December, 2022, with Dónal Creedon

 by Anton Krueger, Jan 2023


This was my first time back at the TRC in three years, and I’m happy to report that everything is still standing and it’s greener than ever. There’s still a dead tree at the farm pool, but the new trees on the lawn are growing stronger by the day. There’s also a new retreat manager (Tanja) and a fresh Karmapa flag flying.

After years of meditations on Zoom with Dónal Creedon, it was wonderful to see him again in person. Dónal has the rare ability of truly regarding everybody as a friend, and his unassuming presence tends to bring out the best qualities in those around him. It was a treat to see so many familiar faces and a joy to connect again with this dharma community; a comfort to see that Kagyu Southern Africa is building a community who are in it for the long haul, rather than having its retreat centres survive on once-off experiential tourists. Being aware of Dónal’s quiet wisdom and gentle holding of space for practical enquiry feels almost like a rare secret shared by this community of regulars and I always feel myself incredibly fortunate to be able to form part of this temporary tribe.

We did a good deal of sitting and a few puja practices. There was one daily teaching, and then also Dónal’s famous Krishnamurti-style daily enquiries, which this year circled around the theme of violence. He states in the blurb for the retreat:

The question is how does the mind free itself of its accumulated violence, cultural violence, self-protective violence, the violence of competition, the violence of authority and obedience, the violence of trying to be somebody, the violence of trying to suppress and bully oneself in order to be non-violent?

Dónal probed us to explore our own violence, the seeds of unsettlement, the roots of this destructive tendency towards ourselves and others. We tried to tap into the real practical and personal origins of violence in our own lives and kept coming back to ways of being free. I was grateful that Dónal loosened the enquiry process a bit this year to allow quotations and stories, as I’m ever overeager to access all these words in my head which are not my own. Sometimes I couldn’t help talking too much and telling unrelated stories about various studies and statistics and such – sorry Donal! – but I was grateful for the tolerance shown.

The way in which we interact with each other on retreat gives us an example of a model society in which we could accept each other’s oddities and idiosyncrasies and yet still appreciate each other’s innate goodness. It demonstrates a way of being with people that is helpful in the so called “real world” outside of retreat. After having calibrated our minds and hearts with a few good weeks of sitting practice, healthy food and restorative sleep, the opportunity to try out what had been gained was offered all too soon for those of us aboard the airport courier transport.

On the courier ride back to the airport, our journey started off in good spirits as we embarked back to the “normal” world. Then, the first obstacle appeared when our kombi had a flat tire, but – oh dear – no spare to spare. We waited for an anxious hour at the side of the road for a tire to be sourced and delivered (this was on a public holiday Sunday), while watching the clock tick closer to our boarding times…

After the tire had been dispatched and replaced – with help from Max and crew – we were on our way again, but, unbeknownst to us, a further gaggle of Pilgrims Progress style obstacles lay in wait further on the road. Endless queues at roadblocks tested our patience, and just when we’d gotten through to the end of the line, our driver was hauled away by the authorities and we sat peering at him through the thorn tree scrub as he hastily signed documents on the back of a police vehicle.

After this considerable delay, we were back on track – we could still make the earliest flights if we really pushed it. But – oh no – we were once again stopped and our driver was once more taken off to account for his speeding. And the clock still ticking… By now there was a good deal of chatter around which rearrangements could be made or alternative plans to get those with the first flights to the airport on time, but when we looked into rerouting or changing early flights, we discovered they’d been booked up for the next 3 days! With tensions mounting, we then had to transfer to yet another kombi and lug all our gear onto this new vehicle.

Actually, it was brilliant. After speaking for days on topic like “expectations”, “resentment”, “frustration”, and “non-acceptance,” it was extraordinary how quickly our supposedly settled minds slung back onto their habitual tracks of anger and outrage as we searched for a suitable enemy at whom to unleash an accusatory email or two. With anxieties mounting, we needed to find somebody to blame. It was really funny how phrases which had been investigated only days before, were now being bandied about, such as that the situation was “completely unacceptable.”

This was an actual dharma situation right here, quite different from sitting in a warm circle discussing these notions philosophically from the vantage of a comfortable shrine room. Here in the dust of the searing mid-day heat out on the side of the road caught in a situation beyond our control – now was the time to practise…

I’m not sure if anybody did fire off emails at the courier company or the TRC. It probably would have been good to let them know of our ordeal if only to ensure the company carries a spare on those Marico roads the next time. I guess the key would be to be able to deliver those kinds of responses without bitterness, resentment and self-righteousness blame, and always in keeping with one of Akong Rinpoche’s most famous aphorisms, to always: “Accept the situation.” Following on from Derrida’s insight that only the unforgiveable is in need of forgiveness, one might also say that only the unacceptable requires an act of acceptance; (otherwise you wouldn’t need to bother, right?).

Truth be told, the whole ride turned out to be pretty exciting. There was an enjoyable rush and bustle of communal spirit as everybody helped out when each fresh obstacle arose. It was great! And we did reach the plane station in the nick of time and the relief of stepping onto that iron bird was a real pleasure, so there was definitely something positive gained from the adventure.

As always, there was some sadness in saying goodbye and having to disperse and go our separate ways. No surprise, since we know that all “compounded things” will be “uncompounded”, and everything that comes together will fall apart. There was some consolation in having spent this brief precious time together, and in having been reminded of the truth of suffering, but also the truth of the way out.

As Dónal goes on in his blurb: “According to Buddha dharma, our consciousness is afflicted at its very core. The afflicted mind is a potent cocktail of resentment and confusion. It is from this unholy mix that all conflicts arise both individual and collective.” All of these were in full demonstration during the retreat, on the ride home, and since; so much rich territory ripe for exploration. Fortunately, Dónal also writes: “Yet, it need not be so if we take time to listen, reflect and meditate.”