Recollections of conference proceedings

 

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Conference summary

Below is a recollection of conference proceedings by different people (mainly Joy and Chandra). It is mainly for the benefit of people who could not get a chance to attend the conference due to various reasons, and for those who attended to enable them to refresh their memories and consolidate what they had learnt.

Warnings and disclaimers: The recollections are the individual views and memories of the individual participants, not intended to be the official proceedings of the conference in any way. The individual authors may have hidden or aware cognitive biases and prejudices etc. 

Still, if all of us share our own personal recollections it may balance out and give a fairer and more complete picture.

If you attended the conference and wish to share your experiences of the sessions, please send us an email with your recollections (especially if something below has been misquoted or wrongly quoted), so we can put it here as well.



The abstracts of the meditation sessions sent by some of the organisers is in the conference handout. (formatted by Chandra)

Conference photos taken by Raymond and Oxana and Chandra are already available in the photos link on your left.

Chandra's page in Picasa has both Raymond's and his own photos

Oxana's photos are in Facebook, in the Manchester Buddhist conference 2007 group (Note: you need to have facebook id, and be member of Manchester network, to view it)

Here are some WAV audio files recorded of some of the meditations and talks (warning: they are quite huge, between 10 and 20 MB). Sorry we could not convert it to MP3, as some of the MP3 files turned out to be bigger than the WAV files. You can play it in Windows media player etc.

The files were recorded by Dennis and uploaded by Chandra

Lamrim meditation session by Venerable Kelsang Chodor

Talk on Buddhist community by Chris Ward

Talk on Buddhism in 21st century by Valerie Roebuck

Zen meditation session by Alan Smith

(Seems Google pages does not allow files bigger than 10 MB to be listed, and the Zen meditation session is of very poor sound quality, therefore there is only Lamrim at the moment, but Chandra has summarised Zen session pointwise)


Morning welcome sessions: summary by Joy Bose

Irene welcomed everyone, talked about health safety issues, read out the aims and participating centres of the conference.
Ven Piyatissa gave short talk on what is purpose of the conference, to bring people together, to make us feel as a community, that we can make voluntary contribution to FGS if we wish, for the conference.
Ven Miao Heng welcomed everyone on behalf of BLIA-FGS the hosts, spoke about humanistic Buddhism and its 5 aims as Ven Master Hsing Yun wrote (have forgotten some, was to serve others before oneself, to be of the world before trying to escape it, etc)
Oxana the conference coordinator spoke about some important points we missed and

Meditation sessions (some meditation abstracts available in conference handbook on our website http://manchesterbuddha2007.googlepages.com/ )

Had mix up: Thai Dhammakaya did not turn up because they were caught in traffic, then they turned up half hour later and said they had to leave early because they had function in the afternoon in their temple. So we had to schedule them at 10:30 instead of 10. In morning session 10 to 10:30 instead of Dhammakaya we put Rigpa.

Rigpa Tibetan meditation in the Dzogchen style in Nyingma tradition of Sogyal Rinpoche, led by Chris, summarised by Joy who did not attend, still waiting for someone to give a comprehensive summary

( www.rigpa.org , some teachings available at http://www.rigpa.org/teachings%20library.html ) on the topic of Shamatha, bringing the mind home (I didnt attend it but have attended their monthly meditations in Fallowfield, they have let the mind be in natural state, just like a pool of muddy water settles and becomes clear if you let it rest, same with mind).

Mindfulness of breathing led by Munisha from Manchester Buddhist centre, summarised by Joy who did not attend it. Still waiting for someone to properly summarise it.

So 10 to 10:30 there was Munisha's mindfulness of breathing, maybe Irene can summarise it, she said something about external meditation, being in contact with the earth and the environment, and internal meditation of counting on each inbreath and outbreath 1-1, 2-2, 3,3

10:30 to 11 we had 3 sessions, Vipassana meditation in Mahasi tradition led by Sayadaw U Nanujjhota, Lamrim of Vairochana centre ( http://www.meditation-in-manchester.org/ ) led by Kelsang Chodor in NKT tradition ( http://www.kadampa.org/english/practice/how_to_meditate.php ). Cathleen attended the Lamrim, which is series of 24 meditations. Venerable Kelsang did one of the 24 meditations, that on cherishing others, maybe Cathleen can summarise.

Dhammakaya meditation, led by Phra Seri Sirisampanna from Wat Cheroen Bhavana, summarised by Chandra

Leave sufficient and convenient time for Meditation.

Preparing to meditate:

  • A suitable pleasant environment to set the mood will be best for beginners.
  • Flex the muscles through gentle exercises like Yoga, Tai Chi etc.
  • Let every move be gentle yet steady and continue till the end of meditation session. What ever you do, its best at half that speed.


Seating posture: Though sitting on the floor is recommended, one could use a chair with a support that enables your spine to be straight during the entire period of meditation.

Floor: One could use cushions if required, however one could sit on the floor directly with practice.

You could either sit cross legged or could enhance it by placing your right foot over the left thigh-knee bend to give it stability and maintain straight-back during the length of meditation.

Chair: Chair with straight spine support is recommended, however one could sit on a cushioned stool if desired.

When seated, the upper body (above abdomen) and thighs should make a natural (comfortable and not stiffened) 'L' shape. Similarly, the thighs and legs form an inverter 'L' as in ' 7' but with straightened leg.

Hands: Slightly bend your palms and place one over other and support the union on your upper thighs. Gently lift your index finger and thumb of upper palm facing the sky and touch them, let it remain that way.

The gentle touch (barely touching) of the index finger with the thumb allows you to assess your awareness. If stiff, the fingers press each other, and if you fall asleep or lost awareness or attention to meditation the fingers may fall apart. The touch gives you a right state of awareness.

Meditation instructions :

  • Relax your attention to: things, people, worries, concerns, reference in time.
  • Enjoy the process.
  • Gently close your eyes, as if the lids gently fall in their own weight.
  • Imagine your self floating in the universe in the seated form.
  • Let your attention reach to each body and relax as it flows down from your scalp to your toes.
  • Feel the gentle flow...relax your scalp...relax your forehead muscles....loosen your facial muscles....loosen your neck muscles and trapezius such that they support the naturally straighten spine...relax your shoulders and chest muscles...let the lungs breath naturally with expanding and contracting diaphragm...relax your back muscles yet maintaining a comfortable straightness of your spine...relax your abdomen...feel the relaxation passing through your shoulders to your palms as the relaxation flows from chest to abdomen....relax your thighs and legs...sit in a comfortable-stable position for the stretch of mediation session time...relax your toes.
  • Feel the joy and compassion radiating from you to the space stretched around you.
  • As you rest with this awareness, imagine the muscles, nerves and other mass within the surface of your body gently vanish as gentle soothing vapors. And then the bones and skin disappear in a similar fashion leaving faint transparent 3D dimensional boundary just above the skin. Leaving just your attention at the head area in the 3D dimensional transparent figure of you, meditating.
  • Gently bring your mind's attention to the center of the body (center of mass of our body, which is two inches above your navel) as if a feather falls in vacuum and let your attention rest there for a while.
  • At this point imagine a transparent crystal ball that is gently lit at its core. As you place yourself at this state, feel the light at the core becomes brighter and brighter yet gentle and hallow.
  • At the beginning your mind may be clouded with variety of thoughts, do not force or try to stop or fight them. Looks at them with joy and compassion with no reaction to them, they might disappear after a while with your lack of response.
  • Alternatively you could repeat the mantra 'Samma Arahant' in your mind to passive the thoughts.
  • Stay in this state for as long as you feel comfortable.
  • Once you feel you need to come of out of this meditative state, follow the reserve steps 9 to 6.
  • Gently open your eyes and stretch your leg and body muscles with slow motion as in previous 'preparing to meditate' section.

Dhammakaya meditation, summarised by Joy

First imagine yourself in empty place with no light and no fear, you are alone in the room, then relax completely by imagining relaxation flow as a thick liquid from top of your head all the way down, relaxing every part of your body, every muscle from forehead, cheeks, eyebrows, neck, arms, back, stomach, legs etc from top to down. Once fully relaxed, imagine your body completely hollow and a shiny crystal ball of light at the centre of your body, 2 fingers above navel, concentrate on that point because its the most stable and balanced point. Light shines from centre of the ball, you can repeat silently to yourself the mantra SAMMA ARAHAM which means the highest state human can attain, the mantra sound is coming from that ball of light and spreading in all directions. 

Lunch, summarised by Joy: 

Lunch was most delicious food prepared by about 10 to 15 BLIA volunteers led by venerable, including Kai Zhu, May Jie Jie, Lin Tze, Flora Choy, Fo Guang Shan venerables including Ven Miao Heng, etc, who worked all morning to prepare the food and cleaned the dishes and packed the excess food (because we only had about 70 instead of 100 we were expecting). After lunch fruit and dessert was from Thai and Burmese and sri Lankan temple. Aunty Anoja a lay devotee from Ketumati, whose birthday it was today, brought some delicious mangoes for the venerables. (For the tea session, tea-biscuits-fruit juice-coffee etc was brought by all us organisers including Cathleen, Jayawan, Prabath, Ven Piyatissa and others). 


Valerie Keynote speech: Buddhism in 21st century, summarised by Joy
I missed most of it, she spoke something about how inspite of science and technology progress, Buddhism is very relevant to the lives of all people in the west and east, in balancing their lives with meaning and joy and doing good and being good to all sentient beings. Cyril tan made comment about how competition is very much in Buddha's teaching, as long its not filled with unwholesome feeling, the spirit of competition and cooperation can coexist.

Speech on buddhist community by Chris Ward, summarised by Joy
He spoke on there are so many different kinds of Buddhism, is there any relevance of Buddhist community and of a conference like this, what does it mean to have a community when everyone has their own practice. He said its quite easy to feel cosy that my tradition is best, but when you read about other tarditions and meet them you realise that they too have the genuine dharma. Govt gave 1 year funding to NBO to study the different buddhist communities and see how they can be utilised to provide public serviced (thats how Chris became development officer, toured different Buddhist centres and wrote his blog which you can access rom NBO website), UK Govt is interested in the voice of faith groups more recently and thats a very good sign. 

Five discussion sessions, summarised by Joy based on the summaries heard by the proposers. 

Discussion session: Nibbana, proposed by Cyril Tan, in main shrine room. It is to discuss what the ultimate goal of Buddhism is actually, how do we know we make progress etc. Ven Piyatissa later summarised liek its not outside of our mind external to us, its all within the mind itself.

Discussion session: Engaged Buddhism led by Oxana, in classroom 1: she summarised (as I remember) it was about how we can make a wider change in this world, in supporting various socio-political and ethical causes like sustainable living, being good to environment, Amnesty, with human rights for all oppressed people, and help all sentient beings live in a better world.

Discussion session: humanistic Buddhism led by Ven Chieh Ru in main shrine room. This is more about making personal practice to create a pure land in this world by helping everyone around us, practicing within the world not out of it and not renouncing it, helping everyone not just being selfish, etc

Discussion session: Manchester Buddhist Forum by Munisha, it will be very autonomous (not a centralised thing) with multiple editors from different temples, as a board to publicise the events of various centres and temples. Dennis has already created a blog http://manchesterbuddhist.blogspot.com/ which can have multiple editors whom we will invite, at least one or 2 from different temples. Also we can have something like Bodhi Tee, a place for fellow Buddhists to relax over cup of tea. Initial date around 5 september (I have forgotten exact date so dennis can state) in Manchester Buddhist centre.

Discussion session: Buddhist Network led by Chris Ward. We discussed NBO, its structure, authority and activities, spoke of importance of bringing different groups together, talk with them, even if we have opinion differences or that some groups are controversial, its important to have a dialogue. Also different groups cater to different sections of society, different groups have different approaches, so diversity is valued in NBO. NBO is more like a dynamic channel, not a centralised official authority. Also in some cases govt or local athorities like airport need people to conduct buddhist funerals or tell schools about buddhism or set cirriculum. We discuused how sometimes controversial events happen even relating to Buddhism, such as a recent article about Plum Forest Sangha in daily mail. We also noted about sociological aspects of Buddhism and other religions. Valerie shared a wonderful article about religion and environment  http://environment.harvard.edu/religion/religion/buddhism/index.html

After tea meditation sessions

Chan meditation led by Ven Cheuh Ru, of Fo Guang Shan, summarised by Joy 

I didnt attend it. All I heard It was a very complete and thorough meditation, starting with some Chi Gong exercises (such as raise and lower your arms in sync with breath) to raise the energy and warmth in the body and make it flexible for the meditation, then the meditation itself (consisting of count 1-1 at each in and out breath, then 2-2 etc until 10 and then start again from 1-1, if you forget then again start from 1 to 10), and ending with message your hands and feet to get blood circulation flowing so it develops both body and mind. For correct meditation the energy should be raised in the body and you should feel warmer after the meditation, not colder.

Zazen meditation led by Reverend Alan Batsuka in tradition of IZAUK Manchester Zen Dojo, summarised by Joy. 

He said something of his background and tradition and his robes which shaped like paddy fields that they sew themselves. We first face each other, bow down to each other to show respect and also to the Buddha, light incense. The posture is most important because good body means good mind. Eyes are partly open not closed else feel sleepy and not wide open else you can hypnotise yourself and start seeing things, you are allowed to blink. face the wall so no distractions. Better to have some cushion below your bottom so you can have both knees touching ground, thats more stable, the lower back especially should be straight. When you sit erect the stomach is free to expand with breath too, that means breath is more free and natural. Hand position left hand on right is more natural, thumbs touching straight because thumb position is like a barometer of mental state, if tense then they push across each other, if too lose sleepy then they slack. have little thing with your shirt or trousers to rest hands on so its stable. leave the mind free. nothing specifically to do. you dont do zen with expecting to achieve anything, the whole aim is not to achieve but to let go of what we have, we are already enlightened but we dont realise it because our mind is so cluttered, once we let it go our natural enlightenment is realised. 

Zazen meditation, led by Alan Smith, summarised by Chandra

The word Zen is the Japanese form of the Chinese word ch'an which itself is a Chinese rendition of the Sanskrit word dhyana, or meditation (taken from Wikipedia). Zen practise comes from Shakyamuni Buddha, an other name for Gautama Buddha. Buddhism traveled from India through Silk Route to China and then later to Japan. In modern times, there are three main paths of Buddhism, to which all schools of Japanese Buddhism belong: the Amidist (Pure Land) schools, Nichiren Buddhism, and Zen
Buddhism.

Alan throwed some light on few Zen Buddhist practises and traditions including the dress he was wearing and its features in context to meditation.

Meditation instructions:

  • When entering any room, the Zen practitioner usually salute with bow to the four faces of the room.

  • Meditators usally sit facing the wall, to avoid distraction from peers or other things.

  • In Zen meditation the posture is an important aspect, practitioners usually use cushions to bring in the right posture.

  • It is also important to bring attention to the posture during meditation, to bring stability and prolongation in being in a particular posture.
  • Usually sitting in a thick cushion is recommended for the practise. Sitting on a thick cushion enable:  (1) thighs falling to the ground such that the legs are parallel to the ground, giving a comfortable seating. (2) the natural lift of the pelvic bones pushes the spine up and erect.

  • One could use a small cushion even when using a chair, such the buttocks are slightly elevated to bring in the same benefits as mentioned above.

  • The the neck and head are aligned to the spine, and the eyes are left open and viewing at 45deg angle to line if the eyes were looking straight.

  • The eyes are relaxed and are filled with compassion, looking a broader picture. With the length of the process you hypnotise yourself into deep state of meditation.

  • The hands are placed on the upper thighs, with palms placed on top of one another. The thumbs touch each other, such that the area betwen the index fingers and thumb union resembles an oval shape.

  • The thumbs barely touch each other. The significance of the oval shape is that, your state of meditation is reflected out on the shape and union of the thumbs. If very stiff inside, the thumbs press against each other, if too relax and sleepy the thumbs part. The master or teacher can get the picture of the state of mind at a glance.

  • Relax your mind and do not respond to thoughts they pass through your mind.
  • Remain in that state as long as comfortable and come back to the normal state with gentle movements.

Ana pana sati by Thai monk Mahaphra Pilapan in main shrine room, summarised by Joy 

I didnt attend it, heard he talked a lot about the meditation, it was be very mindful of breathing in and breathing out, with every single breath. In the end he chanted blessings from metta sutta of loving kindness, Avero Homi, avappaja Homi  (may I be free from disease) 

Samatha meditation and talk by Roger Barnes, summarised by Chandra

Most meditation sessions I attended (Buddhist and Brahma Kumari centers) usually:

  • Start with a talk to set the mood, bringing clarity, stability and samatha before we meditation.
  • Or use meditation as pacifying mood setter/tool for the talk that followed it.

In each of these above schemes, there is a tool and there is an objective, and depend on what is the objective among meditation and talk, the other seem to become the tool. Roger proposed to split the half hour session into talk followed by meditation. 


In each of these above schemes, there is a tool and there is an objective, and depend on what is the objective among meditation and talk, the other seem to become the tool. Roger proposed to split the half hour session into talk followed by meditation.

Focusing on the physical aspect of pain, a form of Dukkha, Roger brought forward its relation with meditation. When we sit for meditation either cross legged or in lotus position, the pain starts to develop after few minutes, fortunately even to the most of healthiest and fittest of us. The pain becomes sharp and intense for few minutes of sitting, bringing us  to close to experiencing as if the world suffering in its entirety was concentrated at the point in time. We are aware that few minutes of pain will bring little harm and damage in comparison to pain and suffering that some of the unfortunate (disability, poverty, extreme physical pain) among us have gone or going through. By regular practise we can bring tolerance, direction and reduce sensitivity to various suffering in our day to day life and find ways to tackle them effectively. Suffering or Dukkha could be sorrow, suffering, affliction, pain, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, aversion and frustration. One of such practises is Meditation.

Through meditation we intend our minds to seek stillness and clarity, however how we achieve it differs from technique . Breadth is essential for our existence, we breath in and breath out, effectively simplified to two states (empty and full) and process of reaching these state. 

Meditation instructions:

  • Sit on the floor with erected spine. One could use cushions if required.
  • Close your eyes. Place your palms on your thighs or in any other comfortable position so that they could left for the length of the session.
  • Bring your attention to the process of breathing.
  • Take a slow and long comfortable inhalation, a slow and long comfortable exhalation.
  • In your mind assign one state, say beginning of breathing in as 1 and other state breathing out as 9.
  • Count 1 to 9 as your breath in and 9 to 1 as you exhale, such that your repeat two 1's and two 9's at each state.
  • Continue to sit in this process of breath-awareness state as long as you are comfortable.
  • One could reposition to bring comfort.

Samatha meditation by Roger Barnes, summarised by Joy

He described how we try to escape suffering can be seen from meditation itself, when we feel slightly uncomfortable we keep changing the posture every few minutes, we are like a hamster running always , always escaping suffering and reality, thats the cycle of samsara. the breath, as Samatha trust founder nai boonman said,  is like taking a trip, not acid trip but trip of experiencing the many facets reality, the whole world can be experienced in the breath. Samatha has 16 stages, Roger taught the first stage. sit in your own comfortable posture cross legged. so we try to lenghten the breath till we get longest comfortable breath. Then we count 1 to 9 as breath goes in and we can see the stomach expanding and contarcting. mentally we count 1 to 9 on inbreath and 9 back to 1 on outbreath. meditate for 5-10 minutes, at end silently recolect how the meditation went before finally opening your eyes.

Question answer session by monastic and ordained panel, summarised by Joy
The monks, nuns and order members from different temples told of their experiences as ordained people. Ven Piyatissa chaired session and spoke of how it is different to be monk in west than in countries like sri lanka, in sri lanka it is very easy because lay community is supported by monks and vice versa, not so in west where they may have funding and other problems, wetern born monks might feel it more acutely. Munisha, FWBO order member, said she only had positive reactions when she told secular people she is buddhist teacher, but maybe thats because they dont dress differently and dont look so different. Mokshajyoti, FWBO order member and MBC president, also said in 16 years of being ordained he had generally only positive experiences from wider community, perhaps because Buddhism has very good reputation as religion of peace. A monk from Kadampa also recounted positive experience despite their monastic dress, maybe because they walk around with smile, try to be nice and compassionate to everyone around and try to live according to buddhist teachings. Zen monks including Rev Alan Batsuka also recounted generally postive experiences. An Assamese monk from India in Thai tardition said theres recently good spread of Buddhism in India because Ambedkar's followers, who were considered untouchables in hindu society, are turning to buddhism. Ven Pilapan, a thai monk, shared many funny stories about his life in UK, how he felt lonely at first, and some funny tales where he didnt understand customs of UK and vice versa like some ladies who  didnt understand that thai monks are not support to touch women, however all their English neighbours had been very helpful and kind, even though they were not buddhists.

In the end there were questions to monks by members, Michelle asked why their robes were different colours, and a Zen monk answered it was reflecting the best of every society where they were, since Buddhism went to differnt cultures and societies. Ven Pyatissa said each colour signifies a psitive quality. The head of a Buddhist charity called  International Buddhist Relief Organisation, based in Birmingham, which had helped with Asian Tsunami and Pakistan earthquake and local relief projects, urged everyone to help with making wider change in the world. Chandra suggested we can all have together celebrate festivals and ven piyatissa supported it. In New york they have a day where Buddhists meditate together in park, ven piyatissa said later we can celebrate events like vesak together like they have in sri lanka, or just have a simple Dharma Day with stalls and events from different centres.

Closing ceremony, summarised by Joy
We decided to have a committee of members from differnt buddhist centres to hold a meeting in near future to organise the next conference, also the blog will become functional with support and active particptaion of members. maybe MUBS university society can organise it, maybe by rotation from different centres, maybe NBO funding. 

The venerables and order members chanted good wishes in different traditions: Thai, tibetan, Japanese (for Zen), FWBO, Chinese, asking to dedicate the merits and blessing all asentient beings and aspiring that may all being attain enlightenment..