Driving on the weekly shop to my local Sainsburys in Knaphill I noticed a sign that said meditation centre that piqued my interest. Now I have always been one for the peculiar, perhaps it was my yoga teaching (sometime hippy) mother, or maybe it was watching too many martial art films. But I always believed that there is some secret key to life in the practice of meditation. The fact that the name on the sign was practically unpronounceable made it all the more irresistible to my mind.
A quick google for ‘London Dhammakaya’ and I found a very comprehensive website for the centre. Apparently these Buddhist monks from Thailand had converted the old asylum church building into a warm modern meditation centre. I didn’t really want to pay for anything until I had tried it out so I clicked past the £70 retreat weekends and found they offer a free beginner meditation session every Tuesday night 7-9pm
My father, bless him, was highly concerned that I was about to join a cult. I assured him that at the first sign of crazy I would beat a hasty retreat. I walked the short distance from my house in the cold winter air and was confronted with a rather foreboding bulk of Victorian Architecture. Not completely sure how to get in I walked around the back and found a small wooden door, luckily before I could get cold feet on the threshold a lovely chinese gentleman walked up and opened the door for me, showed me into the vestibule and helped me with the basic etiquette like removing shoes.
Inside the old church is definitely not what you would expect. What has been described to me as a once gloomy church hall, is now warmly lit, and modernised with digital displays, professional announcement system, and a large golden buddha sitting kindly at the head of a meditation hall. Filled with soft thai music the space was just a perfect space for meditation, like a warm hug for the soul.
The session started with a quick 3 bows to the buddha and the monk and then we settled into a 45minute meditation, which I must say was a bit of a shock to the mind after no meditation in a long time. All those things that you have been avoiding thinking about, and all the ones you have been thinking (repeatedly) come crashing in like waves, and I started to fell this was no use at all. But about 40 minutes into the session, my mind suddenly stopped, it was like sailing out of a storm and into perfectly clear water, and it felt good! So good that I had to open my eyes and look around to see if anyone else could see how good I felt. Fatal mistake. But even if my mind restarted immediately it still felt like I had somehow achieved something, like I was on a slower and slightly happier setting in my brain.
After the session the teaching monk slowly described a teaching from Buddha in broken English, it said to distrust everything, ancient books, supposed wise teachers, even your own perceptions at times. The answer apparently is to only trust what seems to lessen suffering in the world and make people (including oneself) happier. My western educated mind is highly suspicious of blind faith in any organised religion, yet I still yearn for some kind of spiritual fulfillment. So this sort of introduction to Buddhism was a god send, it made sense, it was scientific in its approach.
6 months later and I am still enjoying every minute that I spend at the centre. Every week I go on a Tuesday evening and I now try to meditate for at least a few minutes every day. The real benefits took some time, and every session can be a challenge of introspection, but every now and again, and increasingly often I get those stunning moments of calm and clarity. What my teaching monk calls “true happiness”. This centre is a hidden gem, the teaching principles of the Dhammakaya Buddhist order are cleanliness, organisation, timeliness, organisation, and most importantly generosity. There is no expectation of money or of compliance with Bhuddist traditions, the monks and the temple staff just wish the world peace and happiness. Sounded too good to me too, but they really are like that and that is why I frequently suggest to my friends to come along for a session.
If you are also interested in doing a bit of introspection, spirituality without the religion, de-stressing, mind calming, or just a bit of meditation then the centre is open for beginners in Knaphill Church 2 Brushwood Way every Tuesday Evening from 7-9pm, refreshments available. Side effects may include mental calm and happiness.