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 ...