Ma Gyud – Mother Tantra's Phowa and Chöd practices
January 8th - March 14th 2017
- Anna-Kaisa Hirvanen
The second practice retreat from the Ma Gyud – Mother Tantra started on January 8th. We received the Phowa instructions from Menri Shedrub Khenpo Geshe Nyima Dhondup Rinpoche for two days. It was great fortune to receive the instructions directly from Khenpo-La and this gave us an auspicious start for our further studies and retreat.
Lishu students with Khenpo-La
Auspicious ceremony with Khenpo-La in the beginning of the retreat
In the second trimester we have been studying and practicing the Ma Gyud - teachings on Phowa (Phen Pa Lam Khyer) and Chod (Nyen Sa Lam Khyer). Phowa is a practice for the time of death, helping the practitioner to root out inner poisons and transfer one´s consciousness skillfully towards the next rebirth. Chod – practice is about cutting attachment, overcoming fear and cultivating generosity and compassion towards all beings.
Our 7 – week retreat has been consisting of four practice sessions and two hours of teaching each day. Morning practice with Sang (smoke offering) and Phowa practice, starts at 6.30am. In addition, we´ve been keeping up with Tsa Lung Trul Khor (Tibetan yoga) - practice in the mornings. After breakfast, we´ve had one hour of teachings with our teacher Menri Geshe Sherab Lodoe, and as before, Dr. Sangmo Yangri has been translating the teachings in English. We have been studying first the teachings on Phowa and then Chod according to the Three Streams of Ma Gyud – text (Ma Gyud Sangye Gyud Sum).
Another session of Phowa practice has been taking place before noon and after the lunch break we have been learning to play the damaru and the shang, the ritual drum and bell used in Chod practice, together with melodic chanting. As a practice text, we have been using a text by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen, “A Laughter of the Khandro” (Khandro Ged rGyang).
Learning to play the instruments with singing is already a practice in itself. First, one cannot imagine playing the drum properly, let alone with the bell, let alone with the singing! But then, after few weeks of daily practice they somehow start to come together and playing starts to support the concentration and visualization practice that comes along gradually. We have been learning to sing other prayers and ritual texts as well during our afternoon class. I think I haven´t been singing this much for many years and it´s been great!
Sunset in Lishu
In the late afternoon, before sunset, we have had our third practice session with Phowa, together with Kakyong –prayers. After dinner we have been concluding our day with fourth session of Phowa – practice, followed by Sur Chod – practice.
We finished our formal retreat in the end of February and celebrated the Tibetan New Year, Losar, with small ceremonies in Lishu. On the third day of the New Year, we travelled to Menri Monastery to receive the Phowa Kusha ceremony from Menri Ponlop Thinley Nyima Rinpoche and to receive blessings and guidance from Khenpo-La (Menri Shedrub Khenpo Geshe Nyima Dhondup Rinpoche) as well after our retreat.
Lishu students at the Phowa Kusha - ceremony with Ponlop Rinpoche and Khenpo-La
After the ceremony we took part in the birthday celebrations of Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen and the Cham – dances in Menri monastery that took place over the weekend. About these traditional celebrations you can read more from the previous part of the blog from March 2016 “Losar Tashi Delek”.
Children from the Bon-community lighting candles at the celebration of Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen´s birthday
Khapse (Tibetan cookies) with Tibetan butter tea after the Cham-dances!
Before leaving Menri we were delighted to hear that we would have the opportunity to host 5 nuns from Redna Menling Yungdrung Bon nunnery in Lishu during the last week of our studies.
Redna Menling nuns visiting Lishu for the first time
Redna Menling Nunnery “Land of Precious Medicine” has been established in 2000 across the river from, and in view of, Menri Monastery. It is the only Bon nunnery in India and one of a handful in the world. Girls and women from Tibet and the borderlands arrive there to study and remain as nuns. Redna Menling is a rapidly growing institution that is a solid reflection of women as leaders and practitioners of the Bon tradition.
The nunnery started with only 2 nuns but already five years later, in 2005, the number was 22. The dialectic school for nuns was established 2011. At the moment, the nunnery has 58 junior nuns and 12 nuns studying in the dialectic school program.
Preparing tormas for Tsok in Lishu
During their stay in Lishu the nuns performed a day – long Tsok offering and Chod- practice. We enjoyed very much their humble presence, bringing joy and liveliness to everyone. We admired their skills, practice and their genuine friendliness and kindness touched us all very much.
Tsok – offering
The nuns performing Chod
We had the opportunity to ask some questions from all of the nuns and to hear about their studies and everyday-life. I also interviewed one of the nuns, Samten, who has full ordination and vows of a Bon nun. Full ordination for nuns has not been lost in Bon tradition, unlike in all other Tibetan Buddhist traditions where still today, only novice vows are given to nuns. The full ordination for Bon nuns was revived in by His Holiness Menri Trizin 33rd and His Eminence Yongdzin Rinpoche in 2008 in Triten Norbutse Monastery, Nepal. Samten was one of the 4 nuns receiving the full ordination at that time.
Samten, one of the 5 full ordinated Bonpo nuns living in India
Samten was born in Trom Tsang Gar Gong in Kham - region, Eastern Tibet. When she was 17-years old she took refuge with the hair cutting ceremony from a great Bon Master Drub Chen Nam Kha Gyaltsen and practiced the Ngondro (preliminary practices) with him. She continued her practice with her Master further, completing 49 days of dark retreat and 100 days of Tsa Lung Trul Khor retreat. In 2008 she left Tibet and made her way to Triten Norbutse Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. She attended the Gom Dra,meditation school there for 5 years, receiving all the important teachings of Tantra and Dzogchen of the Bon tradition. Afterward, she joined the Redna Menling Nunnery to study in the dialectic school. Right now, after 6 years of studies, she is in the Prajnaparamita class and has 6-7 years of study still to go in order to receive the Geshema – degree which is equivalent to PhD in the western education system.
Just as the other nuns in the dialectic school, though having so many good qualities and being a great practitioner, Samten feels uncertainty about her own qualifications of being able to measure up to the Geshema – degree. These nuns have a great responsibility of being the first ones to attain the degree in India and afterwards, taking care of the new generation of nuns. Since going back to Tibet is impossible in many cases, Samten also sees her future in India. She is determined to do her best to attain the Geshema degree and if she does, to teach the new generation. But even if somehow that would not be possible, she would be happy to stay in the nunnery and help in any way that she can.
Since the Tibetan society is mainly lead by male figures, women are generally taught to be lower in certain aspects and not as much capable of pursuing the important roles in their own culture and religion. However, there are changes happening already within this traditional attitude and for example in the case of these nuns, His Holiness Menri Trizin 33rd is determined that nuns will enjoy the same educational opportunities as monks and that they will be able to direct the affairs of their own communities.
The nuns are very much in need of support in order to flourish fully and develop the role of Bonpo women. If you would wish to support the nuns in Redna Menling, you can visit: http://www.bonfoundation.org/cc_bonnun.html
We ended our second trimester of Ma Gyud – studies on 14th March with small ceremony in Lishu. Both the teachers and students were happy and content about the retreat, which has been fluent and clear. The third trimester of this year starts early April, with Bardo and Sleep Yoga teachings. Even though I am not able to participate the last trimester personally, a good group of students are participating the trimester until 9th June. Looking forward to come back to Lishu next autumn again!
Rainbow at the Lishu land one day before finishing our second trimester