Best of Buddhafield 2016: Jayaraja’s review

Buddhafield Chair, Jayaraja, gives a review of his 2016 Buddhafield season


18 December 2016

The trees bare except for a solitary leaf, perhaps reluctant to let go, the rest fallen and turning to mulch, I sit in an oak wood in the border lands of England and Wales. It is three days until the solstice and I have some time alone, to be still, to reflect and to wonder. More vivid than many, the seasons this year have been rich and colourful.

 

Winter

Visit to Frog Mill
On a Buddhafield men’s study week we take a day out to visit Frog Mill where we are joined by Mike, Rupadarshin and Beth. The flooding had washed the bank away, the river now strewn with fallen trees. Fortunately, the bridge, which had been lifted from its site was wedged close by. Working together we heaved the bridge back into place. We cleared some areas of the wood, dragged the carcasses of substantial tree trunks out of the water and stacked them to dry, ready to heat the hot tubs and showers in the summer.

Work week
Sleet blew fiercely as a small crew worked in a dilapidated old barn mending canvases, and preparing new ones. The wind was whistling under the tin roof and rattling the huge barn door wedge closed with heavy rocks. I felt a tad guilty as the hardy team got on with their work I was passing through on my way to a planning meeting. Though a few weeks later I was in the fields by the barn as we setup a make shift camp for the winter work week. I was impressed by the number of volunteers who ventured from the warmth of their homes or vans to join us, cleaning kit, waterproofing tents, painting vans, and repairing the horsebox sauna our mobile hot water unit.

 

Team Retreat
The team retreat at Frog Mill, with ice still on the tents in the morning, was a mix of training, planning, land work and just gathering the clan, as well as welcoming new crew, to prepare for the months ahead. We built up the banks by the bridge, weaving willow into them for strength and to hopefully avoid losing the bridge in future floods. More wood was fetched, cut and stacked, repairs to the domes and training in how to put them up. We had a day’s training on food hygiene and safety, our professional trainer excited to be in a field, having spent 20+ years in the military, more commonly he was in restaurants and corporate settings.

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Team Retreat at the start of 2016

 

Spring

Yatra sacred landscape walking retreat
We met by Southampton train station, loaded our bags into the freshly painted (though frankly still quite battered) van affectionately known as Peggy. We walked down to the harbour and caught a ferry over the estuary to Hythe, and began our walk through the New Forest. Each day we would walk between 10 and 16 miles. Meantime the team drove ahead with our kit and set up a kitchen and toilet facilities. On the first day of walking the forest was still in its bare winter guise. Each day as we progressed, the buds on the trees and the bluebells opened a little more. We walked in silence stopping every hour or so where we formally ended the session and sat enjoying conversation, quiet reflection or the beauty of the land. After a few days, I noticed my relation to the land changed and I felt more a part of it, part of life on earth, not separate from it and a kinship with our ancestors who have walked this planet and heard in their hearts a sense of mystery and awe. I felt connected to the refugees walking to escape the horrors of war. I felt a sweet sadness imagining them with children and the elderly and little of the comforts we enjoyed, like suitable clothes, footwear and warm food waiting for them. We walked the ancient paths to Stonehenge and then on to Avebury stones. By now the buds had become fresh green leaves. On the final morning, as we gathered in our traditional circle amid the stones to check out, two buzzards soared above and were soon replaced with a paraglider who came to land right next to us.

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Silent walking on the Sacred Landscape Yatra, under majestic trees


Total Immersion
There was a short break after the Yatra as we set up for the Total Immersion retreat, a month-long silent retreat and one of the highlights of the Buddhafield season. In amongst the trees at Easterbrook we sat in meditation, or sat in silence watching the trees and stars. We held rituals in the woods. The teaching from Kamalashila and his team was excellent. It is hard to find words for the beauty and richness of quiet mind.

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The Buddha rupa in the field at Total Immersion 2016

 

Summer

Glastonbury Festival
I had never been to Glastonbury festival before. Much as I love the Buddhafield festival I didn’t imagine Glastonbury was my kind of thing. Two hundred thousand people in muddy fields: yes it was muddy, the worst on record some say. I was going as it is part of Buddhafield’s main activities. We have been there for over twenty years, teaching mediation and serving vegan food. It did make me think our modest festival of 3,500 is a small undertaking. Whilst there, deprived of sleep, we managed to serve around a thousand meals a day and taught some four to five hundred people to meditate in our cramped space. I recall seeing people with tears in their eyes after meditating and expressing their gratitude.

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Buddhafield Cafe at a muddy Glastonbury 2016

 

Buddhafield Festival
From Glastonbury we drove to our own festival site, green fields and a good night’s sleep. In the morning, having packed the tents away wet we had to immediately get them up again to dry. Two weeks before the Buddhafield festival we were a dozen people most recovering from the challenges of Glastonbury. Gradually more crew and volunteers arrived. Each evening we would have an activity, a couple of short talks on the values that had brought people to these fields, perhaps meditation or a ritual or sitting around the fire singing and talking. This year’s festival was one of my favourites, the site looked fabulous, the music was great and I loved having so many people come to my workshops both Mindful Communication and Skilful Flirting, I look forward to 2017.

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Jayaraja (and Ellis, aged 7 and a half) leading a Mindful Communication workshop at Buddhafield Festival

 

Autumn

Green Earth Awakening
I was away in August, so missed the Village retreats and the Summer Open. I returned for the Green Earth Awakening Camp. It was magnificent to once again be in a field with a team of people creating something of significance and beauty. Feeling the wind and hearing the trees standing beneath the stars. Wow, what an event! I was responsible for the rituals and was supported by Ruth who helped create a magical central shrine. The Green Earth Awakening is all my favourite bits from the festival brought together. Lots of spontaneous and interesting conversations, brilliant workshops, play, singing, dancing, discussion, idealism and crafts. If I had to pick a moment from the year, it was doing the main ritual on the Friday night, in a large circle, we danced, we chanted mantra, made offerings and we watched in awe as a beautiful full moon rose through the trees. Once again I felt a kinship with the ancestors as we try and rekindle a sense of the sacred, a deep sense of connection and reverence for life.

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Shrine at Green Earth Awakening Camp

 

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After three years of wandering I have now moved into a house, a modest rented place in Devon, to help establish a new Buddhafield community. The vision is to create a strong base to enable us to do more and to also go deeper in our own work and transformation, to live more fully with respect for each other, and the planet.

2016 may not go down as a great year for humanity or the planet, the loss of great artists and performers, atrocities in Syria and further afield, the election of a demagogue in America and continuing exploitation of the earth’s resources. I am reminded of lines from Auden’s poem September 1939:

 

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

 

May your life be blessed with friendship, meaning and love. May you heart unfold to its great potential. May I see you in a field in 2017, and may we cultivate the roots and buds of transformation both of ourselves and this suffering world.

Metta

Jayaraja

 

Buddhafield Retreats and Green Earth Awakening Camp are open for booking for 2017 

Best of Buddhafield 2016: Green Earth Awakening

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2016’s Green Earth Awakening Camp was a huge success. We had fantastic talks from Mac Macartney, Satish Kumar, the Ecodharma team, Kamalamani and Mindfulness4Change to name just a few, some of which were recorded for you to enjoy again.

Members of Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement joined us and here is what they had to say

“Following a very generous invitation to be part of this annual convergence of engaged Buddhism we had four precious days of exchange and exploration. This was an amazing opportunity to share our work, to make new connections, network and hatch new plans.”

The atmosphere was perfect with sunny days, cosy nights and fire side dancing to a full moon. We had Hedgespoken provide their unique traveling theatre stage with story-telling and beautiful music.

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There were powerful rituals such as building a life cairn memorial to extinct species and our closing ceremony. For this, we joined together in a vast circle to close the event while Oak Clan Forge blacksmith Simon Summers buried a sword forged from metal found on the land as a gratitude to past and future resources.

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Next year’s Green Earth Awakening will take place from 20th to 24th September 2017, with the theme ‘Embracing Simplicity’. Bookings are now open – see you there!

Text by Rosie Lancaster, GEA Coordinator
Photographs by Sagaravajra

Total Immersion Retreat – Interview with Kamalashila

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Image: Padmapani 2011

On 20th May 2016 Buddhafield are holding the annual Total Immersion month-long silent retreat, ending on 17th June. I caught up with Kamalashila to ask him a little more about what the retreat is all about.

How did Total Immersion retreats come into being?

The original Total immersion retreat was held at Dhanakosa [Retreat Centre in Scotland] led by myself, Vessantara and Viveka in around 2005. I thought it would work in Buddhafield and we started the following year. I have led them ever since.  Some years ago Paramananda got interested and we started alternating years. 

What are the benefits of retreats that are held in a natural setting?

If you live in nature, nature teaches you how to be natural.   We come out of a highly artificial world into retreat. There are few straight lines and flat surfaces in nature, and it is not designed for convenience.  This means we have to be much more aware even to live a simple life.  There is an element of freshness and spontaneity that is unique.  All these things generate the very best conditions for meditation reflection and generous behaviour – with the right teaching setup I think retreats in nature can even be better than a dedicated retreat centre. 

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What effect does spending such a long time in silence have?

There will still be verbal teaching, questions and ritual chanting, so the silence is not absolute.  But… Peace. Clarity. Confidence. Love.  Silence doesn’t mean we don’t communicate or look at one another.  We get to know one another deeply by relaxing in each other’s company. 

Are there teaching elements to these retreats? How do the retreat leaders support people’s own self-reflection process?

There’s a main daily teaching and question-answer session, as well as smaller, more off the cuff teachings throughout the day — plus of course one-to-one practice reviews for everyone. 

 

Do you have any advice for people who are considering coming on the retreat but haven’t done a silent retreat before or haven’t spent such a long time on retreat before?

For most practitioners, longer retreats are easier, simply because there is more time to settle in and to relax with everyone in the community.  But it’s also possible to come for just the first two weeks.  

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Image: Seán Quigley

What surprises you the most about the Total Immersion retreat?

That every year, Padmapani manages to upgrade even further his already incredible Naga Shrine. When we first started it was a little booth on a plank next to the stream. Last time I was there it was big enough for the entire retreat to do a puja right in the river itself – and the shrine itself was extraordinary. Perhaps not actually surprising (I know Padma very well) but definitely amazing.  

Even after all this time leading these retreats, and with so much meditation experience, do you still benefit yourself from the Total Immersion retreat?

I always learn new and deep things about the Dharma from being in a fully natural environment over time.  Nature is humbling and grounding as well as being incredibly beautiful, and this shifts your whole perspective — first on the elusive ‘self’, and then on the nature of existence. Getting to that takes time though. You need to be living in one place long enough to be part of the environment — then you start to understand.  Usually we are external observers and that doesn’t teach us much that’s useful. What one learns is not information – which we already have plenty of – but about what we are and what our place is. 

You’ve said a little about the difference between Buddhafield retreats and retreats at Centres – can you say any more? i.e. What does Buddhafield do differently and why is it worth people engaging with this different approach?

I think the previous answer applies here too. It is about being immersed in nature to the point where you realise you are part of it. And Buddhafield crews know from long deep experience of living on the land how to support everyone to do that. Their expertise and ingenuity is very impressive.

What do people tend to experience moving from the Total Immersion retreat back into daily life? What benefit does an extended period of meditation such as this have on people’s day-to-day life in the modern world?

People will vary but most will experience a lasting boost to their clarity and confidence. Leaving the beauty of retreat may be a bit challenging for some, but even that is educative and in the long term will make our lives more authentic, natural and real. 

Bookings are now open for our Total Immersion retreat for both two week and month-long options.
The retreat starts on 20th May 2016, with the two week option ending on 3rd June and the whole retreat ending on 17th June.

February 2016 Newsletter

Happy New Year to all our Buddhafield friends!

Though it’s cold outside, it’s time to start thinking about warm times and friendship, so here is a little update on our exciting plans for the coming year!

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Buddhafield Festival – Tickets now available
We are very excited to let you know that booking is now open for this year’s Buddhafield Festival! The Festival runs from Wednesday 13th to Sunday 17th July, near Taunton, Somerset. The theme for this year’s festival is Courageous Compassion.
Early Bird Tickets have now sold out, but it’s a great time to get in early and bag your festival ticket – at £140 for the whole five-day festival, it’s a steal.

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Festival Workshop Applications – Now Open
We want to let everyone know that applications to offer a workshop, a talk or an independent space at the Buddhafield Festival are open from the 18th January to 28th February 2016.

If you have ever thought that you wanted to share your skills in a workshop, give a talk on your experiences or create a unique space at the festival, here is your chance to offer it. If you know someone who you think would be a great workshop leader, let them know too. Just go to the website for more information or click on Workshop Leaders and tell us all about what you want to do.

We are really looking forward to hearing from you and co-creating another wonderful festival together in 2016.

If you are interested in applying to offer treatments or a therapy, please note that applications for the Healing Garden open on 1 April 2016.

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Volunteering at Buddhafield Festival and Buddhafield Retreats
Buddhafield is supported by a wonderful team of volunteers, whose generosity and warm-heartedness breathes life into all our events. We are looking for volunteers for our Retreats programme and for our Festival.

Volunteering is a wonderful and rewarding way to experience Buddhafield Festival, and we would love to hear from you if you are considering volunteering. We will be looking to put together a set of effective teams, working in a spirit of friendship to put in place everything necessary to make the Buddhafield Festival happen. This will include volunteers for the Festival Cafe, as well as all other practical parts of the festival. Please look at our Festival Volunteers page for further information.

Buddhafield also runs a full programme of retreats through the year, which are an opportunity to take a break from everyday routines and to experience oneself anew in the stillness and beauty of nature. On our retreats we look for inspiration in the Buddha’s teaching and in the natural world, while living simply and kindly in a supportive communal environment, and volunteers are a key part of this. If you would like to volunteer at a retreat please go to our Retreat Support page.

Wishing you many blessings for a wonderful 2016!

The Buddhafield Team