From Wednesday the 21st of July, in line with government advice, we will be opening up our shrine room to the public for the first time.
We will be leaving coronavirus safety up to the individuals who attend.
There will be sanitising hand gel on entry, which we’d encourage you to use. We won’t make mask-wearing compulsory – of course you are very welcome to wear a mask during practice and/or afterwards when we have a cup of tea in the dining room. We will leave the door to the shrine room balcony open to allow air to circulate, and keep chairs and cushions further away from each other than usual whenever possible to allow social distancing.
If for any reason you feel unsafe when you arrive or during practice, do feel free to leave the room.
If you would prefer to practice with us from a distance or in the garden for now we offer practice in the temple garden every Saturday at 9am, and practice on Zoom for every practice sessions – see our calendar for more details.
If you have any questions or concerns do email Satya and Kaspa at email@example.com.
I was very sad to hear the news that our dear friend, colleague and dharma brother Rev. Suvidya, from the India Sangha, has passed away. I knew he was very I’ll but somehow had assumed that he would be one of the lucky ones who pulled through.
I have very fond memories of being with Suvidya, who was my host and guide when I visited the Indian Sangha in 2018.
He was a very special person, overflowing with love and grace, always ready to sacrifice his own needs or comforts for the good of others and to fulfil his duties as a Pureland Buddhist Priest.
He was, unsurprisingly, very popular with his congregation and followers, who all seemed to look up to him with adulation, as if he represented some kind of father figure or role model. I was very moved by the effect that he had on the people he came into contact with.
On hearing the news, after the initial shock, my next thoughts were that, if anybody is destined for the Pure Land and qualifies for the salvifific power of Amìda Buddha, Suvidya would be at the front of the queue. His devotion was absolute.
As always, when somebody close to my heart leaves this world, I am left with the question of how to balance these losses and hold them as part of my faith without attachment or aversion. Faith in Amitabha does not protect us from death, that was never the promise. In fact, we are encouraged to embrace death as an important part of life and to accept it as an integral component of our journeys in this impermanent world.
My thoughts and prayers are with all who knew and loved Suvidya, I hope that we can all find comfort in the joys of his life and the fact that, as a Pureland devotee, he will now be residing with Amida in the Land of Peace and Bliss.
We have a couple of rooms available for new temple residents from mid-May in our Pure Land Buddhist temple in Great Malvern.
We’re looking for someone who’s already connected to our Buddhist practice, or someone who’s willing to come along to practice sessions and see if what we offer here is a fit. Find out how to attend via Zoom or come to our garden practice if you’re local.
We’re in the centre of Great Malvern and it’s a beautiful place to live for the right person. People have their own jobs and lives, and we come together to practice and to eat together once a week on a Friday night (along with occasional film nights etc). We have members of the public in for Buddhist practice twice a week and to events like Dharma talks and volunteer days when we open up to the public again in June. We currently have 7 lovely residents, plus Satya and Kaspa who run the temple and have their own flat at the bottom of the building, 3 dogs, a cat and three bunnies. There’s no alcohol, meat or fish allowed in the building. It is a mixed vegetarian and vegan household (vegan preferred) and our Friday meal is always vegan. Satya, Kaspa and a couple of others in the community are engaged in environmental activism.
The rooms are single with an attached shower/bath and toilets – one has a view across the valley. There are lots of shared spaces and a big garden. The rooms are from £360 pcm including most bills.
If you might be interested or know someone who might be, do write something about yourself to Kaspa & Satya at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up a conversation. Find out more about our practice and philosophy here at our website.
To my left I noticed heaps of dried brown leaves on the ground, above them tender green leaves were beginning to uncurl in the sycamore tree. A robin jumped onto a fallen branch, moving in that clockwork way that birds have, and looked into my eyes before flitting away.
I was at the front of our single file mindful walk, and my thoughts about how quickly or slowly I was supposed to be leading the group had cleared enough for me to pay closer attention to the natural world.
It is not always true, but more often than not when I move slowly through the natural world my habitual busy mind begins to quiet and leave space for something else. Sometimes that something else is the natural world —the intimacy of experience that comes when we are really quiet and paying attention —and sometimes that something new is a thought or feeling that was previous hidden or unformed.
After half an hour or so of slow walking we came to the furthest point of the walk. There was a saddle between two hills on the right, a valley of scree and dirt and scrub between the peaks, at the point our path curved away to the left. We found places to sit here, in a kind of beach with the hills at our back, the view opening up between the trees in front of us, and the valley dropping away below.
As we settled into meditate here I felt like we were inhabiting a sacred place. The sky was clear, we could see for miles across Worcestershire, and the air was full of birdsong. A family walking past us fell into silence as they noticed us sitting in meditation, and this added to feeling of sacred space.
I already knew this curve in the path, and this view. There was a bench there that I had sat on before, and yet there was something particular special that day. I’m sure the act of walking mindfully to that place changed my experience of it.
On the slow walk back I began to notice the noise and smells of the town again. The air quality changed – got worse –the further down the hill we got, and the noise of the traffic became louder and more insistent.
Here was all this beauty and I was acutely aware of what has already been lost and the damage that we are continuing to do to the natural world, and that much of the comfort of my own life rests upon the progress that has created this suffering.
An ambulance passed on the road below. Will our efforts to take care of the earth be enough to make a difference, I wondered?
As we approached where we had begun I noticed pale yellow primroses coming up through the grass. There was a small flowering of hope in me then, seeing these wild flowers pushing up through the civilised straight edged lawn.
There are so many different kinds of suffering, and so many available teachers and teachings claiming to speak to that suffering. How can we know what to trust? How can we know what to do?
At one time the Buddha visited Kalama and was asked about what teachings the people of Kalama should follow. They had various visiting holy figures, which teaching should they trust?
The Buddha encouraged them to observe the result of practising those teachings, to test them and to observe the people who are practising them. If they lead to happiness for all beings, follow them. If they lead to suffering, reject them.
I think this advice works on two levels. We can consciously observe the practices and results and think through the teaching and the situation we are in. This kind of working out can be very useful and valuable.
There is also an intuitive process that becomes easier to access the longer we have been practising for. As our meditation or nembutsu practise deepens we occasionally receive guidance from something outside of our own small minds: the wisdom of the Buddha appears spontaneously and we have a deep confident sense of the next right thing.
Often this is so obviously the right direction that there is no need to question or test it. We can simply trust and follow the wisdom of the Buddha.
Sometimes we may doubt what we receive, and then we can test it by asking is it in line with the precepts? Will it lead to happiness? Is it in the spirit of generosity and compassion?
Rev Koshin Schomberg describes receiving wisdom at this deep level:
“From this position of meditative effort, one can entrust every problem to the Eternal, waiting patiently for the teaching that will help the need…
…We do not have to be any kind of special person to receive the Eternal’s Teaching. Nor is it ever far from us. Anyone who has sat down to meditate in some state of confusion about what is truly good to do in a situation, and got up from meditation less confused, has experienced the follow of Wisdom to need. — All we need to do is to settle down, stop running around in our head, and allow the Eternal to get a word in edgewise.”
How to Grow A Lotus Blossom: Reflections by Rev. Koshin Schomberg
In a complex world, where there are many difference teachings and many different kinds of suffering, knowing who to listen to, what to practise and what to do can be confusing. Using these two approaches — careful observation and thought, and developing our connection with ‘The Eternal’ —can help us find our way.
The Pure Land of Amitabha is described as a land without hell realms, without suffering. It is described as a place where enlightenment comes easily, where Amitabha sits radiantly in the centre. It is a land of jewelled trees, limpid bathing pools, giant lotus flowers and musical instruments that play themselves.
It is called Sukhavati, which means place of joy.
Some people take these descriptions literally; many take them as an attempt in words to evoke something transcendental: a realm of love.In classical Pure Land Buddhism devotees go to Sukhavati after their death. But could this world be the Pure Land?
Amitabha’s Pure Land is a place of no hell realms and no suffering. The first noble truth of Shakyamuni Buddha was that of Dukkha — that to be born into this world one inevitably suffers. Is it possible to reconcile these differences?
Buddhism often breaks suffering into two halves: in the first half the suffering in the world, the external conditions that change, loss and illness and death; in the second half our own response to that suffering. If we practise diligently we can transform how we respond to suffering.
Perhaps that offers a way of seeing this world as the Pure Land? When we are enlightened, nothing we experience creates suffering. Is that really true though? Practice can ease anguish, and soften the highest peaks and deepest lows of our emotions, but it shouldn’t undermine the appropriate sadness, grief and recognition of real suffering in the world.
I think the distinction between Amitabha’s Pure Land as a place of pure joy and our world is an important one. We stand here and are inspired by our vision of the Pure Land. We know there is a world that will receive us just as we are, and that a world where all beings are loved by each other is possible, even if it isn’t here.
But Buddhism speaks of many Pure Lands, many Buddha fields, not just the world of Amitabha, and some of those do contain hell realms.
Is this world the same as Sukhavati? No. Could it be a Pure Land? Yes.
A Pure Land is any place with a Buddha in the centre. It is the field of influence around that Buddha. The land and the living beings around that Buddha are transformed by its presence: by its love.
Amitabha lives in Sukhavati, but their light reaches to all worlds. If we centre our lives upon that light, we begin to experience the effects of being close to a Buddha, and a Pure Land begins to appear.
If we strip out all of the Buddhist language where does that leave us? That there is a realm of pure love and joy that exists alongside ours, and that the more we let that love into our lives, the more the world around us comes to resemble that place.
Listening to one of Kaspa’s talks recently started me thinking about the epic commitments and sacrifices that we make when embarking upon the Spiritiual path. Certainly for me there was a sense of letting go of many different crutches and allowing myself to be slowly immersed in all of the stuff that I’d been avoiding for 30 odd years; Leaning into a power that I had very little understanding of(Amida)and had yet to develop the kind of trust that I needed for a lifetime of faith.
It’s as if, on some unconscious level, or maybe even partly conscious, I had somehow understood the deep paradoxes and mysterious meaning of my prior predicaments and the difficulties that they entailed. The anguish of struggling against the onslaught of Samsara had opened me up to another dimension of possibility in this world and beyond. This seems, to a lesser or greater extent, to be true for some of the other guys that accompany me on the journey as well. As if we had already surrendered to the fact of what must be done if we are to be truly free! The fact that many of us had previously devoted our lives to the pursuit of pleasure and gratification and the avoidance of our pain, makes it even more fascinating that, all of a sudden, we are ready and willing to be exposed to the dark recesses of our minds, exactly what most of us had been running from.
I have always been encouraged by my various teachers to try to cultivate a philosophical attitude towards my suffering, and have found that this has formed a sort of mechanism which has become ingrained in my psyche. Suffering is as terrible or profound as the attitude with which we approach it.
One of the sayings that used to get banded about in some of the institutions that I frequented on my journey towards recovery was, “we’re not coasting into paradise, we’re backing out of hell”. In other words, don’t get too cosy with your projections about an idyllic future, there’s a lot of work to do. Which neatly subdued some of my more erratic expectations about what the spiritual path should look like, and helped to frame the pressing question of “what next?” After all, not many people expect that their self improvement efforts will need to be extended into the rest of their lives. There can be a heartbreaking illusion that it’s possible for us to leave the pain behind and start again, which takes many people back to where they began. The truth is that, for many of us, the pain itself is the foundation for the future. The basis of our ongoing healing and the means by which we extract ourselves and others from the suffering realms.
Part of the nourishment that I get from my faith is that I can better accept the sobering realties of my life, which is actually and, again, paradoxically, much more interesting than it ever has been. I use the lessons of my past as a grounding for the present whilst moving carefully towards a healthy future. Namo Amida Bu( :
Recently I’ve started practising outdoors now and again. I long to go out to a truly wild place and sit in meditation there, but under current lockdown guidelines we are only supposed to go outside for exercise including a short rest of up to a minute…
As I wondered down to the bottom of the garden this morning I was conscious of the many human hands that cared for and curated this space as well as the non-human forces that have shaped it.
It had rained overnight and everything was damp. I noticed the wetness of the lawn but not the quality of solidity of the earth beneath. When I was out meditating at the weekend the ground was frozen solid and the hardness of the earth. There must have been more give and softness to that solidity today, but I wasn’t paying attention. It’s easier to notice the unusual states.
At the beginning of my practise I noticed the smell of damp wood. It could have been the deck I was sitting on, or dead branches stacked up beneath the hedge behind me. A little later I noticed the smell of fox, and then it was gone again, appearing and disappearing as the wind changed direction.
My attention was drawn to the bird-song, and then to the rough bark of the silver birch tree, and then to our dogs playing on the lawn. I noticed some part of my mind wanting to make connections and to find some lesson or wisdom that I could bring out of the practice and share with you all.
In that act of noticing my mind quietened and my body settled more deeply into the chair. I was aware of my weight and of the reliability of the earth supporting me. Thoughts arose telling me that we could destroy the natural earth completely and yet there was still something deeply reassuring about sitting there.
I was aware of the changes in the garden even in the last few days, buds growing on trees, the weather changing, and new flowers opening. In the midst of noticing all of that change, I also had a deep intuitive sense of something permanent or eternal.
Yesterday’s vigil was awful. I woke late and grumpy, and dragged myself round to the temple car park. It was bitterly cold. My thick mittens couldn’t keep my thumbs from numbing, and my body was getting ready to shiver. Towards the end of the hour the word running through my mind was ‘endurance’.
Today it snowed on me. Tiny floating specks of white. I opened my eyes for a few seconds and their dancing made me smile. A man said ‘thank you’ as he passed. My thumbs went numb. I was happy.
Yesterday was bitter and today was very fresh. The temperature was the same, but the weather inside my head was very different.
Of course, we often have as much influence over the weather inside as we do the weather outside. I’m not saying ‘change your mindset and everything will be fine’.
On bad-inside-weather days, we might remember to be gentle with ourselves. We might manage to give ourselves free reign with the biscuit tin, or fall asleep for twenty minutes on the sofa between appointments. We might make ourselves a nice cup of tea.
On good-inside-weather days, we might remember to open ourselves up to glory, to deliciousness, to grace. To the love of all the Buddhas.