Vermont Cathedral Dean on Buddhist Sabbatical

david at david at
Fri Jul 2 22:13:25 EDT 2010

Vermont Cathedral Dean on Buddhist Sabbatical

VOL: If this doesn't frighten you nothing will. If you want to see where TEC is going spiritually this is it.,_2010.pdf 
May 27, 2010

Dear Friends of St Paul's Cathedral,

Now that my second month of sabbatical leave is drawing to a close, I thought I would write my second letter to you and share some of my experiences so far.

I have concluded a 30day silent retreat at Lerab Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and retreat center in southern France. It is where our daughter Kimberly works, that is when she is not traveling as she is right now in Bhutan, Sikkim, and India. The middle of April was the first time she was home in France since Christmas after travelling to Germany, Australia, Nepal, and England. 

It was a real joy to be able to have lunch with her a couple of times during my retreat and dinner at her home at its end. They have created an impressive center. Lerab Ling can house about 300 people on site, but during their summer teaching retreats and other special events their numbers swell well beyond that. They have a regular worshipping community as well as major events. I attended two teachings when I was there: one by a 19-year-old reincarnated lama, Kalu Rinpoche, from a monastery in the East, and another by Sogyal Rinpoche who is the teacher and inspiration behind Rigpa, an organization whose purpose is to bring Tibetan Buddhism to the West, and Lerab Ling is their major center beside their other centers in Ireland, Australia, Berlin, India, and New York. They have a children's program and reach out to tourists on Sundays through tours of the Temple and introductory talks.

I met a lama from Tibet who was visiting Lerab Ling, a wise lama who had spent many years in a Chinese prison but who radiates quite an attitude of compassion. One of the most famous of the Tibetan woman masters also lives there. Other people were on personal retreats like I was. There were also others on longterm, strict retreats lasting from one to three years, as well as people who work at Lerab Ling and who also follow the Buddhist path. I was struck by how people had left their jobs of some significance and their normal lives to follow a religious path of some seriousness and commit themselves to work for the wellbeing of others. They were almost all westerners from Europe, Australia, and North America and it intrigued me to see them move so easily from one language to another. I was engaged in a Christian selfdirected personal retreat at a Buddhist center. I followed my own schedule. I would meditate for 30 minutes five times a day, read a daily office, study early Christian texts, and write in my notebook what I observed about my prayer, study, and my thoughts. Each afternoon I took long walks and photographed the environs on my iPhone.

I found this retreat very liberating and very challenging. It was a real gift to spend what seemed like an unlimited time exploring issues that would come up in my prayer, reading, writing, and silence. It is certainly challenging to work with your mind when the distractions of work and the normal activities of daily living are set aside. I was pleased to see Kimberly at work and see how much she is revered by Sogyal Rinpoche, other leaders at the center, and the sangha members. I have become used to being in a group of some 300 people during a two hour teaching, knowing that at some point Rinpoche would ask: "Where is Kimberly's father?"

On May 8, I left Montpellier for Paris. I had a long delay at the airport and a bit of detour traveling back to Montréal because of the large clouds of volcanic ash from the Iceland that forced the pilot to travel far north from Paris with Scandinavia on his right and Scotland on his left before he would turn west. Yet another teaching on interdependence to think that an eruption in Iceland can make its impact felt around the world. I arrived late but safely in Montréal where Peggy met me. It was so good to see her. 30 days was much too long to be away from her. We spent the night in Montréal to celebrate her birthday and Mothers' Day which this year happened to fall on the same day. I'm not sure what kind of company I was with my jetlag.

Last weekend, we travelled to Washington, DC for Justin's graduation from the Corcoran Gallery's College of Art+Design where he was award a BFA in Fine Arts and Painting. It was quite an accomplishment and we were so proud of him. In one of the Corcoran galleries was a display of the seniors' work and we much enjoyed seeing Justin's work exhibited there.

Tomorrow Peggy and I travel back to France, where we will rent a house in L'Esparou, not far from where Kimberly and Davide live. Peggy will paint and I will read and write as part of my second sabbatical project. We will also have some vacation. I will be studying the early ascetical and mystical writings of early Eastern Christian tradition. At first I will study in some depth the writings of Evagrius of Pontus from the end of the fourth century in the Egyptian desert, and then in August turn to some of the other ascetics and spiritual guides that were inspired by him. My hope is that my study and reflection will lead to retreat talks and courses upon my return that I might offer at St Paul's. In midJuly, we will leave France to begin the third leg of this leave.

Peggy and I will travel to Scotland for a Celtic walking pilgrimage to Iona, the Western Isles to experience these sacred sites.

I hope you are all well and enjoying life and ministry at St Paul's. I miss you and my ministry at the Cathedral as I look forward to my return just after Labor Day. I will be away from the internet and email until we return from Europe, so I will write again in early August. Please keep us in your prayers as I keep you in mine.

Ken Poppe Dean and Rector

---The Very Rev. Kenneth W. Poppe is Dean & Rector of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Vermont

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