Q: What sorts of teachings would a residential centre allow – would there be something new that isn’t currently possible to teach to the public at present?
NCR: It is not so much about providing something new, as being something that gives enough time for certain practices. There are things you cannot teach in an evening, or day – or even over a weekend. gCod, for example, needs an extra full day dedicated to the teaching – beyond a single weekend – and hence there have hardly ever been the right circumstances where I’ve been able to teach that.
There is also the issue of giving the best opportunity to get something from a practice – of being able to have the chance to practise together, for a sustained period of time. On a residential retreat, after an evening empowerment for example, everyone practises together at the end of the dBang. Then they go to sleep in their rooms – without leaving the space in which the empowerment was given. When we wake on residential retreats we remain in silence and then practise together before having breakfast as a group. There is continuity there. On a non-residential event, after the dBang people go out into a high street, and are faced with – the bus ride, the drunk in the street – or whatever. Not that this should make a difference, but if you don’t get the chance for that intensity of practice it can be more challenging.
Q: And how about teachings for apprentices and disciples, like the moving element practices?
NCR: Certainly yes – there can be longer retreats. What I envisage in the end is a summer encampment every year that lasts for maybe a month. All the Lamas of the Aro Tradition would come and teach. Students from all the sanghas would be able to attend, and people could elect to attend sections of it. It would also be especially good for things like the vajra dances, because you need time for that. For example we’ve been teaching the Vulture Dances for years, in tiny blocks. We can teach parts over the years, but you need time and space to do that, otherwise each time you gather again to learn something new, you have to revisit what has been learned before. There is limited time available to add to what is known.
There are also larger scale projects like the creation of appliqué thangkas, or monumental phurbas. Appliqué is best made all at once, and not left hanging around – well not until the thangka has been completed anyway [laughs].
Q: Do you have any sense about what Drala Jong would ideally be like?
NCR: Well, it would be nothing like a hippo [laughs]. I suppose my ideal place would be something that would lend itself to our own work. It can’t afford to be too big for cost reasons, but it needs to be expandable. There was a farm near Llantrisant in South Wales that we used for a while. It had a whole space the owner didn’t use; the attic was the entire extent of the house and was suitable for a shrine room. It also had a lot of outhouses – one of these sprawling Welsh farms, that stretched all over the place. And somewhere with a bit of its own land which it would be possible to stretch using tents, and yurts. There were all sorts of wonderful semi-permanent structures at Pennant Valley where we used to hold the summer yogic encampment retreats. It needs to be a little bit elastic like that.
It would be lovely if it had some woodlands and fields for the outdoor practices we have. It would be really great if it had one of these long rambling drives, so you were a decent distance from other people and didn’t have to worry about disturbing the neighbours.