Friday, June 16, 2017

Sacred Landscape and Smoke Puja Lhasang

One of the things I really appreciated about my time at Gampo Abbey was the Shambhala approach to sacred place and landscape. In 2007 I had my first introduction to Buddhist smoke pujas (Lhasang in Tibetan).

A windy Lhasang at Gampo Abbey

In this ritual we would prepare a fire in a specially built fire pit near the edge of the cliff overlooking the Bay of St. Lawrence, a wild and blowy place. We would circle the fire with Buddhist ritual instruments and chant the Shambhala Lhasang liturgy, compiled by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a teacher of Lama Shenpen Hookham (my own teacher).

During the ceremony various purifying substances would be added to the fire, such as juniper, oils and herbs. These would produce a thick white smoke which would be whipped off into the wind sometimes visible miles down the coastline, other times swallowed into a snow storm.

The view behind the Lhasang was one of joining heaven and earth, of calling down beneficial influence (Drala) down into our worldly existence and purifying he participants and the land we were practising on.

I find this view of correspondence between the levels of the physical environment and the levels of the spiritual environment very pleasing. It resonates with something pre-Buddhist, perhaps something pre-dating organised religion, something deep in the human psyche.

Similar smoke rituals are found in the Bon tradition of pre-Buddhist Tibet, in Hinduism and in the Native American cultures to name but a few, There are also resonances with the burning of incense in Christian Catholic rites.

I am not by nature a very outdoorsy kind of person, those that know me will more likely associate me with cafes and comfy sofas. But there is something about performing ritual under the open Gwynedd skies that will have me reaching for my wellies.

Lama Shenpen doing puja at the Faerie Glen in Snowdonia

Here in beautiful Gwynedd (pronounced Gwyneth) in North Wales, we are surrounded by sacred spots where people of many spiritual traditions including Druids and Celtic Christians have practised on the same land for many centuries. These spots are marked by sacred groves, healing wells and standing stones.

A view of Snowdon on pilgrimage to the Faerie Glen

As a 21st Century Buddhist practising in North Wales, I take a real joy in the sense of continuity that I get from performing a Lhasang smoke offering on a Welsh hillside. My understanding of the how the universe works is different from my predecessors; the deities I chant to are not the old gods of this region; and yet as I dance around the fire, chanting and singing into the Welsh breeze, I know that men and women have been doing this here for milllennia. The smell of the smoke, the earth under our rhythmically moving feet, the love of this sacred land. Whatever our differences, we hold this simple and beautiful thing in common,

Monday, June 5, 2017

Meanders into Buddhist Wales (an update 2011-2016)

It's been a busy few years and much has changed. I worked as the Director of New View Residential in Cambridge for around five years and was happy to see this grow, particularly in the light of the closure of Windhorse Trading, the Triratna Team Based Right Livelihood Business this grew out of.

I started studying a course called Discovering the Heart of Buddhism with the Awakened Heart Sangha in 2013. This was written by Lama Shenpen Hookham and is an exploration of Buddha Nature and Formless Meditation related to the Dzogchen and Mahamudra lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.

I've been really pleased with this course and it has refreshed and enlivened my interest in mediation and Dharma study. I went on a few retreats at the Hermitage of the Awakened Heart and started to feel that this was the approach for me.

I continued to support and run the Triratna Milton Keynes group alone and with friends such as Priyadaka and Prajnaghatu up until the end of 2015. I was beginning to find an increasing discomfort in teaching meditation and Buddhism in a Triratna style when it was clear to me that my heart lay with the Buddha Nature (Shentong) approach of the Awakened Heart Sangha.

At the end of 2015 I left Cambridge, my Buddhist community house and New View Residential to return to Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. I wished to further explore the Buddha Nature teachings and Formless Meditation that I had learnt through the Awakened Heart Sangha. I signed up for one year.

I resigned from the Triratna Buddhist Order at the end of 2015 and took temporary ordination as a Buddhist monk at Gampo Abbey in October that year. Later in 2016 I extended that commitment to a three year Ordination. I took this from my mentor and good friend Ani Migme Chodron at Karma Changchub Ling a new Buddhist monastic training centre and community in Halifax. NS, Canada.

I had a great year at Gampo Abbey and made some good friends. It was so good to be back there after my visits in 2007 and 2009. This place really gets under your skin and in some ways I felt like I had never left.

It was very enriching to spend a year studying with Shastri Alice Haspray and Shastri Loden. We had a Yarne monastic rains retreat led by Ani Pema Chodron on the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, one of my favourite texts. it was a real treat to study with her for a couple of months.

In late 2016, I returned from Gampo Abbey and took up my role as Hermitage Manager at The Hermitage of the Awakened Heart a Buddhist retreat centre in Gwynedd, North Wales. This is Lama Shenpens home and the main retreat centre for the Awakened Heart Sangha.

Here I help to run the retreat centre, set up events, manage repairs and maintenance and so on. It is great to be living with my teacher Lama Shenpen Hookham which feels like a real blessing.

to be continued ....more regularly ...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Milton Keynes Meditation Association Gets New Website

After some months of development the Milton Keynes Meditation Association (affiliated to the Cambridge Buddhist Centre) has launched it's new Website.

The development work was done by Dharmachari Jnanasalin, an Order Member based in Cambridge.

All the Cambridge outreach groups now share one address:

The Milton Keynes Group can now be found at:


The new website is very pretty and includes a blog page allowing us to keep people up to date with what's happening at our classes and the wider Triratna Buddhist world. We even have a Milton Keynes Meditation Facebook page.

The MK Group goes from strength to strength. We now have weekly meetings and the numbers of attendees are going up. The group has 15 years of practise history behind it and there is a strong feeling of community and appreciation for Buddha Dharma in the group.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Buddhist Letting Agency - New View Residential in Cambridge

Hi All,

Well, I have finally gone and done it. Those of you who know me well will probably recall me going on about starting a Buddhist ethical letting agency in my home town of Cambridge. It is talk no longer.

The agency is called New View Residential and is owned by the Windhorse Trust, the charity that owns windhorse:evolution. We started in October last year with encouragement and support from friends such as Vidyavajra (in the photo with the board he designed), Janansalin and Keturja to name just a few.

It completes a full circle for me as letting property in Cambridge is how I first became involved in Buddhism. I was working for an agency in Cambridge and had let a property to Windhorse for use as a community. I was fascinated by the sight of their shrine room and started going along to the Cambridge Buddhist Centre a few months later.

New View Residential is a Cambridge based residential letting agency and acts on behalf of local landlords who wish to rent out their property. We advertise their property to help them find tenants, we take references and collect the rent, deposits and so on. We can also direct them to Letsure, our insurance partner who can provide property insurance to both landlords and tenants.

The new Right Livelihood business is a not-for-profit social enterprise meaning that it distributes it’s profits to charity. Half of the profits will go to Triratna Buddhist projects and the other half to charities nominated by our Cambridge landlords. We ask our landlords to nominate one of 6 charities. Five of the charities are operating in the Cambridge area:

The other charity is the Karuna Trust, which we have included as an option for Buddhist landlords.

Our name “New View” has 3 meanings:

  • The Buddha’s Middle Way is a “New View”
  • A letting agent dedicated to raising money for charity rather than profit is a “New View”
  • When you move home you get a “New View”

I really hope this takes off and is successful in raising money for Triratna Buddhist projects and local charities. I also hope that New View Residential can help to raise the profile of Buddhism in the local community. You can never tell how people get involved with Buddhism - look what happened to me.

We have just launched our Cambridge Lettings website and are now looking for landlords and tenants. The site was developed by an ethical company Virya Technologies, operated by Triratna Buddhist Mitra Ruth Cheesely who goes to the Ipswich Buddhist Centre. Please have a look at our website and let me know what you think.

With Love,


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Milton Keynes Intro to Meditation Day

I'll be leading an Introduction to Meditation Day in Milton Keynes on Saturday 12th June 2010.

The day will be open to all those interested in learning meditation regardless of age, backround or religious belief. We will be exploring the nature of meditation and teaching two Buddhist Meditation practices: the Mindfulness of Breathing and the Cultivation of Loving Kindness.

The Day is being hosted by the Milton Keynes Meditation Association at the Friends Meeting House in Downhead Park (map). The day starts at 9.30am and finished at 4.30pm. The cost is £35 (or £25 concessionary rate). Please bring a vegetarian lunch to share.

If you'd like further details please contact me at:

On-line bookings can be made at:

Introduction to Meditation in Milton Keynes - Bookings

I'm looking forward to it, it should be a fun day.

Buddhist Meditation Milton Keynes

Hello My Friends,

Sorry there have been no updates for a while. I have been a little occupied, what with one thing and another!

I have found a new project in the Milton Keynes Meditation Association, a Triratna Buddhist Community (ex FWBO) meditation group attached to the Cambridge Buddhist Centre. I go along there two Thursday nights per month to lead meditation and Buddhist discussion. It's an intimate and friendly group and I am really enjoying getting to know them.

My good friend Jnanasalin has helped me develop a website for the group:

Milton Keynes Meditation Association

Milton Keynes is quite famous for it's concrete cows (above), made by Canadian artist/sculptress Liz Leyh.

I am now back in Cambridge and living happily in my old community house. I am working full time at Windhorse Trading (our Right Livelihood Business) as the P.A to Keturaja (our shiny new Managing Director). It's lovely being back in Cambridge, especially as the spring makes it's presence felt after our worst winter for 30 years! I think we have had more snow than Gampo Abbey this year.

Thanks for all your emails.

With Metta,

Friday, December 11, 2009

Goodbye Canada - Hello Blighty

Hi Y'All,

My last post saw me about to go into retreat. I very much enjoyed my little 5 day solitary in the "Longevity Cabin". I managed to get in plenty of study and meditation and prepared my talks for the introductory weekend I was to be supporting later in Guelph. The weather was pretty chilly with a light dusting of snow. I really enjoyed the wood burning stove!

snow on the hilltops

Coming out of retreat I was given a surprise farewell rejoicing party - with lashings of ice-cream. What a great way to come out of retreat - I felt completely love bombed! I usually feel rather awkward at these sorts of things, but really enjoyed it all the same.

My last week at Gampo Abbey flew by in a whirl of activity. I had lots of loose ends to tie up and those around me were busy preparing and supporting Shambhala training levels, so it was all a bit of a blur. Being driven out of the Abbey to meet my shuttle bus felt slightly surreal and I felt a lot of sadness to be leaving my Abbey friends.

Twelve hours later I landed in St. John's - the capital city of Newfoundland. My hosts for my two week visit were Les & Lewis Cranford, two old friends from my 2007 visit to the Abbey.

Lewis & Les going walkabout

My first week was spent in solitary retreat at Les & Lewis' cabin in New Harbour. This is a secluded little spot close to the tourist destination of Dildo (no comment). My week was very quiet and I had the opportunity to enjoy meditation, recorded Dharma talks and some study of Madhyamaka, which tied my brain into knots and often left me with headaches. After this, I really enjoyed my pleasant strolls down to the harbour and to the local gas station for a coffee. Before I left the Abbey a nun had mentioned that she had heard stories of this cabin being haunted. I didn't have any experiences while there, but the thought that it might be certainly added an extra edge to my already over active imagination.

A little Home from Home

The Outhouse was ...........well ventilated

My second week in Newfoundland was spent mostly around St. John's. Les and Lewis introduced me to some hikes around the coast of the Avalon peninsular and to the delights of eating wild berries such as partridge berry - a new one for me - and spruce sap, which apparently can be used to make homemade chewing gum - very sticky and an acquired taste!

Looking out to the Atlantic across St. John's Harbour

I loved the Newfoundland culture. We took in a number of local bands, some traditional dancing and some traditional ballad singing. The mixture of Celtic roots and the development of a local folk tradition was fantastic. It would be a great place to visit during the annual music festival. The locals are friendly and very easy going and George Street is a wonderfully condensed party/club/bar district catering to all ages and tastes, it was great to watch little old fellas and teenage girls have a good night out on the same dance floor - I don't think this happens much in England. Nobody in NF seems to go out till 10pm and the place is really kicking at 2am!

The wild and beautiful Avalon Peninsular

I was invited to give a talk to the local Shambhala Buddhism group and decided to lead the evening on Spiritual Friendship. The evening seemed to go well and around 25 people came along. It was a lively and intelligent group with lots of practice experience, I really enjoyed the warmth of hospitality.

From St. John's I jumped on a 3 hour flight to Toronto. Harshaprabha and his mate Kam picked me up and drove me to the charming little city (about 128,000 people) of Guelph. Here another friend of Harshaprabha had loaned me his flat for the weekend and I enjoyed sharing the flat with his long haired and idiosyncratic cat called Mork.

The Guelph Church where Anagarika Dhammapala
gave his public lectures on his tour of Canada

I spent the weekend supporting 4 drop in classes intended for newcomers to Buddhism and Meditation. I think Harshaprabha was a little disappointed at the sizes of the classes, but everyone seemed to get something from it and it was a very friendly weekend. Sunday night we watched the Grays Cup at a friends house. This is the big Canadian football game of the year and I have to say that I really got into it. It helped having lots of people to explain the rules.

The CN Tower is quite big

The last leg of my journey was a Greyhound bus trip into Toronto for 4 days of site seeing. I took in the CN Tower (the worlds tallest building at 555 metres). It seems I am still scared of heights.

It seems bigger close up....

looking down through the glass floor at 450 metres confirms's big

Great views though

I went to a number of museums and art galleries, partly accompanied by Sylvie, the twin sister of my Gampo Abbey friend Tsultrim. The highlights would be the collection of Buddhist Art at the Royal Ontario museum and a small museum of Inuit Arts. I was really impressed by the intimate connection the Inuits have with the natural world, a sort of sacred outlook, and the parallels with Buddhist cultures, particularly the Tibetans. I'd love to learn more about this way of seeing the world, which seems rooted in a deep respect.

A small selection of the treasures at the ROM

Today, I am sitting in my good friend John's comfortable house in Thundridge (near Hertford, UK). I have been getting re-acquainted with English culture over the last week - particularly enjoying the English phenomena of the Indian Restaurant! There are some great little walks around here, one going through the neighbouring village of Cold Christmas. In two days I return to my community in Cambridge.