Thursday, 6 August 2009

Samye Ling Monastery

YEOMAN: Why are all these men wearing those funny robes?
DOOGS: Because they're Buddhists.
YEOMAN: But I thought Kate said we were going to see some nudists!
DOOGS: Bit midgey for that in Eskdalemuir.

The local builder told us we couldn't possibly miss the Samye ling Monastery. Quite right: the prayer flags, huge white stupa and statue of the Buddha certainly catch the eye in this remote Scottish glen.

It's a feast for all the senses: from the bright colours and patterns to the sounds of Tibetan chanting, crashing cymbals and horns coming from the temple, to the scents of the incredible vegetable gardens and the odd waft of incense.

You are free to wander round as you will - there are notices here and there explaining the significance of the buildings and icons: the butterlamp house, with its hundreds of little lamps which are ceremonially lit; the prayer wheels; the 'clootie' tree with many rags, ribbons and prayers tied to it - as they disintegrate in the weather the prayers on the cloth are released into the atmosphere. (To my knowledge, this is one custome shared by Buddhists and Celts - I have seen a Celtic version near Fortrose).

Bill and I attended prayers in the temple - as it was in Tibetan it was impossible to follow the chanting, the drums and cymbals and those glorious horns, but hugely satisfying. (I have always enjoyed religious services in a language other than my own - it gives a different perspective somehow.)

The community at Samye ling is a thriving one, with many followers, students and people on retreat as well as the monks themselves. It is also clearly a popular place to visit.

I was very impressed: by the industry and the sense of peaceful wellbeing. The monks themselves appeared very happy and friendly.

There were charming touches: the abandoned Brasso tin on its side in the butter lamp house where I imagined some novice monk had scotted off, late for meditation practice; the spade abandoned in the potato patch, watched over by a statue of the Buddha; the handwritten notices; all of it contributing to a grounded charm which demonstrated this was a working, living community dealing with practical daily matters, as well as aspiring to universal compassion. 'Keep sweeping' as the great Buddhist mantra has it.

We stayed at Fingland nearby with Jo Rose, who has lived in the area all of her life. We stayed in very comfortable self-catering accommodation for the night, sharing with a charming Danish customs and excise officer who visits the area regularly for the stalking.

I was asking him about his job: "There are only two certain things in life," he told me in his lugubrious Danish accent, "death and taxes". After a moment's thought, he added, "I prefer the taxes."

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