Gampo Abbey: A Year in Reflection
I was at the dining room table recently, having a cup of tea with Dawa, a nun at Gampo Abbey, when we started discussing her motivation to be at the Abbey. She has been one of the monastics at the Abbey who frequently engages in the community about monasticism, Buddhism, meditation, and Abbey life. We reflected about all the activities in 2012 that connected the monastic community to the larger community beyond us.
Whether connecting to sangha at the Abbey or traveling outside the Abbey to connect to a wider community, the nuns and monks of Gampo Abbey have been busy connecting with people throughout Nova Scotia this last year.
Earlier this year, Loden Nyima and Dawa went to Halifax to give a presentation on Gampo Abbey before the showing of the movie “Monks at Bat.” It was part of Halifax’s exhibit on immigration (which this year focused on the Shambhala community) at Pier 21. The Gampo Abbey documentary movie “Monks at Bat” was highlighted at the Exhibit (a documentary about the Abbey’s annual softball game against the Pleasant Bay Volunteer Fire Department). Loden Nyima and Dawa shared their experiences and thoughts about monastic life and Buddhism with the Halifax community after the film.
Previously, Kalsung, Loden Nyima, Dawa, and Ani Lhamo each visited St. Francis Xavier University and the Cody Institute in Antigonish this past year to give presentations to classes. Students were given basic meditation instruction and were taught views of Buddhist philosophy through engaging discussions, which connected up to 100 students in dialogue on philosophy and religion.
Twice earlier last year, Kalsang and Ani Lhamo visited Baddeck at Big Hill Retreat, which offers a weekend retreat based on Pema Chodron’s teachings.
Forty minutes northeast of the Abbey, at the tip of Cape Breton, Nuns Ani Lhamo, Ani Nyingie, and Changchup traveled to give presentations at the Senior Community Center in Dingwall. Historically, meditation instruction and presentations on Buddhist thought have been given to the Dingwall community at least once a year.
In early November, Dawa and Tsultrim were invited to the Baddeck Women’s Ecumenical Conference and participated in two workshops. Meditation instruction was offered, as they shared Shambhala Buddhist meditation forms.
In the beautiful Margaree Valley, Shastri Alice Haspray directed a Level I that monks Loden Nyima and Kalsang assistant directed. Over twenty participants from Cape Breton came to the event, which included many local residents that were new to Shambhala.
Four times over the last year Lodro Sangpo has gone to Sydney to give teachings on different Buddhist topics to the sangha. Twenty participants typically came to Sangpo’s classes. His most recent class was called, “Four Ways of Working with Kleshas.”
Lodro Sangpo also translated and helped to publish a comprehensive four-volume book series of an English translated version of the Abhidharmakosha. It will be a valued academic resource for the entire Western Buddhist community. Ani Migme also continues to assist in various editing and translation efforts.
The local Cape Breton Sangha came for the Shambhala program Authentic Presence, taught by Shastri Alice Haspray and the Nine Stages of Shamatha led by Richard Haspray. Six local sangha members and all the residents of the Abbey participated in one of these two programs.
The local sangha had other opportunities throughout the year to visit the Abbey, which included Shambhala Day in February, Saga Dawa Duchen (Birth, Enlightenment, and Death of the Buddha) on June 4, and Chokhar Duchen (marking the teachings of the four noble truths on July 23rd).
On weekdays in the months of July and August, the Abbey offers tours to the summer tourists that flock to this area of Cape Breton. Many locals in the nearby towns of Cheticamp and Pleasant Bay tell the tourists about being able to have a unique experience of touring a Buddhist Monastery. Last summer, the Abbey had hundreds of visitors come for the tours. Tourists who arrive on the weekends still have the opportunity to visit the Stupa or take a walk up the hillside of Gampo Lhatse.
The annual Lobster Release brought local sangha to participate in liberating several dozen lobsters. The day before the Annual Lobster Release is always the annual Softball game against the Pleasant Bay Volunteer Fire Department. Both events allow the Abbey to have meaningful interaction with the local community and sangha.
This was followed by our annual In-House Retreat offering, where up to twelve guests arrived weekly throughout a six week schedule. Next, Sopa Choling began Year One of its three year retreat. There are currently ten participants in the three year retreat, including three nuns from Gampo Abbey — Ani Lhamo, Ani Nyingje, and Ani Shiwa.
Shedra (educational studies and courses traditionally offered in Tibetan monasteries) finished last year with six residents learning the Abhidharmakosha from Lodro Sangpo’s new translation. Earlier in the year, Israel Lifshitz, a teacher from the Nitartha Institute came from Mexico to teach Madhyamaka to residents. Other Shedra courses included this year were, the History of Buddhism taught by Lodro Sangpo and the Bodhicaravatara taught by June Crow.
In other news, Lodro Sangpo was busy creating trails on the mountain side that lead up to the hillside adjacent to Gampo Lhatse. A Taiwanese nun who visited the Abbey in the summer of 2011 and knew Feng Shui, explained to Abbey residents the beauty and importance of the land on which the Abbey resides. There are over 100 acres that cover a beautiful hillside that is a part of the Abbey’s land. The Taiwanese nun told the Abbey nuns and monks that it takes the shape of an eagle. This past summer significant energy and work was put into creating trails to access this part of the Abbey land. Now visitors and residents can hike trails called “Saints Path,” “Bodhisattva Trail,” and “Hero’s Trail.”
Later in the year, the Abbey had another special guest, a visiting Abbot from Germany by the name of Bhante Nyandabodhi. The Abbott, who was here on a three month sabbatical, also contributed to building trails. He added a rock garden and other additions to the Kuan Yin grotto on our protector hill of Gampo Lhatse.
In early October, an Open House brought 80 visitors from across Cape Breton to learn more about the Abbey. Loden Nyima gave an hour long talk about the history of the Abbey.
Between the moments that the monastics are connecting with the community, they find time to keep up on their studies by attending programs such as Warrior Assembly or Scorpion Seal in order to continue their Shambhala studies. Eight residents went to Halifax on April 1st to receive the Sadhana of Mahamudra Abisheka from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche after receiving a week long intensive about this practice from Acharya Mermelstein at the Abbey in February.
Most recently, Abbey residents were invited to attend Pleasant Bay’s annual holiday Christmas celebration at the local community church. Resident and Sopa Choling cook, Marcel Bonneville, had the opportunity to engage with the children as Santa Claus and Dawa sang “What Child Is This?” for the community. A total of seven residents engaged in a wonderful exchange in dialogue about the Abbey, faith, and community at the potluck that followed the festivities.
Our annual Yarne program, which just began, has 12 guests (we had over 40 applicants apply for the annual teaching led by Ani Pema). And next on the list is a long anticipated Youth Dathun, and a one-week program with St. Francis Xavier University that will be offered this upcoming summer.
It’s a long list, and our mugs of tea are now empty, but we are excited to see what this coming year will bring!
Stacey Mitchell currently works at Gampo Abbey as Finance Manager. She has been a Shambhala practitioner for over six years. Stacey grew up in Seattle and for the last few years has spent time traveling and moving across the North American continent and now finds herself contemplating the dharma in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
For more information about Gampo Abbey, please visit their website here.