Silence is a very hard thing to find in the heart of a city. I had just come to the realisation that although I was with with 3 friends, who I would consider to be some of the loudest out going people I have known that I had not heard a sound for at least 30 minuets. I thought back to how we had come accross this peace and tranquility just a short drive from the heart of Portsmouth.
Sat sipping tea in a local cafe sheltering from the good old British weather we nursed our hangovers from the night before thinking that as usual we would watch the day pass without taking advantage of the free time. We had planned a week of adventure, but the good old British weather had other idea's. Rain had put us off a trip to the valley's of Wales, there was no surf forcast and the ground was frozen sold from the recent snow so mountain boarding would result in injuries. what to do?
We were not in any chain cafe such as Costa, Nero or Starbucks, all of which are the same which ever branch you find yourself in. We were in the The Peace Cafe(or find it on facebook or here). A small buddhist cafe, a sancuary in the hussel and bussle of city life. This sparked a memory of an ex colleague who found Buddism when he stumbled accross a monestry in a local forest. Asking the cafe owner he helpfully told us how to find it and told us of it's unique beauty in the area. We decided then and there that the adventure was on.
Pulling into the grounds, we felt uneasy. Were we welcome here? Were we definately in the right place? Following the signs to the parking area we passed huge statues of Buddhas. Out of the car we were instantly hit by a calmness. This place Oozed tranquility, even with nobody around I found myself whispering to the others. We only spoke when we needed to for the rest of our stay. Welcome to Cittaviveka.
Set in beautiful grounds there was endless opportunity for photography and the overcast day provided amazing diffuse lighting. Armed with my brand new not yet used Canon 50mm f1.8 mk2 I had a field day. At every turn in the gardens there was yet another interesting Buddhist statue to capture. At one point I had taken that many photographs of Buddha's that I actually started to take photographs of the ones that I did not find that interesting because I did not want to leave them out.
The living quarters for the monks are inside the country house which according to the website you are welcome inside to help cook, look around and read in the library. However we did not feel comfortable enough to go within the house. To make up for this we were able to enter the meditation hall. This hall was within what seemed to be a converted barn area. There were two entrances into this hall, one for us and another for the teachers. On the entrance to the hall was a note which explained why there was nobody to be seen, the majority of the monks had gone on retreat. This was shame as I'd hoped to speak to a few and possible use the oportunity to get some portrait photo's too. Trough the heavey glass door entrance into the building was a welcoming room. Here you were insructed to take off your shoe's and were able to grab a mat and cusion for meditation in the main hall. Before I entred the hall I had a flick through the vast amount of free literature provided for visitors. From fact sheet's to fully published writings on Buddhist teachings were available for you to take away and read. I took a book and a few of the fact sheets to read at home and left a donation for these.
I had spent many a Sunday morning as a child going to Catholic Church with my mother. I was expecting the meditation room to envoke a similar feeling that Church envoked in me as a child. But I was supprised. A totally different emotion was felt as I entered the clean modern hall. Large clear windows all the way across the two longer walls brightened up the room giving a sence of space and openess, unlike the light barriers of the stained glass church windows from my memory's. The floor was some sort of stone, similar or possibly sand stone polished to a smooth shine the colour of which complimented the light smoothly sanded wooden frame of the hall. The materials and colours of this room gave me a link to nature whilst providing a modern feel with the underfloor heating. i took a few moments to photograph the great hall whilst it was empty. the two statues at either end of the hall were fascinating. The main Buddha was a large white female Buddha sat in the lotus position this was the main alter area with red material on the wall in the background and flowers and candles set in a symetrical way. At the opposite end was a smaller female buddha placed on a wooden stand, it was made from what I assume is sandstone, this was my favourite statue of the day.
After photographing almost everything within the grounds we settled in the tranquility of the mediation hall. Trying to free my mind I chanted Om Mani Padme Hum and remembered why I chose to have this tebetan mantra tattooed on my wrist. So mindfulness and tranquility can be with me where ever I go in life.
I would higly recommend a visit to the monastery, even for those who are not interested or know nothing about Buddhism this could just be an escape for a few hours in a nice welcoming quiet place. For more information about the monastery visit their website. To see more photographs from my visit see myFlickr set.