Letting go

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Frankie Carboni

    couple of weeks ago a small petrol station in the middle of town closed down. It was a family business and the owner has retired. It’s something of an icon, the only petrol station actually right in town, situated in an awkward triangle of roads right on the portside. It’s tiny, a couple of pumps, but what made it special was that the operators actually put the petrol in the car for you, no self service, just like the old days when you handed over a note and said ‘fill ‘er up!’. I don’t drive, but for older drivers like my husband it was such a boon not having to get out of the car, figure out the self service stuff etc. That petrol station has been there forever, and it seems unthinkable that it won’t continue to be part of our cityscape.

    I’ve always held a personal mantra that All Change is Good. I fully subscribe to the truth of impermanence, yes suffering is inevitable when change happens, but something Good will always be born out of it.

    But when I heard the news about the petrol station, I couldn’t summon up my mantra. This particular change wasn’t good for the people who relied on the ease of service, its familiarity, even its iconic status.

    It occurred to me that all change isn’t good after all. But neither is it all bad, or anything between. I suddenly realised that I could let go of always being obliged to cheerfully accept change, find the positive, deny the negative.

    And far from feeling as if I’d taken a step backward and forgotten all of those lessons about impermanence, I felt liberated by accepting that Change just IS. No more or less than that. It just is.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    I’m the one who’ll die

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    Dharma Glimpse by Mat Osmond

    From time to time I fall into a pattern of waking around 3am, often when there’s some conflict or turmoil at work in me. I had one of these wakeful nights last week. As I lay there in a familiar pool of unease, an odd thought came to me.

    I’m the one who’ll die.

    Why did that seem to matter? Are there are other I’s, then, besides this one lying here? The answer’s a resounding yes, I think, but what this means exactly feels less clear to me now than it did lying there in the dark. I suppose it had to do with the difference between the selves I perform before one mirror or another, and this person lying here – the one those selves omit to mention or actively conceal.

    Funny how something can make compelling sense in the middle of the night, then you try and say it aloud in the morning and it all feels a bit laboured. But I remembered this night-thought when I saw I was writing this week’s dharma glimpse, mainly because of the curious sense of reassurance or confirmation it brought. Whatever happens, I’m the one who’s going to die here. So things are OK.

    I remember a beautiful passage in Shinman Aoki’s little book, Coffinman: Journals of a Buddhist Mortician, where he recounts a realisation that crept up on him over time as he dressed corpses for traditional Buddhist funerals. Aoki speaks of the deep peace that he began noticing on the faces of the dead. All of them. And as he worked alone with their quiet faces Aoki came to a new understanding of nirvana: as a fulfilment which comes to us all. Not as a result of our striving, nor of what we’ve ‘made of ourselves’. Just, an inescapable homecoming that every death returns us to, whatever sort of life we happen to have lived.

    Lying in the dark what struck me as if for the first time was that every single thing that is ‘me’ will end when I die. That, in a way that requires no shoring-up or work on my part, I am quite literally ‘grasped, never to be forsaken’ by the intimate reality of this. And the intimate presence of my certain death is here already, holding me in measureless being as I lie here.

    As I’ve tried to write down what happened last week another memory has surfaced, and they feel entangled now so I’m to just going to run them together here.

    It’s three and a half years ago. I’m sitting alone at night with my mother-in-law Christine. Already in steep decline, Christine has just found out that she has terminal cancer, with only a few weeks to live. This first night-watch with her is also the first time I’ve seen her since she received this news.

    As we chat about it, Christine says she sometimes wishes she’d paid more attention to the spiritual. ‘You now, going to church and stuff’. We wonder about this together. Supposing she had? Would having done so make any difference at all to what lies immediately before her now? Would her doing that have made where she’s going now any more or less real? It seemed clear to both of us, I think, that it would not. And the deep sense of confirmation I found in this, anyway, feels much the same as the one that came to visit me the other night. Namo Amida Bu.

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    Impermanence & choc chip waffles

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    Dharma Glimpse by Satya

    This morning the view from my office window is spectacular. The sun has laid a strip of electric orange at the horizon, and above it heavy blue-grey clouds hang, edged in pink. As I watch, a plane is rising through the sky, leaving fading contrails behind it.

    I think for a moment about the people on that plane. I am here, typing at my computer, and they are hurtling through the air at five hundred miles an hour. I think about the many times I have flown in the past, and wonder if I will ever fly again. A few years ago I vowed to give up flying as a personal response to the climate crisis. For me, travelling at those speeds is probably a part of my history. More and more of my life is behind me – this is true for all of us, and, over the past few years it has taken on a special significance to me as loved ones have got sick or died, and as I become more conscious of the signs of ageing in my own body. A little arthritis in one finger, minor injuries that take longer to heal. It’s all downhill from here!

    Impermanence. When I look up from my screen again, the plane has gone. The sky has already changed – the clouds are now a dark aubergine purple, and the blue of the sky above them is stronger. There is more light and I can see the frosty vegetable patch more clearly, and a robin resting for a moment on the white plastic chair.

    It is as if the Buddha is offering me a lesson on a vast canvas. Don’t waste your life! Before you know it, dusk will be arriving and your allotted portion of daylight will be over. Enjoy yourself! Learn what you can! Wake up! I try to listen, but it’s difficult for a small ego-laden being such as I. I feel grateful in this moment for Amitabha, and for the Pure Land teachings. I don’t have to do it all alone. I can rely on Amitabha’s vow. I can remember that I am loved and that, if I ask, I will receive help.

    I look out into the sky one more time. It’s daytime now, with white candyfloss clouds and yellow light streaming from the horizon. Next I will bow in gratitude to my golden Buddha, and go and make some breakfast. Waffles with chocolate chips! I will enjoy the taste of every bite.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    What is leadership?

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    Dharma Glimpse by Katie Cove

    What is Leadership?

    As I sit at my desk before the working day begins and look at the Buddha which guides me through each day, I wonder what challenges I will face. As a new journey and pathway in my life is being built I find myself managing a very busy and large nursery in Cheltenham. I question what leadership means?

    Power?

    Authority?

    Anger?

    Wealth?

    No, Leadership means

    Compassion

    Listening

    Understanding

    Role modelling

    Keeping others safe

    A leader guides us in the right direction, keeps us safe and makes everyone feel valued and part of a team.

    This is how the Buddha guides me to be a strong leader to have strength and belief in myself and those around me.

    At the end of my working day a little 4-year-old always pops into the office full of awe and wonder at the Buddha on my desk and each evening we have a little chat about the Buddha and what it means to me. The little boy opens his hand to which I place the Buddha for him to touch and hold, his eyes open wide he looks at me and smiles.

    As Buddhists we are all leaders.

    Namu Amida Butsu

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    Why do interfaith work?

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Karmadeva

    Recently I’ve been reflecting on my work and life in general. I worry that I’m not concentrating on the important things; especially in terms of my practice. I do a lot of interfaith work and my concern has been why?

    The reason for my uncertainty is; I had to refuse to take on a mentor role. This was with a student wanting to learn about Pure Land Buddhism. This made me wonder why I’d been attending multi faith events yet not teaching the dharma when the opportunity arises. Much of what I do in terms of inter faith brings me into contact with a lot of people, some very important and high ranking faith leaders, politicians etc. So I then ask the question – is this about my spreading/teaching the Buddhist way, or is it to satisfy my ego?

    Reflecting only raised more questions – why do I attend Islamic, Christian and Jewish events? None of these people are suddenly going to convert. So therefore what have I achieved? Would I have been better off going to meditation at my temple? Attending more Buddhist services? I haven’t visited Malvern for months and my Birmingham dharma friends rarely see me.

    As I had reached a point where the more I looked at these issues my mind raised even more, there were no answers forthcoming. I turned to an old teacher from my vow 22 days and explained my predicament. After several days thinking about my question he said: All practice and all we do is nembutsu, therefore all my work is valid.

    This helps. It tells me that I need to think of my life rather than my work. Is my life balanced? Do I see friends and family enough? Do I have right view right speech and right mind?

    I know I should end with some philosophy on what all this means or answers that I’ve reached. I’m sorry but there is none. My mind still wanders and reflects. I’m full of doubts and restless due to this. Again I think of another teachers words “so this is how it is to be human” the reality is I’m a foolish being. Maybe, as Shinran did, I should just refer to myself as a shaved headed fool. What I hope for is a sign from the universe, but then maybe I’m following that sign already. I hope so.

    Namo Amida Bu. 

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    A foolish being

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Kim Allard

    My husband developed cancer in June of 2021. Between COVID and my husband’s compromised immunity it’s been a long lock down for us both.  Our time is filled with repeating cycles of hope and disappointment.  It’s been a painful lesson in not grasping or becoming attached to a particular outcome.  It’s also a daily lesson in trust that a greater wisdom is at work, beyond the reality of the moment. 

    In troubled times I do my practice reciting Namo Amida Bu knowing the words matter even if I lack the meditative focus I try to bring each time. 

    I know my care giving is an opportunity to be of service, practice compassion and patience.  But from time to time it hits me that my patient is having a bad day and said something that hurt my feelings, the kitchen needs tending the laundry baskets are full and helpers in a rural area face a great demand and are in short supply.  It’s easy in those moments to feel like a complete failure with my practice full of anger, self pity, frustration and disappointment. 

    And then . . .

    Ever so slowly the sun might illuminate one of my Buddhas on my windowsill.  A blue heron may float into our pond  and offer its calm presence and blue color to our winter day. A subtle stirring of our redwood trees and our wind chimes prompt me to sit down amongst the clutter and open one of my books and allow a random choice to appear. I look down to see a Dharma teaching which seems picked for just that moment.  These small moments strung together over my days allow me to know everything will be okay.   Life will go on, the moment will heal because I took a moment of compassion for myself and acknowledged I am a foolish being on a journey of teachable moments and  . . . I will be okay. 

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Water pools

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Utpaladhi

    Water pools on our flat garage roof, and I often look at it through the landing window. Birds like to bathe there, undisturbed by humans. They don’t much care that it’s rather grey and not aesthetically pleasing up there – they enjoy splashing and chattering together. The other night I saw the full moon reflected in the water. The moon itself was rising high in the sky, seemingly far away. But in the water on my garage roof it seemed so close – not just in proximity but close to my everyday domestic life. Sometimes the Buddhas feel so transcendent that they are far away from my everyday life and concerns. I muse on what I need to do to ‘go out there’ and connect with this transcendent force. But then I have a reminder, that my every day is shot through with transcendence and there is no ‘far away’ about it at all. It’s all right here for us to bathe in, as the daytime birds splash about in water that has been moon-bathed night after night. 

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    Lightness

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    Dharma Glimpse By Helen

    At the end of 2022 lots of messages were being shared and discussed around finding a word to focus on for 2023. I took some time to consider this as I’ve done this exercise before in years past but somehow it seems particularly poignant for 2023 for me.

    During practise on New Year’s Eve we were challenged to listen out for wisdom from the divine around what would help us in 2023 rather than trying to control our way through a list of material achievements that we could set for ourselves.

    Very quickly a strong sense came to me that my word could be “lightness”.

     So this is my challenge. To hold all impending truths lightly.

    This will be a significant work in progress as it does not come naturally to me. I often overburden and overwhelm myself with fight or flight, black or white, life or death thinking. My nervous system has been shocked to a cinder in 2022 and this year it’s a challenge not to push so hard.

    I think the reason that the temple has had such an ingratiating effect on me is because it feels light. Inside the shrine room feels safe, not in a protectionist loaded way but rather in a freeing, grounding way.

    In 2023 I want more of this.

    More light, more grounding, more space. Less fear response. Less white knuckle death grip. Less absolutes. Impermanence is a gift.

    Namo Amida Bu 

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    Believing in progress 

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    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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    Me, myself, I

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    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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