Saturday, June 20, 2009

June at Gampo Abbey


Hi All,

Wow, how time flies! The weeks just fly by here – it’s the minutes that can kill you. Particularly the last three minutes at the end of a three hour period meditation session, you are at the front and it’s your job to ring the gong at the end. The digital clock is in front of you and you have to keep an eye on it, the numbers slow, slow some more and……freeze, the clock goes into stasis – you have entered the twilight zone!

This last month has been action packed. The latest group of Three year retreatants finished their current period in the Sopa Choling retreat centre. They have been practicing hard, 7 days a week for about 10 months, meditating and sleeping upright in their Tibetan box thrones (like a wing armchair, but different). The retreat centre is “sealed off” except for a few essential persons and the retreatants are not allowed outside of their fenced area during their stay. We had an official gate opening ceremony led by Bhiksu Lodro Sangpo and a Lasang (a kind of Windhorse raising fire puja), great fun, very Tibetan and very smoky if you stand in the wrong place. Everywhere I stood seemed to be the wrong place! I smelled as if I had been barbequed.

Ani Pema Chodron delivered a further three talks (I think) during her one month stay and covered a lot of ground in meetings on the new monastic code for Gampo Abbey. Just before she left we had a whistle stop visit from the Sakyong (Chogyam Trungpa’s son and Dharma heir) and his wife, the Sakyong Wangmo. The Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo are at the head of the Shambhala sangha and represent the masculine and feminine principal in Shambhala Buddhism.

Photo by Kalsang

The Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo were received in royal style. I helped to bolt together the teaching throne in the shrine room and weeded flower beds and garden paths. We were all very busy. This was a big event for the Abbey and for the local Nova Scotia sangha who turned out for the occasion. We had a celebratory feast with lots of lovely goodies donated by the local sangha, including some excellent scones and clotted cream – I love that British influence in Nova Scotia. The local sangha are a very friendly bunch and appreciative of the Abbey, I got to chat with a quite a few of them.

The Sakyong led a Lasang (fire puja) just before his departure. I knew I should have waited before washing the smoke out of my robes from the last one!. He presented us all with blessing cords to be worn around the neck. The Sakyong Wangmo kindly gave out Tibetan style cookies she had baked herself – and very tasty too.

The Sakyong also presented the Abbey with a wonderful Padmasambhava rupa, which is currently enthroned on our main shrine.

Wesak was celebrated in June (a little later than in the FWBO calendar). The atmosphere in the Abbey was quite wonderful – it felt a little like Christmas! We started the day in our usual way, chanting the liturgy, meditation, housework and breakfast, then we started to prepare a feast for later in the day. Some local sangha members joined us for a Sakyamuni Buddha sadhana and combined feast, held in the main shrine room. Several people made feast offerings of readings and I read Pinghiya’s Praises. We even had a folk music offering from two of our guests.

Ani Migme celebrated her 85th Birthday. We had a wonderful rejoicing and storytelling session and celebratory lunch. People recalled their experiences of Ani Migme and some of these were very funny. Zen Priest Ryumon sang and ballad and got Ani Migme up to dance which was very entertaining. Ani Migme fell over at one point (too much twirling about) but was quickly up on her feet again. That new pacemaker is marvelous.

The Relay for Life sponsored walk went very well. The weather was awful but fortunately the organizers decided that we would walk inside the arena rather than outside on the track.

Photo by Kalsang

I exceeded my sponsorship target of $100 by raising $195. Thank you all for your support! The Abbey Team raised over $1500 in total and our man Rick won a voucher from a local restaurant as the largest single fundraiser. Way to go Rick! The weather seemed too windy for camping (our tent blew away twice), so I decided to stay up through the night. We had live music till around 2am and plenty of coffee and flap jacks.

This week Lhagtong, one of our nuns had her graduation ceremony for completing the three year monastic study course called Shedra.

photo by Kalsang

She gave an excellent talk outlining the principles of Yogachara Buddhist philosophy in a very light hearted and pleasing way. She was then awarded her certificate by Bhiksu Lodro Sangpo.

After a wet and windy week, summer has reasserted itself and we are enjoying some beautiful summer days with refreshing cool breezes. I am spending my work afternoons mostly in the garden cutting our vast oceans of grass. I am starting to develop a slight tan and quite a number of very itchy black fly bites.

The Abbey has just started its’ five week open retreat program. This week we welcomed three new faces. Some people will be staying for one week, others for two weeks. The retreatants live in a separate building but join us in our daily program. Towards the end of this period the number of “in house” retreatants will rise to 13 – lots of new names to remember.

I have just finished reading the Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. This is my first venture into the Russian novelists, I was a little apprehensive at fist, but thoroughly enjoyed it. Around nine hundred pages, it was a two month read, but really worthwhile, emotionally moving, intellectually stimulating, spiritual and very human.

The next event on the horizon is the very important softball game against the local volunteer fire service. This takes place on Canada day (July 1st). We have had some practice and we have a very promising team (and then there’s me). Will it be enough though? We have only won once in the games history – and that was with the help of some local schoolboys.

Love to All,

Jayasiddhi