Joining the Mahayanagana

Buddhist Sangha TIbetan Buddhism

A few weeks ago I joined the Mahayanagana within the Awakened Heart Sangha. Gana means circle so the Mahayanagana is the name for the circle of members of the AHS who have committed to the sangha, their practice and are committed students of Lama Shenpen.

To join the Mahayanagana (MYG) you have to have been a member of the sangha for more than a year and to have completed the three MYG training modules. These are: Pranidhanas (aspirational prayers), Feast Offering Practice and Awakening Dialogue. I wrote about all of these courses as I was doing them in previous blog posts.

The MYG training is in addition to Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training, which all sangha members study and practice – the structured distance learning training in Tibetan Buddhist meditation and insight – essentially Mahamudra and Dzogchen but taught in an experiential, jargon-free way especially for Westerners. It gives you the materials, structure and support for a lifetime of practice.

The Living the Awakened Heart Training is spiral learning, so you keep going back through the same core themes at deeper and deeper levels. I’d been through the materials more than twice before I decided to make the commitment to the sangha by joining the MYG.

I found the additional MYG training to be so inspiring and enhancing to my existing training and practice!

Tibetan Buddhist Centre

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The Sound of Silence

Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Centre North Wales

Image above: Peace and tranquility at The Hermitage of the Awakened Heart Buddhist Retreat Centre in North Wales.

What does silence sound like? I live in a city so peace and quiet can be hard to come by. I’ve been thinking recently about sound, from the ‘ordinary’ sounds that surround us on a daily basis, as well as reading about primordial sound (e.g. Om and mantras) as well as the benefits and science behind sound therapy, for instance sound waves of Tibetan singing bowls have been proven to change brainwaves and alter your mood.

I was thinking how silence is relative, as most of us can never really know true silence, ‘the complete absence of sound’ and that’s not actually what we usually want, complete silence. Only people who’ve been in an anechoic chamber know that, and have experienced the absence of all external sound. In those experiments people tend to only last minutes, the most is under 50 minutes and people have even been known to hallucinate when left with only the sound of themselves!

The owner of a famous anechoic chamber in a lab in Minnesota, says that in the absence of sound ‘people become the sound’ which is very interesting from a Buddhist point of view. I wonder how long an experienced Buddhist practitioner would last in the chamber?

At the recent teaching I attended by Awakened Heart Sangha teacher Pema, she took us through the prayer to Guru Rinpoche, for her teaching on Body, Speech and Mind – the Three Mysteries.

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The Three Mysteries

Tibetan Buddhism Worcestershire

A few weeks ago Awakened Heart Sangha teacher Pema Ozer came all the way from her home in North Wales (near The Hermitage) to Malvern, Worcestershire, to give a teaching organised by local Sangha members.

The teaching was called The Three Mysteries: Body, Speech and Mind and Pema used a prayer to Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) ‘All These Forms’ as the basis for the teaching. The prayer can be sung, which is something the Awakened Heart Sangha is known for, being a ‘singing sangha’.

Tibetan Buddhism Teacher Padmasambhava Guru Rinpoche
Awakened Heart Sangha Teacher Pema

This is thanks to our Tibetan Buddhist lineage connection to the famous singing yogin Milarepa, and encouraged by Lama Shenpen‘s teacher Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, another yogin who has been linked to Milarepa because of his profound extemporaneous songs.

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The Dharma of Jessica Fletcher

Murder She Wrote the Dharma of Jessica Fletcher, Buddhism, Compassion

‘Murder She Wrote’ needs no introduction, but just to recap for anyone who’s been meditating in a cave for the last thirty years: it was a smash hit ‘whodunnit’ TV show that ran for 12 years through the 80s and 90s; 12 series and 264 episodes, syndicated all over the world, making a Angela Lansbury a household name.

Its popularity is easy to reason: an instant classic upbeat theme tune, a simple, neat formula repeated every week of: set up/murder/solution; a regular supporting cast and the familiarity/homeliness of the small town, Cabot Cove and its residents; the classy, clever, friendly, female lead in the sleuthing mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher, and a lighthearted, wholesome script and gentle humour the whole family could enjoy, despite the main theme being of course, murder.

Jsssica Fletcher Murder she wrote Dharma Buddhism

The show’s short lived showing on Netflix a few years ago brought a swathe of younger viewers, either revisiting their childhood family favourite, or introduced to it for the first time, bringing the show a second-wave of popularity among millennials, thanks to the now kitsch 80s fashion and styling. Angela Lansbury’s wonderful expressionistic ‘meme-worthy’ face also endeared itself to the social media savvy generation.

The episodes are packed with now-famous stars in cameo appearances, which makes it a fun watch. Look out for the likes of a young George Clooney, Billy Zane, Courtney Cox, Bill Mayer (x2), Megan Mullally, Bryan Cranston, that kid from ‘Big’, and that other guy from that thing x 200.

There’s a fair bit of unintentional humour to the show now it’s 30+ years old – my personal favourite: the use of location shots with obvious JB Fletcher body doubles – which all adds to the naive charm and the nostalgia factor, making it the perfect duvet-day viewing. It’s the anthesis and antidote to the kind of hyper-real, brutally violent TV shows that are now the norm, which have seemingly desensitised viewers to escalating violence on TV for the past 10 years or so. It’s nice to have a reminder of these more innocent times.

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I’ve been a fan of the show from its first outing on British TV all those years ago and watching reruns is just a pleasure, not even a guilty one, but what’s all this got to do with Buddhism?

Well, I’m currently studying Lama Shenpen Hookham’s Living the Awakened Heart training within the Awakened Heart Sangha. Due to my studies and practice I’ve been reading more about Bodhisattvas ahead of taking the Bodhisattva Vow myself with Lama Shenpen later this year, when it occurred to me whilst watching an episode of the show: Jessica Fletcher is a Bodhisattva!

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Losar

Light Offering Awakened Heart Sangha Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Centre North Wales

I was lucky enough to be at The Hermitage of the Awakened Heart, the Tibetan Buddhist retreat centre near Criccieth in North Wales, to celebrate Losar – Tibetan New Year with my fellow Awakened Heart Sangha members. It was a doubly special, joyful and auspicious occasion as it was also the day that sangha member Dashu came out of his year-long retreat!

Lama Shenpen Awakened Heart Sangha Tibetan Buddhist New Year Losar
Lama in resplendent Tibetan dress and the Sangha greets Dashu from his retreat.

Quite a few other members made it to the Hermitage to welcome Dashu out of retreat and to take part in the different activities of the day. In the morning we lit incense and sang mantras round the site so that we could usher out anything lurking about and cleanse the space for the new year, which was quite fun!

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Happy New Year

Welcome 2018. We saw in the New Year by watching fireworks at home from our second floor vantage point, and then in the morning walked up the local hills at 8am to watch the sun rise on the first day of the new year. Shame the sun wasn’t actually visible behind the clouds, it just got a lighter shade of grey then rained rather heavily on us. Freezing cold auspicious rain! It was actually a refreshing and invigorating start to the year.

I’ve lots of things I’d like to do this year: lots more study, more vow taking, practise and retreats with the Awakened Heart Sangha (plus more walking, reading, gardening and growing things) but I’m currently in a bardo-esque limbo. I’m still waiting for my next operation date, which could come at any time. It should’ve happened in October and I should be healing nicely by now, but now I have to wait indefinitely while the NHS appears to unravel.

The uncertainty has been good to practise with. Kshanti – patience and forebearance comes up a lot, as well as meditative exercises comprising of letting it all be and allow it to unfold.

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Navigating Christmas as a Buddhist – Finding The Middle Way

I’ve felt at odds with Christmas for years but since becoming a practising Buddhist I find it even more jarring. It’s the excessiveness; the rampant consumerism, gluttony, meaty-ness, wastefulness; the mountains of plastic and other waste it generates and the pressure it puts on people to spend money they don’t have, buying things for people they don’t really want or need.

It can be hard not to get caught up in the pressures of the season and either give in to aspects you don’t particularly agree with, and/or start to resent it all!

This year thanks to my studies within the Awakened Heart Sangha and Lama Shenpen’s teachings, I have a new perspective on it and feel better equipped to face the festive season, relating to it as a Buddhist.

The Buddha taught the ‘Middle Way’ and I think it’s possible to find a middle way with Christmas; a more balanced compromise with celebrating Christmas as a Buddhist. So I’ve decided to use the Christmas period as an opportunity for extra practise.

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