In the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition, you can’t progress along the path without the guidance of a living master to provide you with instructions based on your own habitual tendencies and capacities. The student must then strengthen that precious connection through devoted practice of the given instructions. I am overwhelmed with gratitude at having established a heart connection with Anyen Rinpoche, from whom I joyfully received teachings at his beautiful center in Denver, Orgyen Khamdroling.
Anyen Rinpoche is a khenpo (great scholar) and tulku (recognized reincarnated master) of the Longchen Nyingthig lineage (Dzogchen, Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism). I attended a 4-day Phowa retreat led by him at the end of October. The retreat was such a special experience for me that I’ve committed to returning to Denver March 12-16, 2015, for the first of three sequential trainings that Anyen Rinpoche offers to teach the profound Phowa practice. Phowa is the practice to transfer consciousness at the moment of death and related practices to help ensure positive conditions for attaining realization or a positive rebirth. The training series is called Dying with Confidence. In addition to Phowa for oneself and others, it also includes teachings on what we can do now to strengthen our practice to help us later when we face serious illness and death. These topics are all discussed in detail in Anyen Rinpoche’s excellent book, Dying with Confidence. Even if you can’t attend the teachings, I highly recommend the book. I also highly recommend Momentary Buddhahood: Mindfulness and the Vajrayana Path, which would be of particular interest to anyone like myself who has practiced in both the Vajrayana and mindfulness meditation traditions.
Anyen Rinpoche’s vision is to have a network of trained Phowa practitioners across the United States to serve as entrusted Dharma friends able to help each other and others through the dying process. I would dearly love to have others from the Washington, DC metropolitan area come with me to Denver in March to attend the first training. We could then support each other locally with the practices and throughout the Dying with Confidence series of teachings.
Please leave a comment if you are interested in coming in March or have more questions about my experiences at the Phowa retreat. Although Anyen Rinpoche is a Vajrayana master, the students at the Phowa retreat came from all traditions of Buddhism, including Zen. Phowa is a powerful practice with the ability to greatly benefit oneself and others. While other opportunities exist to receive the Phowa transmission, the Dying with Confidence training series is a rare opportunity to get deep and repeated teachings on the practice from a respected master and to develop connections with other Dharma practitioners across the country who are committed to practicing Phowa.
May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.
– the aspiration from Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara
Thank you for what you share, and your commitment to serving others. I wish I was closer (I am in VT). I will look into his book.
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Thanks so much for your comment Beth. Anyen Rinpoche will be in Vermont next week! November 12, he’ll be in Springfield, VT speaking on The Four Rivers: Birth, Old Age, Sickness and Death, at
Studio Time and Space at 7:00pm and November 14, he’ll be in Montpelier speaking on Using Our Spiritual Path for Living and Dying at Christ Episcopal Church, 8:30pm. Maybe you’ll have the chance to see him yourself.
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[…] in the face of consistent daily practice. This has not occurred. The problems worsened at the Phowa retreat where I was sitting for hours at a time on a cushion, often in great discomfort. Our daily session […]
Hello 🙂 I live in Portugal which is primary christian and we don’t have any buddhist temples. It makes it harder for me to connect with buddhist practioners. You speak about how we need a master to improve ourselves but how can we do it when we don’t have acess to a buddhist community? It’s a genuine question that assaults my mind sometimes.
Filipa, thank you for reading. Here is my answer to your question, based on my own experience:
Buddhism is a broad religion with many different paths. It is possible with just the Internet, books, and your own diligence to begin and maintain a meditation practice. I have described my recommendations for how to do this here: https://50percentdakini.com/beginning-meditation/ Regardless of which of the Buddhist traditions you follow, this is a necessary start.
Next, you should try to find the support of community close to you. I have found that Sangha really helps me to maintain a regular practice. I understand that you are in an area with very few Buddhist practitioners, but it is worth looking more closely to see whether there are any meditation groups around. Meditation is very popular right now and even if there isn’t one that is exactly the Buddhist tradition you want to practice, being able to sit with others is a very good experience. I have also heard of some people who have meditation groups that meet via Skype! The technology now exists to connect people all over the world.
Finally, I suggest that you identify a Buddhist teacher or tradition that you feel a connection with (maybe through books you have read) and have the possibility of reaching with some diligence and planning. The United States is a long way from France yet many people in my local mindfulness Sangha try to visit Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery in Southern France) every few years or at least once in their lives. Making the connection with an authentic spiritual teacher and community is very important, even if you can’t do it regularly. A single retreat can be very inspiring and provide so much guidance. And you build karmic connections that will be important in future lives.
I once heard a Buddhist teacher say that traditionally people in Tibet crossed the Himalayan Mountains in order to receive the Buddhist teachings from masters in India. This took years of preparation and tremendous hardship. With the wonders of modern travel, we have so many more opportunities to connect with authentic teachers, yet often we are easily discouraged. Take heart and diligently find a way.
Wishing you all the best in your practice!