Here you’ll find some of my old news, giving an account of events in my life from 2005 – 2012.
This month marks the first anniversary of my return from my long retreat in France. It has been a good full year. The first half was mainly taken up with getting life up and running again in various practical ways after almost 4 years away, including putting together a base here in Cambridge. The second half has been full of teaching and leading retreats, as I’ve launched into sharing with others what I gained from my long retreat.
November has been another full month. It included the last 2 weeks of small retreats that Vijayamala and I have been leading in Cambridge. The first was on Visualization Practice and Insight and the second on The Shepherd’s Search for Mind (a chapter from the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa). We found a lot to explore about visualization and insight, and I’m glad that I shall have the opportunity to take things further next year, when I do a retreat for Order members at Rivendell in June.
Straight after these two retreats I was off to Norwich to lead a weekend for Order members and mitras who had asked for ordination. I’d called it Let Yourself Go, and it was an exploration of anatta and how we create a sense of a fixed self. It was the first time I’d been to the Norwich Centre for many years, and I very much enjoyed getting to know the sangha there. The meditations that we did were very still, the questions were very good, and the lunches were abundant! Many thanks to Sujana for inviting me, and to Dayapanna and Jo for putting me up for the night.
On Sangha Day I was back playing at home; giving a talk at the Cambridge Centre on Sangha and the Greater Mandala to about 100 people. All being well, it should soon be available on Free Buddhist Audio. I was particularly pleased to see contingents from our outreach classes, with people coming from Hertford, Letchworth, Peterborough and Milton Keynes. For the mitra ceremonies in the evening I have never seen the theatre so full, with maybe 140 people welcoming the 6 new mitras. Such a big gathering of the clans was a very good way to begin the Centre’s year of focusing on spiritual friendship. I am also currently running a course on Just Sitting for the Centre here. It was oversubscribed, which is a very good thing, although I hate turning away people who want to meditate and learn more about the Dharma, and I was tempted to turn it into a Just Standing course instead…
Also this month I made a visit to Birmingham to see Sangharakshita. Madhyamaloka is in process of being sold, so it was likely to be my last visit to the place. I lived there for some years in the 1990s, but don’t have particularly fond memories of it – I was far too busy to enjoy living there. It was very good to see Bhante again, although he is noticeably frailer than when I saw him this time last year. Unfortunately he is suffering from insomnia again, and is having to limit how much time he spends seeing people. So I was grateful for the opportunity to talk with him about meditation and other matters.
Vijayamala and I have just finished leading our first two small retreats here in Cambridge. We both very much enjoyed them and had some very good feedback. The first one was on bodhicitta – both wisdom and compassion – using the 7-point Mind Training that stems from Atisha. It’s a very practical approach, involving a lot of pithy precepts. The second one was on ‘spiritual death’, which is a term Sangharakshita uses for the insight aspect of Dharma practice. For this retreat, Vijayamala and I didn’t use a text, but simply explored different approaches, using what we had gained from our long retreat. The aim was to give all the participants an individual way of practising in insight territory that was appropriate to them. It was very valuable and enjoyable to have a retreat with small numbers, where we could meet with everyone individually, where everyone could participate in discussion, and we could tailor the retreat to take into account people’s needs in a way that is never possible when you have 20 people or more.
The retreats for next year continue to fill up fast, so if you want to come do book soon. We have had a cancellation for the Shepherd’s Search for Mind retreat from the 9-16 November. If you’d like to come, please contact us.
At the end of August I had the great pleasure of attending a European Gathering of the Triratna Buddhist Order. After several years away on retreat, it was a wonderful to be with 400 Order members. I also had the opportunity to give a talk on Spiritual Receptivity and Just Sitting, and to lead a couple of sessions of Just Sitting practice. You can listen to my talk on Free Buddhist Audio here, watch it on Videosangha, or read the text here. Also, I recently found a link to the audio recording of my recent presentation on Just Sitting to the European Chairs Assembly. It’s here at soundcloud.com.
After that Vijayamala and I went off on retreat for two weeks with Lama Tilmann Lhundrup, who was our retreat guide during our 3-year retreat. He had suggested we attend, as it would give us a chance to see one another again and discuss how the two of us had landed in the 9 months since the end of our retreat. It was very good to see him, and we had some very good discussions. Lama Tilmann was teaching at a Tibetan Buddhist centre at Holomontos, near Thessaloniki in Greece. We had a very good time, and I’m very grateful to our Greek hosts for all their hospitality. The first week the course was open to anyone. During the second week we were a small group of experienced meditators, and we studied a text by Gampopa called A String of Pearls, a set of short, pithy teachings that cover the whole Buddhist path from basic reflections to motivate you to practise up to the view and practice of Mahamudra, the union of wisdom and compassion. As well as the formal study and practice, we had some very good informal discussions with Lama Tilmann, who is a good friend. He has been through big changes himself in the last year, having disrobed as a monk after 21 years, and putting down his responsibilities for guiding the traditional long retreats after over 15 years. It was very interesting watching a practitioner of his depth of experience working out how to apply the Dharma to his new situation as a lay person in a relationship, with all the challenges that these things bring.
All the small seminars that I’m running with Vijayamala this autumn are now fully booked, as is the Emotional Intelligence retreat next Spring. It’s the downside of wanting to work with small numbers, so as to be able to give people individual attention – the retreats book up very fast.
Over recent weeks I’ve spent a few days in Bristol, leading an Order Day on our system of meditation, and an evening on Conditionality and Meditation for the Bristol Buddhist Centre’s Sangha Night. I was rather sleepless on the Sangha Night, and wasn’t terribly happy with my introductory talk, but you can judge for yourself as it was videoed and you can view it on Vimeo here, or listen to it on freebuddhistaudio.
I also spent a very enjoyable couple of days with the Triratna European Chairs’ Assembly at Vajrasana. They’d invited me to talk about spiritual receptivity and Just Sitting (formless meditation), which has rather dropped off the teaching agenda at some of our centres. Just Sitting is an essential complement to focused practice, and I was very happy to have the opportunity to explore it with the Chairs. (You can listen to my presentation to the Chairs at soundcloud.com.) They were very warm and welcoming, and I have accepted an invitation to attend their next meeting in January to continue our dialogue about meditation and how to teach it.
Lastly, Vijayamala and I have now put together our programme of small retreats for 2013. We’re doing 8 weeks altogether, of which two have already been taken up by groups, so there are 6 available for booking.
I’ve just returned from 4 weeks camping in a field in the SW of England, co-leading the Buddhafield Total Immersion retreat, a silent intensive meditation retreat with about 60 participants. The local weather gods are obviously very literal-minded, and took the title of the retreat at face value, as it rained on all but 3 days of the retreat! Despite all the rain and mud, I had a great time. It was very good to be meditating with some very serious practitioners, and our teaching team was a pleasure to work with. I enjoyed doing more Dharma teaching again, and it was wonderful to be back in nature, with plenty of time for meditation. It really tuned me back in to my long retreat that finished last November.
Other news. Vijayamala and I have gone ahead with our plan to hold our small retreats for Order members this autumn. The retreats have all booked up very quickly, and are now full. Do please put yourself on the waiting list though, if you’re interested in coming, as people sometimes drop out. Also, we’ll give those on our waiting list advance notice of retreats we’re planning for 2013.
Lots to tell you about this month! I have finalised leading quite a few events in the second half of this year. I’m particularly excited at the prospect of leading some small retreats for Order members this autumn. In an intimate group Vijayamala and I will be able to share some of what we learnt and discovered during our long retreat. I’m also doing some other events as well. There is now a page with my full programme that you can check out. I also have a lot of teaching plans for next year. They’ll appear here too in a month or two.
I have also written a short piece about the Six Element Practice, an insight practice that is used within Triratna. You can read it here.
I have really enjoyed the teaching I’ve done for the Cambridge Centre recently. Over 30 people booked on my 6-week course on Imagining Awakening. Then there were 28 of us at Vajrasana last weekend for a retreat on the same theme. The retreatants were a great bunch of people, and I really enjoyed our discussions. It was also very good to be back at Vajrasana after about 5 years and to see how the place has developed and feel how the atmosphere has deepened through all the practice that has been going on there.
Lastly, it’s looking very likely that I shall be based in Cambridge for the next few years. All should finally become clear in the next couple of months. After being back from retreat for over 6 months I feel as if it’s time to get things clear, and know where I’m going to be living, so that I can start investing more energy in that situation.
I shall be away at the Buddhafield Total Immersion retreat from the 7th June – 8th July. It’s an intensive meditation retreat held under canvas in a beautiful part of Devon in SW England. For that period I shall be out of contact apart from emergencies. Wish me and all the participants good weather!
I am currently leading a very well-attended 6-week course at the Cambridge Buddhist Centre. I shall also be leading a weekend retreat for them at Vajrasana Retreat Centre on the 18 – 20 May. There are still places available.
Bookings are very good for the Buddhafield Total Immersion retreat that I shall be co-leading in Devon UK in June/July. If you want to grab a place then see the Buddhafield website for details. I’m currently making plans to lead further retreats later this year and through 2013. Details will be announced here as they become definite.
I have also finished writing an article about the system of meditation practice within the Triratna Buddhist Order. If you’re interested you can read it here. (Members of the Order will find it in your Articles Shabda in May.)
I was recently interviewed by Hannah Atkinson from Windhorse Publications about my books A Guide to the Buddhas and A Guide to the Bodhisattvas. She asked some good questions about the value of reflecting and meditating on these figures. You can read the interview here.
I’ve now been back from my long retreat for 6 weeks. It’s been a time of getting life up and running again and also travelling round catching up with old friends – there’s a lot to talk about after more than 3 years! Recently Vijayamala and I did an evening at the Bristol Buddhist Centre during which we talked about our retreat and answered questions and then I led some meditation. The ‘talk part’ of the evening was recorded. If you’d like to hear it you’ll find it here.
I’m now back from my 3+ years of retreat in an old wooden circus wagon. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had over three years of my life in which to focus so intensively on the Dharma and meditation. I am now back in Cambridge, starting to get my life up and running again. Everyday life feels rather weird and complex after retreat, but so far I’m taking it in my stride. My retreat wasn’t particularly concerned with bliss and attaining states of dhyana in meditation, but rather with looking deeply into the nature of experience. So even though the texture of my experience has changed quite a bit since leaving retreat, the nature of it hasn’t changed at all, so that makes the transition reasonably easy.
Now I’m back, this website will get a lot more attention again, and I shall be posting news and other things much more regularly, so do keep checking it out.
- My book Tales of Freedom has been republished by Worlds Within. As well as the paperback there is also a Kindle e-book version on sale. For details see here.
- In 2012 I’ve agreed to be part of the teaching team for the 4-week Buddhafield Total Immersion retreat in Devon UK. Dates are June 10-July 8. (It’s possible to come for the first fortnight, if you can’t spare 4 weeks.
September 2006 – January 2008
January 2008, Lama Shenpen Hookham, and two months in France.
December 2007, plans for a long retreat.
November 2007, a period of ill-health.
April 2007, Dagyab Rinpoche and teaching in Cambridge.
March 2007, a seminar in Birmingham, and plans for a long retreat.
February 2007, a quiet month, just leading a week’s retreat in Sussex.
January 2007, a visit to North Wales, a weekend in Manchester, and a week at the Brighton Buddhist Centre.
October 2006, the Open Heart Retreat in Scotland.
September 2006, my visit to Tibet and Nepal.