” of the carpet – swiftly putting it back on my side. At one point I made a face with my mala (prayer beads) and ear plugs – which my friend promptly decided should be nose plugs – to much chuckling. Yes, there was a lot of laughter. For further description of my laughing spells, see the next entry (part 4).

Mani Drupchen Chronicles – Part Two

Buddha Shakyamuni with vase-strings (explained later)
Buddha Shakyamuni with vase-strings (explained later)

This material is copyrighted by me (Kirby Moore).  Reproduction without permission is prohibited.  To support my business and blogging efforts, please visit Kirby’s website. More recently, I have begun teaching Astrology classes on Trauma-Informed Astrology, see http://www.traumainformedastrology.com for more! Thank you for visiting!

By the following day, nearly fifty people were present to receive the empowerment. In my limited understanding, an empowerment is an initiation or sacred permission to do a specific practice, which a Tibetan lama, usually the retreat (vajra) master, bestows on a group of people. In this case, we received the Royal Lineage of Chenrezig empowerment, dating back to the first major Buddhist King of Tibet – Tsongsen Gampo, from the 8th century (I think this is accurate but please don’t quote me). Chenrezig is the Buddha of Compassion and Skillful Means and his mantra is OM MANI PADME HUNG HRI. Somehow this empowerment lasted nearly four hours. It ended and we had lunch – Indian food brought up the mountain from town. We had a couple of meetings to discuss the rules or conduct for the retreat and to answer our burning questions.  We also signed up for various jobs which we would be responsible for once the retreat got under way – like cooking, cleaning, tea water refreshing, bathroom duty, etc.  Then we “established our seats.”  This is a custom in Tibet, when they do this retreat, they do a little primer or short practice of what is to come.  That evening, we had the last free time we would enjoy for the next seven days.

On Sunday morning, at seven am we began the practice. There was a long prayer

Final day - TMC shrine room - Mandala dissolution
Final day – TMC shrine room – Mandala dissolution

we would recite several times a day, plus we would do dedication and opening prayers when appropriate, but for the most part, we chanted the mantra (see above) around the clock. Upon reflection, I realized that at this retreat, someone who was dedicated and desired to sit on their cushion as much as possible could have easily done so for 18 hours a day. Even those retreatants who were sick or wanted to take more frequent breaks still probably got in 12 to 15 hours. This retreat was definitely intense, to say the least. There was a melody we chanted for the day time and then several variations at night. We were very blessed to have a Khenpo present from the main monastery in Tibet, Drikung Thil, as he led us through the chants and the prayers.  Khenpo Chophel that is. Actually, he was the Umze or Chant Master of Drikung Thil, so we were even more blessed to have those specific sacred melodies which have been handed down from Chant Master teacher to student for 800 years.

The typical schedule was as such: 6 to 6:30 am – everyone chanting then taking turns eating breakfast. 7:30 to 9:30 am Chanting then tea break. 10 am to noon chanting. For lunch one half of the room would go first and then switch. 1 to 3 pm and 3:30 to 5:30 pm opening prayers, chanting and closing prayers. At seven pm the “night practice” would start, with the lamas chanting separate prayers while we chanted the mantra. We rotated in three shifts – the first group chanted from 7 to 11:30 pm then slept, the second group chanted from 11 pm to 2:30 am and hopefully slept before and after their shift and the third group chanted from 2 to 6 am with the option to take a short nap after breakfast if needed.

Drupon Thinley Ningpo holds the sand from mandala
Drupon Thinley Ningpo holds the sand from mandala

We did this routine for six days straight. Can you imagine? There are many words to describe the zombie-like, euphoric, flowing rhythms which wove their way through the group. We were all sleep deprived, not the least of which the lamas – as they did so much. It turns out that they had to be present for specific prayers from 7 to 8:30 pm, from 11 to 11:30 pm and from 2 to 2:30 AM. Plus they were nearly always present during the daylight hours. So much for a full night’s rest! We are so blessed to be able to attend these precious teachers!

On a side note, the night shift reminded me a bit of my time in the military (I was in the Army Reserves for four years), in that we would take turns on fire duty or night watch.  Someone was always (supposed to be) vigilant.  In this context of a Buddhist retreat, I think the underlying motivation is drastically different.  But see my later posts for more on the military / Buddhism connection.

Revised 3/21/2021: I am reading back through these early blog posts and I am just amazed at how fortunate I was from 2005 – 2009. I had the leisure time to attend dozens of retreats – short weekends, two-week teaching retreats with highly revered Tibetan Lamas and even a couple of Mani Drupchens! Wow! So so grateful! And at the time, I was not able to see the myriad blessings around me.

Today, I am now helping to take care of my family. So I am only able to catch time to practice for an hour in the morning (when my partner’s daughter is at school) if I am lucky. My time on the cushion is necessary, vital and yet so hard to come by! And I am struggling to see when I can do a short retreat – getting on out of it for some self-care and practice time. Wish me luck!

The Mani Drupchen Chronicles – Part One

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Had someone either informed me that I was about to spend seven days in a row, eating, sleeping and chanting in close proximity with fifty people, half of whom were complete strangers, and several of whom came down with serious colds, I might not have had this adventure (plus keep in mind what constant sniffling and sneezing might sound like when we have little sleep amongst a full shrine room – wow!). Or had I known that we would not be allowed, due to limited facilities, to take more than one shower every four days, and that the port-a-johns and the hand washing station next to them would freeze solid early on in the retreat, I would have said I was crazy to do it! As it was however, I attended the first Drikung Kagyu “Our Vast Noble Heart Mani Drubchen” retreat in North America. Actually, I did know what I was getting myself into ahead of time, but I felt a calling, a pull or more of a “you have to do this or else face bland monotony for the next six months!” to immerse myself in the vast waves of purification.

What was I about to embark on?

I left my beautiful, soon-to-bloom Christmas cactus with a friend, hopped on the road and picked up a Romanian, Tibetan Buddhist nun (ani) from Dulles airport. She was from California.  We had a pleasant conversation about her center, her experiences as an ordained person and a little about what I do. Like most ordained practitioners, she felt it would be advantageous for me to become ordained, but we did not have to agree on everything. Then we arrived at the TMC. The lamas had completed the sand mandala the day before, so it was in its golden curtain, in shimmering splendor. Seeing one for the first time, up close, was breathtaking. Somehow the colors were extraordinarily vivid and brilliant, the individual shapes and angles simple yet sharp and detailed. In what I assumed to be the typical Tibetan fashion, there were little ritual cakes called “tormas” around the mandala with water bowls and pictures of Buddhist deities on the sides and behind it. There were little pillars with faces or heads on their tops, facing outward in the four primary and four secondary directions. I figured they were guardians. What was most unusual was that the mandala itself had a gold curtain all the way around it, and later, once the retreat got rolling, the curtains were primarily closed for seven days, until the dissolution at the end.

TMC Shrine Room

I explored the shrine room, which housed the mandala and many cushions and chairs for retreatants to sit, with the giddy anticipation of a naïve child, not knowing what to expect yet excited to be apart of whatever I had gotten myself into. If anything, I had loftier expectations than were appropriate. I may have thought that a week of sitting, spending 17 hours a day chanting the same magical mantra over and over would produce miraculous results. Huh? I had heard one story about a 45 day Drubchen where the precious medicine pills which are blessed throughout the retreat miraculously spilled over the sides of the large bowl containing them, as they multiplied out of thin air. What a bummer it was when this did not seem to occur. None-the-less, I entered the tiny house where 30 of us would sleep each night. I said hello to the resident lama, the Khenpo, or abbot of the Tibetan Meditation Center. There were several other familiar faces by that point and I chatted briefly with them. However, I had been resting down and taking it easy for the past several days, purposefully preparing for what was to come. Therefore I had a little soup and stayed fairly quiet.

[As an aside, the picture of me above is from my Grandfather’s b-day party.  I was horsing around and, in his customary fashion, my little brother snapped a photo.  He likes to take pictures of people’s eyes – zoomed in real close.  Very zapchen-like of him.]

Revised 3/18/2021: Just a note… when there are 50 people with good motivation to attain enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings, and they push themselves pretty hard to chant and pray for 7-days straight, with one group always chanting around the clock (we took shifts), then those precious medicine pills become imbued with healing regenerative medicinal qualities. Just saying prayers for one person alone can make a difference. Imagine what a million mantras can do!

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