Living on The Edge

Kaspalita 1From our Saturday Night Dharma series.

Kaspalita talks about how we stop going around in circles and move to the edge of possibility, using as examples the Buddha’s life, and the stories of Kisagotami and Patacara two disciples of the Buddha who both suffered great losses.

P.S. You can find the paper by Dharmavidya that I mention in the talk here: The Distinctive Character of Buddhist Psychology

Listen/download mp3


Or stream the audio from YouTube:

Join me in starting a short daily practice?

desk shrineA confession: I haven’t been connecting with the Buddha lately. I’m lucky to live in a space full of rupas and I attend three services a week, but on the days in between I sometimes forget the Buddha for most of the day.

I’m re-reading a beautiful book about contemplative ministry which says that the first priority of anyone who ministers (that includes you!) is staying in relationship with the Buddha. If we keep this connection strong, everything else will fall into place.

And so today I have committed to re-starting a simple daily practice, morning and evening, which will put something other than my own concerns at the heart of my day. The practice I’ve decided on takes a minimum of five minutes. I’d rather check in for five minutes daily than no minutes. This morning I did it in my office facing my golden Buddha, but it’s simple enough that I will be able to do it anywhere.

I know that Amida will love me whether or not I check in with him. But I also know that as a foolish being my life runs more smoothly when I get into good habits, and this is the most important habit of all.

If you’d like to join me in committing to a short daily practice of your own, or tell us what you already do every day, click here to do so at our virtual temple (let me know if you get stuck registering or logging on). I’ve said there what I’m going to do in my own daily practice. Do put some time aside to add your comment – it will help others to feel supported if they know they’re not alone.

Here’s where you can find information and links to texts and audio to inspire you to create your own daily practice. If you’d like some extra accountability, reply to this email and tell me what you’re committing to – I’ll check back with you in a couple of weeks to see how you’re getting on : )

Whatever inspires you, whatever consoles you and keeps you safe, whatever helps you to go out into the world and do good things – here’s wishing you more of it. Namo Amida Bu.

It Will Be Good

There was a really lovely atmosphere at our Saturday night Dharma talk. Lots of laughter and good feeling, and lots of chatting after the talk, which is always a good sign. Kaspa talked about what we have faith in, or wake up to. Inspired by the Lotus Sutra, Kaspa hinted at the qualities of fundamental reality, or the saving grace of Buddhas, and the deep significance of entering into relationship with that.

It Will Be Good Rev Kaspalita Listen/download mp3

Or stream (Audio only) from youtube now:

A busy weekend in the life of the temple

Peter and PoppetIt’s 5pm on Sunday. Roshi is chasing a pistachio shell around the kitchen floor – it makes a satisfying noise on the tiles as it skitters away from his patting paws.

In an hour or so we’ll climb the two flights of stairs from our flat up to the shrine room, where we’ll sit in a circle of chairs and listen to each other as we take turns to hold a stone and share about our weeks. The stone warms up as is passed from hands to hands, and so do we. This listening circle will be the fourth temple event this weekend.

Last night I gave a Dharma talk about a Buddhist approach to relationships. I started by proposing that suffering in our relationships is unavoidable, and then used the Four Noble Truths to look at what we can do about that. Energy arises in us in response to this suffering, and we can then choose to harness this energy and ‘do the right thing’ rather than just falling into compulsive, reactive or avoidant behaviours. If we can manage this, a Right Relationship will follow. That’s the cut-down-from-forty-minutes version!

This morning Acharya Susthama led our monthly family service – there were 25 people in the room including 7 little ones, a record. Little Selena helped her mum with the water offerings, and after the service the children all came down into the garden to visit Peter & Poppet bunnies, who were grateful for extra cabbage and strokes.

Then a real treat – some of us left the chaos of conversation, children & cupcakes in the dining room and came downstairs to the living room where Andrew Cheffings led 12 of us in the first session of the Pureland Sangeet Choir. We learnt 3 of the 1000 Pureland hymns he’s written this year (no, I didn’t type too many zeros there) with their sliding Indian melodies and devotional lyrics, accompanied by Andrew on tanpura and his partner Ian on cello (and Caroline on tingsha for the all-important ‘tings’ between Namo Amida Bus). There was a good sprinkling of laughter during the hour and a half we sang. I’ve copied some of the lyrics below and when we’ve practised a bit more we hope to record some of them so you can listen and maybe sing along at home.

By the time we’d come back upstairs the mugs had been washed and the room was cleaner that it had been before everyone arrived. The golden offering bowl was full of money and our hearts were full of the grace of Amida.

The temple enjoys both being full of sangha and returning to silence, as we all do. Kaspa & I will appreciate our quiet Sabbath day tomorrow. Then we’ll start looking forward to our Wednesday night service…

(If you’d like to be sent my Dharma talk on relationships do sign up to Amida Mandala’s mailing list of you haven’t already – if you’d like to receive news of events here tick ‘weekly local news’ too – click here.)

Pureland Nembutsu

Na-mo A-mi-da Bu,  I en-trust my-self to You,

In the garden of the Pure Land,

With the love and faith That of Your own ac-cord And through us, You will rescue all   beings-

Na-mo Ami-da  Bu, Na-mo A-mi-da Bu, Na- mo A-mi-da Bu.


Honen went out walking To gather fresh herbs.

The  Earth and the Pure Land Were One in his  eyes.

A rainbow of lotus flowers, A mountain, a waterfall,

A-mi-da’s temple a-mong the clouds,

And herbs that he knelt before- Namo Amida Bu-

And carefully plucked.

People brought flowers as offerings to his hut.

They saw the Buddha statue, He saw A-mida

In a beam of light a-bove.

Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu.

The light will work its own good work

Odilon Redon BuddhaAll weekend Kaspa & I were on a training weekend led by two experienced ERT trainers – psychotherapists who use their own bodies in relationship with their clients. This includes movement, paying attention to the sensations in our bodies, inviting our clients to amplify any symptoms they might have, and other forms of ‘conversation’.

We learnt new ways of working and we did practice sessions (using real material from our lives) with our fellow students. More than anything, the leaders welcomed us all and created a safe space where we were able to be vulnerable, support each other and discover new things about ourselves. This kind of learning can be pretty intense and often involves pain, sadness and other emotion as reorganisation happens at a very deep level.

Last night I slept for 13 hours. This morning I had a dream in which there was a young girl who’d been wronged somehow at work. I talked to her, accompanied by an expert in workplace legal issues. I started to explain at length to the girl how my colleague would help her, but then I realised it wasn’t necessary as the expert could and would do that herself. I told the girl she’d be safe with the expert, and handed her over.

The young girl was a young part of me that needs healing, and that hasn’t had the necessary resources to do so. The expert was the new knowledge (knowledge doesn’t quite cover it – something much more visceral, that includes courage and love) I came away with after the weekend course.

The realisation that I didn’t need to be the middle-woman between these two parts was a real revelation to me. The expert would be able to look after the girl without me keeping an eye on them both, controlling things. This phrase from Tai Shi Chih’s prayer came to mind:

“The light will work its own good work
If only we will trust it.”

How do we lean into the light?

This weekend I made an effort to drive to the course and spend time with people who also trust the light – not explicitly the light of the Buddha, but the light of the body’s great wisdom, which might be the same thing anyway. As I spent time with them, and in the sacred space they created, I was able to relax.

As I relaxed, the light got on with doing the job it knows how to do. Reaching the scared and wounded parts of me. Bathing them with care and attention. Allowing them to unfold and begin to give off a light of their own.

I hope you can catch some of this light as you read this.

The light will works its own good work, if only we will trust it.

Namo Amida Bu.

Dwelling in faith

Just as you areThe temple’s word for the year is faith.

Reflecting on life at the temple recently I had the sense that our community members, residents and otherwise, are all deepening their relationship with their own personal koan. I use koan here in the sense of the koan that arises in daily life, rather than the universal cases that are studied in Rinzai.

A more Pureland way of saying this might be something like, ‘People are deepening their relationship both with their bonbu nature and with the Buddha.’

We all have our own bonbu nature. Greed, hate and delusion are universal, but they manifest in each of us in unique ways. Getting to know our own personal bonbu nature has two benefits, the first is that we might be able to do something to smooth off the rough edges. This might be being more mindful, or putting ourselves in better conditions. The second is more profound: we are shown how deeply intractable our karma is, how heavily conditioned we are, and how we are loved by the Buddha in this foolish state. Any changes we manage to make are held in this greater context of a deep appreciation of our foolishness, and more often than not, when we try to change, we fail, and this brings us back to this second realisation again.

It is faith in Amida which allows this process to begin, and to begin to see our foolish nature clearly, and the more clearly we see our foolish nature, and see that we are loved anyway, the more faith we are given.

As we encounter ourselves and the Buddha in this way, a tender heart appears.

This tender heart might feel deep sadness at the things we do to each other and our world, but it also feels kindness as we recognise that we are all in the same boat, and all loved just as we are.

If we do change for the better in this lifetime, it is because of the dharmic gifts we have received from our friends, teachers, and from the Buddhas. When we examine ourselves in this spirit, rather than reaching for the next stage in self-improvement, we can feel gratitude for what we have already received, and make an offering of what we already are and have to the Buddhas.

When others encounter our community as we each engage in our practice in this way, they are entering into a Pure Land. Pure Land is a translation of a word which literally means ‘Buddha-field’: when we dwell in faith, the Buddha appears, not just for us, but for those around us too.

It is not a perfect Pure Land, like Amida’s, sometimes the lower realms do manifest here, but there is a very real opportunity for people joining our community to encounter the Buddha.

The more we engage with our koans, and the more deeply we dwell in faith, the more clearly this Pureland appears in our midst.

Happy Bodhi Day

sb10065458e-001Today we remember the Buddha’s enlightenment underneath the Bodhi tree: as the morning star rose, he realised perfect dharma. With one hand he reached down and touched the Earth, a gesture I take to be of gratitude, of recognition of support, of dependence.

He set out to look deeply into suffering, and to find an end to suffering. He was inspired both by the suffering he found in the world, and also by the grace he had seen and experienced, that grace that was embodied by the sadhu who was ‘the fourth sight’, and by his own experiences in meditation.

On the night of his enlightenment, the arrows which Mara sent to the Buddha, transformed into flowers: hate became love. The Buddha awoke and embodied loving kindness, compassion, insight, energy and steadiness in the face of life’s troubles. He saw what usually provokes anger, or hate, or greed, and felt love instead.

He fell into the noble life, and suffering fell away.

Most Buddhists aspire to walk the noble path in the way the Buddha walked it: to learn to embody what he embodied, and for their own suffering to fall away.

As Pureland Buddhists our emphasis is in seeing that we are received by this vision. That if we had come into the company of Shakyamuni Buddha, he would have loved us in the way he loved the world. And that the spirit of all the Buddhas, manifesting as Amida Buddha, sees us and loves us in that way today.

We are of samsara, and we are received by the vision of the Buddha, and carried into nirvana.

Namo Amida Bu