Monday, February 27, 2012
Wine, women and Buddhism
Lawrence Durrell, who was born on February 27th 1912, is celebrated as the author of two of the great achievements of twentieth century literature, the Alexandria Quartet and the Avignon Quintet, and also as a peerless travel writer; but the story of how he embraced Buddhism towards the end of his life is less well known. The accompanying photos shows the great hall of Dashang Kagyu Ling monastery in La Boulaye, France and I took them when I visited the monastery, which is also known as Temple of a Thousand Buddhas, a couple of years ago. The Temple, which follows the Vajrayana tradition of Tantric Buddhism , was consecrated in 1987 and Lawrence Durrell played an important role in raising funds for its construction.
Gnosticism and the Christian heresies of Europe and the Near East provide the spiritual thread from which Lawrence Durrell's novels are woven, but he also had a deep interest in the mysticism of the Far East. In 1982 Durrell and his friend Jacques Lacarrière were exploring the Morvan Forest in central France by car and during their journey were discussing the Tibetan poet and yogi Milarepa, whose writings had long fascinated Durrell. As they drove they met by chance two Tibetan lamas walking on the road. The lamas were on their way to the Kagyu Ling Buddhist study centre at La Boulaye, so Durrell and Lacarrière gave them a lift. At which point the Buddhists doctrine of dependent origination came into play: when Durrell arrived at Kagyu Ling, which he had never visited, he was amazed to discover that the Buddhist tradition practised there was inspired by Milarepa.
Durrell returned to Kagyu Ling many times and his support was instrumental in its expansion from a study centre to a Temple. The Buddhist ambiance appealed to him because, as the novelist's biographer Gordon Bowker explains "the ghost of Original Sin, it seemed, had been thoroughly exorcised by these gentle people". In his last years Durrell said "I think I'm more a Buddhist than I would have believed. It's the only religion that's demonstrable... It's as honest as ice-cream". In 1986 the four times married Durrell and his final companion Françoise Kestman celebrated a Buddhist wedding at the Temple helped by a consecrated bottle of local wine. Soon after Durrell died in 1990 a Buddhist lama reported that he was already reincarnated and living as the proprietor of a vineyard in Burgundy.
* The Lawrence Durrell centenary website is here. French contemporary composer Eliane Radique has made settings of Milarepa's poems for voice and electronics. My photo of Dashang - Temple of a Thousand Buddhas originally appeared in a post about Jonathan Harvey's String Quartets. Buddhist chants meet El Sistema in the Mantra Mountain project.
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