Friday, November 28, 2014

Introducing Cornelius
Photo by Adrian Thalasinos Haley 

Meet Cornelius, the bird of nowness. It unfortunately slammed into one of the windows of the main shrineroom during a meditation session, making some people jump out of their skin. Adrian Thalasinos Haley, our Head of Facilities, retrieved it and it was taken in to recover. 

Cornelius resting on Adrian's head. Photo by Sharon Meadows

It was quite disoriented and it’s missing a chunk of tail feathers. The theory is that it might have had an encounter with a hawk. After a few days, it appears to be more confident and has taken a liking to its new quarters. It actually enjoys its own room in Adrian and Tingdzen’s cabin and even had its own cage custom build, although it prefers to roam around, and sleep on Tingdzen’s bed.
Thubten Tingdzen with Cornelius. Photo by A.T.H.

Cornelius enjoying her room. Photo by A.T.H.

A quick research revealed that it’s a female specimen of the Pine Grosbeak, native to Canada. However, it is still going by the name Cornelius.

Cornelius outside her cage. Photo by S.M.
Photo by A.T.H.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Journey in Shambhala Monasticism: A Year at Gampo Abbey
Arrival and Adjustment

Photo by Lodro Kalsang
   On October 2nd, a new group of practitioners joined the community at Gampo Abbey for a one year training program in the Shambhala Monastic Order. Ten people, two ladies and eight gentlemen, from across the globe committed to a year of residency at the monastery which will include receiving temporary ordination. 
   Temporary ordination has long been offered at Gampo Abbey as part of the Vidyadhara's vision for how monasticism can impact and benefit the larger society. In continuing to uphold and develop the monastic path, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has established the Shambhala Monastic Order and this year marks its first residential offering. The year follows a curriculum based on the principles of Tiger - friendliness, mindfulness, discernment, renunciation, selflessness, exertion, contentment, and confidence. Training methods include frequent practice of Shambhala Meditation in addition to regular practices, interpersonal exploration, weekly classes, monastic training, and guided study from the teachings of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the Druk Sakyong Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. "The aspiration is that taking a year or more to train in the monastery is an opportunity for participants to deepen and strengthen their understanding, practice, and embodiment of these core teachings. Whether one then returns to householder life or goes further as a monastic, a journey has taken place and that is an offering to enlightened society" says Loden Nyima, Head of Education.  

The entrance to Gampo Abbey
Photo by Emma Cataford
 For many the journey leading here started long before the actual travelling that took them to Canada and then across Nova Scotia finally ‘landing’ on the rugged cliff of Cape Breton where Gampo Abbey sits unruffled by the northern winds. 
   As new arrival Daniel Baker explains: “Coming to Gampo Abbey was a result of a consistent longing to deepen my connection to practice, insight and lineage. Not to mention, practice that is consistent and deep profoundly shifts my heart in (positive) ways I felt a sincere need for. Also, Acharya Cashman told me to go or else; she didn’t elaborate on the else, so I booked the ticket.”
   For another participant the seeds for monastic life were sowed in previous stays: "When I first visited Gampo Abbey”, says Josh Clarke, “I had a very deep feeling that living here would be in my future. Now, as a resident, I can happily say that this continues to be the most helpful thing that I have ever experienced. Every day I learn something new about myself and the wisdom, within that, is very profound and beneficial. Having those sorts of experiences really helps me touch into and feel my innate goodness. Overall, I feel strongly that my time spent here will put workable ground under my feet for the rest of my life so that I can be there for others."
   Thubten Tingdzen, a new temporary monastic, reflects on his decision as an exploration of human nature: “I came to Gampo Abbey with a question about humanity’s basic nature. It’s been a question that continually comes back to me as I work with my path and move forward in my life. About five years ago I began to see that there was something I shared with all human beings. I realized that it was possible to sympathize and see in myself the same intentions, motivations, longings, desires and frustrations of all beings, even those who I had previously dismissed as evil or cruel. This was a big shock to me because I began to realize that the narrative I had been continually trusted of good guys and bad guys didn’t seem congruent with this new understanding of my capacity for empathy. I had started questioning fundamental aspects of my reality: if my basic nature is deeper than good or bad, then my own ability to choose one is more of a responsibility than a luxury.”  

Photo by E.C.
   On the importance of meditation practice and community, he says: “Furthermore I saw, as I began to work with meditation, that my capacity to choose to harm or help beings including myself was thoroughly mucked by my own bewilderment and self-doubt. I needed support. Deepening my understanding and ability to work with this confusion, and learning how to trust my basic nature are the reasons I came to a monastery. The daily schedule, ceremonies, and monastic forms are a perfect mirror that reveals my own aggression and confusion. They also provide an incredible avenue to experiencing basic goodness and drala.”

   Whether the reaction upon arrival was a sense of ‘I have arrived, I am home’ or ‘What was I thinking and how do I get out of here?’, the time of adjustment had begun.

Photo by E.C.

   The staff graciously welcomed the new arrivals and left them three open days to settle down before jumping into the routine of monastic life. Most people took the opportunity to explore the land.
   The first walk up to the Stupa of Enlightenment is something to remember. It’s a short pleasant stroll where you are immersed in the woods and have to cross a little wooden bridge over a stream that flows down from the steep slope of the mountain. Various Buddha statues sit around the rocks. One has to stop to take in the jaw dropping beauty of it all. The pure energy of nature manifests itself wherever the gaze sets.
Photo by E.C.
   The Stupa of Enlightenment reminds passersby that this is a place dedicated to world peace and the benefit of all beings. The site contains relics of the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and was consecrated in 2001 by the Abbot Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche. Weapons were buried in the ground under the stupa, (including a World War I rifle donated by a Cape Breton neighbor of the Abbey), symbolizing the overcoming of aggression.

Lojon slogans. Photo by E.C.

   All around it are plaques engraved with the fifty-nine lojong slogans of mind training, which can be read while circumambulating the Stupa.
   Another nice little trek to take is the one that leads up to Gampo Lhatse. It’s a little steep, but quite rewarding. The view from up there is absolutely stunning, giving a panoramic scene of the Abbey’s estate. The feeling of lha, nyen and lu is palpable. One feels the height of the mountain and the richness of the woodlands, the vastness of the ocean and the force of the wind. 

The view from Gampo Lhatse. Photo by E.C.
Gampo Lhatse. Photo by E.C.
   Gampo Lhatse is the protector whom the Abbot of Gampo Abbey, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, designated for the land and it’s connected to Gampopa’s monasteries. A lhatse (Tibetan for “divine peak”) traditionally was a stack of rocks on a mountain that indicated a place to leave offerings to a deity to secure safe passage. On the mountain adjacent to the Abbey there is a small structure that marks the heart of the land, so to speak, where you can find offerings and prayer flags.

   At last, after the first weekend, came the 'real thing': adjusting to the daily schedule. Wake up 'clacks' are sounded through the hallways at 5:30 am. First meditation session with morning chants and taking of precepts at 6. Before breakfast is served, the house gets a good scrub and straightening out. This is a time where the sense of community is strongest: everyone has their assignment and takes responsibility for a little piece of the Abbey. All are equal in housework. Same goes for dishes after meal times.
The han, used to call residents to practice.
Photo by E.C.

   The main meditation practice happens in the morning 8 to 11, unless a class is scheduled. Before lunch, one hour and a half is dedicated to mind/body time, which can mean studying or exercising (or taking a nap!). After lunch comes a four hour work period which ends with evening chants. Dinner is called ‘medicine meal’ as traditionally monastics wouldn’t eat after lunch for two reasons: to not burden their benefactors that offered alms and to rise fresher the next morning. At Gampo Abbey this principle is observed by cooking a soup with the day’s leftovers.

   All through the morning until lunch, the whole house is in silence, which resumes at 8 pm. The practice of silence, also observed all day on specific occasions is an important one in a contemplative environment. It creates a spaciousness in the mind where one can observe the thought process that occur in and around communication. Through silence, a lot is learned about the use of speech and mindful, effective communication.

   The new residents also participated in some community events. On October 16th, in accordance with the view of the monastery being part of a village, the residents of Gampo Abbey volunteered to clean up a spectacular stretch of Cape Breton. 
The shoreline near the Abbey. Photo by Lodro Kalsang.

   Having joined forces with local legend Captain Mark Timmons, they fared the sea to bring back piles of garbage left behind by the summer tourists. 

The Gampo Abbey crew with Captain Mark. Photo by Les St Marie

   After gathering all the trash bags, plastic material and waste of all sorts, the group gathered to sing the Shambhala Anthem. During that, a seal curiously observed from the water before splashing its tail and disappearing into the waves. 
Director Richard Haspray (left) with two Abbey residents.
Photo by Les St Marie
   On October 26th the annual Open House occurred. The Abbey welcomed around 85 people from the nearby towns and from further away. The visitors were given a tour of the house, listened to a talk by one of our nuns and received meditation instruction, while the children were busy with arts and crafts.

   Last but not least, they were treated to a feast of offerings prepared by residents and friends of the Abbey. The mood was friendly and uplifted. Everybody worked hard in the days leading up to the event in a concerted effort to offer our best. Many people were regular features of the Open House, others were drawn to visit by curiosity.

Two of our residents enjoying the Open House. Photo by E.C.

The kids' contributions. Photo by E.C.

Director Richard Haspray and Shastri Alice Haspray. Photo by E.C.

   At the end of this month of transition, the new residents were given householder vows, a formal commitment to abide by the five basic precepts which all Abbey residents take. Preceptor Lodro Kalsang led the simple ceremony which concluded with the new arrivals receiving their dzens, a traditional Tibetan Buddhist piece of clothing which householders wear in the shrineroom. 
   During this first period the participants have been practicing Shambhala meditation and the Shambhala Sadhana, receiving teachings on basic goodness and friendliness to self, exploring these topics with one another and beginning study from seminary teachings of the Sakyong. The schedule is gearing up and the participants are mostly enthusiastic about delving into deep study of the dharma.
   In the months ahead, through study and meditation, we will continue to explore our motivations for choosing to live at the monastery and how this can benefit people in the wider community.

Thubten Tingdzen expressed this intention as such: “As a member of society and as a human being I care deeply about the state of the world. If I can contribute anything to humanity’s ability to self-reflect and heal, it will be through investigating my mind, and trusting in my own wisdom, kindness, and strength.”

Photo by Thubten Tingdzen.
Written by Emma Cataford and Loden Nyima

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gampo Abbey is Looking to Hire a Full Charge Bookkeeper/Head of Finance

Gampo Abbey is looking for a full charge Bookkeeper/Head of Finance who will be responsible for handling all the accounting needs of the organization. This position processes and tracks all financial transactions, maintains the chart of accounts, and processes financial reports.  The Abbey has just undergone a comprehensive one-year review and restructuring of its accounting systems and practises.  The successful applicant will be motivated to continue working with the community on the implementation of these new practices and also be willing to maintain good bookkeeping protocol for the clear understanding and tracking in approximately 300 chart of accounts.
Reporting to the Director, the Bookkeeper/Head of Finance is a member of staff who while working with other staff and members of the community maintains the integrity and transparency of the financial services of Gampo Abbey.
The preferred candidate will have 3 to 5 years bookkeeping experience, intermediate to advanced knowledge of Quickbooks, experience processing payroll, be familiar with donations and charity financial guidelines, ability to self-manage and provide supervision to a part-time assistant.
We are looking for someone with excellent attention to detail, strong problem solving skills, is effective at planning and organizing their own workload, and can communicate effectively with a diverse community.
The position provides a monthly salary based upon an average 37.5 hour work-week.  It includes two weeks paid vacation per year, along with one week of retreat time provided in one of Gampo Abbey's retreat cabins.
As a member of the Abbey community, you will be expected to abide by the five Buddhist precepts.
Our preference is for someone who can make a two-year commitment beginning June 15, 2014.
For more details, contact Richard Haspray, Gampo Abbey’s director, at or call 902-224-1517

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Celebrating 30 Years of Life and Friendship at Gampo Abbey

Click on the YouTube link below for a slide show of 30 years at Gampo Abbey. Enjoy!

Looking for 3 Volunteers for Gampo Abbey's Kitchen

Warm greetings from Gampo Abbey! As the days lengthen and the first warm breezes and spring rainshowers melt the long winter's snow and ice, we are beginning to plan the summer season at the Abbey, with its increased activities and visitors.

This is an invitation for 3 volunteers to work in the kitchen: 2 people to serve as cooks from 

May 15 - September 15 and 1 person to serve as cook for the month of June.

Volunteers get free room and board and are expected to take part in the Abbey's schedule, which includes, among other things, about 4-5 hours of meditation practice per day, and about 4 hours of work per day. We ask that applicants have basic cooking skills/knowledge/interest, as well as a willingness to commit to the Abbey's way of life, which includes living in community, focused practice, silence, and much more. Also, as a summer cook, you can look forward to enjoying some of our wind-swept garden's produce, herbs, and flowers.

For more information on life at Gampo Abbey, please visit

For more information on this volunteering opportunity or to apply, please contact:

We look forward to sharing the summer with you!

Thursday, January 9, 2014


                                                                 Photo by Alice Haspray

This moose could be the vanguard of the coming Year of the Horse!

Arrival of Gampo Acharya Ani Pema Chodron for Yarne 2014

Dispatches from Gampo Abbey 
From Shastri in Residence Alice Haspray
(Photos by Les St Marie)

On January 7, between wind and snow storms and occasional sun, Ani Pema arrived at Gampo Abbey and was greeted by all of the nuns, monks, and residents.  The flags were flying, conches were blown, and all lined the walkway in the clear, cold air to greet her. She arrived from Halifax, driven by Gampo Abbey's new Director Richard Haspray and accompanied by fellow traveller Meg Wheatley.  Meg has now begun her annual two month solitary retreat in Naropa Cottage.

We then followed Ani Pema into the Abbey's main shrine room for a circle greeting.  Each person--old and new--introduced themselves and the work they are doing at the Abbey.  Ani Pema then began talking about the coming Yarne and the practice of silence.  She said that silence is both a gateway to infinite vastness and openness and also a  clear mirror of the workings of our minds. We glimpse the absolute through silence; and, at the same time, when we refrain from speech, on the relative level, we experience all of the emotions and patterns of our habitual mind clearly.  Absolute and relative. Infinite and finite. Intangible and tangible.  We experience all of these through silence.

Fourteen Yarne guests will arrive on January 11, and we will all practice together until the Year of the Wood Horse begins on March 2.  The Sakyong has given us permission to practice Shambhala Meditation during Yarne, so I will introduce that practice during our first silent week (which occurs during the second week of Yarne). The practice of feeling, being, and touching will infuse the atmosphere of Yarne with tenderness and kindness.  Ki Ki So So