Kagyu Changchub Chuling seal     Newsletter — January 2014

Greetings, !

Happy New Year! This month, we showcase many opportunities to deepen your practice, including new teacher supported practice sessions that will take place monthly through mid-summer. We share KCC's fundraising tallies for 2013, and we invite you to take inspiration from reflections on the life of lineage master, Kalu Rinpoche.

Enjoy this issue and let us know how it can be improved to be of more benefit to you, our reader.

Kalu Rinpoche’s Life and the Lineage

By Rosemarie Sweet

Kalu Rinpoche

What is a lineage and how might an understanding of it inspire our practice? Lama Michael Conklin states that “a lineage is a thread that holds things together: humans, teachers and students, teachings. When we connect dots, we draw a line or a thread between them. Each one of us at KCC is a thread. I like to think of the new people, the young people who have no clue about what role they play in establishing the Dharma in the country, this culture. I wish I could be here in three decades to ask some of them what kept them going and if they're aware of their value in connecting the dots.”

If we follow this thread not so far back in time, we can take great inspiration from the life of Kalu Rinpoche. One obstacle we may have to experiencing this inspiration is our difficulty bridging cultures. But, as Lama Michael’s story below demonstrates, cultural differences do not stand in the way of learning from one who is truly realized.

“Like most historically established religious traditions, Buddhism in Tibet was thoroughly dominated by men. When Khyabje Kalu Rinpoche came to San Francisco in 1974, he was a man thoroughly rooted in the Tibetan culture. In contrast, San Francisco was kind of the de facto headquarters for the counter culture movement–hippies, drugs, you could say, the full catastrophe.

“But when the elderly Kalu Rinpoche presided over the on-site design of the first Western three-year retreat facility, he shocked his own Tibetan monks by saying that both women's quarters and men's quarters should be built. Brooking no opposition, he said, 'things will be different here. Men and women will practice equally.'”

News and Events

Fundraising Tallies 2013

Donations to
General Fund:
over $90,000,
our goal!

Donations to
SCOL Building Fund:
over $110,000 towards our goal of $400,000

Donations to Urban Center Seed Fund:
$130,000 towards our goal of  $350,000


Upcoming Events

- Teacher supported practice sessions, January 18, 7-10 am February 15, 7-10 am

- Ngondro Quarterly Sessions, 
Spring, March 1

- Seven Points of Mind Training,
Friday, February 21 - Saturday, February 22



Jessica Dennison,
Abby Krajewski,
Barbara Miller,

Bill Spangle,
Rosemarie Sweet, and
Julia King Tamang
contributed to the production of this newsletter.

“Knowing how difficult it is for us to see our own prejudices, cultural patterns, and superstitions, I experienced Rinpoche's actions as miraculous. Most of the people I knew in the counter culture movement believed in equality and freedom but actually felt themselves to be superior to most other people. While they had high aspirations, they lacked the methods and tools to manifest them. Kalu Rinpoche's words told me that he understood our innate qualities and potential and from that place of accurate seeing, he just effortlessly spoke the truth. This was the likely, even normal outcome of the deep spiritual work and inquiry he pursued. And from my perspective in early 2014, just three months from finishing a cloistered one-year retreat with nine women and three men, and the three-year retreat looking like it will have more women than men, I'd say that he saw things very clearly indeed.”

Part of Kalu Rinpoche’s life was spent in sustained meditation in the wilderness. For those of us who live in the bustle of the modern world, his life may seem to have little to do with ours. But a closer examination illuminates our connections with this extraordinary being. 

With auspicious signs surrounding his arrival, Kalu Rinpoche was born in 1905 in eastern Tibet to a mother and father who had both just recently completed several years of retreat. Even at a young age he exhibited deep concern for the well-being of others and enthusiasm for study and meditation. He received monastic vows from the eleventh Situ Rinpoche at the age of thirteen, and, at sixteen, he went on to begin three-year retreat where he had the opportunity to receive the teachings of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage.

At the age of twenty-five, Kalu Rinpoche began a period of austere and intensive retreat in the mountains of Tibet in order to go deeply into the heart of the teachings and practices he had received. During this time his nephew, Gyaltsen, briefly visited him and found his uncle contentedly living on a rocky ledge that he described as barely sheltered enough to merit classification as a cave, with the front wide open to a constant north wind.

After twelve years of retreat, Kalu Rinpoche acceded to repeated requests by his own retreat master to return to Palpung monastery and take responsibility for the retreat center there. While he also taught, caring for retreats was a central activity of his life until the mid-1950's when he left Tibet for Bhutan, and later, India.

In India, he accepted the offering of a small monastery in Sonada, near Darjeeling, where he built a retreat center and began to train monks and lamas again. In the 1960's, he began to encounter travelers from the West who were struck by his presence and wisdom. In 1971, these individuals invited him to teach in Europe and North America, beginning yet another phase of his activity.

Through the 1970's and 1980's, he made a number of trips, first establishing Dharma centers and sending lamas he had trained and then opening centers for the traditional three-year retreat, first in France and then in Canada and the United States. One of the retreats he helped supervise was the three-year retreat in Oregon that Lama Michael attended. There is a direct connection between this retreat and the eventual development of KCC's long retreat center. When Lama Michael arrived at KCC, it was clear to those in leadership that he embodied the great potential that long retreats hold to create transformative teachers. From then on, KCC leaders held the aspiration to develop a long-term retreat center, which of course came to fruition with SCOL.

Kalu Rinpoche's story exemplifies a way of life that is now largely an anachronism in the tide of modernity, both east and west. If we focus on what is remote and exotic in his life, we may be inclined to think that the opportunity to practice and realize the meaning of the Buddha's teachings has passed, along with that way of life. Yet it is also clear that this great being had a deep confidence that the profound meaning of the Dharma could be absorbed by those whom many Tibetans thought of as barbarians from distant lands (like us!). Our retreat lands and our individual and collective efforts to follow the path of the dharma are testimony to the strength of his vision.

Upcoming Events

Teacher Supported Practice Sessions

Saturdays, starting January 18, 2014, 7:00 am-10:00 am

Event Leader: Julia King Tamang

Location: KCC Urban Center

In an effort to help us all keep practice commitments in 2014, we are offering a simple extra practice time at KCC for the next several months. There is no fee and no registration is required to engage in this—just show up! Offerings to Julia and/or to KCC will be gratefully accepted.

You may do any practice taught at KCC. This means that there will be more noise than usual as people softly recite mantras or do prostrations, mandala or other practices. We'll work with this expectation and hopefully, in harmony. Those of you who have no practice commitments are also welcome–just come and sit as we do on Sundays. There will be a ten-minute practice break each hour and, though there is no question and answer session, Julia is happy to privately answer questions during the short breaks.

We will meet on Saturday mornings from 7:00 am-10:00 am on the following dates at KCC Urban Center:

January 18

February 15

March 15

April 19

May 17

June 21

July 19

Out of respect for the KCC residents, please come and go quietly, use the restroom downstairs only, leave on time and clean up after your self. There is no childcare available.

Come and practice together on these special Saturdays at KCC!

Ngondro Quarterly Sessions

The Ngondro practices are frequently referred to as the preliminaries for the Vajrayana. At KCC, Ngondro is mainly taught and supported as a component of the Mahamudra Program designed by Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, although it is not required as part of the Mahamudra retreat.

January 11 – Refuge and Prostrations

March 1 – Vajrasattva

June 7 – Mandala  

August 23 – Guru Yoga

The schedule on these days will be as follows:

9am - 12 noon, Instruction and Q&A

12 Noon - 1pm, Brown Bag Lunch

1pm - 3pm, Practice Session

Please come for all or part. For questions, contact Bill Spangle. No registration              is required.

Seven Points of Mind Training

The Seven Points system is a complete path emphasizing both relative and ultimate bodhicitta. The system includes tonglen or ‘taking and sending,’ about which much has been written in contemporary Buddhist press. The system also includes more than fifty slogans to guide daily practice. Though many of the mind training slogans are transparent, a few are somewhat cryptic; so many people find it helpful to have a formal introduction.

This seminar will focus primarily on the aphorisms (tonglen is the focus of a retreat offered later in the year). The Seven Points of Mind Training system is known for being excellent for busy householders, who can use the aphorisms as focal points for carrying practice throughout the day, thereby increasing practice without necessarily increasing time on the cushion. For questions on the content of this seminar, contact Julia King Tamang

Friday, February 21, 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM

Saturday, February 22, 9:00 AM - 3:00 PM

Event Leader: Julia King Tamang

Location: KCC Urban Center (non-residential retreat)

Practical application and practice sessions, with brown bag lunch break and tea breaks.

The suggested donation for this event is $20 for Friday evening only / $80 for Friday and Saturday.

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