Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Peterborough, Tibet and Wolverhampton

I seem to be all over the place at the moment. Physically I'm busy shuttling back and forth between Wolverhampton, Cambridge and Peterborough. But my mind travels further afield to the people of Tibet and the Tibetan refugees I met while traveling in India.

There has been much in the news regarding the civil unrest in Tibet and also concerning the protests at the opening ceremony to Chinese Olympic Games held in Greece. It would seem that whether for good or bad, the civil rights issues in Tibet are going to be an integral part of our memory of these Games.

The Greek police are accused of incompetence for allowing protesters to make such a highly visible demonstration so close to the Chinese delegation and also for "roughing up" two other protesters during the procession of the Olympic flame. The Olympic Committee, meanwhile, struggle to justify allowing China to host the Games.

The Committee claim that inclusion of China and the high media presence during the Games can only be of help to the civil rights situation in China. Given the draconian state media controls in China and the willingness of Western Governments to turn a blind eye to brutality whenever it threatens international trade or political alliances, this outlook seems rather optimistic.

What can we do to help? At a practical level, probably very little. The least we can do is register our objections to the Chinese treatment of the people of Tibet. This link takes you to an on-line petition. It only takes a couple of minutes to complete. The Chinese Olympics has put Tibet back in the media spotlight and we should all do what we can non-violently to make the use of this extra leverage while it lasts.

This week marked the start of the Peterborough FWBO Buddhism and Meditation Class. Given that the advertising had been very last minute and that the class fell on a Bank Holiday Monday, I am please to report that two people turned up, Barbara and Mark. Both had visited the Cambridge Buddhist Centre in the past and had experience in meditation. Barbara has meditated for eight years and has experience of retreats, training in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and has good links with Amaravati monastery in Hertfordshire.

We started the evening off by building a small Buddhist shrine together. We then went on to do a 30 minute Mindfulness of Breathing Meditation. After a cup of tea we spent the remainder of the evening doing potted life stories and talking about our hopes for the group. It feels like we have a Peterborough Sangha already! A very promising start. Visit our new and slowly improving web page at:-

Tomorrow, I'm off to Wolverhampton in Birmingham. This will be my third visit in two weeks. I am preparing shop fitting plans and meeting sub-contractors in order to open a new evolution Shop. Fingers crossed it should be trading by mid May.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Buddhist Meditation Group in Peterborough, UK

I have been back a while now it seems, because I am looking for a new project - and I have found one.

The Cambridge Buddhist Centre made it known that they had received some inquiries from some people in Peterborough,UK, who wished to learn about Buddhism and or learn to meditate. It sounds like a great opportunity , so I have agreed to give it a shot.

I have so far managed to make contact with around half a dozen interested people in Peterborough and hope to start some advertising soon.

We have booked a room at the Quakers, Friends Meeting House in Peterborough, starting on Monday March 24th. It will be a weekly drop-in meditation class open to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. I feel both excited and a little nervous about taking this on.

I have already received offers of support from good friends in the community including Padmadeepa, Nagavira, Paul Wiseman and my old friend Jayamuni.

I intend to offer introductory meditation in the mindfulness of breathing and metta bhavana and general discussion and exploration around Buddhist topics and living a meaningful life in the west in the 21st century - particularly the corner known as Peterborough!

I have started a little web page to promote the new group. It can be found at:-

Back to Work

So here I am back in Cambridge, UK and back at work after around nine months of adventures. Firstly, six months at Gampo Abbey and then two pilgrimages back to back in India.

I am beginning to settle back into life here. It was a difficult transition at first and I often felt grouchy and dislocated.

Luckily, I am now back in the bosom of my old community (Bodhicharya community) in Newmarket Road. This is thanks to the generosity of Graham Denton who offered to move to a neighboring community to make space for me. Many Thanks! It feels good to be back here amongst good friends. I feel a sense of warmth, support and common purpose.

I am back working at windhorse:evolution a Buddhist team based right livelihood business/charity (not for profit organisation). My new role here is in the Retail Team. I am project managing the opening of five new evolution (fair trade giftware) shops this year. I handed over the first of these in Walsall, Birmingham, fully shop fitted to our merchandising team a few days ago and am now enjoying a quiet week or so before work starts on the next one.

I really appreciate having had the opportunity to take time out for more full time Dharma practice. I continue to review my long term plans but feel that a period of intensive practice every year or two would do me wonders.

It's been good being in touch with my friends at Gampo Abbey and many thanks to Ian for the photos. I miss you guys.

Love to All,

Hello from Sikkhim - Goodbye India (30/11/07)

Hi All

Made our way out of Kalimpong with a police escort (we have local connections!) and managed to avoid the worst of the political strike.

A whistle stop tour of Gangtok then on to Pelling far up into the hills and fantastic views of the mountains. Clean, fresh stunningly beautiful and very cold. Got up at 5am to watch the sun rise on the snows of Mt. Kachenchunga - well worth the trouble.

Next stop Tashi Ding. A magical shangri-la sort of place in the middle of nowhere. Strong associations with Guru Rinpoche, it has it's own cremation ground and a really special atmosphere. A great place to finish our pilgrimage.

Back down to Siliguri (West Bengal) stopping off on route to pay our respects to one of several caves associated with Guru Rinpoche in this area. This involved a somewhat claustrophobic crawl through a very small tunnel into a bell-shaped meditation chamber (most excellent!). To get to the cave we crossed a wonderful river - video below:

Have finished my antibiotics I am well on the way to recovery, apart from a hacking cough and a badly bruised and scraped leg (I fell down a gap in a bridge while playing with some kids - happens every day, right?).

I have been traveling in India for 8 weeks now and have done what I came for. I am tired and India'd out for the moment, so have decided to cancel my solitary retreat and come home early. I fly back to Blighty on the 4th December - in time to get in some Xmas shopping (yippee!).

I'm really looking forward to seeing my friends, some clean clothes and a hot bath, not to mention real coffee and a croissant.

If anyone is able to offer a slightly scruffy, ever so slightly homeless traveler some accommodation for a few days/weeks, I'd be pleased to hear from you (my community is not expecting me until January 15 - Hi Guys!).

Love to All,

Hello from Kalimpong (24/11/07)

Hi Chaps,

I've been here in Kalimpong for three nights now. We are staying in Sangharakshita's old hermitage. It has lots of colonial character if a little cold and damp (no heating).

It's pretty cold here (4000ft) but a bit warmer than Darjeeling. It looks like we were lucky to get out of Darjeeling before the general strike and limited violence of the last couple of days, the army are still on standby. It would have been a bit unnerving to get stranded in the middle of all that.

We still have a general strike here in Kalimpong and this cafe shouldn't really be open. There were some running street fights and one political attack two days ago. Things seem to have calmed down a lot. We leave tomorrow in a police jeep (the brother in law of our friend Wangpo).

This part of West Bengal is fighting to be recognised as an independent state (Ghuorkaland) as it is made up of Nepali's, Tibetans, Tamangs and other hills peoples in addition to displaced Indians pushing up from the plains due to population pressures. Darjeeling has eight political parties and a Tibetan mafia who enforce the strikes. Things get complicated in Indian politics.

First day here we are unable to leave the grounds due to the political situation. Fortunately, the grounds are about 2 acres of beautiful hillside with tame white rabbits wandering around along with the geese and ducks and a wide selection of orchids to admire, not to mention a stunning view of Mount Kachenchunga (the world's third highest mountain - I think).

First evening I succumbed to the dreaded amoebic dysentery (the third in our group to do so). Not fun to say the least and kept me pretty occupied for about 12 hours. I managed to get my bodily fluids under control by lunchtime yesterday with the help of various anti vomit & anti diarrhoea medication. I am on a five day course of antibiotics and still feel a bit weak. Looking on the bright side, I was putting on a little weight anyway.

Today a visit to Sangharakshita's old vihara (now a policeman's house) and then on to the Indo Tibetan Buddhist Culture Institute (Dhardo Rinpoche's school). It was great see the valuable work here both in education, helping orphans and in promoting traditional Tibetan culture. We sponsored and attended a long life puja for the latest Dhardo Tulku, carried out in Dhardo's shrine room by 6 monks from the local Gelug gompa. Finally we were treated to a show of Snow Lion dancing, then a traditional women's folk dance and a song on some interesting instruments whose names completely escape me.

I have seen many Gompa's in this area (Siliguri, Darjeeling and Ghoom) mostly associated with Dudjom Rinpoche, Chetul Sanghe Dorje Rinpoche and Dhardo Rinpoche. Great to meditate and do puja in these places associated with Sangharakshita's teachers.

Next stop Sikkhim.


Hello from Darjeeling (21/11/07)

Hi you All,

Just a quickie, my jeep beckons.

Have evacuated Bodhgaya - although not without saying Hi to HH Karmapa that we nearly met in Sarnath. He arrived after the "other" HH Karmapa had left and we happened to be staying in the Hotel he was using. A very handsome chap and no mistake.

A whistle stop tour of Rajagir and Nalanda University:-

(what an excellent place and the museum is tops) before heading out for a short train journey (only 12 hours) to Siliguri.

A crazy jeep drive up to Darjeeling (7500 ft). My fear of heights is most intense when driving on twisty mountain roads. Thoughts of "Why did I come here?" It's worth the nail biting corners though - what a beautiful place (and cold 7 celcius when we arrived last night). Snow covered mount Kachenchunga on the horizon. So many beautiful Gompas.

15 Mins to go before another nail biting night drive to Kalimpong. Have to leave Darjeeling a day early because of a 4 day political strike starting tomorrow - i.e. no road travel or restaurants for 4 days.

Love to All,
Jayasiddhi in Yeti Land (they don't sell PG tips here)

Hello from Bodhgaya - again (14/11/07)

Hi All,

Second time around and I'm back at Bodhgaya.

After finishing our retreat at Bhaja we were off to Arungabhad where we enjoyed the hospitality of some local mitras (Order friends). From this base we explored the ancient caves of Bhaja, Ajanta and Ellora. Fantastic sculpture and painting. Great atmosphere.

Next stop was Jalgon, to catch a train up to Varanassi. We had a few spare hours here and took the opportunity to enjoy a Bollywood movie (When we first met) in a local Cinema. Three hours of hit musical and very hi energy love story - a bit like 1960's Cliff Richard movies. When the couple finally kissed the whole audience got up and cheered and clapped! Lots of fun, even without subtitles.

The train journey to Varanassi was my third overnight train trip. This was my longest so far, about 21 hours including signal problems. When the points were jammed we all spilled out onto the tracks to walk about and talk. Very Indian.

At Varanassi we walked around the rabbit warren of the old city before ending up at the Burning Gats.

This is where Hindu's carry out open air cremations on their holiest of rivers.

It was a deeply moving experience to see public cremation in this way. We stayed for quite a while, quietly watching and reflecting.

Two Poems:-


Sitting on the floor at the feet of the funeral pyre the old man looks on resignedly, arms wrapped around his knees
Periodically his head drops onto his raised arm - as if resting from tiredness or from his loss
Stretching out a hand he feels the warmth of the pyre - the last warmth his wife will offer him.

Mother India

Flaming teardrops pour from dead woman's head, incandescent into the dry sands,
fiery pearls of fat at play with the elements, beautifully contrasted with the darkening sky.
Two little girls weave in and out of the metal railings, slapping each others hands playfully and practicing their gymnastics.
Dropping lithely to the gat below they lift the Ganges sands in their tiny hands and let it run through their fingers, watching it escape like time on a lazy heat hazed afternoon.
Mother India dancing between their fingers, so fertile, so giving.

Later a boat ride down the Ganges. Our boatman stopping to buy a cigarette from another boatman offering a range of goods - convenience shopping Ganges style. Sunset over the Ganges. Candles floating downstream.

As night closed in, a closing Dilwali festival with fire puja carried out to hi-energy music on the banks of the Ganges. Silver Cobra offering bowls and fly whisks, drums and bells accompanied the six young men dressed in finest Benares silk who carried out the ceremony. A complete contrast to the earlier experiences of the day. Life and light, dancing, shouting, so many people, so much confusion and noise.

Sarnath. Ritual at the Dhammek stupa. Tea and sweets at the Thai temple with the most senior Indian born Bhikku (monk) Ven. Sassanaraksmir.

He took temporary ordination at the age of 21 in order to attend the first international Buddhist convention, he was to disrobe straight after the convention. Dr Ambekar (the Great Buddhist Dalit leader) asked to him to consider keeping the ordination and not returning to lay life in order to set an example for the thousands of newly converted. He felt torn between these two paths. On the boat trip to the conference he reflected on his own selfishness and then threw all his worldly belongings into the sea, marking the end of his lay life. He is now 86 and has accomplished much, including founding several libraries and temples a school for 300 local children, a farm, and a retreat centre. He speaks 5 languages and is currently building and 80ft high stone Buddha statue. What energy!

In Sarnath we were staying at Tranghu Rinpoche's monastery. The Dalai Lama favoured Karmapa arrives the same day we do. Our schedule is tight so we are unfortunately unable to see him or receive blessings.
Our Tibetan friends and helpers Wangpo and Buddha Tamang, take us to a friends house for dinner. Momos (veg. dumpling), soup, bread and Tibetan butter tea (thick and salty!)..

In Bodhgaya. Meeting up with the TBMSG/FWBO Dhammakranti retreat. 850 Indian Buddhists gathered from 16 different Indian states. We receive a warm welcome and much interest in our foreign presence.

Later a procession to and puja at the Mahabodhi temple, near the Bodhi tree. Probably 750 of us attended. Very powerful to do puja with so many people. A great feeling of family and shared vision.

The "other" Karmapa is here giving initiations. With our retreat and the usual pilgrims the town is buzzing. It's great to see the huge Tibetan ceremonies and the Karmapa under the Bodhi tree giving his initiations. He seems to have quite a following.

Constant travelling takes a psychic toll. I awake in the night. The room is completely dark, eyes shut or open, I can't tell the difference. Where am I? I haven't got a clue. Not even sure who I am. As consciousness gets stronger I slowly manage to get my bearings. An unsettling Bhardo moment. A breakfast of hot milky porridge with Tibetan bread and jam. Equilibrium restored.

Much Love,

Hello from Pune (28/10/07)

Hi Chaps,

Today finds me in Sunny Pune.

After Sanchi and Bhopal I trained it down to Nagpur (means Snake City). Nowadays
known as Orange City and very juicy they are too. Train delayed three hours - not too bad really - can be a lot worse.

I spent three days in Nagpur exploring archaeological remains of a monastery, stupa and small college patronised by Nagurjuna no less. It's said he experimented in Chemistry here - Alchemy perhaps? Looked like a mini Nalanda.

I had the guided tour of the area by Dhamma Mitra Kapil and our friend from Bodhgaya Dhamma mitra Sheilesh. What a lovely suprise to see him here, such a positive and helpful guy.

We toured the Nagaloka College - a great TBMSG institution, which trains 40 youngsters per year in Buddhist studies during a one year intensive course. About forty students per year attend from all over India.

I was asked to give "short" talk to which I obliged, although with question time it ran into 2 hours! The students were very interested in life in the West and the benefits of Buddhist practice. I gave my talk an emphasis on the benefits of "taking responsibility for our actions" - at the request of the Head Teacher.

We also visited the Hsuang Tsang retreat centre (funded by Taiwanese donors). A magical spot in the heart or rural (Jungle) India. A fantastic stupa/shrine room with amazing acoustics. Tigers are common in the surrounding hills and have been seen on the centre land (though not recently thank goodness!). Beautiful lakes close by.

Dinner at Kapil's home (cooked by his younger sister) has added a touch of real life India to the trip. Great hospitality.

An overnight train to Pune was free from excitement apart from one informative passenger who wanted to initiate me into the secrets of his personal religious philosophy "all is one, god is all, god in everyone". He carried on and on until the Indian Doctor next to him said "For heaven sakes man, give the guy a break, you've said the same thing at least ten times!"

When the "informative passenger" popped to the loo, I quietly thanked the Doctor and we shared a friendly understanding for the rest of the trip. He had visited Cambridge several times with his job in tropical medicine.

I am recovering from an ongoing low level cold (hence the Oranges). I am a bit tired from all this non-stop travel and am looking forward to a quiet one week retreat before starting over.

Love to All,

Hello from Bhopal (23/10/07)

Hello me Chucks,

Sad goodbyes to Paul and Padmadeepa at Gonda railway station. Alone on a busy platform in a very strange country - gulp!

I've now experience the 2AC overnight sleeper train! Great way to meet people. Air con a little to cold for me. Got a crick in my neck! Meet a couple of very nice railway engineers. Lots of discussions about marriage, divorce and sex! The Indians are not always so reserved as I was led to believe.

A mid price hotel in Sanchi was a pleasant little treat after our cheaper accommodation to date. The Sanchi Stupa site is a real Jewel. I had the extensive site mostly to myself without any hassle from beggars, hawkers of pushy tour guides. Meditated at the big stupa, explored ruined monastery complexes and great little temples. A very relaxed and enjoyable day.

Today I traveled to Bhopal by local bus, sharing a back seat designed for 4 with 6 other people! So many people and rice sacks. No goats or sheep though. Local people smile and point and test out their English skills on the lone tourist. Friendly and enjoyable banter. Playing with the kids.

I have really pushed the boat out in Bhopal to celebrate the end of the first leg of my journey. A three star hotel with 24 hour coffee bar, broadband (!), a bar, two restaurants and small shopping mall. A fridge and colour TV in my room. Room service. Air con that works, a bath and private balcony with views of Bhopal's extensive lakes. All for 30 GBP. A lot of money in India, but a very dingy bed and breakfast in England.

A memory from the train journey:-

The bloated cow lays leaking body fluid into the baked earth
A mangy stray approaches nonchalantly and bites into the throat - just to be sure
After a few minutes of hungry chewing he trots off and then returns a few minutes later with his pack
A couple of larger dogs work the throat and face, peeling back layers of skin and fat
Smaller dogs look on casually with a patience which is humbling
Bright red muzzles on a sunny afternoon.

India is a vivid place. A little like loosing your sunglasses in the mid day sun. It's difficult to know where to look in order to minimise the intensity of experience.

Love to all.


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...