Spanish-language Chöd retreat at KTD: A Remarkable International Gathering

August 6, 2016

In July, I had the great privilege of attending a week-long chöd retreat for Spanish speakers taught by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. The retreat was a remarkably international gathering. The teachings were offered in three languages and attendees came from all over the world. Between Rinpoche, the retreatants, and the Karme Ling lamas who came to help teach the practice, attendees were from mainland USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Tibet, Canada, Taiwan, China, Nepal, India, Singapore, and I’m probably missing a few more. So even as a non-Spanish-speaking Canadian nun, I felt right at home as a member of the world community that had gathered to receive these rare and precious teachings.

The nuns of Comunidad Dharmadatta, led by Tsunma Lhündup Damchö, and some of their lay community members skillfully organized the retreat. This was the third year in a row that they have requested Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche to give teachings and empowerments for their Spanish-speaking dharma community. In 2014 Rinpoche gave the empowerment and teaching for Chenrezik practice, in 2015 for Green Tara practice, and this year for the Lüjin Chöd practice. Each year, the Comunidad Dharmadatta has asked the Gyalwang Karmapa to choose which practice they should request Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche to teach, so His Holiness has been directly involved in guiding the sequence of these teachings for his Spanish-speaking followers.

IMG_6817Each morning, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche taught the lüjin chöd practice using a commentary by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye called The Garden of All Joy. In the evenings, before dinner, Rinpoche spent an hour answering questions. His teachings were profound, precise and at times humorous. I spent a good portion of the week marveling at our good fortune to receive these precious teachings that have come down to us through the enlightened masters of our lineage.

Chöd practice was propagated by Machig Labrön, who was a renowned meditation master and yogini, brilliant scholar, and mother who lived in the 11th Century in Tibet. She was a contemporary of Milarepa, and there is evidence that they exchanged songs of realization. Today, chöd is widely practiced across all the schools of Buddhism, and is also a daily practice of those in three-year retreat at Karme Ling. There are many sadhanas, or forms, of chöd practice, of which lüjin is one.

Rinpoche spoke in Tibetan, which Lama Yeshe Gyamtso translated into English over FM radio. Wearing large earphones, Tsunma Damchö picked up the English and simultaneously translated into Spanish. So while only Tibetan and Spanish were heard through the loud speakers, a few of us who didn’t speak either of those languages fluently were able to tune into the English translation with radio devices. The audio set-up team did a remarkable job keeping all the wires and microphones straight (and working!).

IMG_7027IMG_6886We were incredibly fortunate to have eight lamas from Karme Ling come to KTD for the whole week to help us learn to the instruments and melodies that are a unique and essential feature of chöd practice. The instruments include a chöd drum, bell, and kangling horn—which at some moments in the lüjin practice are played all at once! There are also several different melodies to chant in the lüjin practice. Each of the 45 retreatants was assigned to a small group with one of the lamas, who helped us for two hours each day with our instruments and chanting. These small group sessions were indispensable for learning the practice. They were also a wonderful opportunity to spend time with our amazing Karme Ling lamas, many of whom have just come out of three-year retreat, and/or are about to go back in this fall.IMG_7277

IMG_7219Each morning and evening, we did the lüjin chöd practice together with the Karme Ling lamas. At the beginning of week we sounded a bit like a cacophony of drums, bells and voices. And our horns were either making yelling cattle sounds, strange high-pitched squeaks or whoopee cushion noises. So by the end of the week, as our voices, bells, drums and horns started to come into harmony and make beautiful sounds, I think we all felt a great sense of joy and accomplishment.


IMG_7057By far the most moving and tear-provoking moment of the week came right at the very end, during the body, speech, mind offering for Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. The story as I heard it is that when Rinpoche offered the first Spanish-language retreat three years ago, the Comunidad Dharmadatta asked him if there was anything he wanted. Rinpoche said there wasn’t anything in particular he wanted, except for a monk’s walking staff, called a kharsil. It is a staff with a special metal part on the top, with rings that hang off and make a jingling sound one walks with it. Along with an alm’s begging bowl, a kharsil was an essential part of a Buddhist monk’s possessions in ancient India. Rinpoche had received one as a gift from Thrangu Rinpoche once, but part of it had been lost. It took three years for the Comunidad Dharmadatta to have one made by a statue maker in Nepal. The statue maker had never made one, and he worked closely with the Comunidad to find images and designs from ancient times. Tsunma Tenzin Dapel told me that the statue maker agreed to make the staff and worked extremely hard on it because he had so much respect for the lineage and gratitude for being part of making this offering to Rinpoche.

IMG_7081When Rinpoche saw the kharsil and alm’s bowl approaching him during the body, speech and mind offering, tears started to stream down his face—and then everyone else’s in the room. Rinpoche was so happy. With tears still in his eyes after the offerings had been made, he said that he felt receiving these gifts guaranteed that he will have use of them in his future lives. In other words, Rinpoche felt that these gifts meant he will be a monk again in his next lives. Rinpoche added that it was incredibly auspicious to have been able to make these offerings to him. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the shrine room. Rinpoche was also offered a beautiful thangkha of Medicine Buddha by Gelongma Karma Yeshe from Argentina, which Rinpoche offered back to the center in Argentina.

While the retreatants have now returned to their different corners of the globe, through the power of the internet they will continue to practice together. Starting with the Chenrezik retreat three years ago, members of the Spanish-speaking community have set up a website for each retreat they have attended at KTD. So there is now an online website and group for those who attended the Chenrezik retreat, the Green Tara retreat, and now the chöd retreat. The chöd website will have transcripts and audio from the retreat, resources, links, chat room, and a way to practice together via group webcast (all in Spanish). Each online group has made a commitment to practice together on the third day of each Roman calendar month via webcast.

The first online group practice happened on August 3. Lama Lodro Lhamo led the practice at Karme Ling, as three members of the Comunidad Dharmadata had stayed an extra week there. Three of us from KTD drove out as well, and two other Karme Ling residents joined. In addition to the 9 of us practicing together at Karme Ling, I heard that 36 people tuned in online. Some were at home alone, and others had driven to their local center in Puerto Rico or Mexico to practice together. Given that there were only 45 people at the retreat, it was an astounding turn out. I’m inspired by the devotion and dedication of the Spanish-speaking students, and the way they are using the internet to connect with the dharma and with each other.

May the merit of this practice and retreat benefit all beings throughout space!

Written by Tsunma Karma Lodrö Gangtso

Photos by Lorena Orozco