HBMC Meditation Course

The course was at the Himalayan Buddhist Meditation Centre, which is a spin off from Kopan Monastery, which was set up in, I think, the sixties to bring Tibetan Buddhism to a Western audience. Run by the Venerable Siliana, Italian Buddhist nun, ordained by HH the Dalai Lama himself about 20 years ago, and her friend, the Ven. Antonio, also Italian, who we ended up calling Father Antonio, as he had a very priestly manner, once a catholic always a catholic maybe.

The course was a bit more rigorous than the FWBO ones that I have been to, less sitting around doing workshop-type things and more listening to the teaching, short question sessions to follow, though we did have some good general discussion sessions in the afternoon (no talking from last meditation at night to about 3 pm, though some of our number had difficulties with keeping that up (grumble, grumble)). The meditation classes were particular strange, we all meditated facing the wall, and so just had the disembodied voice of Father Antonio guiding us (basic attention to the breath and some visualization exercises for generating compassion, always have trouble with visualization, not really a visual sort of person I guess). A bit more definite about posture, sitting just so, holding the hands like this (the hands in the lap, the right on the left, the thumbs lightly joined, I think other hand postures are used for more advanced meditations), the eyes rather confusingly "either slightly open or slightly closed". The core of the meditation practice is of course much the same as what we have done, it was really good to get back into it after far too long without. I've had a short sit or two every day since then (though it only finished 2 days ago, so it's a bit early to tell if that will stick).

The teachings had much more what I suppose you'd call Buddhist metaphysics in, karma, reincarnation etc. Tibetans (and Mahayana buddhists generally) are very keen on the Boddhisattva concept, achieving enlightenment then staying around in the world of rebirth and illusion until all sentient beings also achieve liberation, which is a nice idea, but one I have trouble taking sufficiently seriously, along with reincarnation etc. generally. One of the things I like about the FWBO approach is that they seem to manage to do most of buddhism without making rebirth etc. appear to be essential.

Course was Friday PM to Monday PM. Sunday we took what were called the Mahayana precepts (just for day), which involved getting up at 5 (has to be done before dawn) and saying various prayers and mantras (we did have the text for the mantras, but stumbled rather a lot as Siliana led us through at breakneck speed), as we took what are basically the first lot of monastics vows (the usual 5 precepts plus not "sleeping on a high or luxurious bed", not singing or dancing and only having one meal, to be started before midday, and finished by 1 pm. The latter was the main one that had an immediate effect on us (having not much chance for intoxicants, sexual misconduct etc. throughout the course, and there wasn't a high or luxurious bed in the place as far as I could see). I still can't decide if it was profoundly moving or rather ludicrous.

Tibetan buddhism is very ritualistic (again, comparisons with catholicism come to mind) but the rituals are rather fun. Yesterday I was at the great Stupa in Boudhanath, just east of Kathmandu. It was the 10th of the Tibetan month which is auspicious (according to Siliana who I bumped in to there), so there were more pilgrims than usual circumambulating round the stupa (they come from all over the area here, and they tend to dress up for the occasion, so it's a bit like a fashion show of "ethnic dress of Himalayan buddhists", along with lamps everywhere, monks chanting etc. Very Christmassy, except without all the Christmas stuff (though one of the CD shops nearby was playing some awful carols at one point, instead of the usual musical version of Om Mani Padme Hum (which one hears everywhere in Kathmandu).