If you fancy a holiday, with genuinely friendly people, walks under the trees and along the winding and beautiful river with many rushing weirs, your own room, three square meals a day and the fresh air and considered pace of the countryside, you could do worse than go on a Samatha meditation course in Ireland at Benburb Priory!
Irish Samatha is developing apace, parallel to all the other Samatha groups. Nai Boonman went over for the second time in July 2013 and the well-attended course on the eight jhānas, in which I took part, was really lovely.
Benburb is like a rambling old country hotel, and very quiet. We had the run of the place and had it almost to ourselves. It is still a working Catholic Priory and used to be the main training place for priests, who were then sent all over Ireland. But as you come into the entrance, you will see a Protestant church on the left! Samatha meditators have been using Benburb as a base for a good few years now and there is a very good relationship – it was wonderful to see the shrine room set up in a room just a short way down the corridor from another room where mass is still held every day by the priests. There somehow seemed to be no noticeable incongruity in this, despite the very Buddhist and beautiful shrine with a Buddha rupa and many flowers, about which Nai Boonman was very careful, taking a long time to see that it was set up just right.
During the evening dhamma discussions traditional to Samatha, Nai Boonman reiterated one of the 84,000 dhammas for us, saying that he was choosing just that one out of all of the 84,000 as being the most appropriate for us, and the only one we needed to study right now. He said that this was something spoken by all Buddhas throughout time, not just the one, and this was: first of all, don't do bad; then, do good; and finally purify the mind (of good and bad). He asked all the men and all the ladies present which of the first two they would prefer – not to do bad, or to do good – saying you can't choose both at the same time, so you have to make a choice between them, and he found as usual that on the whole, men want to do good and ladies would like not to do bad! We were very glad and privileged to welcome Nai Boonman and Dang, and I had to 'save a place' for Dang a few times in the queue for lunch as she would always try to queue up at the back after getting Nai Boonman his meal!
The meals I have to say were proper 'meat and two veg', with an appropriately solid respect for the potato, but as a vegetarian I can vouch for the good taste and protein also contained within the vegetarian option. I don't think it's a particularly Buddhist idea (please correct me if I'm wrong) but it has become traditional within Samatha for lots of good food to be considered suitable fuel for the work put into meditation – I don't usually eat so much but on this occasion I really found it to be true. The meals are prepared by different small teams of people who come in to work at Benburb and we felt very well looked after by them all. The two large, slow, friendly dogs (Ben and Max) are a definite feature of the place, and in the mornings are usually to be found outside the kitchen window. They are there to receive the benefits of your leftover toast. There were also three cats: a very friendly ginger cat; a personable black and white one; and a tabby whose trust one would be privileged and lucky to have, but who would usually take flight if approached.
The field of young cows and bullocks at the front – according to Fergus (who knows about such things), they were off to be slaughtered fairly soon – were another pleasant feature, and Dermot went in to lie in the field with them until they all came up close to have a look at him, then followed him closely when he got up. It was frightening to see so many large objects bearing down on him, but he hopped back over the fence to us quickly and without incident. He said that they were all fine, that he had been chatting to them, and that they had said they were all coming to the meditation class next week!
You could not wish for a more friendly and accepting group than the Irish meditators. I would recommend to anyone that they go over and experience this for themselves.