Welcome to Pre-Monlam Day 2! We hope you feel connected to us here at the Paradise on Earth Retreat Center in Brazil–we are so happy to be able to share the experience with you and to know that you are thinking of us, too!
Yesterday was full and rich. We began morning practice with establishing Motivation, Refuge and Bodhicitta, aligning ourselves with our reasons for being here–in our lives and on retreat–as well as with our sources of refuge. We affirmed our vast motivation to lead every single sentient being to Enlightenment.
We then continued with the White Umbrella Protectress form of Tara, Dukkar. At a certain point in the dance, we walk radiating the power of the implements Dukkar holds, her right hand in the refuge mudra turning the wheel of the dharma and bestowing teachings and the left hand holding the umbrella of protection. The experience is one of constant flow of enlightened activity—wonderful opportunity to let go of the controlling mind and allowing the body’s inherent wisdom to align itself with the movements.
We also worked on our costuming throughout the day, which will have a variety of options: the base is a gold wheel skirt and choli (cropped short sleeve top traditionally used in the Indian sari). Noelle and Dani (Shrivasvati) were the seamstress dakinis, patiently adjusting their creations to allow us to feel completely comfortable. Over the base will be layered either a sari or a large scarf. In the evening, we learned how tie to the scarves in a variety of different ways to suggest the draping and regal majesty of the sari without actually wearing one.
Our morning concluded with all the dancers, divided into three groups, singing the Tara mantra with “Faith, Surrender, Send out Light” in preparation for the actual mandala. Before our lunch break, we also set up the mantra rotation list as during the Monlam, there will be a 24 hour Green Tara mantra recitation. Join us by doing a mantra recitation session and let us know on the Tara Dhatu Facebook Page how many mantras you have accumulated. The generation of merit in this way is a powerful method of calling forth the energy that will best support our practice and and our lives.
In the afternoon, we alternated between costuming sessions with the saris, practice sessions for Calling Tara from the Heart and The Eight Precious Offerings, and mask work with Mekare, while the musicians rehearsed and our newest Taras became familiar with the foundation practices.
I had the opportunity to experience the mask for the first time. We reverently approached the table and Mekare gave us the background of the creation of the masks (read more about the masks here). Mask making and mask dancing are spiritual paths and each part of the mask—from the carving of the wood, to the painting of the face and eyes is imbued with sacred power through the motivation of the mask makers and the recitation of mantra. The end result: 22 extraordinary masks including the central Tara and the 21 Manifestations were available for us to connect with and begin to inhabit. I was drawn to the copper Radiant Health and in Mekare’s profound explanation found myself deeply touched by the essence of her Praise. For me, the eye-heart connection was a empowerment, and Tara 20 answered the question I asked her. Om Tare!
After dinner–and did I mention the vegetarian and vegan food is delightful?–Barbara Gach led us in an energetic and joyful improvised dance. After dancing Calling Tara from the Heart and Om Ah Hum, I had the opportunity to teach the short version of the Long Life Prayer for Prema (it is available as an mp3 download here, along with all the other music we have been dancing to). I reminded the dancers that the goal of the prayer is not worship of an individual, but the teacher as a vehicle of the teachings. Singing and dancing this prayer, we can invoke all our teachers, lineages and communities. Based on the traditional Tibetan custom of offering a prayer to safeguard the long life and good health of the teacher, the lineage and the community, this prayer was written, composed and choreographed with the intention of providing our sangha with a short daily prayer to seal our practice after the dedication. We were able to dance the prayer through in English and Spanish, and look forward to the Portuguese version which will be forthcoming!
We were then blessed with two mask dances by Mekare. In the dimness of late evening, by the light of flickering candles, we recited the mantra in preparation for Mekare’s arrival while she entered into the sacred space of the mask and costuming backstage. When she emerged, first as Destroyer of Attachment, then as Ferocious Compassion, we were riveted by her magnetic presence and potent gestures. If you have the opportunity to attend one of her upcoming workshops, don’t miss it!
And do connect in–you are with us every step of the way! What is your intention for the Monlam? What is your prayer for yourself and for the world? Join the celebration daily by touching into this blog, reciting the Green Tara Mantra, OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA, and dedicating your prayers to the intention you have set. Om Tare!
May all beings be happy!
May all beings be free!
Photos by Amber Roniger, text by Anjali