Reflections on the theory of “Life as Retreat”

 I am entering into a modern retreat aimed at gaining realizations useful for people of this modern world.  If mentally I see my new life as a retreat, that is what it will be.

My commuitment to practicing Dhama, my commitment to training my mind, my understanding that all things are mere karmic appearance to mind, my understanding that the only thing there is to do is wake up is undiminished.  What is under questionis what context and what capacity do I do this.


The most important recognition I need to maintain is I am on retreat and that Dorje Shugden is in control.  I need to surrender myself completely to his plan for me and do my part to put the Dharma into practice in the situations I find myself in.  When I doubt whether he is present or whether this is all his plan, I am wrong.  In this life, I need to in particular focus on purifying negativity and accumulating merit.  Bodhichitta is the best way of doing both of these.  I am on a modern retreat to gain the realizations that the people of this modern world need – specifically, how to transform an ordinary/normal life (work/family, etc.) into a fully spiriutal one.  How long will this retreat last?  Until DS ends it.  It is open-ended, but I suspect it will last at least until we leave Dallas.  So this is a ‘long retreat’ for me.


One of the biggest challenges I face is keeping my mind focused on my primary task of training my mind, and not be swept away by and distracted by ordinary thoughts and subjects.  I need to look at the bodhisattva vows related to concentration and make sure I am keeping them.


I need to strengthen this recognition that I am on retreat so that I never lose it.  How long will my retreat last?  Until Dorje Shugden ends it.  This is precious time, I should not waste it.


My biggest challenge in being able to do all of this is to always keep first and foremost in my mind that my principal task is to train my mind.  All that I am doing, everywhere that I am, these are just the contexts in which I engage in my principal practice of training my mind.  At the end of the day, the world is empty, it is all a karmic show out of control.  Freedom will only be found in pacifying the karmic waves of the ocean of my mind and abiding in the peace and stillness of the Dharmakaya.  I do not want to be Mongdol Chodak, who did all sorts of interesting things, but did not practice Dharma.  No matter what I do, my main task is to purify and perfect my mind.  I must never lose sight of this.  If I am definite in this understanding, then everything else will just be different spiritual exercises for me to engage in to train my mind.  Again, I need to keep my personal narrative manifest within my mind.  I am on retreat.  This is my last life in samsara, I am preparing to be able to go to the pure land.  My main task is to build my pure land so that I may invite all beings.


Additionally, I need to constantly remind myself that I am on retreat and everything around me that I encounter, etc., is all emanated by DS.  In this way, I can do the guru yoga of everything, the other most powerful means of accumulating merit.  Surrendering myself to my guru at my heart, becoming his puppet, will also help greatly in this regard.1

Life as the pure land

A big theme of this blog is Life as Retreat. The main idea is that if you have a mind of retreat, your normal life is transformed into your retreat. You view everything as emanated by your spiritual guide as part of your retreat. He emanates different things for you to learn and practice different things. Everything that happens to you, you view as part of your long retreat. In this modern time, people do not have the time or conditions to engage in traditional retreat, so learning how to transform our normal lives into our spiritual retreat enables the people of this modern age to fulfill their worldly obligations to work and family and engage in lifelong retreat without having to sacrifice one for the other. Our worldly obligations are simply the practice exercises given to us by our spiritual guide. They are our spiritual homework. These situations will give rise to various delusions and our job is to oppose those delusions and generate as much virtue as we can with respect to them. Since it is all emanated by the guru, he gives us exactly what we need when we need it to we can generate the virtues that we need to generate in the exact order we need to generate them. He is like a spritual architect and construction foreman who guides us brick by brick (virtuous cause by virtuous cause) how to build our pure land.

When we first start viewing our life in this way, we are primarily in our samsara and we are building towards reaching the pure land (or we are building our pure land). But there comes a critical transition point where we realize that just as if we adopt the mind of retreat, we can transform our normal lives into our spiritual retreat; so too if we adopt the mind/conviction that we ARE in the pure land, we can transform our normal lives into “Life as the Pure Land.” This could be another name for this blog. From one perspective, it is “Life as Retreat” from another perspective it is “Life in the Pure Land”. Really, these are just two different points of view on the same thing. From another perspective, this is a progression: first Life as Samsara, then Life as Retreat, then Life as the Pure Land.

The ‘as’ here has particular meaning (as opposed to using the word ‘in’). As implies a ‘way of life’, a ‘point of view’, it implies action on the part of the person living the life. It implies there is a indistinguishable relationship between the person living the life and the life that is being lived – they mutually create and shape one another. If we used the word ‘in’, then it implies that where one lives is independent of the person living the life – like some independent place that exists from its own side. That is a false conception of things.

I also said that this is a blog of my new life as a father of five. This is still true. But it seems when I started this blog, I did not realize all the different ways in which my life would change. Since I just started at the State Department, my life is going to be quite different. I am at the cusp of a completely new life. If all goes as it appears now (which means it probably won’t…), I will likely spend the next 20-27 years working for the State Department, travelling to many different countries, doing many different things, meeting many different people and gradually gaining higher and higher levels of responsiblity. This entire life I will have is 100% emanated by Dorje Shugden. It seems to me now that really from the moment I started at CDL, this whole thing was put into motion. I went to CDL which gave me teaching experience which enabled me to get the job at UNT which then enabled me to get the job at the State Department. This has been Dorje Shugden’s plan all along. The landslide, the new management taking over at CDL, the change of the tuition policy, having to leave, coming to Dallas, having the twins (I would not have applied when I did had we not had the twins), having the time necessary to properly study and prepare for the written exam (Simone being here) and the oral exam (the twins being hospitalized and Claudine leaving for Spokane), everything has all been gradually creating the conditions for me to be able to embark on this new life. Stupidly and ignorantly we have been resisting the whole way. We have been stressing, worrying, fighting the whole way. This is just my lack of faith that Dorje Shugden has taken over my life (because I freely gave it to him a long time ago) and that everything he arranges is for the best, even if we do not realize how and why at the time.

Going forward, I need to remember with 100% conviction that my entire life is forever and always 100% emanated and controlled by him. I am in his pure land. My ‘normal’ life is my life in his pure land, specifically within the charnel grounds of Keajra (Keajra is within Dorje Shugden’s protection circle/pure land). Others will still see samsara, but I will know better – I will know that I am actually in the charnel grounds. I am in the pure land. VGL once said that the mind of lamrim IS (itself) Akanishta Pure Land. In the same way, the mind that is the 100% conviction that I am in the pure land is itself the pure land. It becomes true at an ultimate level since all things are empty, it becomes true at a practical/experiential level since that is how I will live and experience my life, and it is true at a causal level since by adopting this view I will create the karmic causes for it to become actually true (in terms of what karma is actually ripening) in the future. The human resources office at the State Department which will be making the decisions about where I go is actually part of DS’s mandala, sending me to different parts or corners of my mind. I can recall Chodar’s bag “Travel in Mind”. That is exactly what I will be doing.

As I see it, being a diplomat is part of my bodhisattva/bodhichitta training for two principle reasons: First, I will gain the skilful means of an effective diplomat which I can then use as a Kadampa Spiritual Guide (Gen Losang once said that he was an Ambassador for VGL, and the Spiritual Guide can correctly be seen as an Ambassador for all the Buddhas). I will learn how to deal with many different people from many different cultures, I will gain all of the different precepts of an effective diplomat, I will gain in the ability to manage, to think, to problem solve, to find win/wins, to serve others, to work for others, etc. Second, I will create karma with the whole world. All Buddhas have equal power, but their ability to help others depends upon the karma they have created with them. You can have all the realizations in the world, but if you do not have a close karmic connection with others through which you can transmit that Dharma then your realizations are useless. Through this career, I will be able to create karma with the whole world – all the different countries I interact with. This will help my bodhichitta go global. This will give me karma with the entire world which will help me be able to one day be able to help all the beings of this world.

It is very easy to forget these realizations/understandings/convictions/practices. But I must apply effort to do so and to come back to them again and again and again. The more familiarity I gain with them, the more they will become part of my thought processes until they become part of me. The key point is this: it becomes true (that I am in the pure land) when I remember/hold this conviction. In depenence upon this conviction, I will then receive the wisdom blessings which will enable me to understand how and why it is true. Then it will be my living experience. When it is my living experience, then I will create pure karma. This pure karma will then make it a self-reproducing reality for me.

Glory days!

Conditions for doing blog

Karma goes in waves.  I request you, Dorje Shugden, please arrange things perfectly so that when I need to do the journal I have the conditions to be able to do so, and may I trust that when I do not have such conditions that my focus should be on gaining deeper understandings.

A dream about the end

About 18 months ago, I had a very vivid dream about the end.  It had several parts to it, and I will try remember them and get them down.

At one point in the dream we were in what I understood to be the NKT office.  It was the end of the world, and I understood it to be the end of VGL’s Dharma in this world.  Most everybody was gone or had already gone off to meditate.  Completely exhausted, I was leaving myself to go off to meditate at the end, and I passed by a desk and a man who I understood to be Jim Belither was approaching a computer station.  He was beyond exhausted, and could barely keep himself up.  But despite his exhaustion, he forced himself to keep working.  I then turned the corner a bit and came to understood what he and a few others were doing.  They were busy indexing and storing all of VGL’s teachings so that everything could be preserved given the fact that it was the end.

Then, I was at what I understood to be my home.  I knew they were coming and it was the end.  We were under attack by some type of small, but very powerful mystical creatures.  Everything was gone except I knew the Buddha statues were still in the gompa.  I told Claudine, let’s go there for the end.  Then, something happened which caused me to go out into a small field next to the house.  When I went to go get whatever it was, the small creatures arrived and started flitting in and out of existence.  One finally caught me and started inflicing terrible torturous pain on me.  The whole time, I tried to keep my mind paying attention to and focused on the Dhamarkaya instead of my ordinary body.  I kept repeating to myself as I was being tortured, ‘my true home is the Dharmakaya.’  Despite the pain, I kept trying to do this knowing if I could I would be all right since I was not my ordinary body and feeling it to be practice for when the real thing comes.

Somehow it ended, and I made it.  I then found myself chatting  with one of the creatures who was suddenly kind and unthreatening, like an Ewok or a kind Lilo.  I was surprised and I asked him, ‘so not everyone dies’, and he said ‘oh, no, no.’ 

Then, it fast forward to somewhat later, and we were on the cusp of the real end coming.  I was in a room with Kiara and one of my other kids, I believe McKenzie, and they didn’t really know what was coming.  There were some others who we saw outside the window, who also knew it was the end and they were taking pictures together.  Then, it suddenly grew much darker and a terrible cold wind descended over everything indicating that the end was here.  I again wanted to go off to meditate at the end, but then I thought about how Kiara, who I was holding, would be screaming in terror at the end and that I needed to be with her at that time.  I knew it would be more difficult to do, but that while I was supporting her I could once again try stay centered in the Dharmakaya and I should be OK. 

Then, I woke up.  In thinking about this dream I realized that I need to be like Jim Belither, who, despite all exhaustion, was so dedicated to working for and the welfare of living beings that he kept pushing on to the very end.  He did not go off to meditate, but pushed on in service working for the welfare of others.  He was doing this to preserve and store the Dharma for the future, and I needed to do the same by not abandoning my family but staying with them even until the very end and everybody else has already left.

I just joined Facebook! Strange (but pleasantly meaningful) experience.

Well, I did it!  I made the plunge.  I joined the virtual world.  I just created a Kadam Ryan Facebook identity (is that what you call it?  Perhaps it is “profile.”) and I reconnected with a Twitter identity I briefly created out of curiosity about a year ago.  I then went looking for “friends”, and I found my (real) friends, my Sangha buddies!   

One of the hardest parts about my new life is not having daily or regular contact with my Sangha.  For me, Facebook then becomes a sort of virtual lifeline to (and eventually meeting place to be with) my Sangha.  I was actually (pleasantly) surprised when I found how many Kadampas are already in this world.  When I saw each name, I was able to remember my time with them, and in this way I could reconnect with them and all that they mean to my life. 

Then a couple of days passed by, and I have really only just now been able to reopen my Kadam Ryan gmail address.   I then saw all of the people who “confirmed me” as their friend.  Seeing this was, for me, like those first few hours when we arrive at a Festival at Manjushri and we run into everybody we know and it is like one big family reunion. 

The reality is we are moving into a digital world.  Not completely, but quite significantly in terms of the number of hours of our day will be engaged with it.  When you consider the number of hours a day we are in front of our computers plus our time in front of the TV plus our time in front of our smartphones plus out time listening to music, virtually ALL of our waking experience time is taking place in this digital world.  The rest of the time we are either tending to the needs of our body (cleaning it, feeding it, putting it to sleep) or in the dream state.  Even during a good hour of our non-digital waking time, we are meditating so not really engaging all that much with physical reality. 

It seems to me our interactions in this digital world now will define the culture and parameters of the Kadampa experience on the digital world for generations to come.  If we do it right, we can create the feeling of a global festival of all digital Kadampas all of the time!  This is really important. 

I see the tremendous potential for creating a global digitial Sangha (maybe the Kadampa IT people can create an internal “” which functions exactly like Facebook but where it is an all Kadampa environment).  Eventually all of the different Kadampa blogs could be transferred to a host owned by the NKT, etc., etc., etc.  Each center will develop a digital identity and community.  People could blog and chat and share from the festivals in real time like people do for political or sporting events, so that the whole world can participate no matter where they are.  Of course all of this has to be done right, and it will take a long time before it matures to that level, but it does seem inevitable.

But for me and for now, the realities of my life are such that I will, despite a sincere effort, probably be pretty bad at being a good digital friend.  But please know it is not because I don’t love you all very much.  You are my Sangha, my vajra family.  I take refuge in you.  We are the planets that orbit the sun of our Guru, and as long as we stay in each other’s orbit we will all pull, push, surf each other to enlightenment.  We all hold on to Venerable Geshe-la and enjoy the meaningful (and blissful) ride!


Ever closer union

There is really only one activity on the spiritual path:  cultivate an ever closer relationship with the Spiritual Guide, in all of his forms.  How do we do this?  First, we come in contact with his teachings and start to put them into practice (Dharma).  Then, we start to develop friendships and personal relationships with others who are also practicing his teachings (Sangha).  Eventually we start to cultivate relationships with the different Buddhas, such as Je Tsongkhapa, Dorje Shugden and Heruka or Vajrayogini.  Then we receive empowerments into these deities, and train to become just like them.  Then, we start to understand how each of these deities is actually an emanation of the Spiritual Guide.  We then mix ourselves closer and closer with the Spiritual Guide, first at the level of self-generation, then at the level of mixing with his body mandala, then with his completely pure subtle body.  The nada at the middle of the subtle body is like the final conventional portal into the Dharmakaya, or his Truth Body.  A Buddha’s Truth Body is the ultimate nature of all things. The Spiritual Guide, from a practical point of view, is a portal through which all of the Buddhas express themselves in this world.  So it is perfectly correct to view all phenomena as by nature the Spiritual Guide.  Finally we realize that all of the different things we have been creating karma with, from the first teaching to the final meditations, are all by nature his emanations.  We realize every moment of every day is part of his emanations. 

The Spiritual Guide assumes countless forms according to the karmic dispositions of living beings.  Each one of these forms functions to prevent us from sinking deeper into samsara and tries to send us in the direction of enlightenment.  Every single moment of our life, every single thing that appears internally and externally is one of these forms.  Our problem is we do not realize this.  By becoming aware of this, these forms become empowered to accomplish their function.  The emanations of the spiritual guide become activated by our becoming aware of them and developing a mind of wonder at his infinite skill.

The Spiritual Guide operates on many different levels.  Functionally, there are four main levels:  the world of our normal life, the world of generation stage, the world of completion stage and the completely pure world of the Dharmakaya.  Each level is increasingly refined.  Traveling through these different stages is the path.  We get t the next level by learning how to be completely balanced with the flow of change at the previous level.  Absent that balance, we get swept away and pulled in. 

There is no relationship in the universe more important to maintain and cultivate than that with the Spiritual Guide.  The real fruit of a marriage comes from cultivating an ever deeper relationship with somebody.  Doing so requires tremendous inner work.  In exactly the same way, but at a much deeper level, the spiritual path is primarily traveled through cultivating an ever deeper relationship with the spiritual guide.  It is hard work to draw ever closer to him because it requires us to shed all that is impure and out of alignment with the way things really are and function.  But that is the whole point and that is why it works.

Since I  no longer have regular physical access to Sangha, for me this blog and my virtual spiritual activities are my main ways of creating karma with sangha.  Looking forward, it seems clear that a new world is being created, a digital world, and more and more beings will be spending more and more time in this world interacting with others in this digital world.  So just as we need to bring the Dharma into the physical world, so too we need to bring it into the digital world and learn how to practice in that world.  This blog exists on the cloud of this virtual world, and is like my digital reliquary (for whatever it is worth…  :)).

I have not been very interested in venturing onto Facebook, but I am starting to reconsider.  If the world we are moving into is a digital one.  If used correctly, Facebook is a powerful way of keeping in contact with and cultivating relationships with the people who have been important in my life.  In particular, my sangha.  I am thinking of making a “Kadam Ryan” Facebook page as a means of keeping in contact with my sangha.  Since I do not have physical access to them, I can still maintain their relationship in my life through Facebook.  In this new digital world, at least for now, Facebook is how people stay in contact with each other and how they hang out.  Just as the most important relationship to cultivate is the one with the Spiritual Guide, so too with the Sangha.  The Sangha are those other beings who are clustered around the spiritual guide.  By drawing close to them, we anchor ourselves in the karmic orbit of the guru, not only for this life but through life after life.

Making our life our retreat

In general, the place of practice within our life goes through a progression:

  1. Before we encounter the Dharma, we simply have our life.  It is full of problems and our aspirations are generally to accomplish the things of this life (wealth, a good reputation, pleasant experiences, high position, etc.).  We pursue these things, but never really find any satisfaction or meaning. 
  2. We then find the Dharma, and at first we organize our practice around our life.  Our normal life is first and foremost, and when we have spare time or capacity, we then engage in our practice.  But it feels like our practice and our life are two different things.  We continue like this and we gain some experience of the Dharma, it starts to solve some of our problems, we start to change our outlook, and we start to make the connection between how much we practice and how happy we are.
  3. We then organize our life around our practice.  We realize that our practice is the way to solve our problems and to be happy.  Doing our practice is as essential to our day as taking a shower or eating.  Just as we clean and nourish our body, so too we need to clean and nourish our mind with our practice.  We realize that our practice is actually the most important thing we do in our day and in our life, and that through it we can manage the rest of our life.  But there still feels like there is a gap between our life and our practice.  We practice to be able to survive in our life.
  4. We then make our practice our life.  Here we make the central focus of what we do in our life to be directly doing practice related things.  We directly engage in Dharma activities as the main activity of our life.  This can take the form of working for a center, being a Resident Teacher, or generally working to help spread the Dharma.  We see no point in worldly life and we make Dharma activities our life.  This stage is still characterized by some grasping at inherently worldly life and inherently spiritual life, and so we reject the former and do the latter.  Sometimes this stage is also combined with some pride in the ‘spiritual life’ we have chosen and we look down on those who are still doing worldly life. 
  5. We then make our life our practice.  Here we realize that all situations are equally empty, therefore all situations provide an equal opportunity to practice Dharma.  We abandon the grasping at the distinction between worldly activities and spiritual activities.  If we have a mind of practice, then everything we do becomes our practice; if we have a worldly mind, then everything we do becomes worldly.  This is equally true regardless of whether our life is occupied with Dharma activities or with conventionally worldly activities.  We realize that in the previous stage we were a bit tending towards the extreme of spirituality and as such were not ‘normal’.  But we also realize that it was OK to be like that.  But at this stage, the duality between our life and our practice is essentially gone.  Everything we do in our life is our practice and our practice is everything we do in our life.  The essential meaning of Dharma practice is to train our mind, and our life simply provides us with the external context for doing so.  We realize we can simultaneously live a completely normal life and a completely spiritual life and there is no contradiction whatsoever between the two.  This does not mean we necessarily abandon making Dharma activities the central activities of our life.  It is perfectly possible for somebody to continue to directly engage in Dharma activities of teaching, working for centers, etc., as the main activity of their life, but they do so with a different mind and point of view.  But some others might experience a rebalancing of the activities of their life where they more resemble the norm of what people do in this world (work, family, etc.).
  6. We then make our life our retreat.  Amongst the modes of engaging in Dharma practices, retreat is the highest form.  When we are on retreat, we leave all worldly activities completely behind and allow ourselves to focus exclusively on our practice.  We stive to have 100% of our bodily, verbal and mental energies single pointedly focused on training our mind in the Dharma.  Just as before we overcame the perceived duality between our life and our practice, on this stage we overcome the perceived duality between our practice and our retreat.  Once again, since all situations are equally empty, with a “mind of retreat” every moment can equally be our retreat.  All duality between our life, our practice and our retreat are completely dissolved and we feel directly and simultaneously:  (1) our life is our practice of retreat, (2) our practice is our life of retreat, (3) our practice is our retreat of life, and (4) our retreat is our practice of life.  Each one of these four recognitions are experienced simultaneously as different aspects of the same mind.  This does not mean there will not be times when we engage in traditional retreat, rather it means that when we do so it will just be a different phase or iteration of one uninterrupted continuum of our life as retreat.