Reading Buddhist Priory to close

Statement from Trustees

Reverend Gareth has decided, after much thought and reflection, that the time has come for him to retire from the position of Prior. We, the Trustees as well as the Head of the Order, have accepted his decision. Normally, another monk would take up the position as a new Prior. In this instance, that will not be possible, with the regrettable result that the Priory will need to close. We are therefore in the position of winding up the charity and selling the property. Reverend Gareth is still running some events as a way of enabling the smooth transition to what will come next. There will not be any further Introductory sessions. It is hoped and expected that a monastic will continue to run retreats and generally support the lay sangha in the South of England.

We would like to thank everyone who has given the benefit of their practice and supported the Priory and the various Priors over the last thirty four years. If you are generously donating via Standing Order, please be alerted that you will need to cancel it at some point before the Charity is dissolved.

in gassho,

with bows,

The Trustees of Reading Buddhist Priory

Priory Closed

Apologies for the lack of information over the New Year. Just after Christmas I had to go and help deal with a family illness. Due to the train strikes I couldn’t get back until two days ago. I was planning to close for a personal retreat. I will now commence with this and re-open the priory on Tuesday the 24th January at 7.00am. I look forward to meeting up with you again in a short while.

Peace vigil

This Sunday I will be holding the Kanzeon Festival which will be incorporated with a peace vigil. If you can’t attend I hope that in some way you will bear this in your hearts as we sit Sunday morning and express the natural compassion we all have.

 

Renunciation

One of the more powerful statements of the Renunciation is the Begging bowl or alms bowl. It forms one of a set which monks use for formal meals. These  bowls are called oryoki in Japanese and this translates as the bowls that hold just enough. Monks receive these at ordination as one of what are called their requisites. It is part of a set of nesting bowls and are all tied up with cloths for spreading over the lap, one to lay out over the pure place on a tan for the bowls to sit on and an absorbent drying cloth. There is a small bag for the cutlery and also a stick for cleaning the bowl. The uncovered end is used for placing a small piece of food from the begging bowl on for the Hungry Ghosts. So what has this to do with renunciation? Well, it is the cleansing of karma. The cleansing of karma looked at this way is renunciation. The willingness to look at our lives, now, today and see what it is we are clinging to.

The begging bowl on the one hand is what contains the food we eat which has been donated. That which has been given freely as alms to the service of the Buddha. To hold out our bowl monk or lay is to lay ourselves open to receiving the dharma. It shows our connection to the food that we need to sustain us so that we can do this work. Old Chinese monasteries had a direct route from the firewood which was used to heat the the food which was mostly if not all produced on their lands. All of you who have gardens and raised beds and grow some of your own produce will of course know that there is a deep connection with the cycle of growth this way. During formal meals in the zendo monks hold out their bowls and food is placed in it. They eat everything having first taken a small sample from the bowl and offered it to the Hungry Ghosts. At the end of the meal the washing up water is served and the bowls cleaned thoroughly and the water also offered to the Hungry Ghosts. The bowl is then dried using the drying cloth. This is the formality of the actions and of course the formality includes with in it the spiritual purpose.

The bowl is the body and the food the dharma that we ingest. The cleaning is the cleaning of karmic residue which is then returned from whence it came. The careful attendance to the cleaning shows that we need to be equally meticulous and careful over observing karma. The cleaning of the bowl is also similar to this in that if we over think or are too mindful in a self-conscious way it gets in the way. We fall over ourselves because to much of us is involved. When cleaning the bowl is more about us cleaning and thinking about what it all means and trying to do it properly it is usually a sign that we are more important than the doing of it. I’m sure we can get out of the way completely here, we are involved and we are taking care. It is good to reflect on merit here and that the doing and cleaning are universal and not so specific to us doing it. It isn’t to do with not thinking. It would be hard to do any of this without engaging the thought process it is just a different type of thinking that is involved. Someone many years ago told me about their experience cutting an onion. Their perspective was that no thinking was involved and that it was a pure action, in other words it just flowed and that there was no intermediary. I found that difficult to concur with then and still do. Let us not be afraid of thinking. One is thinking when picking up the knife, when peeling off the skin of the onion and also discarding the waste. On another occasion, which may shed some light on this, I was on a two-month retreat in a hut. It was breakfast time and I was preparing something to eat. I became aware that yes much of this was routine and very little analytical was involved. It was very much as the previous person was saying but also I became acutely aware that I could trace each movement. The salt, the oats, the pan etc. were where they always were, I didn’t have to figure out where they were and yet I was conscious of picking it up and adding to the pan etc. These are thoughts yet they don’t get in the way of the flow. In sitting as we all are aware there are thoughts, they come and go. They don’t get in the way unless we interact with them. When the thoughts become aspects of why, what and me then they can become more troublesome.

I said earlier that the eating and cleaning are done in the service of the Buddha and in this it encompasses everything. So thinking is in the service of the Buddha if kept to that which isn’t just I. Quite often I’m not aware that I am musing on something. One door opening and closing on itself like those swing doors you see in Cowboy movies. Or like a soup that is simmering and slowly and gently softening the ingredients and absorbing the herbs and seasonings to make a combined flavour that becomes digestible. We must all have experienced going on a walk or sitting in an armchair and some thought arises but we haven’t really been in control of the process i.e. thinking it through. Nevertheless we can move forward in a way that can be surprising. It is as if we wouldn’t have got there by actively thinking it through to a conclusion.

All of this is a part of renunciation. The bowl is filled we silently and carefully eat, it is digested and a transformation takes place beyond our conception. Nothing is rejected all is taken in. Rich, plain, sweet, sour. The dharma also in all its combinations and flavours. The begging bowl that is our lives also doesn’t discriminate. Here we live by simply knowing that each moment is full. We can live in repose by looking deeply into that which wants to add and fill up from a well that is outside of ourselves. Renunciation is possible because there is no hole to fill. We re-join that which is replete. To renounce is to express fearlessness as our lives unfold. We can see through the limits we have imposed on our potential. To judge ourselves and our efforts is to claw back that which has dissolved in the renouncing. This we all can do here, now, today. Whether we have grown our hair or not we can all gently and confidently turn towards that which is facing us. Only we can do that for ourselves, and in doing so do it for all living beings.

We need to find what this life is and express it fully. All sorts of memories and judgements may arise which can sow seeds which turn into great doubts. Just look at the arising and let it be. There is a frightened self there that will always be hanging on and trying to grab it all back. Leave it alone and the grip will loosen over time.

To follow the ways of the Buddhas and ancestors is to learn how to listen and follow. Just watch when it all tightens up and we cling to a known form or way of being and responding, and can’t hear the teaching of the moment. Eating swallowing and digesting is teaching us this in a very ordinary way so it is with our other everyday situations. Whilst our pain can be unique to us in some way we can only fully experience it if we know it isn’t only ours and that it is a shared experience, a common experience of being alive. If compassion is to be compassion then suffering isn’t owned like that. Look around on any given day at any given moment and you will not be far from a mirror which is showing us the way.

The Buddha showed that there is an end to suffering and that the end was expressed through a thorough understanding of the eightfold path. The activity of our lives is the expression of this. The eightfold path like the Precepts shows that how we live expresses to the world that there is a way to renounce that which binds us. To give to this is to free ourselves in the way of the buddhas and ancestors.

So when you next eat or drink maybe bare in mind that one of the beauties of buddhist symbolism is that they are there right in front of us on an actual material basis. These are not empty symbols but ways of living it. What it expresses and its expression are not separated.

I have recently been attempting to express something of the teaching in ways that are in the form of fiction. As a way of putting these experiences and insights into an everyday context. It is from the point of view of someone who has overtime found ways to renounce but how this is, is at this point in the story kept open. So as way of an experiment and because it seemed to fit I would like to share a couple of paragraphs of a longer unfinished piece. It is work in progress so please bare that in mind but then so is any dharma talk.

This talk was given after the Renunciation Festival January 2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year Retreat revised

This year’s New Year Retreat will be a day retreat beginning at 7.15am and ending at 6.30pm. This will include the New Year’s Eve ceremony at 5pm. Please book if you wish to attend the Priory. It is also online via Zoom.

 

The birds of sadness

‘You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair’

Chinese proverb

It is also said, that we are all subject to the laws of karma and yet a wise person is not enslaved by them.

We can’t prevent the birds of suffering. Those forces that can make us doubt, get anxious, fear and the other emotions and sensations that can arise and are familiar with. If you like, this is the first noble truth, that suffering exists. If we give these birds more than their due, by enticing them with seed, they can alight and nest. By getting involved in their patterns of flight and worry about them circling our heads and getting anxious about what it is they might do to us we help create the very conditions that enables this. By entangling ourselves in the machinations of others we join forces with them and become enablers.

So why is it hard to recognise when it is happening. You would think Mara’s armies would be easy to spot and repel. I suppose because it taps into that element of us that is intrinsically linked with who we think we are. Mara can be very subtle, and here let me just make the point that Mara isn’t a person but, if you like, the result of conditioning. It was the Buddha’s unstill mind, all those unresolved karmic threads coming to the surface. It is partly Mara that got us to the cushion. When we can’t untangle our conditioning which has maybe led to unhelpful ways of being from a deeper truth or way of being it leads to muddling up letting go and holding on.

The Buddha’s Enlightenment was him not getting stuck in the first noble truth. He was able to see through suffering, by accepting it first as a basic truth but essentially going on, and on, until he was able to experience what was beyond it.

‘Onward he passed

Exceeding sorrowful, seeing how men

Fear so to die they are afraid to fear,

Lust so to live they dare not love their life,

But plague it with fierce penances, belike

To please the Gods who grudge pleasure to man;’

Edwin Arnold The Light of Asia

He saw that if we stay in the extremes of life it will just repeat itself and there is no way out and the very thing that we are seeking will remain elusive. It is not a balance between suffering and joy. The middle way is not a happy medium. It, instead, suggests the state of natural balance which we experience when making effort, without an intentional aim. A better word would be harmony.

From the Enlightenment Festival Offertory;

“It takes a master of tonal appreciation to combine musical instruments in harmony in such a way that they produce the six tones of the sun and the six tones of shadow; in the same way a master like Shakyamuni, skilled in producing harmony among men, is needed to produce the magnificent sound of the Dharma.”

Harmony is an acceptance of everything first and foremost. Accepting rather than balancing off one thing with another. It is not putting our opinions and views on the scales and quantifying the result.

Mara’s armies are said to assail the Buddha with many distractions in a constant barrage. These appear as separate individual objects whether of mind or body which he has to deal with on an individual basis. But look at this from Bendowa by Dogen

When we let go, it has already filled the hands; how could it be defined as one or many? When we speak, it fills the mouth; it has no restriction in any direction. When buddhas are constantly dwelling in and maintaining this state, they do not leave recognitions and perceptions in separate aspects [of reality]; and when living beings are eternally functioning in this state, aspects [of reality] do not appear to them in separate recognitions and perceptions.” (1)

 Letting go, is all encompassing, it doesn’t pick and choose, completely filling all. So, everything needs attending to. In the way that Dogen speaks, yes, all is dealt with at once. In practice certain things, elements surface at different times. It is not that we concentrate necessarily on the one thing, but it does come into focus. Even the areas of our life that we are still not aware of are sorted on some level at the same time. Not everything arises at the same time but the process still takes care because it is all encompassing. The Mountain still state allows Mara’s arrows turn to flowers as they pass through us. When we turn towards the arrows we can see them for the flowers they are. We need to be willing to turn otherwise it can stay on our shoulder and be in the shadows. If we don’t turn towards that which causes suffering it will continue to ferment and stew creating more suffering. Suffering arises in the mind ferments in the mind and develops in the mind. We therefore learn that to turn towards that which appears is to see through it and not give it the chance to grow.

The world can sometimes rarely be to our liking. For very good reason, of course, at times. The behaviour of others can oft times test our patience, peace of mind and good sense. This leads us to wanting to do something about it, and indeed we have to. Who doesn’t want a safe environment to bring up a child, a work place that is safe or government that is fair to all. These things we may need to attend to on a personal level. Yet we can in the process unwittingly set up further suffering for ourselves and others. If we only concentrate on the result without looking at the process we get lost. Harking back to Dogens words “When we let go, it has already filled our hands” the process we can see and already know is all encompassing as an activity. To take greed as an example and we sense or see our wanting something (beyond what is needed), as grasping we don’t need to approach it as a problem that has a solution in the particular. It might come into our view in the particular yet we approach from the just dropping it as it arises aspect. Just dropping in the arising is more direct than trying to see what the answer is.

                     To sit still and not wonder why, how, who or when, is zazen. This is practising nothing in particular and yet is everything. It is not about fixing the problem or even fixing ourselves. It is not for us to fix the dharma. The dharma arises and we just look. The looking is transformative. It is tempting to analyse this into seeing, but that isn’t quite the way. By just looking we are in front of a mirror which just reflects. The mirror doesn’t decide what it shows. When we just look at anything what we see is ourselves looking back. When we just look it seems that we are looking with all of ourselves. Resting our eyes on what is there helps us to take it in through all our senses and just let it sit there.       In my experience this aids the transformation because we aren’t reading it in the way it might usually happen. It is not just looking at things either it is also true of events and occasions. Sometimes something happens and a question may arise in our mind, maybe one of distrust on some level. Does it help to dismember the thought and break it down so that we see if we are right to distrust. It seems to me that there is more going on than greets the eye. Is the distrust my thing which I have overlaid on the object, the event. Is there prejudice of some kind overlaying it. We make our calls as to what to do, but I find more and more that I would rather live from trust than not. Not blind trust, but a base of trust. A base of trust to me is a level of faith which helps sustain a harmonious relationship. This means we can breathe slowly and deeply in the face of adverse conditions. To not get caught in the five forms of desire.

 The desire for sensual experience

The desire to hate and dislike

The desire to disengage through torpor or drowsiness

The desire to be restless and anxious

The desire to be sceptical and uncertain

All of these, Mara threw, or put before the Buddha, under the Bodhi Tree. When sitting we see things or have thoughts about our life. Sometimes troubling or overpowering. We can be knocked off our seat if not vigilant. At times these are seen clearly in the mirror wall. Seen as images of the drifting wandering world. They can appear to be true, after all it matches what we think we know. All we are seeing is our view reflected back at us. This is how the birds nest in our hair. To prevent them from nesting we don’t want to make them other or the enemy that we need to shew away. This won’t stop them coming back and in greater numbers. Allow the birds to be, embrace them for what they are. The flying above us is the natural arising of thoughts and emotions. There is no need to blame the birds for our unhappiness. They are showing something of great value. If we can accept the birds and let them fly free we are not enslaved to them and can live a free life. The Buddha’s first teaching after awakening was to the 5 rishis he knew before.

 “Afterwards passed he, said they, by the hills

Unto Benares, where he taught the Five,

Showing how birth and death should be destroyed,

And how man hath no fate except past deeds,

No Hell but what he makes, no Heaven too high

For those to reach whose passions sleep subdued.

This was the fifteenth day of Vaishya

Mid-afternoon, and that night was full moon.”

 The Light of Asia, Sir Edwin Arnold

 The Buddha showed the Way, all we have to do is follow.

 

  • (1) Bendowa, The Shobogenzo. Great Master Dogen

 Translated by Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross

 

 

 

                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zazen is good for nothing

Who ever we are we all face real life situations which can range from 1 – 100 on the scale of complexity and difficulty. This we know. So the question in this article is how do we approach real life situations with no expectations. Indeed is that an impossible task. Is it possible to work with these situations and have no expectation of an outcome that we would prefer? So low or lowish on the scale would be ordering online our groceries and not getting an ingredient or product that we would very much like or feel we need. This is soon dealt with and let go of course. A mild irritation turns to acceptance. Higher on the scale would be maybe going into hospital for an operation and it going wrong. We possibly have an expectation that the expert should be beyond this. Somebody I knew went into hospital and had a leg amputated wrongly. They dealt with this with such brightness and love that it turned my heart around and made me look at myself as a result. To grieve over someone’s death is different to feeling aggrieved that they have died, because we ourselves find death hard to deal with or accept.

So what is expectation?

I once asked the Head of the Order, as a young monk, the question, ‘what is a monk’ and the answer came back ‘a monk is to be nothing’.

What is ‘nothing’ in this context. What is it to expect ‘nothing’.

Zazen isn’t a linear line of progression. It is all in, completely, all the time. This means that there is no resting place. It is constantly active when we let go of this body and mind. To expect nothing is to expect no particular result as a consequence of sitting. If we just sit, ‘with no particular thought’, we aren’t sitting on our own shoulders and observing ourselves sitting.

To sit completely is to sit afresh each time. This is how we come to see that each time we sit a new person is sitting, and not just the person we thought was sitting previously. This way there is no adding on to. Just not a building on to a previous perceived self. So to be nothing is to not construct a self which is independent to the universe. What I mean by this is that we see ourselves sitting apart from everything. This leads to a me that sits which wants something, that has expectations of success. To have expectations of success separates us off and also leads to a thought process that believes it has some control over outcomes. To seek nothing, to know nothing and also to want nothing is zazen. So zazen in daily life is action, in the sense that we may have to do something that not only affects us but also others. How can we do this without expectation that it goes the way we hope or want and as well feel bad when it doesn’t. Maybe more precisely what is it that comes from nothing and returns to nothing.

A concrete example maybe with ageing parents.

There may be a strong desire to take over because we can see the problems and feeling maybe more clear eyed set about instigating a solution. We have good intent, we mean well and want the best. We may also be confronted by our own fears of getting old and sick, and this informs our decision making, although we can’t quite see it. Intention is worth looking at here. Sawaki Roshi said that “in Mahayana Buddhism if the result is bad there is no pardon for the act even if the intention was good., there’s no room for carelessness.”(a)  Meaning that in this Mahayana is a matter of life being the essential matter.

So not only do we want the best outcome for our parent we also want to ease our own fears and worries. There is expectation of an outcome. They are cared for and we are soothed. We take over in other words. Of course this is understandable. We can find it hard to see through another pair of eyes. To see from outside ourselves. If we can release this control we find that the stress that comes from control flows away. We trust that others are as capable to make decisions on their own behalf and we become a team rather than taking it all on ourselves. We can help by organising the medication but can’t force them to take it. We can facilitate food shopping but can’t force anyone to eat. We can see that there is help during the day, if needed. but can’t control whether they accept it or not. This is cutting the roots of karma. To let go of expectation is to move closer to who or what we really are and allows us to live a life that is both compassionate and wise. To see that universal compassion exists and wisdom is inherent comes from not building and adding to the world unnecessarily.

The Buddha talked of who owns the insult if we don’t accept it. We may wish to trade blows to clear the air etc. but to just leave it alone is to not add. Why compound suffering.

As a monk one is open to being insulted or harangued. I have always found generally that to not react and let it be is the best way for both parties. To show that you are being got at by a blinded buddha expresses misdirected goodness. Greed anger and delusion are not separate to Buddha nature just misunderstood and misused.

If zazen is good for nothing it means that we don’t become something but maybe become less of something. The something that harmonises with prevailing conditions.

 

Notes;

  • Uchiyama – From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment – Refining Your Life

Weatherhill 1983

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is openess?

Openness. What do we really mean by being open or openness. Is it something that is ok for a particular type of experience and not for another, for example how does fight or flight work here. Or, do we need to take care as it mighjt leave ourselves and others vulnerable. We may choose to take flight and turn away, leaving us unwilling or (to our mind) unable to face whatever difficulty we see before us. To close off in this way can be very understandable of course. The world does present us with many unsightly formations and displays. When I say the world of course what I’m getting at is the mind that constructs the world we see. We can’t just wish things away so that we don’t have to confront them. It can also take different forms like memory and projection.

What are the effects of closing off and can we be to open to what is shown to us. Also what tools do we have to be open.

The key appears to be the basic teaching of not holding on and not pushing away. How do we penetrate this statement. So if holding on is fight and pushing away is flight what is the position best suited to go deeper into our lives and intuitively awaken to our true nature. Our true nature is not to be found in the opposites. When life confronts us in the many ways that can be challenging it can be difficult to open up, to open ourselves to the many faceted responses available.

We can often, for example, react by falling into old comfortable habits that trundle along well worn rutted tracks. These can give the impression of safety, but then soon starts to crumble. If our tendency is to be one of the three monkeys with hand over eyes, mouth or ears, that is the position we will adopt. We can close off even before we have seen clearly what it is that confronts us.

Something is triggered a response comes forth and before we know it we are spiralling downwards. This position is exacerbated by our knowledge that we are now in a place we recognize and despite all the signs to the contrary we settle. We have been here many times before. We don’t like it there and it is painful but what is the option. To be open at this point seems the worse option because it is the unknown. There are no obvious sign posts with which we can orientate ourselves. When we are walking or driving somewhere new we are at our most attentive trying to find our bearings, if it is a known route we do everyday we are more relaxed and safe and maybe see less, and are less aware. There are holes in any analogy, but I hope you take my point. If the spiritual life is a choice we will find ourselves bouncing between two points and never really finding any peace. It is exhausting.

As we carry on our meditation practice and come to know that place in the heart that is at peace, our life off the cushion or bench starts to find some equilibrium. It is no different to living from the heart. The heart that is love, compassion and wisdom. The heart that is open to all it encounters.

The contentment that doesn’t need to hold or push , is embraced and slowly and gently expressed. For example when someone comes to us and asks our advice or help what is the best place to be. Well it becomes apparent that it is the one I‘ve just described. If we can express not holding and pushing, a way forward appears.

To get out of the way and be open to the suffering of others and allow them to find their own way forward is a gift to the world.

To show the potential of another position can be very helpful.

So openness here is to accept where someone else is and not push to a place which makes us comfortable. What I mean by that is someone else’s fear or anxiety can drive us to move it all around so that we feel ok rather than helping the other see their fear more clearly. i.e. I’m hurting because of what you are doing, let’s make it better for me. In other words by doing nothing we do everything.

Now this is not to say that the process of becoming open isn’t full of bittersweet moments. To lose something or someone from our lives can be difficult to accept, of course it can, there is a grieving process, it can be hard to accept. So letting go isn’t necessarily a simple case of there it goes. It can be a wrench. Also it goes on for quite a time, getting refined. As it has less of an impact we get lighter and spread that in the world around us.

But what is going on here. The bittersweet is the perceived loss and acceptance of loss. We didn’t want it or ask for it yet our pain continues beyond this when we can’t accept its going. Through deep letting go, a part of ourselves, the old me can transform. As this happens it can be very confusing and we might still muddle up the old me with the emerging me.

Early in my monkhood, there was a period when a few monks were leaving, seniors and novices. I was puzzled why I didn’t miss anyone or regret their going, that is beyond the obvious lack of their presence. I felt no great sense of loss. In turn this feeling or lack of it  can lead to a sense of guilt or selfishness.  I asked about this in Spiritual Direction one morning, and the answer came back, ‘Don’t make clouds in a clear sky’. In other words if it isn’t there don’t create it to assuage your sense or feelings of inadequacy. Just keep going.

Do we have to define ourselves through relationship, whether through people or any other thing in the world that is around us. Are we looking for a wholeness which we don’t feel we can find any other way. It appears we can have this relationship if we are open to the notion that we don’t need to be attached to it. We can be close and full of warmth but also let it breathe. The grief of loss appears because something of ourselves died also due to our attachment. We then realise that we may be seeing the relationship mostly from our end.

There does come a time when this starts to dissolve. Without acceptance of loss we grasp on and haul it back. It means too much to us to lose, when push comes to shove.. But from all we have realised through training this doesn’t sound right.  We have to be open to losing everything.

What are we missing. We need to engage with an openness that is accepting that there may be more than we can see at the moment.

When we are prepared to be courageous and let it through we can experience the bitter taste of loss but yet we also know of the sweetness of transformation. We feel loss, a sense of loss, of missing something dear to us.

Feelings are the reaper of karma. Yet feelings come and go, when we don’t cling to a feeling we have a chance of releasing it.

What is left afterwards you may ask, well we have a deeper sense of knowing that this is just how everything is, silent, empty and full. Nothing missing.

The not holding and not pushing away is that place which is not defined but palpably exists, the place of truly letting go, of openness.