Thursday, 22 June 2017

We are Ten years Old this Month!

It's just occurred to me that the West Wight Sangha Website is ten years old this month. Back on Wednesday the 6th of June 2007 I posted our first item.............


Welcome

I'm launching the "West Wight Sangha" Blog today but it is still very much a work in progress (subtle Buddhist joke). Being a total Blog newbie I am still finding my way through the terminology and trying to fit the "personal" format of a Blog to suit a group. Hopefully this will be a way of either having a "public face" or possibly a private on-line notice board, or both?

This was followed on the 14th with our first proper story!

A Zen Monk on the Isle of Wight


I received this email the other day..........

Dear Stephen,

I'm an English Zen monk, just on my way back from Japan. I'm going to be walking the length of Britain starting on the Isle of Wight at dawn on June 21st. Full information is on the news section of my website, zenways.org. I'd be delighted to meet you and other spiritual friends around that time. Please drop me a note if you'd like to make contact.

Best wishes,

Daizan

I am now in contact with Daizan Roshi with a view to sorting something out, I will keep everyone posted.

And the rest is history......................

Monday, 19 June 2017

The Language of Conflict

Following the recent terror attacks in London and Manchester and the apparently "retaliatory" attack last night outside a mosque in Finsbury Park this article by Andrew Olendzki on conflict is so appropriate.............

A lot of fighting is going on in both private and public discourse today. In a text known as the discourse about not doing battle (Aranavibhanga Sutta, MN 139), the Buddha puts forth suggestions on how we might lessen the conflicts around us. One stands out as making an important point about how we can use language to either provoke or reduce conflict.

It is very common for people to speak something like this:



All those who are committed to [x] are on the wrong path.

All those who are not committed to [x] are on the right path.

You can insert as the variable any belief, opinion, practice, or behaviour.

According to the Buddha, the trouble with this way of speaking is that it engages in “extolling” and “disparaging.” The real problem with this mode of expression is that it is praise or blame directed at a person, and either extols or disparages people who hold the views and engage in the activities specified. We can easily think of examples of arguments, debates, or political talks that are little more than ad hominem attacks, which focus on one’s opponent personally rather than on the matter at hand. As soon as the issue has to do with persons, we tap into primitive instincts for self-preservation and self-aggrandisement and evoke the deep psychological forces identified in the Buddhist tradition as greed, hatred, and delusion. Anytime a “self” is involved, that self is driven by the need to get or hold on to whatever serves it, at any cost, and by the need to deny or destroy anything that threatens it. When a person is extolled, their sense of self-importance and self-righteousness increases, and when a person is disparaged, their reflexes for self-defence are triggered. Both praise and blame evoke a sense of self, and the self always shows up ready to fight.

However, the Buddha was also very clear about the existence of a right path and a wrong path. His message is not that we should avoid conflict by not making distinctions or judgements about what is healthy or unhealthy, skillful or unskillful. Indeed, the clarity of his insight into what is harmful and what is beneficial for sentient beings is among the major contributions made to world civilisation by the Buddha. The matter is more carefully stated this way:

Being committed to [x] brings about suffering and is the wrong path.

Not being committed to [x] does not bring about suffering and is the right path.

The point is a simple and timeless one. There are all sorts of beliefs, opinions, practices, and behaviours that lead to harm, and many others that lead to well-being. By all means, let’s be clear about which is which, and share with others what we understand about this. But when we do this by disparaging people for their views, it will only trigger their existential defence mechanisms—and likely bring out their worst side. They may be hurt or get angry, and because of this either strike back or in some other way speak and act badly. Similarly, if we extol ourselves for our beliefs, it will feed into our own narcissistic tendencies. When alternately one criticises the beliefs and practices themselves, rather than the people that adhere to them, we create some space between the two.

At its worst, of course, the separation of persons from their views or behaviours does little good, for people often identify so strongly with these things that any criticism is taken as a personal attack. If you disparage my beliefs, I hold these so much as a part of who I am that you are essentially disparaging me. This is the insidious side of grasping, and of creating a self to which so many things belong.

At its best, the practice of discussing ideas rather than praising or blaming people allows for everyone to hold different viewpoints without going to battle. I can believe strongly that I am right and you are wrong, but still respect you, while you can maintain the view that you are right and I am wrong, and still put up with me. It is inevitable that there will be a wide range of beliefs, opinions, practices, and behaviours in this large and diverse world. It is not inevitable that people must hate one another on account of this.

It may be a modest contribution, but let’s see whether following the Buddha’s suggestion of using depersonalised language to critique harmful thoughts, words, and deeds, rather than attacking the people who wield them, can help end some of the fighting and muffle the call to battle.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Daily Mindfulness Exercise

(I'm re-posting this item from last year as an annual reminder to "keep the ball rolling").

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

Sunday, 11 June 2017

China Embraces Buddhism to Project Power

China is rapidly developing a plan for a ‘Buddhist globalisation’ using its financial, political and marketing clout.

Unsurprisingly, President Xi Jinping is not just asserting territorial claims in the South China Sea and expanding China’s connectivity project through the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, he is also working to make China the world leader in Buddhism. Xi has had this idea for some time now – he started building a partnership between China’s communist party and the religion when he was only 29 years old, serving as a bureaucrat in provinces. The story began when he encountered Shi Youming, a Buddhist monk who was restoring ruined temples of Zhengding County in Hebei Province.

Xi was probably also influenced by his father, Xi Zhongxun, who in 1980 had warned the party in his 11,000-word report ‘Document 19’ against banning religious activity, suggesting that this would alienate too many people. In fact, one of Xi’s father’s signature lines is said to have been, “If the people have faith, the nation has hope and the country has strength.”

Nobody knows whether Xi is a practitioner himself, but he has firmly been putting Chinese Buddhism on the global stage since 2005. At the domestic level, it looks as though Xi is turning to religion not just to bolster his rule, but also to save the party from falling. He certainly sees Buddhism as useful for arresting the flagging moral values in China’s social fabric, and to prevent the angry middle class from crumbling under the weight of a deepening social crisis and economic downturn. Having felt the pains of an ageing society, the country had to abandon the Mao’s one-child policy. More importantly, Xi intends to imbibe moral ethics among party officials – deemed necessary to bring about further economic reforms.

Becoming a guardian of Buddhism is helping Xi successfully promote China as an acceptable world power with a soft image. Buddhist globalisation helps Beijing push its economic projects – religious diplomacy makes it easier for China to win economic and infrastructural projects in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and elsewhere.

Friday, 9 June 2017

FULL MOON - Preparing for the Journey

Resembling a withered leaf, 
you have the messenger 
of death at your side. 
Although a long journey lies ahead, 
you have still made no provision. 

Dhammapada v. 235

We all know that death is the inevitable consequence of having been born, and you would think that we would want to make provision for such a significant event. However, the daunting fear of uncertainty that death generates means we readily default to the pursuit of distractions. If we do wish to make mindful preparation for the inevitable, it is wise to strengthen our confidence in the law of kamma. The Buddha taught to trust in the cultivation of that which is wholesome and the relinquishment of that which is unwholesome. We don't know the future, but it is not helpful to waste a lot of time worrying about it. Mindful preparation is very different from compulsive worrying. This very moment is the only reality to which we have direct access, so it makes sense to emphasise the quality of attention we bring to this moment, and to trust in that effort. Developing such a trusting disposition is not avoiding responsibility, it is making an intelligent choice.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Ajahn Brahm's UK Dhamma Talks Tour

I've just had news of Ajahn Brahm's upcoming "Real Dhamma" UK Tour, starting in October this year. Details are as follows:-

TUE, 10 OCTOBER 7:00 PM -
9:00 PM
Dhamma Talk: “Cultivating Ethics in a Cybernetic Age"
Venue TBA, London, UK.

WED, 11 OCTOBER 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Dhamma talk: "A Path With a Laugh"
Cross Street Chapel, Manchester, UK.

WED, 11 OCTOBER 7:00 PM - 9:00PM
Dhamma Talk: “Courage and Authenticity at Work"
Friends Meeting House, Manchester, UK.

THUR, 12 OCTOBER 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Dhamma talk: "At Peace With Uncertainty"
Kagyu Samye Dzong, London, UK.

Starting: FRI, 13 OCTOBER 7:00 PM
Non-Residential Weekend Retreat: “Unconditional Mindfulness”
Mary Ward House, London, UK.

The tour is in support of the Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project which aims to promote the teachings and practices of Early Buddhism, through establishing a Bhikkhuni presence in the UK. Their long term aspiration is to develop a monastery for women who wish to train towards full ordination.


Here is an abstract from their latest newsletter........................

ENCOURAGING BEGINNINGS

Since the inspired conception of Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project in Perth, November 2015, joyful steps - often taken in leaps and bounds - are paving the way to make Britain's first bhikkhuni monastery a reality!

Bhikkhuni Canda and and her team are currently organising Ajahn Brahm's second teaching trip to England in consecutive years - a benefit event to build on the significant funds already raised and to further awareness of Anukampa's mission. The tour is entitled "Real Dhamma," because spreading the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha and preserved by the four-fold assembly of bhikkhunis, bhikkhus, laywomen and laymen, lies at the heart of our aspiration and manifests in the compassionate endeavour to increase training opportunities for female monastics.

One of the most uplifting benefits of the project so far has been to witness a dynamic new spiritual community taking shape! People of all nationalifies and from all walks of life have participated, helping us find firm footing. Thanks to them, here are some of our main accomplishments to date:

• February 2016: website (www.anukampaproject.org) gets up and running
• April 2016: ABP becomes a legal entity
• June 2016: ABP's highly active facebook page is born
• October 2016: Ajahn Brahm's unprecedented sell-out UK tour raises around £50,000
• November 2016: Anukampa receives a large, anonymous donation from an overseas supporter, which brings us up to around half the required funds for a modest property.

Fundraising enterprises such as book-selling in Thailand and sponsored head-shaving in Perth (any more takers?!) are ongoing and particularly welcome, as are the increasing number of teaching invitations being extended to Bhikkhuni Canda, by existing Buddhist groups. We are also establishing an "Anukampa Friend's" Dhamma group in London and recently held the second meeting.

On April 12th 2017, Anukampa reached a major milestone, becoming registered as both a religious and an educational charity, which attests to the dedication and commitment of our trustees and key volunteers.

Our immediate next steps focus on building up our team. We recently welcomed a new volunteer book-keeper to assist in our treasury department and are now looking for a webmaster. The services of a lawyer would undoubtedly be very helpful going forward too. We will continue to organise benefit events and also retreats with various monastic teachers. After Ajahn Brahm's 2017 teaching tour, will be looking for more people to help manage the online tour registration system and general administration, working closely with our outreach team.

In the coming year or two, we will experiment with having a temporary base in England for Bhikkhuni Canda and one or two lay guests who will look after her monastic needs. This will enable us to suss out the level of interest in a chosen area, as well as provide a much-needed space from where regular Dhamma talks and discussion groups can be held. When our core team (and accounts!) are mature enough, we will look for suitable properties for the monastery, in a beautiful natural setting. This should be secluded yet not isolated; private yet accessible by public transport. At present, intuition guides us south of and up to an hour and a half from London....but if the right place comes up elsewhere we are open!

(I wonder what they think of the Isle of Wight?)

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Free from Fear

This reflection seems so appropriate considering the nature of the Manchester terrorist attack.....


Becoming lost in enjoyment brings sorrow; 
becoming lost in enjoyment brings fear. 
Being free in your experience of enjoyment means sorrow ceases,  
so how could there be any fear?

Dhammapada v. 214

Is it possible to truly live with all the pleasure and pain of life and at the same time remain free from suffering? Clearly, our confidence in the Buddha's Awakening means we trust freedom from suffering is possible. Such confidence is a powerful motivator and contributes to the foundation on which we build our spiritual practice. And from a practice perspective, we are not just interested in what we experience, but also in the way we meet all our experiences. Out of unawareness we readily become lost in experiences; the joyous, the utterly intolerable and everything in-between. But when awareness is well-cultivated there is the possibility of receiving all experience without becoming lost; without obstructing freedom.

Ajahn Munindo

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Breaking News

Breaking News - Dog meat is being banned from the notorious Yulin Festival in China that takes place in just a few weeks.