Marcela Clavijo: Stepping Out To Go Deep


Marcela Clavijo, an Iyengar teacher and Tibetan Buddhist nun, will be embarking on a yearlong retreat in September to deepen her spiritual practice of Vajrayana.

Why is this well-known, sweet, and popular teacher stepping out of her life? Marcela has found herself at this point because of the wisdom she’s accumulated, and the need to take even deeper steps. Her spiritual studies begin in childhood, with Khenpo Pema Wangdak,

who introduced her to Vajrayana, an ancient school or route to enlightenment, which makes use of body, speech, and mind techniques for development. On retreat, she will be undertaking an advanced practice called the Uncommon Preliminaries.

I had the good fortune to talk to Marcela about her path, these practices and the retreat. Just from this conversation, I can feel how much work she has already done and what this retreat means to her.

Lisa Dawn Angerame: You are going on retreat for one year and you say it happened because of good luck. Can you explain?

Marcela Clavijo: I often find myself asking, “How in the world did I end up at the feet of the Buddha?” I’ve had spiritual interests all my life and I didn’t need to go very far to find teachers. They practically came to my door. And so, I continue to listen to my teachers year after year. That’s it. And now it is time to take retreat in order to deepen my Dharma. This is how one learns very deeply, like going out into the sun, again and again. I owe an unpayable debt to my teachers’ patience, kindness, and love.

LDA: Tell me about your teacher.

MC: Khenpo Pema was sent to the West in 1982 by His Holiness Sakya Trizin, making him the first of the younger generation of Tibetans teachers in America from the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. He founded the Vikramasila Foundation which encompasses Dharma

Centers throughout the US. He also founded Pema T’sal School for Children in Mundgod, India, and the Pema T’sal Monastery in Pokhara, Nepal. Khenpo is also the creator of Bur-Lig – Tibetan Braille. He is intelligent, compassionate and one of the humblest people I know.

LDA: How do you explain Dharma?

MC: The Dharma is what the Buddha taught to help sentient beings reach their heart’s desire – to experience true happiness and freedom from suffering by developing their mind’s natural potential for compassion and wisdom.

The more I listen, contemplate, and practice Dharma, the more I see the unbelievable value and importance of having a positive direction in life, one that helps me develop basic human qualities of kindness, compassion, and understanding.

LDA: You are going to practice what is known as the “Uncommon Preliminaries.” What are they?

MC: The Uncommon Preliminaries are a way to accumulate merit and eliminate confusion and negativity. Through this, we can transition to a new level of compassion, understanding and awareness. The Uncommon Preliminaries involve refuge prayers and prostrations to purify pride; prayers to generate the Mind of Enlightenment to purify jealousy; recitation of purification mantra to purify hatred; mandala offerings to purify attachment; and prayers to the Guru to purify confusion. We need to do a lot of each and 100,000 repetitions of each is a good start. But the number is not as important as making sure that the practice brings about the intended result.

LDA: What is the intended result?

MC: The intended result is not to so much to complete a number of repetitions as it is to transform my attitude, my way of thinking, and my emotions. The practice transforms the mind in order to be ready for even deeper practices of Vajrayana. You see, only people who would like to make progress along this path undertake the Uncommon Preliminaries.

LDA: Will your teacher be there? If not, who will guide you?

MC: No, my retreat is solitary – I will be alone, without my teacher, family, or friends. As far as guidance, the idea is that one has learned enough to embark on prolonged practice on one’s own without daily guidance.

I feel very well prepared to face the difficulties involved in working with my mind skillfully. Khenpo Pema has guided and taught me since I first stepped foot in his presence, and His Holiness Sakya Trizin has bestowed the higher teachings and inspired me profoundly.

As far as the actual retreat schedule, it’s organized before entering retreat, and one’s responsibility is to see oneself through one’s intention to complete retreat. The teacher may drop in once in a while to check in, but not for the purpose of instruction per se.

LDA: What do you hope to attain…if anything?

MC: I hope to perform retreat effectively.

LDA: I think you will! So then, how do you foresee this impacting your life and teachings?

MC: The purpose of Dharma practice is to develop the qualities of kindness, compassion and understanding which are one’s inherent nature in order to become enlightened and thereby help others to do the same.

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