lishu-logo Lishu Institute's New Curriculum

Interviews with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and Sangmo Yangri

Lishu Institue

Lishu Institute, Ligmincha’s residential retreat center for intensive practice and study of Bön in Northern India, will complete its first three years of teaching and study in June and will begin a new cycle in September 2018.

The curriculum has been revised, and participants are now able to apply for any of the three 10-week cycles offered during a year, as well as for the entire yearly cycle of study.

The schedule for 2018–2019 is as follows:

  • September 4–November 10, 2017: Demonstration of the Meaning of the Tantra of the Twelve Small Precepts (practice on the natural state of the mind)
  • January 15–March 23, 2018: The Practice Manual Called the Six Essential Points of the Bodhichitta (Six Lamps – practice of vision)
  • April 9–June 15, 2018: The 21 Nails

The following edited interview with Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, founder and spiritual director of Lishu Institute, and Sangmo Yangri, who designed the curriculum for the new program, conducted by student Tiany Tefy, originally appeared in the Autumn 2017 issue of Ligmincha Europe Magazine.

Rinpoche, Lishu Institute will introduce a new curriculum in September 2018, after the completion of the first three-year program. Does this mean the vision of the institute's mission has changed?

There will be changes in the curriculum starting next year, but the main purpose of Lishu Institute hasn't changed. The emphasis has always been and will continue to be providing long-term, residential and in-depth studies in the Bön tradition, preserving Yungdrung Bön's rich teachings and unique heritage.

Although students only began studying at Lishu Institute in 2015, the vision, preparation and work began many years before. We initially planned a five-year program of study, but discovered that this would not be feasible for most people. So we turned that into a three-year program, with the flexibility to come for only 10 weeks at a time to study specific topics.

After reviewing the results of the first three-year term, we are introducing some changes. We are adapting to people's needs. A big change is that, because of the redesign of the courses, students can begin at any time, and commit to as much of the curriculum as they want. Or, students can come to study specific aspects of the Bön teachings according to their interests and background.

There is so much benefit that comes from stepping out of one's daily routines to study and practice dharma. We want to support as many people as we can, and we want to recognize that the modern world makes such a commitment quite difficult. These changes are meant to help with that.

We are not diluting the teachings, or simplifying them. Sangmo-la has diligently put this program together. And Geshe Sherab Lodoe and Sangmo-la are very skilled, very experienced teachers. They, and visiting teachers, will continue to present the highest quality courses. What we are doing is adding emphasis to the areas that are most relevant to the greatest number of students. So it is a continuous change with the flow of conditions.

What are the main changes from the first program?

The main change is that the Nine Ways of Bön, which is more study-orientated, will not be carried over. The Ma Gyud and Dzogchen teachings, which are practice-oriented, will remain. Moreover, there will be a new teaching on the Bön Lam Rim, a foundational text, together with a Ngöndro retreat.

Lishu Institute also will offer more short-term (two-week) retreats. For example, we currently have such a retreat on the practice of Yeshe Walmo on the calendar. This will give the opportunity to more people to experience the environment of Lishu Institute and get a taste for in-depth study, without having to start with such a big commitment.

lishu-1Teachers, students and others gather on the top balcony of Lishu with surrounding mountains in the background.

What future developments are foreseen for Lishu Institute?

There will continue to be changes and refinements to the curriculum and its presentation as we learn from our experiences. I think that you will see some blending of the residential program with online supplementation. We have many dedicated students who cannot make the financial commitment to travel to India for an extended period. And so, while I strongly encourage students who can to go to Lishu Institute, it isn't realistic to think that this is possible for everyone.

Online programs also are a good way to extend what is taught at Lishu Institute. We might offer onsite programs with online components that go on before, during or even afterwards. Then, students who desire can really go deep into the teachings. This would be a good way to study the Tibetan language, for just one example.

There may also be more special-topic courses, like the Powa retreat held last year. There are many wonderful Bön lamas and teachers who we would like to invite to Lishu Institute to share their knowledge. But first we must establish a solid foundation or base. We need to see more students coming to Lishu Institute.

Rinpoche, do you have any words or advice?

lishu-3 1Geshe Thupten Gyaltsen Negi, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and Sangmo Yangri

I believe that Lishu Institute is very important. I have been teaching in the West now for over 25 years, and I am overjoyed to see how many students are connecting to Bön, how many geshes and lamas are coming to the West now from the monasteries in India, Nepal and Tibet. A next step is for Western students to really engage deeply with Bön – to learn the texts in their original language, to commit to extended practice and study retreats, to really bring the essence of the teachings into their cultures and experience.

One of the great features of Buddhism and of the Shenrap in general is that it adapts itself to each culture that it encounters. That flexibility is what makes it as alive today as it has ever been. However, the origins of the teachings, their language, symbolism and unique flavor, must be preserved. These qualities keep us connected to the lineage of masters, root lamas and enlightened beings. Lishu Institute is here for that purpose: to help motivated students deepen and solidify their connection to the lineage of Yungdrung Bön. 

Sangmo-la, the first three-year program at Lishu Institute will be completed in June 2018. Tell us about what has happened since September 2015.

Last June we completed the first two-year teaching, on the Nine Ways of Bön and then the Six Great Methods (Tummo, Dream Yoga, Chöd, Phowa, Bardo and Sleep Yoga) from the Mother Tantra. This year, the teaching is on Dzogchen, the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyud cycle. There are three retreat/teaching periods of 10 weeks each per year. Most of the students attended one or two periods. During the first year, three students completed the whole cycle and in the second year, two students completed the whole year. It has usually been a small group of students so that those who are determined can do in-depth study and practice.

Please tell us more about the retreat.

The first year was more study oriented, whereas the Ma Gyud and Dzogchen cycles are more practice oriented. These are intensive practice retreats. The daily schedule starts at 6.30 a.m., and the last practice session ends at 8:30 or 9 p.m. There are four practice sessions a day and two hours of teaching. Moreover, the students perform daily different rituals and prayers (smoke offering, Sur offering, Chöd, prayers to the Bön protectors).

Does it mean that the students also learn to perform these rituals?

Yes they do. The main focus of the teaching is of course the given topic, the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyud this year. Additionally, the students will learn how to sing and recite the prayers, how to play the sacred musical instruments for different rituals and how to make torma for offerings. The different activities of the day will provide students with various opportunities to practice.

Each student has different interests: some people feel naturally attracted to devotional practices, others to more analytical meditation, and some like both. When the students go back to their homes, they will continue practicing what works for them.

What are the assets of Lishu Institute for retreat?

lishu-4 2Student and teachers gather together outside Lishu.First, the environment of Lishu Institute is very conducive for practice and study. The institute is located in the countryside, surrounded by beautiful lush green areas and mountains. Yet for India, easy to access, there is an airport in Dehradun, the closest big city. Second, India is definitely a very potent place for spiritual practices. Third, Lishu Institute is close to Menri Monastery, the mother monastery of Yundgrung Bön. Lastly, the retreats are organized in a way that the students do not need to take care of any logistic regarding everyday life. The only thing they have to do is to clean their own room.

Do you have many exchanges with Menri Monastery?

The students usually go to receive blessings from the great masters in Menri Monastery at the end of each cycle. For instance, at the end of the last Ma Gyud retreat in June, they met and received blessings from His Holiness. At the end of the Phowa retreat, Menri Lopon Rinpoche performed the kusha grass ceremony.

Moreover, we have received at Lishu Institute several masters from Menri Monastery to give teachings, we hosted nuns from Redna Menling Nunnery to perform tsok offering, and Menri Lopon Rinpoche bestowed very important initiations before we started the Ma Gyud and Dzogchen cycles.

Please tell us about the new curriculum.

We will maintain the Ma Gyud and the Dzogchen teachings. Instead of the Nine Ways of Bön, we'll introduce the Lam Rim (path to enlightenment), which will be done with a ngöndro retreat practice. This is a very important teaching in Bön. Last June, when the students met with His Holiness, he insisted that this foundational teaching should be given to and practiced diligently by the students. Especially for those who study the higher vehicles of tantra and dzogchen, he said several times how crucial this is.

Furthermore, the curriculum won't be a three-year program any longer, but several modules. There will be three modules per year, and each of them can be attended independently. Of course, for all the modules on tantra and dzogchen, we recommend that people attend the foundational teachings if they have not received and practiced those previously.

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche also talked about short-term retreats in the new curriculum. Sangmo-la, can you say more about that?

Actually we have already organized two-week retreats for specific groups. With the new curriculum, we plan to have two short retreats per year. The focus of Lishu Institute will still be the longer retreats, yet we would like to provide the opportunity for more people to benefit from the Lishu Institute environment. These short retreats will also enable people to visit the great Stupa in Dehradun, to discover the nearby Bön Za Mongyal Monastery and of course Menri Monastery.

What will a year at Lishu look like?

As I said, there are three teaching periods per year; the first period from September to November will be on the Lam Rim. The two other periods, from January to March and then from April to June will be on one of the Six Yogas of the Mother Tantra or on Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyud. Between these long retreats, in December and in March, we'll organize two-week retreats, for example, on the Sipe Gyalmo healing ritual.

Who will be the teachers for the new curriculum?

Menri Geshe Sherab Lodoe, who is the current resident teacher at Lishu Institute, will continue to teach. I will translate Geshe-la's teachinglishu-6 2Sangmo Yangri and Menri Geshe Sherab Lodoe from Tibetan to English and teach some topics as well. You can find detailed biography of the Lishu Institute teachers on the website Geshe Thupten Gyaltsen Negi, who has visited sanghas in Europe several times, will carry on his tasks as administrative and logistic manager.

Do people need to apply to attend one of the retreats?

For the two-week retreats, people can register by contacting us directly. For the 10-week retreats, we'll still request people to fill in an application form. There are two reasons for this: first, filling in the form helps the person to clarify their motivation to commit for a long period. The second reason is, it is important for us when working with a group to have an idea of people's background.

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