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.