Friday, 7 April 2017

Teaching and walking; sunshine, woodland, and anemones

The spring weather has been so glorious that we decided we had to get out into the countryside for a walk over the weekend, even though we were busy. On the Saturday we taught at Aro Ling Cardiff. This went well and we also had a few for the morning practice session on Sunday. Then the rest of the day was free.

Sunday was also ’ö-Dzin’s birthday. The sun was shining, the birds singing, and our hearts were joyful. We did not want to spend hours in a car, so we explored the area east of Caerphilly, not far from home. We had hoped to find a Ridgeway walk, but didn’t quite succeed in this. Next time.

We had lunch at the Hollybush in Draethen – a lovely meal. Then we drove back to Llwyn Hir woodland and walked for a couple of hours. It was delightful to be warm enough without a coat. The woodland anemones were shining in the undergrowth, blooming boldly before the trees are in leaf. It took a while to find a high enough and open enough space to sit and practice sem-dzin, but eventually we did. We were surprised to be able to see the Severn Bridge in the far distance.

We are going on pilgrimage to Bhutan in October and will need to be fit for walking, so this was useful exercise in preparation. It is good to find inspiring walks near to home.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Has Wales Become a Godless Society? Gorwel Debate

I attending this interesting event on Tuesday:
Gorwel and the University of South Wales invite you to attend
Gorwel Debate 
 Has Wales Become A Godless Society?
Event sponsored by David Melding AM
National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff Bay, Old Debating Chamber, 6.30pm
Kathy Riddick, Development Officer – Wales Humanists, part of the British Humanist Association
Revd Gethin Rhys, National Assembly Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales)  
Kathy Riddick – Wales Humanists
I was intrigued by the title – Has Wales Become a Godless Society? I have italicised ‘become’ because from a Buddhist perspective, Wales—and everywherehas always been ‘Godless’  in terms of a singular creator god. Buddhism is an atheistic or non-theistic religion. Buddhists have always been Godless.
The audience was warmly invited to join the debate after the speakers had said their pieces. 

At one point the Kathy Riddick, the Humanist speaker, seemed to be equating secularism, or a lack of religion, with Godlessness. I spoke up on this point, indicating that this was not an accurate premise. Buddhism is godless, but it is a religion. Being ‘Godless’ does not equate to being non-religious or, especially, to being anti-religion. 

Rev. Gethin Rhys – Cytûn
I also queried why the Humanists seem to want to see an end to the influence and voice of religion in society, whilst at the same actively seeking a place and an influence in the forums and organisations that advocate the value of religion in society and a voice for religion, such as interfaith groups, and SACREs. This seems to me like wanting to have your cake and eat it.

The debate was conducted in a friendly and polite atmosphere, and it was an enjoyable evening. Many people of a variety of faiths contributed to the discussion.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Art Journal 2017

I have started my Art Journal for 2017. A couple of people said they wanted to join in with me this year, so I have been providing prompts for them – like I followed when I first began the Documented Life Project in 2014.

January’s prompts were:
Materials/techniques – text as texture
Include – a pocket or flap
Focus – aspirations for 2017

Last year most of my journal pages were drawings or paintings taken from photographs of a key event for the month. I want to move away from this a little this year and return to playing with a variety of techniques and materials. If I do a particular drawing or painting I would like to do it from life, rather than from a photo.

Last year I discovered zentangling and this featured strongly in the style of my art work last year – and will continue to do so this year. Above is January’s journal page. The background is texture from text. The pocket is a piece of card with zentangle patterns glued to the page. The arrow-headed sticks are slotted into the pocket. They detail my aspirations for 2017.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Inspirational Women for International Women’s Day event at Mormon Church; Interfaith Council evening at Synagogue

I’ve been to two lovely interfaith events over the last couple of weeks. The first was organised by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Rhiwbina, Cardiff, for International Women’s Day. The second was at Cardiff Reform Synagogue and organised by the Interfaith Council for Wales.

I was one of the speakers for International Women’s Day. The topic was ‘Inspirational Women’ and I spoke about the amazing women in the history of the Aro gTér Lineage. After the four presentations by a Bahá’í, a Muslim, a Mormon, and myself representing Buddhists, we split into small groups to talk about the women who have inspired us. This was followed by cake!

The Interfaith Council for Wales Event was speaking up against hate crime. There were two Christian speakers of different denominations, a Muslim speaker, and a Jew. The Unitarian Church speaker gave a pragmatic approach to assisting someone who is being bullied. She suggested engaging with the victim, talking to them and maintaining eye contact, whilst ignoring the bullies. You could say anything, even if it was gibberish. Hopefully this would enable you to move the victim away from the bullies to a safe place, and only then should you ask them whether they are alright and give whatever practical assistance they need. The speaker representing the Evangelist Church used the familiar story of the Good Samaritan most effectively to make his point. After the speeches we had refreshments, and were given a tour of the synagogue with a most interesting talk about Jewish prayer and tradition.

Monday, 13 March 2017

2016 art journal complete and becoming a grandmother

The great event at the end of the year 2016 was the birth of our grandson. I’m a grandmother! How extraordinary! Sam Robert is an absolute delight. He smiles and chuckles and wins all our hearts.

I have just been completing my art journal for 2016 and painted his portrait for the final, December page.

I used a Japanese style book for my 2016 art journal. It opens like concertina. It looks quite fun now as a complete thing, but I found the large size pages rather a challenge month by month, and the cloth hinges tended to show too much.

I haven’t started this year’s yet, but I am using an ordinary ring-bound sketch pad of thick cartridge paper – not so daunting!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

That word you keep using – I do not think it means what you think it means

Mandy Patinkin Inigo Montoya (Wallace Shawn Vizzini Andre the Giant Fezzik) Princess Bride That word it does not mean what you think it means

you keep using that word gif princess bride I do not think it means what you think it means Imgur

At the Interfaith Network UK meeting I was told a story that I found rather shocking. A lady told me that a Buddhist had been visiting to speak at their interfaith meeting. She enquired of a friend whether he and his wife would be able to attend. He replied that, no, they would not attend because it was a Buddhist teacher that would be speaking. Why? The reason was that they had previously attended a meeting with a Buddhist speaker, and that person had told his wife─who is disabled─that she must have done something very bad in a previous life to create the cause for being disabled in this life.

I find this a distressing story to hear – it lacks compassion, or even common kindness and courtesy, and displays a serious misunderstanding of what karma means in Buddhism. It upsets me that a Buddhist could have such lack of awareness, and such lack of warmth and basic goodness. Isn’t the point of being a practising Buddhist that we become kinder, gentler, more open to the needs of others, less self-centred, and so on? Where is joy and good humour in saying something like that to someone?

Karma is not predetermination. Karma is not cause and effect in a materialistic sense. Karma is not having experiences that directly correlate to previous actions. If I hit you at some point, karma does not mean that you have to hit me. How could it be that if I hit a realised being, they would be compelled, through a materialistic law of cause and effect, to hit me at some point in the future? This makes no sense.

Karma is perception and response. Karma is the patterning in the mind-stream. Karma is created through duality, and responding to perception with one of the three root misconceptions: attraction, aversion, or indifference. Karma is the patterning that we lay down through our perception and response. ‘I like it. Let’s do that again.’ ‘I hated that. I will avoid it at all costs.’ ‘That seemed to have nothing to do with me. I’ll just ignore it.’

If perception becomes clear, and of the nature of primordial wisdom, then response will be appropriate and compassionate. This is nonduality. This is rigpa. This is wisdom and compassion as an inseparability. Karma dissolves because perception and response are no longer based in duality, confusion, and ignorance.

Perhaps the disabled lady is a great Bodhisattva. Perhaps she has given her health and vitality to benefit all sentient beings. Her body is now disabled, but her mind is pure and clear. Who the hell are we to judge the qualities of any other being?

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Faith and Cohesive Communities ─ Diversity and Commonality ─ Interfaith Network UK

I was invited to present at one of the workshops of the Interfaith Network UK National Meeting. The theme of the Meeting was ‘Faith and Cohesive Communities’. I was in a workshop entitled ‘Diversity and Commonality’ with Fazal Rahim of the Oldham Inter Faith Forum. The National Meeting took place in Peterborough─a long way from Cardiff─on the 19th October.

The question of diversity─and appreciating diversity─is a topic I feel strongly about. There can sometimes be a tendency in interfaith to want to glom everything together into some sort of featureless sameness that is safer and less challenging than acknowledging the distinct differences in religions.

Below are the notes to my presentation.

I have been Chair of the Buddhist Council of Wales since 2011, and as such am invited to attend a variety of interfaith events.

As a religion, Buddhism is both a little awkward to accommodate in interfaith interaction, and also offers an unusual opportunity to encourage the spirit of interfaith openness and tolerance. In Buddhism there is no holy book to which all Buddhists will refer; there are no teachings that refer to a creator god, or an all-powerful, beneficent god; and even the word ‘faith’—which seems to be commonly preferred to the word ‘religion’ —is slightly problematic in Buddhism because faith is not demanded. The emphasis is on practice. Shakyamuni—the historic Buddha—asked his followers to practice and find out for themselves, rather than simply because of their devotion to him.

So . . . no book, no god, and no faith – and yet Buddhism is most certainly a religion. I have to regard ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ as synonyms, else it make no sense for me to be present at interfaith events.

There can be a tendency at Interfaith events to wish to find commonalities as a reason for different faiths coming together. I regular attend events where someone—of any faith—will say; ‘Well, we all believe in the same god, don’t we. This is meant as a friendly, open and inclusive assertion, but it is actually rather disrespectful – and indicates a lack of knowledge of at least one of the religions represented in their audience. I usually keep my head down. It would be rude to challenge them. It would be appreciated if presenters would avoid generalisations, or claims of knowing anything about the beliefs of the people they are addressing. No person of religion can ever fully know or understand the faith and practice of another religion.

Another time I was told that We are all sinners. When I replied, I'm not!, the gentleman repeated his statement with more emphasis. I again replied, I’m not! He looked rather exasperated at this point, and I was finding myself rather too strongly reminded of a Monty Python sketch—which seemed potentially disrespectful—so I explained: Buddhism states that we are all beginninlessly enlightened. It does not include any teaching that correlates with the concept of ‘original sin.

There are commonalities that can be found, but these are not generally in the religion itself – they are more about the limitations and expectations a person of religion places upon themselves, such as:

  • living within the parameters of your faith
  • being willing to allow something to be bigger than you are; to allow the needs or precepts of your religion to take precedence in your life
  • the wish to change, to be greater than you are, and/or to achieve a state of grace, enlightenment, or whatever is the aspiration of that religion
  • believing in the potential of your religion to bring out the best in human beings
  • to care about others; to regard compassion and kindness as an important aspect of being a human being
Involvement in Interfaith should not demand compromise of the representatives of religion or faith. Friendly Interfaith interaction should not require such a compromise, or any sense of a dilution of the tenets of the religions represented. Interfaith must applaud and support each religion’s right to be different – to be practised in different ways, and to hold widely different beliefs and views.

Yet seeking commonality seems to be pervasive. Seeking and finding what is the same in the world religions, however, is not a guaranteed road to harmony – there is a danger that choosing this route will lead to too much that cannot be said for fear of upsetting the balance. There is the danger of feeling the need to carefully steer a rather narrow path. I feel that the broader path of openness, respect, and appreciation of difference is preferable, though not always easy. I recognise that I do sometimes avoid being clear that Buddhism is an atheistic, or non-theistic religion, because I know that for people I care about, who believe in a creator god, this is not easy to hear or understand.

Knowing that our faiths or religions are different—possibly radically different—yet finding that we are people of kind heart; discovering that interfaith colleagues also cultivate patience and openness; recognising interfaith friends can like one another and enjoy each others company – this is the opportunity offered by Interfaith interaction.

Friendly and respectful interaction, and intermixing of people of different religions—or of no religion—can ripple out into the community. When there is no fear of difference, then there is nothing to hate. Interfaith harmony and respect can help to create a society that is tolerant. Respect for difference, appreciation of difference, the enjoyment of difference – this is the value of interfaith interaction. Let us celebrate that our freedom to be different is the key to a healthy society.