31 May 2010

A visit to Kagyu Samye Ling

Since I don’t drive here and am restricted to the use of public transport, if it wasn’t for the “sure, whatever you want honey,” attitude of my wonderful man-with-a-red-car boyfriend, I wouldn’t get to see half of the things I do around Scotland.

Here is how our trip planning usually goes:

Step 1. In my readings about Scotland I come across a place that interests me.
Step 2. I read more and get terribly excited.
Step 3. I babble incoherently at my beloved, pointing at books and showing him web sites.
Step 4. He says “okay honey,” and we make arrangements for the trip.
Step 5. I display my gratitude with great sensual exuberance, and he is most pleased.

But when I said “Let’s go to Dumfriesshire to see the largest Buddhist temple in Western Europe!” I expected at least a bit of resistance. As usual however he was keen to see something new.

So off we went, once again finding ourselves on single-track country roads, dodging sheep and making way for periodic oncoming traffic.
On and on we drove, through the beautiful green countryside that surrounds the River Esk. We rounded a corner and suddenly through the trees we could see a giant gold and white structure, the main stupa of the Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre.

Founded in 1967, Kagyu Samye Ling was the first Buddhist Centre to be established in the West. Today the centre runs a host of courses and retreats, as well as the Holy Isle Project.
We were free to wander around, but I think we must have been the only day visitors as everyone else seemed to be staying or working there.

There was construction work taking place all over the monastery, with vast building works going on next to the temple itself, part of a project to build what they describe on their web site as “the largest, most comprehensive Tibetan Buddhist-style temple in the West.” From what I have read they have been working at this for some time, moving forward as finances are available. When it is finished it is expected to look like this:
The courtyard was blocked off because of the construction work and I wasn’t able to get a proper view of the outside of the temple, however we were allowed to go inside (once we had taken our shoes off, of course).

What a remarkable place to see - in Scotland of all places. The interior of the temple gleamed with yellow and gold, with bright paintings and accents of red around the room.

The room was empty when we stepped in, so I didn’t have to feel I was disturbing someone’s meditation.
Afterwards we walked around the Stupa Garden and around the Stupa itself, through a corridor that has mechanically rotating prayer wheels on one side, and on the other a long wall with small in-built spaces for urns and photographs of those who have passed away. Inside the Stupa is another meditation space, laid out in a similar manner to the larger temple, but with more subtle décor.

We saw many bright statues, including one part stern, part comical-looking fellow who sat perched above a small pool.

Aside from periodic bursts from an electric saw nearby, the garden was quiet - one of those places that draws out a feeling of mindfulness. However, remembering our visit now, I have just realized that we did not walk around the Stupa in a clockwise direction, as is considered “respectful and beneficial” in Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Signal a very unenlightened “Doh!”
Other than the splendour of the temple itself, I loved the butterlamp house most of all. There were workmen in there, too, but I was still able to imagine what it would look like when all these candles are lit, the transforming glow shining brightly into a dark Scottish night.
One of the best things about doing week-long (or longer) Buddhist meditation retreat is the routine of waking, meditating, silence, meditating, working, meditating…. And out here in beautiful Dumfriesshire, you have the added pleasure of the bleats of sheep calling out between the hum of the meditation bowl.

Having spent a week at Dhanakosa, I had an idea of what to expect at Kagyu Samye Ling, but I really did throw my beloved into the deep end this time. However just like he always does, he took things as they came and chalked it all up to another wild adventure with his somewhat erratic Canadian woman.

Kagyu Samye Ling is about a two-hour drive from either Edinburgh or Glasgow, and more information about their retreats and courses can be found on the monastery’s Web site.

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