Dzogchen Teachings with Yeshi Namkhai at Merigar
Merigar West, the first Gar of the Dzogchen Community founded by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in the rugged green hills of Tuscany, was the venue for the recent and much awaited retreat of Dzogchen Teachings given by his son, Yeshi Namkhai. The six day retreat, which was held from May 12 to 17, 2023, was the first major international event to take place at Merigar since the passing of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in September 2018 and was enthusiastically attended in person by more than 1,000 participants from across the globe, from the Americas, through Europe, across the Steppes to China with another almost 2,000 webcast and 8,000 zoom connections online each day. The teaching was given in Italian with translations into English, Spanish, Japanese, Hungarian, Russian, Czech, French, Chinese, Ukrainian, Polish, and German.
The unpredictable spring weather which brought copious rain and winter temperatures throughout the entire time did not manage to dampen the joy of those present at Merigar for this unique event. Although the weather created some immediate obstacles such as washing out the large parking area, the retreat organizers had meticulously taken measures for various scenarios, among others creating a map with a number of smaller areas for cars spread along the country road passing through the Gar. There were also shuttle vehicles for transport between the main road and the Gar and to help those with less mobility arrive at the Gönpa.
As the number of people attending was expected to be high for the infrastructure of Merigar, detailed planning started from February onwards to accommodate a large number of people and their needs over the six day period. Since the space inside the Merigar Temple of Great Liberation was not sufficient for all, another two spaces were organized to seat participants, outside the Gönpa, and in a large tent with an enormous video screen. Retreatants received blue, red, or yellow bracelets, each color indicating their seating for individual teaching sessions in rotation. It seemed complicated the first day but worked out well throughout the whole retreat.
The organization was carefully managed by 120 volunteers divided into various teams taking care of the many aspects that made the retreat run smoothly and comfortably for all: helping people to park, welcoming people with hot tea, snacks, and breakfast, the lunch team, cleaning, caring for the Gönpa, communications which included two WhatsApp groups for instant messaging, the Merigar Info team, registration, and the Ganapuja team. The local Arcidosso town council was also very helpful and provided a free shuttle vehicle for the duration of the retreat and regularly removed the rubbish.
Most notable was the joyful and peaceful atmosphere among all those participating who, in spite of the extreme meteorological challenges, remained cheerful and collaborative and were a major factor in the smooth running of the entire event.
Over ten sessions of teaching given in the Temple of Great Contemplation, Yeshi Namkhai spoke about different aspects of the Dzogchen Teaching that many of the retreat participants were already familiar with, but based on his own experience and in a way that enabled those with some understanding to refresh their practice and view. He had prepared an extensive and detailed program that covered different aspects related to his own personal experience and presented it in a simple direct way. As he explained in the first session of Teaching, the objective of this program was to allow people who were listening to the Teachings for the first time to reach a certain knowledge as well as those who had been following for some years to acquire a base.
The retreat closed with the singing of the Song of the Vajra and a standing ovation from all those present which lasted for several minutes and showed how valuable and meaningful these precious Dzogchen Teachings are for all those who follow them.
On behalf of all those who followed this retreat in person or online in their homes, we would like to extend our profound thanks to everyone who was involved in the organization that made this event possible. But most of all we extend our deepest gratitude to Yeshi Silvano Namkhai for sharing his experience and knowledge with us without limits. It has been an important and significant moment for us all.