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 Ynys, near 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

 

 

 

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.