This year (2015) the Manchester Buddhist Convention has organised two smaller events apart from the large event we organise in October. These events have two basic aims:
- To bring together Buddhists from different lineages
- To learn something about a practice or examine a theme in the context of Dharma.
This is the second of these events and offered a Tibetan practice known as Lojong; a practice that aims to transform mundane mind into one of loving kindness and compassion for all sentient beings – a basic concern to all schools of Buddhism. This term is sometimes translated as ‘Mind-training’ which in my view does not convey the depth, power and efficacy it has to do so. This is how it is described by John Rowan. ‘Lojong, is a comprehensive practice; suitable for all types of students. It contains the entire path and does not depend on a person’s background. It nourishes and cultivates Buddha Nature that is at the very heart of all beings and has the power to transform even self clinging into selflessness.’
The event was hosted by the Kagyu/Dechen Centre on Manor Road. It was a delight to be in this beautiful garden with elegantly set tables, flowers and food. We also had a chance to visit the Shrine room with an exquisite Buddha Rupa from Nepal.
Venerable Chueh Ru from the Fo Guang Chan Centre started the session with an inspiring meditation ‘workout’. I suspect that many of us will be going to the FGS to experience her approach to loosening the ‘chi’ prior to sitting. Thanks also to Simon who led us through the Lojong.
After the ‘workout, there was a ritual creation of a Mandala or sacred space. After this Simon explained the basic practice.
To generate compassion, the practice traditionally focuses on our mother of this life. It reminds us that she has been our mother in many lives; talks us through the care she has given us and the sacrifices she has made to help us grow and bring us to maturity. It encourages us to extend the love we feel for her to all beings thereby broadening the extent of our compassion. A guided meditation led us through the process. He suggested that we take as our focus anyone for whom we felt great love.
The second part of the practice is called Tonglen in Tibetan (roughly translated as taking and giving). Through this we, symbolically, take on the suffering of the world in exchange for our well-being. We breathe in the suffering represented by black smoke and send out fine bright light.. This can seem challenging but in reality we can’t, in actuality, take on everyone’s suffering. I think what we/I do is acknowledge interconnectedness and the vow to be of service to all beings. We didn’t do the actual practice as one person was uncomfortable with the idea. However, many of us do Tonglen on a regular basis. (My personal experience is that the practice does deepen compassion. However, it is indeed effective in dealing with actual distress. It does not necessarily relieve grief but it has helped me deal with it better; connects me with the source of external pain -I used it regularly during the nightmare earthquakes in Nepal and I ceased to be a bystander. I believe it has consolidated my personal commitment to action, embedded in Dharma, in the environment in which I now live. At least two other practitioners have made a similar observation.)
The day ended with some but, to my mind, insufficient discussion. One observation was that the event did not connect sufficiently with the next step – ie- social action. This was indeed the case as it hadn’t been planned in. Several notions were raised in relation to this:
- Animals in the scope of our concern for, ‘all sentient beings’. For this reason, many people are beginning to move from vegetarian to vegan diets. The MBC, in its October event offers Vegan, ethically-sourced and bought food. (As best we can.)
- Social action – we mentioned some of the work MBC has been involved in, including contact with the camps for homeless people. A newly emerging social action group that was due to meet the next day. This has now happened and there is likely to be a short report on the Website in the next few weeks.
- Buddhist Action Month was mentioned.
- The work of Tzu Chi is an example if Compassion on Action. They are deeply involved in working in the community.
- Problematic relations with mothers were raised in email feedback. This is a reason for the suggestion to use any loved person. I’ve read one account of a woman who focused on her new-born baby and learnt understanding and love for her mother with whom she had a conflicted relationship.
- Secular mindfulness was mentioned and the possibility of developing this in the future. This also figured in personal conversations.
- The idea of looking at compassion and metta from different perspectives, and aligning Venerable Chueh Ru’s breathing methodology to therapeutic work was suggested.
These are all good ideas. Some could be taken up by MBC. It is also possible for a centre to take the lead in organising an event with the MBC.
MBC Planning Group has said one of the spin-offs of working together is that the people involved have learnt more about each other and the different approaches to Buddhism and to let go of assumptions. Our home is that this will begin to permeate into the different centres and allow us to engage creatively with each other and be of greater service to the needs of the age.
I don’t know of another way of developing relationship and confidence other than by creating process so this is my approach rather than racking up a series of events so it was good to see so many familiar faces and a few new ones. I would love to hear of other ideas and thoughts for the future especially as MBC moves into its second decade…
Our thanks to everyone for coming and being involved and enthusiastic
Jaya – Co-ordinator MBC.