Believing in progress 

    Categories: Uncategorised

    A Dharma Glimpse by Philip

    I was sitting in the shrine room on my own close to the end of another year.  I wasn’t feeling great to be honest.  My mind and body were unsettled.  These aren’t new phenomena for me.  Indeed, they are old friends even if I haven’t always seen them that way.  But slowly, gently as I sat there for longer things settled a bit.   

    I’m not sure where my efforts and practice, as irregular as they are, are going.  Sometimes it feels hard to believe things are going in the right direction.  Sometimes it feels hard to know what that direction even is, or if direction exists at all in reality and is just a human concept to function in, and make sense of, a purposely narrowed world.   

    I recalled after my time in the shrine room an assembly by an R.E. teacher when I was growing up.  I wasn’t too fussed about listening if I’m honest.  I doubt that I was the only one.  I don’t think other talks had particularly resonated or felt of personal value, and I assumed the teachers must see it as a chore to be giving an assembly talk.  Maybe most did.  I didn’t hold that against them.  There was no way I wanted to be talking in front of us.  I didn’t hold much hope for this one.  He was one of the teachers I had the least interaction with and I didn’t hold R.E. in particularly high esteem as a subject.  The R.E. teacher said when he was around 10-years old he assumed 13-year olds had life sussed.  When he became thirteen, he assumed it was the 16-years old who had life sussed.  When he became sixteen he assumed it MUST be the 18-year olds who had life sussed, judging by their personas and confidence.  Then, when he became eighteen, he realised probably no-one had life sussed.  It was an assembly I never forgot.  I’ll never know if it was a chore for him giving the assembly or he genuinely wanted to share some life experience and wisdom to us knowing, deep down, we were all plagued by questions of the meaning of life, and when and how it would reveal itself to us.  And, for some of us, we didn’t believe in ourselves and were afraid of both life and death.   

    I’m not sure how much has changed for me since that day in assembly.  I still like to believe there is an answer, and that others are at least very close to it even if I can now more readily accept perhaps nobody fully has it.  I still don’t believe in my own abilities and value.  I still don’t have what could be called a strong faith in anything.  Maybe, sitting there in the shrine room and through conversations with others recently, I can start to believe I am making progress in some sort of way.  Even if it’s not something I can easily or readily see and feel.  And knowing that progress is sporadic, frequently misdirected and involves almost as many steps backwards as forwards.  That there are still plenty of things I am desperately clinging on to without wanting to let go and allow more liberation from unnecessary suffering and delusion.  I’ve start to wonder if ‘progress’ might involve, or indeed be, things imperceptibly shifting internally.  Or, perhaps, at times collapsing (which is much more perceptible!), rather than some sort of linear, forward motion.  That faith, trust or belief is equally about one or more of those in the self, and that what we are doing day by day, week by week, year by year, is of value and worth as much the belief in something bigger than us.  Because the gap between myself and where I think I need to get to can feel so depressingly and despairingly big, insurmountable and even pointless in reducing. 

    I also start to wonder if I am, and we are, already in the Pure Land, whatever one might perceive and conceive that to be, but are not yet able to really see, feel and taste it.  And it’s not about whether I deserve it or not.  I do.  But that necessary progress is also about going into the external world where loss, failure and suffering are inevitable, with an increasingly open and braver heart and a wiser, calmer, curious mind, in order to return back to where we started in order to see, feel and taste a bit more of the Pure Land for a bit longer.  It reminds me of part of a T. S. Elliot’s poem:  

    “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.” 

    Maybe that place is the Pure Land.  Maybe it is already here.  And maybe, just maybe, I can believe I am making progress towards experiencing it.  And that’s enough to keep me going for now.  

    Namo Amida Bu 

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    How The Light Gets In

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Dayamay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Namo Amida Bu.X 

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    Me, myself, I

    Categories: Uncategorised

    Dharma Glimpse by Beth Hickey

    What is “Self”?

    If we understand what constitutes self, then maybe we have a better chance of also understanding what we are being encouraged to let go of.
    Self is described as a person’s “essential being” that distinguishes them from others.
    It is actually quite difficult to pin it down precisely because it changes form constantly.
    Many parts constitute self; ego, introspection, oneself, identity, character, essential qualities, environment, nurture, opportunities, to name a few.
    So, it’s impossible to grasp the enormity of the enigma “an individual”.

    Supposedly we are in charge of our thoughts, have our own personality, have a self-awareness and strive for a healthy strong sense of confidence. Psychologists inform us of the importance of developing a “healthy identity” at an early age.

    Each aspect of myself, as an individual, mother, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, colleague, friend, student, Neighbour and nurse represents a contingency, a role, a play, a meaning.
    Thoughts, feelings, opinions, moods.
    Changes, aging, loss, wellbeing.
    Years, months, moments, fleeting.
    Snow, buds, bulbs, flowers, leaves, fungi, frost.
    All in a day, a season, beginnings and endings.
    Born, live, die.
    Pain, delight, laughter, sorrow, despair, wonder.
    Learning, stupid, shamed, proud and foolish. This is all me.

    So, without self we would be lost. Or would we? Is self-overrated? Is it all a form of narcissism? Am I an individual? Does it matter?

    In Buddhism “individual self” is considered as an illusion. The belief being that it’s not possible to separate self from its surroundings. In fact, the self needs to be deconstructed, because an individual identity causes nothing but trouble and disappointment.

    Buddhist practice is to be aware only of the present.

    Judgmental views fill my day. I find I reach to Buddhism to help clarify my chaos. But is that not also an attachment?

    Self is a “battle” and a “baffling conundrum” that fills my head with confusion.
    Self is actually very annoying!

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    Softening, opening, connecting, losing, repeat

    Categories: Uncategorised

    Dharma Glimpse by Philip Wallbridge

    On a recent stay at the temple I became more aware how time spent there creates a softening and opening in me. I invariably arrive with my ego, self-absorption and delusions prevalent, underpinned by my fears, jagged edges and emotional wounds. But, gradually over the hours and days there, these start to ease and I can be nourished through allowing in some of the wisdom, compassion and truth (dharma) that is around. Where these come from, I’m not sure. Certainly the people there create some, or a lot, of it. Where do they create it from? Again, I’m not sure. Maybe the conditions are created for us all to allow something of the Infinite, the Divine, or whatever you might call it, to flow through us and into each other.

    A few weeks later I was sitting in my lounge having been to practice online. I had lost that connection again as I always do and hardened back into surviving inner and outer worlds where ego, anxiety, suffering, craving and grasping seem inescapable, pervasive and pernicious. I suddenly became aware of, and connected to, the waves gently lapping on to the beach at Morecambe Bay through my front window. Despite the cold December weather, the sky was clear and blue and there was enough sunlight to give the panoramic a radiant beauty and brilliance. I felt blessed. It was a moment of serenity and fullness, even if only fleetingly. It reminded me how that beauty and serenity, or perhaps something of the Infinite and Divine, is never far away. I briefly saw with a surprising clarity how it is always around us, within touching distance. And how I perhaps simply needed to create the conditions in me, the softening and opening, to allow it in. Even though I will inevitably lose it time and time again.

    Maybe those conditions are also always changing. What works at one moment in time doesn’t work the next. There is impermanence all around I guess. For me, sometimes those conditions seem to be with others who have self-awareness and allowed the Infinite and Divine to flow through them. Sometimes it is when I can quieten my mind to seek it within myself. Other times it is when I am out in nature and it is resonating at the same frequency as within me.

    I start to trust that the Infinite, the Divine, the Dharma Body is always there. Within reach for those who want to find it both inside and out. And realise that I am both in need and deserving of it. That I don’t need to grasp at it. That humility can keep me grounded in the meantime (gratitude to Beth for helping me see that one). That I can have the patience to wait for when the conditions are right for it to flow into and through me. Hopefully on to others. And that, although it will go, it will always come back again if I make room for it.

    Namo Amida Bu

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