I initially started to learn the Vajra Dance at Merigar on my first visit there in 1996. It was also my first contact with the Dzogchen Community. I had been living at Karma Ling in France for four years, since 1992.
Before that I was a dancer in London, working with improvisation, and had got to a place where I was looking for pure spontaneous movement, something that was not conditioned by habits. I was getting more and more jaded by the whole dance scene there and seeing people repeating their habits and operating out of ego. My true inclination in my dance improvisation was to sit still, which was not really going to work as a dancer, so I thought I had some kind of dancer’s block.
At this point my good dancer friend passed me a leaflet about a course entitled ‘Dance and Meditation” and I thought that perhaps meditation would help to unblock my dance. I immediately said that I would go and left with my friend for Karmaling in France where the course was taking place. It was a ten day course where we learnt very simple shiné and lhatong, sitting and walking and just moving in space. It had a very strong effect on me. The first few days I just lay on the ground crying because I was determined not to move until it was real, until it was coming spontaneously. I don’t really know how to explain it. It was as if my energy body woke up.
While we were there one of the residents told me that you could actually live at Karmaling as they had a small residential community of about a dozen people that ran the whole place. Since at that moment there was nothing really left for me in London, I thought that I needed to stay at Karmaling and study this path further. I’d never intended to be a Buddhist or anything like that and in fact was quite anti organized religion, but the experience of the meditation and open movement, “open space” we called it, made me feel that I had to go deeper.
So I asked Lama Denys if I could come and be a resident and at first he looked at me with that “I don’t know you” look, and then he said okay. So I went home, finished off a bit of work, packed a couple of bags, and turned up at Karmaling on a windy autumn night in October in 1992.
As far as movement was concerned, at that point I dropped everything and did a lot of sitting meditation. Meanwhile I was working at the center, cleaning, doing housework, making beds for people staying there, and keeping quite a low profile.
I began to experiment and develop a very simple way of moving connected to breath and awareness. I realized that there were people coming to the center who couldn’t really simply sit down from moving around so fast and expect to experience any stability in their meditation, so I developed this movement linked with breath. It was very easy and anyone could do it. Lama Denys encouraged me to continue to do it so I wrote a little book and we did these exercises with people who came to do meditation there and I gradually got back into movement and teaching it.
Lama Denys is always interested in different things and is very outward looking as well as inward. Around 1994/5 he found out about the Osho Rajneesh ashram in Pune, India and their Dynamic Meditation and felt that the sangha at Karmaling needed to move around and get shaken up a bit because there was a lot of sitting. He wanted to find out more and asked me if I would like to go there and learn more. I was already going out to Java where there was this movement meditation master called Suprapto Suryodarmo who had inspired the original course at Karmaling that I went to and whose teaching and meditation were about free movement with no steps to learn. So I went to Java and did some work with this teacher, then came back to Bombay, (now Mumbai) and on to Osho’s ashram with Mingyur, one of the teachers at Karmaling, We learned the Dynamic Meditations and then we came back and got people doing them, although I have to say that there was some resistance.
And then we get to Merigar. Lama Denys was travelling around to give teaching and visited Russia where he encountered some of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s students who showed him the Vajra Dance. Apparently he had had some dreams about dance and when he saw the Vajra Dance he thought that it corresponded to his dreams. So he went to Merigar to meet Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and explained that the Vajra Dance corresponded to something he had dreamt about and asked if he could have permission to have the Dance taught to his sangha. Rinpoche replied that he could and gave him the text for the Vajra Dance, indicating that he could give the lung to his sangha.
Lama Denys came back and called me in to see him. He told me that he had seen this dance and wanted to introduce it as a practice at Karmaling. He wanted me and his wife, Maryse, to go and learn it and had booked us both a place on a Vajra Dance course. He told me that he had also reserved accommodation for us and suggested that I go and receive teachings from Chogyal Namkai Norbu. He wanted us to go and learn the Vajra Dance with the aim of one day bringing it back to Karmaling. Then I remember what I said because sometimes you say such stupid things in front of Lamas, I said, “Oh, that sounds like fun!” And off we went to Merigar!
Maryse and I drove down from Karmaling through the Mont Blanc tunnel – it took a lot longer than we thought – and we were driving up the main road from Grosseto to Mt. Amiata when we saw this enormous pink egg rising over the horizon and wondered what it was. It was actually the full moon rising early in the evening in August, tinged with this pinkness, and it was distorted into this egg shape. I had never seen anything like that! When we arrived at the accommodation in the village of Bagnore, close to Merigar, it was around midnight and we couldn’t find the key so we went to Merigar and threw stones up at the geköes window to wake him up. He finally came down, quite grumpy, and gave us the spare key and we went to our accommodation.
At that time at Merigar there were two courses of Vajra Dance: an advanced course with Prima Mai and a beginners course with Adriana Dal Borgo. At the beginning when the course started everyone came into the Gönpa and made a great big circle and we sang the Song of the Vajra. It was all new to me and I felt like I was in heaven. I felt very small and privileged to be there. It was all so different to Karmaling which seemed to be rectangular while this was more circular. That was when I first met Rowan Wylie who was on the advanced course and Peter White who was on the beginners course.
I think that Lama Denys probably thought that we were going to come back and be Vajra Dance teachers but that was really not the case. We had just learned the first half of the Dance and so we weren’t ready to teach at all. When we returned to France, we painted a Mandala on the floor of the old temple at Karmaling and we would get together with the Swiss Dzogchen sangha, who we had met on the course, and we would try and dance together. And gradually we invited teachers to come and teach Vajra Dance courses there. That was in 1996.
Soon after I actually left Karmaling. I had already decided that I wanted to move out of Karmaling and when I came back from Merigar, that whole phase ended. I think that was because I had literally moved onto another mandala. I still hung around for about a year going backwards and forwards wondering what to do, because that is quite a long time to be away, and then I thought that I would go back to England. My mother offered to pay for me to do another training because I had no money left and I thought that I would go where there is a Vajra Dance Mandala in England. There was one in London and one in Devon and I didn’t want to go to London because I had already left there, so I went down to Devon initially. At the time Rowan, Cheh, Tim and Lol were living there and Peter also traveled down regularly. We danced there and invited teachers as well.
It was also around this time, 1997, that I finally met and received teachings from Chögyal Namkhai Norbu when he came to the UK and gave teachings at a retreat in Wales. This was about a year after I had already done quite a bit of dancing and it had become my pathway through life.
Being close to the Mandala was wonderful but Devon didn’t suit me because it was so wet so I moved to Cambridge and I would travel to London every weekend by train, cycle to the Vajra Dance Mandala in Camden, spend my time dancing, and then travel back.
I always felt very indebted to Lama Denys for opening up all these opportunities for me and I remember that he said at the beginning that he wanted me to learn the Vajra Dance and teach it to the Sangha so I kept this as a sort of loose aim and felt a commitment to carry this through, although it was in a way effortless because it was exactly what I wanted to do. As soon as I was dancing the Vajra Dance I felt that this is it. This is everything that I love, so it wasn’t an onerous task to continue.
It was in 2007 that I finally went back to teach the Vajra Dance at Karmaling. I had already qualified as a first level Vajra Dance instructor, and while I was at Tashigar Norte on Isla di Margarita, I picked up The Mirror and read that Karmaling had entered into a Samaya Fellowship, a heart link with a common source of inspiration, with the Dzogchen Community. Since I was now an Instructor I thought I should let Lama Denys know. I did and offered to come and teach Vajra Dance and he replied that he would be delighted and so I have, over the years, been teaching there and it’s been very nice to be able to continue that connection and see it grow. It naturally came about without effort.
During the pandemic life became more restricted in the UK and Lekdanling in London went online and there were no longer any onsite courses. I continued to lead courses at Kunselling but it was all a bit raggedy. And then somehow one of my shiatsu clients found out about my teaching Vajra Dance and other clients asked me if they could learn Vajra Dance. Since there were three people I thought that perhaps I should put myself out there and not be so shy. And so I booked the village hall and used our complementary health website to advertise and announce the course. There are about half a dozen of us, we’ve finished the first course and are about to start the second one. They are people who just come out of their own interest and connect to the Dance very well. They are very committed although some of them are quite challenged to learn the movements.
I began by introducing them to the sounds and some of the typical movements of the Dance that are done with the sounds, doing it very much on an experiential basis. Of course if they ask me questions I tell them a bit about the history of the Dances, and they do ask. I think it’s helping them to relax and experience joyfulness and see their own blocks and how they limit themselves and how that can be released. In a way it’s the Teaching in a nutshell, isn’t it? From that place of opening and clarity comes joyfulness.
When you teach to practitioners you don’t have to worry about hiding anything about yourself. You have a shared language, shared practices, and you can relax in the arms of the sangha and be yourself. With the people that I’m teaching locally I have to make sure that I don’t use any language that’s alienating and have to find new ways to express those same principles so that people don’t feel that I am trying to turn them into Buddhists. There’s less emphasis on words and more on experience.
And the power of the Dance is what is such a privilege in teaching it. Just that somehow makes everything okay. When you teach it has this great kind of harmony and blessing that accompanies it.
Cindy Faulkner has been a student of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu since 1998 and an authorized Vajra Dance teacher since 2005. She currently lives in Cambridge, UK, where she also works as a Shiatsu practitioner.