Pioneer Valley Soundscapes

Quiets the Mind and Opens the Heart: Vajra Dance at Tsegyalgar in Conway

Tsegyalgar East, a Tibetan Buddhist community in Conway, hosts a thriving community of practitioners of Dzogchen, or “Great Perfection,” a lineage of Tibetan Buddhist teachings taught by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. A central part of the teachings at Tsegyalgar is a movement- and mantra-based practice called Vajra dance. Vajra dance practitioners describe how Namkhai Norbu received the many details of the Vajra dance practice in a series of dreams while on a retreat in Buckland. He subsequently taught the dance to a group of Dzogchen practitioners in Conway, some of whom are interviewed in the following film. Currently, the Conway community holds Vajra dance practices twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, and offers frequent courses, both beginning and advanced, to learn Vajra dance. Other Dzogchen communities, from Romania to Argentina, practice the same Vajra dance that originated in the Pioneer Valley.

The people who devote their practice to Vajra dance give a multitude of reasons to explain why they do it, but what comes across most consistently is the power of community within the practice. The movements of the twelve Vajra dancers are concentrated upon a painted, five-color mandala and are interwoven in a way that reinforces—in fact, requires—community. The mantras of the practice are voiced collectively, uniting the group through the purposeful pronouncement of sound. Most of all, the practitioners describe how the collective power of Dzogchen—to realize one’s true nature through the integration of body, speech, and mind—is present in every movement and utterance. Moreover, without the practice's collectivity, without the mandala and mantras bringing the practitioners together, the dance would not have the same energy. Indeed, if the mandala is a microcosm of community, a soundscape distilled into a five-toned circle, then Vajra dance makes a case for the enlightened qualities that one can achieve only with the help of a thriving, supportive community.

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