Community Update: Yarne 2020-21

The Gampo Abbey community is just concluding our 2020-21 annual winter retreat. Yarne, as it is called in Tibetan, is a core practice of the monastic tradition that has its roots in the time of the Buddha. Normally practiced in the summer, Gampo Abbey has been doing this annual practice since 1985.

This year was unique because Ani Pema Chödrön, our principal teacher, was not leading Yarne for the first time in many years as she is currently observing a year-long solitary retreat. However, due to the pandemic last year, Ani Pema was in residence for most of the year which was a great blessing. The pandemic also prevented any guests joining us for this year’s Yarne, so we have been able to take advantage of a quieter, more intimate space in which to do our retreat this year. We also experimented with new forms to help us immerse into our personal study. Overall it has been a deeply nurturing experience that we dedicate to the welfare of all beings.

Here are a few of the highlights from this year’s retreat:

We began the retreat with an extended weekthun, with everyone practicing for all sessions in the Main Shrine Room (MSR) and holding silence all day.  This was the very beginning of our retreat and everyone found the atmosphere grounding and inspiring if also challenging.  It is powerful to practice in this way as it makes us all accountable to one another.

The combination of silence, togetherness, lineage blessings from our liturgies, and a general atmosphere of Dharma made this time unique.  We hope that everyone can join us for this inspiring practice in the future.

Long Reading of the Sutra of the Pratimoksha
Yarne is also a time where the Monastic Sangha does a long reading of the Pratimoksha Sutra.  This Sutra contains all of the ancient precepts that inspire a Buddhist monastic’s conduct.  The reading takes at least an hour, and is done during the full or new moon.  This year, while the Bhikshus and Bhikshunis were reading the Sutra, we invited the rest of the community to participate by reading Vinaya texts from our library together in the MSR.  It was a beautiful celebration of our monastic lineage and we hope this year’s tradition of everyone’s involvement continues to be a part of our long reading ceremony in the future.

Study Sessions
One of our long-term community members initiated a plan for integrating personal study into the community’s schedule.  This year’s Yarne really helped to create space for each of us to explore our own study plans, and the result has been a deep engagement and inspiration for studying the precious Dharma.  We had study sessions every other day in the afternoon.  We began these study sessions by assembling in the MSR and sitting for 15 minutes.  We then recited a supplication to Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, to inspire and bless our study session.  This is a new form that was incredibly fruitful for our Dharma practice this year.

Caring for Ani Lhamo

One of our senior Bhikshunis, Karma Tsering Lhamo, was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma and began undergoing weekly chemotherapy during Yarne.  Ani Lhamo’s positive exertion and practice in the face of her diagnosis has been an inspiring example to the whole community.  We are also deeply indebted to our Head of Operations, Lynn Carter, for wearing multiple hats during this year’s Yarne, one of which was as our retreat nurse.  Lynn has been co-ordinating Ani Lhamo’s medical care and accompanies her to her multiple appointments at various hospitals on our island, many hours’ round trip from the Abbey.  Being aware of this committed care and compassion that was happening behind the scenes while the rest of us were in the Shrine Room provided a poignant reminder of the fragility of our precious human existence and underlines our great fortune of being able to immerse ourselves in our practice at this most special time of year.

Gagye Eve

Another important tradition for Yarne is Gagye and Gagye eve.  Gagye is simple the ending of the retreat, which is traditionally marked through offerings of robes and requisites to the monastic sangha.  Gagye Eve is a Tibetan tradition where the evening before Gagye the monastics stay up late and share the insights they have had on retreat.

The way this is practiced at Gampo Abbey is usually that the monastics give short talks about what they have learned for Yarne. It is a beautiful tradition that we look forward to every year.  This year, because we have been engaging in deep study, we each offered longer talks which we will be delighted to share with you in future blog posts!

Giving thanks

We are feeling particular gratitude for the opportunity to be in community when this is not something that many people can do safely around the world.  The global pandemic has affected everyone, including the Abbey, and we feel grateful that we find ourselves in this community where we so often can reflect on the preciousness of our human lives.  Our practice continually brings us back to thinking of the generosity of our donors and supporters who enable us to practice in this way.

With Maitri,

Lodro Gyendon

3 thoughts on “Community Update: Yarne 2020-21

  1. Each year since I attended a week long retreat at the Abbey I receive a lovely card. Thank you. It refreshes my memory for this very lovely time that I spent at the Abbey. It is good to hear you are managing during this time of the virus. Sending love and best wishes to each of you.

  2. It is a very powerful statement of dharma that these practices are being done at Gampo Abbey. Thank You ! Please continue to radiate the light of the dharma in these troubled and confused times.

  3. Smiling faces … moments of calm in “personal study” (Pleasant memories of ’91-’92!) … so good to see benevolence and well-being hand in hand!

    E.Ma, the traditions are perpetuated!