Cape Town Tibetan Buddhist Centre April 2005


“Homage to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Although beginningless, samsara has an end.

Naturally pure, that which has a permanent character is not seen because it is obscured by the beginningless shell of impurities,

as for example a piece of gold covered by dirt …”

[Pointing Out the Essence of the Tathagatas

by the 3rd Karmapa]




KEN is Director of Studies at Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland, which has been his base for the last 33 years. He is nearly 60 years old, with curly grey hair and bushy eyebrows. He has a small build, and gentle nature. He speaks with a gentle voice and a hint of lilting Scottish accent. His knowledge of Buddhism is incredible. Buddhism is full of lists, 18 of this and 32 of that. One wonders how he remembers everything, but the knowledge seemed to be accessible to him without any mental effort of trying to remember. He would enter a state of meditative no-thought, and it was as if he accessed the information in archives located in space. The information flowed through him like knowledge flowing through empty space, while he remained in a state of pure allowing. This was wonderful to see. One time he repeated a list of 18, and we were so impressed, we asked him to do it again!


One had a sense of the Dharma being transmitted – he was the vehicle through which it flowed, and we were the receivers. This is live transmission and it is so different to reading information in a book, which is very one-dimensional. Live transmission is multi-dimensional – you have the sense of information coming from another (higher) dimension, seeming to flow through a human form, and pouring out in audible sounds that we can understand and relate to. And somehow, you do understand much more when you hear the teachings, than when you read them yourself. In Buddhism, live transmission of the teachings is very important – it maintains continuity of transmission in an unbroken stream from the time of the Buddha until present time.  


Transmission works on your whole being. With your ears you hear the teachings, which often have to be decoded and explained so that we can understand them. Visually, you notice many subtle things that make impressions on your consciousness. Intuitively, you feel things, which you can’t do from a book. I felt a real sense of devotion and faith, such beautiful qualities – those who have them are blessed, and when you experience these qualities by connecting to such a person, the blessings touch you as well. If the disciple’s Guru devotion is strong and he is really connected to the Guru, the blessings of the Guru (who is one with the Buddha) flow through the disciple. If you connect, then they flow into your heart as well. Thank you Ken for this special transmission.


Ken also transmitted his deep faith in the Dharma, so important for us Westerners, who tend to be too sceptical and lacking in faith. Even though the Buddha himself told people not to accept His teachings on (blind) faith, but to test them for validity before accepting them, as Ken said, if you do have faith, it is an enormous aid on the spiritual journey. It is a source of strength and inspiration that blesses your journey immeasurably. I often think we are too scientific in the West. We have too much pseudo knowledge, which brings intellectual arrogance rather than the blessings of humbleness (blessed are the meek). Buddhism is often presented in the West as a science of mind (which it is), but it also has a spiritual and religious dimension, where devotion and faith play an enormous part. Ken has both these qualities, and you can hear and see and feel how they bless a person. When we see this in another, it inspires and helps us to develop these wonderful qualities in ourselves. Ken spoke about the legendary wish-fulfilling gem: we receive as much as we are open to receive. With faith, we open ourselves to receive so much more. 


The retreat was about how to awaken our own innate wisdom, our limitless, primordial Buddha nature – the purity and perfection buried within all of us. I had such a sense of the incredible suffering of being disconnected from our Buddha natures. If we had this connection all the time, there would be no suffering, and no problems caused by suffering, in this world. I could imagine the immense compassion that must arise when one attains enlightenment and oneness with ‘That’. It would simply arise on its own accord for all the beings that suffer immensely because they are out of touch with the tremendous beauty and love that we all long for. This is the greatest suffering, and ‘That’ must be the greatest happiness. I have to take it on trust/faith, because I am not there yet, but thank you to all the people who help me to touch it sometimes. Thank you to Ken for the special transmission of so many things that we received over the weekend. Thank you to Rob Nairn for bringing Ken to South Africa. 


May all beings realise their Buddha natures.

May they be blessed beyond measure.

May these blessings radiate out in all directions to all beings,

Ending suffering and bringing peace, wisdom and well-being.

With love from Leela and Maurice, Sat Chit Anand Buddhist Centre, Plett

(sharing the merits of this retreat … writing by Leela, photos by Maurice)




Rob Nairn and Ken Holmes