What is a Dharma Glimpse
A Dharma Glimpse is a short piece of writing which demonstrates how the dharma (or the truth) shows up in our ordinary lives. We experience something, and that experience brings insight, or compassion, or reminds us of a Buddhist teaching. A Dharma Glimpse is an expression of that moment. They can inspire others to see similar truths in their own lives, and they are a way of creating connection within our community.
Rev Koyo Kubose, who led the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism Lay Ministry programme for many years, introduced Dharma Glimpses to Satya and Kaspa and we started using them in the Bright Earth temple in January 2022. Here’s how Rev. Koyo describes them:
Question: What is the definition of a glimpse? Is it a spiritual connection, awareness, or coincidence that is realized, felt, or observed?
Answer: Yes, I can be all of these. In general, a glimpse is all about bringing the Buddhist teachings and insight into the everyday. The ideal glimpse is born out of some everyday activity that shines a light inward and relates to some dharma teaching, ideally something from our weekly reading. A glimpse can be about stars or cows or flat tires. They can be lyrical, serious, or funny, and the best is personal.
Writing Dharma Glimpses
Some people may be scared to write a Glimpse because they are worried about how other people might judge them. To those people we say, we’d love to read whatever you send. Some people may be wary of writing a Glimpse because they are not sure what a Glimpse is. Some people have already written Glimpses and we want to help them to refine their offerings.
Hopefully this guide will speak to all of these people. You don’t need to read this whole guide in one go, or at all. Begin with the section that speaks to you.
“I’m not good enough”
It is very common for people to think they can’t write Dharma Glimpses because they’re not ‘very good’ at writing, because they don’t know enough about Buddhist teachings, or because they feel self-conscious about what people might think as they read their Glimpses out.
Glimpses don’t need to be written with perfect grammar or in poetic language. They don’t need to be clever, or contain references to Buddhist scriptures. The best Glimpses are written by ordinary human beings! They are an opportunity to be honest about something that has gone wrong in your life, or to acknowledge a realisation you had (small or large) when going about your daily life. They are an opportunity to reflect on our human limitations, and to celebrate moments of wisdom and compassion. However little value you feel your Glimpse might have, try to trust that someone in the room will appreciate hearing it.
Three Top Tips
1) Begin very simply with one experience and one insight.
2) Take heed of Anne Lamott’s advice to write a shitty first draft. Get something down on paper without worrying about how good it is. Then you have something to work from.
3) Perfect is the enemy of the good. When we aim for perfection, we can get so lost in worrying about that impossible target that we don’t finish the piece. Or that we don’t even start the piece. Better to have something on the page than nothing at all.
Please have a go and send something in, we’d love to read it.
Looking for some Clear Guidelines?
A Dharma Glimpse is an account of an experience, and a recounting of the insight that came from that experience or the Buddhist teaching it reminded us of.
When writing Glimpses we try not to speak in generalisations, understanding that whilst there is something universal about spiritual experience, the way that spiritual experiences and insights show up in our lives is unique and is conditioned by our lives at that time.
Expressing a Dharma Glimpse in a personal and specific way allows the reader/listener to find their own relationship to our insight. We are not suggesting that our insight should be their insight, but giving them the space to find what resonates and makes sense in their own lived experience.
Dharma Glimpses may look and sound different to Dharma teachings that Buddhist teachers give or write. Buddhist teachers speak from years of experience and are authorised to teach by their communities. With a Dharma Glimpse we are sharing our experience rather than teaching.
Practical Tips for Writing
Ask: “What is the experience?” & “What is the fresh insight, learning or moment of being moved to compassion?”
When you are first writing Glimpses, think of them as a game of two halves. Begin by writing about the moment in your life, and finish by writing what you have learnt.
For Glimpses that we read out in our Buddhist practice sessions:
Aim to have one insight per glimpse.
Aim to write no more than one side of A4.
We check all Glimpses that are going to be read in practice sessions and may occasionally offer feedback or ask for changes to be made. When Glimpses are read out at practice sessions they are representing the Bright Earth community and so we need to make sure that, for example, the Glimpse doesn’t include discriminatory language etc.
Glimpses and Journaling
Journaling is an important and useful spiritual practice. In a journaling practice we might write about questions we are working through, and life issues we are struggling with. We might write a letter to the Buddha, or do some parts work using Internal Family Systems. These are all good things to do but they are not necessarily Dharma Glimpses.
A Dharma Glimpse is usually written following the insight and is a written expression of what we have learnt. However we might choose to share a piece of writing that is more like a piece of journaling in the spirit of sharing our process. A Glimpse like this is less about a particular insight and more an appreciation of the journey we are on.
Beginning with Not Knowing
Sometimes we might begin writing a Glimpse without knowing what the insight is. As you are writing you discover the insight. If you are writing in this way, once you have finished the first draft and realised what the insight is you might choose to go back and edit the whole thing, taking out anything that confuses your central point.
Breaking the Rules
If the rule for a Dharma Glimpse is to write about an experience, and then write what you learnt from that, then we can also imagine Glimpses that break those rules, but still have the feel of a Glimpse.
For example a sonnet is defined as a fourteen line poem, written in iambic pentameter with a specific rhyme scheme. Shakespeare’s sonnets ended with a couplet that usually expressed the conclusion of the poem, or invited us to see the previous quatrains in a new light.
When modern poets write sonnets they often break one or two of these rules. They might write fourteen lines of blank verse without using iambic pentameter, but keep the final two lines as a conclusion or turning point of the poem. Even though this doesn’t follow all the rules we know this is still a sonnet because it looks more or less the same and most importantly has the same feel.
In the same way we can keep what is essential about a Dharma Glimpse without using the exact form of: experience + insight.
Maybe our Dharma Glimpse is an image, or a song or a poem. Maybe it’s a piece of prose where the insight comes before the experience, or they are interwoven through the piece.
It’s possible to keep the spirit of a Glimpse and go beyond the basic form. If it comes from your lived experience, is expressed in a personal way and expresses a moment of learning or being moved then we can still recognise it as a Dharma Glimpse.
Beginning with a Buddhist Teaching
Not sure what to write about? Turn the Dharma Glimpse upside down. Pick a Buddhist principle or teaching and then ask what it reminds you of in your own life.
For example, when I think of impermanence I think of the clock in my office that has just broken. Things breaking. Time passing. I could write a Dharma Glimpse about that.
Or, when I think of the four noble truths, I suddenly remember a moment in the week when I suffered, had an emotional reaction but then was able to pause before acting out… That’s another Dharma Glimpse.
Or, when I think of Shinran saying, “If good people go to the Pure Land how much more true for evil people.” I remember seeing someone I don’t like receiving kindness and that’s another Glimpse…
Our suggestion is that you keep notes of possible Dharma Glimpses, and commit to writing one once a month or once a fortnight. Try this for a while as a personal practice and see if it helps you to find more Dharma around you. You are welcome to send them to us or not.
Hopefully this guide has reassured you, if that’s what you needed, or offered you more guidance if that’s what you were looking for. Hopefully you feel more confident in writing a Dharma Glimpse now.
If you have any more questions – feel free to reach out, and remember, someone will appreciate what you write.
Namo Amida Bu