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The Buddhist Centre in Kilmainham

‘Ani Yonten (on left) currently resident nun, with Lama Zangmo in the shrine room at Kilmainham.’ Credit: K. Treacy.

The Buddhist Centre in Kilmainham – a fascinating read about the history of Kilmainham’s very own Buddhist community

For almost fifty years now, the dark red, Buddhist robes of monks and nuns of the Tibetan tradition have been an occasional sight on the streets of Dublin 8.  In 1977, a handful of Irish people interested in this tradition set about establishing a centre, initially based at North Terrace in the old railway estate of Inchicore.  Its purpose was to provide a communal space for study and meditation practice and to invite and host visiting teachers.  Almost all of the visiting lamas at that time had been forced to flee Tibet as refugees less than twenty years previously.  Money was scarce, to say the least; some needed translators, so it was a process which called for a degree of commitment from both sides.  When the first premises proved to be too small, the centre’s community paid off the mortgage early and took out a new one on its present home, a fine old Victorian house on Inchicore Road in Kilmainham.  The centre’s 21st year was celebrated there with a visit from the President of Ireland.

The centre is connected to Samye Ling, founded in 1967 and now one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in Europe.  It sits in the remote Eskdalemuir valley in southern Scotland.  Its founding lama, the late Akong Rinpoche, and current abbot, Lama Yeshe Rinpoche, have been frequent visitors to Ireland.  Over the years, the centre here has also hosted short visits from many Tibetan teachers whose names are very well known and highly respected in the Tibetan and Himalayan regions.  It has also had numerous visits by European-born monks, nuns and lay teachers.  Samye Ling now owns Holy Isle, off the Scottish island of Arran, where it has built inter-faith conference and long-term retreat centres.  The Irish Christian saint Molaise of Old Leighlin in Co. Carlow (Latinised to ‘Laserian’, died c. 638) spent some of his younger years as a hermit there.  His cave and nearby spring can still be seen on Holy Isle, as can his much-visited holy well near the Church of Ireland medieval Cathedral of St. Laserian at Old Leighlin.  Molaise was a contemporary and comrade of Maighnean, the saint who founded and gave his name to Cill Mhaighnean – Kilmainham.

Buddhism is more than 2,500 years old.  It spread from India throughout the lands of Asia in early times and so it comes to ‘the West’ in many differing cultural and historical wrappings.  It does not have a ‘sacred book’ (Buddhism, however, is said to have the largest body of religious literature, by far, of any world religion.  This is preserved in Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc., etc., and increasingly in European languages).  It does not have any equivalent to a Pope or central authority.  The monastic side for men and women was there from the very beginning and is still very strong in numbers in many Asian countries.  It exists so that those who wish to may devote as much time as possible to study and meditation practice while living a simple life with few needs or distractions. The monastic lineages are regarded as the main custodians of the historical Buddha’s forty-five years, or so, of teaching.  Although there is evidence of some early contact, in particular with ancient Greece; Buddha statues found in Viking hoards, etc., it was not really until the twentieth century that Buddhism began to be known and studied in Europe, America, Australasia and, more recently, Africa.  In Ireland, where the 2022 census has 9,053 people calling themselves ‘Buddhist’, this diversity is reflected.  The Tibetan traditions (there are many self-governing sub-traditions within Buddhism as practised in Tibet and surrounds) seem to be the most popular here with long-established centres in counties Cavan and Cork.  There are also small groups and centres spread around the country, adhering to a variety of other approaches such as Zen and the Theravada tradition of south Asia.  Dublin has several strands represented, most recently by the opening in 2023 of a Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Coolock.

There are many formulas which attempt to summarize Buddhist teaching (a notoriously difficult task).  A straightforward one is, ‘Cease to do evil, learn to do good, tame your own mind’.  The Buddha is not a god but is revered as a teacher and example – ‘You, yourself must make the effort; Buddhas can but point the Way’.  The ‘taming’ of the mind takes place through cultivating ethical conduct and positive mental states such as patience, generosity, kindness and compassion.  ‘Hearing, Reflecting, Meditating’ is another formula which is used to describe the spiritual path.  Buddhist philosophy is examined and critically reflected upon (vigorous debate is much employed in the Tibetan monastic institutions as a tool in this).  Meditative reflection (logical analysis and deep consideration of a topic such as ‘impermanence’, or ‘dependent arising’) involves the thinking mind.  Buddhist meditation proper, which has a wealth of different techniques, might be summed up simply as ‘calm and clear’.  The mind is sometimes compared to a glass of muddy water, constantly being shaken, agitated and stirred up.  By practising techniques of calming and focussing, the mud may begin to settle.  Insight, into oneself and reality, is said to then become apparent, like the natural clarity of the water.  A Buddha is regarded as one who has developed insight, or wisdom, and compassion to the ultimate degree.

The centre in Kilmainham offers short courses in meditation and aspects of the Buddhist path several times through the year.  Activities there are open to all and there is no expectation that one will ‘become a Buddhist’.  Meditation practice sessions currently take place on four days of the week and details of the schedule, future events, etc., can be found on .  The centre has received planning permission for a new teaching and meditation building to the rear of its premises and preliminary work is almost complete.  When built, it will provide a more spacious atmosphere for practice.  It should also give room to display and share with the public more of the rich artistic and spiritual traditions which are ancient but yet very much fresh and alive within Tibetan Buddhism.  It is hoped that the centre may so contribute, in its own small way, to the emerging ‘cultural hub’ at Kilmainham.

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