From November 10 to 12, 2017, Merigar West had the pleasure to host Shangpa Master Denys for an Open Mindfulness Training seminar. Given that being present is the most important practice in the Dzogchen teaching after Guruyoga, it goes without saying that any technique that can facilitate developing presence is a precious opportunity for us.
Open Mindfulness Training or OMT is an effective method developed by Lama Denys that systematically guides participants in the process of developing open, altruistic mindfulness. It is what he calls a humanist philosophy, secular and nondenominational, focused on the transformation of ourselves, of our fundamental ethical and spiritual values. The OMT method is usually transmitted over a period of two months in eight weekend training sessions, each followed by a week of practice. But as condensed as the presentation at Merigar was, it conveyed a very real experience of mindfulness, and at the same time gave us some basic tools that we can continue to apply on our own. One of these tools, called “panoramic vision,” a simple and unexpectedly helpful way to open your perspective without focusing, was further enhanced by the 360-degree view in Merigar’s Temple of the Great Contemplation.
Lama Denys presented the key points of OMT in his native French rather than English, as requested by the participants. Thanks to the excellent and sensitive translation into Italian by Juri di Cerbo, who is also an OMT facilitator, we were able to hear everything in duplicate. Above and beyond the proximity of the two languages, Lama Denys spoke with such clarity, lucidity, and empathy that many of us had the surprising experience of being able to understand the French quite well.
The explanations given by Lama Denys were engaging and eloquent and yet concise, and in each session he made sure to actively involve all of the participants and encourage them to share their experiences. With expertise and understanding, he guided us through exercises designed to demonstrate the state of presence in practice.
Open, altruistic mindfulness goes beyond the “first-generation mindfulness” goal of stress reduction and relaxation, mainly in that it enables us to develop a new way of being that is attentive, open, and empathetic. Alternately applying three levels of mindfulness characterized by these three qualities, and doing so repeatedly and regularly, fosters what Lama Denys refers to as natural humanism or natural ethics, a state of altruism that is spontaneous and nondual.
To illustrate what is meant by natural ethics, he related a story of an old man who went to fetch water with his grandchild. While the grandfather was slowly drawing the bucket from the well, the little boy, sitting on the edge of the well, was gazing at the reflections on the surface of the water in the bucket. Mesmerized, he leaned farther and farther and was just about to fall into the well when the grandfather grabbed hold of him and pulled him to safety. You might say that this was an ethical act, but it’s not that the grandfather thought about it. He simply acted. Had he entertained moral considerations, the boy would have fallen to his death. The state of presence is capable of adapting to the situation as it is in an immediate way. Does that sound familiar?
By applying mindfulness in longer, mini, and micro pauses – in regular practice sessions and whenever we have a moment waiting in line, or anytime our phone tries to grab our attention with a ringtone or alert, and by steadily shortening the intervals between pauses, we just might find ourselves in a state of constant presence. Or at least more constant, more open, and more aware of others.
If you’re interested in finding out more about OMT, visit www.openmindfulness.net. And if you’d like to participate in an OMT seminar, please don’t hesitate to ask the Blue Gakyil of Merigar West to organize another in the future (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Lama Denys is the direct spiritual heir of Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche and founder of the Sangha Rimay Community. Like the Dzogchen Community, the Sangha Rimay follows the Dzogchen teaching as transmitted by Garab Dorje and Guru Padmasambhava and later elaborated and diffused by the omniscient Longchenpa. About a decade ago, the two communities formalized their close tie through the Damdrog, or Samaya Fellowship, agreed to by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Lama Denys. As an external expression of the friendship, Karma Ling, one of the main centers of the Sangha Rimay in France, even has a smaller replica of the Merigar Gönpa. The connection has remained strong over the years, and in 2016 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu gave the name Shangpa Master to Lama Denys in recognition of the fact that he is a holder of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage, an important but little know tradition started in the tenth century when the two jñanadakinis Niguma and Sukhasiddhi passed their teachings on to the mahasiddha Kyungpo Naljor.