Big life, small life

    Categories: Uncategorised

    Dharma Glimpse by Emily

    This line of thought will have no resolution since it’s new to me, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a “big life” vs a “small life.” I was talking with one of the monastics about how my first year or two in Zen was the happiest period of my life. I didn’t think about anything else. Every hour of my day was full, I woke up at 5:30, went to temple to sit, eat, and clean, went to one job, had an hour for lunch, went to my other job, had an hour for dinner, went to temple again, came home and showered and went to bed at 9 to do it again the next day. I made meal offerings with a full prayer before every meal, at the altar. During spring and fall, I wrote the text we were studying on high pieces of paper and taped them to the walls of my apartment. I was very, very happy. It’s important to know that I was very mentally unwell when I came to Zen, so I had essentially forgotten about the world as I was healing through practice. When I told this to the monastic last week, she said I had had a very small life, and it can be easier to be happy in a small life. Also that I can’t go back.

    I think she’s right, I was very happy in my small life. Over the years, I became more aware of things outside that I felt like I was missing out on. Friends outside of Zen, cute clothes that didn’t cover my shoulders and knees, TV and people to talk about it with, vices. At first, when I left I was overjoyed at feeling connection to all the people outside of Zen, life got very big. But it’s much lonelier, even though I feel every person got more accessible, it makes me a very little fish in a big pond, instead of a medium fish in a medium pond back in my little Zen world. Of course, NYC is known for this, it’s very lonely despite there being so many people. Who knows what percentage of people are just the same, living in some little 8″x8″ room with few to no connections in a city of 8.5 million?

    Anyway, my main point is, is there something wrong morally or spiritually with a very small life? I’m not sure I’m doing anyone any more good now in the big wide world than I was in my little world. But it feels like something is wrong with making a little world to be happy in? Why does it feel that way? I think because, for me, it meant disconnection from everyone “outside.” But are my new feelings of kinship with everyone actually benefitting me or them? How can I make it benefit? Am I and others better off if I just make a new little world?

    What do you do for people in a city where most people don’t want to be interacted with in public, myself included? Here, if you are crying on the train, it’s actually a kindness for everyone to ignore it. I know that seems odd to anyone not here, but you have to understand that there is no private life here, almost no one lives without roommates and everyone can hear you all the time. So it’s a kindness to give each other this pretend privacy. So, that said, what does connection even look like here? I guess it means going places where people are actually looking for it, but isn’t that making a little world then?

    I hope this counts as a dharma glimpse, if nothing else it’s a glimpse for you about this city. And to me, this is the Dharma, giving some thought to things, questioning things.

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    The spider in its web

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    Dharma Glimpse by Sam

    ‘In the corner of my room, I see a spider in its web. It’s been there a few days now – I don’t mind its company. But I wonder how the spider feels. I haven’t seen any flies lately, so I don’t imagine it has caught any.

    Is the spider hungry and frustrated? Or is it happy, just chilling in its web, in its element, doing what it was made to do?

    I suppose spiders may not have evolved to experience those feelings of frustration in the same way that humans do, because what purpose would it serve? The spider cannot do much else but sit in its web and wait. As human beings, we get frustrated and impatient because there are usually other things we can try, and the painful feelings are our mind’s way of telling us that it is time to try something else.

    But we humans are foolish beings, and our response to those feelings are not always helpful. ‘The computer isn’t working, I’ll try hitting it.’ Sometimes there isn’t anything to do but wait. Sometimes there is, but we need to take a step back and calm ourselves down before we can think clearly enough to find it.

    Recently, I have been involved with the Parts Work book group online. I wonder if I can, from the Self, Buddha nature, observe my frustrated part, and show it the same kindness I might show a small child or a close friend. Let the part be heard, and help it to see clearly.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Finding the right community

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Sam

    I grew up as a Christian, and I was lucky enough to be part of a nourishing community of Christians. Unfortunately, this community was built around a set around a particular set of beliefs, and in the end I found that I could not believe in it, and therefore I could not continue to be a part of the Church.

    I lost an important part of my identity, and I lost community. I went in search of something to fill the void.

    I ended up finding a replacement in the world of political ideology, giving me a new identity and a new community.

    I started my time at university in this state. I talked to some clever people and it became apparent that my new beliefs didn’t stand up to scrutiny either. I didn’t want to admit this, I really didn’t. I denied it for a while, until I couldn’t.

    Now I was in crisis, having again lost an important part of my identity and community.

    I came to the conclusion that political ideology was not a good foundation, because it is not solid. No one really knows the answers, and so eventually you have to change your mind. I came to the conclusion that a more solid foundation for one’s life would be spiritual principles, more like what I grew up with.

    For me there are two essential principles. One is something like love or compassion or kindness. That I could find at Church, but the second principle is something like reason or open-mindedness or non-attachment to ideas. For me, I could not find this in Church, because I could not belong to such a community without believing in something that went against my reason.

    In the end, I did find a good example of such community living for a period of time at Bright Earth Buddhist Temple. But such community is not only here. It is, I think, fundamentally, to be found wherever Buddha nature meets Buddha nature, and Buddha nature is in all of us.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    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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    Bombu Mind, Beginner’s Mind

    Categories: Uncategorised

    A Dharma Glimpse by Dayamay


    The concept of Beginner’s Mind got me thinking after our day retreat last week. It reminded me of A, how little I actually know, in comparison to how much there is to know and B, how beneficial this seeming disadvantage can be on the spiritual path.

    We talked about how Beginner’s Mind shows up in our lives. How it can open up whole new understandings on life, practice and the universe. And how, as a society, we favour the glory of competency and being good at everything, over the vulnerability of not knowing.

    I don’t think I have ever met a scholar or an “expert” who isn’t in some way humbled by the fact of just how much information there is out there…about everything – an inexhaustible font of facts, ideas, perspectives and opinions. In any realistic evaluation of the universe, where experience informs the evidence of the senses, all of our encounters with knowledge and understanding would be firmly grounded in an attitude of Beginner’s Mind. Because we can never reach the limits of learning – there is always more to know. And therefore, we are always, in a certain sense, beginners.

    As a practitioner with a terrible memory and limited capacity for retaining information, I can really identify with the concept of Beginner’s Mind. Buddhist and generic spiritual concepts and teachings that I learned and assimilated over many years have now faded to an almost irretrievable extent. When I am reintroduced to them, I often find a fresh perspective that maybe I hadn’t seen or really appreciated before. Or that the teaching comes from a different angle altogether and is associated with an unexpected source. This can be very disruptive to my ego and the parts of me that like the idea that I’ve got it all boxed off. My Expert Mind might inspire me to study a bit harder in order to throw up defences against the pain of having to say ‘I don’t know’. But, surely enough, I will find myself back at the same place, defeated by reality, once again.

    And the defeat is not an empty one. The teaching is implicit in the journey, as is often the case. We never actually reach the end.

    In a culture that doesn’t like limits or failure, Beginner’s Mind is not a popular concept. The intellectual and materialistic carrots that we are all chasing are not rooted in compromise or concession. But if we are prepared to actively align ourselves with our inherent limitations, we may be able to see ourselves more clearly and, therefore, live more deeply.

    Beginner’s Mind is a state of genuine humility, where we really know that we don’t know and accept it as a blessed truth.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    The push peddle, flips over

    Categories: Uncategorised

    Dharma Glimpse by Helen

    For as long as I can remember there has always been a part of me that has believed I am ‘missing’ something. That everyone else is walking around, going about there day fully actualised and safe in the knowledge that they are fully intact, with everything they need to proceed. But here I am with a nagging suspicion that I was in the canteen when the divine was handing some integral part out (that would track). I don’t know what part that would be of course, its intangible, but its some knowledge that isn’t present.

    I know I’m not alone in this thought. I’ve had many conversations over the years with various people describing a similar feeling. Some describing it as feeling that at a certain age some invisible piece of themselves would simply appear and everything would make complete sense.

    I know that, from a religious or philosophical perspective I’m talking about a question which has plagued great thinkers for millennia; the perceived separation between oneself and everyone and everything else. Heck I’m in a Buddhist temple, wasn’t the whole journey of his life’s work…

    Anyway I digress. Sometimes the latent feeling lays dormant and at others it rears up to visceral levels which I can best label as ‘imposter syndrome’.

    There are moment however when the divine mother plays a startlingly simple trick on me, a glitch in the matrix occurs, usually to hilarious effect. One such moment occurred this week at the gym.

    I sat across from a fellow gym goer and noticed them on a piece of equipment Ive been perplexed by for months. It’s a leg and glute machine with a peddle on one side which the user pushes backwards to create tension in the upper leg muscles. But the thing is it makes no sense. Everyone knows that you have to work both limbs on an exercise or you will be a wonky donkey, right? So how can this machine work since its only possible to peddle on one side because of how its oriented.

    I have consoled myself that this must just be science I done understand and its somehow cleverly working both sides.

    So you can imagine my amazement when, without a second thought, this fellow gym user… flipped the peddle over…

    Silly I know but it brought my heart a smile and warmth to know. I’m not crazy, or missing anything. I just didn’t know the peddle flipped over…

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Change and impermanence

    Categories: Uncategorised

    Dharma Glimpse by Theresa Larkins

    I’ve been thinking a lot about change and impermanence after last week’s book group discussions.

    I spent time in my garden last week after our meeting, clearing last year’s dead plants from the flowerbeds. It lifted me to see new shoots and bulbs coming up under the dead material. Spring will be here soon. I thought about how different the garden will look in spring. I imagined how it may look, it will be a surprise as it is a new garden. Then I thought about the impermanence of the garden, how every little part changes across moments, days, seasons and years. It is the same place but it is always different from one moment to the next as life slowly evolves and moves.

    These kind of changes are very different to the cataclysmic change of my partner dying. I’ve felt since losing Tony that I have also lost pieces of myself. I think this is tied up with changing my name as we got married just before he died. I’ve often wondered which parts of Theresa Larkins still apply to Theresa Morton. Can I still enjoy the things I used to enjoy, especially those things we did together? Nina and I drove to Merseyside on Friday to visit friends. It suddenly hit me that it is a bit meaningless to think (as I have many times) that ‘I am having an identity crisis’ if I am constantly changing anyway. Who I was or who I am doesn’t really matter. I just am and I am here now.

    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.