Earlier this week, eighteen local primary school children came to Adhisthana for a visit. They had been studying Buddhism last term and the school had enquired about coming to see first hand what we were about. Over the course of a few hours, Saddhaloka, Saddhanandi, Caroline and I did our best to give a sense of how we live, work and practice as a spiritual community, offer a taste of the vision of the Dharma and tell something of the inspirational life story of the Buddha. We were pretty ambitious in our programme, which comprised micro-talks from Saddhaloka, Q&A sessions at the start and end, walking and sitting meditation, group discussions and a tour around the retreat centre and gardens.
Having not personally done something like this before, I experienced a surprising degree of trepidation as the minibus pulled into the car park. Fortunately, any worries soon dissolved and I felt myself relax and open up. The whole visit was pervaded by an atmosphere of positivity and wholehearted engagement from both team and participants. This was in no small part down to the abundant curiosity and good nature of the children, which we as the team simply had to meet and match. I had the strong impression of genuine interest on their part, indicated by both the sheer volume and subject matter of the questions they asked (some, regarding conversion, family, and ethics, were not entirely straightforward to answer) and also the highly attentive way they sat and listened. I must admit I was quite taken aback by the politeness and respect they exhibited towards each other and us as their hosts. I could learn a lot from them in terms of listening skills – pretty impressive!
For me, one of the joys of representing Adhisthana – and in this case perhaps Buddhism more broadly – to a group of people totally fresh to it is the opportunity to firstly clarify my own thoughts and feelings, then distill these into simple and essential terms that I can communicate, to the degree that a child of ten could understand. The challenge, of course, is to make our message clear and understandable without losing the true depth and magic of what is being transmitted. Following the spirit of the Dharma being ‘caught and not taught’, I sensed that, simply by how we were harmonising as a team and in how we related to the children with openness and care, we communicated something equally – if not more – important as the ideas and concepts themselves. A stand-out example of this for me was the silent walk I conducted around the burial mound and gardens when there was a tangible sense of the collective energy dropping down the gears. This built on a period of sitting in the shrine room with Saddhaloka, with many of the children reporting feeling more relaxed and calm afterwards.
Overall, the visit was a great success and something I would be very glad to do again. They really were a fantastic bunch and we all had a lot of fun together, alongside sharing in a genuine, if fleeting, taste of the Dharma life. As well as relishing the chance to share a little of my own experience and understanding, I also received and learned plenty: about what a genuine ‘child-like’ or ‘beginner’s’ mind looks like, how to communicate the radical nature of this life in essential terms, and how to exemplify friendliness and openness to those outside the Order and movement who are curious about what we do. I very much look forward to the next time.