So chalk up another awesome life experience - chanting to enter a trance-like state for an extended period of time.
Every year at Ratna Ling all organizations stop activities in order to go on a retreat for three days, during which a chant is kept up constantly in our Meditation Hall/Temple. The ceremony is named after Longchenpa, a great master in the Nyingma tradition, especially when it came to Dzogchen teachings. According to tradition he passed into Parinirvana, (meaning he doesn't come back/reincarnate anymore) but you can still contact his energy, as he technically didn't die but more became part all things like when Mufasa died in The Lion King.
And at this particular time of year Longchenpa's energy is most available to invoke, and we chant to invite these blessings of an awakened being into the world around us. As always take my interpretations and understanding of Buddhist history with a giant grain of salt.
"...how can we return to the wholeness of our being? As these questions become more meaningful, we discover that Longchenpa gives us the answers we seek at the level we presently occupy. [And] he implores us to do it straight away."
-- Tarthang Tulku, Introduction to Now that I Come to Die
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The experience itself was pretty intense, I actually enjoyed the formality and dedication required to keep the chanting going. The idea is once you start the chant Friday night it doesn't stop until the closing ceremony on Monday morning. There were about 8 people participating this year, so we made groups to rotate in and out. I was leading one of the two daytime groups but I hear the nighttime chanting is an interesting experience as well.
So what's the mantra? After the invocation of Longchenpa, which sort of opens the gateway to the experience, it's actually just a repetition of the Vajra Guru Mantra:
Over, and over, and over. Experiences over the course of the three days include:
- Voice gives out, leaving you chanting in a throaty whisper.
- Voice inexplicably comes back, loudly, and in a squeaky teenage pubescent tenor.
- Regularly being afraid of forgetting the words of an eight-word chant you've been reciting every morning for the past 10 months, and pretty much constantly over the past 36 hours.
- Keeping a 4/4 rhythm without speeding up or slowing down seems like an impossible task.
- The body is not used to sitting still so long, and starts to try getting your attention in various ways (aches, itches, the feeling you HAVE to stand up right now etc.)
Eventually these small ticks smooth out, and especially towards the end you can have some pretty powerful meditative experiences. It could be a result or combination of several factors, but focusing the mind on one task like that for an extended period of time combined with the energy of other people doing that same thing right next to you, and all over the world, can create an atmosphere that you can get deep into.
The mantra itself is easy to remember and has a very nice rhythm, each word has a significance and meaning that can unfold and open up the more experience you have practicing with it. At a certain point it seems to naturally orient the mind toward the qualities of joy, light and love. Think about it as replacing the "annoying roommate" usually babbling in your head all day with words of universal compassion, wisdom and truths.
I wouldn't describe it as "fun" - it's like a lot of self-work and "awakening" practices I've seen. They're difficult and a lot of uncomfortable shit from your past, fears, sometimes demons can come up. Ultimately you'd want to feed those demons and befriend them in order to join their power to your own efforts. This is a metaphorical concept until you've been sitting and chanting for days at a time, at which point it becomes somewhat more literal. But! There are also some wonderful feelings of one-ness, joined spirit, and contact with a knowledge much greater in scope than your own. Like most things in life I derive satisfaction from I'd say it's challenging, but fair.
At some points it seemed a little like casting a spell or performing magic. It's a ritual invocation but instead of messing with things from the Lesser Key of Solomon for curiosity, wealth or whatever (forgive my ignorance of that body of knowledge) all the participants focus on invoking a great awakened being who symbolizes the principle conceits necessary to help alleviate suffering in this life.
"Oh shit I meant to summon a wagon not a dragon!" - This guy, probably
Longchenpa wrote a short piece before passing on called "Now That I Come To Die" which is very inspiring, and we read in a group before beginning the ceremony. The very nature of everyone in the community uniting and working together for this common cause of wisdom and deep human truths is very cool to see and participate in.
At times it was a little bit like something was being rubbed away, I felt raw and emotionally sensitive toward the end. That also allows for some deeper experiences, because the conditioning and patterns of your day-to-day life are allowed to relax. The self-image we're dragging around from day to day is able to dissipate, to weaken even for a moment and allows for some new insight.
Whether or how that all actually works technically is still beyond me - all I'll say is that afterward I felt great. I didn't eat much over the three days and when we finished I went for a run and hit a record distance and record time. That could have been my body responding to being still for so long, but there was a noticeable stillness and natural quietness to the mind for a few days afterward. It wouldn't surprise me at all if engaging the mind in a "pure" or at least non-harmful way does allow for a sort of purification or re-alignment of cells inside the body. I mean if this happens:
Why wouldn't chanting do something analogous inside the body itself? But, that's where my ignorance starts to shine through so I'll shut up about all that before I start going on about multiverses and fractals.
It was one of the more impactful experiences in my time here, one that has made me commit mentally to participating in more retreats and maybe some chanting ceremonies down the line. If you're interested in learning more about mantras:
The word ‘mantra’ refers to protection, transmission and transformation of mind. Its enlightened energy is encoded in syllables and sound.The rhythms and dynamic of mantra’s sounds lead awareness past conceptual images and words, disengaging patterns that give samsara form. The sound of mantra evokes indestructible awareness, enabling mantra to become a wish-fulfilling gem. Their far reaching power and application is available for any honorable purpose and pressing need. They will bring joy and well-being, while promoting harmony between humanity and the cosmos.
You can check out some mantras recorded at Ratna Ling here.
I'll do another, longer post but finally we've launched the Dharma Publishing Academy, and if you're curious about Kum Nye and Kum Nye Meditation you can now enroll in Level 1 here. You get ~12 hours of video content with guided exercises by my director out here Arnaud, plus text excerpts and image examples of the postures and movements. It's part of an effort to allow the teachings to spread as people continue to move away from text and onto devices of various sorts.
So get your learn on! See you soon, be kind to each other but most of all yourself!
Om Ah Hum!