Re-printed with permission from the International Dzogchen Community’s Journal, The Mirror, edition 114, March 2012.
Context: This article is a reflection about life on retreat for two months in Argentina at Chogyal Namkhai Norbu’s center, Tashigar Sur.
The Buddha said that everything is like a dream; this surely includes life at Tashigar Sur. Upon leaving the earthen rooftop home and permaculture garden of Savianna, where I am staying, a large Iguana named Gala crawls out from under the staircase. She asks for a banana and lies in the morning sun. At three feet in length, black, with scales like a gigantic lizard or a tiny alligator, Gala looks up into the eyes of Revelle, 9 years old.
“Gala, too much time since we’ve seen you!” says the young girl.
On the road to the gar, a cacophony of dog barking reverberates against hills of stone. I have to climb behind a fence because five horses gallop on the dirt road. These majestic creatures of muscle somehow fear the dogs. A motley crew with all shapes, sizes, personalities, and varying degrees of uncleanliness: this dog pack chases horses relentlessly.
It’s the morning and the children have gathered at Tashi-bar with their music teachers, five long curly- haired men with guitars. “Volando voy!” they sing in unison, until Manu begins a trumpet solo. He makes silly noises for the children who laugh. Others shake homemade instruments for percussion.
The wind carries music to the comedor where Sandra and Soledad sew prayer flags and others prepare Namka. I mention to Berget from Germany that I did not sleep well, and she hands me a Bimala pill. Wow!
Nearby, a makeshift empanada factory springs to life as Norbu’s students fill, fold, and bake empanadas for Ganapuja. There is a vegetarian from the United States named David who just can’t seem to get it right but he learns from the Argentines.
Three young Russian women, Lena, Macha, and Irina, with purple stains on their hands and giant smiles on their faces, enter the comedor with a bucket full of perfectly ripe blackberries. “Do you want some?” They spent the morning on the trail that leads to the swimming hole by the river. The blackberries grow wildly there, in endless amounts. This river, very near the gar, has a small waterfall inside a miniature cave of stones. Like an initiation, one can crawl through it and sit under the cool waterfall to practice guru yoga then sing the Song of the Vajra, on a very hot day.
Below the comedor, in the Gompa is the beautiful Prima Mai. She is leading instructor training for Vajra Dance. These dancers have been preparing for her arrival every day, practicing whenever they can, quizzing each other, and making adjustments. From the perspective of an outsider, Vajra dance is a craze on this Gar; these dancers are fantastic and focused. I once thought to do some breathing practice in the Gompa as they danced. I woke up when they finished. Everyone who wasn’t dancing ended up on the floor, like me, in a very deep and peaceful sleep.
Later in the day, Yantra Yoga Instructor, Carolina, arrives with a wheelbarrow full of young trees. Carolina has organized a team of volunteers who plant them, finding fallen branches to construct “horse protections” so that the horses, when chased by the dogs, will not trample new growth. People who are not busy planting trees play soccer with the children in the field by the gompa. One young player, Lulu, is wearing a white dress. She dives for the ball, running beside her brother Atilla, kicking it in the goal with all of her might. “Matalo!” screams a mother from Peru; then she blushes.
The best part of the afternoon arrives finally: the master comes to sing Tibetan songs with us. We wait expectantly for the one very special song where Rinpoche raps. He bobs his head up and down with intensity as the words stream from his mouth. Everyone smiles. Suddenly, students clear the tables and break into spontaneous Tibetan dances. Adrianna leads us, thankfully. I think the master is happy. He stays and speaks to us in Italian for over an hour before leaving at 10:30 pm. I don’t know what he says but it sounds nice. I stay because it feels good there. Somebody tells me afterward that he encouraged everyone to keep practicing and collaborating, even after he is gone. I feel a little sad.
(Photo Courtesy of Michael Guiterrez)
Looking back on two wonderful retreats with Rinpoche this summer in Argentina, one reflects upon what great fortune we have to know this teacher and to receive his detailed instruction. In the retreat on the topic of Shenpa Xidral from the Sakyapa tradition, Rinpoche explored the theme of freeing oneself from attachment. The root of attachment, he explained, was giving too much importance to relative conditions. We must govern our daily life with real knowledge, being a teacher of ourselves, re-educating our thoughts so that our mind obeys our practice. We keep practicing until we no longer march to the rhythm of “ I like, I don’t like, I like, I don’t like.” May all beings be able to free themselves from this ceaseless march!……
the rest of the article can be found in the Mirror, a newspaper of the International Dzogchen Community