FULL MOON – Storytelling

Mistaking the false for the real,
and the real for the false,
one suffers a life of falsity.

But seeing the false as the false
and the real as the real,
one lives in the perfectly real.

Dhammapada v.11 – 12

How much time do we spend telling ourselves stories and how much do we invest in aligning with reality? Of course there are times when telling stories is genuinely meaningful. Not everything can be explained rationally. Stories often serve as approximations alluding to reality in ways that lineal, logical thinking cannot. However, compulsive storytelling is an obstruction. For example, there are stories which perhaps served a useful purpose at an earlier stage in our lives which now stop us from moving on. We could be telling ourselves that the limitations we feel are ultimate when in reality they are not. Or telling ourselves over and over again that we can’t let go of the past when in fact we can. We have already let go of the past. What we have now is a memory of something which happened in the past. That which happened in the past and the memory we have now are not the same thing. And therein lies the ever-present opportunity to begin again.

FULL MOON – Non-retaliation

If spoken to harshly, 
make yourself as silent as a cracked gong; 
non-retaliation is a sign of freedom. 

Dhammapada v.134

The impulse to retaliate when we are spoken to harshly can feel so right. However, in this verse our Teacher the Buddha is advising wise restraint. Silence doesn’t necessarily denote weakness. It might appear thus, but the way things appear to be on the outside and how they actually are in terms of reality, can be totally otherwise. At this time of the year many of the plants in the garden look thoroughly dead (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Hopefully, though, we know enough about gardening to not automatically pull all the plants out just because they don’t look nice in December. To live our lives in a way that is aligned with the path of true freedom requires a quality of discernment that is able to see beyond the mere surface appearance. Our commitment to spiritual training is in service to developing this discernment.

SACRE Reflection Nov 2019

The following piece is a talk given by Dave Downer who is the Buddhist member of the local Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education otherwise known as SACRE. Dave hosts the Soto Zen group in Newport.

Since 1988, Local Authorities have been required to establish a SACRE.

SACRE is responsible for advising the Local Authority in matters concerning the teaching of Religious Education and Collective Acts of Worship. It also has a monitoring role in this subject. SACRE decides on applications for determinations of cases in which requirements for Christian collective worship is not to apply. It can also require the Local Authority to review its Agreed Syllabus and is required to publish an Annual Report of its work.

SACRE should reflect broadly the proportionate strength of religions or denominations in the area.

“There is a popular saying “practice makes perfect”. I recently heard a modified version of this which instead says “practice makes perfect, so be careful what you practice”.

We talk a lot about practice. As examples, there is practice for sport, practice for exams and education, religious practice, and of late mindfulness practice.

Practice, in the generally accepted sense, implies that we are doing something to move us towards some kind of final goal which will be as close to being perfect as possible. We expect to reach this goal somewhen or another, and we spend an awful lot of our energy planning how to reach the goal, how we will spend our time reaching it, how long it might take to get there, what obstacles might get in our way, and how wonderful it will be when we arrive.

The premise of this logic is that in some way what we are doing at the moment is only an imperfect contribution towards reality or perfection, which will arrive at some point in the future. As we all know, tomorrow never comes, but we behave as if that were not true.

It is very difficult to be always “in the present moment”, but that is exactly where we are. We cannot possibly be anywhere else. Our biggest difficulty, as human beings, is our capacity for so-called rational thinking, logical thinking, and need to plan a route to everywhere, including the future. Our western culture emphasises the need for setting goals and objectives. Whilst there is a need to do this, otherwise we would not have achieved all the things we have achieved, it almost becomes an absolute belief that this is the only way to live. The consequence of this is that in the present moment our minds nearly always become focused on how we might get to the fantasy we have just created in our heads, and while we are in that fantasy, we are not in the present moment. So it passes us by almost unnoticed.

As human beings, we love to create stories. This is fine when it is in the realm of amusement and fiction. The problem arises when we invent stories about ourselves and others, which we do so effectively that we forget they are stories. This is where the practice comes in. Having invented what appears to be a perfectly reasonable and rational story, we then practice it, and behave as if it were true. We practice towards achieving the story we have created for ourselves. This would be fine if the stories were based upon absolute truth. Often, we create a story for ourselves that says it is the absolute truth. How could it possibly be anything else?

The consequence of living this way is that we can overlook the possibility that there are other ways of perceiving existence, and that these ways might have more successful results in our lives and the way we live them than the endless pursuit of so-called rationality. One example of these is the ability we have when we drop the absolute clinging to logic, and to perceive things by what we might describe as “intuition”. I’m sure we have all experienced that moment when our stories have been dropped, and an unexpected answer emerges from somewhere.

The domain of the theories of quantum mechanics have revealed to us some quite startling suggestions about the way the universe might actually work. What we have taken in the past to be so-called “logical” are demonstrated to be incorrect and the assumptions they make mistaken. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which has long since been accepted and validated, says we cannot know in advance anything at all for certain. We can know something about reality, but we cannot know it all until it actually occurs. No one has yet put forward any accepted description for why or how the emergence of reality occurs. Electrons do not actually exist until we attempt to measure them. Interaction between particles does not exist until they actually collide. Reality does not exist until we observe it. Prior to this moment they only exist as a possibility, and have no absolute reality at all!

All of this leads me into a sense of wonder about the extraordinary nature of existence. Human beings, needing some logic because of their inexhaustible desire for explanation, create all kinds of stories to explain existence, what it is, and how it came to be. Their stories are different. They all present what they see as logical explanations for their stories, and therefore declare their stories as being “truth”. They then often punish other human beings who will not accept their “absolute truth”. What difficulties this gets us in!

The universe is vastly more wonderful and inexplicable than any of these stories, however old, can explain.

What we need is to encourage a sense of this mysteriousness, a sense of inquisitive enquiry, and an open mind nurtured by an understanding about the stories we create, and where they originate, from inside our minds. Our minds are the source of everything, including the stories. Where are our minds? What is this “myself”?

Practice reflection on this.”

FULL MOON – Responsibility

As iron is destroyed by the rust it produces, 
so those who perform evil are corroded 
by their own action. 

Dhammapada v.240

Contrary to what we might expect, owning up to the part we play in determining the quality of our lives can be energising. If we were not taught at an early age about the law of kamma we easily entertain the view that it is others who define the quality of our life. We assume we need others to act and speak in ways that don’t offend us. The Buddha’s teachings tell us that essentially whether we are confused or contented is the result of our own actions. Of course we will always experience the external world as agreeable and disagreeable. Whether or not we add to those experiences by indulging in liking and disliking is a choice.

FULL MOON – Keeping Quiet

Those who speak much 
are not necessarily possessed of wisdom. 
The wise can be seen 
to be at peace with life 
and free from all enmity and fear. 

Dhammapada v. 258

At times it feels as if we are obliged to have an opinion about absolutely everything. What happens if, however, instead of habitually voicing our opinion on a particular topic, we resolutely remain quiet and listen; intentionally listen outwards to what is being said by others and listen inwards to our own minds. It can be hard to feel at peace with the world, especially with so much disruption around us. We can still contribute skilfully by training our attention to gently listen. In the process we might, for example, learn how noisy we make our minds by endlessly agreeing and disagreeing with all that we hear. Not having an opinion on something does not necessarily indicate weakness. With right restraint perhaps a kind of peace could emerge out of the chaos.

International Bhikkhuni Day

As this is the first full moon of September it is also the 9th International Bhikkhuni Day.

The date is chosen because the first Bhikkhuni, Bhikkhuni Maha Pajapati Theri, the Buddha’s stepmother and aunt, ordained during a full moon in September, the occasion marking the start of the Bhikkhuni Sangha.

It is a day on which we pay respect to the Bhikkhuni Sangha and acknowledge its essential role in preserving and spreading the Dhamma. We remember prominent Bhikkhunis and their unique achievements and contributions.

It is a time to re-dedicate ourselves to becoming the skilled, adept, learned, and purified disciples the Buddha intended us to be.

FULL MOON – Goodness

Having performed a wholesome act
it is good to repeat it. 
Enjoy the pleasure of its memory. 
The fruit of goodness is contentment. 

Dhammapada v.118

To do good is easy: a moment of intentional kindness, or the effort to be a little bit more patient. And the fruits of such wholesome acts is contentment. Hence the Buddha encourages us to take time to savour the fruits of goodness. We readily ascribe value to characteristics such as cleverness and popularity, but we should check and see if investing in these qualities actually leads to contentment. Isn’t it the case that trying to always be the winner and be noticed leads to more discontentment? Let’s not assume that cultivating goodness is so difficult or that it will have no effect.

Zen Group Stop York Minster Meetings After Christian Objections

Some of you may recall a story we ran in May 2016, “Christian Group Protests Meditation in York Minster” where Andrea Williams, chief executive of the pressure group Christian Concern, said: “Buddhism contrasts sharply with Christian teaching about God. The two are incompatible. To try to mix them is deceptive and dishonours Jesus Christ.”

“It is remarkable that this is happening at one of the country’s best known cathedrals. The Archbishop of York must take swift action. This type of confusion undermines the Church of England’s current initiative to encourage Christian prayer.”

“It is sobering that last year a Canon of this same cathedral blessed the city’s ‘Pride’ march. The Church of England must take decisive action to deal with this radical agenda.”

Well, guess what, the Zen meditation group is to cease meeting in the grounds of York Minster following controversy over “bilingual religion”.

The group has been told that its weekly 90-minute silent meditation sessions in the Old Palace must end in the autumn.

Senior clergy at York Minster had quietly introduced Zen Buddhist zazen meditation sessions. They became a regular fixture, listed among the Minster’s main “spiritual” activities, alongside its Sunday school and youth group, and were enthusiastically supported by the then Dean, the Very Rev Vivienne Faull.

The group was not a religious order and had never met within the cathedral, she said. “The chapter of York would not give permission for any such religious order to be set up at York Minster.”

But the new Dean of York Minster, the Right Rev Dr Jonathan Frost, who was installed in February, is believed to have decided to end the Minster’s association with the Zen group.

The sessions were initiated by Christopher Collingwood, the canon chancellor of the minster, who practises and teaches Zen meditation and has described himself as “religiously bilingual”.

On his Twitter feed, Collingwood says he is “leader of York Zen Group (part of Wild Goose Zen Sangha in the White Plum Asanga)”.

Consequences – Asalha Puja

Avoid speaking harshly to others; 
harsh speech prompts retaliation. 
Those hurt by your words may hurt you back. 

Dhammapada v.133

That our intentional actions have consequences is a basic lesson in life. This verse highlights the way heedless speech can have painful consequences. We would be wise to consider how the opposite also holds true: that respectful, considered speech has positive consequences. Such a teaching is so simple that we might overlook its real value. So let’s slow down and take time to observe the evidence in our daily life. How do we feel having followed a hurtful impulse? Possibly initially we could feel good having been freed from pent up resentment or frustration. But how about a day later or a week later? And conversely, how do we feel when we recall having made an effort to avoid causing harm?

Summer Meditation Retreat

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick reminder that it now just under two weeks until West Wight Sangha’s Summer Meditation Retreat! The retreat runs from 10 o’clock on the morning of Sunday the 21st of July to four o’clock in the afternoon. For anyone who hasn’t been before, we are at Yew Tree Cottage, Weston Road, Totland and you can ring me on 756884.

Please let me know if you intend coming so that I have some idea of the numbers.

As is now our usual practice we’re looking to evenly balance the morning and afternoon sessions so we’ll be having lunch from 12:30 finishing at 1:30, so it would be nice if you’re only coming for the morning or afternoon to stay or come at half twelve and join everyone for lunch…… usual format of bringing vegetarian food to share. Also, feel free to bring any readings that you would like to share.

Be well, Steve