The Solace of Surrender

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Philip

    At the start of the year I remember telling Satya how doing prostrations at home on some mornings, in addition to at practice, started to feel intuitively important and profound.  They were probably the strangest thing when I first started practiced.  And probably the most vulnerable.  Conversely, I wondered if they are a reason people in non-Christian religions and cultures might have better physical flexibility and longevity due to daily practices like this at all ages!   

    I realised recently I have probably been fighting against surrendering to the reality of some things, and some people, for most of my adult life.  Reality isn’t how I want it.   I read an article on the Tricycle website recently by Rob Preece, a practicing Buddhist since 1973, about ‘The Solace of Surrender’.  He talked about that in the West we grow up with the sense that we must learn to take control of our lives. That by the time we are adults, we must be able to make decisions and take responsibility for the direction of our lives.  And that we must become self-sufficient individuals in a society that is ever more competitive and demanding.  

    Sometimes I feel I’ve tried everything to make reality, with its inevitable share of pain, loss and suffering, at least palatable and sustainable in the short term through a whole range of defences and actions.  In the West we seem to use terms like ‘move on’, ‘accept’ and ‘get over’.  They have shades of that self-sufficiency doctrine to be happier rather than healthier and wiser.  That if something is painful, you should get away from it as quickly as possible and not look back.  Or the opposite of taking on a burden of suffering as your responsibility, without talking about it as this could affect others’ happiness.   

    My initial experiences of surrendering have a different feel to it for me.  It feels like a softer, more humble and more profound approach.   And one which might take longer and involve a process of call and response.  To try to surrender and then listen to the heart and head, or perhaps to something bigger, wiser and unconditionally loving, to see if it has been done.  And the resolve to keep going back to getting down on your knees, literally and/or metaphorically, and going through the same process of surrendering for as long as necessary.  Which might be until the end of my life.   

    It made me wonder which is harder for me as a White western male; surrendering to the things I don’t want or like, or to the faith there is something much bigger, wiser and unconditionally loving than my small, fragile, foolish and deluded self.  Something like Amida Buddha.  Something I can lean into and take refuge in just as I am.  So perhaps it is about surrendering to who I am, and trusting if I lean into Amida Buddha, I will be unconditionally loved and accepted.   I find the more I do prostrations, the lower I gently and purposely put my head.  And also the higher and more open I put up my hands.  Maybe the more humble I am, recognising and accepting without judgement and self-criticism my ‘bombu nature’, the more I am able to receive a little of the infinite wisdom and compassion all around me. 

    Namo Amida Bu 

    Old photos

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Paul

    I recently paid my folks a visit and my mum proceeded to dig out the old photo albums. There I was, new born in a 70s living room, held by a proud father… an 80s kid clutching Star Wars toys… an early 90s 6th former…graduation cap n’gown… the millennium came  and parenthood not long after. And as mobile phones began to replace the Polaroid, the pictures dried up. Some of the photos were old – a black and white of the handsome Spanish grandad I never met, looking like a film star with cigarette. Even my grandma’s grandma from a bygone age.

    The faces looking out of each photo, full of life… I wonder if they knew how that moment in front of the camera would be short lived. That one day they would have to let go of everyone and everything they loved.

    I left with an emotional hangover. An underlying feeling of loss settled on me like a dark cloud. Later, a deep sense of gratitude for those memories lifted my spirits.
    Impermanence! That mark of existence, which the Buddha points us to, brings me the joy of seeing my daughters grow into young women and the heartfelt sadness of losing those I love. But then as one teacher said to me – when we come to realise the oneness of all things, what is there to lose?

    Namo Amitabha!


    Categories: dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Fi

    a line of hills in the distance, with a mix of tree cover and grass a few paths are visible. There is blue sky and a few clouds. In the foreground is a grassy area of the hill the photographer is standing on.
    Malvern Hills from British Camp by Kaspa

    One of the things I love about my home town is how close we are to the hills. When I have a day to myself I love to pack some food and drink in my rucksack and spend a whole day walking them slowly all on my own, just existing in the present moment. When I do this, I feel absorbed in nature and very conscious of the Buddha.
    A few years ago, on a summer’s day, I set off to do just that. But on the day I’d made my plans, an unexpected fog had closed in on the hills.
    I felt cheated and irritated. Where was the wide open vista around me which I always found so moving? How could I immerse myself in the profound and sacred nature of the landscape when I could barely see more than a few metres of it at any one time?
    But as I walked along the familiar path, I began to notice different things. Instead of the whole landscape being revealed to me all at once, I was encountering it in what felt like a series of rooms that the fog had created. I was forced to slow not just my pace but my perception and really appreciate what I encountered at each step instead of having my eyes on the horizon.
    At this point I had to chuckle at my foolish nature and admit that my attachment to the sort of day I had planned to have was getting in the way of enjoying the day I was going to have. Instead of the majestic spaciousness of the hills and the far reaching land on either side, I was being invited to rejoice in the smaller and more immediate things. The way the trees were melting towards me out of the mist like an Impressionist painting. The eerie way the spider webs were hung with mist droplets. The way the mist changed the way sound travels, making the journey through the landscape seem more intimate. The drops of moisture that hung all over the leaves and twigs like jewels, bringing to mind some descriptions of the Pureland.
    In the end, I still had a beautiful and healing experience walking the hills that day. There were several lessons I could have taken away from it: the self-sabotaging nature of attachment, my Bombu nature, or the impermanence of both good and bad weather. But what I felt most in my heart at the end of that day was trust. Trust that my personal meditative walks will always bring me healing provided I don’t let my preconceptions get in the way. Trust that the sun was still there beyond the fog just as we trust that Amida Buddha is there even when the metaphorical clouds of delusion get in the way.
    Namo Amida Bu.

    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

    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: 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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    Dharma Glimpse: One Million Nembutsu

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    By Daymay Dunsby

    Since the beginning of the year I’ve been engaged in the million nembutsu practice. 2,700 a day for 365 days, recited rapidly over 25 minutes. I’ve found that it has really reignited my love for practice, just for the sake of practice. I didn’t feel lacking in my spiritual life or a particular need for stronger faith. It just felt like a nice thing to do. My memories of the practice from previous years left me with a warm and inspiring feeling that I have felt many times in my spiritual life and I now associate with devotional practices. It feels like my gesture of love for the Buddha is being reciprocated, as the nembutsu acts like a conductor between myself and Amida.

    Practice is inseparable from awakening. The act of practice is imbued with the seed of faith. To take part in spiritual practice is to embody the principles of enlightenment, as demonstrated by Shakyamuni thousands of years ago. We are still benefiting from his vision and his inspiration. But without our participation there would be nothing to enjoy, nothing to pass on. We might exist in very different worlds and lead very different lives, but when we come together we collectively manifest the things that we love. By turning up for and engaging in practice we make the heart of Buddhism beat, we breathe life into our dreams and spiritual aspirations.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Thirlstane Common

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by David Hope

    David describes a spiritual experience.

    David’s sketch of the moment

    Just over a year ago, in November 2020, I was walking my friend’s dog on the
    common at the bottom of Thirlstane Road. The weather was unsettled with rain
    showers and the clouds were moving quite rapidly in the wind. As they did so a
    crescent moon appeared and disappeared, and sunlight periodically shone from
    the west. When it did so rainbows appeared, apparently close to the railway line.
    My immediate feeling was one of enchantment and I was moved to attempt to
    sketch an outline of the scene on returning home (see attached).

    Here is a short poem composed as another attempt to describe this non-dual
    experience of nature:

    Wind and showers a’blowing
    Dusk approaching.
    Who’d imagine
    A world so chaotic.
    Muddy paths, other hounds
    Straining at the leash.
    Trains crossing on the tracks
    Bound for Timbuktu?
    Somehow outer universe
    And inner subjectivity match
    In a magical moment
    Of oneness with Nature