On a chilly, but fortunately not rainy morning, 30 RE students boarded the bus (after escaping the hubbub of Year 7 rowing practice), and embarked on their journey to Norwich.
After a long and uneventful journey, we arrived in the centre of Norwich and walked a short stretch to the Buddhist centre. As many had never experienced a centre such as this, it was different to what some had been expecting; indeed, the outside could have been just like every other building on the side street where it was located, if there hadn’t been intricate designs on the front, and the sign so clearly labelled the building – you couldn’t miss it. The three storey construction was further explored as we went in via the front entrance and sat in the front room where there were some sofas and a small shop.
The first Buddhist custom we learnt was that we had to take off our shoes before advancing further in the centre – as a sign of respect and for the cleanliness of the shrine. Then, we walked up the steep stairs to the Shrine and immediately admired the incredible painting at the forefront of the shrine: the Buddha was painted surrounded by houses – instead of the customary tree that is often featured in paintings of the Buddha. This asset was a fixation that we sat in front of, most of us cross legged on mats and cushions, some at the back were on chairs.
We were then given a talk by a man called Sarvananda, which means ‘happiness’. Buddhists each get a new name when they become ordained in Buddhism, usually something they already possess or that they can work towards. He explained the different kinds of Buddhism there were in Norwich, why he converted to Buddhism from Christianity, about the Buddhist community, and talked about the different practices and teachings that he followed. These included those such as the moral precepts, which explained why he was a vegetarian and was trying to become vegan.
After a series of questions that gave more of an insight into the life of a Buddhist and what they believed about the world and creation (and how traditions may differ based on country, society, and traditions), we had a meditation activity.
After Sarvananda created a ringing sound using a Tibetan singing bowl (also known as a singing bowl or resting bell), we had to shut our eyes and try to relax (after sitting cross legged on the floor for a while this was harder than you may think – it’s not the most comfortable). The main aim was to ultimately clear our minds and push away thoughts that crept in. This was only interrupted by the thumps of the yoga studio upstairs in the Buddhist centre, but eventually you recognised other sounds that wouldn’t usually be heard unless there was silence. For some, meditation was harder than they thought, especially when they couldn’t stop thinking about lunch…
As mentioned, lunch was next on the agenda, so we journeyed to Norwich Cathedral, and ate in the courtyard, where we were accompanied by the view of the towering spire, which only epitomised the great architectural feat the Normans pulled off – they made the structure so strong that in the 1400s they were able to build the spire even taller than before, replacing the wood that had been struck by lightning.
Then, we had a talk by two members of the church, who showed us pictures of different churches around the world to show the different branches of Christianity, and how social structures change the type of buildings people worship in. This was paired with an explanation of different Christian items – such as icons, crosses and the rosary.
A short walk across the courtyard, and we were in the main body of the cathedral (at the bottom of the cross shape), and had an explanation of why the font had been acquired from a chocolate factory, and how it used to be used for mixing chocolate in. Apparently, it was donated, and was decided to be used due to just looking aesthetically pleasing.
Next we were shown the beautiful stained glass windows, untraditionally made of just different coloured glass, yet it symbolises the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. After the two ladies talked us through a traditional Eucharist service, where there was an opportunity to dress up and wear bright coloured robes that Priests wear, we were given the chance to explore the other end of the Cathedral by ourselves.
A trip up a very narrow staircase led us to the treasury room where there were some ancient artefacts. We then all sat down in the ornate choir stalls, where from here it was easy to look up at the decorated ceiling to see the paintings that had been done, depicting different Bible stories. However, if you looked closely you could see the political turmoil of the 1400s, where there were signs of both sides in the War of the Roses represented, as the Bishop at the time didn’t want to take sides or anger the King.
To end the trip, a visit to the gift shop was required, before boarding the coach to journey back to school, after what was a very successful trip.
By Gemma Bridges, Editor in Chief