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Published: July 22nd 2018
Rivendell - the house
View from the garden.
In mid-June my friend Caro and I had the great opportunity to go on a Brahmavihara Retreat in magic Rivendell, led by wonderful Vessantara. What are the Brahmaviharas, where is Rivendell (that much I can tell you already, we did not travel to Middle Earth), and who is Vessantara?
The brahmaviharas, or sublime attitudes, are also called the Four Immeasurables. In Buddhism, they denote the mental states of loving-kindness (Sanskrit: maitri), compassion (Sanskrit: karuna), sympathetic joy (Sanskrit: mudita), and equanimity (Sanskrit: upeksa). There is a specific meditation that one can use to cultivate these states of mind, and they can also be practised during one’s everyday life, for example when interacting with others. Rivendell Retreat Centre
is a retreat centre located between Tunbrigde Wells and Lewes in East Sussex, not far from London, and run by Triratna Buddhist Community
. The house is a former Victorian rectory, has a stunningly beautiful and magic garden, and is surrounded by hills and forests that allow for quiet and beautiful hikes.
is an ordained member of Triratna and a great teacher who has written quite a few books, amongst them for example “Meeting the Buddhas”, where he explains the Mandala of the Five Buddhas
Rivendell - the garden I
Meadow right behind the house.
using a lot of imagery. He used this imagery as well when teaching or guiding meditations, and he has the ability to quickly establish a connection with people.
Caro and I took an early morning flight into Gatwick. Since we were not expected in Rivendell until late afternoon, we spent the day in Tunbridge Wells. It started becoming a tourist resort after iron-containing water had been discovered in the early 17th century. It became even more popular in the 19th century when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert came to visit frequently. Close to the well, a promenade was built that is called “The Pantiles”, and of course there was a bath house. Mount Sion Village and Mount Pleasant are two areas with old buildings where not only tourists, but also locals used to stay. The town also has quite a few parks and gardens one can walk in. It took us a while to find the historic centre. We first walked past Assembly Hall Theatre and towards one of the shopping streets, where we had a nice healthy lunch, but where there was not much to see. We walked back through a park called Calverley Grounds, originally named after
Calverley Hotel that is nowadays Hotel du Vin & Bistro. We then arrived in the historic centre with old half-timbered houses, but did not have much time left to explore because we had to catch the train back to Gatwick Airport to pick up our luggage and then catch a train to Uckfield, where we caught a taxi to Rivendell.
The house itself is a charming place that has many cosy rooms with carpets and couches that invite the visitor to sit down, read a book, talk to others, or simply look out of the window. The shrine room is in a separate building. The most enchanting place is the garden. It consists of meadows, surrounded by old trees and bushes, a pond, and even a little grove. If you look close enough, you will find Buddha statues in many hidden spots. The garden has so much magic to it that it would be the most natural thing if suddenly elves flew past you. On the other side of the grove there is a chapel and an old cemetery. The whole place is so peaceful and quiet and has good energy. One can literally feel that there are a
Rivendell - the garden III
Small bridge over a little stream.
lot of people there meditating throughout the year.
The retreat started with dinner and an opening ceremony. It was nice to meet the other retreatants. All of them except for Caro and myself were from the UK, and one lady was originally German, but had been in the UK for so long that she spoke German with a British accent. From the next day onwards every day was structured in the same way: We started the day at 7 am with a two hour meditation, then had breakfast. Between 10:30 and 12:30 am there was a session with input and reflection or exercises or discussion with Vessantara, and at 1:00 pm we had lunch. Then there was free time, which I usually used for long walks in the beautiful surroundings. From 4:30 to 6:00 pm there was a second session with input, discussion, and meditation, followed by dinner. The day was then concluded by some ceremony, for example a puja. All the sessions are completely voluntary though. I know quite a few people who allow themselves to skip one session or another. I sometimes miss out on the first meditation at 7 in the morning during the first one
Rivendell - the garden IV
Small Buddha statues hidden in many spots throughout the garden.
or two days and join the group at 8. Usually I try to attend as many of the sessions as possible, but nobody will think of you as a bad person if you don’t. One thing that is expected though is that everyone signs up for one service every day. This can be preparing one of the three meals or washing up afterwards, or doing a little bit of cleaning around the house. But we usually don’t see it so much as a duty, but rather as being helpful to the community and contributing something.
Vessantara gave us a lot of valuable input. We talked about the four Brahmaviharas and their near and far enemies. The far enemies are the opposite of the positive qualities, whereas the near enemies are qualities that might seem quite close to the positive ones, but in fact are not, but rather some masqueraded other quality. For example, for loving-kindness the far enemy is (hardly surprising) hatred. The near enemy is the kind of romantic love that we often have from our partners or the love that parents have for their children that involves attachment and not only well-wishing for their sake. For compassion
the far enemy is cruelty, and the near enemy is pity. For sympathetic joy the far enemy is envy, the near enemy is joy tinged with identification (my child) or hypocrisy. Finally, for equanimity, the far enemy is anxiety, the near enemy is indifference.
Vessantara used a lot of imagery and tried to guide us from thinking into feeling. As I already mentioned he is very good at that, and the presence of the other participants enhanced an atmosphere of connectedness and mutual support. By connectedness I mean connectedness to the others, but also to one’s own heart. What was also supportive were the days that we spent in complete silence. These were four days in a row when we did not speak to each other. Vessantara of course still talked when providing his input or guiding meditations, and we were allowed to ask questions if we had any. And of course when there was something that we needed to coordinate, for example who would chop up the vegetables, we exchanged a few words. But even here one eventually realises that coordinating these kinds of tasks barely requires words. Ambaranta, who was part of the organising team, contributed to
Rivendell - shrine room II
The shrine, beautifully decorated by Ambaranta.
the magic of the retreat by altering the decoration on the shrine at least once a day. I have never seen a shrine done up with so much creativity, attention to detail, and heart.
One week passed quickly, and very soon it was time to say goodbye. I am so grateful to Vessantara and Ambaranta. They not only gave us valuable input, but also were good observers that could then convey messages very much to the point and in a sincere and kind manner. They showed true interest in and consideration for every single participant of the retreat. Caro and I were full of gratefulness and inspiration when we left the retreat, read to take some of it into our daily lives.
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