This years Wesak celebrations were very well attended and made for a glorious day. 16 adults and 4 youngsters packed out the ceremony hall. It was good to hear a roomful of joyous singing. It was also good to welcome a couple from London and their two offspring who are members of Thich Nhat Hanh’s sangha. Also attending were 3 members from the Milton Keyne’s group, one of whom brought their daughter. Due to the glorious weather we later were able to spread out into the garden and have lunch. Thank you to all who provided a sumptious feast.
Over the Easter weekend the priory will be holding a drop in wwekend retreat. Feel free to come for all or any part of the retreat. The usual group events will go ahead. If you would like to attend a meal please if possible bring something to share or let me know that you will need catering for. Please click on link for schedule.
I will be way at Throssel for a few days in March. Consequently I have postponed the talk on Meditation in Daily Life which was planned for March 14th. I will reshedule. The group evening will still happen.
The Reading half marathon this year will be on Sunday 18th March. This means that access to Cressingham Rd for parking, is limited.
The friday afternoon sessions are proving popular. With this in mind I am thinking of stopping the friday evening meetings. These are proving less popular, and those I have asked who do come then all say they can come Sunday. No final decision has been made but it is looking likely to happen. Possibly form April. If you have any feedback on this, I am as always, happy to hear from you.
As a prince living in luxury, and his father keepng him away from anything that he thought might be distressing, the young Buddha was innocent to what we as humans will suffer. Eventually he was able to leave his seclusion and travelled, with his servant Channa, beyond the walls of his palace. Here he observed for the first time an old man, a sick man, a dead man and finally, a wandering ascetic. Each time he asked Channa what it was that he saw and received the reply that he too along with all others would be like the first three. Upon seeing the monk he determined to renounce his life and take the path of the renunciate and find the way to end suffering. He decided to leave his wealth, family, wife and child and take to the road.
What are we take from this story? To renounce, do we have to do similiar, leave all we have, and step into the unknown? Or can we ‘leave home’ in other ways, and is renunciation about something else?
I took the route of monastiscm, but for others that is not the way. We can still renounce because our relationship with life changes when we decide to undertake to practice and live by the Precepts. When we do this those areas of our life which we previously clung to as neccessary start to fall away. When we turn towards living from the heart, that which previously seemed important becomes less so. They start to fall away and lessen in significance. We don’t have to physically leave home, sell the house and car and give up our livelihood. Yet when we trust the heart we can draw on a deeper well of wisdom and see what it is that is that is more important for walking the path. Rather than seeing renunciation as a wilful act of getting rid of maybe see it as a trust in what is. To sit with and trust that all is well.
We start to give up that which wants to know. That which wants an answer or a full stop. We turn towards a way of living where each moment is enough. To enter into repose and look deeply into that which wants to add and fill up from an external supply. It doesn’t mean we don’t do anything, far from it, but it points to where we frantically are trying to fill a hole which truly doesn’t exist. To renounce is to have the courage to allow that which is unfolding to unfold, and not to put limits on our potentiality. However hard it may appear to bear, to judge our effort or deem what it is that is appropriate in zazen, (i.e. judge what arises), we are turning against renouncing. This we all can do. Whether we have grown our hair or shaved it off, we all have the potential to turn towards and not away from that which is showing itself.
To know we are all going to die, as do all things, is one thing, and not insignificant, yet to live from that place is another.
What is this life that is expressed. These shifting sands that have no substaniality to them. It is not that we live each moment as if it is our last, in a conscious way, yet underneath all we do and say there is a movement towards letting go of life and death, so that we can live fully and free. When we renounce the self, (which is always grabbing and clinging on, because it is frightened that if it lets go all is lost), we can live from a more expansive place of giving and just letting be our desires and needs.
To follow the way of the Buddhas and Ancestors is learning how to listen and follow. Watch when our lives tighten up and we cling to the known form and can’t hear the teaching of the moment. To know release from this suffering is to see compassion arise for self and other. To know suffering and let go is to have empathy with others who must be suffering also. Whilst our suffering can be unique in its particulars we can only fully experience it if we know that it isn’t ours, but a common condition of being alive. If compassion is to be compassion then suffering can’t be owned in that way.
The Buddha showed that there can be an end to suffering, and that the end was living the eightfold path. the activity of our lives is the expression of this. The eightfold path like the precepts shows that how we live is the the direction to penetrate the cycle of suffering. As it says in the Shushogi, “the most important thing for Buddhists is to understand birth and death completely”. To renounce ways of being which carry on the cycle of suffering is the activity of the Buddhas and Ancestors.
Above the altar and the Buddha seated upon it is a clear blue sky with brilliant dignified clouds. Whilst perceiving the clouds as clouds, we know also that our life is the clarity within the clouds just as Manjusri isn’t separate to the beast he sits upon. Manjusri shows an acceptance of the beast and is not pushing it away. Acknowledgement and acceptance of the beast helps us to empathise with and know that it isn’t separate to true nature. The sun is always shining whether we perceive clouds or not. There is that which pure from the first, untainted, yet to deny the beast or the clouds is to miss the point. To awaken to this reality is to see that we ourselves create clouds in our own image. The cloud or the beast is not a threat. It can’t harm us, it has no substance. What we perceive is a reflection of accumulations. Past conditioning, which if believed, can drive us to see and behave from fear, anxiety, pride or whatever it is for you in any moment. Yet there is always space in between where we can see that all isn’t as solid as we may have thought. Putting ourselves to the centre of life and seeing everything from a single centred perspective tends to us directing everything we perceive from this spectrum.
When we see through this mist things are less clear. We assume and guess at what is ahead rather than look at what is there in front of us. We project problems and difficulties which are just reflections of the self. In turn this helps and assists the self to keep hardening rather than soften .Zazen shows that the light illumines in any case. Whatever ‘hell’ we see, is illuminated. Whatever world we feel we inhabit it always has a Buddha at it’s centre. We see the mind clouding and judging and simultaneously realising that this is not how it is. To intuitively realise this apparant paradox is to step forward, or more accurately, go deeper. Sitting is a natural activity and it shows us that no more is required in that moment to see. To return to our true home and sit in repose is to know that this moment is bright and illuminated and we need to look no further. Whether we can see is not the issue it is awakening to this reality and trusting that seeing is possible.
The clouds are not separate to the illumination. Above the altar there is a sea of dignity and brilliance. The sky is clear and the clouds are part of it. If we see the clouds as obscuring they will remain opaque. Clouds are just droplets of water. They come and go dependent upon conditions. Try to grasp a cloud in your hand and you can’t. The clear sky is within the cloud.
To live as best we can from the place of meditation we help ourselves in not judging and separating and to see and acknowledge that harm comes from suffering. When we create harm it is because we are clinging to something that we still feel needs defending. Something that we still see as fully part of ourselves, an extension of who we are. Letting go of body and mind completely is to know that there is nothing to cling to. It may be a glimpse in a moment, yet its impact can be revolutionary. To experience falling away is to know that this is supported. A falling into rather than out of. To trust the next step when we can’t see what that will bring is not beyond us.
None of this done alone. If it is awakened to apart from all things then it isn’t true or real. Awakening is awakening at one and the same time as all things. It isn’t our awakening, which is isolated. Awakening is being aware that all is awakened. When someone awakens we share that joy because it is not owned by anyone.
” All the buddhas have completed their practice, become one with the Way, and attained enlightenment. How are we to understand the identity of ourselves and the buddhas? The practice and attainment of buddhahood must be one with the whole world and all sentient beings.’
Great Master Dogen; ‘Only Buddha together with Buddha’ Yuibutsu – yobutsu
Training and enlightenment are one. Zazen is enlightened action, enlightened action is to live from the precepts. There is nothing to gain. To be illumined by the light of zazen is to do zazen, and zazen is to do nothing, because we don’t do zazen, zazen does us.
Richard Bentley is a Sound Artist who visited the priory this week. He is doing a Phd on sound in silent spaces. He goes to many places which have a quality of silence, woods, libraries, and religous spaces for example. He referred to what he does as listening meditation. Richard is a buddhist practioner of some years standing and will be coming back to record some more and we are thinking of having a conversation on the subject of silence and practice.
On Saturday March 3rd, between 10.00 am – 4pm there will be a work day here at the priory. There will be activities for all abilities and skills. These are always good ways of the sangha coming together and expressing the active aspects of meditation. Some of the projects currently on the list are sorting and organising the loft space, pointing up some brick work in the sacristy store + organising the store itself, garden work, one of which maybe adding a 2nd raised bed, and getting it ready for planting seeds.. There is also of course help getting lunch together if that is more in your line. There may be others added to the list depending on interest and numbers attending. I thank you in advance for your help and if successful I can see adding more during the year if and when they are needed. As always please let me know in advance of your interest in coming.
On Saturday February 17th between 9.30 am – 12.30 pm, I will be giving a morning of instruction and advice for those of you who would like to learn or brush up on participating in the ceremonial here at the priory. It will mainly consist of precenting and chaplaining. Precenting is leading the singing and chanting for ceremonies aswell as the ringing of the gongs. The chaplaining will be showing the skills needed in assisting the celebrant ( me) in ceremonial. If you are already doing this to some extent but wish for more guidance then this will be suitable for you aswell. Along with the practical instruction of course I will be covering the spiritual aspects of ceremonial which underpin it all.
I hope some of you are interested in this and thereby swelling the pool of priory members who can help out when needed. Remember it is the offering that is primary here. If you can’t hold a note don’t forget there is evening service where the recitation is spoken.
Please let me know in advance if you are interested in attending.
Here is a photo of clouds that have been recently painted on the frieze above the altar. They not quite finished but it gives a good idea. The photo doesn’t show the subtle changes in tone and colour in the clouds. I am now looking at getting quotes for the new carpet to finish it all off.
To quote Great Master Dogen;
Yesterday, Friday 29th December, Betty Hahner died. Some of you will have known Betty as she was a regular at Reading Priory back in the 90’s. We are holding a memorial for Betty this afternoon (30th) at 2.30pm. I had known Betty for over 20 years and appreciated her friendship even though we weren’t in touch on a regular basis.