When one begins on the path of Tibetan Buddhism we often hear amazing stories of many older practitioners who accomplished the traditional three-year retreat. It is a closed-retreat where you dedicate three years, three months and three days of your life by totally removing yourself from society in order to accomplish some serious meditation.
Ideally, these yogins aspire to achieving enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. Upon completion, one would achieve the coveted title of Vajra Acharya (Sanskrit) or Dorje Lopon (Tibetan).
In 1665, the great Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab (1636-1699), at the age of 30, arrived at the newly built Palyul Monastery to assume his position as the first throne holder of The Palyul Lineage.
His root guru, the treasure revealer Migyur Dorje (1645-1667) had instructed him: “According to Padmasambhava’s prophecy, the time has now ripened for you to work for the welfare of sentient beings. You must go to take charge of this monastery and it will become an exhaustless source of dharma, propagating the Nyingmapa Doctrine.”
THREE YEAR RETREAT:
“During the three year retreat, the recitations of the Three Roots (lama, yidam and khandro) are performed and accomplished, followed by the practice of Trekchö.
The successful completion of the three year retreat is marked by achieving all the signs of true accomplishment after which the practitioner receives enthronement and the title of Vajra Acharya (Tantric Master).
Only at this time is the practitioner fully authorized as a qualified spiritual teacher (lama) with the potential to give empowerments, teachings, special ceremonies and practices for the purpose of benefiting sentient beings.”
For more information click here: Palyul Lineage
The traditional academic program in the Tibetan lineages is called shedra. One doesn’t necessarily have to be closed off from the world to begin these studies. If you are with the Gelugpa School and you finish all the appropriate courses you would achieve the honor and title of Geshe.
However, if you follow the Nyingma School you would receive the title of Khenpo, or professor of Buddhist studies. I have only accomplished five years worth of studies. Here is the way our curriculum works:
“During the first four years, the course covers five large Madhyamaka texts, two Abhidharma, three Tibetan language texts and several minor ones. Therefore, the student is considered to have finished Lower Sutra Course with stress laid upon Madhyamaka and Abhidharma studies. He is conferred the certificate and degree equivalent to an Associate’s Degree with the title, “Thadrel Mrawai Wangchuk” (Great Expounder of the Middle Way).
There are not any Chorjang (Revision Classes) after completing the fourth year. The student can be appointed as a Chorpon (Revision Master or Assistant Teacher) depending upon his personal virtue and academic standard.”
In the fifth and sixth year, the course deals with the five works of Maitreya, Dharmakirti’s Pramana Vritti and many others. An extensive study of Six Perfections with more emphasis on the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) is done. After passing the sixth year, the student is said to have finished Upper Sutra Course and is conferred the degree equivalent to regular B.A. with the title, “Tharchin Rabjampa” (Master of Perfection)
The last three years of study cover texts on Vinaya and Vajrayana teachings. Guna Prabha’s Vinaya treatise, Guhya Garbha Tantra, Longchenpa and Jigmed Lingpa’s works constitute the major subjects of this section of the course called the Higher Tantra Course.
After passing the ninth year thereby graduating from the Institute, the student is conferred the degree equivalent to regular MA with the title “Ngesang Lekshed Zöthchang” (Holder of the Treasury of Esoteric Doctrine). The scholar is henceforth referred to as Lopen becoming equal to a lecturer in status and can also be ceremoniously appointed as a Khenpo depending upon personal virtue and qualifications.
For more information click here: Palyul Shedra
There are special month-long retreats (in America) for those wishing to immediately step into the role of the yogin and begin a true path of spiritual cultivation.
First Year Course: Ngöndro
The preliminary practices include compassion, refuge and prostration practices, Mandala Offering, Vajrasattva Purification, Guru Yoga Devotion and Phowa (the Transference of Consciousness Upon Dying). A complete set of practices that have the potential of awakening the seed of enlightenment in the practitioner.
Second Year Course: Tsa Lung/Tummo
“Tsa” means “channel” and “Lung” means “air”. This is a practice for purifying one’s obscurations through working with the subtle body (tsa, lung and tigle) a rich practice that totally engages body, speech and mind.
Prerequisite: The first year retreat and completion of the Ngöndro practices, or a firm commitment to complete the Ngöndro practices. Also open to students who have completed the Ngöndro accumulation in other lineages with prior written permission.
The courses are divided into seven years. For further information on these courses click here: Palyul Retreat