August 11, 2011

The First Sunday Nyinthuns.

This post is the third in a series by Linda Lewis, on meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s early teachings in Boulder, Colorado.

The previous two: First Time Meditation Instruction and Trungpa Rinpoche’s Initial Tonglen and Funeral Instructions.

Photo: Johnny Worthington

All day meditation sessions.

Trungpa Rinpoche introduced Sunday nyinthuns in Boulder in the early 70’s. The idea was to sit from nine to noon, have a potluck lunch at the Center on 1111 Pearl Street, and then to sit with only a tea break until closing chants and dinner.

Most of Rinpoche’s students had only ever sat for an hour or so at a time, unless they had attended a seminar, so the thought of sitting regularly every Sunday of the month, all day…seemed challenging.

To make it do-able, Rinpoche introduced walking meditation. He had already introduced this practice — adopted from the Zen tradition — during seminars and to his Mudra Theatre Group.

I remember him standing in the center of the room at 1111 Pearl with all of us in a large circle around him. Then, a bit like a horse trainer, he would say, “Heel, toe, swing!” and repeat as we stepped and swung the next leg forward. We were to walk mindfully, transferring attention from the breath to our feet and legs. But we were to have “good head and shoulders” — a completely still and upright torso — even if our eyes were to gaze diagonally downward in front of us.  We were not to look about, although it was always very tempting for all of us.

The walking meditation was to be both mindfulness and awareness practice.

We needed awareness of space, while keeping a steady, slow pace, so that practitioners weren’t piled up behind us and we were not stepping onto the heels of the person in front of us either. There was no point in speeding anyway; we were not going anywhere!

But we were young hippie hoodlums for the most part and found the still upper torso and cosmic mudra of Zen a bit uptight at first. So we’d twiddle our fingers or pop candy into the gatekeeper’s mudra as we walked in circles, acting out and fooling around when Rinpoche was not looking.

Actually, Rinpoche was amused and even delighted that we were not uptight. There was always room for fun and a sense of humor, and Rinpoche genuinely enjoyed us. We, likewise, loved being with him — almost to the point of being willing to push a peanut up Broadway if he asked (which he never did).

What he did ask of us was to practice more and to become more disciplined — not too tight, and not too loose.

Not surprisingly, as the members of this young community began actively falling in love with each other, babies were born. So the question —  especially among young mothers — arose: “How can we continue to participate in these nyinthuns?”

Almost overnight, morning nyinthun childcare had begun.

Photo: Ruslan Kapral

Parents rented various buildings around Arapahoe and 9th, and took turns taking care of the children so that most were able to practice 3 out of the 4 Sunday mornings a month.  Most of the children — including Rinpoche’s son, Gesar — were in the single digits, and there were many babies as well.

Thus, before Alaya, Vidya or even Naropa (which began in the summer of ’74) there were Buddhist children getting to know each other, playing with each other, and in many ways becoming a sangha (community) within the larger adult sangha.

These were the glory days of nyinthuns. Everyone sat, since vajrayana practices were only introduced in late ’73, and then only to a few of the first returning seminarians.

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