Butterflies and suffering

    Categories: Uncategorised

    Dharma Glimpse by Dave Smith

    I am a very lucky man.

    As part of my job, I get to go out into the countryside and carry out ecological surveys. I get paid to look for bats, reptiles and dormice amongst other things. It’s a bit of a dream come true in some ways, but its not all skipping through meadows and sniffing flowers. The going can be really tough, you can be out in all weathers, sometimes in very inhospitable conditions and in tricky terrain.

    A few weeks ago I had to travel down to Somerset to check some nest tubes that I had put out earlier in the year to see if any dormice had made nests in them. I think it was April when I put them out, I had placed them along the hedgerows bordering an agricultural field which is going to be turned into a quarry at some point in the future.

    It was during one of our mini heatwaves that I was carrying out this check and the vegetation had grown up quite considerably since April. What was once an empty field, had now become a tall crop of corn, and the headland between the corn and the hedgerow was waist high or higher with grasses, nettles, brambles and thistles. I was struggling to travel from one nest tube to the next, and having great difficulty finding them in the overgrown and bramble covered hedges, which had earlier in the year been easily accessible.

    As it was so hot, I was dressed in a T shirt and light trousers in an attempt to keep cool, unfortunately this did not give me much protection from the stinging nettles and thistles that I was literally surrounded by. To add to this, I was being bombarded with midges and other small flying insects that seemed to be attracted to my sweaty head.

    I was hot and bothered and getting quite annoyed, desperately trying to avoid getting scratched and stung, weaving my way in and out of the aggressive vegetation flinching at every sting and scratch. After a while it dawned on me, the futility of trying to avoid this situation, if I was going to do my job I would just have to put up with it and wade in. Once I had accepted this reality and stopped worrying about my discomfort everything changed.

    To be honest the pain was not actually that bad, and as my focus shifted from avoiding my relatively minor suffering, I began to look around and take in my surroundings with a calmer perspective. As well as the annoying midges and other flying insects that I mentioned previously, there were bumble bees, honey bees, hoverflies and dragonflies, and as I got deeper into the midst of the thistles, there were more and more butterflies. Dozens of them, big ones, little ones, about six or seven different species, all brightly coloured flitting from thistle to thistle and flying around my head. Purple flower heads and butterflies for as far as I could see. Once my perspective and focus had changed I was transported from my minor personal hell into paradise!

    Buddhist teachings tell us that it is often our reaction to suffering that cause us the most distress, a secondary suffering of our own making. This was clearly brought home to me on this beautiful sunny day in my field full of butterflies.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Traffic Dharma

    Categories: Uncategorised

    Dharma Glimpse by Dave Smith

    I spend a lot of time driving around as part of my work.

    Driving through towns and cities can be quite stressful especially if you have a deadline to keep to. I always try to leave ten minutes early to allow for hold ups and unexpected roadworks. This takes the pressure off, and I have found that I am more inclined to keep a decent distance from the car in front of me rather than tail gating which I sometimes find myself doing if I am late.

    When I am late, and following the car in front of me too closely, I tend to spend the journey berating myself for not letting people out at junctions or for not being courteous enough. This happens because I don’t have the time to react quickly enough, and stopping to let someone out would require me braking suddenly causing everyone behind me to do the same, spreading anger and frustration.

    When I leave in good time and leave a sensible distance, I can see cars waiting at junctions and people trying to cross the road from a long way off and I happily wave them all on without even having to slow down. Everyone smiles and waves back, everyone is happy including myself. I really enjoy driving around merrily letting people go in front of me and causing a sea of smiles and gratitude.

    I have also noticed that courteous driving causes a positive traffic karma. Often when I have let someone out they will give way at the next opportunity and let someone else out in front of them. This could be a coincidence I suppose but I’m sure it happens more often when I’m not late for work.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Connection, the Power of Community and Interconnectedness

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    During the Covid Era, I experienced real isolation, extreme isolation. Isolation so severe that I’ve been on a mission ever since to ensure no one has to go through what I did for two whole years.  This was a tall order.  I recognised that not everyone has met isolation and many love their own company and feel safe with that.  I used to love my own company, but since covid, I can no longer enjoy my own company, without the company of nature or of other people.  At no point in my life has community been more essential.  I understand, that as humans and mammals, we all need connection, we all need each other.  Zoom, Netflix, social media and even e-mail are not substitutes for Real Connection and face to face communication.  The disconnection is like a modern disease of the human race.   Having spent nearly a decade in Asia, I’ve been challenged in the UK by a very different social culture.  A culture of extreme independence and Having Enough;  a culture of caring for our own and of strong individualism.  In many Asian cultures, particularly in East Asia where I lived and worked, people identify first and foremost with the group, before the individual.  Before living in Asia, I lived many years in ‘socialist Berlin’, where coming together as a community was a normal daily experience.   There are obviously benefits on all sides, but we must ultimately find the balance that works best for us.   I wonder though, if my need for community and connection is just another addictive behaviour?  I wonder too, if I am not just pushing a value onto others?  Where is the line between a need and a service to others?  How can we know when we are working for the good of all and when we are self-serving?

    My experience last April, of coming together at The Big One with XR Buddhists in London,  had made me feel alive again!  I had reconnected with that force that works through me each and every time I am part of something bigger than my individual worries and difficulties.  Like stepping out into Other Power (or the Infinite), into something much bigger, self power (or our limited egoic nature) just melts away and dissolves, like ice in water.  A becoming One Unified Living Breathing Body. On the other hand, I am reflecting that if people each live on their own island, they can only see the vast oceans of separation between them. Building fences around ourselves so high that we can only live with the stories of our own inventions and can’t see the reality beyond.  To me, from my experience, this separation can cause people to become so wrapped up in self power or their own small selves.  How do we break free from our small egoic worlds?  I love the phrase from Gandhi when he implied that, in changing ourselves, we could also change the world.  Yes, people can change on the inside, but starting with my small self, I together with others, can plant seeds, build bridges or grow ways of linking up, bringing people together, like trees reaching out their roots to connect and to communicate beneath the soil.  Gentle connection, respecting space whilst connecting with our roots.  It’s not a forcing or a pushing, but a Surrendering into a more Expansive Awareness of each other.  n Acknowledgment of each other.  A growing in Wholeness.  A finding Strength in Unity.  An Awareness that we are all Interconnected. We are all One. Perhaps I can step aside from the person I think I am and let the Self, or the Buddha, meet all of my difficult parts and offer their unconditional love and healing.  Perhaps, in non dualistic terms, where people aren’t experiencing themselves as individuals, where there is no ‘I’ or ‘we,’ people can rest in a shared space, a space not of Doing but of Being. Resting in Being in gently Expanding Awareness.  People’s roots, like the trees, reaching out into a vast web of interconnection.

    Taking sides

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Gredd Cundiff

    Returning home from a Mothers’ Day brunch at my sister’s home, I had a rather long wait on a train platform. I ran up to the stop thinking I had heard a train horn. Well, no I hadn’t. What greeted me was a schedule board indicating a 30 minute wait. It was a nice day so I didin’t think much of it. I could txt some friends and check in on a dating app.

    A young guy arrived and stood maybe 15 feet from where I was standing. Nicely dressed he started fumbling with something in his bag or pocket – I couldn’t tell which. Next thing I noticed was the aroma of an herb garden wafting in my general direction. He was smoking weed from a pipe fashioned out of an old soda can. It is legal in a about 9 or 10 weeks, so who cares.

    Then two rough looking characters walked up and sat on the ground. Smoking cigarettes and grumbling at each other. One about hurt feelings. The grumbling turned dramatic and one guy would start to walk away. The other would chase after him offering a certainly insincere appology. They would the go back to their spot on the floor and bicker some more. This cycle played out several times. In the mean time another guy walks up and sits on a bench at the other end of the platform.

    The argument was about money and hurt feelings. It started to get loud. Each one yelling blah, blah blah, Yo! Now to get the full picture of what happens next it is. neccesary to understand who each of the players is. The bromance boys having the fight were white 20-somethings from Dundalk or Brooklyn – a step or two below working class. The pot smoker was young African American man about the same age as the bromance boys. The guy on the other end of the platform was an African American man is late 20s to early 30s.

    Emotions escalate and the younger bromance boy starts calling the older one the “N” word. Next enters the middle age African American guy. “What did you say! You can’t use that word! You’re disrespecting me!” Round and round this goes for a few minutes. Stoner guy walks up to the tussle and I’ m starting to get a little worried. This is Baltimore after all and you don’t reallly know who is packing. And folks around here like to shoot at each other. Nobody flashes a weapon and I can relax. Stoner guy walks up to the bromance boy he figures is being picked on and offers a handshake and a “are you ok?”

    Thank goodness the train appears. Thank goodness nobody gets pushed onto the tracks.

    The Dharma lesson? That was for me. I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t mentally take sides. Everyone wants to find happiness and avoid pain. Everyone wants to find happiness and avoid pain. I’ve heard the Dalai Lama say that a dozen times if I’ve heard it once. Yeah, that sounds good. Put it into practice? Not quite as simple. But this time I did. I’ve heard it so many times from so many people in a variety of words and settings. Sunday it played itself out. There was nothing I could do to control anything that might have happened. So I wasn’t chickening out or shirking some duty or another. I lived through it. I didn’t get phyically or emotionally envolved. I didn’t form opinions about any of the players.

    This is not really about me. It is about the dharma the seeds taking root and growing. We’re Pure Landers so we take a lot of things on faith and trust. This time I had real world evidence that it does work. The seeds do emplant and they do grow.

    Namo Amida Butsu

    Not complete but just enough

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Greg Cundiff

    I entered the military a conservative. Not a fire breathing conservative but a my family are all liberals kind of conservative. An act of rebellion conservative. Not a fire breathing conservative, but conservative none the less. I left the military a fire breathing liberal. And I knew everything worth knowing. I was more liberal than my family by a long shot.
    This newfound world view worked out quite nicely. Nicely, as long as I surrounded myself with people who thought and talked like me. My friends in San Diego were all lefties. My church was mostly lefty. My partner even pretended to be a lefty so I might find him more appealing. Oh everything was right in my world. I had a neatly defined sense of us and them.
    Boy did all that change when I moved back to Baltimore. Yes, Maryland is a blue state – but trust me it has never been all that blue deep down. Thems started popping up all over the place. I even learned that my family wasn’t as lefty as I had always painted them.
    One afternoon in a senior literature seminar a classmate looked at me after I had made a comment about something, I don’t remember what, said, “you sound like a Buddhist.” I could tell by his tone that it wasn’t a put-down. The only thing was, I had no idea what he meant.
    By and by I started reading about Buddhism. I thought of myself as a Buddhist. I even put it in my Veterans record. Still a lot of us and them. The more I listened, the notion of us and them started to slip. Not perfectly, but slip it did. How many times does the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hahn have to say that everyone wants to have happiness and avoid pain until it starts to seep in. I don’t know. But if you listen. And I do mean listen. It does start to sink in.
    One Sunday morning I was chatting with one of the farmers at work. This was a person that I had a lot of fun being around. In the middle of a conversation about something to do with farms he mentioned that he was a big supporter of the then current governor. And yes he said, that means that I’m a Republican – I guess you hate me now. I can remember a time when I would have. At that moment I didn’t feel any hatred or dislike toward him. Of course I don’t, I told him. Everyone seeks happiness and wishes to avoid pain. Yes it sounds nice. Listen to it, really listen. Think about it some. Compare the idea to how you live your life. After a while and probably when you least expect it, compassion sinks in. Not complete compassion, but enough for now.

    Building Bridges and Golden Thread

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    Written 08/05/23

    Recently I met a Chinese speaking Buddhist community in Malvern.  After this meeting I realised what I’d been missing.  The uprootedness of continually having to leave behind my friends and familiar surroundings, such as when I left Asia after eight years of living there, had left an enormous hole I hadn’t even noticed until I found myself in another Asian community.  Sometimes, when we shut out the pain of things taken from us, we can’t always see what causes the pain until we confront it again.   I suddenly saw, in a flash, that what was needed to restore connection and to heal this gaping wound, was to begin building bridges.  Bridges from ourselves to all the things of our heart.

    In England, I find myself picking up all the pieces of my broken life and stitching them back together again.  It’s a long and laborious process.  I’ve been reminded that, in Japan, there is a tradition of restoring broken objects by putting gold into all the cracks of broken ceramics.  This is known as Kintsugi.  This has the effect of creating resilience and beauty.  The cracks are the most prized parts – they are signs of growth;  of hard lessons learnt;  of journeys travelled;  stories lived;  of acquired wisdom through experience.  The cracks are what make us resilient and more beautiful.  The more cracks we have, the more resilient and beautiful we become.  

    After having moved about so much, I’m starting to think that perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I can return to all the places I’ve called home, but what matters most are the connections we make here and now.  Separation requires connection to heal.  What once used to be found by travelling far and wide can also be experienced in the here and now, if we simply remain open and receptive to what is here –  right now.  There exists the potential to bring the whole world into a single grain of sand.  By stitching the past, present and future together we can find Wholeness.  Wholeness in this moment now – right here.  In order to help restore this Wholeness, we need to build bridges to the things of our heart.  Restoring, reconnecting, recreating.  

    Picking up the broken pieces and stitching them together with golden thread, we can find a beautiful Whole, laced with strands of golden wisdom, beauty and resilience.