Sunday, 3 October 2010


A recent happening has been the development of a Saturday morning Shamatha class that runs from 10:30am until 12pm. The class has been attended by two or three individuals and consists of practicing Shamatha - a concentration meditation, also known as calm-abiding. In between sessions, which are 24 minutes long, we can do some Kum Nye (Gentle Tibetan Yoga exercises), let discussion arise or sit quietly.
Shamatha is meditation with a focus, usually on the breath or on a visualised image. The attention is settled and the distractions of sleepiness and scattered thoughts are worked through with the correct antidotes. It’s a pleasant way to spend a morning and can become quite addictive as the sheer act of breathing becomes an interesting subject.  Firstly, with a strong intention to practice for the benefit of all beings, we settle ourselves to meditate. With an inspired  motivation and relaxed body, the breath begins to breath itself as we let go completely of controlling this simple function.  We see every breath as different, observing many feeling tones, noticing the pauses before the next in-breath begins and  enjoy resting in the pauses with no effort. And then the stomach tightens or the shoulders rise again as we are  bombarded with thoughts and images that may feel self-obsessed. But it’s through this practice that we can come to realise what this ‘self’ is, by ‘attending’ (a favourite Alan Wallace term which suggests 'nurturance' instead of force) to the rich immediacy of whatever appears.
What does come to light is really what is going on all the time in our minds but we haven’t given much time to it. It can feel disconcerting that we seem to have little control over what appears! I can get impatient sometimes but that impatience does not just rear it’s head in my meditation practice. It is often the force behind many things I do. I just do it! It can feel like I have little control. These things are only habit patterns built up over a lifetime, or lifetimes! The way to ’attend’ to what arises is to recognise it as habit, not get involved in it and understand that it will change. Let it pass and return to the breath.  The natural result of this practice is a general feeling of comfortableness.
Imagine if you can, this feeling at the time of death, to be in the present moment, relaxed and at ease.
To live in this way is surely practice to die well also. Fear and disappointments are simply practiced habits.
May all beings be at ease.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The School Report

This month I was invited to a primary school in Trowbidge to talk and answer questions on Buddhism in 2 classes of 9/10yr old - for a project they had been covering for a few weeks. I was given a big box of Buddhist artifacts to choose what I'd talk about but felt that it would be best for the children to lead with their many and varied questions.
The first class sat so close to me on the floor I almost had the front row on my lap. Beaming faces looked up and enthusiastically threw up their hands to ask "How did you become a Buddhist?", "what do you eat?", "are your holidays different to ours?", "what sort of God is in your religion?", "What do we come back as if we are born again?".

I got an impression from some questions that they understood Buddhism to be inaccessible to them; the culture of Buddhism is not theirs and is filled with alien artifacts and images. I must admit, I feel the same. How do we present this philosophy in simple terms but also capture the enticingly rich and colourful
cultures in which it is woven?

The questions were full of "what do you do" in attempts to see how excitingly different I might be. And so, Wishing to appear more human and the desire to offer more practical advice which they could relate to I started to ask them what they thought religion was for.. and then about their feelings - especially uncomfortable ones - "have you ever felt like this?"...what about when you feel like this?....try this.....eyes widened and more hands shot up. Questions about meditation and how some family members are very annoying!

The next class were seated in their chairs and I walked about the room going up to the child who asked a question. Again there were many.....Buddhist holidays?..calender?..would I get more time off school if I'm a Buddhist!?...Gods? favourite)..and what the artifacts were. They loved the idea of prayer flags and prayers stuffed tightly inside the prayer wheels and the statues. 10 minutes before the end of class I asked them if they would like to try meditation. Squeals of delight rose from the children and so I began. Sitting on the edge of a desk at the front and aware that many eyes were on me for guidance, I closed my eyes, - I told them to close their eyes if they felt comfortable doing that - relax shoulders and soften tummies. The room fell into a deep silence that I hadn't believed possible! Now feel your breath at the tip of your nose - cool air coming in, warm air leaving - just watch. Deep silence. 2 minutes. Bell. Still silent and very calm, the children and teacher emerge from a pleasant concentration. A few comments. The teacher said she had never done that - sat and simply watched the breathing. Always too busy - something to plan, something to do or just daydream. It was a pleasant experience. Relaxed and focused.

We go into another one - Friendliness and warmth - a light above your head containing friendliness and warmth.. shrinking in size but feelings are stronger... warmth, friendliness moving down into the top of your head, into every bit of skin, bone, cell and atom down, down into your heart..etc, everywhere friendliness and warmth, every cell, atom, skin blood, bones. Soft. Wish yourself all the happiness and well being. Now feel this light spreading out to others in the room - then beyond to the town, to the world, the universe, people who need it, everyone. Slowly bring it back.... to your heart, shrinking to a tiny seed and kept there in folded flower petals to use whenever you need it. Bell. very quiet. One comment from a little one on how light she felt.

A calm stacking of chairs and time to go home but there was a feeling that we were already there.


Here are some of the thank you cards that I received

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Alan Wallace Retreat

23 – 29 June

"In this six day retreat, B Alan Wallace offered an oral commentary to the shamatha section of The Vajra Essence, which he received from his teacher, the Ven Gyatrul Rinpoche, who authorized him to teach this portion of the text to general audiences. The retreat also consisted of meditation sessions and periods of discussion.

The Vajra Essence by Dudjom Lingpa is a classic 19th century meditation manual in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Covering all stages of meditative practice up to the achievement of spiritual awakening, it begins with the extraordinary presentation of the practice of "setting the mind in its natural state" which entails the cultivation of discerning mindfulness of the space of the mind and all mental phenomena that arise from moment to moment.

The essence of this practice is to observe all these mental events without distraction and without grasping. In the process of sustained practice, the obsessive and compulsive activities of the mind gradually subside - like snowflakes settling in a snow globe - and one's awareness settles in the substrate consciousness (alayavijnana), characterized by bliss, luminosity and nonconceptuality. This is called the "relative ground state of the mind," not to be confused with nirvana, Buddha nature, or other transcendent states of awareness."

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Debate - Gomang & Loseling

Tsethang Khangtsen

Holy and Ordinary Beings

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

His Holiness' Arrival

Tibetan Settlement - Camp 2

Camp 3 - Shopping

Monks Making Bread

Ganden with Geshe-la

Monday, 11 February 2008

India Walks