FULL MOON – Truly Worthy

Those who know the uncreated, 
who are free and stilled, 
who have discarded all craving, 
are the most worthy beings. 

Dhammapada v.97

On this Full-moon day of May, as we mark Vesakha Puja, let us consider what the Buddha held up as being most worthy of attention. We are already well informed in regards to ‘the created’ world i.e. all the conditions which we see arising and ceasing. And we have heard many times how all that is born dies, all that arises ceases, all conditioned phenomena are in a state of perpetual change. The Buddha’s realization shows us that it is possible to awaken to what he called ‘the unconditioned’, ‘the uncreated’, ‘the unchanging reality’. Realization of this reality, he taught, is what is truly dependable and therefore truly worthy of attention. So how might we arrive at this realization? One approach could be simply to keep asking the right questions: What is the uncreated? What is the unconditioned? What is the undying? We then contemplate that any condition, any idea, any sensation that arises when we ask such questions, is not it – and we keep letting go.

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Wesak in the West Wight

As you will know we have been holding a Wesak celebration here at the West Wight Sangha every May for the last few years.

Wesak is the Buddhist festival that commemorates the Buddha’s birth, awakening and final passing and is celebrated by millions of Buddhists around the world on the day of the first full Moon of May.

In 1999, the UN recognized internationally Vesak Day to acknowledge the contribution that Buddhism, one of the oldest religions in the world, has made for over 2500 years. This day is commemorated annually at the UN Headquarters and other UN offices and missions.

This year we will celebrate Wesak here at the West Wight Sangha on the actual day of the full moon which is Tuesday the 29th of May. This coincides with our usual Tuesday evening meeting and as such we will be adding an extra half hour to our customary session taking it from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. In addition to our normal meditation practice, we will be having other activities and festive nibbles!

Come and wish the Buddha a happy birthday, celebrate his awakening and death (Buddhists celebrate the death of the Buddha because we believe that having attained Enlightenment he achieved freedom from physical existence and its sufferings).

NEW MOON – Radiance

The sun shines by day, 
the moon shines by night. 
But both all day and all night 
the Buddha shines in glorious splendour. 

Dhammapada v. 387

There is no denying that when we look around us there is a lot of darkness. And we might well be thinking that some of ‘the Buddha’s radiance’ would be very helpful right now. But where do we imagine the Buddha’s radiance is to be found? Do our thoughts go back 2600 years to ancient India; or perhaps to the Awakened teachers dwelling in forests somewhere? The Buddha taught that this radiance which he realized already exists within the human heart when it is freed from an inflated sense of self-importance. An exaggerated sense of self-importance gives rise to greed, hatred and delusion which obstruct the natural light, clarity and kindness that is there as potential within us.

Disability advocate Yetnebersh Nigussie receives Right Livelihood Award

The fifth “fold” of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold path is Right Livelihood.

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation announced the three recipients of its 2017 prize today in Stockholm: Ethiopian lawyer Yetnebersh Nigussie, Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova and Indian attorney Colin Gonsalves were honoured for their work “offering visionary and exemplary solutions to the root causes of global problems.” US attorney Robert Bilott received an honorary mention.

 

Yetnebersh Nigussie was five when she went blind. Her family initially struggled to come to terms with her disability. They took her to traditional healers and used holy water treatments because a disabled child was viewed as “God’s” way of punishing the parents for some misdemeanour .

She describes being thus “cursed” by her blindness as an opportunity as it helped her to escape from the early child marriage which is widely exercised in the Ethiopian district where Yetnebersh was born.

But through sheer determination and the help of family members she managed to go to school and excelled. Yetnerbersh is now one of the most influential global disability activists from Africa promoting gender and disability inclusion. She works as a senior advocacy office for the disability and development organisation Light for the World.

The Right Livelihood Award is an international award to “honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.” The prize was established in 1980 by German-Swedish philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, and is presented annually in early December. An international jury, invited by the five regular Right Livelihood Award board members, decides the awards in such fields as environmental protection, human rights, sustainable development, health, education, and peace. The prize money is shared among the winners, usually numbering four, and is €200,000. Very often one of the four laureates receives an honorary award, which means that the other three share the prize money.

Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote,

“To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others.

… Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living.”

Our global economy complicates the precaution to do no harm to others. For example, you may work in a department store that sells merchandise made with exploited labour. Or, perhaps there is merchandise that was made in a way that harms the environment. Even if your particular job doesn’t require harmful or unethical action, perhaps you are doing business with someone who does. Some things you cannot know, of course, but are you still responsible somehow?

Ming Zhen Shakya argues that any work that is honest and legal can be “Right Livelihood.” However, if we remember that all beings are interconnected, we realise that trying to separate ourselves from anything “impure” is impossible, and not really the point. 

 If you keep working in the department store, maybe someday you’ll be a manager who can make ethical decisions about what merchandise is sold there.

The Isle of Wight, The Buddha, NCIS and The Ham

Everything is interconnected.

Our last post concerned the changes to Japan’s traditional Buddhist inspired vegetarian cuisine brought about by Japan’s contact with the West.

I’ve just come across this story about the “World’s Oldest Edible Ham” which is stored in the Isle of Wight County Museum!

Before you all book a ferry to come over to the island to see it pause a moment for the penny to drop that this museum is in Isle of Wight County, Virginia USA which featured in a previous post about the Isle of Wight appearing in an episode of NCIS.

To further add to the confusion and connections the museum is in the town of Smithfield a name any Brit immediately associates with Smithfield market, the largest wholesale meat market in the UK.

You can keep track of what the ham is doing here, yes they’ve got a webcam on it…….

https://video.nest.com/embedded/live/C9Qdyu

The Language of Conflict

Following the recent terror attacks in London and Manchester and the apparently “retaliatory” attack last night outside a mosque in Finsbury Park this article by Andrew Olendzki on conflict is so appropriate………….

A lot of fighting is going on in both private and public discourse today. In a text known as the discourse about not doing battle (Aranavibhanga Sutta, MN 139), the Buddha puts forth suggestions on how we might lessen the conflicts around us. One stands out as making an important point about how we can use language to either provoke or reduce conflict.

It is very common for people to speak something like this:

All those who are committed to [x] are on the wrong path.

All those who are not committed to [x] are on the right path.

You can insert as the variable any belief, opinion, practice, or behaviour.

According to the Buddha, the trouble with this way of speaking is that it engages in “extolling” and “disparaging.” The real problem with this mode of expression is that it is praise or blame directed at a person, and either extols or disparages people who hold the views and engage in the activities specified. We can easily think of examples of arguments, debates, or political talks that are little more than ad hominem attacks, which focus on one’s opponent personally rather than on the matter at hand. As soon as the issue has to do with persons, we tap into primitive instincts for self-preservation and self-aggrandisement and evoke the deep psychological forces identified in the Buddhist tradition as greed, hatred, and delusion. Anytime a “self” is involved, that self is driven by the need to get or hold on to whatever serves it, at any cost, and by the need to deny or destroy anything that threatens it. When a person is extolled, their sense of self-importance and self-righteousness increases, and when a person is disparaged, their reflexes for self-defence are triggered. Both praise and blame evoke a sense of self, and the self always shows up ready to fight.

However, the Buddha was also very clear about the existence of a right path and a wrong path. His message is not that we should avoid conflict by not making distinctions or judgements about what is healthy or unhealthy, skillful or unskillful. Indeed, the clarity of his insight into what is harmful and what is beneficial for sentient beings is among the major contributions made to world civilisation by the Buddha. The matter is more carefully stated this way:

Being committed to [x] brings about suffering and is the wrong path.

Not being committed to [x] does not bring about suffering and is the right path.

The point is a simple and timeless one. There are all sorts of beliefs, opinions, practices, and behaviours that lead to harm, and many others that lead to well-being. By all means, let’s be clear about which is which, and share with others what we understand about this. But when we do this by disparaging people for their views, it will only trigger their existential defence mechanisms—and likely bring out their worst side. They may be hurt or get angry, and because of this either strike back or in some other way speak and act badly. Similarly, if we extol ourselves for our beliefs, it will feed into our own narcissistic tendencies. When alternately one criticises the beliefs and practices themselves, rather than the people that adhere to them, we create some space between the two.

At its worst, of course, the separation of persons from their views or behaviours does little good, for people often identify so strongly with these things that any criticism is taken as a personal attack. If you disparage my beliefs, I hold these so much as a part of who I am that you are essentially disparaging me. This is the insidious side of grasping, and of creating a self to which so many things belong.

At its best, the practice of discussing ideas rather than praising or blaming people allows for everyone to hold different viewpoints without going to battle. I can believe strongly that I am right and you are wrong, but still respect you, while you can maintain the view that you are right and I am wrong, and still put up with me. It is inevitable that there will be a wide range of beliefs, opinions, practices, and behaviours in this large and diverse world. It is not inevitable that people must hate one another on account of this.

It may be a modest contribution, but let’s see whether following the Buddha’s suggestion of using depersonalised language to critique harmful thoughts, words, and deeds, rather than attacking the people who wield them, can help end some of the fighting and muffle the call to battle.