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Page last updated at 11:07 GMT, Tuesday, 4 August 2009 12:07 UK
Buddhism in rural Northumberland
Vice Abbot Raymond McGowan
Vice Abbot Raymond McGowan has been a Buddhist monk since 1987

It may come as a surprise that there is a thriving Zen Buddhist community in the heart of remote Northumberland.

People travel from all over the world to visit Throssel Abbey, near Hexham, which was established 40 years ago.

Throssel has a resident community of 26 and offers a range of retreats from introductions to week-long sessions.

Like any religion, Buddhism takes dedication and perseverance to practise, but anyone is welcome to find out what's involved at a retreat.


Zen means meditation and it is central to the practice at Throssel.

If you are interested in it, why not give it a try? Make sure you are sitting in a quiet place, or have headphones on, clear your mind and click on the audio link below to join Raymond for two minutes of meditation.

Raymond explained that although Zen meditation is very simple, people don't always find it easy.

He said: "When your mind starts to wander, when you're worrying about the future, or memories, or fantasising about something, when you notice this, bring your mind back to where to you are in this body.

"It's not about trying to get rid of thoughts or emotions, or suppressing them - but don't feed them either - simply allow space for them to be there.

"For example, if you're angry at something, that anger can come up when meditating, it naturally comes and goes, and you find when you meditate this way over a period of time, it really helps you to connect with situations more clearly.

"You're not constantly going around in a fantasy worry world and you're not locked into a self-created prison of thoughts.

"It doesn't connect with everyone though."

Jason Lee
The TV show My Name is Earl is centred around karma

'Goofy role model'

Zen meditation is not a health spa for the mind or a technique for self-improvement - it helps people connect directly with their lives.

Another concept often misunderstood is karma. According to Raymond, "karma is not fate".

He said: "It's about law, cause and effect - everything we do has an effect.

"For example, if we act in skilfull ways, it lessens suffering and increases good.

"It's not about punishment, there is a chain of cause and effect but we can do something about it.

"Although the TV show My Name is Earl has a very simplistic interpretation of karma, it isn't too bad as at least Earl isn't fatalistic and he tried his best to do good.

"He is rather a goofy role model, but there are a lot worse than him!"

Raymond was ordained as a monk in 1987, however he emphasised strongly that you don't have to be a monk to practise Buddhism - most people lead ordinary lives.

He said: "Though there is a way of formally becoming a Buddhist, if internally you recognise that this is your path and you follow the practices of meditation and living an ethical life, then you are a Buddhist."

Click on the link below for more information about Throssel.

Have a go yourself at meditating
21 Jul 09 |  Religion & Ethics
Sunday Breakfast with Jon Harle
04 Aug 09 |  TV & Radio
Being a Buddhist
03 Jun 09 |  Religion & Ethics



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