Ready, set, go… So here I am sitting on the 10.58 from York, heading for Kings Cross and, for once, I have no expectations about where I’m going or what it’s going to be like. I’m going to be staying in Bethnal Green, at The London Buddhist Centre, for 6 weeks as part of a small team, knocking on suburban doors, introducing people to the work of the Karuna Trust and, ultimately, inviting those who show an interest to consider taking out a regular donation. I’ve never been to LBC or done a Karuna appeal before, so this feels like a real step into the unknown.
There has been a mixed reaction from friends and relatives to this, going all the way from enthusiastic encouragement to downright disapproval. Then there are others who have shaken their heads and said, “Oh I couldn’t do anything like that”. As some people have also pointed out, it’s hardly likely to be a walk in the park. So why on earth am I doing it?
There are three main reasons. First off, The Karuna Trust does incredibly important work in India, helping some of the 170 million people there who suffer fear, oppression and violence because of their caste or ethnicity. These people from from the Dalit (“untouchable”) communities are routinely denied basic human rights including access to education, healthcare, legal protection and decent livelihoods. Karuna gives them the chance to escape - but to do that, they need money. By stepping out of my life and into the appeal for 6 weeks, I hope to encourage some people to donate some of that money. It seems a small sacrifice for someone like me who enjoys such a comfortable life.
My second reason for doing this appeal is, paradoxically, that it won’t be easy. My Buddhist practice is about letting go of ‘self’ - this fixed idea of a ‘me’ which places Jenny Roberts at the centre of the universe. Going outside my comfort zone, knocking on doors, dealing sensitively with the majority of people who may not be pleased to see me at first (or at all), seems a pretty good way of letting go of my own importance. Then of course there is (hopefully) the challenge of raising lots of money and not letting that go to my head either!
The third reason is that during these 6 weeks, I’ll be living with the rest of the team in our own community house at the London Buddhist Centre. That means rubbing along with 6 other women and learning to get along with all our different personalities, habits, likes and dislikes. Hopefully another opportunity to further my Buddhist practice through forebearance and generosity - and, just as important, a chance, I hope, to form deep and lasting friendships and to be a part of LBC for a while.
More succinctly, the Karuna website describes these appeals as,”the ‘classic’ transformative Karuna team experience: learning to ask something meaningful of another human being in a way that is authentic and sensitive”
As I type this I’m aware of a feeling of deep apprehension swelling around in my belly like a great ocean of uncertainty. But it’s just a feeling arising in my awareness and I’m welcoming it as a friend, letting it sit with me as we journey south together into who-knows-what-it’s-going-to-be-like land.
If you would like, you can come along and share this adventure with me. I’ll be posting every few days, talking about the training, the mechanics of the appeal, life in the community and the experience on the street. Most of all, I’ll be talking about how it feels to be doing this - the good bits, the hard bits, the joys and the humiliations - and, come what may, I’m going to try to be as honest as I can so that you can get a real taste of what it feels like to be an Appealing Buddhist.