From December 19th to December 21st, a number of ZMM residents had the rare opportunity to step off campus and attend a retreat offered by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD), the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery just down the road in Woodstock. Tenzin Palmo, reknowned for being one of the first Westerners ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun and for the twelve years she spent in solitary retreat in a Himalayan cave, offered teachings on the Six Realms of Existence, among other things. The retreat, entitled “Understanding Emptiness: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising—Wheel of Life,” was an exploration of samsara and karma. Over the weekend, it was powerful to experience the liturgy, form, and aesthetics (Gold statues! Saffron robes! Intricate thangkas!) of another tradition. At the same time, Tenzin Palmo emphasized teachings which various schools of Buddhism share.
Jetsunma lectured and took questions from retreat participants on a range of topics from women in the dharma to vegetarianism—both subjects for which her passion is contagious. After the lecture, she offered a Refuge Ceremony and gave the Buddhist Precepts to those who wished to participate, emphasizing and underscoring the fact that participants were taking refuge in the Three Treasures (Buddha, dharma, and sangha), rather than in her. She underscored the point with a smile; she was not becoming anyone’s guru.
On Sunday morning, ZMM residents were treated to a half-hour private interview with Tenzin Palmo, during which she discussed her commitment to improving the situation for Western monastic women and inquired about the training and operations of ZMM. She also expressed her concern over the “sectarianism” she observes in Buddhism, and especially within Tibetan Buddhism. She urged, encouraged, and applauded the developing relationship and cross-pollination of various Buddhist training centers and schools, including the connection between KTD and ZMM.
During this retreat, ZMM residents not only received the lively dharma of a special teacher, but also great hospitality at KTD. The KTD community was gracious and welcoming, offering a context and palpable sense of the larger dharma family of which we are fortunate to be a part.