RE PGCE Trainee Marianne Howe reports back on her groups experiences at the Triratna Buddhist centre in Manchester:
On the 16th of October, the secondary RE PGCE group was given the opportunity to visit Manchester Buddhist centre. The day began at University with a Buddhist subject knowledge enhancement course led by our course leader Francis Farrell. This provided us with an in depth theoretical knowledge of Buddhist Dharma.
We started the session with a fun game entitled ‘What would make you happy?’ This engaged our curiosity and brought to the fore central themes which lie at the heart of Buddhist dharma. Questions such as would money and material wealth make you happy as opposed to the spiritual wealth of love and ‘peace of mind’ was raised. Distinctions between what exactly we mean by happiness started to form and stimulated rich philosophical debate and insight. In particular distinctions between ‘quick fix’ and fleeting feelings of happiness were discussed as opposed to more fulfilling and everlasting feelings of happiness.
Throughout this session, Francis provided us with an in depth knowledge and understanding of the basic teachings of Buddhism, which was explored through the lens of the original Buddha- Siddhartha Gautama. We discovered that the original Buddha primarily concerned himself with one of life’s ultimate questions- what is the meaning and purpose of life? Throughout the session it became clear that Gautama’s quest involved deep exploration and meditative insights into concepts such as happiness, virtue and what it means to lead a good, happy and fulfilling life.
Our new knowledge and wisdom gained from this session was brought alive when we visited the Manchester Buddhist Centre in the afternoon. Situated in the lively and bustling Northern quarter of Manchester, the centre itself had a calming and tranquil feel. Upon entering the building, it was hard not to notice the three jewels or refuges of Buddhism which caught your eye instantly. Consisting of the Buddha (the enlightened one), Dharma (the teachings) and Sangha (the spiritual community), it was hard not to feel the presence of these three Buddhist treasures upon entering the centre for the very first time.
Beautiful golden statues of the Buddha surrounded us (reminding us of the enlightened one and his teachings). The sense of community was also clearly felt. Before beginning our tour we had a spot of lunch in the centres earth café, situated in the basement of the building. The earth café provided a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere to refuel/recharge our minds and bodies before we began the official tour of the centre.
After lunch we made our way to the main entrance, and received a warm welcome by our tour guide, Garavachitta who is an ordained Buddhist of the Triratna order. Garavachitta informed us that the meaning behind his name refers to one whose mind has turned to reverence. Surprisingly Garavachitta was not dressed in the usual monastic orange robes you would expect a Buddhist to wear. Instead he was dressed in ordinary clothes- reflecting the centre’s modern, friendly and informal approach to Buddhist teaching. Bringing the ancient and mystical traditions of Buddhist dharma alive to the Western modern world.
After explaining to us the history of the building (the centre was once an old Victorian workhouse) and the various meditation classes/courses which are on offer at the center, we were led up a beautiful spiral wooden staircase to the second floor of the building. On this floor various meditation classes were taking place and we were told to be as quiet as possible. We were led into one of the main meditation rooms of the building and asked to take our shoes off before entering. A beautiful and awe inspiring golden statue of the Buddha awaited us.
We were asked to take a cushion and sit on the floor facing the beautiful shrine to the enlightened one or Buddha. Here we got the chance to find out more about Buddhist dharma and to also hear Garavachitta’s story/background- learning about and from religion. We were able to explore and experience first-hand. Buddhist dharma in an open and non-dogmatic way. The session ended with a calming mediation led by Garavachitta. This was a wonderful opportunity to experience Buddhist meditative practice and fully absorb/assimilate our previous learning & knowledge. After our mediation we had the chance to do a spot of shopping and browse all things ‘Buddha’ in the centre’s shop- from books to incense sticks, and mini Buddha statues.
This informative and enlightening trip provided us with deep subject knowledge of Buddhism- it awakened our consciousness & awareness of Buddhism and provided invaluable ideas/resources to bring the RE classroom alive! On a personal note, Buddhism for me has truths that speak to everyone irrespective of religious persuasions or not. The truths and insights offered by this religion are ones that I can not only value but also carry with me on my own journey of personal development, insight and awareness of how to live a happy, fulfilling and meaningful life.