In 1997, the Dzogchen Community U.K. bought ‘Kunselling’, an old stone farmhouse with a sunny courtyard and outbuildings in an idyllic Welsh valley, not far from Hay-on-Wye. Rinpoche first stayed at Kunselling in November 1998 and consecrated it as an authentic, sacred site for the practice and continuation of the Dzogchen teachings, naming it ‘Kunsel Ling’, meaning ‘The Place of Total Clarity’.
When you enter the wintry valley over the border from the east, assuming that the road at Letton hasn’t flooded, you’ve entered the final leg of your journey. You see The Black Mountains against the sky; Old Red Devonian rampart that they are and the distant, maybe snow capped Brecons in the distance; a portent of wild land.
Here Afon Gwy, our River Wye, often breaks her banks into the fields. Past the legendary Baskerville Hall and Book-Town Hay she gets wilder, rougher, cuts herself a gorge and can be heard from the road and from the houses in the village.
It’s a big pull up the side of the valley at Erwood; small & steep for a village; where the bus stops by the shop & travelling yogins may sometimes be seen waiting for us to collect them. On up the hillside! Now the roads are small, steep, twisted and slippery with swathes of wet leaves, so you go carefully.
You take care with the turnings. After years we recognise familiar houses, the lay-by where the farmer stores his bales of hay wrapped up like black, shiny barrels and the driveway it’s probably best not to turn into. Then suddenly our lane comes along, fairly low-key but with a distinctive telegraph pole!
Now we climb even higher up; a narrow lane with high hedges that twists and turns, then through the Davies’ farm; friendly, resourceful hill-farmers, our closest neighbours of twenty five years. Sheep dogs look up, sometimes bark or chase us as we pass through; David gives us a wave.
The final track is sometimes impassable with ice or a flood; steepest of the lot; muddy, stony and rutted by farm machines. This is Llwydallt, The Grey Hillside; we’re a thousand feet up now, in the borderlands of that lonely upland which they call The Eppynt: The Horses’ Way; rolling, green, gorse dotted ridges, home to red kites, ravens & wild ponies.
So here is the gate and the familiar driveway and we have arrived at Kunselling! The Place of Total Clarity, sheltered against its hill, watched over by crazy-wild venerable trees, lungta rippling in the breeze and curious sheep are giving us the eye. The air here has a clarity and a strength that soon fills your body as you emerge and raise your arms to the wind.
There is the old grey stone of the family house, Rinpoche’s cosy little nest; our gönpa barn, windows reflecting the sun, Robin’s sang khang and the old farmyard, once a slippery grassy slope, now a circular, level platform for dancing. Sometimes the passing satellites can see our mandala from space.
When I get out of the car at Kunselling I always want to bow Zen-style; an old habit of respect; bow to the house and the hill, the trees, sheep and birds and most of all to the great mind who conceived of it all; that we should ever own such a marvellous place, as well as those whose courage and generosity over many years have kept it alive.
Once I picked up a long thin stone from the gravel on the drive, about as big as my little finger, and I took it with me to Nepal and Tibet; to Boudhanath and Lhasa, Samye and Zangri Kangmar and when I got a home from all those journeys I gently replaced it exactly where I had picked it up.
When Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was here, at the very end of a retreat, we were all in the sitting room of the house; I never saw it so crowded; and we sang Song of the Vajra together, with Rinpoche sitting by the fire, and as we walked out into the cold, dark air of the oncoming Winter the moon and three planets were lined up above the house.
A place of love, wisdom and the best kind of adventures. Emaho!
Chöd in Winter
History is erased by the dancing light
Of the heart’s heat set free into the sky
Where waves of starlings ride the rainy wind;
Hill weight & stream voice the passionate cry!
We offer food, drink & healing wisdom’s words
To the vast tempest of the universe!
To the red kite, the raven, the rabbit
To the spirits of the rain, wind & stars
To the pregnant ewe & the twisted, green oak,
To the beech, the thorn, the night shadows, dark
To Mother Machig & her noble sons!
Gone beyond the rage & longing of the dream
That told us we were doomed to always fail;
That all we could expect was duty & death;
Tormented by our selfish hopes & fears,
The master’s mandala song is greater
Than this; the precious treasury of space, our heritage.
Beyond the wind, in our small stony nest
We can relax & set the whole world free;
Your eyes can tell me all I need to know
As I look around the gathered company,
& we go forth, damaru warriors!