Written by David Swaintek
The Boulder Heruka Sangha hosted Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche and an eclectic group of yogis, lay practitioners, and monks for a three-day retreat at the spacious and visually stunning Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center. We congregated in Boulder at the Jaipur restaurant for some lunch where old friends reconnected and new friends met for the first time. Seekers of enlightenment and samosas arrived from near and far… Boulder, Seattle, Miami, Boston, Toronto and California.
Next stop… Alfalfa’s Market. Our group spread out to secure Tsok, and received an important teaching from Rinpoche… “Yogis eating meat does not make me happy, but yogis drinking red wine makes me very happy!” The congregation happily received this instruction and stocked up on the fruit of the vine. Multiple bottles of water were also purchased as the group heeded warnings about the dramatic change in altitude we were about to experience. Cars stocked with enough suitcases, shrine items, and Tsok to transform the retreat center into Padmasambhava’s Palace, we began our ascent.
The convoy wound its way up three thousand more feet of elevation and majestic mountain scenery before arriving at our home for the next three days. We were greeted by our smiling host Josh. The wisdom of the guru was on display as Rinpoche miraculously transformed Josh’s Helly Hanson logo (“HH”) into an honorific. For the next three days, His Holiness Josh would bestow blessings upon the group in the form of home-cooked vegetarian fare and his miraculous Life Changing Bread. We then unloaded our gear, changed into Dharma-wear, and transformed Zendo into Shrine Room.
We started with a walking meditation in the shadow of the Indian Peaks range. We all did our best to walk with a quiet mind and follow the instruction: “Do not think about walking, think about your feet coming in contact with the entire universe, and with all the sentient beings in the universe.” Rinpoche led the way, ringing his bell, bringing our minds back to the meditation, and ringing out countless blessing. And also dispersing any bears eager to take our “body offering” practice too literally.
The Boulder Sangha’s most auspicious portable throne assembled, thangkas hung, and cushions in place, we received the Guru Rinpoche empowerment. Minds were opened as the various empowerment rituals were performed, mantras were recited, and blessings were bestowed. Musical instruments appeared in the form of gourd banjo, lyre, and laptop as we enjoyed tsok, stories, and vajra songs, and were assured by Aric (MA, Buddhist Studies) that anything by Jerry Garcia was indeed acceptable as dharma music. The empowerment was followed by dinner and an early departure for dream yoga for most as we recovered from the road and acclimated to the altitude.
HH Josh prepared yet another delicious meal for breakfast on Saturday morning as we prepared for another walking meditation. Where Friday’s meditation had gone downhill, Saturday morning’s meditation headed straight up the mountain. Again we were instructed to quiet all speech, quiet the mind, and come in contact with the universe and all sentient beings. We had stunning views of the Indian Peaks, visits from hummingbirds, sunshine and fresh air., all while the lack of oxygen presented ample opportunity to see negativities as helpers. Praise to the guru.
We were joined by our first four legged friend of the weekend as Princess Rainbow Sparkle Pants announced the arrival of several additional members of the Boulder Sangha. Day two would consist of the Yeshe Tsogyal empowerment. Our psycho-organisms flooded with the fire of Vajrayogini as more empowerments were bestowed, rituals performed, mantras received and tsok shared. In between sessions the group members retreated for walks in the woods; meditation and music on the porch; and dream states in their rooms. There were double rainbows and hummingbirds, and we supplicated for an end to jet lag and an occasional hit off the mini oxygen tanks purchased in town.
As the evening wound down, Rinpoche regaled us with a slide show of his life. We were transported from the Indian Peaks to the snow-capped Himalayas, with pictures and stories of lamas and gurus, lakes and palaces, llamas and yaks, and mountains and monasteries. Rinpoche’s travels have taken him from Potala Palace to Pike Place and everywhere in between, and we eagerly listened to the stories of his path as a teacher and guru.
Rinpoche continued to give more informal teachings to the group’s insomniac members late into the night. We received excellent guidance on some of life’s most pressing questions… from business (“Ask somebody who is a businessman in that business, I’m a spiritual teacher”), to love life (“Maybe we should go back to talking about business”), to extensive questions about the different levels of commitment to the dharma (“No, you should absolutely not become a monk”) and a clarification on the Heruka Institute’s policy on yellow shirts (“Not just for monks, also for yogis, and it feels amazing”) we gratefully soaked in as much wisdom as we could each receive.
Sunday morning sunrise brought another auspicious day of dharma activity. We donned our hats and sunglasses and headed out for another walking meditation. Touching the universe of sentient beings was a lot easier this morning, as our hike stayed mostly flat. We passed by meadows and streams and caves. We were joined on our walk by our second four legged friend of the weekend, a black lab eager to disrupt our meditative stability with slobbering requests to toss him a pinecone. A black lab as we prepared to receive teachings on the Wrathful Black Dakini and Mother Machig from Lab… An auspicious sign indeed!
We finished the retreat with the Machig Labdron empowerment and teachings on the Chod practice, one of Rinpoche’s specialties. Members of the sangha ready to receive the transmission for the first time, or reinforcing teachings and transmissions already received, eagerly rattled the damaru, sounded the kangling, and implored the dakinis to rise up, sever the ego, and bless us to see negativities as helpers.
As we prepared to leave the retreat center, HH Josh gave us our closing instructions and a little more information about the future of the Ecodharma retreat center. Rinpoche bestowed gifts and blessings, thanking Josh, Sergio, Aric, Alexandra, and all of the Boulder Sangha for making the retreat possible. We all then transformed into worker dakinis and began to disassemble thrones, secure thangkas, sweep floors, strip sheets… and pack a little tsok for the flight.
Several members of the group were immediately able to put our compassionate practice into action on the way to the airport as we came upon a cyclist who had taken a nasty spill. Bob and Beth, originally upset about the giant gas guzzling Yukon the car rental company had provided, put the teaching into action as that which was originally perceived as negative was loaded up with an expensive road bike, an injured cyclist, a car full of yogis, and driven to the emergency room. She had sustained a serious injury and was admitted for surgery, but afterwards thanked us for our calm energy during an extremely painful car ride and the fortunate circumstances that allowed us to help get her to safety.
With the Summer Retreat now in the books, the Heruka Institute Sangha eagerly awaits the next Dharma adventure!