The Buddhist Retreat Centre
Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
For people of all religions
BRC Newsflash: July/August 2020
How to sit upright in an upside down world
|Image: Angela Buckland|
We are happy to announce that Antony and Margie Osler of Poplar Grove will be offering a virtual retreat from 8-10 August. Please join them on Zoom to celebrate the BRC’s fortieth birthday of grounding the Buddha Dharma in South Africa from where it has moved to other parts of Africa.
Antony Osler, my Dharma brother, joined me in Ixopo forty years ago, and helped me establish the Centre. He became our first resident teacher. I have been fortunate to witness the great depth of humanity in his life as a Zen teacher, a writer and poet and a human rights lawyer - a great friend, who is always with you in times of adversity and joy - a companion along life’s way. So it seems so opportune that he and Margie should be with us - albeit apart - celebrating this milestone.
His retreat will touch on how “Our world has changed and our practice is to change with it. We will still do nothing special together but now we will do it in our kitchens and bedrooms, in our robes, pyjamas, long-johns and slippers. This is still Zen as the practice of friendship, but now we can broaden our idea of what this means to us. We will explore the intimacy of being geographically remote, the intimacy of meeting on screen, the intimacy of just listening, and the intimacy of finding our seat on our own. We will look at how to sit upright in an upside down world.”
|Stephen Coan, Louis van Loon and Antony Osler||Image: Chrisi van Loon|
Those who have been so patient in accepting rollovers in lieu of deposits for cancelled retreats in circumstances beyond our control - our Sangha Friends - who care about preserving the BRC as a sanctuary for posterity, thank you for your consideration. We have been humbled by your generosity and kindness all round. For the forty years in its operation, the BRC has always honoured its cancellation and refund policy, so rest reassured we will honour your deposits as revenue starts to trickle in. With your patience, we are able to keep the lights on and to pay our resident staff who are doing their best to maintain the 300 acre property for you to return to in new horizons. To put it plainly, if everyone claims their refunds now, the BRC will find itself in financial straits - beyond a point of no return. Please bear with us if you care about the future of the BRC until we are back on our Dharma feet, financially.
The BRC offers open spaces, trails and walks; the chance to sit at Nalanda Rocks overlooking the valley feeling the breeze on your face; to reflect and refocus at the dam or at the Stupa, to sit quietly in the Zendo; to take a step out of lockdown into fresh air and healing, tranquil surroundings after months of enforced isolation. Only the birds are enjoying the absence of guests as photographer, Andrew Brown, experienced recently on a self-retreat.
There is a song on the wind we can’t quite catch. To hear it, we have to stop. We have to set ourselves aside. And Listen. - Antony Osler
|Nalanda Rocks||Image: Angela Shaw|
Stephen Coan has written 3 tea stories - third and final one in this newsletter - which we have so enjoyed. And while we are on the subject of tea…..
I learned the Chinese tea ceremony from a venerable tea Master Hong Kong in the 1960’s. The ceremony uses exquisitely shaped utensils, some of them delicately crated out of bamboo, like the ladle, spoon and whisk. The tea bowls are raku fired ceramics, uniquely marked by the haphazard way in which they survive their ordeal of fire and water – similar to how we are all transitioning at the moment and how we will emerge from the current crisis - with some 'accidental beauty' and change.
I remember being invited to participate in a formal tea ceremony in Japan to be held in the owner’s private tea house in his garden. The drinking of the tea was all about ritual and ceremony, and was conducted for 5 hours. I recall wondering how on earth I would get through the ‘ordeal’, but after a while I settled into what I can only describe as an entrancement with tea. The experience was not about the tea-drinkiing itself. It was all about the preparation of it and the atmosphere in which it was conducted.
At our Tea Ceremony in Ixopo, everything is done slowly, with dignity and concentration - in silence and with reverence. The tea master picks up each utensil and bowl and admires its craftsmanship and beauty. He or she dips the bamboo ladle into the cast iron pot containing boiling water and pours some of it into the bowls. A few grains of green tea are added. The whisk is used to swirl the tea until it is dissolved. The bowls are then passed round until each member in the inner circle of tea drinkers has one. Upon a little bow from the Master, we all drink the tea - in two-and-a-half sips.
Wishing you peace and harmony,
|An Ixopo tea ceremony||Image: Angela Shaw|
Stephen Coan, poet, writer, journalist and friend has written three tea stories. Here is his third and final ‘tea story’
Tea story 3
In the first tea story mention was made of Zen Buddhist monks drinking green tea in order to dispel sleepiness during all-night meditation sessions. I suppose these days they are more likely to drink coffee.
Decades ago when making a television film called Looking For Africa I worked with music composer Colin Shapiro, visiting him at his home-based studio to listen to possible themes for the film. Colin asked me if I would like a cup of tea or coffee. I said tea and he asked me what type? ‘What have you got?’ By way of answer he took me into his kitchen and showed me a veritable library of teas: teas of every variety and flavour imaginable, each contained in colourful tins from the same manufacturer, Jacksons of Piccadilly. Surprisingly, considering Colin’s addiction to Mr Jackson’s blends, he had never been to England. Whenever friends went overseas he requested they bring him back a few tins. Gradually, over the years, Colin built up his library of tea. When he finally travelled abroad himself Colin duly made pilgrimage to Mr Jackson's emporium. There he browsed among the teas on display until an assistant came to help him. Colin’s accent immediately identified him as a South African and the assistant inquired how he came to be there. Colin related his tale and in awed tones spoke of how moved he was to finally be standing in Mr Jackson’s legendary establishment. So impressed was the assistant he took Colin upstairs to meet the estimable Mr Jackson himself. ‘Mr Jackson this is Mr Shapiro - he has been drinking our teas for years and has come all the way from South Africa ...’ and so on. Mr Jackson rose majestically from behind his well-polished oak desk, came and shook Colin by the hand and ushered him to a chair. ‘Well, Mr Shapiro,’ said Mr Jackson, once they had got comfortable, ‘would you like a cup of coffee?’
While coffee drinking may now be in the ascendancy it will never match tea’s mythical pedigree or the poetry it has inspired. Such as this verse from the Zen Buddhist poet and tea-seller Baisao (1675-1763):
An iris pond in flower
Coffee for the buzz; tea for enlightenment.
|The Milky Way||Image: Andrew Brown|
Forthcoming Retreats: July/August 2020
People often yearn for an opportunity to recalibrate their lives and to spend some time in quiet reflection among like-minded people. The BRC provides such a refuge - where silence is a precious commodity. Choose practices such as yoga, qigong and meditation to live with more meaning, purpose and joy. Treat yourself to a personal retreat where you can wake up to bird song, walk in the morning mist, rake the sand garden, listen to the wind chimes and meditate in the company of the mossy Buddha.
|Stupa dawn||Image: Andrew Brown|
Conducted Retreats in Ixopo: July/August 2020
Hannelize Robinson | Weekend | 24-26 July
Marc Kress | Weekend | 31 July-2 August
Dharma Circle - Mid-Week Meditation: How to remain calm and clear in everything we do and say: The practice of Sati
Elizabeth Gaywood | 2 days | 17-19 August
Enjoy some serene “alone” time on a Self-Retreat in the beautiful, indigenous setting of the BRC with chi kung, meditation, communing with nature, enjoying the vistas of the velvet Ixopo hills, and relishing the delicious vegetarian food for which the BRC is justly renowned.
Black-headed oriole among the aloes
||Image: Andrew Brown|
Online Programme: July/August/September/October 2020
25 July; 1 August | Colin Kemery
28; 29;30 July | Lynne Marion
1 August | Sue Cooper
Online fundraising morning retreat via Zoom in support of The Buddhist Retreat Centre, Ixopo. Please download the Zoom app and the link will be emailed to you on confirmation of your booking. Please book with Sue using the links below.
This dana-based online retreat is suitable for beginners and experienced practitioners and reminds us of the silent retreat experience. Please join us for a nurturing morning of contained silence, Buddhist wisdom teachings, guided meditations, qigong and contemplative reflection. Through the embodied practices of mindfulness and metta, we will establish a calm and open-hearted inner refuge, which strengthens our foundation of kindness and compassion. This fundraiser is an opportunity to come together as a sangha to offer support from wherever we are to the wonderful staff and centre with open-hearted generosity. A schedule will be provided ahead of time for planning your morning and the Zoom link will be sent on confirmation of your booking.
Please confirm your booking with a deposit and indicate how you would like your dana to be allocated (see Pricing for suggested sliding scale).
4 August | Dominique Garnett
4 August | Nicholas Burnand and Sarah Dekker
Transition Online: Would you like to transition beyond current challenges into a better place than you were before?
5;22;29 August | Monique Beekman
8;9;10 August | Antony and Margie Osler
‘To celebrate the BRC’s 40th birthday, we will do nothing special and we will do it together.’
This was the beginning of the pre-lockdown write-up for the BRC August 2020 Stoep Zen retreat.
Since then our world has changed and our practice is to change with it. We will still do nothing special together but now we will do so in our kitchens, lounges, and bedrooms, in our robes, pyjamas, long-johns and slippers.
This is still Zen as the practice of friendship, but now we can broaden our idea of what this means to us. So, we will explore the intimacy of being geographically remote, the intimacy of meeting on screen, the intimacy of just listening, and the intimacy of turning off our screens and finding our seat. We will look at how to sit upright in an upside-down world.
8 August | Lucy Draper-Clarke and Felicity Hart
“When you are busy judging people, you have no time to love them.” Marshall Rosenberg
We will practice both intra-personal and inter-personal mindfulness in order to cultivate skills of empathy, compassion and a better understanding of self and other.
24; 31 August; 7;14;21,28 September; 5; 12 October | Corinna Botoulas
We are part of the greater cycles of nature, bound to the ever-changing seasons of life. As within, so without, as above, so below.
Beginners are most welcome, and encouraged.
|Southern double collared sunbird||Image: Andrew Brown|
There Is Nothing Humble About Vegetables
Whether it is to be or not to be a vegetarian, our recipe books are a marriage of flavours with a South African seasoning. We are immensely grateful to you for ordering our recipe books for yourself or for friends. For those who would like to buy the “The Cake The Buddha Ate” or “Plentiful” and “Quiet Food” we are able to courier the books to your door. Please call the office on 0878901687 or email: .
|Images: Angela Shaw|
A Place Of Refuge
It’s hard these days to have a conversation or watch a programme without the words Covid 19 coming up. The Virus has descended with Zen-master riding crop in hand to startle us awake. A call to go within, take this time to examine who we really are and want to be, and adjust our ways of being and doing – in mindful compassion for the last-gasp breathing struggles of our overburdened Earth. In some ways Covid is a very Buddhist virus, requiring us to surrender to this unchangeable moment, testing our detachment, equanimity – and spiritual understanding – in the face of worldwide fear and uncertainty.
It’s in these times that I feel more than ever my gratitude to our spiritual refuge in the Ixopo hills, that has been such a comfort and switched on so many lights for me over the years. The BRC has been a seminal feature in my life since 1998. It’s been the catalyst for many lifechanging insights and memorable moments, under the rich and profound guidance of truly awakened teachers like Godwin Samararatne – my first experience of Buddhist wisdom – Louis van Loon, and numerous others. I’ve shed tears there, found joy there, fallen into bad love there, and crossed paths with many likeminded seekers on the path. Now, to my great surprise, I find myself taking my turn on the teachers’ podium, where so many of my spiritual role models have sat.
|A place of refuge||Image: Angela Shaw|
My first experience of the BRC was attending the vow exchange ceremony of newly married friends. I still remember clearly bumping up the lily-lined driveway in my low-scraping second-hand Toyota Tazz, seeing the first flashes of valley views, grassy lawn, tall, soughing pine trees, sunlit flowerbeds and gorgeous rockeries. Everything seemed peaceful and happy: birds flying, butterflies wafting, trees rocking, windchimes singing; the world as it should be. A sense of space and peace and loveliness that went right to the heart of me. I marvelled at the solid simplicity of the rough-walled, whitewashed lodge, in those days the only accommodation choice; the towering, crosslegged Buddha; the magical floating dome of the stupa in the distance, so white against the blue sky.
The wedding ceremony was held in the meditation hall, another magical space with its devout statues and candlelit peace. All the guests were asked to take their shoes and socks off. For some of the oldies, who had not felt naked ground under their tender toes in decades, it was a vulnerable and equalising experience. Strangers giggled together like boys and girls. Barriers fell and the initial self-conscious stiffness melted. We sat shoulder to shoulder while Louis presided over the newly wed ceremony, our wrists knotted to those of our neighbours with strands of coloured wool, in the Tibetan way. I don’t remember much of the ceremony. But I do recall what came after it – the delicious vegetarian feast that was served. In those days vegetarians in my world were a minority. I’d been one for a while, but always as the inconvenient oddity at the meat table. It felt like I’d come home.
Writing this has reminded me how much I’ve missed that precious spiritual home in these Covid times. A refuge of sanity, space and belonging when the rest of the world is fear-filled and demoralised. Thank you Louis, for your extraordinary vision in building it; Chrisi for your tireless, often unsung work in keeping things shipshape and making it the nurturing space it is; the BRC committee and volunteers who quietly do their part to help keep it going; and not least, the hardworking staff contingent – office, grounds, kitchen and the rest – who contribute their loyalty, energy and efficiency to the mix. This time of isolation and separation will come to an end as everything does. Until then, we hold you in our thoughts and hearts, knowing it hasn’t been easy keeping the Centre afloat in these truly difficult days.
May you be well. May you be happy. May you be at peace.
|Iris-lined driveway||Image: Angela Shaw|
Psychoneuroimmunology With Dr Ian Weinberg - In Your Home
Ian Weinberg, a neurosurgeon and pioneer in PNI, has led his renowned retreat “A neurosurgeon probes wellness and performance: Psychoneuroimmunology: PNI” for 12 years, twice a year, at the BRC. His retreats are hugely popular and always fully subscribed to.
In these uncomfortable times in which we are challenged at every level of our being - physical, psychological and emotional - Ian’s expertise and insights will provide one with practical tools to explore optimal, integrated wellness, and to understand how our thoughts inform our immune system - and how by reframing the way we react to the world around us, we can completely alter our health and quality of life.
Ian is offering to assist the BRC to raise funds to ensure its continuity. He has uploaded his full, comprehensive, PNI weekend retreat onto his website in 5 edited modules: See www.neuronostic.com under COURSES – ONLINE MENTORING COURSES. The programme includes slides in PDF format, an online diagnostic and workbook.
If you would like to support this fund-raising venture, please consider purchasing his online programme through the BRC at a significantly discounted price (R1,500) relative to the online listed price (R5,500). Proceeds will go to the BRC.
|The proteas are blooming||image: Angela Shaw|
Poster - Print Fundraiser
This unique artwork has been created by illustrator and nature book author Duncan Butchart whose 'African Journey Collection' of poster-prints are in the style of the popular vintage travel posters of the 40’s and 50’s.
Butchart has travelled widely and carried out ecotourism assignments in eleven African countries. His poster-prints including Kruger, Cape Town, Okavango and Drakensberg can be seen here: dbnatureworks.com
As a boy, Duncan was entranced by the ‘Adventures of Tintin’ picture books created by the legendary Belgian cartoonist Hergé, and has used that distinctive ‘ligné clair’ style as the inspiration for his minimalist poster art.
The prints are available in three sizes and printed digitally on deluxe matt art paper with archival pigment inks, and each one is signed by the artist. Print and post for R600.00. Proceeds to go to the BRC. Please contact the BRC office:
|Brown-hooded kingfisher||Image: Andrew Brown|
About the BRC
Perched on a ridge at the head of a valley in the Umkomaas river system in KwaZulu-Natal, the Buddhist Retreat Centre looks out on a vista of indigenous valleys, forests and rolling hills receding like waves in the blue distance. Here, for thirty-nine years, people of all religions and none have come to experience peace and tranquility. It is a gentle, sympathetic space where one can be still and get in touch with oneself and reflect on the things that crowd one's life.
The BRC was voted by CNN as one of the ten best meditation centres in the world.
CNN Travel awarded another feather in the BRC’s cap by voting it as one of the ten best spiritual centres in South Africa, recently.
The BRC was awarded Natural Heritage status in 1995 under the auspices of the Department of Environmental affairs and received a certificate to that effect signed by President Nelson Mandela for turning an eroded farm into the natural paradise it has become - thousands of indigenous trees were planted by retreatants under the supervision of Mervyn Croft - with 160 species of birds, including the Blue Swallow, otter, deer, antbear and indigenous forests. The Centre was also given the special status of “Custodian of the Blue Swallow” for its work in preserving the breeding areas of this endangered bird.
The BRC facilitated the founding of Woza Moya, the community-based NGO, located in Ufafa Valley, twenty years ago, on the estate. Their vision is for all people in the community to be healthy and productive, to live in a safe and clean environment, with good access to services and social justice. The Centre continues to support the organisation in a variety of ways by contributing Dana, sponsoring their Directors, trainers and visitors' accommodation, and showcasing and promoting their wonderful crafts in the shop such as the sock monkeys, cushions, bags, scarves, beanies and stationery. The Woza Moya Crafters are local women who receive ongoing training and support to enable them to create these unique and charming best sellers. As a result of retreatants' Dana (Generosity) in 2019/20, the BRC was able to donate R 24,000 to Woza Moya to further enable their good work among the community and to help support the 50 children who attend the Woza Moya play school.
Please continue to support the BRC to get back on its Dharma feet by becoming a friend of the Buddhist Retreat Centre (a non-profit organisation) and find out more about the BRC's Paid-Up-Yogi and Sangha Friends’ projects.
We have been very touched by your appreciative letters, emails, support and friendship towards the BRC - your spiritual home from home.
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