Saturday, June 19, 2010

Skellig Michael and Buddhism

Skellig Michael is a rocky island off the Dingle Peninsula in south-west Ireland.
 For hundreds of years, until the 12th Century, it was settled by Pre-Roman Catholic, Irish monks as a sacred place of meditation retreat and prayer for the ultimate benefit of the world's spiritual welfare.
Hanging onto the edge of the known world, this small monastery was named after the Archangel Michael who had gone into battle and defeated Satan, the embodiment of all evil. In this light, the monks who lived there used the power of prayer and meditation to subjugate the power of evil on a daily basis.
The wild, rugged environment there provided the perfect opportunity for this battle to take place and the harsh, simple life there is said to have kept the hearts and minds of the brothers pure.
These men were spiritual pioneers - representatives of the human race as it were - expertly equipped to stay in the most remote of places and face and avert the darkness at the outer limits of consciousness.
Then one day - sometime during the 12th Century - they simply left for the mainland and never returned.

Nowadays, Skellig is bit of a curiosity and, weather permitting, you can go out there for a day-trip to explore the monastic site with all its walkways cut into the rock-face, 'beehive' hermitages, and the small communal church.

The concept of evil is extremely interesting from a Buddhist perspective. It represents everything that is negative and harmful in the world - and thus in our own mindstream, as that [according to the Buddha's teaching] is where all external phenomena emanate from ultimately. Therefore it is our duty, and the focus of all our spiritual practice, to completely eradicate any trace of such negativity and so reveal our true nature in all its primordially perfect splendour.

If Evil is the opposite of God in Christianity, then Negativity is for Buddhists the opposite of our innate goodness - the Buddha Nature itself. But, for Buddhists, negativity only lies on the surface layers of the mind and can be purified and vanquished by any practitioner who is determined enough.
Negativity has many superficial manifestations, grasping attachment and angry aversion being the main culprits. Reduce and eventually eliminate those and we are almost free of the evil we often refer to as ego.
But some of our other negative traits are slightly less superficial and more difficult to totally overcome. Ignorance is a kind of disabling amnesia that, like a dense fog, prevents us from directly experiencing the purity that is our heart essence, our core being. Another key obstacle is our karma. This is the habitual tendency we have to consistently perform negative actions as if they could never produce negative consequences either for ourselves or others. The winds of karma continually blow us off course and render us almost helpless in our attempts to control our lives. Therefore, spiritual practices such as meditating and purifying are the main methods suggested by the Buddha for experiencing our true nature and overcoming the disastrous effects of ego's self-centred, mindless chaos.

Recently a Tibetan Buddhist master of some renown, asked to be taken out to Skellig Michael as he felt some affinity with the place and the practice of its former inhabitants. He intuited that the place had been extraordinarily powerful for practice and that it had created many saints.

You can read about their trip HERE

Please also enjoy the following video clips from YouTube to get some of the atmosphere of the island and its surroundings.

And for a short section of the BBC television series COAST, click HERE