Nyungne in the heart of England, 29 October – 1 November 2010

1,000-arm Chenrezig

1,000-arm Chenrezig

As we mentioned back in June, the UK Nyungne retreat took place from Friday 29 October to Monday 1 November 2010. 30 friends from around the country gathered in Bedfordshire in the heart of the English countryside to take part in a long weekend engaged in the fasting practice of the 1,000-Armed Loving Eyes (Skt. Avalokiteshvara; Tib. Chenrezig).

The event was organised by the friends from the Reading Diamond Way Buddhist Group, who spent a lot of time earlier in the year searching for a suitable location for the retreat. They finally settled on the Chellington Centre, a residential conference centre in a unique fully converted church, formerly the Church of St Nicholas, which dates from the 13th century. It occupies a striking location, surrounded by beautiful meadows and gently rolling hills, overlooking the ancient Harrold Bridge and Causeway, as well as the River Great Ouse and Harrold Country Park. The church was made redundant in the 1970s but has since been turned into a well appointed residential centre for young people.

Renate Schölz was invited from Germany to lead the Nyungne retreat. Renate is a close student of Lama Ole Nydahl and an experienced Buddhist teacher, having taken refuge in 1980. Renate is qualified to lead Nyungne retreats having completed 100 successive Nyungnes herself in the 1980s in Montchardon, France, under the guidance of Lama Teunsang. At Lama Ole’s request she has taught this practice in Diamond Way Buddhist Centres all over the world, including Russia, North and South America, and Europe. Renate is based in Munich, and has previously led two Nyungne retreats in the UK, in London in 2001 and Wales in 2004. Her time is in great demand!

On the Friday evening, Renate gave some explanations and background to the practice. Then the tormas (ritual cakes) were prepared, followed by time for the group to socialise, chat and get to know each other a bit better. Friends had come from all over the UK: Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Oxford, Reading and St Albans.

The Nyungne practice is a very powerful and effective method to purify negative karma and accumulate merit and wisdom and it is carried out in closed retreat. As it belongs to the Kriya tantra class, it involves keeping strict outer promises including not speaking (except mantras) and a day and a half of complete fasting from food and drink.

Renate explained the origins of the Nyungne practice as follows:

The practice of Nyungnye started with Gelongma Palmo (Skt. Bhikshuni Srimati). She was born at the beginning of the 11th Century as the daughter of the King of Uddiyana (located in what is today the Swat valley in Pakistan and Northern India). From a young age she wished to learn and practice the Buddha’s teachings. She refused to be forced into marriage, wanting instead to become ordained as a nun. She was intelligent and beautiful, held an important position in the convent, and was liked by everyone.

However, due to the power of her stong wishes to attain complete realization in one life, all the difficult impressions from her former lives matured at once in a severe case of leprosy. She was cast out of her community and had to live in the forest as no one could stand to be with her. She lost her hands and had to eat with her mouth like an animal, and she became seriously depressed.

One day, Gelongma Palmo had a vision of a great Dharma King who told her that by meditating on Loving Eyes she would attain buddhahood. In her dream he gave her the empowerment for the practice. So she started intensively reciting his short mantra OM MANI PEME HUNG and his long dharani. After some time Gelongma Palmo then saw Wisdom Buddha (Skt. Manjushri) in a vision, and he told her to go to a certain place to practise. At that special place she vowed to not move until she gained realisation.

She began to practise and was extremely diligent. After one year of continuous meditation on the creation and completion phases of the 1000-Armed Loving Eyes, neither eating or drinking every second day, Gelongma Palmo was completely cured from her illness and her body regenerated. After seven years she reached the first bodhiasstva level. Through her strong meditation and deep compassion, she developed powers over local energies, and turned them into Dharma protectors, in particular, the Nagas who are worldly energies associated with – amongst other things – diseases such as leprosy. Their king, Nagaraja (Tib. Lu’i Gaylpo) vowed to act as a special protector for Gelongma Palmo’s meditation practice.

Many years later, when Gelongma Palmo’s practice reached fruition she finally had the realisation of the 1,000-Armed Loving Eyes who appeared before her. Gelongma Palmo said to him “I have been practising for so long and it is only now, after all these years that I see you, why have you come so late?” He answered “I have been with you since the beginning but you needed to purify your obscurations before you could see me.” Loving Eyes than gave her further teachings and she reached the 10th bodhisattva level.

Gelongma Palmo became a guru (Tib. Lama) and gathered many students. However she changed her lifestyle and went against the normal rules of a nun by showing the tantric behaviour. Many jealous people began to criticize her because they only saw her outward behaviour, not her inner realization. So one day, while presiding over a special celebration for Loving Eyes, she showed her realisation – amidst the crowd she severed her own head with a curved chopping knife, put it on a staff, and rose into the air and danced headless amongst the clouds. After that she returned to the ground and put her head back in place. The crowd stopped criticizing her and trusted her more deeply than before. In a typical demonstration of enlightened women (Skt. Dakini), Gelongma Palmo showed her realization of the experience of the non-dual nature of phenomena and complete freedom from all stiff ideas.

At 6am on the Saturday the Nyungne started. The practitioners took the “Repairing and Purifying” (Tib. Sojong) promises for the duration of the retreat. These eight promises are to refrain from: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, intoxication, taking a high or luxurious seat, singing and dancing or wearing ornaments, and eating outside the prescribed times.

On both Saturday and Sunday there were three sessions, each lasting three hours. The meal following the second session on Saturday would be the last until Monday morning, and at midnight on Saturday, drinking and talking (except to recite the practice text and mantras) also ceased until the Monday morning in the final session.

The purpose of fasting in this way, and keeping the outer promises, is to allow oneself to go very deep into the practice. The meditation on the 1,000-Armed Loving Eyes effects a strong purification, ridding the subconscious of countless disturbing karmic imprints. It is also a very powerful way of developing loving kindness and compassion, by identifying with the enlightened body, speech and mind of Loving Eyes, who is the embodiment of the compassion of all Buddhas.

The final session was on Monday morning, when the participants were allowed to eat, drink and talk. The merit accumulated from the practice was dedicated in general to the liberation and enlightenment of all beings and particularly to the flourishing of authentic Buddhist teachings in the UK. All left invigorated and joyful with a sense of accomplishment, and we look forward to the next Nyungne, perhaps in our own future retreat centre?!

These fantastic black and white photos were taken by Radek from the Reading Sangha, click on the thumbnails to enlarge.

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One Response to “Nyungne in the heart of England, 29 October – 1 November 2010”

  1. Sarah Lloyd-Hughes says:

    Wow, great post! Great weekend too … an unexpectedly wonderful experience :o) in beautiful surroundings – thanks to Reading Sangha xx

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