JON BAGUST reports
Our Autumn outing on 28 September began at 09.30 when we boarded our mini coach outside St Mark's. Our party of thirteen including John Reid and Mary McKenna and John and Barbara Clifford who made their own way to Samye Ling. Travelling south through the borders we stopped at Innerleithen to collect our last passenger, Liz. The minor roads from Traquair gave us stunning views, bathed in lovely Autumnal sunshine, when at around 11.30 amongst the backdrop of rolling hills, we caught our first sight of Samye Ling's golden dome of the main temple.
Kagyu Samye Ling, Europe's largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery, was founded in 1967 by two Tibetan refugees, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Akong Tulku Rinpoche, both revered young Lama's and recent refugees from Tibet. While Trungpa Rinpoche left to become a leading teacher of Buddhism in the U.S.A. Akong Rinpoche established Samye Ling as a centre for the preservation of Tibetan Buddhism, arts, medicine and culture.
Our guide for the day was Ani Dolkar, an ordained nun, who first gave us a brief introduction over coffee in the cafe, before we were invited to the temple shrine room to sit quietly, while observing the Mahakala prayers chanted by monastics in Tibetan and accompanied by cymbals and drums. Inside the temple, where red and gold predominate, stands one large Buddha, surrounded by many more smaller gold Buddha Statues, giving an overall impression of amazing richness and splendour. We were in Tibet!
After an enjoyable vegetarian lunch, we gathered around Ani Dolkar in a quiet part of the shrine room surrounded by thangkas, for an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Thangkas are Tibetan Buddhist paintings, depicting Buddhist deity scenes. Ani (the title for a Tibetan nun) explained that: ‘Most importantly, thangka religious art is used as a meditation tool to help bring one further down the path to enlightenment. The Buddhist practitioner uses a thangka image of the meditationdeity, as a guide, by visualizing themselves as being that deity, thereby internalizing the Buddha qualities’.
Ani Dolkar also talked about the importance of realising the impermanent nature of all things, including our own lives on earth. How this realisation can help lead us to living a fuller life in the present moment. I won't attempt any further explanations of the talk, suffice to say Ani Dolkar is a wise teacher and I recommend anyone who wishes to know more to visit Samye Ling, perhaps on a weekend retreat with some of the visiting teachers who give talks on meditation and mindfulness.
The calm and peace of Samye Ling is especially present when walking slowly around the grounds, an oasis of tranquillity.
Ani Dolkar accompanied us around a number of significant religious monuments including the large victory Stupa, symbolising the body, speech and mind of the Buddha.
The stupa is surrounded by prayer wheels we could set in motion, sending out positive energy to the world.
There is a secluded peace garden surrounded by a lake and accessed by a foot bridge, a beautiful spot for quiet contemplation.
The spectacular, fearsome and colourful looking statue of Guru Rinpoche, featured in the centre of a peace pool, emanates strength and solidity. The early 8th century Indian master helped establish Buddhism in Tibet, and it's said that he 'helps, advises, inspires and encourages the practitioner at all times and in all places'.
And then, all too soon, our time at Samye Ling had come to an end. We climbed aboard our minibus at 16.00, ready for the two-hour return journey. Waving Ani goodbye, I couldn't help thinking that maybe, our next visit could be a longer weekend retreat, more time to fully appreciate Samye Ling and the world of Tibetan Buddhism!