Liu Wang was nearing the completion of her retreat, the time when the discipline begins to somewhat relax, in order to prepare to re-enter into the ordinary world. Only somewhat, as some days ago, Sangye Tcheugyal came briefly to warn her that whatever may happen she will have to keep all her concentration and practice until the very moment she could make the concluding fire puja (note) and get out of her retreat.
She waited for several years the occasion to make her first serious retreat. She already made some sessions, two weeks, a month, but she did not considered this as a real retreat. To only enter into the retreat requires a week, and to get full mindfulness more than two months, and it is really necessary to be alone, or at least never to speak about nothing else than the practice.
So when she could manage this six month holiday, she rushed on the occasion. Steve was somewhat sad to see his wife leaving him for so long a time, but he had the kindness not to manifest this emotion, in order not to weaken Liu's motivation. When she asked to Tcheugyal Rinpoche if it was good to do this retreat, he suddenly looked very pleased and strongly congratulated her. So there was no doubt.
An old monk took her in the van of the retreat centre, and drove her along the road she knew very well, sneaking between the mountains of the Amnye Machen range (They looked like hills, but the surrounding plateau being already 4000m high, they were often more than 5000m high). The van arrived to the submillimetre radio observatory once created by Sangye Tcheugyal. The dry and calm air of this place, together with the high altitude, made it perfect for reception of submillimeter radio waves. The quantum telescope did not allowed for spectrometry, thus forbidding to know the chemical or geological composition of what it observed. So conventional optical or radio astronomy was still very lively. But, to try to match the incredible magnifying power of the quantum telescopes, observers had to connect all their machines together, to build gigantic interferometers (note) Earth wide and outward in space.
The van stopped to give some mail and food to the five guards of the observatory. They joyfully greeted the monk and the retreatant. As everything was automated and remotely monitored, there was no need for technicians living permanently on the place. So the gigantic and elegant white parabolas were living alone in the snowy desert mountains, glittering under the sun, unless they appeared as strange obscure silhouettes against the night star background, slowly rotating in silence. But to place some guards and infrared cameras was still a justified precaution, and they had once or two some occasion to work.
The van then engaged on the forbidden road leading to the retreat place, crossing the tall statues of the four guardians ( note). Some kilometres later, and some hundred metres higher, it stopped in a small valley, on a snowy yard along a small two storey stone building: the houses for the attendants, a small temple, and storage for food and other hardware. Before the yard there was a row of magnificent great stupas of different styles, the later being still under construction. There were also some lower buildings: a workshop and a stable, and a warehouse for hay and building materials. The yard was surrounded with low soft hills, covered with a short green-brown grass and patches of snow. Nothing else was visible, only some paths leading through a maze of small glens to the retreat lodges themselves.
It was really harsh and a dizzying beauty, an incredible feeling of loneliness, the sun burning the naked skin in only some minutes, the icy wind painfully insinuating into the ears, an immense feeling of unlimited space and freedom, an ultramarine immaculate sky, and an overwhelming silence soothing the mind...
The only noise Liu heard was her heart quickly beating, as much with altitude as with emotion, a mixture of joy of being here and fear of the difficulties she would have to face. Six months alone, in the silence of the mineral desert, without speaking, without any distraction, with as only horizon a two and a half metres lodge and a hundred metres of short grass and snow outside. It would be difficult, sometimes painful, often boring. But at the stage she was now in her practice, her mind was really longing for the clarity and mindfulness of the prolonged meditation without any distraction.
There were only five monks and a lay worker guarding the centre, occupied in kitchen, temple service, bringing food to the retreatants. For this they simply used donkeys, which silence no mechanical vehicle could ever match. The lay worker was a young blonde German, who was helping the centre as a preparation to retreat. Liu was proud to see that her master Tcheugyal had disciples in a so far and strange country.
After a silent meal with the six men, Liu was registered. Religious retreat could never be a commercial business and everybody would have disliked very much to see retreatants going to the cash desk as in an hotel. So the custom was to make an offering, large or small, if one could. And if one could not, nobody minded, it was enough to be sincere and to be recommended by a Lama. Liu went into the colourfully decorated temple and left a comfortable cheque to the foots of the Buddha. After that, one of the monks led her to her lodge, accompanied with two dark donkeys carrying food packages and biogas cylinders. The monk wore sunglasses, and also the donkeys did, giving them a somewhat psychedelic look.
Nearby none of the retreat lodges was visible from the path which was zigzagging between small hills, marked out with posts, to recognise it even covered by snow. The only noise was that of gusts of wind, running wild into the small valley. They finally took a small adventitious path, indicated with a signpost bearing a name. Liu's lodge was Atisha Dipamkara and there were many others, bearing names of Indian and Tibetan saints, and even one with a Western name.
Her lodge looked very small, but there was place enough to sleep, to kitchen and eat, to make some toilet, and a small altar. It was more comfortable than ancient Tibet retreat caves, although there was nothing useless. It was made of simple wooden planks and heated with solar panels forming a «garden» just outdoors, or with biogas cylinders (The gas was methane, as butane and even propane did not worked in the cold winter nights). Liu simply did not felt the need for heating, as the small room was perfectly isolated from cold. There was no electricity, only a small gas lamp, seldom needed. Some modern retreat centres tried to introduce devices such as an emergency radio call. But this arose problems, and now retreatants were left alone with their karma. On the other hand, the gas heating was considered a good meditation help, especially when the external cold dropped to minus thirty. The external walls were reinforced with stones without mortar, to cope with the blizzard which sometimes blows here, and the lodge was designed to avoid any whistle or whirlwind noise. From here Liu could not see any other lodge, except the roof of one, and two stupas. She could even undress and let her skin tan, although with the high UV sunlight this was a dangerous exercise.
There were some very nice small purple flowers challenging the cold around the lodge, dancing tirelessly into the wind. In the lodge there was a strange perfume, subtle, but it did not let her to forget it. Liu somewhat apprehended to find a dirty place, as it sometimes happens that a life retreatant dies naturally in his lodge. It was apparently not the case, but she asked what the perfume was.
«The last occupier died here. We found him only two days ago» the monk replied with a smile. Tibetan monks love this kind of jokes, which are a very serious recall of the death and impermanence ( note), a basic Buddha's teaching. But Liu was not disgusted: to die while leaving a perfume means that the retreatant gained some high realisation. The place was not named Oesel Druptob Ling at random. She was rather lucky.
«Everything is OK? Don't you need something special? If so left a message here on this small blackboard. We anyway come at least once a week, to check the food and the gas. But I shall not speak to you. Need a special service in the temple? Right, just the fire puja at the end. Good bye, and have a successful retreat!»
He went out. Liu just heard him poking behind the lodge. Then he reappeared, dragging an heavy white bag.
-Yes please. I am not so young. Physical strength is impermanent.»
They placed the bag on one of the two sunglasses wearing donkeys. Liu noticed again the perfume on the bag.
«What it was?
-The corpse» the monk answered very naturally.
She was really in retreat!
The first week Liu was unable to build a real concentration. Her mind was wandering from astronomy to software through her husband and family, and this all the time. Then her thoughts wandered to Dharma (note ) stories. Usually in Tantric retreats the practitioner meditates all day long while sitting in lotus, and also sleeps all night long in the same position. For this reason there was no bed in the lodge, but a box fixed on the wall, where she could sit without falling besides or behind while sleeping. This arises a serious buttock problem, and can be very painful for whose not accustomed. So Liu had trained progressively, building her own box at the head of the couple bed, and sleeping there more and more time. Steve, not to loose contact with her, took the habit to place his head on her feet, as if he was some lion guarding a goddess. But he also tried to sleep like this, and he was speaking of revolutionising the retreat conditions in inventing the couple box.
Liu spend again some days with thoughts like that, and got worried to waste all her retreat with inability to concentrate. But suddenly she began to be bored with daydreams. So she could get the appropriate concentration without having to fight for it. After two months she was able to concentrate most of the time, and to have very clear visualisation and strong feelings. In fact, visualising is just directed daydream. Everybody can do this, and the results only depend on the concentration level one can achieve. On the other hand, concentration needs a long training and a strong motivation.
She was meditating nothing less than the Kalachakra deity, the most advanced Buddhist yoga. The Kalachakra Yoga itself is secret, so I cannot repeat it there, but I can tell that basically, as in every tantric practices, it is a matter to visualise oneself as the deity, nothing less. To visualise oneself with a marvellously beautiful young and inalterable body, dedicating our time to gently (or more firmly) helping others to be happy and disentangle all the psychological defilements and illusions which prevent them to be happy. To visualise the Mandala, a beautiful eternal garden and paradise dwelling, which structure is a condensed symbolism of the working of the universe. To visualise energies circulating along channels in the body, and so on. To begin this is difficult, but it soon gets very inspiring and joyful. The yoga itself can lead to very intense and pleasant feelings, and it is not difficult to obtain more than the ordinary sexual orgasm, as often as we want, and without being tired after. Again it is only a matter of concentration. Liu enjoyed very much the detailed visualisation of her spiritual body, with jewels and clothing. She preferred something simple.
Liu first choose Kalachakra as he was involved in World peace. Her family had to suffer from the ecology wars in the 2020' and they were all basically against war and violence. This instinctive feeling was Liu's first motivation to study Buddhism, and also to rebuild this ancient Chinese patrimony severely damaged by the 20th Century fascism. Now Buddhism and Taoism were flourishing again, under the guidance of a new generation of high level masters and teachers.
Liu also practised some Lamrim (note ) meditations, which are not secret, but Buddhist masters explain that better than me. I shall just say here that Lamrim meditations involve many karma purification practices, which normally have to be accomplished before entering into secret yogas. One of these practices if the fire puja concluding the retreat, and another we are going to speak about is «accepting the evil», an expression we place between quotation marks as it does absolutely not mean what words placed end to end could mean.
There are some problems which could happen in retreat. The two first months were fine, and Liu did good practice while abiding in a perfect joy, crystal clear consciousness and lively stamina. But once the day was dying into a thick and dark fog, with sinister wind howls, Liu suddenly felt a powerful nostalgia, nostalgia of freely running in the grass under lush green trees, among friendly people, nostalgia to hear music and taste many foods, nostalgia to feel the body of her husband against her body, a feeling as if she was losing her time and consuming her days into sterile exercises when she could be happy with her family and friends. The attack was rude, and her mastery of martial arts was useless with this invisible and immaterial enemy. At a moment she began to get up, with the intention to close her bag and leave the place, but this gesture made fall the bell (note ) she used as a constant recall of her mindfulness. She thus realised she had been about to be made. The sad feeling somewhat released, but she spend the evening fighting to regain the correct concentration and inner joy.
Three days later it was still worse. The sadness was like a black liquid infiltrating everywhere, a fungus sullying everything in her being. Heart beating, lips quivering, she remembered the ancient stories of Amnye Machen, a desert place once only inhabited with bandits and hermits. There was a place where a small black demon used to appear to hermits, to enter into their channel system, and from there suck them from inside, killing them in a matter of minutes. Liu several times had the feeling that there were black things besides her, but, suddenly turning her head to look in front, there was nothing. This demon was vanquished by a Yogi possessing a special mastery of the Tumo, the yogic inner fire. So Liu tried to arise her Tumo, an exercise she usually practised, but she was not so powerful: after one hour of fight after this invisible and relentless enemy, she was overcome with a feeling of panic, and, bell or not bell, the bag was closed and she opened the door... just to find a tall and awesome Sangye Tcheugyal looking at her with an incredible severity. Ashamed like a little child, cheeks burning, she drew back and sat again in her box, bell and dordje in hand.
Then Tcheugyal came to sit besides her, and motherly comforted her for two long hours. With his explanations she realised that she did not really understood what this «acceptation of suffering» means. She was thinking that the evil is to be fought at, and this is right. But the really effective method to fight it is more subtle than machine-gunning it with anger, when precisely evil feeds with anger and hate. Basically her fear and nostalgia was nothing, a pure illusion, arising from her karma, of perhaps only of some ill connected neurones in her brain. It feeds on only her anger, and grows as much as she considers it. The feeling of it being «real» only came from the strong grasping of her mind on these appearances, in such an extend that it could even appear to her eyes, showing «black things» where there were not. To fight these appearances only increases the grasping, so far that it could easily lead to serious psychiatric problems. To simply accept them without fight, without fear or judgement releases this grasping, and thus releases the illusion, cuts down all its power. It is this process which she had to use in order to gain the liberation of all the illusions and of karma. She really realised that «demons», whatever they really are, have absolutely no power on us, as far as we do not pay any attention to them. They can be dangerous for us only if we have opinions, desires or emotions related to them. But in this case they can be really very dangerous.
Liu often remembered that day. It was so incredible that Tcheugyal appeared so just in time, that after Liu wondered if it was not just another illusion, a dream, when she could have been dozing. When the next attack came, she simply used this very common Lamrim practice. She opened her heart, accepting everything, completely defenceless, unconcerned, to avoid any grasping on the situation. It was as if a bull charging her just passed through her and was then unable to stop, ridiculously tangling its legs to try to slow down. The demon had lost her power on her, and was now furious in vain. It took her some training to really master this, and some other attacks still surprised her. But she got from this an intense feeling of victory, of divine pride, of fierce power, which much helped her to accomplish the core tantric practice.
There was other attacks, and even of other kinds, still worse. But this time Tcheugyal did not came. And the bag was never closed again. Before, as a basically non-violent and gentle person, Liu was somewhat reluctant to practice wrathful deities. Now she was doing this without problems, and took full benefit of the intense feeling of self-confidence and fair power it produces. Thus she was now able to keep most of the time a clear concentration and a pure joy, dancing in space while standing fast on the demons she had vanquished, and even sucking their energy. She felt as a great victory her new capacity of practising this yoga of «accepting suffering», and was even somewhat eager to find occasions of practising it. Good advice: do not try to provoke such occasions, as there are already plenty enough.
Even in retreat, such occasions do not miss. As these two weeks of blizzard without any visit: a -40°C wind hurling at 220 km/h, projecting dangerous pellets of hard snow and even small stones. She was not short of food, nor of gas, but of toilets: the can was full, and it was impossible to get out. This can was ingeniously disposed, outdoor, in a small airlock cabinet, accessible from both inside and outside. But it was full, hopelessly full, and she had no other resources than to throw the mess through the window. This remembered her the story of a too modest monk who went into a supermarket to buy things for retreatants, just to realise that the list included feminine hygiene products. Liu had to practice the yoga of accepting lively or embarrassing situations!
If there were lows, there were also highs. Liu grossly considered her retreat as successful, and difficulties had come only to be mastered. So the effort was fruitful. And more, she was feeling now very happy. Not a passing exulting joy, but a stable and profound serenity. She had shown able to overcome evil and suffering. She had vanquished one of her «demons» which, she remembered now, already tortured her with causeless sadness when she was a child, or when she was a teenager. She realised that she involved into hard studies and intense professional life only to escape this. Her marriage with Steve was also good to take her mind off this, but basically the problem was still there, ready to resurface at any occasion, and it did resurfaced in the retreat. But she had now vanquished it, and she could vanquish any other demon, if any one could never dare to challenge her again.
This was the very purpose of «accepting suffering»: a craftiness to smash it, to crush it, to destroy it down to the root, definitely and totally, so that even no cinder, no trace on the ground remains. And then to be happy, eternally happy. And happy she was now, even if there could be still problems ahead.
She took a great pleasure to imagine and visualise her Vajra Body, to visualise each part and details, to feel all the pleasant feelings it could give to her. The Mandala was also great to figure, even if her visualisation did not exactly matched the traditional description. It had a garden, a very nice garden, much nicer the one she had in her childhood town, Chongqing. Now these visions appeared her very clearly, as bathed with sunlight, without any shadow or trouble.
Regularly Liu was getting up, even the night, to avoid bedsore, or more appropriately boxsore. She had kept the habit to make one hour a day her Chi Gong, outdoors as much as possible. This allowed her, despite she was nearing fifty years old, to be still nice with a slender silhouette and long black hairs. This day, it was a sunny day, and she even had a walk up to the top of her hill, to enjoy the sun, the flowers and the rare heat, when there is no wind. From there she could discover a far view over the plateau and distant snow capped mountains. In the far there were the huge silhouettes of the five 100 metres optical telescopes of the OWL Euro-Tibetan Co-operation, perfectly integrated in the landscape, as if they were some strange shaped mountains. Close by there was other lodges, and stupas on the hilltops. There even were black stupas: not advisable to do dishonest things by there.
The end of the retreat was approaching, and it was time to prepare for re-entering the world. Liu felt again the desire for varied food, lush greenery and meeting people, but this time it was gentle and pleasant. In modern Tibetan, it was said that it was now time to get the landing gear down, a very appropriate expression, but that you could hardly find in the ancient texts!
Sangye Tcheugyal appeared again, to confirm her success. But he also gave her this advice: the retreat should not be considered as finished until she could perform the fire puja. Before, she would still have the occasion to practice the yoga of «accepting evil». She could hardly foreseen how, as she was now feeling perfectly fine, body and mind, and the weather was wonderful and stable. She even felt another new desire: to share her realisation with the more people she could. Boddhichita!
She again got out, to enjoy the gentle warmth of the sun, which can be very hot when there is no wind. She distinctly heard the noise of an helicopter. It was rather unusual, as the district was forbidden to any aircrafts. Only the army and police could patrol, at high altitude, with infrared cameras, to track some outlaws which may lurk by there. Modern Tibet did no longer accepted ancient customs such as gangs of bandits making their own law in remote places, and some had to learn this at the expense of their lives.
The helicopter noise was approaching, and it was now at about the place of the temple. Maybe somebody was ill or injured. This suddenly sounded alarming: the noise was not stopping, as if the helicopter was keeping in alert for something, and even it approached again.
Suddenly three men appeared on the path to Liu's lodge. They were wearing helmets and dark military looking suits, and quickly deployed while approaching, guns in hand. Such a sight was so incredible and supernatural in this peaceful place, as if some hallucination was breaking out, that Liu did not immediately realised the danger. With her secret martial art, she could face even three trained fighters, but not the handgun loaded with anaesthetic cartridges. She felt a sting on her belly, and just had time to think that her master was true: there really was a splendid occasion to practice the yoga of «accepting evil».
«Mr Jason, your wife is in good health and we are warrant of her security, so long as you do not try to warn anybody or to publish any data about Antliae 12447.»
The warning buzz was even not finished that the Lhassa e-police officer cold bloodlessly launched the e-mail track system.
Scenario, graphics, sounds, colours, realization: Richard Trigaux.
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