Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage


April 2016

From angel to Bodhisattva

A few days ago I momentarily looked at my bag of 10 buddhas as I grabbed my car keys to head off to the hospital to see Dad. I realised there was no way to complete my planned pilgrimage walk into the city that day and also probably no time to have the meaningful conversations that often led to offering up a Buddha.

The ‘perfect’ care home option for Dad had fallen through and we needed to keep looking.Anyone who has gone through this process will know that there is not much time for anything else. I  grabbed the Buddha bag anyway and headed off.

Hospitals need patients to move out of beds as soon as possible so the time limit to visit care homes and choose a place for Dad was punishing.

The day before, I had sat with my head in my hands at a coffee break with my sister and keenly felt my limitations. Abandoning my friends at the Buddhist Centre to handle 100 visiting school children on their own and not being around to support the team getting the upcoming retreat ready compounded a sense of not being big enough to hold it all.

And I know from previous experience that not having time to acknowledge deep sadness can make everything else seem like walking through mud.

How fortunate then that the hospital social worker assigned to us was an angel.

It truly felt that way to have someone willing to spend time helping navigate the demanding and often indecipherable forms and other paperwork that attaches itself to you at each place visited.

I really appreciated her irreverent sense of humour, piercing honesty and the refreshing mix of practicality and huge heart. She just plainly said the words she could obviously sense were sitting stunned in my own heart.  All I had to do was nod in agreement.

At least I had the energy for that.

She knew I had only days to get important paperwork in for another ‘perfect place’ as I was about to lead a retreat and would not be available for a week.

Maybe because of my kesa around my neck or perhaps the mention of the retreat but at our last visit she began to tell me that her husband’s memorial ceremony had been held at the large stupa at a Buddhist monastery an hour out of Melbourne- his plaque was there too under a beautiful crepe myrtle tree.  This woman’s connections with Buddhist places of practice and her generosity in supporting dharma work and children in Nepal unfolded as I sat on my dad’s hospital bed. What an unexpected and magical connection!

The effort and tiredness momentarily disappeared as I opened my bag of 10 Buddhas and asked her to choose one. Her eyes immediately fell on a beautiful, standing Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

It had been a gift from a Karunadhi, a friend at a retreat centre where I had lived in Wales.  IMG_4040A place where I had felt my heart had been at its biggest and all things were possible.

So with this delightful memory now very much alive I laughed as Dad interrupted us to tell me to “stop gas bagging” and go and find him a bed!

PS  It was also very humbling to find a donation for my pilgrimage in my account from this wonderful person later that night.



Known strangers

I was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order 17 years ago. We are a community of just over 2000 Order members spread throughout the world.  When one of those Order Members from the UK contacted me saying he was in Melbourne and would love to meet up in Federation Square during one of my pilgrimage walks I agreed very happily.  He decided to wear his kesa in an offer of solidarity and also so I would be able to easily pick him out in the crowds that gather there.

Technically we would be considered strangers however we spent a number of hours sitting by the Yarra river enjoying discussions around a wide range of topics. We had both practiced our early Order lives within the context of bringing up families and working in the world. It is marvellous really to be able to connect with someone about whom you know no facts but because of shared commitment, in this case to our Buddhist practice and values,  meaningful connection comes easily. We have in common the taking of vows to keep on developing kindness, generosity, truthful, helpful and harmonious speech, tranquility, compassion and wisdom.

As we finished our coffee I opened my bag of Buddhas and he chose one to take and hand out when the time felt right.  Magically the one he chose had been donated by someone very dear to his Preceptor, the person who witnessed his vows.

So thank you Mahasiddhi for coming to meet me in that space. (and sending for the photos to share). I look forward to hearing where your little buddha makes its new home.

Wales Melbourne Nepal.

My thoughts told me the young man with the back pack looking intently into his phone was a most unlikely person to want to talk to a 60 year old woman who might offer him a Buddha.

But I am learning to trust another deeper sense that arises when I am out on my pilgrimage walks.

So I sat a respectful distance away from him on the same ledge and settled with patience.

Before long a few sparrows, those that encourage people in Federation square to share their lunch, came into this space between us.

The young man ( I was wrongly guessing he was a student ) ever so carefully began to feed the birds small pieces of his food.

There was something about how mindfully and gently he was making these offerings that gave me courage to traverse the few metres across the ledge and engage with him, Buddha bag in hand.

I usually wait until a general discussion with someone opens up a natural space before I mention the Buddhas …but this time it was different.

“Seeing the kind way you interacted with the birds has inspired me to offer you something.”I began.

“These are gifts from people all around the world, would you like to choose one ?”

His face lit up with recognition as I opened the bag.

“Buddhas !” he beamed.

I discovered he had arrived in Australia from Nepal only this year. His wife was a Buddhist, studying in a Melbourne. He enthusiastically told me about the Buddhist sites I could see in Nepal and encouraged me to consider visiting there one day.

I asked what he loved most about his home country.

“Everything !” was the emphatic answer. And I knew it was true.

Bringing his love of Nepal into the busy hub of Melbourne city reminded me of what it can be like to arrive in a new place to live knowing very few people.

And when he chose a Buddha to give to his wife I was delighted to see it had been a gift from someone who had welcomed me kindly when I went to live and work in another country not so long ago.

I also learnt that he was looking for work and willing to do any job. My brother has a business and occasionally needs casual workers, so this gentle Nepalese man gave me his name and phone number and we can see what arises. Despite having known him only for half an hour I felt confident he would be committed and reliable in whatever he turned his hand to.

So yet again I am grateful to the birds for opening up an ease of connection with a fellow human being.

Buddha a gift from Amritamati, Wales.IMG_3958

Enjoy the joy


Have you ever had an experience where life drops into your lap a perfect situation, solution or moment, but you resist embracing it fully because you don’t quite trust letting go into joy completely?

Experiencing joy can  be hindered sometimes by a need to keep something in reserve, to be on the watch for the next bout out of unsatisfactoriness that you believe could be just around the corner.

That’s what nearly happened to me yesterday.

A family meeting with doctors at the hospital to discuss Dad’s situation and care needs could have been the start of a long journey of visiting places to look for available beds, with the usual ongoing discussions, potential resistances and differences of opinion.

Instead my dear sister had already readily located a place at a small 24 bed care home two streets away from the family home. And there was one bed available right now.

A potentially perfect place for Dad to acclimatise to living with blindness. A potentially perfect place for Mum to traverse the few hundred metres to and spend time with him.

On finding out an old mate of Dad’s already lives there, we could picture them engaged in teasing discussions about football. A potentially perfect place.

So much has changed for Dad with his loss of sight but with this care option much could stay the same. Mum and Dad could enjoy the ease of contact and time with each other and Dad could have familiar doctors in the much loved environment of his local town.

It can’t get much better than that when old age starts bashing you around.

I know it’s not wise to grasp and cling on to any ball of joy when it lands in one’s lap.

We can’t make it stay or keep it forever.

But it also doesn’t make sense either to resist opening up to fully experiencing delight whenever it pays its fleeting visits. Even when its a close neighbour to pain and loss.

So driving back from the hospital and noticing the tentative bubbling up of joy I decided to put on some music and sing and see just how far those grace notes could go.

In the hand of my father

Instead of walking into the city square yesterday I drove to a hospital to sit with my dear Dad. I had taken my Buddhas in my Pocket knowing that hospitals are places where suffering walks the corridors, hovers in the corners of the lifts, accompanies visitors to the consulting rooms.

Dad sat resting in his bedside chair, eyes closed.

Eyes that 3 weeks ago, in an instant, gave up any effort to see.

He can no longer read his novels or peruse the football news at the back of the paper.

Not much surpasses Dad’s love of reading-perhaps just his love of Mum, his family and his footy team.

“How are they treating you, Dad?”

“Fabulous love, I’d give the nurses 12 out of 10. They are amazing.”

This is the legacy my father leaves wherever he goes – his unending ability to see the good in people, in situations. I have always found it a joy to see how his delight of others and natural ability to be in the moment infuses any situation he is in. Even this one. The nurses already delight in  him and take great care of him.

We talk about future plans to get him access to talking books and discuss listening to the football instead of watching it.

I ask him how he feels about losing his sight.

He raises his eyebrows and half grins.

“Shit happens love. I’m still breathing. ”

And we laugh an enveloping laugh together. This momentarily eases the heart ache in my chest which is mostly apparent when I am still enough and alone.

I veer between engaging in sensible, practical exploring of care options and just wanting to scoop him up, cancel my life plans and look after him and Mum. I know this is a journey I show with millions of other people. They have already been there or have it yet to come.The outcome will reveal itself over time.

The unconditional love my parents have given our family is a most precious gift. I want to return it in any way I can.

Offering up my bag of Buddhas, Dad chooses one to keep him company. His hands fall on the the largest of the ten, as he can just make out its form.

The small hand raised on the Buddha he chooses represents fearlessness.

This is a quality we will all need over the next few days as we discuss the possibility of Dad  going into a care home at least for a while to learn how to manage his blindness. This would mean their first significant time apart in 60 years.

Every time I visit him or ring the hospital, his first questions are about how Mum is coping. They met at Primary school and married at 18. He has spent his life making sure she is okay.  I reassure him we are looking after her and he relaxes noticeably.

So I left Dad that day, with Amogasiddhi the Buddha of fearlessness sitting quietly by his bedside knowing in many ways I would need to develop that quality far more than my father.


Buddha a gift from Verity UK.IMG_3947

Thanks go to the bird…

Looking at the two men sitting on the raised benches at Federation square I wondered if the gap between them might just be a bit close to accept me without breeching the ‘personal space’ rule.

But I sat anyway.  The closeness resulted in us all facing awkwardly ahead. I wondered if I had done the right thing but decided to stay and drop into a silent third stage metta practice. The metta seemed to envelope the man on the right of me in particular.

I find it a fascinating place to sit for a while, this place of not knowing anything about someone yet sensing into their ‘being.’

Why was he sitting here in the midst of Melbourne city’s busy hub?

No back pack, no food, no drink. Yet he confidently took his place in his space and I somehow knew he was not waiting to meet anyone and was reasonably happy with his own company.

I also realised I  was very unsure if he would be happy, unhappy, angry or delighted if I tried to talk to him. I watched the physical response to this uncertainty dwell quietly in my chest.

So I waited patiently and curiously with the discomfort and wondered what would shift it.

Suddenly a delicate, tiny bird landed on the ground between us and looked up as if hopeful for a crumb.

Our heads fell forward simultaneously to gaze at this little package of birdy cuteness.

I sensed a smile coming from him that probably matched mine so I took the plunge into  that silence space that hangs between strangers.

“I think she wants your lunch.”

He laughed out loud, patting his protruding stomach,

” She won’t be getting anything from me. Its obvious to anyone its already gone ”

We fell into easy chatter.

He shared his story, encouraged by the occasional question from me.

He was a grandfather from Adelaide who had come over to watch his team play football the night before. The bus would take him home in four hours and he was biding the time ‘people watching’.

When talking about how he struggled as a young boy at school, he rejoiced in his own ability to find a path of meaning in life . He achieved success in business once out of school but soon saw that sometimes the simpler jobs, where he had time to enjoy his relationships with colleagues, gave him more pleasure than taking on promotions and making more money.

I saw in him, reflections of the many boys I taught over the years, whose lights of potential were always thankfully stronger than the labels that often followed them from class to class.

He wove into his stories the threads of his ability to smile in the face of struggles. He spoke movingly of his wishes for his teenage granddaughter in particular to find her way to achieve what she was capable of in life.

I knew it was the right time to open up my bag of ten buddhas, tell him about how each small buddha represented each human beings’ vast potential and offer him one to keep.

He immediately  chose a brass one that he thought his granddaughter would love.  Introducing it into its new home of his pocket, he wished me well on my adventure.

As we shook hands warmly, the space between us didn’t seem too close at all.

Buddha donated by Prasadajata  Emerald.Australia.IMG_3930




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Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage