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Online Booking – Coming soon

Keep Calm and Book Online

To help make the retreat booking process simpler for yogis and staff, we will soon be introducing an online booking facility on our website. The new booking process is very user friendly and will mean you will be able to…

  • easily check if places are available on the retreat
  • reserve a space and get instant email confirmation
  • securely pay your deposit and final payment by credit card
  • add your name to the waiting list if the retreat is full
  • redeem cooking credits for time served in the kitchen
  • and (dare we say) more!

….all with just a few clicks

We know this will be music to the ears for many. However we also know that not everyone is  comfortable paying by credit card so for those who prefer, we will still be accepting cheque and direct deposit payments.

While we are in part doing this to streamline our administration and free up staff, we don’t see it as a substitute for a friendly human voice when people need to talk. The office will continue to be staffed if you have questions or enquiries about retreats, or need help getting familiar with the new process.

We will be in touch with you over the coming weeks with more information. In the meantime, if you have questions, please feel free to contact the office by email or phone 02 4788 1024.

 

Dhammavihārī – One Living by the Dhamma

The Buddha taught the Dhamma as a means to liberation, to achieve lasting happiness and peace, to become free from dissatisfaction, or to become free from all kinds of suffering. The essence of his teaching can be summarized as follows: suffering and the end of suffering.

All the teachings that the Buddha gave during his ‘career’ of being a spiritual teacher, which was for 45 years, were handed down from generation to generation. At first it was an oral tradition as has been the case for other spiritual teachings at that time. Only later, after the fourth Buddhist Council held in Sri Lanka in 29 BCE, the teachings were written down on palm leaves and stored in three baskets. That is why the Pāḷi canon is called Tipitaka, the three baskets.

Throughout the ages nuns, monks, and lay people have committed themselves to study and practise the Buddha’s teachings. Already at the time of the Buddha, five different approaches were distinguished:

  1. Learning and studying the teachings (memorizing)
  2. Teaching the discourses (suttas), monastic rules (vinaya), and higher teachings (abhidhamma) to others
  3. Reciting, chanting the texts (for recollection or to commit to memory)
  4. Pondering, intellectual thinking, analysing
  5. Actual practice of meditation (samatha or vipassanā)

In one of his discourses (AN V:73), the Buddha said that only one who actually applies him- or herself to the practice of meditation can be said to be a Dhammavihārī, one who lives by the Dhamma or one who dwells in the Dhamma.

If one just studies and learns the teachings for the sake of studying and passing exams, one is not a Dhammavihārī. A Bhutanese nun I once met at a Buddhist conference in Lumbini had said that such a person is like a donkey carrying the Buddhist scriptures on its back. Even if a person holds a PhD in Buddhist Philosophy, the person is not necessarily a Dhammavihārī.

If one just teaches the Dhamma by giving nice, impressive, or entertaining talks on the Dhamma, one is not necessarily a Dhammavihārī. Of course, it is much easier to entertain people with pleasing subjects than to confront them with the challenging facts of life and reality. For example: to talk about the happiness and freedom that can be attained without mentioning that this involves facing and overcoming anger, greed, jealousy, or ill-will within oneself. And even if it is explained that the unwholesome mental states need to be weakened and overcome, this does not mean that the practice is actually done.

If one just recites or chants the texts for the sake of enjoying the recitation or for the sake of showing off, one is not a Dhammavihārī. For many people, meditators included, it is much easier to feed the mind with anything than to face the reality of the often wild, restless, and capricious mind. Hours of recitation can be an elegant way for avoiding to face the unpleasant or challenging thoughts and emotions.

If one simply ponders on the Dhamma, thinks about it, analyses it, or speculates about it, one is not a Dhammavihārī. If an analytical and intellectual approach were possible to become free from all forms of dissatisfaction, I am sure that the Buddha would have told us! Our modern scientists have made incredible discoveries; like the discovery that there is no lasting material unit that is unchanging and eternal. The Buddha had made the same discovery which led to an inner freedom that is unequalled. Unfortunately, we cannot say this from our modern scientists. Because their discoveries are not based on a direct and personal understanding, they do not have the power for inner transformation.

Only if one actually puts the teachings and instructions into practice, if one applies oneself to meditation practice, only then is one a Dhammavihārī, one living by the Dhamma or one dwelling in the Dhamma.

With this discourse, the Buddha stressed the fact that his teaching is one that needs to be applied and seriously practised. The transformation and liberation of the mind does not come about by simply learning, teaching, reciting, or thinking about it. The teachings need to be applied in such a way that a deep and penetrating understanding of reality comes about. Only then is liberation possible.

However, this is not to say that learning, teaching, reciting, and thinking about the teachings are all futile and completely unnecessary. On the contrary, the Buddha also said that learning, teaching, reciting, or thinking about the teachings can be a base of liberation (AN V:26).

But the learning or the recitation must be done with the understanding that the final goal is the release from all kinds of dissatisfaction or suffering. One should not be content by simply having memorised the whole Tipitaka. By the way, in Burma there are still a few monks who have memorised the entire Tipitaka. If they are realized practitioners, Dhammavihārī, I do not know.

The Buddha was only satisfied when the nuns, monks, and lay disciples actually applied and practised the teachings in such a way that they became liberated from all bondage.

For me it is always incredibly heartening to see people who actually attend a meditation retreat, be it for a weekend or a month-long retreat. With their presence they show a willingness to face and understand the true nature of all things and to transform their heart and mind. During a retreat a meditator is inevitably confronted with her body-heart-mind processes, sometimes pleasant and exhilarating, at other times unpleasant and painful. However, if one is able to be mindful of these experiences and understand their nature, then one develops liberating insights. In this way, one becomes a Dhammavihārī, one who lives by the Dhamma or one who dwells in the Dhamma.

Ariya Baumann

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Ariya Baumann (formerly Ariya Ñani) is a long time visiting teacher to BMIMC. Ariya will be leading a one month retreat at BMIMC in August.

Staff Changes

Just as we wave goodbye to 2017 so too do we bid farewell to two of the Centre’s much loved team members Edwina Dawson and Judy Swan who moved on from their respective roles in December. At the same time we warmly welcome our new onsite team Margarita Sampson and partner Bugs (Stuart) Robertson.

Farewell Edwina and Judy
After six years of service Edwina resigned from her position as Centre Coordinator in December. Edwina will be known to many as the friendly and reassuring voice at the end of the phone, for her infectious laugh, admirable patience and kind listening ear. Edwina has worked hard over those years to help ensure that teachers, meditators and volunteers have been looked after during their time at the centre and applied a steady hand in managing retreat bookings.

Judy Swan joined the centre team in Jan 2017 as the resident caretaker. During this time Judy played an important supporting role preparing the Centre for retreats, and worked skilfully with other staff, volunteers and trades people on major maintenance projects including the electrical rewiring of Sasana House and the repair and upgrade of the centre’s heating systems. Judy has also done a wonderful job keeping the grounds verdant and the flowers blooming in a year with little rain.

Both Edwina and Judy will be greatly missed. And while they may have left the Centre physically they are still very much part of the broader BMIMC community and we look forward to seeing them back at BMIMC in the near future, whether that be on the cushion, volunteering or just stopping by for a cup of tea.

Welcome Margie and Bugs

We’re thrilled that Margie Sampson has accepted the new role of Centre Manager. Margie and her partner Bugs moved in to the Centre over the Christmas break and have been busy getting the place ready for the year ahead.

Margie has been involved with BMIMC since 2006 and has been one of the stalwarts in the kitchen cooking for retreats. Margie has meditated under the guidance of a number of BMIMC’s teachers including Steven Smith and Sayadaw U Vivekananda.

Bugs will be taking a voluntary role as caretaker bringing with him a range of talents, including IT and building skills both of which are invaluable to the Centre.

Margie and Bugs hail from Norfolk Island where they were active members of the Island’s close knit community. Amongst other endeavours they helped build their own home, Margie ran a café & bookshop there for several years and Bugs has played a major role in the development of the Island’s telco infrastructure. Anyone who has spent time with them being regaled by their experiences of Norfolk Island life will appreciate how well suited they are to resident positions at the Centre. Both communities are small, idiosyncratic, and have a folklore that is cherished by its members. Bugs and Margie place a high importance on community cohesion and service. They are generous but also thrifty, open and accepting of newcomers and always good humoured.

Margie says that one of her first tasks is to fill the 2018 retreat schedule with volunteer cooks. Those who have been around the Centre for a while know that the volunteer cook tradition is one of the pillars of the BMIMC community and is an essential part of the make-up of BMIMC’s unique character. I can’t think of a better way to show your support than by offering assistance in the kitchen either as a head or assistant cook. I can say from experience working with Margie that you’ll get whatever level of assistance you need. And you will have fun!

As a former resident staff member and friend, and on behalf of the broader BMIMC community, I wish Margie and Bugs all the very best as they embark on this new chapter in the Centre’s history. I hope that everybody gets to share in the benefit that their fresh eyes, enthusiasm and commitment bring.

Yael Wasserman

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Yael Wasserman is a current member of the BMIMC management committee

How the Buddha Came to Medlow Bath

If you look at the “History” page on the BMIMC website you’ll see that in 1982 “an American friend called Joseph Goldstein was invited to lead two retreats in May & June”. These retreats were held at Wat Buddha Dhamma near Wisemans Ferry and at Bodhi Farm near Lismore.  At the time, some of the participants probably viewed these retreats as part of the hippy counterculture movement.  However, from the perspective of 2018, they can be seen as marking the beginning of a lineage transmission of the Buddha’s teachings to Australia.  The interest generated from these two meditation retreats resulted in further retreats being organised and created a momentum that ultimately led to the establishment of a permanent teaching centre in Medlow Bath.

It is important to recognise that the history of the Buddha’s teachings is one of transmission from teacher to students – a history that dates back to the time of the Buddha over 2,500 years ago.  The Buddha did not present his teachings as a complete unified doctrine that had to be accepted as absolute truth.  His approach was to respond to questions in a way that was meaningful to his audience.  This meant that over time, a body of teachings (discourses) developed that was both diverse and adaptable to a variety of situations.  As a result, the teachings have been able to continue to adapt and remain relevant to the ever changing environments in which they operate.  This is particularly important when the teachings are introduced to a different language or cultural group – as is the case with the teachings coming to Australia.

Related to this process of personal transmission from teacher to student, is its interaction with the historical discourses of the Buddha.  Since the time of the Buddha, various versions of his teaching (known as the Dhamma-Vinaya or Buddha Dhamma) have been passed from generation to generation.  The Theravada tradition is grounded in the discourses recorded in the Pali Canon, which are commonly recognised as the oldest surviving records of the Buddha’s teaching.

Traditionally monks in the Theravada tradition have memorised significant portions of the Pali discourses and used these as a reference to ensure that what they taught was consistent with the tradition. Although oral transmission of the discourses may seem unreliable to us, it was regarded as a very effective method of preserving the integrity of the texts long after written forms were made.  This is because recitation of the texts was done in groups and hence any individual’s mistake would be picked up and corrected.

The teachings offered at BMIMC form part of this Theravada tradition and are in the lineage of a Burmese monk widely known as Mahasi Sayadaw.  The Mahasi lineage can be traced to Burma in the 1940-50s.  Around this time Burma gained its independence from Great Britain and there was a surge in interest in Buddhism as the national religion.   The new Burmese government promoted this interest and encouraged the practice of meditation by lay people.  In this environment two teachers stood out – a layman called U Ba Khin who was the first Accountant General (equivalent to the Treasurer) of the Union of Burma and the highly respected monk Mahasi Sayadaw.

Both of these lineages have become influential in Western countries.  The meditation teachings offered by U Ba Khin are taught today at hundreds of centres around the world as “Vipassana Meditation as taught by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin”.

The meditation teachings offered by Mahasi Sayadaw have also been adopted in many Western countries and are the lineage on which BMIMC was founded and which continues to evolve.  The Mahasi lineage has been taught in Australia by monks, nuns and lay teachers.  The following tables show some of the most significant monastic and lay teachers who have brought this lineage of teaching to Australia.  All of the following teachers (other than Mahasi Sayadaw) have taught retreats at BMIMC or at a venue organised by the BMIMC.

Lineage of Monastic Teachers at BMIMCLineage of Monastic Teachers at BMIMC

The following lay teachers have been significant in the development of BMIMC and all of them have studied under at least one of the monastic teachers that followed Mahasi Sayadaw  – mostly with Sayadaw U Pandita (Joseph also studied under Mahasi Sayadaw and was authorised to teach by him).Most of these lay teachers have also studied and practised in other traditions including the Thai Forest, Zen and Tibetan. This makes their teachings a more diverse mix and may mark the beginnings of a new lineage should a lay teacher tradition become established in the West.

Lineage of Lay Teachers at BMIMCLineage of Lay Teachers at BMIMC.

Acknowledgements:

Grahame White & Lynne Bousfield played a very important role, as they were primarily responsible for organising all of the early retreats including those by Sayadaws U Pandita, U Lakkhana, U Pannathami, U Kundala, Joseph Goldstein, Alan Clements, Sharon Salzberg, Steven Smith & Michelle McDonald.

Other significant foundation supporters were Tara Frances, John & Sheila Hale,  Elizabeth Gorski (now Sister Nirodha), Patrick Kearney, Malcolm McClintock, Chris MacLachlan, Viveanne McClintock and members of the Sydney Burmese community including U Aung Kyi & family, Henry Chan, Alfred & Brenda Myatt, Daw Pyone, Ko Ko Latt, Roger & Khin Khin Myint and Dr Kay Wain.

From the early days onward there’ve been many other people who have volunteered to cook, manage, clean, shop, raise funds and do all of the countless other tasks associated with running a retreat and a meditation centre.

To all of you – Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu!

Graham Wheeler

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Graham Wheeler is a regular BMIMC teacher and current member of the BMIMC management committee

Notes:

Sayadaw –  is a Burmese word used to refer to a senior monk or abbot.

Mahasi Sayadaw – is the name usually used to refer to U Sobhana and comes from the name of a monastery where he was residing that was famous for having a big drum – which in Burmese is called a “Maha Si”.

U – is a Burmese honorific used to indicated seniority.

Ven. – is an abbreviation of “Venerable”.

Sadhu – means well done or well said and traditionally is chanted three times after a dhamma talk.

BMIMC has primarily relied on visiting teachers since 2003.

Sanana House Essential repairs

A heartfelt thank you to everybody who donated to this year’s June Appeal

We raised a total of $8,155  which just covered the cost of the Sasana House electrical rewiring. This had initially been quoted at $4,000 but closer inspection revealed the decay and damage was far more more significant than we realised and the bill for this work came in at $6,890.

The remaining funds raised went towards the replacement of the steel mesh fire proofing under the yogi accommodation blocks, which cost $1,440.

Building maintenance requirements seem endless at BMIMC, and while the retreat fees help us cover some of the essential building and repair costs there are always unexpected expenses with much of our infrastructure reaching the end of its life-cycle.

For example, last month we lost the heating system in the Dharma Hall. September still gets very cold in Medlow Bath so we were unable to avoid an immediate replacement of the boiler for a cost of around $4,000 to ensure we could keep our courses running.

Perhaps you’re in a position to help us recoup some or all of this cost. By doing so you’ll be helping keep yogis warm in the hall for many cold winters to come.

If you can help, please go to our donations page

Unplanned $4,000 to replace the heating system boiler for the Dharma hall. Can you help us cover the cost?

 

Farewell Marc Allas

This year I resigned from the BMIMC Management Committee, and I was asked to write a few words about my experience on the committee which I joined in 2007.

I became associated with BMIMC in 2000, and started attending numerous retreats with teachers such as Patrick Kearney, Ariya Nani (now Ariya Bauman) and the late Sayadaw U Lakhana.  I have always wanted to contribute to an organisation that I believe in, so I was very pleased to join the committee which has responsibility for managing BMIMC.

Staffing 

During my 10 years on the committee, I have witnessed several important changes around how staffing is managed at the Centre, including:

  • We now provide our staff higher rates of pay than in the past.
  • Key work responsibilities have devolved away from one centre manager, to several part time staff.
  • Committee members are now more aware of the occasional challenges that staff face in a centre. Even when yogis are mindful, they can still be very demanding!
  • Committee members and cooking staff have to contend with greater food intolerances

Meditation retreats

Whilst mindfulness-based activities have blossomed in western culture, BMIMC continues to provide a niche market for those who want to go deeper in their practise of understanding the mind. The growing marketplace of meditation will help refine and distinguish what it is that BMIMC does well, in particular teaching ‘mental cultivation’ (or bhavana in Pali) as opposed to just teaching meditation. I hope that the BMIMC continues to offer a pathway to attract serious yogis to the Mahasi tradition, particularly as it exists in Burma, to Sayadaw U Pandita’s retreat centre for instance, the one I am familiar with.

A key feature of Mahasi approach is walking meditation, and on my wish list is a hope that one day BMIMC has a bigger undercover space dedicated to walking meditation. I also notice that there is a tension between BMIMC accommodating a wider approach to Buddhism, and sticking to a Mahasi only based approach.

In the wider community

There are some things that have remained the same at BMIMC: the higher praise we receive for the upkeep of the Centre, the sense of inviting conditions suitable for meditation, the stable body of the sangha willing to volunteer and attend retreats, the equally stable ranks of world-class teachers we invite…and the great food.

As BMIMC is a centre that owns its own land and has experience running retreats, there is an increasing demand from other meditation and wider community groups to utilise the centre’s facilities, and this is something the committee has to grapple with.

During my time of the committee, I have often wondered whether and how BMIMC’s activities could be promoted to reach a broader audience, particularly a younger one.  Meditation based on clear method is much needed in the current dilettante age that lacks methods of knowing what is real.

Being on a committee itself has been an honour. I have always enjoyed the professionalism of how the committee is run; it achieves a lot and every committee member is listened to and respected. Most of all, I feel I have significantly contributed to on-going running of meditation retreats at the Centre, and all the good that that provides to the community.


Marc Allas is a former BMIMC resident staff member and committee member

 

 

 

Too many cooks? Never!

Lifting the Lid on the Kitchen at BMIMC

Have you been thinking about volunteering in the kitchen at BMIMC? It’s a way to stay connected with the Centre in-between your own retreats, to support teachers & yogis’ practice through service, and to support your own in the company of wise friends and committed practitioners. If you do have a little time to spare, volunteering can be a very enriching and joyful part of your life.

All of our retreats are cooked for by volunteer cooks, with a head cook and an assistant cook, usually cooking for around 20 people, which includes yogis, teachers and staff. The meals are all vegetarian & usually gluten-free. The centre has recipes and menus available to help with quantities and menu planning, and if you don’t feel comfortable taking on a head chef position, volunteering as an assistant is a good way to learn the ropes. It’s also a good way to learn some new cooking skills, as our experienced cooks are always happy to share their knowledge. We’ve a lovely new kitchen with a great outlook over the garden, and no lunch preparation is complete without cups of tea, chocolate (preferably dark!) & laughter.

By way of thanks, our kitchen volunteers receive a free sitting day for each day they volunteer, which can be redeemed up to the value of half the sitting time of a retreat. Kitchen volunteers can stay at the centre for the duration of their cooking time (which may be a day or two, or sometimes several weeks), have their own room, and work half a day with the rest of the day free. Volunteer staff are welcome to attend evening dhamma talks.So, with the new schedule just released,  we are starting to fill up our cooking whiteboard. If you are one of our regular cooks, or a newbie, we have our coloured markers standing by to pop your name in for your preferred slot. If you’d like to help out in other ways, like one of our regular gardening & maintenance days or with Dana, we’d also love to hear from you.

If you’re interested in helping please email us or phone the office on 02 4788 1024

And a big rousing thank-you to our tireless, generous, patient, kind, joyful & beautiful cooks and assistants past and present. May the fruits of your generosity ripen & bring you happiness.

Buddhism-Dhamma-Meditation

A place called home…

Developing and maintaining a relationship to Buddhism, Dhamma, or meditation, as a modern person in the modern world, is not straight-forward. Yet many of us are drawn to this. There is something about seeing things the way the Buddha saw them, that speaks to modern people. It has for 2,500 years.

 Buddhism? Dhamma? Meditation?

Each generation has its own challenges, unique to itself, yet common to humanity. Part of what’s common is what the Buddha pointed to. Life can be troublesome, disappointing, and difficult to navigate. Yet happiness seems possible though unpredictable. The answers don’t seem to be “out there”. They’re “in here”. Part of what’s unique is the context; living in Australia; being here now; with the hopes, dreams, and limitations we all experience.

So how to find a way of being with Buddhism-Dhamma-Meditation that works ….that really works?! We’re offered extremes. Meditate a lot; go on long retreats; withdraw from the world; confront my mind. It’s great when we can do this, but it can be a chasm to confront when we return to normal life. Or we’re encouraged to “just do it” … in everyday life; be present; be mindful; live the dream!! But why doesn’t it seem to work? It’s all start-stop; start-stop; start-stop. I can get going, but I can’t sustain it!

 Handles …

So how to get a rhythm that strikes a balance between these extremes? What can we hang onto as modern people? What conditions are useful?

  • Knowledge: We need to understand how the Buddha saw things; how he understood the world; what he thought we need to understand. In this way we understand the problem he was trying to solve, and the solution he pointed to. To have Buddhist sensibilities, or Dhamma sensibilities, we need to have this basic knowledge. Otherwise we’re in the dark.
  • Experience: We need to understand our minds via our own direct experience. It’s not enough to know about our minds. Buddhism is not primarily a study course. It’s a challenge to be with our experience, to notice what we see, to not run away from ourselves, and to look for patterns. It’s not always easy, but the fruits are worth it. Confidence comes from this place.
  • Life: We need to experience Dhamma in our everyday lives. It’s not enough to just sit and watch our minds. We need the Dhamma to surround us and to register it’s surrounding us, if we’re to sustain our interest and joy. The complex aspects of our lives needn’t overwhelm us. Because there already exists a lot of necessary simplicity in our lives. It just rarely gets our focus. Every day we engage in many simple routines, eating being one of them, and these myriad habits are potentially our great friends.
  • Integration: Time is a factor. We need to see the same things many times. This is how we get to know ourselves. We see patterns in our reactions, our behaviour, our stances in life, and we get sick of doing things the same way, particularly when they take us back to a dark place. This may take days, weeks, months, or years. When we act more skillfully as a result, we participate in wisdom. We become more realistic. But we also become more hopeful.

Doing it in a Tribe

Most people find it hard to do this on their own. It was never the Buddha’s intent. He pointed to a shared journey.

So what would this mean for a modern person? It’s a work in progress, but most people appreciate….

  • Having a shared place …. to learn, understand and experience the Dhamma together
  • An opportunity to “make sense” …. to talk with others about my progress and confusion
  • An environment of emotional safety … a place where it’s OK to feel inadequate or to “not know”
  • A spirit of friendship …. where we come to notice and appreciate each other’s journey
  • A call to commitment … a call to keep going, and an environment that facilitates this

All of this supports an experience of coming home; to resting in a place that feels like home. A place where we feel comfortable to be ourselves; to be with ourselves; to support others; and to allow them to support us … and doing this within a context of Buddhism, Dhamma, and meditation, as modern people in a modern world.


Danny Taylor is a teacher and committee member at BMIMC. He is interested in creating conditions to allow modern people to experience the dharma, practice the dharma, and develop their own rhythm, as participants in life.