The history of the Hull Serene Reflection Meditation Group.
There had been a group of Buddhists meeting in Hull for several years, led by night-class tutor Chris Cook, founded in 1987. This was (and still is) a general Buddhist meditation and discussion group (now called the Hull Buddhist Forum). We went with Chris to visit Throssel Hole Buddhist Monastery, near Nent Head in Weardale, for a retreat in November 1994.
(Hull Buddhist Forum at Wesak celebration near Withernsea ca 1993
l to r = Ann Surgey, Mike Horne, Chris Cook, Liz Hamilton, Chris, Mike, Vivian and Ian)
Some of us from Chris's group, interested in Zen, felt the need to meet more frequently for meditation. So we started to meet in each other's houses one evening a week. The first meeting was on 18th May 1995, just after Wesak - the Theravada festival of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. From what I remember there were six of us in those early days of the group - Ann, Jonathan, Vivian, Jean, Ian and myself, plus Chris who occasionally attended. The early meetings were mainly at my house and the simple aim of the group was to meet and meditate for half an hour a week within the Soto Zen tradition. If the meeting lasted longer then that was nice. If no one else came I sat by myself ! Ed Abramson and Paul Fisher joined in the first year.
We visited the Monastery again and discussed the development of the Hull Zen Group with Reverend Master Daishin. The monks passed on the names of other people in our region who had visited the Monastery. Some of these have become members of the Group, but are usually unable to attend our evening meetings, preferring to come to the retreats.
The Hull Buddhist Group was also formed later in 1995, following a public talk by Lama Jampa Thaye at the Friends Meeting House, in Hull. This was a group for all Buddhists formed around a core group led by Barry and Sue (who later formed the Kagyu Naro Ling Group, based at their house in Hull, in 1999). Some members of the Zen Group went and contributed to their regular Sunday evening meetings held at the Unitarian Church in Park Street, by reading scriptures, leading meditations or chairing the meetings. Over the four years of its existence the Hull Buddhist group acted as an introductory group for people new to Buddhism, as well as home for local nonaffiliated Buddhists
We asked Throssel Hole Monastery if we could become affiliated and were told that it was possible. The name of the Group was changed to the "Hull Serene Reflection Meditation Group". We also wrote a set of 'Aims' with the help of Reverend Fuden, setting out the intentions of the Group, so that members would know the main purpose was to meditate in the Serene Reflection tradition.
In May 1996, we organised our first introductory retreat, led by Rev. Alexander, at Ann's house in Withernsea. We held two retreats a year at Withernsea, and they always attracted about a dozen people. Initially these attracted Buddhists from other traditions who were curious about Zen, as well people who took up the practice more permanently.
There had been some problems for the Group to overcome in the early years. Firstly, we agreed that we could not give meditation instruction - so newcomers were lent a video and book to read. Also, we were not allowed to advertise the group meetings until we were affiliated to the Order; but people found out about us by word of mouth or through the Hull Buddhist Group. We became affiliated in 1997 and in 1998 Ann was authorised to give meditation instruction.
In 1998 Throssel Hole decided to ask individual monks to liaise with and guide the affiliated lay mediation Groups. Rev Aylwin started to visit our group on a regular basis and we started to hold monthly Introductory Meetings at the Scout Hut in Walker Street. We also went occasionally to visit Tony and Jenny Weedon in Lincolnshire, in the spring to see the flowers at local nature reserves and in the autumn to see the seal colony at Donna Nook. For a period we held our weekly meetings in the conservatory at the Friends' Meeting House in Percy Street.
Periodically we had long discussions about the future of the group and its organisation. In 1999 we spent several months discussing a revision of the aims - "should we have a committee?", etc., and a proposal to change the name of the group to reflect out-of-town membership. In the end it was decided unanimously that members were happy with organising by consensus, and as all other affiliated groups are named after a town or city the name of our Group remained unchanged. We also agreed to continue to hold our weekly meetings in member's houses. These organisational matters will, no doubt, arise again. In the Autumn of 1999 we started to get ten or eleven members attending meetings - almost too many to fit the rooms we used, but not quite enough to merit hiring a hall; but numbers attending went back to half a dozen in the winter.
The Group published 3 volumes of the journal "Now and Zen" in 2000-2001 featuring articles, recipes and poems by members and news from SRM Groups in northern England. It was edited by Tony Wheeden, Ed Abramson and Mike Horne. It was printed by a friend of Tony's in North Somercotes and also published on Mike's website.
Ann became a Lay Minister in 1999. She occasionally organised a week-long retreat at a cottage at Rolston, near Hornsea. In 2005 Ann moved into a new house in Withernsea with a large wooden hut in the garden which she used for regular retreat on the fourth Sunday of each month. In 2007 she decided not to renew her Lay Minister's license and left the Group.
When Rev. Aylwin disrobed (ca 2001) , Rev. Roland took over the role of "Group Monk" for both the Harrogate and Hull SRM Groups until 2007.
pictures from the Group's Wesak Ceremony in May 1999
(by Brian Pope)
Following the success of the Group's Wesak celebration in 1999 and the disbanding of the Hull Buddhist Group, we have helped to organise an annual Wesak Celebration with other Buddhist groups in the region under the name of "Hull Buddhist Groups".
The 2001 Wesak celebration for all Buddhist groups and individuals in Hull and surrounding area was quite successful. About two dozen people attended, including members of members of seven different Buddhist Groups. The Hull Daily Mail sent a reporter and photographer to cover the event. The event also raised a small sum which was donated to Angulimala - the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy. [Click here for a report of the event.]
Hull Buddhist and Group member John Friend died on Sunday 27th January 2002. Monks from Throssel Hole Abbey performed the ceremony at his well-attended funeral at Haltemprice Crematorium.
In 2004 the Scout Hut in Walker Street, which we had used for our retreats and Wesak celebrations was pulled down. For the next few years the "Hull Buddhist Groups" Wesak Celebrations and other retreats were held at the Friends' Meeting House in Percy Street in the centre of Hull.
Neil Smith joined the Group in 2004 and was a regular attendee and host at meetings until he left the area in 2007.
At the beginning of 2007 Ann Surgey retired as a Lay Minister and Rev Mugo became the Group's visiting monk temporarily to allow Rev Roland to have a break. Neil Smith took over the responsibilities of organising the Hull Busshist Groups' Wesak Celebration from Mike Horne. The celebration was held in the new Friends' Meeting House in Been Street in May. The 2008 Wesak celebration for Hull Buddhist Groups was organised by Ann Surgey and Thurstan Binns. Thurstan has organised the event by himself, with help from SRM Group members since then.
Rev. Aiden became our "Group Monk", starting with a visit to a Group meeting in January 2008 with Rev. Saido. Due to falling attendances at meetings it was decided that the Group should only meet once a month, but that can be changed if more members join. Four members of the Group visited Throssel Hole Abbey and were authorised to give Meditation Instruction to newcomers.
Paul Fisher has offered the use of his home (originally in Hedon and later in Grimston) for Group retreats. We have held "Introductory Retreats" at the Friends' Meeting House in Hull which are open to newcomers. The Meeting House was originally in Story Street in the city centre of Hull, but in 2007 moved to Bean Street, near the Hull Royal Infirmary.
Over the years the format of the Group's evening meetings has evolved. It now consists "Midday Service" (which includes a recitation of Zen Master Dogen's Rules for Meditation), followed by 30 minute meditation. Then we have a cup of tea and listen to a recording of a talk by one of the Monks of the OBC. The meeting ends with a short meditation and the singing of "Vespers" along with a tape or CD recording. Occasionally we set aside some time to discuss organisational matters.
I think it is interesting to look back at the history and development of the Group. Some members have remained since the first meeting; others have come and gone for various reasons. The feel of the meeting depends on the venue and those attending. But, the essential nature of the Group and its simple aim to meditate for half an hour a week remains constant. It is bit like my mind during meditation - thoughts and sensations come and go, some stay for a long time, others never return, but my mind still continues!
(This is a personal view of the Group's development and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the Group as a whole.)
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updated August 2012