Fear and protection. Those two words receive a lot of press these days, but for attendees of Nalandabodhi’s Tara Drupchen held at Nalanda West on October 19, 20 and 21, a very different understanding of fear and protection arose through teachings given over the three-day retreat.
The third annual Drupchen, or traditional Vajrayana practice intensive, was open to the general public as well as sangha members. The practice of Drupchen is said to bring great benefit to its participants and the communities around them. All across the globe, 13 Nalandabodhi centers in cities ranging from Warsaw to San Francisco and on to Taipei, all tuned in to the Seattle retreat by webcast. A separate Drupchen led by Acharya Jampa and conducted in Mandarin was held in Hong Kong and webcast to mainland Chinese sangha members.
Nalandabodhi Acharyas, Lamas, Mitras and teachers were in attendance in Seattle, and talks were given by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Nalandabodhi founder and celebrated Buddhist teacher, and Acharya Lama Tenpa. Attendees assembled around an exquisitely hand-carved Tara Mandala — filled with 21 Tara statues and various offerings — situated in the center of the Mahabodhi Shrine room. This special mandala was designed by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche opened his remarks on Friday by expressing gratitude for the opportunity to experience the Tara Mandala and Sadhana, or liturgy, together. Rinpoche recalled that while his teachings at the Tara Drupchen last year centered around the main principle of Tara practice, this year he wanted to focus on one of the Arya Tara’s many enlightened activities — giving protection from fear.
During the teachings, Mitra Tyler Dewar translated Rinpoche’s Tibetan into English. “If we experience fear, we engage Tara Sadhana or mantra to receive protection from fear,” Rinpoche said. “If we consider fear in general, then we see fear is an experience or feeling or manifestation of the mind and can also be felt in the body.”
He went on to say that the feeling of fear itself is a direct experience in mind and body. It is when we habitually react to that feeling experience in a certain way, and then apply the conceptual label of “fear” to that feeling, that the experience of fear becomes “scary.”
“Fear becomes scary due to our minds and concepts making it scary, through all kinds of contrivance,” Rinpoche said. “What is actually present is just this experience of the mind, but then our thoughts and habitual tendencies apply signs and labels to that experience, and when they do so again and again then it begins to seem as though the experience and label are the same thing — and it is in that state that we usually experience fear. That state is what we call the mind of delusion or the mind governed by ignorance; that is when we fall under the sway of fear.”
So what do we do to calm our fears? One method is to supplicate Ayra Jetsun Tara.
In all wisdom traditions, it is said that the antidote to fear is loving kindness. In Vajrayana Buddhism, Arya Tara symbolizes loving kindness, compassion and a strong resolve to dispel the fears of all beings.
But to truly accept the power that comes from supplicating Tara, one must first understand that everything is interdependent. Believing we are independent of one another and other phenomena resembles “fake news.” Yet most people today feel embarrassed to ask for help, assuming they can accomplish anything alone.
“This gets in the way of supplicating Tara or any buddha or bodhisattva,” Rinpoche said. “The notion of doing things all by ourselves is really a big form of confusion. The Buddha taught that all phenomena are dependently arisen.”
Arya Tara is one who gave rise to a strong commitment to help all beings, so supplicating her becomes a condition for our own freedom from fear. Rinpoche then taught on the 16 Kinds of Fears.
Other pithy teachings were given by Acharya Lama Tenpa between practice sessions. Lama Tenpa highlighted the “marvelous opportunity” of practicing together with the Tara Mandala and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. “We could call this a practice gathering,” Lama Tenpa said, “or a celebration. So there is a natural sense of joy and delight.” He encouraged participants to give rise to faith, devotion and enthusiasm, beginning with the “excellent motivation of bodhicitta.” He said that bodhicitta overlaps with the Tara Sadhana as we begin the Sadhana by connecting to the heart of Bodhicitta, or loving kindness and compassion.
Prayers and Aspirations
As during the previous two years, prayers and aspiration requests were sent in from across the globe and were posted on boards outside the shrine room at Nalanda West and other participating Nalandabodhi centers, for those attending to read and hold in their hearts. The four daily practice sessions began at dawn, with the first held in Tibetan followed by three sessions each day in English.
The Drupchen came to a close on Sunday, with Rinpoche again expressing gratitude, this time to the volunteers who made the Drupchen possible and to all those who practiced for “bringing peace, happiness and joy into our world.”
During the following three days, the Tara Mandala remained in the shrine room, its beauty and symbolism inspiring attendees as they chanted and meditated to bring peace, healing, safety, compassion and joy into the world. The uplifted and peaceful feelings generated by the practice of Tara was palpable. As one attendee said, “I am so grateful for the beautiful feeling that came from practicing all together on this special occasion. May the benefit radiate outward in all directions.”
Photos courtesy of Rysiek Frackiewicz