‘Retreat’ in lockdown

As I am sure you are aware, the UK has been in ‘lock-down’ for 10 weeks now. For some of us that means not being able to go to work, not going out, staying in one place, maybe spending far more time on your own or with only a few select people. It is interesting to note that this description could be equally well be applied to being on retreat, either a solitary or a larger retreat at one of our retreat Centres.

As I mentioned last week, the Buddha, in his day, 2,500 years ago, didn’t experience a Pandemic but he did regularly experience a ‘lock-down’ of sorts. Every year in India between June and September it is the rainy season. In the Buddha’s time it would be too wet to travel on foot, so the Buddha and his followers would hold 3 month long ‘rains retreats’ or Vassa in Pali. These Rains retreats or solitaries, would be very spiritually creative times, allowing the early Buddhists to experience and enjoy peace and quiet, meditate and reflect. But I am sure these times also offered space to learn, recite and formulate the Buddha’s teachings and also prepare how to effectively teach in the world around them, when the rains had stopped. So, turning the necessity to stay in one place into a time in which one can work on one’s practice and make progress and then go out again refreshed and re-invigorated is an ancient Buddhist tradition. In a similar way the lock-down that we in Ipswich are experiencing offers us an opportunity to be creative in how we wish to receive the Dharma, how we teach the Dharma and how we put the Dharma into practice in our lives.

It is not clear from the current Government advice when we can fully open the Centre and importantly when the Sangha will feel confident about meeting in a large group at the Centre. It will likely be several months away before we can be back to normal. Today I was talking with other Chairs of Triratna Centres around the world and hearing their stories as to how they have coped with their countries’ particular version of lock-down. Some are starting to tentatively open their Buddhist Centres as their country’s lock-down eases. We are learning slowly how to run Buddhist Centres whilst still being mindful of the safety of those attending and those leading classes and events. There will certainly be some changes to how the Centre operates that will have to remain for a while and other changes that are just temporary. The difficulties that the pandemic presented us with 10 weeks ago, have now largely been transformed into positive opportunities that give us new ways of taking the Dharma into the homes of the people of Ipswich. The latest online conferencing facilities, such as Zoom, have given us the ability to connect up our often isolated Triratna sangha’s and Buddhist Centres.

It is remarkable that people from all around the world are now finding it possible to attend the Ipswich classes. And we, the Ipswich Sangha, can attend an event, such as the recent Triratna Buddha Day, organised and hosted by the Order and sangha from all around the world. I know many people found that a particularly inspiring event, with many great talks and contributions. If you missed the day then you can get some of the feel of the event as most of it is available on You Tube, just search for ‘Triratna Buddha Day’.

The Centre will continue to provide Dharmic nourishment over the coming months. New classes, practice sessions and events are coming online, so do keep an eye on our website and email bulletins. Finally, thank you all for your generosity in supporting the Centre financially. Every donation really helps.

Bodhivamsa, Chair of Ipswich Buddhist Centre