GHANTAKARNA by Dr Sangeeta Rajbhandary


Ghantakarna (Gathemanga in Newari)


Buddhist/Hindu Newar Festival to mark the death of the Demon


 fire ceremony


Gathemanga is celebrated in Kathmandu Valley in July which signals the end of the rice planting season and marks the beginning of the autumn festival season. The festival represents a ritual detoxification of the city or is observed as the day of eliminating the evil “Ghantakarna”, giant demon. According to a local legend, there used to be a demon named Ghantakarna (Ear with bell) as he had a pair of bells on his ears (Ghanta means ‘bell’ and Karna means ‘ears’) who terrified the people by stealing children and women and demanding money and other gifts from the villagers. Continue reading

Katie’s Rules by Katie Heneghan

As a recent homework, Katie was asked to devise an athletics game to keep healthy.  A copy of the rules for it turned up in the front room a while later, just on their own.  Taken out of their original context they actually made pretty good reading in their own right – perhaps as advice on life in general, we thought?  We all need a few rules now and then…. Katie attended the Bodhicharya summercamp for the first time this year and took refuge, aged 8, seeming to know exactly what she was doing without much input from mum.

The Rules

If you drop anything or go off course, you must go back to the beginning.
Don’t run past obstacles, actually do them.
Don’t try to stop the opposite team.

Try your best!



Katie is on the left here, with big sister Lara







Vajrasattva Retreat with Ringu Tulku Rinpoche at Bodhicharya Retreat Centre, Sikkim by Mary Heneghan

Years ago I was sent a short video taken by a student visiting Bodhicharya Retreat Centre in Sikkim with Ringu Tulku.   It was on the Bodhicharya email list – maybe you saw it too?  The filming followed Rinpoche’s footsteps as he walked down the winding forest trail to the retreat centre.  As I watched the video it looked a little bit magical but I felt quite sick because, although I felt drawn there, I was sure I would not have the chance to visit this place for many years, if ever.  As a mother of younger children, I felt I had left my travelling days behind with the old backpack I had swapped for a Volvo and holidays in Cornwall (also very lovely I have to say).  India had passed out of my league.

But then life turned rather challenging, demanding more of me than I would usually be able to come up with Continue reading

An Interview with Lama Tsultrim by Jet Mort

When did you get the wake-up call?

At the end of the 70s when I was working for Air France as a steward I became aware I had to find the answers to the metaphysical questions I had been asking myself since childhood, it was becoming urgent, it was impossible for me to spend all my life without taking care of the spiritual dimension that I felt was essential to my life. I had felt this from the age of 7 and told my parents that I wanted to be a Christian monk. Nothing was pleasing me more than visiting monasteries or any other Christian holy place. Around the age of 25, when my life was seemingly balanced Continue reading

A Capsizing World by Vicki McKenna

Throes of Upheaval

We live in troubled times; ecologically, socially, politically and economically, our planet seems to be in the throes of upheaval. In a constantly changing world many of us may feel that life is increasingly out of our control as we struggle to maintain a sense of order and harmony. Nevertheless, in times where everything seems to be falling apart, we can regain control by deciding to live according to the Dao.

Living according to the Dao means living a simple life, respecting the resources of the planet Continue reading

Kindness by Margaret Ford

An enforced week of being stuck indoors, due to illness, had me reflecting on an email I received recently from a friend.  My friend had attended a large Buddhist gathering which, on the whole, she had enjoyed but she also wrote, ‘I didn’t feel there was much kindness going on’.  Her words struck a cord with me because I knew exactly what she meant.

In work situations where we have to take part in various seminars and presentations, we rarely expect to come across examples of kindness or caring.  And when it does happen, we are usually pleasantly surprised because it is seemingly ‘out of context’.  But, for a Buddhist, when we attend teachings or centres or study groups and come into contact with fellow Buddhists, there is maybe a certain amount of expectation that we will be, at least, kind to each other. There is always so much lofty talk about compassion and Bodhichitta, Continue reading

Letting Go of Being Right by Vicki McKenna

Where the fountains of passion
Lie Deep
The heavenly springs
Are soon dry

Self Importance

Recently I found myself fiercely determined to be ‘in the right’. As I tried to maintain my argument I became aware that I was feeling off balance, hot and bothered. As I stuck passionately to a favoured theory I realized that I was now breathing rapidly from my upper chest, and I was starting to feel exhausted! By wanting to be right I was cultivating self-importance and tying myself up in knots. Continue reading

All The Time In The World by Vicki McKenna

Not Enough Time

Picture the scene in my flat earlier today. I am sitting quietly sipping my breakfast tea when the phone rings and at the same time my front door buzzes. I know I have an appointment in an hour and had not planned on these diversions from my timetable. Suddenly the sense I had of my day stretching out in front of me vanishes and instead I feel pressured. No longer feeling leisurely, I feel overstretched and harassed and, in the fifteen minutes that it takes to deal with the callers both at the door and on the phone I feel as if five minutes have gone by.  

Later that same day I take a walk in a park and sit quietly on a bench looking at the sky.   I feel at one in the stillness of the landscape Continue reading

Sustainable Living by Colin Moore

There are many different responses to the pressing ecological and human disasters that beset humanity in the new century. Protesters of globalization, whether peaceful or violent represent only some of the most vocal.

Differing perceptions of the ecological crises and the causes generate different responses. At the “shallow” end there is the short-term, superficial reformist approach such as many kinds of conservation and the “greening” of our major political parties and businesses. Some of the violent disruptions of the kind we have seen recently would also have to be considered superficial. At the “deep” end there are the long-term responses which involve a thoughtful critique of the dominant worldview and which involve changed behaviours in our daily lives that generate harmony with all that lives. Continue reading

Sky-Watcher by Margaret Ford

Life is constant change, right? We all know this. Sometimes change comes of its own accord and sometimes we just make it happen. This happened to me last year when I was given the opportunity to take early retirement from my job in the Scottish Government and I decided to go for it. The idea was to retire at the end of March 2011, so from last October until then I duly counted off the days waiting for ‘the big day’.  What I hadn’t bargained for was that my life was to change even more than giving up work I had done for nearly 30 years. Continue reading

Happiness By Vicki McKenna

No summits, no NATO,
No instant mashed potato
Just winkle
A twinkle,
From that gloomy face,
No DJs, no jingles,
No dreadful charity singles,
Teeth gleaming,
Get beaming,
And smile all over the place.
Victoria Wood

Lightness of Heart

Often we look for happiness outside of ourselves—through material things or by wishing that our lives were different in some way. Daoist philosophy teaches us that the path of happiness lies within and certainly one of the defining traits of Daoists Masters’ is the way they exude a state of happiness, a sense of light heartedness and fun.  Much of Traditional Chinese Medicine theory is derived from Daoist philosophy and tells us that happiness depends on cultivating the chi (energy) of the Heart whose corresponding element is Fire, and this balance of Fire energy in the Heart will increase our sense of inner joy and happiness. Continue reading

BEING Happy by Anne K Voss

In 2004 I started as a teacher of English and Fine Art at a special school in Aachen, Germany.  Our school is a night-school where lessons are from 5 to 9.50 p.m and our students are mostly young adults.  The youngest admitted are 17 years old, the oldest I ever taught were a Russian couple of about 60 years, but the average student is between 18 and 35 years old.  So we do have quite a large span of ages in our semesters.  Besides that our students come from more than 50 countries.  They attend our school to accomplish their junior high school graduation which they had not been able to do before – for various reasons.  Some come from war zones, others have a history of family problems and some fought or fight with addictions.

I often feel touched and very compassionate towards them as they are trying to fight their demons Continue reading

The Enjoyment of Sound: The words and poetry of Jean Paira Pemberton by Dirk de Klerk

I remember, many years ago, visiting the Samye Ling monastery for my annual vacation from Germany to meditate, reflect and to attempt to recover from the existential anxiety of a young, displaced composer. I spent much of the time in silence, hoping to accelerate the process.

I met Jean Paira Pemberton when she joined me on my long walks. I was silent; I listened to her as we walked along farm tracks along streams of water or in the hills, covered in pine forests.  I was enjoying listening to a remarkably erudite and intelligent person, flattered by her trust, relaxing in her warmth. She often talked about the recent loss of her only son, and of her poetry. Continue reading


Reaching Out

A patient of mine once told me “It’s a lonely word, isolation, on bad days it seems to envelop me like a smothering blanket cutting off sustaining air.  Once I liked to be alone with my books and music, then, private time away from people and pressures provided nourishment for my soul.… Solitude was precious because it balanced the pressures of days spent dealing with people…Now…at times I feel imprisoned, like Rapunzel in the castle tower, without the advantage of long hair to slide down.… It is difficult obtaining help when one is proud and independent”. This strong and determined woman felt excluded and lonely and was finding it hard to break out of her isolation and feel connected to the world outside. 

In the Chinese view we are all connected and are all part of the web of life. The entire universe is governed by the laws of the Dao, and all of nature forms one complete whole. All things, animal, vegetable and mineral and all processes are connected and everything influences everything else in some way or another. In this fluid, changing and incredible web we are all part of each other and thus any sense of separation we have is actually an illusion. When we are under the illusion that we are not connected to each other this sense of separation can lead to feelings of alienation and despair and, research shows, symptoms of ill health. Conversely when we become aware of and feel connected we feel better –physically and mentally.

Research shows that good mental and physical health depends on a support system and that stressors can be endured more easily when you have a strong supportive network of family and friends. In one large study, conducted in Alameda County, California, death rates in a group of 7,000 people were found to be highest among those who had the fewest relationships — even when factors such as socioeconomic status, cigarette smoking, and other health-related factors were taken into consideration. Isolation was linked to higher death rates from heart disease, cancer, and all other illnesses, as well as suicide and accidental death.1.

In another study health psychologists Sarah Pressman, PhD, Sheldon Cohen, PhD, and fellow researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity and Disease, found that social isolation and feelings of loneliness each independently weakened first-year students’ immunity.

Immune response was most weakened by the combination of loneliness and small social networks, an obvious health stress facing shy new students who have yet to build their friendship circles.2.

Knowing that connection is the key to good health we need to give ourselves permission to communicate our needs to others and feel OK about reaching out to ask friends and family for support and a hug.   Take the decision to connect and ask for help when you feel lonely and thus improve the quality of your life. Instead of wasting energy pushing others away learn to ask and welcome help when it is given. 

And as much as we need to be loved and supported we are also capable of giving love and support.  

Extending Love

The stress pioneer – Hans Selye found that the best way to be loved was to act lovingly towards others.  He described this as “altruistic egoism” Whatever we put out is mirrored back to us – when we extend love and care we will receive the same in return.  Often it helps to focus on others rather than on ourselves.  This can be done in so many ways –join a campaign or a support group, get involved in neighbourhood activities, or get yourself a pet. 

Research has shown that heart attack victims who have pets live longer. Even watching a tank full of tropical fish may lower blood pressure, at least temporarily. A St Louis University study of 92 patients hospitalised in coronary care units for angina or heart attack found that those who owned pets were more likely to be alive a year later than those who did not. 3. 

We can all do something, in our own way, to reach out and make a difference to the world.  Taking the focus off ourselves and spending time helping and loving others helps us to feel valued, included and contented. Get yourself connected by both giving and receiving support and enjoy the benefits that come with knowing that you are an integral part of the web of life.

The Buddhist Metta Bhavana practice is one that cultivates loving kindness. Eventually we want to become like a steady fire, a flame of emotional warmth that will embrace any sentient being that we become aware of. The practice is in five stages. Sit comfortably and imagine a flame of love in your heart that burns with a soft but clear flame. Extend this out firstly to

  • Yourself – feel the warmth expand and fill your body.
  • A good friend – feel the warmth radiate out to him/her.
  • A “neutral” person – someone we don’t have any strong feelings for.
  • A “difficult” person – someone we have conflicts with or feelings of ill will towards.
  • All sentient beings.



  1. Dossey, Meaning and Medicine, Bantam (November 1, 1992)
  2.  Pressman, S. D., Cohen, S., Miller, G.E., Barkin, A., Rabin, B. S., Treanor, J. J. Loneliness, Social Network Size and Immune Response to Influenza Vaccination in College Freshmen, Health Psychology. (2005).3.
  3.  Journal of Gerontology. ( 2002)

 This article first appeared in Positive Health Magazine. See www.positivehealth.com


Vicki Mckenna trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practicing acupuncture in Scotland since then. You can contact her at vickimckenna51@hotmail.co.uk



OASIS OF LONG LIFE – by Annette Tamuly Jung

   An Innovative Dharma Venture in the Centre of France

For the last few decades,  particularly with the arrival in the West of  Zen and Tibetan Masters, together with the strong aura of HH the Dalaï Lama, many Westerners (among whom many French people) have embraced Buddhism. With the setting up of Buddhist centres of various lineages, it has been possible to receive teaching and proper transmission, both by oriental and western Lamas within France itself.   This is very fortunate and should certainly awaken our gratitude for all those who have worked toward this aim and are still doing so.

However, there comes a time in life –and many of the first batch of French Buddhists have reached the stage when age and sometimes ailments prevent them from visiting these existing centres.   This is precisely at the crucial time in one’s life when one feels the need to prepare for the last journey with a proper view of the Dharma, in suitable, quiet surroundings, among friends who share the similar aspirations and under the guidance of spiritual masters and fellow believers.

 With this in mind a project of a residence for elderly Buddhist practioners was initiated.   Lama Sherab Namdreul from Yogi Ling in the Allier region was its instigator.  He took care of all the administrative procedures but, above all, ensured that the interested and involved persons had the proper spiritual motivation, the reason being that the “Oasis of Long Life” was not to be just a home for old people, but essentially a centre of the Dharma. Lama Sherab Namdreul was soon joined by a group of motivated persons prepared to take part in the project as immediate residents, future residents or benefactors.

In October 2005 a property was purchased in the Cher region about 45 km south of Bourges, near a small village, comprising a home of about 196 square meter situated in a park of 3.3 hectares (approximately 7 acres), swimming pool and a  large garage. The first resident occupied this house for a couple of years while a purpose-built home was under construction. Later a second person settled at the “Oasis of Long Life” and, eventually in 2009 both residents were able to move into their personal dwelling units. Another house should be completed in 2011 to accommodate a third resident. It is planned to construct no more than 10 to 12 houses in order to preserve a family-like living environment. All that has been achieved to date is thanks to the generosity, patience and good-will of all those involved directly, particularly those persons involved in the construction, maintenance and management of the residence.

Needless to say the Oasis of Long Life is not a sort of Dewatchen! As we plan for the future, we still have to face various issues and problems.   Nevertheless,  we are confident, accepting the fact that this project is not only a real  challenge but also a wonderful opportunity to practice the first paramita of generosity and altruism and an opportunity to consistantly apply bodhichitta in our daily life. Considering the naturally quiet and peaceful  environment of the Oasis, one is tempted to suggest that it is a possible answer to the question put by Shantideva in “The Way of the Bodhisattva”

 In woodlands, haunt of stag and bird,

Among the trees where no dissension jars,

It’s there I would keep pleasant company!

When might I be off to make my dwelling there?

With a pure Rime view, Oasis of Long Life is open to people of all Buddhist schools.   At its inauguration ceremony in April 2006, the place was blessed by Lama Sherab Dordje from Kagyu Ling.  Since then teaching sessions conducted  by Lama Sherab Namdreul and Lama Wangmo have taken place on site regularly during the past years. Lama Tsultrim from Bodhicharya France, at Lusse paid us a most welcome visit.   In March 2009, Lama Tempa paid a visit, followed later by that of Mogchok Rinpoche, who gave us his blessings and encouragements. We were also honoured by the visit  of  Ringu Tulku Rinpoche at the beginning of April 2010. His very profound teaching focussed on the subjects of impermanence and death.   An excerpt  from what he wrote in our guestbook follows:

“Everybody born is bound to get old and die. It is therefore most important to make good provisions for those aged and how they spend their last days in this world. I am very happy that you try to create an Oasis of Long Life in this beautiful and quiet place abundant with nature.”

A stupa has been erected and was recently consecrated. It now illuminates our beautiful park, standing among the numerous trees – a very strong and auspicious symbol indeed of our fundamental aims and ambitions.

 May Oasis have, indeed, a long life!


Sikkim Conference: part three Science, Art and Meditation by Annie Dibble

sunset over Gangtok

On day 4 of the conference, Robert Thurman took the chair for the topic: ‘Science, Art and Meditation’

The term Meditation is used in dozens of contexts by many different types of people and for many  different reasons – from healthcare professionals in body spars to those masters in the search for the most profound truth.  So it is recognised as something good.  Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche spoke of the different levels and meanings, and of the obstacle that youngsters put in the way by equating meditation with religiosity, and she said we lose our balance through making these assumptions.   It is our inherent potential to be awake, but how many of us would practice meditation without the ‘promise of chocolate’ (enlightenment) as the incentive that keeps us in there.

The secular approach to meditation, which is to stabilise the mind without the promise of chocolate,  is one of simplicity – with no expectation of anything;  stillness – which slows down the body and movement;  silence – which reduces the amount of speech we use (helps settle the mind) and  non thought – nothing will have changed, just free the mind, taking a break from judgement.

She said we constantly overshoot the mark as we are too busy, too proud, too arrogant. Within Tibetan Buddhism there are many complicated methods that bring us to this very simple place. Suffering caused by the craving mind is our downfall.   This point she played with for a while. Speaking about the chocolate – shamatha –  she made the point that it has a name, and lineage and sitting in shamatha has a lot more to offer than simply sitting in silence.  There are many forms of shamatha meditation and the most essential thing is that it has the power to introduce us to our own inner potential.  Mostly we are deprived of the actual wisdom and we lose the confidence of inner knowing, so shamatha gives us the window to recognise the vastness of awareness of our own intrinsic power – which is our own potential and until we have seen that, we crave external satisfactions.

Vipassana is analytic, a broad subject that further strengthens what you learn through shamatha, when you are first introduced to the notion that suffering and happiness is created by mind.  When we see that, then confidence will come with our own experience, so this personal investigation is essential.    The fieldwork to be engaged with is the ‘Four Immeasurables’[1] that show the resultant state of meditation, so whether or not we can hold loving kindness, joy, equanimity, is a measure of our meditation practice.

Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche generated a lot of response from the audience, one questioner asked about meditation as a secular means, asking if renunciation is required in order to become a proper meditator. She replied that from a Buddhist point of view, religion itself must be given up in order to obtain enlightenment but, she said, “Coming from a Buddhist this could be seen as propaganda, so what can you do?”

Geshe  Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD.   Co-Director of the Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies[2] followed, speaking on the causal links between stress, disease  and  depression and the research being done at Emory that investigates the  links between stress reduction and the relaxation response.  He said that the fundamental paradigm between science and meditation is very different, but both are searching for happiness,  he asked how we as human beings can enrich our lives and promote flourishing when we are so ignorant of what happiness fundamentally is?  He reminded us that maintaining a moment by moment awareness is an intervention that can minimise stress.  His Holiness responded by saying, “Compassion and love are not mere luxuries, but are fundamental to our continued survival”.

Joseph Le Doux[3] shared his research on the ’emotional hijack’ that creates negative situations in our otherwise everyday affairs.   He explained that meditation will develop neural pathways from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala, and that lojong as a practice will enhance empathy and compassionate responses.  He suggested a top down approach using rational mind to influence emotional mind and transform the actual physiology.

If the effort of meditation is continued, the experience will become uncontrived, as the physiology of the brain, the actual behaviour, changes.  Meditators are thus able to gage their own psychological response as both immune function and cortisol release change after meditation practice.      Pain, he pointed out, is unavoidable – but suffering is optional.

To study the twelve steps of interdependent origination backwards is the key to understanding the process of becoming enlightened, according to Dr Khenpo Ngawang Jordan who gave a wonderfully clear delivery of the 12 causal and resultant links.  He spoke on the importance of understanding the skandas as not truly existing  and said that until then, we’ll remain in samsara.

Session 7 :   Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Education.

Paul Eckman was to have presented a paper on his work on behavioural science, but ill health prevented him from making the journey. Instead  we watched a live video cast of Eckman speaking to us from the US on ‘Emotions revealed’.   His life’s research has been to study facial and bodily expressions and detect what is really being said, over and above the actual words. The emphasis of his talk was on the appropriate processing of emotions,  and the need to bring conscious awareness back into the arena.  We must practice raising awareness of an emotion as it arises, every day.    Evolution sets many of our automatic responses – such as fear, however the majority of those are learned as we grow up and these, he said, require conscious awareness training through education.

Geshe Dorji Damdul gave a wonderful heartfelt talk on the urgency of ensuring that whatever comes of this unique conference will reach the school curriculum.  He made the point that his use of the word human includes all of us, without exception, because we have a oneness, a sisterhood, and common sense tells us to be aware of human values.

In the area of Social and Emotional Learning, we have to cultivate 3 qualities :   Self awareness, Self discipline, Caring for the environment and for others. These three qualities are of course mirrored in the Buddhas teachings, but why do we need these in particular? It is he says because we become socially adjustable when we obtain them.  He explained this very simply :  Wisdom has the connotation of being learned, because the mind that knows reality must be very sharp.  If you have compassion you will attract everything to you and have confidence and joy within yourself, it will also make you harmonious with others, and self discipline brings consistency.

As with Ringu Tulku Rinpoche and Khandro Rinpoche before him, Geshe Dorji Damdul really addressed the kernel of the conference, presenting eloquent and profoundly simple perspectives on the essential issues to be addressed.      Dorji Damdul has for many years been translator to the Dalai Lama, and when, at His Holiness’ public teachings at Gangtok football stadium, westerners found themselves in privileged seats at the front but with no translator, the Geshe spontaneously offered himself, and was seen to be surrounded by a large huddle of non Tibetan speakers, giving continuous translation of the 3 hour teachings.

The last speaker of the afternoon was Professor K P Pandey who is director of the Society for Higher Education and Practical Applications  (SHEPA) in Varanasi and he told us that we learn in four ways:  through interaction with a teacher, by our own talent, through our peers, and through the passages of time and challenges of life.  The mystery of learning and how it takes place is not yet known, but a ‘pedagogy of the heart’ was taught by the Buddha.  Professor Pandey had  prepared a highly detailed  teaching programme, the implementation of which he said would radically reorient the content of education and begin the process of restoration and healing that has been referred to throughout the conference.    The Professor had volumes of relevant information, but this was the last session and frustratingly there was simply no time for him to complete his delivery.  However there was a strong sense that what had been presented during the four days of dialogue would initiate the next step – that of application.

We missed the final presentations given by respondents to the afternoon talks, as Khandro Rinpoche had been invited by the Sikkim Buddhist Association (Founding President Ringu Tulku) to give a talk in another part of town. We nearly missed it, as word didn’t spread very fast, and the venue was hard to find, at the top of a community centre building beside the football stadium.  She was introduced by Ringu Tulku, and there was rather comical moment as they each tried to place themselves below the other, but an agreement was eventually reached and we were able to settle into sofas and listen to her wonderful talk.

She was addressing the Tibetan community, who she felt were lacking in interest for their heritage, remarking on the drive for material things, but the point of overwhelm has not yet been reached and this must happen before the process can be reversed. She said she felt that Tibetans tended to be complacent, as if being Tibetan was enough, but she said you cannot be Buddhist by name alone, there must be a depth of understanding of the philosophy. It is the most complex philosophy in the world, Christianity is easier, she knows because she attended both catholic and protestant schools.  It should not be simplified, the challenge is to be able to come up with an intimate relationship with Buddha Dharma, not to pay lip service.    She spoke about karma, saying we are responsible for our own environment, we will walk to the edge of our roof and stop at the point of falling, so we have discriminating wisdom –  why not use it?   But she said we should not try to be more philosophical than we are, just be aware of the fact that you are walking, be mindful of each action, watch yourself be initiated – you can’t be aware of yourself unless you know yourself well enough – then you can transform.  You cannot renounce your anger until you are aware of it.    Complicated deductions and theories are not for us, they are for specialists – just watch the mind and see the patterns of repetition, the ones that are your own. Why spend hours counting the trees when you can just take a shortcut and eat the fruit.  Youngsters, she said, have to realise that the topic is endless, but Buddhism makes sense when a person is aware that the material world does not give the answers.   Easterners are in the middle of a shift to wealth and are not yet satiated. The core essence of Buddha Dharma, she said, is to know that you are awake – how you shake hands with another person.

Sikkim is booming, on the steep hillside that is Gangtok, new buildings are erupting in every spare corner of land as more and more green space is developed. There are enormous hotels under construction in impossibly precarious locations and the Prince and Princess Royal, children of the Crown Prince of Sikkim and his American wife Hope Cook, are building two very large homes in the town centre just above Mahatma Ghandi Marg, with splendid views of Kanchenjunga Mountain range.  The wonderful Rachna Bookstore is a gallery and meeting place for the local artists and film makers and musicians,  keen to bring an intelligent creativity to the rapid changes that are taking place all about them.   Walking through Gangtok is guaranteed to keep you fit, there are two directions, up or down, and funnels of stairways direct you without mercy to or from the central shopping area, where this time we found that Nestles coffee machines have taken over even the sweet shops that only two years ago sold really good masala chai.   Parallel with this, valleys across the north and west are being lost to hydroelectric schemes which will provide water for India, a road to the east will soon connect China (Tibet) and a new airport is under construction only one hour from Gangtok.  Travelling about the countryside the narrow cliff edge roads are continually being repaired after landslides and heavy rain.  The work is being done by families, mainly of woman and children, breaking stones with hand held hammers, sharing shovels and bearing baskets of rocks on their backs. We didn’t see one JCB.   One of our cars had it’s windscreen smashed by a falling rock as the road fell precipitously away on the outside lane. There was no option but to continue the journey for 3 more hours through the choking dust that is everywhere – it seeps into the nostrils and lungs causing chronic ailments.

And yet there is so much beauty,   the ever present distant mountain snow reflecting the sunlight from dawn until dusk, the tea plantations, the dripping fern filled forests, fields of cardamon, and fast flowing turquoise rivers that tumble over stones, carrying an icy blast from the glaciers above.   Rumtek Monastery is protected  by armed guards who refuse entry to those without a passport, to the most sacred and desolate memorial to the 16th Karmapa and young monks ask for money in return for entry to the reliquary room.

But then of course there is the beautiful Meditation Retreat Centre, Himalayan hub of Bodhicharya International, sitting in the sowa rigpa garden across the valley from Gangtok under the eaves of Rumtek.   And Dilip the cook, with a welcome smile for all who dare to make the journey.

Everything is perfect.

About the Author:

Annie Dibble is currently co-ordinator for Bodhicharya Ireland, and a Tara Rokpa Therapist. In another life she recently retired from teaching 3rd level art and design and is now working to create supportive links between weavers in India, Nepal and Dublin.


May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness,

May they all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering,

May they never be separated from the great happiness that knows no suffering,

May all beings dwell in equanimity free from attachment and aversion.

Sikkim Conference part two: Understanding Mind by Annie Dibble

Sunset Kanchenjunga

As we moved into the topic Understanding  Mind,  Robert Thurman, Director of Buddhist Studies at Columbia University gave an outline of the workings of mind in lay Buddhist terms, and spoke of Buddha as scientist,  spiritual teacher and educator.  In his view  Buddhism is a sophisticated depth psychology, as Buddha discovered the subconscious a millennia before Freud.  Karma, he said, precedes Darwin by 2400years.  Thurman described Buddhism as a field of transformative psychologies, ethical systems with a realistic world view that support naturalistic internalisation, where epistemology is strongly developed and contemplative methodologies are finely attuned to all types of person.  He said the distinctive speciality is in the formation of the art of identity with a crucial deconstruction and creative construction of what makes us who we are. (My italics)

In particular, Thurman elucidated in didactic terms what he called the Buddha’s ‘keys to discovery’  giving an analogy of the cause of suffering, its arising and cessation, the obstacles that prevent happiness and the way forward.

For example the Path of Super Education can be described thus : Everything is science based  – that is – free wisdom knowledge  which penetrates everything. Continue reading