Friday, December 29, 2017

Reporting in from the Hermitage

Here is a copy of a reporting in that I prepared for our AHS Quarterly Journal (called Tendrel). As the journal is only available to members of the Awakened Heart Sangha, I thought I'd share this more widely amongst my non AHS member friends:

Another three months slips by almost unnoticed. They say that time fly’s when you are having fun! This has been an activity packed period for me, including a three-week trip away from the Hermitage during September and October when I combined some holiday with Lama’s teaching day at the Shambhala Centre in London.

The first week was spent in my home town of Royston in Hertfordshire. It was great to stay with an old school friend Fran, and visit my old haunts. I had lunch with my sister Jackie, her grown-up daughter Kylie and my three-year old great nephew, whom I had not met before. It was great to see what a good mother my niece had turned into – so grown up!

My second week I spent in Cambridge, staying with my old Triratna community. I went to the Cambridge Buddhist centre each morning to meditate with old friends and then spent the day catching up with more old friends. I really love Cambridge: the river, the colleges, the museums. I am really pleased that I have managed to maintain my connections there.

During this week I visited a middle school to give a talk to a group of about 50 thirteen-year olds. I had bumped into their RE teacher about 6 months ago and he invited me to visit the next time I was in town. Buddhist robes do tend to turn you into a walking bill-board. We did a short meditation session with the kids and they asked some very interesting and funny questions, including: “what would happen iff the next Dalai Lama is born into a Muslim family?” A good question indeed!

My third week was spent in Spittalfields, London with a Triratna friend called Paola, who used to come to a group I led in Milton Keynes. She always puts me up when I am in town. We went to visit the Japanese section at the British Museum. The quality of some of the Buddhist sculptures was breath-taking – really refined. I have to confess to preferring this far-eastern aesthetic to the Tibetan one. We also visited another old friend Shirley (ex MK Group) at the Jamyang Centre where she is living and volunteering, good to see how other groups do things.

The day before Lama’s talks (both excellent & available on Youtube) I visited Serlingma at her home in London to give her the Zamcho Genyen precepts, the same ordination that I hold. This falls into a grey area between householder and monastic ordination, combining the most essential elements of monastic training but without many of the minor rules contained in the Vinaya.

My ordination was carried out by a fully ordained nun called Ani Migme Chodron and it is unusual for one Zamcho Genyen to ordain another as I did with Serlingma. Lama Shenpen had asked me to seek permission to do this, so that we could explore a wider range of lifestyles within the AHS. Ani Migme obtained permission for this from her preceptor, Thrangu Rinpoche, for which I am very grateful. It was wonderful to watch Serlingma making her commitments and I felt honoured to act in that capacity (photo attached).

Arriving back at the Hermitage I bought myself a car, only the second car I have ever owned. I hope it proves more reliable than my first one, which was a money pit with a leaky windscreen, meaning the carpets were always wet and sometimes grew mushrooms! Fingers crossed. This new car will allow me to get out and about a bit and enjoy some independence. This feels important to me after one year living at the Hermitage. We are a bit isolated! More importantly, this will allow me to get out and about from January to start a Liverpool Meditation Group, a Manchester Meditation Group and a Leeds Meditation Group. Plans for these are coming together and I feel very excited about this project.

Between now and January we have the Vajrasattva retreat and a Mind & Body retreat with Elizabeth Callahan. I will then pause for Christmas pudding before taking a three-week solitary retreat. I am enjoying the darkening winter days and looking forward to my semi-hibernation in my man cave.
Love to all,


Monday, September 4, 2017

Meditation - Eyes Open or Closed?

Learning meditation you will be taught to meditate with your eyes closed or your eyes open. Which is best and why?

I was first taught to meditate with my eyes closed. This seems to be common in some Theravadin schools, Vipassana meditation groups and the Triratna Buddhist Community.

I am now meditating in the Tibetan traditions of Kagyu/Nyingma. My main practice is Formless Meditation (meditation without an object of focus). In this meditation, the instruction is to meditate with the eyes open, or half open with the vision cast down a little. The gaze is kept soft and you do not focus on any particular object . You can experience this by trying to see through your peripheral vision.

So why do some Buddhist meditation schools recommend eyes closed and some eyes open?

When I learnt to meditate with the Triratna Buddhist Community I was told that the visual input was disturbing, particularly to beginners and that shutting my eyes would help me to not get distracted aid access to super-normal states of concentration, called Dhyana. This seemed reasonable and I practised this way (and taught meditation this way) for many years.

Later, when I was introduced to Formless Meditation (within the view of Dzogchen/Mahamudra) I was taught that meditating with eyes closed had the side effect of turning your meditation into some kind of inner-world that actually cuts you off from a wider, more inclusive reality. It can become a comfy place that you go to for refuge from a busy and disturbing life, but it is not a place that you can remain. The benefits of this being quickly lost when you return to the wider world.

The advantage here of meditating with eyes open is that you remain connected and open to the world. Therefore, you do not require any transition into daily life. with practice you can meditate in situations that may appear to be counter productive, such as at the airport or on a busy train. I once heard Ato Rinpoche say that he liked to test his meditation in noisy, stimulating airport lounges.

Also, with Formless Meditation, part of the instruction is to soften and open out into the space around you. Meditating with eyes closed gives an auditory and felt sense of space, but meditating eyes open adds another dimension to this. You really need to experiment with this for yourself and see what differences there are for you.

Formless Meditation also emphasises a balance between Shamatha (concentration) and Vipassana (insight) right from the get go. The view being that the Truth of things is closer than we might think and that simply resting the mind without contrivance on our present experience is sufficient to lead to insight, without the need for deep Dhyanic experiences. Indeed, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche warned students about becoming stuck in the attractions of "Shamatha's pool". The experience of Dhyanic concentration can be very pleasurable leading meditation students stuck in trying to replicate previous meditation experiences.

I think the view of the Mahayana/Vajrayana of practising Buddhism and meditation for the sake of all beings (the Bodhisattva path) may tend towards an eyes open meditation technique simply because it is orientated outwards into the world. By not separating our meditation into an internal matter, we stay connected to others and can more easily carry the benefits into our daily interactions.

So who is right? Meditating with eyes open or eyes closed? The only way to know is to try both methods for yourself. This can be done in one session of meditation - perhaps starting eyes closed while tuning into the body and then opening the eyes for the main practice. Alternatively, trying each method for a period of some weeks or months, perhaps keeping a meditation diary to note and remember the effects.

Whichever method, the best results will be obtained by exploring your experience with a qualified meditation teacher or mentor.

In this way we can talk about our meditation practice open up areas for closer examination in a way that we could not do on our own. This will save us valuable time lost down dead-ends and help us to maintain a lively, effective and authentic meditation practise.

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.

Reporting in from the Hermitage

Here is a copy of a reporting in that I prepared for our AHS Quarterly Journal (called Tendrel). As the journal is only available to member...