Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Today is International Yoga Day

June the 21st was declared to be International Yoga Day by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on December the 11th 2014. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his UN Address suggested the date of June 21, as it is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and shares special significance in many parts of the world.

While the spiritual teachings of modern day yoga differ significantly from Buddhism the meditative practises of both traditions share a common root in the India of two and a half millennia ago.

In contrast to Buddhism Yoga tradition asserts the existence of an Inner Self or Atman thought to be our true nature as consciousness, authentic self or soul and a God as the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe. Self-realisation according to the yogic path requires complete faith in the Atman and surrender to this God.

Buddhism teaches that we are the sole masters of our destiny.

Siddhārtha Gautama, the man who was to become the Buddha studied with the two greatest teachers of yogic meditation of his time. His first guru was Alara Kalama, a teacher who taught a kind of early samkhya at Vessali. Alara taught Gautama Jhāna meditation, a series of cultivated states of mind, which lead to the "state of perfect equanimity and awareness (upekkhii-sati-piirisuddhl)."

Gautama eventually equalled Alara, who could teach him no more, saying, "You are the same as I am now. There is no difference between us. Stay here and take my place and teach my students with me." The Buddha to be, however, was not interested in staying and after leaving Alara found a new teacher, Uddaka Ramaputta.

Uddaka taught refined states of meditation known as the immaterial attainments. (The immaterial attainments have more to do with expanding, while the first to fourth Jhanas focus on concentration. The enlightenment of complete dwelling in emptiness is reached when the eighth jhāna is transcended).

Gautama then explored extreme aestheticism before, after pushing his body almost to the point of death, he decided to adopt a "middle way". Then he remembered that once as a boy, while sitting under a rose apple tree on a beautiful day, he had spontaneously experienced great bliss and entered the first Jhana.

He realised then that this experienced showed him the way to realisation. Instead of punishing his body to find release from the confines of the self, he would work with his own nature and practice purity of mental defilements to realise enlightenment.

On the night of the first full moon of May Gautama awoke to the reality of the universe and became the Buddha.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

FULL MOON - Limitless Being

Whether in a town or a forest, 
low in a valley or high on a hill, 
delightful is the dwelling place 
of one fully set free. 

Dhammapada 98

Traditionally, we have images of the Buddha in the four postures of sitting, standing, walking and lying down. We can view these images as reminders that our spiritual practice is not relative to where we are or what we are doing: everywhere and everything are part of practice. Awakened beings experience everywhere and everything as freedom from limitation, because their consciousness is liberated from all clinging. The experience of unawakened beings, on the other hand, is consistently characterised by feelings of limitation. It is not because of where we are or what we are doing that we feel limited, but because of what we impose on experience. Realising this leads to letting go. Hence the Buddha's encouragement of the cultivation of all-round mindfulness.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Christianity "Cured"

Now here's one you may have missed.

The Disciple Shoppe Bible Bookstore in Emporia, Kansas USA put this quote in their window: "The best cure for Christianity is reading the Bible."

The quote is attributed to Mark Twain.

You might also recall that back towards the end of 2013 retailer Costco had to apologise for labelling copies of the Bible “fiction” at a store near Los Angeles. A local pastor saw the bibles while looking for a gift for his wife.

All that on top of the banner that Acomb Parish Church in North Yorkshire were going to display this Easter which read "CHRIS IS RISEN"

...........until the printer spotted the mistake.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Daily Mindfulness Exercise

For some time now I have been emailing out regular weekly mindfulness/meditation exercises to the members of the West Wight Sangha and to other friends and associates. At the New Year I introduced an additional Daily Mindfulness Exercise and post a reminder of this with each weeks email.

Quite simply, the exercise is to pick up and dispose of one piece of litter every day.

Obviously this is an environmentally useful activity in its own right and has a number of merits, but how can it be considered a mindfulness exercise?

It is so easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much.

Paying more attention to the present moment – to our own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around us – can improve our mental wellbeing.

This awareness is what we call "mindfulness". Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more and understand ourselves better. We can take steps to develop it in our own lives but there is one vital element that underpins this kind of mental activity and that is the need to REMEMBER to be mindful.

This is where the use of regular exercises comes in, essentially we commit to carrying out a task, we have a job to do. For the purpose of developing our ability to be mindful these tasks should not be overly complicated and there should be a clear trigger, a predefined set of circumstances, to initiate our focused awareness of the task.

One of our weekly exercises, and one of my favourites, is to notice the colour blue. Sounds simple but you quickly become aware of how rare, especially in the countryside, this colour is. There are two elements here, you can be mindfully looking for the colour blue or your mindfulness is triggered by seeing the colour blue. Just swap litter for blue objects and you can see the benefit of the litter pick exercise.

It’s also a good idea to tell other people what you are doing, people do look and wonder..... so tell them. Here on the Isle of Wight we have a population of 139,000. Even halving this to allow for the too youngs, too olds, too infirmeds and, sadly, the don’t cares still leaves the potential for the best part of 70,000 pieces of litter to be removed from our beautiful island EVERY DAY and every day works out to a staggering TWO AND A HALF MILLION PIECES OF LITTER REMOVED EVERY YEAR. So the more people you can get interested the better.

You can also beef up the remembering element of the exercise by keeping a tally of days missed, it will happen, and making a personal promise to pick up the missed number of pieces of litter the next opportunity you have.

The environmental point of this task is to get us working at creating a cosy home for all of us in this world. After all, the world is our home. Trying to define home as only the space we live in every night only serves to segregate and not unite us. Recognise that our home extends beyond just those physical walls and every ground we walk on, every neighbourhood we walk in, every district we step into, etc. should be considered our home, too.

The problem with litter is that the more there is, the more it generates. If people see litter all over the place, they see no reason why they shouldn't add to it. Why should they bother to look for a bin when nobody else does? What difference to the general scene would one more sandwich wrapper make? 

But think what difference one less wrapper makes and then another one less and another and another........................

Saturday, 4 June 2016

NEW MOON - Travelling

To many places beings withdraw to escape from fear:
to mountains, forests, parklands and gardens;
sacred places as well.
But none of these places offer true refuge,
none of them can free us from fear.

Dhammapada vv. 188–189

It is almost certainly the case that global travel has never been more popular. In general, the idea of going somewhere on a journey has probably always held a certain appeal, but affluence and technology have amplified that appeal. But whatever reasons we may give for travelling – trying to 'find ourselves', free ourselves, enlighten ourselves – there may be other factors driving all this activity as well. Does increased restlessness have anything to do with it? When our impulse to go places and see people arises from a sense of adequacy and well-being, certainly the experience could inspire insight and broaden awareness. But when it is our unacknowledged fears of inadequacy that motivate us to travel, when the urge to travel derives from our limited ability to mindfully receive feelings of restlessness, travelling could be no more than another indulgence in distraction. All the energy we might invest in our travels won't free us from the fear that drives us. The true refuge to which the Buddha pointed is the training of our awareness until it expands beyond all the limitations we habitually impose upon it, and come to realise inherent fearlessness.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Dana in Danger

At our latest Sangha meeting we discussed charitable giving. The subject came up in relation to the recent revelations that 32 UK charity bosses were paid over £200,000 last year.

A survey of boardroom pay among the top 150 charities found that 32 executives were paid over £200,000 last year, up from 30 in 2013.

The number of charity leaders paid over £300,000 also increased from nine to 12 in two years, according to research by Third Sector magazine. Overall, the median pay level for bosses across the top 100 charities in the UK was £165,000 a year.

The usual justification that such high salaries are needed to attract the best talent was wheeled out. Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which represents charities said: “There is a clear case for paying for expert staff to achieve the results donors rightly demand – although times are still tough for charities which is why average executive pay is falling.”

Presumably then, if we give more to the charities the CEOs will be paid more? Our generosity is intended to benefit those in need not to boost the pay of people who one would have hoped were motivated by the same spirit of wanting to contribute to the welfare of other beings less fortunate than ourselves.

The Buddhist practise of Dāna has been defined in traditional texts as any action of relinquishing the ownership of what one considered or identified as one's own, and investing the same in a recipient without expecting anything in return.

The danger is that if such giving is perceived as being diverted into the already well lined pockets of those in charge people will stop donating, thinking that they are just throwing their money into the trough.

Generosity doesn’t have to mean giving material things or money. In fact, often the most generous thing we can give in our busy world is our time. There are so many things that need doing that we can do voluntarily. We just look around us and see all the suffering there is in the world and then step in and help out where our help is needed.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Things To Do

This isn't really a poem and yet is sheer poetry. One of our members shared this at a recent meeting; it is taken from Marguerite Manteau-Rao's new year's resolutions. She is a mindfulness meditator, Mindfulness-based psychotherapist, memory care consultant and co-founder of the Presence Care Project.

"The old informs the not yet born, and the awareness of time passing brings a sense of urgency, to be wiser, kinder, and even more mindful . . . Here is what I wish for this New Year:

To make my sitting practice a daily priority.
To spend less time being social with strangers, online.
To think twice before acting on the heart's closings.
To not expect too much, and be grateful for what is.
To make room for the unavoidable unpleasantness.
To not cling to pleasant things, people, or moments.
To have compassion for my imperfections, and those of others.
To uproot the hindrances, especially fear and anger.
To view each social interaction as an opportunity to learn.
To play catch with thoughts and chase away the impure ones.
To move more slowly and more deliberately in the world.
To be more with nature, and people, and less in my head.
To rest in the breath often throughout the days.
To walk each step, thankful for the earth beneath.
To practice loving kindness often, and forgive myself when I forget . . ."

Saturday, 21 May 2016

FULL MOON - Vesakha Puja

Learning How to Let Go

Alert to the needs of the journey,
those on the path of awareness,
like swans, glide on,
leaving behind their former resting places.

Dhammapada 91

Letting go is not always easy. But if the Buddha hadn't learnt how to relinquish all habits of clinging, we wouldn't have a path of practice today. Through his ardent effort and eventual Enlightenment, the Teacher showed us that it can be done. When we start out in practice, we might feel daunted by the task of taming this monkey mind; it runs around endlessly, refusing to settle. When we first learnt to swim or attempted to speak a foreign language, the task perhaps seemed equally daunting. The Buddha wasn't born enlightened; it was through his persistent devotion to practice that he realized the freedom from attachments. His many years of teaching were aimed at inspiring us in our work.