Thursday, May 24, 2007

Retreat Centre Appeal

Caroline Sherwood, a friend of the Buddhist Hospice Trust for many years (and co-founder with Ray Wills of the Inner Work School), has written in with a recommendation of the proposed Drala Jong Retreat Centre's appeal for donations, with a view to establishing a UK Retreat Centre. The following rationale is taken from the appeal's website: "The Aro Buddhist tradition wishes to establish a permanent centre in Britain to make this rare strand of (Tibetan)Buddhism (in the Vajrayana Dzogchen tradition) more accessible to people in the (UK) home country of our lineage holders Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro D├ęchen." The bits in brackets are my own insertions.

I'm very happy to publish this appeal, and you can read more about the proposal at their website On the other hand, I told Caroline, I can't resist cocking an impertinent British snook at the idea of rewarding donors with "freebies" and "honorific titles", according to the size of their donation. This might be the sort of thing that people in the US are used to, but here in the UK it is generally regarded as a bit sleazy and "bad form". Our revered and cheesy Prime Minister had his collar felt by the "Boys in Blue" recently (i.e, was interviewed by the Police) over his possible implication in a cash-for-honours scandal, whereby donors to the ruling party's coffers were allegedly offered peerages (which means being awarded the title 'Lord' and being appointed to our glittering second chamber of unelected legislators, who wear ermine robes and tights while deciding our plebeian futures). To most people here in UK "cash for honours" was decidedly "bad form", and so - in my opinion - is the thinking behind the Drala Jong appeal. Don't let that stop you making a donation, though. You can always decline the freebie.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Foetal Attraction

This may be a weak pun, but the story about early intervention with unborn children to prevent criminality in later life is interesting, despite the "Brave New World" overtones of some media coverage.

Stanislav Grof and William Emerson linked foetal experience (once dismissed by scientists and doctors as speculative nonsense, it is now generally acknowledged that the foetus is sensate and conscious from a very early stage in the womb) to subsequent perceptual and behavioural templates or 'schemas. For some individuals these carry powerful overtones of transcendence, visions of heaven (or hell), and a typology of trance experience including the experiences of deep meditators. For most of us, intra-uterine and birth experience lays down a matrix of conditioning that determines the way we experience the world at later stages of development, our subsequent behavioural patterns, and our susceptibility to stress, disease and impaired relationships.

About twenty years ago I undertook a year-long experiential programme in regression and integration (based on Grof and Emerson's teachings) as part of my professional development, and although it only nodded in the direction of Buddhist abidharma, it led me to discover exciting links with Tibetan Buddhism via the Bardo Thodol (Tibetan Book of the Dead). What I learned from them has always been a major element of my life-practice as well as a powerful influence in my nursing work. Cutting a long story short, I see every reason for supposing that the experiences of intra-uterine and perinatal life (and the intimate connection between mother and unborn baby) are so crucial to subsequent development that any positive nurturing of the relationship must stand the individuals concerned, and the wider world, in good stead.