A number of years ago (more that I care to remember) Miss Jessel and I had the good fortune to go traveling around the world for a year. Our peregrinations took us from the familiarity of the Classical world as expressed in the temples and architecture of Greece, Turkey and Israel, to what was for us at that time the less explored and more ‘exotic’ world of Asia.
I recall being captivated by the fantastical temples of Thailand, India and Nepal. The shapes, colours and fantastical beasts and carvings. These structures made a lasting impression on me in a way that the safe and over-familiar iconography and structures of European Christianity did not.
One of my regrets was that at the time my budget would not extend to a trek from Nepal to Tibet, little did I know that many years later I would find a small piece of Tibet transported much closer to home.
On a damp day in late September I happened to be over the border in Scotland. Suddenly I found myself walking along a driveway lined, somewhat incongruously, with small Buddhist shrines. Intrigued by this development I continued walking and soon found myself in the heart of a Buddhist Community in the middle of the Scottish Borders. It was quite bizarre and utterly enchanting – in a Brigadoon-esque kind of way!
Nestled in the Esk Valley, in the ruggedly beautiful border country between Scotland and England sits the Tibetan Buddhist monastery – Kagyu Samye Ling. It was the first Buddhist Centre established in the West – way back in 1967 a time when many in the West were seeking alternative spiritual systems – and it currently has a thriving community of around 60 people .
There are a number of aspects to the Centre – the beautiful gardens not least of its attractions, but the most striking part has to be the Temple itself. It is approached down a long enclosed corridor that terminates in a large stained glass window. Stepping out of the enclosed corridor into the daylight the visitor finds themselves in a vast courtyard facing the impressive temple building. On the day I visited its jewel like colours and intricate workmanship provided a stark contrast to the grey Northern skies.
Perhaps the most moving moment of my visit was when I was standing alone in the silence of the temple, awed by the beauty of the astonishingly ornate and gilded interior. From the silence rose a curious thrumming and fluttering noise, as I looked about me I located the source of the disturbance: a Robin had flown in through an open window and was joyfully oblivious of the fact that he was hopping about behind the rope barrier separating off the most sacred area of the temple (had he not read the polite notice ‘please do not cross the rope barrier’?) His total disregard for human protocols seemed a perfect sly dig from Nature – a gentle reminder that however ingeniously humans can express their sense of the spiritual in art, literature or words, Nature will always, effortlessly, do it better!
Anyway, here are a few more of my photographs from extrordinary Kagyu Samye Ling…Enjoy
Kagyu Samye Ling Buddhist Centre welcomes visitors – Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike – and runs a number of courses on meditation, Yoga and other subjects. You can find out more on their website http://www.samyeling.org/
All images copyright Lenora.