Ratnajyoti from Johannesburg writes -
We have named the new FWBO centre in Johannesburg 'Shantikula' (the peaceful tribe). The building and alteration work for phase 1, which lasted about 7 months, is nearly completed. Phase 2, which will include the alteration of the kitchen and the lounge, will come at a later stage. It is still rather dusty and a bit chaotic, but activities have started here in the past couple of weeks. In fact, we meditated for the first time in the new shrine room, when we celebrated the '108 year puja' for Bhante around his birthday. Meanwhile the Sangha night, the drop-in meditation class, the lunch-time meditation and the Dharma study group are all up and running. I continue to offer individual or group 'Introduction to Buddhism’ and/or meditation courses. Vajradhara will be back in a weeks time and will lead another 'Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course'. He will also introduce 2 weekend retreats at the centre in October and November to take advantage of the extended facilities at 'Shantikula', as well as a couple of working day retreats. We will have the official opening of the 'Shantikula' on 28 October, which will be followed by a practice day to ritually dedicate the space to the pursuit of truth.
At the moment a large Buddha rupa, seated in meditation posture, 1.7m high and in African style is, currently taking shape in the new shrine room. He is being sculpted in clay in a single piece by Isabella Viglietti, who is working with great dedication and inspiration. Before being fired in a kiln off-site, the Buddha will need to dry for 6 weeks or longer. He will weigh about 250 kg and we will need a few strong people to carry him outside and onto a trailer. These people need to sit with him on the journey to the kiln. Isabella wanted to work on-site, and it is actually very is inspiring to see the Buddha taking shape in the shrine room, growing daily and then being covered in plastic to keep the clay moist while we are meditating in front of a temporary shrine.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited by the 'Emoyeni Retreat Centre' to lead an introduction to a ‘Buddhism and meditation' weekend retreat. 'Emoyeni' is a Buddhist retreat centre that is about 1½ hours away from Johannesburg, out in the countryside. It was established by two men, at least one of whom lived at a Buddhist retreat centre in Ixopo (Natal, near Durban) for a few number of years. Meanwhile all kinds of retreats are offered at 'Emoyeni', including quite a few Stephen Batchalor retreats, also Yoga retreats, Tai Chi retreats, bird-watching retreats and so on. So I accepted the invitation and led the retreat. 11 people attended, 2 men and 9 women plus Mervyn who runs Emoyeni and a woman who lives there as well. Some of the people are now interested to come to our centre, as they live in Johannesburg and they are looking for a place to go and meditate here.
A significant outreach programme is Wayne Sampson's prison work. He goes regularly to the 'Johannesburg Central Prison' to lead meditation or a Dharma discussion group there. One of the men he is visiting regularly and who takes part has asked for ordination.
Our second possible outreach programme is taking shape: A couple of weeks ago we were invited by the local government, the 'Department of Human Development' in partnership with the 'Friends for Life' (an NGO dealing with people infected with HIV/AIDS) as well as some churches, to a presentation of a 'HIV/AIDS orphan project' that is currently running in Alexandra, one of the biggest townships in Johannesburg..Wayne and I went to the meeting, Vajradhara was in Europe but as he always wanted to get engaged in HIV/AIDS work here in South Africa he wrote a proposal of what we could offer. He sent it to me over email and I presented it at the meeting.The proposal included the 'Mindfulness-Based stress reduction course' that he would like to lead for HIV/AIDS infected people in general, or/and older orphans who are HIV+, as well as for care givers, whether or not they are infected themselves. As I would certainly support him in this work we could go out into the township and run the course in a community centre there. Beside offering the course Vajradhara included in his proposal some specific thoughts on HIV/AIDS work, in particular how to respond to and alleviate stigma and discrimination and the benefits of bringing an existential approach to AIDS/HIV. Some of the questions other people raised in their own presentations were: 'What is being done for the care- givers, who often suffer from stress and anxiety and challenges in their work ? Challenges that include HIV infected children, malnutrition, sexual exploitation of orphans, domestic violence, lack of education, orphans not coping with their HIV status and so on and what help is offered for those orphans?
When it was my turn to present the proposal I referred to these points, and it led to quite a bit of interest. Even though the main interest of the organizers was in looking for sponsors for material help in form of food- or clothes parcels or taking over school fees for orphans, it was agreed that the psychological and spiritual approach was equally important. They want to come back to us soon, they said. It was interesting to hear that there are 206 girls and 163 boys, who are orphans in that township (Alexandra) alone. We were pleased with the outcome of the meeting.
Note: this report was published in the November 2006 edition of Shabda. Reprinted with permission.
Labels: africa, Johannesburg