Daily life at the Monastery

Ani Rinchen Khandro explains that life in a 'place beyond concept' may be calm, but it's also full o

If, after having encountered a realized spiritual master of authentic and unbroken lineage, one wishes to become a Buddhist the next step is to ‘take refuge’. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition the spiritual teacher, who embodies the Buddha, bestows refuge and the student puts his or her wholehearted trust in the three refuges of the Buddha, the Dharma, (the Buddha’s teachings), and the noble Sangha, (the other enlightened ones).

The Buddha gave thousands of different teachings and methods appropriate to the various kinds of beings. It is the teacher’s job to guide the student towards the most suitable teachings for their particular type of personality. However, they all have the same purpose which, in essence, is to overcome suffering and attain true happiness by refraining from negative acts and by practising virtue. We aspire to attain full realization of our innate Buddha nature so that we can help others do the same. That is the motivation behind all the study, meditation, prayer and other activities.

Mornings at Samye Ling begin with prayers in the main shrine room at six AM. These are dedicated to Green Tara, a female aspect of Buddha who is particularly associated with fearlessness, swift, compassionate activity and protection from all manner of ills. We aim to cultivate those qualities within ourselves through prayer, mantra recitation, visualisation meditation and offerings. After breakfast there is an hour session of sitting meditation then at nine o’clock everyone goes to work wherever their daily jobs take them, whether in an office, kitchen, garden, workshop, art room, café or shop.

A hearty vegetarian lunch is followed by more prayers then it’s back to work until five, when there is another meditation session. Supper is followed by evening prayers then the rest of the evening is free. As most people are quite busy with their work we are not expected to attend every prayer and meditation session of each day but just do our best, and try to go to at least one. It is up to the individual and how diligent they are. As with anything, the more you put in, the more you get out of it.

The resident community of around seventy people is a mixture of ordained monks and nuns and lay people who work together to run the Centre. At weekends the numbers are swelled by guests attending a variety of courses in anything from mediation to tai chi, yoga and various therapies. There are also longer courses given by Tibetan High Lamas attended by hundreds of people from all over the world. Day visitors are also a regular feature and on any given day there is usually a school group or coach full of sight seers.

Despite all this activity the temple remains an oasis of calm and the extensive grounds and Peace Garden with its beautiful stupa, statues, ponds and fountains provide a peaceful environment to delight the eye and restore the spirit. The very name Samye Ling means ‘place beyond concept’ so any description falls far short of the reality. Do visit our website to find out more, or better still, visit Samye Ling in person and experience it for yourself.

Photo: Colin McPherson

Ani Rinchen Khandro is a life ordained nun in the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. She is based at Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre in Scotland where she has lived for the past fourteen years, apart from the three and a half years she spent in closed retreat on Holy Island. She recently wrote a book in honour of the Centre’s fortieth anniversary, entitled Kagyu Samye Ling - The Story, which is available for purchase online.
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The surprising truth about ingrowing toenails (and other medical myths)

Medicine is littered with myths. For years we doled out antibiotics for minor infections, thinking we were speeding recovery.

From time to time, I remove patients’ ingrowing toenails. This is done to help – the condition can be intractably painful – but it would be barbaric were it not for anaesthesia. A toe or finger can be rendered completely numb by a ring block – local anaesthetic injected either side of the base of the digit, knocking out the nerves that supply sensation.

The local anaesthetic I use for most surgical procedures is ready-mixed with adrenalin, which constricts the arteries and thereby reduces bleeding in the surgical field, but ever since medical school I’ve had it drummed into me that using adrenalin is a complete no-no when it comes to ring blocks. The adrenalin cuts off the blood supply to the end of the digit (so the story goes), resulting in tissue death and gangrene.

So, before performing any ring block, my practice nurse and I go through an elaborate double-check procedure to ensure that the injection I’m about to use is “plain” local anaesthetic with no adrenalin. This same ritual is observed in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries around the world.

So, imagine my surprise to learn recently that this is a myth. The idea dates back at least a century, to when doctors frequently found digits turning gangrenous after ring blocks. The obvious conclusion – that artery-constricting adrenalin was responsible – dictates practice to this day. In recent years, however, the dogma has been questioned. The effect of adrenalin is partial and short-lived; could it really be causing such catastrophic outcomes?

Retrospective studies of digital gangrene after ring block identified that adrenalin was actually used in less than half of the cases. Rather, other factors, including the drastic measures employed to try to prevent infection in the pre-antibiotic era, seem likely to have been the culprits. Emboldened by these findings, surgeons in America undertook cautious trials to investigate using adrenalin in ring blocks. They found that it caused no tissue damage, and made surgery technically easier.

Those trials date back 15 years yet they’ve only just filtered through, which illustrates how long it takes for new thinking to become disseminated. So far, a few doctors, mainly those in the field of plastic surgery, have changed their practice, but most of us continue to eschew adrenalin.

Medicine is littered with such myths. For years we doled out antibiotics for minor infections, thinking we were speeding recovery. Until the mid-1970s, breast cancer was routinely treated with radical mastectomy, a disfiguring operation that removed huge quantities of tissue, in the belief that this produced the greatest chance of cure. These days, we know that conservative surgery is at least as effective, and causes far less psychological trauma. Seizures can happen in young children with feverish illnesses, so for decades we placed great emphasis on keeping the patient’s temperature down. We now know that controlling fever makes no difference: the fits are caused by other chemicals released during an infection.

Myths arise when something appears to make sense according to the best understanding we have at the time. In all cases, practice has run far ahead of objective, repeatable science. It is only years after a myth has taken hold that scientific evaluation shows us to have charged off down a blind alley.

Myths are powerful and hard to uproot, even once the science is established. I operated on a toenail just the other week and still baulked at using adrenalin – partly my own superstition, and partly to save my practice nurse from a heart attack. What would it have been like as a pioneering surgeon in the 1970s, treating breast cancer with a simple lumpectomy while most of your colleagues believed you were being reckless with your patients’ future health? Decades of dire warnings create a hefty weight to overturn.

Only once a good proportion of the medical herd has changed course do most of us feel confident to follow suit. 

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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