First Time Meditation Instruction.

Via on Jul 29, 2011

Photo: Odd Sock

It was 1972.  I had hitch-hiked, bused and snow-shoed to the Snow Lion Hotel at Jackson Hole, Wyoming for Trungpa Rinpoche’s “Crazy Wisdom” seminar.

I had never met Trungpa and had never really meditated before, so I was surprised at how much sitting we did, supposedly meditating without instruction.  Rinpoche’s talks on Padmasambhava occurred every evening and there were usually discussion groups in the afternoon on the various themes such as spiritual materialism, devotion, non-conceptual wisdom and maha ati — a mode of Buddhist spiritual practice — but there wasn’t any real meditation instruction, and these were the days before meditation instructors.

Photo: Sedelah Haller

It seems Rinpoche felt we could relax in good posture and just be.  And by implication we wondered if such simplicity was maha ati. We were, after all, young, fit and willing to sit, but at least in my case it seemed that my wandering mind didn’t settle until I was relatively exhausted toward the end of each day. Then there actually was the feeling of just being without wandering.

On day three or so we also practiced Rinpoche’s Sadhana of Mahamudra.  This less than an hour-long sadhana seemed completely wild to me, as we visualized one fellow on a lion, another on an elephant and the main dude on a tiger!  It was like a circus, except that one line remained hauntingly memorable in the days that followed —  probably the same line that most people remember first: “Good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish into emptiness like the imprint of a bird in the sky.”

Whether I was supposed to or not, I found myself contemplating the meaning.  Just as a bird leaves no imprint in the sky, so all emotions and thoughts are indeed temporary, no matter how vivid they originally seem to be.  Hmm.

And so we sat on, discussed and listened to Rinpoche at night.  Rinpoche seemed to be a playful version of Padmasambhava himself, wearing cowboy shirts with suspenders and grinning like a Chicano bartender.  Although his talks were largely incomprehensible to me, in the generous question and answer period that followed each talk, those who asked questions seemed to be following the themes well.

Somewhere in the course of the seminar, Rinpoche walked through the room where we were meditating

Photo: Ramberg Media Images

and said, “Notice the stop in the flow of karma.”

That was it.  That was my first meditation instruction.

In the years that followed, Rinpoche added technique, realizing that our actively conceptual and wandering minds needed a little help.

First came, “Put attention on the outbreath” or “Follow the outbreath”.

A year later he added the labelling technique, and so it went.

But I have never forgotten the power of that first meditation instruction: “Notice the stop in the flow of karma.”

About Linda Lewis

Linda Lewis met the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1972 and, following Rinpoche’s invitation, immediately moved to Boulder, Colorado to be a part of his young and vital sangha. The predominant themes in her life have been teaching in contemplative schools–Vidya, Naropa, and the Shambhala School in Halifax, Nova Scotia–and studying, practicing, or teaching his Shambhala Buddhadharma wherever she finds herself.

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7 Responses to “First Time Meditation Instruction.”

  1. Joanne Bihari says:

    Thank you…it reminds me of a Dharma teacher in the UK who encouraged us to "Mind the Gap". On the London underground there are frequent announcements to "Mind the gap" between the trains and the platform. Many London souvenirs – mugs, T-shirts etc have this phrase and we were encouraged to use these reminders… : )

  2. Steve says:

    Beautiful. Well-written.

  3. [...] series about Trunga Rinpoche’s early teachings in Boulder; you can find last week’s here. Photo: Comelia [...]

  4. Cahty Hinchey says:

    Always great to hear "old stories" of Trungpa. Hard to imagine the "beginning days" and feel so grateful for older students persistence for breaking new ground…

  5. Lana says:

    Linda's reminiscences give a good flavor of that time and place. This is the second of them I have read, and they are very interesting.
    Her article also represents how she and others were living in the present moment…nowness, going beyond hope and fear. No meditation instructions…just being.

  6. [...] the meditation master Trungpa Rinpoche’s early teachings in Boulder. Read the previous two, First Time Meditation Instruction and Trungpa Rinpoche’s Initial Tonglen and Funeral Instructions. Photo: Johnny [...]

  7. Jill Barth Jill Barth says:

    Thank you for this.

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