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Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage

Month

August 2016

The art of living

I still feel stirred up after yesterday’s trip into the city to hand out buddhas.

The first flush of spring was in the air but the concrete pavement was still cold to sit on.

I noticed the young guy had a few coins in his hat as he sat on his piece of pavement . So I offered a few coins from my purse and asked if he was okay  if I sat with him a while.           His mouth and eyes smiled as he quickly moved on from his surprise and said, ‘Yes, of course.”

After exchanging names he told me about his two years of living on the streets.                    As with a few of the guys I have spoken to, this man had come out of a public housing situation that turned toxic and chose to go back onto the streets.

A man with a severe alcohol problem was sent to live with him and it got so bad this guy felt he had to leave.  For him sleeping out rough through a Melbourne winter was a better scenario than putting up with a belligerent housemate.

Largely its due to the friendship, safety, connection and sense of community they feel with each other that these men stay sleeping rough. They can choose who they share a laneway with and move on if the atmosphere becomes intolerable.

I wonder how any of us would feel if we were given a roof over our heads but then had to accept anyone the authorities sent along to live with us.

My new friend was delighted to choose a Buddha. He liked its colour and he said it looked like something slightly mummified. He had a keen interest in ancient things.

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He told me about his most recent home- a laneway that had become a Melbourne tourist attraction due to the vibrant graffiti art covering all the walls.IMG_4671

Walking tours of tourists now visit this section of laneways constantly.

My friend lives there with a changing population of 3-6 other guys.  They had been relatively warm as they slept in the building alcoves but in a bid to save the tourists the unpleasant sight and reality of homelessness the authorites had recently boarded up the alcoves, expecting the men to move on.

But they didn’t. My friend said, “Why would we?  It is our home.”

They especially liked being around the art and colour.

Someone had come along at some stage and cut holes in the boarded up alcoves so these guys could climb in for some warmth. But not wanting to risk forced eviction they took their crates and rubbish bins full of possessions and set up down one of the side alleys.

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The man with the hat had told me he often pointed out special features of the paintings that new tourist guides usually missed.

“Look out for the reflection of the cityscape in the eyes of the old aboriginal man in the painting on the right,” he would tell them. He had spent hours lying and looking at these works and he knew every inch of the painted walls.

He encouraged me to go and visit his ‘home’ in the laneway . So while he kept his hat open for business on the main street I wandered to the laneway that draws scores of visitors each week.

I recognised his spot easily. Another of his friends was sitting there and also another sleeping body was wrapped tightly in a duvet. When I mentioned having just talked to his friend with the hat I was invited to sit and talk with this guy, who was a 10 year veteran of sleeping rough. I found both guys I spoke to were open, honest and very humble.

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Another Buddha was chosen by my second friend. This man liked the weight and solid feeling of it.

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He said they had just got used to the fact that their very basic, exposed home was walked past by thousands of tourists every month.

On finishing my conversations, both men had thanked me very warmly for taking the time to talk. I constantly get the impression that these guys are not used to ‘ordinary’ people sitting down talking with them. Not welfare, not police, not people wanting to save them but just people willing to give time for friendly conversation and connection. They seem very happy to have these conversations.

As I began to leave the laneway I looked back at the cage-like structure made of crates and bins and at the tourists wandering by with their selfie sticks, listening intently to tourist guides about the significance of this artist or that painting.

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I watched as many of the tourists’ eyes dropped down with a jolt of recognition as they realised the graffitied rubbish bins were in fact the walls of an open roofed bedroom for men sleeping rough.  It was the men’s living room they were wandering through and some of them were currently at home.

The visitors largely didn’t know what to do at that moment of realisation so they would just hurry a bit faster to the next wall so their eyes could be thankfully drawn away from this unpalatable reality.

There was some uncomfortableness for me in taking these pictures but the men have said  to me they feel like the the world would prefer they be invisible. I am sure you know they exist in every city of the world. It only takes a warm greeting and some time to chat to help them feel less invisible.

As I made my way back to the main street I literally started to feel shaky and stirred up.

It was like walking in a space between two realms.IMG_4670

And I felt more at home in one of them than the other.

Buddhas donated by Apada , Dantacitta and Siladasa  Melbourne

 

 

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Buddhas on the move

My mum has made her decision. Five months after Dad had to go into an aged care home due to failing health, she has decided to join him.

I really admire how she took her time and patiently waited until her direction felt very clear. She had to balance giving up some level of independence with her desire to be with my dad. Sixty-two years of companionship has won out and when she was offered a room this week in the same care home, she accepted it.

I also respected and admired my Dad for his quiet patience and great empathy in waiting for Mum make her decision in her own time.

When she rang Dad to tell him that she was going to be moving into the same building he said,  “ I am very happy for you and even happier for myself !”

So as we took in this news I asked Mum if she would like to choose any of the little buddhas standing on her kitchen table (where I had been counting them) to pack in her bags.        ‘Which ones might help with this significant move?” I asked.

As with many other people, she seemed to know straight away even though she was faced with 125 of them!

She chose a large gold Budai and an ancient style standing Buddha relief.

We discussed their possible connection with her move.

She said the standing Buddha was like an ancient carving on a cave wall slowly being uncovered – the details not yet fully revealed.  Intuitively she felt there was something valuable there even though it was not yet clear.  I love the way my Mum can move quite quickly to focus on the potential of a situation rather than stay with the fear of the unknown.

And then holding the Budai she said she liked that he had a broad, solid base that felt substantial.  Again something helpful to be in touch with as she makes such a brave move.

I explained the meaning behind the many bowls with fruit and offerings around this Buddha’s feet. She liked that he represented abundance and richness.

We smiled together imagining that these qualities would potentially go with her into her new life setting with Dad.

Buddhas donated by      Phil, Melbourne and Siddhisambhava, Wales.

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Bags of Buddhas

I have arrived back  in Australia after an inspiring visit to the UK.

40 Buddhas out of the 165 donated have found new homes.

Here are the remaining 125 which I will attempt to hand on before the pilgrimage ends in April year!

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I have successfully managed to keep track of 163 donor names.

But these two little Buddhas below were handed to me and I missed recording the names of the donors.

One was given on the Triratna Order Convention in Uk and the other might have been on a retreat in Australia.

If you recognise either of them could you email me at ..

maitripala@gmail.com

 

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UK Buddhas

imageTriratna Combined Order Convention shrine

 

I was delighted and surprised to bring back over 50 little buddhas from my journey to the UK. I enjoyed handing a few on over there but I also look forward to passing the rest on during the Australian pilgrimage.

Special thanks to Veronica for organising the display and little buddha collection at Birmingham Buddhist Centre and to Lynne -Marie for organising dana collection and more donated buddhas from Manchester Buddhhist Centre sangha.

Buddhas and dana also found their way to me at Cambridge, the International Council at Adhistana and the Triratna Combined Order Convention near Norfolk.

May the dharma in Australia benefit from all this spontaneous action, generosity and friendship.

At least 180 little Buddhas will have passed through my hands when I finally finish handing them on sometime next year.

So for now I will no longer need to keep collecting little buddhas but I do have another way in which I need your help……….I will share more in my next post.

 

Veronica and the buddhas donated by friends at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dragonflies and buddhas

imageI was curious about the tall, young man who was walking the Wicken Fens nature reserve trail at the same time as my friend and I.
There was something about how present in the landscape he seemed to be.
And he was alone.
Alone and very mindfully present to his environment.
Sometimes we passed him standing very still by the water or peering silently across the massive sea of reed beds.
As we emerged from a bird hide he was there again, camera out and looking up into a tree.
We began to talk and it was in this way that I met an odontologist for the first time- a scientist studying dragonflies.
His eyes were shiny and alert and he just seemed very happy.
As we chatted, my friend and I learned that this young man had as a young boy discovered his passion for being in and observing nature.
He went on to engineer his education path to lead to a current dream job living in Vietnam observing and recording dragonflies in the lush forests. He had found two new species and was in the official process of naming them. Now he was briefly back in the UK for a wedding and on his spare day was delighting in the dragonflies of the Fens.
A wonderful benefit of meeting someone ‘living’ their passion is that they usually happily share some of that passion with you.
We learnt so much about dragonflies. We continued our walk,occasionally still crossing paths with him. In one twenty minute gap we had not seen a dragonfly at all whilst he had had spotted 6 different species!
And at one point, like in some kids’ adventure storybook, he pulled out a telescopic poled net out of his back pack and gently caught one to show us its stunning teal patterned body up close.
When he next passed us as we sat having lunch, I took a plunge and invited him to choose a buddha from the small pack of 3 buddhas I was carrying with me.
He had been in Buddhist temples often in Vietnam and he chose a Ratnasambhava buddha because he was attracted to the posture.
With this buddha, one hand is stretched out upturned in the gesture of generosity.       It also represents abundance.
This young man had really been so generous with sharing his time and passion with us so I wasn’t surprised he connected with the qualities of this buddha. He seemed really pleased with it and said that it ‘ made my day’.

But he made our day, made our day different to what it would have been, without the spontaneous, interesting connection that can happen when moving towards strangers with curiosity.

 

buddha donated by Leicestershire Tiratna study group

Cambridge Buddha

The man reading a book on a seat in a beautiful park in Cambridge rose in response to seeing us.
I was walking with my Preceptor ( the person who Ordained me 17 years ago and gave me my Buddhist name) having just arrived by train.
In that moment of just beginning to take in my surroundings, my first thought as he moved towards us, was that his extended hand was requesting a buddha from my back pack.
During my brief visit to the UK the small amount of buddhas I brought from home had already doubled as people generously donated them after hearing about the Australian pilgrimage. Although my visit is not specifically to hand out buddhas it seems the pilgrimage response is never far from the surface of my being.
Instead, unaware of the buddhas in my back pack, this man was wanting to introduce himself as he had spotted my kesa.
I often forget I have the kesa around my neck as I walk around in public, until I notice people who stare at it, trying to work out what it represents. We don’t usually wear our kesas everywhere but I had decided to do so for the length of the pilgrimage.
So here I was walking with the person who had first placed that kesa around my neck in a moving private Ordination ceremony in Tuscany all those years ago.
And that had triggered this spontaneous connection with one of the 2,500 members of our worldwide Order- a New Zealander living in Cambridge.
As we sat and talked, a buddha moved into his care and the pilgrimage was alive in the lovely town of Cambridge.

Buddha donated by Claire Manchester UK

Princesses

The largest two Buddhas in my bag landed in the hands of two little princesses (well they did have princess skirts on).

Four and six year olds don’t fuss much with detail and I discovered they make their minds up really quickly about anything.
When I asked them what was it they liked most about their Buddhas they both said in unison, “All of it!”

Sister one ” I am going to put mine under my pillow.”
Sister two ” I am going to put mine on the bench in the kitchen so Daddy can see it when he makes us pancakes!”

Buddhas donated by Tegan and Amitasraddha, Melbourne Australia

 

 

A flaming sword of wisdom

imageThis little Buddha is off to a new home in Ghent, Belgium. Carried in the pocket of a new friend.

I had laid out all the little Buddhas I had in the UK  on a flat surface to see which one would make the journey.

And he knew straight away which one to pick up.

It was a Manjugosha Buddha, with the flaming sword of Wisdom.

There was lovely link to his friend, someone he respected and valued, who had a strong connection with Manjugosha.

Buddha donated by Alison Shearer UK

Buddhas worldwide

My bag of little Buddhas has found its way to the English countryside to a place called Adhisthana ( blessing/ grace).
And I do feel blessed to be with people from all over the world representing their Triratna Buddhist communities. We spend time together, meditating, reflecting, communicating, planning projects and building friendships.
On one of the days we looked at inclusion, diversity and environmental issues exploring how we respond to these concerns as Buddhists.
A little grey Buddha from my bag has found a place on the shrine joining many that were donated years ago by a variety of countries.
Buddha donated by Eileen from Ireland .

 

 

 

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An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage