The Path Is Not Linear

By Kasumi Kato • 5 min read

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My First Path of Liberation Retreat

I was reflecting on the first time I attended a Path of Liberation retreat. It took place at St. John’s University retreat in Minnesota. At that time, I had just finished all the Joy of Living Levels 1-3 homework requirements, and I was so excited. I felt very inspired to have found the Path of Liberation as it held the promise to discover some part of myself that I really didn’t know about.

Though I felt so happy to hear the precious teachings, at the same time, I didn’t know what I was doing. When I think back, I realize I didn’t have much clarity about what the practice was about. Rather than resting my mind, I think I was just resting my body!

I remember that the glimpses of my mind’s true nature were short, and at different times, I wondered, “Is that it? Maybe it’s not. Maybe it is?” There was a lot of monkey-mind talk in my mind!

The Power of Repetition

In the years that followed, I returned to the POL retreats again and again, and with that came a greater understanding of what I needed to recognize. Over time and with repetition, the clarity grew, accompanied by a growing confidence in my practice.

It’s been more than ten years since I started coming to Path of Liberation Levels 1 and 2, and I know I will repeat the levels for the rest of my life! Why? Because it’s not a linear path where we just move in one forward direction. Of course, on the one hand, it is linear in that there are levels that follow and build on each other. But, from the point of view of a practitioner, it’s more of a spiral — evolving, deepening. Sometimes, we may feel like we are moving forward a few steps; sometimes, we feel we’re not moving forward and we’re repeating the same ground — that is all okay!

When I go back to the Path of Liberation, I’ve discovered that Rinpoche is also evolving his teaching approach, so there’s always something I haven’t heard before that is helpful in my practice. It’s not predictable what might resonate. Perhaps what resonates is related to the practices you have been doing before coming to the retreat. And actually, a “new you” is coming year after year to hear the teachings. A newer version of you is receiving the instructions.

If we’re fortunate to be in the same room with Rinpoche, I find that there are some things that just “click,” which may or may not be related to the teaching content. I remember one time it was his gaze! The way he was looking into space deeply affected me. Even in the online setting, what’s amazing is that he is right in front of you! So close. So immediate!

“It’s been more than ten years since I started coming to Path of Liberation Levels 1 and 2, and I know I will repeat the levels for the rest of my life! Why? Because it’s not a linear path where we just move in one forward direction.”

– Kasumi Kato –

“I’ve done this already!”

Sometimes, people might say, “Well, I’ve done that level already.” Yes, and when this is the case, I would ask, “How, then, can we nurture our recognition?” We might have an intellectual understanding of what recognition is, but can we embody this? Are we able to live fully from that place? This is where I want to be honest with my practice and where I am at. It’s like we are encouraged to really ask ourselves: Are we embodying this awareness, loving-kindness and compassion, and wisdom?

In retreats, there is also the power of sitting with others. We get to be with other practitioners in the same room with our precious teacher. There’s something very special in the room when we chant with others — something that resonates at the cellular level, to the whole being, in the vibration of reciting the liturgy together.

I have also found it helpful to hear other people’s questions and experiences, such as, “I don’t know if I recognize or not the nature of mind.” The answers from Rinpoche or the Tergar guides contain nuances that have helped to clarify my doubts and misunderstandings.

Practice Is Not a Checklist

And, of course, repeating the Path of Liberation levels is equally true for the Joy of Living levels. I remember one year after I had finished the ngondro or preliminary practices, I asked Rinpoche what I might practice, and he said, “Joy of Living!” I really benefited from that! That was precious, and I still practice Joy of Living, just as Rinpoche does. So, just because we are on the Path of Liberation doesn’t mean we can forget the Joy of Living. In fact, the more of a foundation we build, the easier it is to recognize and nurture that recognition of our own true nature.

To close, I want to emphasize that although the path may appear “linear,” it’s not like a checklist to “tick off” and move onwards.

May 2024

Mingyur Rinpoche on the Path of Liberation

About the Author

Kasumi Kato grew up in northern Japan, where she learned to meditate from a young age. She has received extensive training in meditation and yoga, including over a year spent in solitary meditation retreats as well as numerous group retreats. She currently oversees Tergar’s activities in Japan and translates for Mingyur Rinpoche. She holds two Master’s degrees, and spent 15 years teaching Japanese at the University of Wisconsin. She now works for Tergar International as a curriculum expert. In her spare time, she loves to travel and spend time meditating in retreat.

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