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Feb 20
Friday
Community Articles, World, other
Great Eastern Sun Rises on the Cape of Good Hope
Johann Verster, Hester van der Walt, Lies Hoogendoorn, Trudy Wagenstroom, Mary Anne Botha (coordinator), Gillian Barton. Photo by Diana Simons.

Participants at a Shambhala Training Level directed by Acharya David Hope, South Africa. Back row: Sue Custers, Jenny Birkett, Helen Douglas, Jennifer Woodhull (Assistant Director), Ralph Berold, Felicity Nyikadzino Berold, Carole Ward. Middle row: Myrna Lewis, Chris de Block (Assistant Director), Acharya David Hope, Julia Sulman, Christine Varga. Front row: Johann Verster, Hester van der Walt, Lies Hoogendoorn, Trudy Wagenstroom, Mary Anne Botha (coordinator), Gillian Barton. Photo by Diana Simons.

In 2004, I returned to my hometown in South Africa after 30 years away. I found a sparse and scattered dharma scene. In Cape Town, the only Tibetan Buddhist center was that of Rob Nairn, Akong Rinpoche’s senior South African student.

A few months after I arrived, auspicious coincidence brought Acharya-to-be David Hope and his South African-born wife, Chris de Block, here for a visit. David directed our first Level I in early 2005, and I followed up with Level II. Later that year, I began offering a weekly Shambhala-style practice and study group at a community center in a gritty, racially diverse neighborhood known during the apartheid years as “The People’s Republic of Obs [Observatory].”

Last November, Acharya David pinned our first 14 Level V graduates. He also directed a Level I at the Buddhist Retreat Centre (BRC), the country’s oldest and best known dharma center, initiating a new Shambhala Training cycle in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal. Level II at the BRC is scheduled for May 2009.

Listening to Shambhala Training talk by Acharya David Hope. Chris de Block (Assistant Director), Myrna Lewis, Jenny Birkett and Helen Douglas (left to right). Photo by Jennifer Woodhull.

Listening to Shambhala Training talk by Acharya David Hope. Chris de Block (Assistant Director), Myrna Lewis, Jenny Birkett and Helen Douglas (left to right). Photo by Jennifer Woodhull.

During this last visit, David and Chris trained two meditation instructors. One of these is Mary Anne Botha, a devoted student of the Vidyadhara’s since a dathun at Karme Choling in 1978. Mary Anne lives five hours’ drive from Cape Town, but has coordinated virtually all of the fourteen Shambhala Training levels we have held to date. (She and Grant McLean first planted the Great Eastern Sun banner here in the early 1990s, with a Level I in Johannesburg.)

Our other new MI is Johann Verster (rhymes with Astaire), a long-time Zen student who connected with Shambhala through our Obs group just over a year ago. Johann is closing his psychotherapy practice and selling his house so as to attend the Mukpo Institute this fall. He aims to return in a few years with enough training to equip South Africa with a second resident teacher.

Walking meditation in the outdoor pavillion. Photo by Helen Douglas

Walking meditation in the outdoor pavilion. Photo by Helen Douglas

The hunger here for the dharma is fast making this a necessity. The only other Shambhala tantrika in South Africa is Janet Shaw, previously head of practice and programs at Karme Choling. Janet’s support has been invaluable in guiding our development but she lives in Durban, a thousand miles away. So I direct Levels I through IV, run our four regular Cape Town groups, respond to teaching invitations around the country, and administer our officially registered nonprofit, Shambhala Cape Town. (In my spare time, I pay the rent by writing and editing.)

Happily, Acharya Hope is a wise, generous  and consistent mentor. He and Chris have visited three times, at their own expense. We also enjoy an annual talk by David Cox, who travels here on business. But we desperately need more teachers. We can’t buy your ticket, but we can show you the city that world travelers have rated one of the two most beautiful in the world. (The other, they say, is Rio de Janeiro.)

So think about it. As Kurt Vonnegut put it, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” Or maybe from the lineage—?

For more information on Shambhala in South Africa, please click here.

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