Safe spaces

Circle of love by Andy WooLast night I sat across from two people I’m close to and lied to them.

Every Sunday evening we sit in a Sharing Circle and pass a stone, taking turns to speak and be listened to. These kinds of spaces are incredibly rare.

What usually happens in this circle is a kind of magic. The words we speak (whatever they are) take on a preciousness as the others all listen quietly. The words of others become tender and wise. The space between us fills up with empathy – we can really begin to understand what it’s like for others at the circle to live their lives. (Much like it is for us to live ours.)

I usually come away from the circle feeling warm & fuzzy. Last night I came away feeling resentful and tired.

My lies were lies of omission. When I had the stone I talked lightly about my week and what I was doing tomorrow.

What I should have said was:
I really didn’t want to come along to the Sharing Circle tonight. I’m tired of people. I’m grumpy. I don’t want to listen to anyone. Now leave me alone.

I don’t know for sure what might have happened next if I’d started with that. I might have felt more angry. I might have cried. I might have realised what the grumpiness was about. But I think it would have brought me ultimately closer to the people I was sitting with, rather than distancing me.

“Our society is so fragmented, our family lives so sundered by physical and emotional distance, our friendships so sporadic, our intimacies so ‘in-between’ things and often so utilitarian, that there are few places where we can feel truly safe.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

Safe spaces are scarce for most of us. Even when we find them, it’s not easy to make use of them. It’s not always appropriate to share what’s in our heart, and often we are too afraid to show others what’s really going on. I didn’t share more honestly because I was scared – of being rejected, of hurting others. That’s okay – that’s how it was last night.

But if you can look again and find somewhere, as I have with this piece of writing this morning, you will find the magic. I can feel it now. The magic is love.

Where are your safe spaces? How can you make more of them?


‘Circle of Love’ by Andy Woo, with thanks.

Our first volunteering day

volunteering at Amida MandalaOur first volunteering day at the temple. Kaspa & I got up early to get things ready – cleaning materials, hedge clippers, ingredients to make lunch for lots of people, a long list of things to do.

We had let people know that we were starting at 10am. We sat nervously in the dining room at 9.45am. 9.50am. Nobody arrived. 9.55am. 10am. 10.10am. Still just the two of us.

I felt a great heaviness. I just knew it. We were going to have to carry the temple & grounds on our own. It was too much.

For a few minutes we wondered what was the best thing to do. After asking the Buddhas, we both reported back with the same answer. Just get on with it.

Kaspa got the hedge clippers out. I started printing leaflets. The heaviness left me. By the time I started dusting the kitchen ceiling I was feeling cheerful.

At 11.30am James popped his head round the door and said that he was free today after all. He picked up the hedge clippers. David arrived with his son Nathan. Jnanamati arrived. Izzy, Mike, Steve, Clare, Tina, Emma…

By the end of the day both hedges were trimmed back, a garden wall was rescued from under a great spaghetti of old ivy, all the bathrooms were deep cleaned, the kitchen annexe was totally cleared, we’d made 5 trips to the tip and one to a charity shop, the clock was put up in the library… everything from the list and more. We ate bean stew & Clare’s lovely blueberry muffins and we laughed and laughed.

If we are alone, that is okay. We don’t have to do more than we can do. We can turn on the radio and attack the cobwebs.

But of course we are never really alone. Even if nobody had come yesterday, we are in people’s thoughts and in their hearts.

Our next volunteer day is on the 22nd of February. Join us?

Hurray for sangha. Namo Amida Bu.

Self confidence or shrinking our self?


Should we be growing our self-confidence or shrinking our self?

This Buddha has his hands in the same position as the Buddha on our main shrine – the vajrapradama mudra, which is typically translated as the ‘Mudra of Unshakable Self Confidence’. I looked it up yesterday after a nine year old on a school visit to the temple asked me what it meant.

Our society encourages us to spend much time ‘building up our self-confidence’ – putting energy into bolstering our self esteem and strengthening our sense of ‘me as okay’.

I’m all for self-compassion. It is important for us to have a realistic view of how competent and capable we are, which means not undervaluing ourselves or seeing ourselves through the warp of old stories. I also think it’s equally important to acknowledge our fallibilities and our foolishness. Mine runs pretty deep.

What really helps me when I’m feeing down on myself or afraid of the world is connecting with some sense of ‘everything-will-be-alright’. Not alright-perfect but alright-sometimes-awful but always-held-in-a-bigger-container.

In one place I found this mudra translated as Mudra of Unshakable Trust. I like this a lot more. It points outside of me, to where the help is.

It points towards not trust in myself but trust in something bigger than me. The Universe, the Buddhas, a Higher Power, God, Humanity. Whatever you want to call it. Faith.

Don’t worry too much about your levels of self-confidence. If you take refuge in something bigger and live your life illuminated by this great light, everything else will come out in the wash.

And if you’re feeling wobbly, maybe try the vajrapradama mudra for a while. You are holding your hands over your heart, yes? Can you feel it yet?

The Dharma of Tea Towels

H is for home by on the lineIn the communal kitchen there is a basket where everyone puts tea towels when they are dirty.

We have a lot of tea towels. And as the first weeks in the temple went on, they seemed to be piling up fast. I did a load of washing, hanging them all out and bringing them back to fold and put in the draw. I did another load. Then I watched the basket pile up again.

Would anyone else do them?

As I passed the pile of dirty tea towels every day, resentment started building.

Eventually I mentioned the huge teetering pile of tea towels in a house meeting. The next day I went to do some of our own washing. Someone had washed the tea towels, and then forgot them and gone off for the weekend. If I wanted to do my own washing, I’d have to hang them all out…

As I hung them out I laughed. It was as if they’d arranged a little lesson for me. You can’t get out of washing these tea towels, you know. And look – now you’re doing it, and it’s not so bad, is it?

I realised that it wasn’t really the tea towels I was resentful about at all. Behind the resentment was fear. One of the things I felt anxious about before we moved in was how it would be to share space with others without ending up feeling responsible for everything that needs doing, all the time. Others won’t notice things-that-need-doing in the way I do. I will have to slave away and everyone else will be sitting around drinking tea and it will be too much for me.

Of course, I carry this story around with me wherever I go. The reality is that there are jobs here that different people to. We’ve occasionally had to remind people to do certain things and this has felt fine. Everything here runs extraordinarily smoothly.

The tea towels showed me where my fear was, and then (with the help of my housemate) they showed me how I could let go and have faith. Whether or not I end up washing all the tea towels, everything will be okay.

Yesterday I passed the tea towel basket. It wasn’t quite full, but I was on my way to my office so I put them in the washing machine on my way past. As I hung them out afterwards I enjoyed the neat rectangles and their fresh smell. As I folded them back into the drawer I enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that others would have clean tea towels to dry their plates.

Wherever there is grit, there is the potential for a new opalescent layer of pearl.

What or who is bothering you at the moment? What might it have come to teach you?

New Year Message from Rev Master Dharmavidya

David-Brazier Namo Amida Bu! Greetings to all upon the spiritual path. Peace to the world. Love’s labour brings peace.

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!



Word of the Year

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.

A Pureland full of foolish beings

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.