Both the Solstice and the New Year are invitations to reflect on impermanence and change, and to think about our sense of purpose. Our last evening in December was a reflection on light and dark, the experience of waiting in the dark, being open and receptive to what inspires and guides us. Our first evening in January (5th) will be a meditation evening.
I hope you have had time over the holiday period and amid the festivities for some quiet reflection. I have loved the bright frosty days we have sometimes had. Here's a poem by Kenneth White that I love:
A High Blue Day on Scalpay
This is the summit of contemplation, and
no art can touch it
blue, so blue, the far-out archipelago
and the sea shimmering, shimmering
no art can touch it, the mind can only
try to become attuned to it
to become quiet, and space itself out, to
become open and still, unworlded
knowing itself in the diamond country, in
the ultimate unlettered light.
Our new programme is now on the What's On pages. This year we'll be celebrating 50years of the Triratna Order and Movement. Many of us feel deep gratitude and joy for the difference the Dharma has made in our lives since we met it through Triratna - the 50th birthday is truly a cause for celebration.
Last Thursday, we started the next stage in our series the Journey and the Guide, moving from the theme of mindfulness and integration ion to the theme of Positive Emotion. Of course, we don't leave mindfulness and integration behind, we take them with us, and they develop as we gain a more expansive view of how things are.
We heard the story of how the young prince Siddhartha left the palace and began his spiritual quest. Symbolically, this story is about leaving 'the palace of me'.
A lot of our thinking is about protecting and seeking security for ourselves and our loved ones. We react to experiences according to how we think they will impact us, Much of our thinking is taken up with thinking along the lines of 'I don't like this - how can I make it stop, what did I do wrong to make it happen in the first place - what can I do to stop it happening again' - worrying, planning, blaming self or others. Or we are thinking that soething is pleasant, and we want it to continue and not change. And there are many experiences that we barely notice because they are neither confirming or threatening to our self view.
So last Thursday evening we were reflecting on how to change these habits of thinking.
We looked at two ways of meeting painful experiences more skilfully:
using our pain to connect us with others, remembering all other beings who are feeling as we do, rememberng that it isn't 'my pain' but part of the world's pain, arising from conditions, and no-one is to blame.
connecting with fundamental richness - so instead of closing in around a painful experience, we open out to the richness of life that is going on all around us and in us, expanding our view from narrow self interest.
Pema Chodron writes very powerfully about this is her book When Things fall Apart.
The evening ended with Naomi Shihab Nye's poem, Kindness, and a metta bhavana meditation.
We started our new series on The Journey and the Guide with an introduction on October 13th and the first week on October 20th.
The journey starts with waking up to the reality of impermanence - this is how is began for the Buddha. Last week we thought about the experiences in our lives that made us 'wake up' and think about how we were living.
The first stage is also about becoming more integrated, having more of our energies available for our deepest values. And that means looking at how we live our lives now day-by-day,, and perhaps reducing 'input' - the kind of distracting activity that keeps our minds superficial and scattered.
This stage is about developing mindfulness in meditation and in our daily lives.. So as well as our regular practice of the Mindfulness of Breathing, it is suggested that we use a 'Three Minute Breathing Space' during the day - to
- notice our thoughts, to see if they are repetitive and going round in familiar ruts, and if they are taking us away from our actual experience
- bring our awareness to our body and our breathing, our present experience, calming the thoughts
-widen our awareness to what is going on around us
More on this theme this Thursday 27th October
Way back in early September, we ran the Pop Up Cafe - a fun and enjoyable experience. Great to work together and have a chance to talk, great to be able to offer food and friendship in a spirit of generosity. And it got a warm reception from many people.
Since then we have offered some introductory evenings on meditation, and welcomed some newcomers. This Thursday October 6th will be another Meditation Evening led by Anantamani, when we will be also celebrating Dr Ambedkar, courageous and inspirational leader of the ex-'Outcastes' in India, and his conversion to Buddhism 60 years ago.
On October 13th, we will be starting a series of evenings based loosely on the book 'The Journey and the Guide' by Maitreyabandhu. The first evening will be an introduction to the series and to the four stages or aspects of practice that we will be exploring, both in meditation and in daily life.
You don't have to read the book or come to all the evenings - each evening will be understandable in itself. But if you're interested, the book is well worth reading, clear, inspiring, practical, using creativity and imagination to help us on the path.
Here's a poem that could be about the journey - the journey of 'continually expanding through sympathy and understanding.
that the life
at which I aim
is a circumference
through sympathy and
rather than an exclusive centre
of pure self-feeling
the whole I'm out for
is centre plus circumference
and now the struggle at the centre is over
beckons from everywhere.
Kenneth White, from Walking the Coast
Llangollen Buddhists Bring Some Cheer to Local Community.
In a world where bad news seems to dominate it makes a change to report the plans by members and friends of the Llangollen Buddhist Centre to open a 'Generosity Pop Up Cafe'. An open invitation has been made to "anyone who's in the area and who fancies it" to pop into the cafe and enjoy a variety of vegan and vegetarian sweet and savoury delights - free of charge.
The Generosity Cafe is being run in the Llangollen Memorial Hall,
September 10th 11 am - 3pm.
The Llangollen Buddhist Centre, a member of the world wide Triratna Buddhist Organisation, has had a base in Llangollen for over 20 years. Asked why they had chosen to do this now one of their members explained “we want to create an opportunity for ourselves and others to experience and enjoy the flow of generosity in our local community. It is a real pleasure for us to do this in Llangollen, our local community, and we hope that many of us will feel encouraged to pass on the spirit of generosity to others”.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the Llangollen Buddhist Centre and the classes they run should visit their website: http://www.llangollenbuddhistcentre.com
Last Thursday September 1st we celebrated Sangharakshita, the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Order and movement of which Llangollen Buddhist Centre is a part, following his 91st birthday on August 26th.
For those of you who don't know his story, here's a very brief biography.:
He was born in South London in 1925. Largely self-educated through reading, he early on developed an interest in the cultures and philosophies of the East, and at the age of 16, after reading two Buddhist texts, he realised that he was a Buddhist.
Conscripted into the army, he was posted to India, and when the war ended, he stayed on and became a Buddhist monk given the name of Sangharakshita. He stayed in India for twenty years, studying under teachers from the major Buddhist traditions, and working and writing for the good of Buddhism. He played a key role in teaching and supporting the followers of Dr Ambedkar after their conversion to Buddhism.
Returning to England in the late 1960s, he realised the need for a new Buddhist movement there. This new movement was first called Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, now Triratna.
In Triratna, there is no distinction between monastic and lay, the only distinctions are about levels of commitment..Sangharakshita has always emphasised the importance of spiritual friendship and community, the significance of the arts in spiritual life, and the need for new ways of living to support spiritual aspirations.
For many of us, Sangharakshita's ability to see through cultural traditions to the essence of Buddhism in commitment to the Three Jewels has made Buddhism accessible to us - not an 'Eastern' religion, but a teaching about how to live a truly human life. Coming into contact with Triratna has been life-changing for many of us. We have been inspired and feel deeply grateful to Sangharakshita,, and last Thursday was a chance to express that.
Sangharakshita has given many talks, and written many books - available from Windhorse Books and on line on Free Buddhist Audio..
Yesterday was our Day Retreat at Anantamani's beautiful house in the lovely rolling hills of Flintshire. The theme was Beauty and Stillness, making space in our lives for stillness and for beauty, and approaching all of life with an attitude of aesthetic appreciation, relishing all of our experience.
Here are two poems, the first from the Day Retreat, and the second suggested by Jo during the retreat.
Dreaming the Real
I'm lying down looking at the colour
of sky falling through trees, dreaming
the real, tasting what it feels like to love it.
Why did it take me so long to let go, simply
exhale, so the day could breathe itself in
and open without me getting in the way?
How could I forget the grace of my own body,
strong as this blue, tender as the white
of the wild blossom, warm as midday light?
Let me practice a patience bold enough
to hold every weather, trusting the elements,
the beauty of rain, all its shades of grey,
I want whatever's real to be enough. At least
it's a place to begin. And master the art
of loving it: feel it love me back under my skin.
The Loveliness is Everywhere
The loveliness is everywhere
in the ugliest and most hostile envirnoment
the loveliness is everywhere
at the turning of a corner
in the eyes
and on the lips
of a stranger
in the emptiest areas
with no place for hope
and only death
to invite the heart
the loveliness is everywhere
it arises in its own reality
and what we must learn is
how to receive it
Last Thursday was the second evening of Buddhist Action month, and the theme was Caring for Others.
Ros talked about the charities Karuna and Young Indian Futures which work with Dalit people (ex-Untouchables) to help them build confidence and gain skills to free them from the oppression of the caste system. This work carries on from the inspiration of Dr Ambedkar who led the Dalits in a mass conversion to Buddhism shortly before his death - as we heard one evening earlier this year. Ros spoke from her own experience of working for Young Indian Futures in Nagpur.
We decided as a sangha to donate regularly to Karuna and Young Indian Futures, and raise money for them.
We also discussed other actions we could take to express our compassion for all beings. Actions that people decided to take included:
Buddhist Action Month encourages us to feel our connection with all living beings and to take action - whatever that means for each of us.
If anyone would like to contribute to Karuna or Young Indian Futures, there are links to their websites on our Links page.
Next Thursday's theme: Sustainability
This is a guided meditation to help us feel our interconnection with the world, to allow feelings to flow into us from the world, and to allow them to flow back out again. It is adapted from an ancient Buddhist meditation practice for developing compassion. We shared this in our evening last Thursday.
Closing your eyes, focus on your breathing. Don't try to breathe in any special way, just watch the breathing as it happens. Note the sensations at the nose, the chest, the abdomen.
As you watch the breathing, note that it happens by itself, without your will, without your deciding each time to inhale or exhale. It's as though you're being breathed - being breathed by life. Just as everyone in this place, on this planet, is being breathed by life, sustained in a vast living breathing web...
Now visualize your breath as a stream or ribbon of air. See it flow up into your nose, down through your windpipe, and into your lungs. Now take it through the heart. Picture it flowing through your heart and out through your open heart. to reconnect with the larger web of life. Let your breath stream be one loop within that vast web, connecting you with it....
Now open your awareness to the suffering in the world. For now drop your defences and open to your knowledge of suffering... images of your fellow beings in pain and in need, in fear and isolation, in prisons, hospitals, slums, refugee camps... no need to strain for these images, they are present to you by virtue of our interexistence. Relax and let them surface, the countless hardships of our fellow human beings, and of our animal brothers and sisters... Breathe in the pain like granules of sand on the stream of air, up through your nose, down your throat, through your lungs and heart, and out again into the world. You are asked to do nothing now but let it pass through your heart. Be sure that stream flows through and out again, don't hang onto the pain... Surrender it for now to the healing resources of life's vast web...
If no feelings arise, only blankness and numbness, breathe through that. The numbness is a very real part of our world.
If what surfaces for you with the pain for others is the losses and hurts in your own life, breathe those through too. They are an integral part of the grief of the world, and arise with it....
'Let all sorrows ripen in me' said Shantideva. We help them ripen by passing them through our hearts... making good rich compost out of all that grief... so we can learn from it, enhancing our larger, collective knowing...
Should you fear that with this pain your heart will break, remember that the heart that breaks open can hold the whole universe. Your heart is that large. Keep breathing.
Adapted from Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone
Sometimes in the West, Buddhism is seen as concerned with 'turning away' from the world, meditating, living a life 'in retreat'. But compassion and compassionate activity for the sake of all beings has always been a central teaching. Wisdom and Compassion are the two wings of the Dharma bird, both necessary and mutually dependent. The Triratna Movement and Order has always had a vision of changing the world.
Buddhist Action Month is a festival of socially engaged action, encouraging us to focus on our impact in the world. This year, we are asked to look at compassionate activity in three areas:
Generosity and Awakening Money
Caring for Others
We'll be looking at each of these areas in the next three weeks. There's no right or wrong, what we should or should not be doing; this is not about feeling guilty. It's about our attempts to keep opening more to generosity and compassion, doing less harm; our willingness to look at what we actually are doing.
It can be difficult to look at world problems - there's the enormity of it, and our own feelings of powerlessness. It can just seem too depressing, and we want to turn away. So for the first week of BAM we looked at how to turn towards these problems through a sense of deep interconnectedness. It's a fundamental Buddhist teaching - the separate self is an illusion, we are all intricately interconnected with all living beings.
We used the work of Joanna Macy that she calls 'The Work that Reconnects'.
This starts from Gratitude - a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life. Then it moves into Honouring Our Pain - being able to turn towards suffering, our own and others. Here we had a powerful led reflection (which I'll describe in the next blog). Then it moves to engaging with Interconnectedness, feeling ourselves part of the flow of life, not acting alone, but feeling what acts through us.
'I try to remember that it's not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking'.
John Seed, rainforest activist
We can ask ourselves - 'what happens through me?' Are consumerism, materialism, a fragmented and individualistic society, exploitation of other living beings being strengthened through me? Or am I opening up to allow generosity, simplicity, care for others, a sense of interconnectedness and community to work through me?
Finally the work moves to Going Forth - into what we can do, which we'll be thinking about over the next three weeks.
'It doesn't matter how humble a level we are operating at, or how undramatic our work may be. The tru individual is not so much the King of the jungle as the indefatigable earthworm. However powerful the existing order may seem, it is not invulnerable to the undermining influence of enough individuals working, directly or indirectly, in co-operation.'
PUJA TO VAIROCHANA
Written by Ros Murphy, celebrated at Llangollen Sangha 19th May 2016
With crystal clear streams falling free and boundless
With blossom of cherry, and white wild rose
With windflowers lighting the dark of the woods
With white iris, and lilies of the valley
I pay honour to you, heart of the Mandala,
I envelop you in the scent of gardenia, lotus
And jasmine, carried on the wind,
That it may reach you at the heart of the Mandala,
I offer you the clear light of the morning sun
And the moon, illuminating the clouds of darkness,
The light that is held in all human hearts,
I offer you, Vairocana.
Vairocana, transformer of ignorance
Holder of the universe, sunlight on snow,
The clear ground of a thousand Buddhas,
I bow to you, the diamond in my heart.
You turn the Dharma in your hand.
Without it, I would be lost and falling
Into a dark and friendless void.
Vairocana, you inspire all Wisdom teachings
So that those who know you may illuminate others.
I bow to those who love your light
Om Vairocana hum
Going for Refuge
This very day, I go for my refuge
To the light of clear understanding,
To the light of openness towards others,
To the joy of knowing myself beloved
By you, Vairocana, the centre of my heart.
I take my refuge in the turning wheel of the Dharma
Which is security in the face of death.
Likewise, in the company of those who know your light,
I take my refuge.
Refuges and Precepts
Confession of Faults
Vairocana, I struggle in the dark of ignorance.
Not knowing, I place myself at the centre of the Mandala.
Not loving, I judge other people
With the same harsh law I judge myself.
Not thinking, I am careless, I am mindless,
I grasp at happiness from the insubstantial
The impermanent, that leads me to my suffering.
But still I grasp, and grasp again.
Vairocana, turn your loving eyes on me,
Envelop me with your clear gaze,
Illuminate my dark and folded heart,
Accept me as I am, and lead me to
The centre of the Mandala.
I have seen your light many times, Vairocana,
At the hour of my innumerable deaths,
And I have turned away, unable to bear your radiance.
This time, this time, Vairocana,
May I stay, and rejoice in the light.
Rejoicing in Merit
I rejoice with delight
In the kindness shown by all beings
Knowing that their actions benefit themselves
As well as innumerable others
Knowing that their actions turn the wheel of Truth,
The wheel of Wisdom, the Wheel of Clear Light.
I rejoice in the end of suffering
At the leaving behind of self and mine
At the leaving of darkness and calculation.
May I and all beings step out of the cave of unknowing
Into the radiance of pure light!
Entreaty and Supplication
I entreat you with folded hands, Vairocana,
Turn, turn the wheel of the Dharma
That I may know with all my heart
The truth that I have looked for so many times.
I am blind, seeking with anxious hands
I am dumb, unable to find the song
I am lame, unable to join the dance.
Vairocana, please help me change.
Let me be suffused with your white light
That melts away all bondage, dark, and suffering
That I may stand upright in your gaze
At the centre of the mandala.
Transference of Merit
May any merit that I have
Through any lightning flash that illuminates my experience
Go towards the end of suffering for all beings.
May I share everything that I have gained
From the kindness of others, and kindness towards myself,
With other beings, who live all around,
Above and below, seen and unseen.
May the circle of light expand immeasurably
Throughout the darkest regions of the universe!
May I turn each action, thought and word
To the service of all beings that have life.
May we reach together the clear light
Of the centre, of Vairocana.
We're nearing the end of our exploration of the qualities of the Enlightened Mind through engaging with the Five Buddhas of the Mandala. In the last two weeks, we've been reflecting on Vairocana, the white Buddha at the centre of the mandala, called the Illuminator, who turns the wheel of the Dharma. He's a powerful and mysterious figure, and we were reminded that to approach him we need the four gifts of the four Buddhas we have already encountered:
'Akshobhya held up the crystal mirror of wisdom to show us the truth of things, to let us see ourselves as we are, undistorted. He touched the earth, to remind us that we shall find truth not in our ideas about things but in direct experience.
Ratnasambhava gave us the jewel of beauty. he taught us to appreciate the beauty in nature, in the arts, in other people, in ourselves.
Amitabha gave us a red lotus, the soft open flower of love and compassion, so that we began to open out to others, to soften our hearts, and see the unique value of every living thing.
Amoghasiddhi gave us the gift of fearlessness, to venture into the world helping all beings, and the courage to enter the centre of the mandala, the centre of existence'.
(from Meeting the Buddhas)
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance'
(T S Eliot:: Burnt Norton)
Looking forwards towards the past,
our backs face the Unknown future
but we can see the past.
Just now I saw the rusty old plough.
The stones and rot of last years ferns,
of its age , the height of technology.
Picked., no doubt ,from a catalogue
much perused by winters candle light.
Replacing the older wooden plough.
"Dieu, how she cuts now Dad !"
Then ,after the war when the new tractor arrived,
the horses grew fat and lazy,
the old plough put to one side, carefully,
for she had been the old man's
pride and joy.
The Buddha remembered his father
ploughing the sacred plough ,
while he , the young Sidartha watched.
This recollection is held to be
the breakthrough which led
to his enlightenment.
This plough, this rusty old plough
lies in the remains of an outhouse
in a Buddhist retreat centre.
Where meditators break the
hard crust of their habits
to reach the rich humus beneath.
STORM ON THE FIFTH DAY
by Varabhadri. First practised with Llangollen Sangha 21st April 2016
(This section is a reading)
It is not Ratnasambhava's sunlit land
It is not Amitabha's inviting fire
It is not Akshobya's realm of dawning light
Nor Vairocana's pure domain.
It is the world at the world's end.
An ancient forest covers it, extensive, dark and fearsome.
Tangled yews and ancient oaks amid dense brambles
Thorn thickets, marshes. At its centre, a circle of pines
sway unceasingly, whispering his name: Amoghasiddhi.
Since the beginnings of time a tempest rages around the forest margin. It is composed of all the fears ever known: they rise up howling. Constantly, more arrive in the whirling wind – there is no end of them. Within the internal gloom, there is screeching, growling, bloodcurdling cries of beings unknown. Beyond the forest, further north, lies a desolate region, a frigid land haunted by cold ghosts lamenting their plight, their tears forming icy seas. Trapped by their own misfortune, they wait for aeons to be rescued.
Within the circle of pines a soft green light begins to glow. The sky collapses in thunder, revealing Amoghasiddhi. He is seated like an iron mountain, his posture roaring like a waterfall. Wearing midnight as his cloak he sits serene untroubled through the storm. Conflicting winds do not disturb him.
Amoghasiddhi! Through all the tumult resolutely calm.
Around him fly garudas who with a clash of cymbals banish demons. They fall to earth and turn into moss-covered stone.
(in call and response)
watchful for the perils
that may afflict the body
your right hand raised, palm outwards
defending, says 'let no harm come'
(make the abhaya mudra)
knowing the host of worries
that so disturb our minds
your right hand raised, palm outwards
bids them all 'be still'.
Your left hand upturned
resting in your lap
is a peaceful valley
where all may safely shelter.
Befriender of fear
more powerful than earthquakes
swifter than a hurricane
unstoppable like a flood.
Who cools jealousy and the burn of envy
Queller of conflict
Remover of obstacles
Dare we approach him, now?
GOING FOR REFUGE
I am a pilgrim
on the path of change
who desires to be free of fear.
Today I affirm
that I seek liberation.
The Dharma is my orientation.
Kind companions form a sangha
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
in diverse forms
traditional or unconventional
occupying stone or tree
or hidden in the mind,
inspire and guide.
So I Go for Refuge
to the Ultimate Good.
When doubt or fear obstruct me
Amoghasiddhi may I remember your name.
Refuges and Precepts
CONFESSION AND OFFERINGS
O great Amoghasiddhi
I stand and face you
I bring my fears
to bow down to you.
They must surrender their power,
rooted in self-clinging.
I offer them now
since they stand in the way
and compromise my authenticity.
What follows now in particular
I wish to weaken.
(To drum beat, basket of leaves and pencils handed round for people to write down a fear, remaining seated. If anyone wishes to voice their fear....)
Mantra and Offerings
In doing this
I move closer to Amoghasiddhi
weakening what obstructs me.
His compassion loosens
my barbed defences,
his protecting love
draws me away
from self-made shadows.
I grow more confident
I am en-couraged
by his supreme compassion
by his indestructible resolve
by his wise intervention in disputes
by his pacifying my anxiety
by his vajric energy that unifies,
balancing opposing wills
by his being ever-green
which is rejuvenating.
He is the conqueror.
He knows our deepest fears.
He knows what we can attain.
Liberator, doubt dispeller
Reveal yourself through me
that I too may offer fearlessness
to all who long to be free
and may I find faith
that I shall succeed.
End with 3 SADHUS
A really inspiring event led by Varabhadri from Tregaron.
Amogasiddhi, the Green Buddha, associated with fearlessness and unobstructed success was the focus of the evening.