Greetings from Gampo Abbey
Summer is finally here, which, at the Abbey, means lots of activity. Thanks to our intrepid gardener, Eileen Jones, and her diligent helpers, our vegetable garden is in full swing. Soon we will be partaking of its delicious bounty (assuming the bunnies and deer don't get to it first!). Summer also means In-House retreats, the one time that people can come to the Abbey for a week or two to experience life here. (By the way, it is not too late to come this summer. Check out our recent blog posting.)
We are also open for tours (Monday through Friday at 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30 pm through August). So if you are in the area this summer, please stop by! We have already had lots of visitors, who are always delighted and intrigued by this Buddhist monastery in remote Cape Breton.
We have been busily painting and generally sprucing up the Abbey in preparation for a much-anticipated visit in August from our abbot, the Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. He hasn't been here for eight years, so we are particularly excited about this visit!
And on top of that, we are welcoming three new residents to the Abbey this week.
Below, you will find articles about recent events at the Abbey, as well as links to some personal reflections of recent residents on their experience here. We hope you enjoy reading about the goings on at the Abbey. If you have any comments, please let us know.
And last, but not least: Are you interested in living at the Abbey for a year or more? There are still residential openings for 2011. The next entry date is early September. For more information, see this blog posting from earlier in the year.
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Completion of Shedra Cycle
We at the Abbey take pride in the Vidyadhara Institute, our monastic college or shedra. The Vidyadhara Institute provides an in-depth study program of the buddhadharma for the monastics and lay community of the Abbey. The shedra provides an overview of the three yanas, covering the main topics of study in a traditional shedra curriculum in the Kagyu tradition. The cycle of classes offered at the Abbey lasts for three years.
In June, we completed a three-year shedra cycle, appropriately with the "Creation and Completion" class, which was taught by visiting Acharya Tashi Wangchuk to appreciative students. Teaching from the classic text Creation and Completion by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (which includes a wonderful commentary by our abbot, Thrangu Rinpoche), Acharya Tashi guided students through the two main practices in Vajrayana Buddhism, utpattikrama, or creation stage meditation, and sampannakrama, or completion stage meditation. (These two types of meditation correspond roughly to shamatha and vipashyana meditation in sutra traditions.)
By completing this class, Tsering Sangmo (pictured above at the right, along with Acharya Tashi and Lodro Sangpo) graduated from shedra, having completed all the classes offered at our shedra. Congratulations to Sangmo!
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Lobster Release 2011
Each year at the end of the lobster season (May 1 to June 30), the monastic and lay community of Gampo Abbey, with the financial support of many donors around the world, purchase the last catch of lobsters from one of the Pleasant Bay lobster fishermen. At the end of the final day after the lobster traps have been removed for the season, Abbey residents and friends from the local Cape Breton sangha travel by boat out into the Gulf of St Lawrence to below the cliffs at Gampo Abbey to release the lobsters. As in years past, the Abbey lobster release took place from Captain Mark Timmons’ whale-watching boat.
"Life Release" -- in which captive animals destined to be eaten are, instead, released back into their native habitats -- is a traditional practice for Tibetan Buddhists, especially monastics. The most obvious benefits of the practice are for the sentient beings whose lives are being saved, but it also serves to strengthen the individual practitioner and the sangha as a whole, and to establish an important link with the local environment and culture.
The lobsters are blessed with purifying water, a liturgy written by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye is read, and each person on the boat is encouraged to release a lobster into the water. The lobsters are lifted from behind their claws, which they spread out eagle-like. The lobsters are dropped back-first into the water with a small splash. Generally they drift gently down until they disappear in the dark water. This year, 120 lobsters were returned to the sea by the monastics and their guests.
The generous intention of saving lives, even for a short while, the good company, the fresh sea air, the gentle rolling of the boat, and the intonation of the chants imbued with wisdom and compassion have a deep and sobering effect on all who participate. We are grateful for all the contributions that made this a sangha effort and we dedicate all the merit accrued to the benefit of all sentient beings.
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Monastics at Bat!
Each year on Canada Day, the lay and monastic residents of Gampo Abbey join with the community of Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia, to celebrate Canada Day by parading down to the community park and playing softball against the local volunteer firefighters. It is an interesting parade, inasmuch as there are no spectators, since everyone is in the parade!
The ball teams were pretty evenly matched this year. A softball game is typically 7 innings, and in the top of the seventh we all agreed to go nine innings because the score was still tied. In the bottom of the seventh we took the lead and should have won 10-9. Unfortunately we ran out of gas after that and lost 16-10. Sigh. Wait til next year!
But as always, a fun day was had by all, and it is always great connecting with our local community.
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One of the missions of Gampo Abbey is to provide the opportunity to experience monastic life in a community without having to make a lifetime commitment. Such an experience often has a profound effect on our "temporary monastics."
One such monastic, who was known here as Sheltso, has written about her recent experience in an essay entitled "The Gampo Abbeysheka." Check out her Facebook page for the essay.
Also, take a look at these YouTube videos, in which two recent Abbey residents, Sherap and Trime Lhakthong, share with great sincerity their experience at Gampo Abbey as temporary monastics.
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