Filed in Tibetan

The Dream Team

Contributing editor Pamela Gayle White speaks with six dedicated practitioners before they enter three-year retreat.

Article Preview

To access this entire article and all other member-supported
content, join Tricycle as a Supporting or Sustaining Member

We used to say that the first three-year retreat was like being put through the washer—heavy-soil program—and the second was like being hung out to dry. Scrubbing out the stains using Vajrayana enzymes; billowing and bleaching under the equanimous sun of blessing.

Most of the people I know who have spent time in retreat agree: in the beginning, you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into. You underestimate how much of the “work” has to do with relating to your shadows alone in your practice space and in relationships with your fellow retreatants. You also tend to underestimate the tenacity of those stains, deep-rooted emotional issues, and subjective misconceptions.

By the time you get to second retreat, you know what to expect, and you may even look forward to the challenge. You trust the retreat master to bring your shadows to light, you air them out, let the sun whiten them . . . and then you look more deeply and there’s yet another shadow, yet another stain you thought had been scrubbed out once and for all. It seems endless.

It’s probably when you’re willing to let go of all of your hopes and fears around accomplishing anything, being anyone, attaining any level that the practice can really work its magic. And that, perhaps, is the next phase of practice: sprinkled with lavender water, gently ironed, folded, and ready for whatever use is required.

In August 2012, I met with the six fellows in the following roundtable just a few days before they reentered retreat. The atmosphere was joyful and energized. All had previously completed at least two traditional three-year retreats here in Dhagpo Kundreul Ling, the Karma Kagyu center in Auvergne, France, where I also spent six years in the 1990s (though I somehow got stuck in the rinse and spin cycles), under the guidance of the Tibetan master Gendun Rinpoche. Though Rinpoche passed away in 1997, his laughter, love, and inspiration are still very present.

Stephen Tenpa, the eldest, is practicing in his room in the monastery; the other five are together in the center where our conversation took place. A recent letter from Carlo Trinle Dorje tells me that they call themselves the “dream team” and are doing very well indeed.

–Pamela Gayle White, Contributing Editor

Could you tell us a little about yourselves?

Carlo Trinle Dorje: I was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1959. I was a sports coach, then a life coach using therapeutic relaxation methods. I used to practice Zen; I taught meditation at the Kwan Um School and cofounded the Brussels Zen Center. This is my third retreat after several years in the monastery. 

Iosif Lodrö: I was born in Athens, Greece, in 1962; I used to be a survey engineer. In 1990 I met Gendun Rinpoche, and he inspired me to stop working and begin preparing for retreat. We had to interrupt our first retreat in Greece due to difficulties with the Greek Orthodox Church, but then I came here and did retreat from 2001 to 2008 with Trinle. 

Thomas Rabjam: I was born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1955; I was a shipping logistics manager. I met Gendun Rinpoche in 1985 and began my first retreat in March 1991. After two group retreats, Rinpoche gave me permission to enter long-term retreat here, but after six years I fell ill and had to leave. I stayed in the monastery for exactly eight years, and now I’m going back in with these guys. 

Viktor Jigme: I was born in 1977 in a small village in Kazakhstan near the Russian border; we moved to Germany when I was 15. I finished school, learned carpentry, and discovered the dharma sort of by accident when a friend took me to the center in Jägerndorf, where I lived for almost two and a half years before coming here. I entered my first retreat in 2001 with Trinle and Lodrö, and I’ve been doing three-year retreats ever since. 

CTD: Jigme is going into his fourth retreat; he’ll be assisting the retreat guide. 

Liem Kunga: I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1950 and came to France to study management on a scholarship when I was 22. I stayed in Paris for 15 years, working as an administrative supervisor. I married there and had two sons.

In 1975 I met [Zen master] Taisen Deshimaru and belonged to his circle of close students until he died in 1982. After spending some time in Japan, I met Gendun Rinpoche and began retreat here in 1991. After two retreats I oversaw the congregation finances for some years, then moved to an affiliated center near the Riviera. When I came back to the monastery a few months ago I learned that there was going to be a retreat for “old warhorses,” and here I am! 

Okay! And you? 

Stephen Tenpa: Well, I don’t know . . . [Laughs.] I was born in Oklahoma in the ’40s. As a teenager I read books on Eastern philosophy; I liked the dharma. Around 1968, I formed an informal dharma group with some friends at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee who were also interested in Buddhism.

I moved to Spain in ’77 to teach English and took refuge in Barcelona. I’d decided that Tibetan Buddhism was more or less the path for me because it combined elements that I liked from all the other schools. In Barcelona they said there was this lama called Karmapa who was coming to France, so I went, and the 16th Karmapa was there along with many, many other high lamas. That’s when I met Lama Gendun and realized that he was exactly the teacher I’d been looking for.

For several years I spent my summer holidays in Lama Gendun’s center in Dordogne. One day he said, “We’re starting a three-year retreat in Auvergne, will you join?” I said I’d like to prepare much more, but he said, “No, it’s now or never.” 

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.

Become a Supporting Member

$35*

*With Autorenew

  • You Get
  • Tricycle | The Magazine - a one-year subscription to premier Buddhist quarterly
  • Tricycle Retreats - a new online video teaching every every week by a contemporary Buddhist teacher
  • Tricycle | The Digital Edition - web based edition of the magazine
  • The Wisdom Collection - nearly two decades of teachings by the world's most compelling teachers, from the pages of Tricycle
  • Tricycle Gallery - the best in Buddhist art to download and share with friends
  • Tricycle Book Club - online discussions with leading Buddhist authors
  • Tricycle Discussions - teacher-led explorations of dharma in daily life
  • The Tricycle Blog - our diary of the global Buddhist movement
  • Daily Dharma - heart advice delivered direct to your inbox
  • The Tricycle Newsletter - the latest news, teachings, events, and more, every Monday

Become a Supporting Member

Become a Sustaining Member

$40*

*With Autorenew

  • You Get
  • Tricycle | The Magazine - a one-year subscription to premier Buddhist quarterly
  • Tricycle Retreats - a new online video teaching every every week by a contemporary Buddhist teacher
  • Tricycle | The Digital Edition - web based edition of the magazine
  • The Wisdom Collection - nearly two decades of teachings by the world's most compelling teachers, from the pages of Tricycle
  • Tricycle Gallery - the best in Buddhist art to download and share with friends
  • Tricycle Book Club - online discussions with leading Buddhist authors
  • Tricycle Discussions - teacher-led explorations of dharma in daily life
  • The Tricycle Blog - our diary of the global Buddhist movement
  • Daily Dharma - heart advice delivered direct to your inbox
  • The Tricycle Newsletter - the latest news, teachings, events, and more, every Monday

Become a Sustaining Member