Wednesday 13 March 2019

It's been a busy few months of teaching Sky Weaving (namkha) on various public workshops, and so to my next event which is in Cornwall.

Hope to see some of you there.

The practice of Sky Weaving is called 'Namkha' in Tibetan, which means 'sky' or 'dimension'. This meditation practice involves weaving 'skies' of coloured wool, which link our energy with the energy of the elements, through the Tantric craft of sound and vision. The beauty of the Sky Weaving, which is empowered through mantra, magnetises personal 'demons'(neuroses, fears and obsessions) and releases them within the skies of each element. In Tantra we talk of the 'skies' of the five elements; earth, water, fire, air and space. Each element is a sky (dimension) of meaning, and each element is associated with an emotional confusion and a liberated energy. During the day you will make your own skyweaving under the guidance of Ngakma Shé-zér.

The Chaplaincy Cottage, Falmouth University, Penryn Campus,Treliever Road,Penryn, Cornwall,TR10 9FE

Suggested donation £30

Contact Chris Haydon 07429 623377

Wednesday 6 March 2019

Ögyen Rig-nga and Buddha Families

Buddha families from a different tradition

Many Buddhist traditions talk about the Buddha families as a means of working with our emotions - within the Aro gTér we use the form of Ögyen Rig-nga - Padmasambhava manifesting as the Buddha of the Five Elements.

Ögyen Sa-Rig - Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel manifest as the Buddhas of the Earth Element.

Ögyen Chu-Rig - Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel manifest as the Buddhas of the Water Element. 

Ögyen Mé-Rig - Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel manifest as the Buddhas of the Fire Element.

Ögyen rLung-Rig - Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel manifest as the Buddhas of the Air Element.

Ögyen mKha-Rig - Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel manifest as the Buddhas of the Space Element.

We do not currently have a thangka representing Ögyen Rig-nga but I'm delighted that I've been able to commission one to be produced by Naljorma Dzüdrül so that should be manifesting shortly.

The process of creating a namkha begins by looking at ones psychological and emotional states and thinking about it in relation to the five elements as depicted in the table below.

Response to Intrinsic Spaciousness
Distorted energy
Liberated energy

Earth element
Insubstantiality, hollowness, fragility
Feeling of insignificance
Cultivation of solidity and power, arrogance, poverty, miserliness
Equanimity, equality, balance, harmony, generosity/wealth

Water element

Fear of recognised threats
Anger, aggression, hatred, violence
Clarity, mirror-like wisdom, penetrating insight

Isolation, loneliness, separation, desolation
Obsessiveness, compulsion, indiscriminate possessiveness, consumerism
Compassion, discriminating wisdom, pure appropriateness


Groundless anxiety, Fear of an indirect threat, vulnerability
Envy, paranoia, suspicion, jealousy
Self-fulfilling activity, free and fluid capacity for action, confidence

Space element
Bewilderment – feeling overpowered and overwhelmed by spaciousness
Intentional ignorance, deliberate torpor, wilful stupidity, depression
Infinite unrestricted intelligence, pervasive wisdom

One then designs the weave to increase the liberated energy or reduce the distorted energy. The mantras of Ögyen Rig-nga are recited as you weave to empower the namkha.

Sunday 24 February 2019

Namkha teachings at Lam Rim

On Saturday February 23rd I was delighted to be asked to teach a workshop on Namkha at Lam Rim Buddhist Centre in Raglan, Wales.

The participants were diligent about working on their namkhas and did really well. It was also great to be joined by two very well behaved babies - Rowan (above) and Edith (below) who loved the colours and shapes.

I hope to return to Lam Rim in the Spring to run another course and look forward to sharing these fabulous practices in Budapest on March 8th - 10th and Falmouth, Cornwall on March 23rd.

Sunday 16 September 2012

You have no power over me

Ah, long time no Blog.  I had intended. . . but as they say, the road to Croydon is paved with good intentions (or was that Hell, I forget?).  Perhaps the Goblin King's magic has caused me to forget - like Sarah in the Labyrinth.  To be honest, I hadn't imagined that Jim Henson would be the first thing that came into my mind when I was sitting down to muse about the power of ritual and symbol in spiritual practice.  Perhaps it is because my father was interviewed on television last week, celebrating the achievements of Bowie - a local Beckenham boy (our family hometown).  Some symbols are not forever it seems - and whilst Bowie himself remains idolised, his Labyrinthine haircut is perhaps best forgotten.  There is a glorious eighties cheesiness about the Labyrinth movie that - whilst charming - hasn't really transcended the decades.  Like Sarah in the Labyrinth, I look at David Bowie's haircut and although I love his music, I think - truly - 'You have no power over me.'  Still, it reminded me...

I think it is important to talk about symbols *in general* before turning to symbolism in a Buddhist context later in this Blog - particularly in the specific context of namkha.  I have met people who tell me they feel symbols have no meaning.  And I would agree.  They have no inherent meaning - no absolute true meaning that transcends our use or perception of the symbol - no intrinsic value that is separate to the value that we place in the symbol.  It does not follow that they are utterly without meaning however.  They carry the transient meaning which we invest in them, which enables them to act as an interface between the image we see before us, and the experience, emotion or idea that the symbol represents.  That meaning might last millenia, like the swastika, and again like the swastika a given symbol might have multiple meanings in different contexts.  Unfortunately symbolism in a spiritual context has attracted a fair amount of attention from those who have an eternalistic viewpoint, and the modern rational scientific approach to the world finds it easy to refute such views as hogwash.  This is understandable, but doesn't mean that all symbol is without value - rather that an eternalistic view of symbol is untenable.  Indeed science itself finds symbol invaluable - and to the non-scientist the symbolism of thermodynamics can seem no less of an occult art than that of the masons, or the writing of Eliphas Levi.  So, symbol may not have inherent meaning, but it has value nonetheless.

Even without an inherent meaning, it is evident that some symbols have a powerful emotional or intellectual affect on us, that drives our behaviour at a very basic level.  If I were to parade down a public street wearing a full length white robe, and white high conical hat that masked my face, in the company of many others similarly shrouded, bearing a wooden cross, you might think me a member of a very particular sect, with strong views on race and religion. . . but if we were in Semanta Spain rather than the southern USA you might be surprised to find something somewhat different to what you had first conceived.  There are plenty of other examples like this, such as the look of surprise when some people new to Indian religion see their first swastika outside of the context of grainy WWII film footage.  A white man with a swastika symbol, even dressed in Buddhist robes, can cause people to do a double take.

My own personal experience of the power of symbol in a Buddhist context starts back before Shé-zér & I were together.  I was living and working in London, and was at a waterfront bar with a couple of old school friends.  Two young ladies at a nearby table kept glancing and smiling in our direction - unknown to my two friends who had their backs turned.  I was just about to suggest that we invite the ladies to our table and buy them a drink when suddenly a disapproving look came across the face of one of them.  She tugged the sleeve of her companion, and tapped her ring finger.  It was bare. . . but mine was not, since one of the vows of wearing associated with ngak'phang ordination include the wearing of golden rings on both ring fingers.  I was single, but how were they to know I was not some miscreant behaving badly out of sight of an absent wife.  They abandoned their empty glasses, and left the bar. . .

If you still doubt the power of image and symbol, then it is worth considering that clearly other people do recognise symbolic influence.  As I started with one music icon, perhaps I should close with another.  John Lennon  is clearly held to be such an iconic figure in British culture - even though he has been dead so long - that the olympics closing ceremony dedicated a whole section to him and a 'from beyond the grave' performance of his classic piece, Imagine.  And at the end of that piece we the audience come face to face with a symbol that communicates everything about Lennon - the symbol of his face - the symbol of those classic Lennon specs, and we are left simply to imagine. . .

Saturday 1 September 2012

The sByin-sreg - homa Fire Ceremony

Although we've been focussing on our Drala Jong blog of late, it is good to return here to the Sky Weaving site, and what better occasion that to mark our first ever apprentice event at our home in Monmouthshire.  The sun shone in Wales this weekend and the flames licked upwards, as our inaugural retreat was concluded with a Jin-sreg (Tib. sByin-sreg / Skt. homa).  The Jin-sreg is a fire ceremony whose roots are over three millenia old and which were certainly establish at the time of the Rig Veda and used to venerate the Vedic god of fire, Agni.

Within the Aro gTér Tradition the Jin-sreg most commonly occurs either as a method of consigning namkha to the elements (as here), or as part of an ordination ceremony for those joining the gö-kar-chang-lo'i-dé.  Namkhas were completed by all the apprentices including visitors from Lama Rig'dzin's sangha, and our vajra sister Naljorma Tsul'dzin (seen here, appearing to be immolated as the flames are enticed upwards by the offering of ghee).

Everyone managed to complete a weave during the weekend, which was excellent as none of the participants had practised namkha before.  With intermittant rain it wasn't certain we'd be able to have the fire ceremony, and for a while the sky weavings were all displayed on the patio.  If you've practised a great deal of namkha, especially if you tend to see them arise and dissolve as single weavings, it can be easy to forget how different they can appear even using only relatively simple combinations of increasing and decreasing elements.

One thing they all have in common of course is that they all end up in the same place - in the flames.  Jean-Michel battled the water element in the form of damp wood and intermittant downpours to build a fire over the hearth (Tib. sByin sreg me thba / Skt. homakunda).  For a while we had to place an umbrella over the site to keep the worst of the rain off.  His patient building and tending of the first spark was rewarded when the whole tower caught and was consumed.

The ground had first been prepared with a simple dKhyil 'khor (Skt. mandala).  In the style of the Aro gTér Ogyen Rig-nga this is circular, and in the wider mahayoga cycles there are different hearths for each of the four Buddha Karmas - Lé-kyi (Tib. las bzhi / Skt. chaturkriya) - circular for pacification (Tib. zhi ba) square for enrichment (Tib. rgyas pa), bow-shaped for 'influence' (Tib. dbang) and triangular for the wrathful activity of destruction (Tib. drag po).  In the Aro gTér the term magnetising is used instead of influence.

Once the fire has started, the sky weavings are added by their creators.  The stepped structure of the fire made it possible to insert the namkha vertically, and the flames licked up from their base, rapidly consuming them all. Jean-Michel, master of the hearth, is here placing the latest weave into the flames.
Whilst the weavings are added mantra is sung, and once they are all on the offering (in this case of ghee) is made as the mantra cycles through each of the elemental Buddha families.
Beer writes that the ceremony is traditional for the end of a long Vajrayana retreat, to 'purfiy any faults or transgressions that may have arisen during the course of the retreat'.  Fortunately for this first apprentice retreat there were no faults (save perhaps the rain - and that resulting in rainbows in the sky) but nonetheless Drowang said that he had enjoyed the ceremony so much that all our retreats should end on one.

It appears we have established our first sangha tradition.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Sky Weaving - an overview

Shé-zér creating a namkha

Several years ago we wrote an overview of the practice of Sky Weaving for Sacred Hoop magazine  The article is available as a free download from the magazine, but we also reproduce the core of it here for blogfollowers:

Vajrayana Buddhism contains myriad practices for the discovery of our individual energetic being. Once discovered this energy can be transformed through its own enlightened potential. This is called self-liberation.  One such practice – from the section of vajrayana called mahayoga - is ‘sky weaving’.  The name derives from the Tibetan term namkha (nam mKha’) - literally ‘sky’.  The practice of namkha is ancient, with roots beyond the arrival of vajrayana in the Himalayas.  Sky weaving is found within the Aro Lineage of the Nyingma Tradition. Nyingma is the oldest of the four Buddhist traditions of the Himalayan countries.

Mahayoga employs symbolic activity to engage with our emotional and perceptual circumstances.  Through weaving five coloured threads into the five elemental skies of the namkha, our positive intentions become tangibly manifest in the world.  In the case of the namkha in the Aro Tradition, the practice combines mantra recitation, visualisation, and an understanding of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, and space.  Through understanding the subtle psychology and interplay of the elements, namkha taps our innate artistry.  Our complete open perception and responsive appreciation becomes a vehicle by which means we can transform our selves, and simultaneously benefit the lives of others. 

Once acquainted with the logic of namkha, the method of the practice is simple – even though the mechanics can initially seem complex.  The basic form of namkha in the Aro Tradition is a cross which bears five elemental ‘skies’ – each equal in size. One sky is formed at each cardinal direction – with a fifth sky in the centre. The natural position for a namkha has the space element—coloured blue—at the centre.  Earth—yellow—is in the South. Water—white—in the east; Fire—red—west; and, Air—green—north.  Each element represents both a neurotic—dualistically deranged—state, and a non-dual liberated state. The practitioner therefore requires both an intellectual and experiential understanding of the psychology of the elements.  Dualised Earth is greed – and its liberated quality is generosity.  The other elemental pairings are: Water - anger and clarity; Fire – obsession and appreciative empathy; Air – paranoia (envy and jealousy) and spontaneous freedom of action; Space – depression (denial / deliberate ignorance) and unrestricted awareness. 

Through practice and contemplation one can recognise the continuum which exists between the physical elements and emotional experience.  The earth is solid, immobile, slow to change, and heavy.  Earth neurosis feels its territory under threat. We entrench—attempt to throw up higher  fortifications to stem the tide of change.  Readers interested in exploring this further should see Spectrum of Ecstasy by Ngakpa Chögyam and Khandro Dechen or Magic Dance by Thinley Norbu for teachings on the elements both in terms of symbolism, and elemental psychology.

The practitioner considers situations in need of change, determines the primary element with which they will work - and establishes whether they need to decrease the neurotic dualised quality, or increase the liberated quality.  As this is a Buddhist practice practitioners’ intentions are in accordance with the wish to strive for the liberation of all beings – as the main criterion.  This - of course - does not preclude oneself. Mundane improvements in personal circumstances are included in the overall scheme of an enhanced situation for everyone and everything else.  

Space is the prime central element – but if an element other than Space is chosen as the primary focus, then that element moves from its cardinal position on the namkha to the central position.

A basic namkha - a single decrease to space element
For example, practitioners may wish to either wish to reduce the Water element neurosis (to reduce anger). or increase the Water element wisdom (to increase clarity).  With either case the white sky of the Water element moves to the centre – and Space moves to the East.

The term ‘sky’ in the language of vajrayana, has wealth of meaning.  Mind is described as a sky because it is vast and boundless. It is unaffected by the natural emergence and dissolution of thought – symbolised by the movement of clouds across the sky.  Sky means ‘dimension’ or ‘dimension of experience’ in a similar sense to the western notion of a ‘field’ of knowledge’.  Sky here means a totality in which everything is encompassed.

With namkha, each sky contains one or more cycles of five sets of coloured threads. These symbolise the indivisibility of the five elements – making each sky within the namkha – a totality.  It is impossible to affect one element without affecting the others. Likewise it is impossible for one element to be isolated in its distortion. Either everything is dualistically deranged or everything is liberated. 

Once the primary element and direction of change have been determined, practitioners begin to weave the central sky.  The weaving starts with the central elemental colour of the sky in question. White for Water. The next colour is then determined by the direction of change.  To decrease the neurosis, the weaving is threaded in the direction of Space to Earth. To increase the wisdom potential, the weaving is threaded in the direction of Earth to Space. Decreasing a Water sky would involve weaving water (white) into Fire (red).  Increasing a Water sky would involve weaving water (white) into Earth (yellow).
The central elemental sky chosen, dictates the element most strongly affected - and also the dominant direction of each sky in the sky-weaving as an entirety.   If the central sky is decreasing then the other skies will also decrease – as their fundamental pattern. 

One might commonly undertake anything from a single to a triple weave, either as increase or decrease, on each of the skies.  So for example, a namkha may have a triple decreased Earth at the centre (decreasing avarice and territoriality), a single increase Water at the east (increasing clarity), and a double increase in Fire at the west (increasing appreciative empathy).  As one comes to appreciate the interplay of the elements, it becomes evident that the variations are colossal.

As practitioners weaves, they recite one of the elemental mantras of the awareness being (yidam / meditational deity) Ögyen Rig-nga, and visualise themselves manifesting in his form.  Readers interested in this practice should consult Wearing the Body of Visions by Ngakpa Chögyam or any of a number of books by Chögyam Trungpa on Buddhist tantra.  Ogyen Rig-nga is Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel the male and female Tantric Buddhas in Yabyum (sexual union) manifesting as the wisdom embodiments of the five elements.  Each of these five forms wears different robes and carries different implements. Each has a unique mantra. 

Once each sky is completed, the practitioner moves to the next, until all five are woven. At this point that the namkha is complete – and the intention is fulfilled.  The namkha must then be authenticated and eventually consigned to the natural elements.  Traditionally this should be undertaken within a year of the completion of the namkha – when the namkha is burnt during a jin-sreg or ‘fire ceremony’.  As the wood and wool are consumed by flames the elemental mantras are recited from Earth in the direction of Space.  

Variations on this core practice also exist.  An experienced practitioner gradually finds that it is possible to apply the practice to external circumstances, and can engage in the practice for the direct benefit of others.  Much larger namkhas are also made, for example as part of a long retreat on which a major event such as an ordination takes place.  Larger namkha can be made in an open box shape, with one empty end. Within the Aro Tradition there are further variations, including the practice of ‘the skies of vajra romance’ in which a couple who are both practitioners weave a more complex variation on the Ogyen Rig-nga namkha – two namkhas conjoined by a double sized central sky.  In this variation, the couple pass the frame back and forth, each weaving in turn.

As with any vajrayana practice, it is necessary to receive instruction and permission from ones personal Lama (Vajrayana teacher) before engaging in sky weaving. A pre-requisite may well be the completion of certain preliminary practices, including mantra accumulation.  Regardless of the Buddhist or shamanic lineage from which a particular form of sky weaving practice emanates, namkha is a vivid, dynamic, tactile practice which engages and energises the senses. It draws upon vajrayana methods of yidam practice, mandala, and a comprehension of the interplay of the elements. 

Friday 14 October 2011

Some fun namkha photos

Apprentices on the namkha retreat in Finland June 2011

Children often enjoy beginning to practice namkha - here Robert is being helped by his little sister Raechel

Here is a Ogyen Rigna namkha working on all increasing all five elements
this is a namkha created by a couple practising together - the skies of vajra romance namkha
here I am working on the couple namkha