17th Gyalwa Karmapa"Buddhism is a way of life through which we develop the qualities of our mind.
This way of life is very unusual, as it is a means to attain happiness without harming others.

THE 17th GYALWA KARMAPA

DHAGPO KAGYU LING
Center for buddhist studies and meditation

Day 1: Listening


Lama Nygyam's Arrival

Lama Nygyam is completely unknown to the 170 people present in the Institute. When he enters the room, the silence is complete. He prostrates before the altar and places his golden monk's shawl over his shoulders. Each gesture is composed. He settles onto the throne and, for this first session of powa retreat, he transmits the ritual reading of the commentary. He reads each word in a calm voice, as though he were setting up a spiritual environment for the practice. He transmits The Extensive Instructions for the Transference of Consciousness to the Realm of Great Joy, by Chagme Rinpoche to us just through reading the text.

In the afternoon, he explains the process of powa phase by phase. He goes through each of visualizations, giving the state of mind and the way to visualize. He explains, “The term powa relates to the act of transferring our principle of consciousness into a dimension of wisdom at the moment of death in a way that our mind becomes undifferentiated from enlightened mind.”

Lama Nygyam

Lama Nygyam further explains, “To realize enlightenment, we must invest our efforts in order to unite the two accumulations and to purify obscurations, and this takes a very long time. The instructions for powa are unusual in that they allow us to avoid these efforts. Such instructions allow us to attain realization without effort, without practice.” But he immediately adds, “This is not a reason to give up practice!” He teaches in the same way that he walks, step by step, without hurry. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, he has nearly completed his explanations. Therefore, he proposes that we devote the following day to clarifying what we have not understood. In short, he will answer questions


Lama Nygyam and the Powa Retreat Participants

Day 2: Reflection

We spend nearly the entire day on question and answer. The questions are multiple: they focus as much on the moment of death as on comas, the death of animals, organ donation, etc. The retreat participants also ask for clarifications concerning the visualizations.


Lama Nygyam and Marian Reisdorffer for the Tibetan-French translation

Lama Nygyam responds to each question concisely and with precision; the answers are finely honed. Speaking of dedication, he says, “Whatever the reach of the virtuous action accomplished, it is appropriate to dedicate it toward enlightenment. Even for a few recitations of OM MANI PADME HUNG, it is important to keep the discipline of dedication in mind. Even if we do not know the words, we must maintain the state of mind of dedication. (No more excuses for not dedicating!).

Lama Nygyam during Powa Ritual

In terms of Lama Nygyam himself, nothing is missing, but nothing is in excess either. For him, there is no need to demarcate compassion for it to manifest. The following day, we begin practice.

Day 3: Meditation

This morning, a bit of anxiety makes itself felt among the retreat participants. Indeed, today is the day that we begin practical training: throwing our consciousness into the enlightened dimension—as it were: Buddha Amitabha.


Buddha Amitabha

Practice begins. Lama Nygyam leads the recitations. He recites slowly with the appropriate melodies. From time to time, he pauses and asks for a reading of the French translation. He explains one key point or another again and guides us through each step. Eventually, the sessions succeed each other naturally and we develop familiarity with the process. During the breaks, we can see people rereading their notes or discussing amongst themselves to clarify misunderstandings about one aspect or another.


Reviewing the Mudras

At the end of this first day, we remind ourselves of the meaning of practice as it was explained during the teaching, “The moment of death is uncertain and we do not know where karma will propel us. Therefore, we train ourselves in the practice of transference. By carrying out powa, we loosen karma's hold over us and direct our minds toward liberation.”


A Moment of Practice

Day 4 : Happiness

We settle into practice. Lama Nygyam guides the meditations without giving further instructions. Each individual moves forward as best he can, working with the instructions transmitted in the previous days in order to deepen the meaning of the practice. The question of happiness, for example, “In this life, we can only experience happiness marked by the afflictions. Even if we unite conditions for happiness, they are imperfect and subject to change. The happiness that we experience is inconsistent. The happiness that we wish to encounter through the practice of powa is the happiness of Dewachen. It is known as “great” happiness, for it is free from all contingencies and afflictions. It is stable and unconditional in such a way that our wishes can become realized.” This type of instructions obliges us to reflect and question ourselves.


Clarifications

  • Why is happiness that is subject to change inconsistent?
  • Why does stable and unconditional happiness permit us to realize our wishes?
  • Are we really ready to consider that the conditions of happiness subject to change that we experience are inconsistent?
  • And this stable and unconditional happiness—do we truly desire it?

In a way, the practice of powa is a response to these last two questions. It is a method of training to be sure that we do not fall back into samsara and its painful conditions again at the moment of death. Powa is a shortcut to the great happiness of Dewachen.


Taking Notes on the Instructions

Day 5: Experience

The practice of powa requires time for its results to be visible. Furthermore, the sessions succeed one another: two in the morning; two in the afternoon. In each session, we alternate between invocations of Buddha Amitabha, which require his spiritual influence, and the twenty one cycles of transference of the consciousness.


A Moment of Practice

Lama Nygyam explained that to properly accomplish such a meditation and imbue it with its full strength, we must seal it with the three purities:

  • the motivation: this consists in placing oneself under the protection of the three jewels and including all beings in the wish to be free from suffering;
  • the act: whatever the act, it must be carried out without distraction and with awareness;
  • the dedication: to conclude, we offer the benefit of our practice for beings, toward enlightenment.

With these three purities, all our actions—even ordinary ones—become more efficient and we unite the conditions to advance along the path.

To advance along the path... What is surprising is that the form is the same, day after day: the same melodies, the same ritual gestures, the same visualizations, and the same breathing exercises. And nonetheless, from one day to another, from session to session, a new understanding arises. The practice instructions we received the first two days gradually become a personal experience.


Lama Nygyam and Marian Reisdorffer

Day 6: The Lama

A Tibetan said to me, “Lamas like Lama Nygyam—there aren't that many!” He is a practitioner, a true practitioner. Between three-year retreat, individual retreats, and the ten-year Mahamoudra retreat for which Shamar Rinpoche hand-selected him, Lama Nygyam has passed a good portion of his existence practicing meditation in different forms. Today he is drupon (retreat master) in Pharping, Nepal.

Lama Nygyam

During this powa retreat, he carries everyone: while each of us train in the ejection of our consciousness, he seems absorbed in profound meditation and at the same time he is just there. His presence is free from embellishment—simple and direct.

The Dharma can be broken down into three types of training: ethics, meditation, and discernment. Lama Nygyam is the expression of these three. He breathes ethic, he emanates meditation, and he expresses discernment. There is an unmissable hint; here are the final words of his teaching, “Hello to all. In this unusual place where the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa and numerous master have come to teach, I am happy to come and meet you.” Just in this sentence, we find humility, gratitude, and appreciation.

Lama Nygyam

Today, we continued to practice. Nothing to say.

Day 7: The Moment of Truth

Today is the final day, and Lama Nygyam begins the ritual as usual. After an hour of practice, he stops and announces the moment of truth, “I am going to check each of you to see whether the signs of transference have appeared.” With the tip of his finger, he delicately examines the top of each participant's head.

Lama Nygyam's Verification


It takes nearly an hour and a half for everyone to pass before him. At the end, he lifts his head and says, “You have practiced well; everyone shows the signs.” We conclude the ritual with an emphasis on the phase of long life.

The afternoon takes the form of a final question and answer. Then, we recite the dedication and wishes. And at the end, he leaves as he arrived: simply.

Lama Nygyam's Departure

Puntso
Head of DKL's Program.

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