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July 29, 2012

At Iona Hostel we offer hospitality to travellers of all beliefs and persuasions. Iona, being what it is, attracts many folk with religious or spiritual questions or convictions. Many others come for the landscape and for the quiet and others simply to relax and enjoy a well earned holiday. We try very hard to keep the hostel a fresh and neutral place: somewhere that people can come and make their own. Iona has many overtly religious places to stay: Protestant, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, New Age, Russian Orthodox….. They all serve good purpose but at times Iona can feel like a religious sweety shop.  I think it important that the hostel provides somewhere ‘quiet’ for guests -without the static and jumble of competing or asserted beliefs. This isn’t inspired by an indifference to religious or spiritual expression on my part. Rather, on an island burgeoning with significances, I try to offer somewhere inclusive and welcoming to all.

I think that the hostel, by and large, achieves this. We focus on cleanliness: the hostel is very thoroughly cleaned each day, the windows all thrown open and we deliberately strive to make it a place where shadows don’t linger. This is, in part, why the work of Nathalie, Marc and David is so important. Likewise, I’ve created a wee library that I hope is broad, fun and thoughtful  -but I do sometimes clear it of overtly ‘religious’ books that have kindly been left. The physicality of the land mitigates what can, at times, feel like a rather prescriptive response to spirituality on the island: its extraordinary how many folk come to visit  for historic / religious reasons and leave having found that the land itself has offered salve or helped answer their questions. I borrow Adam Nicolson’s (‘Sea Room’) wonderful term to describe the island, as having an ‘inherent sanctity’. The people that, I think, get most from the island are those who come with few preconcieved ideas or intentions. This is best expressed by an Aboriginal elder speaking to tourists at Uluru (Ayers Rock):

‘This is a really important sacred place you are climbing. You shouldn’t climb. It is not the real thing about this place. The real thing is listening to everything. We are informing you. Don’t climb.’

Last week we were honoured to offer hospitality to the Tibetan monks of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery (in exile). On a tour around Britain of dance and sacred chant, they came to stay for two nights and gave a performance in the village hall. It was very well received and there was a big turnout. It was fabulous !

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery was one of the most important monasteries in Central Tibet besides being the seat of the Panchen Lama. Now in exile in Southern India, the monastery has around 250 monks. In 1995 the young Panchen Lama (aged 6) ‘disappeared’ with his family. Chinese authorities deny any knowledge of their whereabouts.

Through the educational and cultural exchanges of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery UK Trust ( the monks share their Buddhist monastic tradition and inform of the desperate plight and oppression of Tibetans, particularly practising Buddhists.

They were the nicest bunch, joined in with the usual throng of curious hostellers and cooked food that smelled absolutely fabulous. I went into the hostel on the night of the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics to find a crowd of them, with Nathalie, squeezed in front of a lap-top and laughing at Mr Bean (who, it turns out, they know well from TV in Southern India…)

The most precious and significant part for me was that they perfomed a blessing upon Lagandorain: the place, the spirits, the people, the hostel and the animals.

Khang – So (to fulfill / offer) is the first part of the ceremony, designed to remove negativity from the surroundings, and it concludes with the Rabne (the blessing). The first part took place in the big room in the hostel, with hostellers looking on, and the Blessing was a procession around the outside of the hostel and my home, scattering rice (blessings).

The photo’s show what it looked like but can’t describe anything of the cacophonic racket of the trumpets, drums, cymbals and chant. The big copper trumpets are over 3 m long and make a visceral, braying and deafening grunt: if dragons fart it must sound like this. Up above, discordantly, are the smaller trumpet / flutey things…

The purpose of the ceremony, through clamouring discordant sound, is to attract the attention of the most powerful dieties and to summon them for assistance. These aren’t nice compassionate gentle dieties but the seriously scary ones -as only those of the dark and the shadows have the power to exorcise negativity when called to do so. The loudness and raw energy of the music is in direct proportion to the power and nature of the spirits best able to combat such negative forces. It is cathartic in that the purpose of the ceremony (from what I can gather) is to open up the visceral rawness of negative experience so as to allow these ‘protected’ dieties access to do their purifying work. The trick then, of course, is to know how to call-in these dieties so that, their work done, they can return home (getting Pandora back in the box !). The process is concluded when the residual negativity is exorcised and the dieties leave the place to peace and deep quiet.

The Blessing, or Rabne, is simply that. Rather than being kinetic, loud and challenging it is simple, light and fleeting: the land and people are open now to receive the blessing and it is absorbed by Lagandorain and those on it.

This is a place of remarkable people and events.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Roy McKeag permalink
    July 29, 2012 1:55 pm

    I am so sorry that I wasn’t there to witness this John. A remarkable experience for all those who were there. And you are so right. Iona (and Lagandorain) is a truely remarkable place 🙂

    • July 29, 2012 2:19 pm

      Hi Roy,

      Good to hear from you. Yes, you’d have loved it.

      Hope all’s well with you,


  2. July 29, 2012 6:19 pm

    Touching and beautiful – only sorry we had to leave before it took place, but the tide called!

  3. Kerstin permalink
    July 30, 2012 7:02 am

    this wonderful story reminds me of Quakers advices and queries Nr. 26: “Do you recognize the needs and gifts of each member of your household, not forgetting your own? Try to make your home a place of loving friendship and enjoyment, where all who live or visit find the peace and refreshment of God’s presence.” – Kerstin

    • July 30, 2012 10:11 am

      Hello Kerstin,

      Thanks for writing. I couldn’t have put it better than that !


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