Sunday, 25 July 2021

FULL MOON – Shaping Life

Just as a fletcher shapes an arrow, 
so the wise develop the mind, 
so excitable, 
uncertain and difficult to control. 

Dhammapada v. 33 

If we wish to develop our minds, sooner or later we need to recognize that we are responsible for the views that we have on life – the views that we hold and how we hold them. It is our views and whether or not we are attached to them that determine our actions. Within us there is a potential to change our views and to change our relationship to them. Perhaps at an early stage of life we assimilated the view that we deserve all the safety and convenience of living in an affluent society, unaware of the many sacrifices others have made so we can enjoy these conditions. Then, if circumstances change and we no longer have all the freedoms that we had grown used to, that unacknowledged view causes us to feel deprived and we become indignant. Without careful, skilful investigation into the views we hold, our life is shaped mainly by external influences. In his teachings the Buddha highlighted the possibility for training our attention so we are not mere victims of external influences. He wanted us to truly take control of our lives by letting go of attachment to views. If we are not attached to views we are in a position to be able to assess whether or not they serve to increase well-being.

Friday, 25 June 2021

Dhammapada Reflections FULL MOON – The Way of Wisdom

To contemplate life leads to wisdom; without contemplation wisdom wanes. 
Recognise how wisdom is cultivated and destroyed, 
and walk the way of increase. 

Dhammapada v. 282 

It is understandable if we assume that the way to increase ease and contentment is to achieve our goals in life. And to some extent the Buddha wouldn’t disagree; however it does depend on the nature of our goals. To aim for fitness and good health is a relatively suitable goal, unless, that is, it means we view the inevitability of old age as something going wrong. The Buddha wanted us to recognize the relative importance of such matters as maintaining physical health. At the same time he wanted us to develop the faculty of wise reflection – or contemplation – to the point where we see that this body is not truly who and what we are. Of course the body is part of our identity and we are responsible for taking care of it. We are also responsible for the state of awareness out of which we live. The most suitable goal in life is the realization of the quality of wisdom that sees beyond the way things merely appear to be, to that which is actually true.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Daily Mindfulness Exercise

I usually re-post this item from the previous year as an annual reminder to "keep the ball rolling. Last year with the Covid restrictions I gave it a miss but with the easing of the rules it's back again!

Talking of Covid there is no problem with litter picking, I checked with Keep Britain Tidy and the rules only apply to large group activities.

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........................

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Dhammapada Reflections - FULL MOON – Honesty

One who transforms old and heedless ways 
into fresh and wholesome acts 
brings light into the world 
like the moon freed from clouds. 

Dhammapada v.173 

Sometimes we focus inwards, paying attention to the deep causes of discontent. At other times we pay attention outwards to the suffering of the world in which we live. Becoming lost either inwardly or outwardly brings greater imbalance. What we are aiming at is learning how to take full responsibility for our heedless habits. Both inner and outer work can be difficult. It is hard to be honest and admit that it is because our heart is closed that our capacity for caring and discernment is compromised. Living with an open heart is not about being weak or soft; it means simply allowing our native sensitivity to shine through. Certainly we will have to face the risk of feeling hurt; however we learned to close our hearts in the first place because we didn’t know how to accurately feel what we feel. Hopefully, by this stage of life we have acquired enough skill in mindfulness, restraint and wise reflection to be better able to allow the hurt and disappointment, to allow the hope and the delight, without losing balance too seriously. Our contribution to the sad and sorry world can be our honesty.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Dhammapada Reflections - FULL MOON

The Buddha’s perfection is complete; 
there is no more work to be done. 
No measure is there for his wisdom; 
no limits are there to be found. 
In what way could he be distracted from truth? 

Dhammapada v.179 

What good fortune to have access to the teachings offered by the Buddha and the Awakened disciples. What a great blessing to find that we have faith in these teachings; a faith that encourages us to question, to enquire, and not to merely believe. When we merely believe, we abdicate responsibility for the consequences of our unawareness; and surely it is unawareness that is at the very core of all suffering – our own and that of the world. So let’s be careful that we are not becoming lost in feeling good just because we believe in the Buddha. Instead of asking, ‘Am I a good Buddhist?’, perhaps we ought to be asking, ‘Is my Buddhist practice helping me hear my heart’s deepest doubts and concerns?’ And, ‘Am I learning to rightly trust myself as I engage those true questions?’

Friday, 26 February 2021

Dhammapada Reflections - FULL MOON – Purification

Refrain from wrongdoing, 
cultivate that which is good; 
purify the heart. 
This is the Way of the Awakened Ones. 

Dhammapada v.183 

When we inhibit wrongdoing, we develop a form of strength that comes with self-respect. Without the ability to inhibit unwholesomeness, all the spiritual books we read, the talks we listen to, and even the hours spent meditating, are compromised. It is like cooking healthy organic food in a filthy kitchen. Conversely, when we are skilled in wise restraint, the good efforts that we make are enhanced. Then, with unwholesomeness restrained and goodness developed, we are ready to purify awareness from the troublesome habit of setting up right against wrong, good against evil, self against other. The awareness of the Awakened Ones is free from all compulsive habits of taking sides, and is therefore free from all suffering.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

FULL MOON – Valuing

Those who are foolish and confused
 betray themselves to heedlessness. 
The wise treasure the awareness 
they have cultivated 
as their most precious possession. 

Dhammapada v.26 

It is easy to take for granted the everyday level of clarity that we have. Even without regularly putting time aside to formally discipline attention, the practice of observing precepts alone can produce a quality of clarity that many people lack. Just as we might take our health for granted until we fall ill, we can likewise get used to living with a well-developed degree of awareness. The Buddha is advising us to value, even treasure, the results of our good efforts.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

FULL MOON – Consequences

Even those who perform evil 
can experience well-being 
so long as their actions 
have not yet borne direct fruits. 
However, when the results 
of their actions ripen, 
the painful consequences 
cannot be avoided. 

Dhammapada v.119 

We might like to think that we can get away with doing something that is wrong so long as nobody else knows about it. However, we know about it; and we know that we know about it. We have to live with ourselves every day and every night for the rest of our lives. We have to be ready to remember every intentional action that we have ever performed. Once we appreciate this, then hopefully we come to see that the wise way to approach life is to try to do only those things that we wish to remember. If we have already accumulated memories that give rise to regret, see regret and remorse as part of the healing. Such suffering is a message, and it is inviting us to look at it, to receive it, so it can teach us to be more careful in the future.