“I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything - other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world's otherness is antidote to confusion - that standing within this otherness - the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books - can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.”
~ Mary Oliver
This bittersweet life
7 July 2015: I am just back from our wonderful Order retreat in France. Refreshed and renewed from a time of deep practice and warm friendship. There is something very precious about having time together and learning about the life of our different sanghas scattered around the world. I am glad that I had this time of renewal before returning to London and the anniversaries of a couple of the worst disasters of my time.
The war in Bosnia stimulated the formation of Amida Trust and also led to my becoming deeply involved in Amida Trust and ultimately becoming an amitarya in 1998. I went to Sarajevo in 2003 to run retreats and services and give talks to people desperate to find a way beyond the traumas and their anger and despair. Everyone spoke of the ethnic cleansing that took place in Srebrenica twenty years ago. This week various events are taking place in the UK to remember and to help the “Mothers of Srebrenica” still searching for the bones of their husbands, brothers and children in the mass graves still being uncovered. On Sunday night I met with some of the mothers and listened to their stories and the story of a young man, the same age as my son, who, at seventeen was a lone survivor in a pile of bodies and struggled despite many bullet wounds to a safe zone far away.
Last night I went to Finsbury Park mosque to join them for their special Iftar meal which they offer during Ramadan. They despair for their young people and at the extremists that bring their religion into disrepute; Especially painful at this tenth anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings. However this event was far from saddening as I ate together with members of the mosque and Muslim charitable organisations, fellow members of Islington Faiths Forum, Bruce Kent, a leading figure in the Peace movement and Jeremy Corbyn, our local MP who is also very admirable. Very gladdening to be among a company of people working for peace and compassion in our society.
Namo Amida Bu
:: more details here
Bodhi retreat 2015 with Dharmavidya David Brazier
December 8 - 13
Amida Mandala Buddhist Temple
Find out more here
The Dalai Lama reflects on praise and blame in his commentary on lines from Longchen Rabjam's Finding Comfort and Ease in Meditation on the Great Perfection.
- See the equality of praise and blame,
- approval and disapproval, good
- and bad reputation,
- For they are just like illusions or
- dreams and have no true existence.
THIS VERSE REFERS to the Eight Worldly Concerns: wanting to be praised and not wanting to be criticized, wanting happiness and not wanting suffering, wanting gain and not wanting loss, and wanting fame and approval and not wanting rejection and disgrace. We all experience these, don't we?
Nine years ago Thich Nhat Hanh was asked,
“You will be 80 this year. Do you plan to retire as a spiritual teacher at any point?”
This is the answer he gave:
In Buddhism we see that teaching is done not only by talking, but also by living your own life. Your life is the teaching, is the message. And since I continue to sit, to walk, to eat, to interact with the Sangha and people, I continue to teach, even if I have already encouraged my senior students to begin to replace me in giving Dharma talks. In the last two years, I have asked Dharma teachers, not only in the monastic circle but also in the lay circle, to come up and give Dharma talks. Many of them have given wonderful Dharma talks. Some Dharma talks have been better than mine. I see myself in my continuation, and I will not retire. I’ll continue to teach, if not by Dharma talks then in my way of sitting, eating, smiling, and interacting with the Sangha. I like to be with the Sangha. Even if I don’t give a Dharma talk, I like to join walking meditation, sitting meditation, eating in mindfulness and so on. So don’t worry. When people are exposed to the practice, they are inspired. You don’t need to talk in order to teach. You need to live your life mindfully and deeply. Thank you.
For those of you who couldn't join us, I wanted to give you all a taste of our two weeks of retreat in Bessait-Le-Fromental at Dharmavidya's hermitage, Eleusis. We were an international bunch - the group was Ganendra (Spain), Modgala, Kaspa, Satya, Adam and Caroline (UK), Prajna and James (Canada), Jan (Hawaii), and Maitrisimha, Annetta, and Floor and Jnanamati (the Hague).
Our first week was a Nei Quan retreat and Dharmavidya asked us to pay attention to any thoughts and feelings which arose during practice or times writing in our journals, chasing them and examining them rather than letting them go. We gave daily 'reports' of our findings to Dharmavidya in front of the group which was helpful for individuals and stimulated thought for the rest of the group. Many of us felt great personal shifts, held by Dharmavidya, the daily practice, the group and the beautiful setting.
The second week was the Order retreat which coincided with a heatwave and so we held most of our meetings in the shade under the walnut tree rather than in the stifling attic room! We heard reports of Amida sanghas in India, Malvern, London, Canada, the Hague, Belgium and Spain. The Order retreat is also a time when those who run groups can get support from others in a similar position, and share ideas and experiences.
We were cooked delicious food by Jnanamati, Adam and Floor, and enjoyed much good conversation over the washing up table, going on walks and gathered by the wall in the evening with a cup of chicory. We also enjoyed a swim!
Maybe we'll see you next year... If you'd like to visit before then to volunteer for Dharmavidya in the house or garden, get in touch with Jnanamati for more information.
Namo Amida Bu.
Reverend Satyavani, secretary for the Order
Dates for your Diary - retreats led by Dharmavidya
There are three opportunities to attend a retreat led Dharmavidya over the coming year - do put them in your diaries.
Tues 8th - Sun 13th December 2015 - Bodhi Retreat, Malvern
(12th - all day chanting, 13th - ceremonies)
For more information, look here
Tues 31st May - Saturday 4th June 2016 - Retreat in Malvern
(you can attend part or all of the retreat)
Tues 28th June - Sat 2nd July
Mon 4th July - Fri 8th July 2016
Retreats in Dharmavidya's hermitage, France
More information to follow
Namo Amida Bu
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.
:: continue reading here
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.