Nembutsu and the bondage of self

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    Dharma Glimpse by Paul Riley

    ‘God, I offer myself to thee..

    Relieve me of the bondage of self’

    These lines from the 12 step, step 3 prayer, move me deeply. It recently occurred to me that when I say the nembutsu, the essence of this prayer shines through. Namo… I surrender myself… Amida… to a loving, all accepting power… Buddha… which is beyond my small contracted self. Today is a good day!

    Namo Amida Bu

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    The perfect position to pray

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    Dharma Glimpse by Angie

    ‘When life brings you to your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray’ (Rumi) is something I’ve found to be completely true. Every depth that I’ve been to has been necessary to enable me to surrender. To surrender my view that I can control life, to surrender who I thought I was up to that point, to surrender because I no longer had the strength to cling to the riverbank whilst the river of life flowed onward towards the sea. Every time I let go of the bank I realised that the river would carry me, that I was held by an infinite presence of which I wasn’t separate, for I was also part of the river. Just as the support and acceptance from my Teachers and Fellow Travellers was always there I had simply convinced myself that it wasn’t, so all I had to do was let this greater love in. Staying in touch with this truth, is an ongoing practise for me… Partially forgetting and then Re-membering this presence as a ‘member’ of my being and my being as a ‘member’ of them.

    Similarly through my work, I see that the more attentively people can listen to the murmurs of their soul, the more their life gains a sense of meaning, alignment and support. There seems to be something inherently guiding and true about this Presence. And as the Buddha said ‘just as the mighty ocean has one taste, the taste of salt, so my teachings have but one taste, the taste of freedom.’

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Chocolate by Utpaladhi

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    I was in a small supermarket with my partner – I wanted a sandwich before I headed off for an evening study group and he was getting food for him and our son to have dinner. I had a very small amount of money left in my bank account before payday. I wanted to buy some chocolate but could only afford the sandwich. He didn’t know any of that, I kept it to myself. Coincidentally, and out of the blue, he offered to pay for my food. It was an everyday kindness and something he’s good at. But instead of saying ‘thank you’, enjoying the moment and the kindness, I found myself saying ‘well, if you’re paying for my food I’ll get some chocolate too’. Leaving him at the till putting the shopping through, I rushed up the aisle to grab the chocolate. I did, of course, say thank you… but I was quite overwhelmed with the speed with which my mind had grasped. Habit and craving are strong, and my addiction to chocolate is one I regularly struggle with. Amongst all this I could hear the Buddha whispering to me ‘slow down, there are gifts here for you that you are missing’. Sometimes I miss out on the abundance I already have when I’m grasping for more. The chocolate was nice, but in many ways, the kindness was much much sweeter. 

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    Dharma Glimpse: Touching the Pure Land

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    by Chris Earle-Storey

    I’ve been feeling a bit low in spirits for the past couple of weeks. I’ve done something to my knee – or perhaps I haven’t done anything in particular and maybe it’s just an age thing – and it’s been really sore and uncomfortable, which has meant I haven’t been able to get out walking as much as I’d like. So today, in order to lift my spirits, I’ve been sitting in the garden.

    My garden is one of my very favourite places to be. The lawn is more moss and weeds than grass. My green fingers are a very pale shade of green and a few of the plants I put in the border last year have unfortunately not survived, but to me the garden is wonderful and my private sanctuary. Let me paint you a picture. The garden is dominated by two beautiful trees: a majestic weeping willow and a beautiful old apple tree that provides us with a huge crop of apples every year without fail. The blossom on the apple tree is opening up nicely and the late afternoon air is heavy with its sweet fragrance. Bees buzz busily amongst the branches. Our visiting blackbird sits in the willow, singing its complex and beautiful song, a voice so sweet it makes the heart sing too. Timothy the cat lazes at my feet on the patio, occasionally stirring himself sufficiently to swipe at a dried leaf as it tumbles past in the breeze; his friend Sam, always such a happy soul, sits amongst the border plants and purrs contentedly to himself. Some of the plants in the border are starting to open up their flowers and I see spots of white, pink, orange and purple in the fresh green foliage.

    Whilst I’ve been laid up with my poorly knee, I’ve been re-reading the Smaller Pureland Sutra and enjoying the rich, sumptuous descriptions of the Pure Land, full of gorgeous sights, sounds and aromas to delight the senses and calm the spirit. Many people think of the Pure Land, or Sukhavati, as a place we go to after death. As I sit here in my garden, I can’t help thinking that it would be such a pity to be so focussed on the Pure Land (or God’s Kingdom, or Heaven, or whatever else you may wish to call it) as something we reach only after death, and thereby miss the opportunity to discover Sukhavati in our life now. For me, here in my own small paradise of a garden, I know I can touch the Pure Land every day in the beauty and peace of this blessed place.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    By Dayamay Dunsby

    Somebody asked me recently about the nature of enlightenment. I had to think quite hard before I answered. Because it’s quite a complicated question and the answer has layers and nuances.

    Of course, what I associate most strongly with enlightenment is the image of Shakyamuni Buddha, deep in meditation, underneath a tree, glowing with the Dharma, radiating out wisdom and compassion. Or Amitabah Buddha, arms outstretched in a gesture of warm, unconditional acceptance.

    But I don’t think that’s necessarily the whole story.

    I think that, for some, enlightenment can be momentary clarity or temporary understanding, a glimpse of some depth in the world which normally escapes their attention. It is not reserved for the pious or erudite and is arguably in better hands in the ordinary person for whom it offers a unique perspective on life, the universe and the way things really are.

    For me, regular spiritual practice is key to understanding the nature and importance of enlightenment.

    I would say that, given the balance of deep positive change in my life and the persistence of my human nature, I only really know enlightenment to the extent that I have understood the importance of spiritual practice enough, that I have put it at the centre of my life and my priorities.

    So, maybe for me, enlightenment and practice are inseparable. Enlightenment is practice and practice is enlightenment. Maybe this is as simple or complicated as it ever needs to be.

    Namo Amida Bu( ,

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    Dharma Glimpse from Upton

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    By Dave Smith

    My partner and I have been living at the Buddhist temple in Malvern for about a year and a half now. 

    It has been our home and our place of refuge, and we have benefited greatly from living at the heart of this wonderful Buddhist community.

    Several weeks ago, we unexpectedly had to move out to help care for an elderly relative in a neighbouring town. 

    At first this seemed a wrench and an inconvenience and I was looking forward to our life returning to how it was before.

    Now, when I look at our life, I feel thankful for this opportunity to spend time living with Granny. 

    I have had the privilege to witness the love and compassion between her and my partner.

    There is sometimes a clash of personalities, as Granny is not always the easiest person to live with, but beneath this there is a real tenderness between them.

    Our lives have changed quite considerably, but when I look out the window, there is still the same sky, still the same sun and moon, and the birds are still singing. 

    Living at the temple taught me about attachment and impermanence, now I have been given the opportunity to put into practice some of these teachings.

    Living here I have a warm comfortable bed, a shower when I want one and the companionship of my partner and her granny.

    It is an easy life.

    I am regularly requested to leave the room when some of the more ‘personal’ care is carried out, I spend this time reading, walking the dog, or contemplating life whilst washing up. My time for Buddhist practice has increased due to the new routines of our situation and these short periods of time when I am alone.

    As soon as I stopped craving and longing for what I thought I had lost, or what I perceived I was missing out on, it quickly became apparent that I have everything I need, and more.

    The ever changing world outside is still there and my ability to find either peace or suffering is still within me, I’m choosing peace.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Death on Death’s Terms

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Dayamay Dunsby

    Interestingly, just as I began working with elderly people and studying ‘end of life care’, I happened upon a spiritual teacher called Stephen Jenkinson. He’s known as a sort of death guru, who attempts to penetrate the wall of denial and avoidance that constitutes what he calls our collective societal ‘death phobia’.

    This pervasive psychosocial phenomena occurs as an accumulated defense strategy that we have honed over hundreds of years in an attempt to exercise a degree of control over the thing that we fear the most – our immutable mortality. We routinely refuse to allow death into our lives and compulsively delay it in ourselves and our loved ones, in order that we can maintain some distance from it. Stephen points out that, such is the fundamental importance of death, that if we do not accept it as thoroughly as we pursue life, we can never really be fully alive.

    Death phobia is ingrained in our language, our mentality and, to some considerable extent, dictates the course of our cultural endeavors.

    One of the most fascinating things about his philosophy is the trouble that the averagely socialized person seems to have relinquishing their highly conditioned defenses to death, in order to understand that death is not something that we handle…death handles us, and that’s exactly as it’s meant to be, that’s just the nature of death!!

    As something that resonates so deeply with me, and that I feel as a profoundly important truth, this brings up many spiritual and, In terms of my work, practical questions. How does it fit with the Bodhisattva model of compassion to not collude with a dying person, who is desperately trying to cling to a hopeless thread of life? How does one lovingly undo generations of the kind of trauma response that deflects death and legitimizes our ‘heroic’ refusals to die on death’s terms, rather than our own?

    As with so many of our current societal misapprehensions, the root is systemic and probably would take hundreds of years to heal – if we had that sort of time. Our whole culture would have to be transformed in line with a completely different attitude towards dying.

    It strikes me that this subject is emerging as part of a conversation that includes the likelihood that, pretty soon, death will be a much closer companion, even here in the west, where it is most successfully dismissed as an inconvenience.

    In Buddhism, the process of dying and what happens afterwards is central to the philosophy that injects meaning into our faith. For a start, there is only so much that we can learn in a single incarnation. Without death the continuity of our transformation would be impossible. And, death IS transformation, probably in its most potent and pure form. And so, the importance of death is emphasized over and over again.

    Death is the yan to life’s ying (or vice versa).

    Pureland Buddhism is very good at helping us align(re-align – religion) with death, in that much of what happens in terms of our ultimate transformation, occurs after the fact of leaving this world and entering into the higher realms. Amida comes to us at the moment of death and guides us safely to Sukhavati, where we continue our journeys towards complete and perfect enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. It feels to me that this sense of continuity is helpful in maintaining the kind of open-mindedness and incentive that will help us to face death in a way that means we will be informed by its influence, rather than in conflict with its inevitability.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Dharma Glimpse by Philip Wallbridge

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    I was thinking about location and ‘being’ before a recent trip to the temple for a mindfulness retreat stay. 

    The idea and knowledge of having a planned trip back to the temple always fills me with warmth. To be reconnected with templemates, the Sangha, a sense of action and purpose through the Earth vigils, and a stronger sense of being connected to the Buddha than where I now live up north. But I still find parts of me unsettled by the travelling and change in surroundings.  I asked myself before this recent visit, ‘am I able to be anywhere geographically and locationally, but connected to both myself and something bigger’?

    The answer at the moment feels like it is a ‘no’.  I vaguely remembered a saying along the lines of ‘you are exactly where you are supposed to be’.  I assumed it meant locationally.  I don’t know if it also means cosmically, spiritually and internally.  Maybe it can be any or all of those, acknowledging there is overlap between them. The saying sounds comforting to me in terms of cosmically and locationally.  That sense of fate and/or being guided by something bigger.  But I’m not sure it feels true, or perhaps helpful, to me. 

    Maybe spiritually and internally, being compassionate, it’s the best I can be at this moment.  Maybe that is a truth of sorts.  But it’s not where I want to be.  Brother Graham (Brian) and I used to recount lines from the poem ‘Desiderata’ in the temple kitchen.  One of our shared favourites is ‘You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here’.  Having a right to be here gives me some comfort and compassion.  But, I think, accepting and embracing this right also means accepting the rights of others to be here.  The trees, stars, sentient beings and others struggling, like me, whether consciously or not, with their delusions, ignorance and reckless actions to the earth and all its inhabitants. 

    For me I think there might be hard, but beautiful, work to do to move forwards spiritually and internally.  Part of that hard work feels like it could be surrendering to, and taking refuge in, Amida Buddha.  The distance to lean in maybe small in many ways, but in others ways it feels to me like one of the furthest and most challenging.  Maybe it is both simultaneously near and far.  But the further I go spiritually, the less distance I have to travel internally to be connected to myself and something bigger.  So that, perhaps, my physical locational becomes much less important to how I think and feel, and what I am able to offer and receive.  So that wherever I am physically, or even internally at times, I am nearly always in the right place in relation to the Buddha. 

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Dharma Glimpse by Dayamay Dunsby

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    Watching the news recently, the tensions between Russia and the West, the bickering in parliament over corruption and immoral conduct and other equally contentious issues, made me think about how all of these problems that we face originate within us, the human race, in our deeply wounded and fragmented hearts and minds. The television is merely showing us how our traumas, both individual and collective, are playing out in the world. 

    If Buddhist doctrine is to be believed, we have all been traversing the minefield of Samsara for eternity and none of us have escaped unscathed. We carry with us the scars of many battles, great personal loss, failure and violence. This deep karma colours our experience and drives our desires. It is both the fuel for suffering and the seed of enlightenment.

    It occurred to me, as it has many times, that It would be better to occasionally spend 5 minutes noticing what is happening within me, what feelings, fears, hopes and dreams are arising and circulating, than to watch in horror and disbelief at the seeming deterioration of our planet and our species on a TV screen.

    For all I know the fact of taking time to make peace with these internal struggles may well be a contribution towards the counterbalance of peace and sanity in a desperately troubled world.

    Namo Amida Bu  : )

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    Dharma Glimpse by Val

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    I’m looking forward to visiting the temple this week. I have been so focused on painting during a residential course, it will be good to connect with the Buddha in the peace, beauty and energy of the temple.

    Have I had a dharma glimpse? Not really, I have been doing very basic stuff like remembering to be my own friend and to love myself and then allowing myself to simply be without having to make any ‘announcements’  while I was with the group of strangers on the painting course.

    No one noticed.

    I simply allowed myself to drop a barrier of criticism towards them and towards me, I quietly sat without judgement, allowing me to be me and them to be them and for a while there a heavy weight lifted and I knew I was safe, I knew I was loved by the divine, by Buddha and by me. Was that a dharma glimpse? It felt like it to me, a slight shift, a door opened, a moment of grace perhaps.

    That happened on day 3 of the course, day one was caution, day two was having a lot to say and many questions to ask and day 3 was the experiment in letting the guards drop, accepting we are all foolish beings and letting the gentler way be my guide.

    LIke I said this is basic stuff, so often spoken about and acknowledged, but to feel it while in an entirely secular environment with a group of people I had known for one or two days was a new experience for me.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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