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How I came to be at Palpung for Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s retreat was quite a thing… maybe it was Karma; whatever the thing was, I felt very fortunate to be at this important event. I didn’t have tickets upon their release; it was my intention to visit Samye Ling and see Rinpoche teach. Unfortunately, this could not happen and I was left without tickets, without the opportunity to meet and learn from one of the finest meditation masters of our age. I had not met Rinpoche, but I had encountered Rinpoche via YouTube videos, social media posts, and through his excellent and thoroughly recommended books, “The Joy of Living” and “Turning Confusion into Clarity”. I had also heard the amazing story of his latest long term retreat: 4 years wandering, willingly exchanging the relative comfort and safety of a retreat hermitage to for the harsh realities of life down in the dusty city gutter and up in the peaks of the Himalayas.
Reading such stories make my heart full and my eyes well with tears – his example, by choosing a wandering yogi retreat, rhymes with Prince Siddhartha Gautama’s decision to leave the palace to pursue truth that fateful and auspicious night. Furthermore, his example made me think toward the great yogi-poet and Kagyu lineage master, Milarepa. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche appeared to have the hallmarks of a Guru; the petit master was a big deal in my mind! And I was going to miss this precious opportunity to attend his teachings, in Wales, ‘the land of my fathers’ (literally). My home, in a village not too dissimilar to my hometown. A master and holder of the practice lineage is coming and I’m not going to see him.
I decided that I would not give up and just wallow in my misfortune and disappointment, rather make a concerted effort to attempt to find a ticket and attend. I put a call out on social media, and Dharma friends shared in an effort to help me. No ticket present itself. I persisted. I contacted Paulina, who was in India attending precious teachings on Mahamudra from Tai Situpa Rinpoche, and she advised me to email the wonderful people who were in the UK, busy preparing and organising this incredible event. Fortunately – and it will become clear why I say ‘fortunately’ – the initial email I send bounced back, “message undelivered”. I had miss-spelt the email address. At this stage I was a littler despondent as time was moving on and it was only two weeks before the retreat!
Despite my beginning to feel a little hopeless, I chanced an email, this time typing the email address correctly. I thought I was too late, but it turns out the delay was a blessing; as it happens, 5 minutes after I hit ‘send’, I had a reply stating there was a returned ticket and I was welcome to purchase it. I don’t think I’ve ever replied as quickly to an email as I did that day! Further email correspondence and a PayPal payment later and I was going to see Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, joining dear dharma friends in Rinpoche’s Mandala to receive such rare and jewel like teachings. I felt ever so fortunate and incredibly joyful.
The retreat was incredible. The teachings were a fine and precise explanation of the ground, path, and fruition of the meditative path of Mahamudra through detailed commentary of the 3rd Karmapa’s An Aspiration Prayer for Mahamudra. The lineage was alive in Brynmawr. I feel it would be foolish for me to attempt to recount what Rinpoche taught as I don’t speak from experience. Rinpoche, however, did speak from experience, and he does so with eloquence and clarity, compassion and humour. What I will talk about is my personal reflections and impressions, the first of which would be seeing Rinpoche for the first time. I was struck by how, despite obviously being in front of me, in my field of vision and a mere 3 metres from me (I was very fortunate to be allocated a 2nd row ticket, in the centre), he sat apart reality I was perceiving. It is hard to put into words, but I will endeavour: it was like everything in my visual perception was in background, clear but in background. Rinpoche appeared in foreground in my subjective visual perception, sharper than the surroundings as if his form was overlaid into the room; as if he was in this perceived reality, yet at the same time apart from it. The second thing was how petit Rinpoche is. I believe he has referred to himself, in relation to the living Kagyu linage, as the ‘little boss’, Karmapa being the ‘big boss’! I noticed his sandals; a Vajra regent wearing simple flip-flops is a teaching in and of itself.
The teaching environment Rinpoche created and held was beautiful: relaxed and open. At large Dharma gatherings I usually get self-conscious and don’t ask any of my burning questions or seek clarification on specific points. At Rinpoche’s teachings, no such issues were there: I knew the teacher welcomed the question; I knew my fellow students were all friends. This really took me by surprise, and I asked many questions – very fortunate and very thankful for this opportunity. From this experience, I know that Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a fine educator, an authentic Guru: through his teaching style, he effortlessly spins the wheel of Dharma. It was within this atmosphere – his Mandala – in which aspects of the Dharma I have been theoretically wrestling with melted, dropping from the crowded, limited confines of my head to my spacious and joyous heart. This was such an important moment for me on my Buddhist path. I formally took refuge in the three Jewels on Easter Sunday, 2008 at Samye Ling. 10 years later - April 2018, Palpung Wales – I had the feeling I was actually sheltering under the glorious umbrella of our lineage, a refugee whose safety is guaranteed by the three Jewels and three roots.
As I am sure we all know, the three Jewels include the Sangha: the religious community, the Dharma family. I feel that a hallmark of the Kagyu lineage, as I have seen manifest in the UK, is its feeling of being family. This feeling was amplified during Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s retreat and was so evident. It was truly incredible to see so many familiar faces, Dharma friends I have known throughout my path, spending precious time together practicing or at teachings. It was a privilege to make new connections with people – my kin; Dharma friends with me on the path. It was a pleasure to be recipient of the kindness of Lama Rabsang and all the volunteers who worked tirelessly to organise and host such an event, making it run smoothly. I felt the refuge of the Sangha over the three precious days; I took refuge in this reservoir of loving-kindness.
There wasn’t much I could do to help with the event while I was participating – everything was expertly covered by the volunteers. Despite this, I tried to help serve Rinpoche in small ways. The first was through making Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche a small offering: a can of mushy peas! (pictured). Rinpoche talked at length about distractions impacting our ability to remain aware, advising on how we should deal with such distractions. He used the example of suddenly thinking about food, hence mushy peas! I thought a can of mushy peas would be an apt offering, although Rinpoche seemed confused (“what is this?”). I heard that he used the can of mushy peas as a teaching prop during the pointing out instructions! Whatever merit generated from my offering, I dedicate to all sentient life!
I was unable to attend the pointing out instructions, as I have not met the practice commitment criteria. The retreat has prompted me to redouble my efforts and it is my heartfelt wish that Rinpoche returns to Wales soon to teach again; I would be honoured to be one of many students. The title of this reflective piece is ‘the meditation master’s sandals’: why this title? What does it have to do with what I am writing about? Nothing, I suppose…aside from the following. As I have said, I was unable to attend the pointing out instructions. I remained at Palpung while these teaching were given as the friends I travelled from Cardiff with each day were there. I used the opportunity of one hour to get on with my practice, specifically the refuge, bodhicitta, prostration practices within the Ngondro. I had the feeling that although I was not in the shrine-room with Rinpoche receiving the teachings on the nature of mind, I was connected as I was undertaking practice in preparation for attending such teachings in the future. On the final day, after I finished my prostrations, I walked from the library with in intention to go outside in the beautiful garden. As I passed the door of the shrine-room, I noticed many shoes strewn all over the floor; there was a rush to get people in and out of the shrine-room, and in this rush, the shoes went everywhere. I always remember the story and example of one of my teachers, the late Akong Rinpoche, who would tidy shoes outside the Samye Ling Temple before entering and taking his place on the throne. So, in the spirit of Akong Rinpoche, I began to sort the shoes, boots, trainers, slippers, sandals. I noticed on sandal – a single flip-flop – and recognised it as belonging to YONGEY MINGYUR RINPOCHE. I smiled to myself and looked for the other sandal to complete the pair. I couldn’t find it. A rush of cold went down my spine: where could it be? I searched for over 10 minutes, being careful not to make a racket and disturb teachings. I still couldn’t find it, and I could hear the dedication of merit prayer coming from the shrine-room: the teachings were almost over and Rinpoche only had one sandal to put on! I got on the floor, and laying on my belly I looked under the furniture: I saw it! I prised it out from the small gap and dusted the sandal with my t shirt, reunited the pair and placed them carefully near the door to the shrine-room with a minute to spare. Rinpoche emerged and put his sandals on: I offered a kata and my heartfelt thanks. He walked up the stairs and was gone. In a very small way I had served the meditation master. My heart is full of gratitude for all the precious opportunities that came together over this wonderful three days