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Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage

Month

March 2016

The Buddhist,the Catholic, blood and faith.

We both arrived in the waiting room around the same time for a test that required us to sit for two hours as they intermittently took our blood. After half an hour sitting reading in silence she asked me, “Do you mind me asking what that is around your neck? I am curious.”

I explained the significance of the kesa and then I asked her what she thought it might be when she first saw it.

“Something religious ….because I am a Catholic and the embroidery reminded me of the embroidered candles children have on a sash for one of our rituals.”

We fell into easy conversation and asked questions about each other’s faith. There was curiosity and connection. It was a lovely way to pass the time.

She explained that she attends a local church but feels saddened that most of her local  congregation are older generation- the youth are just not attracted to whats on offer.

It was poignant when she talked about a visit she had made to the Vatican. She was distressed and deeply dissolusioned  by the wealth displayed in the Vatican museums. Her sense of a powerful Vatican hierarchy that was out of touch with the important aspects of Christianity was strong. But her face lit up when she talked about her work as a teacher of with teenage boys at a Christian school and also the qualities of simplicity, humility and kindness she felt were exemplified in Jesus’ life.

So this is where we ‘met’ at a place of understanding about the value of care and kindness in the world. I told her about my pilgrimage and the street level practice of connecting with human beings by being present and kind. We also discussed the qualities of the Buddha and how I loved that something so small like my little buddhas could represent the vast potential in every human being.

I hadn’t taken my bag of 10 buddhas with me that morning  but I did have one buddha in my pocket and a small lotus charm that had been donated from someone in the sangha. I told her about the symbolism of the lotus. Holding the Buddha and the lotus in my palm I asked her if she would like to choose one to keep. I was convinced she would take the lotus however she immediately chose the Buddha and seemed delighted to have it.

As we parted I gave her a schedule of Melbourne Buddhist Centre classes as she had shared her wish to learn to meditate. Perhaps we will meet again.

Buddha donated by Leicestershire study group UK.IMG_3887

 

 

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A Buddha in a haystack….

Budai given by Tegan in Perth Australia to L.

As I set off for my second pilgrimage walk to the city I still hadn’t heard how Julie and Itir had gone with sharing their buddhas and I was keen to see the reflections they had promised to write.

But on this day I was travelling alone with  10 little buddhas. When I got to the city square I I was engulfed by the loud music of a Christian rock band on stage and worshippers filling the steps ….then it dawned on me that it was Good Friday!

So instead I headed to the art gallery nearby to see the beautiful, ancient Chinese Kuan Yin that was is intrinsically linked for me to faith.  I stayed transfixed on her form for so long the security guard started to swing by regularly. Did the kesa around my neck make me someone to keep an eye on? This time there was no mystical experience like I had on my first viewing 20 years ago but just a deep knowing that she was still guiding me.

Where would my little buddha end up today?

I am already noticing it is a subtle process that involves putting down any gross act of choosing and listening to the world in way whereby someone chooses you.

So I started heading off to another part of the central city to see if I could find a Chinese temple I had heard about where you could get a meal and have the opportunity to sit in a lovely shrine room to meditate. Many people were out enjoying the Easter holiday but for the homeless it was another day as usual trying to make ends meet. I passed about 4 people with their cardboard signs out but wasn’t drawn to stop.

Then I saw a young man setting up his blanket, a crate of few possessions and some beautiful woven bracelets that he makes to sell. As I passed by I noticed his sign said something like ‘I don’t have many things but I do have hope.’

My step slowed but I didn’t stop until a couple of hundred metres up the footpath. I turned and watched him for some time. I was reflecting on why I drawn to him and had yet walked past the others. I  just knew I had to go back.

Maybe this sense of ‘knowing’ comes from the beautifully simple act of giving time to walking out into the world with just the wish to connect with kindness.

As I approached him I knelt down and  unwrapped my bag of 10 Buddhas saying,

‘I have something to give you but I am not sure if you will want it.’

As his eyes took in that they were Buddhas he gave the biggest smile saying ,’Wow this is a sign.  A lovely lady gave me a Buddha just days ago. ”

I asked, ‘ Was her name Julie or Itir?’

‘Yes, Julie! ‘ He told me what a lovely person she was and how they had a great conversation which he really enjoyed.

He happily chose his buddha from my pocket- a green laughing buddha Budai/Hotei, a figure based on a Chinese monk believed to be an incarnation of Maitreyi, the Buddha of the future. We talked about the cloth sack at Budai’s feet, a symbol of abundance ,and the ball in his hand a symbol of playfulness and delight. He seemed very happy with his choice.

We chatted a little more and he told me he had just been moved on from doorway where he usually slept. He knew it was because his presence didn’t do that businesses’ image any favours. He said it was sometimes hard for people to see him as a human being. In the new place he found to sleep he had been robbed of the bag his possessions were carried in so instead a crate was doing the job for now.  He never once asked for anything from me but he appreciated the small amount I gave him to go towards a new bag.

And then he wanted to know more about the Akshobya and Budai and what their qualities were.

As I left this lovely young man I had a strong sense that our paths would cross again.

What are the chances in a city of 4 million people that two Buddhas would find their way into the hands of this hopeful young man?

Two buddhas given by generous hands in the UK and Perth ended up just where they needed to be.

 

 

from Ankara to Melbourne

Itir’s story :

After the Saturday morning meditation at the Melbourne Buddhist Centre I picked one of the little Buddhas laid out on the shrine and joined Maitripala, Dantacitta and Julie in the Buddhas in My Pocket’s first official pilgrimage walk to the Melbourne CBD. I reminded myself of our intention to cultivate loving kindness towards strangers passing by, mindful of opportunities to connect with a ‘neutral person’ and perhaps pass on the Buddha in my pocket.

Nevertheless, shortly after we started walking Dantacitta and I fell into a deep conversation about the ups and downs of practice. I talked about the sadness I felt around what is happening in my hometown Ankara where my parents live, and the fear and sense of helplessness I can experience when confronted with the reality of life there. There, it seems like there are no ‘neutral’ people but either friends or enemies.

As we got closer to the city centre we were surrounded by more and more people, slowly becoming a part of the ebb and flow of the sunny Saturday afternoon. We then stopped by at a café to conclude our walk before we went our separate ways.

I left the others thinking perhaps I had failed at fulfilling the purpose of the walk.

I did not talk to a stranger and the Buddha was still in my pocket.

But as I continued to walk home I realised that my mood had shifted and I felt a little lighter and positive.

Amongst the many people walking on this planet I had just been with 3 others who like me had somehow found the Dharma and were willing to practice for the benefit of others.

And perhaps for the time being I was the one who needed the Buddha in my pocket and to receive the loving kindness that can come from connecting with friends in the Dharma.

Thank you for creating this precious opportunity dear Maitripala. May your pilgrimage continue to bring many others inspiration and joy.

With much gratitude,

Itir

“You have the kindest eyes.”

 

L is now looking after a Buddha given by Leicestershire study group image

Julie’s story :

It’s a beautiful autumn Saturday. I’m walking beside Maitripala bringing metta to mind. I feel the lightness of that as we pass a steady flow of faces and I enjoy just noticing and imagining how people are experiencing their day.

Along the length of Royal Parade and then down Elizabeth Street I fleetingly notice a pair of hands weaving bracelets as we pass. I don’t see who. I only see dirty hands and the perfectly clean finished wrist bands made of coloured thread displayed on the pavement. We pass on.

We make it to Federation square and I enjoy a drink with Maitripala,  Dantachitta and Itir before we go our separate ways. In my pocket is a Buddha but I don’t imagine I’ll find the person I can pass that onto let alone the courage to approach someone.

I find my feet travelling the way we came and I notice my mind returning to those hands. I do know where I’m going.

I listen to strong classical music as I make my way down Bourke Street, then around the corner into Elizabeth Street, gazing ahead and looking for that spot.

I see the bracelets on the ground and the rumpled blanket with no one there. A twinge of disappointment arises but before it takes hold this form moves quickly in front of me and quickly takes a seat. I see a bracelet. I buy it. It’s my way in to make contact.

I ask to sit down and he says ‘sure.’

L talks with bright intelligence. He says his plaiting helps him make a little money and that he gets his embroidery thread from Lincraft.

He says it’s safer on the street than in the Salvation Army Hostel, how the only showers he and others living on the streets can use are being renovated for the next six weeks and how he’s gotten used to being dirty. He says, “I’ve been homeless less than a year. It’s Ok now but I’m hoping I can get another blanket before winter”

We talk and it’s easy. I learn a lot about L in a very short space of time. I learnt that he was in the army, drove trucks in Afghanistan, didn’t see active service but saw the horror of how war can be. I learnt that he appreciates learning and loves philosophy. “It’s all cause and effect” he said. “It’s hard out here. You see the very worst in people but you see the very best too. People have been really good”.

I asked him if I could give him something. Again he answers ‘sure.’  I pulled the Buddha out of my pocket and passed it to him. “Wow, thanks” he said with a smile, as he gazed at the figure, turning it in his hands and admiring its detail.

It felt so easy to give it to him. As if his hands were made for the receiving of it and after photographing the Buddha in his hands it felt good to see him deposit it safely in the pocket of his jacket. We talked more philosophy and he had a natural Buddhist take on things. He’s a realist but he’s also an optimist.

There is something so simple that he said which will always stay with me, “The most important things are love, happiness and intelligence. That’s what I think”.

My last words to him were “You have the kindest eyes. See you again.

I have thought of him since and have a tin box of embroidery thread sitting in a drawer that I think he could make good use of.

 

The buddha that catches the light…

The buddha that Dantachitta had taken in her pocket on our first walk to Federation Square was a very tiny aquamarine rupa that shone different colours depending on the light. Sometimes it looked  green or gold or even milky white.

Sitting amongst the crowds of people who use the Fed Square to have lunch, as a meeting place or just as a pause in their busy day,was man she began to talk to. He told her he often went to the square just be around people, to be in the company of other human beings.

He was very happy to take home this little buddha that would bring light into the darkest space.

This buddha was a gift from Leicestershire study group.

image

“Where are they handing those out ?”

The woman walked quickly up to me and pointing at the kesa around my neck asked,
“Where are they handing those out?” 

It was a question I had not really anticipated.

Heading off that afternoon with three friends for my first pilgrimage walk into Melbourne city square I had wondered what questions might be asked about the kesas Dantacitta and I wore.
Dantacitta had placed mine on my neck at the pilgrimage launch ceremony earlier in the week to signify my commitment to wear it everyday for 14 months.

After agreeing to take my grandsons to school the next morning they seemed totally nonplussed on seeing me with a kesa on.
As I arrived at the school in the car  I noticed the urge rising to avoid going in.

I had taught at the school for many years  before leaving to do the pilgrimage this year.

I would be running into colleagues and parents who knew me well as the Wellbeing teacher but perhaps weren’t as familiar with my life as Maitripala.
Me : Does your dad take you right up to the classroom or do you walk in yourself?”
Grandson: “Daddy always takes me to the classroom and waits until the bell goes.” 
Of course he does.
Small mind solution: Perhaps I could tuck the kesa into my shirt so they won’t notice it and ask me lots questions.
Big mind: Oh just get on with it Maitripala, get over your ‘self’!

So in I went.

My grandsons had excitedly dressed up that morning for the special school superhero day. But it hadn’t occurred to me that all the staff would of course be moonlighting superheroes too. Wonderwoman, Batman, Supermen and Superwoman were happy to see me.
Here I was… Super Buddhist being totally unimpressive and the kesa quite unnoticeable. After a chat with my friends and the Principal I headed home, chuckling at the irony of it all.
Over the next few days I sometimes noticed mild resistance to going out into the world with my kesa on but it soon was quite easy to just get on with it without too much tussle with the ego.

So by the time we were in the city square rat the end of the week ready to connect with other human beings and hand out little buddhas there was no kesa resistance at all.

The woman who asked me where they were handing them out had been to a university information day near the square and had accumulated a little showbag of free giveaways already. She had seen Dantacitta passing by with her kesa on and obviously quite liked it.

Then I came along and…. well…she wanted one too.
I explained to her that I was an ordained Buddhist and the kesas were a little hard to get as we had to do many years of spiritual training before one was placed around our neck.

She was interested in Buddhism so we had a friendly chat and it turned out she had loads of buddhas herself and offered to share them with me!

My buddhas stayed in my pocket that day.

 

imageThe little buddhas can’t all fit in my pockets so some of them live in this hand stitched  bag done by Veronica in Birmingham for that very purpose 🙏🏼

 

The first little Buddha

 

My plan was to start the first street level pilgrimage walk to the centre of the city after helping with the Saturday morning meditation class . On my way I noticed D. The long grey tendrils of her hair fell onto the grey coat that was too big for her tiny frame. She was crouched near the doorway of the local bakery. She had her hand extended and nervously played with the cigarette lighter with the other hand. I sat next to her and we began to talk. Her eyes and hands told me more about her life than the words we exchanged. I asked how her day was going and she said she needed money. I gave her the $4.50 that was in my coin purse.  And then I remembered I already had little buddhas in my bag. So I opened a parcel of 6 buddhas I had just received from a study group in Leicestershire. Her eyes immediately fell on a small silver buddha. I asked her if she would like to choose one and in an instant she scooped it up. D said she would keep it in her bedroom and then she took off so quickly I wondered if she thought I would change my mind and take it back. Or perhaps she was off to try and bargain for a cigarette or use the coins to get a coffee or a bun from the bakery.  I smiled as the first little buddha began its journey.imageLeicestershire study group’s buddha in D’s hand

The launch……and so it begins

On Thursday night this week I shared the inspiration for this pilgrimage with friends at Melbourne Buddhist Centre regulars’ night. All 45 little buddhas donated so far stood as witness to the launch of the Buddhas in my Pocket journey. I have been very touched learning that some people have given me little buddhas that have had very personal and deep meaning in their lives and also knowing that many buddhas have come great distances from overseas.

After my talk everyone carefully carried a buddha upstairs to the large shrine room ready for the ceremony. My kesa was held in place on the shrine by Kuan Yin and the buddhas were placed carefully surrounding her.  Dantacitta, a dear friend with whom I had shared a number of wonderful mini pilgrimages over the years, led a beautiful ceremony where the kesa was placed on my neck ready to be worn every day for the next 14 months.

The energy and support in the room was very stirring and moving.

IMG_6005 IMG_6004 IMG_1451 IMG_1445IMG_6011IMG_1452

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An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage