The sun is setting slowly, and the redwood trees towering over the hillsides. I drive up to the pond at Pema Osa Ling for their spring retreat, which lasts for 4 days. The first hours there are mellow at the evening puja, low chanting, with no emphasis of tone, a gentle murmur. The voices are low and the pulse slow and steady, breathing becomes deep and relaxed. It’s a Santa Cruz secret that a Tibetan Buddhist ritual arts master, Lama Tarchin Rinpoche, has developed this center here for the last 20 years. Buddhism itself is a spiritual journey, where travel physically is not required, going deeper into a pure plane of awareness and observing and realizing Buddha nature in all things, there will be a time when you can arrive at the Pure land of the Heart.
Pema Osa Ling is not remote, but is a 45 minute drive from downtown. The property is quite steep, almost mountainous part of Santa Cruz, and sits on over 100 acres. The center is also an eco-friendly retreat center with indoor and outdoor meeting areas, overnight accommodations, a commercial kitchen, and a full size lap pool. In addition, there is a 20’ tall statue of Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava, and a Stupa peace park. Redwood trees shadow the multiple buildings and dirt roads throughout the property lead to divine places, allowing us to see the property as a celestial palace.
How I arrived as such a magnificent place with such qualified teachers is a blessing I hold dearly. Everything arises as an expression of indwelling nature. When we see phenomenon other than manifest expression of our own being, it is delusion as opposed to liberation. These places exist so we can explore ourselves and our relationship with the deities, teachers, and community with deep inner work.
What is the nature of the wisdom deity?
Lama Tarchin is the current tenth lineage holder of the largest Tibetan yogi sect, the Repkong Ngak-mang, known as the “One thousand Phurba holders” because of the use of the ritual dagger, or phurban for tantric rituals. Padmasambhava, a sage guru, established the ngakpa tradition in the 8th century to bring cultural and spiritual education to the people. These communities of Repkong Tibet are characterized by very large-scale collective rituals, some of them annual, and others only one time events, which focus on the cult of the local village and mountain gods. The area is in the northern part of Tibet, and show many similarities to Chinese forms of religion. They go deep into channeling and experiencing deities, carrying palanquins of representations of Gods, with collective dance performances. Lama Tarchin was trained personally by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche in torma making, and served as the main shrine attendant in the protector temple at his residence for seven years, where he was responsible for making the tormas. He was also trained in song, mandala design, dance, and other sacred arts.
Lama Tarchin is returning from a trip to Bhutan, where they held a ceremony for the recent passing of Trinley Norbu Rinpoche, who passed away Dec. 27th, 2011. Trinley Norbu Rinpoche loved meditation, so we carry on the impact of meditation; Find confidence in meditation. We need to know the one thing that brings us liberation in every circumstance, receive direct instruction, meditate, and put into practice. Trinley Norbu Rinpoche is the incarnation of one of the seven sons of Dudjom Lingpa, Longchenpa, and was one of the most revered masters of the Nyingma lineage. This lineage is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and dates back to the 8th century when Buddhist texts were translated from Sanksrit to Tibetan.
Essentially the spring retreat is focusing on the teachings from lineage of Dudjom Rinpoche, who is a spiritual master. Guru yoga allows the mind to become drunk of yearning devotion, imagining our guru melts into light and dissolves into us, no longer distinguish anything different. Relax within our natural state of primordially pure existence.
The meditation retreat begins with a morning puja, afterwards, I help in the kitchen where I get to know a few of the regular paid cooks on the property. In the afternoon, a crew helps with the food preparations. I’m working with the head chef, who is a gourmet cook during the multiple weddings, retreats, and conferences held at the center. He is organizing several food preparations, and I’m there to assist him. He listens to rock music while working, and he chants Tibetan prayers in the evening. There are many levels that the staff engages in and is involved in sacred practices if they choose to be. The program at night usually consists of chanting mantras in Tibetan.
Many of the full time staff there is constantly engaged in sacred practices. One member of the cooking crew is a Torma painter. Tormas are traditionally butter sculptures which are sacred geometry, blending harmony from shape and form into a sculpture used for ritual purposes on the main altar, and on altars in peoples homes.
The teachings with Lama Tarchin Rinpoche are several hours long in which he guides everyone through guided meditations and the Songs of Realization by Dudjom Lingpa. Our inner nature partakes in the inner nature of all things. We recognize our minds as naked awareness and recognize indwelling nature, maintaining attachment to magical experience of phenomenon. Everyone who meditates has this fallback. Thoughts arise, and so we let go into our indwelling nature. Look into the empty and clear awareness that’s always present. Clear awareness is the cause of omniscient wisdom. These meditations involve coming to these places internally and traveling through different layers of this life into a spiritual realm. The temple building engages all of our visual senses on visions of deities, spiritual beings, Gurus, that can reflect to us these spiritual realms.
On Friday night there is a Khandro Tik Tuk ceremony that is performed. The cymbals are played, and they are joined by the horns and drum. The sheer noise of the ceremony is awakening and kind of shocking. The monks who lead the procession also play horns and other instruments. The practitioners chant the Tibetan prayers of the ceremony, and usually chant at a Tibetan pace with thunderbolt speed. On the last line of each verse, the cymbals crash and joined by the horns and drums. The dance continued for a while with the cymbals and drums keeping the beat. The practices of radical awakening involve an inner purification, burning away of fear and insecurity. We're living in a time when practices like these are engaging the deepest levels of our senses to envelop our consciousness with pure light energy. The tsok is distrubted, ritually blessed foods are given out, wine is served. We're given these blessings and partaking in them to engage our senses spiritually and receive blessings which take root at the deepest part of our minds. Reminders and reflections that we are capable of ascension and tapping into other dimensions. The chanting in Tibetan induces a trance like state where all of the breathe energy is dedicated to recitation and meditation on energy transmission. These mantras induce a fierce discipline of mind to be sharpened with the tools to cut through obstacles and entanglements, allowing dissolution of internal patterns to invoke inner harmony and tranquility with the environment.
Several of the younger generation grew up with the practices here. The 18-22 year olds know many of the traditional Tibetan dances that they do every year. Elise, one of the young ladies, goes into detail with me about the dances, who teaches them and when. There are stories floating around about the summer retreat in which people are learning the dances, and the retreat culminates with the Black Hat Dance, a ritual dance performance. The dance demonstrates the innate sublime nature of the enlightened mind, and the performance of the ritual activity of pacifying evil, negative energetic hinderances. The Black Hat Vajrayana practitioner is meditative, slow and peaceful. The dance was originally performed in 9th century Tibet, in response to Lang Darma who was destructive to monasteries and stupas and forced hundreds of monks and nuns to disrobe. A great practitioner Lhalung Pal Dorji, was determined to subdue the King’s actions, and went to Lhasa wearing a black hat and long black cloak with a bow and arrow hidden underneath. He danced for the king. Afterwards, he shot the King in his heart, killing him and bringing Peace and Harmony to Tibet. So these practices continue today to generate spiritual experience, and young students in their early teens also perform these dances at Pema Osa Ling.
Pema Osa Ling allows oneself an inner journey work to invite cosmic principles to transmute the physical nature into a divine celestial palace. We're here to go deep together into pure being with the truth that we are all powerful to relieve ourselves of sufferings of limitations. Purifying our senses that say "I'm separate from the spiritual realm" and lifting that veil of illusion wherever it may be presenting itself in our lives. Deep down in us, we know who we are. How can we not be ourselves? Limited somehow, we don't believe that. All the core, chronic levels of fear and illusion still exist. Deep feelings of feeling flawed, wrong, and acknowledging we have limiting beliefs. How is it that we're not aware of ourselves and our habits that keep us in the fear of life, fear of death, and attachment to that that keeps us going through those cycles? Even the most subtle clinging to life we must let go of during a retreat. Tibetan spiritual practices involve letting go of all barriers that suppress who we really are and allow us to be one with the spiritual life. The present moment is an expression of who we are. Everything is a mirror of where exactly we need to be, which may or may not include loving ourselves and engaging the truth of what is omnipresent indwelling nature which is inherently clear light luminosity. Coming to Pema Osa Ling allows skillful means for sublime insight, grasping what is positive and generating spiritual experience and realization. It is a spiritual path into the light of empty and clear awareness that can lead us to omniscient wisdom.
Here are some pictures of Pema Osa Ling (Although not taken during the retreat)