Study Night # 5 — Conditionality, Karma and Rebirth

>The central concept in Buddhism is pratitya samutpada which literally means ‘existing on account of arising together’, or more simply conditionality. This means that all things come about because of the conditions that surround them. Nothing exists independently we are all interconnected and interdependent on everything around us. For example we in the west have a tendancy to lean towards the scientific an are likely to dismiss anything that doesn’t have concrete proof. With this in mind and the people present our study night on karma and rebirth was incredibly heated.

Karma in Buddhism is different to the karma taught in Hinduism, Hindu’s believe karma implies whatever ill effects are happening now they are directly linked to past actions. This can lead to a lack of responsilibilty and compassion for social injustice. Karma means action, so the way we act, speak and think have a powerful influence on how we will deal with our future days. This is seen as the right view and is essential to believe in this if you are to be a Buddhist. We always need to take responsibility for any bad thing that may happen to us. We should always think that it may have something to do with our past actions although it does not have anything to do with our karma. This way we will be compassionate to others and try to resolve the conditions put in place for the bad thing to arise. It is this skillfulness that aids us to evolve in a more positive diretion and our lives will be more pleasant. To be content lead to contentment with the world, to be angry leads to anger with the world but it is important to remember that karma has nothing to do with rewards or punishments but simply how we experience things as a reflection of our state of being.

There are five types of conditionality:-
Physical or inorganic such as earthquakes, tsunami’s, other natural disasters. Not collective karma.
Biological such as illnesses, the flu’ is caused because of a virus and not past actions.
Psychological as in mental states that are due to past experiences we had no influence over. Not due to karmic choices.
Karmic – Karma Niyama, the effects of ethics which we do have choice over.
Dharmic – Dharma Niyama, some kind of sign that we are heading in the right direction.

Dharma Niyama is worth looking into a bit more closely as the concept makes sense up to a point but after that it can get hazy. I said above that it could be described as a sign that we are heading in the right direction. It might make more sense though if we look at it as an extention of our consciousness. There is so much of our consciousness that we do not understand, do not look to it because we are not aware of how far it can go. If you are practising to any degree then stuff will change and shift. Is this to do with just sitting on a cushion and concentrating? Or is it some ‘other power’ that enters our consciousness to tell us what direction to travel in? This topic was the dominant discussion point in our study night. Our scientific conditioning forces us to look at this in a rational way. In just being still and concentrating gives way to more thoughts to come to us, things that we wouldn’t think about normally. What happens on the surface can be quite different from what is going on underneath. Is it more about ‘hidden’ power and not ‘other’ power? We are all able to draw something out that we never realised existed. Is it just that we dont know our own minds enough? All of these points try to give us a more tangable explaination as to what happening when we meditate and we, as westerners, feel that is it important to be able to explain these processes and to be able to have control over it. To imagine purity is to assimilate purity but if this purity exists as some ‘other’ power that comes to you this could be seen as disenpowering as it hasn’t happened through your own efforts.

It is interesting to note that eastern cultures hold the imagination with much more majesty then we do. They ascibe much more weight to dreams and visions as being something that it worth more of our attention. Stories and myths are also held with more attention as a way to teach but are these just metaphors for rational explainations or are they something real, an ‘other world’ thing? Is it our scientific conditioning that says that we can’t understand what could be miraculous or is it the 5000 year old view that does not understand that miracles do not happen.

It terms of Buddhism and as I have mentioned many times before, finding the middle way could give you the answer. As the thrid fetter states, rites and rituals are a means to an end and not an end in itself. Eventually we all have to give ourselves up to something bigger.

Rebirth (which is closely linked to Karma) again differs to how it is understood in Hinduism. It is believed in Hinduism that an unchanging soul passes from vessel to vessel by way of punishment or reward for good or bad actions. The Buddhist take on this is that there is a constantly changing stream of engery that is shaped and transformed by the lives it lives and actions it takes. It is merely a continuation of a process. Ideas of rebirth are difficult for westerners to grasp hold of because, as i said before, there is no concrete proof  of it. This is a part of many westerners conditioning and maybe it is important to believe in those things that we cannot fully understand.

There are four different types of karma:-
Weighty karma – something that has a major impact on us and others which leads to a strong effect on our emotions such as meditation.
Death-proximate (near death) karma – these are actions that will have an effect on our rebirth as they are performed when close to death.
Habital karma – Something we do regularly without noticing but eventually will build up to something massive.
Residual karma – which is basically everything else.

Victims of habitual karma will not challenge or change these habits because due to the habital nature of it there is a lack of awareness of what is happening. In this culture there are many victims of this due to many vague and halfhearted sets of beliefs this leads to us having a fatalistic, ‘why me’, attitude and a sense no control. The media is a good example of this as constant bombardment of negative news stories and advertisments is bound to have an effect on our inner being. Legal systems and social etiquette are some others. These prevail in our society and questions of ‘what are my rights?’ can be heard all over. We can spend our lives fulfilling social positions and still not get what is needed. It is so easy to hide behind the media or law that we have gone from blaming God for our problems to blaming other people, “there must be a reason for this happening, I must find the agent behind why this is happening and once I find them I will inflict my pain onto them in some way”. By throwing yourself into Buddhsim and throwing out vague beliefs and the TV will help in understanding why these bad things happen. How we think creates our experience if we constantly believe that we are living in a harsh and hostile environment then this is what we will get back. It maybe that there is no choice over what thoughts may arise but what is important is how you deal with those thoughts. If you feel like you maybe losing control and you panic because of this then control will fall away more rapidily, but if you keep calm, you are more likely to come through it unscathed. Consciousness grows and changes and thoughts are just a part of the experience. What we do in this life does have consequences after we die and our ego’s would love for us to live on and on and on but ego will also say that it will be you as you are now that gets reborn and this is simply not the case in Buddhism. Frstly to gain Enlightenment you must let go of the self and ego, and secondly we are constantly changing beings. What we are when we are born is not what we are when we die. It is not necessary to believe in rebirh if you are a Buddhist. Whether you believe in panning lives or whether you live on a moment to moment basis, either is ok as long as each moment has your full attention.

Study Night # 4 – A Foundation Knowledge of the Dharma


Much of this study night relates to other study nights we had here at Trevince and many more of them will become interlinked as they go on. This weeks study was on the Dharma and this is inextricably linked to the ideas stated in ‘The Truth of Cause and Effect’ and ‘Enlightenment’ posts we published in November.
We read from extracts of Sangharakshita’s book ‘What is the Dharma’
In short the Dharma means Truth. In Sanskrit it can mean many things but truth is the most relevant and understandable explanation of the word. It is not useful though to pin this word down to a single meaning as it varies throughout the various Buddhist traditions and cultures.
So many a better explaination of the word Dharma is whatever helps humans to transcend their present limited state
The 4 noble truths – (see Study Night #1)
1) Human existence just involves suffering
2) Cause of suffering is that we want things to be other then as they are. 
3) There is an end to suffering
4) This is to follow the eight fold path (or the three fold way which consists of Ethics, Meditation and Wisdom)– provide us with a framework for understanding the Dharma and how to follow it, what is stated above and enhanced on in the Eight fold path are the ideas of having a ‘right view’ on life. They are helpful in keeping us on the right track and our practise heading off in the right direction. If we do not follow this then our lives will continue to follow the unconscious and unquestioned beliefs and values that make up our conditioning. This will go unchallenged and therefore never we will reach nirvana and we will stay in a state of dissatisfaction.
The first truth is possibly why Buddhism is said to have bad name because it basically states that all life is suffering, a better way to describe this is that there is always something missing or better still dukkha (which can be translated to uncomfortable, uneasy or ill-fitting). What is important to remember about Buddhism is that is honest, it puts it plain and simply about how life can be better. If satisfaction does exist in life as it is normally lived then there would be no craving, but there is craving and the constant notion that something is always missing. Happiness is good but it cannot be relied on.
Dukkha was spoken about in Ruth’s post about Enlightenment but knowing about it in terms of Dharma I can go into more depth:
  • The suffering that comes from living with an impermanent body and living within a hostile environment.
  • The suffering that comes from not getting the things we like and having to make do with those that we do not like.
  • The suffering of change, happiness does not last.
  • Suffering that arises from general dissatisfaction at whatever situation as long as we are not fulfilling our spiritual potential.

The second noble truth states that the origin of dukkha is craving. We are constantly craving our world to be a certain way but as the world is constantly changing then all this is doing is leading to unhappiness. There is a difference between a healthy desire for something such as a need to quench you thirst or for friendship but these are very different from the craving for a chocolate bar or the latest fashion accessory. Craving ultimately just distracts us from realising our full spiritual potential. On a more extreme level, craving is just a ‘result of our deluded obsession with ourselves. Things to remember are that life is full inescapable sufferings, as soon as you are born you start to die, there is sickness, old age and all other ailments that come with having an impermanent body. To transcend this suffering we must look inside ourselves and turn our negative states into positive ones.

The third noble truth takes a more positive look at life. Our suffering is based on our conditioning. All the events that have happened before leads us to where we are now. To over come, understand our conditioning / limitations and then to transcend it will be our end to suffering.

The fourth noble truth helps us to understand how we can overcome our suffering by following the noble Eightfold path. The Eightfold path is basically saying is that if we follow the precepts more deeply and be aware and mindful at all times, if we keep ourselves positive, meditate and follow the Dharma then we will crave less and therefore suffer less. Is being dissatisfied with current state of awareness a bad thing? Rejoice in your happiness when you are feeling it. Accept the sadness and be with it. Whether this is a cruel or beautiful world depends on your vision. Actions are determined by how you respond to how you feel.

“Circumstances such as illness or good fortune come and go, but what lingers with us are internal conditions. If we have peace of mind, we can weather through the rough patches, but guilt, hatred or depression will cloud the brightest day. A millionaire or a king can be beset with worry and mistrust, but a property-less monk can dwell in ease and fulfillment. Suffering and the cessation of suffering live in our minds and our hearts.” ~Theravadin monk Ajahn Sucitto


Next Time.. Karma and Rebirth.

10 Memories in 15 Minutes


One of the best ‘get to know you’ exercises I have come across is one that Vidyadasi introduced me to at the Buddhafield Broadhembury work retreat on the 6th to the 10th of December. The retreatants were a handful of cafe crew and a handful of retreats crew so it was cosy and I have come away with a greater understanding and greater respect of each person that I work with.
The idea of the exercise is that in 15 minutes you must write down 10 memories starting from that very moment and work backwards throughout your life and note down the first 10 things that pop into your mind. Then each person involved has 45 minutes to talk about their memories starting from the earliest. Not only does this give you 45 minutes of of beautiful stories to listen to but also an insight into the state of mind of that person and as to why they chose those memories to talk about.
So background over, here are my 10 memories to give you a shapshot of the Broadhembury work retreat and all the joys it gave me.
Frost Crystals
It was cold at Broadhembury. The snow hadn’t melted from the flurry the week before and everything was freezing anew each night. Even the most delicate things were standing up strong to the cold as each blade of grass to massive oak in the exposed areas of the land had at least 5mm of ice crystals parading themselves along each each twig, along each stem.

Being Back the in Woods
I love being in the woods, I remember as a child taking our dog for a walk in some woodlands near where we lived and always being overtaken with a sense of adventure and discovery but from that point until last October my passion for woodlands and its many inhabitants was hidden from view. It wasn’t until I immersed myself in outdoor life and farming through wwoofing and found myself living and working in woodlands that my passions again were found. Now I can’t wait to spend time in woodlands.

The leaves, the mosses, the birds, the flora and the fauna, the skeletal structures of the trees in winter, everything fascinates me and excites me about the woods and as I have never been to Broadhembury before it made this trip even more important to connect with the land that Buddhafield holds many of its retreats on. It is a stunning place to take time out to reflect, the trees are an aid in finding wisdom and tranquillity.

 A Permaculture Approach
The work that we did on this retreat was to prepare the ground for the planting of a forest garden. A forest garden is one of the principles of permaculture whereby the planting of fruit and nuts trees or shrubs exist within the ecosystems of the forest. It creates diversity where  companion plants help each other to grow by fixing nitrogen in the ground or deterring pests / attracting predators to name just a few. The creation of a forest garden is done in layers. These layers consist of large deciduous trees or the ‘canopy’ layer such as chestnuts or oaks, small trees/large shrubs that will be planted in and around the larger trees. Then shrubs that will be alright in the shade, Herbaceous perennials to add to ground cover such as mints, a main ground cover and thereby a natural mulch and the last layer are the roots and fungi. The important part to remember is that all layers consist of edible or medicinal plants thus creating a productive garden containing a wide range of lovely thing to eat or cure or make things with. It is a system that needs to be carefully thought through but after the initial slog to create the garden with all its layers it should be relatively hassle free. So in amongst the a massive patch of gorse (you can just see a bit of it in the picture above) a forest garden will be created.

Meditation Kitchen
As I mentioned earlier the retreat was cosy but that was good for keeping warm. We had one dome which was our kitchen and hanging out space (and knitting space for three of us!). For our meditation we had a simple shine placed in the centre of the dome with all of us sitting in a circle around it. It was a movable fluid space that was kept warm and comfortable for the duration of the week. I have been lazy recently in my meditation efforts but I had decided that being on retreat I would make myself do the full meditation programme. After waking up in a very chilly van on Tuesday morning, I ventured out to a sun on the tip of the horizon and carefully found my feet on the ice and walked the short distance to our dome. There everyone was gathered with our simple white shrine with a Buddha and two candles and I settled into the earth to concentrate on my breathing whilst a robin hopped in and out welcomimg us to his home.  

A Strong Resilience
I have worked outside in freezing temperatures before whilst wwoofing and I struggled to keep warm then whilst sleeping in our van. Our van has gone up market since then we have a burner inside so sleeping inside a freezer this time was not a problem. Working in these conditions is good though, even without a burner and sleeping in a tent, to reaffirm your confidence in being able to work and live in freezing temperatures. It is all about seeing the beauty in each day, in each moment, if coldness sets in go find something warm (our dome was really toasty, thanks to Shantikara being our amazing housekeeper!). Physical outdoor work keeps you warm anyway as you are using all your muscles and generating heat that way. Its about thermals, its about wool, its about absorbing energy for the glorious winter sunshine and staying strong to yourself and the others around you. As you hear the sound of bramble leaves crisping up with frost at dusk, it is surprisingly easy to be and enjoy the outdoors in winter.

Gorse Corridors.
The idea to start our forest garden was to initially make three corridors through the gorse. The gorse patch must have been at least two acres in area so this was a task in itself. It is not a good idea to take away all the trees in one go as the animals that reside there would get confused, having somewhere for them to retreat to for protection is always important when clearing ground. We only wanted to clear enough gorse to make it easier to initially plant and then maintain the trees that will be planted. One corridor that stretches all the way along the bottom of this particular area was to be planted with 100 alder trees which would eventually provide a wind break and protection for the garden. After using hand tools on the first day it was obvious that this would take a while and to make any kind of impact in the time we have so we decided to bring out the chainsaws. By the end of the week there was a network of paths in the gorse for the fruit trees. One of the paths framed a view of two oak trees and the landscape beyond.

Missing Trees Found
Amongst the gorse we came across several birch trees and willow trees that were having to fight for life again the relentless spikes of the gorse. These trees were liberated and being fast growing will provide some of the main structure of the garden.

A Spring Like Day
After the freeze came the thaw. By the Friday the day felt like the first day of spring. The sun was beating down on us and the ice was melting, jumpers discarded and work continued with a renewed vigour

A Bright Star
On the last night in this wondrous place whilst brushing our teeth by the van Tom and I happened upon the brightest star in the sky. I haven’t ever seen a brighter star. As it twinkled the flashed out chards red, blue and green in the dark night sky. Truly a mesmerising sight as the crescent moon rose above.

Buddhafield retreats provide a space where you can really hear. see, smell and touch nature in all its wondrous glory and really connect to the earth you live on. I really appreciate that this is one of the facets of Buddhafield as I love to spend my time working and living outdoors and having the freedom to appreciate this Earth is important to me its about the unspoken clarity about the interconnectedness of us all and the abundance of the place we inhabit.

To read more about Broadhembury please read Hannah’s post on Sacred Landscape Appeal. She has spent much more time there then I have, there will be more posts by Hannah on this subject.

To experience Broadhembury yourself there is ‘Creating a Forest Garden Retreat‘ from the 28th January till the 4th February, there is also a weekend option. Well worth a look especially if you have been inspired this post. For more information about Buddhafield whole retreat programme follow the link.

Ritual and Devotion in Buddhism


Within Buddhism there is a connection with beauty and this beauty is used to delve to the depths of our emotions and connect that with our spirituality. Although it may seem like there is much rationality going on to understand why we are how we are, our conditionality, there are structures in place that will immerse you completely in beautiful sights, sounds and smells to aid in emotional understanding. The most rife time that this happens are in the Pujas. The ultimate aim of a Puja is ‘a preparation for the arising of the Bodhichitta, the will or aspiration for the enlightenment of all beings’ but the common aim of a Puja is to state a “shared value, expressive of common strivings, rooted in common values”(Erich Fromm) with the group or spiritual community (a Sangha) you are with.

Pujas are a devotional practise whereby a Sangha will come together to meditate, recite, chant and give offerings to the Buddha. It is a powerful practise that demands full concentration and will help in understanding your emotional happenings. By understanding these emotional happenings they can be integrated into everyday life helping you to be more harmonious as a person. It is to move your self-knowledge and integrate it into your being.

The centrepiece of a Puja is the shrine in which a Buddha or Bodhisattva sits proudly. The shrine will be adorned with flowers, candles and incense which acts as our offerings to that particular Buddha figure and our commitment to Enlightenment. The incense and candlelight also acts as a softener and preparation for you to look deeper into yourself. It is a wondrous thing to see candle light reflected in the Buddha figures eyes as he looks down proudly at all that you have to offer. To hear the rise and fall of a choir of voices all chanting a mantra together and to feel the vibrations coming from your own voice and of those voices near to you creates such a unifying energy about the room. It is hard not be to moved by such a practise.

The sevenfold Puja consists of a series of verses that have been condensed down from a longer set called the Bohdicaryavatara, written by Santideva in the 8th Century CE. The content of the sevenfold Puja consists of  seven sections which are entitled Worship, Salutation, Going for Refuge, Confession of Faults, Rejoicing in Merits, Entreaty and Supplication and Transference of Merits and Self Surrender. Each one of these sections follows the flow of life in general and all the ups and downs that everyone comes across. Condensed into a bubble of ritual it encapsulates what is required of us throughout our lifetimes and each is is a perfect little teaching.

First we worship, we offer to the Buddha earthly and heavenly possessions as an appreciation of the teaching he has given us. We know that we are still far off becoming Enlightened so we pay salutation and respect to these teachings and the ideals. The combination of these first two sections drive our need to go for refuge, by using our determination we close the gap by allowing ourselves to ‘become the Buddha, follow the Dharma and practise in harmony with others’. After making this commitment we confess our faults which is an acknowledgement of our unskillful ways which we must overcome. Once confession is over we rejoice in the three jewels and what they give to us. We still need help though and in entreaty and supplication we ask for it not just for ourselves but for the world throughout the ages. Lastly we transfer our merits to each other and for all the world, my merits “I give up without regard to myself, for the benefit of all beings”. 
As Ruth and I mentioned in our post about the Easterbrook weekend Abie lead her first Puja. It is a tradition in Buddhism that the person who has been on the path the longest leads the Puja and so it was that out of the six of us the conditions where perfect for Abie to be our guru.

We asked her if she would write a bit about how it went:

“I’m not sure I really lead the puja; we all seemed to be leading it at the same time, such was the way the weekend unfolded, but I just said the words first! It was the first time I’d done such a thing, but it felt very natural, a quality which feels quite precious to me. I loved hearing our voices as women, speaking together.

At the end of the Team Retreat in October, Lou, Ruth and myself lovingly cleaned the shrine candles sticks and adornments together. From that, came a great discussion and series of questions, ‘What does Om, Ah, Hum mean, and why do we say it when we salute the shrine?

I didn’t really answer that very well, but it’s been very good to ponder upon, and turn over in my mind. In trying to connect with this over the years, I have made my own simple visualization during saluting the shrine that I find connects me to a bigger, mythical level before sitting on the cushions.

I was also reminded of an Amogasiddhi retreat at Rivendell 10 years ago, where we had a very simple, but profound ritual in which about 30 of us chanted Om, Ah, Hum over and over and over as a vajra was passed around the shrine room; we each put it to our head, throat and heart. Afterwards, I felt completely aligned and grounded- perhaps the most I’ve ever felt from any ritual! I think it’s a profound practise.”

As modest as Abie is I was very moved by the simplicity that adorned her Puja. The Om Ah Hum chant was really effective in that I could really imagine my voice going up in the universe, around my body and the world and right down in the ground, rooting me to that spot. Puja’s for me are a way of breaking through my Christian conditioning of my tendency to deify the Buddha. I feel grounded in myself, Buddhism and the world. Being amongst people that are doing the same thing and striving for that common end makes for a very uplifting and powerful event. By reading up about ritual in Buddhism it has really connected me to why we say what we say and why it is important. I read Sangharakashita’s ‘Ritual and Devotion in Buddhism, An Introduction’ to express what a Puja is in more detail and post it up here for you all to read.  

Alongside the seven verses mentioned above we also recite the Heart Sutra (which I have written out in full below), This is not talked about in the book I read and I feel that this, along with the Transference of Merit to be the most powerful and beautiful verse in the Puja. It is a verse in which we lay bare all things that we must realise in our lives and a teaching of what we must overcome and understand in order to gain Enlightenment. I am not saying that I fully understand all that is written in this verse or that I even adhere to all of its teaching yet but as a thing to look over every now and then I find to be a very useful as a reminder of what I am working towards. It even renders me breathless at times to think of the impact of the words and the effect they have. 

I thought to have it at the end of this post is the best way to draw to a close, something for you to ponder on.

The Heart Sutra

The Bodhisattva of compassion
When he meditated deeply,
Saw the emptiness of all five skandhas
And sundered the bonds that caused him suffering.

Here then,
Form is no other than emptiness,
Emptiness no other then form.
Form is only emptiness,
Emptiness only form.

Feeling, thought, and choice,
Consciousness itself,
Are the same as this.

All things are the primal void,
Which is not born or destroyed;
Nor is it stained or pure,
Nor do they wax or wane.

So, in emptiness, no form,
No feeling, thought, or choice,
Nor is there consciousness.

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;
No colour, sound, smell, taste, or touch,
Or what the mind takes hold of,
Nor even act of sensing.

No ignorance or end of it,
Nor all that comes of ignorance;
No withering, no death,
No end of them.

Nor is there pain, or cause of pain
Or cease in pain, or noble path
to lead from pain;
Not even wisdom to attain!
Attainment too is emptiness.

So know that the Bodhisattva
Holding to nothing whatever,
But dwelling in Prajna wisdom,
Is freed of delusive hindrance,
Rid of the fear bred by it,
And reaches clearest nirvana.

All Buddhas of past and present,
Buddhas of future time,
Using this Prajna wisdom,
Come to full and perfect vision.

Here then the great dharani,
The radiant peerless mantra,
The Prajnaparamita
Whose words allay all pain;
Hear and believe its truth!

Study Night #1, The Truth of Cause and Effect by Louise

Trevince House on Wednesday night is Study night for the Devonshire locals of Buddhafield. This is a weekly event and from now on a weekly post on what has been taught. My knowledge of Buddhism is still in its early stages so from my point of view I enjoy these nights as I am learning more about how I am to look at myself and my path. Vidyadasi leads these groups sensitively as she started at the beginning for those of us who are ‘beginner’ Buddhists. I feel very privileged to be a ‘beginner buddhist’ in this environment as there are many minds in the room all at different stages and there is a wealth of wisdom being shared as I listen and take notes (thank you for sharing your wisdom with me!). I may come across parts that I don’t understand as much but I will endeavour to try and be true to what was taught and open it up for discussion as much as possible.

The Truth of Cause and Effect

The Story of the Buddha

The Buddha was a man, he was born into a royal family and his name Siddhartha Gautama. During his childhood a group of astrologers predicted that the young prince would grow up to be either a great emperor or a great spiritual leader. The prince grew up within the palace walls, sheltered from the world outside. He married and fathered a son.

Siddhartha’s father would not allow Siddhartha to leave the palace and see what lay beyond the walls. It took much persuasion and once permission had been granted all Siddhartha saw beyond the palace were young and happy people. His father had previously ordered the streets to be cleaned of the old and sick. He did however come across a weak man laying by the side of the road. This was a sight that Siddhartha had never seen before, he asked why the man was weak and here he learnt about growing old. Struck by this sight Siddhartha visited the city three more times where he encountered a sick man, a dead man and a sage. These sights had a profound effect on his life as he left his wife and son to set out in order to find peace from the suffering of all men. He stripped himself of his princely possessions and wandered through the forests to seek understanding from wise men and ascetics. However, this was not enough. He finally settled under the bodhi tree to meditate. He stayed here for many days and this is where he gained Enlightenment. And these are some of his teachings:

The Four Noble Truths

  1. Human existence just involves suffering
  2. Cause of suffering is that we want things to be other then as they are.
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. This is to follow the eight fold path (or the three fold way which consists of Ethics, Meditation and Wisdom)

The stages in the eight fold path are:

  1. Perfecting vision
  2. Perfecting emotion
  3. Perfecting speech
  4. Perfecting action
  5. Perfecting livelihood
  6. Perfecting effort
  7. Perfecting mindfulness
  8. Perfecting samadhi (loosely means concentration)

This path is split into two parts, the first half, perfecting vision, emotion, speech and action are to do this being aware of yourself and knowing yourself enough to be able to see, feel, speak and act mindfully. Once these four things are in place then the next four concerns what you have to offer others and how you place yourself within the wider community and the world. If you can get all eight then you are on your way to enlightenment.

At times we chant that we are going for refuge. When a person is ordained into the Buddhist order it is said that they are going for refuge. This is an important part of Buddhism, we all go for refuge all the time and all for different reasons for instance security, comfort, satisfaction, shelter, protection. By going to refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma (spiritual path) and the Sangha (spiritual community) otherwise know as the Three Jewels we also go for refuge to ourselves, we acknowledge these same qualities that exist in each person and set ourselves the task of searching for the truth. In this country there is a culture of Christianity and it is important to understand that The Buddha is not a God, he is an enlightened man, there is no judge in Buddhism, you are a good Buddhist but not to please any higher being but to please yourself. To meditate is to give yourself the stillness and the space to look at your mind and see the building blocks behind it, the conditions that make you up. To see all of the causes and effects is to understand yourself better and to understand yourself better is wisdom. It is not just this, it is important to find the middle way – it is not all in the mind or all in the body, ‘Form is no other than emptiness / Emptiness no other then form / Form is only emptiness / Emptiness only form’ (extracted form the Heart Sutra).

You must put all the conditions in place for enlightenment to arise, enlightenment is not a given and is not guaranteed.

In this particular study night we had an open forum for any questions that anyone had a burning desire to ask. Within this we encountered to large discussion points which I will try and form something cohesive by way of explanation from my badly taken notes!


Renunciation in Buddhism is to break the habits that hold you back, a tool for loosening yourself. Siddhartha renounced his princely possessions in order to gain enlightenment. This is a difficult concept as it has much to do with the letting go of the self which is an important and clear step towards enlightenment. By leaving these deeply ingrained habits behind means that you have more space to explore new thoughts and feelings or just leaving that space clear and enjoying that stillness.

The Soul

Buddhism doesn’t recognise a soul, a soul implies that you do not change. Also there is no reincarnation within Buddhism but there is rebirth, a cycle of life that is a chain of processes. Much like what I mentioned in the above paragraph of renunciation deeply ingrained habits can stay with you from new life to new life. The more work that is put in this life to break these habits the better off the next life will be. As a stream of consciousness that we are throughout the ages we are bundles of knots that need untying.

It is worth noting that much of what is written in Buddhist texts is open to interpretation, I do not know how much I believe in rebirth in that my ‘self’ gets transferred into another body after my death. My interpretation of rebirth is to break the conditioning of generations before me and pass this down to new generations. This is something that is at the forefront of my mind all the time. I believe that renunciation is also an important factor in breaking my conditioning though it is hard. This first study night really helped to put a clear instruction into my mind especially to do with the eight fold path of things that I need to be aware of.

Study night over!

What Women do for Women — Opinions of Single Sex Activities

Over the weekend I came to think about what being a woman is and what having a held space for women means to me. It almost feels wrong to say that woman’s roles are a new discovery for me. I have always known what these consist of but it is only recently that I have been told, learnt and experienced these roles with a positive and realistic view instead of the derogatory portrayal of housewifery and associated tasks.

I have started to look at housewifery, nurturing, sewing and cooking as much more than a stereotypical role, but as a natural role that women have undertaken across the ages. My renewed passion in these tasks has made me feel more secure as a woman, which has enabled me to open up to new passions, such as that of wood working, something I was frightened to pursue in school because it meant that I would be in a room full of boys. I wish I had the strength of mind and confidence that I have now back then as I would have taken that step, no questions asked. I can do the common masculine ‘powerhouse’ jobs-heavy lifting, chopping wood, digging holes, because of good techniques and strength in my core. I also know when my body needs a rest. I am not a believer in ‘everything you can do, I can do better’ which I believe many feminists these days to believe in. Men can cook, I can chop wood (and enjoy it) but I also believe that there is a division and it is worth being respectful of it. When I am pregnant I don’t want to have to chop wood but I’ll happily darn or weave or weed.

In a spiritual sense, the female space is also a new discovery, having never fully looked closely at myself spiritually. This comes from a fear of looking too deeply at things that scare or repulse me. This fear has always been at the back of my mind and making myself known to me and to others is much easier in the supportive and nurturing space of a room full of females. The instincts in a woman of care and compassion are clear to feel when discussing everything, from the universe to the acorns, the childhood bullying to pregnancy. It is more free with no men around. Men are sometimes too quick to joke. I feel stronger when surrounded by women and more able to be heard.

This is not to say that sharing my world with just women is how I feel my life should evolve. I strongly believe in the gentle interplay between the genders in all things as being a powerful tool in learning about myself and my position in the planets ecosystems, but having a separate organised space really helps to focus your attentions on gender specific intentions and issues.

Ruth: I really appreciate the chance to be in a single sex environment, as growing up, both at school and at home, I never spent much time in one. It is a very new experience for me to be part of such a close knit group of women and feel completely trusting and comfortable around them. Over this first season that I have spent with Buddhafield I have been through some really difficult circumstances and had to face a lot of things about myself and my relationships with others that were very hard to admit to.  Had it not been for the support of so many women within the cafe team, and also from the retreats team, I think I wouldn’t have been able to make the changes I have, and understand the whys and hows of the situations I found myself in.

I have always found it difficult to make and maintain female friendships, but it is something that I am realising is really important to me, both personally and spiritually, and that the more I open up and give, the easier creating and maintaining friendships with women is. I feel as if an aspect of me which I never gave much thought to before is being nourished and being brought out of me. The areas of Buddhafield I have experienced, the cafe, festival and Trevince House, all have an enriching female aspect alongside an equal, yet not necessarily the same, enriching male aspect. This serves to create a really held, supportive, open space, in which I feel I have been able to explore myself and start to understand myself, in ways that, within a mixed environment, it is harder to do.