My heartfelt thanks to the many of you who made it possible for me to take a needed and delicious timeoff, during which I rested, meditated, exercised and received medicinal healing treatments. Thank you, thank you! Now in this autumn of warm days and cool nights our new year of classes, retreats, and events is bringing us to meditate, study and enjoy together.
In my last letter, starting into my break, I was remembering, recounting the beginning of Sukhasiddhi Foundation. The story continues…
Meditating with interested students in my living room in Sleepy Hollow, surrounded by native Marin forest, one day as we were doing Tara practice, two or three deer circumambulated the house many times, running quickly round and round the house. My dear friend and colleague Lew Richmond had said to me that if no one came, not to worry, that the devas would come to listen to the dharma teachings.
As it turns out this was 15 years ago—it was 1997, not 1998, as one Sukha student reminded me. A lot happened in those first years. Even before the center moved out of my home, where it was for about a year, a few students started inquiring into the possibility of doing a three year retreat. In the beginning, Donna McLaughlin, an early student of Kalu Rinpoche’s, and I taught Mahamudra along with some Vajrayana. The center had a part-time space at a studio called “Laughing Mama,” in Fairfax, then we moved to Open Secret for Wednesday mornings and were there for two or three years, thanks to the kindness of the store’s owners.
In the Open Secret temple room surrounded by spiritual art and statues from around the world I taught whatever felt right in the moment. We did various Vajrayana Mahamudra (or as it is technically called, Mantra Mahamudra) meditations like on Vajrasattva, Vajradhara, Green and White Tara, Chenresig and more. We covered a lot of material. Our meditations kept deepening into richer territory; students’ meditation practice transformed and opened. The community began to take hold. Donna and I also were giving retreats. I remember one retreat at Silver Penny farm in Sonoma County. Surrounded by green hills and baying sheep, following an Amitabha empowerment I had asked Lama Tsangtsing to give, we all dove into an Amitabha sadhana with its powerful visualizations and alchemical transformational process. Donna taught in conjunction with Sukhasiddhi for some years, and continues to teach on her own in Sonoma.
Our sangha moved again, this time into the first space just for us, a tiny house off Lincoln Avenue in San Rafael that had been zoned for commercial use. Highlights from this time include hosting Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche and the relic tour that Lama Zopa put together, and our first pilgrimage to Bhutan and to see Bokar Rinpoche and the young Kalu Rinpoche in Mirik.
Three women had decided they wanted to do a three-year retreat, I agreed to teach it, and in 2001 we went to India to receive all the empowerments (wangs) necessary for a Shangpa retreat from Bokar Rinpoche. He was the heart disciple of Kalu Rinpoche and became the primary holder of the Shangpa lineage following Kalu Rinpoche’s passing into paranirvana. For the Sukhasiddhi soon-to-be retreatants and some students studying at KR’s Portland center under Lama Michael who anticipated entering three-year retreat, Bokar Rinpoche spent three weeks giving the Shangpa transmissions. Monk students of Jamgon Kongtrul who were planning to enter Shangpa retreat, as well as many lamas, both Asian and Western, along with select students from around the world came to Mirik, Darjeeling to participate. Some even came from Tibet for this precious opportunity. Bokar Tulku’s kindness to me and Sukhasiddhi Foundation was like rain falling on parched ground. I am eternally grateful for his love and support. Likewise to Situ Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. Many other great lamas have likewise encouraged and cared for us.
At some point during these years, it became clear to me that after all the hesitation I had had about continuing to teach in the years before founding Sukhasiddhi, this service work was exactly why I had incarnated into this lifetime. The students appreciation for the dharma and its liberating effect upon their minds and lives, seeing people transform and blossom fills me with happiness.
Phyllis Matyi, now a teacher herself, with her partner’s support offered us for a very reasonable rent, the use of their home at Tahoe for the three year retreat. With joy and some trepidation, in the summer of 2002, Jennifer Grant (Lama Dondrup) and Claudia Smelser, along with another woman who stayed 10 months only, entered three year retreat. Many sangha members came up for the opening ceremonies, and both sangha members and kind local people helped support their retreat in a variety of ways. Lama Drupgyu, Lama Ngawang and Lama Tsangtsing gave us invaluable and indispensible help. Claudia and Lama Dondrup successfully completed the retreat and have been helping the center ever since, along with holding down fulltime jobs.
By the time Dondrup and Claudia came back to the Bay Area, we had moved again to a larger, nicer space in San Rafael and I had initiated the first of our extensive “retreat in the world” programs, a five year that turned into a seven year. Our beloved Sukhasiddhi teachers Annik, Stephen, and Pat along with Phyllis, who has been teaching in Tahoe, were some of the yoginis and yogis who did this program. There was loving mutual support and inspiration that flowed between the two in long retreat, the five-year program students, and the rest of the Sukha sangha.
It is the love of the dharma and my teachers that is the bedrock of my life. Having deep abiding love for the dharma and for people makes it possible for me personally. The dedication of your spiritual practice and service makes it possible for Sukhasiddhi Foundation to manifest in this world as a light of possibility and sustenance for all beings.
Last chapter to come in the next newsletter. Have a deepening, opening, love and peace filled autumn. Hope to see soon.
All my love to you,