Sunday, 1 February 2009

Palaka, His Spiritual Journey Continues

As a number of you in the wider Island Sangha may already know, Palaka will soon be leaving the Island. Here in his own words is why.

"Taking a look at why we live as we do can be a demanding task. What are we noticing or ignoring? What are we ‘talking-up’ and what are we ‘editing-out?’ Who do we trust to steady our eye? Well, I can thank Steve for setting me the task of saying something of why I’m choosing to change the way I live, moving from Ventnor, Isle of Wight, to Bethnal Green, London. I think he expected more than a couple of sentences.

It comes down to conditions. Buddhist teaching points to the significance of conditions. We are taught that it is because everything arises in dependence on conditions that the spiritual life is possible, it is possible to move beyond the truth of the different kinds of suffering. There are always conditions: arisen and arising. We would probably all want our friends to live in conditions that support them. Which conditions seem to give rise to or to maintain positive mental states, states based on generosity, love and clarity?

My thinking runs along these lines: our actions have consequences. A consequence might be the creation of positive conditions. Creating positive conditions is to enter more fully into the world that they represent.

Mulling this over for a bit is really just not enough. “Think only of this very moment, and waste no time in turning your minds to the study of the way”, Dogen instructs. For myself, certain conditions help me to do this, really help with this. So I am learning to seek out these conditions – and to continue to create them for myself and others. I am interested in the results. Some people are quite helpful to me seeing the results - and to pointing out my ‘editing’ and ‘talking-up’! So I’m looking to support this warmth of engagement with others - with life – with clarity.

And, yes, there are positive conditions on the Island: the natural environment; our links with one another within and across the different practice traditions (long may they be maintained!); a relatively stable way of life…

Do I always use these conditions in a wholehearted effort to see the truth of impermanence? To see the urgency it carries and the liberation it offers? Seeing something of this truth, does my response have even a fraction of the strength that often goes with learning that we all have an ‘inherent potential’? That potential becomes for some a cherished, cosseted belief – though often untested. And the response to seeing, really seeing, impermanence? The Buddha talks of someone seeing that truth responding as though his turban is on fire! He talks about the energy of one who had not acted on this as like one “brooding over the past like aged herons in a pond without fish”. There’s a recognition of the urgency of spiritual practice and also a recognition of how easy it is to create a vacant godrealm of cherished potential. So, though people happily discover Buddhism to be ‘tolerant’, it makes no compromises. Sangha is what conduces to growth, and I’m off to see if I can find it.

Some apparently positive conditions seem to have a greater effect on me than others. The same might be true for you. So I learn the need to balance being receptive with being active – just like in some meditation practices. Along with the idea of ‘potential’ rides its necessary companion idea: realisation. Along with ‘inherence’ rides ‘expression’. It is not that one does nothing. So I feel that I’m taking a bit of action on that front. Padmasambhava directs us to “Pay urgent attention to impermanence and then strongly direct your mind to going for refuge”. So, I feel more a need to direct myself, to go for refuge more. I wonder how this will play out?

Well, looking at why we live as we do, at why I live as I do, I find there are ways to bring together the components of how I view the world and reveal their values. Mandalas do this. As expressions of a mental state they can depict sublime ideals. Putting Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha towards the centre of our mandala not only expresses a valuing of that which unites all Buddhist traditions. It also prompts a creative exploration of the harmonious ways of arranging the other aspects of our life. Refining such harmony as one finds by aligning it more fully with the Three Jewels, discovering ways to express this refinement, all this creates further conditions for oneself and for others. And it’s that which has prompted me to look, respond and make choices.

I’ve been re-reading some Kukai, the Japanese tantric master. He responds to the question why he ‘entered the mountain’ with another question: “Have you not seen? O, have you not seen?” Surely the other man has shared in glimpsing samsara, he seems to ask. Then he gives a series of examples of the manifestation of impermanence.

Kukai turned from a beguiling world, steeped in impermanence, more likely to divert than to expand awareness, to another aspect of the same world, one where his awareness was supported, his vision expressed and his heart freed: “The limpid stream of the mountain is the source of my inexhaustible joy”.

I am just beginning to know the form of my ‘mountain’ and also, happily, I am beginning to find my own ‘mountain stream’. It emerges from creating and acting on positive conditions. Setting Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels at the centre of one’s mandala is a direct challenge to the greed, hatred and delusion that can create a misleadingly daunting landscape.

Setting generosity, straightforward friendliness, love, and the values of clarity and awareness toward the centre demands expression: what is one to do with all that freed-up energy?

Finding a way to express that energy, to give rise to more positive conditions and to maintain this positivity presents each of us with the invitation to a personal quest for the benefit of ourselves and others.

For my part, for the next year or so, I’ll pursue that quest at Bethnal Green, around the London Buddhist Centre. I think I have my eyes open and see that it’s not likely to be simply an easy ride, quite likely to throw back at me that line from “Sweet Charity”: No matter where I go, I find myself there. Taking a turn on the rota to ring the bells for the morning meditation period, doing a shift in the bookshop, meeting up with one of the men who ordained me, Maitreyabandhu, talking about the Dharma together, living in a spiritual community: so far, I’ve not found a way of creating these conditions on the Island. In time, they might arise, but perhaps they’re just a cherished potential. Until then, I’m off to London, not severing my roots, but choosing ‘to grow beyond them’. Perhaps you’ll visit? Perhaps I’ll be asked back to join in with or lead some weekend events on the Island. Either way, as Milarepa sings in his Song of Meeting and Parting: ‘Inspired by the Dharma, May we soon meet again, in prosperity and boon!’"

No comments:

Post a Comment