Wednesday, May 27, 2009

invading the buddhist militia

when i asked patrick lawler about the buddhist militia he heads up near tatamagouche, he laughed. that was the standard reaction i got as as i poked my nose around dorje denma ling, the shambhala compound in northern nova scotia, looking for the truth behind the rumours.

you can understand my confusion: patrick is a sergeant, he wears a british military uniform, and heads up the dorje kasung - just take a look at that photo on the top of that link! and every tuesday morning, they have drill practice in the field. and when a dignitary visits, they do security. patrick worked as part of a team that included professional body guards when the dalai lama visited the uk a few years ago.

so what's the deal?

patrick explained that they are protectors of dharma - the sacred teachings of buddhism and of the community itself. so the main, daily tasks of the kasung is to make sure everyone on the compound is safe and well. they are trained in first aid and will be the first on the scene in an emergency.

the kasung are ultimately about providing a peaceful, protected space in which buddhists (and freeloading journalists) can contemplate existence. a candle unguarded will flicker and blow out, he explained, but one with a covering glass case will glow brightly.

they are a non-violent militia. the drills are a meditative exercise - a time to focus on being present, on motion and physical existence.

it turns out patrick comes from a long line of british military men - his father and grandfather both served, and expected him to serve, too. at 16, he was about to enlist when he visited conishead priory in england's lake district. this is one of my favourite places - i stayed there for a few weeks during my roaming-buddhists-monasteries phase. patrick realized the army was not the life for him, and followed a different path.

years later, when he became the rusang (head of the kasung here), he sent his dad a picture of him leading drill. his old man welled up, he said, proud to see his son in uniform, marching to his own beat.


  1. How interesting! I had no idea that this compound existed.I did know of Gampo. I remember seeing pictures of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wearing "military" outfits and used to wonder why. Fascinating.

  2. it was great - tatamagouche in general was a lot of fun. sort of a village version of halifax.

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