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 Practiceand 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!
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?
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’.
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.
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!
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!
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 Sanghaand 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.
There are many feast days within the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. Each month contains special practise days that might require a feast if you’re a committed practitioner.
At The Hermitage of the Awakened Heart, the Buddhist retreat centre and centre of practise for the AHS, there are several observed feast days, in particular every full moon and at the end of retreats.
For committed students of the AHS, we observe the full moon feast practise at home or get together with others, where offerings of food and drink are made and we discuss our Dharma practise with other sangha members.
A Tibetan Buddhist feast offering is a celebratory ritual. It’s an offering to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of all the pleasure of the senses, that’s then transformed into a blessing for ourselves.