Tsalung, Mindfulness and Contemplation in Argentina: Two intensive retreats with Elio Guarisco
December 1st-7th and 11th-17th, 2019
Tashigar South, Argentina
by Martin Fernandez Cufre
The beautiful lands of Tashigar Sur, in the province of Cordoba, Argentina, hosted again practitioners from several Latin American countries, gathered to learn and practice essential methods transmitted by our Teacher. Elio Guarisco masterfully led these retreats in his first ever visit to Tashigar Sur, which made the occasion ever more significant. The retreats took place in two weeks: December 1st-7th and 11th-17th, 2019.
The first retreat was focused on the Mandarava Tsalung and was exclusive for members of the IDC and people who had received the transmission of the practice from the Master. In an intensive, eight hour-a-day program, divided into three hour Tsalung teaching/practice sessions and one Vajra Dance session, we progressively entered the condition conducive to learn and practice the Tsalung. Considering that it’s never easy to find the appropriate circumstances and time required to work with the Tsalung, with Elio’s guidance nonetheless, it was truly a fortunate opportunity.
After three days of much needed R&R, some people left, some stayed and some arrived, and we embarked on our second week-long journey: “Approaching Contemplation”, an open retreat based on the works of Rinpoche, “An Introduction to the Practice of Contemplation” and “The Mirror” –of course, the parts of those works which can be taught in an open retreat. This retreat felt much more intensive and harder, because although the per-day hour load and session organization was the same, it was mostly time devoted to sitting shamatha practice (yet based on the principles given by our Master in his teaching). And we all know that not many practitioners in the IDC are used to very long sitting and silent practice!
In fact, it was very interesting, because due to some feedback that arose during both retreats, Elio noticed that there were some misunderstandings regarding the apparently very simple and ubiquitous instruction of “relaxing in contemplation” and there were great opportunities for “razor-sharply” clarifying those, which he did masterfully and yet humorously. Again, in the second retreat this was a bit different since it was also open for people without the link of transmission and so the “edge” between meditation and contemplation was a point to consider.
First, and for most of the time of the retreat, we trained in shamatha with an object. We used the (now classic in the Community) “sticks with a Tibetan A” for developing the ability to alternate between focusing single-pointedly and relaxing, developing the presence that notices thoughts and their absence. This training took most of the time of the retreat, until the point when we moved on to objectless shamatha, or rather focusing in space, a sort of threshold into contemplation. It was essential for us to receive Elio’s reminder that it’s not actually the specific thoughtless “calm” state that we’re looking for or trying to produce, but rather the alternation of calm and movement (thought) allows us to notice the presence that, actually, notices both the absence and presence of thoughts, and that this is the key for recognizing the underlying Instant Presence.
Also Elio presented an excellent overview of the conditions which could be considered obstacles to this practice (torpor, fogginess, nervousness, etc), how to deal with them, and the typical experiences corresponding to the usual stages in the practice, correlated with water streams: mountain stream (violent and unstoppable), river (more constant and slower) and ocean (steady yet open; even though waves manifest in the surface, they are never considered other than the ocean).
It was a great opportunity to see this beautiful, yet recently-not-so-populated Gar thrive again in and through intensive practice and collaboration. Everybody was very happy, and we hope Elio visits us again soon.