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Small shrineroom - Salmon Falls Sangha

Re-engagement with the Sadhana of Mahamudra

from – The Chronicles of the Sadhana of Mahamudra

Journal – 21 September 2008

“In the early hours of the equinox, I feel compelled to give our shrine room a thorough cleaning. There is sometimes an underlying uneasiness when a shadow of dust can be seen around the edges of things, and only by completely removing all objects and offerings… one at a time, and carefully… can a top to bottom sense of re-engagement be found. And that is what it is. Because my practice, living alone and not deeply entwined with other lineage members at the moment, can get spotty. The shrine gets spotty. The floor needs to be vacuumed.”

I acquired a slow sense of ascending joy – didn’t know quite why so deep – but as I had just been thoroughly (the prior evening) surprised to find new photographs of the next Trungpa tulku, I was full of optimism for him. This is great! Trungpa is alive and well!

When I met with Tai Situ Rinpoche about him in 1996 everything was about caution, not wanting to attract too much attention, only Lee Weingrad would be going back and forth. Now – wow – an eighteen-year-old with an inquiring open face, a dancer in dharma costume; an inheritor at Dutsi Til. So I moved the photos of Chogyam Trungpa carefully, lovingly – dusted. Also current teachers in the Drikung Kagyu lineage – Khenchen Gyaltshen Rinpoche and Garchen Rinpoche.

Each object on the shrine felt totally real, its symbolism driven home through decades of careful pouring and placing and asking and offering. The female and male sides of the altar, of the whole room – the resonances of buddha families and directions – the quiet soft energies of the gifted teachers who had so generously given their time and talent and learning to myself and others, peering down from the corners of the room. Jetsunma Kushok and her brother H.H. the Sakya Trizin, H.H. the Dalai Lama, H.H. the Gyalwa Karmapa, H.H. Chetsang Rinpoche and each of their dedicated abbots and teachers and tutors and physicians. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche, Tai Situ Rinpoche and Khandro Rinpoche, Sonam Rinpoche and Khyentse Dzongshar Rinpoche… so many hard-working, dedicated, loving teachers crossing my life one way or another.

And then, in a vertical shelf of a small side table next to a three-ring binder with Khenchen Rinpoche’s final draft of The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, I found again The Sadhana of Mahamudra. A huge rush of excitement and relief… boy, did I need that now. I had misplaced it some time back (seven years back) and missed it so terribly. So continuing the end of my cleaning – which took me into nightfall, I decided to wait until morning. So… in the morning light of the equinox 2008, lighting fresh candles and putting out fresh flowers and new scented water… I opened the sadhana.

22 September 2008

“This is the darkest hour of the darkest ages.”

And it all came back. The many of us, sometimes with the howling wind buffeting the outside of the Tail of the Tiger shrine room, deep January or February. How in the very beginning I struggled with so many of those images – the dark iron, the flaming halos, the dripping blood and shining phurbas. The mire and desolation. It was in some ways not unlike that dark and sad-yet-resolute poem “Wild Duck” that Rinpoche wrote (I believe) when struggling to hold his own in the wildly distant land called Oxford. I just… a week or two before… had listened to Karl (Springer) reading aloud that poem, in 1973, in the ToTT shrineroom (while Rinpoche listened). Amazing.

I had forgotten how much strength it required for him to be there – a small Tibetan man cast among a materialistic and probably racist academic society at Oxford in Britain, during the mid-sixties.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche 1972

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche 1972

So we all read it together in Vermont – this sadhana – as Rinpoche intended we should. Sometimes he read with us. The clang and roar of the internal spiritual battle, the outer visible and invisible forces of deception everywhere, the unreliability of everyday phenomena and even close associations, the rising desperation, the enormous charge laid upon our shoulders… those words pouring through us – we who were just trying to take in what it might mean to absorb this horrendously dark yet totally alive view of a world eating itself apart from the inside, turning into a possible compassionate stirring up of some kind of a tiny inkling of an antidote for our own delusions. Whew. Let’s hope.

And this time around – 2008 – in a shrineroom not too much smaller, it didn’t feel much different – except that the visualisations seemed all the more clear; the ferocity of the dharma protectors is now utterly without question an aspect of their kindness. I felt and deeply sobbed with the absolutely indisputable knowledge of our lama’s kindness and guidance; and also felt my own deep transference of this attachment from Karma Pakshi to Trungpa Rinpoche. My god, I have loved and respected this man. This sadhana is all so true, so true, so true.

He finishes up saying – “through all my births… ” and I do finally also understand that there, in Bhutan, he knew. And with Kunga at his side, he then headed back to do his very big work which I, among others, had the good fortune, the very good fortune to be part of. Including, now and again, riding with him and Kunga off on some long errand in New England or New York, where some of the underlying nuances of the story emerged… and sank into my thickish, reluctant brain… a little bit a time. Oh, so that’s what you meant by bardo. Thank goodness for long car rides and Trungpa Rinpoche.

The Sadhana of Mahamudra. It’s just so… so… hell on earth. Thank you, Rinpoche.

Michael Cerulli BillingsleyNgakpa K. Jigme Tonpa

Salmon Falls Dharma Group, 440 Canal Street, Brattleboro, VT 05301