I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written to you in this way but you have been in my thoughts throughout this challenging time. Some of you I have seen online, others I hope to see in the future either online or in person at the West London Buddhist Centre. It’s now six months since we closed the centre building just before the first UK lockdown, not knowing how long the lockdown would last and with no idea of how the Coronavirus pandemic would bring so much change, so much loss all around the globe. Some of those changes may have been positive but others have been very painful, with many people experiencing illness, bereavement, loss of work and financial hardship.
It has been a time of uncertainty, with external conditions constantly changing – at times from one week to another, sometimes from one day to another. It does feel like the whole world is experiencing an extended ‘bardo’ right now and, as with that final bardo and transition at the time of our death, this is a time when our spiritual practice can be a vital support. I feel so fortunate to have the Dharma in my life, to have practices like meditation which have been crucial in working with my mental and emotional states during this time and to have a spiritual community to practise with and turn to for support and friendship.
Having said that, to me it feels as if we are entering a new phase as we prepare for the long haul, accepting that COVID 19 is here for the foreseeable future. These past few months the centre team have worked hard to move many of our classes and courses online and to keep developing our online presence, for example in offering online retreats and our early morning meditations. I was just co-leading a weekend retreat with Ratnadeva (and have led two week long retreats with Paramananda) and am amazed how it is possible to create a sense of community and experience a depth of practice over the internet with everyone practising in their own homes but sharing a screen via zoom.
The retreat title was, ‘The Fires of Transformation’ and it was dedicated to the guru and archetypal Bodhisattva, Padmasambhava, seen as the second Buddha in one of the main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. We particularly focused on 3 key areas from the stories about Padmasambhava – facing and ‘converting’ our demons, how crucial, challenging situations in our lives could be the equivalent of practising in cremation grounds and the theme of transformation, of spiritual death and spiritual rebirth.
On the retreat we considered these in our own lives yet it seems to me they are also relevant to the West London Buddhist Centre right now. This is a crucial and challenging time and we will need to change, to reinvent ourselves going forward. Things will never be the same as they were even when we are able to re-open and offer more of our programme at the centre. It seems clear that going forward we will continue to offer online events, that our sangha will include both those who are unable to come to the centre building and those who may never go online.
Many of you have asked when we will re-open the centre. With government guidelines changing I can’t say for certain and for the time being most of our focus will be directed online. However, I hope that in the next few weeks we can try some socially distanced events. I visited the centre last week and Prajnanita, our Centre Manager, has done a great job preparing the centre to make this possible. We will let you know more though it will not be quite the same – people coming will need to wear masks, we won’t be able to have tea breaks together and there will be limits on how many people can practise in the shrine room together. Still, I know that for some people it is particularly hard not having the opportunity to practise alongside others, so we hope to offer some opportunities for this going forward.
In the meantime, wishing you all well and I hope to see more of you online. If you haven’t tried any of our offerings why not give it a go?