Stately Homes and Staircases: Madyamaka Buddhist Meditation Centre, Pocklington

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The Madyamaka Buddhist Meditation Centre, part of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) within Tibetan Buddhism occupies the former Kilwick Percy Hall, in Pocklington, near York, and 42 acres of surrounding land. The building is predominantly Georgian and is Grade II* listed.  However, we were informed that the origins of a building on this land stretch back further into English history (and include a mention in the Domesday Book).  The earliest part that is currently still standing, the basement, was built in 1574.

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Kilnwick Percy Hall and the surrounding grounds were significantly redeveloped in 1720, and again in 1840, passing to different families during this period.  The house itself was occupied by the Government during the Second World War and, as a result, was also significantly adapted. Interestingly, just prior to the Second World War, the house was again re-modeled, including severing in two the large, central staircase, and relocating it to the side of the house. We were told that this was done to raise funds, as half of the staircase was sold locally, and made into furniture.  I joked on twitter, some months ago, that alongside the much-loved warehouse stairs in Manchester Buddhist Centre, this split staircase is certainly in my top ten favourite staircases in Buddhist centres in England!

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The NKT bought the house in 1986. It had previously redeveloped a large house in the Lake District, and was looking to open another centre.  Madhyamaka is one of 1,000 NKT centres worldwide. When the NKT took over the building, it was in a significantly dilapidated state. They undertook their renovations predominantly with volunteer labour, but have worked with professionals (including heritage professionals), particularly in advising on the renovations of particular aspects of the building, including the wooden floors in the entrance hall and the large, external stone pillars. They also used professionals for tasks such as the replacement of the sixty-year old boiler system. However, volunteer support is vital, and in order to keep up with the maintenance, the NKT run week-long work weeks where volunteers will come and live in the building and assist with the tasks that need to be achieved.

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The renovated Bed and Breakfast accomodation

In renovating this building for use as a Buddhist centre, the NKT placed a great deal of emphasis on sympathetic restoration of the house, including in the large former ball-room which has particularly ornate decorative features.  The house and the surrounding grounds remain open to the public, and the focus here is both on the history of the house and it’s current usage.  Given the age and historic significance of the house, an on-going issue for this community is appropriate, and skilled, maintenance and meeting the costs of heating bills in particular.  The NKT fundraise for this purpose, and also have a number of businesses integrated within the house and grounds which also provide an income, including a gift-shop, a World Peace Café, and a Bed and Breakfast.

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The building currently has a number of uses for this community.  There are approximately thirty long-term residents, both lay people and ordained monks and nuns, alongside Buddhists who also rent the flats in the building and the three cottages in the grounds.  The building hosts a number of meditation classes and courses and festivals and retreats, which attract a national and international audience.  The community also has a particular focus on family involvement, running children’s meditation classes and mothers and children’s groups, as well as an annual family retreat.  The building is significant to the NKT as it was the second Centre that was adapted, and was referred to as a ‘hub’, both for activity, but also training teachers that later went on to start additional Buddhist centres and meditation groups.  The community typically adopts the term ‘Meditation Centre’ when referring to Kilnwick Percy Hall, although occasionally use ‘temple’ in addition.  Tibetan words such as ‘gompa’ are used less frequently, and when they are, it is generally only between the residents.

Additionally, the NKT also uses the building for a number of ‘non-Buddhist’ purposes, including being open for people who want to walk around the grounds, see the house and use the café, regular history tours, and an annual summer fair – retaining the traditions of a large country estate. The rooms can also be hired out by non-Buddhist groups.  There is a strong sense that the NKT wants the building still to be very much part of the local community, and it appears that much effort is expended to foster strong connections.

 

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The stupa at Harewood House: A Yorkshire-Bhutan Co-Production

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Although a stupa might not be considered a building in the same way as a monastery, we included the stupa at Harewood House in our research as an example of the different types of structures that are important to Buddhists.  A stupa is a repository for relics and sacred items, and is a focus for veneration, respect, and meditation across the Buddhist world.  Whilst stupas in all shapes and sizes are a common feature in Buddhist countries from Thailand to Tibet, they are far less common in England.  Indeed, the stupa at Harewood House is likely to be the only Bhutanese stupa in the UK at present and is therefore worthy of focused attention.

Harewood House is a Grade I listed stately home between Leeds and Harrogate, and is the seat of the Earl of Harewood, David Lascelles.  The Earl of Harewood had been interested, and involved with Buddhism for a number of years, and although he had considered building a stupa since the 1980s, it was not until he first visited Bhutan in 2002 when the idea became a reality. There he met a Bhutanese skilled craftsman, in his 70s, who he invited to come to the UK and build a stupa in the grounds of Harewood House. A team came from Butan and building work on the stupa commenced in April 2004, and was completed by the end of the summer in the same year.

The stupa at Harewood House was constructed in a traditional Bhutanese style although using English materials, notably Yorkshire stone, despite the reservations of the Butanese builders who felt it should be whitewashed and made out of concrete, as in Bhutan. It was decided that, in keeping with the environment, the stone used would be kept unpainted.  Nonetheless, in all other senses it is the ‘real thing’ as explained to us by the Earl of Harewood: ‘somebody asked me about the process, to describe it. And they said, ‘oh so you mean that it’s like a folly?’ And I said ‘well actually, no. I may be foolish doing it, but it’s not a folly, because it is the real thing.’ It’s absolutely done as it would be.’

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Its construction consists of a series of five built-up sealed chambers, within which are placed statues, images and other blessed items, including small relics, in this case some bone fragments.   Many of these items were purchased in Bhutan and Nepal, and shipped to the UK for the purpose.  These ritual objects, we were told ‘empower the stupa’ and allow the benefits of the blessings to multiply and ‘radiate out into the world’. Whilst the design was Bhutanese, the physical building work was completed by local builders.  Running through the middle of the stupa is the wooden trunk of juniper tree, referred to as the ‘life tree’, which connects all the sealed chambers together. The stupa itself is located in an area of the grounds out of view of the house, which housed a number of plants native to the Himalayan region, and is called the Himalayan Garden.  Indeed, the stupa itself, which has now been standing for 10 years, looks very much a part of the landscape.

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We were told that the stupa is used by Buddhists, who will make circumambulations, but is also enjoyed by non-Buddhists who visit the house and the gardens and learn something of the teachings of the Buddha.  The stupa is significant, we were told, because it ‘embodies the enlightened mind of the Buddha…What all Buddhists aspire to’.

 

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Birmingham Buddhist Vihara

Birmingham Buddhist viharaThis temple caters for a relatively small and dispersed Burmese Buddhist community, members of which travel from different parts of the country for festivals and ceremonies. The site houses a large Burmese style pagoda, completed in 1998, and also two houses – the vihara (the monks’ quarters) and the dhamma hall (where Buddhist teachings are given and there are rooms that can be hired by other groups). The total complex was founded by a well-known Burmese Buddhist teacher and spiritual leader, Bhante Rewata Dhamma. He arrived in England in 1975 and his ‘idea was to use Birmingham as a springboard to get Buddhism into the West’. In the early years he shared a house with a Tibetan centre and ‘so, a couple of days a week, it was a Mahayana Temple, and a couple of days a week it was a Theravādan temple.’ He approached Birmingham City Council for some land and the present site was available. However, because he had a strong Burmese following, and most of the Burmese in England are professionals, they donated quite generously and he was able to set up the pagoda and vihara on the current site. According to the website of the community:

The pagoda is an oriental style of sacred tower. In Buddhism, it is also called a stupa or caitya. The building of pagodas dates from the time of the Buddha’s passing into nibbāna, around the sixth century BCE. At that time, the Buddha’s body was cremated and only fragments of the bones remained. These sacred relics were divided among the rulers who were his devout followers. They placed them in golden chambers in their respective countries and built pagodas over them so that people could venerate and pay homage.

The pagoda symbolises peace, compassion and other exemplary qualities of the Buddha. As such, Buddhists venerate it everywhere. With the spread of Buddhism, pagodas were built in all those countries where it became established. The pagoda is the earthly manifestation of the mind of the Buddha and, as such, stands as a prime symbol of Buddhism. The Dhammatalaka Pagoda [‘reservoir of truth’ Pagoda ] will fulfil three purposes: it will be a shrine for Buddhists to perform their traditional ceremonies; a focus where non-Buddhists can learn about Buddhism; and a sanctuary where both may find peace and tranquillity (http://www.bbvt.org.uk/Introduction.asp)

The pagoda was the first building to be put up and is in a traditional style. It is made from pre-cast concrete that has been decorated afterwards with much of the remaining decoration (e.g. around the windows and around the top of the walls, as well as the pillars in the porch way) being made on site by two experts that came over from Burma. Our interviewee explained that ‘in 16 years I think that we’ve repainted it four times. But recently, it was…gold leaf, yes. That didn’t last very long. But we use a very expensive gold paint now. I think that it was two years ago that we painted it. And in a couple of years it will be needing it again.’

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Manchester Buddhist Centre (Triratna Buddhist Order and Community): Buddhism in the heart of Manchester

 

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If I’m being totally honest, one of the most compelling buildings I have visited on this project has been the Manchester Buddhist Centre.   I hope I’ll be able to give you a flavour of this remarkable building in this blog post!

Manchester Buddhist Centre, part of the Triratna Buddhist Community, occupies a large former cotton warehouse in the centre of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The almost derelict warehouse, built in the 1860s, was purchased in 1994 and opened in 1996, a month after the IRA bomb explosion nearby, which slightly damaged some of its windows.

Manchester Buddhist Centre, originally established in 1977, previously owned a Victorian/Edwardian semi-detached house in Chorlton, a Manchester suburb, but there was a strong aspiration to ‘bring Buddhism into the City’, and therefore, the search for appropriate, yet affordable, premises was initiated.

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Entrance, Manchester Buddhist Centre

 

The substantial warehouse that the community eventually bought was originally used to store cotton sent from America via Liverpool, and which was transported to Manchester on the Ship Canal. The community are not exactly sure what stage of the cotton manufacture process the warehouse was used for – whether it housed the cotton before or after it was woven in the neighbouring Lancashire mills, or both – however, within the building are a number of significant features of this industrial heritage. Possibly the most fascinating of these are at the very top of the building, where some of the wooden beams still have the quality control marks given to them at Liverpool dockyards, prior to being transported for building.

 

 

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Markings on the beams from the Liverpool Docks

Although complete renovation was needed to the warehouse, the overall aim was to maintain as many original features as possible, whilst at the same time making the building serviceable for a working Buddhist Centre.  In order to achieve this, the renovations were undertaken by ‘stripping back’ as opposed to building onto.  As one of our informants told us, this was understood to be a reflection of ‘one way of describing the Buddhist life, which is that you gradually remove the accretions – the ‘dust’, or habit – to see the inner beauty’.

As a result, many of these original features of the warehouse are integrated into the fabric of the Buddhist Centre, tying the building’s former use and its current one together in synchronicity.  The original warehouse stairs, a remarkable feature, worn down in the centre after years of use are retained, as is the Victorian fire alarm which is a feature in the principal shrine room.

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As one of our interviewees explained:

This building’s not just ours, it is part of the history of Manchester, and we hold it for posterity.

The initial renovations were completed entirely by volunteers, often using recycled materials, including an extensive wooden flooring recovered from a local school. It was a highly ambitious project and conducted on a tight budget. Furthermore, it was physically arduous to undertake the renovations, including the sandblasting of the painted brickwork and the beams, but was seen to be part of Buddhist practice and contributed to the development of a strong, and stable, Buddhist community, through the ‘blood, sweat, and tears’. Manchester Buddhist Centre officially opened to the public in 1996, after two years of renovations. However, building work was ongoing after this date, notably to the Earth Café, one of the businesses housed within the Buddhist Centre.  Indeed, in a building of this size and age, numerous renovations are needed on an ongoing basis, including to the roof and period windows, and this is a significant financial commitment.

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Principal Shrine Room, MBC

 

Yet, alongside retaining these original features, the community of Manchester Buddhist Centre have also integrated Buddhist objects into the fabric of the building. Again in the shrine room, people have placed Buddhist sacred objects – mala beads, vajra bells and semi-precious stones – into the mortar between the bricks, and under the shrine room floor there are Buddhist pictures, blessings, and mantras. This way, if the building is ever occupied by another group or community, its recent history as a Buddhist Centre will also be remembered.

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Precious objects embedded in the shrine room walls

 

Manchester Buddhist Centre is used by a large number of people each week, for different reasons, including for meditation and Buddhist courses, visiting the café or health centre, which offers yoga and alternative therapies and the Breathworks pain management project for those suffering from chronic pain and illness.  The Buddhist Centre is also home to the Clear Vision Trust which produces audio-visual materials about Buddhism, including for schools (also see Bluck, 2006:155). There is also a community of people living within the building, and there is a shop, a library and offices for the people running the Buddhist Centre.  Furthermore, the Buddhist Centre also hire space to charities or community groups for meetings and training days. When space was allocated for these businesses to develop, it was with the intention of fostering what was called the ‘dana economy’. Dana is a Buddhist concept meaning generosity, and, we were told, ‘there was a vision attached (to the development of the building)…that was very much about trying to change society.’

For our interviewees, Manchester Buddhist Centre is significant for a number of reasons. The first is because it acts as ‘an oasis in the heart of the city’ offering an opportunity to help people with the suffering (dukkha) they experience in life. One of our interviewees stated:

I’ve heard many people say …that nothing else helped them with the desperation that they felt. So, they may associate the building with that, and it therefore has an enormous place in their hearts.

In addition, the importance of the building lies within the fostering of community relationships:

I think that the key meaning of the building is to create community. It’s a vehicle for teaching the Dharma and creating Buddhist community.

 

 

 

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Wat Buddhapadipa: Thai Buddhism Comes to Wimbledon

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Wat Buddhapadipa is a Thai temple and monastery, now based in Wimbledon, which was first established in 1965.  Whilst the community previously occupied a house in East Sheen, they wanted to have a purpose-built temple, and therefore the decision was taken to search for property and land elsewhere. They found a house – Barrogill House in Wimbledon, built originally in the 1920s, which was to become the monastic residence and office, and which also had several acres of garden. They moved in, in 1976.

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Barrogill House, Wimbledon

 

They began work building a temple in the grounds of the house in 1979. It was completed in 1982, to coincide with the bicentenary of Bangkok. The temple itself, also known as the uposatha hall, is, as we were told, one of two ‘architecturally perfect’ examples of Thai building outside Thailand (the other is in Switzerland). Funding for buying both the house and the land, and later building the temple, was granted by the Thai Government. The term ‘wat’ is the Thai for ‘temple complex’, and the uposatha hall is the consecrated ‘chapel’ area of ritual significance, where the principal Buddha image is kept.

According to the commemorative booklet produced for the inauguration of the ‘chapel’ in October 1982, the ‘design and architectural drawings were prepared by Mr Praves Limparangsi, the first architect of the Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Education of Thailand, ‘the structural stage being carried out by a local form and the decorative stage by a Thai firm’ (1982: 8).

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The ground surrounding the uposatha is marked out by what is known as the sima boundary, and involves nine marker stones to delineate where sacred and ritual activity can occur. The principal Buddha rupa (statue), of black bronze, inside the uposatha hall is from the Sukhothai era, and is approximately 600-800 years old, and it was a donation from the Thai Government.

What is notable about the temple, which adopts in entirety a Thai architectural style, is the floor to ceiling murals located inside.

 

 

Whilst mural painting is a feature of Thai temples, many of those at Wat Buddhapadipa depict images that are rather closer to home.  They were initiated in the 1980s, using British-Thai volunteer artists, and depict figures such as Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Gadaffi, a ninja turtle, a punk and Ronald Regan, amongst others. Although this might seem surprising, we were told that making the temple mural paintings relevant for their local audience also occurs within temples in Thailand.  It is partly done to make the teachings of the Buddha that they depict pertinent for those who are likely to see them.  As a result, the Wat Buddhapadipa murals were described to us as a ‘time capsule of the 1980s’. As we were not able to take photographs inside the temple – do have a look at Sandra Cate’s (2002) book, Making Merit, Making Art: A Thai Temple in Wimbledon.

Overall, we noted that the Wat Buddhapadipa complex has several purposes. The first is to house a monastic community, of which there are currently eight Thai monks. The second is to provide a sacred space for meditation, ritual, and ceremonial occasions, which typically take place in the uposatha hall. The third is for festival and cultural events, including a Thai language Sunday school, which also use further buildings and space in the temple complex. Activities include meditation sessions, classes, retreats, festivals, cultural events and occasions, and celebrations such as Thai New Year. People attend the temple for meditation, for merit-making activities, to speak to the monks and to provide offerings, and also for blessings, including on special occasions such as birthdays, or anniversaries.  Wat Buddhapadipa also offers temporary ordinations, for both men and women, for short periods of time, following the Thai Buddhist tradition. Whilst the house is listed, the temple itself currently is not. The mission statement, and the purpose of the establishment of the monastic community, is, we were told, to promote Buddhism in the West. The community who use Wat Buddhapadipa are drawn from the Thai and Sri Lankan communities, and also a number of Westerners.

As with many of the other buildings we visited during our research, a key issue at Wat Buddhapadipa relates to maintenance, including with the roof tiles, and the marble used outside the uposatha hall which cracks and is highly slippery in winter – not an issue faced in Thailand given the warmer weather!

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A responsibility for past, present, and future:  Soka Gakkai UK and Taplow Court. 

Our latest fieldwork research saw us hot-footing it from Leeds to Buckinghamshire to visit the amazing Taplow Court.  Taplow Court is now the UK head-quarters of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a lay Buddhist movement who follow the teachings of Nichiren (a 13th Century Japanese Buddhist practitioner and scholar), which like many of the other Buddhist groups in this study has a number of operations in different locations all over the world. According to Robert Bluck in his book British Buddhism (2006: 16), Soka Gakkai are one of the three most sizeable Buddhist groups currently operating in Britain, with, we were told, over 13,000 followers.

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Taplow Court (and foreboding sky!)

Soka Gakkai describe themselves as a socially engaged Buddhist movement, and, according to their website, it’s followers  ‘aim to create value in any circumstances and contribute to the well-being of others’. More information about Soka Gakkai, their aims, work and practices, can be found on their website.

Soka Gakkai has been operational in the UK since the 1960s and prior to purchasing Taplow Court, they originally occupied a shop-front and rooms above it in Richmond, Surrey.  As their membership grew, they realised they needed more space, and in 1985, purchased a former convent building Blackheath. Whilst work was underway to convert the building, disaster struck and it burnt down. Consequently, after some tough decisions, the group were forced to continue their search for suitable premises.

Two years later, in 1987, Soka Gakkai found and purchased Taplow Court, a Listed stately home and manor house, once owned by Lord Desbourough and the Grenfell Family, and latterly occupied by a telecommunications company. Whilst many of the buildings we have seen to date have their roots in the industrial Victorian era, the history of Taplow Court and its land has a connection to British history that begins far, far earlier. Whilst a full and detailed history is available in the Taplow Court Visitor’s Guide Book and on SGI UK’s website, in brief, Taplow Court and the land that is on has been home to many things over the centuries, including a Bronze age settlement, a Roman fort, a site for Christian conversion and baptism, a medieval Church, a priory, a manor house, and a girl’s school during the Second World War. Indeed, although the Tudor manor house was destroyed by fire in  1617, it was reconstructed some fifteen years later, and in the 1700’s became home to the Earls of Orkney. Over the next hundred and fifty years, Taplow Court was subject to renovations and building projects (particularly in the 19th Century), and at the turn of the Twentieth Century, whilst the house was owned by the Grenfell family, extravagant parties were held which apparently also attracted Royalty.

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Photograph of Edward VII on a visit to Taplow Court

As you approach Taplow, and wander around it’s grounds, you can’t help but think of all that has gone on  and the stories that the house and surrounding lands might tell.  You can still clearly see an Anglo-Saxon burial mound for a renowned Chieftain in the grounds (called Tappa’s Mound) and there have been numerous artefacts found by archaeologists on the site.

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Tappa’s Mound (front left)

When Soka Gakkai purchased Taplow, it was not as derelict as some of the other buildings we have seen over the course of our research. However, it still needed work, and this refurbishment took two years.  However, the team involved in the purchase were clear that although they needed a building that would suit their purposes as a Buddhist organisation, they also very much wanted to maintain and uphold the history of the building and land, and this is certainly very evident.  From the sympathetic decoration, to the numerous displays of historic photographs and artefacts and the well-manicured grounds, when you go to Taplow Court, it is impossible to forget the English history that it is rooted within.  This is particularly evident as we experience the First World War Centenary.  Taplow Court was not immune to war-time tragedy, and indeed, whilst the eldest daughter of Lord Desborough was stationed as an army nurse, her two elder brothers were both killed in Flanders in 1915.  A haunting painting hangs in a large room in Taplow, showing a line of young men, half-finished, representing those who had their lives tragically cut short on the battlefields of Europe. In fact, SGI are planning a series of events, including outreach work with local schools, to mark the Centenary year and to really allow visitors to interact with this period of history, but also to encourage dialogue about peace and respect for life, an important philosophical underpinning for SGI.   In fact, those we interviewed drew heavily on the history of the site, and stated that it caused them to look both to the past and to the future ‘with a sense of responsibility to make a positive difference to the environment that we are in’.

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Whilst the house certainly continues to look at home in the English countryside, more recently, Soka Gakkai have added a more modern building in the grounds to serve as their principal community meeting space.  Although this building, the Ikeda New Century Hall, is apparently rather unique for a Soka Gakkai building, there are similarities with other SGI buildings across the world, including shared clean, modern lines, and minimal decoration. In fact, there are no Buddha images or pictures in the main hall, but instead a shrine which houses the gohonzon, a scroll with sacred chants and names written on it, originally put together by Nichiren.  In addition, what were once the sticke tennis courts for the manor house are now a cafeteria which is used by those working in Taplow Court, as well as visitors.

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The very well stocked SGI Library

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The Ikeda New Century Hall

The current purpose of Taplow Court is the house the administrative HQ of SGI UK and play host to courses for members or large meetings.  Different members might use the buildings, or occasionally choirs or local charities.   As Taplow is part of the Historic Houses Association, it is also regularly open to visitors.  And like so many other buildings that we have seen on this project, it is a huge financial commitment to keep the fabric of the house and gardens well-maintained. Yet, to SGI UK, the value of spending so much time and effort is that the building itself is a vehicle to bring communities and individuals together, in order to help people.

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Ornate ceiling, Taplow Court

 

 

 

 

As an aside, whilst we were at Taplow, we discussed how the built landscape of Buddhism has changed over the past fifty years.  Whilst it was felt that Buddhists in Britain have always been attracted to interesting buildings, and ones with history and character, in recent years, the quality of the renovations and restoration work has significantly increased.  This might well be a reflection of health and safety criteria becoming more stringent, and the need for communities to employ professionals as opposed to volunteers to complete renovations.Or is it because it is important to attract people with decent facilities?  Or because maintaining the buildings to a high standard reflects the value that is placed on Buddhist practice in all it’s forms? Something to reflect on as we continue with the research.

 

 

 

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Offering Incense in Eccleston Square since 1956: The Buddhist Society, London

The Buddhist Society has always been a building that I enjoy visiting.  Situated in upmarket Eccleston Square in London (not far from Victoria Station), the Buddhist Society is one of the first lay Buddhist societies in Europe, according to their website.

The Buddhist Society was established in 1924 by Christmas Humphreys to support interest in Buddhism and Buddhist practice in the United Kingdom, and to this day, they offer meditation classes from various Buddhist traditions (they were preparing for a lunch-time Zen meditation when we visited), talks and lectures on a wide variety of topics in relation to Buddhism, a summer school, a journal (called ‘The Middle Way’) and a well-stocked library. Currently, the Buddhist Society have approximately 2,500 members and subscribers, drawn from around the world, and also from people of varying adherence to different Buddhist groups and traditions or none.

 

Buddhist Society, Eccleston Square c.1956, Copyright Buddhist Society

Buddhist Society, Eccleston Square c.1956, Copyright Buddhist Society

 

The Buddhist Society, 2014

The Buddhist Society, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Buddhist Society originally occupied a series of residential houses, including first in Bloomsbury (from 1924), and later in Gordon Square (from 1952-1956), before moving to their current home at 58 Eccleston Square which (aside from the flats upstairs) is Grade II Listed. The building itself, and the square that surrounds it (including a large communal garden), was constructed sometime between 1828 and 1850 by Thomas Cubitt.

58 Eccleston Square was a residential house before being first rented, and then bought, by the Buddhist Society, and was, previously a (no doubt magnificent) family home. Whilst the Buddhist Society made changes to the building when they initially took it over in 1956, they have not changed much since then (although the library was renovated about five years ago, and there has been redecoration, maintenance and the addition of central heating), and the diverse history of Buddhism in England is writ large throughout the fabric of this fascinating building and the artifacts it houses. In the photo below, Emma is sitting on the chair used by Edwin Arnold to write his famous poem, The Light of Asia; the same chair that is favoured by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Patron of the Buddhist Society, when he comes to visit.

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If you keep your eyes open, you will see some very interesting small details in the Buddhist Society –  I was particularly taken with the little details, such as the door hinges and the wrought-iron stair banisters (see photo below), lovely examples of well-maintained period features.

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Early advertising board, on display at the Buddhist Society

Inside, there is a library, an office, and three very different looking shrine rooms (one of which doubles as a  lecture room). Downstairs is a kitchen , and storage for the archives (including all the copies of the Middle Way Journal, and reel-to-reel tapes of lectures that have been given here over the years).

 

There are also three very different shrine rooms that can be used by members for meditation, and play host to a wide range of interesting artifacts, Buddha and bodhisattva statues and pictures, paintings and thankas, many which are historically significant.

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Shrine room, Buddhist Society

 

 

Both the large and small shrine rooms were recently decorated, including some fabulous wall-paper (see below), which was chosen as it looks like a lotus image; significant in Buddhism. And only three years ago, after a legacy was bequeathed to the Society, was central heating installed. Unsurprisingly, on-going costs to maintain the building are high – they recently repainted it outside and have to constantly be aware of issues in relation to upkeep, including clearing out the drains at the top of the house.

2013-11-05 11.24.02Although commonly referred to as the Buddhist Society – actually, some who visit also call it a temple; and it was remarked that it feels like a Buddhist temple because of the ever-present smell of incense – well, as we were told, they have been burning incense here since 1956!

 

 

 

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