Friday, August 17, 2012

EXCURSIONS: Gampo Abbey, Part 1

“Excursions” is a blog post category presenting content that is peripherally connected to the Houston, Texas area in either the thematic and/or the geographic senses. 

Gampo Abbey is home to the sole monastic community associated with Shambhala, a prominent international network of lay Buddhist practice centers based on the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, as expounded by the teachings of its provocative founder, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
Photo from Wikipedia.
The current principal teacher of Gampo Abbey is Trungpa Rinpoche’s understudy Pema Chodron, who is probably the most well-known and most enthusiastically received western Buddhist nun in the world at this time.
Screengrabbed photo courtesy of Gampo Abbey / Shambhala.
Without question, she is one of the most gifted monastics ever to offer teachings to the English-speaking world, and is often cited as having been the catalyst of comprehension by many newcomers to meditation and Buddhism.  “I didn’t understand any of that stuff until I heard it from Pema,” is a declaration frequently issued by her devoted fans (see interesting news media articles here and here).

A Shambhala lay group has been established within the greater Houston area.  You can read about their local background and programs on their website.  Should you happen to choose Houston Shambhala as your practice center, and you one day find yourself pursuing their programs in depth, your eventual retreat destination will likely be Gampo Abbey in the remote Cape Breton Highlands area of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. 

Getting away from it all, literally and figuratively: about 2,600 miles from Houston. Googlemaps plots it about 60 miles south of its actual location.
My family “did the tourist thing” at Gampo Abbey, which is open to the public during limited intervals in the summer months.  

If you make the long journey to this area, check with the Abbey’s website to verify that tour times have not changed.
In other words, I did not visit the Abbey in any “official capacity” or formal sense of attending training, services, or a retreat.  If you’d like to learn more about the Abbey in terms of its history, philosophy, and programs offered, their web page descriptions are very thorough.  Rather than repeating any of that carefully-crafted content, I thought I’d instead bring you on a two-part photo tour!    

The Abbey is perched on a coastal promontory hundreds of feet above the sea.  Standing here, one gets a visceral sense of the impermanence of all created phenomena (one day, the ground upon which the Abbey sits will return to the sea as the high cliffs continue their erosional retreat)…
…and the immediate clear space of mind. 
View looking northwest across the Gulf of St. Lawrence.   
The main meditation hall overlooks the vastness of the Gulf.  The uniquely-designed hall fuses diverse Buddhist lineage influences, including Tibetan and Zen.  

  I extend my thanks to Megan for a wonderful guided tour, and for making the core concepts of Buddhism clear and accessible to my family in a way that I myself hadn’t been able to achieve.
The Gampo Buddha, flanked by photos representing teachers from its twin lineages (Karma Kagyu on the right, and Trungpa Rinpoche’s Shambhala on the left).    
There can never be too many garden Buddhas and Bodhisattvas...
…and there’s always room for local symbolic enhancement, including a moose antler backdrop.  The Cape Breton Highlands teem with moose, and mature males shed a set of their massive but impermanent antlers annually.   
A beautiful lily graces the Gampo gardens.    
 The Abbey and its associated support buildings and retreat cabins are situated within a short walk of each other, but a Guan Yin memorial has been situated on a nearby high mountain peak (the entire property is reported to encompass about 230 acres of land).    

A portion of the rugged footpath up the peak to Guan Yin.
Cairns have been mindfully staged along the path.  
Upon encountering this impossibly-balanced little stone, my immediate thought was, “One-pointedness.”   
The spectacular view looking back down the path toward the main Abbey grounds.  Unfortunately, there’s little visible evidence of scale in this photo.  For reference, these coastal mountains in this area are approximately 1,150 feet high.    

The Guan Yin statue, in profound forest solitude.   
Close-up of Guan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this touristy trip, in which the Abbey’s Stupa of Enlightenment will be presented.

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