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Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage

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Melbourne

Daughters connected by the Buddha

I was very touched to receive this message from Itir, a mitra, from Melbourne Buddhist Centre . I have three daughters and now two of my daughters have daughters. So this story was especiailly poignant thinking about how life can be for young girls all over the world……..

Almost a year ago, on the first day of her pilgrimage, Maitripala asked if I and a few others would like to accompany her to the Melbourne CBD to give away Buddhas. From the freshly donated bunch of Buddhas Maitripala laid out at the Melbourne Buddhist Centre, I chose one which she later told me was donated by one of her daughters.

I chose that Buddha because he looked strong, reliable and determined. I didn’t give him away that day and for six months he stayed in my room, patiently waiting for the right time to be handed over into the hands of a stranger.

In October 2016 I went on a Buddhist pilgrimage to India with a group of friends and took the Buddha with me hoping perhaps he would continue on his journey there. It wasn’t until the last day of the pilgrimage at the Shravasti train station that he came out of my bag.

It was getting late and we were all very tired, standing outside the train station, waiting. This didn’t seem like a spot many tourists ended up so we were quite a sight. There were at least 20 people surrounding us, just looking at us with great curiosity.

Among the group of people there was a family of four. A couple with two young children.

One was a girl, probably not older than 5 and her younger sibling who I think was a little boy, maybe around 1.

The little girl was holding her brother who was crying a little and wanted to be let down. In response to the little boy misbehaving, their father looked at them with a frown that said if they didn’t behave they were going to be in big trouble. His frown had the potential of great violence which was difficult to miss as the little children became quiet and suddenly looked very frightened. He then picked up a piece of metal that was resting on the dirty ground and put it in the little boys toothless mouth as a gesture of playfulness. The little boy laughed.

As I watched them I couldn’t help but think of the future that awaits these two precious children who will potentially grow up in a household where they might not have anyone to protect them if things went wrong.

It can be difficult at times being a child in India. I imagine it is even more difficult being a little girl in India. I felt there wasn’t much I could do to help them so I did the best I could and gave the little girl the strong Buddha wishing her to be protected by the Buddha’s blessings. She looked surprised but took the Buddha and showed it to her brother. Her father then picked up the Buddha, and for a second I thought he was going to throw it away but he gave it back to her. We didn’t exchange any words except I told them that it was the Buddha and they told me her name was Lakshmi. Shortly after I had to leave to find our train at the train station.

I sometimes wonder what Lakshmi is doing and whether she is safe and if there is anything I can do to help her. My heart opens and I feel sad at my inability to protect her and all the vulnerable children of this world, but I also know to feel the suffering is the first step to becoming something more than this limited self, perhaps a strong, determined Buddha that can finally be of benefit to all beings. Thank you dear Maitripala for creating the opportunity for this encounter. Much love….

Buddha donated by Tegan, Melbourne 

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Meeting up with Lukas

Last year my friend and I unknowingly handed out little Buddhas to the same young man who was living on the streets of Melbourne at that time.

Separately we both had meaningful conversations with him and later when he found me on social media those conversations continued.

Recently I met up with Lukas, now off the streets, and selling copies of Big Issue to make a living.

It was great to talk with him further about what helped this transition from homelessness to more financially secure living.

He took time out from selling his magazines to have a hot chocolate with me.

In Lukas’ words:

” When you came across me it turned out to be near the end of my final year on the streets.

A month after receiving Buddhas from you and Julie, I got off the streets. 

I came across someone from a housing group who organised for me to get into crisis accommodation. And around that time I decided to try being a Big Issue vendor. 

I was given 3 months crisis accommodation and a social worker who guided me to find more long term housing in a boarding house.

When I first went onto the streets I had given up on life. So if it wasn’t for the people I met on the streets and the kindness that was shown to me I don’t know that I would have survived. 

There was hard stuff too of course. I had my stuff stolen so many times. It’s hard to trust many people when you are in that situation. 

But I am so glad I found the Big Issue because what they do for homeless and people with disabilities is fantastic.

I don’t think enough people know the extent of the great work they do.

It’s been going in Australia for 20 years.

They now have a program called the Big Issue Classroom. School kids come in groups most days and they hear about the marginalisation of people and what that means for some people’s life choices. So I am involved sometimes telling my life story. It was really hard at first and uncomfortable to talk about what I went through as a child. I tell them about my time on the street. 

The also have a Big Idea program for university students that are keen to come up with their own social enterprises. 

As I stand selling my the magazine I see lots of people with miserable faces walking past. People with obviously more money and things I have and they are so unhappy even though they have more. So I value a smile and kindness, a roof over my head and some food.

Pretty simple needs really.

I don’t want to try and get more things in my life. If I can make others smile and can wake up with a smile on my face then I am pretty content. 

Where I stand to sell the Big Issue magazine my daily aim is to meet everyone with a smile no matter what mood they seem to be in. It’s a come a bit of a social experiment.”

Lukas was still carrying in his pocket the Budai I had given him previously.

Before leaving I offered him to choose his third Buddha for this phase of his journey.

He was delighted to do so. He chose a Budai with its hands in the air with fruit in bowls- a symbol of abundance.

 

Buddha donated by  Jo Adelaide

 

In the hands of the Order- Padmasiddhi

words from Padmasiddhi

“This gold coloured Kesa is worn by me to signify that I practice within our Buddhist Order as an Anagarika. It is special to me because it is a regular reminder of my commitment to go deeper with my efforts to cultivate Stillness, Simplicity & Contentment.

These are states of being that I want to attain for myself, so I can be “in the world, but not of it”.

They are also states of being that I would wish for others as I sincerely believe that if we can all be happy, living with a little less then our world may become more sustainable.”

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Ageless compassion

 

I turned up to the ‘Grandmothers against Refugee Children in Detention’ protest alone. But I carried with me the support of friends and family members who had helped organise 3 back packs with books and warm clothes for refugee children. It was hoped these children might be offered asylum in America as part of an agreement with the Australian Government.    Pleas to bring them to Australia from the detention centre on Nauru had fallen on deaf political ears.

It was a complete surprise when walking with a large crowd of protestors from Federation Square to Queen Victoria Gardens I was greeted enthusiastically by a small woman at my right elbow. It was my Aunt Marjorie. My Dad’s oldest sister. Here she was at 83 all decked out in purple, chanting and singing with gusto, walking with the aid of a stick after her recent hip operation.

It was lovely to share this event with my dear Aunt. She had been member of this group far longer than I and had taken a group bus trip all the way to Canberra earlier in the year to deliver a petition to Parliament House calling for the immediate release of refugee children from detention centres. Aunt Marj has a vibrant active relationship with compassionate action activities encouraged by her church.

With sleigh bells ringing…

I had not expected to hand out a Buddha during my trip into a technology shop in a busy shopping centre. My aim was to get in quickly when the doors opened and home again avoiding the pre- Christmas purchasing madness as much as possible.

But what a delightful trip it turned out to be.

The young women who was attending to my requests asked me about my kesa and what it meant.

There followed a wonderful discussion as we explored our spiritual beliefs. She was a Christian with an interest in occultism and mysticism. She had already also been curious about various aspects of Buddhism.

She loved the cartoonist Leunig and singer Leonard Cohen and had a dream to one day open a retreat centre where people could come and enjoy silence and beauty by the ocean.We had a lot in common.

I learned about her connection with Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion.

It was a delightful moment of synchronicity, as Kuan Yin sadhana had been my main practice for 17 years.

Although I had not taken my main bag of Buddhas I now always carry a few in my bag, so I dived in wondering if I had a Kuan Yin with me. I did and she accepted it gratefully.

So here in a noisy shopping centre with sleigh bells ringing over the sound system and money changing hands for Christmas gifts at every counter, we were fortunate to enjoy the gift of an open aware meeting with meaningful communication.

 

Kuan Yin donated by Shani, Melbourne

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The crack…that’s where the light gets in.

She had great glitter- infused black stockings on and a funky hat. The young woman turned towards me when I offered her the opportunity to choose a Buddha from my little bag.

Her wide smile reassured me that she didn’t mind the interruption.

I was delighted when she chose a very small earth Buddha with an indefinable face.

When I received this Buddha by parcel all the way from the UK, it had been damaged in transit. Some of it had crumbled and the face had worn off. It was if it had been ground away whilst underneath the pressure of much heavier postal items.

Whilst doing my best to glue the broken tip back on, I called to mind the wonderful  Japanese art form of Kintsugi, the process of joining the cracks in broken pottery with gold- arguably making it more beautiful than before. I had hoped then that whist on my pilgrimage someone might see the beauty of imperfection in this tiny Buddha. And now nearly 10 months later it was going to its new home.

She held it in the palm of her hand with great care and an element of tenderness was immediately present.

We talked about its qualities. She had been drawn to a feeling  timelessness she sensed in as soon as she saw it.   “Well travelled.” she said as her eyes took it in.

We talked about travel and discovered we shared a long held wish to visit the Buddhist temples of Japan.

Although only a couple centimetres tall the earthiness and groundedness of this Buddha appealed to its new caretaker.

She laughed as she declared that she could well do with some calm groundedness in her life at the moment.

Her friend was due to arrive soon and they were off to enjoy the African themed festivities happening that day at Federation Square.

I was very happy that the next journey had begun for the little Buddha with no face.

 

Buddha donated by Khemasuri UK

 

Not in my name…

Some of you may remember on Sept 28th the post about the Nepalese man who, as a young man, had been held in a Chinese prison for four years for writing “Free Tibet ” on buildings in Lhasa. He told me about how, as he endured beatings, he learnt to transform anger into compassion. And now that compassion was a gift to the elderly residents suffering dementia at the aged care home where he worked in Sydney.H On the day he chose a Buddha happily and I walked away to catch a tram home.

img_4844But his story followed me home and it continues to have an effect on me to this day.

Over many months I had been increasingly disturbed by what I had been learning about the effect of detention on refugee children who had been sent to Manus island and Nauru with their families who had attempted enter Australia by boat.

I oppose our government’s policy which puts children in these conditions.

Having worked with children in my profession for 30 years I am very aware of the long term damage that is done when children do not receive the love and care they need . And its so deeply troubling when they lose all hope.

There had been a sense of inertia not knowing how best I could help this very sad situation. So I did nothing except occasionally donate to refugee aid groups and send metta.

It seemed such a solid, not negotiable government line. And I was also aware many people in Australia probably see the policy as effective in its aim to stop the boats coming.

But the families and children have been placed away from our local communities so it is easy to avoid hearing about the range of effects of this harsh policy.

So the suffering continues and I worry most about the children.

On that day sitting on the tram after meeting this man from Nepal I knew I needed to take more action. Something that had been simmering for a while bubbled up and I knew I had to take at least one step towards the problem- instead of feeling it was insurmountable.

At the very least I wanted to add my voice to the protest and say ….not in my name does this government speak or act with my agreement on this issue.

But what action to take…..with whom , where, how…..

As I gazed out of the tram window a memory came of a time a few months ago when I was walking through the city  to hand out a buddha and I saw a group of women dressed in purple standing in the city centre with signs saying Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children. I noted it and felt a peak of interest but walked on by and did nothing on that particular day.

But now it was time and by that night I had joined the local group and made a commitment to attend any of their rallies when I could, write to politicians  and drop the group’s  leaflets around in public places.

There are multiple groups to join and support and many actions that could be taken.  I can study the Buddhist texts and talk endlessly about compassion but it feels empty if I can’t manage even just a small step towards trying to do something to ease others’ suffering.10441921_1675446432695890_8181396388682963104_n

There is a beautiful teaching in the Buddhist text ‘Karaniya metta’ sutta that says in part:

‘…Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:

Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will….’

 

I thank this man from Tibet, this half an hour chat with a stranger.  When he chose to tell me his story he inadvertently broadened my vision of what is possible, even when it seems that there are huge barriers in the way.

I am grateful to him for this particular stirring from inertia in relation to this troubling issue on my doorstep.

 

 

 

 

In the hands of the Order- Sudaya

Sudaya received this beautiful gift on the occasion of her Kalyana Mitra ceremony many years ago.

Her very good friend Vidyamala gave it to her in a shrine room at a women’s Buddhist community, Birmingham, UK.  Both Sudaya and Vidyamala had worked at different times at Taraloka, a Buddhist retreat centre.  They connected through a shared understanding and experience of the joys and challenges involved in such wholehearted Dharma work.

A KM ceremony involves a commitment made to a friend, by two spiritual mentors, to support and guide that individual through their journey of self discovery and transformation.

Sudaya immediately felt a connection to this piece of jewellery, which is from NZ, Vidyamala’s birthplace. She responded to the natural, straight, simplicity of the piece.

It was also  made of jade-a beautiful green colour, like Green Tara the Buddha of Enlightened activity.

 

 

 

 

 

Talking park bench

During Seniors week in Melbourne recently there was an initiative ‘Talking Park Bench’ which encouraged people to sit down and talk to one another. In acknowledgement of the lost art of starting conversations with strangers three benches were identified in the city centre.  Conversation starters were chained to the bench ready for participants.

When I read about these project I thought it would be an easy place to hand out some of my little Buddhas. But every time I passed the benches no one was sitting there.

So each time I walked on to Federation Square and  found my own pathway  into conversations.

 

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An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage