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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 90 would “keep the ship afloat” in his absence. After he left, his brother Tsoknyi Rinpoche explained during a July 2011 retreat at Gar- rison Institute that “Mingyur Rinpoche wanted to do retreat and he planned for it—he did not abandon his activities with- out responsibility. He recorded four to five years of instruction, he trained instructors, he fund-raised, and he delegated all his work. So, he prepared everything.” Then in the summer of 2010 in Min- nesota, Mingyur Rinpoche made a formal public announcement about his retreat plans. People, however, assumed that he intended to take a closed three-year retreat—an assumption that makes sense, as choosing to be a wandering yogi is highly unusual, especially in modern times. Why is practicing in this style now so rare? According to Tergar instructor Tim Olmsted, after Tibetans fled their coun- try in the fifties, both first and second generation lamas had to struggle to keep the Buddhist tradition alive. To build monasteries and monastic colleges, they needed to dedicate enormous amounts of time to raising money; they had to publish books and travel to the West and Southeast Asia to gather students. In short, the lamas simply never had the chance to be wandering yogis. But there is another reason that wan- dering isn’t common today: “It’s hard,” Olmsted says bluntly. Myoshin Kelley, also a Tergar instruc- tor, expands on that. “I don’t think many of us are ready for a wandering yogi retreat,” she says. “To have some walls around us, a consistent food supply, and a safe environment to meditate in is a great support, which frees up a lot of energy that we can then direct toward looking deeply into our hearts and minds. For wandering yogis, there is a huge level of uncertainty that they have to deal with on a daily basis. That uncertainty could make it harder to maintain the stable mind that allows for realization. I see being a wan- dering yogi as an advanced practice.” Annabella Pitkin, a Columbia Uni- versity professor who has done extensive research on renunciates and wandering yogis, agrees it’s advanced, but that doesn’t mean all advanced practitioners wander or should wander. In the Tibetan tradition, there are many valid and powerful paths, she says. Realization is possible whether one is a monastic in an institution, a householder, a hermit recluse, or a wan- dering yogi. These broad categories are not even so clearly defined. For example, con- tinues Pitkin, “One of the things that you often see in the Tibetan tradition is that people will be monks or nuns in an insti- tutional setting at one point in their lives, maybe early on, then they’ll leave and be wanderers. And eventually they’ll start to stay in one place because they are teaching so much more.” That said, even monastics who spend their whole lives in an institu- tion do not have a cookie-cutter practice. For instance, some are ritual specialists, while others are administrators or teachers. “There are lots of things that have to happen to keep the monastic tradition going,” says Pitkin. And it’s important to remember how critical it is that it does con- tinue. Without the monastic tradition, she says, “there is no Buddhism, no continuity.” At the same time, she asserts, in order to stay fresh, the tradition needs the inspi- ration offered by wandering yogis, those “figures of vivid passion that dramatically illustrate the totality of the Buddhist path.” In wandering, says Pitkin, “you renounce your attachment to not just possessions and comfort, but to more subtle things, such as being famous and controlling where you go. As a wander- ing yogi, you go where circumstances dic- tate—you’re responsive to the situations that you find yourself in. That is, there is total freedom from ordinary entangle- ments, but also a very profound renuncia- tion of ordinary attachments. “Renunciation is the core of the Bud- dhist path, so if the primary role of the lama is to teach others by giving talks, wandering practice helps them to do that, because it develops their own inner quali- ties. But lamas can also teach by way of demonstration, and being an exemplar of Mingyur Rinpoche continued from page 35