Sunday, February 15, 2015

Michael Katz Reflects on his Journey with Santi Maha Sangha Training

The Tsegyalgar East community blog recently asked the newly authorized SMS Teachers in North America (Lynn Newdome, Michael Katz and Mariano Gil) to talk about their journey with Santi Maha Sangha Training. The first to respond, Michael Katz, is a familiar presence in the International Dzogchen Community. 


I have  been participating in the SMS training since 1994 and I subsequently also completed the base as well as practices related to the first and second levels .

Although I just completed the SMS teacher exam this past month I have been a teacher in the community for the last 30 or more years. For many years I taught both yantra yoga and dream yoga. After chronic knee  and back injuries I retired as a yoga teacher about 10 years ago .

Subsequently I have continued to teach dream yoga and I have taught in more than 25 countries.The book “Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light  " which I edited and wrote based on Rinpoche's  teachings has been published in at least 10  languages and continues to be the most popular of Rinpoche's public books. All royalties go to the community.

As up until two years ago I was still working full-time as well as parenting I did not find the time to take the teacher exam .

My circumstances changed when I retired from full-time work . Also last year when  I attended the teachers meeting at Dzamling Gar, Rinpoche emphasized the importance of the SMS training and the need for teachers who could perpetuate the transmission.

I had it in my mind that I would try to find the next occasion to take the exam.
This year when the exam date was announced I re- confirmed with Rinpoche that he would like me to take the exam.

 I found the studying for this examination both enriching and difficult. I had previously taken the base examination very long ago and so it was necessary for me to reacquaint myself with much of the material in “The Precious Vase." 

I spent many hours a day studying for this examination. As the time came closer I was basically studying around the clock.

Due to a heavy winter storm in New York my travel to Tenerefe was  delayed by two days . When I arrived it was only one day before the examinations would begin. Another of the examinees Mariano Gil and I traveled to get there from New York . We continued our studies ful while en route.

Although I have had many years of public speaking and teaching,  this event reminded me of my oral dissertation for my doctoral degree . The thought of presenting in front of CNN and 150 or so of my vajra brothers and sisters  made me very nervous.

Without knowing what question or questions I would receive I was  apprehensive .  I was particularly concerned  that I would receive a question that I had not prepared or even worse  block and forget everything during the examination itself.

I was informed upon arrival that I would be the second examinee. I wasn't sure whether I preferred to go early on , and get it out-of-the-way or wait until later. I still had severe jet lag when my  day arrived.

On the actual day of the exam although I had had only a few hours of sleep due to the jet lag I was feeling reasonably calm. My pervasive feeling was whatever will be will be.

The question I received was number 16. The actual question was to explain the four understandings of Ati Yoga.

I felt I did  a reasonably good job and afterwards when I was walking back to my seat I felt completely relieved almost like I was walking in the sky.

Afterwards  after the retreat some people came to me  and said that my question was one of the hardest . For me actually it was preferable to have received a question about Dzogchen  rather then for example a question explaining the various Mundane  schools of asceticism.

When I was requested to write a few words about the exam one of the questions was how it is changed my practice. On the most basic level I would say that the memorizationand re-acquaintance with the very important material in “The Precious Vase " was certainly valuable.

Most importantly, however, was the very deep feeling  that Samsara is infinite suffering and I would be able to benefit others.

I know the most important way is to teach the Dharma. I cannot think of a higher purpose then to assist Rinpoche, and despite my limited capacity to help him perpetuate the teachings of  Dzogchen .

In the past year or two since partially retiring and with more time and enough security, I have tried to step up my altruistic activity. I recently organized a successful benefit for the Dzogchen community with my friend the recording artist Krishna Das . I have also either completed or scheduled additional benefits for the near future. The most important part of studying and taking this exam was the feeling that I would like to do even more.

I am infinitely grateful for the teachings I have received from the master over these many years, and I pray for his continued good health and long life.

Michael Katz
from his IPhone.......

CHECK OUT the video featuring Michael and other artists of the Manhattan group show On and Of Paper Art Show - February 12- March 5, 2015 at Art345

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