Journey in Shambhala Monasticism: A Year at Gampo Abbey
Arrival and Adjustment
|Photo by Lodro Kalsang|
Temporary ordination has long been offered at Gampo Abbey as part of the Vidyadhara's vision for how monasticism can impact and benefit the larger society. In continuing to uphold and develop the monastic path, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has established the Shambhala Monastic Order and this year marks its first residential offering. The year follows a curriculum based on the principles of Tiger - friendliness, mindfulness, discernment, renunciation, selflessness, exertion, contentment, and confidence. Training methods include frequent practice of Shambhala Meditation in addition to regular practices, interpersonal exploration, weekly classes, monastic training, and guided study from the teachings of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the Druk Sakyong Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. "The aspiration is that taking a year or more to train in the monastery is an opportunity for participants to deepen and strengthen their understanding, practice, and embodiment of these core teachings. Whether one then returns to householder life or goes further as a monastic, a journey has taken place and that is an offering to enlightened society" says Loden Nyima, Head of Education.
|The entrance to Gampo Abbey |
Photo by Emma Cataford
For many the journey leading here started long before the actual travelling that took them to Canada and then across Nova Scotia finally ‘landing’ on the rugged cliff of Cape Breton where Gampo Abbey sits unruffled by the northern winds.
As new arrival Daniel Baker explains: “Coming to Gampo Abbey was a result of a consistent longing to deepen my connection to practice, insight and lineage. Not to mention, practice that is consistent and deep profoundly shifts my heart in (positive) ways I felt a sincere need for. Also, Acharya Cashman told me to go or else; she didn’t elaborate on the else, so I booked the ticket.”
For another participant the seeds for monastic life were sowed in previous stays: "When I first visited Gampo Abbey”, says Josh Clarke, “I had a very deep feeling that living here would be in my future. Now, as a resident, I can happily say that this continues to be the most helpful thing that I have ever experienced. Every day I learn something new about myself and the wisdom, within that, is very profound and beneficial. Having those sorts of experiences really helps me touch into and feel my innate goodness. Overall, I feel strongly that my time spent here will put workable ground under my feet for the rest of my life so that I can be there for others."
Thubten Tingdzen, a new temporary monastic, reflects on his decision as an exploration of human nature: “I came to Gampo Abbey with a question about humanity’s basic nature. It’s been a question that continually comes back to me as I work with my path and move forward in my life. About five years ago I began to see that there was something I shared with all human beings. I realized that it was possible to sympathize and see in myself the same intentions, motivations, longings, desires and frustrations of all beings, even those who I had previously dismissed as evil or cruel. This was a big shock to me because I began to realize that the narrative I had been continually trusted of good guys and bad guys didn’t seem congruent with this new understanding of my capacity for empathy. I had started questioning fundamental aspects of my reality: if my basic nature is deeper than good or bad, then my own ability to choose one is more of a responsibility than a luxury.”
|Photo by E.C.|
On the importance of meditation practice and community, he says: “Furthermore I saw, as I began to work with meditation, that my capacity to choose to harm or help beings including myself was thoroughly mucked by my own bewilderment and self-doubt. I needed support. Deepening my understanding and ability to work with this confusion, and learning how to trust my basic nature are the reasons I came to a monastery. The daily schedule, ceremonies, and monastic forms are a perfect mirror that reveals my own aggression and confusion. They also provide an incredible avenue to experiencing basic goodness and drala.”
Whether the reaction upon arrival was a sense of ‘I have arrived, I am home’ or ‘What was I thinking and how do I get out of here?’, the time of adjustment had begun.
|Photo by E.C.|
The staff graciously welcomed the new arrivals and left them three open days to settle down before jumping into the routine of monastic life. Most people took the opportunity to explore the land.
The first walk up to the Stupa of Enlightenment is something to remember. It’s a short pleasant stroll where you are immersed in the woods and have to cross a little wooden bridge over a stream that flows down from the steep slope of the mountain. Various Buddha statues sit around the rocks. One has to stop to take in the jaw dropping beauty of it all. The pure energy of nature manifests itself wherever the gaze sets.
The Stupa of Enlightenment reminds passersby that this is a place dedicated to world peace and the benefit of all beings. The site contains relics of the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and was consecrated in 2001 by the Abbot Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche. Weapons were buried in the ground under the stupa, (including a World War I rifle donated by a Cape Breton neighbor of the Abbey), symbolizing the overcoming of aggression.
All around it are plaques engraved with the fifty-nine lojong slogans of mind training, which can be read while circumambulating the Stupa.
Another nice little trek to take is the one that leads up to Gampo Lhatse. It’s a little steep, but quite rewarding. The view from up there is absolutely stunning, giving a panoramic scene of the Abbey’s estate. The feeling of lha, nyen and lu is palpable. One feels the height of the mountain and the richness of the woodlands, the vastness of the ocean and the force of the wind.
|Gampo Lhatse. Photo by E.C.|
At last, after the first weekend, came the 'real thing': adjusting to the daily schedule. Wake up 'clacks' are sounded through the hallways at 5:30 am. First meditation session with morning chants and taking of precepts at 6. Before breakfast is served, the house gets a good scrub and straightening out. This is a time where the sense of community is strongest: everyone has their assignment and takes responsibility for a little piece of the Abbey. All are equal in housework. Same goes for dishes after meal times.
|The han, used to call residents to practice. |
Photo by E.C.
The main meditation practice happens in the morning 8 to 11, unless a class is scheduled. Before lunch, one hour and a half is dedicated to mind/body time, which can mean studying or exercising (or taking a nap!). After lunch comes a four hour work period which ends with evening chants. Dinner is called ‘medicine meal’ as traditionally monastics wouldn’t eat after lunch for two reasons: to not burden their benefactors that offered alms and to rise fresher the next morning. At Gampo Abbey this principle is observed by cooking a soup with the day’s leftovers.
All through the morning until lunch, the whole house is in silence, which resumes at 8 pm. The practice of silence, also observed all day on specific occasions is an important one in a contemplative environment. It creates a spaciousness in the mind where one can observe the thought process that occur in and around communication. Through silence, a lot is learned about the use of speech and mindful, effective communication.
The new residents also participated in some community events. On October 16th, in accordance with the view of the monastery being part of a village, the residents of Gampo Abbey volunteered to clean up a spectacular stretch of Cape Breton.
|The shoreline near the Abbey. Photo by Lodro Kalsang.|
Having joined forces with local legend Captain Mark Timmons, they fared the sea to bring back piles of garbage left behind by the summer tourists.
|The Gampo Abbey crew with Captain Mark. Photo by Les St Marie|
After gathering all the trash bags, plastic material and waste of all sorts, the group gathered to sing the Shambhala Anthem. During that, a seal curiously observed from the water before splashing its tail and disappearing into the waves.
|Director Richard Haspray (left) with two Abbey residents. |
Photo by Les St Marie
On October 26th the annual Open House occurred. The Abbey welcomed around 85 people from the nearby towns and from further away. The visitors were given a tour of the house, listened to a talk by one of our nuns and received meditation instruction, while the children were busy with arts and crafts.
Last but not least, they were treated to a feast of offerings prepared by residents and friends of the Abbey. The mood was friendly and uplifted. Everybody worked hard in the days leading up to the event in a concerted effort to offer our best. Many people were regular features of the Open House, others were drawn to visit by curiosity.
|Two of our residents enjoying the Open House. Photo by E.C.|
|The kids' contributions. Photo by E.C.|
|Director Richard Haspray and Shastri Alice Haspray. Photo by E.C.|
During this first period the participants have been practicing Shambhala meditation and the Shambhala Sadhana, receiving teachings on basic goodness and friendliness to self, exploring these topics with one another and beginning study from seminary teachings of the Sakyong. The schedule is gearing up and the participants are mostly enthusiastic about delving into deep study of the dharma.
In the months ahead, through study and meditation, we will continue to explore our motivations for choosing to live at the monastery and how this can benefit people in the wider community.
Thubten Tingdzen expressed this intention as such: “As a member of society and as a human being I care deeply about the state of the world. If I can contribute anything to humanity’s ability to self-reflect and heal, it will be through investigating my mind, and trusting in my own wisdom, kindness, and strength.”