Contrary to what you might think, Buddhist Centres are not islands of serenity in an ever maddening world. People who are already content have no need to look for anything. It is those who are in trouble or in transition or just basically nuts who will wind up at these places in their search for peace. This means that you will often only find turmoil, hostility and, worse-bad guitar playing.
The Dzogchen Beara Centre sits on a cliff on the Beara peninsula in West Cork. It is housed in an array of buildings, old and new. There are apartments to rent but for those more strapped for cash the hostel is more suitable. It is in a tiny, sweet old cottage. The dormitories are small and the bunks are basic. In the communal area there are no TVs or PCs, just sofas, cats and a big wooden kitchen table. Outside, across a stretch of grass is a panoramic view of Bantry Bay. There are two meditation sessions offered free daily. One in the morning in the Shrine Room and one in the afternoon in the new Spiritual Care Centre further up the cliff, both with the same stunning view. At €15 a night it is, on paper at least, a perfect place to escape from the turmoil of life. My plan was to meditate a couple of times a day over four or five days, and spend the rest of the time, lolling, reading, strolling, drinking tea, dozing and petting cats.
I arrived on a Saturday night in March after the main office was closed. I was told by a volunteer in typically relaxed fashion to take a bed and pay when I left. There weren’t many other guests. A middle-aged blonde lady who did her angel cards at breakfast left on my first morning. There were two very sweet, pretty girl volunteers who smiled at me all the time and moved in slow motion around the hostel doing their chores as if joined at the hip. I thought of them as Teen Angels. There was a handsome man in the company of a beaky and worn looking woman. Beaky paid nearly constant attention to Handsome Man, breaking off only occasionally to glance suspiciously at other females in the vicinity.
The other guest I shall call Mr. Sucky as I immediately recognised in him a desire to suck the souls out of all around him. It was hard to ignore him as he spent most of the time hanging around in the tiny cottage making no attempt to entertain himself. I never saw him pick up a book or write or draw or make anything, including meals. Sometimes he would don his little red hat and wax jacket, zip it up to the neck and go outside and slowly patrol the grounds looking for victims. After ten or fifteen minutes he would return, carefully hang up his hat and coat on their hook again and re-station himself in the living area. I would see him sitting on the sofa his glasses reflecting the blank light of the overcast sky waiting like a snap dragon waits for a fly to land. I determined early on to keep him at arms length and I could feel the bewildered resentment rolling off him waves.
Thankfully for me Mr. Sucky was more successful with some of the other residents. He followed Handsome Man around the kitchen and even into the tiny pantry, talking all the while. Handsome Man was entirely unphased by this, probably having had an entire lifetime of being followed into pantries unlike his companion, poor Beaky who, like me, seemed the type who would rot to dust in a pantry waiting to be found. I think Beaky was happy that Handsome Man was being patrolled by a middle-aged lunatic, the perfect shield against marauding , man-stealing women. So with Mr. Sucky kept busy chattering on about the Rosicrucians (his knowledge was distinctly suspect) I was let off the hook.
Unfortunately the population of the hostel dwindled as the weekend drew to a close and Mr. Sucky’s attention began to turn slowly back to me. Then on Monday at breakfast I became aware of a new guest sitting at the end of the kitchen table. He had a bulbous nose and thick lips and his Peruvian woollen hat with bobble made him look like a gnome. He was humming in a high-pitched and tuneless manner and continued to do so for the rest of my stay. I named him Henry the Hummer.
Henry sat there humming and staring at me. I imagine he was aiming for the worldly, relaxed hippy vibe with a smile he may have thought was warm but looked down right weird and squinty and coupled with some constant OCD leg bouncing an aura of serenity was far out of his reach. Finally Henry tried to talk to me. He said he was from Cork but he sounded like he was from Liverpool and I couldn’t understand a word of what he said. Thankfully I had to go to the meditation session. Later as I sat in the Shrine Room a woodlouse hove into view labouring across the carpet which must have seemed to it like a vast endless desert. I glumly thought that is what my life is like, stumbling across a never-ending neutral coloured carpet, just enough pile to make things difficult, not enough pattern to make things interesting and not another wood lice in sight. This is why you meditate of course. To get a perspective on your life that you truly didn’t want.
I hoped that Mr. Sucky and Henry the Hummer would get on but it was soon obvious that they were pretty much ignoring each other. That afternoon when I woke from a nap on the sofa I opened my eyes to see Henry Hummer sitting opposite, bolt upright, looking straight ahead while Mr Sucky sat nearby, also bolt upright. Both were silent. They had both instantly recognised and immediately despised each others need for constant attention.
With all of us ignoring at least one person, and me ignoring two, the atmosphere in the tiny hostel was getting tense. Then, at dinner that night, Mr. Sucky decided to try and break the impasse. He came and stood in the kitchen legs firmly apart, hands in his stout little pockets.
“How long have YOU been coming here?” he said to me accusingly.
“A few years,” I replied.
“And how OFTEN do you come here?” he asked
“Every now and then.”
“Well”, he said triumphantly,”I have come here for TWELVE years for a week in the Spring and a week in the Autumn EVERY year.”
“That’s nice,” I replied neutrally.
I knew he wanted me to be impressed, to acknowledge him as Master of the Hostel but I felt if I did the remainder of my holiday would be spent as an unwilling audience to a constant stream of nonsensical chatter. Thankfully he retired to the sofa, confused by my refusal to give him air time.
I wasn’t free and clear yet because just then Henry arrived yelling…
“Meat!I smell meat!There’s no meat allowed in here!”
And then I finally snapped…
“Since when!” I half snarled, half yelled, in a very carnivorous fashion.
“It was a joke!” he said.
“Some stupid Joke!” I yelled.
Then he shut up too. That night I retired to bed at the ridiculous time of 8pm to avoid any more nonsense. Before heading up the stairs I looked at a smiling picture of the Dalai Lama in the kitchen and silently asked…
“How do you do it?Put up with all those crazy people?”
But that’s why he is the Dalai Lama and I am me. The next morning I lay in bed and thought about cutting my stay short. I knew, in a Buddhisty sort of way, that the problems I was having were my responsibility too so I briefly considered staying on and exploring some of my issues. Briefly. For, like half a second. Then I stripped the bed and left. What would I be without my issues after all?What would I be without my ‘crazy’?And as I passed through the empty kitchen on my way out I swear the Dalai Lama’s smile was even wider…