Stately Homes and Staircases: Madyamaka Buddhist Meditation Centre, Pocklington

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The Madyamaka Buddhist Meditation Centre, part of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) within Tibetan Buddhism occupies the former Kilwick Percy Hall, in Pocklington, near York, and 42 acres of surrounding land. The building is predominantly Georgian and is Grade II* listed.  However, we were informed that the origins of a building on this land stretch back further into English history (and include a mention in the Domesday Book).  The earliest part that is currently still standing, the basement, was built in 1574.

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Kilnwick Percy Hall and the surrounding grounds were significantly redeveloped in 1720, and again in 1840, passing to different families during this period.  The house itself was occupied by the Government during the Second World War and, as a result, was also significantly adapted. Interestingly, just prior to the Second World War, the house was again re-modeled, including severing in two the large, central staircase, and relocating it to the side of the house. We were told that this was done to raise funds, as half of the staircase was sold locally, and made into furniture.  I joked on twitter, some months ago, that alongside the much-loved warehouse stairs in Manchester Buddhist Centre, this split staircase is certainly in my top ten favourite staircases in Buddhist centres in England!

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The NKT bought the house in 1986. It had previously redeveloped a large house in the Lake District, and was looking to open another centre.  Madhyamaka is one of 1,000 NKT centres worldwide. When the NKT took over the building, it was in a significantly dilapidated state. They undertook their renovations predominantly with volunteer labour, but have worked with professionals (including heritage professionals), particularly in advising on the renovations of particular aspects of the building, including the wooden floors in the entrance hall and the large, external stone pillars. They also used professionals for tasks such as the replacement of the sixty-year old boiler system. However, volunteer support is vital, and in order to keep up with the maintenance, the NKT run week-long work weeks where volunteers will come and live in the building and assist with the tasks that need to be achieved.

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The renovated Bed and Breakfast accomodation

In renovating this building for use as a Buddhist centre, the NKT placed a great deal of emphasis on sympathetic restoration of the house, including in the large former ball-room which has particularly ornate decorative features.  The house and the surrounding grounds remain open to the public, and the focus here is both on the history of the house and it’s current usage.  Given the age and historic significance of the house, an on-going issue for this community is appropriate, and skilled, maintenance and meeting the costs of heating bills in particular.  The NKT fundraise for this purpose, and also have a number of businesses integrated within the house and grounds which also provide an income, including a gift-shop, a World Peace Café, and a Bed and Breakfast.

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The building currently has a number of uses for this community.  There are approximately thirty long-term residents, both lay people and ordained monks and nuns, alongside Buddhists who also rent the flats in the building and the three cottages in the grounds.  The building hosts a number of meditation classes and courses and festivals and retreats, which attract a national and international audience.  The community also has a particular focus on family involvement, running children’s meditation classes and mothers and children’s groups, as well as an annual family retreat.  The building is significant to the NKT as it was the second Centre that was adapted, and was referred to as a ‘hub’, both for activity, but also training teachers that later went on to start additional Buddhist centres and meditation groups.  The community typically adopts the term ‘Meditation Centre’ when referring to Kilnwick Percy Hall, although occasionally use ‘temple’ in addition.  Tibetan words such as ‘gompa’ are used less frequently, and when they are, it is generally only between the residents.

Additionally, the NKT also uses the building for a number of ‘non-Buddhist’ purposes, including being open for people who want to walk around the grounds, see the house and use the café, regular history tours, and an annual summer fair – retaining the traditions of a large country estate. The rooms can also be hired out by non-Buddhist groups.  There is a strong sense that the NKT wants the building still to be very much part of the local community, and it appears that much effort is expended to foster strong connections.

 

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4 Responses to Stately Homes and Staircases: Madyamaka Buddhist Meditation Centre, Pocklington

  1. jon says:

    The NTK could not have brought the property in 1986, as the NTK were founded in 1991. Probably the FPMT brought the property and the NTK took control over it after the schism created by Kelsang Gyatso? Just a guess. It would be an interesting story to tell, for this property an their main place the Manjushri Institute … there are lots of different versions of this floating around on the web. What really happened? All the best. Jon 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment Jon- our respondent said 1986, and the Centre website also says they have occupied for 30 years. We weren’t given the level of detail about early ownership to be able to answer definitively (our focus is on what they are doing with the building now), so I can’t comment either way, but we were told that the community that bought Kilnwick Percy previously occupied a place in Hebden Bridge and then elsewhere in York. Will make a note to investigate more if I get the chance, for specificity. Cheers, Caroline

  2. tenpel says:

    Its a bit a pity that the article doesn’t share the controversial methods in how the NKT make these centres functions: by putting their followers into the centres, letting them work for free around the clock, and asking them on top of it to pay extremely high rents with which they pay back the loans or the interest they made to buy the assets. Later they don’t hesitate to quickly throw out those people if they don’t follow the party line. For their controversial methods of expansion see here: http://info-buddhism.com/new_kadampa_tradition.html#Growth_and_financing

    It is not correct that the NKT has 1,000 centres. The great majority of the NKT centres are groups at local places, such as rented rooms in libraries, local community centres, and members’ apartments. After being criticised on Wikipedia, NKT editors claimed there: “They divide into about 200 residential centres and 700 groups at local places, such as rented rooms in libraries, local community centres, and members’ apartments.” However, there is no reliable source that states the exact numbers and nature of NKT centres. NKT leadership in general tends toward to exaggerate numbers and that’s why it is not really good to repeat their claims without fact checking on academic blogs.

    • Thank you for reading, and for your comments. In a small research project such as this one, we were reliant on the testimonies of our interviewees, not just for the NKT building but for all Buddhist groups who were involved and wanted to reflect what community members themselves were saying. Having read much of the academic literature on Buddhism in Britain, I am, of course, aware of the controversies in several Buddhist groups but these were not discussed in interviews which focused on the current building style/function (and we gave this focus in all of the interviews we did). I am certainly very interested in your statement about the number of NKT places. It has been very difficult to map all of the Buddhist buildings in England (let alone the world!) and has taken a great deal of work, which we know is not fool-proof. We have triangulated community responses, our own internet mapping evidence, grey literature and academic writing to give as thorough a picture as we can. However, I certainly take your point and wonder if ‘centres’ should be replaced with a more general ‘centres, temples and branches’ to be more accurate. The terminology between different Buddhist groups is one of the difficulties, but you are right, accuracy is of great import here. Many thanks, Caroline

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