Anshin is a Japanese word, often translated as 'settled faith' as I explained in Anshin Part One yesterday. It is a particularly important term in Pureland Buddhism. However, the theme is of universal implication and relevance.
Bringing Peace to the Heart
The term 'an' means peace and 'shin' means mind or heart. The Chinese character for shin is, in fact, derived from a drawing of a heart. So if we were to write anshin in modern emoticons, it could be...
This, perhaps, gives us a feel for what anshin means. Something that tenderly brings peace to the heart. In this simple idea lies one of the main themes of spiritual practice that transcends differences of creed or community.
Love is Both Culprit & Cure
This wish for peace of heart finds a rather mundane, utilitarian expression in the current craze for a certain kind of 'mindfulness'. People want 'relief from stress', stress being disturbance of the heart, and in our modern way we look for a technique. However, such heart stress cannot really be cured by a distractive technique, that only gives temporary respite, welcome as such respite may be. It behoves us to look at our lives in a more fundamental way if we wish to eliminate the roots of the problem rather than simply abate the symptoms for a while.
Of course, we all know instinctively - and it is apparent to us as soon as we look at the emoticons - that this all has something to do with love. It is love that can both stress and smooth the heart. In this sense, we are talking about the yoga of the heart chakra. Anshin, therefore, is about soothing the heart and mending broken ones. It is love that can most disrupt our lives and it is also love that brings great bliss. However, there are many varieties of love, many objects of love and many ways in which love can be expressed or hidden.
Symbols of Innocence
The dove symbolises innocence and simplicity so the peace that it brings is unsullied by hidden corruptions. Doves have sybolised peace in cultures as diverse as ancient Egypt and classical China and in the Bible the dove represents the Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism by John in the River Jordan. Also, earlier in the Bible, at the end of the flood, a dove brings an olive branch to Noah signalling the the waters are going down and there is land. The troubles are coming to an end. So this is a rather universal symbol of the restoration of calm.
The Chinese character for 'an', however, is not a picture of a dove, it is a picture of a woman in a house. This was a very practical matter. In ancient China where these symbols originated there was often local warfare and at such times the women and children would take to the hills and hide. When peace came they returned to the villages and homes. So when the women were in their houses, there was peace.
Peace Beneath One's Own Roof
This brings home to us the fact that while the issue of war and peace is of immense importance, the peace that matters most frequently to most people is the one that they try to achieve under their own roof. Peace, therefore, in most cultures, is also closely linked with domesticity. In some religions, however - Buddhism, for example - while this association exists, the greatest peace is said to lie in going forth out of domesticity into the 'homeless life'. We shall see how this works in a future teaching.
Peace of mind, therefore, has a macro and a micro level socially. The little wars that we fight with our nearest and dearest can be just as bitter and taxing as the big wars that go on between nations and ideologies, and there is a good deal of parallelism between the two. Warfare only occurs in a few species such as humans and ants, but domestic squabbling is evident in every sparrow nest in our barn and the bird flying home with some titbit in his/her beak in an effort to restore calm is by no means a species specific gesture.
The Romantic Ideal
In fact, probably most people think that the way to establish peace of heart and mind is to find the right partner and establish the right kind of relationship - whatever that may be. The fact that the key to success in a popular novel is so often that it depicts such a conclusion following after difficulties illustrates the fact that this is a common archetype.It is surely the basis of the 'serial monogamy' that is increasingly the pattern in our contemporary society, as people reiteratively seek happiness by what they believe is the only promise available.
The Complementarity of Inner & Outer
The spiritual paths, however, tend to suggest that the path to bliss is not through finding the right other, but through changing the self in some crucial way so that one can or could be at peace with a diversity of others - ultimately that one can be a bringer of peace to the whole world. Perhaps the ideal relationship is actually one in which those partnered together are held so by common commitment to such a noble ideal.
Nonetheless, even in those paths that take such a view, it is generally through a crucially important relationship that such a personal change takes place. It is in the encounter with a significant other who disturbs our conceit that we can find liberation from it. We thus come full circle. Release from addiction to seeking the right other comes as a result of an encounter with the right other. However, the 'right' other may not be the one we expect. Furthermore, such an encounter disturbs the foundations. Thus we see two different types of crucially important relations - that between similars and that between opposites.
The term anshin implies trust. For us to benefit from either type of relationship, there has to be a lot of trust and that trust, to work, really has to transcend the relationship itself. So here is the contrary cycle: arriving at the right quality in oneself depends upon the right relationship, but forming the right relationship depends upon a right quality already established in ourselves.
So we go round these circles, now this way, now that, seeking peace, fleeing it, receiving it, bringing it, disturbing it, losing it, finding it, bestowing and redeeming it, and if our faith can endure through all of this, well, that is anshin.
Starting on 28th June we have a five day retreat on the topic of Anshin. In preparation, I'd like to say a bit about the topic here.
The term anshin is Japanese. It is commonly translated as 'settled faith'. As such it is one of several forms or aspects of 'faith'. Other aspects are shinjin, bodaishin, and another for which I do not know the Japanese term, but which, in the language of India is called abhilasa. Each of these is worth a teaching in its own right, but we can briefly define them as follows.
Shinjin is the dawning of trust, the opening of the heart. It involves a 'turning around' or change of heart, often springing from contrition or inspiration or a juxtaposition of the two.We can think of Shakyamuni seeing the 'Four Sights'. In such an awakening one is seized by new light and/or driven by a sense of having gone astray but seeing new possibility and feeling new verve. in a sense, and sometimes literally, shinjin precedes anshin and can be its foundation. Then we can say that anshin is the maturing of shinjin.
Faith in Action
Abhilasa and bodaishin can be thought of as flowing from anshin and so as being subsequent, at least in a logical sense. Abhilasa is something like 'willingness', the willingness to do whatever is for the general good. Bodaishin is really the mind of enlightenment, or, at least the condition of heart that conduces to it, sometimes called 'the Way-seeking mind', a great compassion toward all sentient beings. So we can understand anshin as nested within these wonderful spiritual qualities. When we call out toward what is sacred to us, that calling is truly spiritual if and when it is touched by such qualities. These are what we worship and aspire toward, hoping that they will be granted to us, will bless us and hold us. This is what we pray for.
Although I have described them somewhat as a sequence in the last paragraph, all these dimensions of 'faith' really function together. They are its modes or moods. Insofar as one's life is grounded in faith, at any one time one or other of these aspects will be showing.
Trust in the Heart
'Faith' in Buddhism is perhaps not identical to faith in other religions, since here there is more emphasis upon a state of 'heart' or 'mind' and less on belief or assertion. Buddhism is not so much adherence to a creed and more a journey of exploration and grace, and faith, here, is the willingness to wholeheartedly entrust oneself to that journey irrespective of where it may take one. The obstacle is attachment. Faith is like letting go of the rail on the side of the swimming pool whereas attachment is like adding more and more rails. Soon the rails, that each seemed so necessary and fine, have become the bars of the cage in which one has ones limited existence. Inside one's cage one may read about the wonderful life of liberation, but it lies beyond one's reach.
Entering Upon the Path
Even if we manage to leave our cage, squeezing out between the bars and slipping away, we may still be bring some attaqchment with us. We may think that we are going to develop these qualities as personal characteristics, we are going to get and possess them, and (secretly hoping) be admired for them. They are going to displace the characteristics that have been given to us by our immemorial karmic history, most of which are nothing like so noble, and we shall then be more perfected beings. Such is the pride we carry into our spiritual life..
However, what we gradually or suddenly learn or realise is that it does not work quite like that. It is not really that any part of what we are is given up, but it all comes to be bathed in a new light. That light may be thought of in many ways - the light of the Buddhas, the Divine Light, the Light of Truth, whatever. This thing we call 'faith' that brings peace to us like a miracle, is not something we manufacture, nor own, but is a kind of grace that alights when we start to take ourselves less seriously.
To Know the Self is to Forget the Self
This diminishing seriousness is a function of familiarity. As we come to know ourselves better, to see ourselves more clearly, we perhaps start to realise that we are not actually as special as we always wanted to think we were. We find in ourselves much the same characteristics - good and bad - in varying degrees as we find in everybody else. Their joys and sorrows, pride and shame, anxiety and relief, peace and panic, are all rather similar to our own, and our own to theirs. As this obvious truth become real to us, much of the mesmerising fascination of our own story fades. It is not that it vanishes, but it becomes less compelling, less central to the meaning of life. A good example of how our attitude to our favourite self stories can change is given by Sujatin in her teaching yesterday.
When we start to recognise our common humanity more authentically, something deep within us relaxes. It is as if a cosmic grandmother had soothingly said to us, "It's alright." That is 'faith'. Realising that we are never going to be self-sufficiently perfect or self-justifying, whether in rightness, saintliness, victimhood, vengeful heroism, or whatever other role we might fall into, we start to rely upon something that is vaster, pervasive, and beyond our grasp. This 'realisation of alrightness' is shinjin. When it is established in an enduring way deep within us, that is anshin. When it expresses itself in action, that is abhilasa. When it transforms our perception of the world, that is bodaishin.
Such anshin faith provides a kind of bedrock in one's life that is independent of condition or circumstance, which is why it is called 'settled'. Although the vicissitudes of conditional existence in a world of impermanence continue, when one's heart has been touched in this way one can face whatever may come and not lose faith.
To Be Continued
Over the next few days I hope to say some more things about this subject from different perspectives.
Continuing on the theme of gratitude and the kindness and care taking we receive from others, I am reflecting further on how much we depend upon these for our very survival, even though so much that is done for our benefit is taken for granted, barely even recognised.
When I was embarking upon the first Amida Ministry training - the format of which has changed considerably now - I looked down the list of what the course would entail. My eye was caught by ‘Nei Quan’. Involving looking inward and asking searching questions - the concept terrified me! After all, I’d spent much of my life avoiding doing just that.
Facing the fear
However, this was something I was going to have to do at some point during my training. So, on the basis that teetering on the edge of the high diving board, with the terror increasing, would be more nerve-wracking than holding my nose and taking a running jump, facing the fear and doing it anyway, I signed up for the next 5-day retreat.
Silence apart from answering the teacher’s questions, remaining in an allotted space within the shrine room with cushions, paper, crayons and pens, left with my own process. Served with beautifully prepared and arranged meals, watching the teacher carefully arrange the curtains to give us some shade, when I glanced outward, there were moving details that touched the heart deeply.
Looking inward there was, of course, the possibility of skirting round the questions, avoiding anything too painful, and being less than immersed in the enquiry. However I reasoned that this was a unique opportunity which it would be foolish not to take advantage of.
What has this person done for me?
We started by being given the first question, “What has this person done for me?”, focusing on a primary care-giver. My mother. Now, sad to say, for most of my life, my mother and I have not had a great relationship. I was born prematurely in dramatic circumstances, nearly arriving on a train, then being kept in hospital in an incubator for a number of weeks, in a city where my parents didn’t live. My mother couldn’t even stay so I didn’t see her during that time. Hence, crucial bonding didn’t happen. Also, once I was home, as a premie baby I was fretful and cried and cried at night. Not exactly the blissful vision she had built in her mind of how motherhood would be. My blond and bubbly sisters, when they arrived, were much more the thing. Extrovert and pretty, like her, while I grew up dark haired, quiet, introvert, hiding behind my glasses, afraid of anger, buried in books and, sinfully, like and liking my father.
A different perspective
So there was much gritty material to work with during these 5 days. After time spent in thought, I found myself writing the story of my mother’s life, both in linear fashion, through time, but also horizontally, in the context of the time she was living in, from before my birth and throughout my childhood. This gradually opened my eyes as I began to gain much more a sense of who she actually was and what had affected her. A different view from my previous child’s perspective. As I immersed myself into the story, I felt as though I was stepping into her shoes. And then I began to appreciate not only all the things she had done for me, through times of real financial worries and post-war hardship - I was born in 1946 - in an environment much tougher than that in which she had been raised, travelling from place to place as my demobbed father followed employment. All those nappies changed and washed by hand, all those meals provided, all those sleepless nights with this grizzling baby, the tedium of endlessly repeated quotidian domestic tasks. Like many wartime marriages, following the glamour of travel and uniforms and the danger of the times, my parents each married to someone with whom they did not really have much in common. The lack of friendship in a place where she was an outsider. Then, after a few years, the relative easing of life as we moved from the tenement flats, which had no bathroom, a shared toilet, flights of concrete stairs, to a bungalow with all mod cons and a small garden where my father grew vegetables, in her home town, near my grandmother, followed by the births of my sisters in a private nursing home, attended by the familiar elderly family doctor. I thought, too, about how much harder it must have been to care for the child she did not feel in tune with. Much harder than the same care for the children who are more similar to herself, who had been born in an easier time.
My pen was flying over the paper and, as the days progressed, I could feel an inner shift. Then there were subsequent questions: “What have you done for this person?” Well, I had to face it, like most children, embarrassingly little. And, “What difficulties and troubles has my existence occasioned for this person?” As you can imagine, over the years, a great deal. All the practical, unremitting and tedious hard work that bringing up any child involves. Plus the emotional burden of the less liked child who could be, let’s face it, pretty unlikeable at times.
There was much more to those five days. However, what happened afterwards was that, on the basis of this new and more comprehensive understanding, once I was home again, I was able to talk to my mother honestly, without rancour and with some compassionate understanding, about what I had discovered. And, as a result, she was able to admit what she had felt about me. This was the moment when a great healing began. Which has been a huge gift to us both and has been developed and maintained over the subsequent years. A difficult relationship has become a peaceful one, with much affection. So, yes, although the prospect was daunting, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity of the experience that allowed me to excavate and discover some uncomfortable truths and new perspectives. Thus began the process of turning all that grit into pearls.
What did I learn?
* That a story is just a story, a confection, that we tell ourselves in order to understand, to have some control thereby, sometimes to have a persona to which we are attached, whether that story is positive or damaging or even true. That stories can keep us stuck.
* That other people involved can have a completely different narrative. And a bystander could see things completely differently again.
* That none of these are ‘the truth’ but just snapshots with a distorted lens.
* That I could be wrong (an ongoing lesson)
* That most stories can be reframed. And, subsequently, of course, my story was reframed by my teacher, who gave me my ordination name.
Namo Amida Bu
My first thought about the Winter Retreat starting this October is that this is not just 'training'. Many sanghas have adopted the term ‘Dharma training’, but i think that this is a misnomer. There may be elements of training: one might be trained to be bell master, guest master, master of ceremonies, cook, a drummer, a gardener, and so on - in the Dharma life one turns one's hand to many things. These are specific functional roles and, if you live in a spiritual community, any of these roles may be valuable. However, the fundamental aim of the exercise is not training, It is Dharmic Education.
Being One’s Best
The word education literally means 'to draw out' and the purpose of education is to draw out the true nature in people. By doing so one enhances their character. Along the way they may acquire various skills, but that is incidental and an expression of the basic core which is that the person grow and flourish in the Dharma.
Furthermore, the true nature of being human involves relationship. Dharmic Education is not something merely abstract, it is personal and it is inter-personal. It is an initiation and a transmission and it happens heart to heart.
Buddhism cannot be reduced to a set of skills and protocols, each with an appropriate training and certificate. We may use many exercises and procedures, meditations and ceremonies, roles and responsibilities, but they are all expressions of, or means to, or the medium for Dharmic Education - education for Dharmic life. They are subordinate elements, not the prime phenomenon.
All this means that one cannot keep Dharma in an isolated bubble in one's life. If you get involved in Dharma in a real way then it changes everything. It is not like a skill that can be added on or a hobby that is intermittently interesting. It is an affair of heart and mind.
Character & Liberation
We see progress in the Dharma, not so much in how perfectly a person can make a meal for the community - though this mat, indeed, express their love and care - but rather more in how they respond when the meal goes wrong; not so much in how well they have mastered the ritual, but in how they cope when it is changed, not in how many hours they can sit still in the lotus position, but in whether they genuinely care for the other people present, not in their ability to impress with learning, but in their real concern that others find growth and liberation.
Learning the practical functional things is important because it is a way of implementing care and love for other members of the community. However, it is the growth of love, compassion, gratitude, concern for others, and ease in adversity that are the true fruits. A person who has these things will be naturally keen to learn relevant skills and will be flexible in his or her use of them. They will not use them as a prop to the ego, but rather as a means to enhancing the community life. By creating such a spirit of acceptance and joy, all are liberated together.
Education has a good deal to do with leadership and authority. Logically, a person can be in four positions in this respect. One can be in authority over others, one can be subordinate, one can be a peer, or one can be alone with nobody to depend upon in any of the other three already mentioned positions.
Generally speaking we find that for the great majority of people, one or more of these positions brings to the surface personal problems of a compulsive and unsettled nature that cause difficulties both for the person concerned and for others around them. A person who is liberated from inner compulsions can handle all of these positions in a relaxed way and move between them with ease and dignity. To bring a person to the point where they can do so is, therefore, an evident goal of education. At the same time, we can see from these observations that there is an important interface between education and therapy.
Accompaniment & Apprenticeship
In the perspective that I am employing here, therapy does not refer to a procedure claiming to be treatment with a quasi-medical aim; it is a process of accompaniment. Taken in this way, education and therapy are very closely related. In a sense they are two ends of one matter. In therapy, one applies general considerations to one's own case whereas in education one starts from one's experience and draws out the universal lesson. Again, both education and therapy are processes in which a person with a particular kind of experience accompanies another who is exploring the arena within which such experiences are to be found. When we think of it this way we can readily see how it was that, in earlier days, education was substantially a matter of apprenticeship. In the spiritual world, this is still the case. The disciple accompanies the master and the master accompanies the disciple. Both are learning. The disciple is not only learning, he or she is learning how to learn. They are learning to apply lessons to their own person, yet, at the same time, they are learning to leave over-personalisation behind.
There may be an end to the relationship of accompaniment in practical terms, but there is a sense in which it is endless. My major teachers are still very much with me, even though they are all dead. Their spirit lives with me. It is this transmission of spirit that is the essence of Dharma education.
Wei Wu Wei
Following on from the remarks I made earlier about authority and leadership, I think we can also see that a truly spiritual person is inevitably a leader of some kind. Even when such a person plays a subordinate role in formal terms, they are still a leader in moral terms. This would be true even if they were confined in prison. Their leadership may sometimes show in the obvious way, namely that they can take initiative, guide and protect others, and handle responsibility, but it also shows in their humility and willingness to follow. From the worldly view point this may seem contradictory, but I think those who have even a small grasp of spirituality will know what i mean. Their leadership is by example. The person who is a great teacher, may well be the student with most rapt attention when another teacher is giving the lesson. In this manner they are a leading student. They are not trying to lead, it is simply a function of how they are, and that is the outcome of education. This is an example of the Taoist principle of wei wu wei, of unselfconscious-action-without-affectation being most naturally efficacious.
To Be Continued
In the some subsequent teachings I am going to say a little about some of the things that we might do on the retreat. However, I think it is important to enter this caveat first, because otherwise it is all too easy to lose perspective and ‘to miss seeing the wood for the trees’.
You'll find Talk 2 here
34 min:04 sec
Bodhi Day, which marks the Enlightenment of the Buddha, is celebrated on December 8th each year. It is traditional to hold a retreat at this time. Always the most important event in the Amida calendar, the Bodhi Retreat has grown in significance as the Amida-shu and the Amida Order have developed.
Every two years, we hold an international retreat, which will include periods of continuous chanting of the nembutsu, which we know, from past experience, has a wonderful effect upon participants. The retreat may also include teachings, seminars, silent periods, Amidist ceremonial, and opportunities for personal sharing.
During this time the Order holds ordinations, commitment ceremonies and renewals of refuge, membership and precepts.
Amida Northeast, Durham, UK
Saturday 5th December
10am - 4pm
Kuvalaya: "The 5th of December will be our northern Bodhi Day. I'm delighted to say that Sujatin will travel down from Perth and join us for the day! There will be chanting, Pureland practice and teaching, and a ceremony."
For further details, if you are in the Durham or NE England area,
:: contact Kuvalaya
Amida Scotland Bodhi Day in Perth
Tuesday 8th December
7 pm - 9 pm
Delighted that we will be celebrating Bodhi Day in 'The Fair City' of Perth, for the first time. During the evening there will be Pureland Sutra reading, a period of extended nembutsu chanting, renewal of vows, warm community and, of course, seasonal refreshments.
:: for more details
Posted on Wednesday, 04 November 2015 at 12:33 PM in Amida, Amida around the world, Amida Hawai'i, Amida Malvern, Amida Pureland Retreat, Amida Sangha, Amida Scotland, Buddhism, Buddhist, Buddhist Practice, Ceremony, Dharmavidya, Diary, News, Pureland Buddhism, Taigh an t-Solais, Whispers from the Bamboo Grove | Permalink | Comments (0)
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There is a series of audio recordings of talks that Dharmavidya gave in the summer of 2006 during a retreat in France
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
Posted on Thursday, 29 January 2015 at 06:50 PM in Amida, Amida Academy, Amida around the world, Amida Courses, Amida Hawai'i, Amida India, Amida London, Amida Malvern, Amida Newcastle, Amida Pureland Retreat, Amida Sangha, Amida Scotland, Dharmavidya, Eleusis, Friends of Amida, Jnanamati, Kaspalita, News, Pureland Buddhism, Retreats, Satyavani, Susthama, Whispers from the Bamboo Grove | Permalink | Comments (0)
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