The donkey in the well

One day a farmer’s donkey fell into the well. It began crying out, crying out for help. The farmer tried all he coulkd to work out how to retrieve the poor animal. He finally thought that as the animal was old, and the well needed covering up as it was dry he would kill two birds with one stone.

He went to get get help from his neighbours and they all started shovelling in earth to bury the donkey and fill the well.

What happened next surprised everyone. As the earth was shovelled in and started to cover the the beast, it calmy just shook the earth from it’s back and stepped on to the growing pile. As the farmers shovelled and the pile grew the donkey kept shaking off the dirt and stood atop the mound of earth. Eventually of course the earth and therefore the resiliant donkey rose to the top and easily stepped out of the well and trotted off.

There are two things here. First, unintentional consequences. The farmer wasn’t exactly acting in the best interest of the donkey. He misunderstood the role of cause and effect in the sense that he thought to solve his problem he couldn’t see beyond an action that came from a fixed point. The point being a sense of the permanent self.

The other thing here is that although starting out, so to speak, from a false position, asthe scene plays out we can adjust and learn. In other words see what is happening and then shovel with the intention of releasing the donkey.

One of the joys of training and being in training is to see how quickly we can see where something has gone off. ‘Normally’ when clashes happen or differences of opinion come up we can carry these around and stew for a long time. A very long time. In practicing we come to a much quicker realisation of where we are and can shift and move to be in line sooner. The joy is in not carrying the suffering but knowing to, and knowing how, to put it down.

The other element of the story is to see that whatever life throws at us we can literally shake it off and rise above it. We can feel weighed down and covered over by our emotions and feelings. It can all seem too much and in doing so fail to see that we are allowing outside conditions to drive us. The donkey was wise and saw that here was an opportunity. The intention behind the shovelling is immaterial to us turning our life around. The act of doing harm has an effect, but it doesn’t have to drive us.

The story doesn’t indicate at what point, if at all, the people saw what was happening and then joined in more positvely, let’s hope that’s case. Even so it still shows that one can work with those who are making life difficult, and when doing so the way appears.

When seen through the eye of compassion the donkey’s response was to see what it needed to do and not get bogged down in anxiety, or revengeful feelings. This shows us that the direct route is simpler and clearer. Compassion for the farmer, compassion for the situation and compassion for oneself.

When one finds oneself in a seemingly impossible position where there is no obvious way out and the world is then burying you alive, think of the donkey.

‘Dreaming of perfection’.

The Wild White Goose is the diary of Rev. Master Jiyu’s time in Japan. I would like to use the entry for 17th June as a starting point.

Rev. Haijime said something very sad; he said that human beings are really selfish animals, but that they want to dream of perfection. When they speak hatred and evil they are dreaming of perfection. He concluded that I should remember what he said to me when he saw me first, “Be very careful or we will break your heart.”

We can quite easily misunderstand perfection. When seen through the eye of dualism, perfection, or I idea of it, becomes skewed. It’s more what we think it might be. It is seen through our personal prism. We can mistake seeing clearly for our wants and desires. Our sense of perfection can masquerade as a certainty of truth. When we believe that what we see is how it is, that is ‘dreaming of perfection’.

In the general run of things, to help us understand the world and by extension ourselves we turn to relying on on a set of known equations which by their very nature are limited. This leads to a mistaking of perfection for idealism. When we stick with the idealistic point of view and not understand the ever changing nature of the skandhas our hearts can be broken. In Buddhist practice it is said that the first thing to go is idealism. This was certainly in my own case. To hold on can lead to a sort of despair and possibly a distrust of the practice. We want practice and and our lives to play out in a certain way and when this is not the case we can turn away.

In the ‘Goose’ Rev. Master Jiyu goes through one heck of a lot. Her patience was tested to the extreme as was the trust in the Master/ disiple relationship. It is noticeable early on in the diaries that she looks outward, (understanderbly), and blames all sorts of things for the pain she is feeling. Slowly she sees that the cause is not to be found there. This insight doesn’t make it easier, yet she sees the need to look to her self if suffering is to lessen. When we find for ourselves what it is we truly are then we are closer to knowing the perfection that is being alluded to. To ‘speak hatred and evil and dream of perfection‘ is to believe that we are correct, misunderstand impermanance and act as if there is no cause and effect.

In a way I am writing about sincerity. When seen from this aspect the above sentence is clearer. I was once told that it is possible to be too sincere. This left me scratching my head at the time but later events helped me to see the wisdom in this. It can produce a blinkered way of training, which in turn is a closing down. We think and believe we are doing good but really have shut down and haven’t remained open to the possibilty of change. What is the refuge? If we can stay open it can truly reveal itself.

The diary entry and subsequent repeats in italics are from the ‘The Wild White Goose, the diary of a female Zen Priest’, by Rev. Roshi P.T.N.H. Jiyu – Kennett. Shasta Abbey Press.

 

A dragon for the Buddha

This is the first of an occassional set of Dharma articles which are intended to be short  teachings.

When I was a young monk in the early 2000s I was asked to finish off the side shrines after the re-decoration of the ceremony hall. Part of this was to paint a dragon on an incense stand that stood before the Achalanatha shrine. Having an art background this request involved a mixture of letting go and memory. I came up with a design which I took to Rev. Master Daishin, the Abbot, for discussion. As I was talking to him about the picture and the project I could feel past attachment getting in there and starting to muddy the waters. It was obvious that my sense of self was still mixed up in this. Was it good enough, can I explain myself clearly to him and also, very simply, is it enough. My previous experience of showing paintings in exhibitions was all mixed up in this. I found that I still related to what I did in the monastery in terms of what would it be like hanging in a gallery. To see this of course was invaluable and I was grateful be in a position where it was highlighted. The koan arising in daily life was never more pertinent. As Rev. Master listened to me get all tangled up he could see very clearly my dilemma. In his wise and compassionate way, which as the years rolled on I was to experience again and again, he looked at me and said, ‘ Remember, you are painting a dragon for the Buddha’. This short sentence exploded the whole thing open and the anxiety melted away. If you translate this into your own life and situations see that what we do is not separate to the dharma, To paint a dragon for the Buddha is eating rice and drinking tea. Painting is Dharma and Dharma is painting.

Achalanatha and distraction

This article is a version of the talk that was recently given by myself after the Achalanatha Festival.

Achalanatha has various  attributes. There is the sword, for cutting through delusion, a lasso which represents the Buddhist Precepts and a chain which ties him to the rock upon which he is standing. His body is blue and of course he stands admidst the roaring flames which don’t touch the body. All these things help show us elements of faith and if called upon allow us to work with that which comes to us.

Distraction seems to be at the top of many peoples agendas today. We can see the modern digital social network joined up world as a potential source of dissatisfaction. It has many benefits but also can pose just as many ,if not more, potential harmful aspects. This can be very helpful in starting to see how the mind jumps around and tries to grab what is always just out of reach. This isn’t new of course but does have the potential to throw us around a lot more if we allow it to. This is the nub. Allow it to.

What if we can be fully focused all the time? Is that even preferable? What response does that bring forth? If this being in the moment is forced, is seen as an ideal it can become hard and unyielding. Just being aware though can have a softer more pliant expression which is less self conscious.

Take the scenario of your phone beeping and pinging regularly with alerts. When it does that and catch us unawares what should we do, what do we do? Do we find ourselves jolted out of where we are and responding immediately? The sound of the alert is no different to the sound of anxiety in our heads. A sudden thought which grabs us and we are off in that direction leaving the place we have just been in. Like being ambushed and carried away. We are probably all familiar with something along those lines. As in meditation we are free not to respond, to not follow that movement away. When a thought arises in zazen do we say ourselves ‘I must get this’ or do we allow ourselves a moment to settle and come from a different space and place. It may be that it is good to respond yet that fraction of a moment when we can go in one direction or another is what I’m pointing to. So here we have Achalanatha not leaving his sitting place. The sitting place does not restrict movement yet it is the residing place of the non-dual. I am speaking of awareness of body and mind. This what cuts through tenacious attachments of body and mind

Much teaching is about following. When the bell rings follow. Is there a difference here. It seems to be saying the same thing, doesn’t it? Watch the difference though when we respond with the heart rather than a panicked head response. Looking here we can see that one  thing leads into another having its own own place. The other mode is  a pushing out of one thing and a levering in of another. We now start to see than when we are distracted, or more pointedly,  distracting ourselves, we don’t have to be run around in maybe the way we feel weare led to. If we sit down and watch the telly and it is good to do, that is different to hiding away in it with the hope that our problems are hidden for awhile.This adds to our uneasiness because we are turning away and not towards. Life is put on hold and that is unsustainable. Achalanatha shows how we can be in the flames one pointedly and not be burned. The flames ‘which have been created by clinging to name and form, -a self identity, – the five skandas and the six senses, – and the eight distractions‘. So we attach to a false sense of what and who we are. Identifying with what we see as a solid self rather than an everchanging amalgalm of thoughts and feelings. When we make the movement to turn towards we see that we have  what we need to climb Mount Sumeru. The Buddha sitting atop the altar is not separate from us. We bow to the altar because we are giving up ourselves and not denying the potential we have.

If any human being prone to entertaining despair, – beset by hopelessness, the person should meditate on the ever vigilante One, – and thus learn to stay rooted in the present moment’

The sections in italics are from ‘ In Praise of Achalanatha ‘, which part of the OBC liturgy, and was sung at the Achalanatha Fesival.

 

 

 

 

 

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.