Listen to this recorded meditation for relaxation session
Length: 46 minutes
Peace Paul (Reverend Ananda of the Amida Order) writes:
If you have an interest in Buddhism, then you have some sort of karmic connection with the Buddha. Those who do not have such a karmic connection, simply will not encounter the Buddha or the teachings of the Buddha.
Even individuals who have a strong karmic connection with the Buddha Dharma may not become practitioners. They may instead be in a situation where they are near the Dharma. They may live close to a Buddhist temple. Perhaps they have a relative or spouse who is a practitioners, or maybe they have met Buddhists teachers or read Buddhist books.
I am now at the end of what has been a wonderfully successful visit to the Bay Area in California, staying at San Francisco Zen Center, attending the Mindfulness & Compassion Conference at SF State Uni and the post conference meeting at the Mangalam Centre and, finally, conducting a wedding.
Last weekend I gave a day seminar at SFZC on Buddhist psychology and on the Sunday I spoke at Stone Creek Zen Center on the theme “All One Dharma”. Both meetings went very well with attentive audiences and intelligent discussion.
In the Mindfulness and Compassion conference I spoke firstly in a panel, emphasising the importance of compassion as a basis for all aspects of Buddhist practice. Then, in my main presentation I spoke about how mindfulness in Buddha’s original intention and mindfulness as it is currently popular are not the same thing. The mind always has an object, so is always paying attention to something. Is the person walking I passed on the street that morning who was walking along with eyes half closed and headphones on being mindful or not? Attention fixes the mind on one thing and simultaneously excludes other things, thus attention creates more unconsciousness than consciousness. It may well be that many of the effects of mindfulness as attention are really the positive effects of distraction. One feels less stress because the mind has been distracted from its worries. Buddha’s mindfulness was less a distractor and more a protector. To be mindful was to have in mind something higher that would carry one through difficulties.
In the Friday night talk at SF Zen Center I spoke about how Buddhism can be looked at as science, spirituality, therapy and/or religion. I spoke of them in this order suggesting that each subsequent perspective goes a little deeper. As an inner science, Buddhism cultivates objectivity in regard to the flow of human experience. Buddhism is spiritual in that so many of its major historical developments (Buddha’s going forth, Atisha going to Indonesia and subsequently becoming the great teacher of Tibet, Shinran going to become a disciple of Honen Shonin, and so on) were precipitated by powerful spiritual experiences or divine interventions in the lives of people who were thus empowered to take actions that became pivotal and highly consequential. Looking at Buddhism through the therapeutic window we see that the transmission of the Dharma is a person to person affair in which lives are radically changed through encounter. Finally, Buddhism is a religion, both in its social forms which include just about every known aspect of religious expression (temples, rituals, priesthood, monks, liturgy, altars, icons, etc.) and also in its fundamental sensibility as a faith that creates and unites communities in a spirit of faith and practice.
The conference at the Mangalam Center was called “Conversations at the Edge” and I was part of a panel with Stephen Jenkins, Humboldt State University and Steven Stanley, Cardiff University to address “Buddhist philosophy and the perennial concerns of Western philosophy”. I had already had some good contact with Stephen and Steven and this proved a good conversation. An emergent theme was the manner in which the Western tendency is to look for a key true principle as the unifying meaning of the message whereas much in Buddhism is more concerned with opening up possibilities and appreciating the nuanced subtlety of ethical situations and wisdom propositions. The manner in which Dogen or Shinran approach texts, for instance, is very different and more creative than the Western academic search for the one true authentic original meaning. Another preoccupation of Western thought is the relationship between the individual and the collective. I talked about how “individualism” is generally not real independence in the sense intended by the Buddhist term ekagata, but rather a pose that is socially constructed and intended for social consumption. I also talked about some of the ideas of the French philosopher Alain Badiou in relation to Western and Buddhist ideas about oneness, voidness and complexity.
Subsequent discussions looked at
(1) how, on the one hand, Buddhism adapts when it enters a new culture, but, on the other hand, it also contains powerful resources to critique a culture and change it.
(2) how the current conversation between Buddhism and neuro-science serves both parties but also involves substantial compromise on both sides.
(3) the importance of opening up conversations between Buddhism and other areas of Western academic culture was proposed.
All in all, the visit has been a huge success, especially in my connection with SFZC where I have felt myself to be among good friends throughout. It is very nice to feel such a good connection between Buddhists.
By Miguel Farias on June 6, 2015
Harry Koopman (CC BY 2.0)
Mindfulness as a psychological aid is very much in fashion. Recent reports on the latest finding suggested that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is as effective as anti-depressants in preventing the relapse of recurrent depression.
While the authors of the paper interpreted their results in a slightly less positive light, stating that (contrary to their hypothesis) mindfulness was no more effective than medication, the meaning inferred by many in the media was that mindfulness was superior to medication.
Mindfulness is a technique extracted from Buddhism where one tries to notice present thoughts, feeling and sensations without judgement. The aim is to create a state of “bare awareness”. What was once a tool for spiritual exploration has been turned into a panacea for the modern age — a cure-all for common human problems, from stress, to anxiety, to depression. By taking this “natural pill” every day, we open ourselves up to the potential for myriad benefits and no ill-effects, unlike synthetic pills, such as anti-depressants, whose potential for negative side-effects we are all aware of.
We don’t know how it works
Mindfulness has been sold to us and we are buying it. After all, thousands of studies suggest that it produces various kinds of measurable psycho-biological effects. However, despite what is commonly propagated, the idea that science has unequivocally shown how meditation can change us is a myth. After examining the literature from the last 45 years on the science of meditation, we realised with astonishment that we are no closer to finding out how meditation works or who benefits the most or the least from it.
It should not need saying. After all, it's obvious. Nonetheless it does need saying. It needs saying because it has been denied by so many people including many who are eminent and even some whose own roles, behavior, and faith contradict what they are saying. It needs saying clearly, that Buddhism is a religion.
Further, this is the right time to say it. The bandwagon of secularization of Buddhism has gradually gathered momentum to the point where it now threatens the whole basis of what the Buddha bequeathed us. Buddhism is becoming popular, but it is doing so in a form that is a new creation. This new creation is not the traditional Buddhism of Asia and it is not the Buddhism of Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder, either. This new creation is an artifact of modernity and postmodernity using elements abstracted from Buddhism, tailored to gain popularity by satisfying contemporary prejudice.
Having said that, we must add that there is nothing wrong with adaptation and creativity. Many of the new manifestations and applications of ideas and methods derived from Buddhism are intrinsically valuable and can stand on their own feet. Buddhism is like a copious spring, the water from which can be gathered and poured into many different shaped containers. What is problematic, however, is that the reductionist philosophy by which such artifacts are being generated threatens to poison the spring from which the water is flowing. It is a kind of asset stripping, or, we could say, it is like taking the fruit while killing the root.
The basic reductionist principle that informs this process is itself the opposite of dharma. It is precisely the kind of blindness that dharma teaching exists to awaken us from. This is why a warning bell needs to be sounded.
I have played a role in the propagation and popularization of Buddhist psychology so I have a personal part in this process. As somebody who could be seen to be one of the culprits I have, perhaps, a double onus to keep the record straight. Buddhism developed a sophisticated psychological approach two thousand years before the modern world discipline of psychology was invented. Psychological investigations have gone on throughout Buddhist history and the result is a gold mine of knowledge, experience, theory, and practice from which we contemporary people can learn a great deal, but although Buddhism has given rise to this treasure, Buddhism is not fundamentally or exclusively a psychology.
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David Brazier (Dharmavidya) is president of the International Zen Therapy Institute and head of the Amida Order, a Pure Land sangha. His last article for Tricycle, “The ‘Inner Logic’ of Other Power,” appeared in the Spring 2015 issue.
Adapted from Buddhism is a Religion, by David Brazier, with the permission of Woodsmoke Press.
by Pablo Neruda
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
Presentations and workshops, short talks and practice demonstrations will take place over the course of three days – Friday 25th to Sunday 27th September. The days are organized into three sub-themes to stimulate the discussion of new ideas and create potential for emerging synergies in the field.
The themes are:
Day One: Zen Therapy - encompassing mindfulness and going beyond
Day Two: Ancient dharma forms - Zen, therapy and encounters with the other
Day Three: Buddhist Therapeutics – the many facets of Dharma
As a nurse, I was always very proactive, never still, ambitious and full of energy.
But after a while, night shifts and long day shifts began to take a toll on my health, my energy began to lag and my digestive system was awful. I contracted a severe virus while working at the hospital, my health really deteriorated and finally I couldn’t work.
I was at the point of collapse. I developed ME/CFS.
What is ME/CFS?
Myalgic Encephalopathy, sometimes known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, has a number of symptoms, including:
- Extreme fatigue that doesn’t improve after rest
- Cognitive impairment
- Brain fog
- Memory problems
- Flu symptoms
- Sensory impairment (intolerance to light, sound and odours)
- Dizziness and feeling lightheaded or faint
- Vasovagal syncope (a reaction to certain triggers, resulting in brief loss of consciousness)
- Orthostatic intolerance (symptoms when standing which are relieved when you sit down)
- Hypoglycaemic episodes
- Pain in joints and muscles
- Blurred vision
- Sore throat
- Neurological symptoms (such as feeling like walking on rubber)
- Jittery sensations
Living with ME/CFS
It’s not easy. Life is not as it was. For almost nine years I’ve been mostly in the house trying to recover my health.
You may know what this illness entails and if you do then you’ll be aware of how debilitating it is and what a huge impact it has on quality of life.
Each day is different, every hour is different and I could even get that down to minutes.
Because ME/CFS is tenacious and it likes to keep you on your toes and surprise you often.
My main battle is with energy. Can you imagine life with little to no energy? Add to that pain with almost every movement you make (especially in hips and wrists, for me) and a dollop of confusion, memory loss and dizziness. Oh and not forgetting the feeling of having the flu.
This is what happens regularly when I’ve done something different and used up too much energy in one go.
I have to try to pace my activity during the day. If I don’t then I’m in a pretty bad way for the majority of the time. Pacing helps but it is not a cure. Up to now there is no cure.
I try to switch activity often so as not to deplete energy from one source. I need to try to do no more than 80% of what I think I can do, in order to leave some fuel in the tank.
This means that I can’t do physical or mental activity for too long and importantly (very very importantly) I need to rest in between the activities. And by activity, I mean reading or washing up, going up the stairs or conversing with someone. Any activity saps my energy fast.
Some days are better than others. ME/CFS fluctuates randomly and sometimes predictably. For instance, if I have a wedding to attend or an unusual outing I can guarantee that sometime between 48-72 hours afterwards I’ll have payback.
You have to be prepared to accept the consequences for doing extra to the norm. Sometimes life happens and other stuff is unavoidable and sometimes I just think ‘what the hell, I have some energy and I’m going to enjoy it’, but when payback arrives it is horrible, truly horrible.
Payback can last from weeks to months and I’m literally housebound during that time. I’m in the house the majority of the time in order to pace myself and be within my limits.
I’ve tried numerous treatments and supplements. I’ve tried therapies and exercise (stupidly as I relapsed severely).
Paradoxes along the Way
- people who devote many decades with planning and reflection to the propagation of a creed of living in the moment.
- people who write many books and lecture on how the truth is not to be found in words (also a Shingon professor who insisted strongly on this doctrine and became offended when I asked him what the name of his school meant [shingon=true word])
- people who argue dialectically for the idea of non-duality
- people who teach doctrines of will-power who have not overcome their own drinking and smoking habits.
- groups that teach poverty who send out innumerable funding appeals for magnificant projects
- groups that teach the homeless life while living in stately homes
- people who are ever increasing the number and devotion of their disciples with doctrines of how everything comes from within and there is no need for teaching or gurus.
- women, many of them professed feminists, who are dedicated to schools in which women are institutionally discriminated against
- a species that, while practising all of the above, believes that what distinguishes it and raises it above all others is its capacity for rationality.
We are all aware that the pace of life gets faster and faster. Once upon a time, if one worked in an office, producing half a dozen letters might be a day’s work. Now, by electronic mail, one might deal with fifty items in a day. Many of the things we do day to day have become more complicated. We interact with computers and with call centres and find ourselves faced with preprogrammed procedures where formerly we had a human conversation. Even when there is a human being on the other end they have to operate in a programmed way. While such procedures are rationally designed to deal efficiently with the normal cases, they are essentially blind. Life is not only becoming faster, it is becoming less personal. The avid that we have to cope with now is not just within the individual, it is in the system. To a greater and greater extent, we have to fit into the ways of machines rather than being their masters.
Buddhism should help one to live a more noble life in the real world. It is commonly presented as a path to becoming a more ideal type of person, but such radical self-transformation is rare and it is unrealistic to expect that it will become a norm. The question arises whether the wisdom and advice of Buddha still works in a world such as we live in today. When the ordinary citizen is becoming, in so many ways, a cog in a big machine, is it still possible for that person to live a wholesome, wholehearted, dignified life? Certainly many of the things that an average commuter has to put up with in the course of a normal working day do not fit the prototypical idea of dignified existence. Can inner peace survive in such a climate?
Of course, there remains the route of total renunciation. It is still just about possible to give it all up and leave the rat race, but even this is by no means a simple option. Certainly monks and nuns living in modern monastic institutions are not generally fulfilling this ideal. The institution itself has to be economically viable and generally that means that it has to be run as a business. Nor is being a hermit easy to accomplish in modern conditions.
Pureland Buddhism is generally not focussed upon the renunciant ideal in its full form. The aim, rather, is to live in simple faith in the midst of things as one finds them. The awakening envisaged in this approach has more to do with acknowledgement of one’s weaknesses and failings than the accomplishment of some kind of purity or perfection.
How then can we reflect the Buddha’s gentle smile in the modern world? There is surely still a place for kindness, humility, gentleness, generosity and gratitude. If we have faith that the Buddhas are still pouring out their blessings, like Quan Yin emptying her vase with free abandon, then we will find that there are innumerable opportunities for true humanity to blossom within the interstices of our programmed existences. Then we can continue to walk lightly upon the earth and not be squashed by the weight of petty and major obligations to which we are chained in our complex society. We can keep the larger picture somewhere in view.
If we treasure simplicity and do not unnecessarily complicate our existence, the burden will be lighter. If we treasure both friendship and solitude, we will find opportunities for spiritual refreshment. If we have faith, then we can let go of many worries and take things as they come, trusting that there are always deeper purposes at work. However complex the system within which we live our lives, there is always some space, some emptiness, pauses in which a simple prayer may return us to peace and bliss. Society may be increasingly like a driver asleep in the fast lane, but we can wake up.
The foundation of a Buddhist life is a simple devotional attitude. This has two aspects. The first is a love of and reverence for the Buddha and all that he represents. To contemplate the image and qualities of the Buddha is an act full of merit. By saying that something is full of merit we mean that it gives rise to a happy heart, a profound happiness deep within our being. The image of the Buddha touches us. The Buddha’s gentle smile receives and blesses us and in this we feel a great contentment. In this gentle smile lies an infinite depth of love, compassion, joy and peace. Further, the Buddha whose image we admire represents millions of other Buddhas scattered through time and space so that this contentment and beatitude is eternally and universally present and available, not only to ourselves, but to all sentient beings. Even the rocks, mountains, rivers and seas receive this blessing. Such is the first aspect of having a simple devotional attitude.
The second aspect is a modesty about ourselves. This is simply an honest realism. We are only fallible, mortal beings. We are vulnerable in many ways. We have our limits and our karma. We live within conditions. We have rash impulses. We forget things. We do not always achieve our projects. We are not always hale or healthy. The gentle smile of Buddha is precisely for beings such as ourselves. It is this that enables us to live our truly singular lives. Each of us is unique and has his or her own path. This is not a matter of pretentious individualism, but rather of simple faith. When we are trying to shine in our own light, we set ourselves up for a fall and perpetually find disappointment in life, but when we make the Dharma our light then we have the courage to live because we know that whatever our standing in relation to impermanent things, we are touched by that supreme blessing that never fails. A simple devotional attitude gives confidence in the deeper meaning of life and lightens our step so that things that might otherwise seem burdensome become ever-changingly the scenery of this remarkable pageant that is our passage here, become, even, blessings and richnesses. In this way we enter upon the path.
Namo Amida Bu.
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Importance of Avoiding Polarization
We are usually inclined to extremes in our ways of life: intellectualism or materialism, absolutism or relativism, eternalism or nihilism, ecclesiasticism or secularism, and so on. This kind of polarization seems to be inevitable. However, in Buddhism it is taught that this should be avoided as much as possible; it recommends us to hit the Middle Point. In this way, what we are now totally depends on what we think and do, according to the Law of Cause and Effect.
It seems that people in the West fall into this pitfall of polarization; modernization and secularization are prevalent everywhere, which have lead to the sickness and degeneration of minds and bodies, and to the destruction of the social and natural environment of the world. In the 19th century, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche stated “God is dead;” and I assume that in the 20th century, human beings died. The political, economic, racial, and religious strife between the people of monotheistic religions and their nations have become ever more intense, and there seems to be no remedy or solution for the stability of the world.
Then, what awaits us? Are we only awaiting the total destruction of the world, as the American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington predicted in his book The Clash of Civilizations? We cannot go back to the past, but we can learn some hints from the past history of Japan.