Christina Monson in mountain retreat in Yolmo

Christina Monson is a Buddhist practitioner and teacher and Tibetan language translator, and interpreter with over 30 years of study, translation and practice experience in Buddhism.

 

Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche

 

Some of what Christina shares today:

00:00:00 Introduction

00:01:42 Meeting self-made Buddha Chatral Rinpoche

00:09:15 Recounting moments with Rinpoche.

00:13:00 Realization energy

00:17:44 Mountain retreat

00:21:00 Guru Yoga and releasing hope and fear 

00:27:00 Retreat schedule

00:36:00 Illness, grief and this year being the most transformational for Christina

00:50:00 A reading and elaboration on “A Song of Amazement Inspired by Practice Experience” by Uza Khandro (Sera Khandro).

01:00:00 Uniqueness of Sera Khandro as a human and realized being.

01:02:00 Reading and reflections on “Spontaneous Advice, Connected with a Prayer,” by Chatral Rinpoche  

01:07:00 Challenges in translation and specifically this prayer.

01:12:00 Conclusion

 

Retreat in Yolmo

Links:

Spontaneous Advice Connected with a Prayer

https://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-masters/chatral-rinpoche/spontaneous-advice-connected-with-prayer

A Song of Amazement Inspired by Practice Experience

https://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-masters/sera-khandro/song-of-amazement

Podcast

https://oliviaclementine.com/podcasts

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RAW TRANSCRIPT Please excuse any errors

[00:00:00] 

Olivia Clementine: I’m Olivia Clementine and this is Love and Liberation. Today our guest is Christina Monson. Christina is a Buddhist practitioner and teacher and Tibetan language translator, and interpreter with over 30 years of study, translation and practice experience in Buddhism. In 1989, she met her root guru Chatral Sangyé Dorjé Rinpoche under whose guidance she studied and practiced in periods of intensive retreat for the next 27 years.

Chatral Rinpoche first introduced her to Sera Khandro and conferred empowerment, reading, transmission, and practice instructions for many of her treasures and teaching. With the support of Chatral Rinpoche and his Sera Khandro lineage holding disciple Tengboche Rinpoche. Christina worked with many lamas and khenpos over several decades on compiling and editing the Dakini’s Collected Works.[00:01:00] 

This seven volume collection was published in Tibetan language in 2020. Christina continues to translate select sections of Sera Khandro’s, works into English language as a Tsadra Foundation translator and scholar. Her upcoming publications include a volume of Sera Khandro’s zhaldam, or spiritual advice entitled “A Dakini’s Counsel, Spiritual Instructions and Advice,” as well as the biography, Sera Khandro penned of her lama and consort Drimé Ozer, the fifth son of Dudjom Lingpa.

I’m delighted to connect with you. It has been a long time coming. So thank you Christina, for taking the time. 

Christina Monson: Thank you, Olivia, for the opportunity to have a conversation about topics that are very near and dear to me. 

Olivia Clementine: Well, I thought we could start maybe with a near and dear topic, your root teacher, Dzogchen Yogi Chatral Sangyé [00:02:00] Dorjé, and beginning with how you met him.

Christina Monson: I met him through fortuitous connections of meeting others who knew him and who were closely connected to him. And through their stories, feeling a great inspiration and desire to meet him myself and doing that was not an simple matter of just taking a shared taxi from downtown Kathmandu to his monastery in paring and expecting that he’d be there.

 Because he was often on the move from different places here and there in and around the Kathmandu Valley, of course places in India as well. So it was a process of kind of chasing for some months, oh wait, I thought he was gonna be here today. No, he is not here. Or he was just here and he left.

[00:03:00] And so finally I was able to arrive in the right place at the right time where he actually was and have the opportunity to be in his presence. 

Olivia Clementine: Hmm. And what was it about him that drew you? Like what did you hear, what was it where you were like, I will spend all of this time searching him out?

Christina Monson: The stories of course, were that he was the paramount dzogchen teacher of our times, but I didn’t know. Much about what dzogchen was at that time in my life. I had just heard, you know, some words about it and I, I had maybe read a few things. I’m trying to remember even what was available in English language to read at that time.

But there was a sense of awe that people [00:04:00] had when they spoke about him. Mm-hmm. . And another important point that was influential for me and very impactful, was the story of his being a self-made Buddha. So that his realization came from his practice and dedication in this lifetime. So he wasn’t recognized to be a high reincarnated lama from a young age and given all the trappings of that. But he came from a simple nomadic family in Eastern Tibet and followed the path in a very uncompromising way, and became realized in this very lifetime itself. That was very inspiring to me. 

Olivia Clementine: Mm. And would you be willing to share any particular experiences you had [00:05:00] with him, moments that made a strong impression on, on your particular path?

Christina Monson: There’s so many. Sure. Yeah. But the first encounter I had with him was very, very, very powerful. And it was powerful because of several reasons. First, , you know, after chasing him for some time and finally being able to be in, in his room with him and my friend had brought me in there, I, I had all this expectation built up and so I, I remember it so clearly, like it was yesterday.

We were sitting there kind of off to the side cuz there were other people in the room. It was, you know, it would be very rare to be in the room when there wasn’t others. Also having an audience with him and attendance and so on. And I remember a feeling inside of me, which was, you know, I’ve arrived , here I am, [00:06:00] and waiting for him to look at me.

And he didn’t , or at least didn’t seem like he did. at all. And I didn’t have Tibetan language at that time, so I was relying on my friend and I, I, you know, after some time. And I, I couldn’t follow anything that was going on in the room. I, I said to my, well, like, could you ask him something? You know, what should I do?

Like, what kind, what should I, here I am, what, what, what should I practice? And so then there was a very brief exchange, which I couldn’t understand, and maybe he glanced in my direction during that time. And then suddenly it was time to leave and we were ushered out. And so I, we got outside and I, I said like, okay, you know, what did he say? What did he say? And he said, oh, [00:07:00] she has so many obstacles. Just tell her to recite the refuge file . And so that was not what I was expecting to hear. So his immediate encounter with my own ego, and I knew I, I mean, from the moment I walked into his presence and heard his voice, I dunno if you ever had the opportunity to meet him or ever heard his voice.

I mean, his voice was so incredibly powerful and imbued with wisdom, nectar. I mean, I don’t know how else to say it. It really was, I knew I had just met a very, very great being and I knew somehow he’d also just allowed me to see my ego right up close and personal in a way that I had not been expecting.

And I resolved right at that moment. I’m going to do whatever it takes to become a [00:08:00] student, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to study with him as long as I can. I, I, I, I resolve myself in that moment. . Yeah. Wow. And since there are other moments as well, would you share something maybe as you came to know him a little bit more in interaction that stays with you, that you return to?

Yeah. I’ll probably get emotional. 

Olivia Clementine: Oh yeah, I understand. 

Christina Monson: Cause it’s so brilliant the way that he taught. So brilliant. And when I, you know, encounter the word in Tibetan which is Sanskrit upadesha, direct pith instructions transmitted from master to disciple. I feel that I really understand [00:09:00] what that is because that’s how he taught.

He taught directly to each individual in ways that used very few words. And it wasn’t just words, it was the moment of encountering his wisdom mind. 

So one really beautiful moment that is one of the most precious moments of my life was in his retreat, center of place called the Langtang in Hyolmo, and it was the summer of 1995. And Rinpoche loved living in tents actually, cuz he came from a nomadic background. And so even if he had A nice warm, dry temple residence to stay in, which they had built for him that summer [00:10:00] in this new retreat center that they were building.

He would only stay for some period of time. And then he was ready to move into a tent . So this summer he started off in the beautiful stone temple and then, and then it was he wanted to move into a smaller tent. And I loved this about being part of the Tibetan community up there and witnessing the way that they could just build a great tent platform with heavy canvas in a matter of days.

That was a cozy residence. Just this is something, you know, just intuitive knowledge that then, Has been passed on it. It’s a wonderful skill. So then suddenly he had a wonderful tent with a, a fire, you know, place inside of it and canvas and, and a wooden platform. And he stayed there for some weeks. And then he moved into a, like a, [00:11:00] you know, north Face, two person , you know, camping tent.

And so like by the end of the summer, he was just like in this tiny little camping tent on the, on the edge of the helicopter pad there. And so it was one night he was in that little two person tent, which barely, you know, was big enough for him to sit up in and had a little round door where he could like, you know, sit in the door and, and look outside.

And then there was just a tiny little area in front where you know, you could come and see him. And I was sitting there with him. I was just outside the door. He was sitting in the door and it was. Summer monsoon. So the weather was always changing. It would be foggy and then the fog would lift and the majesty of the mountains would be clear.

And this was a full moon night and suddenly the fog [00:12:00] lift and the moon was there and he pointed out how beautiful the moon was. And I looked at it and then I went back. I think I was giving him a foot massage and then I looked again and it was gone cuz the fog was just back like that. I was like, just peeked through for a moment.

And I said to him, and, and then he said something like, and it’s gone. And I said, Hyolmo is like that. Meaning the fog comes in and goes like that, you know? And he responded into Tibetan. Yes. Destructive emotions are like that. And in Tibetan, the word sounds a little bit like [00:13:00] hyolmo. So I wondered did he think that? I said but it didn’t matter. That was the pointing out instruction right there in that moment. And I got it. And that’s how he taught. That’s how he taught. It was so brilliant. Always like that.

Olivia Clementine: I’m wondering what his temperament was like being a nomad, being somebody who became realized in this lifetime. What was it like to be around him in, in that way? 

Christina Monson: You know, I was, I. [00:14:00] Somehow thought I should be scared of him because everyone told me how wrathful he was. And on a few occasions I witnessed what I would call him being strict or stern. Actually one time was with me, which I will never forget. And I, so I was paranoid about you know, because his presence was so powerful, his being that, I mean wrath or, or irritation, whatever, however you wanna call it, it, it just a word or a slight intonation of sternness in his voice, you almost couldn’t take it. It was just so overwhelming. . And yet I would say, you know, 99% of my experience with him was of his [00:15:00] incredible loving, kindness, warmth, and gentleness.

And from the beginning, literally, I never felt anything but complete acceptance of me as I was who I was never needing to be other than what I was and complete confidence that I could also practice. And yeah, it, it’s a great question because I just this morning was having a very interesting dialogue about a prayer that he wrote that I translated. and the title that I used for it was Maledictory Incantation, the Rishi’s Maledictory Incantation. And people have had a hard time with that word, maledictory because they say it means [00:16:00] ill intent.

And I’ve explained many times why I chose that word, why it’s an accurate translation and why I think it’s important to present Rinpoche’s words as powerfully and forcefully as he did both orally and in his written works. Mm-hmm. But sometimes it’s hard I think for people to yeah, be around that kind of, or encounter that kind of forceful energy He. Was so light you know, and, and joyous and, you know, the vibration of his realization was absolutely tangible. Well before you were, you were even physically before him, but just coming [00:17:00] into like Siligiri or a place where he was living, I could feel it, I could feel it, I noticed it in my perception. Mm-hmm. And so then to sit before him was to sit in that pristine, lucid wisdom, awareness of his, and that was the overwhelming experience.

Olivia Clementine: thank you for sharing that. And going into the belief he had in you being able to practice. I know you’ve done a lot of intensive practice and mountain retreat, and I wanted to speak a little bit about, or hear a little bit about your periods in Mountain Retreat and was that guided by Chatral Rinpoche? 

Christina Monson: Yeah. Yes it was. And I had the great [00:18:00] fortune of being introduced to Rinpoche by one of his students who’s a Western practitioner as well, and who had built a cabin who was very lovely cabin retreat cabin on the outskirts of his seat in Helambu a place called Neding where he. Spent many, many summers and, and, you know, long periods of time.

And I Rinpoche gave me permission to stay in that cabin. And so I, I did extensive periods of retreat there. And I was there when he was there. I was there when he was also not there. And when he was there, I was able to go over and see him in the mornings and check in with him. And he would always ask me, did you see a leopard?

That was like the morning question. Oh, come ahead. Good morning, Rinpoche. Good morning. Did you see a leopard ? I saw many [00:19:00] animals up there. I never saw leopard. Many animals came and landed on the roof of that cabin that I don’t think there was ever a leopard. I don’t know if there was. But yes, yes, he, he was guiding my practice always.

And this is the place that he also gave his heart instructions. So in, I believe it was the summer of 1994, he bestowed Sarah Khandro’s commentary on Dudjom Lingpa’s root text of the Nang Jang up there to a group of disciples and to another group. He was also giving the teachings, and these were teachings that lasted months, you know?

And so there was short period of teaching in the day, in the morning, and then all the disciples would go back and practice the instructions that had been given. And then one by one, one would have to go and give an interview with him to clarify one’s practice, [00:20:00] what was the experience. And then he would give his responses and insights to that.

He, that’s how he guided that. That’s the traditional way of giving dzogchen instruction and it’s so beautiful. Yeah. That’s incredible. So you would spend months fully immersed in whatever teaching he was giving at the time, whatever he was giving at the time until it was complete? 

Yes. And then, and then, so when he wasn’t there, I, I would also then just be doing the practices that he gave me.

I did ngondro practice for 10 years. Yeah. I did guru yoga practice for, you know, probably eight years. I don’t think Gury yoga’s ever complete. I’m not done with Guru Yoga. It’s my main practice. He first gave me the short ngondro from [00:21:00] the Dudjom Tersar. I completed that and I also had been studying with Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. So I did a ngondro from the Chokling Tersar as well. And then finally he, he gave me the transmission for the ngondro practices from Sarah Khandro’s treasures.

And then I just continued with that Guru yoga until he bestowed the first empowerment from her treasures. 

One time I asked Rinpoche , I said, is it enough to do yoga? and then practice Dzogchen to become enlightened. And he said yes. So then it was interesting. I thought, oh gosh, good, but I don’t have to do any, you know, yidam retreat. I, I don’t have to learn all the, all the, you know, rituals associated with different yidam practices or go into that

So I, you know, okay, good. Then it’s pretty simple, . [00:22:00] But, but then, then he gave transmission and, and so he, you know, we we have in the lineage the instructions that a master should examine the disciple for not less than 12 years before giving empowerment. and, and the, the disciple should examine the master.

I mean, I did not take me 12 years. It took me like one minute to decide this is an authentic master . I mean, that, there was like no question about that. But of course, I mean, of course there would be questions about me. So yeah. I, I think he did examine over 12 years, me. Mm-hmm. And, and I waited 12 years to receive empowerment.

I [00:23:00] did. Mm-hmm. I met him in 1989, that, that transmission occurred in 2001, the first, and so then, and he, and that it was a teaching. The whole thing was a teaching beautiful, brilliant, unbelievably powerful teaching. 

I requested transmission of Sera Khandro treasures. For I, after he told me that that’s what I should practice, before I’d ever heard the words Sarah Khandro or ever heard her name, he told me I had no idea who she was.

And then I, as I learned more and, and you know, the way that one should request and, and you know, it was in my mind, okay, there’s a progression to the path and this is what you do. You do ngondro and then you have to do other deity practices. And so then I did ngondro and I did go yoga for some years. I, okay, I’m ready.

And I was requesting, [00:24:00] offering mandala again and again year after year, sometimes twice. And I remember one time after I did that, he looked at me and he said he held up the vase, a vase. He said, I can place this on your head. And that’s not the actual empowerment. I was like, Okay. No, I, that’s it then. Thank you. I, I got it. No, I, I don’t, I don’t need empowerment now, . I don’t need another empowerment now. So, but a, a lot of that time was also, you know, me working with my hope and fear. Oh, will he ever give an empowerment? And, but, and now his age is more advanced. It may be more difficult. And so, you know, I, I had to go through all my trips.

Yeah, [00:25:00] yeah.

Olivia Clementine: And, okay, well, let’s, let’s drop into Sera Khandro. There’s, and we’re gonna come back always to Chatral Rinpoche in today’s conversation anyways. So. When did you actually then start turning your attention pretty wholeheartedly to Sarah Khandro. 

Christina Monson: I, I think it was in 1990, which is when, you know, I, because he gave me, as I said to you, the first thing he said was, you know, just recite the refuge vow and so so I was like, oh, okay. All right. Give me the refuge file. , and I’m gonna reside it a hundred thousand times. Where was my mind when I recited the refuge file 100,000 times at the beginning? I, I dunno, was there even one genuine res? Who knows? Probably not, you know, which is why that was not the [00:26:00] end of my ngondro.

And so then, then I think, you know, then I got the short munro in full from him and. Quite honestly, you know, I rushed my way through that just to accumulate the requisite number of, you know, five times a hundred thousand. I mean, because that’s the tradition. And, you know, give that to some high performing person like me, trained in all of my academic, you know, just like going towards goals.

You know, I cannot say that I did that genuinely in any way. I mean, I made some connection , you know, but I can’t vouch to the quality of that connection at all. And so, but after I finished that, you know, I went and asked, what should I practice now? And that’s when he said to me, you should practice Sera Khandro.

Mm-hmm. . And that was in [00:27:00] 1990. And I, I didn’t know who she was. I’d never heard of her before. Yeah. 

Olivia Clementine: So when you were in Mountain Retreat, was that what you were practicing for a period? Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And what did always, yeah, and, and what did that look like? Was there traditional sessions? Were they short sessions or what?

Was there a particular rhythm that you liked when you were in Mountain Retreat during that time doing Sera Khandro’s termas? 

Christina Monson: I mean, I learned the, the traditional session of four tune or four sessions, that was Chatral Rinpoche’s tradition, Longchen Nyingtik you know. So it was morning three to six and then seven to 10, and then one to four, and then six to nine. And I was able to do that to the best of my capacity for periods in, in retreat. I did, [00:28:00] I found, 12 hours in session hard. So sometimes I would abbreviate and I, so sometimes three o’clock I couldn’t, I just couldn’t get up at three. But I, I would try to do four to six, and then I guess I just found I needed more sleep, so then I might do six to eight, you know, in the, in the evening.

But I did, I kept a very rigorous schedule of sessions most of the time when I was in retreat. Mm-hmm. . Except when, then he told me there are no sessions now, and you have to practice in a different way. No sessions, no breaks, that would be different. Hmm. And also, what did that start to look like for, no sessions no breaks?

 Really working with remaining in recognition of awareness as a continuous flow. And so the practice of [00:29:00] trekchod, you know, throughout the day, , I cannot say throughout the night, definitely. And and I would, it, I would still say plenty of sitting, but not like, okay, it’s 10 o’clock now, you know, and now I can get up from sitting.

But just the whole day really sitting. But it’s, it’s, you know, short glimpses many times repeated. That’s the practice. Whether one is sitting, whether one is making some food, washing dishes, doing some study. I would always do a little bit of study and some reading. Sometimes I would journal. Mm-hmm. . But the study was always there.

Yeah, to some extent. I mean, to study a prayer, I, I, I was always studying Tibetan too, you know, I would say just like learning, you know, practicing my Tibetan reading and, you know, making sure that I was understanding texts that I [00:30:00] had. But also, you know, there were periods of time where, you know, there it wasn’t, no, there was no text, there wasn’t any, you know, no reading, nothing, not honing in on anything written about how to practice, but really just trying to the best of one’s capacity to remain in the natural state.

Olivia Clementine: Hmm. Yeah. And in terms of Sera Khandro and Chatral Rinpoche and, and then his longing for you to study and, and do Sera Khandro’s terma as, as you know, as your main practice, what is it that makes Sera Khandro so unique?

First, I would say that I heard Rinpoche also on, on many occasions. You know, talk about the three main, I mean three of the main treasure lineages that he was a dharma holder for and [00:31:00] transmitted the Dudjom tersar, the Longchen Nyingtik and Sera Khandro’s, treasures, all extraordinarily blessed, infused with the dakini’s warm breath and all that.

A person needs to traverse the path to awakening, and so they’re all sublime. And Sera Khandro is unique in my personal opinion because there’s such depth of scope to make a connection with her inner world through her writings through her biographical and autobiographical writings, [00:32:00] which are unique coming from a woman in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Olivia Clementine: We won’t get too much into her life per se, there’s so many facets that are significant turning points for her. But just in general, for anyone that’s new to her, will you give a general timeline, birth, death and just a couple things that would be useful.

Christina Monson: Yeah. Yeah. So Sera Khandro was born. At the turn of the last century in 1892. So just as you know, the world was about to jump into the 20th century and she was born in Lhasa. She was born into an aristocratic family there and she made very dramatic choices in her life to leave what would’ve been a [00:33:00] comfortable and fairly safe prescribed life as an aristocratic woman to follow her heart’s desire to practice the dharma, and a teacher that she was deeply connected to, to Eastern Tibet, to an area known as Golok. And. Devote herself there to practice and discovery of her own revelations, treasures, and never went back to central Tibet, lived in Eastern Tibet, which we could really think of almost as a different country. The language was, would’ve been, it was, and she writes, almost unintelligible to her. I mean, it was unintelligible to her.

And she passed away in 1940 there in Eastern Tibet. So she was a [00:34:00] great Tibetan Buddhist master. She was a treasure revealer she was prolific writer. She was a mother. She was very, very real, as a person,

Chatral Rinpoche was a direct disciple of her. And so for me in particular, to hear about his experiences of her through someone who had actually met her is also part of what is so special. I feel great faith and devotion to, for example, Dudjom Lingpa, but I, I don’t know anyone that actually met Dudjom Lingpa who could tell me [00:35:00] what it was like to sit at the feet of Dudjom Lingpa.

So that’s a very, very, you know, gloss of who she was. But that’s the time that she lived and just a very high level look at an extraordinary life. Mm-hmm. 

Olivia Clementine: Would you share anything that, anything Chatral Rinpoche did say about his time with her that struck you? 

Christina Monson: He said she was very tough on her nuns. She’s very strict with her nuns. Mm-hmm. Yeah. That’s one of the things that he told me about her. She sent him to study with his, ooh, the, the master who became his root guru, who is Khenpo Ngagchung Rinpoche

He was filled with devotion to her and almost the times that I saw Chatral [00:36:00] Rinpoche, weep, would be talking about her life. Mm-hmm. transmitting her autobiography. Yeah. She had a life that had a lot of hardship

Olivia Clementine: And maybe we could get into some of that specifically. So one thing when we were corresponding, and then prior to this conversation, I’d asked you, is there anything current for you that you wanna discuss? And you originally said that you’re very interested right now in how Sera Khandro dealt with illness through the medicine of the Dharma.

And yeah. Maybe we could start there as to both , why it’s current for you right now and, and what you’re learning from her. Like how, how can one use dharma, you know, the incredible brilliance and generosity of dharma [00:37:00] when dealing with illness? 

Christina Monson: Hmm. Yes. It’s a very timely question as you know, when I think about this year, western year of 2022, it is a year for me that I would say will be one of the most transformational years of my life so far. And that started with the sudden passing of Dudjom Rinpoche last February. I was deeply impacted by his departure because I was very, very close to him.

And I had the great fortune and privilege to serve as his translator and interpreter for a number of years, and that was such a painful loss. And I was floundering. [00:38:00] How do we deal with grief? I have encountered loss in my life, but the grief around this is another level. And I didn’t have to look very far for some wisdom around how to work with grief.

And, and so I would say that Sera Khandro’s treasures and her writing were such a, a resource for me in my own grieving, first and foremost, because. , she does grieve openly and express it so beautifully and in its rawness and heartfelt pain. And so I so appreciated [00:39:00] that approach, which wasn’t an intellectualizing of it, which isn’t I rationalizing it, but was really pointing to what I think is the wisdom quality of it, at least one of them, which is it pushes this one to find the place of inseparability, and of course you know that I speak of that in. a particularly Buddhist context of Inseparability, but I don’t think it, it is limited to that. I think that there’s scope to find connection between [00:40:00] oneself and one that is gone through an enduring essence, an enduring quality that can be accessible, and that transcends any religion in any tradition and so on.

And so in many ways, again, you know, death is transformative and can be from that lens. And so that was a great comfort for me over this past year. And. Then my own life circumstances were such that I received a terminal diagnosis of stage four cancer in the summer, and once again, was thrown into a great turmoil.

I mean, it was certainly a medical crisis. And you know, I’ll say it just totally honestly [00:41:00] as a Buddhist were thoughts that turn the mind to the dharma truth of impermanence, nothing is the same as being told now. You are going to die from this. You will not have this birthday. Now if you were to ask me, so how long do you have?

I would say the same thing to you, how long do you have? I don’t know, I don’t think, you know either. None of us know, so in some ways I’m, I’m in no different position than I was before I got that news. I still don’t know, but there’s a very different felt sense to having information like that. So, you know, I once again felt overwhelming gratitude [00:42:00] to have access to the teachings of Sera Khandro, who herself dealt with quite a lot of illness.

And she writes about it and she teaches about it. One of her pieces of advice in particular, so very, very powerful for me, she said, for the greatest pain I have the teaching of the Dharmakaya. That’s it. That’s it. Yeah. So not only is there teaching about how to deal with the greatest pain, the greatest pain, greatest pain is to lose, you know, can, can be, it can be physical, of course. And, and I’ve gone to places of physical pain that I never dreamed were even possible just in the last three months.

But you know, the mental and emotional pain that comes with watching the body fall apart, suddenly being told your body is falling apart and combined with cultural messaging that somehow then that’s a failure, a natural process, birth, aging, sickness and death. I, I believe these are natural processes, but somehow, you know, as a western person at least who has been exposed to a lot of messaging about what it is to be healthy and, and of, and of course, you know, under wanting to understand why, why, why did this happen?

What were my risks anyway? To really embrace this within the context of a natural process, and not only just a natural process, but one that really can heighten one’s own awareness. So that, [00:44:00] for me, at least, the, the darkness of this last few months in terms of physical pain, in terms of just, you know, letting go of so much so suddenly, so quickly.

You know, thank you, vajrayana can be a transformative tool for the brightness of luminosity to blaze that much stronger.

Olivia Clementine: So when you’re in moments of more intensified pain or just the feeling of why has this happened to me? What are you doing in particular in your mind to, to allow some alleviation of that suffering? 

Christina Monson: Such a great question. I use everything and anything I can. So I think sometimes it’s really helpful [00:45:00] to reflect on that others are suffering even more acutely.

Boom, . , boom, you know, and it doesn’t take much except a trip to a hospital to see that. I’ve spent a lot of time in the hospital over the last many months. And so that, you know, I would say that’s a real, like reframing, cognitive reframing there. And it works. I mean that when I need that, I use it. It works when I am in intense pain, you know, here’s a test of practice.

Is it possible? How is it possible to [00:46:00] maintain some recognition of my own practice in those times? And, you know, it comes down to it. What have I, why did I spend the last 35 years of my life dedicated to this path. Isn’t there anything that can help me right now? I mean, if there’s nothing that can help me right now, pathetic.

So, so there’s so much, there’s so much I feel, so I feel very well resourced. I feel that, you know, it’s so, it’s, it’s kind of like a given aversion. I mean, this is core teaching, you know, aversion, magnifies pain, magnifies it. So for me, it’s not just a question of acceptance, oh, I got something I didn’t want.

And you know what? I’m not the only person at something that they don’t want, but I got something that I didn’t [00:47:00] want. So it’s, it’s a given that, you know, it needs to be accepted. But for me, I, I wanna go much beyond that. I wanna go much, much further than that. I wanna really work on levels that allow me to embrace and truly rejoice so that I could be at a place where I would choose this again and again if I had the choice cause of what it makes possible that may not have been possible in the same way had this experience not happened. I believe that’s possible. I know it is. 

Olivia Clementine: That’s powerful. That’s true courage right there. 

Christina Monson: And, and, you know I crumble and I’ve cried and I yeah. You know, so I, I I don’t wanna just bypass [00:48:00] feeling what we. and feeling whatever is is arising. I, I’m a full believer in feeling our feelings cuz that is, that is what emotion is supposed to be, right? It’s energy and motion. 

Olivia Clementine: Mm-hmm. And were you with Chatral Rinpoche at all in his last years of life? Because he was a centurion and I’m sure his state was not ideal at the very end, were there any, anything that you kind of tap into from that time or things you’ve remembered him share in, in coping with that process?

Christina Monson: You know, in, in the very last years’ of Rinpoche’s life, it was harder to see him. I was able to see him a few times and if I have to say anything, I would say that, you know, Rinpoche’s realization was absolutely [00:49:00] beyond the processes that were at work in his physical human body. It was, and, and he experienced pain of being in a human body, very natural.

So if there’s something that I learned, it’s it that’s natural. It’s natural to have challenges, physical challenges while we’re in a human body. It’s okay. Yeah. It’s not a sign of failure nor is it like some kind of punishment. It’s, you know, we’re made up of the elements. . 

Olivia Clementine: Yeah. Thank you so much. Thanks for being willing to share this. I know that there are many people out there listening right now that are trying to cope with their own version of, of illness or what, what you’re calling, which feels very accurate. This sense of have I failed because my body is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing. 

Christina Monson: I also think, you know, what I would want people, [00:50:00] I think to, to take away and I’d be happy if they took away, is that Every moment is so precious and you know, we don’t, we really don’t know. Is this the day I wake up and something happens to me? None of us know that. And if if my situation allows others listening to feel, ugh, I’m so happy that that’s not happened to me. I’m glad as long as it is an inspiration to just embrace and feel so much gratitude for what the gifts that, that each and every one of us do have.

Olivia Clementine: Mm-hmm. Thank you, Christina. 

Thank you . 

Do we wanna get into, I mean, you’ve just done so many incredible translations and I’m wondering, wanting to know if we wanted to get into maybe one of Sera Khandro [00:51:00] and Chatral Rinpoche.

 I thought we could go through one of your translations of Sera Khandro, “A Song of Amazement Inspired by Practice Experience”. 

Christina Monson: Just one, one note also, you know, Sera Khandor. Sera is the name of the monastery in Eastern Tibet that she went and lived at after Drimed Ozer passed away, who was her consort and her lama and. So she later became known as the dakini from Sera Monastery or Sera Khandro.

But most people also referred to her as Uza Khandro, so the dakini from Central Tibet, because she had come from Central Tibet. So just kind of a notation on name. And she had many names that she, she used Dewé Dorjé, Künzang Chönyi Wangmo many different names, but we wouldn’t necessarily call her Sera. 

Olivia Clementine: Oh. So should we refer to her as Uza Khandro?

Christina Monson: Would [00:52:00] that be, it could, you could definitely refer to her as Uza Khandro. Would that, would that be a better, more accurate in this conversation? For some, it would be, for some it would be that knew her or know of her from Golok. Okay. It’s, it’s later that she became, you know, now and even in a Western context that she’s become, More well known as Sera Khandro.

Olivia Clementine: I’ll share the little piece that I thought we could go through. So this is, from Uza Khandro’s, A Song of Amazement inspired by Practice Experience. 

I wanted to see if you could read this section out loud, if you’re willing, and then we could speak of a situation in which Uza wrote this song. How does that sound? Mm-hmm. 

Christina Monson: Sure. I’ll, I’m happy to read this. So this is writing by Uza Khandro or the dakini from Central Tibet, otherwise known as Sera Khandro. In one of her vision visionary experiences, it comes from one of her visionary experiences, and this is found in one of her [00:53:00] volumes, volume WAM of her collected works, 

“the core falsities of dualistic hope and fear, exhausted gods and demons arise non-dual as the magical display of my mind.

I, the yogini, am not afraid of the magical displays of illusion. I’m a fearless vara yogini! I have the instructions to sever the root of the four maras. Externally, I sever the magical display of illusionary appearances into the great non-existence of hope and fear. Internally, I sever the root of attachment self cherishing into the primordially, liberated, expansive, non-attachment.

I sever the all ground, the gathering of body and mind with a sword of triple wisdom. Secretly, I sever concepts based on five poisons into the [00:54:00] continuum of self liberated, disturbing emotions. Into the expanse of the profound wisdom intent of pacification I sever all phenomena of the world and beyond non-dual.

This root of attachment to confused appearances stemming from disturbing emotions liberates in the Dharmadatu five wisdom’s own expanse, the ground of the great baseless wisdom mind expanse.”

As a translator. I’m never satisfied with my translations . So I, oh, every time I read something, I think, oh, oh, oh, I would make this change. Oh, I would make that change . That’s gotta be really hard. It’s so hard one has to say. It’s done now. It’s done for now. Yeah. Yeah. And I publish this. It was done for them.

Olivia Clementine: Yeah. It’s definitely benefiting many beings. 

So[00:55:00] what was going on for Uza Khandro? What was the context where she’s describing what’s actually happening for her, and the severances that she’s engaged in?

Christina Monson: This was a visionary experience that she had while she was staying at a particular sacred site in Tibet near where her master was, or at least with him at that time, I believe. Yeah. And it was not at all an uncommon experience for her to have visions, and these visions oftentimes were of disembodied beings that would come to her. Sometimes they were visions that appeared in dreams. Sometimes it was a dream-like state that [00:56:00] actually was happening while she was awake. And so here my sense is she’s really, you know, letting us into how she works with her own mind and her perceptions, hope and fear, all of the afflictive emotions that she might have encountered.

And her encounter with the phenomena that she was experiencing in her life. So, and she’s talking about this in the context of the practice of chöd of severance and so, she says here, you know, I have the instructions to sever the root of the four maras. I have the instructions. I know how to [00:57:00] cut through and liberate anything that’s arising for me. And, you know, I, I don’t think she’s saying I’m radically changing the way things appear externally, but I’m, I’m radically changing the way I relate to what’s going on.

And so I can slice right through hoping for this, fearing that, realizing that everything that’s coming up, you know, like hope and fear, these are just you know, whether circumstances are good godlike, whether circumstances are terrible, demon like. I don’t have to engage it with hope and fear. I mean, this is , this is, gets just right to the, the point because I have, I have these precious instructions. Nothing truly exists, therefore everything can and [00:58:00] does arise and how it arises is just as the phantasmagoria of my own mind. And I don’t have to be caught up in reifying that. I read it as, that’s what she’s saying. And, you know, all of this comes from all, all the difficulty that I might encounter around it just comes from self cherishing.

So I get, you know, I, I know how to slice through that. My obsessiveness about myself that brings all this hope and fear I , can get beyond that. And, you know, I sever the all grounds, the gathering of body and mind. So the consciousness from which, you know, is the repository of things with a sword of triple wisdom. So the wisdom of study, contemplation and meditation.

And so, [00:59:00] you know, then secretly I know how to cut through my thoughts. Thinking is not a problem for me. Basically , that’s what she’s saying. I don’t have to be bothered by it. And that is, you know, the profound wisdom, intent of this practice of pacification. We’re gonna pacify everything, externally, internally, secretly, cuz it’s about pacification of the mind.

This is the core teaching of Buddha. Try not to harm. Do as much good as you can and deal with your mind , subdue your mind, train your mind, change your mind, however you wanna say it. Just like gain some mastery over your mind because it’s all, you know, coming from there. I mean, that’s the way I read it and it’s such a beautiful and poetic presentation of that within the context of the teaching of chöd, and so much of her [01:00:00] writing is like this.

It’s extremely eloquent. It’s very, very poetic, is weaving in very profound practices and presenting them as direct teachings. 

Olivia Clementine: Yeah. I appreciate it so much. I can just imagine her in a space where, yes, she’s seeing these demonic creatures and she’s proclaiming her invincibility or indestructibility, and you really feel it the way that you translate it, it gives you confidence, it gives you, it encourages you to practice because there’s no gap of insecurity in her self recognition. It’s extremely powerful, this piece. And obviously we’re just reading a part of it. But even still this piece alone, how much she’s able to contain is really meaningful. 

Christina Monson: [01:01:00] I love that you just said there’s no gap in the continuity of her self recognition because that’s, I think, another aspect that I find makes her writing so very unique. She can be writing in one verse about seemingly ordinary kinds of phenomena relating to family and coralling and, and strife with a partner. And the next lines let you know that a part of her is completely beyond that, even as she’s experiencing it.

There’s many beautiful pieces in her zhaldam that have that kind of dichotomy. Some in which she talks about herself from a worldly point of view as the saddest person, that there could be [01:02:00] no one sadder than her. And from a spiritual perspective, from a Dharma perspective, No one happier. And that is deeply inspiring.

Olivia Clementine: Well, for the sake of time, your time specifically. 

I also thought we could touch on something that Chatral Rinpoche shared Spontaneous Advice, Connected with a Prayer.

And I, I mean, because you have a close connection with him and because you’re the translator, I really like you reading these. 

Christina Monson: Olivia, I wonder if I could just read from … Awakening. Olivia Clementine: Yes, yes, please. 

Christina Monson: This is the, the latter part of that prayer written by Chatral Rinpoche.

It’s not the entire thing which really is a calling the lama prayer. It’s a supplication that Rinpoche wrote [01:03:00] for disciples to make a profound connection with him, 

“Awakening previously accrued merit, and imbibing the nectar that ripens and liberates. Ignorance, negativity, emotionality, confusion, and its imprints are purified into unborn dharmakaya. And with effortless compassion, the realms of suffering beings are emptied from their very depths – such an extraordinary gift can only come to a spoiled child like me through the kindness of the guru, my true father. Without hoping to know all while missing what’s most important, I’ll remain throughout my life, within the understanding of the one thing that liberates all. Glorious guru please save me from a journey full of mistakes and pitfalls! Aside from fervent prayer, relax, in non-doing, letting go of even [01:04:00] virtuous deeds, and now whatever happens is in our hands- be certain.”

This is the last section: 

 “like a flowing stream. Day and night, thoughts and perceptions became unending wisdom with meditation and post meditation, equal and complete. So I may savor everything as a single taste – Beloved guru, please know me!”

Olivia Clementine: I think one thing I would love any elaboration on would be these two lines, thoughts and perceptions became unending wisdom and beloved guru, please know me. 

Christina Monson: Hmm. Well, I would just like to say first that [01:05:00] translating this level dzogchen teaching is not only daunting as a translator, it’s basically impossible unless one has that same level of realization, which I don’t have. And so there is an argument to be made that it should remain untranslated except by someone who has the capacity to do that. And I believe there’s a lot of truth in that argument.

And I am infinitely just filled with humility in attempting to translate such high teaching from my own guru. I am not at the level, and this conversation is one I’ve had with many fellow translators, and it’s the cause of late nights of [01:06:00] hand wringing and heart wringing and do I dare try And I guess where I’ve come is that I can only do the best that I can do right now with where I am and so necessarily then English readers are limited by what I was able to access.

And I believe that there’s blessings that can still come through Rinpoche’s wisdom words, even when they are not perhaps rendered as beautifully as they could b y my translation, this was an extremely, this is an extremely difficult prayer to translate. I went through so many different versions of it.

I would still make changes. Again, it’s one of those places where I had to say, [01:07:00] this is, this is the best I can do right here, right now where I am. I read it again right now and I think, oh, well this is obvious. I would change this. I would change that. 

Olivia Clementine: What is it about it in particular that’s so challenging? Is it finding the right words or being even just to know how to …

Christina Monson: Well, yeah. One of the things that’s really challenging is that Rinpoche is speaking here about a state of realization, and he’s speaking about that state of realization where there isn’t really any more I. and the Tibetan language doesn’t have that personal pronoun in it.

So it’s both advice and instructions as well as a presentation of his [01:08:00] level of understanding and to capture that subtlety of both in English language, trying to avoid pronouns as appropriate is extraordinarily difficult. 

He didn’t write this like, you know, I am doing this, you know, I’ll remain throughout my life. No, so, so you’ve got to help an English reader make some sense of what is loads of subtle nuances in the Tibetan, almost impossible to capture with that degree of refinement in English language.

Mm-hmm. Yeah. I went through this so many times because he does move back and forth from really first person to, you know, talking about [01:09:00] realization, which is not a place where there’s self-identification. Yeah. 

But to your question, thoughts and perceptions became unending wisdom.

So I read that as when resting in recognition of mind’s nature, it’s not the case that one becomes unconscious or the mind’s natural activity of thought ceases, and there’s no perception that’s happening. One isn’t seeing, no, one doesn’t become blank. Thoughts are arising, things are heard, smell tasted seem, but there’s no breakage whatsoever in that recognition.

So all [01:10:00] of that, you know, as it’s talked about, is just ornamentation. Thoughts are the natural expression, perception is unceasing, and all of those doors, perception have their own wisdom qualities to them. So whatever it is just becomes this unending experience of wisdom, awareness. And then at that level there’s no breaks between a session and a post meditative experience.

There’s no sessions, there’s no breaks, there’s no meditation, there’s no distraction. I think that’s what he’s talking about. And so it’s quite, quite profound practice here for someone at that level to relax in non-doing. Yeah. Then one doesn’t even have to strive to accumulate virtue effortfully [01:11:00] because effortlessly, there’s nothing that isn’t the accumulation of virtue.

And so you know, the last line, beloved guru, please know me again, probably the hardest the hardest words in Tibetan language to translate

བླ་མ་མཁྱེན་ནོ། it just so you know, བླ་མ་མཁྱེན་ནོ། it’s so many things. It’s hard to, you know, as a translator, you’ve got to finally say, okay, this is what it’s gonna be right here, right now. Please know me, but this is not knowing in an ordinary sense, this is seeing me and being seen for what I’m requesting. 

There’s a beautiful word, right? You know, Darshan Sanskrit word, like, you know, this kind of witnessing and being witnessed in return almost and not only please [01:12:00] know me, but also you do know me . That’s why I’m praying to you and calling out to you because you absolutely know me. Where I am and what I need, and please think of me and remember me and don’t forget and help me get what I need so that I can be inseparable from you, which is what this prayer is about.

And Rinpoche has just let us into, you know, he’s both praying to the guru and this is a prayer to him as the guru. It’s, it’s extraordinary in his sophistication and its sublimity and its blessings. 

Olivia Clementine: Thank you. Christina. 

Is there anything else you wanna share? Anything you’d want us to know before we close?

 Christina Monson: I would say that a life of following one’s heart, is deeply a meaningful [01:13:00] life. 

Thank you for the opportunity to be in discussion with you. 

Olivia Clementine: Aw, I’m so grateful. I’ve cried internally and externally multiple times, which is not, not common , but sometimes it happens.

 Sometimes moments are so precious we don’t share them, so yeah. I’m thankful that you were willing to share a little bit. I hope it inspires anyone who listens. 

Christina Monson: I think that would really be my wish too, that. Yeah, people are inspired, you know, and, and Rinpoche became so well known and kind of famous in his later years.

I mean, I still pinched myself. Like, did it really happen? Did my life really happen the way it happened? , I can’t even believe my fortune. You know, I, I do feel totally fulfilled. So if I have to die tomorrow, like [01:14:00] yeah, I have no regret. None. None. I mean, the picture I sent you of him [Chatral Rinpoche] walking, it is like, it looks like he’s walking on the clouds.

And it was, it was like, you know, there were so many days like this, just a magical, magical day. Many of us from the retreat center, followed him high up into the mountains, above the retreat center for picnic. And he’s so happy. And it is like his feet almost didn’t touch the ground, you know? It was so light on his feet, so beautiful. He was so kind to me. I mean, I’ll really lose it!

So I’d love for people to be inspired. This path is absolutely brilliant, when it’s followed the way it’s meant to be. [01:15:00]