Lama's Full Moon letter September 2023

Eisteddfod, Steve & BBC

Thu 28 Sep 2023


The Welsh National Eisteddfod

The Welsh National Eisteddfod (which means sitting-together in English) was held locally at Boduan (just behind Nefyn) on the Llyn Peninsula. The whole year had been building up to this all over Wales. When I have called in to talk to Wil and Elizabeth (the Welsh farmer and his wife who own Ty Pren) they have often been busy helping out in the local community to run local events to support children competing or to raise funds for the event selling cakes and teas and so on.  So, it’s been especially exciting this year with the final annual event being held locally.

It was just over a week’s programme, held in a travelling marquee and hut site covered with stalls promoting local businesses and societies, including a number of Welsh Universities. The choir, singing, instrumental, orchestras, storytelling, poetry, monologue, folk dancing, etc competitive events are held in a couple of huge marquees and there is a big stage outdoors like at Glastonbury where performances of all kinds are laid on.  Lots of food and arts and crafts stands everywhere.

Tara and I thoroughly enjoyed mingling with the crowds – there were fields and fields of parked cars all around the site – it took several hours just to walk around the site to see what was there, surrounded by Welsh speakers of all ages including the little ones – it’s very much a family event.  We were lucky to meet Gwen, a local AHS student, who proudly introduced us to her friends as her Buddhist teacher, and Sian, one of Lama Tara’s first mindfulness students here at the Hermitage, really touched us deeply by leaning over and saying in my ear in a heart-felt tone ‘Thank you so much for coming to this area’.  I am sure by ‘you’ she meant all of us here. Gwen performed in three choir singing events but we weren’t able to get the timing right to hear her live.

We were very fortunate though to be passing by the big stage as a number of singers were rehearsing and sound checking their performances. One young teenager called Lili Mohammad in particular was singing her heart out so beautifully it almost brought tears to my eyes even though I didn’t understand a word. I came to learn later that she had actually won her class! We bought ourselves a thali and samosa and as an extra treat were able to meet Lili and her sister Poppy (also a singer) at a picnic table and have a chat. Then we sat on the ground in front of the stage listening to a fantastic Welsh choir who even sang, among other songs, a beautifully harmonised rendition of Calon Lan for us (the only Welsh song in our Liturgy Book).

There were events taking place all over the site with video displays with subtitles here and there – very useful for non-Welsh speakers - and there was a special corner for Welsh learners.  I always felt very proud when Tara would strike up a conversation in Welsh with those around her and feel so disappointed in myself for hardly remembering a thing I had so valiantly tried to learn of the language over the years!

I felt very inspired by the whole event and followed as much as I could on my iPad, watching the different performers competing and marvelling at the talent that is out there in all the different age groups.  Each performer really put their heart and soul into what they were singing or reciting so that even though I didn’t understand (except for the odd word here and there), I was riveted by their performances as their passion for their words and music lifted my heart and carried me with them.

What a wonderful country this is that HH Khyentse Rinpoche sent us to!  So deeply rooted in its own culture of music and recitation, poetry and drama.  So connected to this place so full of sacred places and legends. 

Steve Hinde’s Visit

Stephen Hinde, an old friend of mine from the Longchen Foundation, was here at the Hermitage for two weeks. I first met him in France when I was staying at Lama Denys’ place at Karma Ling where he followed their study programme for a number of years. Then he was one of the pioneers when Rigdzin Shikpo and I were trial running the DHB course.  Since then he has done the Bristol University MA course twice over and followed Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche’’s various training courses, including the one leading up to Abhiseka formed over ten years ago. This is the group that I practise with each year for a week or two’s retreat at Ty’n y Gors in November. It was a wonderful opportunity to catch up and reminisce about the old days. And thinking about how we move forward, we had quite a few conversations around various issues. And yes, he's taken on the task of sorting out Rigdzin Shikpo’s books for me, so I'm really pleased about that.

I asked him to start to work through the Lion’s Roar with Dashon so that Dashon can get a sense of how these precious teachings from Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche could best be integrated into the Living the Awakened Heart curriculum. In many ways they build on Discovering the Heart of Buddhism and Trusting the Heart of Buddhism and take many of the insights we might have gained from them to a deeper level.  Of course, how deep we take those insights is always dependent on our own practice and however deep we go it is always about the Indestructible Heart Essence – which is always the same and never changes whichever route you take into the spiral learning process

I wanted Dashon to deepen his understanding of Dzogchen tradition by linking into Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche's teachings. He's already been linking into Tulku Sherdor's courses in these Dzogchen traditions, so this is giving us some, if you like, textual backup for the teachings within the Awakened Heart Sangha. It's good that at least somebody has some sense of how the traditional teachings are presented and how they fit with the way Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche teaches, and the way I've been teaching, in the DHB and the THB. And the Living the Awakened Heart programme generally. So making those connections. And that went very well

Steve gave what they call the First Gate of the Lion's Roar. And in due course Dashon will move on to the next stages. We're not sure when, but anyway, it's the beginning of a process of trying to get an overview of Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche's legacy, largely in terms of the different courses he developed over time, each of which is somehow based on the one before beginning with Discovering the Heart of Buddhism and Trusting the Heart of Buddhism, which, as we know, already is a lifetime of practice, and yes perhaps lifetimes of practice. And yet because it's spiral learning, you could actually enter at a level, such as the Lion's Roar, and spiral from there, but I think you would still find Discovering the Heart of Buddhism and Trusting the Heart of Buddhism to be really helpful. I know people who've done that as well and have then come back to do Discovering Heart of Buddhism and found that very, very helpful. So although Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche presents it as a progression, I think it lends itself to the spiral learning approach that we have in the Awakened Heart Sangha. So that's all very interesting and positive.

We had a few pilgrimages while he was here. We went to Llyn (Lake) Dywarchen near Rhyd Ddu that Khenpo Rinpoche and Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche blessed. Then we went to Dinas Emrys, a site that Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche has blessed, so it's a special sacred place. We also went with Pati and Tara to a place on the north coast, not far from Conwy,  Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen, where there were these two famous grandmother and grandfather stones, white and black stones that mark the pass that takes you to the old drovers’ road from Snowdonia to Anglesey. There was also a stone circle, a cromlech and a standing stone. We did smoke pujas at all those different places and it was a really great pilgrimage. We also went to Ty Pren and did smoke pujas there as well. And then visited Dafydd’s place, Felin Uchaf. Sudhana joined me and Steve and we talked to his daughter Alfie and her friend Charlie, who also visited the Hermitage last year. We really enjoyed visiting there and also visited Sudhana's friend Jeff who lives down the end of the peninsula. It was a day of making connections. Tara took Steve to Cwm Pennant as well – a place HH Khyentse Rinpoche said was special - and it’s famous for its inhabitants having interbred with fairies! 

Tulku Sherdor

We've got Tulku Sherdor coming again soon. His daughter's studying at The Yehudi Menuhin School in School of Music and she's got her holiday, so he's coming over and he wanted to show her the Hermitage and north west Wales while she has the chance. So I'm looking forward to that, and he's going to be giving us some teaching on The Treasury of the Dharmadhatu (Chöying Dzö) by Longchempa. The English translation by Richard Barron is called ‘The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena’ . This is a very special text for Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche. The people who attended the Longchen Foundation practice sessions during the seven weeks after he passed away will have been reciting lines from this text that Rigdzin Shikpo translated as ‘Samsara is Samantabhadra, nirvana is Samantabhadra, in the vast long of Samantabhadra samsara and nirvana have never existed from the very beginning’. Barron (p9) translates this as ‘Samsara is totally positive, Nirvana is totally positive. Within the  wholly positive expanse, samsara and nirvana have never existed, etc." So we have a very strong connection with that text. He was working on it for a number of years, working through the commentary on it by Jamgön Kongtrül, helped by Chryssoula Zerbini, who some of you know, a mutual friend of Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche and myself. That was something that he was intending to continue with. So he wasn't at all sort of expecting to die so suddenly. So that's something that I'm not quite sure about - how and when we'll have access to the work he did on that, and whether it's in a state that could be passed on as yet, but its very special for our lineage, this particular text, so it will be great to have the the oral transmission of the text from Tulku Sherdor and some of his own reflections on it. So we've got that to look forward to next month. Steve wants to come back to be part of that.


BBC Pilgrimage Programme - Cast and crew at the Hermitage

This month we had the cast and crew of the BBC documentary series Pilgrimage on site. The documentary series is called Pilgrimage - some of you might know it. It's quite a popular series. Here is how they describe the show “Celebrities take a journey of a lifetime. They all have different faiths and beliefs - will stepping in ancient footsteps on a spiritual journey broaden minds?

There was a whole team here filming footage for the fifth season featuring pilgrimage site and routes in Wales. They've aired four series of different pilgrimages in different parts of the world. They started on the other side of the Hollywell and they intended to finish up on Bardsey Island, but we were on the route so they stayed here overnight and visited with us and the Stupa.

There were seven celebrities and two camera people that stayed overnight on Wed September 13th, Nick spent the evening with them, and they had great fun apparently! I didn’t meet them until the next day. There was actually only one of the celebrities who I recognized, Michaela Strachan, I know her from watching Springwatch with Chris Packham. You can tell from Springwatch that she has this wonderful presence and enthusiasm and warmth about her and she was actually just like that in person as well.

Tara taught them mindfulness in the pavilion while the rest of us were doing the morning puja. And then, after breakfast Tara took them to St. Cybi's Well and up onto the hill. They asked her lots of questions, and she said it made her very nervous as she wasn’t used to being on camera. They were very pleased with how it had all gone when they came back. They said they loved the view from the relatively low hill, just above St. Cybi's Well, they even used a drone to get footage. By the time I met them, they were full of it all and saying that this was the highlight of their pilgrimage, really, coming to the Hermitage, that they felt so much peace here. Even though they were making so much noise, they still felt it was very peaceful! Some of them were quite determined to come back at some point, so we'll see... they had been asking me questions, from the moment I met them, actually - really good questions... But later in the afternoon, they wanted me to answer a few questions about Buddhism on camera. I was sitting by the stupa and the celebrities were sitting just outside the pavilion and there were cameras all around and the rest of the crew as well... The film director said to me, “okay, can you start by telling us what Buddhism is?”  I had been thinking about this as I already knew that they were going to ask me some questions and I thought they might ask that. And I just launched fourth really - refuge in the Three Jewels, the Four Noble Truths. I wasn't using technical language, but I just went for it. And I thought, oh, wow, I've really taken off here, I wonder if this is what they wanted. But they were absolutely riveted. The crew and the celebrities all started asking questions, even before I'd finished. I think they were very pleased. I was very pleased. So let's hope the editors are very pleased, and can find some bits of it that they think are worth keeping in the final edit as it were. It was really good, because the weather was actually quite decent.

One of the things they'd asked me about was the mani wheels, and I told them that it had the mantra of om mani padma hum in it, and Michaela and several others wanted to get the pronunciation exactly right. They'd already had a bit of introduction to what the mantra was. And then we circumambulated the stupa together doing the mantra. They wanted to know if there was a melody and were very keen to get it exactly right and then off, we sat down, we went around the stupa three times. And then we all offered candles to the stupa. And they were so pleased with the whole thing, it was kind of surprising that there wasn't any kind of resistance, and everyone was completely up for it. Christine McGuinness who has a couple of documentaries on the BBC about autism (Paddy and Christine McGuinness: Our family and Autism about having three children diagnosed with autism and then she discovered that she herself is autistic and made a documentary called Unmasking My Autism ) had found the meditation in the morning quite difficult, but she really liked circumambulating the stupa and offering candles she said she felt that was really connecting.

They left Thursday evening and did a bit more pilgrimage down the peninsula the next day. They liked it here so much that they asked to come back on the Saturday to do their exit interviews. Each of the pilgrims had to were interviewed separately around the hermitage land talking saying what they felt they'd learned and describing what their journey had been like on the pilgrimage. So, we got to see them again and talk to the crew a bit more. The crew was equally delightful and interested in what we were doing, lots of good connections were made. They were saying that it’s going to be broadcast on Good Friday next year, so we were talking about whether we would get together at that time or not, it was all very friendly and nice. So, we'll wait to see the Pilgrimage series in the spring... the BBC team had been joking with us and saying, well, you know, maybe this time next year, this place will be heaving with pilgrims! We were laughing about that, who knows what might happen, but it certainly will be a major publicity for us. So, we'll see how that goes.

Second annual Local's Tea Party

The Saturday afternoon was also our second annual tea party for the locals which sort of overlapped a bit with the BBC. There were all these vans parked down the lane which made for good conversation when the locals came for their tea and cakes. So that was lovely. There were more than 25 people who turned up from the local area, some Welsh speakers, and some people who we are connected to through the dharma and some of them neighbors and some of our tradesmen including our plumber and his wife and our electricians… various people some who came last year and some new people as well. It was nice to kind of feel more part of the local community.

Next weekend we have Katie here at the Hermitage teaching for the Vaster Vision weekend so we are looking forward to that as well. Hope to see some of you here and online for that.

Thanks for all your dharma practice, keep it going!

Love Shenpen