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Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage

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Melbourne

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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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

Recently released in the Bourke st Mall

I commented on his hat. It was a warm fleece beanie like the one I had pulled down tightly around my ears as protection from the chilly winds in the Bourke st Mall.  I was impressed with the twin little LED lights imbedded in the material on the front of the hat.

“Yeah” he said “its a great hat to take night fishing. But I haven’t been fishing in a long time.”

I also guessed it would be handy at night living on the streets.

So began an easy banter as his quieter mate, sitting near bags containing their street sleeping necessities, looked on.

My beanied new companion’s nose looked like it had met the end of another fist maybe one time too many. I wasn’t completely surprised to hear he had been recently released from prison. In fact he told me he had spent nearly half his 45 years of life incarcerated.

The most recent stint was in the Remand Centre for 3 months for stealing a purse.

His first armed robbery was aged 13,  involving a knife and paper boy.

He didn’t have too many complaints about his time in prison. In winter he was appreciative of being warm and fed three times a day.  Currently he was struggling a bit with having to deal with the pain of the single remaining rotting tooth in his mouth.  A short visit of three months in Remand Centre did not come with dental care.

He grinned saying “I don’t want to do another 5 year stint just to get this last tooth fixed!”  He was cheerful and cheeky and obviously alive to new freedom even if it involved returning to a life on the streets.

‘Recently released’ (who I will now call RR) moved quickly to see what was on offer when I opened my little bag of buddhas. When I said they were gifts he cheekily asked for two.

The first Buddha he chose because its neck thread meant he could start wearing it immediately and the other was chosen because he liked how peaceful it looked.  As we discussed its  gentle, white form RR told me how his education had completely been delivered during his life in prison.  He had learnt ceramics and pottery. The details he gave were enough for me to believe this part of his story.

As we warmed to each other’s company he grabbed a little pack of “Hand Warmers” from his bag. Someone had left the pack with two Snickers bars by his head overnight as he slept on the cold concrete in his alcove of choice.

He inquired,  “Miss, would you mind reading the instructions for me. I want to know if it needs to go in a microwave.”

It’s strange being called Miss. I know it’s these guys way of showing respect especially if they want to ask for help with something. Even though I give my name and encourage them to use it, sometimes they naturally revert to Miss or Ma’am.

So I was sitting with another human beings basic need to stay warm in our chilly winter.

I felt deeply happy at the thought of a fellow Melbournian  going to the trouble of buying hand warmers and leaving them anonymously in reach of of people sleeping on the streets. For this man their gift was a blessing.

RR was very pleased to hear all that needed to be done was to remove the outer plastic wrapper and shake the inner pack vigorously, after which delivery of 8 hours warmth to was promised where ever you placed the pack……back, pocket, socks etc.

to be continued……

Buddhas donated by Chris, Melbourne and Pasadadipa UK.

 

 

Known as ‘The Russian’

As I was about to cross the road in front of Flinders street station I noticed his sign.

He wasn’t asking for money, instead the request was for work like tiling, gardening and painting.

As we chatted I discovered he had no offers so far that day but was still keeping hope.  This big man in his warm blanket poncho seemed to be in fairly positive states of mind as he shared his past and present life conditions with me.

He had slept the previous night behind the Matthew Flinders statue at the side of the church. Captain Flinders was an English navigator and cartographer and was the leader of the first circumnavigation of Australia, identifying it as a continent. 

Known as ‘The Russian’ on the streets, he took me on a meandering journey of  various phases of his life that involved time in the army in Russia, as a family man, as an owner of a Swiss chalet and back here again to his immediate need to find work and stay warm in the Melbourne winter.

As I prepared to leave I asked if he would like to choose a Buddha from my little bag.

His eyes fell immediately on a tiger’s eye Buddha. He said, ‘This one speaks to me.’

He was pleased it had a small hole so he could thread it onto the necklace he owned. 

Buddha donated by Wendy, Emerald Australia.

 

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Courage and fearlessness

Sometimes courage might be thought of as things like jumping into water when the weather is cold, or forgoing something we usually love to have in our lives, or exceling at a sport etc etc. But I believe a family member recently showed what I think of as real courage and bravery by speaking out at injustice and abuse especially in relation to children.

When I offered her a Buddha to choose I was not surprised when she chose Amoghasiddhi, the Buddha with the ‘fearlessness’ hand gesture. It’s a hand guesture that encourages us to stand with courage and fearlessness in the face of whatever suffering we meet or when things feels to scary and overwhelming.

I hope this Buddha reminds her that even when the sense of fearlessness at times feels small, the truth is, it is always possible for any person to eventually access vast, unbounded, fearlessness.

 

Buddha donated by Megha Australia

 

 

 

The happy buddha

I sat down near a young, university student at Federation Square right in a place where the warm winter sun enveloped us. There is something delicious about taking time to fully appreciate the sun’s warmth and welcome it as it pushes back the envelope of brisk coldness, a familiar companion at this time of year.

I had been drawn to sit there so I could continue to gaze at the weather magic that had created an unusual beam of light pouring from a glass cased building in the city centre.

We used the sun’s presence to initiate conversation. She was enjoying being outside after spending 3 days cooped up in a hospital. Not ill, but undergoing new medication trials as a way of earning money as a student.

I took out my little parcel of buddhas and asked if she would like one.

The colour of one attracted her and she felt it was a happy buddha.

After telling her the name of the Order member who donated it, we talked of Nagas and Devis. She nodded knowingly as we spoke of the importance of touching the depths.

As I prepared to go, I appreciated  leaving with the gentle warmth of connection with another human being.

 

Buddha donated by Nagadevi, UK

 

 

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A Way in the Woods

awakening and mindfulness

Uncontrived Mindfulness

glimpses into a meditator's mind

Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage