Download the mp3s below – or stream them from our YouTube channel.
In this short talk from our Sunday Service, Kaspa explains what The Great Way avoids picking and choosing means.
“I am talking about the first few lines of the Zen poem, Faith in Mind. They go something like this:
至道無難 The best way is not difficult
唯嫌揀擇 it only excludes picking and choosing
但莫憎愛 Once you stop loving and hating
洞然明白 it will enlighten itself.
I hope to make a translation myself soon, that translation is from sacred-texts.com”
A few people come – sometimes just one, sometimes four or five – and we take turns picking up the stone and speaking of whatever is in our hearts. The rest of the group listen. Nobody gives advice. Nobody says anything to make anyone ‘feel better’. We receive whatever people are saying in silence. It’s that simple, and that complicated.
Sometimes people talk of the practicalities of their weeks, or something they’ve been puzzling about. Sometimes there are tears – of sadness, anguish, anger or gratitude. By the end of that hour, I always feel more connected to Amida Buddha – often more connected than I have all week.
Why does the practice of stone-passing connect me with the divine more powerfully than all the other spiritual practice we do here – the chanting, the walking meditation, reading the sutras, hearing the Dharma and talking with my spiritual friends in a less formal way?
I’m sure there are lots of reasons, and some of these will be personal to me. I think the most interesting reason, however, is that the listening circle is a powerful spiritual practice in it’s own right.
In these circles, we are asking people to trust the group with the parts of themselves that they are struggling with. This is only possible because the rest of the group looks upon those parts with eyes of love. And we mostly manage this because Amida has our back – he is making a bigger golden circle around us, and giving us the faith to face the darkness without shrinking back or reacting defensively.
As we hold this group in the shrine room, we are literally looked upon by the Buddhas – many of them look down from the walls, the golden standing Buddha keeps watch from one end, and the sitting Buddha smiles at us from his peacock chest at the other end. But we don’t need a shrine room – wherever we go, when we pick up a stone, members of the Amida sangha know that it is really a magic stone, and that if we trust the process we will create a unique sacred space between us regardless of how ‘spiritual’ or ‘nice’ we’re feeling. In fact, it’s more helpful to the group if people are able to speak about the darker and pricklier aspects of being human – because then others in the group can witness this being received, and feel that maybe it might even be safe to reveal their own grief or anger or fear.
Why is this group less well attended than all the other things we offer here? We’ve had this conversation over the years. Are we holding it at the wrong time of the day or week? Do we describe it properly?
People access the divine in many different ways, and it may just be that other people find a more direct route to Amida through other means. But I also think that the nakedness of sitting in a circle with others is just plain scary. What might I say? What might the others think? What might I discover about myself that I’d rather not know? What might leak out?
As a therapist who’s undergone many years of therapy myself, I know I have an advantage in this respect – it does get easier! – but I’d like to finish with some words of encouragement as I would love for our little circle to get bigger. If you want to come along and just listen for the first few weeks (or the first few years!) you will still benefit – listening to others will bring you all kinds of unexpected insights and will connect you to the Buddha just as powerfully. If you’re afraid of getting it ‘wrong’ or feeling nervous about what might come out, just take the stone and say ‘I’m nervous about what I might say, my stomach is full of butterflies, and that’s enough for today’ and hand the stone to the next person. Or just hold it in silence for a few minutes and let the group hold you. These things unfold in their own time and there’s no point in rushing things. Experiment – take a little risk and see what happens. When you start feeling nervous, remind yourself that the most important thing is to listen to others, and tune in again to what they are saying. Above all, remember that the group, and most importantly Amida, always has your back.
As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson reminded us via Twitter, the 1st of January is an arbitrary date to celebrate the New Year, and has no astronomical significance. However rituals are powerful ways of marking time, and, as we pass from 2015 into 2016, it’s inevitable that we’ll reflect on the past and on the future.
Buddhist psychology suggests that we are re-creating ourselves over and over again, and mostly we recreate ourselves in the same old way. We do have some influence over this process, however, and the rituals and communal sense of renewal surrounding the New Year celebrations is a great time to think about what self we created in the past year, and what we might like to change in the next.
This time last year we chose the word kalyana mitra to guide us, and the temple, through 2015. Kalyana mitra means something like spiritual friend, and 2015 was a year of deepening relationships and learning how to embody the dharma in our friendships.
For 2016 we’ve chosen the word generosity to guide us. In Buddhism generosity is seen as the antidote to selfishness, and as a virtue in its own right. Just as Amida is generous with his love, I hope we can be generous with the love that appears in the temple, with our time and in our friendships.
We can use particular precepts or virtues like this to guide us in our daily life. We can ask ourselves, ‘Am I being generous in this interaction?’ for example, and be interested in when we feel resistance to embodying that virtue or precept, or when we fail to keep it.
When we feel the love of the Buddha we will tend to keep the precepts more easily, and without thinking about them. But we are not beings of complete faith, and working with a precept or principle in this way can highlight our own particular bonbu nature.
When we find ourselves naturally being generous, or keeping the precepts, we should give thanks to the Buddha for his teaching, and his spirit, which inspires and motivates us. When we fail in being generous, or in our precepts, we should also take this as an opportunity to go to the Buddha. If we feel loved, even in our bonbu state, we can accept our failings with grace, and move forward.
We hope to see you soon, at one of our regular weekly events, or one of our special events (see below).
Kaspa & Satya,
Coming Temple Events
Sat 16th Jan 10am – 5pm Retreat Day – New Beginnings – a mixture of Dharma talks, practice and discussion. (FB invite) Suggested donation £45 including lunch. Booking essential – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sat 6th Feb 11am – 4pm Volunteer day
Sat 6th Feb 7.30pm – 8.30pm Saturday Night Dharma: How to love – talk followed by time for Qs and a cuppa. (FB invite)
Coming other events
Kaspa’s Mindfulness Classes from Tues 12th or Thurs 14th Jan. More details here:Mindfully whole.
Kaspa writes: I became a Pureland Buddhist in 2006. I didn’t know anything about Pureland Buddhism at the time. I had been practicing Buddhism for a few years, and then I met Dharmavidya and the Amida community. I knew that I wanted to join this community and have Dharmavidya as my teacher. That was enough.
I learnt about bonbu nature: we are foolish beings of wayward passion; full of greed, hate and delusion. I learnt that Amida Buddha, the Buddha of wisdom and acceptance, loves us just as we are.
I saw the shadow of those teachings. What in medieval Japan was called licensed evil: if we are loved just as we are, if we are going to be reborn in Amida’s Pure Land regardless of our karma, why bother to do good at all?
Last Saturday evening, as part of our regular monthly dharma talks, Kaspalita gave a talk entitled Freedom From Fear. As he says in the beginning of the talk it’s really about freedom from the selfish effects of fear, which take us away from liberation.
The talks is about an hour long, including a few questions. There were some really good questions after the tape stopped recording as well, sorry we didn’t manage to catch those.
You can download the talk or listen online here: Freedom From Fear (mp3)
Listen to the rest of our recorded talks.
Last Saturday Satya gave a beautiful talk on taking refuge. You can listen to the recording online here taking refuge (mp3) or right click and choose save as to download.
I’ve also uploaded two talks from our recent retreat day ‘Becoming Friends with Yourself’: