Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage



The hard to find gift

It was so uplifting hearing someone describe the journey they had been on with their daughter’s mental illness as a gift. 

From personal experience in my own family this comment did not surprise me.

To an outsider watching on, as families deal with mental illness, the obvious suffering is what they see so clearly and are drawn to focus on. 

But something else can happen in that painful arena that brings growth, richness and compassion for self and others to the fore. 

So I invited this woman to choose from my bag of little Buddhas. 

Her hand alighted on a tiny little Buddha encased in a bodhi leaf, hands gently clasped in meditation mudra. 

Even in the midst of the extremes of mental states,  wisdom and compassion are to be found. 

In this person’s eyes I could see that she knew that too. 

Buddha donated by Akashamani      Port Fairy Australia BAE8ABE7-4609-4216-8F88-3A6C4AB3E3BD

In the hands of the Order – Nagasuri

This is my gold kesa and a beautiful black bowl given to me by a great friend, Chittamodini, on the occasion of my Ordination. It is a symbol of the Buddha’s begging bowl and that for me represents renounciation.
Although I was Ordained with a white kesa I knew in my heart of heart’s at my Ordination that I would take the gold kesa as an Anagarika as soon as was possible.
Now I am so attached to my gold kesa it is quite ironic!
In the year that I had a white kesa I forgot it a number of times but in the 16 years with the gold one I have only done that once or twice.
It’s amusing to me because of course when becoming an Anigarika, underlying the celibacy vow is homelessness, careerlessness and possessionlessness.
The bowl has meant more and more to me over time. In my sadhana practice of Buddha Shakyamuni one imagines a lotus floating in the top of it. It’s a symbol of wisdom and compassion as well as emptiness.
It also seems it as a beautiful symbol of stillness, simplicity and contentment.
I really like this quote by Sharon Salzburg.
“She who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.”IMG_0397

Gentle voiced one

I saw him sitting on the steps of the church. Backpack and brown papered bottle, his only company. So I walked up and sat down. Pointing to the front door he offered the information, ‘They are shut. They don’t do meals today’
He told me the three days the of the week that this church provided sustenance. I wondered if my backpack had him thinking I was a traveler in need of food too.
We started a companionable dance of learning about each other with tentative questions.
I heard about his Islander/ Indigenous heritage with his birth family hailing from the Gold Coast.
He and his 3 siblings were removed from their mother. He was only 3 years old and they were all placed in separate foster homes. His was with a family in Redfern, Sydney.
His face was etched with lines that bore witness to the hard life that had unfolded over the decades.
He had such a gentle energy I found myself relaxing into his company.
He told me that once he had spent time in a prison farm and his job had been looking after the chickens. I can just imagine his smooth voice shooing them back into their pen for the night.
A family member from his clan found him decades after he had been removed from his birth home. He appreciated his half brothers efforts to look for ‘the babies that were taken.’
He seemed devoid of anger or judgment about being removed. His mum had been struggling with alcohol problems and he wasn’t sure if his life would have been better or worse had he stayed.
There was a gentle acceptance that soothed my own rising contempt for the ignorance of our early government policies. He didn’t need me to be angry on his behalf.
He came to town a few times each week from his little flat a suburb away, to sit and drink with his mates. He was having some quiet time on the steps of the church before joining them down the road.
Just before I moved on I opened up my bag of Buddhas and offered him one. He immediately chose the heaviest and largest one in the bag. He liked the feel of it he said as he slid it into his back pack.

Buddha donated by Tina Brisbane AustraliaIMG_0943.JPG

Loveable rogues

Coming out of the supermarket with my purchases for dinner I noticed a man sitting on the bus stop bench.
After many months of doing metta walks and talking to strangers I have developed a refined sense of when a person is waiting for something specific like a bus or ‘ just waiting ‘.
Waiting for human connection.
So I walked up and sat down next to him and started a conversation.
He had very interesting jewellery around his neck and a cheeky smile.
When he found out I was from Melbourne he told me about the time he lived there and had gone up to the Dandenong Ranges to rescue his girlfriend from the Ash Wednesday bushfires.
I lived through those fires as well and we discovered he would have driven through my home town of Emerald to get to the next town to rescue his girlfriend. He made it through because he was on a motorbike and was able to evade the roadblocks police had in place as it was too dangerous to let people back onto the burning mountain.
27 people died in the fires in two towns very close to Emerald. I was in a house with my two young children and their father. We had decided to stay and defend our home.
It was a decision I would never make again whenever fires threatened the beautiful forest I lived in.
Wildfires are terrifyingly unpredictable and fast.
So as this man and I sat remembering our fear that day I got out my bag of little Buddhas and offered him one.
I told him I had been given these as gifts to giveaway to strangers and that flow of giving can remind us of the potential for kindness in every human being,
As is often the case, he immediately knew which one was for him.
He was attracted to the colour – black. His emotions were on the surface, perhaps remembering that black, dark day we both had experienced so he suddenly asked for a hug.
It felt a natural cementing of this connection.

Buddha donated by Sok Kheim Melbourne.




Coming back to the present, I found out he was a tattooist and he started looking through his phone to show me some of his work.
Suddenly a mate of my new friend appeared at the bus stop seat. They hugged warmly and he showed the black faced Buddha to his mate.
I still had the other Buddhas spread out on my bag and I saw this new man’s eyes light up.
‘Would you like to choose one, too? I offered.
As his hand went straight to a green Kuan Yin necklace he replied,
‘Oh thanks love. That’s nice of you.’
He had it around his neck in a flash and we talked a bit about my ‘kindness pilgrimage.’

Suddenly it started raining heavily and we spontaneously moved a few steps to stand undercover outside the busy shopping thoroughfare.
Very occasionally when I am talking to people on the street I become briefly aware that some of those walking by stare seemingly a bit perturbed about the incongruity of a grey haired older woman having such an animated conversation with some men they may have seen around their local streets probably on a regular basis.
Many of these guys aren’t homeless but living in small unappealing council flats. They come out into their street community daily to sometimes drink and chat to friends.
In talking to these two guys I discover they are friends with gentle voiced man I talked to just an hour earlier who sat on the church steps just around the corner.
I smile as I realise that three Buddhas have found new homes in the same community of friends.
My tattooist friend at this point asks the guy with Kuan Yin around his neck if he has boxer shorts on.
When the answer is affirmative the tattooist friend asks him to drop his tracksuit pants to show me the tattoo he did on his friend’s leg. He obviously wants me to see some of his best work.
So now I am pretty sure some of the people walking past are totally confused as to why I am squatting down admiring the art work on the leg of this man with his pants at his ankles. These guys are so unashamedly themselves in the present moment I find connection with them usually demands letting go of social pretence which is quite freeing ….as long as no harm is being done.
Then my tattooist friend says, ‘ Can I have another hug? ‘ and as if to prepare the ground for a ‘yes’ his eyes sparkle and he says looking directly at me.
‘ We are rogues but we are loveable rogues!’
My agreement with this sentiment was in the form of big bear of a hug.
And in that moment I am hugging my brother and all people like him. My brother Michael lived this life for years before he died at 49. There was so much suffering to do with addiction and mental illness in his community but learning to be comfortably present, in every unpredictable moment without judgement, I experienced staying long enough to see the beauty in the often unpolished gems right there in front of me.

Buddha donated Chris Melbourne



Postscript: Just as I am about to leave the scene another mate of my two new friends turns up and the man with Kuan Yin around his neck excitedly tells this him about what I am doing as I hear the words ….’She’s just traveling around spreading kindness, go on, choose one of her Buddhas.’
I can see this new guy’s total resistance to doing any such thing and he says,
‘ Nah I need to go and get a drink.’
And they all disappear off into the rain leaving me smiling at the joy of spontaneity and serendipity…which I hadn’t even thought to put on my shopping list.

In the hands of the Order – Aryadharma

“This is my father’s drawing box.
It’s commonly used as fishing tackle box but he adapted it and used it to keep his drawing tools in.
It had his name Steve on the front. I have been using it now and the name is still just legible.
Art was the main thing throughout his life. He had this box when he and I were trying to revive the Paddington art school. He taught drawing there for 20 years.
I was thirty years old before I really got to know my Dad.
There was one particular day when I nearly didn’t go to see him but fortunately I turned my bike around and just went off to see him anyway. And that was the last time I saw him alive.
He was living with constant pain and the only creative response he could manage to his dilemma was to take his own life.
It’s like the love I had for my Dad transferred into his objects so I had a great thirst to get his things to safety- this box and his drawings.
I remember the best of my Dad as I open the box.
It’s a workman’s toolkit. I even love the smell of it.
It has pastels wrapped up and an amazing Swiss-made holder for pencil lead.
When I hold these things I connect with them having been in his hands.
When I open it up I can sense him as a working artist. I sense his presence.
And then I feel like I am working, too.
This box of items represent potential, inspiration and aspiration. It even surpasses, in terms of containing potency, the drawings that I have of his, I think because I can hold it and use it.
When I open it up there is the excitement of tapping into potential again.”


Compassion whispers….

Sometimes the threads of a story you are being told by someone else, are so close to your own truth they seem to be woven into a universal tapestry made of deep love and fear of loss.

It’s a cloth of tenderness that many of us wrap ourselves in …..fringed with a wish to save someone we love from suffering.

This wish connects us and is known by all living beings.

In the beautiful Australian bush, Green Tara passed from one hand to another whispering ….compassion is the only response.

Green Tara donated by Malini. New Zealand


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Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage