I first met Ven. Lhundrup Samten (who’s given name is Roger Munroe) about 20 years ago. I was living in New England then, and at that time he was a lay person. At that time, he and his then wife Paula (now a nun) were building retreat cabins far off in the wood at Milarepa Center in Northern Vermont. I found it really fascinating that they were preparing to go into 4 year long solitary retreats at that time, following the ancient traditions of the yogis of India and Tibet. They’d each already completed extensive retreats already. After Lama Yeshe had died, they’d each participated in a year-long Vajrasattva retreat. And, they’d also each done all 9 Preliminary Practices (Ngon Dro) of the Gelugpa tradition which include retreats on Guru Yoga, Vajrasattva, prostrations to the Buddhas, mandala offering practice, offering water bowls, making tsa tsas (clay Buddha images), doing Dorje Khadro fire pujas, and doing Samayavajra purification practices. They’d also done many other short and medium length retreats by that time.
I recall really enjoying hanging out with them in the Vermont woods, meditating and singing and having Dharma talks as they prepared for their first four year long retreat. So, then over the past 20 years, it’s really been interesting to be friends with Ven. Roger and watch as he as a Western man has pursued a the path of a Buddhist yogi that was previously pursued by Indian, Tibetan, and Mongolian yogis. I’ve seen him persevere with real dignity and consistency as he faced many challenges. Once he was bitten by a rattle snake while helping Ven. Paula to prepare a cabin for her second 4 year retreat. Another time, he built two cabins for them to retreat in which a local zoning board then insisted be torn down and utterly destroyed, leaving them broke and homeless. And, then of course there’s been bearing the extreme solitude of isolated retreat deep in the woods! I think that he’s really been very sincere in following an ancient tradition that was embodied by yogis of India such as Naropa, Maitripa, and Shantideva, as well as by yogis of Tibet such as Marpa, Milarepa, Gyalwa Ensapa.
Over the past 20 years, Ven. Roger has completed two different Great Retreats, each lasting for over four years. And, he’s also done numerous other shorter retreats. Recently he did two long retreats of Chod–each lasting for more than three months–done while wandering from place to place first in the countryside of Scotland and then in the countryside of New Zealand, visually offering his body and the Dharma to local spirits in order to heal those lands and regions of past conflicts.
Ven. Roger generally avoids teaching. His focus is on striving to practice the Dharma and he generally has been in solitude and so hasn’t been in situations that were condusive to teaching others. He recently contacted me about coming to visit before he goes off to engage in a third Great Retreat–with this one planned to last for over 4 years as well. So, I asked him if he’d be willing to give a teaching at the center to share something of his experiences in retreat. I was pleasantly suprised when he agreed to do so! He said that he’d teach some on the very heart essence of his own practice and then would be open to questions and discussions about what it’s like to do retreat.
If you’re interested in ever trying out even brief retreats on your own or if you’ve ever been curious about the experiences of yogis of the past as they engaged in meditation retreats, then this will provide a rare opportunity to ask questions of a down-to-earth person who’s a real pioneer in our Western culture when it comes to lengthy meditation retreat!
More info: http://www.guhyasamaja.org