Saturday 19 April 2008

The Art of Living - Part III - art and the wider world

What follows is an excerpt from an unpublished interview with Ngak'chang Rinpoche from 2007 regarding Drala Jong. I will include more excerpts from articles and interviews over coming months to help elaborate upon elements in the Drala Jong brochure available at

The interviewer is Caroline Sherwood (Q) and all responses are from Ngak'chang Rinpoche (NCR), one of the lineage holders of the Aro gTér and a Spiritual Director of Sang-ngak-chö-dzong.

Q: Drala Jong is a 'Retreat Centre' - so, what part does retreat play in the modern world?
NCR: Same as it did in the old world. However – I would say that it plays the same part as a guitar lesson or a horseriding lesson. You have to take time out in order to learn a skill or to gain experience. Meditation is not different in that sense to any other realm of skill or learning.

Q: What help do you still need for the new centre?
NCR: A great deal of money.

Q: What will Drala Jong offer to non Buddhists?
NCR: It will offer something quite surprising. Vajrayana—or essential vajrayana—is an area in which people are already involved whether they know or not. Vajrayana is there in romantic relationships and in the Arts. Vajrayana is there in all forms of creativity and in all human endeavours. We would make that obvious to people by speaking at an essential level about whatever interests them in life. This will be especially important to people involved with the Arts – but every area of life is open to being informed by essential vajrayana.

Q:What part do art and craft play in your tradition?
NCR: You could almost say they are the tradition. Vajrayana deals with the senses and the sense fields – and in so doing touches the heart of creativity. The essential nature of creativity is compassion – but that statement would take a great deal of explanation.

Q: I notice the brochure mentions dance. What kind of dance is this?
NCR: Meditative dance. The actualisation or enactment of the realised state in terms of movement. Dance is an aspect of enlightened theatre – and as such is central to the Arts. Vajrayana contains all the Arts and expresses itself through the Arts.

Q: The name Drala Jong translates as ‘Sparkling Meadow of Primal Iridescence’ - this may seem rather grand to some people. What inspired it and what does it imply?
NCR: The ‘grand’ sound of the name stems from Vajrayana spiritual culture. If a name is given for any endeavour, then—according to Vajrayana—it needs to be inspirational. This name accords with that style. Drala Jong could also be translated in many different ways – because there is no English equivalent for drala. Jong simply means meadow – but meadow has certain connotations in Tibetan that might be lacking in English – so I made it ‘sparkling meadow’. Then drala . . . well . . . drala relates to the fact that the world is not inanimate, insensate, or uncommunicative. Drala is the living ambience of the world in terms of the personality of a place. If you take a walk in a wood—and you’re not entirely preoccupied with thought—you may well have a sense of connectivity. You may feel that the trees reciprocate within the sense fields. We’re not exactly speaking of Ents here—you understand—but maybe Tolkien did have some sense of what is meant by drala. I don’t want to make this as flowery as ‘being in harmony with nature’ – and anyway, that would only be part of the story. In terms of drala the harmony would be a two way process . . . it might even be three dimensionally contrapuntal. Oh dear . . . I think I’ve made it sound grand again.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

The Art of Living - Part II

"The mind is the greatest artist, painting various relative truths with the brush of conception."

Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, Magic Dance 1981:135

"At the highest levels of meditation and art there are no longer any set rules, just the spontaneous flow of creativity"

Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche, The Dalai Lamas' Secret Temple, 2000:39

Friday 11 April 2008

The Art of Living - Part 1

"On the wall surface of whatever appears
I paint the vision of non-duality
With the brush of meditation.
Holding the teachings on the inseparability
Of emptiness and appearance,
I am the master artist, 'The Lotus Born'."


(The Dalai Lama's Secret Temple, 2000:114)

Sunday 6 April 2008

Are your donations wisely invested?

It used to be traditional that donors to charities weren't overly worried about the administration practices or policies of the organisation to which they donated. In modern times there is a far higher focus on issues of 'transparency' with people rightly concerned that in some charitable organisations a huge percentage of every pound donated goes on management charges, employment costs and so on. Some major household names in the charity sector consume upwards of 25% of all donations purely on administration costs.

So, where does Sang-ngak-chö-dzong sit in comparison to the 'big name' charities?

Well, firstly everyone who works for Sang-ngak-chö-dzong is an unpaid volunteer. This is very much in keeping with the spirit of the UK charitable sector, where the principle is that as much as possible people should donate their time and energy to a good cause without expectation of financial compensation. Our committee of trustees numbers between 10 and 15 individuals at any one time, and all are unpaid - indeed, to be a trustee one must pay to be a 'Friend of Sang-ngak-chö-dzong'

The public events that we run are all 'self funding' inclusive of any advertising that we may use. This means that the fees paid by course and retreat attendees are structured to cover all the costs including food, accomodation, publicity and so on, that are associated with our events. The teachers of our courses are unpaid, whether a teaching couple like Ngak'chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen, or Nga-la Nor'dzin and Nga-la 'ö'Dzin, or a meditation instructor studying as part of our teacher training programme.

The only administrative costs we bear are associated with basics such as postage, and also our legal requirement to have our accounts checked by an independant accountant.

What does this amount to? Well, in 2007 Sang-ngak-chö-dzong's administrative costs as a share of all expenditure was 5%, and as a share of turnover it was less than 3%. That means that for every pound we receive, less than 3p went to cover charity costs. In fact our policy is that our charitable projects, such as supporting Lopon Ogyan Tanzin Rinpoche and the Pemakö School, and of course our Drala Jong project, bear no costs at all. Instead our other operations such as the book shop have to generate sufficient profit to cover our cost base, so that 100% of each donation received goes straight to the good cause we are supporting.

We hope that our donors approve of our policies - undertaken in the spirit of Ogyen Dzambhala - Wealth and Generosity manifestation of the Buddhas' Wisdom.