Welsh Pilgrimages

Cwm Pennant (16/9/17)

Our annual Discovering the Heart of Buddhism study and meditation retreat ended with a pilgrimage to the beautiful valley of Cwm Pennant, Gwynedd, not far from where our Buddhist Retreat centre is based in Criccieth. Members of the Sangha have visited Cwm Pennant many times before and we love the beauty of the sacred landscape here. Tibetan Buddhist teacher H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche told us this was very special place.

Pilgrimage to sacred sites in Wales Cwm Pennant

It was a cold morning and it felt like Autumn/Winter had arrived as we walked up the hillside to a more sheltered spot, but we were very lucky as there was no rain despite the overcast skies.

Cwm Pennant holy pilgrimage Sacred Sites Wales

We stopped next to a very interesting looking tree, where the ground naturally flattens out a little, next to a large stone that’s perfect for our outdoor shrine.

Smoke Puja Buddhist rituals sacred sites North Wales

We set out the shrine with Guru Rinpoche at the centre, with our offerings, while Jayasiddhi built the small, self-contained fire from wood we brought with us as well as sacred ash from our previous smoke puja rituals to continue the connection (read more about Smoke Puja ritual here.)

Buddhist Practice of Pilgrimage to sacred sites in Snowdonia North Wales

While we made the offering of smoke to the sacred landscape of North Wales, we read Guru Rinpoche prayers, recited the mantra OM AH HUM and sang songs.

Tibetan Buddhist Sangha in Gwynedd, North Wales

The Awakened Heart Sangha is part of a yogic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism of singing songs of realisation, as taught by Khenpo RinpocheLama Shenpen‘s teacher. Khenpo Rinpoche was a wandering yogin in his youth and in later years would often sing profound extemporaneous songs, so is likened to the great yogin Milarepa.

We regularly sing songs composed by Milarepa and Khenpo Rinpoche as part of our practice, and on a pilgrimage in the beautiful sacred Welsh countryside is no exception!

By Jo.

Llandudwen – St. Tudwen’s Church (25/8/17)

Following on from our successful pilgrimage to Carn Fadryn, Lama Shenpen and the Hermitage team took our German guests on to the nearby church dedicated to St. Tudwen.

St. Tudwen's church Gwynedd, pilgrimage site with holy well
Llandudwen Church built as pilgrimage site to St. Tudwen,

This beautiful little chapel is located off of a farm track about one mile south of Morfa Nefyn. Take a good map, the turning is easy to miss. There is parking near the entrance to church, just outside of the farmyard.

There was a legend of a Holy Well being associated with this site, although it had been lost for many years. This was recently rediscovered in one of the fields adjoining the Church grounds.

The entrance to the church begins with a narrow pathway encompassed by two traditional welsh stone walls. These walls inspired Lama Shenpen to build our walled entrance leading up to the Stupa of Enlightenment at the Hermitage.

Buddhist retreat centre, Gwynedd Wales - traditional stone walls
Stone walls leading to the Buddhist Stupa at the Hermitage Retreat in Criccieth.

At the end of the pathway is a traditional covered stone gateway (lych gate) leading into the graveyard. Traditionally, coffins would have been left overnight in this gateway before burial the next morning. I had not heard of this tradition before and wonder at its meaning and origin. Perhaps something to do with purification at the boundary to sacred ground – reminiscent of entering a mandala boundary in the Buddhist tradition.

Tradition records St. Tudwen as being an Irish Saint, and sister to the grandmother of St David. She fled to the Llyn Peninsula to avoid persecution and abuse. Later began to teach the local people about her love of God.

A church was built over her grave on this site in the 5th Century. This was rebuilt in in 1595 – the current church – in the “hammer head” shape is a Grade II listed building.

St Tudwens church, stained glass window through door
View of stain glass window through doorway

The church is very beautiful and extremely well preserved. The stained glass windows are very modest and include the alpha and omega symbols. On the day we visited the doorway was surrounded with mistletoe, giving a somewhat pagan feel.

Church door with mistletoe, St. Tudwens, Gwynedd
Mistletoe around doorway, St Tudwens, Gwynedd

We spent some time sitting inside the church in silence, absorbing the atmosphere and meditating. As we had the church to ourselves we chanted the Green Tara mantra and our retreatants sang some of their Dharma songs in German. We had been enjoying these all week, the sweet melodies and wonderfully tuneful voices!   By Jayasiddhi

 

 

 

Carn Fadryn “Mother Mountain” 25/8/2017

Carn Fadryn (Garnfadryn) was the sacred destination for the second group of German retreatants on our Discovering the Heart of Buddhism retreat this August. We could not have chosen a better day to explore the Welsh sacred landscape, the skies were clear and the sun was hot – an auspicious day to initiate out ten German guests to the practice Welsh Pilgrimage.

Carn Fadryn Mother Mountain

Lama Shenpen and Rigdzin Shikpo had once asked H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche about the possibility of finding holy places in Britain. He asked for a map of the area and identified a number of sacred places in North Wales. The one he felt stood out as  being particularly special was Carn Fadryn.

Khyentse Rinpoche was one of the foremost Tibetan Buddhist teachers of his generation and was highly respected as a Terton – or Treasure Finder. He had found many sacred objects and Buddhist texts (Termas) hidden in the landscape of Tibet and the surrounding Himalayas. His naming of Carn Fadryn as a place of strong spiritual significance should therefore be taken very seriously.

Dilgo_Khyentse Rinpoche

H.H Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Carn Fadryn translates as something like “mother mountain” and has strong feminine associations, a fitting destination for an all female retreat from the German Sangha (Buddhist community) Tara Libre. Some sources link the mountain with Modrun, the grand daughter of Vortigen, the Welsh hero and famous Celtic King.

There is also a legend linking the mountain to King Arthur.  There is a cromlech (a standing stone burial site) named “Coetan Arthur” (Arthur’s Quoit) at Trefgwm. It consists of a great stone resting on three smaller stones. The legend states that Arthur “the Giant” threw the largest stone from Carn Fadryn – a distance of several miles. His wife then picked it up and propped it on three smaller stones from her apron!

We parked at the handy lay-by at the foot of the mountain in the village of Garnfadryn and began our ascent under the glorious sunshine. The mountain has a height of 371 metres, but has a well trod track through heather slopes and is a relatively easy walk (approx. 45 minutes) with a few high steps in places.

Garnfadryn village

The summit marked by ancient cairns and a modern trig point, was the sight of at least three ancient hill forts. The earliest dates from around 300 BC.  The most recent was recorded in 1188 as “newly built” and referred to as “the castle of the sons of Owain”.

Buddhist Puja Wales

We performed our Smoke Offering Puja (ritual) with chants and mudras (ritual hand gestures) before tucking in to our well deserved feast. The feast was accompanied by many yogic songs – in both German and English. Afterwards, we enjoyed a spot of sun-bathing – almost unheard of on our Welsh pilgrimage outings!

Buddhist Feast Practice

The views from the summit were amazing. We had a complete panoramic view of the whole of the Llyn Peninsula from one coast to the other. Nearby, we could see the two small twin islands of Ynys Gwylan-fawr and Ynys Gwylan-bach; further out we could see the popular pilgrimage destination of Bardsey Island and the Isle of Angelsey (Ynys Mon) with its Druidic associations. The mountains of Snowdonia could be seen brooding in the far distance. Although a fine day, we were unable to see the Wicklow mountains of Ireland, which can sometimes be spotted.

Llyn Peninsula Garnfadyn  Carn Fadyn View

As we made our descent back to the cars our minds slipped from holy sites and legends of old to the more mundane – beaches and ice cream! A great way to end a pilgrimage.     By Jayasiddhi

 

 

Dinas Emrys German Pilgrims – 17th August 2017

Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia was the pilgrimage destination for 23 German students visiting us for a Discovering the Heart of Buddhism retreat. At the end of their week of meditation, study and discussion, they were more than ready to stretch their legs and explore the sacred and holy sites of Wales.

Tara Anne Dew (our resident pilgrimage expert) had chosen Dinas Emrys as the destination for this pilgrimage as our guests had travelled a long way to be here and Dinas Emrys is regarded by many (including Rigdzin Shikpo) as the “most powerful location” in Wales.

Associated with Celtic King Vortigern and Merlin (Myrddin Emrys), this is where Merlin discovered the red and white dragons (representing the Welsh and the Saxon peoples) were buried under the hill. Merlin released the dragons and the subsequent fight led to a victory by the Welsh red dragon over the white Saxon dragon. This event is commemorated on the Welsh flag.

Dinas Emrys Snowdon

The previous few days had been quite rainy and so the waterfall at the foot of the hill was in full flow and quite invigorating to watch. We spent some time there chanting the Green Tara mantra.

Dinas Emrys Waterfall

On the ascent we were treated to a wonderful view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The heather was very bright and colourful and the whole place felt very lush.

Pilgrimage Snowdonia

By the time we arrived at the remains of Vortigern’s hill fort, the rain began to fall and we all donned our waterproofs before starting the smoke offering puja. As is often the case, once we had lit some incense and started our chanting the rain stopped completely and sun broke through the clouds. We were able to enjoy the rest of our puja and the feast that followed in comfort.

The German ladies were in fine form and sung us some beautiful and stirring songs. Lama Shenpen and Tara sang and danced along the top of the tower foundation wall. A lot of fun was had by all.

On the return walk we stopped in a particularly atmospheric glade. I experienced a very strong sense of presence in this spot. Lama and Tara performed the Buddhist Tara dance for us, which I had not seen before. It was really wonderful to watch.

When we arrived back the National Trust Centre we appeared to have lost two German pilgrims. We searched the wonderful Cafes and ice cream shops of Beddgelert for them (at least this was our excuse!). Not finding them we retraced our journey to Dinas Emrys hoping that they had not been tempted off the path by the faerie folk! Happily we found them quite quickly – they had taken a wrong turn on the descent and were awaiting us in the very informative National Trust centre.

By Jayasiddhi

Another visit to the sacred site of Llyn y Dywarchen

A Buddhist Pilgrimage to a sacred sites in wales
A pilgrimage by students of Lama Shenpen, members of the Awakened Heart Sangha and Hermitage residents, to the sacred site of Llyn y Dywarchen in Snowdonia, North Wales.

Last weekend we went on another pilgrimage to the sacred site of Llyn Y Dywarchen in Gwynedd, to mark the end of the week-long Formless Meditation retreat, held at our sacred siteThe Hermitage of the Awakened Heart in Criccieth, North Wales.

the holy island of Llyn y Dywarchen in Gwynedd, North Wales
The holy island at Llyn y Dywarchen in Snowdonia, a sacred place we like to regularly visit on pilgrimage in North Wales

As we described in a previous post about a pilgrimage to this sacred Welsh site, it is special to us for a number of reasons: we’ve made a strong connection to Guru Rinpoche to this place and brought many visiting Lamas here. It’s been visited and blessed by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche amongst many others.

Building a shrine on a sacred site of pilgrimage in North Wales
Awakened Heart Sangha members preparing the shrine to make offerings

We always end our retreats with a pilgrimage to a local sacred place and this time we had some new retreat attendees, so it was their very first Welsh pilgrimage to a sacred site with us, and their first visit to Llyn y Dywarchen.

Our Shrine overlooking the holy island at Llyn Y Dywarchen
Our Shrine overlooking the holy island at Llyn y Dywarchen

We prepared a Tibetan Buddhist shrine with Guru Rinpoche at the centre and offering bowls, candles, flowers and incense, over looking the holy island and lake.

Connecting to the sacred sites of Wales through Buddhist ritual and practice
Tibetan Buddhist rituals connecting us to the sacred landscape on our pilgrimage to the holy site in Snowdonia

We all sat together and chanted the offering prayers and mantras, to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the environment and all that dwell there. While we were performing the puja the sun came out momentarily, which felt very auspicious!

You can find out more about Buddhist pilgrimage ritual and practice including the fascinating ritual of smoke pujas, on our Buddhist Pilgrimage page.

Summer Solstice in Sacred Wales

Welsh Summer Solstice Ritual

The solstice is regarded as a special time in many spiritual traditions. At the Hermitage, a Buddhist retreat centre in historic Gwynedd, Wales, we marked the occasion this week with a celebratory smoke puja, called a Lhasang.

Welsh Buddhist Lhasang

Solstice Lhasang in full swing

Our Buddhist summer solstice ritual was attended by Lama Shenpen Hookham, the Hermitage staff and a bevy of local Sangha (Sanskrit: Buddhist Community) members.

Solstice Ritual

Some members of our Gwynedd, Welsh Buddhist Community

Tara Dew was master of ceremonies and produced a beautiful shrine and some wonderful offerings to be consumed by our Lhasang fire. Jayasiddhi built the fire and piled on heaps of dampened juniper to produce large clouds of white smoke.

Welsh Buddhist shrine

Summer Solstice Buddhist Shrine

The Lhasang litrugy was chanted during the solstice offerings. This is a text produced by Rigdzin Shikpo and was originally written for the Longchen Foundation.

The afternoon had started wonderfully sunny and hot. As our chanting reached its crescendo, accompanied by Garuda Mudras (Garuda = an Indo/Tibetan mythical bird/person, Mudra = ritual hand gesture), the skies clouded over and we enjoyed a wonderful purification in the form of large drops of warm rain! The rain stopped as soon as the chanting finished!

Welsh Solstice

Lama Shenpen and friends with Buddhist Liturgy at the ready

Tibetan Buddhist Smoke Offering

The smoke from the Lhasang is thought to provide a ritual purification for the local environment, local beings (human and non-human) and for the participants. Pure substances such as torma ( a kind of Tibetan ritual cake), herbs, oils and flowers are added to the fire as an offering and therefore incorporated in the clouds of white smoke which rise up to the heavens. It is normal to wear the smoke infused clothes worn at a Lhasang for a number of days as a blessing.

Buddhist flower offering

Flower Petals Offered into the Fire

Thin Places and Liminal Times

Certain places are thought to be liminal, a “thin place” in the ancient spiritual traditions of Wales and the British Isles. They behave as boundaries between two realities or ways of being. Similarly, In Tibetan Buddhism, certain times of day and year are also thought to be liminal or “thin”.

At these times of transition there is a greater opportunity for forces to manifest in the world – for good or for ill. For this reason, Tibetan monasteries chant liturgies invoking the wrathful protective Buddhist deities as the day transitions into night. Changes of moon, season and New Year, also have their own special Buddhist rituals to mark these phase changes.

 

Dinas Emrys – Merlin & the Dragons

Dinas Emrys Sacred Site North Wales

Dinas Emrys near Beddgelert, Snowdonia, North Wales is an Iron Age hill fort. It features in several legends as being the strongest place in Britain. This sacred site is associated with the Welsh Wizard Merlin (Welsh: Myrddin), so is of interest and a sacred place of pilgrimage to those interested in the legend of King Arthur.

To find the site, from Beddgelert turn right on the A498 heading towards Capel Curig. After one mile turn left into the Craflwyn Centre (National Trust) and park here. You will find a visitors centre and toilet. The walk to Dinas Emrys should take 30 – 40 minutes and includes a special waterfall.

Sacred Site of Dinas Emrys North Wales

As the legend goes, Vortigern (a 5th Century ruling warlord) had fled into Wales to escape Anglo-Saxon invaders. He decided to settle at Dinas Emrys as this site would prove good to defend against the enemy. Day after day his men would work hard building the first of several proposed towers; but the next morning they would return to find the masonry collapsed in a heap.

These strange events continued for several weeks. Eventually Vortigern sought advice and was told to seek the help of a young boy not conceived by mortal man. The King sent soldiers out to scour the land for such a child. They found a boy who met this unusual description, called Myrddin Emrys (Merlin Ambrosius). Following the advice of his councillors, Vortigern planned to sacrifice young Merlin to appease the strange supernatural forces that were undermining his efforts to build a fortress. Merlin (not unsurprisingly) thought this was a terrible idea, and instead explained that the hill fort could not be built because of a hidden pool that contained two dragons. He told Vortigern that although the White Dragon of the Saxons was winning the battle at present, it would soon be defeated by the Welsh Red Dragon. Following Vortigern’s defeat, the fort was given to Emrys Wledig (Ambrosius Aurelianus), hence its name Dinas Emrys.

This legend has strong parallels with the building of Buddhist Samye monastery in Tibet. The king of Tibet had invited an Indian monk called Santarakshita to found the first Buddhist monastery in his country. Each day the workmen would make a good start on building the masonry walls. Each night, a local demon living in a nearby river would take down the work done during the day.

Santarakshita suggested that Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) be invited from Northern India to subdue the demons. Padmasambhava, a great tantric master performed a ritual dance that prepared the ground for the monastery and opened Tibet to the new religion of the Buddha.

On one of our pilgrimages to Dinas Emrys, it was blessed by Rigdzin Shikpo who performed a feast offering here.

Lama Shenpen, Tara, Kristina, Samten and Samshi on a Buddhist pilgrimage to the sacred site in August 2015:

Dinas Emrys Sacred Site to visit on pilgrimage in North Wales
A Buddhist pilgrimage to the sacred site of Dinas Emrys, Snowdonia, North Wales, by members of the Awakened Heart Sangha