Discovering the Heart of Buddhism gives you the opportunity to:
- Engage in a comprehensive & structured training
in Buddhist study, reflection and meditation
- Discover the truths of Buddhism
through your own experience. All you need is an open & inquiring mind.
- Connect to the heart of Buddhist teachings
without the confusion often caused by Eastern cultural trappings
- Explore some of the most profound Buddhist teachings
essential for everyone whether new or very experienced
- Receive regular guidance
from the experienced teacher and senior students
- Share the fruits of their years of study
in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen traditions of Tibetan Buddhism
I knew nothing about Buddhism but the course took me by the hand and led me step by step, gently building up my confidence. Kindergarten director
What does Discovering the Heart of Buddhism provide?
- Specially written ‘course’ books with teachings, reflective exercises and meditations.
- Personal guidance from Lama Shenpen Hookham, the teacher by email or telephone.
- Regular discussion with an experienced senior student, your “contact person”.
- A book on formless meditation and an accompanying CD with guided meditation sessions and additional instructions, which can be used as a guide to a 4 week course which you are encouraged to go through with your contact person.
- Openness Clarity Sensitivity, a book by Lama Rigdzin Shikpo, focusing in detail on meditation.
- Access to Sanghaspace, the online home for students of Lama Shenpen. In Sanghaspace, you will have access to a wide range of recorded and written teachings as well as the ability to discuss the training with fellow students. Supplementary online courses are led by senior students and questions answered by Lama Shenpen.
Who is Discovering the Heart of Buddhism for?
- Discovering the Heart of Buddhism is an experiential training suitable for anyone who wishes to explore the practice of Buddhism in a direct, authentic and systematic way.
- The themes of the training are the heart of Buddhism, essential whether you have read about and practiced Buddhism for some time or whether you are completely new to it.
- You set your own pace, and continuing study reveals deeper levels of meaning in the themes.
- Participation is flexible and the course can be completed entirely from your own home.
Who is Shenpen Hookham?
Lama Shenpen Hookham, the Principal Teacher of Discovering the Heart of Buddhism, is a Buddhist teacher who has trained for over 40 years in the Mahamudra & Dzogchen traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Lama Shenpen has spent over 12 years in retreat and for the past 30 years has been a student of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, one of the foremost living masters of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
Lama Shenpen is fluent in Tibetan and has translated a number of Tibetan texts into English for her students. On Khenpo Rinpoche’s instructions she produced a seminal study of the profound Buddha Nature doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism, published as The Buddha Within, and gained a doctorate in this from Oxford University. She is also the author of There’s More to Dying than Death.
Since then, Khenpo Rinpoche and Lama Rigdzin Shikpo have encouraged Shenpen to develop her teaching activity further. Thus she created Discovering the Heart of Buddhism over a period of more than seven years. Students inspired by her teaching formed the Awakened Heart Sangha, a spiritual community under her direction.
Lama Shenpen now spends most of her time in semi-retreat at the Hermitage of the Awakened Heart, in Wales, UK. From there she comes out regularly to teach, as well as giving interviews and advice to students in person and over the phone, by letter and by email.
Tell me more about Lama Shenpen and her teachers
Lama Shenpen Hookham is the Principal Teacher of Discovering the Heart of Buddhism.
In the 1970s, on the advice of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, she went to India where she lived among the Tibetans as a nun for six years. There she studied and meditated in retreat under the guidance of Tibetan teachers such as Karma Thinley Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche. In 1978 His Holiness, the 16th Karmapa, head of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, instructed her to return to the West to teach Mahamudra.
There she met Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche ,currently in retreat, is one of the foremost living teachers of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, a great scholar and master of meditation who traveled the world teaching in Buddhism centres everywhere.
In his late teens and early twenties he trained as a yogin in Tibet with a local yogin known as Zopa Tharchin, who was later killed by the Chinese. He spent his early youth in retreat in the mountains until his teacher told him to study for the benefit of others. A renowned scholar, he excels in philosophical debate and always aims to turn the minds of his opponents and students towards their own inner experience rather than getting lost in intellectual fabrications.
After the Chinese invasion of Tibet Khenpo Rinpoche fled to India in 1960. He spent many years in Bhutan as a wandering yogin, meditating in caves and hermitages. In 1975 he was asked by the head of the Kagyu tradition to come and be Abbot of the main Kagyu centre in the West, in France. However he asked instead to be allowed to travel and help people everywhere.
He has done that ever since, leading a truly simple, homeless life; he is a master of non-attachment. He has many times refused to accept property to build Buddhist centres and he regularly gives away all of his money. Khenpo Rinpoche demonstrates the carefree life of a yogin, singing spontaneous songs of realisation wherever he goes, devoted only to the welfare of others who became her main teacher. She also met her husband, Lama Rigdzin Shikpo met his main teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1965, and from him received extensive instruction in both the preliminary and main practices of Dzogchen, the innermost teachings of the Nyingma tradition. He has practised these teachings for 35 years in the midst of an ordinary life as a mathematician and physicist.
On Trungpa Rinpoche’s instructions Lama Rigdzin Shikpo also began to teach, which he has now been doing for thirty-five years, making him one of the most experienced Western teachers of Buddhism. Trungpa Rinpoche also encouraged Lama Rigdzin Shikpo to receive teachings from other Tibetan teachers, and as a result he developed deep connections with H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche, Ngagkpa Yeshe Dorje and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche.
Since Trungpa Rinpoche’s death in 1987, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche has been Rigdzin Shikpo’s main source of advice and inspiration. Khenpo Rinpoche is so well satisfied with his understanding and meditation experience that he has encouraged him, as lama, to teach and transmit Dzogchen. In 1993 he completed a 3 year retreat, and at that time Khenpo Rinpoche gave him the name Rigdzin Shikpo in recognition of his realisations.,whom she taught alongside for twenty years and who has been a great source of inspiration and guidance for her. In all she has spent nine years in retreat, and Khenpo Rinpoche is so well satisfied with her understanding and meditation experience that he has encouraged her, as lama, to teach and transmit Mahamudra, the innermost teachings of the Kagyu tradition.
I’d been studying Buddhism for many years but I still found that even the first sections of Discovering the Heart of Buddhism revolutionised my understanding, bringing it to a whole new depth. School teacher
What are the teachings on Discovering the Heart of Buddhism?
Discovering the Heart of Buddhism training is based on some of the most profound Buddhist teachings: the Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings of Tibetan Buddhism.
The training on Discovering the Heart of Buddhism is a search for truth: a process of exploring our experience and coming to understand and relax into our true nature. In the midst of all the pain, doubt, hesitation, stress and confusion of our lives, there is something that keeps us going. We talk of losing heart and yet, somehow, there is something deep inside us that spurs us on, restores us and gives us hope.
The path of Buddhist training is to uncover this heart of our being, to recognise it, to value it and to base our lives and actions on it. According to the Buddhist tradition, this is our Awakened Heart (Sanskrit: Bodhichitta) or Buddha Nature (Sanskrit: Tathagatagarbha).
The ideas introduced in the course are ones you will keep coming back to however long you study, and so it is equally suitable for those who have read about and practised Buddhism for years and for those who are completely new to it.
Discovering the Heart of Buddhism is not an academic course. Rather, it is a comprehensive training in Buddhist study, reflection and meditation – providing a sound basis for a lifetime of deep spiritual practice.
Read on below for more about the Awakened Heart and the training to uncover it.
What is the Awakened Heart and the training needed to uncover it?
We may recognise in our immediate experience that deep down we have the qualities of clarity, awareness, sensitivity, warmth and love, but according to the Buddhist tradition, we have little idea at the outset just how deep and vast those qualities can be. They are none less than expressions of our Buddha Nature, our Awakened Heart.
The process starts with discovering how we have lost touch with the heart essence of our being, our Awakened Heart, that basic goodness that constantly eludes us. If it is so essential to our being, how could we have lost touch with it and having found it again, how could we fail to cultivate it? The answer to such questions can only be found through deeper self knowledge and an inner understanding of the true nature of reality itself.
Somehow, we have come to identify ourselves with our negative habits of mind. Instead of feeling open, clear and sensitive, we feel a certain hardening of our heart from a vague but deep-seated sense of inadequacy, confusion or fear. The training is about letting those negative patterns go, developing confidence and allowing our own natural openness, clarity and sensitivity to emerge, strengthen, expand and deepen through meditation, reflection and study.
Through this process and especially through our connection with others and a deepening appreciation of the quality of awareness possible in our daily life, our sense of claustrophobia, limitation and loneliness starts to give way to a more positive outlook on life. There is suffering, but there is a detectable cause of suffering and a path of awareness that gradually alleviates that suffering for ourselves and others.
This is a long and subtle process and requires great commitment, confidence and determination to pursue to the end. Nevertheless to pursue it even a little can significantly transform our lives.
Learning has tended to be thought of as a linear development, gaining knowledge about a series of different topics one after another, progressing through to ever more advanced topics. But the path of true Buddhist training is not like this, and this is why Discovering the Heart of Buddhism has been constructed using the principles of spiral learning instead.
This is why, although further more elaborate teachings are available in the Awakened Heart Sangha, these further teachings are only for the purpose of deepening and expanding our understanding of the core material presented in Discovering the Heart of Buddhism, material to which everyone returns time and time again with ever deepening appreciation.
The aim of Discovering the Heart of Buddhism is ambitious. It is to do nothing less than provide everyone, young or old, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, with a direct, authentic and systematic way of starting to reconnect with their Awakened Heart.
If Buddhism is to come to the West, the central truths must be re-embodied in Western ways of thinking, but without distortion – and I believe that is just what this course does. For me it was a turning point.
Retired landscape gardener
How is meditation involved?
Meditation is central to Discovering the Heart of Buddhism, as it deepens and stabilises our exploration of our experience. The simplicity of being that we discover in meditation spills over into our lives, and this natural process is helped by pausing to reconnect with our awareness during the day.
As a participant in Discovering the Heart of Buddhism you will be able to receive meditation instruction and periodic meditation interviews with your contact person and with Lama Shenpen.
This guidance is supplemented by inspiration and practical advice from a specially written book on meditation, Openness Clarity Sensitivity, as well as the deepening process of reflecting on the materials in the coursebooks.
To take full advantage of the course you need to commit yourself to at least 15 minutes of meditation a day, and to simple awareness exercises at odd moments throughout the day.
Read more about the practice of meditation and daily life awareness below.
Meditation and Daily Life Awareness
Buddhist training consists of study, reflection and meditation. Meditation here means sitting still for set periods of time to familiarise ourselves with the nature and workings of our innermost being. There are techniques for helping ourselves to focus on our direct experience.
We deliberately keep the focus simple, teaching a method called Formless Meditation. Do not be deceived by the simplicity however. The practice gradually reveals itself to be subtle and profound.
We learn to make friends with ourselves and all our experience, good and bad, because the essence of both is the same natural and profound openness, clarity and sensitivity of our being.
For a long time the practice of meditation may feel like a struggle but it is a struggle to let go of complications and arrive at simplicity. The ease of that simplicity is elusive and takes a long time to develop and stabilise. That is why such a wealth of further techniques have developed within the Buddhist tradition.
However complex other practices may be, in essence they are always meant to develop and stabilise the simple awareness of Formless meditation. The path begins and ends by dissolving into the space of Formless meditation.
Daily life awareness practice emerges out of the Formless meditation practice, carrying that simplicity of approach into all our activities and our whole attitude to life. The difference is that in the formal sitting periods we can give ourselves the space and time we need to deepen our practice, away from the distractions of our everyday life.
The sense of openness and space, clarity and awareness, sensitivity and responsiveness that you connect with in the meditation starts to flow out into your life and your environment for the benefit of all.
How flexible is it?
Discovering the Heart of Buddhism is designed so that you can determine for yourself where and when you study and practice. As a distance based training, it is flexible, convenient and accessible.
The core of the training is meditation and reflection on the course materials. It is possible to practice and study entirely from your home, making contact with Lama Shenpen and a senior student by email, phone, or letter.
For many busy people, fitting half an hour into odd spaces during a hectic week is much more attractive than attending frequent day or weekend retreats. Moreover, small ‘bites’ of frequent and regular study, reflection and meditation are important for getting to grips with the ideas in Buddhism and realising their full meaning in everyday life. This is made easier by having teaching materials, like those on Discovering the Heart of Buddhism, specifically designed for this approach.
You will set the pace at which you progress through the materials. ?The materials are laid out to give some guidance on the rate of progress, but you can vary this according to your own preferences and responses to the material. Perhaps you will find that you move more quickly through some sections and more slowly through others. However, it is normally recommended that you spend at least one year going through the materials the first time.
How is it tailored for Westerners?
Discovering the Heart of Buddhism is designed to help you discover the truths of Buddhism through your own experience, not through adopting a set of blind beliefs.
It presents the underlying principles of Buddhism in familiar English words and enables you to connect to the heart of Buddhism without the confusion often caused by Eastern cultural trappings.
The traditional formulae for presenting Buddhism were evolved to help people in Buddhist cultures, where people were brought up to have a strong conviction in Buddhist ideas about the world. But in the West we do not share many of these ideas, and so we need to be introduced to Buddhism more carefully.
We have to begin with what we can know for sure-our direct experience-and from there we can allow a sense of the vaster and profounder vision that Buddhism offers to dawn within us.
Read more about how the training is tailored for Westerners below.
Buddhism and Westerners
The themes of the training represent the underlying principles of Buddhism, which have been built and elaborated upon down the ages according to the tastes and requirements of different cultural settings. They are often implicit in traditional Buddhist teachings, endorsed by the whole culture of a Buddhist country, not needing explicit formulation when Eastern Buddhists are being taught.
If you are already familiar with how Buddhism is traditionally taught, you may feel that in this way of teaching we depart rather radically from a traditional approach. To think this would be to take too narrow a view of how the tradition works. The tradition has always adapted its teaching methods to the requirements of the students. This is traditional.
All of these underlying principles have always been present in Buddhism right from the Buddha’s first teachings: it is just that in these materials they have been gathered together explicitly and presented in a way accessible to Westerners not brought up in a Buddhist culture.
Having grasped the underlying principles of Buddhism presented, students should be able to approach and relate to more traditional teachings (such as the Four Noble Truths, not-self and karma) in the spirit in which they are intended, rather than distorted by a veil of cultural misunderstandings.
The traditional methods of presenting Buddhism in the East were developed against a particular cultural background, one that we in the West do not share.
In Buddhist countries, children pick up from those around them that the Buddha represents all things good, that he represents wisdom, compassion, peace, joy and gentleness, and that what he teaches is true for all time. They believe implicitly that there is such a thing as liberation, Awakening, release from suffering, countless past lives and future lives, yet all are like dreams and illusions. They have complete confidence that liberation is a matter of the heart and that this is intimately connected with the whole enlightenment process.
This is the conceptual framework that they already have when they start training intensively with Buddhist teachers. The problem is not that they need convincing of all these things – they just need to be reminded and encouraged.
Westerners need to be introduced to Buddhist thinking more carefully than by simply applying formulae that are suited to people brought up in Buddhist cultures. We have to arrive by careful stages at a dawning sense of the possibility of the vaster and profounder vision that Buddhism offers. We have to begin with what we know because we cannot begin anywhere else. We certainly cannot begin on the assumption that we believe what Eastern Buddhists believe, or that we ever will.
An open mind is what really matters. Indeed most Westerners are attracted to Buddhism by the fact that it does not demand blind faith and belief, but appeals to the evidence of our own direct experience – this is what the Buddha meant when he said his teachings were “Come and see”.
We have to start with our own language and culture and with our own experience of our hearts and minds. This is where Discovering the Heart of Buddhism begins and by beginning in this way we find ourselves already participating in the process of Awakening – not through blind belief, but through experience and a sense of inspiration.
How much personal contact is there?
All students on Discovering the Heart of Buddhism are welcome to discuss their experiences in meditation or with the materials at any point with Lama Shenpen. Not only will you have access to Lama Shenpen, but also to a contact person who serves as a Dharma friend, someone who can encourage you and with whom you can discuss your inspiration, difficulties and experiences on the Discovering the Heart of Buddhism training.
Lama Shenpen and your contact person can be contacted by email, phone or letter. It is also possible to talk to meet them face-to-face if you are able to come to retreats and teaching weekends held in the UK.
Read more about personal contact and why it is important.
Personal Contact and Why it is Important
A special feature of Discovering the Heart of Buddhism is the high level of personal contact with the teacher and a senior student.
All of us are seeking a ground of genuineness and openness within ourselves and others. The teachers are there to communicate that awake, living and sensitive quality uncovered by Meditation and Awareness practice. Effective communication acts as a practice, gradually instilling in us confidence in the innermost nature of our being and the commitment to realise it.
All of us, teachers and students alike, are human beings treading the path alongside each other, connected to the lineage of those who have trodden the path and shown us the way. The living presence of, and our direct relationship with, the lineage helps us to cut through our unrealistic expectations and attempts to hide from the truth about ourselves and others.
Practically, we need to check our experience with those who have traversed the path before us. One-on-one interaction has unique advantages, drawing from the teacher advice and practical hints tailored to the needs and responses of the individual.
All students on Discovering the Heart of Buddhism are able to discuss with Lama Shenpen by email, phone or letter, their experiences in meditation and with the course materials. This interaction provides the opportunity to ask questions about points you don’t understand, to check that you have understood other points correctly, and to get practical hints about how to continue your progress. If you’re able to visit the UK, you can also attend retreats and weekend courses and have face-to-face interviews with Lama Shenpen there.
In addition to these discussions with Lama Shenpen, each student will also be able to regularly contact an experienced senior student. This will be someone who can act as friend to you, encouraging you, discussing your difficulties and helping you to work out what you need to talk to Lama Shenpen about.
About the course
What are the course materials?
- The ‘coursebooks’ are the core of Discovering the Heart of Buddhism, forming a complete training in themselves. They do more than just provide information. They are carefully structured to lead you on a journey of contemplation and reflection, an exploration into the nature of our being. There are four, themed ‘coursebooks’ and a companion introductory book, guiding you through nine basic themes of Buddhism.
- As well as the ‘coursebooks’, the book on formless meditation and another book -Openness, Clarity, Sensitivity, you will have access to a number of written and recorded teaching resources online that can be used to support your study on Discovering the Heart of Buddhism
- Online archive of teachings from weekends and retreats
- Transcripts of some of these teachings
- Other books and booklets
- Discussion forum with fellow students
- Weekly email teachings from Lama Shenpen on Buddhism Connect
How long does it last?
You set your pace through the course. However, for most people the course takes at least 12 months to complete. Once you have enrolled on Discovering the Heart of Buddhism, your enrolment is valid for up to 24 months, giving you plenty of time to complete the course.
What do I do now?
To get started now, you can enrol online. We will then send you the first instalment of materials, including instructions on getting started with the meditation.Enrol Now
You’ve just read the complete information about Discovering the Heart of Buddhism above, but if you would like you can print this information out to read in your own time, in the form of a Course Guide.
If you still have questions, please contact us
You can talk to a current student if you wish who can discuss their experiences of the training. Email the hermitage to talk to Tara or Dashu who are senior students – firstname.lastname@example.org
How much does it cost?
There are two rates for Discovering the Heart of Buddhism depending on how you choose to pay:
The full rate is £369, if you choose to spread the cost by paying monthly. (The first payment will be for UK£50 and the eleven remaining payments will be for UK£29, for a total payment of £369).
We offer a discounted rate of £295, if you choose to pay up front. Since it helps our finances if you pay at the beginning of the course, if you are able to do this we offer a 20% discount—that is a saving of £74.
If you do not live in the UK and want to know what the cost would be in your currency, we can calculate that for you on your payment form.
Only pay if you value what you receive
As a Buddhist charity we’re not trying to make a profit, and we only want to receive money from people who value what we’re doing and want to support it. That’s why we offer a 3 month satisfaction pledge – if at any point in your first three months of enrolment you decide it’s not working out for you, then you can return the initial materials to us and either:
Get a full refund if you pay up-front
Stop making any further payments if you pay monthly.
We are a registered charity (The Shrimala Trust, UK no. 1078783) and we aim to keep the cost as low as possible for the quality of materials and service offered. We are only able to offer the course at this rate because our team of volunteers and low-paid staff are very generous with their time.
There is a bursary fund that helps those who are not able to pay the full rate for the course. Email email@example.com to find out more.
© The Shrimala Trust, UK charity no. 1078783
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