I was going to write today that being at the 2016 North American Kagyu Monlam is very much like my concept of Dewachen, the pure land of Amitabha in which we aspire to be reborn as soon as we die, a place where there is nothing but dharma activity and we can progress with ease toward awakening, free of the obstacles that constantly beset us in ordinary life. Here at the 2016 NAKM, we are blessed with the presence of an extraordinary teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche; his retinue, including, first and foremost, Lama Norlha Rinpoche and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, along with many other lamas and monastics; days full of chanting words of dharma to beautiful melodies; a splendid dharma environment full of light and colors and wonderful offerings, with tea served to everyone by sparkling gods and goddesses and sponsored by myriad generous benefactors. Not to mention:
“The wish-fulfilling trees are composed of many jewels / and are decorated by leaves of silk and precious fruit. / In them are emanated birds whose sweet calls / proclaim profound and vast dharma…/ There are many rivers of scented water with the eight attributes…/ Lotus flowers with sweet fragance and fruit / emit countless rays of light…./ May I be reborn in that amazing realm!” –An Aspiration for Birth in the Pure Realm of Sukhavati (Dewachen)
At KTC we only have the one river in immediate proximity, the glorious Hudson; and the most prominent birds are our beloved turkeys, as Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche has now pointed out in two teachings. (View the Day 3 teaching in our livestream archive to learn what it is like to meditate without an object, specifically excluding turkeys.) But these are minor details, and if there is any experience of Dewachen in this life, so far for me this is it.
However…Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche addressed this very concept in his teaching today, in his instruction on the difference between the essence of meditation and the experience of meditation. He said we should not seek out or become attached to the experiences of meditation–peace, calm, clarity, joy, a nonconceptual state of mind, and so forth; but instead keep our (very relaxed) focus on the essence of meditation, which is simply awareness of whatever experiences–positive or negative, pleasant or unpleasant, many thoughts or few–may arise in the mind.
One example he used was the Kagyu Monlam itself: “As we do the aspiration prayers, some days our mind is happy, we can follow the text, so many monks and nuns–it is like heaven. But the next day we keep getting stuck on pronunciation, we lose our place, we try to catch up–this is a disaster, right? We should have stayed home and just meditated!”
Rinpoche explained that wanting or expecting our meditation to be always full of peaceful, joyful states of mind is attachment to the experiences of meditation. Without attachment, we can still appreciate and enjoy good experiences, but we know that they won’t last forever, there will always be ups and downs. What is important is the essence of meditation–awareness–which we have access to at all times no matter what our experience is in any given moment.
Rinpoche’s teaching was a wonderful meditation instruction for both beginners and seasoned practitioners. In particular he advised us about how to maintain our meditation while we are chanting aspiration prayers, which is most of each day, so we can immediately put it into practice.
And no matter what our experience of chanting is in any particular session, it seems that it is all as good as Dewachen if we are not attached to always feeling that it is.
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Many additional participants are expected for the weekend, and have begun arriving today. The Mahayana shrine room has extra seating and livestream screens in case the main shrine room fills to capacity. More soon on what the daily schedule at the Monlam is like and what is happening behind the scenes to make it possible for most of us to enjoy these long days filled with aspiration prayers and teachings.
Please join us on the home page of this website again tomorrow and through the weekend for live streaming of the entire event, from 8:00am to about 5:30pm daily. Saturday’s teaching is scheduled for 10:15am.
posted by Lama Chodron