Love & Grief of Stones

    A Dharma Glimpse by Fi

    The steps in Malvern where the vigil takes place

    As part of last year’s Bodhi Day I sat with fellow sangha members and Extinction Rebellion activists at a regular vigil for the Earth in the middle of my home town. Round our necks we wore the placards that said ‘in Love and Grief for the Earth.’

    At some point during the hour I sat there, I leaned into the Malvern stone façade of the wall beside me and suddenly experienced a profound and physical sense of what two elements of that phrase meant to me –even if not actually in the order they were written on my chest.

    First of all I felt acutely the separation of those stones from their bedrock only a few miles away where they had developed over deep time and remained undisturbed – until humans tore them from the hills with destructive tools and probably dynamite. People far more knowledgeable than I am about Earth Mysteries posit that the history of quarrying leaves a psychic scar on the land. I thought about that and found myself apologising to those stones for their violent relocation.

    And then I realised I was on familiar territory. Here was a lesson to me in the pervasiveness of dukkha – that to build something required damage to something else, that there was an inevitability about that and that, as always, I needed to find a way of sitting with this and accepting it.

    And then I had a second experience of the Earth that those stones represented. As their coolness seeped into my shoulder and maybe a tiny part of my human warmth seeped into them, I was reminded that stones can also represent connection. In recent years it has become increasingly popular to paint stones and either gift them or leave them for people to find. One of our former temple residents is very well known for this locally!

    I have a pebble that was painted for me by a dear friend and former boss. She did one for each of her staff before she left. Though she is not herself a Buddhist she researched Buddhist art before painting a mandala on one side of the pebble for me and telling me to carry it with me to help me feel grounded when I needed it.

    Such stones can represent many images and ideas, but the underlying theme is that the givers and receivers care about each other and want to connect. And we use a small part of the Earth as our medium to do so. In doing so, we bear witness to our universal connection, or love, just as the Buddha did in reaching down and touching the Earth on the morning of his Enlightenment.

    Which brings me back, full circle, to what made me choose to sit on those steps in the middle of town on a December afternoon.

    Namo Amida Bu

    Dharma Glimpse: One Million Nembutsu

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    By Daymay Dunsby

    Since the beginning of the year I’ve been engaged in the million nembutsu practice. 2,700 a day for 365 days, recited rapidly over 25 minutes. I’ve found that it has really reignited my love for practice, just for the sake of practice. I didn’t feel lacking in my spiritual life or a particular need for stronger faith. It just felt like a nice thing to do. My memories of the practice from previous years left me with a warm and inspiring feeling that I have felt many times in my spiritual life and I now associate with devotional practices. It feels like my gesture of love for the Buddha is being reciprocated, as the nembutsu acts like a conductor between myself and Amida.

    Practice is inseparable from awakening. The act of practice is imbued with the seed of faith. To take part in spiritual practice is to embody the principles of enlightenment, as demonstrated by Shakyamuni thousands of years ago. We are still benefiting from his vision and his inspiration. But without our participation there would be nothing to enjoy, nothing to pass on. We might exist in very different worlds and lead very different lives, but when we come together we collectively manifest the things that we love. By turning up for and engaging in practice we make the heart of Buddhism beat, we breathe life into our dreams and spiritual aspirations.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    True Faith?

    Categories: buddhism

    I’m interested in the different interpretations that arise in various contexts about the nature of faith. What is faith and how do we define it in spiritual or religious terms, and how do those definitions differ? What is the difference between religious and non-religious faith? Is it all tantamount to religion really? Sentimental or superstitious instincts or feelings pertaining to sacred universal principles? Is it possible for practitioners or ordinary people to experience spiritual fulfillment outside of dogmatic ideologies?

    I have heard some interesting and somewhat conflicting ideas about the nature of faith and the difference between it and belief. I think that there is an interesting and quite important distinction that can be made between the two.

    In my opinion, belief is a component of faith and can form part of the structure in which faith is realised, but it alone does not constitute the substance of faith.

    I often hear people referring to faith in the context of a sort of inspiration that comes from a historical or even mythical person, that maybe showed great strength of character or endured some immense suffering. I can see how individual strength can be derived through the awe inspiring stories that filter down through the ages, indeed, I often feel empowered in particular ways by the stoicism and courage that certain humans display – but my faith is something different.

    There are aspects of it that are or seem distinct from any mental constructions or projections onto any form or powerful people or compelling concepts. It feels far deeper and more pervasive than any kind of charisma or form of sentient intelligence.

    For example, there is an electricity that infuses my being when I practice Buddhism. Whether it can be explained in biological terms or whether it does actually pertain to some more profound esoteric mystery, it invigorates and sustains me, however difficult the condition I happen to be languishing in. This, for me, is closer to an accurate description of faith than the deifying of humans or influential archetypal beings can come. For me, it is the core component. The active ingredient. Everything else is essentially decoration!

    It’s possible to believe in all sorts of things, some of which may appear more rational because we can reach out and touch them, see them and hear what they have to say. There are millions of people in the US who currently hold a very firm belief in Donald Trump. They might even say that they have faith in him. But when he inevitably falls from grace, disappears from the public eye or dies, will their belief still sustain their hopes and dreams? Or will they be swayed and persuaded by the next man in a suit who claims to have the answers to all of their problems and fears?

    When I hear about faith in the more fashionable sense – ie, popstars and politicians posturing in ways that make them appear more powerful – it often feels like a sort of misappropriation, like greed or self centred determination or some other pernicious force being mistaken for faith. Or, the idea of faith being used or weaponized in the pursuit of material gain.

    However, this could easily be part of my own prejudicial complex, rejecting the notion that worldly power is or can be compatible with true faith. Maybe it is more subjective than I believe or than my own experience allows me to see, but I believe faith to be the manifestation of a spiritual energy, that exists regardless of any personal strength or ideas/beliefs about mystical deities or religious figures. That’s not to say that these figures are not important, just that it seems important to remember that it is not the person or being that controls or produces spiritual power, they are merely the vehicle of transmission.

    I think what we largely don’t realise or tend to acknowledge, is the way that religion and faith show up in our day to day lives.

    One of the more interesting definitions of religion is the term Organized Spirituality. When we think about the implications of this we can extend it to almost every aspect of human life. Spirit inextricably permeates the material world and is therefore inherent in every activity that we can possibly imagine or undertake. The spirit of family, friendship, creativity and so on, all express some of the principles that describe religion. Even the evil that we see and hear of in the world is perpetrated in the spirit of some nefarious belief system or other, whether wrong or not, the intention is underpinned by a spirit of some form, desire, anger, etc.

    All of these examples can be squared with the concept of seeking higher truths or levels of reality and consciousness. And, by this premise, it is not too much of a stretch to associate these every day human activities as fitting the definition of Organised Spirituality. So, in a certain sense, it is all religion.

    Having said all of that, the things that we put our trust and faith in do tend to be the kind of things that are inevitably destined to let us down in one way or another. In a materially conditioned world, there can be no eternal bonds; everything is subject to the ravages of time. Whereas the spiritual realm is unconditioned, not subject to age or decay.

    I think that it is possible to be distracted from the heart of the matter – which should surely be the improvement of the state of the world – and seduced by the idea that the human mind is capable of thinking itself out of hell. We look to the potential of ourselves and others as distinct from the infinite wisdom and guidance that preceded us through millennia, and allow our prejudices and resentments to close the door to the wonders of the kind of traditional religious faith that we collectively feel has failed us.

    There does seem to be a certain amount of bitterness in the kind of logic that separates the human race from the power of traditional religion. It is possibly the same bitterness that causes the divisions that are endlessly and increasingly apparent in our societal dynamics. I believe traditional religions to hold the cohesive power that has the potential to dissolve the boundaries that keep us in conflict with ourselves and each other. If we can break the habits of self, that keep us struggling to maintain and justify an unsustainable way of being in and relating to the world and everything in it.

    It is interesting to see that the dry cynicism of the scientific fraternity has begrudgingly given way to a more religious way of thinking. Quantum mechanics has been instrumental in the beginnings of the dismantling of our super-materialist ways of interpreting the universe. It shows us that separation is merely a perspective, inherent to our subjective experiences. When we try to intuit the foundations of material phenomena, we find ourselves thrust into a much deeper mystery. This could be a great example of the apparent paradox which shows us that, the harder we try to turn away from the divine, the closer we come to it!

    Namo Amida Bu.

    Dayamay

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    The Importance of Practice

    Categories: buddhism

    By Kaspa

    I thought of a really good analogy for practice, with human beings being represented by solar systems and the planets being our bad habits and the sun being our self-concern. I started writing it out and it all sounded so complicated! Maybe I’ll try and present it another time. Today I’ll share a more personal account of practice.

    Around fifteen years ago on a Buddhist retreat, in a shared mediation exercise, I looked deep inside my heart and noticed a black hole. I had a deep intuitive sense that this image was showing me both my depression, and hinting at the sense of worthlessness at the bottom of that hole that the depression was feeding off and responding to.

    Since then I have practiced a lot of meditation and nembutsu.

    Japanese characters reading Namo Amida Butsu, hand written by Honen
    Honen’s calligraphy of nembutsu

    In mediation I sit and aim to pay attention to the present moment. Meditation often gives me a break from my mind going around in circles. Sometimes in that break a completely new thought will appear, or a mental knot I’ve been worrying will unravel. Sometimes it is just a relief to sit quietly for a while. I trust that not feeding the various thoughts and impulses that appear is good for future me as well — if I’m not putting energy into them now they are less likely to appear again. And sometimes in the silence something more profound happens: I experience a sense of interconnection to the whole world, or a deep sense of love for the other people in the room practicing with me, or I catch a glimpse of the pool of love and wisdom that lies deep within each of us.

    Nembutsu is an act of trust. In reciting the Buddha’s name I am reminding myself that my small-mind is not the only or most important way of understanding the world. I am reminding myself that Buddhas exist — that somehow love is present in the universe and that love is always ready to meet me. I am reminding myself that we are all loveable just as we are, even if I can’t manage it for myself or others, and that love is transformative and healing.

    When I look inside my heart now, and bring that image of the black hole to mind, I notice that it is much smaller: maybe an 1/8th of the size it was on that retreat many years ago. Sitting with that image I realise that it is true my depression is much less smaller these days, and I can tell there is much less worthlessness sitting at the bottom of the well.

    I’m not very good at maintaining a regular formal practice, but I am convinced of its value. Hopefully something I’ve said here today will inspire you to practice, or to keep practicing.

    Videos!

    Categories: activism buddhism videos

    Three videos of Kaspa talking about environmental activism.

    Getting Arrested for Touching The Earth – a talk at Buddhafield Festival, Kaspa tells the story of his arrest for demonstrating with XR, about intuitive compassion and finding an appropriate response to the climate crisis.

    Two XR Buddhist Co-coordinators in Conversation Kaspa and Katja talk about activism at the Triratna Earth Sangha Confernce:

    And finally, with Katja again, in conversation with David Loy

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    Coming events

    Categories: buddhism

    Mindful Walk
    This Saturday at 1400 join us for a mindful walk on the hills. 

    Join Satya and Kaspa for a mindful walk on the hills. Booking essential – email hello@brightearth.org to let us know you are coming. These walks are always special!

    The walks begin in various places in Malvern (the temple, Rosebank gardens etc) with introductions and a talk from Kaspa or Satya. We’ll then walk slowly into the hills and back in silence, with brief stops and a longer stop for meditation. 

    This is an offering in the spirit of the Bright Earth temple – a combination of earth-centred spirituality and Pure Land Buddhism, which offers us a simple practice to connect with a loving and wise spirit. We are accepted ‘just as we are’.

    Suggested donation £5-£10 (or whatever you can afford) to support the running of the temple, www.brightearth.org/donate.

    Introduction to Buddhist Ideas

    Sat, 2 October 18:00 – 19:15

    This workshop will be facilitated by Kaspa & Satya who run the Bright Earth Buddhist temple in Malvern. It will include their take on the Buddha’s life story, refuge, and other Buddhist concepts. There will also be time for questions.

    All are welcome, whether you have some experience of Buddhism or if you’re a complete beginner – we are a friendly bunch here! There will be a handout and a list of books if you’re interested in further study.

    Tickets £8 each – Let us know if you want a lower cost ticket by emailing satya@satyarobyn.com – all are welcome and we don’t want cost to be a reason for you not to come. Places will be limited to 12.

    Book online now

    Introduction to Buddhist Practice

    Sat, 16 October 18:00 – 19:15 

    This workshop will be facilitated by Kaspa & Satya who run the temple in Malvern. It will include instruction and background to meditation, chanting mantras, bowing and making offerings and how we might experiment with these ancient practices in our everyday life (and how they might help us). We will have a go at some of these practices, and there will also be time for questions.

    All are welcome, whether you have some experience of Buddhism or if you’re a complete beginner – we are a friendly bunch here! There will be a handout and a list of further resources including our free online course if you’re interested in further study.

    Tickets £8 each – Let us know if you want a lower cost ticket by emailing satya@satyarobyn.com – all are welcome and we don’t want cost to be a reason for you not to come. Places will be limited to 12.

    Places will be limited to 12

    .Book online now

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    Human Hearts

    Categories: buddhism

    By Kaspa

    a golden Buddha statue sits on a shrine in front of tall windows looking out over countryside
    The Buddha in our shrine room

    I have been thinking about the foundations of spiritual practice, about what it means to be human and about what we are hoping the temple will become a container for.

    Sometimes our hearts are open to things as they are and the concerns of body and mind drop away.  We are sweeping up leaves but it feels like there is nobody sweeping, just hands moving a brush and no worries, no busy mind, just peace and spaciousness and the leaves are being swept.

    Sometimes our hearts are open to things as they are and we are moved to tears by the suffering in the world; by witnessing the climate and ecological crisis, or listening to the story of the person in front of us, or remembering grief and loss in our own life. Sometimes we move from a feeling of deep personal sorrow to what Suzuki Roshi called the ‘great grief’, a welling up of tears for the whole world.

    Sometimes our hearts are open to things as they are and naturally we wish for the well-being of others, sometimes we sit with this and send that love out into the world, and sometimes it moves us into taking compassionate action.

    Sometimes our hearts are open to things as they are and we feel a deep sense of gratitude for the infinite love and wisdom of the Buddhas that is ever-present in the universe.

    Sometimes our hearts are closed. Our senses are dulled; we are tired and feeling low and want to curl up under a duvet. Or we are reactive and frustrated and everything is just wrong. Or we close our hearts by distracting ourselves, by diving into compulsive behaviour.

    Sometimes our hearts are closed and we feel awful and we long for something better and we’ve run out of steam to make any changes so we call out to the infinite love of the Buddhas trusting that whatever state we are in and however little we can do for ourselves (sometimes the meditating cushion feels impossibly hard to get to) we are received and held by that love.

    Sometimes our hearts are closed and the light of the Buddhas allows us to open them a little more. To be curious about what created that closing and to be more open to things as they are.

    This is our spiritual practice, remembering the qualities of our own open hearts, remembering the dullness and reactivity of being human, and remembering the love of the Buddha reaching out towards us and all living things.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Temple in the News

    Categories: buddhism

    by Kaspa

    Today’s story in the Malvern Gazette

    At lunchtime today a photographer for a national news agency came and took a photo of me standing in front of the temple.

    About ten days ago Bright Earth Buddhist Temple was in the Malvern Gazette. Then we were in the Worcester News, then the Birmingham Mail. Today we were in the Gazette again and this agency photographer rang the doorbell unexpectedly.

    Why all the attention?

    A few months ago when we were repairing the rendering and repainting the front of the temple we took the opportunity to change the highlight colour. We had some independent advice that assured us that a recent change in planning law meant we no longer needed to apply for permission to change the colour.

    It looked so much better after the repair and repaint. Tending to the front of the building was long overdue and after a hard winter the building looked pretty tatty.

    A few weeks ago someone from Malvern wrote to the council to complain about the change. Contrary to the advice we received Malvern council insisted we applied for retrospective planning permission. I spent half a day filling out forms and thought no more about it until someone sent me a link to the story in the Gazette.

    The Gazette had seen the application on the council website, seen that there were three comments objecting to the change in colour, took a few quotes from the paperwork I had submitted and created their story. They didn’t come and ask me for a comment.

    Satya mentioned the news story on Facebook and within a day or two there were lots of positive comments both on social media and on the planning application. When I counted yesterday there were about seventy positive comments on the council website.

    In response Worcester News ran their second story: local community approves of new paintjob! And the press agency dropped by.

    I’m grateful and pleased so many people took the time to say they like the new look, and I’m sorry that not everyone likes it. Despite those few complaints I’m happy with the change myself.

    The highlight colour used to be red. A colour strongly associated with the Buddhist organisation we left at the end of last year. Whilst we were having the render repaired and the front repainted it seemed like a good opportunity to change that colour.

    Turquoise is associated with awakening in Buddhism, and is the predominant colour of the Earth seen from space. Both those reasons appealed to us.

    What will the national press make of the story?

    I suspect that ‘local community likes paint job’ is not that newsworthy. The agency photographer and his editor said they were aiming for a more sympathetic story and wanted us to put our version across. We’ll see if anything comes of it.

    Personally I’d much rather the press gave their attention to more important matters, like the urgent action that’s required to mitigate the climate crisis.

    Of course we hope that the planning permission goes though. After a year and a half of being closed our donations have been lower than usual and it would be great not to have to spend any money on repainting.

    If you’d like to make a donation to support the work of the temple you can do that here.

    Buddhism and the Climate Crisis

    Categories: activism buddhism earth

    By Kaspa

    Buddhism and the Climate Crisis

    A selection of newspaper front pages responding to the IPPC report. two of the headlines read 'code red for humanity' another reads 'PM: wake up to red alert on climate crisis.
    Newspaper front pages on Tuesday

    At the beginning of the week the IPPC released its sixth report. You’ve probably seen the headlines in newspapers and on the radio and television. The headline from the IPPC press release is: climate change: rapid, widespread and intensifying.

    This is a longer post than usual. But it’s an important topic to address. Perhaps the most pressing issue of the day. I also wanted to share with you the video from last Saturday’s practice session, which included our first refuge ceremony since the temple’s change of name: Practice, Sh*t, and refuge.

    Over the past few weeks the news has been full of flooding in Europe and wildfires around the world, in Turkey, Greece, California, Siberia and so on.  The fire in California now covers 724 square miles. There have always been forest fires there, but the climate crisis means they are bigger, more damaging and more unmanageable.

    On Monday morning I sat and watched the beginning of the live-streamed press conference from the IPCC. I listened to a couple of speakers and then I couldn’t listen any more. I stood up and decided to get on with the day’s work. I went into the bedroom to change into my painting clothes, collapsed onto the bed and sobbed.

    After a minute or so I picked myself up, got changed and carried on with my day. Throughout the morning the grief and upset sat just behind my other thoughts and feelings.

    Later that day Professor Kimberly Nichols tweeted and asked: How do we find the courage to face the climate crisis?

    She suggested there are five stages of Radical Climate Acceptance:

    1. Ignorance
    2. Avoidance
    3. Doom
    4. All the Feels
    5. Purpose

    I guess I was in ‘all the feels’.

    I’m fortunate to have spaces where I can share my emotional response and be heard. I’d encourage you to find those spaces as well. (Like our listening circle on Saturdays at 6pm) It’s so important to be able to hear and feel our own reactions to what’s happening in the world. Being listened to with compassion, or listening to ourselves with compassion can help move us through those stages outlined above.

    I’m also fortunate to have found a community within XR Buddhists that has a shared purpose in facing the climate crisis. But I still sometimes wonder how other Buddhists might or might not face this emergency.

    Some might say that what’s important for Buddhists is to become awakened. We know this world is one of suffering, and the Buddha taught either to leave this world of suffering by entering nirvana after death, or to become enlightened within this world of suffering depending on who you ask. He didn’t say much about making the world a better place.

    There aren’t many/any examples of the Buddha being an activist. The advice he gives to kings is very good advice, but he delivers it in a very diplomatic way, and unlike some of us he was never arrested for meditating in the road and stopping traffic.

    But over and over again we are implored to be kind. We are taught to make compassionate responses to each other and the world.

    We are now in a state of global emergency – and what can be more kind and compassionate than facing that together?

    What?
    Dr Charlie Gardener lists the five most important things we can do in response to the crisis:

    1. communicating
    2. influencing
    3. activism
    4. building better alternatives, and
    5. looking after ourselves

    The most important thing we can do is talk about the climate crisis and to put pressure on our leaders to make and enforce the changes we need. 67% of carbon emissions come from fossil fuel. Whilst personal change is important, personal change along won’t mitigate that.

    Satya is travelling to London in a couple of weeks to demonstrate on the streets again, some of us from the temple community will go up and join her for a day. Satya and I will be on the streets again outside the international conference on the climate in Glasgow in November.

    How?
    As Buddhists we are fortunate to have practices and teachings that support us to do the inner work that is required to both be effective responders and to demonstrate a way of being that is not based on greed, ill-will and ignorance.

    When we make our responses to the climate crisis it is important to bring both of these aspects together: To choose wise, effective action and to do that action in a way that embodies compassion and loving kindness for all.

    I encourage you to have courage and to find your own compassionate response to this emergency.  There are lots of resources on the XR Buddhist website. Or drop us a line if you want to talk things through.

    Namo Amida Bu

    Kaspa

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    Conditioning and Karma

    Categories: buddhism

    By Dayamay

    In a book by an old teacher of mine, Samsara is described as “the conditioned mind”. Human and all sentient life entwined and impossibly snared in the illusion of materialism, which draws us ever deeper in and perpetuates our predicament – the cycle of birth and death. Karma could be described as the spiritual currency – generated by our efforts to help ourselves – that tethers us to and keeps us invested in the system.

    So I try not to take all this suffering personally. Because, after all, it’s just the universe doing its thing. Dispensing justice without prejudice.

    When you realise the power of the consequences of your actions, even the actions that seem insignificant but quite probably contribute towards the pain and even death of others, it becomes a bit easier to accept what’s coming.

    Christians talk about Eschatology – the science of the final things – judgement by God for our transgressions and the impact that we’ve had on His Creation.

    This resonates with me to a certain point, but I like to think of this as a system of cause and effect, rather than a journey to some personal judgement from a punitive Higher Power. Individual and collective Karma crystalizing on the physical plane, and, if we’re awake enough, providing the catalyst for release from the cycle of pain and death.

    Whether we are the manifestation of the apocalypse, which marks the death throes of this incredible organic universe, or vehicles for transcendence into higher states, the immutable fact of suffering remains.

    It’s useful to have a practice that we can use to reduce the impact of suffering on our lives and it’s great to feel held and loved by a Buddha or some other Divine Deity, but it’s also important to acknowledge the origins and causes of this predicament that we’re in as Human beings in a Samsaric Universe.

    As long as there is conscious life there will always be Karma and as long as there’s karma there will always be Samsara. So when this physical universe ends – which, by the laws of impermanence it must – our individual and collective karmic deficits will be carried over into a different system. And who is to say what that might look like!?

    I consider this relationship with Amida and Buddhism in general, the ripening of my good karma, as accumulated through previous good deeds and accomplishments over uncountable lifetimes in unimaginable timeframes. Although the practice of calling Amida seems quite easy and convenient, the journey to reach salvation has been incredibly long and very difficult!

    Nembutsu is the loving arm of Amitabha, reaching back through beginingless time to guide us into his care and away from the eternal pitfalls of the suffering realms.

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