Friends of Vajrasana rock the borders!
An elite garden taskforce of three (Dridhakarin, Liz and and me) turned up for the latest Friends of Vajrasana working party on the 6th of March. Unsure what the weather would be like after sub-zero temperatures and snow the previous week, we needn’t have worried, as it was perfect: dry and mild, with temperatures almost getting into double figures.
Our task was to reshape and replant the borders in front of the community house as the first step in a two-year project to make them both more attractive and more manageable.
We began by removing the box hedge at the front of the border, which was suffering from box blight. We then removed most of the plants in the border (apart from the Himalayan peonies) and put them to one side.
One of the ways Dridhakarin is planning to make the borders easier to manage is to make them smaller, so we delineated the new edge of the borders with a couple of planks. The bare earth that’s no longer part of the border is going to be turfed. Once we’d marked out the borders, Liz and I weeded while Dridhakarin spread around several packs of well-rotted horse manure. We then sorted through the plants we’d taken out and replanted them.
While work still remains to be done, we were very pleased with what we managed to achieve in just 12
manperson-hours. Take a look!
Celebrating the Dharma, the Voice of the Buddha
A talk by Abhayavajra
In this inspiring talk Abhayavajra explores what the Dharma is, and how we can open up to it.
The talk was given at Vajrasana on 15th July 2017 as part of a weekend retreat for the combined sanghas of Brixton and Bury St Edmunds.
Duration: 47 minutes
Friends of Vajrasana
Eleven volunteers from all over East Anglia met up at Varjasana for the first Friends of Vajrasana working party on Monday, 5th June. Our task? Weeding. And boy, were there a lot of weeds! The weather was perfect for gardening – not too hot, with a cool breeze, and although it threatened to rain a couple of times, it only amounted to a few drops. The atmosphere was congenial, the shared lunch was fantastic, and although everyone worked hard, several people commented that it felt more like relaxing than working. For me, the cherry on top of the cake was that four of us stayed behind after finishing work and meditated together in the shrine room. Helen
Going on retreat
A talk by Bill
Bill is a mitra with the Bury St Edmunds sangha. In this talk he shares some of his most memorable experiences of being on retreat.
Talk given on Wednesday, 31st May 2017
Duration: 22 minutes
A conversation with Maitrivajri
An intimate and engaging conversation with Maitrivajri, member of the London Buddhist Centre Council and ex-architect, who project managed the rebuild of Vajrasana Retreat Centre.
Interview conducted by Abhayavajra on Wednesday, 17th May 2017.
Duration: 50 minutes
The Cosmic Going for Refuge Tree
Retreat at Padmaloka
This seven-day retreat is part of a collection of retreats held at Padmaloka specifically for men who have asked for ordination. These retreats are designed to help deepen the practice of Going for Refuge and prepare ground ahead for ordination. In Going for Refuge we are placing our trust in the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha as the vehicle that will ultimately lead to liberation.
This particular retreat is set up to explore the Refuge Tree and those placed on the image through meditation, Puja (ritual), storytelling and prostration practice. My heartfelt gratitude to the Order members who ran the retreat: Paraga, Manjusiha, Tarapalita, and Aloka as a guest speaker. They were responsible for the content and how it was delivered, so well done to each of them.
On the first day of a retreat I’m normally full of nervous energy, mixed with the fact that going on retreat has always been a mystery to me. I guess the mystery is what makes it so appealing. These retreats have the ability to transport me to a different dimension and alter my ‘normal’ mode of being.
On arrival I booked in, signed up for duties during the week ahead, then found an allocated dormitory. The evening meal was a time to catch up with old friends and make new ones.
Each day would start by waking up about 5.30 am, having a wash, followed by getting as close as I could to the log burner while sipping a cup of tea, then I was ready for the day ahead. So at 6.30 am, as I’m an early riser, I would ring the bell for all those on retreat to be ready for meditation at 7.00 am. I was also tasked with making porridge each day for breakfast, and as far as I know they’re all still alive!
Meditation in the morning consisted of two practices: Mindfulness of Breathing or Metta Bhavana followed by an open sit.
After breakfast, mid-mornings were filled with a discussion group at 11.00 and meditation at 12.00 which was a combination of three practices: Metta Bhavana and walking meditation followed by an open sit. From a personal point of view, I found it of great benefit going back to the open sit after completing the walking meditation. The debris I was dealing with seemed to clear, enabling the clear blue sky effect, and that in turn helped me build the Refuge Tree in my mind.
Central to the retreat was the prostration ritual, which was undertaken every day in the afternoons. This can be a rigorous activity. However, as we were reminded, not only did we require a certain amount of stamina and imagination for this ritual, we also needed to place mindfulness and grace at the heart of this process. Immersing myself in these prostrations served to remind me of my age!
The rhythm of the days began to alter. The reflective periods of silence were of great benefit throughout the retreat to help absorb and examine what we are like as human beings through engaging with the Ten Precepts and the challenges they present.
Every evening would be filled with chanting, which either took place around the stupa in the courtyard or in the shrine room followed by a Sevenfold Puja.
One of the highlights of the retreat was an afternoon spent with Aloka in a Q & A session.
He’s such a unique and creative individual with breadth of experience, it reminded me that we’re so fortunate to have people like this to help and guide us on this path we’ve undertaken.
Here are a few bullet points from Aloka’s talk on the Refuge Tree and his paintings:
- Feeling the connection, feeling a presence
- What you find most important in the image you are building
- Clear blue sky represents lack of obstruction, freedom from distractions, clearing the baggage to begin the practice.
- Getting back a sense of wonder in regards to Buddhist images and iconography
- Fantasy is always compensatory.
- Creative imagination is hard to create whereas fantasy is easy!
- Going for Refuge is a Myth
- Urgyen Sangharakshita: ‘Going for Refuge is a redirecting of desire.’
- The primary form on any Refuge Tree is the peaceful one.
The last question put to Aloka was my own. It centred around the why he started to place orbs, spheres or bubbles on his more recent work. Aloka’s response was that historically spheres of light were used in a spiritual context. Also, from an artistic point of view, watching particles of dust with the light dancing on them gave a magical feel, so in regard to the spheres it helped bring the painting to life.
I gave him two quite different possibilities of my own:
- They are part of the ‘thousand million worlds’ mentioned in the Salutation section of The Sevenfold Puja.
- They represent the Buddha letting go and having no fixed self; they are particles of the Buddha moving out into the cosmos.
Aloka liked the idea of the Buddha letting go and having no fixed self, and said the next time he’s asked about the bubbles that’s the answer he’s going to use.
Whilst on this retreat I was recollecting the first time I went on retreat, in 2002. It seems so long ago now; however, my quest for the truth has not diminished. I feel a great sense of gratitude to all those people who help create an environment where the truth can unfold. These retreats work because everyone is united, and at the centre of this unity is generosity and compassion, thus creating a more harmonious Sangha.
To those of you who have experienced retreats you’ll understand the transformative effect they have. To those who have not yet been on retreat I would encourage you to take a big step on the path to liberation.
Bill Bowles, March 2017
Sangha Day Retreat – Thursday, 8th September 2016
Sanghajata and Abhayasiddhi from the Bury St Edmunds Sangha and Sanghaketu from the Cambridge Buddhist Centre led this day retreat celebrating the life of Padmasambhava, an enlightened Buddhist teacher who was instrumental in bringing Buddhism to Tibet during the eighth century CE.
108 Year Puja – Thursday, 31st August 2016
Sanghajata led us in a special puja (Buddhist ritual) to celebrate the 91st birthday of Sangharakshita, the founder of our movement. Throughout the Triratna Buddhist Movement, this puja will be held every year for 108 years, carrying Triratna Buddhism into the 21st century and beyond.
East Anglian Women’s Retreat – 20–22 May 2016
Some of the Bury Women’s Friendship Group from the Bury Sangha went on their very first retreat at the end of May. They joined 22 other women on the East Anglian Women’s Mindfulness Retreat who were from Colchester, Ipswich and Great Yarmouth sanghas.
The weekend was very rich including a combination of Meditation, Mindfulness activities and friendship and was set in the beautiful and peaceful environment of Ringsfield Hall in Beccles. It was a particularly auspicious weekend with Saturday being a full moon and Wesak Day which celebrates the Buddha’s Enlightenment experience.
Sangha Retreat Day – Sunday, 13 March 2016
The day was based on the theme “Contemplating the Bodhisattvas” and was intended as a follow-up to the recent mitra study course. A day of contemplation, focusing on the Bodhisattvas of the sevenfold puja was enjoyed by all.
Farewell evening for Sukamala who moved to Somerset on 24 February 2016
Sukamala writes: “what a lovely evening I had and I send my thanks to all for my lovely gifts and thanks for being such a bunch of lovelies!” Best wishes Sukamala xx
Abhayasiddhi rejoices in Sukamala’s merits!
Sangha Retreat Day – Thursday, 8 October 2015
Homage to the Buddha day retreat was led by Sanghajata at Inner Guidance Retreat Centre, Lavenham
Sangha Retreat Day – Sunday 26 April 2015
A meditation and study day was led by Bodhivamsa and Abhayavajra in Brettenham Village Hall.
DC’s Blog: Going on Retreat
In my 17+ years as a Buddhist I’ve been on quite a few retreats and the one thing they have in common is: they’ve all been different.
Of course, the other retreatants are never the same mix so the dynamic of the temporary community changes each time. Even when you are all from the same Sangha (spiritual community) there will always be some surprises as you learn about each other and make friends.
Then there is the length of the retreats. These can range from a day to several months, depending on their purpose. Men’s Ordination Retreats usually last for four months and take place in the Spanish Mountains.
Another difference is the theme for the retreat. I wrote most of this during a long break in the middle of a weekend on the subject of images as aids in meditation. Lovely stuff! Retreats often include long free periods, making the whole event feel spacious and relaxed.
I was at Burwell House in the village of Burwell and the nineteen men and women I was with were from the Cambridge Sangha. This time everyone was a Mitra or an Order Member, but very often the attendees are newcomers or regular members of the Sangha.
Happily, the first thing most people experience when they encounter Buddhists is friendliness, so going to an event where everyone else seems to know each other is not really an ordeal. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert a simple smile says enough.
Many people come to Buddhism looking for peace through meditation (unlike our late dear friend Jacqueline who would have run away waving her hands in the air if that had been suggested to her). Meditation can indeed bring peace, but it is a skill which requires persistence and training if one wants the full benefits.
That is why I went to Burwell House. I love words and language but words can intrude sometimes, taking us away from our focus in meditation. Visualizing an image may replace words in the same way that a Buddha figure can bring a peaceful mood without a word being spoken or thought.
More recently I’ve been on a couple of Day Retreats with the Bury St Edmunds Sangha and have thoroughly enjoyed the company and the topics. There will be another Day Retreat on 13th March 2016 so why not put that date in your diary?
I would urge everyone to try a retreat. As I said, they are all different but they manage to provide peaceful, spacious and friendly periods in our often frantic lives, together with some memorable teachings.
DC’S Blog: Friendship and Support
It’s great to see our friends at our Wednesday Sangha evenings. There’s a really good atmosphere of friendship and support. Over the last few weeks we’ve also enjoyed meeting some more newcomers and I’ve been delighted at the way everyone in Triratna Bury St Edmunds welcomes them. Smiling faces and warm hellos are very reassuring. It’s easy to forget that some people find it an ordeal to walk into a room where everyone is chatting and theirs is the only strange face, so well done to all the regulars. We all walked into the Sangha for the first time once, and perhaps not been sure if we’ll fit in. Our late dear friend Jacqueline used to tell us that she tried to attend a particular religious establishment when she first moved to Bury St Edmunds. After attending for two or three weeks without a single person speaking to her she gave up on it. What a difference when she found us. Of course, we mustn’t overwhelm a beginner, sometimes they just want to sit quietly and observe what goes on (after saying hello), but the Buddha told Ananda that friendship was the whole of the spiritual life so thank you for exemplifying it. < < > > Speaking of friendship and support, you may not be aware that our Order Members meet frequently to discuss how the Sangha is faring and to make sure that it is representing the Triratna principles and ideals. They also join those Mitras who make up the Triratna Bury St Edmunds Support Group for quarterly meetings to discuss the development and operation of the local Sangha. These meetings cover items such as the Web Site, Finances, the 16 Week Programme, the Shrine, Retreats and external courses. Our Sangha evenings are mostly led by the Order Members, although some of the Mitras also lead. This all takes time to prepare but thankfully our Sangha members give us the gift of their attention and often join in discussions, making it all worthwhile. It’s easy to forget when we turn up on a Wednesday that a great deal of work goes on behind the scenes to make the Sangha what it is. Whether we are Order Members, Mitras or Friends we all have our part to play and we all benefit from belonging to this friendly, inspiring community. Thank you so much to all of you for being part of Triratna Bury St Edmunds. D.C., April 2015
My first Spring Yatra was undertaken with the Cambridge Buddhist Centre, led by Suryamani and Kevin – (Yatra is a Sanskrit word, meaning ‘pilgrimage’. It’s also used to describe an extended form of walking meditation: a countryside ramble with an emphasis on mindfulness). I didn’t know what to expect other than I would enjoy walking meditatively in silence with others through the beautiful Cambridgeshire countryside – and it was glorious! Although I chose to walk with the group for one day, there was the opportunity to stay overnight and walk for two days. It was a beautiful circular walk, mostly flat but with some slopes, and mostly dry. We walked from Stapleford Granary, over the Granta river, through fields to the Roman Road, then through Wandlebury Ring and over Magog Down, passing Bronze Age ritual burial sites, with wonderful views along the way. Although we walked in silence, at each break there was the opportunity to socialise if we chose to and I enjoyed the combination of mindful, silent walking and getting to new people. I enjoyed the day so much, I plan to join the Autumn Yatra walking the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coastal Path.
Linda, March 2015