The White Path

    Categories: Uncategorised

    A Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    Recently I came up against a huge obstacle, one of those obstacles where you need to decide whether to run or confront it. The decision, in these situations, will likely depend on a third strand – that of faith and firm resolve. In this case, if choosing to follow faith and firm resolve, running isn’t an option – so fight it out I did. Fighting, in this case, was more about an internal struggle, a dealing with loud, difficult parts of myself, also known as ego states, or our karmic boundedness. This ugly situation made me think of Shan-Dao’s 7th century Chinese Pure Land Buddhist parable, of the river of fire and river of water, as can be seen hanging on the wall at the top of the stairwell, here in the temple. The wall hanging depicts a white path running between two shores from east to west and two rivers either side of it. A traveller is running away from bandits and fierce beasts on the east shore and wanting to make his way to the west shore, but notices that on one side of the path are high flames and on the other high waves. He can’t remain where he is, but he also can’t move further without fear of losing his life. On the east shore Shakyamuni ushers him on towards the west shore, where Amida is standing to welcome him to the Pure Land. My purpose is not to recite the parable, just my own authentic glimpse, but this wall hanging made me reflect on this deeply.

    I’ve been reflecting that sometimes, on the spiritual journey, along the White Path, obstacles can be encountered. Choosing to go back, is a tempting choice and would be immediately the easier option, although not the best in the long run. If reaching the other side, the Pure Land or Amida, then focusing on the White Path is important. However, it would seem to be a necessary part of the journey to fight, or confront, the water serpents, the fire dragons or the inner demons along the way. If confronting the demon or serpent, then death might follow, but there might also be the chance to deepen in resolve, in faith, to reach the far banks of the shore safely.
    I’ve also been reflecting that obstacles like serpents present themselves as a Great Test – a test of faith and commitment and a test of resilience, integrity and devotion. To face the test is also to ask whether the serpent is what it appears to be – it might seem big at the time of confronting it, but it can also have an illusory nature and only I can be responsible for what I see. I can survey dangers and test the territory. I need to test the boundaries and find out how safe I am. What will the serpent do or not do? How strong is the current? How high are the flames? I also take the risk of failing, confronting the fire or high waves or being eaten up! My immediate need would be to Feel Safe, but strength lies in the ability to deepen Trust and resolve to walk the White Path and survey the whole landscape, the Bigger Picture. If putting too much energy into fighting, or confronting, the sea monster, I only become more sucked into its lair.
    Choosing to confront the serpent, the water becomes unstable and rocky, the waves higher, but eventually it will calm down. It was necessary to confront the serpent, as the serpent was a part of the journey and once one challenge has been accomplished, the next won’t seem so bad.

    I’ve Tested, I Know, I’ve Learnt.

    It is only then that a deeper peace can pervade, when feeling held by the ocean….the ocean that leads back to the White Path. As long as the serpent is seen as the problem, the path becomes lost. The more the focus on the White Path, the easier it will get.

    When facing a conflict, I could walk back away from it, or I might be devoured by it, but I need to have that encounter if I am to move on. I can run away when my parts get too much, or I can choose to enter into dialogue with them, so they can be reintegrated into the wholeness. The struggle is a necessary part of the journey. It’s not in the striving – it’s Through the striving that allows sinking into even greater depths of peace.

    Namu Amida Butsu

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    Connection, the Power of Community and Interconnectedness

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    During the Covid Era, I experienced real isolation, extreme isolation. Isolation so severe that I’ve been on a mission ever since to ensure no one has to go through what I did for two whole years.  This was a tall order.  I recognised that not everyone has met isolation and many love their own company and feel safe with that.  I used to love my own company, but since covid, I can no longer enjoy my own company, without the company of nature or of other people.  At no point in my life has community been more essential.  I understand, that as humans and mammals, we all need connection, we all need each other.  Zoom, Netflix, social media and even e-mail are not substitutes for Real Connection and face to face communication.  The disconnection is like a modern disease of the human race.   Having spent nearly a decade in Asia, I’ve been challenged in the UK by a very different social culture.  A culture of extreme independence and Having Enough;  a culture of caring for our own and of strong individualism.  In many Asian cultures, particularly in East Asia where I lived and worked, people identify first and foremost with the group, before the individual.  Before living in Asia, I lived many years in ‘socialist Berlin’, where coming together as a community was a normal daily experience.   There are obviously benefits on all sides, but we must ultimately find the balance that works best for us.   I wonder though, if my need for community and connection is just another addictive behaviour?  I wonder too, if I am not just pushing a value onto others?  Where is the line between a need and a service to others?  How can we know when we are working for the good of all and when we are self-serving?

    My experience last April, of coming together at The Big One with XR Buddhists in London,  had made me feel alive again!  I had reconnected with that force that works through me each and every time I am part of something bigger than my individual worries and difficulties.  Like stepping out into Other Power (or the Infinite), into something much bigger, self power (or our limited egoic nature) just melts away and dissolves, like ice in water.  A becoming One Unified Living Breathing Body. On the other hand, I am reflecting that if people each live on their own island, they can only see the vast oceans of separation between them. Building fences around ourselves so high that we can only live with the stories of our own inventions and can’t see the reality beyond.  To me, from my experience, this separation can cause people to become so wrapped up in self power or their own small selves.  How do we break free from our small egoic worlds?  I love the phrase from Gandhi when he implied that, in changing ourselves, we could also change the world.  Yes, people can change on the inside, but starting with my small self, I together with others, can plant seeds, build bridges or grow ways of linking up, bringing people together, like trees reaching out their roots to connect and to communicate beneath the soil.  Gentle connection, respecting space whilst connecting with our roots.  It’s not a forcing or a pushing, but a Surrendering into a more Expansive Awareness of each other.  n Acknowledgment of each other.  A growing in Wholeness.  A finding Strength in Unity.  An Awareness that we are all Interconnected. We are all One. Perhaps I can step aside from the person I think I am and let the Self, or the Buddha, meet all of my difficult parts and offer their unconditional love and healing.  Perhaps, in non dualistic terms, where people aren’t experiencing themselves as individuals, where there is no ‘I’ or ‘we,’ people can rest in a shared space, a space not of Doing but of Being. Resting in Being in gently Expanding Awareness.  People’s roots, like the trees, reaching out into a vast web of interconnection.

    Taking sides

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Gredd Cundiff

    Returning home from a Mothers’ Day brunch at my sister’s home, I had a rather long wait on a train platform. I ran up to the stop thinking I had heard a train horn. Well, no I hadn’t. What greeted me was a schedule board indicating a 30 minute wait. It was a nice day so I didin’t think much of it. I could txt some friends and check in on a dating app.

    A young guy arrived and stood maybe 15 feet from where I was standing. Nicely dressed he started fumbling with something in his bag or pocket – I couldn’t tell which. Next thing I noticed was the aroma of an herb garden wafting in my general direction. He was smoking weed from a pipe fashioned out of an old soda can. It is legal in a about 9 or 10 weeks, so who cares.

    Then two rough looking characters walked up and sat on the ground. Smoking cigarettes and grumbling at each other. One about hurt feelings. The grumbling turned dramatic and one guy would start to walk away. The other would chase after him offering a certainly insincere appology. They would the go back to their spot on the floor and bicker some more. This cycle played out several times. In the mean time another guy walks up and sits on a bench at the other end of the platform.

    The argument was about money and hurt feelings. It started to get loud. Each one yelling blah, blah blah, Yo! Now to get the full picture of what happens next it is. neccesary to understand who each of the players is. The bromance boys having the fight were white 20-somethings from Dundalk or Brooklyn – a step or two below working class. The pot smoker was young African American man about the same age as the bromance boys. The guy on the other end of the platform was an African American man is late 20s to early 30s.

    Emotions escalate and the younger bromance boy starts calling the older one the “N” word. Next enters the middle age African American guy. “What did you say! You can’t use that word! You’re disrespecting me!” Round and round this goes for a few minutes. Stoner guy walks up to the tussle and I’ m starting to get a little worried. This is Baltimore after all and you don’t reallly know who is packing. And folks around here like to shoot at each other. Nobody flashes a weapon and I can relax. Stoner guy walks up to the bromance boy he figures is being picked on and offers a handshake and a “are you ok?”

    Thank goodness the train appears. Thank goodness nobody gets pushed onto the tracks.

    The Dharma lesson? That was for me. I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t mentally take sides. Everyone wants to find happiness and avoid pain. Everyone wants to find happiness and avoid pain. I’ve heard the Dalai Lama say that a dozen times if I’ve heard it once. Yeah, that sounds good. Put it into practice? Not quite as simple. But this time I did. I’ve heard it so many times from so many people in a variety of words and settings. Sunday it played itself out. There was nothing I could do to control anything that might have happened. So I wasn’t chickening out or shirking some duty or another. I lived through it. I didn’t get phyically or emotionally envolved. I didn’t form opinions about any of the players.

    This is not really about me. It is about the dharma the seeds taking root and growing. We’re Pure Landers so we take a lot of things on faith and trust. This time I had real world evidence that it does work. The seeds do emplant and they do grow.

    Namo Amida Butsu

    Not complete but just enough

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Greg Cundiff

    I entered the military a conservative. Not a fire breathing conservative but a my family are all liberals kind of conservative. An act of rebellion conservative. Not a fire breathing conservative, but conservative none the less. I left the military a fire breathing liberal. And I knew everything worth knowing. I was more liberal than my family by a long shot.
    This newfound world view worked out quite nicely. Nicely, as long as I surrounded myself with people who thought and talked like me. My friends in San Diego were all lefties. My church was mostly lefty. My partner even pretended to be a lefty so I might find him more appealing. Oh everything was right in my world. I had a neatly defined sense of us and them.
    Boy did all that change when I moved back to Baltimore. Yes, Maryland is a blue state – but trust me it has never been all that blue deep down. Thems started popping up all over the place. I even learned that my family wasn’t as lefty as I had always painted them.
    One afternoon in a senior literature seminar a classmate looked at me after I had made a comment about something, I don’t remember what, said, “you sound like a Buddhist.” I could tell by his tone that it wasn’t a put-down. The only thing was, I had no idea what he meant.
    By and by I started reading about Buddhism. I thought of myself as a Buddhist. I even put it in my Veterans record. Still a lot of us and them. The more I listened, the notion of us and them started to slip. Not perfectly, but slip it did. How many times does the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hahn have to say that everyone wants to have happiness and avoid pain until it starts to seep in. I don’t know. But if you listen. And I do mean listen. It does start to sink in.
    One Sunday morning I was chatting with one of the farmers at work. This was a person that I had a lot of fun being around. In the middle of a conversation about something to do with farms he mentioned that he was a big supporter of the then current governor. And yes he said, that means that I’m a Republican – I guess you hate me now. I can remember a time when I would have. At that moment I didn’t feel any hatred or dislike toward him. Of course I don’t, I told him. Everyone seeks happiness and wishes to avoid pain. Yes it sounds nice. Listen to it, really listen. Think about it some. Compare the idea to how you live your life. After a while and probably when you least expect it, compassion sinks in. Not complete compassion, but enough for now.

    Building Bridges and Golden Thread

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    Written 08/05/23

    Recently I met a Chinese speaking Buddhist community in Malvern.  After this meeting I realised what I’d been missing.  The uprootedness of continually having to leave behind my friends and familiar surroundings, such as when I left Asia after eight years of living there, had left an enormous hole I hadn’t even noticed until I found myself in another Asian community.  Sometimes, when we shut out the pain of things taken from us, we can’t always see what causes the pain until we confront it again.   I suddenly saw, in a flash, that what was needed to restore connection and to heal this gaping wound, was to begin building bridges.  Bridges from ourselves to all the things of our heart.

    In England, I find myself picking up all the pieces of my broken life and stitching them back together again.  It’s a long and laborious process.  I’ve been reminded that, in Japan, there is a tradition of restoring broken objects by putting gold into all the cracks of broken ceramics.  This is known as Kintsugi.  This has the effect of creating resilience and beauty.  The cracks are the most prized parts – they are signs of growth;  of hard lessons learnt;  of journeys travelled;  stories lived;  of acquired wisdom through experience.  The cracks are what make us resilient and more beautiful.  The more cracks we have, the more resilient and beautiful we become.  

    After having moved about so much, I’m starting to think that perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I can return to all the places I’ve called home, but what matters most are the connections we make here and now.  Separation requires connection to heal.  What once used to be found by travelling far and wide can also be experienced in the here and now, if we simply remain open and receptive to what is here –  right now.  There exists the potential to bring the whole world into a single grain of sand.  By stitching the past, present and future together we can find Wholeness.  Wholeness in this moment now – right here.  In order to help restore this Wholeness, we need to build bridges to the things of our heart.  Restoring, reconnecting, recreating.  

    Picking up the broken pieces and stitching them together with golden thread, we can find a beautiful Whole, laced with strands of golden wisdom, beauty and resilience.  

    The Importance of Boundaries

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    I’ve been contemplating the importance of boundaries since moving into the temple. The subject has come up a number of times and different people have referred to their need of them. It seems that boundaries are an important topic and that most of us find putting in boundaries, when relating to others, extremely difficult. I am no exception.
    What is a boundary? It’s a protective zone, or space, we can imagine having around ourselves to keep us safe and stop us from becoming hurt, or hurting others. It might take the form of limits we need to put in place that show other people how far they can go in their interactions with us -what’s appropriate and what isn’t.
    Our parts (parts of ourselves, especially the vulnerable ones) need boundaries to feel safe – we need to make them, but – we also need them made by others. We need to feel walls on all four sides of us to feel safe. If we don’t set boundaries, others will step into our space, especially those parts of others that are either vulnerable; needy; seeking love, or to be liked; needing attention; wanting to feel special and also those parts wanting to feel superior, prove a point, or to rescue another and to be useful. Sometimes we need to reign parts in that seek to burrow holes as deep as they can without obstruction. Healthy boundaries provide safe space for all to manoeuvre – space to grow. I’m imagining how it is for the plants. They need space to grow, unfurl leaves, space to stretch their roots in the soil, to drink the rain and to reach up to the sunlight.
    When we give enough space we allow growth. Having space allows us to grow into our selves, just like the plants in the flowerbed. The sun’s rays can reach out to all the plants, shining down on every part of them, no matter how perfect or imperfect they are.
    In order to be able to give ourselves, and others, this space, we can do as the plants, bringing all of the parts of us, including those vulnerable parts, to the Buddha or to Self (as it’s called in Parts Work or Internal Family Systems). These parts can be met by self compassion, or the warm compassion of Amida, in the same way the plants are greeted by the sun. There’s enough room for every part and all parts are received, just as they are. Perhaps, if we can learn to love and value all of the vulnerable, flawed parts of ourselves, we can show others how to do the same.

    Impermanence, grief and healing

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Ali

    In October last year one of my best friends sadly took her own life. I was devastated and heartbroken and was weighed down with grief.

    Another close friend sent me these words which I will share with you now.

    “ When it comes to grief, remember this –

    You have not broken a bone, there is no default treatment, no cure, no timeline for your healing.
    You cannot strap your heart to the heart next to it and hope it mends itself.
    You cannot rest it for weeks or months.
    You cannot rely on your other heart like you might a leg or an arm.
    You have not broken a bone.
    And yet, like a broken bone, your heart will always now have a vulnerable spot, a bruise, a burn, a scar.
    And just as your arm can still ache after breaking when it has been holding too much for too long, so your heart will ache.
    When it has been holding too much for too long.
    But just as your once broken arm can still hold things and your broken leg can still dance, so your heart will learn to carry you forward,
    Even when it aches.”

    These words brought me great comfort but I was still burdened with grief.
    And then I walked into the temple here in Malvern and my healing really started.

    I was struck by the ways Buddhism provided insight in my grief that was completely different than anything else.
    In Buddhism , impermanence is an inescapable truth of existence. In a world and culture where we strive for permanence (lasting or remaining unchanged).
    Buddhism teaches us that impermanence (lasting or temporarily) is fundamental to everything. From life to health to joy and sorrow to material objects to our very identity, nothing is permanent no matter how much we want it to be. Everything is constantly changing, existence is always in flux.
    Buddhism explains that our attachment to things and failure to accept impermanence is at the root of all suffering.

    As someone who had gone through a significant loss, this idea of impermanence resonated with me immediately. As I read more and thought more, I decided I had two choices. I could try to restore the old life and self that I believed was the real ‘me’ and how things should be. Or I could accept that my loss fundamentally changed me, and we will forever be changing.

    I could pretend I was the same person now but I knew I was not. I had changed and would continue to change. So forcing myself to believe the things that I believed before was not the answer. Instead I needed to focus on the present. One day at a time, one moment at a time. Building awareness of my life – the good, the bad and the ugly, all in flux and ever changing.
    Buddha would remind us that we should not become attached to our path, it will always look different for all of us.

    Holly Leaves

    Categories: dharma glimpse earth

    Dharma Glimpse by Angie

    For the last two spring seasons I have watched with intrigue as new Holly leaves form on my walks around Malvern. They emerge small, waxy and surprisingly soft to the touch. Over the course of a few weeks they harden up,  gradually lose their softness and their edges turn from soft points to the prickly spikes iconic of the Holly plant. If I look down whilst stood by the Holly, I can often see a few fallen old holly leaves on the floor; their hard adult bodies now skeletal, withered, dried and crumbly. Their prickles that were once painful to stand on barefoot, now crumbling grains of leaf matter. The whole life cycle present in one moment, individual holly leaves and branches forming and dying whilst the plant as a whole persists.

    This reminds me how soft and vulnerable we are when we emerge from the womb and how, over time our many edges harden to form the necessary protections and defences against the world. Sometimes those barriers soften with age, sometimes they become more deeply entrenched as they continue to be needed and the value of getting close enough to others to be vulnerable and connected is weighed up against the cost of getting hurt. 

    I’ve found that, over time, spiritual and therapeutic practise has profoundly altered my prickles. Some edges and defences have melted or fallen away entirely, others have become like an adult cat’s claws; able to stay contracted or to extend dependant on the situation. My fluid sense of self persisting as the many strands that make it up rise and fall, solidify and wither. Each move towards openness allows me to feel more intimately in touch with love and presence, with interconnectedness and the Ultimate. As I experience this more frequently and come to trust their existence, in the times when my protections extend and I feel more distant from them, I can still know that they’re there. 

    Blowin’ in the Wind

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Philip

    I was driving down to the temple recently in my slightly battered, but beloved, Twingo. It has a temperamental and capricious CD player (yes, it is pretty old!). I kinda love that about it. Choice isn’t always a good thing in my opinion and when a CD finally works it feels more joyous than being able to play whatever I want all the time. I’m not particularly in to Bob Dylan, but I stumbled across an old ‘Best of’ CD which I threw into it which miraculously worked. It played ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ before unceremoniously, and loudly, spitting it out! Bless it!
    A couple of days later I was walking in the Malvern Hills. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny afternoon. It felt good to be alive. I was blessed to have spent some time with much valued templemates, and temple dogs, in the hills over the previous couple of days. I was now blessed to be spending some time with myself. Coming down the path towards St Anne’s Well I was taken by the trees swaying gracefully in the light breeze. Their luscious, beautiful green leaves being thrust towards the sky from their trunk and branches to bask in the sun’s rays whilst their deep, sinuous roots would have quietly and imperceptibly grown over many years to give them the necessary stability and provision of other life-sustaining nutrients. I remembered the Bob Dylan lyric “The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind”.
    If not THE answer, maybe trees can tell me quite a bit about the dharma I thought. I remember a friend told me “trees are our munda”, meaning trees are our temples. I wondered if we need to quietly, humbly cultivate our spiritual roots in order to catch the light of Amida. Or perhaps the light of Amida helps us cultivate our spiritual roots of being connected to something deeper and life sustaining. Maybe it is a symbiotic relationship (always wanted to use that term as it sounded clever when I heard people using it!). Maybe Western spirituality and the self-help culture frequently promotes the equivalent of the leaves basking in the sun, rather than the less glamorous work of immersing oneself, and growing, in the soil and earth.
    I feel lucky to have come across Pureland Buddhism. I confess when I first entered the temple I did not understand how it differed from other branches (pun intended) of Buddhism. I’m slowly learning it seems to emphasise the importance of immersing, or ‘transdescending’, oneself in the soil of life rather than trying to transcend it. That the soil, sometimes seen as just ‘dirt’, gives the same life-sustaining nutrients as the sun. Whatever you take ‘life’ to be. And the soil is also fed by the sun. It is all interconnected.
    Namo Amida Bu

    Joy in change

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Maria

    This week I’ve started my new job. My head has been bursting with all the information on the company and my project, in that respect I’ve been pretty much dropped in the deep from the get go! But even more importantly, I’m now working with the same people I used to work with about two years ago, so there’s been a lot of catching up and emotional trips down the memory lane.

    Today was my first day at the client site, which is located in Coventry. I haven’t really been around Coventry much since my MBA graduation 6 years ago and I pretty much expected to see the same tired grey city centre. What a surprise when I stepped off the train to see a brand new train station building, new shops, refurbished square and a few new office buildings nearby! I realised that I expected Coventry to not have changed at all in 6 years – maybe Coventry also had not expected me to change? Isn’t it strange how we tend to analyse and acknowledge all our progress and achievements, but then we pretty much expect the rest of the world and people to just stay as they are, as we remember them.

    How many times have I formed a negative opinion of someone and not given them a chance again later? Do I always assume it’s just me who’s evolving and everyone else is stagnating? How prejudiced if so. Indeed so much has changed in my life in 6 years. My colleagues probably made the same mistake about me and my life and were surprised to see how much my priorities have changed. I need to give them the courtesy and assume nothing!

    I’ve never been one for nostalgia and looking back. When I was younger, I just thought it was black and white – if you miss someone, go ahead and give them a call! Now I know it’s not as plain as that, yet still I’m weary of looking back. Maybe deep down I know the world is impermanent and there’s a part of me that resists the reaffirmation of that knowledge. There is no going back into the same waters, and even the most solid rocks eventually crumble down into the sea. I think we should learn to find joy in the discovery of how much the familiar is changing every day!