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 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

Letting go of letting go

Something I encounter a fair bit when speaking to people who are practicing, is an anxiety over completely letting go. It isn’t that the wish isn’t there but a worry over what is beyond. Where am I going to be when that step is taken? Can I deal with the unknown? Giving up completely means letting go of the very things which we can most cherish, that which identifies us as us. Part of the anxiety is reflected in that we have no control over when it will happen and will we recognise it when it arises?. I suppose the koan can be summarised as ‘How do I completly let go and yet still function?’

Buddhism is about living a good life, doing as little harm as possible in any given moment. It is about being considerate and valuing the earth’s resources. Yes, all of these things and yet it is beyond all of this as well.

Unsurprisingly conversations these days soon come around to Donald Trump, Brexit and the rise of the far right among other issues which can cloud our thoughts. I’m picking up a lot of anger and despair around these topics from fellow sangha members. How can we square this with how we ground and live our lives.

Donald Trump, his allies and others who we may not agree with are not seperate from Buddha Nature. Essentially we are not seperate from them. Their true nature is undivided and therefore fundamentally there is that of us which is also of them. All is one and all is different. Indeed we can’t any longer talk of us and them. We may hold differnt views and there is no problem with this and yet to completely let go is to see beyond good and evil, right and wrong, the holy and the unholy. These views we disagree with must surely be held in meditation as we hold our own opinions and views, which if not seen clearly can also cause harm to self and others. Just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just sitting in the very heart of what arises who is there to let go. It just goes..Causes and conditions filter our perceptions. Yes, we can still function but from a different place where our relationship those and that around us has moved. Before we judge others to harshly let us try dropping our own habit forming views and do the best we can to awaken to the undivided nature of the universe.

Rev. Gareth

What is Great Compassion?

This is by way of a farewell offering from Rev Jishin to the Reading and South-east Sangha.  The Buddhist scriptures referred to can be found at www.throssel.org.uk under Dharma Teachings; downloads.

I think we all have experience of compassion arising with a truer, profound view of something.  How that functions, I do not know, although there are threads to follow at times in the mind.  More often, there is a degree of cluelessness.

I do know that I must keep a gentle and bright tone and be dead honest with myself, if I am even to begin in Serene Reflection meditation and practice, each day.  This is Avalokiteshwara to me.

Zen meditation, “Serene Reflection”, holds a direction.  The direction is towards the wisdom of the Heart.  This is just one way of describing, but the important point is that of a direction: one must sit still with intention, engagement, and be ready to see and let go superficial and subtle ideas and notions. These are not “wrong”, they simply get in the way of something more real.   One must not believe subtle doubt; nor undermine oneself by thinking that there is no goal.  One cannot jump to the goal of goallessness (Dogen’s Rules for Meditation); nor incidentally jump by thinking there is no direction.  The direction is-as it were-below thinking.

Great Compassion is joined to this direction (or movement, if you prefer.)

Great compassion (or the whole of Avalokiteshwara Bodhisattva) lies within all, within everyone.  It is real.  We can say that fundamentally we are Avalokiteshwara.  It is as part of life, whether we recognise it at the moment, or not. The nature of Great Compassion is described in Buddhist scriptures:

A)  When recited or read, the Scripture of Avalokiteshwara Bodhisattva shows us the actualisation of great compassion.  It draws great compassion from the well within us; not just a feeling, but the prompt towards the activity of the Three Pure Precepts: cease from all harm; do good; purify the heart.  This is truely wonderful and real.    The Litany of the Great Compassionate One is a devotional and also an invocational scripture.

The One Who hears the cries of the world.

B)  The Scripture of Great Wisdom (Heart Sutra) points towards another feature of Great compassion, which begins, “When one with deepest wisdom of the heart that is beyond discriminative thought, the Holy Lord, Great Kanzeon bosatsu, knew that………….”   Here, Kanzeon is

                              The One Who sees (knows) without obstruction. I.e. without division, distortion or projection; beyond desire and fear. Beyond filters.

So, here we have great compassion joined to great wisdom!  “Kanzeon is the mother and father of all the Buddhas” ( Dogen,Shobogenzo, Chapter 33: Kannon).

The still ground of gentleness and compassion we come to through training enables us to turn and face all that arises. There is a shift to entrusting ourselves to this way of training and we come to seeing/knowing more clearly.  This is vast and marvelous; beyond imagining.

I hope these words are a helpful reminder to you to not carry a superficial idea of compassion or, worst still, view it is a box to be ticked.  We should practice not slipping back into usual or sloppy thinking.  Have Avalokiteshwara right there with you in all circumstance.  Then you can begin to realise its nature, and rely on it. We are more than we think.

May all beings realise the Truth. In gassho, Jishin.

The mix of alternating great compassion and the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwara or Kanzeon is deliberate.

 

Tenderness

The Shushogi is a 19th century compilation, originally for the Japanese laity, of some of Great Master Dogen’s works. Chapter 4 is entitled ‘Awakening to the mind of the Bodhisattva’. The chapter is about the four wisdoms of charity, tenderness, benevolence and sympathy. I would like to concentrate on tenderness, mainly because it can appear to be an undervalued part of zen practice. This may be partly, I think, to an over dependence on or misreading of the koan collections in zen. Although in many cases they describe actions that come from a deep well of compassion, the many cases of raised fists, shouts, punches and kicks which are used to shake the student free of ingrained ways of behaviour and thinking can be misunderstood  when not seen from the perspective of a master/disciple relationship or even a cultural context. This can lead to wrong action rooted in a self which rather than being transformed becomes an endless cycle of similar behaviour.

Here is what Dogen has to say from the Shushogi:

‘By praising those who exhibit virtue, and feeling sorry for those who do not, our enemies become our friends and they who are our friends have their friendship strenghtened: this is all through the power of tenderness. Whenever one speaks kindly to another their face brtightens and their heart is warmed; if a kind word be spoken in his absence, the impression will be a deep one: tenderness can have a revolutionary impact upon the mind of man.’

 

All this can seem obvious and straight forward yet within practice and for sincere and genuine reasons we can easily judge others efforts. We can believe ourselves to be in the right and that we can put them right if only what others did would reflect itself in what we do ourselves. To give a kindly smile or word can to some of us at any particular time seem a bit lax or insipid and a sterner countenance is needed. Well maybe it is, but it can still arise from tenderness and compassion. I don’t believe Dogen is talking about just being nice but he is saying be gentle.

Tenderness can be seen and experienced when we know there is nothing to hold onto or gain. Tenderness is comfortable in its true home where it can roam freely within the precepts. With good strong roots tenderness can bend with the wind rather than snap or get blown away. If we can sit with open hands and a generous heart, the begging bowl that is this body/mind, and can accept all that is placed in it, this then is a charitable act, a tender act, a benevolent act and a sympathetic act, to ourselves as well as others. To look and see tenderly is to know that all is soft and yielding yet may have the appearance of being hard and unforgiving. Whilst we may not see fully and clearly see, it shouldn’t put us off taking steps to do so. We all have the potential to awaken to the mind of the bodhisattva.

Rev. Gareth Milliken

Shushogi from Zen is Eternal Life                                                                                        Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett                                                                                                   Shasta Abbey Press

Do you have a recipe for success?

Life is full of seeming contradiction.   On the one hand, for instance, we know that nothing stays the same and everything is impermanent.  On the other hand, we also know that what we do has results; there is cause and effect.

So whilst on the impermanence thread, we may think there is nothing to care for too much as none of it is going to persist.  On the cause and effect thread, we may see that it matters very much what we do, think, etc.  Two opposing views- when all we want is a simple recipe for conducting one’s life…e.g. do things matter or don’t they?

There is something “dead in the water” about asking for a recipe, a solution, a “how” question about achieving successful living.

Is Buddhism a recipe for improving one’s lot, placating suffering or changing oneself?  Not exactly.  And yet these are almost always the conscious or semi-conscious driving force behind our choosing to meditate and being mindfully aware through the day; speaking kindly and following the Precepts.

A recipe is about having necessary ingredients and a method in order to produce something which is predictable/tangible…an end result, a goal.  We are the do-ers.

I am not saying that our lives are not changed for the better through Buddhism.  I want to suggest that the approach is much more to do with exploration and experience and responding in the moment…a fluid movement, more intimate with the flowing of all things.  For here lies something worth arriving in.

Rather than a recipe, you’d do better to ask for medicine.  And let it work on you.

The medicine of Buddhist teaching or dharma in the Zen tradition in general, and at Reading Buddhist Priory, is given in small doses.  We trust that it will work on us. This does not rule out thinking about it, musing on it; but we need not delineate // fix it // nail it to the wall, for this must move with us, as does all things.

Rev. Jishin.

PS  If you absolutely need something solid to go on right now:  Yes, absolutely, it does matter!

Where do we begin? With right speech.

Here are extracts from an article by Rev. Oriana LaChance, who is Prior at Eugene Buddhist Priory, Oregon, USA.  The full article can be found in the Newsletter, www.eugenebuddhistpriory.org

Where do we begin? With right speech.

“Before you speak, ask yourself: Does it improve on the silence?”
Charles Bock, from Alice and Oliver, 2016

………….Hatred and hate speech are directed toward “the other,” whomever that other might be. Increasingly, “the other” is anybody who does not feel, look, worship, adhere to the same ideas, the same sexual orientation, have the same culture or history as I. If I view “the other” in this way, my world of the acceptable is a very narrow world–in fact, a self-imposed prison.

How do those of us who take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha navigate this not-so-brave new world? What can we bring to it that is of benefit to ourselves and others?
Eight centuries ago, our ancestor Great Master Dogen spoke to his disciples about the bodhisattva’s four methods of guidance—one of them is kind speech:

Kind speech means that when you see sentient beings, you arouse the heart of compassion and offer words of loving care. It is contrary to cruel or violent speech. . . . Praise those with virtue; pity those without it. If kind speech is offered, little by little kind speech expands. Thus, even kind speech that is not ordinarily known or seen comes into being. Be willing to practice it for this entire present life; do not give up, world after world, life after life. Kind speech is the basis for reconciling rulers and subduing enemies. Those who hear kind speech from you have a delighted expression and a joyful mind. Those who hear of your kind speech will be deeply touched; they will always remember it.

(from “The Bodhisattva’s Four Methods of Guidance,” Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambhala, p. 475).

You would like to know where to begin? Deeply explore your own divisive speech, whether you talk against a family member, neighbor, co-worker, politician. Divisive speech separates us, leads to “me” and “them,” “us” and “the other.”

In the Anguttara Nikaya, Book of the Fives, the Buddha presents five conditions to investigate before speaking:

(1) Do I speak at the right time and place, or not?
(2) Do I speak the truth, or not?
(3) Do I speak gently or harshly?
(4) Do I speak beneficial words, or not?
(5) Do I speak with a kindly heart, or not?

According to these five conditions, the Buddha encourages us to speak only when it is the right time and place, when it is true, when it is kind, when it is helpful, and when we speak out of good will. If our words do not meet each of these five conditions, then it is time to be silent. In this way, we are encouraged to let go of our small concerns and to embrace a wider, more universal community of imperfect beings just like ourselves.

Please, can each one of us do our best to refrain from hate speech, putdowns, gossip, rudeness, boasting, and speaking as if we know it all. And can we refrain from believing that our opinions and views are not only our reality (dubious enough) but should be reality for everyone else as well. This seems to me a good place to begin.

In gassho, Rev. Oriana

The Natural Discomfort of Becoming

becoming

Tree buds in Spring sunshine.
No choice but to go on: 
pressures, bursting,
bits pushing out every which way.
Good fun?

Mind and body treated to Serene Illumination. 
Just can’t help themselves but be moved. 
It’s pretty clear that habitual control
and resistance are counter-productive.
So what’s gonna give?

Becoming is zazen’s business,
not your’s.
All you can do, dummy,
is sit still, and
relax!

Rev. Jishin.

Food for the Heart

Food to inspire, lighten and open the Heart. Articles, poetry, quotes, pictures, etc  will be entered here monthly.

No. 1.  Kanzeon  (Avalokiteshwara and many other names).  The embodiment of Great Compassion which we can know through training.  In recognising it we turn towards it , knowing instinctively its truth and worth.  From oceanic depths, a compassionate heart serves all.

Kanzeon 2