Marie-Noëlle Galliou: from Ardèche to Brittany, the path of silence

- through Fabrice Groult

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Practicing with Venerable Nyanadharo in meditation changed his life. So much so that in 1976, Marie-Noëlle decided to follow him into the Ardèche forest when he decided to found the Bodhinyanarama monastery there. In this place which has become emblematic of the monks of the forest, she follows the teachings of the Theravadin masters Ajahn Chah and Mahasi Sayadaw, and meets another Vipassana practitioner, Christian Galliou, whom she marries in 1999. They now live in the Monts d 'Arrée (Finistère), devoting a good part of their time to silent retreats.

Despite the autumn grayness that covers the Monts d'Arrée, a soft light illuminates the wooden house through the bay window. The ivy climbs on the walls of the living room, above the ficus religiosa which recall the time of the Buddha. Marie-Noëlle Galliou has placed cups of tea and Breton palets on a small coffee table, a nod to her adopted land. Behind her, a painting of her eldest daughter depicts Mount Kailash in Tibet.

Her husband, Christian, listening carefully. Marie-Noëlle was born 68 years ago in the Paris region into a practicing Catholic working-class family. “I followed the catechism, I went to mass every Sunday. You shouldn't laugh with religion, ”she remembers, pensive, behind her glasses. Nevertheless, certain events appeal to him from childhood, such as the vision of a statue of Buddha on television. As a teenager, a friend lent him Gandhi's life "I was really touched by non-violence and love of neighbour". Like many young people of the time, she then read the Lobsang Rampa novels, before becoming interested in Taisen Deshimaru by discovering his book, True Zen.

From the attic to the forest

It was at 22 that everything accelerated for her. Marie-Noëlle, then medical secretary, moved to Isère with her first husband. She then begins to ask herself questions about life, discovers different paths such as the Rosicrucians or Ramakrishna, then Buddhism with a neighbor who takes her to Grenoble to practice with Jean-Pierre Schneitzer, who leads a zazen group, once a week. Passionate, she continues to explore this tradition, goes to a lecture by master Vajrayana Kalou Rinpoche: “He was small, thin, wrinkled, exuded great wisdom. When I met him, I was seized, I immediately felt that it was my way, ”she asserts with certainty. But, that day, another master, of the Theravada tradition, is seated at the back of the room: the Venerable Nyanadharo. Curious, Marie-Noëlle Galliou learns that this monk from the Laotian forest, who lived five years in the jungle, lives in Karma Migyur Ling, in Montchardon, in the Vercors. "I had to meet him," she said, still emotional as she remembered that moment. She spent a week at her monastery in September 1976. “Seeing him meditate, I had the impression of being faced with someone who does not function like us”. Touched to the very depths of herself, Marie-Noëlle became more involved in Buddhism, took refuge, then went to Tournon-sur-Rhône where one of the disciples of the Venerable, Jeanine Boitel had just bought a old hunter's house to renovate in the Ardèche forest. The center completed, the Thai master Ajahan Chah, accompanied by monks, comes to consecrate the monastery Bodhinyanarama, July 7, 1977. She remembers those ceremonial days with wonder.

Love at first sight on the cushion

The first times in Tournon, the meditators are only three. “We took care of the garden and the restoration of the monastery. So much so that, when it was time to go on the cushion, we fell asleep,” she recalls. For fifteen years, Marie-Noëlle will also act as treasurer. Daily life is punctuated by practice and work, as well as by exceptional moments such as the arrival, in June 1979, of the Burmese master Mahasi Sayadaw.

“Master Kalu Rinpoche exuded great wisdom. When I met him, I was struck, I immediately felt that the way he was teaching was also mine. »

A ray of sunlight illuminates the Buddha statues in a corner of the room. To refresh the atmosphere, Christian opens the bay window. Watching her husband settle back into his chair, Marie-Noëlle remembers: “One day, the Bretons arrived”. She still remembers his first appearance, in 1987. “Sitting on my cushion, I strongly felt, without seeing him, his presence when he arrived at the door. It blew me away”. For the Finisterian, the feeling is mutual: "We felt that something was going on between us, but we avoided each other carefully", laughs his wife. Despite the family – she is giving birth to a second daughter – and work, Marie-Noëlle embarks on long practice sessions at home, up to an hour and a half a day. "Barriers have dropped", but, on the other hand, this intense spiritual search disturbs his family, until the separation.

The call of the Breton moors

Marie-Noëlle ends up getting closer to Christian, who has divorced in the meantime. In 1994, they moved to Lampaul-Plouarzel, on the Finistère coast, and married five years later. To earn a living, Marie-Noëlle converted to selling face and body care products. At 48, she is fired. "Christian being in early retirement, we decided to stop working to help the monastery, in Tournon, between 2002 and 2005". On a shelf, a Theravada Buddha, offered by the Venerable Nyanadharo, reminds him of this period.

Back in Brittany, they continue volunteer activities. Breton lessons and city council for Christian, origami workshops for Marie-Noëlle… Since 2016, she has been assisting her husband during the weekly Vipassana meditation workshops he leads in Morlaix. The rest of the time, they practice at home and regularly do silent retreats that last several weeks.
Marie-Noëlle Galliou refers in this to an existing tradition in Southeast Asia. “Old people, dressed in white, withdraw from the world to live in small huts and meditate, recite the pujas (offering rituals expressing gratitude towards the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha). It's almost a hermit's life”. She reassures: "We take messages from our families if necessary".

On this land of Brittany, “also spiritually charged”, this silent life allowed him to develop greater clarity of mind, because the moors of the Armorican Massif are conducive to concentration.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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