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Some Thoughts After Nyungne Retreat, May 7-9 2010

by Pearl K.

The Nyungne Retreat at Wailuku Drive, Rangjung Kunchyab Rime Ling, May 6 (7) - 9, 2010, was not only purifying the spirit, but I found it to be largely an extreme exercise in self-discipline, self-control.

I suppose a lama would say we were learning to ignore or let go of self & body, but mind control was central to the weekend effort.

If self is comprised of mind & body, I would say both mind & body got a workout in a gymnasium for the spirit.

The Nyungne retreat for me showed me that food and water are not that important. The need for food and water can be relinquished for a few days, and the body will survive - mind & will (intention & volition) can be first, supreme. It was hard - difficult & a challenge. Because I am schizoaffective, I had to take my psychiatric medications with a sip of water. Because I am diabetic, doctors, nurses, and family said I had to eat something several times a day, so I had bread & peanut butter, and cauliflower. Thank you for allowing me to participate in the Nyungne retreat, permitting flexibility with the vows I took regarding fasting from food and water.

I know I will participate and practice in more Nyungnes. The benefit is powerful and deep. The empowerment is felt, is real. It is like learning to ride a bicycle for the first time.

Nyungne taught me a skill: that I can take control of the physical urge (felt as a pure physical need) to eat. I tend to eat too much. It is a behavior based on a fear, and on pleasure - both emotions which I now realize are the cause of eating too much.

For me, eating is like going to war - but there is really no enemy. I am aiming at myself without being aware my body can be my friend.

I am now learning techniques (Nyungne is one) to make peace with my body, with whom I have struggled since before childhood. Only now, at age 60 years, am I befriending my body. Mind is learning how to interact with body. And body has relinquished supremacy over mind: food (& sex) are to be cherished, but not overemphasized. Someone pointd out to me that almost every religion has fasting as a component. Now I understand the value & benefit of fasting: self-control, and mind over body; and a happy mind-body conjunct - a happy undivisive self.

I would like to end this message by quoting from the RKRL website: "In the tantric techniques of Tibetan Buddhism, we neither avoid emotions nor view them as illusion. We learn, instead, to transform them." "We do this through meditation involving visualization & mantra, always with the goal of ultimately being of benefit to others."

I am learning how fulfilling being of benefit to others is, that being of service and kindness to others - that making others happy - is how to create joy in samsara, bring a taste of Dewachen to our samsaric existence. And Nyungne is practice making one's own self happy, by conjoining mind and body into a happy union with respect.

Sincerely, with deepest gratitude,

Pearl K.

A Student's View of Nyung Ne

by Shelley Ham, MD 2006

This is the practice that our lama is named for, and with good reason: he has done well over a hundred, including several eight nyungnes (eight nyungne retreats back to back). He has fond memories of past retreats with various lamas including Lama Lodu Rinpoche and Lama Rinchen. So it's pretty much expected as one of his students that you will do at least one. I've racked up about eight by now.

This is a practice with very strict vows. But it's only a long weekend, so it's doable. If you have some significant medical issues, sometimes you can get a special dispensation concerning the eating rules. You can take any medication that you normally do. It seems like the toughest is for those with arthritis; if you have pre-existing back or muscle pains, this practice may aggravate those for a few days afterwards. Even the smokers get by without smoking for the whole retreat, seemingly without undue hardship.

I seem to have a lower tolerance for the 'no water' rule than most. Seems that the more I can actually keep up with the rapid fire chanting with practice, the worse it gets, too. Lama says we lose a lot of moisture out through our mouths that way. The dehydration causes nausea (sometimes even vomiting), dizziness, heart palpitations. Not fun. But most people don't get these symptoms.

The day before the retreat, you can help lama make the offering tormas (small kine version of what you can see on our torma making page). It's a good way to learn and to build merit. Otherwise, it's a normal day for me. I don't eat anything special in preparation as it doesn't seem to make a difference anyway.

For the duration of the retreat, you should not wear jewelry, perfumes, etc. No sexual activity, joking, singing, dancing, or use of intoxicants either. You will be staying on the premises as a protective mandala will be in place. Every time you enter the shrine room, you should purify yourself with saffron water sprinkled on throat, heart, head while reciting "Om mani peme hung", and do three prostrations.

We start before sunrise on the first day, with the first puja (we do three pujas the first two days, one puja on the last day). If you don't know already, a puja is a collection of prayers etc that are compiled into a text, or sadhana. Usually the first day lama will do a lot of it in English and give additional instruction and teachings especially if there is anyone who hasn't done the practice before. Every time I do this retreat, I learn something new. The first time you do it, just go along for the ride and don't expect yourself to keep up. Pretty much every thing you need to know about Tibetan Buddhist meditation and rituals is in this retreat, so it's highly informative but can also be overwhelming in the beginning. You will get a chance to chant, do prostrations, do various mudras, recite mantras and visualize 1000-armed Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) in technicolor detail. You'll get even more out of this retreat once you have the long dharani memorized and the visualization down.

You can drink clear fluids all that first day. We have a vegetarian meal before noon (there are particular ingredients that are not allowed) and after that we are pau with food until the end of the retreat. After the last puja of the day (usually over around 7pm), once you fall asleep, say goodbye to fluids (and talking) as well.

To get the most out of the retreat, if is recommended that on your breaks you continue to meditate, read dharma texts, work on memorizing mantras etc. You can do other activities as long as they don't lead you to break one of the vows, but you won't be maximizing your gains if they aren't dharma related. Napping is okay as well. I have a really hard time sleeping the last night, so I try to get some sleep in during the day.

If you accidentally speak or dance or some such thing, go up to the shrine and purify yourself again with the saffron water. No one expects you to be perfect. Intentional transgressions of vows, on the other hand, can't be good.

The last day we get up very early so that the puja will be over around sunrise. At the end of it we drink hot lemon water when the lama okays it. Then we do dedication prayers and other prayers and eat, usually a meal of rice soup. If you haven't had the 1000-armed Chenrezig empowerment, lama will usually do that ceremony after we eat. Then you get your "I survived Nyungne" t-shirt (just kidding).

Several students report getting a "high" from doing this retreat. I don't notice that, but I do feel good about having spent that amount of time immersed in meditation, refining my (almost) skillful means, bonding with my sangha (Buddhist 'family'), and spending some time not having to speak (or listen, for that matter)! Try it, you might like it, too.