Tallowwood Sangha
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  mission statement
statement of values
Sexton Bourke



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Mission Statement

It is our mission to support our community in practicing the path of awakening through the direct experience of life as it is, in order to manifest wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all beings.

Statement of Values

We acknowledge that we meet on the ancestral lands of the Gumbaynggirr people, whose lands were never ceded. We acknowledge the First Australians as the traditional custodians of this country, and pay our respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.

INCLUSIVITY - We follow in the footsteps of the Buddha, who offered his teachings of awakening and freedom to all peoples. In doing so he challenged the social structures and attitudes of his day. We are wholly committed to inclusivity, without exception, and welcome all people of every age, ethinicity, cultural heritage, religious background, socio-economic group, ability, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

COMMUNITY - In the words of our teacher Will James: "Sangha is a community of people who care". We care with loving hearts for the good people of this Earth who are working for the healing of our beautiful and fragile ecosystem and for social justice; and for all those who support life in its many and wondrous forms. We welcome opportunities to support this work with wisdom and compassion.

GLOBAL CONSCIOUSNESS - We are awake to the truth of what world scientists are telling us about climate change, biodiversity loss and species extinction, and plastic pollution. We declare that these difficult times are unprecedented, and that an emergency response is required.

CREATIVITY - "There is increasing consensus that business as usual will have unacceptable social and environmental costs" ~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We encourage creativity and nurture new ideas as they emerge, both from our local sangha and the wider community. We hold each other gently throughout the inevitable ups and downs of this path we are walking together.


Tallowwood Sangha started in 1999 when Sexton Bourke was encouraged by his teacher Subhana Barzaghi to form a meditation group in Bellingen. Many times in the early days Sexton would sit alone, but gradually word spread and those drawn to meditation practice met with Sexton on a weekly basis.

Sexton had practiced in both the Zen and Insight traditions but following recognition that the group was more interested in Insight meditation, the group adopted this form of practice in 2001.  The group became known as Tallowwood Sangha.buddha face

Sexton led Days of Mindfulness at Bundagen Community and taught a retreat with Subhana Barzaghi near Bellingen.
In 2004 Sexton was diagnosed with cancer and endured prolonged periods of treatment.

In 2005 Will James joined Sexton as co-teacher and together they guided the growing group of dedicated practitioners. Due to Sexton’s ongoing health problems, Will gradually took over the role of principle teacher for the Tallowwood Sangha, leading the weekly sits, retreats, days of mindfulness, a mindfulness training course and Dharma study program

Sexton was made a Zen Roshi in the Diamond Sangha tradition by his teacher Subhana Barzaghi in 2010 and formed the Bellingen Zen Group, which he continued to lead until his death in 2011. Tallowwood Sangha continues to auspice the Bellingen Zen Group.

Tallowwood Sangha has facilitated many Dharma events over the years, bringing Christopher Titmuss annually out from England for many years to lead Dharma Gatherings and retreats.  Other features are annual women’s retreats with Radha Nicholson, the Dharma Facilitators program with Radha and Will as well as numerous retreats led by Will and guest teachers Subhana, Radha and Ellen Davison.


                  robesDuring the 1960’s and 70’s many westerners travelled to Asia to explore eastern philosophies - especially the teachings of the Buddha. One such traveller was Christopher Titmuss who had travelled overland from England. Christopher ordained as a Theravada monk and studied under the guidance of Ajahn Dhammadaro and Ajahn Buddhadasa in the Thai Forest Tradition.

When he disrobed, Christopher returned to the West and began to share the teachings and practices that he had discovered. Christopher was one of many western teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Salzberg who began to influence the growth and evolution of a distinctly Western Insight practice.

Christopher travelled regularly to Australia to lead retreats and over the years several Australian teachers emerged from this contact. These include Will James, Subhana Barzaghi, Radha Nicholson and Ellen Davison, who teach regularly at Tallowwood Sangha Events.

The modern Insight form of practice, although emerging directly out of the Buddhist Theravada tradition, has undergone immense change over the years. In the movement to the West, much of the ritual, eastern cultural practices and beliefs have fallen away, while still having the core teachings of the Buddha at the very heart of the practice.  



Tallowwood Sangha became Incorporated on 12th May 2008 and is a not-for-profit association managed by a voluntary Committee of Management. The Annual General Meeting is held every September and Association members are always welcome to attend.

The objective of the association is to provide opportunities for people to gather in sangha, engage in dharma practice and further their understanding of the dharma teachings.

Please find:
- our most recent AGM Minutes here
- our Committee Nomination Form here


Sexton Bourke

                BourkeSexton was a man of practice and all those who knew him admired his dedication to Dharma inquiry and daily meditation sitting. It was this practice that supported him through his years of living with cancer and dealing with numerous operations and treatments.

Sexton found that when he was having chemotherapy treatment his energy levels would drop during the day. As he found it impossible to come to meditation at the usuevening time, for the last 18 months of his life he led a morning sitting group. Each morning without fail, 7 days a week, Sexton would be sitting at the local Yoga Studio and he welcomed the local Sangha to sit with him. This routine continued until it became physically impossible for him to do so.  

Sexton had his own unique way of teaching the Dharma, a way that came out of his own direct experience. This teaching emanated from the way he lived his life, a life of integrity, generosity and respect. His teaching embodied a deep trust in body sensations and the innate intelligence of the body. When asked if he was afraid of death his simple response was that at this moment death was not present, that death was just an idea.

His life and death were an inspiration to all those who knew and loved him. He was an example of the benefit that Dharma practice can bring in overcoming suffering and the way he faced his death was a demonstration of his deep understanding and wisdom. Those who were fortunate enough to spend time with him during his final days were all touched by the way he welcomed each visitor with boundless love and joy.

Sexton was a dear friend and great support to many in the Sangha. He never failed to remind those who looked on him as their teacher of the emptiness of the role.

We miss his quirky humour and the depth of love that shone through those deep blue eyes. In the many years that I had the privilege of knowing Sexton he was always present in each meeting, always attentive and interested in whatever topic I was contemplating or whatever I was doing.

There is nothing greater than or as rewarding as the friendship and love. In Dharma language it is Kalyana-mitta, usually translated as spiritual friendship.

This is the potential we have as Human Beings to form intimate connections with each other: connections characterised by love, appreciation and respect. This relationship between teacher and student or between Dharma brothers and sisters reflects the depth of our understanding.

For those of us who were fortunate enough to have known Sexton, we will never forget his open heart and his great capacity to love.

It was indeed a sad day for the Tallowwood Sangha to lose such a unique Dharma friend and teacher, may his deep compassion and love continue to inspire and support us all.

Rob Macgregor
Sadly we have lost another dear Dharma friend in Rob Macgregor.

Rob gave wonderful service to Tallowwood Sangha both as an apprentice Dharma teacher and Dru Yoga teacher.

Rob studied the Dharma for 11 years, attended the Dharma Facilitators Program and managed Tallowwood retreats.  She led groups and taught Yoga at retreats in Australia and Bali. Rob also created and led the Ocean Sangha in Coffs Harbour and was an enthusiastic and dedicated practitioner.

Rob will be remembered for her warmth and for the selfless support and encouragement she gave to all of us.

We were fortunate to know and practice with her.  Her passing is a great loss for the Tallowwood Sangha.

...Will James


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