I drove through the busy centre to John Gerard's house.
John, a leading member of the Kendal Buddhist group, had kindly offered me a bed for the night. I was impressed with John's large library of Buddhist books that he holds on behalf of the Kendal Buddhist group and which is affiliated to the Theravada tradition. He had formerly practised within the New Kadampa Tradition and had found this very helpful although ultimately rather complex.
After sharing a pleasant meal, and discussing the background to the Kendal Buddhist group, we walked into Kendal to the Fellside Centre, on Sepulchre Lane. In a room right at the top of the centre, I met some of the Kendal Buddhist group, including John, Duncan, and Jacquetta and Titus Gomes. Duncan had attended the Kathina ceremony the previous Sunday at Ketumati, and had publicly read a Sutta at this event. Speaking of suttas, it rapidly became apparent that Titus was extremely knowledgeable about the Pali Canon. He was able to regularly quote from appropriate scriptures, and is clearly a valuable asset for the group. Jacquetta had been very helpful in arranging my visit, and was also the founder of the Kendal Group.
One of the main topics of conversation was that of Dhamma teacher training. A number of the Kendal group have successfully undertaken a period of training overseen by the Venerable Piyatissa at Ketumati (this is mentioned in the current NBO ezine). This has resulted in them obtaining Dhamma teacher training certificates. Some have also accepted Pali Buddhist names. The training programme is a way of developing skill in teaching within the Theravada tradition. Jacquetta was very interested in how things worked at Amaravati. I explained that although we had considered some sort of more formalised training, we had in the end decided to continue with an informal process. This is largely based on contact and knowledge of lay people's practice by the monastic community and by the Amaravati Lay Association themselves. Those who are considered to have the right approach and background for teaching, or for representing Amaravati in various ways, are encouraged to do so.
The fact that lay Dhamma teaching is taking place at Amaravati automatically gives it a legitimacy in the eyes of those who attend. Lay Dhamma teachers teach at some eleven full day or weekend events each year, plus leading the meditation workshops for beginners during the winter months, and leading a regular weekly meditation group. Quite often both lay and ordained teachers contribute to a single event. The approach taken at Amaravati is a simple and organic one, based upon personal relationship and trust, which avoids having to establish and maintain training programmes. However, this approach does depend upon a close connection between lay Dhamma teachers and the Amaravati community, which is not easy to accomplish with remote groups.
The following morning, Jacquetta had arranged for me to meet the Universalist Minister, Reverend Celia Cartwright before driving northwards. I met Celia in a beautiful old hall (apparently the old school room) attached to the Church and enjoyed a stimulating discussion around the tenets of Unitarianism and Buddhism. Unitarianism offers an open and non-dogmatic approach to the spiritual life, combined with an enquiring and rational attitude which I find attractive.
I noticed a secondhand book stand on my way out of the hall, and one title caught my eye –‘Tall, Dark, and Irresistible’— not a bad description of the hall, I thought: certainly irresistible.