What is renunciation?

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.

A brilliant sea of clouds

Recently I completed the frieze above the altar at the priory. A clear blue sky with banked clouds. The following article comes from, and is based, around this.

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.

The complaining mind

This short article in Food for the Heart is about something which we all will be familiar with, the complaining mind. It affects us all at sometime or other and can be particularly insidious when we let it worm its way into our life. It’s most obvious forms can appear in ‘I don’t want’, ‘I don’t like’ and maybe ‘I object to’. If we believe that there indeed may be a better more efficient way of doing a task for example, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are incorrect. That isn’t the issue at hand. It is the problems that come when we approach these things from a divisive position which is fixed from the point of ‘I’ ‘and ‘me’. A position which finds it difficult to see outside of this place. It can be hard, insistant and forcing. It is good to look at what we are doing when we sense this is happening. The complaining mind often comes from such a place. Clinging to a point of view which radiates from a single point doesn’t help to release us from suffering. The suffering comes when that position is challeged and we aren’t able to be fluid and move ourselves when it is good to do so. Our attachments are challenged and we don’t like it. The mind revolts and tries to defend itself with the effect being that we try to find a safe place. Rather than take a step forward into new territory we take refuge in the known, because that is more comfortable. We only defend when there is something left to feel defensive about.

One of the Ten Great Precepts is:

Do not be proud of yourself and devalue others.

‘Every Buddha and every Ancester realises that he is the same as the limitless sky and as great as the universe: when they realise their true body, there is nothing within or without; when they realise their true body, they are nowhere upon the earth.’

When we complain we divide. Division of the indivisible is our creation. By creating division we have a separation in our minds. We step outside of meditation and add to what is naturally present. An artificial division which stops us seeing ourselves as other. Here we create a falsehood which in the end is unsustainable because it doesn’t allow us to step off the cycle of hurt.

Harmony in the sangha is vital in this. Recently at the Priory we have had to adapt some ceremonial because of the situation we found ourselves in. This isn’t a problem but what really helped to make it work was that people were able to put down their preconceptions and make it work. Something larger than our own wants and desires came to the fore and the sangha was able to co-exist in harmony. All were doing their best and working with what they have. ‘Shakyamuni’s enlightenment is the dharma of all existence’ as it says in the Precept Do only good. Not my enlightenment, not yours and not his. To face every moment afresh with as few filters as we can manage is to start to see how much we can help situations flow and adapt. By not coming from a place of complaining we allow ourselves and others to exist together in a way which ceases from doing harm and showing us all the potential which is enfolded by the Precepts. Each moment brings forth a chance to drop what it is that we are carrying around and see that our opinion is one of many and at best only a partial view.

 

 

Striving

Great Master Keizan who along with Great Master Dogen is one of the two main Founders of Soto Zen Buddhism, is probably best noted for two things. The first being that he is responsible for the ritualisation and passing down of most of the ceremonial practised in Soto Zen temples to this day and secondly he wrote and compiled the Denkoroku. This set of writings known also as the ‘Transmission of the Light’ are spiritual biographies of the Ancestors in our lineage from Shayamuni Buddha to Dogen’s disciple Koun Ejo. It is from Chapter 22 of this book that I would like to concentrate on here.

Chapter 22 is about Bashubanzu the 21st Ancestor. I quote from the start of the chapter.

‘One day Shyata said to Bashunbanzu, “Even though I may not seek after enlightenment, I do not act contrary to it; even though I may not be doing prostrations before the Buddha, I am not spiritually negligent; even though I may not eat just one meal a day, I am not gluttonous; even though I may not know what is enough, I am not covetous. In my heart there is nothing that I seek; I call this the Way.” When Bashunbanzu heard this, he realized the WISDOM that is free from all defilements and desires.’

So what is striving in practice? This is what I would like to explore with you here. When we first arouse the mind to practice we tend to come from the point of ‘I’. This is natural enough, it is where we are and enables us to see that there is something to look for which we currently can’t see but sense.To see that there is a problematical ‘me’ is the beginning of letting go. Yet to push towards an end product or try and conceive what it might look like is to leave the middle and reside in one of the extremes. To not see that there is work to do is similar. Here Dogens injunction to ‘think of neither good nor evil’ or ‘consider neither right nor wrong‘ is to not strive in any direction. At this stage it is worth pointing out that using the will to control our speech, thoughts and actions is not the same as striving. Don’t just let it all go without reference to the Precepts and what our innards are prompting us toward. In the chapter Keizan writes that to strive is ‘raining down flowers in a flowerless sky‘ and ‘even if contentment is what you desire, this still amounts to greed’. He also writes that being  ‘habitually partial to long sits, this is being attached to the body’. So here we have the delusion of creating and adding to what is already there naturally.

So this chapter is asking us to entrust to our own ‘ORIGINAL NATURE‘ To not recognise the true original nature is to go looking without realising we are holding it in our hand. Imagine for a moment that you are clutching something precious in your hand and spend all day looking for it. Turning the house upside down, ringing your friends to see if they have it, retracing your steps over the last while and in the meantime getting tired and frustrated with the search. We then recognise we are getting no closer and in a moment of relaxed introspection intuitively open our palm and there it is looking straight back at us.

Many of our questions about practice can be like this. The habit forming mind goes scurrying around looking in all the same places, looking and seeking rather than relaxing into the true silence and letting the true nature show itself to us. When we are quiet it has a chance of making itself heard. Zazen is in accord with the true nature. To inhabit this place is to see that there is no path and no awakening that we tread or can attain, it just appears. It is not about getting everything because it is everything. In the Denkoroku Keizan ends each chapter with a short poem.

The wind blows across the vast sky,

making clouds expose the mountain peak;

Worldly affairs and yearnings for enlightenment

are both of no concern’.

The above quotes in italics are from translations which are copyright Shasta Abbey Press.

 

 

 

The Wisdom of Silence

In this article I would like to contemplate silence and how it can be accessed and inhabited as a refuge. Finding this well of silence helps us not to get dragged around in the mind and gives the space that is needed to act from a position that is not fixed and divided.

External disturbance is tricky in that it can easily convince us that all our troubles are caused by outside forces. This can lead to a form of vicarious living where we move from our internal lives to living outside of ourselves and become involved in others business where we have no place. This can lead to assuming positions and strategies which focus on the external to the detriment of our internal processing. We can learn to ‘live in the world as if in the sky, as the lotus is not wetted by the water that surrounds it’. By identifying with worldy concerns and thereby constantly rebuilding a permament self which fails to recognise impermamance, we can fall into the constant cycle of suffering. To empathise with anothers or our own suffering is not the same as taking it on. It seems to me it is more compassionate and helpful to occupy another space. A silent space.

To be aware of the silent space is to see how we can let everything pass in and through. The empty form. Silence is indeed big enough to allow everything in, we just don’t need to repel anything, just don’t hold on. There seems to be a logic for example in dealing with distraction by building a wall and not letting it in. Mara’s arrows bounce off of the shield and don’t penetrate. This kind of logic unfortunately doesn’t go far enough and only achieves a short term gain. Sit within the distraction and watch it going through leads to a transformation which flowers into something much more wonderful.

Whether it is distraction, anger, frustration or one of the many tempters we can find, it can be hard to see beyond it. This can lead to us easily buying into what it has to sell. The mind is a very good salesman trained in all the tricks to convince us we need to act on such emotions. It becomes very noisy and insistent. It asks us to identify with anger for example, that we can’t live without it. At this point it important to remember and realise that there is nothing to hold onto. Here lies freedom from enslavement to the senses. My getting angry and opinionated about a particular situation doesn’t get anywhere near to resolving it at anything other than a surface level. Remembering that all is both beginningless and endless. We may appear to achieve a short term gain, a sense of relief for example, yet in our heart we know this has the wrong feeling, which leads to sense of being ill at ease. It doesn’t lead to the cessation of suffering.

What disturbs does come from within. We are only hurt because there is something still unresolved which can be hurt. By living within the silence we can see beyond the immediate sensory sensation. Silence is all encompassing and holds our delicate emotions in cupped hands. ‘As vast as space itself’ noise gets lost in the vastness of silence. Silence has no boundaries. no inside or out, no limit. To hear the silence we need to be still. There doesn’t have to be an absence of noise to know silence, it soaks it all up. So to know silence anywhere is vital. It can become our constant environment where seperation and division fall away. How do we find it? Let it go.

The spirit of the Priory and how to use it

This article is the first of two outlining both the spiritual and practical aspects of the Priory and how best to benefit from your time here. The second article will cover ceremonial.

If we are to talk about the spirit of the Priory and how to use it, where can we say it starts and ends? When we put our foot across the threshold do we inhabit a different mind? Is the rest of our life separate to how we are in the temple? In what way does meditation flow in to all we do? These are just four questions of the many that can arise when considering this issue.

A good starting point would be to understand why the Priory exists. What is it’s purpose and how is that purpose fulfilled? Firstly it is a refuge for those who wish to or have undertaken a meditation practice and would like to take it deeper. The Priory helps in sustaining practice and point the way. Everything about the place helps us all to remember and keep true to the life of meditation and the precepts. So when we enter the building, the aspects of gratitude and respect are already active. As individuals this is what we offer to all beings, and it helps in allowing us to know our true life. Implicit in coming to a Buddhist temple is a wish for the teaching, in whatever form it comes. This humility helps bring out the harmony in the sangha, and this refuge taking in each other helps to mature our practice. Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are all present at one and the same time, and are active.

When we first come to practice we are shown how to meditate first. This is important, because it shows us that this is the important thing and everything flows from this. It’s not a matter of buiding up to it, but we are shown that each moment is complete in itself. Before that though even, as we enter a temple for the first time, we are probably shown to put our shoes straight. This is sometimes verbally but quite often through example. On the face of it a straightfroward act, and it may not always click with us the spiritual importance of such an act. For me it was and remains a vital aspect of religous life which constantly teaches. At one and the same time it is a basic teaching yet also shows us that we never get away from practicing the basics, and that they stop becoming basics, (in our minds), and are ever present truths. For myself putting the shoes straight is not always a self conscious act and yet I am aware that this is what I am doing. It is like breathing, I know when I am not doing it. When we learn the importance of doing this many other aspects of temple life fall in to place. Offering a candle, putting our sitting equipment away tidily or making the tea are just three examples. How to be in a temple is not formulaic. It is different for all of us, yet something is expressed which also speaks of a shared sincerity. This can also be seen in how different Priors express the teaching. Slightly varying approaches inevitably affect how a place functions, yet it will be in line with root of the teaching and show us that we don’t have to squeeze into a straight jacket to be able to be there. All of us have our particularities and these don’t need to be an obstacle even if we may feel sometimes to be out of step with the majority. Yet, if we come with an agenda and try to sway others to our point of view, I would say that is an example where there could be a potential issue that would need addressing. Even if pointed out it is still down to us to do something about our behaviour. To see and acknowledge in our hearts that the harmomy of the sangha is being disturbed.

Stepping forward is another expression of practice. To freely offer is a gift and received with gratitude. (I will cover this more fully in part two). However small it may seem it is noticed and appreciated. It is a joy to see somebody come forth and offer. This could be in making tea for everyone, lighting candles before meditation or a service or offering to be chaplain or precentor (both cermonial roles). Because we are deeply interconnected these acts make a significant difference and the merit of the offering resounds throughout the temple and beyond. Initially we may come to training to do something about ourselves, (which remains true), yet we all receive the merit of another’s offering. Our wholehearted effort is an encouragement to others and points up the potential in us all to awaken.

An important and maybe obvious area to look at is the role of the Prior and one’s relationship to that priest. The Prior’s role first and foremost is to sit still within the body of the temple and do his or her practice. Everything comes forth from there. The everything being keeping the doors open, (spirituall and physically),offering an expansive welcome  to all who come, protecting and offering the dharma, and all that is inbetween. In conversation recently somebody told me not to forget that people come because there is a monk resident. Some people prefer to keep that monk at arms length and others wish for a more close association. My vow is to look with the eye of a buddha and see a buddha. Whether you have just walked through the door or have been coming for some time the essential buddha nature is there to be trusted. Nevertheless it is natural that if I get to know someone on more than a passing level the relationship will reflect that. In a way the Prior is a sponge who is able to soak up spillages and messes, gently and with no fuss and , vitally, not create one of their own. The teachers role here to is show harmony so that others may see its value. I believe it is important for us all to keep our antenna alert because the teaching can come in less obvious ways and to be open to receiving that dharma even when it shows something about ourselves which we would rather not acknowledge just now.

So to sum up, the Priory is here for you when you need it. Treat it with respect and gratitude, and what it has to offer will be available for you. Offer up yourselves, and by that I mean that hard, resisting and obstinate self which can want things in a certain way, and all beings will receive the merit of your actions.

Offering of the Buddhas

The Festival of the Buddha’s Birth is the biggest and most important throughout the buddhist world. It is also seen seen as a celebration of the enlightenment and death of the Buddha as well. What is it in this that is significant to us as practitioners. In other words what is it pointing to that can be helpful for us in this moment.

Shayamuni’s offering to the world was to show a way out of the cyclical nature of suffering by awakening to how things are and not clinging to the mind creations which obscure our vision. By showing us in the Jatakamala stories his past existences, we are shown that through many acts of letting go and selfless behaviour we can see that as we let go moment by moment it is possible to live from a lighter place which is less cluttered with the consequences of clinging. Through this regular practice we also come to see that what we are really isn’t just the surface appearance of a human being as normally seen by the world. As we do this there is the rebirth of a less encumbered person. Karma is converted and transformed. It is gently cleansed, and past obstructions, which hitherto we couldn’t see past, no longer hinder our freedom.

In Buddhism there is the world of no birth and no death. What is it that truly lives and doesn’t die?. What can truly be relied upon that is much than this body which will perish soon enough? To connect with that which sits. That which returns home in meditation, and resides in it’s natural place. I believe a key to this is to see the beginngless and endless nature of life. In the Kyojukaimon it says, ‘Enlightenment is Eternal and is even now‘. By coming to realise the interconnectedness of all things we know that to divide is a harmful act which turns away from an understanding of what is a natural wisdom.

Looking at the Ancestral Line,( the succession of Masters who have transmitted theTruth), we see six Buddhas before Shakyamuni. After the last name there is the empty red line which winds it’s way back to the empty circle from which all appears. There is an obvious linearity in this in a way but what it’s showing is that teaching finds it’s particularilty in the time it’s taught so that it can be heard, yet what is taught is not restricted by boundaries and exists at one and the same time. Beyond the three existences. Each moment is complete and undivided.

The offering of the Buddhas, as we celebrate the birth of the Buddha is to acknowledge the potential of all beings to awaken to the Truth.The significance of the children to the ceremony is to show the potential of all beings to awaken. They hold their lotus buds and place them in the water before ladling the baby buddha with water. These buds if allowed to grow will become full grown lotus flowers, a symbol of enlightenment, which will still have their roots in the mud. Something we can’t escape, and nor should we try.

What Buddha is isn’t born and doesn’t die or become enlightened. It is expressed through forms which are empty of any permanat or substantial self. To come to know this dissolving through meditation practice we see that what is left is the natural arising of love, compassion and wisdom which transcends any particular view. It just is. So let us all drop what we think we are and take seven steps, like the baby buddha, and trust our potential, otherwise how can we awaken to the undivided nature.

Letting go of health

When I first came to practice I was intrigued when I heard that training was a process of getting ready to die well. It was saying that everything I did from now on was a preparation for a good death. At the time I sort of knew I could die at anytime, (my experiences ending up in hospital after being knocked off my bike(s) led me to see how fragile and vulnerable this body can be),but was I living fully this way? If I was about to die at any time was I prepared to let go of life? Could I give it up when the time came? A tall order you may say. Perversly, the deeper the letting go is and the more we penetrate impermanance, with it comes a stronger sense of wanting to live.

Conversations these days can focus on health issues. Understandable as we grow older and the body and mind shows signs of becoming less able. The exchange of tales from visits to the doctor, nurse and hospital appointments and the  different therapies that are advocated and we try to implement are exchanged. When we get ill with something that is a bit beyond the normal aches and pains which we are all prone to it can focus the mind and one naturally hones in on these issues. To look after our minds and bodies is of course good and a sign of respect to that which we have and can use for good. Training can take will and effort. Indeed the meal time scripture says ‘We eat lest we become lean and die’. However hard we keep up an exercise regime or eat healthily we will still die. To keep fit and healthy is good but let us not create a falsehood, a permanancy, a delusion. It is so easy to overdo it and strive towards a perfection that is always out of reach. The next best diet, the upgrade of an exercise program. It is so easy to be diverted from the important matter. The mind seems to be so good at creating illusions, of showing us a potential life outside of what is.There is indeed a middle way which is neither holding on or pushing away.

Much of my monastic work has been around chronic illness and seeing how people learn to be with what can be a difficult adjustment to make. The body and mind deterioates and we become more and more dependent on others in ways that are new to us. In all of this something can and does shine through and light up a room. ‘The light of insight shines forth’. When we can see from meditation, illness and death are transformed and compassion for this impermanat body and mind manifests. A compassionate sees that we are not seperate. Although ill and the body is breaking down what we really are is not harmed. It shows that enlightenment is ever present. Letting go is all important in all we do. We are free to be ill and free to die. there is nothing to hold onto, not life itself. Being healthy when we are able, is good, let us not allow it to become a solid permanant self. Let go fully and return to the source. We may not know why we are on this earth, but we can know what we need to do as our bodies leave it.

Rev. Gareth

My Pure Land will not be destroyed

This small article is based around ‘The Immeasaurable Life of the Tathagata’ which is a chapter from the Lotus Sutra. In a nutshell it deals with the role of doubt in our practice, or another way of putting it is, what is there to believe in? The Buddha talks of ‘always abiding here, and ‘yet appears as extinct‘. How can we have faith in what appears as extinct and yet are told that it is always here? So to me  it is talking about faith in the practice or trusting the process. To sit and let go of all we believe, and trust in what we can’t fully see. It becomes a case of dropping the confusion by us not getting in the way and allowing that which needs to be seen and heard a chance to be seen and heard. As the Scripture says ‘confused creatures not see me though I am near’. This is talking about trusting and allowing doubts to fall away by turning towards doubt. The Buddha then appears proclaiming the Dharma. He appears to those who, ‘wholeheartedly yearn to see the Buddha‘. When fully acknowledged and accepted doubt shows itself as truth.

Doubt is just a cloud drifting across our vision. Enightenment is ever present. Beyond the human realm enlightenment is not restricted. Being beyond our conceptions, (however grand they may be), whatever we think it is that is not it. From my experience, (such as it is), it doesn’t come in the form of answers to questions as such but comes about through living and breathing the life of the meditation and the precepts. How we live and act. As Dogen said ‘Training and Enightenment are one’. Living in accord with the Precepts is enlightened action.

Elsewhere in the Scripture it talks of ‘Under bejewelled trees, heavy with blossoms and fruit, may these beings take their delight and play‘ and ‘My Pure Land will not be destroyed, though sentient beings may see it as utterly consumed by fire‘. It is tempting to look for bejewelled trees, pleasant though that may seem, and not see them for what they are. Yet again we can fall into the trap of conception and not see the bejewelled tees because they aren’t what we are expecting. Seeing the jewel in our lives, as it is. The eye of compassion can see confusion as something to embrace not turn away from and shun. All is one and all is different. Compassion naturaly arises.

Thoughts and feelings are the effects of past actions, they don’t need to hinder us. Equanimity seems to be consumed by fire yet the Pure Land is not destroyed by appearances. When we closely look isn’t all well in that very moment. This is ‘Abiding on Vulture Peak’ in the Scripture. To know there is suffiency. I know it took me quite a while to understand and not confuse this with adequecy. Sufficient is what we always have been and are.

Enlightenment isn’t something we have or don’t have. It is ever present, beginning less and end less. It is all. It is the natural state that can be awakened to. This is why when we open up,  it seems like coming home. The natural residing place of body and mind. Non action and non seeking is practice, not the casting aside of practice which implies one is seeking by casting aside. Why name it? It is everything and nothing in particular. Trust the process and know it is there, let it reveal itself. Trust the Buddha when he says ‘My Pure Land will not be destroyed

The quotes from The Immeasurable Life of the Tathagata are from Buddhist Writings, published by Shasta Abbey.

This article is a shortened version of a talk given at Reading Buddist Priory.

Rev. Gareth

 

Giving and receiving

There is a saying, ‘Serving and being served are folds in the same garment’. I think it might be Chinese but is , to me, of unknown origin. As I settle in to my new role here I’m finding it particularly pertinent. It seems to hinge around gratitude and humility.

For all of us the notion of charity can raise different issues. For example what is worthy of our time and money?. Or questioning whether in fact a blade of grass or a handful of sand can be seen as enough. Indeed Dogen in the Shushogi talks of building a bridge as an act of charity. He makes no distinction between making a profit or not, just that it benfits others. All sorts of weighing up take place and deeds are placed on the scales. Here I would like to focus on the koan of giving and receiving. If we do something freely and are thanked, how often do we find ourselves shunning the thanks because we feel that by doing so we are less likely to fall into the trap of pride. or perhaps more damagingly be seen as having pride. Due to our backgrounds this can fall anywhere along the spectrum causes and conditions make. We don’t need thanks for doing what seems good to do, do we? We don’t do it for that reason, do we? Well no probably not, but let’s see it from another angle. Is there not gratitude and giving  in allowing anothers heartfelt offering to be accepted. The saying, ‘It is not about me yet I am involved’ comes to mind. Undeniably we as individuals give, we put ourselves out there, but what really gives and accepts? The life of a renunciate lay or monk sees that by giving up our own desires we can allow a free flowing exchange of gratitude. So when someone offers to do something for us the acceptance of that offering is indeed a fold in the same garment. What brings forth the wish to offer is not seperate to that which accepts. Surely by allowing ourselves to experience the joy of serving we open up to a world, a way of being, which fully encompasses a generosity of spirit which acknow;ledges anothers wish to give. Indeed to let go of our desire to be seen a certain way, i.e. one who displays no pride, is a stepping forth into the way of the buddhas and ancestors. The way of the ancients which has no time and is ever present. The same ever present which is truly who we  and all things are.

The use of the term garment is also helpful in appreciating what I am trying to say here. A garment tends to enfold just as a kesa, and by natural extension a wagesa, which represents the buddhist precepts enfolding us. Each morning we wrap ourselves in the precepts which point us in the direction of perpetual practice. Each fold of the kesa expresses a generosity of spirit.

So as we sit, each day finding out what it is that is asked, we are both serving  and being served, realising that both are happening simultaneously. However hard it is for us to receive help, by turning our backs we make it harder to give and receive. All things, all dharmas come forth unhindered. Everything teaches. Each moment arising is an opportunity to allow ourselves to hear. If ‘I’ receive, the point is missed and vice versa. When experienced from the seat of meditation what is good to do shows itself. There then is a following which can twist and turn as it plays out. All comes from the same root. All enfolded in the same garment.

Rev. Gareth