Swimming into the Light

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Chris Earle-Storey

    In an attempt to improve my fitness I joined the local leisure centre last December. As well as attending gym sessions, I’ve also started to swim again after a 30-year break from the pool. I’m not a strong swimmer and to be honest have found swimming quite hard work after such a long time, but I have been improving gradually with each visit and was starting to feel quite pleased with my progress. Until this morning, that is.

    The pool is divided into three sections for lane swimming depending on one’s ability: easy, medium and fast. As I am very definitely in the “easy” class, that’s where I am to be found. I have worked up to doing 24 lengths in half an hour and that is my aim this morning. As I set off on the first length I am feeling good, but within a couple of lengths I become aware of another swimmer coming up on my left and beginning to overtake me: a middle-aged woman with grey curly hair and a determined expression. I observe her swimming action which seems very similar to mine, so how come she is going so much faster? A few lengths later and the same thing happens, this time with an elderly chap sporting goggles and a shiny bald head. I start to feel slightly despondent as he pulls away from me.

    When I have finished my 24 lengths I pause for a rest before leaving the pool. My gaze is drawn up to the pool guard sitting atop his tower; my eyesight is not so good these days so I can’t see his face in detail, but I am sure he is observing me. “Look at that old woman – she’s really pathetic at swimming. I wonder why she bothers coming at all,” I imagine him thinking.

    As I climb the steps out the pool, my dodgy hip protests at being lifted out of the weightless comfort of the water and my whole body suddenly feels much heavier. I head towards the changing area and pass two young women on their way to the pool, all toned limbs and flat stomachs. They are deep in conversation and do not acknowledge me as I pass. I am painfully aware of my own ageing body as I limp into the shower cubicle.

    The warm water is soothing as I stand in the shower. As I soap myself with shower gel and shampoo, my mind takes me back to the pool – but instead of being watched over by a muscled pool guard I imagine Amida Buddha is sitting on the tower, looking down on me as I swim my lengths. Amitabha is not thinking “Look at that Chris with her flabby thighs and bingo wings. Everyone else is putting in some real effort but she’s really not trying at all. She is pathetic!” No: Amitabha is looking down on me with love and compassion, accepting me just as I am, with all my faults and failings, my tendency to self-criticise and to measure myself against others. Amitabha’s light falls on me just as it does on everyone else.

    As I sit by the exit to put on my shoes, an elderly man, one of the regulars I’ve got to know over the weeks, sits beside me on the bench. “You looked as if you were enjoying the swim today,” he says. I pause before answering. “Yes,” I say. “Yes, in a strange way I think I did enjoy it.”

    The sun is just rising as I leave the leisure centre. I walk out into the light with the light of Amida in my heart.

    Trust in the Tathagata

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Barbara

    It was around 3 am and I was wide awake again, on full alert, for the 3rd night running One of my anxieties being that I was returning to a familiar pattern of insomnia that had plagued me in bouts since I was a teenager. I tried a new strategy; imagining that I was on a walk. But I was barely in the woods when up popped another worry and I was off chasing it and escalating anxieties. After a while I decided to get up and do something useful. The house was bitterly cold but I returned from downstairs with a hot drink, water bottle and December Fan, by Manshi Kiyozawa, the book we are studying in our book group.

    I groaned inwardly at the title of a new chapter. My Religious Conviction. I was sceptical and had adamantly denied having any religious conviction despite having assiduously meditated for over 15 years. I longingly cast eyes on my new novel, but began reading the chapter.

    Kiyozawa wrote ‘Religious conviction refers to the mind that trusts Tathagata.” In his mind they refer to one and the same reality, not two different things.
    Oh dear, is this like the Holy Trinity? I thought.
    He asks. ‘What is my religious conviction? It is to trust Tathagata.’
    And, ‘What is the Tathagata that I trust? It is the fundamental reality underlying my existence.’ What a lot to digest, I thought, especially at 3 o’clock in the morning.

    As I continued reading, I became increasingly immersed in his reasoning.
    Firstly, that if we trust in Tathagata we are relieved of distress and suffering. Therefore, there can be no room for my anxieties; my what if’s and should haves and if only I’d done this or that. These benefits only follow if there is trust.
    Secondly, after much searching within himself, Kiyozawa reaches the conclusion that our intellect is limited and that the meaning of life is inscrutable. He entrusts all matters to Tathagata being aware of his own total ignorance, the most essential point of his religious conviction.
    Thirdly, he emphasises that his religious conviction is the fundamental reality in which he cannot help but trust.
    Captivated by now in the whole chapter of Kiyozawa’s humane reasoning, he writes that Tathagata’s Infinite Compassion, Infinite Wisdom and Infinite Power is limitless.
    I thought deeply as I reread and mulled over sections. It made real sense and was so sensitively written, allowing us into his thoughts and struggles. But I was tired now and perhaps it was time to let go of my own worn-out defences over religious conviction and consciously trust in Tathagata.

    I turned off the lamp, snuggled under my duvet and ,with a feeling of diving into the unknown, felt great calm as I sank into a deep sleep.

    Half Glimpse

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    By Izzy

    It’s Friday morning and I’m accompanying visits on my first day of work today. I was slow to sleep at 11pm last night and woke up at 6am sharp, feeling alert, my mind racing, my stomach churning. I do what I do every morning. I lie there for a while before getting up and slowly making my way down to the shrine room to sit with the Buddha. Today is a bright day and beams of golden sun shine in streaks through the window, the Buddha shines back, looking beautiful. I sit. This is my daily practise at the moment. There is nothing to do. Just sit. As my mind wonders, I am taken back to yesterday and the struggle I had with writing my dharma glimpse. I sat down to write it a few times throughout the day, every time my attention getting pulled away. I allow myself to feel into the fear. Let it wash over me. Fear of not writing a worthy dharma glimpse. Fear of starting a new job today. Fear of being late. Fear of the unknown.

    Then, I am taken back to Monday and my class on the Introduction to Counselling course. The topic this week was empathy. It was something I thought I knew what it meant and now I’m not so sure. Something that came up was the idea that to be truly empathetic can be frightening. I thought about how, as I listened, I felt myself opening up to the speaker’s experience. There was a sense of letting go and for the first time I felt some fear. Where will they take me? Where will we go?

    Homecoming Dharma Glimpse

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    by Angela

    Today, my dog Aine and I went out for a soggy November walk. I was on the 1st day of my bleed and my body was in the mood for warmth and softness and nothing too physically demanding. I enjoyed hearing the sound of the rain and noticing some of the daily changes in the environment of my familiar walking route. But the wet leaves on the path were slippery underfoot, my wet hair kept blowing into my eyes and Aine kept sitting down to remind me that she doesn’t like getting cold and wet!

    As we turned to loop back homeward, there was a tangible shift in energy; Aine’s body language became playful and bright again, my hands suddenly warmed up and my body echoed Aine’s and felt lighter and looser.

    Something that struck me, was the shift in the felt sense when the walk became a homeward journey in mine and Aine’s minds, rather than a walk out into slightly uncomfortable conditions. It reminded me of the sense of ease and relief that can come when viewing spiritual practise as a ‘homecoming’ rather than ‘climbing the mountain’.

    That said, there have been times when my existential / spiritual longing has led me away from the comfort of where I was living and into the wilds… although interestingly there was still a sense of homecoming within those experiences too. And I have found that there are times for drawing on the tough, warrior part of myself and embracing discomfort… just not so much today

    Letting go

    Categories: Uncategorised

    A Dharma Glimpse by Frankie Carboni

    couple of weeks ago a small petrol station in the middle of town closed down. It was a family business and the owner has retired. It’s something of an icon, the only petrol station actually right in town, situated in an awkward triangle of roads right on the portside. It’s tiny, a couple of pumps, but what made it special was that the operators actually put the petrol in the car for you, no self service, just like the old days when you handed over a note and said ‘fill ‘er up!’. I don’t drive, but for older drivers like my husband it was such a boon not having to get out of the car, figure out the self service stuff etc. That petrol station has been there forever, and it seems unthinkable that it won’t continue to be part of our cityscape.

    I’ve always held a personal mantra that All Change is Good. I fully subscribe to the truth of impermanence, yes suffering is inevitable when change happens, but something Good will always be born out of it.

    But when I heard the news about the petrol station, I couldn’t summon up my mantra. This particular change wasn’t good for the people who relied on the ease of service, its familiarity, even its iconic status.

    It occurred to me that all change isn’t good after all. But neither is it all bad, or anything between. I suddenly realised that I could let go of always being obliged to cheerfully accept change, find the positive, deny the negative.

    And far from feeling as if I’d taken a step backward and forgotten all of those lessons about impermanence, I felt liberated by accepting that Change just IS. No more or less than that. It just is.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    I’m the one who’ll die

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    Dharma Glimpse by Mat Osmond

    From time to time I fall into a pattern of waking around 3am, often when there’s some conflict or turmoil at work in me. I had one of these wakeful nights last week. As I lay there in a familiar pool of unease, an odd thought came to me.

    I’m the one who’ll die.

    Why did that seem to matter? Are there are other I’s, then, besides this one lying here? The answer’s a resounding yes, I think, but what this means exactly feels less clear to me now than it did lying there in the dark. I suppose it had to do with the difference between the selves I perform before one mirror or another, and this person lying here – the one those selves omit to mention or actively conceal.

    Funny how something can make compelling sense in the middle of the night, then you try and say it aloud in the morning and it all feels a bit laboured. But I remembered this night-thought when I saw I was writing this week’s dharma glimpse, mainly because of the curious sense of reassurance or confirmation it brought. Whatever happens, I’m the one who’s going to die here. So things are OK.

    I remember a beautiful passage in Shinman Aoki’s little book, Coffinman: Journals of a Buddhist Mortician, where he recounts a realisation that crept up on him over time as he dressed corpses for traditional Buddhist funerals. Aoki speaks of the deep peace that he began noticing on the faces of the dead. All of them. And as he worked alone with their quiet faces Aoki came to a new understanding of nirvana: as a fulfilment which comes to us all. Not as a result of our striving, nor of what we’ve ‘made of ourselves’. Just, an inescapable homecoming that every death returns us to, whatever sort of life we happen to have lived.

    Lying in the dark what struck me as if for the first time was that every single thing that is ‘me’ will end when I die. That, in a way that requires no shoring-up or work on my part, I am quite literally ‘grasped, never to be forsaken’ by the intimate reality of this. And the intimate presence of my certain death is here already, holding me in measureless being as I lie here.

    As I’ve tried to write down what happened last week another memory has surfaced, and they feel entangled now so I’m to just going to run them together here.

    It’s three and a half years ago. I’m sitting alone at night with my mother-in-law Christine. Already in steep decline, Christine has just found out that she has terminal cancer, with only a few weeks to live. This first night-watch with her is also the first time I’ve seen her since she received this news.

    As we chat about it, Christine says she sometimes wishes she’d paid more attention to the spiritual. ‘You now, going to church and stuff’. We wonder about this together. Supposing she had? Would having done so make any difference at all to what lies immediately before her now? Would her doing that have made where she’s going now any more or less real? It seemed clear to both of us, I think, that it would not. And the deep sense of confirmation I found in this, anyway, feels much the same as the one that came to visit me the other night. Namo Amida Bu.

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    Impermanence & choc chip waffles

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    Dharma Glimpse by Satya

    This morning the view from my office window is spectacular. The sun has laid a strip of electric orange at the horizon, and above it heavy blue-grey clouds hang, edged in pink. As I watch, a plane is rising through the sky, leaving fading contrails behind it.

    I think for a moment about the people on that plane. I am here, typing at my computer, and they are hurtling through the air at five hundred miles an hour. I think about the many times I have flown in the past, and wonder if I will ever fly again. A few years ago I vowed to give up flying as a personal response to the climate crisis. For me, travelling at those speeds is probably a part of my history. More and more of my life is behind me – this is true for all of us, and, over the past few years it has taken on a special significance to me as loved ones have got sick or died, and as I become more conscious of the signs of ageing in my own body. A little arthritis in one finger, minor injuries that take longer to heal. It’s all downhill from here!

    Impermanence. When I look up from my screen again, the plane has gone. The sky has already changed – the clouds are now a dark aubergine purple, and the blue of the sky above them is stronger. There is more light and I can see the frosty vegetable patch more clearly, and a robin resting for a moment on the white plastic chair.

    It is as if the Buddha is offering me a lesson on a vast canvas. Don’t waste your life! Before you know it, dusk will be arriving and your allotted portion of daylight will be over. Enjoy yourself! Learn what you can! Wake up! I try to listen, but it’s difficult for a small ego-laden being such as I. I feel grateful in this moment for Amitabha, and for the Pure Land teachings. I don’t have to do it all alone. I can rely on Amitabha’s vow. I can remember that I am loved and that, if I ask, I will receive help.

    I look out into the sky one more time. It’s daytime now, with white candyfloss clouds and yellow light streaming from the horizon. Next I will bow in gratitude to my golden Buddha, and go and make some breakfast. Waffles with chocolate chips! I will enjoy the taste of every bite.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    What is leadership?

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    Dharma Glimpse by Katie Cove

    What is Leadership?

    As I sit at my desk before the working day begins and look at the Buddha which guides me through each day, I wonder what challenges I will face. As a new journey and pathway in my life is being built I find myself managing a very busy and large nursery in Cheltenham. I question what leadership means?

    Power?

    Authority?

    Anger?

    Wealth?

    No, Leadership means

    Compassion

    Listening

    Understanding

    Role modelling

    Keeping others safe

    A leader guides us in the right direction, keeps us safe and makes everyone feel valued and part of a team.

    This is how the Buddha guides me to be a strong leader to have strength and belief in myself and those around me.

    At the end of my working day a little 4-year-old always pops into the office full of awe and wonder at the Buddha on my desk and each evening we have a little chat about the Buddha and what it means to me. The little boy opens his hand to which I place the Buddha for him to touch and hold, his eyes open wide he looks at me and smiles.

    As Buddhists we are all leaders.

    Namu Amida Butsu

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    Why do interfaith work?

    Categories: Uncategorised

    A Dharma Glimpse by Karmadeva

    Recently I’ve been reflecting on my work and life in general. I worry that I’m not concentrating on the important things; especially in terms of my practice. I do a lot of interfaith work and my concern has been why?

    The reason for my uncertainty is; I had to refuse to take on a mentor role. This was with a student wanting to learn about Pure Land Buddhism. This made me wonder why I’d been attending multi faith events yet not teaching the dharma when the opportunity arises. Much of what I do in terms of inter faith brings me into contact with a lot of people, some very important and high ranking faith leaders, politicians etc. So I then ask the question – is this about my spreading/teaching the Buddhist way, or is it to satisfy my ego?

    Reflecting only raised more questions – why do I attend Islamic, Christian and Jewish events? None of these people are suddenly going to convert. So therefore what have I achieved? Would I have been better off going to meditation at my temple? Attending more Buddhist services? I haven’t visited Malvern for months and my Birmingham dharma friends rarely see me.

    As I had reached a point where the more I looked at these issues my mind raised even more, there were no answers forthcoming. I turned to an old teacher from my vow 22 days and explained my predicament. After several days thinking about my question he said: All practice and all we do is nembutsu, therefore all my work is valid.

    This helps. It tells me that I need to think of my life rather than my work. Is my life balanced? Do I see friends and family enough? Do I have right view right speech and right mind?

    I know I should end with some philosophy on what all this means or answers that I’ve reached. I’m sorry but there is none. My mind still wanders and reflects. I’m full of doubts and restless due to this. Again I think of another teachers words “so this is how it is to be human” the reality is I’m a foolish being. Maybe, as Shinran did, I should just refer to myself as a shaved headed fool. What I hope for is a sign from the universe, but then maybe I’m following that sign already. I hope so.

    Namo Amida Bu. 

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    A foolish being

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Kim Allard

    My husband developed cancer in June of 2021. Between COVID and my husband’s compromised immunity it’s been a long lock down for us both.  Our time is filled with repeating cycles of hope and disappointment.  It’s been a painful lesson in not grasping or becoming attached to a particular outcome.  It’s also a daily lesson in trust that a greater wisdom is at work, beyond the reality of the moment. 

    In troubled times I do my practice reciting Namo Amida Bu knowing the words matter even if I lack the meditative focus I try to bring each time. 

    I know my care giving is an opportunity to be of service, practice compassion and patience.  But from time to time it hits me that my patient is having a bad day and said something that hurt my feelings, the kitchen needs tending the laundry baskets are full and helpers in a rural area face a great demand and are in short supply.  It’s easy in those moments to feel like a complete failure with my practice full of anger, self pity, frustration and disappointment. 

    And then . . .

    Ever so slowly the sun might illuminate one of my Buddhas on my windowsill.  A blue heron may float into our pond  and offer its calm presence and blue color to our winter day. A subtle stirring of our redwood trees and our wind chimes prompt me to sit down amongst the clutter and open one of my books and allow a random choice to appear. I look down to see a Dharma teaching which seems picked for just that moment.  These small moments strung together over my days allow me to know everything will be okay.   Life will go on, the moment will heal because I took a moment of compassion for myself and acknowledged I am a foolish being on a journey of teachable moments and  . . . I will be okay. 

    Namo Amida Bu

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