Bodhilila’s Notes – April 2021
With Spring at last comes
Purple sprouting broccoli –
It’s so delicious!
So now it’s spring – a time of new beginnings, new life in the natural world. I have been so lucky to have been renting a flat with a garden these past two years. The small clump of tiny daffodils, the broccoli plants that were tiny thumb-sized plants a year ago and are now waist high and actually sprouting purple broccoli are giving me a lot of joy. A few spring onions that I didn’t eat are now in bud which somehow surprised me as I now realise I had a fixed view of spring onions based on years of purchasing bunches of them at the supermarket. It was exciting to grow them at home but I never thought about what they might become if given supportive conditions to develop to their full potential – including time and space to bud, flower and produce more seeds that can continue the cycle of life.
I’m not an experienced gardener, I started out just digging beds, removing weeds, rocks and miscellaneous junk from the soil, preparing the ground with no idea what I might plant. (Previously my main experience of growing plants was as a teacher encouraging 4 and 5 year olds to grow beans, sunflowers and cress from seeds). There is something very liberating about an empty bed, a potential space where anything can emerge, much like the mind.
The garden has been such a gift during lockdown, helping me to stay grounded and to stay connected with other living beings. Noticing all the creatures living in the soil, on plants, shrubs and trees as well as the visiting birds, cats, foxes and squirrels. Gardening has also been a rich teaching context providing opportunities to work with my craving and ill will, for example, letting go of reactivity as the cats and foxes dug up fragile young plants and the slugs and snails ate their way through 15 French bean plants I had nurtured from seed. I’ve had to practice patience and accept that I can’t force anything to grow, only create conditions which allow this to happen. And of course, gardening offers so many opportunities to reflect on impermanence and conditionality.
The Dharma includes many teachings comparing our spiritual development to the growth of plants. After his Enlightenment, when the Buddha was unsure whether to try and communicate the Dharma, it was after a vision of humanity as a pond of lotuses at various stages of development that he decided to teach. There are times when the Buddha compares himself to the sun shining down equally on all beings and in the White Lotus Sutra there is the parable of the herbs where the Buddha compares the Dharma to a great raincloud, raining down on all the different kinds of plants, enabling each to grow and develop in its own way.
As Chair of the West London Buddhist Centre my intention is to share the gift of the Dharma and to create positive conditions for practice where everyone can develop in their own way and collectively we create a spiritual community. I know that what we offer will always be imperfect, that I and everyone else in the sangha have many flaws. However, I continue to be inspired by what we manage to achieve against the odds, including the challenges of the last year. It is now over a year since we shut the West London Buddhist Centre building and entered the first lockdown in response to the Covid 19 pandemic. It’s been a tough year for people all around the globe, a time of uncertainty and fear, with challenge and loss not knowing what will happen next. I found it difficult at times and what has kept me going has been my spiritual practice, the teachings of the Dharma, the West London Buddhist Centre and wider Triratna community and my friends. I feel so fortunate to be part of our sangha and to have some wonderful friends. I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about two long term friends of mine who have joined our sangha that I know many of you have not met.
A few years ago I asked my good friend Sudurjaya if she would consider becoming a West London Buddhist Centre trustee. She not only agreed but then began teaching at classes and on retreats. Before lockdown she co-led the Buddhism in the City class with Yashobodhi and for over a year she has co-led a study group with Prajnanita. Sudurjaya has been developing friendships within our sangha and her continuing friendship has been a great support to me during these difficult times.
I also want to mention Maitripushpa, another longstanding friend who has been getting involved at the centre. She recently became a trustee, and like Sudurjaya, is now teaching for the West London Buddhist Centre (some of you may have been at lunchtime drop-ins or sangha night sessions she has led). I am really looking forward to co-leading our Easter Retreat, Be True to Your Heart with Maitripushpa. Partly because it’s the first time we will have taught together, partly because I know she is an excellent teacher. Most of all I’m looking forward to leading a retreat with my good friend and for more of our sangha to get to know Maitripushpa.
I am also excited that Maitripushpa and I will be co-leading Breath by Breath, a six week course on the Anapanasati sutta at the end of April. The teachings of this sutta transformed my mindfulness of breathing practice and I know that for many years Maitripushpa’s main meditation practice has been using the particular format for the mindfulness of breathing suggested by the Buddha in the Anapanasati Sutta. I believe that the best teaching comes from personal experience so I am interested to see what emerges in the learning space we co-create with everyone participating on the course.
If you haven’t yet booked on the Be True to Your Heart retreat it would be lovely to spend this weekend practising together. As always we will be posting recordings of teaching sessions, meditations and rituals on a special retreat website so don’t worry if you can’t make every session. And it would be great to further explore the mindfulness of breathing with you on the Breath by Breath course. I find teaching our 6 week courses such a rewarding experience as there is an opportunity for depth, continuity of practice and connection which is just not possible at a drop in class. If you want to attend one of our retreats or courses but can’t manage the booking fee then please get in touch as we want everyone to be able to take part and are happy to offer a bursary place if you need one. Just email teaching [at] westlondonbuddhistcentre [dot] com if you want to explore this option.
Meanwhile I wish you well and hope that the spring brings positive new conditions into your life.