Kagyu Center Prepares for First Three-Year Retreat Based on Many Years of Experience & Preparations
By Bill Spangle
In early spring of 2015 a group of men and women will file into their respective cloisters to begin the first traditional three-year retreat at Ser Chö Ösel Ling (SCOL) retreat center—The Land of the Clear Light Golden Dharma.
This center for long retreats, nestled among the pine and oaks along a ridge in the hills above Goldendale, Wash., will be their home for the next three years.
Living as monks and nuns for the duration of the retreat, they will remain in solitude, engaging in the contemplations and meditation practices handed down through the Shangpa Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.
The beginning of this retreat will be a major milestone in the realization of a vision set in motion more than 15 years ago by Lama Michael Conklin and the members of Kagyu Changchub Chuling (KCC), a Buddhist center in Portland, Ore., founded in 1976 by the late Kalu Rinpoche.
In the 1990s, shortly after Lama Michael joined the center, the community began to set a course for the future. Taking a longer view, we concluded that if the dharma was going to have a chance to take root here, we would not only have to make the dharma accessible to those fresh to the path in our already crowded urban center, we would also need to ensure that there would be teachers available in the future.
Without some people going deeper into the practice, and teaching from that experience, it was clear that over time, the dharma would lose depth and vitality, moving from lived experience toward a tradition resting only on intellectual understanding and the reputation of previous generations.
The confidence in this vision came from a growing appreciation of the benefits of having access to a teacher who had the chance to do three-year retreat himself. While we were inspired by remarkable teachers like Kalu Rinpoche and his successor Bokar Rinpoche, who had dedicated in excess of a decade each to intensive retreat, it was easy to fall under the spell of the idea that that kind of practice was something done only by adepts from exotic Asian locales, many of whom had passed away.
The presence of Lama Michael and his ability to provide clear advice based on experience gained in three-year retreat made it feel like this kind of practice was in fact something that normal people could do. And not only was it something we could do, it was something that we must do if future generations would have the benefit of the same precious opportunity we were experiencing.
Thus we decided that building a place for long retreat was our priority even though the center in Portland was (and still is!) regularly at capacity. Our conviction that it would only take a few years was humorously optimistic, but it did provide the bravado needed to get started.
From the time of the initial purchase of the 240 acres in 2001, KCC has made use of the land for retreats, initially camping out while using the small farm house as a kitchen and meeting in a large tent.
Over the years, as we gradually raised nearly $3 million, we have built roughly 9,500 square feet of facilities, permitting us to move indoors and to begin more regular group and personal retreats. These include the annual North American Mahamudra Seminar initiated by Bokar Rinpoche, and an annual two-month winter season retreat.
This activity has culminated in a one-year group retreat at the SCOL retreat center, which is following the curriculum of the KCC Mahamudra seminar. The one-year retreat will conclude this March 29. The three-year retreat is to begin one year later.
Life on retreat
During the three years, retreatants will remain in their cloister, only leaving in case of emergency. This discipline both requires and supports great clarity of purpose.
The cloister provides protection as well, freeing retreatants from the need to invest energy maintaining a public face for chance encounters. There are two nearly identical cloisters for women and men, connected by a central building with the kitchen, pantry and staff work spaces, allowing staff to serve both cloisters.
Each cloister has eight cabins where retreatants practice and sleep, as well as a dining hall, bath house, a meditation hall for group practice, and a yoga hall for the specialized yogas that are done in the last year of the retreat.Each cloister also contains a 200 yard walking path inside the fenced area, to permit exercise during the breaks between sessions.
While silence is a common discipline on retreats, three-year retreats are rarely done entirely in silence. On long retreat some discussion and interaction with fellow retreatants can be helpful for mutual support, and can also help to diffuse preoccupations that can become exaggerated in extended silence.
Depending on the particular group on retreat, the retreat master may adjust the discipline of silence accordingly. But in general most of each day will be spent in silence, and there will also be periods of complete silence as well.
Within the retreat itself, the rhythm of life will be governed by the bell that marks the beginning and end of the meditation sessions.
Each day on retreat will include roughly twelve hours in formal meditation sessions, which will be spread over a day that will begin at 3 am and come to a close at 9 pm. Though there will be two group practice sessions each day and simple meals taken together, the retreatants will spend most of their time in individual practice in their own room.
The retreat teachers will visit every few weeks to provide instructions for new meditation methods, and to meet individually with the retreatants.
The retreat will be led primarily by Lama Michael Conklin, and by Lama Tara Goforth from British Columbia. Both of them did three-year retreats led by lamas appointed by the late Kalu Rinpoche, and both have collaborated for many years leading retreats including the current one-year retreat at SCOL.
Lama Tara has also assisted in teaching on two other three-year retreats. Lama Tsang Tsing, who was retreat master for Lama Michael's retreat, will also provide teaching and guidance.
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For those interested in participating in the retreat, or who wish to help support the retreat, please contact Julia King Tamang at email@example.com.
Invitation to One-Year Retreat Opening
Dear Sangha and Friends of KCC,
On Saturday, March 29th, KCC's first One-Year Retreat is complete and we will be opening the gates. You are cordially invited to join us at the KCC retreat center at Ser Chö Ösel Ling, in Goldendale, Washington, for the opening ceremony. The address is 96 Horse Ranch Road just five miles north of the town of Goldendale on HWY 97. Please check our website for complete directions. Car pooling is much more than a virtue for this event. There is very limited parking space at SCOL, so if at all
practical, please car pool. Jeannie Mooneyham is the maven of car pooling for many of our events, and she has again volunteered to organize transportation for this event. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org , if you need a ride or can provide a ride.
Please arrive at the land no later than 9:30 AM PST. Assuming the weather is good (not raining), you'll park in the meadow near the gate and will be driven to the retreat cloister. Please eat breakfast before arriving and feel free to bring snacks for yourself or to share. You might want to bring a water bottle and an umbrella if it looks like rain. (Check www.accuweather.com a day or two before for Goldendale, Washington.) We will send any necessary
alternative instructions in the event of inclement weather. Make sure to check your email on March 27th and 28th just in case.
The start time of the opening ceremony will be around 10 AM (be there by 9:30). Lama Tsang Tsing, Lama Michael Conklin and Lama Tara Goforth will be there, along with a number of guest lamas, sangha members, as well as family and close friends of retreatants. The actual ceremony will begin at about 10 AM, outside the cloister near our loading dock. It will take 2-3 hours and will finish inside the cloister in the South meditation hall.
Important note: During the formal ceremony, there will be a point where the retreatants will exit the gates and walk in single file around the entire cloister. During this and the events that follow this part of the ceremony, up until we break for lunch, it is critical that neither the retreatants nor the guests exchange verbal greetings or comments, and definitely no physical contact or embrace.
After the ceremony, we'll sit with the retreatants and share a simple vegetarian meal. When the meal is done, the retreatants will return to their respective rooms and you will be able to meet them there and say hello. There will be more details at the actual ceremony and any changes will be posted to our website. The entire event should end not later than 3 PM. Generally, it will be better for the retreatants to remain at SCOL and spend at least Saturday night in their rooms alone. We understand that
this will not always be possible. That said, in all cases, a gradual reintegration will work best for all. Guests cannot stay in the cloister overnight. Some retreatants are staying at Ser Chö Ösel Ling for a week or more in order to end their retreat gradually. Others will be leaving sooner.
There were thirteen participants in this retreat, in case you were thinking to bring cards, etc. In addition to the retreatants themselves, there were four staff members who provided extraordinary support. We hope you have a chance to meet them on Saturday the 29th.
We'll send more details the week before the event. If you have questions, please email us at email@example.com
Lama Michael Conklin
Spring Personal Retreat at Ser Chö Ösel Ling
Saturday, May 3, 2014 - 4:00pm to Saturday, May 31, 2014 - 10:00am
Event Leader: Bill Spangle
Location: Ser Chö Ösel Ling
The Spring Season Personal Retreat was born from the wish to create an opportunity for practitioners to do extended personal retreat in a supportive group environment. Registration for the Spring Season Retreat is now open!
This personal retreat season (there is another personal retreat season in winter 2014) is designed for individuals with prior retreat experience who can practice independently. Individuals who wish to take part will need to have approval from their primary mentor and have a specific plan for retreat worked out in conjunction with their mentor.
Both the length of retreat and the specific program of practice should be agreed to in advance. As a rule of thumb, we recommend that people who have not done individual retreat before limit their first personal retreat to five days. Individuals who have done personal retreat before should consider a gradual increase in the length of retreats if they are inclined to do longer retreat. Personal retreats range in length from five nights to the entire season. Please go to: http://www.kcc.org/event/spring-personal-retreat-season for
information and registration.
Prepare to "Raise the Roof"
The fearless leadership and vision of Michael Conklin and KCC will be celebrated on Friday June 13, 2014 at 'Raise the Roof”, an evening of fun and fundraising to be held at the Laurelhurst Club, near Laurelhurst Park in Northeast Portland.
How appropriate to recognize Lama Michael’s seventieth birthday with a most meaningful gift! Let’s raise the $200,000 necessary to build essential housing for the staff supporting long retreats at Ser Chö Ösel Ling. Let’s bring more than a dozen years of effort to a successful conclusion!
Michael’s unswerving determination has inspired incredibly generous philanthropic and volunteer support. Countless hours of volunteer leadership and labor and over $3 million dollars have been contributed to ensure that the precious meditative practices of the Kagyu Shangpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism are accessible to the West and will sustain KCC into the future.
If there were an English mantra that supports KCC’s aspirations it might be “Never give up”. This last stretch will call upon discipline and practice honed over the years to inspire giving and ensure that construction begins in June, the roof is raised by summer’s end and the Staff Residence completed by March 2015 as the long awaited three-year retreat begins.
Coming soon: Save the Date messages and opportunities to participate.