Discover the Heart of Buddhism
‘Living the Awakened Heart’ is a training in meditation, reflection and insight from the Mahamudra & Dzogchen traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
I'd been studying Buddhism for many years but I still found that even the first sections of ‘Living the Awakened Heart’ revolutionised my understanding, bringing it to a whole new depth.
The teachings invite us to look at our own sense of what is true, and there is a truth pointed out that cannot be denied. At first I thought it was basic stuff but now I realise that it’s the very core of the Buddhist path.
I’d recommend this training to anyone looking to explore their own mind, be they experienced in meditation or new to the search. I found it helped my meditation by giving me like minded people to talk to and boosting my energy.
What I found in Discovering the Heart of Buddhism profoundly touched me right from the start - and went so far beyond my expectations that it is difficult to find words to describe.
Discover the truths of Buddhism through your own experience
Living the Awakened Heart leads you on a search for truth. Carefully structured materials guide you in meditation and reflection to explore what’s real in your own experience.
You have to begin with what you can know for sure - your direct experience. Finding something profound there, a inspiring sense can dawn within you of the vaster vision the Buddhist tradition offers.
‘Living the Awakened Heart’ is designed to help you discover the truths of Buddhism through your own experience, not through adopting a set of blind beliefs.
An open mind is what really matters. Indeed most Westerners are attracted to Buddhism by the fact that it does not demand blind faith and belief, but appeals to the evidence of our own direct experience – this is what the Buddha meant when he said his teachings were “Come and see”.
We have to start with our own language and culture and with our own experience of our hearts and minds. This is where Living the Awakened Heart begins and by beginning in this way we find ourselves already participating in the process of Awakening – not through blind belief, but through experience and a sense of inspiration.
The underlying principles of Buddhism
Living the Awakened Heart presents the underlying principles of Buddhism in familiar English words and enables you to connect to the heart of Buddhism without the confusion often caused by Eastern cultural trappings.
The traditional formulae for presenting Buddhism were evolved to help people in Buddhist cultures, where people were brought up to have a strong conviction in Buddhist ideas about the world. But in the West we do not share many of these ideas, and so we need to be introduced to Buddhism more carefully.
We have to begin with what we can know for sure-our direct experience-and from there we can allow a sense of the vaster and profounder vision that Buddhism offers to dawn within us.
The themes of the training represent the underlying principles of Buddhism, which have been built and elaborated upon down the ages according to the tastes and requirements of different cultural settings. They are often implicit in traditional Buddhist teachings, endorsed by the whole culture of a Buddhist country, not needing explicit formulation when Eastern Buddhists are being taught.
Buddhism for the modern world
If you are already familiar with how Buddhism is traditionally taught, you may feel that in this way of teaching we depart rather radically from a traditional approach. To think this would be to take too narrow a view of how the tradition works. The tradition has always adapted its teaching methods to the requirements of the students. This is traditional.
All of these underlying principles have always been present in Buddhism right from the Buddha’s first teachings: it is just that in these materials they have been gathered together explicitly and presented in a way accessible to Westerners not brought up in a Buddhist culture.
Having grasped the underlying principles of Buddhism presented, students should be able to approach and relate to more traditional teachings (such as the Four Noble Truths, not-self and karma) in the spirit in which they are intended, rather than distorted by a veil of cultural misunderstandings.
The traditional methods of presenting Buddhism in the East were developed against a particular cultural background, one that we in the West do not share.
Traditional teachings are easily misunderstood
In Buddhist countries, children pick up from those around them that the Buddha represents all things good, that he represents wisdom, compassion, peace, joy and gentleness, and that what he teaches is true for all time. They believe implicitly that there is such a thing as liberation, Awakening, release from suffering, countless past lives and future lives, yet all are like dreams and illusions. They have complete confidence that liberation is a matter of the heart and that this is intimately connected with the whole enlightenment process.
This is the conceptual framework that they already have when they start training intensively with Buddhist teachers. The problem is not that they need convincing of all these things – they just need to be reminded and encouraged.
Westerners need to be introduced to Buddhist thinking more carefully than by simply applying formulae that are suited to people brought up in Buddhist cultures. We have to arrive by careful stages at a dawning sense of the possibility of the vaster and profounder vision that Buddhism offers. We have to begin with what we know because we cannot begin anywhere else. We certainly cannot begin on the assumption that we believe what Eastern Buddhists believe, or that we ever will.
It made me really 'sit up' and explore my experience in new ways. As I explored each new section it opened up and contained the whole path - I do not cease to marvel at the way each seemingly simple theme points to the most profound truth.
The training really made me look closely at my own experience. It provided a framework which widened and widened to encompass the whole of the Buddha's teaching.
Living the Awakened Heart involves inner inquiry and an experiential exploration of Buddhist teachings, a way of exploring the living heart of Buddhism without rituals or complex terminology.
Connect to the heart of Buddhist teachings
Living the Awakened Heart focuses on the heart of Buddhism, the most fundamental questions about your experience of life and the nature of your being.
It draws on some of the most profound Buddhist teachings, the Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, to give you a sound basis for a lifetime of deep spiritual practice.
The teachings and reflections it introduces are ones you will keep coming back to however long you meditate, and so it is equally suitable for those who have read about and practised Buddhism for some time and for those who are completely new to it.
I would recommend Living the Awakened Heart to anyone seeking meaning. I have seen it be really helpful for both beginners on the path and also people with many years of experience in meditation and Buddhism. It would be a great follow on from a Mindfulness course as it continues the process of exploring our experience to reduce our confusion and suffering and to uncover the true potential of each one of us.
Someone who comes to Buddhism as an "interested beginner" could not find a better introduction than the Living the Awakened Heart. But it also suits someone who, like me, has been searching for answers to the big questions and needs a way to get to grips with a constructive practice to allow them to explore deeper.
I think it is best for someone who is sure they want to explore deeply. Although Living the Awakened Heart is flexible, it does need commitment to follow through and get the most out of it.
Develop your practice of meditation
Meditation is central to Living the Awakened Heart as it deepens and stabilises our exploration of our experience. The simplicity of being that we discover in meditation spills over into our lives, and this natural process is helped by pausing to reconnect with our awareness during the day.
Once you start you will receive formal meditation instruction, and have regular meditation interviews with your Mentor and Lama Shenpen. This is supplemented by inspiration and practical advice from a specially written books on meditation, as well as the deepening process of reflecting that the training leads you on.
How long do I need to meditate for each day?
To take full advantage of the training, it is recommended that you try to commit yourself to at least 15 minutes of meditation a day, and to simple awareness exercises at odd moments throughout the day.
The meditation taught on Living the Awakened Heart
Buddhist training consists of study, reflection and meditation. Meditation here means sitting still for set periods of time to familiarise ourselves with the nature and workings of our innermost being. There are techniques for helping ourselves to focus on our direct experience.
We deliberately keep the focus simple, teaching a method called Formless Meditation. Do not be deceived by the simplicity however. The practice gradually reveals itself to be subtle and profound.
We learn to make friends with ourselves and all our experience, good and bad, because the essence of both is the same natural and profound openness, clarity and sensitivity of our being.
For a long time the practice of meditation may feel like a struggle but it is a struggle to let go of complications and arrive at simplicity. The ease of that simplicity is elusive and takes a long time to develop and stabilise. That is why such a wealth of further techniques have developed within the Buddhist tradition.
However complex other practices may be, in essence they are always meant to develop and stabilise the simple awareness of Formless meditation. The path begins and ends by dissolving into the space of Formless meditation.
Meditation in daily life
Daily life awareness and mindfulness practice emerges out of the Formless Meditation practice, carrying that simplicity of approach into all our activities and our whole attitude to life. The difference is that in the formal sitting periods we can give ourselves the space and time we need to deepen our practice, away from the distractions of our everyday life.
The sense of openness and space, clarity and awareness, sensitivity and responsiveness that you connect with in the meditation starts to flow out into your life and your environment for the benefit of all.
Is it formless meditation like mindfulness?
If you've been taught mindfulness in a secular context, perhaps in one of the common eight week courses, you'll find that connects naturally with formless meditation. The biggest difference is that formless meditation goes further in challenging the basic preconceptions about ourselves and the world that we bring with us when we start looking at our experience.
I can't believe how my meditation practice has changed. I used to put myself under pressure and look for results all the time. I was getting frustrated and even angry. But now after joining Living the Awakened Heart I feel I'm on the right track. I look forward to meditating where as in the past it felt like a chore.
The way meditation it taught in Living the Awakened Heart has enabled me to relax more. It has reminded me that anything that happens during meditation, anything in my mind, is all the same. Because of this I feel my meditation has become more about letting go and being gentle rather than applying something to myself.
It has helped me develop a greater awareness and curiosity in my sitting meditation practice, and has sometimes opened my mind to insights. Even though I don’t meditate with as much regularity as I’d like, what l've been learning from the training is something l take with me most of the time in everyday life.
Receive regular guidance from teachers & mentors
Lama Shenpen Hookham created Living the Awakened Heart to share what she has learnt in her 50 years of training in the Mahamudra & Dzogchen traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Lama Shenpen has spent 9 years in retreat, and now spends most of her time in semi-retreat in Wales.
From there she teaches and guides students worldwide on Living the Awakened Heart. Many of her teachings are shared online for those who can’t come in person.
Everyone on Living the Awakened Heart is also given a mentor, an experienced and trained senior student. This is someone who can guide you through the training, answering your questions, encouraging you, and discussing your difficulties.
Interacting with teachers, mentors and fellow students is central to Living the Awakened Heart.
Lama Shenpen Hookham is the founding Lama of the Awakened Heart Sangha and principle teacher of the Living the Awakened Heart training
Lama Shenpen has trained for over 50 years in the Mahamudra & Dzogchen traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
She has spent over 12 years in retreat and has been a student of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, one of the foremost living masters of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, since the late 70s.
Lama Shenpen is fluent in Tibetan and has translated a number of Tibetan texts into English for her students. On Khenpo Rinpoche’s instructions she produced a seminal study of the profound Buddha Nature doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism, published as The Buddha Within, and gained a doctorate in this from Oxford University. She is also the author of There’s More to Dying than Death.
A central feature of Living the Awakened Heart is the high level of personal contact with Lama Shenpen, mentors, and other students on the training.
Lama Shenpen and her students are connected to the lineage of those who have walked the path and shown us the way. They are there to communicate the awake, living and sensitive quality uncovered by meditation and awareness.
All of us are seeking a ground of genuineness and openness. Having honest discussions with others on the same path helps us to cut through our unrealistic expectations and attempts to hide from the truth. It gradually instills confidence in the innermost nature of our being and the commitment to realise it.
Embarking on the Living the Awakened Heart training is a commitment to working with a mentor. This is someone who has been already engaged in Living the Awakened Heart for some time, and who has been trained to help others who are less experienced.
One-on-one interaction has unique advantages, drawing advice and practical hints tailored to the needs and responses of each individual.
You go to some Buddhist groups and you feel that the teachers are just giving you the party line but on Discovering the Heart of Buddhism I felt that it was coming out fresh every time from their own experience.
My mentors have helped me enormously. I have found a great deal of value in being able to discuss practice regularly with someone who has practiced for much longer than I have. It forges a strong feeling of connection, and reinforces a sense of significance to the practice as a whole.
Lama Shenpen’s teaching goes straight to the heart. She brings great clarity to very profound teachings and expresses them in a simple way one can actually experience in meditation.
Become part of a spiritual community
When you start Living the Awakened Heart, you’re not on your own. You become part of a community of like-minded people - the Awakened Heart Sangha - with whom you can share you inspiration and discuss challenges. How you choose participate is entirely up to you.
Regular online courses offer the chance to get together for a few months with a group of other people who want to explore the same subject. Led by a mentor, you work over materials week by week and discuss them with others on the course.
Lama Shenpen and other Awakened Heart Sangha teachers lead face-to-face courses and retreats at different places in the UK. A typical events combines teachings, meditation sessions, and opportunities for a one-to-one interview with the teacher.
These events help to reinforce what you learn at home, but they’re not essential and many people find they can’t come to any, or only a few. There is often an option to participate online, meditating from your own home while linked into a live stream from the retreat.
When I joined I didn't think too much about the community side. I didn’t want to be a member of anything or label myself. Being a text-book introvert I thought ‘why can’t you just get on with it on your own?’ But over time I've gradually grown to understand and appreciate it’s value.
I found online courses helpful, and very practical for me to be able to keep up as and when I have some peaceful time. When I’ve come to retreats in person, and there have been others who have been participating in the same retreat online, they have really felt part of the proceedings....actually I find that delightful. The online availability of teachings and the fact that the community is up for virtual connections is extremely important to me personally.
The sense of being part of a community is helpful. Sometimes I’ve consciously reminded myself that there are others "out there" who are in it as well. Online retreats give me an opportunity for some concentrated practice and to "meet" other members.
I feel part of a loving community that really cares about each and every member. There is also a lot of fun and laughter. It is very open, no barriers, it is very welcoming to newcomers.
Explore at your own pace
You decide for yourself when to study and practice. You can follow the training entirely from home, learning how to bring meditation into your everyday life.
If it helps you to come together with others, you can take part in courses and retreats that are held throughout the year, both online and in various locations in the UK.
The first year of Living the Awakened Heart focuses on a set of ten carefully written books, you are lead on a journey of meditation and reflection, an exploration into the nature of your being. You work through each book gradually, discussing with your mentor as you go. When you’re ready, the next book is sent to you at no charge.
The materials are specifically designed so you can engage with them in small ‘bites’. This makes it more possible to fit half an hour into odd spaces during a hectic week. It also helps you to really explore for yourself what’s pointed out, and realise its full meaning in everyday life.
The diamond-like clarity of the materials can only have come from being written by someone deeply inspired at the time and being later polished with care.
I liked being able to pick it up and slot it in when I had a few spare minutes in my busy life.
I’ve appreciated having the options of different ways of connecting.
I have felt able to progress at my own pace but nurturing all the time inner reservations.
Give what you can afford
There’s no set fee for Living the Awakened Heart. Instead, everyone makes a monthly donation of whatever they can afford.
It’s not a commercial product you buy from an organisation, but something that’s made available by the shared effort of a community. When you engage in Living the Awakened Heart, you become a member of this community, the Awakened Heart Sangha.
In traditional Buddhist cultures one makes offerings to teachers and practitioners as an integral part of one's own spiritual practice. In this way our monthly donation is an expression of our generosity and commitment to each other and our teachers; it has symbolic as well as financial value.
To handle the practicalities we have set up a charity (‘The Shrimala Trust’) and this is what we make our monthly donations to. All donations go towards towards the costs of providing the training and supporting Lama Shenpen's activity.
We suggest you consider offering a regular monthly donation of £30 for the first year.
We are keen that anyone who wishes to engage fully in the training should be able to do so regardless of their financial position. If you cannot make the suggested amount, please contact Student Support to discuss how much you are willing and able to donate each month.
We only want to receive money from those who value and support what we do. If you find that it’s not working for you, You can cancel your monthly donations at any time.
I wish I could afford to give more. I began meditating in the 1970's and have practiced with varying degrees of intensity! Starting Living the Awakened Heart more recently has helped beyond words, leading me to spend more time on meditation and deepening my practice.
I give £30 a month, which in a way feels like a lot when I’m on a low budget, but the contact I have with experienced teachers and the sangha is invaluable.
I am very happy to give my monthly contribution feeling it offers me and others a path forward. I think it wonderful that there is no fee for the training - that could be a deterrent to people, like me, who have to battle with powerful reservations.
Start Living the Awakened Heart today
- Immediately you receive online materials so you can get started as soon as you like.
- In a few days you'll receive a large welcome pack by post with your first books.
- Within a week a senior student will be in touch to introduce you to the training and discuss how best to support you in working through the materials.
- You will be invited to begin a six week course where a trained mentor introduces you to meditation as practised in the Awakened Heart Sangha.
- Gradually you’ll introduced to all the other ways you can participate in the training
I went through a bad relationship break-up and thought I needed to do something to sort my mind out.
I started to meditate using some new age tapes I found in a shop. After a while I thought I needed some guidance from someone if I wanted to do this properly. That’s when I found out about Living the Awakened Heart which seem to offer exactly what I needed.
I wasn’t very aware that I was joining a community. It just felt good to take part in things sometimes, and I felt free to have a good look round, deciding for myself what I made of all this. What I have found is that at time has gone by I have got more and more involved.
I got a lot out of working on the training materials, although it was quite difficult to keep the momentum going sometimes The structure was useful as it gave me a format to keep to and relevant questions to have in mind. The training helped dispelled myths about what I should be doing in meditation.
I’ve also learnt a lot from attending weekend courses and retreats. Practicing together as a group seems to have the effect of intensifying my motivation, and talking and a sharing experience with others has been enormously helpful.
It’s made a big difference to me having such an astute teacher in Lama Shenpen, not only with her knowledge of the subjects but also seeing how she really grapples with questions her own and ours. She never gives an "off pat" answer it's always a result of her having really thought it through. Listening to her teachings gives me faith in our tradition and motivation to keep at it - I think it's very inspiring to see how she lives the Dharma. She’s helped me with guidance about what direction to go in and general encouragement.
I’d recommend Living the Awakened Heart to anybody who is curious and interested in deep exploration. I would suggest that they not only study through the books but also get to know others in the sangha either online or through attending events.
I took an interest in Buddhism many years ago, and went to classes with another Tibetan Buddhist group for about ten years.
When I moved house I looked for Buddhist groups and found the Awakened Heart Sangha. I like what I read about Lama Shenpen and decided to investigate. I was looking for help with my meditation practice and help with my sense of connection to Buddhism altogether.
I wasn't sure about changing to a different tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Was this OK? Was I changing just for sake of it? But as I read and practised I became more sure I was doing the right thing. Now I feel more confident and strengthened spiritually than I ever was before.
I have become more relaxed and confident in my practice. By that I mean I don't pressure myself and worry so much about doing the right thing.
The training books are so practical and thought provoking. I'm working slowly through them, and I like the way it’s presented as spiral learning, coming back again and again to the same essential point but from new perspectives.
The group and mentor discussions I've had have helped enormously. The books help me to see the direction I'm aiming for to discover the awakened heart. Initially I thought I could rush through, but with guidance from my mentors and group discussion I found a whole new way of learning.
Lama Shenpen inspires me, she is so honest. Her explanations are so down to earth. She has a clarity and openness that helps so much. Her inner confidence is there for all to see.
I did a meditation retreat last year taught by Lama Shenpen, and after the retreat was over I felt as though I'd found another family. To live if only for one week fully concentrated on Dharma was amazing. It will stay with me for ever. The teachings, the silent times and lots of meditation periods all times to look back on and reflect.
I know I have support and encouragement from my new Sangha family. It’s a real comfort to know so many fellow Sangha members are out there and able to discuss, help and guide.
I would recommend Living the Awakened Heart to anyone who is interested in looking for a new way of looking at life, who has shown an interest in Buddhism or any kind of meditation. People who are open minded and looking for inner peace, or searching for some direction. Age, background or belief I feel are not blockers. There is no pressure, the only requirement is to be open minded and willing to learn.
I had been interested in Buddhism for a long time, but hadn't properly meditated and just read a few books by the Dalai Lama and about Buddhism in general
I had to give up working and was feeling really stuck and thought that studying Buddhism with a proper teacher and learning how to meditate would help. I was looking for teachings and instructions that would help me to understand myself and my experience better, and learn how to be 'happy' whatever the situation.
I wasn't sure when I started if I wanted to label myself as a Buddhist, or be involved in anything that was too 'religious' or ritual-like. I think it’s really natural to feel like that, especially if you’ve had negative experiences in the past with organised religions. But after just a short space of time I completely changed the way I thought about that. Everything was explained to me why Buddhists sometimes do these things and what they're for, such as bowing to the shrine and marking a certain special time or place in a particular way that could be considered a ritual. As soon as it was clear what it was all about and why, and that it isn't about blind faith and worship, and I was actively encouraged to question things until it felt ‘right’ for me, I was really inspired by that side of things and could really get into it!
Living the Awakened Heart training and meditation have been a huge help to me. It's set me off along the right path. I think I was just heading blindly in vaguely the right direction before, reading a few books and trying to figure things out by myself, but this has really pointed me clearly in the right direction and supported me, in a way I could never have experienced, had I continued by myself. The training offers a lifetime of teachings and practise if you want it.
I’ve got a lot of health problems, but the training has enabled me to see whatever comes up as an opportunity for more practise. This has transformed my personal struggle into the opportunity to be of benefit to others, in way I could never have imagined.
I’d recommend it to anyone feeling stuck or struggling to find their way in the world, someone who has an interest in finding out why they suffer or why they feel the things they do, or why the world is like it is. It is a unique opportunity to really get to the heart of all these issues that affect us and the world, by undertaking the journey to understanding ourselves and our experience. That’s not always easy, but is always rewarding because ultimately it offers enormous benefits to not only ourselves, but others too.
When I joined the training a few years ago, I didn't think too much about the community side. I wasn't really ready to be a member of anything or label myself as a Buddhist and wasn't even sure at that point, being a text-book introvert, why the sangha aspect was important, and why you couldn't just get on with it on your own? That's been one of the most interesting aspects for me, and area of biggest change and development, because I've really grown to understand the need for sangha and spiritual community, the support of a sangha and Dharma companions is so important to the learning, guidance and personal growth process. When I decided to become a more committed member of the sangha that seemed like a really important decision for me because of being pretty anti organised religion beforehand, and pretty anti-social if I’m honest, due to social anxiety. So discovering how helpful the sangha/community aspect is, was a big part of that decision. Getting to know and becoming friends with other practitioners really supports and deepens your own study, practice and understanding. It becomes as important as all the other aspects of the training and practise.
The Living the Awakened Heart course books are the basis of all the study and are something to keep going back to. Having something physical to pick up and check back in with really help track your progress and understanding. I've gone back to answers I put over a year ago, and my responses would be different already, or at least more detailed, as my experience of meditation practice and the study has expanded and deepened. The more I study within the sangha the more I can see how vital these core teachings are, how it covers such detailed, deep and profound subject matter in a very accessible way and how interrelated all the core themes are, and having the course books to refer back to time and again is a helpful part of that. I don't feel like I'll ever 'finish' learning from the material, it'll just keep getting deeper and more interesting the more I read, study and practise with it.
I really like that there's no set fee with this training, as someone with very little personal income, it makes it accessible to me. I just wouldn't be able to do it otherwise. Also I think it shows immediately where the priorities and ethics of the Sangha lie, that it's about genuinely spreading the Dharma and helping people, rather than just making money. I'm happy to give a monthly membership fee, I just wish it could be more, which is why I try to help the sangha in other ways, volunteering my time and skills in other area to support it.
My mentor has been amazing and so helpful. Her advice and support throughout my training has helped me enormously. I was especially lucky as she’d had some similar experiences as me, so listening to her experiences and advice is always really inspiring. I think having that personal contact, connection and encouragement from a more experienced sangha member is really important. I think peer mentors are really important too, those you are studying alongside, who you can share experiences with and encourage each other with the practisce.
Both the meditation and studying the Living the Awakened Heart training materials feed so helpfully into each other. The training kickstarted my meditation practice and helps to give it a focus sometimes with the different reflection exercises. The meditation is the basis of the training and the training can lead to deeper meditation and insights.
The fact that the Living the Awakened Heart training exists was has been an enormous help to me and I feel eternally grateful to Lama Shenpen for that. I was first inspired to start the training from seeing Lama teach in person, and her teachings and enthusiasm continue to be inspiring. She’s been so generous with her time, always speaking to as many students as possible and answering questions, is really appreciated. Every time I've spoke to her in person I have always found it really helpful. She's always pointed me in the right direction, or inspired me by making me realise something about myself or my practice, or confirmed I was going in the right direction with a train of thought/investigation.
The additional online courses I've done so far have really expanded my training, they're clearly connected to what I was already learning but in a different and deeper way. I really liked the structure of the recent Awakening Dialogue course, where there was a set section to read during the week and a weekly Zoom chat with everyone for questions, feedback and discussion. I find that format really engaging and it’s great to hear what everyone else has come up with, which all inspires your own study. I’ve opted to further my training in the Sangha and make stronger commitment to Sangha activity, so I’ve been doing a lot more online courses, sometimes in pairs or sometimes with the guidance of my mentor. The range of courses on offer is wonderful, it all feeds into each other and are helpful in all aspects of life. The Awakening Dialogue course in particular teaches you how to listen, connect and understand people, which is such a valuable tool for every walk of life. I’m about to start on the mentor training now, to become a mentor and support new students myself.
Attending events are really helpful to support the training, as they can help take a subject much deeper. Retreats give another dimension to the training with that specialist, prolonged focussed attention. I think having the opportunity to receive the transmission for teachings is really important and special, which isn't always obvious why or what that's for, to begin with. Having a teacher who’s connected to such an amazing, authentic lineage of teachers is wonderful. This strong teaching lineage, with Lama Shenpen’s close connections to some of the most revered Tibetan Buddhist teachers of our time, was a big reason me joining the training, so honouring and respecting that lineage is an important facet to me as a student and sangha member. Also it's great to make and strengthen connections, bonds and friendships with other sangha members at events and on retreats. There’s great camaraderie on retreats and we have great fun as well as the chance to get really deeply into subjects and our meditation practice.
I first began meditating after a friend gave me a Buddhist book.
I spent several years practicing under the guidance of some American Buddhist teachers, but didn’t become part of any group. While I was on a retreat by myself I read a book that Lama Shenpen had edited. It had a big impact on me, the language of the teachings were very inspiring.
I decided I wanted to get personal guidance in my meditation practice from her, and learn more about the tradition which these teachings came from.
I had very little hesitation in joining, as I was inspired to explore this approach to meditation, and I had the encouragement of one of my previous teachers. My only concern was about the social aspects of engaging with a spiritual community. I had always practiced by myself before, so I had never had to engage with the dynamics found in any group of people. However, my initial motivation was not necessarily to find a comfortable social group of like minded friends, so this concern was quite minor. The question of what makes a spiritual community or lineage a 'good fit', is an interesting one.
Being part of a Sangha community is still quite new to me, but I have found it supportive and meaningful to be able to meet so many deep practitioners, and be part of a community which organises itself around a vision of non-monastic Buddhism in the West. I am very grateful for the support of my mentors and the guidance of Lama Shenpen, as well as being inspired by my interactions with other students, and the tradition as a whole.
When I signed up, I soon began talking with my mentor, and our conversations helped me enormously. He has been very generous with his time and attention, answering my questions and egging me on in my practice. I have found a great deal of value in being able to talk regularly with someone highly dedicated to their own practice, who has been on a path for much longer than I have. It forges a strong feeling of connection, and reinforces a sense of significance and enjoyment to the practice as a whole.
Joining the Awakened Heart Sangha has had a much bigger impact on my life than I could have anticipated. It has had an significant impact on my relationship to Buddhism, and spiritual practice as a whole. I have been struck by the depth of Living the Awakened Heart, which has a changed my understanding of Buddhism, meaning, and religious practice altogether.
Living the Awakened Heart is not just abstract theory, nor the expression of a foreign culture, but gives deep teachings in a remarkably down to earth language. This is quite the achievement. What I might think is helpful and profound, is probably far more mind blowing than I will ever realise.
Perhaps the most helpful aspect of the training materials is the way in which they prompt us to look into our own experience, so that we can see how the teachings apply to our own lives in an ongoing way. Instead of giving a 'Buddhist overlay' dependent on ideology, Living the Awakened Heart makes Buddhism something alive that we can practice meaningfully. I have at times spent weeks reflecting and practicing on a single paragraph from the material.
The training has changed my meditation quite a lot really. It has helped me move away from a practice based in effort and ambition, to a practice more inline with trusting a natural wakefulness and openness. There’s a sense of resolve, putting heart into a practice which relies on something alive from its own side, instead of my own confused efforts. Since early on in my meditation practice I have been lucky enough to have careful one-to-one instruction from very experienced teachers, my ongoing training in the Awakened Heart Sangha continues to reinforce the importance for meditators to seek out rigorous training and trustworthy advice.
As I get to know Lama Shenpen, I’ve come to relate to her as my main teacher. She has become a source of strength in my practice, and someone who I trust with my deepest questions. I'm grateful for her openness and generosity in replying to emails, talking on the phone, and listening to my stumbling questions in interviews. Lama Shenpen's advice has kept me going through some difficult times in my practice, and continues to inspire me to learn to trust the natural wakefulness and equanimity of the heart and mind. Her lifelong dedication to Buddhism is reflected in the quality and depth of the training, of Living the Awakened Heart.