NEW MOON – No More Thorns

If you walk the path 
you will arrive at the end of suffering. 
Having beheld this myself, 
I proclaim the Way 
which removes all thorns. 

Dhammapada v. 275

It is not necessary to move through life perpetually afraid of being skewered by the barbs of painful human interaction. All beings, including the Buddha himself, are subject to the eight worldly winds: praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and pain, honour and insignificance. However, awakened beings are so completely transparent, so completely free from resistance, that they are always able to accord with it. They live unobstructed in their relationship with everything and everybody. Having walked the path to its end, they know beyond all doubt that to cling is to suffer. Wisdom shows them how to hold to life without creating pain, without spoiling it.

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A Four Day Retreat at Gaia House

The following is an email interview with Simon, one of our Sangha members, who recently attended a retreat at Gaia House, a meditation retreat centre near Newton Abbott in Devon, offering silent meditation retreats in the Buddhist tradition.

When did you decide to go and why?

Had my eye on the retreat (‘Breath by Breath’ with Jenny Wilks and Jaya Karen Rudgard) from November last year and was keen to explore Anapanasati (Mindfulness with Breathing) in a retreat setting. 

What preparations did you make, what did you need to take (or were, or were not allowed to take)?

I prepared by reading Larry Rosenberg’s ‘Breath by Breath’ on which the retreat was based. I needed to take a tent (I could only get a camping place) and half the contents of my flat, 90% of which was completely unnecessary. ‘A bag with a toothbrush and a comb in’ would have sufficed. And a change of clothes. . . .sun cream, bug spray etc etc [probably needed some earplugs as well]. We were supposed to leave our mobile phones in our cars or I think they had a safe if you didn’t trust yourself. That was a blessing: a four day tech fast.

How was your journey to get there (and back)?

The journeys, both there and back, were fraught with dukkha. I made a whistle-stop tour along the way to visit friends from the mainland, a coffee here, a lunch there, a quick visit to the dentist and hygienist and a six mile run around Dursley golf course for good measure (I stayed overnight at a friend’s). Driving across Dartmoor on the morning of the retreat was nice. I’d forgotten how beautiful it was, not having been for a good 10 years. Journeying home was hard work. Often after retreats as soon as you hit the main roads you want to go and hide under a hedge because, well, those lorries are big and noisy and vaguely terrifying. On this occasion, I was momentarily possessed of dhammic superpowers (concentration, clarity, equanimity) and found everyone to be wading through treacle whilst I waltzed through the Devon Expressway Esso like a veritable master of flow. Two hours of hollering to rock music (to try and stay awake) along A roads and a full (read: full-bladdered) 60 minutes in Southampton’s rush hour traffic soon brought me back down to migraine humanity on Planet Dukkha, where I belong of course, by way of a midnight ferry after curry with friends and a Leonard Cohen drive home to Insomnia Bay. 

What type of course did you undertake and why?

The course was based on the Anapanasati Sutta and we went through one of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness on each of the days we were there: mindfulness of the body, of feelings, of the mind and of dhammas. I’d been studying the Satipatthana Sutta and there is a clear relationship between the two suttas. They pretty much cover the same ground and I wanted to put into practice what I’d been reading about in a formal setting.

What was the environment like and how did it affect you?

The environment was very pleasant and peaceful and conducive to practice. The weather was pretty much perfect. The animals (the birds and the rabbits) seemed to sense that we humans were not a threat and would beak/snout about among us as we did our walking meditation on the lawn. Relaxation and equanimity were more or less an inevitability. 

How did you get on with the other attendees and did that change and if so why?

Vibrations were good between most people as far as I could tell. It was a silent retreat so it was all just smiles and bows and emanations of what I assume was mostly warmth. Everyone seemed calm and content. Although there was one chap who was seemingly doing all he could to control his long stertorous (was it Ujjayi?) breathing as if he was rehearsing for the part of Darth Vader in the next Star Wars movie. He was also, on the third day, taking rather noisy, possibly frustrated or even angry, swigs from his water bottle before banging it down on the floor. I think some notes of complaint were made and he simmered down a bit by the evening so those of us in his vicinity were able to return to our own breathing. 

What did you get out of your time there; What changed?

A heady blast of piti and sukha and an all-too-brief glimpse of not-self. A sighting of The Ox methinks, though not seen since so no change there. The retreat was a timely reminder of the value of intensive practice. I came away incredibly relaxed, possibly even too relaxed. High as a kite in fact. Found myself wandering in retro headphones around Tennyson Monument at 5am the following misty morning singing ‘Wish You Were Here’ at the top of my Milarepa lungs.

What was your highlight and/or fondest memory?

Sitting next to a Danish supermodel. 

What was the worst of it?

Sitting next to a Danish supermodel. 

Marks out of 10 (multiple categories if you like).

8 out of 10. Minus 1 for the bloke in the next tent who woke me up several times in the middle of the night, apparently talking to himself, though I reckon he was on the phone. And minus another 1 for the Parliament of Crow’s cacophonous dawn chorus which was, to put it mildly, ‘not pleasant’.

Only Two Weeks Until the Picnic!!

It’s hard to believe but this year’s Annual Buddhist Picnic will be our 21st! As is traditional we will be holding the picnic on the first Sunday of September (that’s the 2nd) on the Duver at St. Helens.

For those of you who have not been before, our picnic site is the other side of the road from the National Trust car park. Take the right hand turning by the signs showing the Duver and long stay beach front car parks, carry on a few hundred metres and the National Trust car park is on the left.

In the centre of the photo below, you can see our original meeting place, the small oak tree. As previously reported, the tree has unfortunately died and as such now offers no shade.

However, Angie and Mark have found another oak tree about a hundred meters further on along the track you can see to the right of the photo. So just carry on along the path and look for some Buddhists sitting under another small oak tree! If you’re on foot and coming from the St. Helen’s side you can go to the end of Mill Road and come across on the causeway, the “new” oak tree will be facing you to your right.

Or you could try using What3Words which will take you to the precise spot https://w3w.co/pitch.clearcut.shapes (unlock, select satellite view, zoom out as needed).

 

 

Family, friends, children and dogs welcome. Bring vegetarian food to share (don’t forget the fruit juices).

 

NEW MOON – Form and Spirit

The fragrance of virtue 
surpasses by far 
the fragrance of flowers 
or sandalwood. 

Dhammapada v. 55

The simple but significant message of this Dhammapada verse is that we need to take care to not be overly impressed by outer forms, or the material dimension of things. Certainly the fragrance of wild roses can be very beautiful, but the heart’s ability to let go of resentment and forgive, even when it is difficult to do so, is more beautiful.

I’ve just posted Vishvapani’s “Thought for the Day” from Friday onto our Audio Section.

This is the first talk from Vishvapani since the 14th of May which is a little curious. In the past Vishvapani has usually offered a “Thought” on the occasion of Vesak, the celebration of the Buddha’s birth, awakening and death which are all considered to have occurred on the first full moon of May which this year fell on the 29th.

Now he’s missed a couple of Vesaks over the years and there could be any number of reasons that he’s missed this one, but that is not my point, why are there no other Buddhists who can provide a “thought” on such an important occasion?

On Thought for the Day the majority of contributors are Christian, although there are regular Muslim and Jewish contributors and occasional Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

The BBC allocates the number of slots roughly in line with the proportion of each affiliation according to the latest census (2011). So, in terms of faith background, 78% of presenters were Christians, 8% Jews, 4% Muslims, 4% Sikhs, 3% Hindus and 2% Buddhists. Relative to the 2001 census of the population of the UK, and excluding those with no religious affiliation or none stated, Christians were under-represented as presenters (93% being their expected share, given Thought for the Day’s current brief).

By contrast, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists were over-represented in leading Thought for the Day, with the representation of Muslims nearly right in terms of the census (although their numbers have increased considerably since that time).

So, we are not going to get many slots, in fact from when I started posting “Thoughts for the Day” back in 2010 Vishvapani has averaged 8 talks a year but, coming back to my point, it is only ever Vishvapani who supplies a Buddhist Thought for the Day, surely the BBC can find another Buddhist or two to take up the slack and provide some variety of presentation.