The White Path

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    Recently I came up against a huge obstacle, one of those obstacles where you need to decide whether to run or confront it. The decision, in these situations, will likely depend on a third strand – that of faith and firm resolve. In this case, if choosing to follow faith and firm resolve, running isn’t an option – so fight it out I did. Fighting, in this case, was more about an internal struggle, a dealing with loud, difficult parts of myself, also known as ego states, or our karmic boundedness. This ugly situation made me think of Shan-Dao’s 7th century Chinese Pure Land Buddhist parable, of the river of fire and river of water, as can be seen hanging on the wall at the top of the stairwell, here in the temple. The wall hanging depicts a white path running between two shores from east to west and two rivers either side of it. A traveller is running away from bandits and fierce beasts on the east shore and wanting to make his way to the west shore, but notices that on one side of the path are high flames and on the other high waves. He can’t remain where he is, but he also can’t move further without fear of losing his life. On the east shore Shakyamuni ushers him on towards the west shore, where Amida is standing to welcome him to the Pure Land. My purpose is not to recite the parable, just my own authentic glimpse, but this wall hanging made me reflect on this deeply.

    I’ve been reflecting that sometimes, on the spiritual journey, along the White Path, obstacles can be encountered. Choosing to go back, is a tempting choice and would be immediately the easier option, although not the best in the long run. If reaching the other side, the Pure Land or Amida, then focusing on the White Path is important. However, it would seem to be a necessary part of the journey to fight, or confront, the water serpents, the fire dragons or the inner demons along the way. If confronting the demon or serpent, then death might follow, but there might also be the chance to deepen in resolve, in faith, to reach the far banks of the shore safely.
    I’ve also been reflecting that obstacles like serpents present themselves as a Great Test – a test of faith and commitment and a test of resilience, integrity and devotion. To face the test is also to ask whether the serpent is what it appears to be – it might seem big at the time of confronting it, but it can also have an illusory nature and only I can be responsible for what I see. I can survey dangers and test the territory. I need to test the boundaries and find out how safe I am. What will the serpent do or not do? How strong is the current? How high are the flames? I also take the risk of failing, confronting the fire or high waves or being eaten up! My immediate need would be to Feel Safe, but strength lies in the ability to deepen Trust and resolve to walk the White Path and survey the whole landscape, the Bigger Picture. If putting too much energy into fighting, or confronting, the sea monster, I only become more sucked into its lair.
    Choosing to confront the serpent, the water becomes unstable and rocky, the waves higher, but eventually it will calm down. It was necessary to confront the serpent, as the serpent was a part of the journey and once one challenge has been accomplished, the next won’t seem so bad.

    I’ve Tested, I Know, I’ve Learnt.

    It is only then that a deeper peace can pervade, when feeling held by the ocean….the ocean that leads back to the White Path. As long as the serpent is seen as the problem, the path becomes lost. The more the focus on the White Path, the easier it will get.

    When facing a conflict, I could walk back away from it, or I might be devoured by it, but I need to have that encounter if I am to move on. I can run away when my parts get too much, or I can choose to enter into dialogue with them, so they can be reintegrated into the wholeness. The struggle is a necessary part of the journey. It’s not in the striving – it’s Through the striving that allows sinking into even greater depths of peace.

    Namu Amida Butsu

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    Dharma Glimpse by Paramita

    Some months back, as I was considering my next career move after an unexpected complication had uprooted me in my then current employment role, I experienced a moment of synchronistic alignment that influenced my decision about how to proceed.

    The sudden interruption to my life plans had sent me into a panic. I didn’t feel ready to start a new job or venture into a new, or indeed, old and familiar line of work.

    I was working long hours in the care industry, and had felt quite settled. Steady work, decent money and reasonably predictable working relationships.

    On a regular night shift that I was working I would often listen to podcasts or watch videos of interesting spiritual teachers unpacking esoteric concepts and tying them into everyday living scenarios.
    On this particular night the speaker was making predictions about the near future effects of climate breakdown and when they might begin to seriously impact on our day to day lives.

    As I was putting an entry into the company communications book and writing the time as 20.35, the speaker was making his prediction of the year 2035 being a tipping point, beyond which normal life would change unrecognizably. The exact moment that I wrote the time, was the exact moment that he said the date.

    Now, this might not seem like a big deal on face value but, to me, this was quite a shock. I had had similar experiences in the past, whereby my attention had been drawn to something important in exactly this way. Like a poke in the back or a tap on the shoulder, intended to nudge me into a new train of thought. Which it certainly did.

    I can’t really do justice to the moment here but can say that I felt inspired to investigate the significance of 2035. Eventually I found myself scouring the Bible, as I knew that scripture was organised in this numerical way in the Testaments, in fact I had some personally significant ones memorised for the purpose of spiritual sustenance.

    Eventually, I put it into the search engine on my phone and it came up with a variety of different translations of the passage: Acts 20:35, which states:

    I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, it is more blessed to give than to receive. (King James version)

    This sent a shiver down my spine and even now gives me goosebumps, and a sense of warmth and comfort, like I’m being guided in quite a specific way, towards quite a specific purpose.

    The instruction to “support the weak” could surely never be better fulfilled than in the day to day activities of a care worker, who helps elderly people do all the things that they can no longer do for themselves. And quite obviously, in this way, it surely is “better to give than to receive”.

    This moment of religious inspiration informed my decision to remain in the care industry and I am now working for a different company, under more reliable conditions.
    I can’t say that I understand the deeper or wider meaning or reason for the shift that led from one care job to the next, but I definitely felt the hand of Amida at play here. And the importance of inter-faith resources has not entirely escaped my attention either. I do, and have always, drawn great nourishment from the teachings of other religions and faith systems, which invariably, in my experience, point us towards the same benign principles and a unified spiritual purpose.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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