A News Update

A short look back at the year so far, and some of the highlights, plus a couple of lowlights…

What has had the most impact on me has been the Dharma tour of New Zealand and Australia that I did with Vijayamala from February to May. It had been 15 years since I’d been in that part of the world, and it was a real joy to catch up with old friends, share a lot of Dharma, and to see how things had developed both in Triratna and more widely in society. Vijayamala and I worked hard, but none of it felt like hard work. Out of our 12 weeks in NZ/OZ, we spent 8 or 9 leading retreats. And the rest of our time was mainly taken up with giving talks, meeting groups, and seeing people individually. Everywhere we went, people were very appreciative, hospitable and generous, and we had  an excellent time. I’d had serious misgivings about accepting the invitation, because I’m very concerned about climate change and find long-haul flying very hard to justify. However, it certainly seemed as if a lot of people gained new perspectives and inspiration for their Dharma practice, so that was worth flying across the globe for. Many thanks to the Australian and  New Zealand Triratna centres for inviting us!

Coming back wasn’t much fun, as I hadn’t managed to keep up with things while I was away, so there were an awful lot of messages squatting in my inbox, and a lot to catch up with. it was a relief to go to Rivendell in June to be back on retreat for another two weeks. The first week was for ‘experienced meditators’ and focused on the Root Verses of the Six Bardos  from the Bardo Thodol (or Tibetan Book of the Dead as it’s come to be known). The weather was good; the Rivendell garden was at its lush and fragrant best. It was wonderful. The retreat gelled very quickly, helped by the fact that over half of those present had been on the equivalent retreat the year before. It was great to have that continuity of contact with people, and they formed a core of connections that made it easy for newcomers to engage with the retreat. I enjoyed studying the Root Verses, which are all about keeping a continuity of awareness through all kinds of mental states. The second week was for Order members, and was focused on some meditation instructions given by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. On the second evening we watched Brilliant Moon, a film about his life. That seemed to set everyone up for the week. He was such an extraordinary example of unconditional love! It felt as if we all sat and basked in it for the rest of the week. As usual, Ambaranta’s shrines for the 2 weeks  were a living presence, growing and transforming in dialogue with the Dharma that we were exploring.

In July I went to Greece to attend a course led by Lama Tilmann Lhundrup, who guided me in my long retreat in France. The course coincided with the height of the Greek financial crisis. The banks were all closed, and many Greeks left the course for a day to return to their villages to vote in a referendum to reject the austerity measures being imposed. (A few days later, the Greek prime minister signed up to them regardless.) Angela Merkel and her government were extremely unpopular. It was a difficult time, you might have thought, to run a course consisting mainly of Greeks, but led by a German, and attended by some of his German and Swiss students. In the event, it was great. Lama Tilmann created a very relaxed and easy sense of solidarity between everyone on the retreat. It was friendly and harmonious; people who couldn’t afford to pay for the retreat found themselves quietly being paid for. The whole event was such a contrast to what was happening around us in Greece, with tempers running high, and strong antagonisms. It shows how Dharma practice can bring people together and transcend national and political boundaries and tensions.

I came back from greece expecting to have some quiet time to myself, to write and meditate. But then a few days later, Vijayamala’s father died. He was a celebrated academic, a social anthroplogist and historian. (His obituary in The Times took up a whole page, and nearly as much in Le Monde.) Vijayamala ended up organising a very large funeral, and I needed to rally round. More recently, I’ve had another bout of catching up with correspondence and seeing people. Sitting at a computer doing emails doesn’t seem to agree with me, and my health took a dip for a while. I’ve recently had a scan, which didn’t show up anything, and my health is picking up again, so I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about.

I’ve just been at Adhisthana, leading another retreat in the series that I’ve been doing there on the Mandala of Spiritual Practice. it went very well, despite me being under the weather with a bit of a virus, and it was a real pleasure to be practising with so many Order members. I’m really loving doing these retreats. I hope to see many of you at Adhisthana next year for the last 2 retreats in the series in February and September. (Details here.)

The plan is that for October and November I’m going to stay put in Cambridge, close my door and meditate. After several very full years, it feels like time to regroup, and see where the creative flow of the Dharma wants to take me next…

 

 

Plans for 2016 (2)

Back in May I wrote saying that I was thinking seriously about how to use my time over the coming years.The last 2 or 3  months have been busier than I expected, so my reflections about the future are still rumbling on, without reaching any final conclusions. This means that for next year I’ll keep my schedule similar to the last few, although not quite so full, giving myself a little more space — as the last few years have been very full indeed. As a result, I won’t be able to be on retreat with all the people that I’d like to see, but unfortunately I haven’t mastered the Tibetan yogic art of producing multiple bodies to work in several places at once…

Here you can see my programme for next year. Sadly, there is virtually nothing for non-Order members, and several of the Order events are already full. (Though do please put yourself on the waiting list — things do change, and people often drop out for one reason or another.)  For Order members, the retreats at Adhisthana in February and September are a good bet, as Adhisthana can hold a lot of people!

So, I hope I can meet many of you on retreat next year, and apologies if you’d like to do one but can’t. I’m plotting and planning to see if things can be better in 2017…

 

January News

This month I’ve been staying put in Cambridge, with a couple of forays to London. It has been a busier time than I’d hoped, as I’d wanted to do some writing and have some space before February when I launch into more teaching and events again. Anyway, I’ve managed to complete a couple of articles, both of them follow-ups to articles I wrote last year, one about post-insight practice and the other about rebirth. You can read the new article about Post-Insight Practice and the Khemaka Sutta here, and More on Rebirth here.

My two days in London were very enjoyable. On the first Vijayamala and I had another private Qigong lesson with Master Lam. I’m very impressed with his energy, and he’s made some very helpful changes to my Qigong practice . After that we went to Wimbledon to have dinner with some very old friends of my family.

The second day was for a meeting with Dhammarati, Tejananda and Kamalashila, to talk about the possibility of introducing more direct experience/direct pointing methods into Triratna. These things are coming in anyway, but without yet having any agreed place in our system of practice, and that causes tensions as it disrupts the sense of a commonality of practice within Triratna. I’m hopeful that by the end of this year we shall have widespread agreement on the usefulness of these methods. It’s difficult as, with the speed at which things move on the Internet, new developments can happen very fast, while a large organisation like Triratna moves quite slowly, especially as we like to operate by consensus where possible. However, it’s worth working to get that broad agreement about matters of practice, as that safeguards our sense of unity. Whatever happens, I very much enjoyed spending a day talking about meditation with Dhammarati, Tejananda and Kamalashila.

Lastly, just as Facebook is starting to become rather outdated, with young people moving to other platforms, I’ve finally joined. I have to confess that I’ve only done so because there are some Facebook groups that I want to be part of. So I doubt whether I shall be very active or post much. But if you’re interested you’ll find me here.

I hear from Adhisthana that there are still places left if any of you who are Order members want to come to my retreat on Spiritual Receptivity from the 21st – 27th February. The retreat will focus on the Just Sitting practice.

December News

Update: Vijayamala and I have now finalised details of two more small retreats for Order members in August and September. One is on Just Sitting and Insight; the other on Training the Mind in Bodhicitta. If you’re interested, you’ll find details here.

I’m now in the middle of leading a series of three small retreats with Vijayamala in Cambridge. The first two went well, and the final one starts tomorrow. That will be my last programmed retreat until February. I’m pleased to be coming to the end of such a full year still feeling energetic and very much enjoying leading things.

If you’re an Order member, then do be aware that I’m leading a retreat on Spiritual Receptivity and Just Sitting at Adhisthana in February. Most of the retreats I lead book up very quickly. However, Adhisthana can take up to 120 people, so if you have ben wanting to come on one of my retreats but have found them all booked up, the Adhisthana retreat is your chance! Unfortunately, as they only opened their doors a few months ago, they are still getting their systems organised, so if you go to their Events page you won’t find a mention of anything in 2014. But the retreat is very definitely happening, from the 21 – 27 February (6 days), and you can book for it now! For booking details go here.

November News

Update: You will find my five talks for the International Urban retreat, mentioned below, here at thebuddhistcentre.com. You may need to register (it’s free).

The last couple of months have been rich and full again. After a bit of time at home, in mid-September I launched into another round of leading events: an enjoyable week’s retreat in West Wales with a group of Order members, most of whom I had ordained; a few days in Bristol, catching up with friends and doing a day at the Buddhist centre on working with thought chains in meditation; a week at Dhanakosa with a lovely group of people, exploring reflection and meditation; then two weeks in Spain with the five men who are doing a one-year Order retreat at Uttaraloka. Just at the beginning of all that, I caught a very unpleasant virus, with possibly the worst cough I’ve had in my life. Anyway, I managed to keep going, and my two weeks in the fresh air and sunshine of the Spanish mountains finally saw it off.

During that time I also managed to write a couple of articles for Shabda, the Triratna Order’s monthly communication to itself. One was about the implications for your Buddhist life if you come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as rebirth. The other was about post-insight practice. I’ve very lightly edited them for a wider audience and you will find them here.

Now I’m back in Cambridge, again trying to do something about my correspondence mountain (I’m starting to need oxygen and sherpas…). I’m taking advantage of this period at home to lead a short course for the Cambridge centre. It’s all about strengthening motivation. You can listen to parts of it on freebuddhistaudio here.

I’m also contributing to the Triratna International Urban Retreat, (Nov. 09-17)  which is called Blazing Like the Sun  and is all about loving-kindness. I’ve done five short talks as part of the online resources accompanying the week. I’ll also be answering questions online a couple of times during the week.

Lastly, if you’re an Order member, do consider coming on the retreat at Adhisthana that I’m doing in February. As events I lead all book up very fast (the two weeks I’m doing at Rivendell next September are already fully booked), this retreat at Adhisthana is a very good opportunity. There isn’t any publicity for it on the Adhisthana website yet, but it will run from the 21 – 27 Feb.

September 2013

I have now updated my teaching schedule to include everything currently planned until the end of 2014. In particular I’ve added in a retreat for Order members at Adhisthana in February. It will be on Spiritual Receptivity, with a full exploration of Just Sitting. As I mentioned in my July post, I’ve been finding it hard to meet the demand from people wanting to be on retreat with me. So, for Order members at least, this retreat in a large place should give anyone who wants the chance for us to spend a week together.

Since the Rivendell retreat in June, I’ve been on quite a few more events. There was a week in Greece, catching up with Lama Tilmann Lhundrup, who was a guide during my long retreat in France. It was very good to see him, and also to meet up again with some of his Greek students, who are very friendly and hospitable despite the continuing economic crisis. After Greece, I went to Vajrakuta in North Wales, for the first ever gathering of Order members who do the Chod practice. There were 17 of us, and it was great to be able to exchange experiences and to practise together. We had a lot of sunny weather which was very welcome, as Chod is very suited to practising out in nature.  After that, Vijayamala and I led two small retreats in Cambridge: one on the Seven-Point Mind Training and one on ‘The Unexamined Self’ (i.e. exploring anatta). Finally I went to Wymondham in Norfolk for the European Order Gathering, which was a friendly and relaxed event, and gave me a chance to catch up with several old friends. Since then I’ve had a bit of time in Cambridge, meeting up with people here as well as trying to reduce my correspondence mountain.

Plans for Next Year

I’m currently finalising my programme for next year.

In 2014 I will continue leading retreats and seminars in Triratna. (You will find the first few confirmed events here.) However, I shall not be doing quite so many events as this year. (In 2013 I am on programmed events for half the year; in 2014 it will be more like a third.) I’m aware that this isn’t great, as all the retreats I am doing this year are full with a waiting list, and ideally I would do more rather than less. However, there are a few factors I’ve had to take into account:

1. I came off my long retreat riding a big wave of energy and inspiration to share the Dharma. It has sustained me over the last year, but it takes a lot of energy to be ‘up front’ so consistently and I can’t rely on that outgoing energy phase lasting indefinitely.

2. I want to have a bit more unprogrammed time, so that I have the possibility of doing some writing.

3. I’d like to reach out to some aspects of Triratna beyond the UK, so I’m looking at visiting Scandinavia, Germany, and Australasia, all of which reduces my time for running events in the UK.

4. I’d also like to do a few more days and weekends at UK centres, and leading so many weeks of retreat doesn’t leave many weekends free for other things.

So in terms of UK retreats in 2014, I shall be doing a week for Order members at Padmaloka in May, 2 weeks at Rivendell in September, and some more small retreats with Vijayamala in Cambridge. As well as our Cambridge retreats, she will also be co-leading two retreats at Taraloka and one at Akashavana.

 

June 2013

Over the last four weeks I’ve led three very enjoyable retreats: one at Vajraloka in North Wales, and two at Rivendell in Sussex to the south of London. The Vajraloka one was for Order members and was called Mirror of the Mind. I had advertised it to make it clear that it was for those who had some interest in Tibetan Buddhism, so that I could put across some material from my long retreat more on its own terms, without having to translate and interpret it for people with no understanding of the Tibetan Mahamudra tradition. The retreat went very well, and I was left with a feeling of great gratitude for all those who had preserved and communicated these wonderful Dharma teachings for a thousand years. I enjoyed being back at Vajraloka, and working with Vijayamala, Bodhananda, Balajit and Rijumitra.

Then, after a few days back in Cambridge reducing my correspondence backlog, I was off to Rivendell. I hadn’t been there for seven years, and was very impressed by all that Nagasiddhi, Mandarava and their team have accomplished over that time. The first week was on Sadhana as a Path to Insight for Order members. The second was a Total Immersion-style silent retreat for experienced meditators. I called it Centre of the Sunlit Sky, and that evocative image set the tone for the retreat. I taught based on images from the Indo-Tibetan tradition. Images work very well for meditation, and I used them in a progressive sequences, associating them with preparation, absorption and insight. I’m very grateful to the participants in all three of these retreats for putting themselves into things so wholeheartedly, and to Vijayamala and Ambaranta for all they did.

May 2013

Another very full two months since I last wrote. Over Easter I was in Germany, seeing Dagyab Rinpoche. In the mid-1980s I asked Sangharakshita for a particular meditation practice, and he passed me on to Dhardo Rinpoche, one of his teachers in India, who in turn recommended Dagyab Rinpoche. So I have now been in contact with him for 25 years. In that time his sangha has grown steadily but gradually, as Rinpoche always wanted a stable group to work with. So when I attended Rinpoche’s Easter Course, I also had the pleasure of meeting friends in his sangha who I have known for 20 years or more.

On my return from Germany, Vijayamala and I launched into leading a series of small retreats in Cambridge – three in four weeks. The first was called Emotional Intelligence in Practice, and was based on teaching we received from Lama Tilmann Lhundrup during our 3-year retreat. It involves working with the kleshas, the ‘mental afflictions’, on deeper and deeper levels. It was a very enjoyable week. In fact it’s amazing how spending a week on the mental afflictions can be both enjoyable and inspiring!

Our second small retreat was on Just Sitting, and was aimed at people who are teaching meditation. On this retreat Spring finally sprang, and we could enjoy doing meditation reviews in the large garden here, as well as going for walks through some of the college gardens, which are very beautiful. It was a particular pleasure working with people who themselves teach meditation, as there’s a sense that whatever benefits they receive from the retreat will be ‘paid forward’ to others in a very tangible way. The last retreat of this series was on ‘Spiritual Death’, which is a term Sangharakshita uses for insight practice. That week also went well, although I don’t think I would give a retreat that title again, as people tend to tense up a little in relation to talk of death, even spiritual death, when what we’re looking for is relaxation and letting go.

On these retreats there was quite a bit of discussion about the topic of insight,  how we discuss it in Triratna, and particularly the issue of making public statements of attainment. As a contribution to the discussion, I wrote an article for Shabda. I have slightly edited it, and you can read it here.

This month two of my books: The Breath and The Heart are featured titles on the Windhorse Publications website. I was recently interviewed about them by Hannah Atkinson from Windhorse. Here is the link to the interview.

In the last few days I have been at Maes Gwyn, Subhuti and Srimala’s place in North Wales, discussing meditation and Dharma teaching in Triratna, with a group of nine of us. It was a useful meeting, and I’m grateful to Dhammarati for inviting me. It was especially good to spend time with Subhuti, as our paths haven’t crossed properly since 2008.

Lastly, a little bit of synchronicity, of a kind that seems to happen a lot these days. Vijayamala and I were in Cambridge, talking about the Dalai Lama. Despite my interest in Tibetan Buddhism, I’ve never seen His Holiness, who will be 78 next month. Out of curiosity, I looked up his schedule on his website. To my complete gobsmackedness, I discovered that he was going to be in Cambridge, giving a talk at Saint John’s College, in two days’ time. When we recovered from the shock, we contacted the college, only to find out that 1400 people had applied for tickets even before the talk date was officially announced. However, Vijayamala’s father is a venerable retired professor at Saint John’s… So two days later we had tickets, and were able to see His Holiness at close range, talking about Educating the Heart. Oh yes, and when we heard we had tickets, we went outside and there was a big double rainbow directly over the chapel of Saint John’s where the talk was to be given. I’m afraid I don’t believe these things are ‘just coincidence…

March 2013

It’s coming towards the end of March, and since I last wrote I’ve had another 3 weeks of retreat, plus leading a course in Cambridge and a day in London – and this is the quiet time of the year!

Last month I spent a week in Norfolk  at Padmaloka on a retreat for private preceptors in Triratna. I really enjoyed it, there were 28 of us altogether, including some good friends. I was asked to give a couple of presentations: one on the lessons that I’d learned from my 3-year retreat, and one on how I introduce a sadhana to a new Order member. There was also a very interesting evening in which Kamalashila introduced discussion on the topic of insight and the Triratna Order. It was fascinating to watch the (friendly) differences of opinion emerge around questions like ‘Is it helpful to acknowledge publicly that you feel you’re on the transcendental path?’ and ‘What ethical standards can you expect of a stream-entrant?’ I have a lot of thoughts in these areas, and hope to be able to turn them into an article before too long.

Back in Cambridge, I led a short course on Wednesday evenings on Just Sitting. This was a follow-up to a course I did in the autumn. Again, a large number of people braved the elements to come and spend three evenings doing nothing… This time we explored the openness, clarity and sensitivity aspects of the practice. I’ve enjoyed doing these two courses very much, and feel sad that my programme for this year is so full that it’s very hard to find enough time when I’m available in Cambridge to do more of them.

I also recently led a day for Order members at the London Buddhist Centre on sadhana and insight. It was part of the excellent series of events put together by Kamalashila. Order members in London are very fortunate that he has managed to persuade several excellent teachers to visit and contribute. I hadn’t been to the LBC for several years, and was pleased to see the work that has been done, both on the reception area and the new downstairs shrine.

Lastly, I’ve just got back from a 2-week stay in Spain. I went out to spend time with the five men who are doing a one-year retreat at Uttaraloka – the new piece of land bought by Guhyaloka, which is our men’s ordination centre in the mountains near Alicante. I felt extremely happy at Uttaraloka. It’s a beautiful place, with stunning views of Campana, the local mountain which is about 4,600 feet (over 1400 metres) high. You can also see the mountain valley of Guhyaloka as well as looking down the coast to Alicante and the sea. The 5 guys are now almost a quarter of the way through their retreat, and getting on well with both their practice and each other. We studied and discussed a number of topics while I was there, including insight, sadhana practice and Chod. I look forward very much to visiting them again in October to see how they’re getting on.

I shall be in Germany over Easter, and then Vijayamala and I start a new series of small retrerats here in Cambridge.

Wishing you all well,

Vessantara.