Women’s Mitra Study Retreat 2013

I have been asked to write a blog to accompany the photos I sent of the ladies Mitra retreat! Well, I have never written a blog before so here goes…

I have been going on retreat with Buddhafield now for about 6 years and in the last few years I have been doing about 2 a year. I usually have one “for me” and one where I help on the team, this one was for me! I was particularly looking forward to this one as it was in a beautiful medieval farmhouse and had beds! As it turned it the farmhouse was simply amazing! Not only did it have beds but it had a dishwasher too!!! To any hardened camping retreat goer this was an unbelievable luxury that couldn’t quite be taken in!

Women's Study Week

Siddhimala and Lou

Gradually we all started to arrive, 9 wonderful ladies congregated and a community began to form. This was my first “study” retreat and the daily programme was quite full starting with meditation, breakfast, study period, lunch, reflection, led meditation, dinner, study period, evening puja/ritual/meditation. Phew! There were periods of silent reflection amongst this to constructively reflect on the material.

The study material was the four mind turning reflections which are the preciousness of this human life; death and impermanence; karma and its consequences and the defects of samsara. We listened together to the 5 talks by Order members which were an introduction talk and then one on each reflection and then were facilitated in often lively, hilarious discussions about the subject matter. I absolutely loved it! It is a very long time since I have been in a constructive study atmosphere (if ever!) and I found the mental exercise exhilarating, I learned a great deal and each day we had so much to absorb and reflect on. We were all a bit scrambled with overload of information at some stages and Siddhimala (our excellent teacher) was very skilful in directing our thought processes, she was a complete joy to be taught by! Siddhimala was supported by Varabadhri who has a wonderful sense of humour and a keen eye for ritual; she not only supported us all but organised wonderful ritual evenings in true Buddhafield style.

Women's Study Week

The retreatants (minus Lulu!)

After a week I was sad to leave but ready to come home to my busy life. I have brought these daily reflections with me (consciously and sub-consciously) and they have been seeping into my daily practice. The first action for me was to give up Facebook and playing annoyingly addictive computer games. I realised I spent too much of my “precious” time in this life trawling through this medium like a voyeur looking at the lives of others (some I don’t even know!!) and decided this had to stop! I am feeling quite refreshed by this decision and am finding pockets of time already to do things like write this blog which I wouldn’t have had “time” for before.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you to the Buddhafield team for this wonderful week in Devon, I so hope it continues next year as I will definitely be coming back, if I am still in this precious life!

Lulu Robertson

Buddhafield Mitra Study 2013

We have planned a Mitra study event for March 2013 which we very much hope you will be able to attend. Whether you can come for the whole week or just the family weekend, it would be lovely to see you and a great opportunity to meet as the Buddhafield Mitra Sangha, study and practise together in beautiful surroundings, and enjoy the unfolding of Spring. The dates are:

  • Women’s study, Saturday 9th (arriving for supper) to Friday 15th
  • Family weekend, Friday 15th (arriving for supper) to Sunday 17th
  • Men’s study, Sunday 17th (arriving for supper) to Saturday 23rd

The Venue

We’ll be staying at the Yarner Trust at Welcombe Barton, Welcombe, a mediaeval farmhouse and barns a mile from a stunning bit of the North Devon coast. We have also booked the camping field and roundhouse so that we could have a big celebratory weekend together, with partners and children welcome too. There are warm dry spaces, big sofas and woodburners, and a good well-equipped catering kitchen for communal eating. There are a few beds in the house, and sleeping spaces in the barn plus plenty of space to camp.

The Study

We will be studying the “four mind turning reflections” from the Triratna Buddhist Community Dharma Training Course for Mitras. This is Module 3 from Year Two, Turning the Mind to the Dharma, based on five talks given by Dhammadinna, Ratnadharini,Vajradarshini and Maitreyi. Download the text of the module, available as a PDF file from Free Buddhist Audio, from where the original talks are also available: we can listen to these during the week, but you might want to check them out before coming.

The Cost

By Dana, meaning you pay what you can afford, with a rough guide of £22 — £28 per night to include all food. Children could be half that. If you can afford to be more generous that would help others to come who would otherwise struggle. The more people we can encourage to come, the cheaper it will be.  (We really must at least break even on this event to make it sustainable.)

Looking forward to studying and hanging out together! To book a place visit the event page on the main website. Please pass the word on to any mitras you think might be interested in joining us.

Study Night #2, Enlightenment

As Louise said last week, we are both ‘beginner Buddhists’ and these study nights are invaluable to our first steps along the right path. Again, Vidyadasi led this group and held the space really well. I feel like a lot of my questions were answered!

Enlightenment – The Goal of Buddhism

To quote Sangharakshita, ‘Human Enlightenment is the central theme of Buddhism’. All aspects of Buddhism are concerned with it, teaching in order to help others to gain Enlightenment was what the Buddha was fundamentally concerned with. This knowledge causes us to ask three questions:

  1. What is Enlightenment?
  2. How do we know that this is the idea state for man?
  3. Where does the idea of Enlightenment come from?

Traditionally, Enlightenment is said to consist of three main things. Firstly, it is a state of clear, pure awareness. Some schools of Buddhism claim that within Enlightenment the subject/object duality is no longer experienced, that the Enlightened one sees no difference between himself and others, between ‘out there’ and ‘in here’. There is just awareness. This awareness is an awareness of things as they really are, which is seeing all things clearly and truly, without the delusion, obscurity, prejudice and mental conditioning that all humans experience the world through. It is direct spiritual vision of the reality of our existence, also referred to as a state of knowledge, or an awareness of Reality.

Secondly, Enlightenment is referred to as a state of intense, over flowing love and compassion. It is often compared to the love between a mother and child, as in the Metta Sutta, ‘the Discourse of Loving Kindness’, which says ‘Just as a mother protects her only son even at the cost of his own life, so should one develop a mind of all-embracing love towards all other living beings’ . The attitude is one which the WBO endeavors to cultivate, the Metta Bhavana, (Metta meaning lovingkindness and Bhavana, meaning cultivation or development) being one of the two key meditation practices within the movement. This lovingkindness is not just directed towards human beings but towards all ‘living’, that is, sentient beings and also manifests itself in a deep desire that all beings should gain Enlightenment, thus being set free from all their suffering.

Thirdly, Enlightenment is also described as a state or experience of ‘inexhaustible mental and spiritual energy’, and ‘a state of uninterrupted creativity’.  It is an experience of perfect freedom from all the conditioned limitations which humans construct for themselves, such as attachment to the self, hate, expectations, attachment to others and many more!

Through I have attempted to describe Enlightenment in these three aspects, in reality Enlightenment cannot really be put into words or confined into definitions. It is a constantly shifting combination of all of these aspects; knowledge passes into love and compassion, passes into energy, passes into knowledge and so on and so on. This description can only give a hint or explore a tiny fraction of what Enlightenment truly is. In short, Enlightenment is a state of supreme knowledge, love and compassion and energy.

Within us all are the seed of enlightenment; we all have love in our hearts, and feel compassion for others, we all have some experience of Reality, we all have some energy. We already have enlightened qualities within us, and it is this that shows us that Enlightenment is the ideal towards which we should aspire. When we feel love and compassion, when we are tackling a project with creative energy, when we are able to rise above our conditioning and start to see things as they are, we feel a serenity which is missing from our everyday lives. This is our glimpse of Enlightenment. Within Enlightenment these qualities are developed to a degree that we can hardly understand, but it is our possession of these qualities, however slight, that gives us a natural affinity with the idea of Enlightenment, and the ability to achieve it. When Enlightenment is talked about, when love and compassion, energy and Reality are talked about we can feel something, we can feel a connection to them, the seeds are within us already. We can tell that Enlightenment is the natural ideal for us too because nothing else can satisfy us. No matter how many things we own, how much money and material safety we have, how many achievements we obtain, there is something within that is not satisfied, that can only be satisfied by seeing the truth of things. This feeling of unsatisfactoriness is called, in Buddhism, dukkha.

There are three forms of dukkha. The first is ‘the suffering which is suffering’, this is when, for example, we cut our finger, or if someone disappoints us. The next is ‘suffering by way of transformation’. This is when we obtain something, get pleasure from it and then lose it. because we have become attached to it, we suffer when it is gone. This suffering comes about as a result of change and time. Lastly, there is ‘the suffering of conditioned existance itself’, which is the suffering of everything which is not Enlightenment.

The ideal of Enlightenment comes from us from humankind itself, from the ever present struggle to understand ourselves and the suffering we live with and to rise above it. We struggle to grow, to develop, but to do this properly, we need an ideal to consciously aim towards. For us, growth means a growth in awareness, of ourselves and of our surroundings and the ideal of Enlightenment gives us direction.

In the extract from ‘The Ideal of Human Enlightenment’ by Sangharakshita which we used for the study and from which all quotes are taken, he says that ‘if we look back in history we can see various people who have actually achieved Enlightenment.’, however, he doesn’t name any, and after searching the internet I found no concrete names of people who are Enlightened now. This raises some interesting questions for me, such as, if part of being Enlightened is a deep desire for others to gain Enlightenment then surely you would reveal yourself to be Enlightened and try to teach others like the Buddha did? Revealing yourself to be Enlightened would be key to this as it would make teaching people and bringing them closer to Enlightenment easier as they would give more weight to your words knowing you were Enlightened. The fact that I couldn’t find any information about Enlightened people now raises doubts in the rational part of my mind, but I still feel very strongly connected to the ideal of Enlightenment, and do connect with it spiritually as something to aim for. I think that I need more discussion on this part of the subject!

Having been brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness my tendency is to think in theistic terms, that is, in terms of a god who has created the universe and who governs it. This is not so useful when looking at Buddhism, as the Buddha was a man who, through gaining enlightenment, woke up and began to experience reality as it truly is. The very word ‘Buddha’ means ‘he who is awake’. The emphasis on the fact that Buddha started life as an ordinary man really helped me to start to see Enlightenment as something attainable. I began to see that the Buddha was an extra-ordinary man, one who surpassed his conditioning through his own efforts, and thus, becoming a Buddha was something I could do too – I’m not sure about my chances in this lifetime though!

Beginning to see the Buddha in evolutionary terms, as the next stage of man, has helped me feel a deeper connection to Buddhism. Due to my upbringing and subsequent rejection of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Faith I have a unconscious negative reaction to religion and the idea of god, and have found that this has been holding me back somewhat in my learning. Seeing the Buddha as the next stage of evolution of man, along with other things I have learned have helped me start to overcome my resistance.

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!

Men’s Study Weekend 29-31 October. Brought to you by Leif!

The weekend started with dinner on Friday night. The women had vacated the premises in order to do a gardening/study event down the hill.

After the meal, Shantikara – who would be leading the study sessions – gave us an introduction to the Sigalovada sutta. In it, the Buddha meets a young man engaged in the practice of venerating the six directions (the compass points plus up and down). He uses this as a framework to deliver a teaching, broadly on social responsibility.

We finished the day with a short dedication ceremony, to help set the focus for the weekend. The shrine room, it has to be said, is not terribly large. Fitting more then eight of us might have become a squeeze. But it was a good end to the day. And so dear reader, to bed – more or less.

The next day started at 7.00am with two 45 minute meditations in the shrine room, led by Satyajit – who facilitated all the meditations sessions. Then breakfast and a session of staring each other out until someone cracked and agreed to cook dinner.

10.30 saw us settling for a couple of hours study –  once we had gotten over Sean’s arrival in slinky lycra (he’d cycled in from home). Having fanned ourselves vigorously, we got down to looking at the sutta.

The first section covers the Buddha meeting Sigalaka while he’s worshipping the six directions and receiving his request to be instructed in the correct way to do it. The immediate point which Shantikara drew out of it was that the sutta is heavily imbued with the cultural context of that time and place (Northern India around 500BCE).

Moving on, the text listed four impure actions to be avoided-

  • Harming living beings
  • Taking what is not given
  • Sexual misconduct
  • False speech

The first four precepts in their traditional form and then another list of four causes of harmful deeds (also to be avoided)-

  • Desire
  • Hatred
  • Delusion
  • Fear

The first three form another traditional list called the three poisons.

A point came up around whether the Buddha was giving this teaching because he had recognised Sigalaka as someone in danger of falling into unskillful conduct. The basic teaching being, act in accordance with where you want to be. All familiar – but slippery – territory around karmic comsequences and conditionality (in its broadest sense, saying that phenomena arise dependent upon conditions). Suck on that.

Next the Buddhaa listed six ways of squandering wealth and then six dangers associated with each. This is where the cultural context really started kicking in – and that the suttas were orginally composed to be passed down orally (lists within lists are a common feature). This section caused a lot of smiles, but also serious questions about whether the Buddha meant only material wealth – and why – and how the lists related to our own experience.

Eventually, we drew the session to a close in order to have a short meditation before lunch.

After some free time in the afternoon, we reconvened for a couple of hours more study. The next section listed four kinds of true friends and four kinds of bad companion, and their characteristics. This had a lot in common with the earlier lists – hardly surprising. bearing in mind conditionality – covering the appropriate use of wealth and an exhortation to “gather wealth in harmless ways”.

Again stuff came up about cultural context, whether this was that actual word of the Buddha – texts were certainly added while passing down the centuries – and what which parts have a bearing on current circumstances. It’s all a bit academic, otherwise.

Another break for meditation, then dinner and a bit more free time. We ended the day with a puja – recitation of traditional verses and mantras in order to encourage devotional feeling (particularly in a group context). No music. Buddhafield is associated with wacky musical pujas but it isn’t par for the course when we are at home. I like them quiet, most of the time, anyway.

The next day followed the same routine. We spent both study sessions on the last part of the sutta. This is where the Buddha gives the teaching on the correct way to worship the six directions. Clearly he is using it to present the teaching which Sigalaka needs.

The Buddha identifies each direction with a particular relationship –

  • Parents
  • Secular teachers
  • Partner and children
  • Friends and colleagues
  • Workers and servants
  • Ascetics and Brahmins

For each, he lists five ways in which respect is shown toward them and five ways in which they respond positively to such treatment. Following this advice is presented as a path to happiness. Again, the material needs to be seen in the context of the time and place in which it was being given. The sutta ends with Sigalaka asking the Buddha to accept him as a lay-follower.

So dinner and a puja, then the weekend officially came to a close. The womenfolk arrived back sometime after I’d gone to bed – hardy souls.

Making time for single sex activities is held to be important within the movement and I have previously found it a helpful space to work with. Possibly because I was doing it at home this time, mostly with a group who also live here, my main impression around it was of the house being half empty. But this is not even a quibble. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity for intensive study – especially with material taken for the Pali canon.

I think we were unanimous in agreeing that we need to do it again. I expect that, next time, we’ll leave the house and the women will have the house for a bit. Camping in January anyone?