Through the door of Croydon Buddhist Centre

By - Tuesday 3rd March, 2015

In the second of a series examining faith and community, Rosie Edser wraps herself in blankets and silence at Croydon Buddhist Centre

Buddhist shrine on festival day.
Photo by Amaraghosha Carter, used with permission

While Saturday morning shoppers stride or dawdle among the shops of Croydon’s South End, behind one of the shop fronts twenty-five people are wrapped in blankets and silence, making the inward spiritual journey.

Wardrobe-wise I thought I was prepared: leggings under skirt in case of unexpected yoga components to the morning’s session. (Turns out jeans and an extra pair of socks would have been more practical.) Would it be like a church service, with that mixture of the socially ordinary (tea, biscuits and chat) and the socially novel (practices for approaching the numinous like chanting, meditating or attempting unfeasible postures with your leg muscles)?

My friend Amaraghosha (formerly known as Ian) had told me that as well as the Saturday morning session, Croydon Buddhist Centre offers lunchtime and evening meditation classes, three or four study groups a week, eight or nine yoga classes, festival days (five main festivals per year) and monthly full-moon puja (worship or devotional attention with meditation and chanting). There are also film and music evenings and courses throughout the year.

So you walk in through the yellow Buddhist Centre shop (incense, books and gemstones, not to be confused with ‘Hidden Gems’, the centre’s tasteful charity shop next door) and the first difference from your average church service is that you have to pay; completely reasonable if you’re expecting a class (or indeed have read the website thoroughly) but disconcerting if you’ve just randomly turned up expecting some sort of religious gathering.

Shoes off, phone off, and into seeking-the-divine mode

You then descend into a beautifully scented lounge where a wide range of enlightened looking sorts mingle animatedly on the sofas. Shoes off , phone off and introduce yourself as a first-timer before a bell signals that it’s time to change into serious seeking-the-divine mode, file reverently through to the shrine room and choose yourself a spot. There are two rows of chairs facing each other behind two rows of floor spaces, each one carefully laid out with terracotta cushions and a folded blanket. French windows look out onto a delightfully green courtyard (even in February) although preparing for the inevitable draught, people wrap and tie their blankets in an intriguing range of styles, some donning beanie hats as all prepare to be utterly still for half an hour. Posture choices vary. I’m conservatively on a chair with the other newbies at the back, where our explainer is whispering reassuring hints and tips.

Some words and responses are led from the front, then we retreat inside ourselves to mindfully concentrate on our breath. The room is utterly, intensely silent as those who are experienced focus their attention, relax each muscle and enter deep into their meditation while others fight the distraction of stomach gurgles, clicking hot water pipes and the possibility that they have inadvertently left their phone on an audible setting. I know someone who can enter such a deep state of meditation that he doesn’t require anaesthetic during heavy duty dentist treatment. I am not quite at this level.

Copyright © 2011 Sthiraman (used with permission)

Amaraghosha at his ordination.
Photo by Padmaloka Men’s Buddhist Retreat Centre in Norfolk, used with permission.

I am reminded of what drew Amaraghosha to investigate Buddhism:

“I woke up in hospital after receiving anaesthetic for a procedure that caused some nasty side effects. I knew I wanted to explore my spirituality and get fit again. Somehow, I knew that Buddhism was the way forward for me. I started going along to the Saturday morning classes, got interested in regular meditation and study and have been going regularly ever since. I was ordained in October 2011, when I received my Buddhist name, Amaraghosha, which means ‘Voice of the Deathless’. In Buddhism, the deathless is a synonym for Nirvana“. In Buddhism, nirvana is a state of bliss or peace which may be both experienced in life and entered at death.

The coffee break brings tea, an unexpected slice of gateau, notices about courses and activities and friendly chats with lively and ethically switched-on people. Then it’s back into the shrine room for some teaching, before goodbye-and-do-come-again-if-you’re-interested.

This welcoming, approachable community couldn’t have been more different from the exotic monument to Thai culture that is the Wimbledon Buddhist Temple. When I visited recently, the monks were all clad in orange robes, bound by hundreds of exacting rules, spoke little English and didn’t engage with visitors. The temple was intricately and elaborately decorated but seemed to have no connection with or relevance to Western suburban culture. I put this to Amaragosha.

Buddhism is a deeply transformative call to action

“The Wimbledon temple is very much in the Thai tradition”, he told me. “Croydon Buddhist Centre is part of the Triratna Buddhist Community which was founded by an Englishman in 1967. It does not follow one specific tradition but instead is a blend of aspects of different Buddhist traditions.”

Do Buddhists contribute anything specific to Croydon that you can put your finger on? I ask him.

“The centre is a place where people can go to learn mindfulness (and other meditations), where they can do yoga and is also a social place where the Sangha (its community) can meet individually or in larger groups. We used to participate in the Lloyd Park festival (sadly cancelled by the council), have had a stall at the monthly Croydon Arts and Crafts fair in Matthew’s Yard and with the high street position of the centre, people do just drop in too. Many comment that they are surprised to find a buddhist centre in Croydon and we have a small garden courtyard which is popular in the warmer months despite being close to the flyover.

“Buddhism to me is a call to action, an opportunity to change how I live in the world and interact and respond to life’s events and challenges. It is deeply transformative but takes a lot of effort.”

Read articles like this – and many more – in our monthly print magazine

Politics, reviews, photography, #Croydon #TechCity, sports and plenty more besides: Our monthly print newsmagazine brings all the most relevant, features, news, opinion and analysis together into a single publication. Written entirely by citizens, it’s the perfect way to catch up on what really matters to Croydon over a drink or a coffee, or on the way to work.

You can find the magazine in venues all over the London Borough of Croydon.

Get your copy today. Write for the Citizen and you may well see your own article next time you pick it up.

Rosie Edser

Rosie Edser

Rosie is a member of the team at Croydon Refugee Daycentre. She's a teacher of both adult English learners and (in her day job) children. She relishes the fact that her own offspring have attended a school in Croydon with over forty first languages spoken. She lives in Waddon.

More Posts