Dzogchen Teachings with Yeshi Namkhai, June 20-27, 2024

All photos by Lesya Cherenkova

During the last week of June, a remarkable event took place at Merigar, on the green slopes of Mt. Amiata, in Tuscany, Italy. It was an occasion that people from the Dzogchen Community and many others around the globe had been eagerly waiting for and that the Community of Merigar had been meticulously planning for throughout the long winter and spring months. 

The retreat of Dzogchen Teachings given by Yeshi Namkhai was a milestone in the more than 40 year history of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s International Dzogchen Community. A milestone in the fresh and innovative presentation that Yeshi Namkhai gave so clearly of the Dzogchen teachings. A milestone in the sense that once again the Teacher and the Teachings brought together a wide range of more than 1000 people, young and old, experienced practitioners and newcomers, local people and those who had travelled for days from far flung places on our globe to attend this special event. More than 5000 people who could not attend in person were able to follow the entire program in webcast in Italian, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Czech, Hungarian, Ukrainian, and Polish. 

The event was a moment to refresh our sense of Community by following Yeshi Namkhai’s teaching as a single entity, beyond the limitations of language and culture. It was an opportunity for collaboration at many levels. But most of all it offered us a possibility to renew our connection with and understanding of these precious Teachings.

The detailed organization for the retreat, which began many months earlier and brought together more than 150 volunteers for the actual event, was impeccable down to the finest details and contributed to making the retreat a smooth and enjoyable moment for all those participating. Teams were organized for every need: Welcoming, Info Merigar, registration, breakfast, lunch – which was offered for free, cleaning, webcast, Mandala Room, parking, communication and sign making to indicate how to get to different buildings. A private babysitting service entertained the children throughout the teaching sessions. The Arcidosso City Hall was also involved in preparations to make the retreat more accessible to all, repairing and adjusting the country road leading to the Gar as well as lending a minibus during the retreat to shuttle participants to and from Merigar. WhatsApp groups were set up to help participants with announcements about retreat activities, car sharing, lost and found as well as accommodation. There was also an innovative system of in loco translation using smart phones that was put into action with this retreat.

In order for everyone to enjoy a teaching session in the Gönpa, each retreatant had either a blue, a yellow or a red bracelet and rotated each session – in the Gönpa, outside the Gönpa or in a large tent nearby. 

In addition to the morning sessions of Teachings, in the afternoon the retreat program offered several talks to introduce the Dzogchen Community and its sister organisations such as the Atiyoga Foundation, Shang Shung Publications, ASIA and Dynamic Space of the Elements. Most afternoons the Gönpa was the venue for well attended sessions of Khaita Joyful Dances while at the same time sessions of Yantra Yoga, ‘Respira’ and Vajra Dance took place in the Zikhang or Mandala Hall. In Arcidosso, the MACO Museum inaugurated a fascinating new exhibition “Luminous Reflections: the Secret Murals of the Lhukhang Temple” while Dynamic Space held an exhibition of paintings in the Mandala Hall. On Saturday June 22 a Ganapuja was held in the Gönpa on the full moon day.

Those attending the retreat in person may have been a little amazed to find the Temple of the Great Contemplation, the venue for the Teachings, adorned both above and below with some large soft objects, giving the place the air of a spacecraft, but designed and placed especially to enhance the sounds within the building so that those present could enjoy a pristine audio experience.

In typical Merigar style, during the eight days of the retreat the elements were at times challenging and the weather revealed its many varied colours, ranging from glorious sunny days, to wintry spells of showers and gusts of biting wind. But then it wouldn’t have been a ‘proper’ retreat at Merigar without this magnificent display of the elements.

On the final day of the retreat, the weather finally relented and a splendid sun warmed the whole mountain and helped to bring to a close in the best possible way a very unique retreat experience.

Our greatest thanks to Yeshi Namkhai for dedicating his time and energy to this retreat and for sharing his profound knowledge. And to all the many people who were dedicated to making this retreat run smoothly and joyfully.

 

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