Tuesday, September 8, 2009

August at Gampo Abbey

Hello me Ducks,

I hope you are all well and happy.

At the beginning of this month we had the arrival of 12 ladies for the latest stage of the 3 year retreat program in the Sopa Choling Retreat Centre (adjacent to Gampo Abbey). One of these was my old mate Christine Behrens so it was lovely to have a chance to catch up with her.

This current session includes study and practice of the 6 Yogas of Naropa, one of which is Tsumo or production of inner heat. Should save a bit on the heating bills this winter.

We prepared the retreat centre for them prior to their arrival and said our goodbyes at the official Gate Closing ceremony.

This included circumambulating the retreat centre with flags and trumpet blowing,

a Lasang (fire puja/offering)

and the gate closing itself with offerings to the protector deities

concluding with posting pictures of the 4 Kings on the retreat centre gates.

The retreatants are now confined to the retreat centre and it's grounds for around 9 months.

Farm Visit

The Abbey has an ongoing relationship with a local man called Brook who runs a small sustainable organic farm. He visits us on occasion and has supplied some fresh vegetables and goat yoghurt to us in the past. The kitchen manager Trime Lhagtong is keen to extend our relationship and on this pretext a car load of us set off with our packed lunches and swimming costumes to pay a visit to Brook and his family.

It was lovely to meet his wife, children, dogs, goats, chickens, cows, pigs and ducks. Here is a man who really loves what he does and he is passionate about sustainability. He says on a good day he can see that he is not just growing vegetables but can see his whole family rising up through the soil. I for one believe him.

It was great to get a tour of the veggie patch, everything mixed in together to confuse the bugs and reduce the impact of disease and good to try the produce straight from the vine. The highlight for me was meeting Brook's rare Scottish breed Bull with his harem of cows.

Brook and his remarkably friendly Bull

I have never been this close to a Bull before and doubt that I ever will again. You could definitely see him sizing us up, but he remained calm and the presence of Brook helped to diffuse any perceived threat (from us!).

It was great to see a free range family of cows just wandering around and enjoying the the shady trees and mud. Very natural.

The day was particularly hot and after visiting the cows we got to play in our own watering hole in the local river. The river was very cooling and we swam by a small rapid which made a great hot tub, with salmon joining in the fun.

Birthday Gal

Ani Palmo celebrated her 76th Birthday this month. We had a wee party in her little cottage with some sweets and a truly excellent Boston Cream Pie (courtesy of Dechen). Ani Palmo treated us to a run through of her life story which is really quite fascinating. Originating in Poland, she was a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and one of the early founders of Gampo Abbey.

Ani Palmo and me have a Birthday hug

Brannon hides behind Ani Palmo's Orchid

We said goodbyes to Brannon who returned to the Nyingma Institute in California (hope it's going well!), to Ani Lodro who returned to her home Sangha in Montreal and to Choshin who's taking up a new post in Washington. I will miss you all.

Two Order Members at Gampo Abbey

Bodhidaka paid a flying visit at the end of the month, staying for just three nights. It was lovely to see another Order Member and to catch up a bit on mutual friends.

Bodhidaka was here in time for Ani Lodro and Choshin's leaving party, and along with FWBO mitra Saskia aka Zangmo (pictured above) we offered the chanting of the Dhammapam Gatha, a little gift from the FWBO mini Sangha.

Death of a Han

The Han is a very important part of Abbey Life. It comes from the Zen tradition and is used to signal the start of a monastery activity such as chanting, meditation (or lunch!). There are two distinctive ways to hit the Han, one for shrineroom activities and one for everything else.

Karma Chogyal warms up the shiny new hardwood Han

The practice with the Han is to drop what you are doing straight away, as soon as you hear the distinctive "clack, clack, clack" and move onto the next activity. This helps to overcome attachment to our own way of doing things and is a reminder of the choicelessness of the moment of death. Neither the Han nor the Grim Reaper are prepared to wait while you finish your coffee.

and here's one we prepared earlier

The story of the Han (and nobody knows where this originated - it's not a Zen thing) is that when the Han finally breaks the kindly folks of the Abbey get to enjoy an extra open day (i.e. a free day off). Some folks have been excited about this for a while (I remember people predicting it's imminent demise in 2007). The Han is estimated to be 10 years old. But it finally gave up the ghost this month. We didn't manage to knock a whole all the way through, as once the back cracked it sounded just awful and had to be replaced - but we got our day off anyway!

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...