Choden 12 & 13, 15 August 2017

The Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness & Compassion

Sat 12 Aug: 10:30 – 4 pm, Bring and Share veg lunch
Sun 13 Aug: 10:00 – 13:00
Cost R450 for entire weekend plus dana
Worldwide, there is a great deal of interest in secular Mindfulness and Compassion, and they are increasingly the focus of psychological inquiry and neuroscience research. Many people benefit greatly from these trainings, and find that their heart becomes more open and their mind becomes more workable. Problems become less solid, we start to appreciate our life more and a growing feeling of kindness emerges through a willingness to accept ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in.

On this weekend course we will look at how Buddhism enriches and deepens the practice of Mindfulness and Compassion.  This is relevant both for people want to learn more about the Buddhist roots of the practices that have brought them so much benefit, as well as for those who want to enter the Buddhist path.

We will explore some key Buddhist themes and practices that are described below. This will be done in an experiential way, and will take the form of presentations, guided practices and sitting, with group sharing and inquiry.


The starting point is to identify what the Buddha described as ‘right view’ because this gives energy and focus to our practice. In essence, the view is that we are already fundamentally well and whole despite whatever has happened to us in our lives. This is hugely important. Practice then seeks to uncover this truth so that it becomes a living experience and not just a nice idea. This sense of innate completeness is referred to as Buddha Nature.


The reason for undertaking this journey is that although the conditions we find ourselves in may sometimes be pleasant, they are impermanent and intrinsically unsatisfactory. For this reason we cultivate the attitude of renunciation, which is seen as essential if we want to follow the Buddhist path.

This term is often misunderstood: it does not mean we have to abandon our jobs, homes and loved ones. The essence of renunciation is facing our limiting patterns of grasping at what we like and aversion to what we dislike, and choosing not to live our lives constrained by our habitual preferences. In the language of Rob Nairn, it means renouncing our EPS (egocentric preference system)

What makes this possible is an increasing confidence in our inherent goodness, or Buddha Nature. But what is crucial to this process is a firm foundation of ethics that revolve around a non-harming mindset. This lays the ground for a wholesome lifestyle that is the pre-condition for recognising Buddha Nature.

We will engender renunciation by contemplating on the 4 thoughts that ‘turn the mind to the Dharma’. These are: appreciating the preciousness of life; seeing the fragility and impermanence of everything; seeing how we shape our experience through how we think, speak and act; and seeing the suffering inherent in all of life.

Refuge & Bodhicitta

Buddhists have the basic intention to turn away from behaviour that perpetuates suffering and to adopt behaviour that brings freedom from suffering. If we follow the Buddhist path we align ourselves with the Buddha, his teachings and our community of fellow travellers through ‘taking Refuge’. There is a formal ceremony for ‘taking refuge’ but what we are focusing on here is the inner process of ‘taking refuge’.  This entails turning towards a deeper dimension of ourselves and making the aspiration to awaken it in our own experience so that we can help awaken it in others too.

This attitude of mind is called ‘Bodhicitta’. It is a powerful force within us and when we begin to cultivate it we gradually start to realise that the dramas and struggles we are caught up in are not as solid and real as we thought, but at the same time we develop compassion for what we are caught up in. Once we experience this in ourselves we can approach other people and all of life in this way too.

In summary then, mindfulness serves Bodhicitta and compassion is contained within it. The foundation is ethics and the direction we go is waking up to who we really are – our Buddha Nature. When we practice Mindfulness and Compassion within this deeper context a whole different world opens up before us – this is world of the bodhisattva or spiritual warrior.


Neuroscience of Insight

Tues 15 August @ 7:30 pm

Cost: R100 and dana (concessions available)

The practice of Insight in Buddhism is a one of looking deeply into the mind, seeing how we unwittingly reinforce our own patterns of confusion, and seeing even more deeply into the fundamental quality of wholeness, freedom and peace that lies beneath this confusion.

Rob Nairn has made a significant contribution to a secular approach to Insight by showing how we are ruled by unseen reflexes and attitudes that operate at a subliminal level of mind, and how the cultivation of subliminal awareness begins to gradually free us from our limiting attitudes and beliefs through the principle of the ‘seeing is the doing’.

Choden will offer an overview of the practice of Insight and explain how recent insights in neuroscience and cognitive psychology have added a deeper dimension to this practice.


Who is Choden?

Formally a monk within the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Choden (aka Sean Mc Govern) completed a three year, three month retreat in 1997 and has been a practicing Buddhist since 1985. He is originally from South Africa where he trained as a lawyer and learned meditation under the guidance of Rob Nairn, an internationally renowned Buddhist teacher. He is now involved in developing secular mindfulness and compassion programmes drawing upon the wisdom and methods of the Buddhist tradition, as well as contemporary insights from psychology and neuroscience. He is an honorary fellow of the University of Aberdeen and teaches on their Postgraduate Study Programme in Mindfulness (MSc) that is the first of its kind to include compassion in its curriculum. He co-wrote a book with Paul Gilbert in 2012, entitled ‘Mindful Compassion’ that explores the interface between Buddhist and Evolutionary approaches to compassion training. In 2016 he completed a one year retreat focused on the foundation practices of Tibetan Buddhism.