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

    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

    Backing Out Of Hell

    Categories: buddhism

    By Dayamay

    Listening to one of Kaspa’s talks recently started me thinking about the epic commitments and sacrifices that we make when embarking upon the Spiritiual path. Certainly for me there was a sense of letting go of many different crutches and allowing myself to be slowly immersed in all of the stuff that I’d been avoiding for 30 odd years; Leaning into a power that I had very little understanding of(Amida)and had yet to develop the kind of trust that I needed for a lifetime of faith.

    It’s as if, on some unconscious level, or maybe even partly conscious, I had somehow understood the deep paradoxes and mysterious meaning of my prior predicaments and the difficulties that they entailed. The anguish of struggling against the onslaught of Samsara had opened me up to another dimension of possibility in this world and beyond. This seems, to a lesser or greater extent, to be true for some of the other guys that accompany me on the journey as well. As if we had already surrendered to the fact of what must be done if we are to be truly free! The fact that many of us had previously devoted our lives to the pursuit of pleasure and gratification and the avoidance of our pain, makes it even more fascinating that, all of a sudden, we are ready and willing to be exposed to the dark recesses of our minds, exactly what most of us had been running from.

    I have always been encouraged by my various teachers to try to cultivate a philosophical attitude towards my suffering, and have found that this has formed a sort of mechanism which has become ingrained in my psyche. Suffering is as terrible or profound as the attitude with which we approach it.

    One of the sayings that used to get banded about in some of the institutions that I frequented on my journey towards recovery was, “we’re not coasting into paradise, we’re backing out of hell”. In other words, don’t get too cosy with your projections about an idyllic future, there’s a lot of work to do. Which neatly subdued some of my more erratic expectations about what the spiritual path should look like, and helped to frame the pressing question of “what next?” After all, not many people expect that their self improvement efforts will need to be extended into the rest of their lives. There can be a heartbreaking illusion that it’s possible for us to leave the pain behind and start again, which takes many people back to where they began. The truth is that, for many of us, the pain itself is the foundation for the future. The basis of our ongoing healing and the means by which we extract ourselves and others from the suffering realms.

    Part of the nourishment that I get from my faith is that I can better accept the sobering realties of my life, which is actually and, again, paradoxically, much more interesting than it ever has been. I use the lessons of my past as a grounding for the present whilst moving carefully towards a healthy future. Namo Amida Bu( :

    No Comments

    Blessings in Disguise.

    Categories: articles

    By Dayamay

    Just when you thought that you’d found your place in the world and you feel that you’re in the best place possible, some cataclysmic force comes along and turns it all upside down! This is the nature of Samsara and Impermanence and it is a fundamental characteristic of the spiritual path.

    I suppose if we could predict where we’ll be in 5 years time with any accuracy, there wouldn’t be as much meaning in the lessons that we learn. 

    This current lesson seems to be about expectations. I’m searching for consistency and dependability as well as security and some kind of certainty. All of the things which we are encouraged to approach with caution as we navigate this ever changing and unstable material world. But, despite my ongoing (consistent!!)experience of this inherent unreliability, my mind still grasps.  For example, I frequently place other humans on pedestals, whether they know it and like it or not and then fall to pieces and direct the blame squarely at them when they fall off. This is not to say that the blame is always completely unjustified, but there does seem to be a pathological pattern to my inability to identify this tendency with enough conviction to prevent it from happening again.

    I feel blessed today that I can accept this broken aspect of me and recognise some of its positive consequences, which are helping me to keep moving in a good direction, whilst acknowledging my mistakes and allowing others to be human as well, albeit, with some, from a safe distance.

    Namo Amitabha.

    No Comments