AHS Birmingham Weekend

Last October the annual Awakened Heart Sangha Birmingham teaching weekend took place. Several members of my local meditation group went too.

It was a lovely opportunity to connect with Sangha members from other parts of the country, both formally and informally, during breaks in the meditation and teaching sessions.

The main theme for the weekend was Mandala Principle, which is taught as part of Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart training courses. As mentioned in a previous post, Mandala Principle is the pattern, structure and interconnectivity of everything that happens and everything around us. Although it’s implicit in all Buddhist teaching, it isn’t taught as explicitly as this in any other course on Buddhism for Westerners.

Learning about Mandala Principle can open up a completely new way of looking at everything from thoughts, feelings and actions, family and social groups, to the wider world and entire universe, at profounder levels, the more we practice.

Although we can be new to this way of understanding the flow and interconnectivity of all things, at the same time, it’s also very familiar to us because we can recognise it as the structure that underlies everything, from microscopic cells to the solar system.

Lama Shenpen focussed her teaching on the mandala of the Sangha and the ‘central principle’ at the heart of the Sangha, and how the mandala structure protects that central principle for the future.

On the second day we were luckier with the weather, so there was an opportunity for a walking meditation through the beautiful Autumnal grounds at the venue, the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre.

There were various paths to take through the grounds, and I followed the one into a little wood. As the path wound its way through the trees, I could make out a gate at the end of it. With the height of the bushes and trees surrounding the gate, it created a little bright window in the darkness of the wood. Even though I could see the path was a dead end, I wanted to walk to the end and look through the iron gate.

As I got to the gate and looked through, there was a park with pond and I had a very odd feeling of familiarity and of time standing still. I recognised the park as somewhere we used to go as children to float our little wooden sail boats on the pond. I felt sure that was the place, but I’d never seen it from this angle before. Just as I was wondering about this, and thinking about our toy boats, one of those very same wooden sail boats, exactly like the ones we used to sail, caught my eye as it floated across the pond!

This experience actually gave me a shiver, and a curious sensation of aliveness. It was as if I had a momentary sense of all time happening now: that I was experiencing my past and present in that moment. I should’ve looked more closely at the family with the boat in case they looked familiar!

I tried not to read too much into this experience other than, ‘wow what a lovely coincidence’ but at the time it did feel like a special, private moment of both aliveness and nostalgia during a walking meditation.

Later that afternoon Lama Rigdzin Shikpo gave a teaching on the somewhat more advanced practise of Guru Yoga, where mandala principle was implied much more subtly.

Guru Yoga is a visualisation meditative practise of different stages, using the image and wisdom of the guru/teacher to inspire and merge yourself with their qualities. The later stages involve visualisations and realisations of inseparability and emptiness. Most of us were completely new to this practice, so it was a wonderful opportunity to learn about it from Rigdzin Shikpo directly, as it was the first time I had heard him teach in person.

I really had the sense of the Dharma flowing though him as a stream of consciousness. At first I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow his teaching as it felt much more ‘advanced’, but I started to write down more and more and got into a flow with following his teaching. There were a few words I wasn’t sure about, that I made a note of to look up later, but I was very inspired by the teaching and guru yoga as a practice, as it was completely new to me.

The weekend finished with a show of our thanks and appreciation to Lama Shenpen, Lama Rigdzin Shikpo and all those who had contributed to the running of the weekend.

As with all AHS events, it was a friendly, warm and welcoming experience of learning, as well as making new connections with Sangha members, and reconnecting with friendships made at previous events. I’m already looking forward to next year!

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