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

    No Comments

    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

    No Comments

    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

    No Comments

    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

    No Comments

    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

    1 Comment

    Taking refuge

    Categories: Uncategorised

    By Kaspa

    This Saturday as part of our morning practice in the shrine room we’ll have a refuge ceremony. Refuge is what we call it when we place our trust in the three jewels: The Buddha, The Dharma and the Sangha. Refuge is when we stop being taken in by our defensive, calculating mind and trust something wise and kind. Refuge is at the heart of every Buddhist tradition, and every Buddhist practice can be seen as supporting refuge, or even as refuge.

    The ceremony of taking refuge is a public setting of intention to keep taking refuge as our practice, and is sometimes seen as the moment one formally becomes Buddhist.

    This is the first letter to the templemates I’ve written in sometime. I used to write more or less monthly on some Buddhist theme, or using Buddhism to bring some light to something happening in the world. After November last year when many of us left our old teacher, the energy to write dried up. I think I wrote once or twice.

    Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say the energy was spent elsewhere.  Tending to the often painful unfolding of leaving and creating something new took time and energy. Time spent looking inward and treating each thought and feeling with compassion. Time spent holding wise and kind spaces for conversations and listening (and sometimes managing this and sometimes not). Time spent resting and recovering.

    Sometimes that’s what refuge looks like. Continually trusting the Buddha (both the Buddha as teacher and our own Buddha-nature) leads us into unexpected places. Ultimately taking refuge in this way leads to a flowering of love, to more energy and to more compassionate action, but along the way it can look like all sorts of different things.

    I’m reminded of William Stafford’s poem The Way It Is:

    There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
    things that change. But it doesn’t change.
    People wonder about what you are pursuing.
    You have to explain about the thread.
    But it is hard for others to see.
    While you hold it you can’t get lost.
    Tragedies happen; people get hurt
    or die; and you suffer and get old.
    Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
    You don’t ever let go of the thread.

    So this is refuge. Trusting the thread that is loving kindness to all beings and following it wherever it takes you. Sometimes it will take you into tangles, and sometimes into open spaces. This is the path of love. It is not always easy to follow, but every step we take is a liberation.

    With love

    Kaspa

    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.

    No Comments

    Fluctuations

    Categories: buddhism

    By Dayamay

    It turns out that living in a Buddhist Temple can be a very interesting thing.

    One of the benefits of staying in one place for a long time, is that you get to observe the fluctuations of the world from a fixed standpoint, which can prove quite advantageous at times.

    Here at the Temple we have quite a high resident turnover. The highest I’ve seen anywhere, I think.

    People often seem to use it as a stopgap, sometimes between jobs or relationships and then they move on and the energy shifts a bit as we wait to see who the next housemate will be and then adjust accordingly.

    It often doesn’t feel like a big deal at first, but with each new character comes a distinct vibe that keeps everybody on their toes in subtle ways. There tends to be a sort of honeymoon period, where everybody embraces each other and the new person gets smothered in welcoming love. This is usually closely followed by a more real experience, where personalities can clash and we sometimes struggle a bit to find our way around each other’s patterns and proclivities.

    It always strikes me as amazing how quickly we adapt to one another so harmoniously here. There is an indescribable spaciousness that I’ve never experienced anywhere before, which seems to foster a collective attitude of love, tolerance and understanding.

    One of the things that we’ve always set out to do here is to create conditions which are conducive to the qualities of Sukhavati, or, the Pure Land, in English terms. Love, tolerance, understanding and inclusiveness, to name a few.

    We talk about being “held” in our personal lives, as our faith provides a container for our foolishness and a refuge for our hearts, and this seems to be reflected in the community dynamics, as even the people who are not invested in the practice enjoy the benefits of conscientious living and spiritual friendships.

    In meditation the other morning, as I watched my busy mind secreting all sorts of thought patterns, I became aware of an interesting parallel between it and the ever changing dynamics in the Temple. The thoughts rising and drifting away and the space between then seemed to reflect quite closely the shifting energies in the house. People coming and going, events occurring and then drifting into the back of our awareness as we move towards the next joy or drama that awaits us.

    We are taught that nothing ever stays the same, that everything arises depending on causes and conditions, which are themselves subject to never ending change. So, according to this principle, it is actually impossible to experience true consistency in the physical world. Which is why we look to the spiritual realm for the meaningful and reliable sustenance that keeps our feet on the ground as the universe continues to move the goalposts around us!

    No Comments