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Living Mindfully with a Visit to Pure Land Japanese Gardens

5 September 19 words: Kate Dawson
photos: Andrew James

Need a break? Just outside of the city, in Newark, there’s a little slice of paradise at Pure Land Meditation Centre & Japanese Garden. We went to meet Buddha Maitreya, the zen-fuelled, scone-making owner who welcomed us in to a Lantern Lit Evening – running this September…

I’ve been looking at ways to ‘defrag’ my frazzled brain and take a more mindful approach to living – and parenting. Taking a short hiatus from email and social media is a start, but mindfulness, if I’m honest, has always rather eluded me.

There’s just so much to do and not enough time, isn’t there? Even when I’m not working, I’m constantly making mental lists or worrying about what I ‘should’ be doing. So, it’s Friday night and rather than watching TV (while thinking about everything that needs to be done over the weekend) I’m heading to Buddha Maitreya’s Japanese Gardens in Clifton, near Newark.

On arrival I tentatively ring the gong in the reception. After a few moments, Buddha Maitreya, a sprightly 79-year old, enters the room and greets us with a smile. I’m usually a bit of a cynic about this sort of thing, but the warmth he exudes is genuinely palpable. We feel welcome.

He explains that the lanterns come into full effect in about an hour’s time, but that we may take a wander around and then must return to taste one of his scones. The ‘world’s best,’ he says. Now that’s the kind of marketing puffery I just can’t resist. In any case, if I decline, I fear some sort of karmic repercussion.

I ask the gentle Buddha about his spiritual teaching and he says it’s more needed today than ever, as so many people are suffering. Pondering this undeniable truth, we enter the gardens and I’m immediately enchanted. The central focus is a large carp pond, surrounded by little hillocks, nooks and crannies, resting places for moments of quiet contemplation, and everywhere is festooned with brightly coloured lanterns. Miniature Buddha figures are, quite naturally, dotted around the place. Little bridges and stepping stones delight my daughter. The colours, textures and scents consume me for a few moments – I realise I’m being mindful, rather by accident.

We return to the café and have another chat. Buddha Maitreya explains that he came to Clifton 43 years ago and started work on the gardens then. The pond was dug out with a JCB and the undulating landscape, reminiscent of his homeland, was lovingly created by hand. The stunning crystal garden has taken a mere decade to build.

Our tea and scones don’t disappoint; the tea made from fresh mint and other herbs grown by the Buddha’s own fair hands. Soft scones, served with jam and delightfully childish squirty cream, is served on plates decorated with the willow pattern. While eating, we peruse a book authored by Maitreya to better understand his approach. On one page a picture is captioned simply with the words: Cut grass, then sit, relax. The Buddhist approach to life is to work, rest and accept, to be kind to others and oneself – this kindness is known as ‘mettā’. It feels liberating to be given permission to stop, get off the treadmill and take the time to care for myself.

And they really are the lightest scones I’ve ever tasted.

As dusk begins to draw in, we head back out into the garden in search of the fairies and angels that we’ve heard reside there. Perhaps we’ll spy them sleeping under the weeping willow, or hopping across the lily pads…?

I take a few more pictures and then my phone runs out of battery, so I find a quiet resting place and sit. And breathe. I enjoy looking at the brightly coloured lanterns swaying slightly in the breeze; the garden taking on an ethereal quality as the night falls. There is an occasional squawk of a bird overhead.

Before leaving, we say goodbye to Buddha Maitreya and thank him for his hospitality. “It’s a magical place isn’t it?” he says with a twinkle in his eye. If magic means kick-starting a more mindful life, then this place certainly does that in spades, and for that, I am truly grateful.

Pure Land Meditation Centre and Japanese Garden Lantern Lit Evenings, Friday – Sunday, 7pm-10pm until end of September

Pure Land Meditation Centre and Japanese Garden website

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