The respected teacher and master of the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, who earlier this month returned to Tergar Monastery in Bodh Gaya, India, after a four-year solitary retreat wandering in the Himalayas, has released a short video in which he relates his initial experiences, the problems he encountered setting out on his journey, and the profound insights they provided on personal expectations and attachment.
Mingyur Rinpoche describes coming to terms with the realities of his ambition to practice in the manner of a wandering yogi. He notes that the first year of the retreat was extremely difficult and resulted in some serious health issues, but once that obstacle was overcome the retreat became what Rinpoche describes as “one of the best periods of my life.”
Reaching Varanasi railway station in Uttar Pradesh early in his retreat, Mingyur Rinpoche was determined to sleep there: “So I arrived there and I tried to sleep on the street, you know? I sat there and looked and saw so many people, especially people who don’t have money to rent a room . . . but it was very difficult . . . my mind says OK, but my body says not OK; I feel embarrassed, shy. I feel like everybody is looking at me—even some police came and were looking at me. But a few hours later, I could not stay . . . There was a dormitory in which I could book a bed. It was not expensive, so I moved up there.
“Why? Because I had a very strong . . . fixation, a strong grasping. I cannot really let go of my attachment about my body, my food, my comfortable room, and comfortable surroundings. Because I grew up in a good family, and I have this name ‘Rinpoche,’ so I get good food every day, I have a very nice bed, and people treat me very well . . . I have all these things, and suddenly I tried to stay on the road . . . It’s very difficult to let go of all this attachment.”
Eventually the small amount of money he carried with him ran out, and Mingyur Rinpoche was compelled to return to the street, asking at restaurants for leftover food.
“Then one day, maybe from water or something, I got sick . . . I was vomiting and I had diarrhea, and two days later I felt like I was going to die. One morning, I couldn’t get up, my body was so weak . . . I couldn’t move my body. And then I thought, ‘I’m going to die.’ So I made a decision: ‘OK, I think I’m going to die; let it be, let it die.’
“So I tried to sit up straight . . . we have dying meditation—meditation on dying and also Bardo meditation—Bardo means ‘after death,’ the ‘intermediate state.’ So I did all this practice and slowly, slowly I saw the dissolution of my senses. I could not see. I could not hear . . . but my mind was soclear. Then I saw some colors and I felt like I was falling down, then gradually, gradually . . . my mind became even more clear, so vivid—there were no concepts, there were no normal thoughts, no monkey mind. Everything dissolved. But at the same time it was like the blue sky with the sun shining. It was so brilliant and pervasive, and I was so happy and joyful. Then suddenly I felt, ‘OK, this is not the time for me to die. . . .’”
Rising to seek water, Mingyur Rinpoche says he fainted, returning to consciousness to find that someone had taken him to hospital. “After that [experience] I felt so happy, and then my old habits, the layers of attachment and grasping, all these things were gone . . . and I had a very deep feeling of gratitude or appreciation for everything. Even breath. I felt appreciative of just having breath. I appreciate just being able to see the trees—the same tree, but fresher and greener . . . it’s like the trees were made out of joy; made out of love or joy.
“So then I could stay on the road, no problem—I could be with beggars, I could stay in a hotel, I could stay on the road, I could stay in the mountains, and I could travel. And after that my health was also good . . . so after that my journey was fantastic! My health was good and everything was OK.”
Rinpoche goes on to offer advice for people seeking insight in their own practice: “But maybe you might think, in order to get that kind of profound experience, do I need to have this kind of near-death experience? Or do I need to go and live on the streets of India? My answer is, not necessarily. I think you can find a similar situation in your life . . . we all have some kind of expectation about what our future should be. We are almost subconsciously planning our future—‘This is the way it should be, I need that, I’m like that . . .’ Once you shake that, that’s when people fall into a big depression, or a lot of things can happen.
“But I think that is one of the best opportunities for practice,” he says. “If you practice and use this opportunity as a support for your meditation or to deal with your meditation, I think that’s the best opportunity . . . you will have similar experiences to what I had, I think.”
Expectations and Appreciation (Tergar Learning Community)
New Video Message from Mingyur Rinpoche, November 10, 2015 (Tergar Learning Community)
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche Returns from Four-year Wilderness Retreat (Buddhistdoor Global)