Miaosan: Settling In

My new life here at The Buddha House in Narborough is settling down slowly. As I expected there are aspects which I had not previously considered and aspects which I couldn't have previously imagined or prepared for. The house itself is very big, several hundred years old, I think. It requires an extensive amount of ongoing cleaning, which all residents of the house share. The people staying in the house number on average about7/9 with people staying at another 2 houses down the road joining us for all meals. The population comes and goes. Today there might be 13 people for meals, but from Saturday, a 'Psychology Block' starts will last 10 days and mean that an extra 15/6 people will be staying over.

On Sunday there was a very special event, when our Master Dharmavidya, Rev. Prasada, Gareth and myself went up to London to attend the inauguration of a Stupa erected in a very old, Victorian cemetery in London. The Stupa had been built by the Three Wheels Temple, to commemorate the deaths of 4 Japanese students, over 150 years ago. This temple is Japanese and is one of Amida Shu's Patrons. The 4 students had come to Victorian England in about 1860 in order to learn the 'modern technology' then prevailing. The idea was for them to ultimately return to Japan, bringing their new found knowledge with them, which would be used to help Japan in its efforts to 'modernise' in the western way. These students were however very poor and the combination of relentless poverty and the bitter cold proved deadly, killing 4 of them at a tender age of between 22 and 24 years old. When they fell ill however, they were taken in and cared for by a Professor Williamson and his wife until they died and then subsequently buried by the Professor in this cemetry, apparently the biggerst in the London area.

At the cemetry a service was conducted at the stupa and there was also a performance of a form of traditional Japanese music played in traditional costume at the stupa. The music was eerie - quite haunting, piped as it was in the autumn air among all the tall, drooping trees and leaning tombstones. Afterwards we were shown the graves of the 4 young men, situated not far away and finally the grave of the kind Professor Williamson and his wife. We then all returned to the Three Wheels Temple for another service, various congratulatory talks and snacks.

The Three Wheels Temple (named after the giver, the receiver and the gift) is quite small, being in fact a house in the suburb of Acton. In the back garden, they have constructed a classical Zen Garden, which is most beautiful to see, with rocks from every part of Britain carefully and strategically placed in the sea of intricately waved sand. On the journey back to Narborough, we commented on how deeply emotional the Japanese felt concerning the kindness shown to the Japanese students by Professor Williamson and his wife. I am always awed by the seeming random causes and conditions which come together and in this instance have resulted in the first Buddhist stupa being erected in a British cemetery, which is for any Buddhist who dies in the UK and would like their ashes to be placed there. If I died now, thats probably where my remains would be placed. Very peaceful indeed.

Today, Dharmavidya skillfully used this event to develop a Dharma talk around the theme that originally gathering around a stupa was the original form of Mahayana practice. It represented the next best thing to gathering around the Buddha himself, which anyone was free to do in the time that he was on earth and spreading the Dharma. Stupas now are little areas of sanctity in the ongoing flow of everyday, mundane life. Stupas traditionally have very low walls around them, not to keep people out, but rather to demarcate their sacred area.

Unlike the 'walls' that we all erect around ourselves. We all have walls of varying strengths and thicknesses that surround each one of us, as did the madwoman Patacara, who had lost all her family. She arrived at a gathering of the Buddha, disrupting the event with her wailing. The Buddha did not allow her to be shooed away, instead he stood up and went over to her. When he understood why she was so troubled, he tried to calm her, but made it clear that there was nothing that he could do to remedy the situation. She had to accept that death was part of life in Samsara. After a period of time, Patacara became a nun and ultimately after several years of processing her particular difficulties became an outstanding Dharma teacher. Thus although the metaphorical walls that surrounded her were very high initially, they became lower after some time and so she in turn could reach out to others similarly troubled and give them the benefit of her hard won wisdom.

Dharmavidya explained that 'Pureland' walls are very individual on the one hand, because of the Buddha Amida accepting us as we are. This is very wonderful and quite unique. It locks into a basic human need to love and be loved. As the Buddha reached out to Patacara, his acceptance of her was total and it enabled her to begin the process of healing that in turn led to her helping others. In many instances the Buddha exhorted his disciples to always remain 'in good company'. This is what he advises us all to do. It is essential as it is only in this way that the power of Amida Buddha can work within us. It serves to bring down our high walls, built by lifetimes of suffering, making them eventually the demarcation of a sacred place, containing our energy and mindstream, which we in turn, can use for the benefit of others.

Today, (Thursday) one of the long-standing members of the Buddha House left to return to her family, so that she may assist her sister who has now been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.We all got up relatively early to see her off and the rest of the morning was spent in preparing the available bedrooms in the 2 houses down the road for the influx of students which will begin tomorrow evening.During a conversation out in the garden, Dharmavidya and Prasada explained that in fact several of the current residents in The Buddha House had in fact begun their journey with Amida Shu by attending a 'Psychology Block', like the one beginning on Saturday. In a way like Maxine, myself, Ben Le etc who first came to Nan Hua Temple on a meditation retreat and then returned at a later stage to make it our home. As they say, big oak trees from little acorns grow. So let's see what will happen on this course.

With love to all

Namo Amida Bu


No comments: