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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West Wight Sangha’s Summer Meditation Retreat

Just a quick reminder that it now only three weeks until West Wight Sangha’s Summer Meditation Retreat! The retreat runs from 10 o’clock on the morning of Sunday the 15th of July to four o’clock in the afternoon.

For anyone who hasn’t been before, we are at Yew Tree Cottage, Weston Road, Totland and you can ring me on 756884. As is now our usual practice we’re looking to evenly balance the morning and afternoon sessions so we’ll be having lunch from 12:30 finishing at 1:30, so it would be nice if you’re only coming for the morning or afternoon to stay or come at half twelve and join everyone for lunch…… usual format of bringing vegetarian food to share. Also feel free to bring any readings that you would like to share.

Please let me know if you intend coming so that I have some idea of the numbers.

 

Wesak in the West Wight

As you will know we have been holding a Wesak celebration here at the West Wight Sangha every May for the last few years.

Wesak is the Buddhist festival that commemorates the Buddha’s birth, awakening and final passing and is celebrated by millions of Buddhists around the world on the day of the first full Moon of May.

In 1999, the UN recognized internationally Vesak Day to acknowledge the contribution that Buddhism, one of the oldest religions in the world, has made for over 2500 years. This day is commemorated annually at the UN Headquarters and other UN offices and missions.

This year we will celebrate Wesak here at the West Wight Sangha on the actual day of the full moon which is Tuesday the 29th of May. This coincides with our usual Tuesday evening meeting and as such we will be adding an extra half hour to our customary session taking it from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. In addition to our normal meditation practice, we will be having other activities and festive nibbles!

Come and wish the Buddha a happy birthday, celebrate his awakening and death (Buddhists celebrate the death of the Buddha because we believe that having attained Enlightenment he achieved freedom from physical existence and its sufferings).

West Wight Sangha’s Winter Meditation Retreat

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick reminder that it now just two weeks until West Wight Sangha’s Winter Meditation Retreat! The retreat runs from 10 o’clock on the morning of Sunday the 21st of January to four o’clock in the afternoon. For anyone who hasn’t been before, we are at Yew Tree Cottage, Weston Road, Totland and you can ring me on 756884.

As is now our usual practice we’re looking to evenly balance the morning and afternoon sessions so we’ll be having lunch from 12:30 finishing at 1:30, so it would be nice if you’re only coming for the morning or afternoon to stay or come at half twelve and join everyone for lunch…… usual format of bringing vegetarian food to share. Also feel free to bring any readings that you would like to share.

Please let me know if you intend coming so that I have some idea of the numbers.

Be well, Steve

West Wight Sangha’s Review of the Year

Welcome to our review of the year as told in the stories and issues featured here on the West Wight Sangha website. As always follow the highlighted orange links for the full story………………

We started the year with A Simple and Easy New Years Resolution, a mindfulness exercise consisting of simply remembering to pick up and dispose of one piece of litter every day.

Continuing the theme of new year’s resolutions there’s the perennial post Christmas diet resolution. Hands up, I needed to lose weight and I decided to do so mindfully.

Yes, as a Buddhist my aim is to live as much of my life mindfully as possible, but there is actually a Mindful Diet; Mindful Eating – A Resolution…………………………………..

Spotted on Freshwater Bay in January was this piece of very Zen art.

More Children Learn About the Buddha. In February Dave Downer and I had the pleasure of teaching the basics of Buddhism at The Island Free School over in Ventnor.

Back in the middle of November last year we received the following email……………

I stumbled across the West Wight Sangha website and thought I might send you some of the books published by our organization. You can see some of them here. http://www.bhantedhammika.net/ If you would like some copies for yourself and your friends and you give me a postal address I will happily send you some copies.



Kind regards Bhante Dhammika.

The books were ordered and duly sent on their way by ship.

They arrived on the 1st of March which coincidentally was World Book Day!

Books, Books, Books

Which leads us neatly to A Buddhist Poem for World Poetry Day

“Strong In The Rain” (Ame ni mo Makezu) by Kenji Miyazawa

 

Strong in the rain
Strong in the wind
Strong against the summer heat and snow
He is healthy and robust
Unselfish
He never loses his temper
Nor the quiet smile on his lips
He eats four go of unpolished rice Miso and a few vegetables a day
He does not consider himself
In whatever occurs…his understanding
Comes from observation and experience
And he never loses sight of things
He lives in a little thatched-roof hut
In a field in the shadows of a pine tree grove
If there is a sick child in the east
He goes there to nurse the child
If there’s a tired mother in the west
He goes to her and carries her sheaves
If someone is near death in the south
He goes and says, “Don’t be afraid”
If there’s strife and lawsuits in the north
He demands that the people put an end to their pettiness
He weeps at the time of drought
He plods about at a loss during the cold summer
Everyone calls him “Blockhead”
No one sings his praises
Or takes him to heart…
That is the sort of person I want to be.

A Proposal for Peace – Buddhist Talk in Newport

I posted this poster to give everyone a heads-up to the the upcoming talk in May. The Isle of Wight members of the socially engaged Buddhist movement SGI-UK hosted the talk, which was followed by a question, answer and discussion session.

This story, by Dan Ackerman, appeared in the spring 2017 edition of CNET Magazine, Virtual Reality Meditation

Triratna’s 50th Anniversary

On the 8th of April we noted that this weekend the Triratna Buddhist Community will be celebrating its founding 50 years ago on the 6th of April 1967.

Walk the Wight and Wesak In April I changed the date of Wesak to avoid clashing with Walk the Wight!


At the end of May we posted details of Ajahn Brahm’s UK Dhamma Talks Tour which was in October .The tour was in support of the Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project.

In June we told the story of how the communist, atheistic  government of China was embracing Buddhism to Project Power.


Becoming a guardian of Buddhism is helping Xi successfully promote China as an acceptable world power with a soft image.

Buddhist globalisation helps Beijing push its economic projects – religious diplomacy makes it easier for China to win economic and infrastructural projects in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and elsewhere.

 
Following the terror attacks in London and Manchester and the apparently “retaliatory” attack outside a mosque in Finsbury Park this article by Andrew Olendzki on conflict seemed so appropriate………….  The Language of Conflict

We are Ten years Old this Month!

The West Wight Sangha Website was ten years old this June. Back on Wednesday the 6th of June 2007 I posted our first item………….

This was followed on the 14th with our first proper story A Zen Monk on the Isle of Wight!

Buddhist Group Changing China (or visa versa?)

This article was by Ian Johnson from the New York Times and is about
a Buddhist organisation from Taiwan called Fo Guang Shan, or Buddha’s Light Mountain.

In July we held Our Summer Retreat Day and I posted some of the poems and texts that we used. Failing atrocious weather, our Winter Retreat Day is scheduled for Sunday the 21st of January.

Talking of the island, here is a story illustrating the interconnectedness of life……….

The Isle of Wight, The Buddha, NCIS and The Ham

It Never Rains But it Pours!

A stalwart group of us gathered on the Duver at St Helens on the first Sunday of September to participate in the annual Buddhist picnic when the various Buddhist groups from across the island meet for a relaxed late summer get together and alfresco meal. This year was a milestone as it was the 20th year that we had held the picnic.

It poured down…………….. all day.

So we went back to Matt’s and had the “picnic” in his conservatory where we could fantasise we were communing with nature by looking out at the garden.

Anniversaries and Milestones

Having said that the West Wight Sangha is ten years old this year it was nice to see that it’s also the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis which is a nice coincidence.

Myanmar and the Rohingyas

On September the 12th’s edition of BBC radio 4’s program Today Vishvapani (a member of the Triratna Buddhist group) offered his thoughts on the situation in Myanmar and the plight of the Rohingyas……….

New Buddhist Group on the Island!

In the middle of the month a new Buddhist group, the Heart of the Island Sangha, started in Newport.

The group is affiliated to the Community of Interbeing UK (COI) which is part of the international Sangha founded by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh and follows his teachings and practices in the Plum Village Tradition and meets every Tuesday between 19:45 – 21:30 at the Riverside Centre, on The Quay in Newport.

Newsletter

At the end of the month we produced our first newsletter. There will be more to follow but in many ways this, the Annual review, is itself  one great big newsletter.



Some “Buddhist” Poems for National Poetry Day

The 6th of October was National Poetry Day when Britain was encouraged to “break the tyranny of prose for 24 hours by sharing poetry in every conceivable way.”

And here’s Maitreyabandhu talking about the connection between poetry and receptivity.

Tuesday Talks – a New Feature At our Sangha meeting on the 10th of October we introduced a new feature, a short Dharma talk. I have been taking talks to the Newport Soto Zen group for some time but until recently very few shorter talks have been available for use in our shorter meetings.

Our first was What About Karma by David Loy.

These talks, as well as the Newport ones, are all available on our Audio Page.

Are These Hobbit Holes?

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We ended November with A Good Day Being Had by All and A Bit of Controversy?

The good day was a retreat at the Soto Zen group with the Reverend Gareth Milliken, the Prior of Reading Priory.

The controversy was all that fuss about dowsing…………

Buddhism and Islam in Asia

We started December with this insightful analysis by Akhilesh Pillalamarri.

Arson Attack Destroys Buddhist Centre in Savoie, France

Sadly we finish our review with this story of an arson attack on the Karma Ling Buddhist centre in France.

However, it is the response of Lama Denys Rinpoché, leader of The Karma Ling Institute, that says it all.

“This person is in great pain and we want to help him or her as much as we can. I personally make prayers and wishes so that he or she become free from any torments.

If someone I cherish and protect as my child comes to think of myself as his enemy, Just like a mother for her child with an illness to give him even more affection, such is the practice of a Bodhisattva.”

 

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?

 

Our Summer Retreat Day

On Sunday we held our West Wight Sangha Summer retreat day. For those of you who couldn’t make it I thought I’d post the supportive materials that we used.

We had a recorded talk and guided meditation by Akincano Marc Weber on the Brahmavihāras.

DOWNLOAD        (Right click and “Save link as….”)
There were two readings, the first was, The Hawk in the Rain by Ted Hughes.

 

‘This water droplet, charity of the air,
Out of the watched blue immensity –
(Where, where are the angels?) out of the draft in the door,
The Tuscarora, the cloud, the cup of tea,
The sweating victor and the decaying dead bird –
This droplet has travelled far and studied hard.
Now clings on the cream paint of our kitchen wall.
Aged eye! This without heart-head-nerve lens
Which saw the first and earth-centring jewel
Spark upon darkness, behemoth bulk and lumber
Out of the instant flash, and man’s hand
Hoist him upright, still hangs clear and round.
‘Having studied a journey in the high
Cathedralled brain, the mole’s ear, the fish’s ice,
The abattoir of the tiger’s artery,
The slum of the dog’s bowel, and there is no place
His bright look has not bettered, and problem none
But he has brought it to solution.
‘Venerable elder! Let us learn of you.
Read us a lesson, a plain lesson how
Experience was worn or made you anew,
That on this humble kitchen wall hang now,
O dew that condensed of the breath of the Word
On the mirror of the syllable of the Word.’
So he spoke aloud, grandly, then stood
For an answer, knowing his own nature
Droplet-kin, sisters and brothers of lymph and blood,
Listened for himself to speak for the drop’s self.
This droplet was clear simple water still.
It no more responded than the hour-old child
Does to finger-toy or coy baby-talk,
But who lies long, long and frowningly
Unconscious under the shock of its own quick
After that first alone-in-creation cry
When into the mesh of sense, out of the dark,
Blundered the world-shouldering monstrous ‘I’.

The second was, Why We Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Suffering
By Thich Nhat Hanh.

We should not be afraid of suffering. We should be afraid of only one thing, and that is not knowing how to deal with our suffering. Handling our suffering is an art. If we know how to suffer, we suffer much less, and we’re no longer afraid of being overwhelmed by the suffering inside. The energy of mindfulness helps us recognise, acknowledge, and embrace the presence of the suffering, which can already bring some calm and relief.

When a painful feeling comes up, we often try to suppress it. We don’t feel comfortable when our suffering surfaces, and we want to push it back down or cover it up. But as a mindfulness practitioner, we allow the suffering to surface so we can clearly identify it and embrace it. This will bring transformation and relief. The first thing we have to do is accept the mud in ourselves. When we recognise and accept our difficult feelings and emotions, we begin to feel more at peace. When we see that mud is something that can help us grow, we become less afraid of it.

When we are suffering, we invite another energy from the depths of our consciousness to come up: the energy of mindfulness. Mindfulness has the capacity to embrace our suffering. It says, Hello, my dear pain. This is the practice of recognising suffering. Hello, my pain. I know you are there, and I will take care of you. You don’t need to be afraid.

Now in our mind-consciousness there are two energies: the energy of mindfulness and the energy of suffering. The work of mindfulness is first to recognise and then to embrace the suffering with gentleness and compassion. You make use of your mindful breathing to do this. As you breathe in, you say silently, Hello, my pain. As you breathe out, you say, I am here for you. Our breathing contains within it the energy of our pain, so as we breathe with gentleness and compassion, we are also embracing our pain with gentleness and compassion.

When suffering comes up, we have to be present for it. We shouldn’t run away from it or cover it up with consumption, distraction, or diversion. We should simply recognise it and embrace it, like a mother lovingly embracing a crying baby in her arms. The mother is mindfulness, and the crying baby is suffering. The mother has the energy of gentleness and love. When the baby is embraced by the mother, it feels comforted and immediately suffers less, even though the mother does not yet know exactly what the problem is. Just the fact that the mother is embracing the baby is enough to help the baby suffer less. We don’t need to know where the suffering is coming from. We just need to embrace it, and that already brings some relief. As our suffering begins to calm down, we know we will get through it.

When we go home to ourselves with the energy of mindfulness, we’re no longer afraid of being overwhelmed by the energy of suffering. Mindfulness gives us the strength to look deeply and gives rise to understanding and compassion.