Monday, 6 August 2012

Bodhicharya Summercamp 2012, Casa da Torres, Portugal

Casa da Torres

Thanks to Pat Little for giving us a lively account of the week in Portugal:

The Bodhicharya Summer Camp was hosted this year by the Portugese Bodhicharya Sangha at Casa da Torres, a retreat Centre near Braga, with easy access to Porto airport and other international transport. A Jesuit seminary, it consisted of an original small château -with chapel- dating from the 
18th century. It had been extended to form accommodation for the seminary and, these days, for use as a conference centre. The buildings were surrounded by vineyards and maize-fields and an organic vegetable-garden producing produce for the table, and a garden devoted to the Seven Stations of the Cross was planted with fruit-trees: oranges, grapefruit, kiwis-vines. An annex five minutes down a road lined with cork-oak trees extended capacity, which meant that some 150 participants from all over Europe were able to meet for the annual teachings with Ringu Tulku Rinpoche in ideal surroundings.

Ringu Tulku had wanted to find a place which would combine several 
virtues: it should be accessible to as many people as possible, be family friendly, in the countryside not too far from the sea and, of course, have the right general atmosphere. We had all of those, with the addition of a splendid river beach within easy walking distance. A further element adding to the holiday mood, was that fact that Rinpoche’s 60th birthday, on 16th July, fell during our stay, and we celebrated in grand style, with wonderful hand-made chocolate cakes iced with the eight auspicious symbols, decorations of ‘birthday cards’ with greetings from the participants hung on strings to represent prayer-flags, the entire proceedings punctuated by the flashing of dozens of cameras from the most basically amateur to the real pros, recording the happy event. 
photo opportunity at the birthday party
Rinpoche was presented with a book of photographs that had been taken during his years of travelling and teaching in the West: hundreds of images were gathered by Bodhicharya Ireland from destinations all over the world, including some of the very earliest shots taken during his Dublin first visit in 1990.  Some of these were then selected  into a volume: A Travel Journal - Why Not?  by  Paul O'Connor who also had printed a lifetimes' worth of refuge cards designed under the guidance of by Ringu Tulku  as a birthday gift from his students. Other celebratory moments included the now-established tradition of a short sharing of performances – poems, songs, instrumental pieces – by representatives from the various participating countries. We also had a number of portrait photographs defining the span of Rinpoches life, and these were raffled in aid of the Rigul Trust Fund. 
A more austere, but very interesting, contribution came in the shape of a lecture by Laurent Nottale, astrophysician, who made a valiant attempt – twice, first in English, and then in French – to explain the mysteries of the Higgs Boson to an enthralled but not always very comprehending audience!
some of the Irish group in the tea bar
The oldest and the youngest participants










Real work towards the cohesion and forward direction of the Bodhicharya movement was also done. It was an ideal occasion for networking, renewing old contacts and friendships, and making new. The Publications Team met a couple of times, and many plans are going ahead for the dissemination of the teachings. 

   For the Irish contingent,   arriving from   our rain-soaked, wind-blown island, the greatest and most welcome shock to the system was the sunshine (although the weather-gods did let us in gently by sending rain on the first evening)! Thereafter, the temperatures soared, sun-screen was given its first outing of the season, and the cool of the cloister at midday was most welcome. There was even talk – and evidence – of mosquitoes! All refreshingly exotic, and we felt we were in a very privileged space indeed.

Resting in the warmth of the evening  on the roof terrace
Ringu Tulku’s teachings, over five days, continued the commentary on Dakpo Tashi Namgyal’s classic text, Mahāmudrā: the Moonlight. Quintessence of Mind and Meditation, that he had begun presenting last year in the Summer Camp in France. An exotic title indeed, but from the start of the teachings, Rinpoche’s lucid commentary made clear the fundamental human relevance of the text. Here was the universal human mind, in all its complexity, with all its obscurations, its delusions and its consequent sufferings, but also with its potential for happiness based on the perception of our true nature. Rinpoche constantly emphasised the Path in one form or another, giving us a means to work towards true understanding, means that are different for each individual. We felt that we were in the presence of a rare being whose heart was as big as the universe, but who was capable at the same time of understanding each individual with true impartiality and compassion. 
A joke about a bishop
He was relaxed, humorous, telling jokes and stories in his inimitable way, and
with his habitual sense of theatre, carrying the assembled company along with him: ‘I’ll tell you a story... No, you’ve heard this one already, no, I don’t think I’d better tell this one...’ bringing out the eager response ‘Yes, yes, tell it, please, please’, before he capitulated as ever to our pleadings and launched into yet another illustration of the point he wanted to make. But make no mistake: this was serious, very serious stuff, the jokes and the stories being merely skilful means for carrying the message.  
In this way, Rinpoche analysed the specificities of Mahamudra, again emphasising practicalities (practise positive things, things that bring joy to me and to others, while avoiding the negative), and pin-pointing the main thrust of the teachings (working on our minds). He did not seek to avoid inevitable difficulties, such as the fact that Mahamudra is not a ‘thing’ or a concept, but an experience, and as such, impossible to express in language, which is made for other purposes. Like so much of Buddhist thinking, for the Western mind at least, it seems to be constituted by paradox upon paradox: Mahamudra is very clear, but it is not a thought; it is there but not there, it is real, but it does not exist in any ‘normal’ sense. A parallel paradox can be seen in the fact of the suffering of beings: they suffer and yet they don’t wish to suffer, and they know they don’t wish to suffer, that their suffering is unnecessary and somehow ‘wrong’ in the overall scheme of things. But the key to let them out of suffering proves hard to locate. Characteristically, however, Rinpoche turns this gloomy scenario into light: the perception of other beings’ needless suffering generates automatic compassion, and a benevolent feeling that starts the process of dispersing the clouds.
the Guru in party mode

A section of the teachings dealt with the role of the guru, and guru yoga. Here his analysis was subtle, aware of the propensity of human beings in need to cast the responsibility for their spiritual well-being onto another, lacking sometimes in discernment and even common-sense in doing so. In fact, those five days we spent together with him in Casa da Torre were as ample an illustration as we could have desired of the nature and the function of the guru
Our teacher, Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, gave us all, gently, compassionately, lovingly, with great modesty and awareness, in a way that will continue to work on our minds for years to come. May we disseminate the radiance of his teachings in the world that was not able to share that privileged moment! 

A very big THANK YOU therefore to Rinpoche for his great kindness in sharing his wisdom, and also to Tsering, Carmo and the whole Portuguese team, for their most able and welcoming organisation of the teachings.
Carmo and lama Tsering drive Rinpoche and Lama Shenga to the airport at the close of the week.
More photos of the week by Francois Henrard can be found here.  Next year's summercamp will be 15th - 21st July, again at Casa da Torres.

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