I arrived in Buddhafield at roughly the same age as many of my Buddhafield friends are now – in my mid to late forties. It was the second half of the 90s. I was an anagarika, a kind of Triratna monastic. In my youth I had set up the west London Buddhist centre, Vajraloka (a meditation centre), and a study centre, Vajrakuta, in Wales. I lived there for fifteen years, established myself as a teacher and wrote my book on meditation. I was definitely part of the mainstream of things and a few years earlier had been named by Sangharakshita as one of the thirteen people he trusted with the future of the movement. I’d lived at Madhyamaloka with some of these people for five years, well supported, running a car, able to do whatever I wanted. I often travelled abroad, leading retreats – India, Australia, USA, Scandinavia. I led a privileged existence but I knew something was missing and I wondered if I really deserved it.
Buddhafield had approached Madhyamaloka for a President, an ally and contact with the wider movement. No one wanted to do it. Devamitra, I recall, was the hot candidate, but he didn’t really seem to want to do it either, since he tried to persuade me to take it on. He thought it would suit me. I can’t remember the sequence of events, but eventually I led a retreat or two on the land, and was immediately hooked!
Buddhafield drew me because it supplied a lot of what I missed. Buddhafield changed my life and I’m tremendously grateful. Not to any one person, strangely – though so many people have helped me and I owe a lot to several people, Rupadarshin for example. No, my gratitude is for the opportunity to be in nature. Just to be in nature – to have something to do there, to have anything at all to do among leaves and trees and sky – that’s what’s transformational.
I learned so much about how to teach meditation just from being in the elements – from the special challenge that gives, the special conditions that are so uncompromising and real. I found a way to connect to my deepest feelings and desires, to my humnan heritage, to my ancestors – to the land itself. What Buddhafield gave me in the 90s inspired a completely new approach, led me to doing my long retreat in Tipi Valley; led me, when I lived at Trevince House with Andy, Yashobodhi, Rupadarshin, Satyajit and Abhayajit, to trying to get this land based community going that is still moving slowly to a conclusion after (six?) years. It led me to move to EcoDharma for 2-3 years, which turned out to be a mistake for me, but it was a learning experience I don’t regret. It led me to realise that I no longer needed to be an anagarika to engage deeply with the Dharma.
I am so grateful for all this and I have spent my time moving between Buddhafield and the more mainstream elements of the Triratna movement, always promoting what I see as its values. I remember some of us Order members going and having tea with Bhante some years ago. I remember Bhante himself giving his talk at the Buddhafield festival and me teasing him on stage, saying he’d grown his hair especially for the event. I’ve seen Buddhafield increasingly respected; seen Bhante more recently write about the importance of animism, living a life that appreciates the living presence of non human beings like trees, mountains, badgers and birds. I’ve seen Subhuti write about the importance of the natural world, of a more animistic perspective, as part of extending and deepening the human imagination. This has had little to do with me – Buddhafield’s continued existence has simply made it easier for them to introduce these topics in a realistic, lived manner in the movement. Because it shows the ordinary people in their flats in the cities how they can be in nature. Simply that. There’s a way they can do that… There is a strong need for that. You might also say that the whole development of Festivals has come from that need – from our tragic cultural alienation from nature. Anyway, Buddhafield certainly opens a bright doorway out of the alienation of western industrialised society. I’m grateful for Buddhafield’s existence because in Buddhafield, two things I love come together: Buddhism and Nature. It so happens that these two are crucially important for our present society.
Buddhism coming to the west is arguably crucial for its spiritual survival. People don’t like to appear to exclusivist, and obviously there are great, inspiring ideas and truths that come from other traditions. But to me Buddhism has something that is more alive, critical, practical and flexible. It fully fits our time. It has things to show us about our very nature as living beings that have a capacity to liberate us in ways I’ve not seen yet elsewhere.
As for Nature there’s a need universally to be more in harmony with the earth, with what is natural and not artificial, and to come down from our proud, self made towers of glass and steel. This is not easy for us, and it’s not easy to see how our culture can make this transition. I’m grateful that Buddhafield makes that experiment of bringing Buddhism and Nature together. That is enough for me. There are so many applications of that, I don’t too much mind which we explore. I can see that a community on the land is a logical next step, but what I mainly see is Buddhafield’s many strands of influence in the world. Buddhafield has something truly unique. A few other Buddhist groups have their ecological approach, but nothing as lived and as experienced as this. There are many other non Buddhist groups working in nature, but no other Buddhist based ones, that I know of.
In particular I see Buddhafield influencing the mainstream, as all experimental groups do. I see people in Triratna who would never camp and lie on the ground to sleep, who are slowly coming round and facing up to the needs of nature.
This is an important change because contact with the land, contact with living nature, dissolves in a positive way the pride and arrogance, the hubris, that characterises our industrialised society and causes so much of the mental suffering that traditional Buddhism also addresses. Contact with the earth gives something very beautiful as it dissolves our arrogance: with its collapse comes a letting go into life that is lovely and which is liberating. To me, Buddhafield is all about that and I feel very proud, in a good way, to be associated with it.
This post has been taken off Kamalashila’s website and personal blog with his permission. http://www.dharmadoor.org/