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.

January 2013

I had a very full time over the last few weeks. Over Xmas/New Year, I led a 2-week retreat for men at Padmaloka retreat centre in Norfolk, on the theme of the Mandala of the Five Buddhas. That went very well. It was very good to lead a retreat at Padmaloka again, where I lived for six years in the 1980s, when I was secretary to Sangharakshita. The Padmaloka team create a very good atmosphere, and the shrine room with its large image of Shakyamuni is a great space for practice. I had Ratnaprabha and Jinapalita supporting me. Ratnaprabha and I gave 11 talks altogether, which will appear in due course on FreeBuddhistAudio. On New Year’s Eve, as part of our ritual Jinapalita unleashed the pyromaniac within, and we had the most fantastic bonfire. There were a great bunch of people on the retreat, including a lot of Order members.

After that I went to Taraloka Retreat Centre  in Wales to attend the Triratna European Chairs’ Assembly meeting. I don’t have that kind of organisational responsibility these days, but I’d been invited to do a day on insight practice and to lead their shrineroom activities. I enjoyed the chance to explore Taraloka, the canal walks and the haunting area of bog nearby; and the Chairs made me very welcome. On the way back from that event, I crossed paths in Birmingham with Vijayamala, and we led a day at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre on prapancha – mental proliferation – which is a major issue in meditation, particularly for newer people. When you look deeply into what causes it, you come right to the roots of self-clinging, which is what makes our lives a misery.

Now I’m home in Cambridge for a little while, in semi-retreat: spending more time meditating, but also gradually munching my way through the backlog of work and correspondence that has built up while I’ve been away.

Wishing you all a very healthy, creative and fulfilling year of Dharma practice!

 

[For earlier news, see the News Archive.]