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Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage

The hard to find gift

It was so uplifting hearing someone describe the journey they had been on with their daughter’s mental illness as a gift. 

From personal experience in my own family this comment did not surprise me.

To an outsider watching on, as families deal with mental illness, the obvious suffering is what they see so clearly and are drawn to focus on. 

But something else can happen in that painful arena that brings growth, richness and compassion for self and others to the fore. 

So I invited this woman to choose from my bag of little Buddhas. 

Her hand alighted on a tiny little Buddha encased in a bodhi leaf, hands gently clasped in meditation mudra. 

Even in the midst of the extremes of mental states,  wisdom and compassion are to be found. 

In this person’s eyes I could see that she knew that too. 

Buddha donated by Akashamani      Port Fairy Australia BAE8ABE7-4609-4216-8F88-3A6C4AB3E3BD

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The guesture of fearlessness

Sometimes we come to a turning point in our life where we see a decision is forming from our depths…..a decision to commit to a path we know will be difficult but rewarding and necessary. There is just a deep knowing that it has to happen.
I met a woman not long ago, at a moment like this, in her life. I offered her a Buddha.
She connected immediately with this Buddha, Amoghasiddhi, who has the hand gesture of fearlessness.
“Oh, “ she said when I told her about the quality of fearlessness that was embodied in this tiny Buddha.
“ Interestingly last year a thought had arisen for me that I needed to become more fearless.”

So in company with this Buddha may she stay in touch with that quality.

Buddha donated by Prasadadipa UK

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Company for a quest

How many people have the patience to stay on course skilfully on a long journey to connect with what we deeply love or with who we deeply love?

It’s so easy to give up as the difficulties of the terrain can become just too much.

When a parent is separated from their child, there is an ache known universally by all parents.  Loving kindness is the balm that soothes that ache.

This man was gentle and patient with his deep wish to be with his child again.

I offered him a Buddha and from the collection he chose the goddess of compassion, Kuan Yin.

 

She is often associated with children. He felt she had an aura of quiet, unbounded joy and beauty. Just what he needed for his quest. He said he was looking forward to her accompanying him on the journey as it unfolded.

Buddha donated by Wendy, Emerald Australia

You never know when you are talking to angels.

As I brought a copy of the Big Issue off the woman sitting on the crate just near Bourke St mall I couldn’t help but notice her jewellery .
Statement rings garlanded every finger and many necklaces shared the space peaking above her jumper rim. It was easy to start a conversation about these bold pieces that she wore so proudly. She told me she called them her ‘heroin jewellery.’ She was so pleased she had money to these days to spend on these second hand treasures, money that in the past would have been spent on drugs.
She had been drug free for years and now made her living selling the magazine. It was a job she loved because it connected her back to the community she knew when she lived on the streets. She felt it allowed her to “keep an eye on them- especially the young and vulnerable.”
She now lived in a house with her husband and from what I could gather they had a simple and happy life.
When I offered her to choose a Buddha she quickly chose what she called ‘ the happy Buddha’.
“ I am attracted to cheerful things.” she said.
As I paid for my magazine she said almost as an aside,  “I have an article in this edition.”
And so she did.
I read her wise words from the magazine I had purchased ……

I gave one old lady who begs for money a bottle of water because that’s what she wanted the money for, and now she tells me she wishes I was her daughter because I cared.  And that’s it- I care. So many people feel it’s not their problem so why bother? 

But you never know when you are talking to angels. There is such a colourful array of people – I could go on about it all day. They all bring something with them and I am glad I am part of the show. “

Sharon sells the Big Issue in Melbourne

Buddha donated by Khemajoti UK

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A Buddha for Bhante

There’s been a pause in handing on the remaining 80 little donated Buddhas.  My energy needed to be directed to supporting family more intensively for a while, so the trips to the town square were put on hold. I have really missed those random, uplifting encounters.

So today I was delighted to receive this communication from a friend who chose some of the little Buddhas to take with her to the UK recently.

I never imagined one of these precious donations would make it all the way to Adhisthana into the hands of my main teacher Sangharakshita-the  man who in many ways gave me the gift of the dharma.

Here is my friend’s letter …..

“Hello dear Maitripala,
Today I went to see Bhante to say goodbye and I wanted to give him a gift. I didn’t have many things with me that I could have given  Bhante. Then I remembered the Buddhas  you gave me. First I felt a bit shy about it but my community members encouraged me to do it, so I put it in my pocket.

It was so wonderful seeing Bhante again. He was in a great mood. We talked about the birds at Vijayaloka and the trams of Melbourne. Then we talked about how to make decisions, the significance of commitment and of faith.

Bhante said ‘Faith is your connection to what is higher.’  He said “Faith is the seed of the spiritual life”.

I told him that sometimes when I think about rebirth I feel so overwhelmed about having to come back again and again to samsara and he leaned back and laughed. He said the Bodhisattva doesn’t tire of samsara. He said I should never give up and take advantage of every opportunity.

I felt the arising of faith so overwhelming that it brought me to tears. I had a sense that this wasn’t the first time we were having this conversation.

I gave him the little Buddha as a parting gift and told him about your project which he seemed to know about.

Here is a photo of the Buddha (donated by dear Dhiracharita) in the hands of Bhante.

How very wonderful. This was a moment I will reflect on again and again. “

Language no barrier

I was excited to be meeting my old ( but young at heart ) friend Siddhisvari who was visiting from her home in Spain.
As I stood looking around Federation Square trying to spot her, I was approached by two young people clutching clipboards nervously but smiling broadly.

That’s how I met a young man from Japan and a young woman from Thailand in Australia attending college for a year or two to learn English.
I found out they had come into the city for a day to practice asking strangers questions.
It wasn’t long before the questions on their clipboard were abandoned and we fell into an easy conversation fed by genuine interest in each other.
Siddhisvari spotted us and joined in the conversation.
After a while I asked if they would like a gift of a little Buddha. And as happens so many times they seemed so sure straight away which one they wanted to take home.
The young woman chose an earthy Buddha commonly placed at Jizo shrines in Japan.
And the young man liked the solid and calm of Akshobya with the earth touching, grounding hand gesture.
As we said our goodbyes to these new friends the young woman quickly delved into her bag and gestured me to open my palm.
In it she placed an elephant, the animal so connected to Akshobya and a pivotal symbol for me in relation to my spiritual practice.
I laughed at beauty of exchanging unexpected gifts and then went on to enjoy a lovely visit and lunch at a Buddhist city temple with my dear friend.

Buddhas donated by  Maureen UK and Kiranada USA

Buddhas undercover

A friend going overseas for an adventure in the UK and  to visit family in her birth country in Eurasia, took some of the little Buddhas to give away.

This is what happened :

My mom is an artist and was recently getting interested in jewellery making. She had made me a beautiful lotus necklace and asked if there were any other symbols that I liked.

I was telling her about about the vajra and we decided to make a vajra necklace.

We were workshopping the idea and I went upstairs to get a book where I had drawn a vajra and the bag of Buddha’s caught my eye so I brought it to the table.

I decided that I wouldn’t offer her a Buddha but just bring the bag with me to show her. In my country of birth there isn’t much information on Buddhism and what is available is quite bleak and a little negative. Me, becoming a Buddhist, is quite unconventional and a little scary so I try to be mindful and not push my views or preference on to my family.

But as soon as the bag was out she asked me about it and I told her about the  ‘Buddhas  in my pocket’ project and started taking them out of the bag. I had the beautiful Buddhas  all lined up, her face lit up and she asked if she could have one!

So I said yes of course 🙂  She picked a clay Buddha because it reminded her of our country’s archeological artefacts and her connection with clay and ceramic making. She placed it in between photos of her mother and father and said it found its perfect spot. It was such a lovely playful and light moment devoid of any fear, worries or anxiety. It really brought lightness to the whole thing.

I will cherish it as a metta-full memory! 🙂

Buddha donated by Danakosha retreat centre, Scotland

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“The other Buddha I gave to a GFR mitra in my country of birth. We had been hanging out together and she had been so generous all day, giving me gifts and covering meals. During the day we talked about the ordination process and discovered many similarities in our practice and training even though we live on opposite sides of the world. Then we talked about synchronicity and delightful coincidences.

I had brought the bag of Buddhas with me and wanted to offer her a Buddha. I was taking out all the Buddhas for her to chose from but before I got to the third one she was clear she woudl over the white Buddha. She had been thinking about acquiring a discreet little Buddha to keep in her car.

That white Buddha was donated by Kirsten my good friend from Sydney Australia, another GFR mitra. I felt this was another lovely coincidence that links us all together. “

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Art in the Bourke st Mall

Shuffles was quite happy to be called Shuffles. I checked.  

He shuffled due to his Parkinson’s illness but he obviously accepted the warmth with which his street community used the name.

He was young man and had a direct and warm presence. He had waited patiently whilst I had the poem being delivered to me and was ready to engage as soon as I turned to him.

So we sat and I confirmed that he had indeed come to get a Buddha like his friend RR had said. As it turned out Shuffles was very knowledgeable about Buddhism. He understood a number of the core principles but he said he still hadn’t really come to a deeper understanding of the Tibetan Wheel of Life as yet. 

I knew he would easily choose his Buddha so I quickly lay them out on my lap.

Immediately he requested,  “I would love that Thai one.”

He liked its “solid but also non assuming nature ” and he particularly was drawn to the “soft golden glow.”  I really enjoyed talking to him about life and what matters most and what qualities are worth valuing. So here I was yet again sitting enjoying my time with someone as the ‘stranger’ barrier dissolved.

As I watched him lift the Buddha up and under his shirt into place near his chest he revealed that he was not going to place it in his pocket but by his heart where he kept a broken baby eggshell. He said the eggshell reminded him of the preciousness of life. He wanted to the Buddha to be with the eggshell.

He said his core belief was that ‘humanity is a single heart beat’ This belief he said keeps him going in what is obviously a tough existence in some ways. He also offered quite spontaneously that he felt common sense and communication were the most important qualities to develop in life.

He said he knew he still had more to offer the world and he loved that the small Buddha represented vast potential. He told me he felt he had at times helped others believe in their own vast potential.

Shuffles suggested I look at his art folio online so I could see the type of art work he used to do. When I told him I would write about our meeting he was happy for me to show you some pictures of his work. His last posting was early 2016.  I didn’t ask what I had happened from that time to this more recent time on the street. The artist in him seemed alive and present whether or not new drawings had been added to the folio.

As I made ready to leave, Shuffles said, “Its been nice talking to a kindred spirit.” 

I felt the same. 

Another couple of RR’s friends had arrived further expanding the circle but needing to get home I packed up the Buddha bag and after a big hug from RR I left to catch a tram.

Walking along observing the busy Sunday crowds weaving in and out of the stores that glistened with attractive and expensive items to buy I felt I had secretly discovered where the real riches were in this busy shopping Mall.

 

Buddha donated by Sanghamati Port Fairy, Australia

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Shuffles art work

 

 

Music in the Bourke st mall

As RR headed off to talk to other friends in his street community there was the space to engage with his friend who had been sitting quietly by watching RR choose Buddhas and regale me with his prison stories.

I asked him if he too would like a Buddha from my bag. He moved towards me with an air of reserved politeness.  Just as RR’s cheekiness had been so evident so was the reflective gentleness of this man.

Involuntary shivers coursed his body as his thin, jacket failed the task of keeping him warm. I asked him if he needed warmer clothing but he said he would be fine.

His hands did not need to dwell long to investigate the little bag of Buddhas as he immediately knew the blue, green one was for him. He liked the shape and colour. He was interested in who had donated it. We  began to talk and he told me that coping with illness was a significant aspect of the journey that eventually ended with him living on the streets.

Like others had shared with me previously, he chose to sleep out after finding the emergency housing he was often offered became intolerable with violence and drugs poisoning the atmosphere.

He began to talk about his love of music and poetry.  This was when I noticed the shivering in his body less and the light in his eyes more.  He had studied literature at Uni and had been a musician singing and playing the piano. Tentatively he requested I look up his name on Youtube on my phone so he could show me some songs recorded with a friend  in 2013.

He was happy for me to share this phase of his life when his creative expression did not have to bunker down on the concrete alcoves in the lanes of Melbourne.

 

Soon RR, his mate, returned to deliver to me another friend of his, Shuffles.  He said Shuffles  ‘might like a Buddha, too’ .

RR’s energy began to surround us and I could feel this gentle, musical man begin to slip into the background again. But before he did, he shook my hand, paused and as a parting gift delivered verbatim a portion of a 1899 poem ‘Antagonish’ by William Hughes Mearns  (I found this out later on Google)

‘As I was going up the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there!

He wasn’t there again today,

Oh how I wish he’d go away.’

I thanked him for this unexpected gift.

By this time, I sensed all I needed to do was give in to the rich flow of life that was unfolding before me, accept what might be next in store for me, and turn to meet Shuffles.

to be continued …..

Buddha donated by Leicestershire Study group, UK.IMG_1844

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Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage