Life and Death

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    Dharma Glimpse by Chris E-S

    I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently. It seems as if I am surrounded by reminders of mortality: the news of the death of a friend from another Sangha who had been fighting cancer for many months; the variegated holly bush I had planted in memory of our old cat Tibbie after she died in 1998, which had seemed to be doing so well in recent years but suddenly began dropping its leaves and is now a bare skeleton; the baby pigeon I had rescued from the clutches of a crow who looked as if if was going to survive, but then died during the night. Death, it seems, is all around.

    There are other reasons for my increasing awareness of mortality, the most obvious being that I was suddenly struck by the thought that I have far fewer days ahead of me now than I have behind. I’m not yet at the stage where I think everyday is an unexpected bonus but, as I get older still, no doubt that will happen.

    I think of my father who lived into his 100th year. I wonder, when he reached his late 90s, did he go to bed each night thinking, “Will I wake up tomorrow?” And when the morning came, did he greet it with “Wow, I’m still here – amazing!” What must it be like to be so very old and be so aware of the nearness of death? Perhaps I will be like Dad and find out; perhaps not.

    Another reason that death is on my mind is because I’ve recently discovered my paternal grandparents’ grave. I never knew my grandparents – they died long before I was born – but it is sobering to see that neither of them lived to a great age. In fact, I am now several years older than Grandad was when he died.

    You may be thinking that all these thoughts of ageing and death must be making me feel down. Perhaps surprisingly, the opposite is the case. I am finding that the older I get the more precious each day is. A heightened awareness of my own mortality seems to have made me more open to life – to the beauty in the birth of each Spring, to the freshness of new life around me.

    Yes, death is certainly all around, but so is life in all its beauty. My friend’s Sangha held a celebration of her life, where all those attending who knew her spoke warmly of their memories; it felt as if she lives on in the hearts of those who remember her with such love. In the tree next to the dying holly bush, my resident Robin is waiting for me to fill its seed feeder, whilst a blackbird higher in the tree sings its joyous song. In the corner near to where the baby pigeon is buried, I notice a single, beautiful wild orchid is growing.

    Death is just a part of the eternal cycle of renewal and rebirth. We are born, we live, we die, and we return to our Mother Earth. My Buddhist faith allows me to accept this reality and not to fear it. For that I am truly grateful. Namo Amida Bu.

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    Finding joy in change 

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    Glimpse by Khema

    I may have mentioned this once or twice!!!! So in exactly 3 Months as of yesterday -on the 28th of June 2024? I’m going to retire and start drawing my pension. Eeak. And as I write this, it feels deeply strange, exciting, and really scary all rolled into one . I don’t feel old enough to be drawing my pension. In my mind I’m still about 27. I actually still can’t really believe it but yes it’s happening and on the 28th of June. I will be unemployed for the first time since I was 14 years old when I got my first weekend job in a cafe and then as a health care assistant in a local nursing home. I’m told I’m far too young to be retiring, I think I like people telling me that.

    I ask myself, what am I going to do with all this spare time? Can I take up some new hobbies? I wonder about doing a course or three. Can I spend more time in my beloved garden and of course travel in Gloria, my campervan. No more trying to squeeze in a long weekend between appointments and meetings, working out how many annual leave days I’ve got left, who’s going to cover and then all those dreadful emails to go through on my return!!! This has been my life as a nurse since March 1989. I’ve worked hard to get where I am now, who will I be when I’m not that anymore? Will I feel different? `Will I regret this decision? Am I loosing part of my identity? 

    In Buddhism we believe the only constant is change. Impermanence can lead to suffering as one fails to accept the continuously changing nature of the world or our world.
    The law of impermanence is a fact of reality that cannot be changed; everything that comes to be eventually passes away. The Buddha teaches that the path to peace and joy requires that we embrace change rather than pine for permanence.

    I originally wanted to return to my role part time and that would’ve been easy. Just cut down my hours and stay doing what I’m doing. But the big boss said no. They don’t want me and that has been something I wasn’t prepared for. On its most fundamental level, fear of change is fear of the unknown. There’s an immense amount of comfort to be found in routine, and when those routines are disrupted, many people feel anxious and destabilized. So how can I turn this around? How can I turn this uncertainty into joy? Should I see this is an opportunity to do something different? Embrace change. I may not have looked at it this way at all if I wasn’t backed into a corner, after all it’s easy to keep doing what you’re doing- staying within your comfort zone. Change can be scary but also a gift- perhaps one I didn’t know I needed. So watch this space…………retirement here I come.

    More than human

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    Dharma Glimpse by Kokuu

    My Zen friend Sarah told me about the Merlin app for identifying birdsong.  I live in a small village in east Kent and one day when I was sitting outside with the dogs, I opened the app to see what birds it would recognise.

    The most interesting thing for me is that app identifies birds that I may not be able to see, and that afternoon it heard song from goldfinches, kestrels and long-tailed tits, none of which I can recall seeing in the area before.  A week earlier it identified the call of a little owl. 

    Buddhism largely deals with the human condition of suffering as it was taught by the Buddha in his dharma, and this is practiced in a sangha of human beings.  However, One Earth Sangha is a Buddhist community I often practice with that focusses on the intersection of environmental issues and Buddhist practice and there, it is emphasised that the sangha is larger than we often think, and include other species, which they term ‘more than human’ beings. 

    The more than human may be considered to include animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms, but also rivers, mountains, rocks and the air.  Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan reminds us that

    the land, grasses and trees, fences and walls, tiles and pebbles, all things in
    the dharma realm of the ten directions, perform the work of the buddhas

    The birds I find using my app are definitely part of my more than human sangha, as are the oak trees that surround my flat, the squirrels that live in them, the grasses, sorrel, buttercups and other flowers than adorn the lawn, and the chalk rocks that this part of the country rests upon. 

    Why is it important to consider our more than human sangha?  Firstly, I find that thinking about them makes me feel grateful for the trees, flowers, birds and soil of where I am, providing us with not just beauty but shelter, oxygen and food. 

    Secondly, my actions impact on the more than human world, for good or ill, whether that is leaving seeds out for the birds and squirrels in the winter, using chemicals in the house which may find their way into the local water sources, or the mode of travel I choose to take. 

    We are all interwoven in this world, in a cycle of giving and receiving, and however much we might like to think that human beings are special and separate from nature, we are not.  Going further, Buddhism would even say that as we drop our attachment to ideas of self and other, this lack of separation is laid bare.  Listening to bird calls may be a tiny step to seeing that, but it feels like a good one to take. 

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    The Joy of Socks

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    Dharma Glimpse by Chris E-S

    Looking out into our garden, it’s hard to believe that we are well into Spring. The borders are so wet that there is a natural water feature forming amongst the soggy roses and shrubs. Even the hardy daffodils seem to be struggling to survive this year. However, if it ever does stop raining, I look forward to welcoming the joy of Spring – and of socks.

    There are many reasons why the arrival of Spring brings a lightness to my heart. The longer days; the warmer weather; the emergence of shoots, bulbs and blossom; the bursts of birdsong from the trees – all these are a source of happiness and hope for me. One other lovely thing that comes with Spring – albeit on drier days than we currently have – is the opportunity to hang out washing on the line again, after having used an indoor airer over the winter months. There is nothing quite like the smell of laundry that has been dried outdoors – a fresh, airy smell that no amount of indoor drying can replicate.

    I have a routine for hanging out the washing, and I am particularly regimented when it comes to socks. All my socks are brightly coloured; I can’t abide boring socks and won’t have blue, black or grey unless they also have a bright pattern on them. I get a particular pleasure from pairing up the socks, smoothing them out and then hanging them side by side with matching pegs. Oh yes, the peg colours must complement the colours of the sock pairs: no glaring mis-matches allowed! On one occasion when I was ill, my husband did the laundry duty; whilst I was grateful for his efforts, I’m sorry to say that it pained me to see mis-paired socks and a complete lack of colour coordination of the pegs.

    My husband thinks my laundry routine is just me being a bit weird. I think there is more to it than that, although I admit to being something of an oddball in some respects. I think behind the careful matching and hanging of the socks is an underlying wish to create a sense of order in what is essentially a disordered world, and – just as important – to create beauty out of something seemingly mundane. In a world of impermanence and change, where it seems I have so little control of what happens around and to me, as I stand and admire my laundry work of art, I derive a few moments of serenity and joy from my one small act of creating order and beauty.

    As I look out at the rain-soaked garden, I imagine my brightly-coloured and patterned socks waving in a gentle Spring breeze and I can’t help but smile. We may live in a world of impermanence and dukkha, but if we look carefully we can always find calm, joy and beauty in even the smallest of things.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    “Love me…Love me not”

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    Dharma Glimpse by Jules

    I was reading an article about how our brains process our thoughts, each thought interlinking, leading to another thought and then another, thus creating chains of thoughts or ‘thought worms’ (as named by Dr. Poppenk and Julie Tseng). It is estimated that we have approximately 6200 of these thought worms a day. But what is interesting is that 80% of them are negative! Even more astonishing is that 95% of our thoughts are repeating themselves day after day. This negative thinking is taking over our brains and we are doing it repeatedly, creating a continuous cycle of pessimism and self-destruction!

    So it got me thinking about my own latest string of negative thoughts. I have been thinking about whether I deserve to be loved. As I reflect upon my thoughts, it reminded me of my childhood, where we would all sit on the grass, picking petals off a daisy, alternating between positive and negative phrases…Love me…Love Me Not?…hoping that when we got to the last petal, the phrase we spoke was positive, as this last petal supposedly represents the truth between the subject of my affection loving me or not.

    The concept of deserving love is subjective and by definition and connotations of the word deserve “is to earn”, so this can become problematic in itself. For me, the question of being worthy or deserving of love, arises from my own self doubt, human expectations, and internalised self-perceptions often comparing myself to others. The constant criticism, rejection, or comparisons to societal standards has contributed to a diminished sense of self-worth. But I don’t feel I need to earn love, but do feel I am worthy of love and thus deserve to be loved.

    In Pure Land Buddhism, the compassionate nature of Amida Buddha accepts us just as we are, embracing our perceived unworthiness. Recognising our imperfections, we find solace in the boundless love of the Pure Land, transcending feelings of unworthiness to experience the unconditional acceptance that leads us towards enlightenment. So somehow I need to change my thought process so that I feel good enough “Just as I am”, the bad bits as well as the good bits.

    So the next time I sit in front of of my shrine and pray to Amida Buddha, I am going to play the more humorous twist on the game and chant; “He loves me, he loves me lots!”

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Dharma Glimpse by Frankie

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    I really like the wording of our precepts ‘may I be aware of WHEN,’ not IF, but WHEN, which acknowledges our vulnerability and our basic human being-ness. There are many times when we will fail spectacularly to fulfil our precepts, and actually that’s what they’re there for, to remind us, to bring us back, to support us.
    In some sanghas when students are studying to take the precepts formally, they are encouraged to write their own additional precepts.
    Last Wednesday as we said the liturgy it occurred to me that I could do with another precept – may I be aware of when I fall into anger, because just that morning, I had written up my diary entry for Tuesday which reads’Today I’ve been mostly Angry.’

    I’m not against Anger as such, I don’t think we should turn away from it – it’s Big Energy, which harnessed in the right way can be used really positively. Anger about injustice, inhumane treatmet of sentient beings, people and animals, the treatment of our environment . This anger can be transformed into the energy which motivates us into engaging and taking action.

    But my anger wasn’t like that. I wasn’t angry with anything or anyone in particular, but I know I was manifesting it. It didn’t have a particular focus, it didn’t have that useful kind of energy, it was more like a vacuum sucking energy into it.
    I have some short sayings that I use in my practice, one of them is ‘what is this?’ I looked closely at this anger, I asked it gently ‘what is this?’. And I realised that like most of our difficult emotions, it came from a place of fear.

    Im holding a lot of fear at the moment, fear about Stef’s state of health, the immediatate future, fearing that I won’t be able to cope, my language skills won’t be enough, I’ll somehow let him down. It’s an honour for me to be able to care for him, but it’s also a responsibility. BUT as soon as I acknowledged the fear, opened up to it, as soon as I said out loud ‘I’m frightened’, I felt a huge relief and could feel the hard edges of that fear softening.

    I can’t make fear go away, but I know it will change, it will come and go, and allowing that will help me when I no doubt meet that pointless black hole anger again.

    I also know I’m not alone – I’m supported.
    Taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha doesn’t mean turning away from difficult emotions or spiritually bypassing; it means having faith, trusting. I can call on Dharma teachings, I know I can reach out to Sangha, and I can call on Amida and know I will be answered – Amida will sit next to me, help me hold onto my courage, give me confidence.
    I know I’m not alone
    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Shrine Room Flowers

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    Dharma glimpse by Dave

    As well as being a tenant at the temple, I have various roles that I have taken on here.

    For a couple of years now I have volunteered to do the flowers in the shrine room, I tend to do these first thing on a Saturday morning before practice with the exception of a few months in mid-winter when I buy some dried flowers to see me through. I get up fairly early, collect the vases from the shrine room and take them into the kitchen, I then discard all the wilted and dead ones before heading into the garden with my scissors and flower basket to cut some replacements. After arranging these I place them carefully back on the alters and hoover up all the pollen and debris from the week with the mini hoover that lives in the kitchen.

    Another role is a weekly clean of various rooms in the temple. This is actually one of the conditions of living here, we all do it. There is a rota and we are assigned a different room each month where it is our responsibility to do any extra cleaning required for that particular room and keep it looking nice for the other residents and any visitors.

    Thirdly, I have recently taken on the role of occasional bell master during service. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to do this and am thankful for the training I have been given. A big part of the role of bell master is carried out before service begins. All the alters are replenished with fresh candles and incense sticks and the water jugs are refilled, finally all the cushions and service sheets are straightened and arranged neatly before service begins.

    The first time I performed the role of bell master I was very nervous and wanted to get everything right. It was a Saturday morning and I had already done the flowers and given them a little bit more care and attention than I normally do. It just so happened that the shrine room was my room to clean on the cleaning rota that month as well. I had hoovered the carpet and arranged all the cushions and service sheets with the utmost precision, adjusted the cloth on the main shrine and spent a bit too much time making sure the flowers in their vases were perfectly symmetrical. I stood in the shrine room doorway admiring my handiwork and feeling very proud of myself when I noticed some smears on the big mirror hanging on the wall. I rushed to the kitchen, got some window cleaner and proceeded to start polishing. I started in the top and began working my way down, until I found myself staring at my own reflection. Seeing myself manically polishing away with very serious look on my face suddenly made me realise that I had got a bit carried away.

    I genuinely love doing the flowers in the shrine room, and it is my favourite room to clean on the monthly rota. The added responsibility of performing the task of bell master had tipped me over the edge. I had made the morning all about me and my ego. These three tasks should be an act of love and service. A gift from Amida. There was nothing wrong with what I was doing but there was definitely a problem with some of the reasons I was doing it.

    I am grateful that I was able to notice my lapse into pride and self-congratulation. This moment of clarity was a reminder that we are only able to perform tasks of service through Amida’s grace and that everything is a gift handed down to us and not really of our own making even though we might trick ourselves into thinking otherwise.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Two Feet on the Ground

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    Dharma Glimpse by Philip

    I went to garden practice here at Bright Earth one Saturday recently. I love going as it feels like starting the weekend in a positive way; fresh air, nature, noticing inner and outer worlds much more, doing an activity with Sangha members, feeling calmer, more observant and more grateful…..

    I remember one respected Sangha friend had told me a while ago now about waiting for both feet to be on the ground whilst doing the walking practice.  I always bore it in mind, but didn’t feel ready to try it.  Instead, I had practiced balancing on one leg at times during garden practice to strengthen my legs and core from my days doing Pilates as a bit of sneaky exercise.  But today I felt like trying this new approach for me, partly as I have been feeling a bit unsettled in recent months. 

    Perhaps inevitably, I felt more grounded and stable.  And gradually felt I had a clearer mind for making/taking my next step.  But it also felt slightly strange and unsettling.  I wondered afterwards if balancing on leg reflected, to some degree, my approach to (adult) life.  About making things more challenging than they necessarily need to be in order to strengthen myself physically and mentally to be independent.  And I feel there is some merit in this.  But I wondered if this new way of walking during garden practice had provided a new and valuable experience, teaching me something in the process.  Perhaps that it takes clear intention and courage to put one foot in front of the other and take a step forwards.  Whether that’s a seemingly ‘big’ decision like a place to live, a relationship or a job.  Or a seemingly ‘small’ decision to get out of bed in the morning and face the day.  Or an intention to put a foot forwards with an open mind and heart to see what happens, instead of gritting my teeth and steadfastly staying where I am.  And that whilst it might be me, or seem like it is me, planting that front foot forwards and transferring my weight on to it, I’m not doing this on my own; I have Amida Buddha with me at all times.  Maybe it felt like Amida was my back foot, providing that surety and stability.  But then that back foot becomes my front foot so that the distinction between what is me and what is Amida becomes irrelevant and indistinguishable when I get into a flow of walking like this.  And it felt nice to think, and hopefully start to know and feel, I’m never truly on my own as I journey through life.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    The Dharma Dance

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    DG by Paramita

    Walking meditation in the Temple garden always wakes me up a bit. Not in the literal sense, but in the Spiritual sense. Immersion in the freshness and raw energy of Nature. The sights, sounds and feelings that offer themselves, generously, in place of discursive thought.

    Today the birdsong was particularly striking. Like an excited and cheerful summons to practice. An audible celebration of life, beauty and the power of coming together.

    My mood fluctuated in the usual way, shifting seamlessly between contemplative joy, and existential worry – in this instance, how my lifelong insomnia might have contributed to the brokenness in my brain. And then, as I came back into my body, noticing the spring buds on the young trees and remembering the many years of meditation, which must surely have forged new and healthy neural pathways. The natural world is very good at showing us, and reminding us of balance.

    More loud cars and the sound of life, noisily trundling along in the background, despite our quietness and the protective bubble of this sacred space.

    Somehow, this reminds me of how unseasonably warm it is in mid-February. Some of my usual winter clothing layers have been shed, a good month earlier than usual. The relative comfort, no longer really anomalous, and accompanied by an ominous sense of consequence.

    Again, back, out of my head and into the walking; tentative footsteps around windy paths. Ivy intertwined with galvanised metal, creeping around, over and underneath, as if to claim it, and naturalise it. The contrast between the organic and the industrial becoming lost in a seemingly unlikely embrace.

    The dance between idle thinking and pure doing, and the distinction between them, is measured by the frequency of my steps and the rhythm of my corresponding breaths. I can’t think while I’m really walking, and I can’t really walk, while I’m thinking!

    The dance goes on!

    Namo Amida Bu!

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    We’re all the same

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    Dharma Glimpse by Luna

    I’ve noticed that the judgment my ego makes as a way to keep me safe, or to get a need met, can get in there first before my desire to be connected & supportive. This shows up particularly in my family, as I’ve become aware of dynamics & patterns. (Remembering the Ram Dass quote ‘If you think you are enlightened; go home!’.) Then my expression is received as annoying, smart, & can be triggering, causing disconnection & leave me feeling misunderstood. Since learning more about our bombu nature from Satya & Kaspa’s book, I feel more humble & able to hold space for the discomfort of the mirrors I see in my parents, & am working my muscle of compassion & understanding with them.
    During a recent visit to my parents, I was out walking the dogs with my mum. She was telling me how she’d lost one of her favourite earrings when gardening, & was really gutted about it. I acknowledged her frustration, noticed where I’d sometimes feel judgment here, & shared gently that I’ve been squeezing the hooks tightly closed on my current favourite earrings, which are whale tails made from vintage spoons by a friend in Tasmania that I got myself as a special gift when I lived there. I did this as I said it, feeling that they were safely in my ears. We continued our walk, during which I really opened up to her about where I’m at with my spiritual journey, which was a beautiful conversation where I heard & learned more about her beliefs, her openness & acceptance. On the way home, I realised one of my earrings had fell off it’s hook & I was left with just the hook in my ear! Despite my extra earring security measures, the fact I’d been switching the pendant out & opening/ closing the loop on the hook repeatedly & often in a rush, had meant it had still not been secure after all. Mum said it could be anywhere, without much hope in her voice, & that she was tired so she’d carry on home, I said I’d retrace my steps. I walked off & spoke out to the infinite, ‘I believe in you either way, but I’d really like to find my earring – please let it come back to me’. I scanned the ground feeling positive & hopeful I could find it, all the way back to where we’d been, & it was getting dark, but no luck. I smiled as I felt this was a reminder that me & mum are both the same; that we’re all human & fallible; something I am feeling increasingly safe to admit. It felt like this was a little offering, for me to put my newfound perspective to practice.
    I arrived home & as I walked in, my brother told me mum had found my earring on her way back! We were both pleased – & I let her kindly advise me to be careful with them. I’d let down my guard of needing to ‘have it together’, & let more of me be seen, which had allowed this growth- enhancing, quite magical experience this evening.
    Perhaps my hopefulness & believing I could find my earring, helped her to see it shining on the ground. Perhaps this will stay with her. Maybe she’ll even find hers. Either way, accepting my bombu nature & mum’s, & showing more of myself, dissolved barriers between us & brought mutual support, understanding & appreciation. A beautiful reminder that everything is in flux, always, & the more of us we reveal, the deeper our connections can be.
    Namo Amida Bu x

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