B3 Dharmavidya

How to Choose a Teacher ~ Dharmavidya

Dharmavidya writes:

I am often asked how one can select a good teacher. How is one to know if somebody is genuine or not? This seems to be a big worry for some people. They are wary of being tricked. For Western people to give up even a smidgen of their independence is such a big thing they may want cast iron guarantees in advance. Unfortunately there are none.  Of course, some wariness is wise, as not all who present themselves as spiritual guides are up to the job and not everything wrapped in a fancy robe is the genuine article.

Some teachers are erudite, some are illiterate. Some teachers have many disciples, some have only one or two. Some are monks or nuns and some are not. None of these features tell you whether the person has got the Dharma or not. We can think of historical examples. Hui Neng, one of the greatest Ch’an teachers in history was illiterate. Honen and Dogen were both extremely erudite. Bodhidharma, of great fame, is said to have only had four disciples and Jesus Christ only had twelves - and one of those no good.

Some things can give you some clues. If the teacher only really regurgitates the teachings of others, then one might wonder. There is much to be said for loyalty to one’s own teacher, and it may well be that one’s teacher often says, “Well my teacher would have said…” and there is nothing wrong with that, but it is important that the person you choose as a teacher does actually inhabit the teaching, not merely deliver it. The same applies in the case of people who deliver the teaching in a highly intellectual or philosophical way - doing so is not wrong in itself and might be brilliant, but one needs to be able to see how the teacher could answer the question, “And how does this apply to you?” There are plenty of people around who can speak endlessly about rarefied spiritual states that they actually have no first hand experience of and such a person does not make a good teacher in the spiritual sense of the term. A Spiritual guide is not like a school teacher or university lecturer.

 

A good question for finding a good teacher is, “Please tell me, master, what did you have to go through in order to obtain the Dharma?” This is not an absolutely perfect way of separating the sheep from the goats, but it is quite a good rule of thumb. When we think of the great exemplars nearly all had to go through great hardships, either that brought them to realise that they needed to find the Dharma or on the way to finding it. Thus Dogen was orphaned of both parents, went to the boarding school monastery of Enrakuji, left there for the stricter Kenninji, then made the dangerous crossing to China, met setbacks on arrival, finally gained admission to the monastery only just in time to see his two masters die. Honen was also an orphan who watched his father die from an arrow wound. He also took up his few possessions and made his way to Enrakuji and eventually found the nembutsu, left the monastery and matured his understanding in retreat in the mountains. The travails of Milarepa are legendary, but even his teacher, Marpa, had had to make several difficult journeys to India and deal with the eccentric teacher Naropa, while Naropa had had to cope with the even more eccentric Tilopa, who, to outside appearances, was more of a wandering beggar than spiritual exemplar. The path to the Dharma is often not easy and the hardships people experience along the way often drive the teaching deeper.

In the modern West some of the challenges these ancestral figures surmounted no longer exist, but in general, those who were involved in the early days of a new spiritual organisation are likely to have had a much more challenging time than those who come later after the pathways to advancement have been mapped and smoothed. There is always some tendency toward the regularisation and even bureaucratisation of organisations, and spiritual sanghas are not exempt. This makes for smoother functioning and bigger congregations, but it does not necessarily provide a better seedbed for the germination of bodhisattvas.

So one cannot necessarily judge by outward appearance. Nor is it really any good trying to decide which is the right school of Buddhism first. There are good and bad teachers across all schools. If you find a good teacher stick with them, even if they are not in the school you preferred. All branches of Buddhism derive from Shakyamuni and the Buddha Dao has been transmitted through the genuine adepts in each. In the modern world we have a tendency to think that if we understand the theory we have got the real thing. This is not the case with Buddhadharma. Unless a person has the Dharma in his or her bones, it does not really matter how much theory they can spout. It is often interesting to listen to theory and one can benefit from clever ideas, but something more is needed if one is to touch the real faith.

:: link to original post


News: July and August 2019

:: link

AMIDA PURELAND BUDDHISM IN PERTH

This email includes
a) links to some of Dharmavidya's short pieces of writing

b) the date of our next sangha meeting in Perth

c) an invitation to join a practice session on-line
and
d) a reminder of the on-line Introduction to Pureland Buddhism Course - and a note about the lessons we have covered in our Perth sangha meetings to date.

***
Many of Dharmavidya's short teachings and pieces of writing over the last 16 years can be found
:: here

You can find out more about our teacher :: here

*****
We are holding a sangha evening in Perth on

Tuesday August 6th

Time: 7 - 9 pm
Venue: 'Taigh an t-Solais', 19 Fairmount Terrace
Barnhill, Perth PH2 7AS

Details of where to find us are :: here

Come along and join us - and bring your friends! 

Our meetings are held in the shrine room of our 'home temple', overlooking the Kinnoull-side garden. All meetings include Pureland Buddhist practice, Evening Service, time for questions and to check in with each other. 

Our Pureland practice includes chanting, sitting, a Pureland service - no experience is necessary and an explanation will be given for each element of the evening. There will be plenty of time for questions.

Note: Meetings are open to all.

:: link
*****
I'm offering another opportunity to join me for some Pureland practice on-line via Zoom on
Thursday 18 July 18th


from 7:15 - 8pm 

Zoom is an online video conferencing service similar to Skype.



*****
The online

Introduction to Pureland Buddhism course
.
The Introduction to Pureland Buddhism Course is suitable for those completely new to Buddhism or more experienced practitioners. It will introduce you to the basic teachings of our tradition and go on to explore concepts in more depth. The course has 15 lessons each accompanied by a self-test and more in-depth discussion questions. Each student is allocated a personal tutor, who will guide and support their learning for the duration of the course. 

The on-line course fee is £30. However if this makes the course difficult to afford, reduced rates are available.  

If you have any questions or would like more details, please get in touch with

:: Sanghamitra 
the course administrator.

We have studied some of the lessons during our sangha meetings here in Perth and will continue in the future. Should you wish to attend, let me know
 
and I will send you the lessons we have covered so far. 

:: https://mailchi.mp/3d4987dffcc1/amida-in-scotland-july-and-august-2019


Bodhi Day - 8 December 2018

We will be celebrating
Bodhi Day 
(The Buddha's Enlightenment Day)
on

Saturday July December 8th

(Note There won't be a sangha evening on the first Tuesday of December)

You are most welcome to join us, ideally for the whole day. 

NB. Booking is essential
 
- via the link in the newsletter ::here

BODHI DAY SCHEDULE

This is the probable timetable although there may be some slight tweaks between now and then.

 If there's anything here you're unsure about, confused by, have forgotten how to do, have never done, fear not - all will be explained at the time! 

Acharya Sujatin will be acting as both celebrant and bell master and you'll have an Amida service book to consult so there is nothing to memorise - just join in, sit back and immerse yourself. There are cushions and kneeling stools in the shrine room - if you need a chair let us know.

Do bring along biscuits or cake to share during the breaks.


10: Arrival, coffee

10:30: Morning Service, including Summary of Faith and Practice

11: 15: Brief group check in, reading about Refuge

11:45: Pureland Practice (walking, sitting) followed by Sange Mon and Renewal/Taking of Refuge)

1: Light lunch - vegan soup, rolls, cheese, vegan pate

2: Afternoon Service and chanting to mokujo :: link

3: Dharma talk followed by tea and discussion

4: Nembutsu chanting - walking and sitting

5: Nembutsu sharing circle

5:30: Evening Service

6: Close 

This will be followed by optional supper at a restaurant in the city. 


Time: 10 am - 6 pm
Venue: 'Taigh an t-Solais', 19 Fairmount Terrace
Barnhill, Perth PH2 7AS

 Details of where to find us are :: here



There is no cost for this retreat.
However donations towards our projects in the UK and India are most welcome 
- see more :: here

NAMO AMIDA BU

Sujatin

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Dharmavidya: Meditation with Nembutsu 

:: Dharmavidya writes

Meditation is a natural expression of spiritual liberation. When we are swimming in grace, the heart lifts and sings. In following the Dharma one is filled with joy and gratitude that Buddha’s appear in the world. The traditional way to express this is through one or other of the formulas of Refuge, and especially nembutsu.

Meditation in Buddhism reaches its full form in keeping Buddha ever in mind and the nembutsu is a simple way to express this. The actual form of words varies a little from culture to culture - “Namo Amida Bu”, “Amitabhaya”, “Namo Omito Fo”, and so forth.

A most natural form of meditation, therefore, is to, as they say, mount the words upon the breath. Thus one can sit for a time and be aware of the breathing and with each in-breath and each out-breath, say the words… Namo Amida Bu;  Namo Amida Bu.

To sustain this for a period one needs to maintain a certain balance. The mind is such that other thoughts, images and feelings will arise. Thus it is possible for the mind to wander or even for sleep to supervene. If you are happy to fall asleep, no problem. In fact, this can be a fine way to end the day, entering slumber with the sacred words in mind.

However, if you want to maintain your practice, it is important to learn to let the intruding mental impulses enter but not dominate. To do this one should not let them get a grip upon the mind, but allow them to fragment even as they are forming. Then the nembutsu remains centre stage and other thoughts become like a background of white noise, gently pulsing in and out of awareness, but never so strong as to carry one away.

Of course, for this to be successful, one must not deem anything more important than the nembutsu itself. This can mean that a very slight effort is required as each thought or image enters, to let it drop down in importance. This is because one has already established many habits of prioritising certain ideas. If something that seems particularly important comes into one’s mind, one might need to inwardly smile and say, “Later,” and set it aside just for now. Meditation is substantially a matter of giving the object of meditation absolute priority for the time of the exercise.

I was recently a subject in a piece of research in which measurements were made of the wave patterns in my brain while meditating, and I was using this method. I am told that the results showed an unusual degree of stability in my concentration and in the presence of a steady rhythm of alpha waves. I was very interested in this. It seems that the repetitions of nembutsu do not show up in the way that thought does, but serve rather to stabilise the contemplative exercise.

I find this much more satisfactory than such methods as counting the breaths. Counting has no devotional element and is merely mechanical, whereas the nembutsu is essentially a love song and its repetition is like the beating of the heart.

Many people like to meditate and find it beneficial. We should not, however, regard it purely as a psychological self-help technique. If you meditate, do it in a way that deepens your spirit and connects you with the universal grace. I, therefore, recommend this practice. A period of sitting quietly centring all upon the nembutsu is a beautiful way to deepen one’s life.


Newsletter 18: 28 December 2016 ~ A message at the turning of the year

Amida in Scotland: Next meeting
Tuesday 17 January
- see below
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Seasonal Message from Dharmavidya, the Head of the Amida Order

The years 2016 and 2017 may well be seen from the future as a turning point in world politics. There is certainly a sense that the current order is fragmenting in Europe and North America, and that the balance of power in the Far East is shifting. In the Middle East there is still no sight of the end of war, but we can pray that some new arrangement can be found that will bring the killing to an end and start what will be a long process of reconciliation. We can sense what may be passing, but it is not yet clear what is emerging.

How does all this bear upon our faith and practice as Amidists? Buddhism arose at a time when the world was changing. New political powers were rising and society was becoming more money oriented. Into this context Buddha brought the Dharma that gave people a higher vantage point, a perspective that was not dominated by personal needs nor by the quest for power and status. In an increasingly materialistic world he taught sharing, generosity, co-operation and minimalism. Our need for this message has not lessened. The tendencies that he led us away from have grown stronger in the time since he walked the earth and our need of faith in a simpler, purer way of life remains just as important.

The challenge for us is how to put this vision into effect. One might think that the way forward is always by actualising some ideal - an ideal way of life, an ideal society, ideal families. However, as Pureland Buddhists we recognise the difficulty and self-deception that can lie in that direction. We realise that this samsaric world is populated with ordinary human beings and that the effort to coerce or pressurise them into going against their nature in the pursuit of a utopian dream tends to make matters worse rather than better.

Rather it is by tolerance and friendship, acceptance and hospitality, accepting diversity, that a truly compassionate atmosphere is created and a space opened where people can let down some of their barriers and abandon antagonisms. There are many different kinds of people in this world and there is room for all. Working modestly and patiently we can demonstrate an alternative without needing a blueprint or a fixed goal. All shall evolve as it should. By having faith in the intention of the Buddhas we can trust that our actions play their part in a greater design. We depend upon the Dharma and the Dharma depends upon us. To live the Dharma life, proceeding in faith not knowing the end thus requires courage

At the same time it is important to celebrate the good things, both locally and personally as well as collectively and internationally. There are problems in Europe, but we should not forget that there has been peace here for a longer period now than ever before in history. Let us pray that it continue. The ecological threat becomes daily more pressing, but awareness of it is rising where previously there was complete blindness. Our sangha is not numerous, but its quality is very special and much to be grateful for. What can be better than to have such companions?

As we celebrate the festive season and usher in a new year we become aware of the inexorable flow of time and of the greater time envisaged in the Dharma. May this help to awaken us. The Dharma puts everything into a saner perspective. 

My prayers are that each member of the sangha may flourish, each in her or his proper manner so that the light of Amida be reflected as if from a jewel with many facets.

Namo Amida Bu

Dharmavidya


Our next sangha meeting in Perth
will be on the evening of
Tuesday 17 January
 2017

Time: 7 - 9 pm
Venue: 'Taigh an t-Solais', 19 Fairmount Terrace, Barnhill, Perth PH2 7AS

Details of where to find us are :: here
We're near the bottom right of :: this map
The shrineroom is on the ground floor, overlooking the terraced garden at the back of the house.

Note: Meetings are open to all.
No experience necessary.

Come along and join us - and bring your friends!
All meetings include Pureland Buddhist practice, tea and biscuits, time to check in with each other. We'll plan meetings in the future to include guided meditation, art and music. From time to time other members of the Amida Order will visit us.

There's no cost for these meetings - we welcome donations for Amida projects in Delhi and the UK. Suggested amount between £2 and £5.

*****
More to explore:

* The Amida Scotland website  ::here
* Our Amida Virtual Temple, with members around the world :: here
(Find out more about the site :: here)
Dharmavidya's hermitage in France :: here
and his news updates :: here

Amida Scotland has a :: FaceBook page

:: link


Newsletter: Bodhi Day Greetings

Amida Sangha in Scotland

Bodhi Day Greetings

December
2015

Amida Pureland Buddhism

BODHI DAY GREETINGS - 8TH DECEMBER
 

During December many spiritual communities hold their Celebrations of Light. Here, in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are shortening and, as our ancient ancestors have done for thousands of years, we all long for the return of light. For Pureland Buddhists, Amida is the Buddha of Infinite Light and, however gloomy and dark it may seem, Amida's Light is always shining. It's good to join in person or in spirit with our fellows as we bring this to mind.

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. Ceremonies and retreat are being held in Amida centres around the globe, including Amida Mandala in Malvern and Amida NE in County Durham.
~ Sujatin

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Dharmavidya's opening Dharma talk of the Amida Mandala Bodhi retreat

Satyavani writes from Amida Mandala in Malvern:

"Jnanamati arranged for Dharmavidya's opening Dharma talk to be recorded - with a few insights that hit me between the eyes.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRw4O4-OBvY

We also had two periods of practice, including some lovely Tai Shih Chi chanting. There are 14 of us present for the whole week from Belgium, Spain, Holland, the US & around the UK, and we'll have several day visitors this week, culminating in a busy Saturday with 12 hours chanting  - which will be live-streamed here:

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbJm9gPEAkf8P6y8cFDzAzQ/live

- and hopefully lots of visitors."

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Dharmavidya: The Amidist Nembutsu - is it different?

QUESTION: What is specific to the Amidist approach to the nembutsu that might distinguish it from the approach of other similar schools?

SHORT ANSWER: Nothing

LONG ANSWER: Nembutsu is refuge. Taking refuge is the core mystical act that defines Buddhism. It is the only practice that all Buddhist schools have in common. To take refuge in one Buddha is to take refuge in all Buddhas. However, different Buddhas show different facets of Buddha Nature. Amida shows primarily the facet of all acceptance. Therefore Amida Buddha is a favourite Buddha for ordinary people. Pureland Buddhism derives from the Buddha's teachings directed to ordinary folk. We understand Pureland, therefore, to be an original form of Buddhism deriving from the earliest times. We, therefore, take refuge in Amida Buddha and we commonly do so using the formula "Namo Amida Bu." We do not see this as essentially different from any other form of taking refuge such as may be practised in any school of Buddhism.

However, while there is no difference in essence, there are differences in style and focus. The emphasis, when one takes refuge in Amida, is upon acknowledgement that the being who seeks refuge needs to do so because of being a "foolish being of wayward passion", a vulnerable, limited, deluded, error-prone mortal. Here, therefore, there is a recognition that we each manifest greed, hate, pride, worry, sloth, and a wide variety of forms of self-centredness and that, although we might improve in some areas, the fundamental propensity to give rise to such characteristics is indelible and we are, therefore, incapable of achieving our own salvation by our own self-directed efforts. This recognition adds extra power and urgency to the urge to take refuge. Taking refuge comes to have the sense of turning to a salvific power that we ourselves lack.

In this act of taking refuge, therefore, there is a profound sense of letting go and of relief. We see the self-perfection project to lie in ruin, but we also feel a great gratitude for the presence and support of the Buddha who sees us in our actual state and loves us just so, even as we are. This is deeply moving. Our Amida form of nembutsu, therefore, is a devotional and emotional practice, something that touches the heart and that links together all those who are similarly moved. This linking generates a sense of community and fellowship. Amidist practice, therefore, is often more communal, singing together rather than sitting in isolated silence. There is a place for solitude and silent contemplation, but I am pointing out here a difference of emphasis in style. Reciting the nembutsu together we not only take refuge in the Buddha but find refuge in the sangha in a palpable sense too.

Fundamentally, therefore, nembutsu is refuge and refuge is Buddhism, and Amida Buddhism merely asserts this basic faith. In style our practice is less perfectionist, more devotional, more communal, and more emotional and it has its own distinctive ways of understanding core Buddhist teachings in accord with this orientation.

:: link

:: link


Newsletter: September 28, 2015

The Amida Sangha in Scotland

Newsletter 1
September
2015

Amida Pureland Buddhism
in Perth


Hello again, everyone

Stop Press: Dharmavidya David Brazier will be over from his hermitage in France and leading a retreat in Edinburgh over the weekend of
May 7/8, 2016.
Possible title: “WITH MIND OF TIGER & PACE OF OX”, incorporating teachings from Zen, Pureland and Buddhist Psychology. Confirmation and further details to follow. Pencil it in your diary!

And, in Perth -  a big thank you to everyone who filled in the questionnaire about what you'd like included in our meetings (and there's still time :: link)

The date of our next meeting will be

Tuesday October 6th, 2015

During the evening we will start reading Dharmavidya's influential book, "The Feeling Buddha'. (As with all his books, authored using his secular name, David Brazier). This is a particular favourite of mine - this was my own introduction to Dharmavidya. It was at a talk based on this book that I met him in Wigan in 1998. A talk that had a profound effect on me! So many people around the world have come the Amida Order's way via 'The Feeling Buddha'. The teachings in the book really ring a bell - they are so relevant to anyone's life.

:: link to paperback on Amazon

:: The Feeling Buddha on kindle


As usual, we will include sitting meditation, Pureland chanting, social time and refreshments.

Time: 7 - 9 pm
Venue: 'Taigh an t-Solais'
19 Fairmount Terrace
Barnhill
Perth
PH2 7AS

Directions: From the Queens Bridge, travel south along the A85 Dundee Road, in the Dundee direction. Turn up Fairmount Road beside the Sunbank House Hotel. Continue to the right along Fairmount Terrace, going beyond the small crossroads beside Balnagraig School. Shortly after this you will come to a small cul-de-sac on the left hand side, where you will find Number 19 at the top of the cul-de-sac.
Here's a photo of the house so you'll recognise it!

We're near the bottom right of :: this map

The shrineroom is on the ground floor, overlooking the terraced garden at the back of the house.

Note: Meetings are open to all.
No experience necessary.

Come along and join us - and bring your friends!  Let me know if you think you can come
:: email
But if you don't know in advance, it's fine to just turn up!

There's no cost for these meetings - however we welcome donations for Amida projects in Delhi and the UK. Suggested amount between £2 and £5.

*****

You can find out more about Amida Pureland Buddhism by visiting our website

We now have a FaceBook page





Amida Buddhism: Faith and Practice

Threefold Faith, Threefold Mind, Threefold Path


Threefold Faith
Shraddha, Prasada and Abhilasa


Commentary:
Shraddha means to have complete faith in the act of Refuge. Prasada means to have clarity of mind. Abhilasa means to have pure aspiration and willingness to undertake whatever action may be for the good of all. Faith in all its forms is central to the Amidist approach. All forms of ethical behaviour spring from faith. If there is little faith then there is bound to be a selfish intention even if one’s actions are superficially respectable. Faith in Buddhism refers to the overcoming of self and the implementation of the doctrine of non-self.


Threefold Mind
Sincerity, Depth and Longing


Commentary:
Faith is not something imposed from outside. It is something that wells up from within. It is triggered from outside. It is like a hidden treasure that somebody has sewn into our clothing without our knowledge. Perhaps one day somebody points out the lump in the hem of our garment and on closer examination we discover the diamond. The nature of this faith is a feeling of longing for the Pure Land, as if one had been exiled from his true home. Looking closely we discover that this longing is a fundamental part of our nature. it is our deepest place. Being sincerely in touch with this deep longing gives us courage and directs us to “go forth for the benefit of all sentient beings, in the service of gods and humans” to do all that we can to assist the Buddhas to make the Pure Land visible to all so that all are similarly awakened to their most fundamental drive until all are living in the service of all.


Threefold Path
Sila, Samadhi and Prajna


Commentary:
In Amidist Buddhism we do not see ethics, mind cultivation and wisdom as the path leading to enlightenment so much as the path leading from the awakening of faith. If one has faith in the Pure Land then one naturally wants to serve all beings and so one’s behaviour is likely to be kind, compassionate, wise and friendly. Similarly, if one has faith, then one is not troubled by setbacks or confused personal agendas so the mind becomes clear and bright. Amidist Buddhism does not present spiritual perfection as an emotionless or mindless condition. It is a condition in which the feelings of gratitude, awe, longing and reverence become powerful motivators giving a person energy, patience, single mindedness and clarity of purpose.

~ Dharmavidya David Brazier, Head of the Order of Amida Buddha
 

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A Date for your Diary

Bodhi Retreat 2015 
with Dharmavidya David Brazier,
Amida Mandala, Malvern
December 8 - 13, 2015

:: details here
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Friends of the Amida Order social network

*****

Sign up :: here
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'Whispers from the Bamboo Grove'
newsletter, which comes out, usually, every 1 to 3 months.
You'll find past newsletters :: here

*****


Dharmavidya

ABOUT OUR TEACHER

David Brazier, whose Buddhist name ‘Dharmavidya’ means “clear perception of what is fundamental”, is a travelling Buddhist teacher, authority on Buddhist psychology, President of the Instituto Terapia Zen Internacional, Head of the Order of Amida Buddha, Spiritual Guide of the Eleusis Centre, Patron of the Tathagata Trust, scholar, doctor of philosophy (PhD), Buddhist priest, author of eight previous books, psychotherapist, social worker, creator of the other-centred approach and Zen Therapy, international traveller, inspirational lecturer and philanthropist. Dharmavidya

 

 

He was fortunate to encounter leading Buddhist teachers at the beginning of his adult life and their teachings spoke to his condition. He travels widely and has been the creator of aid, education and social work projects in Europe, India and elsewhere and of training programmes in Buddhist psychology, Zen Therapy and Buddhist ministry. His books include works on psychotherapy and on Buddhism and commentary on the relationship between spirituality, art, myth and culture. He has three adult children, five grandchildren, likes gardening, walking and photography and lives in Eleusis, France.

Dharmavidya has a blog here

You can follow him on Twitter

and Facebook