Ivo's life - so far

Please note that this is a long article. For a short overview, click here. Also, this is a rudimentary outer account, not a namthar. It does not cover Ivo’s spiritual life. If you want some of that stuff, read An account of Dharma Received

Early life

Ivo Kalushev

Ivo, circa 1980

Ivo was born in 1974, in  Sofia, Bulgaria as the only child in a normal middle class family. His father was a social psychology professor, and his mother – a distinguished pianist. During his early years his parents raised him as a happy child. His father insisted that he should start learning the English language at the earliest possible time, and provided him with a private English teacher by the age of 6. Despite the communist times from very early age Ivo was taken on trips to the “West” – Greece, Switzerland, Belgium and Holland. This was also part of his father’s philosophy – that a child must experience the world “as soon as possible”. These early experiences were very important for Ivo, although he himself describes these times as a “dull” period in his life.

From very early on Ivo had unusual interest in Eastern philosophy, trying to read yoga books by the age of 7 and soon after arranging his first improvised Buddhist shrine, much to the dismay of some members of the family. Frustrated with the scarceness of adequate information on the eastern meditation traditions Ivo then turned his interest to eastern martial arts, as the only expression of these teachings which was available during this period in Communist Bulgaria. He was enrolled in Karate Gōjū-ryū training this same year, shortly before entering school. He liked a lot the discipline required in martial arts and kept up with his training for 14 years, eventually switching to Taekwon-do ITF in 1985 when the Korean master Kim Ung Chol came to Bulgaria, earning his black belt at an early age and even competing for a very short period. During his years of training he also studied Wing Chun Kung Fu of the Wong Shun Leung tradition and Aikido.

When Ivo was 11 years old his parents abruptly divorced, which was a great shock for him and marked a whole new period in his life. Without warning he was forced to live with his mother in a different part of town, had to change his school, and lost all his friends. He started spending his whole time reading, trying to educate himself in Western philosophy and psychology, even making a fake library card for the Sofia University library and, after being caught, successfully convincing the staff there to let him read books from the English language section. After a short and disillusioning acquaintance with Nietzsche and Freud which left him with a bitter taste, Ivo received an unexpected gift by an old woman he barely new – it was Carlos Castaneda’s “Journey to Ixtlan”. This book captured his attention like no other and he immediately started experimenting with the lucid dreaming instructions it contained, experiencing great success in a very short time. Thus, at 12 years of age Ivo started connecting with the Central American shamanic traditions, mainly through his lucid dreaming. This led to a very extensive and significant chain of events that unfolded later in his teenage years, which, according to his wishes, will not be part of this account.

Teenage years

At 13 Ivo became interested in rock climbing and speleology, enrolling in training at the Bulgarian Alpine Climbing Federation the following year. The same year he applied for, took the exams and was admitted to Sofia Spanish Secondary School – his wish to learn Spanish having to do with his interest in the Central American shamanism. Growing progressively disillusioned by the educational system however, apart from learning the language over the following years Ivo was very irregular at school, preferring to spend his time in the mountains, rock climbing and caving.  During these years he was notorious among the rock climbing community with his free solo climbing, which was considered extremely dangerous by his peers. He also liked to explore caves alone, eventually becoming a known figure of the Bulgarian speleological community, especially in the field of new cave exploration. His school suffered but he didn’t care. When Ivo was 16 he travelled to the United States, where he stayed for a period, furthering his interests in various fields. There he had some very transformative encounters which vastly influenced his spiritual development. During the same period Ivo earned several teaching qualifications, becoming a Rock Climbing, Speleology, Outdoor Survival and Emergency Rescue instructor.

In 1991, again in Bulgaria, together with a group of friends Ivo founded the Zalmoksys Ecological Society, which later became Roke Adventure School – a speleology and mountain climbing school for children, offering very high level of specialized education courses. Many of the early instructors at the school, Ivo included, often worked for free. The school functioned for a 12 year period.

Although completely disillusioned by the educational system, later Ivo graduated from an US university in Photography and Cinematography, taking a four year course in one year, without much interrupting his subsequent Buddhist studies.

Buddhist studies

In the early 90’s the first authentic Buddhist teacher visited Sofia – Lama Jampa Thaye of the Sakya Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Ivo became his disciple and formed a relationship with him which would last for many years. He received many teachings and transmissions privately from him and started doing meditation retreats and engaged in full time serious study.  In 1997 Ivo decided that he had to go to the Himalayas, to Nepal – the center of the Vajrayana Buddhist world. He had no money for an airplane ticket and his parents did not agree to help, so he sold all his climbing gear and, having 170 US dollars in his pocket, together with one Dharma friend of 16 years of age made the trip on foot, through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India and finally Nepal. Ivo stayed there almost a year, feeling for the first time truly at home, and meeting some of the most extraordinary Tibetan teachers of the last generation. Mostly, however, this trip was just for rekindling past karmic connections.

During the years that followed Ivo alternated practice in retreat with spending time in Asia, eventually switching entirely to the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism in 2005 and starting to study with H.E. Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, the abbot of the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery.  Rabjam Rinpoche then introduced him to H.H. Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche, then head of the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, instructing Ivo to take Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche as his root teacher.  Later Ivo received from these and many other eminent teachers some of the most precious transmissions of the Nyingma (see: Ivo’s Teachers, and Account of Dharma Received).

All in all, during the period following 1993 Ivo dedicated his whole time to Buddhist studies, spent four consecutive years in traditional solitary meditation retreat, and did many other short and long meditation retreats at the instruction of his main teachers. He practiced the Ngondro practices of six different lineages, and accomplished the Kyerim and Dzogrim stages of the path of various cycles in addition to practicing the full scope of inner yoga and Dzogchen practices (See: Account of Dharma Received). During his retreats Ivo translated many teachings and books into Bulgarian language, establishing a firm foundation for the study and practice of future students. From 2005 he became the head of the Tegchog Lamsang Dharma center in Bulgaria and invited there some of the most eminent Tibetan Buddhist teachers of the Nyingma, like Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. He also started an Internet discussion board and website in which he offered many invaluable insights and help to aspiring Buddhist practitioners. This Internet forum became a unique treasury of  authoritative explanations on Tibetan Buddhism for the Bulgarian audience, but was closed by Ivo without warning on the Fall of 2013.

Ivo Kalushev

Ivo teaching at the Thegchog Lamsang Dharma Center, 2010

The Breakaway

In 2011 many highly unusual events rapidly unfolded, culminating in Ivo’s acceptance of the role of formal Buddhist teacher in the summer of that year, through the inspiration of H.H. Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche, who passed away shortly after. From him Ivo received some precise and detailed final instructions on the future course of his life and activity (see: Breaking the Bond). A year prior to these events Ivo had started to receive some new Dzogchen lineages as Da snang transmission, which involved very special practices, quite incompatible with the way the mainstream Tibetan Buddhist lineages have so far been disseminated in the West. All this finally led him to the decision to cut formal ties with the Tibetan Buddhist establishment, to sell his Dharma center and to invite his close students on a very unusual and challenging sailing adventure around the world (see: The Journey). The purpose of that trip for him was partly to see which of his students were ready to take what would follow.

The Sky Dharma Community

In March 2013 Lama Ivo and his students arrived with their ship, Ati, at the shores of the Mexican Yucatan peninsula and established the seat of the Sky Dharma Community in the Mayan jungle near the city of Tulum. A property was acquired and Ivo agreed to gradually transmit several new cycles of teaching and practice and to explain the new framework of Dharma life they would require. This is a task which will unfold the following years and which may involve a number of people around the world. For more information, please browse the relevant sections of the website.

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight,
it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Mark Twain