Being Authentic through Suffering

    Categories: dharma glimpse
    (and True Entrusting or ‘Shinjin,’ as inspired by River of Fire, River of Water by Taitetsu Unno)

    Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    Taitetsu Unno talks of the importance of authenticity.  This is a glimpse that seeks to be authentic, so might push some readers/listeners to the boundaries of their comfort, as it did those of the writer.

    Lately I’ve been reflecting on suffering.  I was never interested in suffering, pain or misery, as who would be?  However, I’ve found myself in relationship with it throughout my life and observed its journey of ups and downs;  challenges;  moments of respite and the many different ways of relating to it.  This long time period has given me ample opportunities of practising different approaches to it and ways of dealing with it – some successful and some not.  I’ve tried ignoring it;  accepting it;  fighting it;  working with it;  sharing it with others and keeping it to myself, alongside years of meditation retreats, hours of webinar viewings and years of training.  Friends were made and lost, but most of all, I’ve deepened the relationship with myself.  

    Suffering can be the most isolating experience, because naturally people want friends who radiate joy, not those who spill out pain and misery.  One of the most interesting things I’ve observed is how people relate to a person suffering. There are those that want to fix you, to make you feel better;  who tell you to ‘cheer up’ and be more positive;  who avoid you because you make them feel uncomfortable;  then there are those who enjoy being with you when your days are easier and lighter, but avoid you when your days are darker.  Some people seize the opportunity to (perhaps unconsciously) take advantage of you, if you let them into your vulnerable space, leading to potential abuse or toxicity.  Then there are those rare kinds of people who stay put, through thick and thin,  not seeking to fix you, but who just ARE, like a constant reassuring presence – such friendships are rare indeed.  

    I have often been perplexed at how to navigate friendships during periods when suffering was intense.  Many people have a tendency to withdraw themselves during their darkest days and one reason for this is because they can’t show up authentically, as they are afraid that people won’t like what they see. When suffering and pain is too much to contain, we can not help but brim over and spill out onto someone else close. Sometimes we also want to share our pain, in order to connect and to be understood. We want to be met in the space where we are. We want to be Known and we want to be Loved.  Sometimes it might be that a part of us secretly wants to share a small slice of suffering with someone else –  there seems to be an unfair balance in this world – and it is only a small slice after all.  We want to be seen for Who We Really Are – as our truest and most miserable authentic self.   We’ve been programmed from an early age to keep the suffering in and not burden others, so naturally the longing to be Seen and Known is huge and sometimes we boldly step out from our prison, revealing our broken parts.  It can be a fine balancing act, reaching out to connect, whilst trying to contain it all.  I often still wonder, if being filled with so much suffering, how it’s possible to be loved at all?

    I am reminded of a family friend.  A friendship wasn’t possible as our mothers were best friends in childhood, so we felt too much like family.  I had decided we could be the sister neither of us had had, but the expectation of becoming one of her immediate family only led to disappointments (and she already had a huge family of her own).  A few years later, we finally found a happy balance and call ourselves ‘cousins,’ where she has now embraced me as part of her Extended family and through increased respect and understanding, we are now mutually supportive as cousins.  Despite initial expectations and disappointments, we’ve now brought Spaciousness into our relationship, allowing room for something new to grow.   

    I guess the answer I am coming up with, after many hours of sitting with the Buddha, is that what’s important, when we are filled with suffering, is to allow in the light of compassion, to allow Spaciousness to enter in.   Despite the pain and suffering, we need to allow enough space if we are to accommodate others and all that they bring.  It is extremely hard to open ourselves up to people when we have been taught to contain our own suffering – but we must do this if we are to be able to connect with others successfully.  We need to Own our suffering and not be afraid to voice it and to share it even.  It is others’ responsibility to deal with their own reacting parts and we are not here to protect them.  This goes for living our own Truth, whatever that might be – there is only the way of Authenticity, an acceptance of What Is.  Suffering Just Is, that’s all.  In Authenticity, we need to be a Voice for our pain, or a Voice for what we are and this should encourage others to do the same and to help others to understand us.  How can there be good relations and peace in this world if we continually hide people from our Truth?  

    So, if we are fortunate enough to have found this rare being, this constant presence in human (or animal) form, then Great!  If not, Mother Nature is always present for us and throughout many generations of human turmoil, the trees are still standing tall.  We can also allow Amida’s light to shine in and illuminate the cracks of our broken self, softening the painful parts of us, like ice melting in water. Amida sees all of our broken parts and loves every one of them.   In Parts Work, by Tom Holmes, this would be allowing more ‘Self’ into our space.  Finding Spaciousness amongst the large, painful parts.  Amida has infinite capacity to be present, even in times when we are spilling over.  After some time we can even feel lighter and comforted.  Human beings are only limited karmic beings after all – when we spill over they often lack the capacity to contain the overflow.  As long as we hold the expectation that other limited karmic beings can be as safe containers for us, we will for ever be disappointed and only recycle suffering.  Amida’s capacity, on the other hand, is limitless.  The only True Entrusting is in Amida.

    Namu Amida Butsu    _/l\_

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    Comfort and Challenge

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Philip

    I was on a walk in the hills recently with Dayamay.  It was good to spend some time with him.  And with nature.  All of us together.  I particularly recall a moment being stopped in my tracks over half way through our walk went the sun appeared and shone brightly from behind one of the hills.  I suddenly felt much more fully in touch with nature and dharma.  The birds were singing.  The trees towering.  My heart warmed up.  It was beautiful. 

    But for all that beauty and momentary serenity, it was something more challenging I’m going to try to write about in this dharma exploration.  On our walk Dayamay told me how a recent passage he’d read in the book ‘River of Fire, River of Water’ by Taitetsu Unno had beautifully encapsulated something very profound and important for him.  He eloquently described it and later kindly sent me the exact quote.  It read: 

    “In Japan, traditional Buddhist Monasticism – whether Tendai, Shingon or Zen – aims at the transcendence of earthly passions. Its basic precepts consist of renouncing all family ties, maintaining celibacy, mastering rigorous disciplines, avoiding contact with the opposite sex and engaging in elaborate rituals. In contrast, Pureland is the trans-descendence into the opposite world, the self-awakening to the immersion in the swamp of anger, jealousy, insecurity, fear, addiction, arrogance, hypocrisy…Shin Buddhism comes alive for those who live in the valley and the shadows. It challenges people to discover the ultimate meaning of life in the abyss of the darkness of ignorance…The wonder of this teaching is that liberation is made available to us, not because we are wise but because we are ignorant, limited, imperfect and finite. In the language of Pureland Buddhism, we who are foolish beings are transformed into the very opposite by the power of great compassion.”
    “In the path of stages one perfects wisdom and achieves enlightenment: in the path of Pureland one returns to the foolish self to be saved by Amida.”  (Taitetsu Unno – ‘River of Fire, River of Water’)

    It felt both comforting and challenging.  Comforted that it resonated with both what could be called my developing human and spiritual beliefs.  Which seem roughly equally important at present in my personal and professional worlds.  And perhaps helping me to combine the two more fully and genuinely, something I have struggled to do for a while now.   

    I wonder if Dayamay’s sharing was so opportune and powerful for me because I am perhaps unwittingly facing a bit of a choice at present.  Whether to stay where I am or challenge myself to go deeper.  And perhaps even more importantly which direction ‘deeper’ is; transcending the valley of the shadows to seek liberation and enlightenment or opening myself up to a deeper self-awareness and acceptance of my own ignorance, delusion and limits, and thereby finding the compassion and wisdom just as I am.  Until now, for whatever reason, I just hadn’t clearly seen this distinction between these two strands and schools of Buddhism.  And just what a profound difference it is, or at least seems to be, to me.  I start to believe everyone needs to find their own spiritual path.  And that many roads and paths will take you there.  I hope mine has become a little clearer, if not also a little more challenging, by knowing it might be time to go deeper within Pureland Buddhism by going deeper into self-ignorance, delusion and limitation, and the wider worlds and truths of suffering, humanity, refuge and compassion. 

    Namo Amida Bu.  

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    Garden of Evening Mists

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Glimpse by Olly

    On the side of a hill there is a flag pole, the Buddhist flag waves from the top of the pole. The Buddhist flag is vertical stripes of orange, white, red yellow and blue..
    The Buddhist flag: Image by vined mind from Pixabay

    Monk: “Is is the wind that is in motion, or is it only the flag that is moving?”
    Response: “Both are moving, Holy one.”
    Monk: “One day you will realise that there is no wind, and the flag does not move. It is only the hearts of men that are restless.”

    I wanted to share this quote for my glimpse this week as it inspired a real sense of reality and relatability in me. A restless state often takes hold of us, without warning or reason, which I often find is the case in my job and home life. I’ll create lists, think of what needs to be done next and allow restlessness in without stepping back and taking a moment to breathe. I’m sure this quote could be picked apart and many meanings could be found, but I love the simplicity of the monks response, which encourages us to look at inward causation rather than external factors.

    This imagery of the flag moving in the wind has stayed with me throughout this week, and when days have been busy and restless it has been helpful to remind myself to bring to mind the monk’s wise words, and look inwardly for peace.

    Swimming into the Light

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Chris Earle-Storey

    In an attempt to improve my fitness I joined the local leisure centre last December. As well as attending gym sessions, I’ve also started to swim again after a 30-year break from the pool. I’m not a strong swimmer and to be honest have found swimming quite hard work after such a long time, but I have been improving gradually with each visit and was starting to feel quite pleased with my progress. Until this morning, that is.

    The pool is divided into three sections for lane swimming depending on one’s ability: easy, medium and fast. As I am very definitely in the “easy” class, that’s where I am to be found. I have worked up to doing 24 lengths in half an hour and that is my aim this morning. As I set off on the first length I am feeling good, but within a couple of lengths I become aware of another swimmer coming up on my left and beginning to overtake me: a middle-aged woman with grey curly hair and a determined expression. I observe her swimming action which seems very similar to mine, so how come she is going so much faster? A few lengths later and the same thing happens, this time with an elderly chap sporting goggles and a shiny bald head. I start to feel slightly despondent as he pulls away from me.

    When I have finished my 24 lengths I pause for a rest before leaving the pool. My gaze is drawn up to the pool guard sitting atop his tower; my eyesight is not so good these days so I can’t see his face in detail, but I am sure he is observing me. “Look at that old woman – she’s really pathetic at swimming. I wonder why she bothers coming at all,” I imagine him thinking.

    As I climb the steps out the pool, my dodgy hip protests at being lifted out of the weightless comfort of the water and my whole body suddenly feels much heavier. I head towards the changing area and pass two young women on their way to the pool, all toned limbs and flat stomachs. They are deep in conversation and do not acknowledge me as I pass. I am painfully aware of my own ageing body as I limp into the shower cubicle.

    The warm water is soothing as I stand in the shower. As I soap myself with shower gel and shampoo, my mind takes me back to the pool – but instead of being watched over by a muscled pool guard I imagine Amida Buddha is sitting on the tower, looking down on me as I swim my lengths. Amitabha is not thinking “Look at that Chris with her flabby thighs and bingo wings. Everyone else is putting in some real effort but she’s really not trying at all. She is pathetic!” No: Amitabha is looking down on me with love and compassion, accepting me just as I am, with all my faults and failings, my tendency to self-criticise and to measure myself against others. Amitabha’s light falls on me just as it does on everyone else.

    As I sit by the exit to put on my shoes, an elderly man, one of the regulars I’ve got to know over the weeks, sits beside me on the bench. “You looked as if you were enjoying the swim today,” he says. I pause before answering. “Yes,” I say. “Yes, in a strange way I think I did enjoy it.”

    The sun is just rising as I leave the leisure centre. I walk out into the light with the light of Amida in my heart.

    Trust in the Tathagata

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Barbara

    It was around 3 am and I was wide awake again, on full alert, for the 3rd night running One of my anxieties being that I was returning to a familiar pattern of insomnia that had plagued me in bouts since I was a teenager. I tried a new strategy; imagining that I was on a walk. But I was barely in the woods when up popped another worry and I was off chasing it and escalating anxieties. After a while I decided to get up and do something useful. The house was bitterly cold but I returned from downstairs with a hot drink, water bottle and December Fan, by Manshi Kiyozawa, the book we are studying in our book group.

    I groaned inwardly at the title of a new chapter. My Religious Conviction. I was sceptical and had adamantly denied having any religious conviction despite having assiduously meditated for over 15 years. I longingly cast eyes on my new novel, but began reading the chapter.

    Kiyozawa wrote ‘Religious conviction refers to the mind that trusts Tathagata.” In his mind they refer to one and the same reality, not two different things.
    Oh dear, is this like the Holy Trinity? I thought.
    He asks. ‘What is my religious conviction? It is to trust Tathagata.’
    And, ‘What is the Tathagata that I trust? It is the fundamental reality underlying my existence.’ What a lot to digest, I thought, especially at 3 o’clock in the morning.

    As I continued reading, I became increasingly immersed in his reasoning.
    Firstly, that if we trust in Tathagata we are relieved of distress and suffering. Therefore, there can be no room for my anxieties; my what if’s and should haves and if only I’d done this or that. These benefits only follow if there is trust.
    Secondly, after much searching within himself, Kiyozawa reaches the conclusion that our intellect is limited and that the meaning of life is inscrutable. He entrusts all matters to Tathagata being aware of his own total ignorance, the most essential point of his religious conviction.
    Thirdly, he emphasises that his religious conviction is the fundamental reality in which he cannot help but trust.
    Captivated by now in the whole chapter of Kiyozawa’s humane reasoning, he writes that Tathagata’s Infinite Compassion, Infinite Wisdom and Infinite Power is limitless.
    I thought deeply as I reread and mulled over sections. It made real sense and was so sensitively written, allowing us into his thoughts and struggles. But I was tired now and perhaps it was time to let go of my own worn-out defences over religious conviction and consciously trust in Tathagata.

    I turned off the lamp, snuggled under my duvet and ,with a feeling of diving into the unknown, felt great calm as I sank into a deep sleep.

    Half Glimpse

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    By Izzy

    It’s Friday morning and I’m accompanying visits on my first day of work today. I was slow to sleep at 11pm last night and woke up at 6am sharp, feeling alert, my mind racing, my stomach churning. I do what I do every morning. I lie there for a while before getting up and slowly making my way down to the shrine room to sit with the Buddha. Today is a bright day and beams of golden sun shine in streaks through the window, the Buddha shines back, looking beautiful. I sit. This is my daily practise at the moment. There is nothing to do. Just sit. As my mind wonders, I am taken back to yesterday and the struggle I had with writing my dharma glimpse. I sat down to write it a few times throughout the day, every time my attention getting pulled away. I allow myself to feel into the fear. Let it wash over me. Fear of not writing a worthy dharma glimpse. Fear of starting a new job today. Fear of being late. Fear of the unknown.

    Then, I am taken back to Monday and my class on the Introduction to Counselling course. The topic this week was empathy. It was something I thought I knew what it meant and now I’m not so sure. Something that came up was the idea that to be truly empathetic can be frightening. I thought about how, as I listened, I felt myself opening up to the speaker’s experience. There was a sense of letting go and for the first time I felt some fear. Where will they take me? Where will we go?

    Homecoming Dharma Glimpse

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    by Angela

    Today, my dog Aine and I went out for a soggy November walk. I was on the 1st day of my bleed and my body was in the mood for warmth and softness and nothing too physically demanding. I enjoyed hearing the sound of the rain and noticing some of the daily changes in the environment of my familiar walking route. But the wet leaves on the path were slippery underfoot, my wet hair kept blowing into my eyes and Aine kept sitting down to remind me that she doesn’t like getting cold and wet!

    As we turned to loop back homeward, there was a tangible shift in energy; Aine’s body language became playful and bright again, my hands suddenly warmed up and my body echoed Aine’s and felt lighter and looser.

    Something that struck me, was the shift in the felt sense when the walk became a homeward journey in mine and Aine’s minds, rather than a walk out into slightly uncomfortable conditions. It reminded me of the sense of ease and relief that can come when viewing spiritual practise as a ‘homecoming’ rather than ‘climbing the mountain’.

    That said, there have been times when my existential / spiritual longing has led me away from the comfort of where I was living and into the wilds… although interestingly there was still a sense of homecoming within those experiences too. And I have found that there are times for drawing on the tough, warrior part of myself and embracing discomfort… just not so much today

    Holding it Lightly

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Glimpse by Dayamay

    As another New Year comes racing around, and the last one feels like one big blur, I notice that I’m very aware of how much older and fragile I am. Youthful resilience seems to be fading a bit, at least in the physical sense, and I’m much more sensitive to the world. Almost as if I’ve shed some skin, and the rawness and unpredictability of life feels a bit closer. My limitations are more apparent, the relevance of the incessant drive towards accomplishment and success, a bit more distant.

    This is not an uncommon occurence in the life of a religious practitioner. In fact, it can actually be taken as a positive sign of progress that some of the protective layers of our social conditioning have fallen away. The hard, uncompromising edges of who we thought we were, melted in the crucible of suffering, love, experience and practice.

    We are left with a central core of vulnerability, sensitivity and latent spiritual potential. Face to face with our authentic selves, naked in the presence of the light and grace that we call Amida.

    The benefit of being closer to the Buddha counterbalances the drawbacks of being more exposed and sensitive. And I find that the weight of inevitable suffering is easier to hold in the context of the unconditional Love that I feel from Sangha. I’m less reactive, more curious and generally more accepting of the way things are.

    One of the most important teachings that I received, in the earliest days of my journey, as I squared up with the prospect of life on its own terms – was to hold myself more lightly. This sounded a bit obscure at first, but once I got my head around it, it became clear that the general gist was to not take myself too seriously or my suffering too personally. There is a way of being with pain and difficulty that allows it to be what it is, and me to feel it and heal through it, whilst sparing the rest of the world from having to wallow in it as well – as if they haven’t got enough of their own.

    Holding it lightly may sound a bit too easy, like making light of an impossibly difficult task. It might seem like aiming at a small target on a distant horizon. Something to be aspired to in the future – for the new improved me, which, actually, might never come. But my experience has been that when I call on Amida and feel the inspiration that informs change, much of the heavy lifting is done for me, and the burden is lightened, making it possible to function on an even keel and freeing me up to continue the important work that comes with being truly present in an ever changing world.

    Namo Amida Bu.

    Less is More

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    Written on 8th Dec

    Today is the anniversary of Buddha Shakyamuni’s Enlightenment and I’m writing my First Dharma Glimpse.  During this morning’s Nembutsu, I began chanting then suddenly started to laugh.  I don’t really know why, or at least I didn’t.  I looked up at the Buddha and said a rather silly, “Sorry.”  The Buddha smiled back and reminded me that it’s fine to not always take the practice too seriously.  We can bring lightness and humour into what we do.  I said, “Thank you,” and started laughing again, as I realised that on the one hand this seemed really silly, but that this was an important insight and that, at the same time, my Glimpse had been seemingly gifted to me.  I was relieved to have had this inspiration and could use it as my Glimpse.  A little later, the thought that this wasn’t the kind of Glimpse that I’d wanted to write about entered my mind.  I had wanted to write a serious Glimpse, a clever Glimpse, incorporating a message from Manshi Kiyozawa’s book, which I am currently studying, ‘December Fan.’  This ‘gifted Glimpse or insight’ was too short and too simple, not to mention too silly.  It wasn’t enough to meet my high expectations of myself, satisfying my need for perfectionism, especially for my Very First Dharma Glimpse.  Yet the Buddha had taught me that it was enough.  I was reminded just recently, in the aftermath of an intensely stressful move from London to Malvern, that I’d made the decision to adopt a mantra, being ‘Less is Enough.’  I need to go more gently.  I had been partly successful:  my bread not rising for Bodhi Day was enough;  my not saying too much during the Listening Circle was enough;  my stopping after 30 minutes of cleaning the kitchen was enough and my not having been able to prepare responses on others’ book reflections last week was also enough.  So, maybe, writing a short and silly Glimpse, that nevertheless conveyed a good message, that had ‘dropped into my lap’ this morning, would also be enough.  I have typically spent my life with large agendas, requiring me to meet my high standards.  Perhaps my new life at the temple could be a gift of an opportunity to relax, let go, laugh, lighten the load and accept that Amida is smiling at me and has my back.  Amida doesn’t mind if I’m silly and if I do less.  Amida accepts me as I am.  I can simply trust in the process that all will be well, even with less.  Less is Enough.  

    I now remember Kiyozawa implying that responsibilities and commitments (meeting extrinsic demands within his Japanese culture) wasn’t as important as trusting in the ‘Power Beyond the self.’  So, perhaps in future, when I feel inclined to do more and more, I will sit with the Buddha and know that ‘I am enough,’ even when I start to laugh during Nembutsu.  When I can only do less, that the Buddha will still smile at me and I can relax, knowing that Less is Enough.

    “The only thing there can be is gratitude to the Buddha for guiding us….  The Buddha has the sole initiative for whatever we do or do not do.” (Manshi Kiyozawa, December Fan, Chapter 4, page 32).

    “There is no failure for one who trusts in the wondrous working of the Infinite.” (M. Kiyozawa, December Fan, Chapter 5, page 38).

    How The Light Gets In

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Dayamay

    On a black background, a heap of different coloured glow sticks - activated and glowing: blue, orange, purple and green
    public domain image from Wiki commons

    A few years ago I attended a special Christmas Eve Mass for children with my niece and nephew. I wasn’t expecting much, as, in my arrogance, I had sort of written off contemporary Christian preachers and teachers, as part of my lifelong resentment with the church. They couldn’t possibly have anything useful or interesting to say. As if to prove me wrong, this bubbly yet humble priest held up a luminous green glow stick – she had provided the whole congregation with identical ones – and snapped it in half in order to activate the chemicals inside that make it light up. After instructing everyone else to do the same, she explained how this related to Jesus’s story. She offered the slightly oblique perspective that “it doesn’t work unless it’s broken”. I was immediately struck by the analogy and the paradox; I had never heard it spoken about in this way before.

    It was Jesus’s brokenness(torture, humiliation and crucifixion), death and subsequent resurrection that were instrumental in proving him to be a genuine prophet, and eventually clearing up much of the scepticism that had surrounded his ministry. His persecution, death, resurrection and the mystery that made it such a powerful story, were the very things that gave Christianity its special influence in the world.

    It’s a story that we hear again and again in ancient cultures, religious traditions and folktales from around the world.
    Deep human suffering and subsequent defeat – surrender to the unchangeable forces of life, heartbreaking loss, transformation and profound spiritual power.

    I immediately knew what she meant and identified strongly with the concept. I considered how my own brokenness formed part of the basis through which understanding of my journey and spiritual destiny became possible. And how, throughout history, the world has witnessed the breaking and making of people, countries, economies and so on.

    One of the things I love most about the story of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment is that he had to be broken by his own Self Power efforts before he could fully understand the significance of his predicament as a human, the nature of awakening and his destined place in the spiritual scheme of things. When he hit that place of unquestionable self-defeat, somehow, he suddenly knew what it was that he had to do and set about realizing his immense potential. And then, the morning star shone…just for him.

    I’m certainly not going to compare myself with the likes of the Buddha – or Jesus, but I do know that a degree of brokenness is central and fundamental to my functioning as a spiritual practitioner and relatively useful member of society. And I don’t feel as if I can possibly write a piece like this without at least acknowledging Leonard Cohen’s genius assertion – again, born out of hardship and anguish – that “there’s a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in”.

    Namo Amida Bu.X 

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