Annual Fall Seminar 2018

Every fall for the past 38 years, students from around the world have gathered at Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling monastery to receive profound Buddhist teachings and meditation instruction. This annual event began when Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and his son Chӧkyi Nyima Rinpoche gave teachings to a small group of international students. Originally the relatively small number of participants made it possible for the seminar to take place in the Rinpoches’ receiving room at the monastery. Over the years, as it grew in size, the seminar was moved to the main shrine hall. After the catastrophic earthquake of April 2015, when the temple was no longer deemed safe for regular use, the seminar moved to its new location in the temporary shrine hall on the first floor of the new RYI building. Although this shrine hall has only been in use for a few short years, it has already been the site of numerous precious teachings, empowerments and rituals, and the temple is filled with the blessings of the root and lineage masters.                                                                                                    

Beginning two years ago, Rinpoche opened the seminar to all students, near and far, and for the first time Nepali language translation was made available. At that time, Rinpoche also requested that the seminar and accompanying weekend retreat be made free of charge, so that all students with a genuine interest could receive the teachings without any financial barriers. Students make donations to support the seminar and other activities of the monastery. During the seminar, the monastery offers a daily tea break and lunch to all participants. This year, about 700 students from 48 countries attended the seminar. Practicing meditation and receiving teachings together, enjoying tea and eating lunch together, even with such a large group, one felt right at home—a real family feeling. We even enjoyed tea and lunch together at the new RYI restaurant, an open-air, spacious, beautifully designed area suitable for dining, studying, and socializing.

On the first day of the seminar, devoted practitioners and sponsors of the Tara’s Triple Excellence online program offered the monastery a beautiful and huge new gong (made in Thailand, but bought in Thamel!) to replace the old gong, which was cracked and no longer had its former far-reaching and resonant tone. Rinpoche received and blessed the gong at the opening of the seminar, and as Rinpoche struck the gong over and over again, the temple hall resounded with a rich Dharma sound, and all of the gathered participants were bathed in the gong’s deep tones. The gong will now invite the the monks daily to morning and afternoon puja and other ritual practices.

Each morning, the seminar began with a meditation session, usually the Śākyamuni Buddha sadhana, “The Treasury of Blessings.” This year we were very fortunate that Rinpoche joined every morning meditation session, giving teachings and instruction each step of the way. After a tea break, we gathered again for teachings. Each year, in a relatively short period of time—a week to ten days—Rinpoche manages to teach the entirety of the Buddhist path, from “A to Zed,” as Rinpoche likes to say, sometimes teaching from a text, sometimes teaching directly from study and practice experience. This year, Rinpoche taught Khenpo Gangshar’s profound pith instructions “Naturally Liberating Whatever You Meet.”

As Rinpoche explained, this text, written in a direct, colloquial manner, straight from the heart of Khen Rinpoche’s experience, gives devoted practitioners everything they need to accomplish the path for the benefit of all beings. Rinpoche taught in a style referred to as “guidance through experience” and urged us all to apply the teachings to our experience immediately, as soon as we hear them. Thus the teachings, which contain all of the profound points of Buddhist philosophy and logic, were immediately brought to life, fresh and vital, in the day-to-day, moment-by-moment experience of the seminar participants.

In the afternoons, Lama Tenzin Sangpo, with characteristic warmth and humility, taught us how to structure a meditation practice, focusing on the meaning of the three excellences—the excellent preparation, main part, and conclusion—and kindly answered our questions. With Lama-la’s instruction, we practiced meditation and contemplation together. In two one-hour lectures, Thomas Doctor also managed to teach us complex “mind-only” and “middle way” philosophy, in a fresh, investigative style that provoked thought and understanding in new and long-time students alike. Rinpoche requested Dr. Doctor to teach us these views, explaining that the middle way view is the most important and profound, and the mind-only view, a close second in importance, is extremely beneficial for understanding Tantric practice.

Because we are such an international community, teachings were translated into Chinese, English, Nepali, Russian and Spanish. Rinpoche taught us about the importance of reciting sacred texts daily, and on successive mornings, we were all treated to the inspiring chanting of the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit (by a group of RYI Sanskrit students), Chinese, English and Tibetan. After lunch on the last day of the seminar, Phakchok Rinpoche was kind enough to give us teachings, even though he had just returned from abroad a few days earlier. Emphasizing the importance of dignity and devotion, Phakchok Rinpoche gave us some key points on how to make sure we keep up the continuity of practice that we had begun during the seminar.

In past years, Rinpoche typically offered a three-day retreat in order to allow students to focus on further meditation instructions and more intense practice. In years previous, this retreat took place at Nagi Gompa or Asura Cave where attendence had been limited to about 100 participants. Two years ago, Rinpoche requested that this limit be removed, musing, “Maybe not that many more people will want to come.” Predictably enough, however, the roster of registered retreatants rose to about 175, but somehow everyone was accommodated at Asura Cave. It was very cozy, to say the least!

Beginning last year, Rinpoche decided the retreat should be held at the monastery in Boudhanath so that more people could participate. This year, approximately 400 students attended the weekend retreat. Although we weren’t tucked away in a remote location, the sincere practice and warm, family feeling made for a wonderful, beneficial retreat. Receiving teachings in the heart of the mandala, with hundreds of Rinpoche’s students from near and far, is an unforgettable experience. Some participants had attended dozens of seminars, some were meeting Rinpoche for the first time, or even attending a Buddhist teaching for the first time, but all were sincerely touched and interested. One participant from the west coast of America hadn’t attended a seminar since 1989, when it was still just a fairly small group of students. Although Boudhanath and the monastery have vastly changed since that time, and the seminar size has grown, this particular student remarked that the profundity of the teachings and the warm support of the community of practitioners hadn’t changed even one little bit.

The RYI Annual Fall Seminar is a major event at our monastery—it takes the loving care and hard work of the monastery and teams of dedicated volunteers to provide a suitable place to receive Rinpoche’s profound teachings. It is heartwarming and inspiring to see people from around the world come together as a community of practitioners. If you haven’t had a chance to attend the seminar yet, maybe you’ll be inspired to attend next year. It’s also an ideal time for family and friends to come visit you in Nepal!

Written by Shireen Patall

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