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Instruction in Mountain Retreat: A Simple Explanation of the Quintessence of Practice: The Alchemy of Accomplishment.

The first part of Dudjom Rimpoche's text

I bow down with devotion at the feet of my glorious divine Guru-Lama, incomparable in grace, and take refuge. I pray that through his blessing I and my disciples may quickly reach the immaculate realization of the profound path in the nature of our minds and attain the primordial existential citadel in this very lifetime.

    For those fortunate individuals whose deep aspirations and pure karmic propensities have now coincided and who have faith in the profound Dzokchen teaching and in the teacher who reveals it, this simple gateway explanation now put into your hand is the quintessence of practice of the most sacred, mystical Dzokchen, being instruction on the main points of mountain retreat.

    Apprehend this teaching by means of three main topics. The first topic is preparation: how to purify the mindstream by cutting clinging attachment and focusing the mind on the praxis. The second topic is the main endeavor: how to engage in the experiential praxis after eradicating misconceptions and doubts about view, meditation and action. The third topic is the stream of illuminated existential attainment: how to sustain the samayas and keep the vows and thus completely assimilate the karma of this lifetime to Dzokchen realization.

    So first a little about the first topic -- preparation.

    Oh, the mind! This sad mind with its scintillating highs and depressing troughs originates in the here and now with Kuntuzangpo. Kuntuzangpo, knowing everything as himself, is free. But we who fail to recognize mindís nature are tossed around on the endlessly spinning wheel of life where we experience innumerable variations of the six types of bodymind syndromes and where our lives have no meaning.

    Now that you have attained this outside chance of a human birth you must use it to avoid rebirth in the lower realms. If you fail in this you cannot know where you will be reborn after death, and no matter which of the six kinds of beings is your destiny there will be nothing but suffering. And, further, to attain a human body is not enough: the moment of our death is uncertain and you must act appropriately in this very moment. If you do the right thing now, at the moment of death, you, like Milarepa, will feel no shame or regret. Said Milarepa at the moment of his death, "My inner life gives me no cause for any self reproach."

    Entering upon this spiritual quest, you should adopt outer, conventional, appearances. But more important than that, here and now, you must cut all attachment to the desirable qualities of fashion and show, and the mundane imperatives of existence. If the mind is not completely turned around and you once enter the gate of commitment with a loose compromising mind there will be residual attachment to homeland, wealth and property, family and friends, and so on. In this case the propensity for attachment as the primary cause and objects of attachment as circumstantial conditions will coincide to create pernicious obstacles. Then, again involved with the ordinary mundane world, you will backslide and regress.

    So you must do what you can to deflate the importance of food, clothes, social interaction, and so on, and detaching yourselves from the eight mundane obsessions -- loss and gain, pleasure and pain, anonymity and fame, praise and blame -- you must direct the mind one-pointedly to the inner objective.

    You must follow the example of Gyelwa Yangonpa who said: "In the solitary place called Knowledge of Death / The hermit Disgusted with Attachment / Drew the mystic circle by abandoning all concern for this life / And excluded the visitors Eight Mundane Obsessions." If you have not achieved such detachment your inner life will be corrupted by these obsessions which are as poisonous as tainted food.

    The eight mundane obsessions may be reduced to hope and fear, which arise from attachment and aversion. Internal attachment and aversion take on the outer appearance of the demons Gyelpo and Senmo and so long as you are bound by attachment and aversion you are plagued by Gyelpo and Senmo and obstacles will not cease.

     So are there any residual conceits -- temporal and mundane obsessions -- lurking in the pit of your mind? Examine your mind repeatedly and concentrate on exterminating them. Harboring such ambitions while making the pretense of a spiritual life in order to make a living is gross hypocrisy and wrong livelihood.

    "Abandoning your homeland is half of the quest!" is an ancient axiom. Put your home behind you and take to the road in unknown countries. Take cordial leave of your family and friends but ignore their attempts to dissuade you from your purpose. Give away your possessions and depend on whatever you receive as alms. Regard the desirable things of this life as stubborn obstacles produced by bad habits and cultivate a renunciate mindset. If in your attitude to possessions you fail to understand that a little is enough, when dissatisfaction with what you have arises it is easy for the consumerist demon to slip in.

    Whatever people might say, good or bad, refraining from denial or affirmation, without attaching hopes or fears to it, donít believe it, and cultivate disinterest. Let them say whatever they like, as if they were talking about someone dead and buried. Only a real teacher -- and that excludes your parents -- can tell you what to do. So keep your independence and donít let anyone lead you by the nose.

    We should always be well disposed and good natured and know how to relate harmoniously with people without putting anyoneís nose out of joint. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty and someone -- no matter who it is -- tries to disturb our sadhana, be intractable, immovable, like an iron boulder pulled by a silk scarf. Donít be too easily moved and pliable, bending where the wind blows like grass on a mountain pass.

    Whatever your sadhana may be, after vowing to complete it sustain it at any cost, even though your life be at issue -- though thunderbolts fall from the heavens, floods issue from the earth below, and landslides rain around you, persevere to the end. To that purpose, from the start, gradually establish a strict schedule of meditation periods, meals, breaks and sleep, precluding bad habits creeping in. Your practice may be elaborate ritual or formless meditation, but donít leave it undisciplined so that you have time to waste; rather, pace yourself evenly.

    When going into retreat, the hermitage door should be sealed with mud. Failing this, donít relate to anyone, donít speak to anyone, and donít spy. Spurning the wanderings of the restless mind, expel stale breath, and assuming a good body posture let the mind relax into an all pervasive presence without so much as a fingersnap of distraction like a tent peg in solid ground. A strict retreat in those outer, inner and secret dimensions will quickly produce the signs and qualities that are evidence of attainment.

    If something of importance comes up and you weaken and relent and you meet someone and even talk with him, thinking, "After this I shall be more strict!" you will lose the turga of the retreat and become looser and looser. On the other hand, if you resolve right from the beginning to keep your seat and make no exceptions, your retreat will become increasingly disciplined and your sadhana will not be plagued by obstacles.

    There are many different recommendations to guide you to your actual place of retreat, but in general it should be somewhere blessed by a supreme master such as Guru Rimpoche and it should not be a place in the hands of people with beliefs antagonistic to your own. It should be an utterly solitary place where you feel completely at ease and where practicalities are no problem. If you possess the capacity and strength to spontaneously resolve outer appearances and inner susceptibilities in cremation grounds, cemeteries and other wild places of negative energy where malignant spirits and demons abide, your meditation will be greatly inspired and swiftly fulfilled; if you lack that capacity then all sorts of obstacles will arise in such places. When realization is identical to the here and now all difficult situations appear as positive reinforcement and it is most beneficial at that time to do secret yogas in places like cremation grounds and graveyards. The real solitary place, though, is the space of non-action after our mind-flow has become free of all self indulgent inner and outer games.

    As to the actual process of purification: this consists of the ordinary training in the four mind changes and the extraordinary training in refuge, aspiration, confession, and offering meditation according to the oral instruction -- persevere in this until the benefits are palpable. Thereafter make Guru Yoga the mainstay of the training and work with that. Without these foundation practices meditation will be sluggish and even as it deepens it will be fraught with obstacles.

    While pure realization is still not the pervasive element in our being pray with fervent heartfelt devotion and soon, through the transference of the heart-mind realization of the Lama, a wonderful inexpressible realization will spontaneously erupt within. Lama Shang Rimpoche said, "To find peace, to have mystic experiences, to attain profound absorption, and so on, these are common experiences. Much more precious is the realization born from within through the blessings of the Lama which arise out of fervent devotion."

T   he reality of Dzokchen suffusing the mind is directly dependant upon the preparation. That is why Je Drigung said, "Some traditions emphasize the main endeavor; our tradition stresses the preliminaries."

The first rendition of this difficult text into English was done by John Reynolds (Vajranath) in 1978 as "Alchemy of Realization". It was superceded the following year by an excellent -- if somewhat puritanical -- translation called "Extracting the Quintessence of Accomplishment" done by Dudjom Rimpocheís mandala at Orgyen Kunsang Choekhorling in Darjeeling. That work may be considered the final authoritative translation and any further attempt redundant. But here I have attempted to bring the translation one step closer to contemporary English usage while altering the take and the slant to reflect my personal appreciation of the authorís intention. Homage to Dudjom Rimpoche!

The Tibetan title is Ri chos bslab bya nyams len dmar khrid go bder brjod pa grub paíi bcud len and is published in "Extracting the Quintessence of Accomplishment" .

Keith Dowman
Mt Abu, India