Thursday, 18 October 2012

Worshippers Part 5: Visit to Buddhist Vihara

In mid-September I paid a visit to the Buddhist Vihara in Turnham Green, west London.  I took the 391 bus from Kew down Chiswick High Street on a temperate autumn evening.  The leafy suburban setting is a rather  stark contrast to the eastern feel of the temple within.  After shoes removed I took my place in a hall dotted with meditation cushions.  Several women arrived with bouquets of flowers which they placed around the large statues of the Buddha at the front of the room.

There were six bhikkhu (monks) in paprika-coloured robes, three on either side of the enormous gold figure.  I sat among around fifteen worshippers cross-legged on the cushions  and after everyone was settled, we were instructed to begin meditating.  This was much more comfortable than it might sound; also, the room was rather warm and the weekend was in its final hours, so it was very restful.  I didn’t want to meditate, and so said some prayers and reflected on what I thought I knew about eastern philosophy.  Not sure if I actually nodded off, but after around 40 minutes, I think a bell was rung and the head priest began his sermon.

I’m sorry to say that it’s somewhat difficult to recall all that he’d said as I was sort of in a daze; but I do remember his talking about karma, metta bhavana or loving-kindness, the unshaken mind, equanimity, staying awake and compassion.  He also - more than once - wished us all good luck in the week to come,  something I found an odd thing to say, given the previous words about karma. 

After the service, a tray of drinks was brought round to each congregant – not for us to partake, but rather for us to bless them.  These were then placed on the altar next to the flowers. There was a host of free literature available in the lobby, which I look forward to reading at some point – especially because they’re written by Buddhist devotees rather than an interpretation by a western perspective.  I’m hoping to return sometime soon to the Vihara to attend a ‘Theravada Buddhism for Beginners’ class to learn more about the tenets of their faith and ask some questions.  

Of all the places of worship I’ve been to thus far in my project, the Vihara has been by far the most exotic.  It’s not difficult to see Buddhism’s appeal – who of us doesn’t long for more love and compassion in our lives and a gentle, spa-like service.  It’s really difficult to find a downside, so to speak.  That is, of course, unless we're not actually living in a veil of illusion and Buddhism isn’t the true path to ultimate reality.

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