Vijayamala’s Bardos Retreat at Taraloka

As Vijayamala doesn’t have her own website, I put details of retreats she is leading on my Teaching Programme page, so people can follow her future plans.

So I’ll also announce here that she has had to cancel the retreat that she was due to lead at Taraloka next month on the Root Verses of the Six Bardos. She needs to have a foot operation, which isn’t anything major in itself, but it takes about 10 weeks to fully recover from. She has been offered a date for the operation that will be shortly before the Taraloka retreat, when she would still be recovering, and with a foot in plaster. She couldn’t postpone the operation as she needs to be fully fit for the 2-month Order retreat that she and I are doing in the Gower in Jan/Feb, and she wouldn’t have enough time.

Hopefully there will be more opportunities to practise with her next year…

All good wishes,

Vessantara

 

Back in the Saddle…

Well, after having to cancel the events I was going to do in June because of ill health, it was all the more delightful to get back in the saddle (or on the cushion) a couple of weeks ago. I was due to lead a 10-day retreat at Adhisthana at the end of July, and as the start date approached I could feel I was really looking forward to it — a sign that my health and energy were back to their normal levels.

I was particularly looking forward to the retreat as it was the first time for over 18 months that I was going to see some 3-D retreatants. Although during the pandemic lockdowns Zoom retreats have been a very good substitute  for meeting in-person, still it was great to have some living breathing people sitting in front  of me.

It was also the first time I’ve led a hybrid retreat, with 21 of us in person and 30 more online. The small numbers made everything very spacious. The Adhisthana Community put a lot into giving the online participants a good retreat experience. They had also really thought through how to make the online element as unobtrusive as possible for those attending physically. There were just a couple of small microphones and what looked like a CCTV camera attached to the ceiling at the back of the room.  We were the only event happening at Adhisthana, so we had the run of the very beautiful gardens and the whole event felt very spacious.  

The retreat itself went very well. We were exploring a sadhana of Avalokiteshvara (an embodiment of compassion and wisdom), that came into our Order via Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. It was a privilege to unpack its riches for people on the retreat.

I’m devoting more time to writing and editing over the next few months, so I probably won’t be leading anything now until I go back to Adhisthana at the end of October to lead a retreat for Order members  on The Shepherd’s Search for Mind, an episode from the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa which gives essential instructions on Mahamudra and the nature of mind. You’ll find details of the retreat on the Adhisthana website. Again it will be a ‘dual’ retreat, so you can participate by Zoom or, if possible, come to Adhisthana and have the full experience. Whichever, I look forward to seeing some of you there.

All good wishes,

Vessantara

Upcoming Online Order Retreat – November 07-12

In my last post I talked about the online Order retreat that I’d just done at Adhisthana.  I appreciated the retreat so much that I promptly signed up to do another one. So I’ll be back online from Adhisthana , from the 7th – 12th of November, doing a retreat that I think will follow on well from the one last month.

The essence of bodhicitta is learning to escape the prison of narrow self-concern, and find the freedom that comes with wisdom and an open heart.  That involves  learning to fully engage, to give ourselves to life, but without being naive or neglecting ourselves. (We’re part of life too.)  There are   Buddhist meditation practices that are specifically designed to help us do this, and we’ll be exploring some of them over these 6 days. We’ll focus especially on the principles behind them,  because once we’re grounded in those principles we’ll be much freer, more alive and  flowing in how we practise. 

Although the theme of this retreat follows on from the Bodhicitta Practice retreat last month, you don’t need to have been on that one to join and benefit from this one.  Again the retreat will be on a dana basis. And we’ll do our best to do the impossible, and find session timings that work for people from around the world.  Here you will find full details of the theme, and how to book.

All good wishes,

Vessantara 

 

 

 

 

The Bodhicitta Practice Retreat – and Future Plans

Last week I led a 6-day online retreat for members of the Triratna Order, exploring a practice we use for developing bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the heart of Buddhism, the combination of profound wisdom and great love and compassion that motivates someone to follow the bodhisattva path of gaining Awakening in order to be able to help others become free from suffering.

There were 135 of us on the retreat, scattered over many different time zones from San Francisco, to Europe, India, and Australia and New Zealand. Scheduling teaching sessions was a tricky business! Inevitably some people outside Europe were asleep during some of them, and had to catch up with the video recordings. Nonetheless, it did feel as if all of us in our different bedrooms, living rooms and meditation rooms around the globe were very definitely participating in one shared practice, one meditation on wisdom and compassion.

The retreat was hosted by Adhisthana, the centre a few minutes’ drive from where I live. So I was able to travel back and forth between sessions. Adhisthana is a very large retreat centre and inevitably it has been very badly affected financially by the effects of the Covid epidemic. They are set to lose a 6-figure sum this year. So I was delighted that, due to the open-hearted generosity of the participants, we were able to raise over £10k in donations from our retreat.

Many thanks again to all those at Adhisthana who were involved in making the retreat happen, at a very demanding time for them.  And thanks and all good wishes to all those of you who participated. I’ve really appreciated all the stimulating questions you asked during the retreat and the messages of appreciation since!

Although the retreat was for Order members, anyone can watch the recordings. If you’d like to do so, you’ll find links to nearly all the sessions here, along with various materials that I shared with the retreatants.

I enjoyed leading the retreat very much, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy and effective it was to do online. So at the end I announced that I planned to lead another 6-day online retreat for Order members from the 7th – 12th November.  It will be at Adhisthana again, and I hope to announce the theme here by this weekend at the latest. For now, please put the dates in your diary.

Wishing you good health and ever-deepening wisdom and compassion,

Vessantara.

The Bodhicitta Practice – Online Retreat for Order Members

Over the months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bodhicitta Practice has been a powerful cohesive factor for the Triratna Order.  Every Sunday, at 7.30 and 2.30 UK time, Order members from around the world have been meeting online, meditating together to contact the deep power of love and compassion and channel it into the world with all its suffering.  I’ve been moved by this shared practice, and in response I wanted to offer Order members the opportunity to explore the Bodhicitta Practice together more deeply on an online retreat.  So I shall be leading a six-day retreat from Monday 28th September to Saturday 3rd October. 

Over those 6 days, I’ll give presentations on different aspects of the Bodhicitta Practice, do some guided meditations and answer questions. There will also be the chance for breakout discussion groups. The content of the evenings (UK time) will vary, with some guided meditation, mantra recitation and puja.

It’s impossible to schedule things so that Order members all around the world can participate live (without some very sleepless nights!).  We’re in the process of making special arrangements for those of you in Australasia, so you can participate as fully as possible.

I’m very pleased that the idea has been taken up by Adhisthana.  They will be hosting the event, and  we can join their morning meditation session online.  I’ll  be leading the other 3 sessions from their shrineroom, which has a strong atmosphere.  I’m very grateful for all their help in making it possible.

You will find full details  and the opportunity to book for the retreat, which is being offered on a dana basis, on the Adhisthana website here.

I look forward to seeing many of you there!

All good wishes,

Vessantara.

 

 

 

Retreat Plans

I’ve spent nearly the whole of 2020 doing personal retreat at home. I had a personal retreat scheduled anyway for January to March, which went well.  Then I emerged just in time for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce the beginning of the Covid 19 lockdown. My plans to co-lead a 2-month retreat in Sweden in May-July bit the dust. So I decided to make a virtue of necessity and go back into personal retreat. This period will end in the middle of this month, after which I’ll be available until the end of August. During that time, I’ll lead a couple of  online events: for the Nordic Order Region and Buddhafield in the Web. (See here for dates.)

Vijayamala and I are hoping that our next 2-month retreat for Order members will go ahead in Jan-Feb 2021. We’ll make a decision by the beginning of September, and will be consulting beforehand with all those of you who have booked.

If that retreat is happening, then I’ll  probably spend September-November this year in personal retreat as well. It feels strange to be so out of contact this year, after doing so much teaching over the last 8 years. Hopefully it will be worth it, so that next year I can move back into activity from a deeper and richer basis , and teach from the experience I’ve gained through taking time out this year.

My hope is that in 2021 things will become more stable again, and it will be possible to lead face-to-face retreats. I’m now finalising details of a programme of events for next year. I look forward to sharing them with you.

With all good wishes,

Vessantara.

2019, and Future Plans…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any news here, so I’ll give a short overview of last year, which saw some big changes on the material level. It started with getting married on the 2nd of January, mainly for financial reasons, although it was good to have a chance to celebrate my relationship with Vijayamala. Nonetheless, it was it was rather squeezed into a busy time. We went to the Cambridge Registry Office in the morning, had a brunch at home to celebrate with a few family and friends, and then later in the day drove to Wales to prepare to lead a 3-month Order Retreat.

The retreat was held in a hotel we had hired on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. The venue worked very well, and the surrounding area is very beautiful, with woods that were once an old deer park, the sea within easy walking distance, and a ridge from which there were views across to the hills, the Brecon Beacons, as well as down the coast and across the Bristol Channel to Devon and Cornwall.

There were getting on for 40 of us on the retreat, including some old friends. I enjoyed it very much, although it was quite hard work doing such a sustained period of teaching and meditation reviews. It went very well overall, although there are some things I would want to try doing differently next time to see if we can take people even deeper.

Then there was the usual round of shorter retreats at different retreat centres: on bodhicitta, sadhana, breathing meditation, the White Tara practice (which I co-led with Moksanandi), and a weekend for the men I’ve ordained into the Order, plus a couple of friends we’ve taken into the group over the years.

However, I did fewer short retreats last year, as I had made plans to begin a series of 3-month personal retreats at home. I did the first one from September to November. It was a valuable time, although not in ideal circumstances, because in the middle of it Vijayamala and I moved from Cambridge to a place in Herefordshire. We hadn’t planned it to be like that, but buying and selling property in the UK is a very uncertain business…

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being in a new environment. Our new house is only a few minutes’ drive from Adhisthana, where I do a lot of events, and I have good friends in the area, as well as being closer to friends in Stroud and Bristol. The place we bought is big enough to run small retreats, for 6 or 7 people, in the future.

Future Plans

Talking of future plans, 2020 and the first half of 2021 will be taken up with doing three more personal retreats of three months each, as well as two Order retreats of two months each. The first of these happens in Sweden from May to July, and a couple of places have recently become available. So I won’t be leading any of the shorter retreats I usually do at retreat centres until the second half of next year. I’m sorry about that, but I hope my time devoted to my own meditation practice will bear fruit in deeper teaching in the future.

As I’m so much on retreat during this time, I also won’t be able to do much keeping up with people. My main periods of unprogrammed time this year are in mid-April to mid-May, August (including attending the Order conventions), and December. In the first half of next year, I’ll have some free time in March to mid-April.

After all this, we’ll see what the future holds, but my current plan is to return to leading some shorter retreats and being more outward-going again.

And while I’m doing these personal retreats I shall be holding in my heart my friends and all those I have personal connections with .

Wishing you all well,

Vessantara.

Two-Month Order Retreat in 2021

This year Vijayamala and I held a 3-month Order retreat in a rented hotel on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. The retreat and venue worked very well, so we are now planning to hold another one, this time for 2 months, in Jan. and Feb. 2021. However, we are still looking for the best solution for the catering (see below). We are about to open bookings for the retreat. We already have a list of people interested from previous years, but there may be places available for others. If you want to know more, or wish to express interest in coming, please contact us at gowerretreats@gmail.com.

Cooks/kitchen overseers needed. We are still looking for someone, or a couple of Order members, who would like to take on the catering. We have had some partial offers, but would like to throw it open to as wide an audience of Order members as possible, to see if there are others interested. The role would involve: 1. either overseeing the kitchen or doing some of the cooking yourself if you prefer, and 2. food ordering. There are likely to be 33 or 34 people to feed. We have menus and suppliers in place from the last retreat, but you can also come with your own ideas. We have had some offers of help, so you would be able to have regular days off over the 2 months.  If necessary, we can give you £2000 in support for performing this role over the 2 months. If you’re interested, or know of someone else who we could ask, please contact us.

Vessantara.

Guided Meditations on the System of Practice

There is a lot of audio material that you can listen to online from retreats that I’ve led over the last few years. That includes a set of 5 retreats I did at Adhisthana, exploring the different aspects of the mandala of practice that was outlined in his teaching by Sangharakshita. These are: integration, positive emotion, insight (or ‘spiritual death’), spiritual rebirth, and spiritual receptivity.

The recordings of all 5 retreats are all available on freebuddhistaudio. (The retreat on spiritual rebirth contains a lot of material on sadhana, and is restricted to Triratna Order members only.)

My friend Nagesvara has listened to the audio from all these 5 retreats and kindly put together a list of all the guided meditations from them. So if you don’t want to listen to the entire teaching, or you’re looking for a guided meditation on a particular topic, you can refer to his list.

With many thanks to Nagesvara for putting this together for us!

All good wishes,

Vessantara.

Some Dates for Your Diary

I’ve now updated my teaching schedule with all the retreats of more than a weekend that I have planned for 2018.

As usual, most of what I do is for Order members. I feel sad that I’m not offering more for other people, but at the moment the Order is where I feel I can have the most beneficial effect. However, at least there is a week in June that I’m doing on the Heart Sutra, the classic Buddhist wisdom text, that is open to anyone with a reasonable amount of experience of meditation. Ambaranta and Nagadipa will be my team again for this retreat, and I hope that we shall see several of you who have been on these retreats before. That week will be followed immediately by an Order retreat on The Shepherd’s Search for Mind, a classic story from the life of Milarepa.

I’m pleased to be returning to Vajraloka in North Wales, after a few years’ absence, and excited to be exploring The Ocean of True Meaning. Written by the Ninth Karmapa, it’s my favourite meditation manual, a wonderful collection of advice for teachers and students, with some fantastic quotes from great meditators of the past. I plan to go in depth into the sections on calming the mind and insight — I suspect that it may take me a few years to do, but at least I can make a good start on exploring the text in February.

Once again, I’ll be doing three weeks at Adhisthana, which allows for large numbers. In particular, the retreats I’ve led on different aspects of the mandala of spiritual practice have been very popular. So in May I’ll do another one, exploring the insight aspect of practice. I’m also delighted to have the chance to team up with Saddhanandi in September, for a retreat exploring how dukkha can become a doorway to freedom. In November, I’ll be doing another sadhana retreat, this time on Vajrasattva, and am very pleased to be co-leading it with Punyamala.

In July, I’ll head for Sweden to lead another Nordic Order Retreat, the third one I’ll have attended in recent years. I’m very much looking forward to seeing my friends in that part of the world again. Vijayamala will be coming with me for this. The theme is yet to be decided; let’s see nearer the time what feels appropriate.

 

 

Retreats in 2017

My plans for 2017 are now shaping up. I’ve been commissioned by Windhorse Publications to write a book about some aspects of meditation. Writing requires quite a bit of focus, so I’m reducing the number of retreats that I shall be leading next year. I’m only doing seven, but they include quite a variety of topics.

Sadly, as usual there are hardly any for non-Order members: just a week at Rivendell in June called Love Without Limits, and then a slightly longer retreat at Metta Vihara in Holland over Xmas/New Year. (I’m still mulling over a theme for that one; it isn’t always easy to choose over a year in advance.)

That leaves five retreats for Order members. Since Sangharakshita recently encouraged the Order to return to a focus on the sadhanas (visualization and mantra recitation practice of a buddha or bodhisattva figure) that he received from his teachers, I’m doing three retreats in that area:

  1. An Avalokiteshvara sadhana retreat with Parami and Saddhaloka at Adhisthana at the end of March;
  2. A Green Tara retreat with Khemasiri in October, also at Adhisthana;
  3. I’m pleased that I shall also be returning to Padmaloka to lead a general sadhana retreat for dharmacharis in October.

Probably the biggest gathering of the Order clans will be for a Just Sitting retreat that I shall be leading at Adhisthana in July/August. That will go back into the territory of, and hopefully go deeper than, a retreat in that area that I did there in 2014.

Lastly, I’m doing an Order retreat at Rivendell in June based on a very challenging and inspiring Mind Training text called Flattening All Concepts. It’s one of the texts that I studied on my long retreat in France, and I’ve never tried to share it before, so that should be interesting.

You will find dates and details of all these retreats here on my teaching programme page.