Milarepa Retreat with Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
The 5½ years I was director of Milarepa was sincerely a great honor and privilege. Although I remember being consumed in hard work most of the time, the center is truly a jewel for deep purification, as well as a precious retreat space with glorious scenery, great neighbors, and many sacred objects. Highlights that come to mind:
In September 2010, Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche came to lead a Milarepa Retreat. The idea for the retreat was prompted by Rinpoche’s suggestion in 2008 that we do the Milarepa tsog at least once each month on the appropriate date. We did the practice, but we weren’t always sure we were doing it correctly. We asked other teachers who visited to explain the practice, but none of them was really sure about it. So we requested Rinpoche to show us and of course, due to Rinpoche’s immense kindness, Rinpoche came to show us in person during the retreat.
The retreat was a magical experience as it was rather intimate (maybe 60 people turned up for the week) and it was held in a tent next to the farmhouse. The tent was fully decorated with altars, tangkhas, flowers, and endless lights. Many people were camping and the weather was just perfect for autumn. Rinpoche stayed in a new tiny house that was just completed and thanks to Rosanne Hebert and Elisa Lucozzi, it was decorated magnificently. Many people attended from the Sherpa community in Vermont and they were able to have a meeting with Rinpoche in the new structure.
It seemed that Rinpoche had a lot of space during the retreat and went for some walks around the property. I remember at one point I found Rinpoche walking on His own, looking for how to get back to the cabin. I pointed and then Rinpoche saw the house and smiled, turned and started walking back and I thought, how fantastic that Rinpoche could just explore alone without a constant rush of students, etc. And as I watched Rinpoche disappear up the trail, it felt like a magical experience we so rarely see. It was also lovely to spend some time walking around Milarepa’s stupa.
The visit concluded with a lunch with Rinpoche and all of the staff and volunteers outside under the dining tent. Rinpoche was treating everyone to special gifts such as malas, stuffed animals and other cherished items and there was much laughter all around.
The Arrival and Procession of the Kangyur
Ven. Dagri Rinpoche offered a set of the Kangyur during Rinpoche’s first visit to Milarepa in 2011. He said the set would be coming in the next year. I had no idea where we were going to put such a large volume of Tibetan texts when I still have several from Geshe Tsulga to house. The little attic gompa would be crammed with them and what sort of casing would we need.
So while I was trying to find out when the actual shipment of the Kangyur was arriving (hoping it would not be in the middle of winter), I received a shipping statement in February that it would be to us the following week! The delivery truck would never make it up the Milarepa driveway at this point in the winter season. What to do? Fortunately, Rosanne Hebert and Elisa Lucozzi lived in the next town and were able to store it in their attic for some months until we could figure out how best to house it.
So we conducted a mini “procession” of carrying the texts and had a number of volunteers meet us at Rosanne and Elisa’s to carry each volume up to a very cold, but clean and secure attic to deposit the volumes into plastic bins that were covered in katas and sheets for safe keeping.
During that winter, after Ven. Dagri Rinpoche offered the Kangyur, I was standing alone in the gompa wondering how we were going to honor these precious texts. I suddenly had a thought that we needed to create a traditional altar. I think it was all of the precious teachers’ blessings that the entire project came together in the most wonderful way.
Shelley Hagan had an initial design. I was then teaching at sister center, Kurukulla Center in the Boston area when I saw Damchoe’s altars and bookcases and discussed with him the idea of building a custom-fitted piece for the gompa at Milarepa. He said he could do it with a friend of his. Amazing. We discussed the details and he gave me a rough estimate of the cost. I had a friend in Singapore who had told me to let her know if I had a project that needed some help and I thought this was the time. She summoned many friends who offered all of the funding. After some months, the altar was completed and moved in. It was a great fit. During this time, master artist, Jampel Hyolmo, was residing at Milarepa working on sculpture decorations on the stupa. He, along with several work-study participants, painted the altar in a most glorious design. Ven. Tenzin Palmo, a visiting nun from the Czech Republic, organized the wrapping and labeling of each volume of the Kangyur and we had a procession to install the entire set, along with Geshe Tsulga’s texts, into the new altar.
I had also found 30 relics in a small envelope in a closet at the center when I first moved in. I was able to secure reliquaries for them and was able to carefully place the relics in these holders and have them labeled in gold. They were also installed on glass shelves in front of a mirrored backdrop.
The final result was stunningly beautiful and seemed to be a tremendous blessing for the center and anyone who saw it.
Spiritual Upgrades and the Guru Rinpoche Statues
Before arriving at Milarepa, I was informed that Rinpoche wanted two Guru Rinpoche statues to be made that would benefit the center. One was an obstacle-eliminating posture and the other was a wealth-attracting posture. I was also keen to finish the stupa that needed traditional decorations, gold leafing, and additional metal work. We also needed to repair a bank of prayer wheels and complete work on a Bakula Arhat statue.
We were incredibly fortunate to have so many artists flocking to the center at times and I was informed that the same artist who made the Bakula Arhat statue (Lisa Heath) was already under contract to make the Guru Rinpoche wealth-attracting statue. Troy and Mer Stafford came to visit and were able to gold leaf, along with their family, the Bakula Arhat statue. He painted the face and the statue suddenly came to life. I contacted Lisa regarding the other statue and she said it would take time and that she would be in touch.
The year before I moved to Milarepa, I was in India and Rinpoche advised me to see a statue maker in Delhi to make the Guru Rinpoche obstacle-eliminating statue. After finding this artist’s obscured residence in a remote part of Delhi, we spent several months discussing the plans as he went to work on the statue. A year later I was informed he developed a horrid type of cancer and was unable to continue. It was terrible as he was the main statue maker for his family. I stayed in contact with him until he passed away and was then instructed to start over and find someone in Nepal. Fortunately, Tenpa Choden, the manager of Kopan Monastery, was enormously helpful, and about a year and a half after my being at Milarepa, the statue arrived, completely finished, shipped from Nepal. It was glorious. One weekend, we packed it up, along with all of the specially saffroned and prepared mantras I received from Kopan, loose incense and other ingredients and brought it to Geshe Tenley at Kurukulla Center for proper filling and consecration. We then brought it back to Milarepa and now had the gold leafed Bakula Arhat and obstacle-eliminating Guru Rinpoche in a room that began to fill up with water bowl offerings.
At one point, Rinpoche offered a few prototype Maitreya Buddha statues to whichever centers had room to “host” them and we immediately responded that we would love to have one. It arrived within two weeks and we quickly set it up on a seat covered with gold brocade with a darling footrest. I was amazed watching this nondescript room with an old donated couch, a “Queen for a Day” chair, and one beige-colored unfinished statue, transform into this glorious offering room. The statues were multiplying big time and now we had 3!
Finally, we were informed that the Guru Rinpoche wealth-attracting statue was completed. Lisa, the artist, said it was extremely fragile and had to be transported in a special van from Massachusetts. I didn’t even want to think about how it was going to be filled. The transport was rough and the statue had a bit of damage on the ride, but Lisa was there to fix it. Another master artist in residence at the time was our beloved Fred Fickera. Fred helped a great deal when John Feuille was director and spent many summers with us during my tenure. He has done some of the finest wood working projects, among other things, at the center including completing the first tiny house, along with Ven. Namgyal, building cabinets and a bookstore in the dining room, expanding the library shelving, putting a roof over the prayer wheels, and renovating a small retreat cabin. But for me, one of the most amazing things Fred was able to do was create a hinge system to enable us to fill the fragile Guru Rinpoche statue. I know the project kept him up at night, but it was enormously successful. Fred and Jampal also built several offering tables that they then painted and decorated in traditional Tibetan style for the statues to support the statues. The offering room was a treasure when I left and a great highlight of the first floor.
I would also like to thank you Bob Zimmer for cleaning and repairing all of the prayer wheels (along with all of the fine electrical work and assistance with everything else) and creating another lovely practice space.
Milarepa was particularly blessed with visits by some very great Lamas over the years. From the autumn of 2008 through 2013, program highlights and special memories include:
- Choden Rinpoche giving the Kalachakra and Heruka 5-Deity Initiations and enjoying an outing to Crystal Lake
- Laughing during stories with Ven. Dagri (Pari) Rinpoche in the gompa during his blessing of the wealth vases
- Visits by the Ganden Tripa (Ven Rizong Rinpoche), Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Jampa, Geshe Tenley, Ven. Gyatso, Ven. Robina Courtin, and Jan Willis
- Swimming in Harvey’s Lake with Geshe Tenley and the children during the Family Camp
- Hosting Geshe Gelek from Kadampa Center and taking him for his first venture into Canada during one of the biggest snow storms of the year
- All of the fine musicians, events, refreshments, and company during the Milarepa Festival Days
- Namgyal doing his special double back flip during Family Camp
- The ice cream window at Family Camp and running out of water during one of the camps do to my over enthusiasm with the slip ‘n slide
- Watching the groundhog family emerge every spring and then hungrily stand guard by the garden as the lettuce was making its way up
- The basil harvest, pumpkin bake-offs with Nina in the winter, and asparagus season
- Winter sledding down the driveway with Dawn and Nina
- Seeing 4 moose in a field with Dawn Holtz and several work-study participants on our drive to Parker Pies for pizza in Barton.
- A special performance by Milarepa and the Nettles that was captured on film!