Dharma Glimpse: Touching the Pure Land

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    by Chris Earle-Storey

    I’ve been feeling a bit low in spirits for the past couple of weeks. I’ve done something to my knee – or perhaps I haven’t done anything in particular and maybe it’s just an age thing – and it’s been really sore and uncomfortable, which has meant I haven’t been able to get out walking as much as I’d like. So today, in order to lift my spirits, I’ve been sitting in the garden.

    My garden is one of my very favourite places to be. The lawn is more moss and weeds than grass. My green fingers are a very pale shade of green and a few of the plants I put in the border last year have unfortunately not survived, but to me the garden is wonderful and my private sanctuary. Let me paint you a picture. The garden is dominated by two beautiful trees: a majestic weeping willow and a beautiful old apple tree that provides us with a huge crop of apples every year without fail. The blossom on the apple tree is opening up nicely and the late afternoon air is heavy with its sweet fragrance. Bees buzz busily amongst the branches. Our visiting blackbird sits in the willow, singing its complex and beautiful song, a voice so sweet it makes the heart sing too. Timothy the cat lazes at my feet on the patio, occasionally stirring himself sufficiently to swipe at a dried leaf as it tumbles past in the breeze; his friend Sam, always such a happy soul, sits amongst the border plants and purrs contentedly to himself. Some of the plants in the border are starting to open up their flowers and I see spots of white, pink, orange and purple in the fresh green foliage.

    Whilst I’ve been laid up with my poorly knee, I’ve been re-reading the Smaller Pureland Sutra and enjoying the rich, sumptuous descriptions of the Pure Land, full of gorgeous sights, sounds and aromas to delight the senses and calm the spirit. Many people think of the Pure Land, or Sukhavati, as a place we go to after death. As I sit here in my garden, I can’t help thinking that it would be such a pity to be so focussed on the Pure Land (or God’s Kingdom, or Heaven, or whatever else you may wish to call it) as something we reach only after death, and thereby miss the opportunity to discover Sukhavati in our life now. For me, here in my own small paradise of a garden, I know I can touch the Pure Land every day in the beauty and peace of this blessed place.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    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

    Enlightenment

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    By Dayamay Dunsby

    Somebody asked me recently about the nature of enlightenment. I had to think quite hard before I answered. Because it’s quite a complicated question and the answer has layers and nuances.


    Of course, what I associate most strongly with enlightenment is the image of Shakyamuni Buddha, deep in meditation, underneath a tree, glowing with the Dharma, radiating out wisdom and compassion. Or Amitabah Buddha, arms outstretched in a gesture of warm, unconditional acceptance.


    But I don’t think that’s necessarily the whole story.


    I think that, for some, enlightenment can be momentary clarity or temporary understanding, a glimpse of some depth in the world which normally escapes their attention. It is not reserved for the pious or erudite and is arguably in better hands in the ordinary person for whom it offers a unique perspective on life, the universe and the way things really are.


    For me, regular spiritual practice is key to understanding the nature and importance of enlightenment.


    I would say that, given the balance of deep positive change in my life and the persistence of my human nature, I only really know enlightenment to the extent that I have understood the importance of spiritual practice enough, that I have put it at the centre of my life and my priorities.


    So, maybe for me, enlightenment and practice are inseparable. Enlightenment is practice and practice is enlightenment. Maybe this is as simple or complicated as it ever needs to be.


    Namo Amida Bu( ,

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    I Fell off my Path

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Katie

    a path through a desert with a rainbow in a a blue sky

    I fell of my path 

    I take a deep changing breath as I put the words together to write this, I have been promising Satya to take up the challenge but have been avoiding actually completing the task. I find myself with some very unusual time off and this now has felt the right time. 

    My path was always tight, long and went straight ahead towards the horizon but slowly very slowly I began to fall. I noticed myself slipping over the edge and I could no longer see the horizon but instead I felt fear as if I was at a cliff edge hanging by one finger, gravel and stones falling beside me. I was panicking, hot and sweaty and this was only making me slip further, my legs swung underneath me, and my breathing was tight and shallow. I was falling from my path and quickly, what was beneath me I had no idea but if frightened me. What made me fall I suppose your wondering? I didn’t fall, I was pushed, quickly and hard by the force that alcoholism had grasped me and taken a hold of who I was. I had become a functioning alcoholic, I was trapped, I was lost, and I had fallen. I was left hanging like this for 5 long years and I didn’t know how to lift my foot on the path and get back up and one terrible weekend in the mist of the COVID pandemic I nearly fell completely, I needed to get back up and I did. Someone took hold of my hand and very slowly over a period of nearly two years I was up and walking back towards the bright, powerful horizon ahead of me. The person reaching a handout was me and I pulled the shame, the guilt, anguish, and fear from myself. I looked up and there I was looking down at me smiling with a handheld out – I grasped my hand tightly and as the tears fell, I managed a small, frightened smile back. I was going to be ok. 

    I found myself on the route back guided by spirituality and faith. My mornings became bright and powerful, and my evenings became relaxed and calm. I practiced Yoga, Meditation, and I even began to run 5k regularly. I listened to Buddhist music as a way to escape temptations and then I came across the Bright Earth Temple. I very quickly learnt that with the love and care from Buddha we can live the life of forgiveness, be calm and embrace a healthy lifestyle. The words each week I speak with others ‘With Faith in the three jewels I pray that I may avoid intoxication’ remind me of the importance to stay on my path and keep walking with my head held high. I sometimes kick the bottle of wine in front of me straight of the side of my path listening to the crash of broken glass below me. Sometimes it might rain on my journey as temptation arises, but I will just open my umbrella and carry on towards the warm, welcoming sunshine. 

    We all have our own journeys and our own pathways, and I truly believe that with the glimpse of the Buddhist way I am firmly back on track, and I sit amongst these wonderful people on Saturday mornings, and I feel love and gratitude, I pray that our paths keep bright, warm, and strong. For the love we honour ourselves is so important. 

    Namo Amida Bu

    At the time of writing, I am 605 days sober 

    Mindfulness of the Cat

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Chris Earle-Storey

    a white and grey cat asleep on his side with what looks like a smile on his face
    Timothy the cat

    Timothy is relaxing on the sofa. Timothy does a lot of relaxing; like most cats, it’s a skill he has down to a fine art. Timothy doesn’t worry about mistakes he’s made in the past: he won’t be agonising over that time when he accidentally upset a mug of coffee all over the new carpet, or when he ripped a hole in the net curtain whilst trying to catch a fly. Timothy doesn’t worry about what the future holds either: he doesn’t feel anxious about the conflict in Eastern Europe, or feel concern about the damage us humans are doing to the planet. Timothy lives in the here and now. He enjoys the warm sunshine on his back; his strolls around the garden with all its fascinating sights and smells; the feel of a friendly hand stroking his back and around his ears; the taste of his food as the bowl appears in front of him courtesy of his tame human.

    Sometimes I wish I could be like Timothy. It would be so much easier and less stressful not to be concerned with anything beyond what is happening in this present moment within the narrow confines of my everyday life. On the surface, it may seem that “living in the present moment” is just that and nothing else – being mindful of what is happening to us in this moment, and putting aside everything else. However, living mindfully is so much more than that. If we live mindfully, we become more aware of what is going on around us; we become more open to the world with its joy and pain, its wonder and suffering, its potential and fragility. Being mindful doesn’t limit us, but rather expands our horizons.

    I could say more, but Timothy has got up from his rest and wants his dinner. He wants it now, of course.

    Dharma Glimpse from Upton

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    By Dave Smith

    My partner and I have been living at the Buddhist temple in Malvern for about a year and a half now. 

    It has been our home and our place of refuge, and we have benefited greatly from living at the heart of this wonderful Buddhist community.

    Several weeks ago, we unexpectedly had to move out to help care for an elderly relative in a neighbouring town. 

    At first this seemed a wrench and an inconvenience and I was looking forward to our life returning to how it was before.

    Now, when I look at our life, I feel thankful for this opportunity to spend time living with Granny. 

    I have had the privilege to witness the love and compassion between her and my partner.

    There is sometimes a clash of personalities, as Granny is not always the easiest person to live with, but beneath this there is a real tenderness between them.

    Our lives have changed quite considerably, but when I look out the window, there is still the same sky, still the same sun and moon, and the birds are still singing. 

    Living at the temple taught me about attachment and impermanence, now I have been given the opportunity to put into practice some of these teachings.

    Living here I have a warm comfortable bed, a shower when I want one and the companionship of my partner and her granny.

    It is an easy life.

    I am regularly requested to leave the room when some of the more ‘personal’ care is carried out, I spend this time reading, walking the dog, or contemplating life whilst washing up. My time for Buddhist practice has increased due to the new routines of our situation and these short periods of time when I am alone.

    As soon as I stopped craving and longing for what I thought I had lost, or what I perceived I was missing out on, it quickly became apparent that I have everything I need, and more.

    The ever changing world outside is still there and my ability to find either peace or suffering is still within me, I’m choosing peace.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Death on Death’s Terms

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Dayamay Dunsby

    Interestingly, just as I began working with elderly people and studying ‘end of life care’, I happened upon a spiritual teacher called Stephen Jenkinson. He’s known as a sort of death guru, who attempts to penetrate the wall of denial and avoidance that constitutes what he calls our collective societal ‘death phobia’.

    This pervasive psychosocial phenomena occurs as an accumulated defense strategy that we have honed over hundreds of years in an attempt to exercise a degree of control over the thing that we fear the most – our immutable mortality. We routinely refuse to allow death into our lives and compulsively delay it in ourselves and our loved ones, in order that we can maintain some distance from it. Stephen points out that, such is the fundamental importance of death, that if we do not accept it as thoroughly as we pursue life, we can never really be fully alive.

    Death phobia is ingrained in our language, our mentality and, to some considerable extent, dictates the course of our cultural endeavors.

    One of the most fascinating things about his philosophy is the trouble that the averagely socialized person seems to have relinquishing their highly conditioned defenses to death, in order to understand that death is not something that we handle…death handles us, and that’s exactly as it’s meant to be, that’s just the nature of death!!

    As something that resonates so deeply with me, and that I feel as a profoundly important truth, this brings up many spiritual and, In terms of my work, practical questions. How does it fit with the Bodhisattva model of compassion to not collude with a dying person, who is desperately trying to cling to a hopeless thread of life? How does one lovingly undo generations of the kind of trauma response that deflects death and legitimizes our ‘heroic’ refusals to die on death’s terms, rather than our own?

    As with so many of our current societal misapprehensions, the root is systemic and probably would take hundreds of years to heal – if we had that sort of time. Our whole culture would have to be transformed in line with a completely different attitude towards dying.

    It strikes me that this subject is emerging as part of a conversation that includes the likelihood that, pretty soon, death will be a much closer companion, even here in the west, where it is most successfully dismissed as an inconvenience.

    In Buddhism, the process of dying and what happens afterwards is central to the philosophy that injects meaning into our faith. For a start, there is only so much that we can learn in a single incarnation. Without death the continuity of our transformation would be impossible. And, death IS transformation, probably in its most potent and pure form. And so, the importance of death is emphasized over and over again.

    Death is the yan to life’s ying (or vice versa).

    Pureland Buddhism is very good at helping us align(re-align – religion) with death, in that much of what happens in terms of our ultimate transformation, occurs after the fact of leaving this world and entering into the higher realms. Amida comes to us at the moment of death and guides us safely to Sukhavati, where we continue our journeys towards complete and perfect enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. It feels to me that this sense of continuity is helpful in maintaining the kind of open-mindedness and incentive that will help us to face death in a way that means we will be informed by its influence, rather than in conflict with its inevitability.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Dharma Glimpse by Philip Wallbridge

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    I was thinking about location and ‘being’ before a recent trip to the temple for a mindfulness retreat stay. 

    The idea and knowledge of having a planned trip back to the temple always fills me with warmth. To be reconnected with templemates, the Sangha, a sense of action and purpose through the Earth vigils, and a stronger sense of being connected to the Buddha than where I now live up north. But I still find parts of me unsettled by the travelling and change in surroundings.  I asked myself before this recent visit, ‘am I able to be anywhere geographically and locationally, but connected to both myself and something bigger’?

    The answer at the moment feels like it is a ‘no’.  I vaguely remembered a saying along the lines of ‘you are exactly where you are supposed to be’.  I assumed it meant locationally.  I don’t know if it also means cosmically, spiritually and internally.  Maybe it can be any or all of those, acknowledging there is overlap between them. The saying sounds comforting to me in terms of cosmically and locationally.  That sense of fate and/or being guided by something bigger.  But I’m not sure it feels true, or perhaps helpful, to me. 

    Maybe spiritually and internally, being compassionate, it’s the best I can be at this moment.  Maybe that is a truth of sorts.  But it’s not where I want to be.  Brother Graham (Brian) and I used to recount lines from the poem ‘Desiderata’ in the temple kitchen.  One of our shared favourites is ‘You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here’.  Having a right to be here gives me some comfort and compassion.  But, I think, accepting and embracing this right also means accepting the rights of others to be here.  The trees, stars, sentient beings and others struggling, like me, whether consciously or not, with their delusions, ignorance and reckless actions to the earth and all its inhabitants. 

    For me I think there might be hard, but beautiful, work to do to move forwards spiritually and internally.  Part of that hard work feels like it could be surrendering to, and taking refuge in, Amida Buddha.  The distance to lean in maybe small in many ways, but in others ways it feels to me like one of the furthest and most challenging.  Maybe it is both simultaneously near and far.  But the further I go spiritually, the less distance I have to travel internally to be connected to myself and something bigger.  So that, perhaps, my physical locational becomes much less important to how I think and feel, and what I am able to offer and receive.  So that wherever I am physically, or even internally at times, I am nearly always in the right place in relation to the Buddha. 

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Dharma Glimpse by Dayamay Dunsby

    Categories: Uncategorised

    Watching the news recently, the tensions between Russia and the West, the bickering in parliament over corruption and immoral conduct and other equally contentious issues, made me think about how all of these problems that we face originate within us, the human race, in our deeply wounded and fragmented hearts and minds. The television is merely showing us how our traumas, both individual and collective, are playing out in the world. 

    If Buddhist doctrine is to be believed, we have all been traversing the minefield of Samsara for eternity and none of us have escaped unscathed. We carry with us the scars of many battles, great personal loss, failure and violence. This deep karma colours our experience and drives our desires. It is both the fuel for suffering and the seed of enlightenment.

    It occurred to me, as it has many times, that It would be better to occasionally spend 5 minutes noticing what is happening within me, what feelings, fears, hopes and dreams are arising and circulating, than to watch in horror and disbelief at the seeming deterioration of our planet and our species on a TV screen.


    For all I know the fact of taking time to make peace with these internal struggles may well be a contribution towards the counterbalance of peace and sanity in a desperately troubled world.

    Namo Amida Bu  : )

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    Dharma Glimpse: Teachers

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    By Maria Chumak

    The role of a Teacher (with a capital T!) has been celebrated and explored in many Eastern cultures. There is usually an image of a struggling searcher, often suffering and lost within the troubles of their life, and at the point when they are about to lose all hope there appears a person or an image offering a new and better way.

    My search began in a much less dramatic way – although I’ve been known to hit a brick wall more than once since. It began – as did most positive things in my life – with music. When I was just approaching my teens, through my Dad’s music collection I became interested in a British progressive rock band Yes known for their complex, deeply spiritual lyrics. The band’s lead singer Jon Anderson took inspiration in the Buddhist texts and the works of Hermann Hesse, a spiritual search that drove most of his creative career and lifestyle from the 70-s up to the present day. Jon has never tried to fit within one religious confession, his quest has simply been that of seeking the light, inspiration and the truth, deeply rooted in love for the whole of humanity and the Earth.

    So what is the role of a Teacher and who is that person? Is it someone who is the most knowledgeable of the religious texts? Someone who has been living the most ascetic life? Someone who is certain they know best? To me, a Teacher is the one who inspires me to be a better person, who shows me a better way by example and not just through reading a passage in a book. Someone who sees all the beauty in our world and even in us silly humans, who knows everything that’s happening in the world, but still remains optimistic and hopeful for a new era to come. Someone who lives in the Light. Through his music and his energy he is always with me.

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