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. 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Catching up - the life and times of Nor'dzin, February to September

Life’s been busy since January . . . here’s a whistlestop summary:

  • February: winter retreat with our students, in our home ─ Losar celebrations in Penarth, where we danced a Tibetan folk dance, and ate Tibetan recipe food ─ Ying’khor teachings with Lama Bar-ché
  • March: St David’s Day Service ─ started receiving acupuncture and Chinese medicine ─ taught about Living, Dreaming and Dying in Bristol
  • April: taught The Five Principles of Awareness in Cardiff, looking at the precepts ─ started work on turning our garage into a meditation room ─ went to see a Gothic ballet, Sleeping Beauty, which was fantastic
  • May: had a wonderful weekend in Cornwall with a few Dharma friends ─ my birthday (61!!!) ─ decided £600 was too much to pay to rescue a tooth, and had it removed ─ taught sKu-mNyé in Hamburg, Germany ─ gave notice for the Aro Ling Cardiff venue in Whitchurch village
  • June: a wonderful garden party to celebrate my Teacher’s birthday ─ attended the opening of the Vth Welsh Assembly ─ opened our new meditation room as the new Aro Ling Cardiff ─ had a tooth abscess, the most painful experience imaginable, and lost another tooth

  • July: summer retreat with our students in a field in Shropshire ─ new tent, a Lotus Belle, which is the best tent ever and will see us out ─ created a Georgian outfit for myself and for ’ö-Dzin
  • August: our son, Daniel, finally completed on selling his flat, and moved in with us for a while ─ a week’s retreat with our Teachers and sangha ─ danced Georgian dances in our Georgian costumes at the Natural Dignity banquet ─ lost my hearing aid
  • September: two glorious weeks in Pembrokeshire, staying in an apartment located on North Beach, Tenby ─ acquired a new hearing aid
So I could have─and possibly should have─blogged about all of this. Sadly I did not . . . so I am just going to move on into October in my next post. Another thing that I have started again this month is art journalling, which had also been neglected since March. Illustrated above are my art journal pages for April, May and June. This is as far as I have caught up so far. 

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Generosity – clean or sticky/

I do not have time to follow many blogs these days, but John Stepper’s continues to give cause for thought. A recent post was on the subject of generosity. To view the full post go here. It starts with this little cartoon and three questions about how you feel when you do something like open the door for someone: I agree with him that the little test below is quite an eye opener. It requires you to be brutally honest with yourself.

After you!

“After you!”

When I do this exercise, here’s what happens.
  1. I get a good feeling when I decide to open the door. I’m about to do something nice.
  2. I make eye contact with the other person or say something to make sure they see me opening the door for them. After you!
  3. When they thank me, I get another surge of good feeling. If they don’t, however, I get irritated, even angry. How rude!
How did you do? 

I think I have times when all three scenarios apply, but I recognise that I do like applause. ‘Don't expect applause’ is the last of the 59 aphorisms of mind training  lo jong (blo-sbyong), by Chekawa Yeshé Dorje (1102-1176). I am writing a book on this teaching at the moment, and am finding this an inspiring journey  though sometimes a little uncomfortable when I recognise the patterns of self-centredness that are still strong.

Generosity is pure and simple: you give. You give your time, your energy, your help, something someone needs – it is an open-hearted act. If, however, there is a sticky residue of ‘and what about me?’, it is not true generosity. To give, even with the stickiness, however, is a stage on the journey, and it's important not to be too hard on the poor ego which still thinks it exists and needs to be seen and applauded. We have to keep on aiming to be generous, and be amused when the need for the recognition of our generosity, or the ‘what about my thank you?’ pops up at the end. 

As a Buddhist practitioner, it is essential to have a sense of humour.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Happy New Year - and yet more rain

Happy New Year

I hope 2016 will be happy, healthy and prosperous year for you.

It’s raining again . .  it feels like it has been raining for months. The Taff seems to be coping quite well and is still well within its banks in our area. Our roof, unfortunately, is not coping so well. Several damp patches have appeared in three rooms, and one day it was dripping onto my bed. I scrabbled around in the eves and managed to alleviate the immediate problem, but it looks like we need a new roof. I am trying not to think about how much that will cost.

I have made a little rainy gif. I hope you like it.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Old dogs, new tricks – fun in a kayak

Gosh is it really six weeks since I last blogged?! Time whizzes past so quickly. It is all good and interesting, but there is so little extra time to get to fun things – like blogging.

Our September holiday feels like an age ago now, but I must show you this photograph of us kayaking. Working on the principle of ‘never too old’ we borrowed a friend’s kayak this year and gave it ago. The sea was rather choppy so we didn’t actually go anywhere – just back and forth across Saundersfoot bay trying to avoid capsizing. At times we had to just point the front into the waves and ride them. I think it was probably quite amusing for anyone watching us, but we had a lot of fun.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Outings from Saundersfoot

The path by Colby Woodland Gardens.
No stay in Saundersfoot would be complete without a visit to the delightful, tiny village of Amroth, a little way along the coast. Usually we like to walk there along the beach, but never seemed to time it right for the tides this time. So we drove to Colby Woodland Gardens and walked down from there. 


Evening light at Amroth beach.
In the opposite direction to Amroth is a coastal feature called Monkton Point – just a rocky outcrop jutting into the sea. It is visible from Saundersfoot and from Tenby. One evening we set out along the coastal path with the intention of arriving at Monkton Point as the tide was at its lowest and enjoying a dusk walk back along the beach. Things did not go quite as planned. One stretch of the coastal path took us through a field with bullocks. After reaching Monkton Point we realised that we could not get down to the beach there and had to retrace our steps a little way. When we arrived at the field with the bullocks they became rather intimidating and would not let us pass. We tried to walk the stretch on the other side of the fence through the brambles, but it was impassable. It was starting to get quite gloomy and we were concerned at being caught in a tricky situation in the dark. So we cut across another field in the direction of lights and found ourselves in Swallowtree Caravan Park where we eventually accessed the road to walk back to Saundersfoot. It was not quite the leisurely beach stroll we had intended, but it was certainly an adventure.

Coastal path trees
A new visit for us in Pembrokeshire was Lawrenny Quay. Quayside Tearooms had been recommended to us and it was indeed wonderful. The fresh crab was delicious, and the ginger cake to follow scrumptious.
Lawrenny Quay panorama