Last night we started to look at the Fear and Dread Sutta from the Makkhima Nikaya. You can use the link below to listen to the talk:
This year has seen important developments. The Amida Sangha, through the wonderful initiative of Satya and Kaspa, and the Amida Trust trustees has acquired a fine house in Malvern, a beautiful town in the west of England. The house will be a temple called Amida Mandala and will house a small community as well as being a centre for visits and retreats. Our new and youngest Acharya, Susthama has been in action there already leading the Bodhi retreat under the eye of Acharya Modgala who has also continued to be active in a great variety of functions in London. Our fourth Acharya, Sujatin, meanwhile, has moved to Perth in Scotland and we hope to see some flourishing of the Dharma there in due course too. We also have new shu and order members and a new full minister, Shantikara. In fact in every category of membership of our sangha there are new arrivals. How wonderful! It is certainly all a great affirmation of how faith breeds community.
Personally, I have visited the Amida Sangha in Hawaii and conducted a number of advancement ceremonies, travelled to South America for the first time, making three trips this year including Peru, Argentina and Chile, and I have also taught in England, Scotland, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, and Korea. I have spoken with prisoners, parliamentarians, therapists, spiritual people, school children, social workers. dancers, retreatants, and people concerned with death and dying, with drug rehabilitation, and many other forms of important work in society. I have also been able to teach in settings that were Pureland, Zen, Theravada, Chogye, and Tibetan Buddhist. From these diverse experiences I have learnt a lot. If one lives to the full – and I do my best in this respect – one is always learning. I have also gradually been learning building skills by doing small projects at my hermitage in France. I have also found some time for writing and my latest (and tenth) book “Buddhism is a religion: You can believe it” came out a week ago.
In the year to come I am invited to speak at conferences in London and in California which should yield more friends. We are holding a conference of ITZI, the International Zen Therapy Institute, in Spain in September – do come. I have also been invited to edit a special edition of the International Journal of Psychotherapy on the topic of “Mindfulness in Psychotherapy” – I’ll be sending out guidelines soon for anybody who might like to contribute. I will be continuing my travels, though perhaps not at quite such a pace as in the year gone by. We are each on a journey and the important thing about such travel, whether it is literal or just in spirit, is what one learns of faith and love along the way.
Recently i have been including the seven factors of enlightenment more frequently in my Dharma presentations and this has led me to see the whole issue of mindfulness in new ways, such that it might be better to express the original concept as heartfulness. It is the first of the seven factors and in a Buddhist context is a great deal more than simply a mode of attention and is concerned with much more than just the present moment. Really it is love and it is the foundation for the other factors of investigation of Dharma (which is really the action of compassion), zest, joy, equanimity, depth, and samadhi. These factors can be seen as things to do on the path, but really they are the colours in the rainbow light of Buddha that always shines upon us. Along this path we see such rainbows and then we feel filled with such delight that, for a moment or more, we forget ourselves.
Wake up! Wake up! the old man cries.
Wake up and doff your old disguise;
the world is new before your eyes.
Wake up! Wake up, before one dies!
Thus spoke the sage so long ago,
but we were dull and oh, so slow;
We did not think, we did not know;
and so we passed our time below.
Yet one fine day, by turn of fate,
we chanced back on an old locked gate
where yet the lock, in rusted state,
gave way unto the ultimate.
Beyond the gate rainbow light
made all the land so pure and bright
we paused, forgetting why we fight,
we saw a realm of sheer delight.
We were so startled, most just fled,
preferred to be the living dead
than pass beyond a gate so dread
that unto light and freedom led.
Wake up! Wake up! He’s still around.
His love’s not lost, it’s easily found;
His words though old are still quite sound.
Wake up! Jump free! It’s just one bound.
Thinking ourselves most important in the universe, we might suddenly take note that in relation to the cosmos we are less than a dew drop to the ocean. Thus we swing from inflation to deflation wondering which is correct. Is it hugely important what I do or is it a matter without the least significance in the greater scheme of things? Are the year gone by and that to come great steps, or are they nothing much? Thus, obsessed with the insoluble question of weighing our own importance, we make confusion reign. A dew drop cannot do very much by its own power and powerless is how we often feel. Between bouts of elation we plumb the chasm of despondency.
However, as Dogen says, every dewdrop, no matter how small, reflects the full light of the moon. The whole moon is seen therein. The dewdrop is in no way ruptured or harmed by the fact that the whole moon enters into it and appears in its depths. Indeed, the reflection appears as deep as the moon is high, although the dewdrop measures less than half a centimetre.
Thus it is with ourselves. Individually we are small, but in us is reflected a wondrous light and when somebody sees that light in us, it is not our tiny dimensions that they see, but rather the splendid lustre of that distant orb now made close by its being packaged in so minute a drop as we. We have our uses.
It is not our part to rival or displace the great orb above, but simply to appreciate its light bathing us and passing through, becoming apparent to others; and, in like manner, ourselves to see that same light in them. Indeed, if we look closely the reflection in the dewdrop is not limited to the moon, glorious as it is. In one drop is reflected the whole cosmic extent to which no limit is knowable. Infinity reigns in each of us without making the least demand upon us.
Thus looking deeply into another, one sees the meaning of all being, one is touched by what is most personal because it is universal. One’s concern with self-assessment is forgotten, at least for a moment, and in that moment the whole freedom of awakening is known. The moment passes, but the trace remains and in the remembering we find peace.
So, now the new year is upon us. I wish you all blessings. The greatest blessing may be that we go forward together heartfully, protected by the supreme refuge: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Namo Amida Bu!
Kaspa writes: Around the time of New Year Satya and I, and a few of our friends, often choose a word each for the year: something we want to see grow within ourselves, or change, as the year progresses.
This year someone asked me if there was a word for the temple for 2015. When they asked I didn’t know what that word might be but during our New Year’s Day service the right word appeared to me.
This is sanskrit word which means spiritual friend. This is the kind of friend you can take refuge in: a friend who acts as a mirror when you need a mirror. who is sympathetic when you need sympathy, who is kind and who acts without ego.
In 2015 I’d like us to develop spiritual friendship towards each other here in the Temple. Not just between the residents, but also to all of those who come through our doors, or come into contact with us in other ways. We should ask ourselves – how can I best lead this person to the Buddha and to liberation?
Sometimes it’s helpful to ask this question consciously, but often as long as we act with the Buddha in our own hearts and minds, we find that we are naturally doing what is best for others. This is an exhortation to keep spiritual friendship in mind, but also to renew our relationship with the Buddha and choose him as our ultimate spiritual friend.
When talking about developing good friends the Buddha said:
“Beings, born, coming to me in search of a good friend, are released from birth. Decaying beings, coming to me in search of a good friend, are released from decay. Beings with the nature of dying, coming to me in search of a good friend, are released from death. Beings, with the nature of grieving, lamenting, unpleasantness, displeasure and distress coming to me in search of a good friend, are released from grief, lament, unpleasantness, displeasure and distress. Ananda, in this manner it should be known, how a good friendship, a good association and an intimate friendship, is leading a complete holy life.'”
The Buddha is the best possible spiritual friend. If we can reflect even a little of his light to each other, we are doing a good job.
Kaspalita writes: There is a thin pink streak of light in the eastern sky. The sun is well over the horizon and that last thread of colour tells me what a glorious sunrise I would have seen if I had been up a little earlier.
The valley is heavy with mist; a few hilltops and the tips of the tallest trees stand above the almost liquid fog. A little closer to me the fields and gardens I can see are covered with a heavy frost. Not for the first time I can understand why C.S. Lewis and Tolkien used to come walking here.
There is something magical about a morning like this one. Looking out to this view gives me a sense of a much bigger world, a world beyond my own concerns and even a world even beyond what I can see outside. Somehow the mist which covers up what is there gives my imagination the space to image what isn’t there too.
It is me looking out into this magical scene: me with my ordinary body that aches in the cold and complains when I eat too much at Christmas, and my ordinary mind that takes selfish concerns and makes them into the whole of the world.
And I am living with ordinary people. Although we live in a space which inspires us to connect with something greater (and I am sure that tempers the selfishness) each of us carries our own concerns and dysfunctions with us.
When I first moved into a Buddhist community nearly 10 years ago I remember imagining that I could leave of all my baggage at the door. Just by stepping over the threshold I thought I could become someone new.
I have become someone new – but that process was fuelled by all of the baggage (excuse the mixed metaphor) rather than despite it.
As we move into the New Year it feels important to me to remember both halves of this picture: the beautiful magical landscape and also the ordinary human beings that live within it.
It is all too easy to forget how beautiful the world is. We create our own suffering and our selfishness bumps up against other people’s and then turns in on itself again.
It can be easy to make the same mistake in the other direction as well. To only see the ideal and become blind to the suffering of ourselves and others in case it disturbs the sense of peace we have gazing at the landscape. This is another form of selfishness, harder to see, but equally problematic as what we don’t see piles up and eventually comes tumbling down on us much more heavily than if we had paid attention to it sooner.
I will make a resolution to keep the beautiful landscape in the corner of my eye, to sometimes gaze at it with both eyes, and also to see the ordinary foolish beings (myself included) inhabiting this landscape. It is from the relationship between the two that compassion appears.
The light and the dark are perfectly balanced today. The day is as long as the night. Tomorrow the day will be a fraction longer and we begin the move towards spring.
Yesterday around one hundred and fifty people came to visit Amida Mandala, if you were one of them it was lovely to see you. If you were not, then come and see us in the new year!
Perhaps it would have been more auspicious to have the open day today, on the solstice itself. Nonetheless as the light of the day grows, I hope the light of the temple will grow. Of course next winter the daylight will wane again, but I hope that the light of the Temple will keep shining.
All human institutions have their beginnings and ends of course, and some day our light will wane as well.
This light, the love of the community and the warm spirit the Temple generates (that I felt surrounded by yesterday), is a small reflection of Amida’s light, which is without beginning or end, and is not confined by space.
It is only our own greed, hate and delusion that get in the way of us seeing this light all of the time. It is always there of course, whether we see it or not. I hope that the Temple and the Amida Mandala community will help us remember the light a little more often. And the light is love.
Wishing you peace,
Namo Amida Bu
We have moved into our beautiful new building and we are full steam ahead… there has been lots to do and not much time to update this blog, but we hope to spend more time letting you know how we’re getting on after a good rest in the New Year. We hope you might come and visit us sometime soon…
Thank you to Sanghamita Adrian Thompson for this beautiful photo of our Buddha in the shrine room.
Namo Amida Bu, Satya
A retreat and gathering. A time to practise together, listen to the silence, and listen to one another, A time to celebrate and explore the relationships that make a deeper life possible. In the history of Buddhism, it is apparent that the great majority of experiences of spiritual awakening come as a result of an interpersonal encounter. What is transmitted? What is released? What is the special quality that made Buddha hold up a flower and wink? What is special between ourselves? This is the inaugural retreat at the new Amida Mandala and, therefore, a good time to look into the connections that have made this achievement possible and upon which its future and our separate paths all depend.
For more information or to reserve a space contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will be moving in this Friday the 28th… you can come & visit by dropping into our all-day chanting on Saturday the 6th of December, or we have an open day between 11 & 4 on Saturday the 20th of December. More details on events.
Counting the days…….
Namo Amida Bu!
Satya writes: Time is ticking on. We’re still waiting for a date, but all being well, in three or maybe even two weeks we will be moving into the new temple in Malvern.
We are incredibly lucky to have had lots of offers of help both locally & from our sangha across the UK. Something that’s going to be a bit more challenging for me is accepting all that help.
There are various reasons for this. I worry that people will offer us too much and then feel resentful. I don’t like to be in people’s ‘debt’. Accepting help makes me feel vulnerable and that I can’t-do-everything-myself (which is true of course, but I still don’t like to acknowledge it). I don’t trust others to get things ‘right’. And so on.
This resistance to being helped isn’t helpful for me or for the people offering their help. We human beings like to help. We like to know that we have been of use to people & projects, especially if we care about them. Different people will bring their own unique talents & perspectives to the temple, helping to mitigate our blind spots and creating something much more amazingly wonderful than the sum of our parts. Community is glued together by people helping & people receiving help.
And so my practice over the next few weeks will be gratitude – for the offers we receive, and for all the things people do to contribute to the project – which isn’t mine & Kaspa’s but OURS.
Getting better at receiving help will be one of the gifts the temple has for me. What gift might it have for you, whether you visit or are influenced from afar?
Namo Amida Bu _/\_