Elisabeth Winkler talks to Khandro Déchen about Buddhist teachings for everyday life, ahead of her Bristol event
On 17 November, Bristol’s Kings Weston House opens its Georgian doors for an event celebrating a form of Buddhism suitable for life in the 21st century. The lineage holders of the Aro tradition wear traditional robes when teaching and have Tibetan Buddhist names, yet they are westerners who live ordinary family lives. Ordained in 1993, Khandro Déchen, and her husband Ngak’chang Rinpoche live in Penarth, Cardiff, with their 15-year-old daughter, Raechel, and teach as a married couple.
“I wasn’t searching for religion when I found Buddhism,” says Khandro Déchen, born in Newbury and raised in a non-religious family. “I had an established career in nursing – but I had questions: ‘is this it then? What more could there be to life?’”
Khandro Déchen (then, Caroline) was an acquaintance of Ngak’chang Rinpoche. “I used to take him off into corners at parties to ask about his life in the Himalayas. He worked in factories and building sites in Britain to finance studies with his teachers in India and Nepal. I attended one of his Buddhist retreats and found that his teaching made utter sense of my experience of life. ”
She became a student and a decade later, when both were single, they fell in love. According to their tradition, romantic relationship is perceived as a spiritual opportunity. “It is important not to divide formal practice from everyday life. We see one another as equals – each is a teacher for the other,” says Khandro Déchen. They are keen to help women become spiritual practitioners and teachers, and parents with their children of any age are always welcome on retreats.
Five tips from Khandro Déchen for everyday Buddhism
Practise being human. “Social stereotyping highlights difference and therefore disconnection. It is better to emphasise commonality and cohesion. Experience yourself and others not as female, male, white, black – but as human. It is our humanity that is beautiful and creates a positive influence for this world.”
Cultivate the arts. “Art brings freshness into being. Art can be the way you dress, prepare a meal, experience music, decorate your house, or create a garden: discovering what you authentically appreciate, rather than what is ‘trending’. The possibilities are endless. Appreciation is inseparable from compassion. Art is the vibrant potentiality within every aspect of life.”
Take a few seconds. “Try the practice of suspending the senses: suspend the breath until your body needs to continue breathing; suspend thinking about sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. The result is a sense of spaciousness. This is particularly valuable for parents with young children who don’t have much time to meditate.”
Appreciate alternative ideas. “People’s opinions are divergent so why should mine be better? It is preferable to find interest and humour in contrary views and tastes.”
Nurture your sense of humour. “Regard personal inconveniences, annoyances, irritations and aggravations as causes for smiling and laughter.”
Find out more about Buddhism for everyday life on 17 November, 1pm – 8pm, at Kings Weston House. Tickets £5, accompanied children under 16 go free.