A Tibetan retreat in Scotland

“Shoes off!” 
This became something of a mantra today on my first visit to the Tibetan monastery deep in the Scottish Borders and I began to regret my trainers and endless tying of shoelaces.
Kagyu Samye Ling Buddist retreat has long been on my bucket list of places to visit  (its one of the top tourist attractions in Scotland) so when a Buddhist friend invited us for lunch we accepted and decided to stay overnight too.
This is a working monastery deep in the heart of the Borders run by a small group of monks, nuns (yes they have women monks and it gave me quite a jolt seeing all those shaved women’s heads) and volunteers.
In recent years the centre has undergone a multi million pounds refurbishment and extension programme and the result is quite startling giving it almost a Disney appearance. Such colours I am assured are typical of a Tibetan monastery.
It is now a major attraction for tourists visiting the Scottish Borders and day visitors are welcome to participate in the life of the monastery or just wander around the garden, temple and even sit in on prayers (we did and there was  an awful of chanting and banging of cymbals) and meditation - skipped that because you have to commit to an hour of silent meditation.
A big surprise is the standard of accommodation- its luxurious. I gather though that there is some disquiet amongst traditional Buddhists at the growing commercialisation of the retreat.
Today their biggest money earners are the regular courses it runs especially mindfulness, which is now big business.
It has had its fair share of famous visitors from David Bowie who studied here and almost became a monk, to Billy Connolly and the Dalai Lama.
There is an intensity and seriousness about the people here; one senses they are all searching for something.

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