Full Moon Feast Practice

As part of my further training within the Awakened Heart Sangha, I’m learning about Feast Practice, studying Lama Shenpen‘s teachings on the topic.

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.

Buddhist Feast Ritual
An end of retreat feast at The Hermitage

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.

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Understanding ‘Chitta’ The Heart-Mind

In the short 3 minute video below, Lama Shenpen explains the meaning of ‘chitta’ – the ‘heart-mind’ – a integral term that also means the ‘essence of our being’. ‘Bodhicitta’ literally means our awakened heart-mind.

In Lama Shenpen’s distance learning course Discovering the Heart of Buddhism the course begins by discovering our experience of ‘heart’ and ‘mind’, the different connotations these words have and our subtle concepts and prejudices. In Buddhism, the heart-mind is one, but in the West there is a gulf between the two. We have to really work at connecting them together to understand the full meaning of chitta and Bodhichitta.

Lama Shenpen explains how important this is, because if chitta is translated as ‘mind’ it might give the impression that Buddhism is not about feelings or ‘matters of the heart’, and can attract people only looking for a philosophy to follow. If it is only translated as ‘heart’ then we might assume it has nothing to do with the mind and only concerns our feelings and emotions. Yet the term chitta compasses all this and more!

To find our more about Lama Shenpen’s experiential courses in meditation and Buddhism visit www.ahs.org.uk/training

Awakening Dialogue

A few weeks ago I took part in a four week intensive course called Awakening Dialogue with the Awakened Heart Sangha. It’s another of the modules of study required for the ‘Mahayanagana’ training. The Mahayanagana is a group of committed students, who have stepped forward to take a more active role in supporting the activities of Lama Shenpen and the sangha.

The course introduced us to Nonviolent Communication and how the NVC process links into the Discovering the Heart of Buddhism course and other training within the sangha.

The course involved working with a partner to explore the NVC process which is a tool for learning to listen to yourself and others and also for expressing yourself, with more openness, clarity and sensitivity.

It teaches us how to listen to the needs, values and qualities behind our feelings, conversations and conflicts with others. It helps us to get to the heart of issues, rather than reacting to them in our usual, old, habitual ways, which often cause more conflict.

For instance, hearing the needs and values being expressed behind a criticism, rather just reacting negatively to the face value of the criticism. What an amazingly powerful and transformative tool to have!

I found the course so valuable, and can see how the NVC tools for communication are so important for those of us on the Buddhist path, as well as for everyone, everywhere! I really enjoyed seeing the similarities between the NVC approach and what we’re taught in the DHB. It fits in so perfectly with our training, teaching us techniques for listening and responding both to ourselves and others.

The ‘NVC speak’ might seem clunky and unnatural at first, but the more you practice it, the more it can start to become the way you listen and respond to situations, without necessarily expressing it directly or overtly in NVC terms. It reminds me of this quote from Lama Shenpen about expanding the Chitta:

“As we align ourselves with our heart at the centre of our being and allow it to expand into the natural spaciousness of the mind, mental functions start to serve the heart, and the mandala of our being is brought into harmony”.

So we’re practicing with the NVC mental functions and discernment process, in order to increase our understanding and compassion for others, to ultimately ‘serve the heart’ and as Buddhists, align with our ‘Heart Wish’, our goal to Awaken for the benefit of beings.

I’d like to carry on with more NVC training at some point, which is encouraged within the sangha, perhaps when I’ve finished my MYG training and have more time and space for some additional study,

New Hermitage Website

I worked on a new website for The Hermitage of the Awakened Heart – the Tibetan Buddhist retreat centre in Ynys, near Criccieth in North Wales.

www.buddhisthermitage.wales has lots of information about the home of the Awakened Heart Sangha and our teacher Lama Shenpen Hookham.

The new site also has information about the regular events that take place there, such as the daily meditation sessions broadcast online, as well as the weekly events which include guided mindfulness sessions, as well as the after school ‘Kids Club’ – mindfulness activities for primary school children and parents.

If you’re local to Criccieth and the surrounding area, find out more about visiting, or about joining the sangha for meditation sessions, feasts, retreats and more!

Another Pilgrimage

Last month I took part in another weeklong retreat at The Hermitage Tibetan Buddhist retreat centre in North Wales.

The retreat was a weeklong study retreat on Sensitivity and Mandala Principle – two core theme’s in Lama Shenpen‘s Discovering the Heart of Buddhism, the experiential distance learning course in meditation and Buddhism. It was an incredible week of teachings and study, meditation, silence and discussion. As well as an opportunity to meet new sangha members and reconnect with Dharma friends.

The retreats always end with a pilgrimage to a nearby sacred site, and this time we visited Cwm Pennant in Snowdonia. It’s a very special valley that H.H. Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche divined as sacred too.

I wrote about the pilgrimage and took more photos which can be viewed at www.sacredsiteswales.co.uk

How to Meditate

I helped put together a new website for the Awakened Heart Sangha.

www.howtomeditate.org.uk  is the new site and it’s an introduction to meditation. It gives instructions on how to meditate and the type of Formless Meditation we do as part of the Living the Awakened Heart Training, the experiential, home study course in meditation and Buddhism.

The website contains an introduction to meditation and free, audio guided mindfulness meditations, as well as videos explaining the why, how and what of meditation. There is also a video of Lama Shenpen explaining the need for teachers and mentors and the importance of the lineage when learning meditation.

Visit www.howtomeditate.org.uk to benefit from this new fantastic resource!

Pranidhanas – Buddhism & Prayer

I’ve started a new training course as part of my further training within the Awakened Heart Sangha. I’ve decided to make a deeper commitment to the Sangha by joining the ‘Mahayanagana’. The Mahayanagana is the name for “the inner body of Lama Shenpens students” who have made a commitment to practising under her guidance and wish support her teaching activity by stepping forward and supporting the sangha.

What I love about the sangha is that as well as its core experiential home study courses in meditation and Buddhism, it also provides so many opportunities to train further and deepen your knowledge, practice and experience in other areas. It provides a genuine, authentic lifelong path of study, practise and development.

As I’ve already been helping to support the Sangha by undertaking website and promotional work, and by taking Refuge this year, it feels like a natural step to make that next level of commitment ‘official’!

To become a Mahayanaganian requires three additional training modules: Pranidhanas, Feast Offering and Awakening Dialogue. I started with the course on Pranidhanas which is a Sanskrit word that translates as ‘wishing prayer’.

When I first started studying Buddhism I was really surprised to hear about prayer as part of Buddhist practice, as had always related praying to monotheistic religions. After all, if in Buddhism we don’t believe in a God as creator, who are we praying to and what for?

The Discovering the Heart of Buddhism distance learning course first introduced this multi-faceted topic. The power of prayer is connected to the power of our word. A wishing or aspirational prayer in Buddhism is usually made to ask the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for help or guidance and for making aspirations for our practice and on our path. The English translation doesn’t do justice to the real meaning of Pranidhana; Lama Shenpen describes it as something ‘much more essential to the path of Awakening’.

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