Choden Rinpoche of Seraje Monastery, one of the highest lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist Traditon was virtually unknown outside Tibet until 1985. He did not escape from his country after the Chinese takeover in 1959 nor was he imprisoned. Instead, he lived in a house in Lhasa, never once leaving his small, dark room for nineteen years, even to go to the toilet, and never cutting his hair and beard.
Ven. Tseten Gelek, Rinpoche’s attendant, a Sera je monk tells us, "He spent all his time on that bed, meditating. They had to change the bedding once a month because it got smelly from sweat. He used a bedpan for a toilet, as he was pretending to be an invalid. Until 1980 he did not talk to anyone, only the person who brought food into his room".
Choden Rinpoche himself told MANDALA during a two-month visit to Vajrapani Institute in California, "The main thing I wanted to do was to practice Dharma sincerely, no matter what external factors were arising. This was my motivation, to be completely against the eight worldly concerns."
IN MEDITATION FOR NINETEEN YEARS
Rinpoche lived in his cousin's house in Lhasa from 1965 to 1985, without coming out. He acted like an invalid. His room had no window, only a small space for ventilation above the door. Rinpoche stayed in one room for eight years, and in another room for the remaining eleven years. His attendant says, "I saw the second room and it was dark, really dark. When you walk in you can't see anything, but slowly as your eyes adjust you can make some things out. Even now at Sera when I come to open the shades in Rinpoche's room, he says no, no. I think only for my benefit he lets me open the shades. He didn't take even one step out of those rooms for nineteen years.
To do retreat, normally, you need texts, a tangka, drum, bell, vajra, all these things, but Rinpoche had only a mala. There was no altar, no text, nothing. He had already finished all the memorization of all the texts and prayers during his years of study at Sera, so he didn't need these things. The Chinese were always checking what he was doing; they would come to the house several times a day, and if they found any religious object they would have taken him away. So Rinpoche did all the retreats using just his mind; everything was in his mind. But he would never say this himself; he just says he was sleeping, thinking a little about the Dharma.
Rinpoche says, "At that time you could have absolutely no holy objects, no statues or scriptures. If they saw any scriptural texts, you would be in big trouble. Even if you moved your lips without making a sound, you would get into trouble, because they would think you were saying prayers. I had some prayer beads but they had to be kept hidden. I had a small one and when people came to investigate me, I would hide it in one of two hidden pockets in my clothes, just over my knees.
Because I stayed inside like this without ever going out, people said I was doing retreat. But it wasn't proper retreat, with the offerings, ritual things, and so forth. During this time I would think about the various stages of the path to enlightenment, as well as Guhyasamaja, Heruka, Yamantaka, all the generation stage yogas. And when I had time, I would complete the mantra quotas of each deity.
In any case, you don't need external things to do Dharma practice. It's all in your heart, your mind. As for realizations: you do not experience the realizations of the three principal aspects of the path, but you do have a little renunciation, and because of that you are able to stay like that."
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