Hermitage changes, Lama Dashon & Vaster Vision
First I would like to apologise for September’s newsletter which was a bit of an experiment that didn’t quite work out. I recorded an account of the Gana Gathering immediately after it finished while it was still fresh in my mind and we sent that straight off, so it wasn’t mentioned in the full-moon message. There was a lot to reflect on arising from that meeting. Then I did a recording straight after the visit from the ‘Pilgrimage’ TV crew and our locals’ tea party. So it looked as if those two events were more significant than anything else that month – which they weren’t really! I meant to write other news in the last full moon letter but I don’t think it quite happened.
I will try to make up for it in this newsletter since there is a lot to report. I have a lot to think about at the moment on various fronts including the changes afoot here at the Hermitage. Jayasiddhi and K-Tso are about to move out of the Hermitage. They will be living twenty minutes away and Jayasiddhi will continue as Hermitage Manager and K-Tso will continue in her role as well. They will be onsite 5 days a week from morning puja to 5 p.m. and continue to attend and support Hermitage events and retreats as usual. They say that they feel as committed to the Sangha as before and both assure us that they are only a short drive away if their help is needed with anything outside those times. They have found that living in the main house and not having their own private accommodation was becoming increasingly difficult.
We will miss having Jayasiddhi and K-Tso living onsite and being available for various errands, emergencies and changes of plan! Of course, we wish them all the best in their new venture and are very grateful for their faithful service so far.
That leaves Tara, Eli and myself on site, with the help of any volunteers who are here. It will make it more challenging as we have to rely on there being enough people here to cover each other if one or several of us are off sick or want to go away and so on. There is a lot for us to think through in the coming days.
There are many uncertainties now around the future of the Hermitage. More than ever we are looking for volunteers to help out here at the hermitage; locals popping in for a few hours or a day, plus people able to come and stay here for short or longer periods. Rinchen Zangmo from Surrey has just arrived to do a six-month stint like she has done previously so we are looking forward to that. Nick will be leaving us in December after almost a year as volunteer here. He has been a great help in many ways and we have thoroughly enjoyed his company and cooking! It has been great having Mebar and then Norbu here for the last two weeks to help while K-Tso was away in Canada to visit her family and Gampo Abbey.
Lama Dashon coming out of retreat
There’s a lot of excitement growing about Lama Dashon coming out of retreat and taking over the reins again. This will enable me to spend more time in retreat, meditating, studying, writing and working on Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche’s materials, creating more recorded commentaries on various topics and practices and generally working out how to spend the last years of my life however many they may be and in whatever state of health I might find myself!
Of course when he comes out of retreat he will need some months to sort many things out and get back into married life, deciding where he and Pati want to live and just transitioning general. This will include a trip to Nepal to relax together and of course visit Khenpo Rinpoche on his birthday. I have heard from several people who are thinking of going to Nepal at that time. Do let me know how your plans are going so I get some sense of who will be there and when and who might be able to help look after me a bit while I am there.
The good news is that Pati has had her operation at last and is slowly recovering. Lama Dashon was there for her over the last few weeks, mostly practising at home alongside her and being there for her when needed. Happily he is back in his retreat hut now for the last two months of his retreat. They have both been able to keep up their practice throughout the whole time. Several sangha members including Pema and Jonathan have been staying with Pati to help her as she regains her strength.
Tyn y Gors
Of course, these days I have a great deal on my mind that needs thinking about as you can imagine. Since Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche passed away I have had to think a lot about my responsibilities in regard to the Longchen Foundation. I think I already wrote about how Rigdzin Shikpo never wrote another will after the one we made together early in our marriage. This means I have to deal with the whole probate which includes taking possession of Tyn y Gors (TYG) his retreat centre just 20 minutes from here.
It feels like a very sacred place and many significant Dharma events and practice have gone on there over the years. Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche wanted his ashes installed in a stupa there. At his funeral we raised £4,500 for the installing of his ashes and we will need to raise twice that again to get the stupa from Nepal, invite Lama Phuntsok and his monks over to bless the ashes and do the appropriate rituals. He has agreed to come next year at the September Full Moon. So, I will be fund -raising again for that in the near future. Please bear that in mind!
We owe so much to Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche for his inspiration and teaching. It falls to me to try my best to preserve his legacy and I hope his other students in both the Longchen Foundation and in Awakened Heart Sangha will be able to help with that on various projects.
It is very apt that the next Living the Awakened Heart area on the curriculum is Pranidhana. Meanwhile, there is so much more I want to teach on Vaster Vision. I feel we hardly scratched the surface this year because of my low energy and of course preoccupation with Rigdin Shikpo Rinpoche’s passing. The manner of his passing makes it even more obvious than ever that death does indeed come without warning. Daily life practice might mean facing death this very day whether it’s our own or others. Vaster Vision and pranidhanas have a direct bearing on our death and I am really pleased that Dawa and her team have set up a programme of training around my book, ‘There is more to dying than death’ and are running death café’s on a regular basis. I encourage all of my students to take this topic very seriously indeed both for your own sakes and for all your loved ones and Sangha colleagues who want to be able to be there to help you. Dawa is organising a buddy system so that everyone in the sangha has at least one colleague who is looking out for them and is in touch with family members who would want guidance about what their loved one would want to happen at their time of death. At that time, it is our pranidhanas that make the big difference. Refuge and Bodhisattva vows are there to empower our pranidhanas – they are in effect pranidhanas in their own right. So next year is all about taking vows, making pranidhanas and maybe some more teachings about Pure Lands.
At the recent Vaster Vision retreat with Katie I talked a lot about what we believed about Pure Lands. That discussion needs to keep going well into our next year’s practice programme. Thank you, Katie, for your inspiring talks at that weekend. It was wonderful having you here at the Hermitage and I look forward to your coming again early next year – for 3 months! I was also pleased that Katie connected the Vaster Vision to the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Samantabhadracharya pranidhana- neatly linking this year’s topic with that of the coming year. I am hoping that over the years people will get together to read different sutras and discuss their significance in terms of our own practice within the Awakened Heart Sangha – this includes both the Mahayana sutras and the Pali suttas.
The importance of this is to learn what the qualities of Buddhas really are in order for us to recognise quite how amazing it is that all beings have Buddha Nature. Because of our avidya we not only suffer and die over and over again – we also deprive all beings of the full extent of our power to help them. At the moment, however hard we try we can only help a very few – whereas if we realised our true nature we could effortlessly help all beings forever. Given the state of the world at the moment this possibility is a ray of hope in terms of our sanity – and our broken hearts. Can we really believe this sufficiently ‘to keep to the path and follow it through’? The sutras help us to open up to what that might possibly imply and mean. The main thing preventing us manifesting that power is our disbelief – the ‘wall of doubt surrounded by wrong views’. This means subtle views or beliefs that we are scarcely aware of – beliefs we all have and somehow take for reality so never question them. Meditation is all about creating the space to doubt those beliefs and learn to recognise them for what they are.
Thank you so much all of you who managed to attend retreats or events this year either in person or online. It is so important to take the time out to do retreat. I know for many people their various life commitments make it impossible to spend much if any time in retreat each year. However as Lama Dashon will be emphasising to us all when he comes out of retreat – unless we have some serious practitioners able to put the Dharma and retreat practice right in the forefront of their lives, the lineage will not grow strong enough and future generations will suffer. For the sangha to flourish we are going to need successors who really have spent sufficient time in retreat and studying the Dharma in depth. We need to focus as a sangha on creating an ethos where retreat is really valued, and retreatants and teachers supported. The financial implications of that are huge! So do bear it in mind – particularly when thinking of your will!
I was very happy to be able to spend a week down at Ty Pren recently and on the way back to meet Sister Seraphina – an orthodox nun contemplative living on the Llyn Peninsula for the last 20+ years. She is keen to come to visit us at the Hermitage soon and has introduced us to another contemplative who lives in retreat on Garn Fadryn. He is a retired Roman Catholic priest who holds mass in his attic. I look forward to meeting him soon. All in all, there is a whole community of contemplatives on the Llyn and this has been a tradition for a long time. HH Khyentse Rinpoche seems to have been able to sense it when he sent us here!
As you receive this letter I will be in attendance the the Longchen Foundation annual Vajrakilaya retreat at TYG. It will be great to spend time with my colleagues again in this new context of Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche having passed away. In a way all his students are the Longchen Foundation because for him it was a name for the sense of lineage, vision and inspiration that he felt was coming through him. The DHB and THB are directly emanating from his lineage, vision and inspiration as are the Lion’s Roar and the other courses he devised over the years. I will be working with my colleagues in the Longchen Foundation on how to preserve all this and transmit it to future generations of students. There are many ways in which Awakened Heart Sangha and the Longchen Foundation students are going to be able to co-operate and help each other over the years to come.
Finally, I just want to say how pleased I am that Tulku Sherab Dorje visited us again and we were able to discuss the problems of trying to set up a western sangha! More importantly though he has so much technical knowledge and experience that he is generously willing to share with us to sharpen up our connection to the wider lineage and deepen our understanding. It is important to have colleagues across sangha’s and not to get too inward looking and fixated on ours being the only right way to do things! He has written a delightful autobiography called A Path Strewn with Flowers and Bones with many fascinating stories about his teachers and his experiences beginning with a three year retreat under the direction of Kalu Rinpoche at the same time as Elizabeth Callahan in the 1970s. He talked to us about some of the points he makes in his more recent books including one called Crumbs from a Parrot’s Beak. Many of his points of advice are addressed to students of Lama’s teaching in typical Tibetan Buddhist context. Some of it might sound strange to Awakened Heart Sangha students who have never come across some of the problems he addresses.
I am looking forward to Five’s book launch in November. Here is the link to register for the event.
Well that is a long letter to make up for last month! Next event is the Vajrasattva Sadhana retreat and then Francesca Fremantle’s Everything, everywhere, all at once. I am sure you are all familiar with her name because of the translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and Luminous Emptiness. She was an early disciple of Trungpa Rinpoche and a good friend of Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche and myself for over thirty years. We have been in touch quite a few times since he passed away. She is hoping to visit the Hermitage in the spring.
Thank you all for your practice of Dharma and your Dharma friendships that hold the sangha together!
With much love,