My favourite poem is ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by WB Yeats. In times of stress and overload, it’s tempting to think that ‘I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree’, that ‘I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow’ and that I will ‘live alone in the bee-loud glade’. I am yet to go to Innisfree, unfortunately, though I have been to some places that do the job almost as well. One is a particular part of Culzean Country Park where is a pond with lily pads on it while another is the Samye Ling Buddhist monastery which I visited with my dad on Sunday.
I had only been once before, about five years ago, with abiding memories of incense being on special offer in the shop, monks in robes swishing about the place, and a little island with wind chimes. Sadly the incense was off promotion and the wind chimes were missing but everything else was just as it was.
To be honest, I’m not religious. The closest I can get to defining what I believe is what the poet Norman MacCaig called ‘Zen Calvinism’. I am a fair bit Zen but also a whole lot of Scottish Presbyterian to balance it out. I am, however, deeply interested in religion and I like to go to religious places. I don’t think we should be picky about where our spirit soars. It can be at a church or a football ground, in a swimming pool or a mosque. It can be in the arms of the one one desires or sitting on the dock of a bay. Live and let live. Anyway, rant over. Samye Ling is great. I might not subscribe to the Buddhist way of things but I think there is enough common ground to make a visit there a real pleasure and for me to leave feeling properly chilled out for the first time in a while.
Samye Ling is near Eskdalemuir in Dumfries and Galloway. It is off a logging road in the middle of nowhere, basically. But a few few people go every year, for the day, a few weeks or for good. It is a collection of temples, shrines and monastic buildings but is far more than that. It is very hard to write about so instead I will share a few thoughts and some photographs. We sat for a bit in one of the temples. It was a stunning space, very bright and yellow. We sat on a cushion with our thoughts. Switching my brain off is not easy and so I decided to tune into the birdsong from outside, seeking some sort of mindfulness in concentrating on just one thing rather than a whole load all at once. It was just a few minutes but it was nice, something I need to do more, albeit not always in those particular surroundings.
As ever, there were a few funny moments. In the library were a great variety of books, not so many about Buddhism. I guessed these were donations from people who had stayed in the past. Among the volumes were books by Richard Hammond (yes, the one that was on Top Gear), How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie and no fewer than three by arch-atheist and the Big Dog himself, Richard Dawkins. Also there was a book entitled Buddhism for Sheep. In the gift shop were a selection of children’s books including one with the unbeatable title of Moody Cow Meditates, with the front cover showing a cow with its arms folded looking unhappy.
Later on, we went to Caerlaverock Castle, another very spiritual place for me but in a very different way. It is quite possibly the best castle in Scotland and it looks like it. It has a moat, tower, gatehouse, lodgings and a cracking selection of graffiti to boot. Again, rather than gushing forth about Caerlaverock, here’s some photos.
After that, we journeyed to Dumfries for a chippy then to Lockerbie so I could get back to Glasgow on my favourite train, the Virgin Pendolino, which tilted its way back up the road. You can’t get much better.