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Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage

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Street hands

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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A lion’s roar

I met him in a beautiful garden in Adelaide. He was flustered and distracted.

Sometimes you don’t need to be told a whole life story to sense into a large part of it.

I sensed a strength built on a struggle and a battle being won.

It was a quiet, wise quality borne from lessons learned in hardship.

I used to see it in my brother as he described the beauty and love he found bound up in the constant effort needed not to slip into oblivion.

It’s a fragile, softening space in which to connect with someone.

So I sat with this man on the soft green grass and as he already knew something of the Buddha’s teachings I invited him to choose a Buddha from my little bag.

He told me later his eyes weren’t initially drawn to look at the Buddhas as he was transfixed by the sound of silent laughter as soon as I laid them out.

And then the sound of a bell drew him to the tiny vajra bell almost hidden amongst the Buddhas.

I encouraged him to pick up it up.

As he held the tiny vajra bell in his palm we talked about the connection with Buddha Vajrasattva and the association with purification. The handle of the bell is usually made up from part of a vajra- the diamond thunderbolt.

He said he felt he was going through a transformative time and the energy required for that was like the heat and pressure needed to form a diamond.

He told me one of his strengths was knowing that the journey was the destination.

Quietly, thoughtfully he found helpful meaning in this tiny vajra bell.

We sat in silence together until he told me the bell sound had now been drowned out by a lion’s roar.

The lion’s roar brought him completely into the present moment he said.

‘I’m fully here now,’ he said with a broad grin.

So we sat on, ‘fully here’ together.

Vajra bell donated by Megha NSW Australia 

Handing out compliments

I noticed her sitting cross legged, with the daily paper unfolded in front of her, on one of the raised seats under a shady tree in Rundle Mall, Adelaide, South Australia.

I moved to sit quietly beside her. She turned and smiled and we started conversation.
Within a few minutes I took out my bag of little Buddhas and told her I was giving away gifts given to me by people all around the world.
She turned her body towards the array of little Buddhas as I stood them to attention.
‘Cool!’ she exclaimed.
‘Would you like to choose one? ‘
‘Sure,’ she replied.
She looked at 2 or 3 quite closely and was keen to know who had donated them and which country each person was from.
She carefully chose a solid earth touching Buddha.
She liked the fact it was so surprisingly weighty for such a little thing. We talked about the significance that could be held in small items and even in small actions.
“You’ve made my day. ” she grinned, as the little Buddha looked more and more at home in the palm of her hand.
As we chatted it was revealed that even though she lived 8 kms away from the Mall she made the trip in three times a week so she could deliver random acts of compliments to people passing by.
This was a woman who had discovered the power of the gift of kindness.
Occasionally she experienced a hostile reaction she said, but largely people stopped and engaged happily with her when she told them she liked what they were wearing- maybe a bright shirt or pretty skirt.
Her smile broadened as she shared,
” The newspaper is just a prop, love. I am never really reading it. Just biding my time until I get the urge to jump in with a compliment to someone passing by. I always go home uplifted after my days sitting here. I’m not one for communicating on Facebook. I prefer to connect with real people even if I don’t know anything about them.”

I share little buddhas, she shares compliments and together we shared a lovely communication with each other under a tree in Rundle Mall.

Buddha donated by Akasajoti, UK

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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

 

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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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.

 

 

 

 

Three men and a buddha

Today I handed out a Buddha to a lovely man who had come to Australia from his home country, Fiji, over twenty years ago. He came to make money to send back to support his extended family and all these years later he is still honouring that commitment .  I offered him a Buddha and he chose a Vairocana with hands joined in the middle of the chest in the teaching mudra.
He said it reminded of him of the importance of prayer and faith.
This conversation was mainly held together by companionable silence.
He was a man with a big smile but few words. He had a gentle, still energy.
When he spoke about missing the fish and oceans surrounding Fiji his eyes gazed into the distance and I knew it was not the city skyline that he was seeing.
Have you ever experienced people as being like elements of nature?
With one person it might be like dwelling amongst the clouds and with another it feels volcanic.
Just sitting quietly with this gentle man put me in touch with a sense of the ocean floor –   a hint of unseen vastness and depth.
I decided not to ask any more questions and just sit next to him – his gift was his energy.
This trip to Federation Square was unusual for me, as both on the tram trip to and from the city, two men on separate occasions had initiated conversations with me rather than the other way round. This is is definitely not the norm when you reach the ’60 year invisible’ age bracket and are surrounded with people safe in their technology assisted bubbles, earplugs firmly jammed in.
The first guy on my tram trip into the city apologised as he sat down next to me as if it was his fault that the small seat forced our arms to nearly touch. I sensed he was a man not used to being taken seriously so I smiled and made him feel welcome.  The result was that he chatted away happily for the rest of the journey. It was a packed city tram and as I rose to get off I felt numerous eyes staring at me. A number of women in particular met my gaze as I looked around the tram. They looked curious and I was puzzled at first.
Then it dawned on me that everyone else had been silent for the journey so they may have heard our entire conversation alerting them to the fact that this man and I had started off as strangers.
I guess having an open conversation with a stranger in these settings is unusual enough these days. Or it could have been my kesa attracting attention …I guess I will never really know.
Then as I waited at the tram stop to go home after handing on a Buddha, a tall guy bounced up to me and asked about destinations of that particular tram route.
After giving hîm information he too chatted on. Since doing the Buddhas in my Pocket pilgrimage I notice a tendency is there now to not cut off from people so quickly, even if they are asking a simple question. I know I stay present longer and am surprised by what I find in that space.

This man was excited to be in Melbourne having come down from Queensland to visit his 15 year old daughter who he obviously rarely got to spend time with.
In fact he was bubbling with excitement and his happiness was infectious.
I sensed the commuters surrounding us seemed to be somehow gathered up into this bubble of friendliness even as they stood silently waiting at the tram stop.
Buddha donated by Padmabodhini ,Wales
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Out of her comfort zone

She was enjoying the unseasonal warm weather on the steps of Federation Square.

I offered her a buddha and she chose a small gold earth touching one.

We talked about the meaning of the earth touching hand gesture of this particular Buddha.   The weight of one’s potential for wisdom and compassion can be a grounding and stable condition that we can rely on in times of turmoil and shakiness.

This young woman from Germany was working as an au pair and about to continue her travels around Australia. We talked a little about travel and feeling homesick.

She said when she arrived in Canberra at a youth hostel she did feel homesick.

But she made the effort to get out and about and connect with people and felt much better.

She was actually meeting up on the weekend with a person she had made friends with in Canberra.

She was 19 years old -a common age for having the courage to be be brave and stretch the boundaries and go out of your comfort zone. She was experiencing different cultures and having to connect with strangers to find her way in the world.

Often in our middle years we don’t seem to as easily create the conditions to live a little on the edge….the edge of what is known, comfortable and safe.

I am enjoying stretching the boundaries a little at 60 years of age with the Buddhas in my pocket pilgrimage.

There is much that is unknown for me about the outcome of this particular journey.

I appreciate the opportunity to create the conditions to meet new people and test my courage every now and then.

I highly recommend it as a way of staying very alive to life. 🙂

Buddha donated by Bernie in Wales

 

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Compassion found in a Chinese prison.

Last week as I walked towards Federation Square I noticed a reticence and some doubt creeping in to my plan to hand out a buddha. I hadn’t done a metta walk for a couple of weeks as I had been at Naganaga on retreat. 

I reminded myself that there was nothing in my experience of the last 6 months so far that should give rise to fear or embarrassment about initiating engagement with a stranger. 

All of my communications handing out buddhas had been enjoyable and had enriched my life. With that thought, trust emerged and I continued on my way.

I walked once around the area where many people sit at Federation Square and knew where I needed to sit. Sometimes it happens that simply.

He was leaning into his mobile phone intently engaged in scrolling and texting.

It was one of those times when I intuitively sensed that I could start straight away by unfolding the 12 buddhas in my bag.

I laid them out on the handmade purse and dived into contact with him.

“Hello, I have been given little buddhas from people all around the world to give away…..would you like to choose one?”

“Yes, “ he replied smiling  and then added  “ I am a Buddhist”. 

He picked up a small metal buddha. I asked if he was waiting for someone so I could be sensitive to whether he might have the time to talk further.  He was indeed waiting for a friend to arrive in about 30 minutes so I began to ask him a little about himself.

He was of Tibetan origin and his family was off wandering and shopping in the maze of city streets whilst he waited for his friend. 

I pulled out my kesa from under my shirt and told him I was a Buddhist, too. 

I was transfixed as his story unfolded.

I learnt that he had only arrived to live in Sydney a couple of years ago. 

His childhood was spent in Tibet.  At 18 years of age he was arrested along with some friends for writing ‘Free Tibet’ and ‘Go back to China’ slogans on walls in Lhasa. 

They managed to do it a number of times before someone informed on them and they were caught and put in prison. This man saw friends die in prison and he experienced many severe beatings. 

As he talked about his time in prison I found myself listening with a particular energy that needed no response from me, no words, just a heart felt sense of connection and care.

After four years he was released. He then did all he could to get money to arrange an escape to India.  

It was a harrowing journey made with 64 countrymen and women.

They were caught at the Nepalese border and would have been sent back to Tibet. However, they had the good fortune of being with a man in their escape party who had a connection that he was able to activate which culminated in their release. 

He then spent years in Dharamsala before meeting the  woman who was to become his wife. They were able to be sponsored to come to Sydney.

Now he was working in an aged care home. I was very touched as he made the link between what happened to him in prison and the level of compassionate care he was able to give the elderly residents of the care home. 

He told me that when he first used to be beaten by the Chinese guards he was very angry and wanted to fight back. His face and eyes ands fists momentarily showed me the intensity of that past anger. 

But over time he remembered what the Buddha had said about meeting hatred with love and compassion. And he learnt to go inside himself and find refuge and stillness. 

He recognised what he learnt in those awful years had given him the gift of access to compassion under any conditions.  He told me he can now easily meet with compassion the aggressiveness and difficult behaviours of some residents who might be struggling with dementia. 

“Always,always compassion,”  he said. 

He showed me a picture of his two young children- a girl and boy. 

It was very beautiful to hear about his morning meditation practice and how he is encouraging the practice of compassion in his children’s lives. 

Yes, he missed his country, he missed the beauty of Dharamsala but he had strong connections with Tibetan communities in both Melbourne and Sydney. 

Then he said emphatically, “ Also here in Australia I have freedom. Freedom to do whatever I choose as long as i follow the laws of the country. I have freedom to pray and follow my religion. “

He talked about  family and friends in Tibet who can’t have pictures of their teacher the Dalai Lama on display. Their devotion has to be an inner journey with no outward expression.

We shook hands and I walked down the steps of the square, again feeling blessed and enriched by a connection with a stranger. 

I smiled at the thought of his quiet, open compassionate heart connecting with people facing the difficulties of old age and suffering.

And I felt slightly embarrassed at the resistance I had felt in the first few days of wearing my kesa in public over 6 months ago. 

Here, where I live, I won’t be arrested for wearing something that depicts the deepest of my beliefs and values. 

Here, I am unlikely to be beaten and imprisoned for publicly expressing my faith. 

In fact, since I have been wearing my kesa every day on the streets I have been met, with curiosity at times, but mostly kindness and warmth.

And I know that is still not the case for everyone…. even here there is hate directed at people due to skin colour, ethnicity, economic situation, other faiths, lifestyle, gender etc etc.

And as I sat on the tram gazing out of the window,  the way our government deals with  refugees in detention came to mind, and I felt sick in the stomach. 

And I know I am not personally doing enough to try and make my voice heard….to say this is not okay, to say we should not treat human beings this way.

The effect of the man from Tibet’s conversation with me is still unfolding.

 

This Buddha was donated by Anna from Adhisthana.

It was the first one of over 170 buddhas I have been given.

When I initially  had the idea for the Buddhas in my Pocket pilgrimage I was on retreat at Adhisthana and Anna was one of the first people I told my idea to.

It must have sounded a little crazy…… leave my job, wander around handing out Buddhas, offer my help at Buddhist centres  and ask for financial support from others. But within a short time she had collected this small buddha from the kitchen, where it has stood on a windowsill watching over the team of cooks, and placed it in my hand.

A heartfelt moment of encouragement….go on do it, I know you can!

When you get in touch with a creative, mythical space and an idea unfolds and then somebody encourages you rather than only pointing out the potential difficulties…that is a true gift.

So Anna your gift has been passed on to this lovely compassionate man who now has the freedom to openly practice his faith.

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An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage