Postcard 6 from Robina: Moscow, Sunday May 22, 2011

May 22, 2011

Our weekend nyung-ne fasting retreat finished yesterday. As always, very intense. Just one meal on one day and no food or drink on the next, even with 100 minutes of prostrations daily, doesn’t sound like much of a hardship, but it is. I’ve avoided these practices for years! It’s only because Moscow’s Ganden Tendar Ling requested me to lead one that I did it. (Tushita in Dharamsala had me doing eight in a row last year.) About 30 of us went to the countryside, the majority of the people for the first time. Many of them were exhausted, even faint, by the end of the strict fasting day.

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Receiving a gift on the last day of Moscow teaching.

I think it goes deeper than mere deprivation of the senses; it’s also the intensity of the three-hour practices of the Compassion Buddha: so much purification. Everyone was so glad to be there, testing themselves, pushing themselves. And, as Rinpoche says, unless we make effort, where’s the benefit?

We so understand this when it comes to worldly activities: when I trained three hours a day, six days a week, at my kung-fu, people were impressed: such determination! But fasting during “holy” activities, we’re not sure about it. Isn’t that a bit extreme, we might wonder?

For sure, 100 minutes of prostrations a day, even divided up into three pieces for each of the three daily sessions, is “good physical yoga,” as Lama Yeshe kindly pointed out to me when Lama gave me the practice at our first meeting back in 1976. But doing it as purification, combined with reciting prayers, somehow feels much tougher than a mere workout – especially combined with no food in the belly.

One of the signs of attachment is thinking about something when it’s not in front of you – wow, fasting during nyung-ne certainly proves it! On the second day, with not even a drop of water passing the lips, the mind is obsessed with the thought of the next morning’s tea. And while prostrating for 20 minutes at a stretch during the Praise section at the end, every bit of you is waiting for the end to come. We’re supposed to recite 21 of these poetic praises – straight from the vision of Bikshuni Lakshmi, who cured her leprosy by doing nyung-nes – while prostrating. At the usual pace of most of us readers, Russian or Australian, it’d take us an hour, so we cheat: we play an audio file of Lama Zopa Rinpoche reciting it VERY fast in Tibetan while we lamely read it out at our pace, fitting in maybe eight recitations to Rinpoche’s 21.

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Listening to coordinator Sergei talk about Ganden Tendar Ling on the final day of nyung-ne fasting reteat with spiritual program coordinators Mischa, left, and Andrey, middle, back row.

My most intense set of nyung-nes was my first, at Chenrezig Institute in Queensland. Our retreat leader said we couldn’t lie down during the breaks. That was the killer for me. That truly showed the depth of my attachment to comfort, the most basic animal-like attachment. I don’t mind no food, no drink, all those prostrations, all that sitting, but to not be able to lie down and disappear into deep sleep, that was just too much. I’ll never forget it.

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Creative Moscow traffic: making four lanes out of a two-lane road.

At night, when I’m tired, the most delicious thing is that bed awaiting me. So just the thought of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s never lying down, never taking a regular sleep, so inspires me. The best I can do with it, as I sink into the sleeping position, is to think, “May I, just like Rinpoche, find sleep disgusting!” thus sowing the seed for the future.

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