Bonnie, Shantideva staff and volunteer, shares her experience of attending a first ever two-week retreat at Light of the Path, August 2016.
I had never been on a two-week Dharma retreat before, and being a worry-wart, I asked quite a few Dharma friends what to expect. After some interrogating, the suggestions came: just take it easy, make sure you have a support group or friend, and don’t expect anything. Well that seemed doable, so I decided to go. However, when I arrived at the retreat center, I was still worried that things might get too intense for me. So after dropping off my luggage in the dorm, I headed straight to the Kadampa Shop and made a beeline towards the children’s section. I bought the closest thing to a Harry Potter book I could find. It was Amy and Gully in Rainbowland by W.W. Rowe. Yes, how frightful that I’m 40 and picking out a children’s book! But there you have it — a true Generation Xer.
I’m happy to report that not once did I open the book during the retreat. Why? Because the Light of the Path retreat was just that — illuminating. In fact, each teaching by Lama Zopa Rinpoche was a precious lam-rim gem.
One gem in particular was when Lama Zopa Rinpoche read the letter from the State Government of Uttar Pradesh announcing they were handing over the land to build the Maitreya Buddha statue. Maitreya Buddha is close to my heart so this was unbelievably special that I heard and was in the presence of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Dharma friends for this fortuitous news.
My favorite story from the retreat though was Ven. Sarah Thresher retelling the moment when Ven. Robina Courtin explained to Lama Zopa Rinpoche the eating disorder bulimia and afterwards Rinpoche said, “It sounds like the way you people practice Dharma.” I know what you’re thinking. Really … bulimia and Westerners with Dharma? But this story showed that we have a huge responsibility after a retreat or Dharma teachings. Rather than gorging oneself silly with Dharma and then carelessly squandering it, we should listen, contemplate and meditate on the teachings.
With that in mind, here are my three take-home messages from the retreat:
- It’s only from good merit (good karma) that I am arising at this moment as a human attracted to Dharma. When death comes this karma could easily change. Yikes! It sounds like fear-mongering, but this is what I learned on my walks when seeing creepy crawly bugs who potentially have the same Buddha mind as I and all other sentient beings. But the bugs just have a different karmic vision arising at that moment.
- That all sentient beings are my kind mother sentient beings. You’ve heard this a gazillion times but seriously, this was a strong message during the retreat.
- Dharma is the only thing that’s going to help me (us) at the time of death. At the time of death, when the eight-stage dissolutions happen faster than the Kingda Ka roller coaster and the gripping fear arises upon realizing there is no self — that’s when one truly wishes they had an extremely powerful and unshakable Dharma practice.
I hope this blog encourages you to attend the next Light of the Path retreat, and if not, I will happily send you a lovely letter imploring you to go ;). Of course, if you can’t, I wholeheartedly rejoice in your efforts in watching the livestream videos, reading the transcripts and/or Living in the Path material. I do apologize if what I have learned from the retreat is not correct Dharma and eagerly and with utmost effort wish to clear away any obstacles to higher perception of the lam-rim teachings.
About Light of the Path:
“A series of teaching retreats led by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Black Mountain, North Carolina, USA, and hosted by Kadampa Center (an FPMT affiliate located in Raleigh, NC). The root text for the course is Lama Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment.”