On Retreat with Lama Lhari-la

The conch blew every morning at 6:45.  And those who cherish the chance to practice with Lama Lhari-la understand that the beginning of the day means tsa lung.  It is hard to describe the powerful experience of joining a small group of dedicated sangha members for tsa lung with Lhari-la as the guide.  The space inside the Chamma Ling cabins is intimate, yet encouraging and nurturing.  And even if you did nothing else for the entire day, that forty minutes of practice will give anyone a perfect visualization for the opening of the heart for a long time afterward.

The ngondro is work and it I think it is meant to be.  But it is joyful work.  And Lhari-la brings a sense of joy and understanding to even the most difficult practice points.  He introduced the impermanence portion of the teachings with a vast smile and a gentle apology where he recognized that “westerners do not like to talk about impermanence.”  But he talked about it in great depth and with profound understanding.  He struck a wonderful balance between trying to give good answers to questions and keeping the group from detouring into tangents and casual chit-chat.

You never need to wonder if Lhari-la is dedicated to helping you learn and understand.  He will repeat things—such as the distribution of the rice on the Mandala base—many times to ensure that every single person has experienced it and understands the meaning of the practice.  Even more remarkably, he shows great joy in learning what western practitioners have devised to make the practices even more clear and meaningful.

Outside the practice sessions, a family dynamic quickly develops at Chamma Ling.  Everyone prepares simple, tasty meals together.  The meal plan is basically a consensus of what everyone feels like eating.  The small size of the group allows for flexibility that simply is not possible at other retreats.  And there is an indescribable joy in being able to just hang out with a small group of people who are dedicated to the Bonpo dharma path.

My daughter summarized the Chamma Ling experience best on our last day there.  She just said, “but I don’t want to leave.”  Neither did we.  But we will be back.

-- Matt McKeown