Mid Winter Reflection

I went to midnight mass last night with my mum and her new fella. Not to take communion or pretend to be christian for this christmas but to honour something in myself, where I orginated, to see what it had to offer me and to sing some carols. I would love to go to midnight puja but there are no centres around where my Mum lives so church is where I went to feed that little bit of spirituality in me.

Christmas is not and hasn’t been for a long time anywhere close to my favourite holiday. Give me all the humbugs in the world but unless there is snow to play in (more then unlikely in the south east of England) then you are unlikely to get me to come to life. It sucks, I get bored, I get lonely. I battle with this every year but that is just how it seems to be.

And I want to enjoy these festivities, I long to celebrate the lengthening days and share joy and comfort to my friends and family. Celebrate all those good and bad things that has happened over the year. It is such a quiet affair at my mum’s. I find the festivities to be fairly alienating as I often go inward, feeling stuck in front of the TV set and end up getting more and more lost in the bad decisions I have made. More harm then healing comes from this time of year.

It is different though, life is impermenant afterall. Things have definitely changed and I am still working through how these changes impact on my life. The vicar in the church spoke about surprises and the joy of either being given a surprise or receiving a surprise and thinking about it I have had some beautiful gifts of friendship this year which still surprises me. My dad got a surprise birthday party on Saturday, the third surprise birthday party in as many years and I just love the look of childlike joy when he realises that something other then what he thought is happening. He never expects anything either and that I love as well. It is when you are not expecting something, I find, that the dearest of surprises appear, for me at this time of year the sun brings me the most joyous of surprises, it just appears sometimes and smiles before hiding behind a cloud again but just that surge of light upon my skin brings me me alive for a short while.

I have been surprised this year and this Christmas and I am still accepting is the chance to go inward at this time of year and actually learn something of who I am, what I have done with my life and forgive those things that I always end up hating myself for at this time of year. I feel oddly blessed this year as well for the lessons I have been given. For the last year of my twenties it feels significant. I am not saying that these lessons have been all roses in fact I would say that I have been awful company in the last couple of months as I slide in and out of difficult mental states but still people have offered me light and love every step of the way and I thank everyone for that.

So I don’t really know what I am trying to say here about christmas but maybe to just remember with love and acceptance anything that has bought you pain or anger this year. I am as connected with anyone who reads this as I am to my own mother. Everyone sees something amazing in everyone else and everyone can help everyone else in some way.

I am grateful today for my mother, the woods near her house and the candle light.

Merry Christmas, new year, solstice, yule, mid winter, whatever you wana call it..


Recently you may have read that Devapriya has been very ill and in hospital. Having made a remarkable recovery, he was hoping to return home, but we are profoundly sad to have to say that he hasn’t managed to do so and that it now looks as though his time is very short. Please bear him in mind with metta and, if you feel moved to, chant the Tara Mantra for him. (You can find out about more about Tara on the Wildmind website if you aren’t familiar with her, her mantra, or why chanting it might be significant.)

For those of you that don’t know Devapriya, he has made an inestimable contribution to Buddhafield, especially to our Family Friendly Retreat. He has struggled with physical ill-health for many years. Undaunted by his physical limitations and supported by many friends, he has shown the remarkable capacity to participate in Buddhafield activities.

At Dhiramati’s suggestion, Lokabandhu has put together an album of ‘Rejoicing’ for Devapriya. The intention was to print it and present it to him as a book and we hope he still may be able to see it. It’s very clear from all the contributions that came in, over just a few days, that he deeply touched the hearts of many.

The featured photograph was taken at Buddhafield Festival 2012. The weather was mixed and the ground difficult in places, but partly due to Devapriya’s unfailing determination and partly the willing help of the many people that valued him, he participated as best he could. He was carried around site on this makeshift litter. (Thanks to Dharmacharini Osadhi for the use of the photograph.)

Update: Devapriya died very peacefully on 1 November 2012.  His old friends Annie Munro, Rehana, Carl Davies, Kamalashila, Satyajit and Rosie, plus his sister Akasacitta, were with him.

Women’s Retreat

I’ve just spent the last few days recovering from what must have been the most intense 12 days of my life.

A few months ago I realised that the Women’s Retreat, which happened the 14th – 21st September, didn’t have a facilitator or a site organiser, and so, in my tireless enthusiasm (it was the beginning of the season, after all) I volunteered myself. Cue, 2 months later, me realising just what I had let myself in for.

The epic mental journey started on the 7th September as I joined a team of Buddhafieldites to tat-down the massive Big Fat Buddha site at Frog Mill, in order to move our retreat head quarters onto our other piece of land at Broadhembury. I had to make sure that all the structures, cushions, blankets, pots, pans and rupas were stowed away in the right vans to get to Broad Hembury to set up the next retreat. I’d never taken on a leading role in this area so I arrived on site armed with a note book, which became my bible, and a pen, which I frequently lost. I also had Sean, who is our usual site co-ordinator/facilitator, who answered my every question with utmost patience and supported me amazingly. After 3 days of deconstruction, scratching my head and writing millions and millions of lists, at about 6pm on Sunday evening, we threw the last of the vegetables into a van, made a last neat tat pile against the hedge to come back for later, and stood in a circle, joined hands and transferred our merit. It is always an intense moment, leaving site. However long I have been there, whether it is just for the few days of a festival, the three weeks of Buddhafield Festival, or a site that I have come and gone from over a longer time, there is always something momentous about driving out of an empty field, with everything you need to create your home in the vans following you in convoy. It really brings home to me again and again the truth of impermanence and non-attachment, and then I forget it so easily, and have to remember that I know it. I feel as if, with Buddhism, I am constantly learning something, realising it a little bit, then falling back into old patterns, and then coming back to remembering what I’ve learnt, only each time it’s a little easier, feels a little more natural.

After one last night in the warmth and comfort of the van, we, a team of 5 women and 1 man, set off for Broadhembury, as usual, running late. The site is a beautiful boggy woodland, which, fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you view it, hadn’t been visited or had any upkeep done, all summer. This meant that at the bottom of the main track we had to stop and 3 of our team had to cut back brambles and bracken so we could get the vans down there. Once parked up, we had to do more bramble fighting and grass wading to make our way into the main hearth area of the retreat site. I stood at the end of the board walk and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The rain this summer, though bad for us, has been amazing for the land. The grass was lush and almost waist height in places, a big line of bracken has sprouted up, dividing the field, its wide, deep green, unmistakeable leaves providing some different textures from the yellowing ripening grass heads. The gravel paths which we spent so many hours digging, lining and filling in December were totally obscured by greenery, and I wasn’t sure if we would ever find them again. Ripe blackberries dangled from every plant, and even after just a few minutes of being on site my fingers were purple and my mouth full of dark sweetness. After a while of the team wandering around, re-introducing themselves to the land, we came back together and as it was starting to get dark, decided that all we could do would be to make a cup of tea and go to bed, to start early and freshly in the morning.

The next few days were a whirlwind of action. Each morning we would meditate, have breakfast outside round the hearth fire, check in, have a work meeting and then, after another few cups of tea, spring into action. Over the days the team grew until we were a group of 10 strong women (with Sean still helping for the first few days), each bringing something special to the group. We built a kitchen and tea tent, put domes up, cut grass back, built showers and shower cubicles and put the hot tub together without problems. Though I was running the site, and led the work meetings each morning, it always felt very much like we were all running it, we were all creating the space. In a very short time we felt like a community, and I knew I could rely on each of these women to do each thing to the best of her ability. The honesty within the group about what was going on for us personally, and the way in which those gifts of speech were received was awe inspiring, I have to say that I have never been on such a harmonious set up before. It was a nuturing space where we were able to take the time we needed to be in touch with ourselves, while also working really hard to do what we were there to do. Our morning meetings were long, full of laughter and joy, and yet also able to hold the sadness and grief that also came, which is an intrinsic part of our experience as living creatures.

By Friday lunch time we were all exhausted, and yet the retreat was only just about to begin! As some of us tended the hearth fire and put the kettle on, others trundled wheel barrows down to the car park to meet the new members of our community. I found myself helping people put their tents up, guiding them up and down the hill, pointing out the amazing sweet track, where I’d found the sweetest black berries, and of course, the all important question of where the toilet was. As it grew dark, we had our first meal as a full women’s community and headed off up to the shrine tent under the old grandmother oak at the top of the site, to welcome each other and perform the dedication ceremony.

We very quickly settled into an even rhythm, morning walking meditations from Vidyadasi, followed by an open sit, porriage for breakfast before a usually late work circle, through into a morning activity, lunch, free time, then another activity, then dinner, shrine and hot tubs and bed. Though I had volunteered to be both site manager and retreat facilitator, in the rush of the season, I hadn’t thought very much about the latter role, and shocked myself when I realised what I’d let myself in for. Speaking in front of groups, directing people I don’t know, being the person at the end of the chain of responsibility; these are all things I would not happily choose to do, I think I must have managed to blank out that those would be part of my role when I volunteered for it! I struggled a bit at the beginning, especially with calling the work circle and having to make the final decision on things, but by the end of the retreat I was really enjoying gathering people and holding the space, and I found a real sense of letting go of the doubts that I have about my abilities, and an incredibly deep sense of empowerment.

As a result of the powerful experience of setting up, combined with other recent happenings, I had my mitra ceremony on Wednesday night of the retreat. I first thought that I wanted to be a mitra when I was on the Young Women’s Retreat in January at Tara Loka, and since then I have been dancing round the idea, sometimes pushing it far away and thinking, ‘Never!!’ sometimes coming close to it and feeling into it. More recently with the end of the season I have had more time to connect with what I feel and where I want my life to go, and have been sitting with the thought of becoming a Mitra and making that commitment. I hadn’t come to a concrete decision yet, I had tentative plans to have it at the Team Retreat which is coming up next week, but when Mumukshu suggested that it would be good to have it during the retreat, something clicked and it felt like the right thing to do. Alix, another woman on the team also wanted to have hers then, so we combined our ceremonies, and it was the most intense amazing deepest joyful experience of my life.

Personally, my theme of the retreat, as well as the official one of ‘doorways to freedom’, was, in my mind, ‘keeping it silly and joyful’. I think it is very easy to be overly serious about the spiritual path, and to take yourself too seriously. In my experience bringing joy and laughter to everything you do, from meditation to work, can have a really profound effect. So, Alix and I agreed to have a fancy dress mitra ceremony. I must have sub-consciously been planning this or something as we’d brought two big bags of fancy dress clothes with us, and so over Wednesday women would disapear into the dome, we’d hear laughs and giggles and shouts of joy, and then smiling women would emerge, clutching piles of fabric bundled up, telling us they couldn’t wait to reveal the outrageous outfit they had decided upon.

Later that night, sitting at the front of the dome, right next to the shrine, I looked around and was filled with such pure joy I felt like water. It was so clear to me that I was doing the right thing, that this was the path I was meant to be on. As I looked round the dome I could see old friends, new friends and women I had hardly spoken to, all united, each full of joy and beauty. Each had thrown herself wholeheartedly into the community, into practising and learning, and I felt honoured to share my experience with them, and honoured that they shared their experiences with me. Part of me wishes that I could or would share more of my experience of this with you reading this, but at the same time, I know that no words are deep enough, no sentence that I could construct would really tell the reality of what I felt and thought during those few hours, and so I won’t try, I’ll just say, I have no words, it is something that has profoundly affected me in many way, most of which, I’m sure, I don’t know or haven’t seen yet.

After this pinnacle, the rest of the retreat seemed to flow as smoothly as water does downhill, one thing seamlessly blending into the next, meditation into work, into deepening friendships and trying to work through old ones. I felt full of a deep calmness, and like, to use the word again, joy was just bubbling through me. Before I could comprehend it, it was Friday again, and tents were being taken down, I had a last minute scramble to make sure everyone got to their trains and buses on time, hugs were given and a massive email list drawn up so we could all keep in touch. Our little community of heroines disbanded, and we dispersed, carrying stillness, simplicity and contentment in our hearts.

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?

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.

Introduction to us!

>Lou: I started working for Buddhafield as a way of getting to spend more time at festivals. For me being at a festival is something that I have always loved, the bubble of contentment and madness that arises within the site boundaries is a wonderful thing and I have always wanted to be more involved in how festivals are put together. After setting up the Café at Glastonbury, a festival that is very familiar to me, I soon realised that not only do Buddhafield Café provide a safe and welcoming place for festival punters but it also provides a home, a sanctuary amongst the chaos for its team of volunteers. I am one of the café volunteers and this year I also got involved with the site décor at this year’s festival. What I didn’t realise is that I would fall sideways into being with a family all of whom are learning and trying to adhere to Buddhist principles. This is what the café, in a wider context is trying to do; to bring the Dharma, the Buddhist spiritual path, to a greater audience. I have learnt much about myself and my relationship to others in the last few months and now that my position becomes more and more established I look forward to bringing my discoveries to aid the creation of this blog to support Buddhafield in all it does.

Ruth: It started off as a one time visit last year to work for the cafe at the festival, a week of working later, I knew with the most certainty I’ve ever felt that I needed to become part of Buddhafield. Just over a year later and I have been job-free, house-free and volunteering for the cafe for nearly 5 months and have never been happier. Before joining Buddhafield I had no interest in Buddhism,  having been brought up a Jehavah’s Witness and left the faith I have quite a strong resistance to ‘religion’, I was interested more in living a life outside of mainstream society, that didn’t have as its main aim acquisition of objects or money, that promoted freedom of choice and personal responsibility. What I found was so much more than that. I have slowly come to think that what I was looking for seems to be embodied in Buddhism, and while I still have my doubts, the effect on me that Buddhafield and my increasing knowledge of Buddhism has had cannot be seen as anything other than good.

What is a Buddhafield?

A Buddhafield in the Mahayana Tradition is a place in which the conditions are perfect for spiritual growth, a place where there are no burdens or hassles, a beautiful place that exists to benefit all beings and is under the influence of the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion. The Buddhafield that we work for, in its various guises, creates a supportive space that holds many people on their own paths into Buddhism and the journey they choose to undertake to spiritual enlightenment.

In its most basic form Buddhafield can be spilt into three factions: Buddhafield Cafe, Buddhafield Festival and Buddhafield Retreats. The café which takes its delicious vegan food to various festivals over the summer including GlastonburyWildheart, Sunrise, Out of the Ordinary and many others. The cafe creates a perfect space for festival goers to relax and rejuvenate and also hold a space within which the Dharma is an ongoing concern. The festival, unique in its ‘no drink, no drugs’ stance, holds many free workshops that encapsulate awareness: from Dharma talks to all kinds of meditations and yoga, from rituals and pujas to beautiful acoustic music. The retreats team hold a number of different retreats throughout the year for those who wish to delve deeper into Buddhism.  All the retreats are held in stunning locations offering a chance to get closer to nature and yourself. The most popular of our retreats is the Family Friendly retreat, held at Frog Mill, a piece of  land in Dartmoor National Park which Buddhafield has bought, and that the Land Appeal, another offshoot of Buddhafield, is raising money to pay for.

The Festival, Café and Retreats are all working towards being as sustainable as possible. We use wind and solar energy to power the cafe and the festival, biodiesel in the vans used to transport us and all the equipment from site to site, wood fired hot water systems for the hot water in the cafe, (the excess heat goes into a sauna and shower for the cafe crew to keep them clean and happy!!) composting loo’s at retreats and at the festival and we also source our veg from local suppliers, in whatever part of the country we happen to be in. This caring for the environment we inhabit, in turn helps to create a safe space for people to confidently and comfortably grow at their own pace, so they can lighten their burdens and release the constraints of their mind and bodies and become enlightened (or near enough!). Truly a Buddhafield in action.