Postcard 52 from Robina: Leeds, March 29, 2015

Mar 29, 2015

After forty hours of heavy-duty travel, in two cars over the mountain roads of Nepal, three planes – Varanasi to Delhi to London to Glasgow – I finally made it to Scotland, where Martin McDonald picked me up at Glasgow airport and took me the final four hours northeast to Findhorn, in time for dinner on Friday night March 6. Then the evening talk.

I like Findhorn, I admire what they’ve done the past fifty-plus years. Now called Findhorn Foundation, it started in the early 1960s with the arrival at this tiny seaside village in the northeast of Scotland of three spiritually-minded people and has grown into an intentional community of 400, which attracts thousands of people from all over the world, in what’s now Findhorn Ecovillage.

Findhorn Ecovillage has been awarded UN Habitat Best Practice designation.

They pride themselves on their openness: the common link seems to be a genuine wish to develop a spiritual path and to help the world. Remarkably, with such an open agenda, they’ve survived for nearly sixty years, and they continue to flourish. People build their own places there, start their own organizations, non-profit or otherwise. The community is based mainly at The Park but extends over a fifty-mile radius and includes Isle of Iona, on the opposite coast, where they have retreat place.

The retreat house on the Isle of Iona, on the west coast of Scotland, that Margo van Greta runs for Findhorn.

Margo van Greta has lived at The Park for years, actively involved in the community, and these days she serves on the governing body. She became devoted to Lama Zopa Rinpoche after years of Buddhist practice and retreats and now runs the FPMT study group there, Togme Sangpo. She also leads Findhorn retreats on the Isle of Iona. We had a weekend together at Findhorn.

On Monday March 9 Martin drove me to Glasgow and I stayed overnight with his mum Agnes. I had dinner with his wife Jane and son Caleb.

With Caleb; and he with his mum and dad.

With the group at Togme Sangpo at Findhorn. Photo Togme Sangpo

I have eleven centers altogether in the UK to visit. Because it’s a fairly small piece of earth, the bits of the United Kingdom I am to go to – England and Scotland – I decided to take trains. Some of the trains are very nice, especially the ones run by Virgin: wifi, nice meals, comfy, clean. Last year I had a couple of journeys up my sleeve, so I took trains from Scotland to a little town in Cornwall, practically the longest journey you can do, and stayed a few days in a seaside hotel (see Postcard 34).

The German artist Andy Weber and his wife Ondy Willson live in Cumbria, a few miles from where Andy, Ondy, and many other students of the lamas, including me, lived back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, at Manjushri Institute, Lama Yeshe’s first center in the UK. (It is now part of the NKT.) As I discussed in Postcard 2, Ondy started Yeshe Buddhist Centre a few years ago and now her son Joey is involved.

Bath next. A lovely city, although I haven’t investigated much of it. In fact, I’m not much a tourist. I go to so many places, but I have no interest – and never have, all my life – in going around looking at things, and certainly not the countryside. Cities: maybe. These old English cities are very captivating. It’s just up the road from Bristol, where Lynne Knight lives; she came and stayed with me in Bath my last couple of days.

At Jamayang Bath Buddhist Group. Photo Sandra Whilding

By now it’s Monday March 16 and I have three places to go to before getting to London for the weekend course. The first is Corsham, a little village not far from Bath in the county of Wiltshire where there’s a group of a lama who’s had centers in the UK for forty years, started in Wales by Geshe Damcho.

Tuesday was Exeter, giving a talk organized by Exeter University Feminist Society on Compassionate Feminism.

Some of us a meal afterwards: my kind host is sitting in the front, to the left. Photo

Then on Thursday I went to Eastbourne, one of those little seaside resorts, so typically English. There’s a satellite group of Jamyang London; in fact there are several in the UK. Had never been there before. All the years I lived in the UK starting from 1967, because of my lack of interest in going to places to look at things, from the moment I arrived in London I found a place a live, found a job, and settled in, rarely going anywhere else in the UK: London was it. I was 23. Unlike what seems to be traditional, like my sister Marie who went to London with me, I didn’t have any plan to stay for a while then return home. If I think about it, in fact, I’ve never thought like that since I can remember. I seem to be so focused on what I’m doing now, where I am now, that there’s never the thought of what I’ll do next. This view is very deep in me; I’ve not cultivated it. I have to think it through in order to express it. Perhaps the key to understanding it is I’ve never had the wish for a home of my own, a partner, a family. It might sound depressing to some people, but that’s the way I am. If you don’t think about having something, you don’t miss it, do you? The suffering starts when you can’t get the thing you hanker for, the thing you think you can’t live without. Of course, this hankering, this attachment, this deep assumption that we don’t question, is hard to move, but it’s possible. And Buddha’s point, isn’t it? We assume we suffer because we can’t get what we can’t get what we hanker after; Buddha says we suffer because we hanker! Easy to say, but oh my goodness how hard to apply!

Then London, one of my favorite cities. This time I didn’t do much here, not much galivanting, no jazz clubs, no movies, no meeting friends for meals. I stayed at Jamyang in Kennington, a former courthouse, in one of the tiny former cells at the back of the building that used to house IRA prisoners. As I mentioned back in Postcard 26, the stripped down wooden doors still display the carved graffiti “F—k the English”! Well, perhaps they’ve been removed, but certainly in the old days the words were there.

Jamyang Buddhist Centre, London, and their infamous cells

Monday March 23 I was off to Salisbury in the southeast: again, hadn’t been there before. All the years I lived in the UK – 1967 until 1972 and then again, as a Buddhist, 1977 until 1987 – I did little traveling. I was in London, and that was it.

At Salisbury Cathedral, the evening of our teachings. Photo Jamyang Salisbury Buddhist Group

Then up north again for three days, this time to the new FPMT centre, Land of Joy, a retreat place. A kind benefactor offered the money to buy it, a big old house, run by my old friend from Manjushri Institute days Mark Gatter, who’s now a monk.

Greenhaugh Hall, Hexham, Northumberland. Photo courtesy of Land of Joy

Then Liverpool, again a first. All those years in London and I never made it here!

With some friends in Liverpool: From left: Tina & Christopher, Maggie & Abigail, and Dawa.

And finally, Leeds: a very nice, proactive center run by Wendy Ridley, another old friend from Manjushri days.

At the end of the week, Sunday March 29, I took the train to London, then to Heathrow where I stayed the night at Yotel, a company that runs hotels at airports: so convenient. They have pod-like rooms that they call “cabins” – more like cells, really, but definitely more luxurious than a usual prison cell! They’re about 8ft x 11ft (3.4 x 2.5 m). And more expensive.

On Monday the 30th I flew to Athens.

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