Led by Rinpoche Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, leader of a Buddhist society called the International Dzogchen Community, several hundred followers of the spiritual philosophy exhale and chant, “Om e ho shuddhe shuddhe, yam ho shuddhe shuddhe,” the beginning of the mantra of the five elements. They sit with eyes closed, balanced cross-legged on yoga mats or pillows, and their collective voice comes out like a song, electrifying everything.
The mixed assembly of Ticos, Europeans and North Americans, some with ponytails and tattoos inked in Sanskrit and others sporting a more conservative look, has gathered for the last day of a special retreat in Dekyitling, the Costa Rican branch of the International Dzogchen Community. This is the first time that the rinpoche – the word means “precious one” and is an honorific titled bestowed on reincarnated Tibetan lamas – has visited Costa Rica to share his teachings in person. Before this, his followers in Central America were able to access his lectures and teachings only via Internet broadcast.
According to lore, the knowledge of dzogchen, or “great perfection,” was transmitted for the first time by Garab Dorje, a teacher of the Tibetan tradition, in the first century. Since then, it has been passed down from master to disciple until the present day, and thousands of followers who live in more than 40 countries attempt to gain a new level of understanding through yantra yoga, a practice that involves a combination of breath work, body movements and repetitions of mantras, all precisely timed to the rhythm of the heart.
The rinpoche has spent his entire life studying and teaching dzogchen methods and yantra yoga, and has established learning centers called gars (“gathering places”) and lings (“islands”) in locations including Italy, Russia, Australia, the United States and Venezuela, among others.
Dekyitling, the name of the only Central American dzogchen center, means “place of joy,” an apt title for the peaceful bamboo building that sits perched on a lush hill overlooking Piedades de Santa Ana, southwest of the capital.
Four years ago, the first Costa Rican practitioners of dzogchen traveled to meet the rinpoche and brought his teachings back with them. Since then, with steady participation from about 15 people, Dekyitling jumped from rented space to rented space before finding its current home in Piedades.
Michela Moraglia, a resident of the beach community of Manzanillo, on the southern Caribbean coast, travels to the Central Valley to help organize and teach classes. She is hopeful that more people will become interested in Dekyitling and dzogchen after the rinpoche’s visit.
“Now, after this retreat, we’ll see how things progress and how everything is going to change,” she says.
Dekyitling holds weekly yantra yoga classes, and performs a ritualistic feast-offering called the ganapuja. Also important in Tibetan Buddhism and practiced at Dekyitling is the Vajra Dance, performed standing on a multicolored circle called a mandala, which symbolizes a strong connection between the inner dimension of the individual with the outer dimension of the universe. The dance is practiced to harmonize the energies of these two elements.
In fact, everything the rinpoche teaches is meant to create this harmony.
Originally from Derge, Tibet, he has studied Buddhism and yoga for 70 years. In 1940, at the age of 2, the rinpoche was recognized as the reincarnation of Adzom Drugpa, a widely respected dzogchen master who died in 1924. Not much later, he was also recognized as a reincarnation of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first dharmaraja (a secular ruler) of Bhutan, who died in the 17th century.
In his youth, the rinpoche studied in the Derge Monastery with some of the most important Buddhist teachers of the time. It was there that he became heavily inspired by the dzogchen way of teaching and decided to fully embrace the lifestyle.
During the 1960s, the rinpoche taught Tibetan language, history and literature at the Istituto Universitario Orientale in Naples, Italy. He quickly established himself as a world authority on Tibetan astrology, traditional medicine and folk traditions, and has labored to preserve knowledge and understanding of his cultural heritage. The rinpoche has since founded the International Shang Shung Institute with the intention of preserving Tibetan cultural traditions and has worked with various nonprofit organizations to help provide for the educational and medical needs of Tibet’s impoverished.
While doing this work, the rinpoche started teaching dzogchen to a group of Italian students, and together they founded the Dzogchen Community’s first center in Arcidosso, Tuscany.
Those interested in learning more about Dekyitling, the International Dzogchen Community and Rinpoche Chögyal Namkhai Norbu may visit www.dekyitling.org or www.melong.com, the website for The Mirror, the International Dzogchen Community’s newspaper.