Wendy

Appointments and disappointments.

I have been thinking about appointments and disappointments, expectations and assumptions…. so whether you are new to the group or an ‘old hand’ I would ask you to read chapter 15 in the book Simply Being by James Low as I think it  is important to explore your own expectations about the Dharma and how it is taught.

Just as a student cannot be known and labelled judged and discussed as if they were  a thing, so neither can a teacher.

It’s wise to check a teachers credentials and important find out if there is a connection and whether you learn anything from them. Later, if issues arise which cannot be integrated then it is appropriate to raise this directly with the teacher. Friends will often confirm each others assumptions or opinions, and then what started out as  a thought can end up as a ‘solid definition’.

If the student is disappointed with the teacher, or the teacher disappointed with the student, this means that one party has made an appointment for another to behave in a particular way, and an expectation has formed which has not been met.

Expectations are usually based on assumptions formed from past experiences mixed with imaginary hopes or fears, yet these can be taken for granted as self-evident truths. ‘You should be this…  or you should not be….!’

Whether you are practising with a hinayana view,  a mahayana view,  or that of a non-dharma practitioner  then a teachers behaviour will  not always fit your frame of reference. This may trouble you but does not necessarily mean that an error has occurred. However if they should get  a bit lost, and teachers are finding their way too,  an apology should be forthcoming.

The dharma is very precise, as a medicine it has been used, tested and proven to be effective over thousands of years. However, as with contemporary medicine where only fifty percent of chronically ill patients take the prescribed medicine correctly, students can forget to take it, double the dose, mix it with other things or apply it incorrectly.  Whilst the dharma teachings are the antidote to the ills of samsara  the patient has to both trust the doctor and take the appropriate medicine regularly for it to work.

Others will have more facts at their finger tips and surely greater teaching skills but I have been given validation, within a lineage, to teach hinayana mahayana and vajrayana buddhism, including dzogchen, by someone who has full authority to do this. If you are unsure about this then you can check with me or with James Low. At the very least, this should mean that you have confidence that from the  dharma point of view there is sufficient realisation and understanding to teach, and that I can be trusted never to be malicious.

I have also completed the Bangor mindfulness teachers training course…this kind of mindfulness is derived from one of the eight stages of the Noble Path practised  in the Hinayana view.

At times i can be teachery and sometimes even preachery but i am also in the process of change!

When the recluse speaks much ’tis on and of “the Way” (zen saying) …

They criticise when he says too much

and when he says too little…

and when he does not speak   (the Dhammapada)

So…it’s genuinely hard to strike the right balance.

But whatever occurs, the Dharma speaks of the truth of impermanence and dependent co-origination (on the basis of this, that arises) so any opinion, view, situation or behaviour is transient and contingent. Learning how to teach is a process and hopefully my skills will increase with practise. James Low teaches in a very different manner now from that which he employed twenty years ago..

So for students all this invites examination of the assumptions they hold about the dharma and the teacher.

In your opinion should the good teacher leave you to travel at your own pace or encourage you?

Should they be always sympathetic and understanding  and never challenge your views?

Should they be kind and gentle or a bit rough and acerbic?

Do they have rules to follow?……

A good teacher will do  what’s appropriate – this will vary…their function is not to fall asleep with you but to help you wake up.

I wrote a verse which relates to this

What we can do with super glue!

Identity is a CV— a story used to limit me, which  stunts my creativity.

If you stick stories onto me you’ll make a shape which seems to be a person of ‘solidity’.

If I bind with your certainty I compromise our liberty and movements are no longer free.

The truth of our reality is openness and vitality displaying momentarily.

So, if ever you’re upset by me the Bristol talk – first MP3 is a perfect  apology.

(the talk is on this web-site under audios and videos)

Growth and change is not easy. If you’ve seen a chick picking its way out of  an egg, a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, or a snake sloughing off its skin you know that perseverance is vital…samsara with just a sprinkling of dharma doesn’t taste too good and is not sustaining.

A student may be keen for a while, even very appreciative of the teachings, however the winds of karma blow and off they go.The teacher cannot hold on to them, they themselves have to do the holding  on until the view becomes not ‘second nature’ but first nature. Progress is not necessarily onwards and upwards. There is hope that students will study, reflect and practice —  that they will respect the Dharma and the efforts of teachers  who for thousands of years have studied practised and made many sacrifices to maintain the continuity of the teachings  but they may not. So teaching also helps the teacher with the  development of equanimity. Thank you if you have contributed to that somewhat uncomfortable process!

We are lucky to have James’ advice and I had a chat with him about the way forward for the group this year. The thinking is to  give a short (15 mins) talk, meditation for half an hour and then study maybe fifteen lines of the Dhammapada. We’ll see how it goes.

As always, if there are issues which you would like to discuss outside of the class i am happy to talk on the phone or meet up with you and have a chat.

best wishes….

Wendy

Muslim or Mancunian….what do we know?

How many different worlds could be conjured up in yours by the word Muslim… or Mancunian?    So very many.  But if we know what a muslim is…or we know Manchester why would we enquire further, why would we really look at the basis for our knowledge and question its validity ?

I used to live near Manchester and in other countries the  mention of  Manchester would often elicit a response along the lines of ‘Ah…I know Manchester! Manchester United — Ryan Giggs!!’. In this way a complex and dynamic city is equated with a footballers name.

Currently there is  an excellent series on the radio about Manchester by Jeanette Winterson and  called Manchester – alchemical city   ( you can listen to this on radio4 i-player). It speaks of Manchester’s multiple faces – social political economic geographic and demographic – which change through time, dependent upon many different causes and conditions.

Naturally this is Ms Winterson’s perspective, with its particular biases. As listeners, although our ears may hear everything she says, we find ourselves paying particular attention to aspects which interest us  and giving less attention to others (dependant upon our own particular biases). But whether expansive or limited our opinions about Manchester are unlikely to do harm.

However when we view people of other faiths, or groups, from a biased or ill-informed perspective  this does harm. To think ‘they are all the same’ and say ‘I know what they are’ is both a violence and untrue.

Unfortunately when people hear the same thing repeatedly, whether they are saying it to themselves or someone else is saying it, eventually it ‘rings true’ for them and they  believe it. ‘It must be true – I have heard it so many times!… everybody says, everybody knows that…surely you know that too…it says it in the paper! But what ‘it’ says in the paper is affected by many factors including the editor’s bias or prejudice.  Activities perpetrated against others on the basis of such beliefs are committed in ignorance…an ignoring of our shared and linked existence, our common ground, and an ignoring of the consequences and ramifications of such actions over time.

Early coverage on the radio referring to investigations into religious practice in Birmingham schools mentioned a poster of a ‘warlike god Ram’ on a wall in one of the classrooms. I wonder whether a poster of King Richard ‘the Lionheart’ or St George and the dragon would have caused similar qualms? The person being interviewed seemed unaware that Ram is actually a Hindu deity who is seen as embodying chivalry and virtue. It would be nice to think that he has read the Koran but perhaps this is unlikely.
The understanding of any religion is complex, the translations and interpretations of texts and the manner in which the beliefs are practised is variable — one size does not fit all.

Excerpts from a book by Moshin Hamid called Discontent and it civilisations    (also available on radio 4 i-Player) give a delightful glimpse  into the life of an acclaimed Pakistani author, his views and experiences of living in Pakistan the U.S. and the U.K., and also into the rise of Islamophobia.

The practice of the dharma can lead to an appreciation of the way in which we create a simulacrum of a world of absolutes and certainties out of that which is inherently labile and impermanent. Investigating the nature of the self, the mind, and thoughts is far from ‘navel-gazing’.  It is through this meditation that we can gently come to see what we are up to and find a different, more healthy, way of relating both to ourselves and to the rest of the world.

wendy                                                                                                                                                     10.12.2014

To study the self is to forget the self – to forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.

 

 

Distraction

Dec. A few of us were sitting in the Bristol YHA at the weekend grappling with the notions of ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’. This video http://vimeo.com/22123553 which is  an open talk, explains a lot about this including the truth about ‘you and me’.

STOP FOR A MOMENT

pause

Meditation acknowledges basic bewilderment and the space in which basic bewilderment forgets to create its tantrum. Then there’s some gap, some room somewhere. However, it seems a long, long way from there to everyday simplicity. When we discover this space in meditation, it’s as though we have gone to the peak, to Mount Everest. Then what? It seems to be a long way down to the ground. There are actually many opportunities for relating with bewilderment. There’s the opportunity to finally stop everything. We decide not to rush, not to run anymore. We stop for a moment, just to be quietly with the meditation technique, whatever it may be. Then there are just teeny-weeny stars shining through the darkness—an occasional glimpse.

From ‘Karma’ in Chogyam Trungpa’s book Work,Sex,Money

Dharma or samsara?

Homage to the Guru – our own true nature, and the embodiment of that….

 

Thoughts and feelings

sensations, sounds…

the natural radiance of the ground.

 

If I relax and let them be

I find the openness of ‘me’.

 

If I grab hold, I’ll make of me

what’s called by Scots

‘a wee stookie!’*

 

* Stookie …a rigid dressing, usually made of gauze and plaster of Paris, used to immobilize an injured body part, as in a fracture or dislocation – a plaster cast (urban dictionary )

You could see the plaster of paris as the energy of attention which, when applied to the gauze of the constructs/concepts, seems to create a fixed shape or pattern which restricts the degree of free movement or play in the world.

wendy Dec 2014

 

 

How should a teacher behave?…

Well…. perfectly! Surely that is obvious.

But what do you mean by ‘perfectly’?

Well… perfectly…  according to the  rulebook in my head.

But if the teacher  shares your  rulebook you might not learn very much from them. As my teacher’s teacher told him —  ‘the buddha is not a “nice man”.’

Awakening to the unborn natural state or ‘buddha nature’ results in a change of operating system…no longer standing apart and judging with a dualistic perspective but responding to dynamic situations with freshness and attunement.

A good teacher acts to wake us up to our attachment to the illusory nature of the fixed patterns we use to create  the duality of samsaric existence. Some will even be kind enough to continue to point out that our shoes are far too tight until we wake up and feel the pain of our blisters, callouses and corms. At the same time they remind us that our feet are naturally beautiful and, with the right kind of dharma massage, these corms and blisters will become wings. Then we will work at freeing ourselves from these shoes and discover the pleasure of walking barefoot and moving through space in different ways!

Depending on your condition these may be the kindest teachers of all, but sometimes they may seem unpleasant. We want them to appreciate our lovely shiny shoes and sympathise with our limp however whilst they see our view  they do not share it —  they see beyond our felt limitations.

On the other hand a teacher may  be just being rather unpleasant; karmic winds can shift a teachers behaviours, so this is something to look at —  can we learn something by engaging with this person as they are and as we feel uncomfortable?

The ego will not readily choose to engage in a struggle where it feels its existence to be threatened but in dharma practice we are engaged in a process of softening and becoming undefended, allowing the ego to be what it is, just an aspect of our awareness,  relaxing to the point  where this awareness is revealed to us.

There is  more on this theme, and  about the relationship between teachers and students  in chapter 15 – The Transmission of the Dharma —   in the book Simply Being by James Low. It is important to try to have a sense of this relationship so please let me know if you have any questions.

I’d also be delighted to hear from you when you have read the preceding chapter, on refuge and bodhicitta…we can formalise taking the taking of refuge and bodhicitta vows  if you would like…and discuss any questions which arise.

 

 

…be soft in your practice…

For those of you who come and go…

This comes from the introduction to a lovely book – Sayings and tales of Zen Buddhism —  Reflections for Every Day, by William Wray… and it has helped me to think of dharma practice in a softer way from the habitual striving —  yet keeping the connection throughout changing circumstances.

‘Be soft in your practice. Think of the method is a fine silvery stream not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here trickling there.It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you.’

 

THE EGO IS A BRUSSELS SPROUT!

I couldn’t resist these words by Chogyam Trungpa –sb10068893l-001.jpg Vegetable Brussel Sprout

“The key point of the mahayana approach is the commitment to dedicate yourself to helping other sentient beings. Building yourself up or perpetuating your own existence is regarded as neurosis. Instead of building yourself up, you should continue with your pursuit of helping others. Instead of being selfish, you should empty yourself. The basic definition of ego is holding on to one’s existence—and paramita practices are techniques that allow you not to grasp onto or propagate the notion of me-ness, or “I am.” Experiencing egolessness is a process of letting go. But you do not regard the ego as an enemy or obstacle, you regard it as a brussels sprout that you cook and eat.”

From The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma. Volume Two: The Bodhisattva Path of Wisdom and Compassion by Chögyam Trungpa, pages 196–197

If his suggestion sounds indigestible (or you can’t stand the taste of sprouts) then maybe the following recipe would suit you —

Sprout soup

It made me laugh to think about

my ego as a Brussels sprout, as

looking clearly i can find what’s going on within the mind—

and ego shows itself to be a locus of identity,

one aspect of the truth of me.

As wisdom puts this ‘self’ in doubt

the dharma gently cooks this sprout

to make an ego-slimming soup

– an infinite compassion loop.

 

wendy’s  ‘About the sprout’ soup.

(Surprisingly… sprout soup doesn’t taste of sprouts!)

 

 

 

This month’s video highlight

Nov. Is the cause of suffering really ‘out there’ or is it rather closer to home? What is the purpose and effect of devotion..This hits the point from the second minute on…

 

 

Oct.How much suffering would vanish with this understanding….

Guido Ferrari interviewed James Low in Milan in November 2012 and asked him about love between two people, about love and sexuality in spiritual traditions, and about happiness.

 

Web groups for the Macclesfield teachings, the Dhammapada, the Bodicaryavatara, and Practice

If you would like to study any of the dharma suggested below and maybe have a bit of input when you feel you need it, then just let me know your details via the contact me button. If you’d like to be in touch with others in the same, or other, groups and are happy to share  contact details with them just let me know that too and we’ll see what’s workable. I’ve not tried this before so if you have any advice/suggestions to offer they would be most welcome.

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Macclesfield web-group.

Each year since 2003 James Low gave teachings in Macclesfield U.K., often twice a year. He started at the beginning, which is where we were, and six months later he would come back and teach us the next steps, or a different perspective.

The first four of these teachings were recorded in audio format, some of the later  ones also include  a video recording. Edited transcripts are available for of some of the talks.

My thinking is that once a month for the next year or so you could take one of the talks in sequence and  listen watch and read, whichever of those options are available and appeal to you, and really become at home with them. Because the talks are multilayered each time you engage with them something becomes clearer or a different aspect of the teaching is revealed and this has a knock-on effect… as this becomes clearer, so that becomes clearer.

 —  talk 1. The view of Dzogchen with its associated edited transcription Finding Freedom at the bus stop

Do get in touch if you would like to follow through with this…you can go at any speed you like!

 

Dhammapada web-group.

There are many different translations of this wonderful work of how to purify the heart and follow the way. I have quite a few which I have picked up in charity shops and, because each translation is also an interpretation, cross-referencing was helpful in increasing my understanding  if something was not clear on first reading. The Thomas Byrom translations of this work which is beautifully simple and extremely clear seem particularly appealing to me. Again, reading and rereading allows the teachings to permeate deeper and deeper until they become a part of you.

Bodicaryavatara web-group.

Taking the bohisattva vow is the beginning of the Mahayana path. The desire to be helpful to  all sentient beings is iterated and a conviction that a change in orientation is required along with the development of qualities which will be of benefit.

I have stuck with the translation of this ‘Bohisattva’s instruction manual’ by Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton, and read it many times.When I first read this I found parts of it extremely beautiful and parts quite terrifying but came to see it as an inspired guidebook which introduced me to a different way of orientating myself in relation to the world.  I also have an audio version of ‘The way of the bodhisattva’ by the Padmakara translation group which comes with an American accent and a somewhat different flavour.

Practice  group

Don’t want to  read/study any of the above but fancy a loose-knit web-group? Maybe you’d like to mull over the contents of  chapter 14 on refuge and bodhicitta… and onwards… in the new version of ‘Simply Being’ and see how you go with that…or alternatively… bring up any matters arising in practice.

P.S.Wisdom books was run by some very helpful and knowledgeable people on a not- for–profit basis (a pretty rare way of operating these days but very meritorious in enabling and facilitating dharma study). They recently ceased trading and i hope their new lives are healthy, enjoyable and fruitful.

 

Expectation vs Aspiration

October 3, 2014

9781611800920_1EXPECTATION VS. ASPIRATION

Being driven by expectations will almost always lead to disappointment. Why? Because it is not based on what life is, but on what we want life to be. For example, expectation, which is based in the mind, is often rooted in the ego-driven ambition to get something, such as enlightenment, or, at very least, to feel differently, namely calm, free from fear, or to appear wise. Sometimes practice may, in part, meet our expectations and thereby reinforce them. But when practice doesn’t meet our expectations—that is, when we don’t get what we want—we experience disappointment.

While expectation is based in the mind, we can say that aspiration is based in the heart, or in our essential nature. Aspiration has been described as our true nature striving to reveal itself. In other words, it can be seen as an inherent movement toward who we truly are, like an acorn becoming an oak tree. Conversely, the efforts of expectation are often characterised by ambition, neediness, and fear. The effort of aspiration is softer, not as driven by results as by the inner impulse to live more genuinely.

Excerpt from The Authentic Life: Zen Wisdom for Living Free from Complacency and Fear by Ezra Bayda

Dharma quotes

imagesFrom Simplybeing.co.uk ‘Awakening in Buddhism and Psychotherapy’. James Low, Milan 2012

…Thoughts, feelings and sensations have no energy of their own. They are like balloons. They arrive inflated with the unpredictable creativity of the winds of the open infinite hospitality of the ground of being. These arisings are already on the point of deflation, the point of vanishing, when we become conscious of them. If we don’t blow more air into these balloons they won’t float and fly, but generally when a thought comes we breathe our life-force into it, inflating it with our sense of its meaning, value and function…