Tucked away in Charminster lies Bournemouth’s only Tibetan Buddhist temple and shrine. Since 2004, Sakya Thubten Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre has provided an oasis of tranquillity for its community. The temple offers a place for both Buddhists and non-Buddhists to practice meditation. To learn about Buddhism, and enjoy its peaceful environment.
The Tibetan Lama Jamyang Lekshey founded the Sakya Thubten Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre. The Lama set up the centre as a place of worship for his students in the city. Although Ben Lindsey-Clark, one of the centre’s trustees, joked that he was less-than-impressed by the weather, as “He thinks it’s freezing here!”
Now, the Sakya Thubten Ling centre seeks to bring the local community together by creating a “loving atmosphere.”
Before the pandemic, the mostly volunteer-run Buddhist temple hosted meditation classes and introductory sessions on core Buddhist teachings. It even offered “mini meditators” sessions for parents and kids to learn how to meditate together.
“Meditation gives us the skills to cultivate positive habits that can reduce suffering and increase our mental wellbeing,” explains Ben. “It also develops compassion, which gives our wisdom and mindfulness a moral purpose. The world would be a better place if we worked on developing our capacity for love and patience as individuals.”
The centre aims to encourage these ideas of compassion and mental wellbeing amongst the local community. Something which, for fellow trustee Gemma Clarke, is especially important. She believes the centre’s greatest strength is its ability to “bring people from all walks of life together, and provide a safe place to explore Buddhism.”
“It’s also a teaching centre,” she added. “We have local schools bring their children to learn more about the Buddha and our practices, and local Scout groups come and visit so they can earn their religious badges.”
A FAITH IN EXILE
Sakya Thubten Ling’s attempts to educate more people about Buddhism reflect the increasing popularity of the faith. 248,000 people in England and Wales identified as Buddhist in the 2011 census, up from 151,000 a decade earlier.
At the Sakya Thubten Ling centre, members practice the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. This tradition has been handed down through generations of masters uninterrupted since the 11th Century. At the heart of Sakya teachings is Lamdre, “the path and its fruit”, a comprehensive meditation system that aims to provide a path to enlightenment.
Adherents follow the teachings of His Holiness the Sakya Trizin, the head of the school. Along with the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist leaders, the Sakya Trizin fled to India following the 1959 Tibetan uprisings against Chinese rule. The Chinese Communist government violently suppressed the rebellion.
10th March is commemorated across the globe as National Uprising Day by Tibetans and their supporters. On this day in 1959, 300,000 Tibetans surrounded the Potala Palace to protect the Dalai Lama, beginning an uprising in Lhasa that was suppressed by Chinese military forces.
As a result of this suppression, many Tibetan Buddhist leaders and Lamas now live in exile. The founding Lama of the Sakya Thubten Ling centre, Khenpo Jamyang Lekshey, left Tibet with his brother when they were only small children.
RENEWAL AFTER A DIFFICULT YEAR
The pandemic has forced the Sakya Thubten Ling centre to close its doors and move many of its activities online. Most recently, the temple community organised virtual celebrations for Losar, the Tibetan New Year. As well as allowing the community to reconnect after a difficult few months, the celebrations also featured a message from founding Lama Khenpo Lekshey, who offered his hopes and wishes for the coming year.
“Virtual Losar was fun and worthwhile,” said Ben. “It was certainly a lot better than nothing. We had talks provided by video, a live meditation session, and we lit candles to mark the occasion. I’m so glad we did it.”
Whilst the pandemic has hit religious institutions such as the Sakya Thubten Ling Centre hard, it has also provided an opportunity for reflection and renewal. The centre has been extensively renovated over lockdown. Trustee Ben believes the past few months’ events have allowed people to focus on what’s truly important.
“I think the pandemic has made people more aware of the fragility of what we take for granted,” he said. “The Buddha teaches that impermanence is baked into the nature of the world. The pandemic has certainly reminded people of that.”
THE BUDDHIST CENTRE HOPES TO REOPEN IN SEPTEMBER
Ben even believes that the events of the past year might encourage more people to explore Buddhism. “This awareness of our own impermanence is an important starting point for Buddhist practice,” he explained. “Perhaps it will encourage a few more people to investigate the Buddha’s teachings. They are certainly very poignantly relevant to our times.”
While the community has remained strong throughout the past few months of isolation, it is clear that many among the congregation are excited to return to the place that has become such an important part of their lives.
“I find that the centre has brought meaning and peace to my life,” said Gemma. “I have met some of the most wonderful and compassionate people there, and I am so glad to call them my Sangha family.”
The Sakya Thubten Ling centre hopes to re-open in September, once social distancing restrictions have been fully lifted.
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