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’.

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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).

 

National Memorial to Dr. Ambedkar Inaugurated in New Delhi

On April the 13th, on the eve of the 127th anniversary of the birth of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Dr. Ambedkar National Memorial in New Delhi—at the place where Dr. Ambedkar died on the 6th of December 1956.

The Memorial has been designed to resemble the shape of an open book in reference to the Constitution of India, of which Dr. Ambedkar was the principal architect. The building is completely green, combining modern architecture with Buddhist elements. Modi previously laid the first stone for the memorial’s construction on 21 March 2016.

The new memorial houses a marble statue of the Buddha, a meditation hall, a Bodhi tree, a replica of the Ashoka pillar at Sarnath in Varanasi, musical fountains, façade lighting, and a 3.7-meter bronze statue of Dr. Ambedkar.

Bhim Rao Ambedkar, an ‘untouchable’, or Dalit, who converted to Buddhism was a prominent Indian freedom fighter, and the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, which outlawed discrimination based on caste.

Born into a poor family, Ambedkar spent his whole life fighting against social discrimination in the caste system during and after British colonial rule, which ended in 1947. He is also credited with having sparked the Dalit Buddhist movement.

The Dalit Buddhist movement (also known as the Neo-Buddhist movement) is a socio-political movement by Dalits in India started by Dr. Ambedkar. It radically re-interpreted Buddhism and created a new school of Buddhism called Navayana. The movement has sought to be a socially and politically engaged form of Buddhism.

Triratna Bauddha Mahāsaṅgha (formerly called TBMSG for Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayaka Gana) is the Indian wing of the UK-based Triratna Buddhist Community founded by Sangharakshita. Its roots lie in the scattered contacts that Sangharakshita had in the 1950s with Ambedkar. Sangharakshita, then still a bhikshu, participated in the conversion movement from 1956 until his departure to the UK in 1963.

When his new ecumenical movement had gained enough ground in the West, Sangharakshita worked with Ambedkarites in India and the UK to develop Indian Buddhism further. After visits in the late 1970s by Dharmachari Lokamitra from the UK, supporters developed a two-pronged approach: social work through the Bahujan Hitaj trust, mainly sponsored from the general public by the British Buddhist-inspired Karuna Trust (UK), and direct Dharma work. Currently the movement has viharas and groups in at least 20 major areas, a couple of retreat centres, and hundreds of Indian Dharmacharis and Dharmacharinis.

A little-known fact is that Roma gypsies trace their origins to the Dalits of India and several have followed the lead of their Indian compatriots and converted to Buddhism, often as a response to discrimination. There is a sizeable Gypsy Buddhist community in Hungary, they take their inspiration from Dr. Ambedka and are officially affiliated to the Triratna Buddhist Community.

Newport Buddhist meeting cancelled due to the Beast from the East!

The Newport Soto Zen Buddhist group has cancelled their Thursday meeting due to the Beast from the East!

Nationwide temperatures plummeted again overnight, with Farnborough in Hampshire recording a low of minus 11C. For most places, the mercury hovered at between -4C and -7C.

Motorists have been urged to take extra care on the roads, after four people died in car crashes on Tuesday and forecasters have warned of long delays on rail, bus and air travel. Temperatures could plummet to minus 15C by midweek where there is lying snow.

On top of all that Storm Emma is forecast to hit Britain tomorrow, leaving parts of southern Britain hit by blizzards and strong winds which are expected to cause snow drifts.

A Good Day Was Had by All

The Newport Soto Zen Group is affiliated to Reading Buddhist Priory which in turn is a subsidiary of Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in Northumberland.
Last Friday the group had a daylong meditation retreat and were joined for the day by the Prior of Reading, the Reverend Gareth Milliken, a certified Buddhist priest and teacher in the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives and a monastic disciple of Rev. Master Daishin Morgan, the Abbot of Throssel Hole.
By all accounts a good day was had by all!

A Bit of Controversy?

Some of you may have heard the story a few days ago of Engineers dowsing for water using L or Y-shaped divining rods. Their use came to light when a couple called out engineers from the Severn Trent water company to their home in the Midlands.
They were so astonished to see a technician use dowsing rods to locate the mains pipe that they contacted their daughter Sally Le Page, an Oxford University scientist. She contacted Severn Trent, who confirmed their technicians still use the method.

Now many of you who have attended some of our recent Meditation Retreat Days will have had a go at divining. I have been interested in the subject for a number of years and introduced a “sampling session” to the retreat days as a demonstration that we can be mindful and aware of very subtle influences in our environment. I give brief instructions as to how to correctly hold the rods (we use 30 inch braising rods with 6 inches bent at a right angle to form the handle) and how to walk slowly and attentively.

The would be diviner is then given a direction to walk and started on their way, no additional instructions, no clues and no prompts just advice on grip and walking speed. Everyone gets some sort of reaction and at the same points.

I first came across dowsing when a colleague brought a pair of rods into work. I hadn’t a clue as to what they were so asked. He sheepishly replied that he had to put up some shelves and wanted to know if there was any wiring in the wall where he had to drill.

As I was looking very strangely at him he gave them to me, showed me how to hold them and told me to just walk across the office. I took about five steps and the rods swung violently across each other almost pointing directly back at me. In total bemusement I asked, “what the hell happened there”. He told me to look at my feet, it was a modern office block and all the cabling was routed through underfloor trunking – I was standing directly on top of a section.

I asked my friend how he discovered dowsing and his story was almost identical to that of Ms Le Page’s parents. Two chaps from the Gas Board turned up after he had reported a drop in the gas pressure to his property, they said that they had a problem with their gas detector so they were going to use divining rods as they always used to in the past but begged my friend not to mention it to “management”. The rods were used, a single hole was dug and the leak fixed.

Now I’m not going to make any claims for dowsing other than to say, that in my experience, the vast majority of people that try dowsing succeed in detecting something. This may be because we detect subtle clues from our environment but that is my point, we can be mindful of those usually ignored parts of our field of awareness.

Just out of interest if you Google Ms Le Page, unlike most such searches the hits keep on going, I got to page 15 before Google started to go off piste and started referencing other le pages, you will also get acres of pictures on an image search.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that General Electric has launched a “creator-in-residence” program, tapping 22-year-old British biologist and Oxford PhD candidate Sally Le Page as its first face. Le Page, who first gained a YouTube following with her self-produced videos, made a video a week for GE throughout June 2015, tackling subjects like the science behind movie magic and the relationship between humans and machines. One of Le Page’s most popular GE videos focused on Chappie, a science fiction film. The video, which kicks off with Le Page asking, “When am I going to have a robot best friend?” includes an interview with the project leader of GE’s robotics program and a visit to the company’s Global Research Centre.

Could Ms Le page’s parents’ much publicised outrage be anything to do with actually publicising their already much promoted daughter and was her response part of her continued quest for ever higher celebrity status re her considerable social media presence?