We walked down a passage into the main room, which apparently used to be a gambling den. The hall has space for about forty plus a small kitchen.
The Bodhi Garden is run as a non-sectarian space for Buddhist groups in the area. Groups using the centre include a Forest Sangha Theravada group, a Soto Zen group, the Tibetan Shambhala, Green Tara and Jamyang groups. The centre also hosts events led by teachers from Gaia House, Tenzin Josh, Christopher Titmuss and others. A Soka Gakkai group did briefly use the hall but have not continued, and NKT were not interested.
The approach taken at the centre arose from the Venerable Tenzin Josh a Tibetan monk who also ordained as a Theravadan monk and wished to establish a non-sectarian monastery in England. The English Buddhist Monastery Trust (EBMT) was established for this purpose and the Bodhi Garden was opened in 2001 to further this general aim. The dana principle is used to fund the centre and has proved to work, although this has taken a while to build up.
Richard and I realised that we had both recently studied on the same MA Buddhist Studies course run by Peter Harvey from Sunderland University. We exchanged our experiences of the course, one which I found very enjoyable and which we both felt had been very useful. We agreed that we knew less about Buddhism when we finished the course than when we started—so it was an excellent course!
Let me explain. Probably like many long-term Buddhists I had picked up quite a lot about Buddhism before I started the course, but realised gradually as a result of the excellent study material and teaching from Peter, that I knew very little that was reliable about the history, organisation and variations of outlook between different traditions. What I thought I knew tended to be distorted, outdated, or incorrect in various ways.
Although understanding all this is not necessary in order to practice Buddhism, it can help not only to inspire practice, but also to understand and communicate with Buddhists from other traditions and to appreciate the great diversity that is included under the label of ‘Buddhism’.
It is so easy to attach to 'our Buddhism' just because we are familiar with it. This tendency to become protective of, and attached to, that with which we are familiar is very natural. It probably has evolutionary survival value, since it protects an investment of time and effort that we have made in learning ideas and practices and forming relationships within a community.
I am convinced that if Buddhism is to flourish in the West then we must make an effort to find out more about different traditions and where our favourite tradition fits. Perhaps ‘our tradition’ is not so perfect after all? Or perhaps it is even better than we thought?
Bodhi Garden runs an annual festival to bring all groups together. The FWBO plays a significant role with this. Richard explained that it is easy for groups to meet at their respective slots at the Bodhi Garden without interacting much with each other. Festivals help to overcome this, as do regular meetings of the main organizers for each group.
Richard was interested in the NBO and thought it very likely that one of the Bodhi Garden or EBMT representatives would join in the near future.
I found the centre to have a very nice feel and to offer many opportunities for engaging with a Buddhist path. Later that evening I left clutching some Bodhi Leaf newsletters (which I subsequently found to be good reading) and headed into the Lanes for some exploration.
Bodhi Garden information can be found at: http://www.bodhigarden.org/