By Lilia Molina
Originally printed in the SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2006 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Molina, Lilia. "Solitary Retreat Musings of Ani Kunzang." Quest 94.5 (SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2006):194-196.
In November of 2005, my friend Ani Kunzang Drolma, a Buddhist nun of the Tibetan Kagyu Lineage, went into silent retreat which she will complete in 2009. The retreat was preceded by a program at Far Horizons Theosophical Camp with Anton Lysy. She sent the following letter to those she met at this wonderful Theosophical Camp:
It has been six months since we were together at Far Horizons. I hope that your lives have been prosperous, healthy and filled with humor, curiosity and compassion. I also hope the time we have spent . . . contemplating various wisdom teachings have helped us all face life's challenges with loving kindness and equanimity. The door of my retreat has been closed for three months. I receive mail but only see my teachers and support person. I have been engaged in what are called "preliminary practices" [which] purify and stabilize the mind so that later meditation will be more fruitful. Solitude has been both challenging and rewarding. During these last few months as my mind has settled, I have realized how incredibly precious we all are. Once concerns with everyday "hustle and bustle" subside, our inherent loving kindness can begin to be expressed.
Here follows some of her thoughts during her silent retreat and comments on practical matters regarding her situation. Ani's retreat is located in the Kagyu Droden Kunchab retreat near Laytonville, California. Her teacher and mentor is the Venerable Lama Lodru Rimpoche. Her cabin has no electricity, but she is otherwise self-sufficient with the help of a staff person hired to help all the retreat participants. She is the only woman on retreat at this time, and shares her time with her cat, Bangkok. Here is a glimpse of her silent retreat which continues to 2009.
December 1, 2005
I was thinking today about our whole mind/body continuum—specifically, I was thinking of my body. It certainly seems an expression of me—to be mine—but then I think about the intestinal bacteria that must be present for me to keep living. I don't think about them as me and I'm sure they, at whatever level, are conscious do not think they are me. They think they are themselves. My blood, once again essential to my life, can live outside of me. And every little muscle cell is doing its best to keep alive all on its own. And there are all those other symbiotic and parasitic beings that have a different DNA sequence, that are part of what I think as my body. It truly is hard to find the "my" part of this body.
December 9, 2005
Yesterday I had a thought as I was saying many refuge prayers. I thought that if we could see clearly—see our own lives with the Buddha's eyes—then perhaps we would see that absolutely everything that arises from our lives is a display of total absolute compassion. Through our samsaric eyes we see the field of karma—through Buddha's eyes there is only ceaseless compassion. Well perhaps when people treat us in unkind ways—on some level—without their being aware at all, Buddha's compassion is manifesting. Now I don't think this means we become doormats, don't protect and defend ourselves, but inwardly, in our hearts, our attitude should at least be open to the possibility that what is happening is medicine [and] will eventually in this life or another lead to the cessation of suffering. With this attitude we might not develop such strong thoughts of revenge, might not say and do actions which would perpetuate the painful confusion we all live in.
December 23, 2005
Today so far has been a wonderful day. Yesterday afternoon I realized I was reaping some of the effects of solitude. I am so aware of the wide range of moods that I go through each day. I think that I am getting quiet enough to notice how incredibly . . . my mind/mood/emotions [vacillate]. I always took these changes to be caused by various "external" situations [but] I no longer have these distractions. The changing moods emerge all on their own—they are part of the landscape of my own internal processes—they always were. I have learned to trust these moods will pass. I just practice and read, do daily living chores, but I am very aware of my internal state and its constant flux. I think this awareness has been heightened due to my solitude and my practice.
February 10, 2006
Ani writes about a poem written by Buddhist monks and nuns. She had copied them from www.accesstoinsight.org . The poem was written by Ubbiri and was deeply grieved when she wrote it about her daughter's death. She subsequently became a nun. The poem, Ani says, put it in perspective for her: I remember on a deep level why I am here. For a while I was just trying to "cope" with the solitude, . . .strange language, etc. Now I am back on the trail. I have glimpsed a footprint and will follow. This is the poem:
Jiva, my daughter,
You cry in the woods.
Come to your senses, Ubbiri.
84,000 all named Jiva have
Been burned in that charred ground.
For which of them do you grieve?
Pulling out—completely out—
The arrow so hard to see
Embedded in my heart,
He expelled from me,
Overcome with grief,
The grief over my daughter.
Today, with arrow removed,
Without hunger, entirely unbound-
To the Buddha, Dhamma and
Sangha I go for refuge to
It came to me in Tara [practice] this morning that we should all be praying for and dedicating merit to all those people in the world who are truly working for peace. I often pray for peace, but I realized that peace is not something separate from sentient beings. We don't get peace like we get a new set of clothes. We get peace by being peaceful and usually we become peaceful when a peace maker shows us the way. So I am dedicating to all the peace makers regardless of belief or non belief. And those who espouse violence and hatred will be ignored.
Practical Matters August 2, 2005
She begins by explaining that the participants all have a set of texts of the Shangpa Kagyu from India, pided into 11 volumes in Tibetan. These will be the basis of her practices.
October 8, 2005
I continue to be getting ready for the doors to close . . . [as] I had a propane heater installed this week. My auxiliary water tank is here . . .[and] unexpectedly I had to buy new batteries for my solar system.
November 3, 2005
The fence/canvas went up on Tuesday [2 days before the note] Yesterday, I chain sawed wood. It took a lot of energy—more than I anticipated, but it was fun . . .
November 5, 2005
With the sun so far south and low in the sky and with limited amount of daylight, my solar batteries are struggling.
November 20, 2005
I have planted bulbs and transplanted some iris from outside my fence. All is ready outside. The wood pile is tidy and covered, the yard is raked, a juniper and honeysuckle are planted, the Guardian Dieties are in place above my gate . . .
November 23, 2005
The closing of the gate to Ani's cabin closed at about 11:15 am on this day. She says:
I hadn't been given any instructions, so I didn't know what to expect. Lama Lodru, Lama Namse and a young Tibetan monk named Tenzin [came into] my cabin and specifically to my practice room to be blessed by Lama Namse. Then everyone left and my retreat officially began. My schedule:
4:00-6:00 am First session (different pujas, prayers and main practice) 6:00-6:30 am Break
6:30-8:00 am Green Tara Practice
8:00-9:00 am Breakfast
9:00-11:30 am 2nd Session: main practice only
11:30- 1:00pm Lunch break
1:00-3:00 pm 3rd Session: main practice only
3:00-5:00 pm Mahakala Practice
6:00-8:00 pm 4th Session: main practice
8:00-9:00 pm Chod and later on Vajakilaya Practice
February 28, 2006
I have . . . learned some very practical lessons. Solar lights only work when the sun shines. Adult children are unfamiliar with "snail mail" and must be encouraged to locate their local post office. Huge wood piles can be consumed in a very short time. Ravens prefer suet above any other human provided food.
And so it goes during this Solitary Meditation—until 2009.
Correspondence by Ani Kunzang, P.O. Box 43, Laytonville, CA 95454