Monday, 11 May 2020

Buddhism and the Apocalypse

This extract is from a New York Times article on the apocalypse

In Buddhism, time is cyclical, not linear, making apocalypse both an end and a beginning. “Apocalypse happens and then a new order starts, a new social order, new moral order,” said Vesna Wallace, professor of Buddhism at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “The story repeats itself.”

Apocalyptic stories in Buddhist scriptures share similar themes, often including an unjust ruler, social inequality, plagues and fruits that do not ripen, she explained, referring to texts from the fifth and 11th centuries A.D. Blades of grass become like swords — and even the sense of taste disappears (like a suspected symptom of the coronavirus infection). 

In Buddhist traditions, apocalypse comes as a result of collective karma — everyone’s actions toward one another and the world — which means its outcome can change, even in the present circumstance. “Now people are kinder to each other, they are spending more time with families,” Dr. Wallace said. “It’s like a warning to change the course of actions, to bring back compassion, empathy, develop social equality.”........................

A stark, binary structure — a clear good and evil, a clear before and after — appeals when society is fractured, said Dr. Hidalgo, the religion professor from Roger williams university. 

“Apocalypse is a flexible script,” she said. “A sense of shared external evil can really bring folks together.” 

It is also a reminder that across several traditions, the memory of past crises can offer hope — that human beings have survived such moments before, and that the truths being revealed can become a call to action.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Happy Vesak – and a Dhammapada Reflection; Seeking Contentment

It's the day of the first full Moon of May and that makes it Vesak, the celebration of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and final passing into nibbana, or nirvana. In some places it is known as the festival of lights, since lanterns, candles, and lamps are frequently used as part of the celebration (I've got loads of candles so that one's sorted).

This full moon is known as the ‘Flower Moon’ and provides the last chance to see a supermoon this year.

A supermoon occurs when the moon’s orbit brings it to its closest proximity to Earth – called its perigee.

A supermoon appears brighter and larger than normal, and is anything from 14% to 30% brighter than the average moon. 

Seeking Contentment 
To harm living beings
who, like us, seek contentment, 
is to bring harm to ourselves. 

Dhammapada v.131

It is reasonably obvious what living harmlessly means if we are referring to the way we relate to other living beings, but what does it mean if we turn our attention inwards? What does living harmlessly mean when we are referring to all those ‘living beings’ who occupy our inner worlds; how are we relating to them? If we feel obstructed by a bad mood or, even more painfully, thoroughly overwhelmed by intense negative emotions, can we meet these ‘beings’, truly receive them as they are, and in so doing release them? Or do we judge them and fight with them and in so doing compound the pain? All beings long to be free, including those unattractive, unwelcome beings that we have kept imprisoned for so long.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

SUPER FULL MOON – Distorted Views

Distorted views,
which give rise to seeing right as wrong
and wrong as right,
cause beings to disintegrate.

Dhammapada v.318

The way we view things defines how we relate to those things. If, for example, we view lounging in the sun as agreeable, then we might spend hours outside soaking up the warmth. However, once we learn about the heightened risk of skin cancer from excessive exposure to the wrong kind of UV rays, we are more likely to restrain ourselves; even though the thought of lying in the sun is still appealing. On a more subtle level, if we perceive holding fast to thoughts of resentment as somehow nourishing, then we are inclined to cling to those thoughts. If we study the Buddha’s teachings on the path of awareness to the point where we see how being caught in resentment leads to confusion and depression, then we are inclined to let go of such negativity. In letting go, maybe we will find a new level of contentment.

A spectacular super moon is set to appear in the night sky tonight - and it's set to be the biggest and best of 2020.

Tonight's super pink moon will be the largest our satellite will appear all year as its elliptical orbit today brings it to its closest point to Earth - a point known as its perigee.

The full moon will peak at 3.35am on Wednesday April 8, but experts say it will look most impressive as it rises over the horizon after 7.15pm on Tuesday April 7 - and may have a slight orange glow to it.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

These are the Hands by Michael Rosen

This poem is about all the people who work for the NHS.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

FULL MOON – Storytelling

Mistaking the false for the real,
and the real for the false,
one suffers a life of falsity.

But seeing the false as the false
and the real as the real,
one lives in the perfectly real.

Dhammapada v.11 - 12

How much time do we spend telling ourselves stories and how much do we invest in aligning with reality? Of course there are times when telling stories is genuinely meaningful. Not everything can be explained rationally. Stories often serve as approximations alluding to reality in ways that lineal, logical thinking cannot. However, compulsive storytelling is an obstruction. For example, there are stories which perhaps served a useful purpose at an earlier stage in our lives which now stop us from moving on. We could be telling ourselves that the limitations we feel are ultimate when in reality they are not. Or telling ourselves over and over again that we can’t let go of the past when in fact we can. We have already let go of the past. What we have now is a memory of something which happened in the past. That which happened in the past and the memory we have now are not the same thing. And therein lies the ever-present opportunity to begin again.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

FULL MOON – Non-retaliation

If spoken to harshly, 
make yourself as silent as a cracked gong; 
non-retaliation is a sign of freedom. 

Dhammapada v.134

The impulse to retaliate when we are spoken to harshly can feel so right. However, in this verse our Teacher the Buddha is advising wise restraint. Silence doesn't necessarily denote weakness. It might appear thus, but the way things appear to be on the outside and how they actually are in terms of reality, can be totally otherwise. At this time of the year many of the plants in the garden look thoroughly dead (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Hopefully, though, we know enough about gardening to not automatically pull all the plants out just because they don't look nice in December. To live our lives in a way that is aligned with the path of true freedom requires a quality of discernment that is able to see beyond the mere surface appearance. Our commitment to spiritual training is in service to developing this discernment.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

SACRE Reflection Nov 2019

The following piece is a talk given by Dave Downer who is the Buddhist member of the local Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education otherwise known as SACRE. Dave hosts the Soto Zen group in Newport.

Since 1988, Local Authorities have been required to establish a SACRE.

SACRE is responsible for advising the Local Authority in matters concerning the teaching of Religious Education and Collective Acts of Worship. It also has a monitoring role in this subject. SACRE decides on applications for determinations of cases in which requirements for Christian collective worship is not to apply. It can also require the Local Authority to review its Agreed Syllabus and is required to publish an Annual Report of its work.

SACRE should reflect broadly the proportionate strength of religions or denominations in the area.

"There is a popular saying "practice makes perfect". I recently heard a modified version of this which instead says "practice makes perfect, so be careful what you practice".

We talk a lot about practice. As examples, there is practice for sport, practice for exams and education, religious practice, and of late mindfulness practice.

Practice, in the generally accepted sense, implies that we are doing something to move us towards some kind of final goal which will be as close to being perfect as possible. We expect to reach this goal somewhen or another, and we spend an awful lot of our energy planning how to reach the goal, how we will spend our time reaching it, how long it might take to get there, what obstacles might get in our way, and how wonderful it will be when we arrive.

The premise of this logic is that in some way what we are doing at the moment is only an imperfect contribution towards reality or perfection, which will arrive at some point in the future. As we all know, tomorrow never comes, but we behave as if that were not true.

It is very difficult to be always “in the present moment”, but that is exactly where we are. We cannot possibly be anywhere else. Our biggest difficulty, as human beings, is our capacity for so-called rational thinking, logical thinking, and need to plan a route to everywhere, including the future. Our western culture emphasises the need for setting goals and objectives. Whilst there is a need to do this, otherwise we would not have achieved all the things we have achieved, it almost becomes an absolute belief that this is the only way to live. The consequence of this is that in the present moment our minds nearly always become focused on how we might get to the fantasy we have just created in our heads, and while we are in that fantasy, we are not in the present moment. So it passes us by almost unnoticed.

As human beings, we love to create stories. This is fine when it is in the realm of amusement and fiction. The problem arises when we invent stories about ourselves and others, which we do so effectively that we forget they are stories. This is where the practice comes in. Having invented what appears to be a perfectly reasonable and rational story, we then practice it, and behave as if it were true. We practice towards achieving the story we have created for ourselves. This would be fine if the stories were based upon absolute truth. Often, we create a story for ourselves that says it is the absolute truth. How could it possibly be anything else?

The consequence of living this way is that we can overlook the possibility that there are other ways of perceiving existence, and that these ways might have more successful results in our lives and the way we live them than the endless pursuit of so-called rationality. One example of these is the ability we have when we drop the absolute clinging to logic, and to perceive things by what we might describe as “intuition”. I'm sure we have all experienced that moment when our stories have been dropped, and an unexpected answer emerges from somewhere.

The domain of the theories of quantum mechanics have revealed to us some quite startling suggestions about the way the universe might actually work. What we have taken in the past to be so-called "logical" are demonstrated to be incorrect and the assumptions they make mistaken. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which has long since been accepted and validated, says we cannot know in advance anything at all for certain. We can know something about reality, but we cannot know it all until it actually occurs. No one has yet put forward any accepted description for why or how the emergence of reality occurs. Electrons do not actually exist until we attempt to measure them. Interaction between particles does not exist until they actually collide. Reality does not exist until we observe it. Prior to this moment they only exist as a possibility, and have no absolute reality at all!

All of this leads me into a sense of wonder about the extraordinary nature of existence. Human beings, needing some logic because of their inexhaustible desire for explanation, create all kinds of stories to explain existence, what it is, and how it came to be. Their stories are different. They all present what they see as logical explanations for their stories, and therefore declare their stories as being “truth”. They then often punish other human beings who will not accept their “absolute truth”. What difficulties this gets us in!

The universe is vastly more wonderful and inexplicable than any of these stories, however old, can explain.

What we need is to encourage a sense of this mysteriousness, a sense of inquisitive enquiry, and an open mind nurtured by an understanding about the stories we create, and where they originate, from inside our minds. Our minds are the source of everything, including the stories. Where are our minds? What is this “myself”?

Practice reflection on this."

Monday, 11 November 2019

FULL MOON – Responsibility

As iron is destroyed by the rust it produces, 
so those who perform evil are corroded 
by their own action. 

Dhammapada v.240

Contrary to what we might expect, owning up to the part we play in determining the quality of our lives can be energising. If we were not taught at an early age about the law of kamma we easily entertain the view that it is others who define the quality of our life. We assume we need others to act and speak in ways that don’t offend us. The Buddha’s teachings tell us that essentially whether we are confused or contented is the result of our own actions. Of course we will always experience the external world as agreeable and disagreeable. Whether or not we add to those experiences by indulging in liking and disliking is a choice.