Frequently Asked Questions

Information on these FAQs primarily caters to retreatants performing the Hevajra Approximation Retreat.  However, the retreat rules and boundaries apply to both the One Month Lamdre Training Retreat and the Hevajra Approximation Retreat.  If there are additional questions for either of these retreat, please write to for further clarification.

1.      What are the objectives of this retreat?

For this retreat, the objectives are to accomplish the time (minimum six months) and the counting the number of mantras (mainly, 400,000 of the root mantra.  There will also be other mantras that you will need to accumulate, but they are much shorter and lesser.)

2.      What do I need to do to prepare for this retreat?

His Holiness Sakya Trizin has specified that you should have received the complete Lamdre.  Either the Lamdre Tsogshed or the Lamdre Lobshed is fine.  You should also have studied the Middle Length Hevajra Lam Dus Sadhana commentaries.  One commentary which is available in English is the teachings given by Chogye Trichen Rinpoche which primarily focus on the practice of the sadhana.

(For the one month Lamdre Approximation Retreat, you need to have received the Hevajra Cause and Path empowerments.  Both empowerments will be given during the Hevajra programme which occurs prior to the start of the retreat.)

3.      Where do I obtain a copy of the commentary to study?

The Sakya Dolma Phodrang is re-publishing a commentary based on teachings given by Chogye Trichen Rinpoche.  It is available to students who received the full Lamdre (either Lobshed or Tsogshed).  This free publication is available in April onwards from some designated Sakya centres.  Please refer to the Hevajra Commentary page for further information.  You need to let them know from who you received the Lamdre, when and where was the Lamdre held in order to receive a copy.

4.      Can I communicate with my family or friends during the retreat?

As clarified with His Holiness, you can communicate with them via email or letter at the outer retreat boundary (the retreat centre, outside your room) if they are in your list of pre-determined people that you can communicate with.  You should not be taking any phone calls.  If there are any messages, the retreat centre office will receive them for you and pass the message to you.  Unless it is an absolute emergency (eg. a family member is seriously ill), one is allowed to receive calls from people who have been included inside one’s retreat boundary at the beginning of the retreat.

Please consider carefully the people you put in your list, since the purpose of a retreat is to cut off all unnecessary distraction for you to focus on your practice.

5.       Can I see my family or friends during the retreat?

You can meet them if they are pre-determined in your retreat boundary, which is set at the very beginning of the retreat.  Your pre-determined list of people whom you can meet will be able to come to the Sakya Foundation retreat centre, Spain, to see you.  They can arrange with the retreat centre to come visit you.  When space is available, they might even be able to arrange for accommodation and food at the retreat centre.  However you cannot leave the retreat boundary (retreat centre) to visit them.

6.       What if I need to see somebody but forgot to include the person in my list of people to see?

 Then you cannot see that person.  So please make sure that you choose and put the people you need to see carefully in your list.

7.       I have special dietary requirements for my health.  Can the retreat centre cater to my needs?

 The retreat centre can work with individuals to address dietary needs for health reasons, such as allergy to certain types of food.  Write to us about your specific situation so we can discuss and plan how to accommodate your needs.

8.       Can I cook my own meals?

 The retreat centre is not set up for individual reteatants to make their own meals.  Besides, the retreat schedule is sufficiently rigorous that we don’t think retreatants would have the time to make their meals and concentrate on making the retreat.

9.       What spiritual support is available at the Foundation to support this retreat?

 We have a resident Lama staying onsite to help you with your practice questions that may rise, set up shrine, and to guide you through the different practices.

10.   What if I need to consult with His Holiness Sakya Trizin or Ratna Vajra Rinpoche about my spiritual issues or other difficulties that arise during the retreat?

Your first avenue of help is the resident Lama.  If that does not resolve your problems adequately, you can send your questions to a designated confidential email, where the secretary will transmit your questions to His Holiness or Rinpoche, and receive a reply back from them via the same manner.  Please note, this is the first and only time that such precious support from His Holiness and Rinpoche is being offered to retreatants.  Potential retreatants are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity as there is no commitment if future retreatants will receive this level of support.

11.   What if I fall sick during the retreat?

 Adding a doctor, dentist, or medical person in your retreat boundary is essential.  If you fall sick, a doctor can be arranged to see you at the retreat centre, for you to consult on your sickness/health.  Pre-arranged medical insurance is required as a condition of the visa.

12.   I have heard that during retreat, one is not supposed to cut nails or shower.  Is this true?

In Tibet, this is the case where retreatants don’t shower or cut their nails.  However, in the modern world that we live in and with different climate from Tibet, His Holiness has said it is ok if you wish to cut your nails or to take shower.

13.   Can I surf the internet or read the news (such as newspaper)?

 You should not.  This is distraction which must be avoided.

14.   I am nervous, I am not used to doing such retreat.  I am not sure whether I can do the Approximation retreat or not.

Generally, the beginning of a retreat should be a bit loose, then by degrees it should get strict in the middle, and towards the end part one should again become a bit loose by degrees.  Pace yourself and you should be fine.

Also, you can try doing shorter retreats, such as the Vajrapani retreat or other shorter length retreat prior, to get familiar with the requirements of a retreat. 

15.   I have not even complete Ngondro, can I do this retreat?

Ideally, you should have done some preliminary practices.  If not, it is ok.  At the beginning of the retreat His Holiness has instructions for all retreatants to complete certain amount of preliminary practices.  For example, 3-7 days of refuge, 3-7 days of Vajrasattva, etc.  Of course, the more preliminary practices you are able to do prior to the actual retreat, the better.  In this Hevajra Approximation retreat, preliminary practices are planned into the retreat so that people with or without Ngondro could perform.

16.   What sadhana will be used for this retreat?

The Hevajra Middle Length Lam Dus sadhana and the abbreviation of this sadhana which is being prepared.  There will be supplementary practices needed, such as torma offerings, tsok and fire puja at the end.  The texts will be available at a later date.

17.  What kind of rosary should I use for this retreat? 

Your rosary should ideally be a Bodhi-seed rosary.  If there are 111 beads then it is good as supplementary recitations then won’t be necessary. 

18.   Do I need to do other sadhanas during this retreat?

If you have other daily commitments that you are doing now, you should continue and not break them.  Your daily schedule will allow time for you to do the practices required for the Hevajra Approximation retreat, as well as your other daily practices.

19.   What if I cannot finish this retreat in 8 months?

While some people completed the retreat in 6 months, others may take longer time to finish.  You can continue to do this retreat until you have accumulated the required number of mantras.  His Holiness mentioned some people even took a year to complete the retreat.

20.   Can you talk about the support for Fire puja? 

Lots of preparatory work goes into the preparation of the Fire puja, including the preparation of materials (such as buying, washing, cleaning, drying) and arrangement for additional lama support during the Fire puja.  All these work takes time to plan and the retreat centre intends to organise a Fire puja for the main group of retreatants who complete their retreat in 8 months.

21.   What if I finish earlier or later than 8 months?

Individual retreatant’s progress may be different, some may complete in 7 months, and others later, in 9 or 10 months’ time.  Retreatants are requested to plan in certain amount of flexibility in their schedule to facilitate the request for separate Fire pujas to be performed, if they cannot attend the main Fire puja.  It is also important that you inform the resident Lama and let him know 2-3 months ahead of the estimated completion of your retreat to facilitate the logistical planning.

There will be additional materials cost which the retreatant is personally responsible for.  There may also be additional expense if an additional lama needs to come specially to assist you in the Fire puja.  By communicating with the resident Lama, it facilitates the retreat centre to provide the optimal cost solution for your Fire puja practice. 

22.  What things do I need to prepare and bring for the retreat?

Below is a list of suggested items you will need for the retreat.  Some (such as the offering substances) will be available and can be bought locally in Spain.  The retreat centre may be able to assist you in this by doing it in bulk for all retreatants.  Further information will be available later.  If you have some items particular to your needs which may not be available in Spain, it is better if you bring them with you or arrange to mail it there for your use.

  • Shrine photo/thangka/image that you wish to use
  • Crossed vajra for seat (picture or carpet.  The retreat centre can provide a photocopy of the drawing on paper)
  • Objects for puja table:  an inner offering bowl (i.e., a small metal skull-cup called kapala), bell, vajra, small water container, damaru, container of rice
  • Ngon Dro Torma preparation:  Gul nak, white mustard seed (retreat centre may help)
  • Tsampa (roasted barley powder) for torma, or biscuits (retreat centre may help)
  • Kusha grass (retreat centre may help)
  • Shrine offering bowls, lamp holder, incense burner
  • Shrine offering:  water, flowers, fruits, biscuits (for torma offering), tsampa (for making torma, if available), incense, lamps (such as tealight candles) (retreat centre may help)
  • Nectar pills
  • Chang/alcohol (retreat centre may help)
  • Mandala offering plates (for Mandala offering practice), rice/grains
  • Saffron (retreat centre may help)
  • Practice texts, including other practices that you do (available at later date)
  • Fire puja substances(retreat centre to prepare)
  • Your own medicine
  • Thermos
  • Special foods and condiments
  • Special meditation cushion or bench
  • Special pillow
  • Toiletries

23.  I am an international student and would like to attend but not sure if I qualify for a visa.

Write to us about your specific situation.  We are committed to help all aspiring retreatants make this retreat and will work with you as best as we can to help you obtain a visa.