The retreat, one of the largest long-term Buddhist retreats to take place in the West, was held at Lerab Ling, Rigpa's main retreat centre in southern France, with more than 400 people from all over the world taking part.
While traditional three-year retreats in Tibet are mainly dedicated to personal practice, this retreat focused on both study and practice. Sogyal Rinpoche led the retreat and spent up to seven months each year teaching the retreatants, who received a complete and in-depth training according to the Tibetan tradition. There was a particular emphasis on compassion and bodhichitta and the practices of the Vajrayana, and the retreat concluded with teachings on Dzogchen.
Over the three years, masters from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism gave teachings, transmissions and empowerments in the temple at Lerab Ling, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, HH Sakya Trizin, Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche, Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, Tenga Rinpoche, Garchen Rinpoche, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche and Jetsün Kushok Chimey Luding.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama arriving at Lerab Ling, August 2008, with Sogyal Rinpoche
Many commented on the significance of the retreat. Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche described it as unique in this day and age, particularly in the western world.
Garchen Rinpoche and Sogyal Rinpoche at Lerab Ling, 2009
The students who took part were able to follow in several different ways. Nearly 200 people stayed in closed retreat for the full three years and three months, living on site in retreat rooms. Another 200 or so students attended the 7-month teaching period each year and then returned home to continue to practice, and to work and spend time with their families.
The retreatants felt an enormous gratitude for the opportunity to do such a long retreat. As one retreatant said as she prepared to return home to Australia after three years:
It was hard at many points, but I'm so, so glad I've done it. I knew instinctively at the beginning of the retreat that if I kept on going the way I was, and how I was relating to things in my life—career, work, family—I would have been a bit of a wreck by the time I was 40. This time has helped me to sort out a lot about myself, and to know what's real and what's not in terms of how I've been seeing the world, and my relationships with others.
And another retreatant said: My greatest aspiration is that everybody gets this deep taste of being in retreat, and how wonderful, beneficial and healing it is.
Of course Rigpa's Home Retreat continues. It began in September 2006 and there are more than 3,500 Rigpa students following teachings from the three-year retreat at a more gradual pace in centres around the world. They spend up to four hours each day to study and practice, while continuing to work and lead family lives. The home retreat continues for about another four years.