3: Montaillou: out of the mouths of Cathars

Montaillou

In Article 2 in this series, I described the Consolamentum, the ultimate blessing given by Cathars to cleanse them of all sins so that they could join the ranks of the Perfect, (Fr:les Parfaits). In Article 3, I hope to go beyond the theories of historians and ethnologists about the Cathars to show you testimonies from the inhabitants of a Pyrenean village very close to where I myself lived. These are no theories, but instead carefully recorded interviews between Jacques Fournier, the Bishop of Palmiers in southern France (present day Ariège) between 1318-1325, and villagers under suspicion of having received the Consolamentum.

The Roman Catholic church was in hot pursuit of the Cathars at this stage, determined to wipe them out. They had retreated to the mountains, so the Bishops and cardinals systematically occupied villages and interrogated the inhabitants in order to locate Les Parfaits and exterminate them. It seems that their pure faith was a great threat to the monopolist Roman church, which Les Parfaits referred to as the ‘Church of wolves.’

Although the world today is full of oppression and discrimination despite our best efforts, direct religious persecution, which proliferated in the Middle Ages in Europe, is happily under more control thanks to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. It is hard for us to imagine the secrecy and fugitive life the Cathars led, even deep in the high mountains. As mentioned, I have walked their secret pathways, as they moved around receiving alms and administering the Consolamentum, and I have known villagers whose families were certainly converted. The wild mountains with their primeval untouched forests populated by bears, wild deer and hogs, battered by colossal winds, baking sun and 5 metre snow-drifts, was certainly the environment in which to shake off the lust and greed of the Roman clergy luxuriating in the sheltered valleys below.

metempsychosis

The Cathars taught metempsychosis, the belief that at the moment of death a soul could migrate into another body or animal to go on learning lessons it had not yet succeeded in. This concept has many links with the Buddhist system, which I will explore in a future article in this series. Of course, the villagers of Montaillou believed in fate and largely accepted that they were not in charge of their destinies because of the omniscience of God who controlled all things, and the Cathar doctrine fitted in well with this position. The following is an explanation of Bernard Bélibaste’s acceptance that he had no free will – (Bélibaste was a well-known Cathar who was later burned in the crag-top chateaux):

When a man steals away someone else’ possessions or commits evil, that man is none other than an evil spirit which enters into him: this spirit makes him commit sins and makes him abandon the good life for the wicked. Everything is full of souls. All the air is full of good and evil spirits. Except when a spirit has been dwelling in the body of a dead person who when he was a live was just and good, the spirit which has just escaped from a dead body is always anxious to be reincarnated. For the evil spirits in the air burn that spirit when it is among them; so they force it to enter into some body of flesh, whether of man or beast; because as long as a human spirit is at rest in a body of flesh, the evil spirits in the air cannot burn it or torment it.’

(pp288, Montaillou, E.L.Ladurie, 2008, Penguin – this is the only book on the topic I will quote from for the purposes of this article)

 Béatrice de Planissoles, a minor aristocrat, who had fled to the mountains and eventually became a Parfait, confessed to the Fournier Inquisition,

Pierre Clergue (known as a Parfait) told me that both man and woman can freely commit any sin they like during their life.  And do whatever they please in this world. Provided only that at the end they are received into the sect or into the faith of the good Christians (les Parfaits). Then they are saved and absolved of all the sins they have committed in their life….thanks to the laying on of hands of these good Christians, as it is received on the brink of death.’ (p327)

At that time, the Roman church ruled that all Catholics made donations or ‘indulgences’ for the salvation of their souls in the face of death, and many people in this village of Montaillou strongly resented this. Many villagers concluded that giving alms to ‘the poor of faith,’ the goodmen, (the Parfaits) was the best. Rixende Cortil of Ascou said,

‘The goodmen, thanks to the heretication (consolamentum) they bestow, can send a soul directly to the Kingdom of the Father after death; to give alms to them is to obtain a great reward in exchange, far superior to what one obtains when one gives to other men.’ (p338)

and Arnaud Vital expressed a similar view,

‘Alms for the goodmen, yes.  For the Catholics, no.” (p338)

Alazais Maurine said,

‘Poor as we are, my husband and I give alms to the goodmen. We abstain from food in order to give it them.  We send them flour, the best flour.’ (p338)

consolamdentum at death

Many of these Cathars devotees were later imprisoned or burned at the stake along with all the Cathars. They staked their own lives on their beliefs.  This was such a strong inspiration to me, and still is.  If I can live my daily life being prepared to die for what I believe in, then I will live beautifully and sincerely.  Buddhists believe strongly that keeping the irrefutable knowledge of death constantly in mind, helps us to live in a meaningful and compassionate way. We also believe in accumulating virtue by giving even and especially when we have little to give.

Cathar devotees were a group of true practitioners of the original Christian teachings. Of course, like most Christians and most people, there is fear of death, and so they will go to extreme lengths to soothe their passage into the invisible world, prepared to buy their salvation. Buddhists also give generously without a thought for their own welfare and are close to death, and it would seem that the Cathars were not afraid of death or deprivation. We think of people of monotheistic faith as god-fearing, living by the grace of an omnipotent often wrathful god, but the Cathars had the ability to overcome all fears and save the souls of sentient beings. Their way of life out in the community without the need for church or outward display of their faith, is reminiscent of Buddhists around the world whose faith has enabled them to practice alone without sacraments or religious communities.

giving alms

It seems that they moved to where they were needed most and provided models of moral discipline while living in society. I encountered many such people during my time in the Pyrenees. They professed to be devout Roman Catholics, but they had no need of stone churches and sermons, of regular confession and other such dependencies. People with a certain light in their eyes who were strong and incorruptible, and a shining beacon of pure faith for its own sake instead of seekers only of benefit. They lived very simply in their family houses without needing to move away from our village, without cars or modern conveniences, moving quietly with radiance and utter humility. I feel so privileged to have shared their lives briefly and received blessings from their existence, as well as to share the same pathway with them for some miles.

Based on my experience and as homage to this amazing sect and all the survivors of their eradication, I am writing a novel entitled ‘Consolamentum,’  which will be published this year on Amazon. This following passage is the meeting of the protagonist, Fabrisse de Caramany, a householder of the village, and an itinerant Parfait called Father August. I have tried to capture the qualities of pure faith or Buddha Nature, I have attempt to describe in this article:

The floor of the threshing yard was strewn with perfectly winnowed barley that day.  The first harvest.  Its ripe creamy grains gathered in the thick flounces of sunshine.  Mmmmm!  Do you know that dry earthy scent which comes off it?

Father August went on squatting, the wet-earth black of his robes perfectly at home in the enclosed courtyard full of our crop.  He could not resist playing with the grains, watching them intensely as if a thousand rosaries had been broken there.  And in a silence between us, as I brushed aside a strand of hair which had blown into my eyes, and he ran his lengthy olive fingers over an arc pattern of grains he was making, he said, “Each grain has an original blessing,” and looked at me full, his head slightly bowed, “like you.”

He trained his rustling eyes down again on the grains saying, “and me.” Behind him a pair of grey and white wagtails boldly pecked, and I shooed them away by a sharp intake of breath, which unnerved him.

“Those wagtails are real scavengers,” I said, irritated by them.  You know, I was irritated by their opportunism, always ready to rush in and thieve, and I felt my cheeks hotter then usual.

He smiled and said, “You have done the work of removing the husks for them.  Look!  They are pleased!”  And at that moment a single hen wagtail moved towards him and pecked at a grain he offered her in the palm of his hand.  He looked for many moments deep into the eyes of this twitchy silvery bird, in a kind of trance like soothsayers lapse into.

Then he said,  “God is here in this flapping feathery spirit.”  He continued in silence to scrutinize it, and then turned to look at me sideways again.

“And God is here in these full lips, and on the sweet breath of Fabrisse of Caramany.”

(p81, Consolamentum, Linden Thorp, to be published in 2013)

feathery spirit

I wonder could this be an evocation of the Dharma? All people of faith, according to their karma and imprints from former lives, are travelling along the network of sandy secret pathways. Their human forms are simply vessels to house their spirits, and death is a diaphanous veil they wear. In Cathar parlance, they are angels trapped in bodies eagerly awaiting their return to their spirit homes, just as Buddhists mediate between the visible and invisible worlds.

Japanese Buddhism: Nohmen and Kokoro talk Dharma: 1

1. The tapestry of Life

dialogue

Nohmen:     ……….you see Kokoro, our life in human form is the best and only chance we have to learn how to love. How to first love ourselves and  then others. In the boundless and eternal invisible world which each spirit inhabits before becoming visible, it may blend with others, or suffer in isolation depending on its inheritance. But when the spirit becomes flesh, and we are born into this world to become visible, we are each unique and yet the same, each here to do the same thing and yet something different.

Kokoro:    It too advanced for beginners Nohmen. You are different level. You still need be in their position. They not understand real love, and real mission. They hearts sleeping.

Nohmen:    Well Kokoro, I’ve told you about this before, but instead of this idea of the invisible becoming visible, instead of learning to love ourselves first and then others, perhaps it would be easier for others to understand this. That each human spirit is a different sized or coloured stitch in the huge tapestry of living beings and organisms.

Kokoro:   What is ‘Tapestry?’

Nohmen:    It’s a thick cloth, textile, woven with different designs or pictures, or embroidered with a pattern or flowers. There is no Japanese word for this I regret. In Europe tapestries are often of historical importance, portraying battles or important events, and they survive for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years. I suppose in Japan the equivalent is the painted screen, byoubu, which shows us many important moments in Japanese history.

byoubuHercules tapestry- 1765

Kokoro:         Gomen, gomen! Sorry, sorry. Go on.

Nohmen:      So, this huge tapestry, woven with elements and energies from the universe, this amazing creation of the diverse threads of human and sentient beings and natures, unites us all together, together with the whole universe Kokoro. Each being, each human, or animal, plant or rock, different.

Kokoro:         Unique Nohmen! It true identical twins not truly identical – and science not seem to explain this well, or perhaps incapable to do.

Nohmen:       Kokoro, this tapestry of life is our reason to be! It is the culmination of all of our sacred missions combined in one, and that ‘one’ is the Universe. And everyone and every being has an important, vital, place in this tapestry. So, if their place remains empty, then the entire picture will be distorted. Each participant is essential: Each mission different.

Kokoro:          Sugoy!! Wonderful. Wakarimashita. Honto wakarimashita! I understand really! Nohmen san, universe give us everything we need. So, we must stand in our place in ta-pe-sty to show gratitude. We come from universe, from earth! We must show respect and pay back as if parents, no?

Nohmen:       Yes, Kokoro, that’s it. It’s simple I think. All beings and elements fit together, like the threads woven together, the vertical, the horizontal. Each thread is a slightly different colour, maybe slightly different thickness, but everything can be blended together by the energy of the Universe. Now, all we have to do is to get people to listen to this idea.

Practicing with power: Practicing dying in a pure way

What better aspiration could we mortals have than this! Thank you Ryan for your great kindness in guiding us.
Let our trailing cloaks of Bodhi blowing out behind us as we streak along the path carry all sentient beings!
In gassho

Kadampa Working Dad

In virtually all of our sadhana practices, there is some form of self-generation practice. Self-generation practice, in short, is training in dying and being reborn as the deity.  One of the most common definitions of samsara is “uncontrolled rebirth.”  Without freedom or control, we are thrown from one samsaric rebirth to another.  Attaining liberation from samsara, therefore, is taking control of the death process so that we can take rebirth in a controlled way as a deity in a pure land.  Our training in self-generation as the deity is the method for gaining such control.  If we learn how to die and take a pure rebirth in our practice there is a high probability we will be able to actually do so at the time of our actual death.  There are two reasons for this.  First, every time we train in self-generation, we create new karmic pathways in our mind…

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The Joy of Zen (II)

Beautiful! Thank you for your kindness in posting this wonderful image. The scenes form this dream are sublime!

I am a Nirvana Buddhist practising in Japan. My mission is to reach out to all people of faith in one heart so that we can unite our light and focus! Only this way will we liberate all sentient beings. All rivers of faith flow into the great ocean of Nirvana!
You may want to know more about Shinnyo Buddhism, so I would be delighted if you would visit my web site at http://www.lindenthorp.wordpress.com.
In deepest gassho
With unconditional love
Nirvana Linden

lightbuddhism

In PURE LAND, you can have a rest in the joy of Buddhist landscapes.
(Continued)

You can enjoy the Buddhism music while reading the article- Click here.

The Joy of Zen (II)

The Gate Open to the World

The seven-day practice of Zen is available to the public yearly, which attracts lots of believers to stay and practice Zen in the temple. Unlike other temples, Bolin Temple has never charged for tickets since it reopened in 1988. Whether you are a monk or a householder (householder here refers to the Buddhist who does not become a monk in a temple, but keep practicing Buddhism at home), you can register for a temporary living arrangement in the guestrooms.

According to Mater Mingyi, merely the reception can attract more than 10,000 persons yearly. Most of them are householders. The Bolin Temple welcomes those who are interested in Buddhism, offering a harbor…

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2: Consolamentum

cathar practitioners

Cathar practitioners and martyrs

As mentioned in the previous article, the Cathars had many fundamental beliefs which are in essence similar to Buddhist beliefs. Their history is slowly being uncovered, but researchers are still not certain of their exact origin. I was born a Christian and brought up with Christian ideas and training in Britain, and I have to say that I believed devoutly in Jesus Christ, and still do. It is certain that I could not have taken the Buddhist path without my Christian sensibilities. However, I was always deeply touched by the original teachings of Jesus Christ, and not so impressed by how they had been adjusted as they spread throughout the world. Of course, this distortion happened in Buddhism too, after the death of the Buddha Shyakyamuni. Nowadays, I believe we should always go back to the original teachings, and have the Buddha’s life as our main inspiration, as the Cathars had Christ’s life as theirs.

So, what were their main beliefs? The OED defines them as, ‘a heretical medieval Christian sect which professed a form of Manichaean dualism and sought to achieve great spiritual purity.’ (OED, 2nd edition, 2003) What is Manichaeism? Briefly, it was a religious system of beliefs with Christian, Gnostic and pagan elements, founded in Persia in 3rd century by Manes (c216-c.276) and based on a supposed primeval conflict between light and darkness. It was widespread in the Roman Empire and Asia, and survived until 13th century.

The light represents the goodness of God and all compassion and love, and the darkness represents the world as created by the devil or Satan. In other words, the Cathars believed that the Devil’s work provided a habitat for humans which was basically flawed and evil, and that God provided all the love and compassion which made it possible to survive in such a habitat. So, unlike the mainstream Christians, Satan was a very real entity for Cathars, and thus their practice was openly dualistic. Cathars denied the validity of baptism; they believed that Christ did not suffer on the cross, and they basically rejected the human body as crude and contaminated.

Another parallel here with Buddhism is how we constantly reflect on the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. During 6 days of struggles, in which he was determined not to move until he was enlightened, he was besieged by Mara’s temptations and delusions. But was able to cease all craving and so become enlightened. Buddhists see evil as a projection of the individual ignorant mind, so if we resort to serene meditation as the Buddha did, we can overcome all cravings and become eternally happy. There is no dualism because we are in one heart with the Buddha, our guru or spiritual guide, and with all sentient beings. There is no separation in Buddhism, which is perhaps one of the major differences between theistic and non-theistic belief systems. We Buddhists have all the resources we need to become enlightened and permanently happy inside us, because we create the world with our minds.

Cathars, on the other hand, considered that humans were angels trapped in vile bodies, and that only the thin veil of death was needed to be removed before they could escape back into their spiritual home. Thus procreation was not allowed by those who had taken vows, because it represented the creation of yet more trapped angels. More of this later, but perhaps you can see that there is a similarity with the idea of Samsara, the suffering world, and Bodhi, the aspiration to reach the shore of Nirvana, the place of no cravings or suffering. Most Buddhists work hard to subdue the physical and sensual desires of the body, and to get control of the mind or to polish their innate Buddha Nature until there are no blemishes. Of course, both belief systems have moral codes: the commandments for Cathars, and the precepts for Buddhists.

morality

Cathars were lay practitioners who lived normal lives in communities. They were taught to be in the world but not of it, and to follow the gospels of the New Testament (they rejected the Old Testament outright), to love one another, and to live a life seeking God. They had no churches or sacraments, but the most evolved of their members, known as ‘the Perfect,’ were thought to embody the church itself.

The Consolamentum, a kind of baptismal rite either given to those who aspired to become a perfect, or to be liberated in the face of death, was the way to permanently escape from the Devil’s material world in this life, and in future incarnations also (like Buddhists, Cathars believed in many lives for the spirit). It contained the Lord’s Prayer, which all Christians know and respect, and had been scrupulously preserved by the Perfect from the time of the apostles of Jesus. This pure stream of Christianity stretching back to the original teachings of Jesus is very similar to how the Dharma Stream or current has been handed from Master to pupil since the Buddha Shyakyamuni’s time in Buddhism.

The Consolamentum was very simple and after receiving it the aspirant was basically absolved of all their sins. The rite ended with the kiss of peace which sealed the consolation, and he or she was pronounced a Perfect. They would be expected to keep their vows for the rest of their lives, to pray 15 times every day, to fast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and once a year for 40 days to imitate Christ’s experiences in the wilderness.

The Perfect were distinguishable by their robes, which were black or sometimes dark blue or dark green, with a cord tied round the waist. They lived wherever they could, often in deserted and remote chapels, or fortresses built on crag tops as in the case of the Pyrenees. I feel so privileged to have experienced the very environment, mostly unchanged since the Middle Ages, in Roussillon and Languedoc, which they knew. When I was there, Cathar energy was palpable in the mountains, and as I walked the sandy pathways in the forests, and sat in quiet contemplation in the beautiful Roman chapels, I could feel their presence. Their lives gave me the courage and stamina to practice my own Buddhist teachings while alone. They had the kind of passion and commitment, the ability to stake their lives for their beliefs, which I aspire to, and the will to purify themselves so that their goodness could shine out in the satanic darkness.

Consolamentum

Consolamentum

Finally, the Consolamentum has a positivity about it that is present in Buddhist practice.  We humans are not perfect because of either our own or our ancestor’s unmeritorious acts, which are referred to as karma in Buddhism, and so we always have the opportunity to repent and start again. In other words, if we are mindful we can avoid repeating the same mistakes, and so polish our Buddha Nature.  Then we can do something positive in our lives to pay back for all the millions of blessings and kindnesses we have received to make our lives possible.

taking refuge

taking refuge

walking wtih the Cathars

Cathar routes

Buddhists take refuge in the Three jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The Cathars took refuge in the light, compassion and goodness of Christ. Both types of refuge allow the refugees to shelter from the suffering of a world which is flawed by evil and materialism, in order to increase their light and intrinsic goodness. As well as being a purification, the Consolamentum was a kind of protection like the many mantras we Buddhists use and the empowerments we receive. The Cathars based their beliefs on the realities and struggles of human life, utilized them to polish away their impurities, and therefore human life was their training ground.

life training

Today, in Japan, I belong to a lay order, which has no monastic retreats. Our training is directly in everyday life, and I believe this is the only place we can truly elevate spiritually.

In Article 3 of this series, I will describe the records collected by Catholic cardinals and friars from the inhabitants of a Pyrenean village, Montaillou, during the inquisition to oust out the Cathars. These testimonies are taken directly from the mouths of people many of whom had received the Cosolamentum and so taken refuge in the Cathar faith. I believe this will give true insight into their faith, and so the faith of Buddhists and other belief systems.

1: Buddhism and the Cathars

Dove-small

It has helped me throughout my life to examine the similarities and differences between various things, so I have become increasingly fascinated by the Cathars, a mysterious Christian sect at their peak in the Middle Ages in western Europe, and how similar their beliefs were to my own.

I believe that everything we encounter in our lives is embedded with crucial messages for our spiritual progress. Imagine a comprehensive curriculum devised for your development throughout the whole of your life, laid out before you. It is a blueprint, and if we or someone follow/follows its dimensions, we can become a strong enlightened being who has transformed negative karma and shortcomings, and been liberated from samsara, the human world of the 4 sufferings : birth, illness and suffering, old age, death.

4 sufferings

As you can see, I fully believe that we find ourselves in the midst of the human world of suffering because we are being given a golden opportunity to liberate ourselves from that suffering view of life. It is probably our only chance, because we are taught that being born a human is exceedingly rare, so we need to make the most of it. In my case, I am filled with gratitude that my spiritual partner had the means and wisdom to make my blueprint a reality on my behalf.

Almost 20 years ago, I had the great privilege to live for several years in a tiny village in the remote eastern Pyrenees, on the Mediterranean side of the mountain frontier between France and Spain in Europe. It was a simple life, mostly sequestered away from the media and other such worldly distractions. I was a practising Buddhist but entirely on my own, without either teacher or sangha. It was a heavenly location, with unhindered views of untouched primeval forests and stunning peaks. The village was medieval, largely abandoned by young people who had moved to the cities to make a living, and mostly in ruins. Climate change had caused water sources to dry up so it was quite difficult to survive the long hot summers there. In the hottest times, people’s kitchen gardens, often their main source of food, suffered unmercifully, and water had to be brought up the mountain in tankers on a daily basis.

My long days were spent restoring and cultivating a huge medieval garden to try to provide all the food we needed, and making the carcass of an old farmhouse more habitable. Early mornings were spent exercising on the sandy roads once trodden by Les Bons or Les Parfaits, the good, known by medievalists as the Cathars, and nowadays used as short cuts by shepherds and vineyard workers.

In forest clearings, beautifully preserved Roman Chapels could be found. In the cliff faces of deep gorges, hermitages were perfect shelters. And from the valley floors, fortresses expertly balanced on high crags would intermittently come into view against the cloudless sky. The whole environment had once been dedicated to religious devotion, and now I found myself, a religious devotee also, in an ideal position.

As I looked more closely at the beliefs of this mysterious Christian sect viewed as heretics by the mainstream Roman Catholics of the time, I realized that their practice was not dissimilar to the Buddhist way. At this moment, I remember being so relieved that I didn’t need to jump on the sectarian wagon along with everyone else, because to me, all spiritual pathways are valid and share the same values. It just depends on your karma as to which guise your practice takes. I am certain all faiths long for the sacred to again occupy the waking and dreaming moments of human beings, as it once used to, and that all faiths battle with samsara, or what has become know as the ‘secular world,’ the realm of the human desires and self-selected suffering.

I would go so far as to say my spiritual blueprint had designated that I was transported to these mountains to tread the footsteps of the Cathars as they fled from the relentless hounding of the Church of Rome, or ‘of Wolves’ as they saw it. I dreamed many Cathar dreams, both subtle and gross, during my stint there, and came firmly to believe that my ancestors had been Cathars. As it was for them, reading the various famous accounts of their lives, each of my own days became a triumph of good over evil, and the thin veil of my death, which they believed was the sole thing separating beings of flesh from the spiritual world, threatened to blow away at any moment. I will soon publish an ebook about this period of my life called ‘The Veil of Death.’

One of the things which reduced the Cathars to heretics in the eyes of the inquisition forces sent to the mountains to accuse and dispose of them, was the belief that men and women were equal.  The Roman church has always excluded women from key positions, and perhaps always will, but many eminent Cathar leaders were women. Buddhism has become similarly gender aware, though in ancient India, women were somewhat whimsically excluded from enlightenment, and are still treated with caution by many Hinayana sects. My present Nirvana guru is a woman, and despite her rank as overall spiritual leader of a huge world-wide sangha, certain predominantly male Hinayana sects in Thailand and Myanmar are not allowed to touch her!

the treasure of Montsegur

So, in this series of articles I would like to examine and compare the Cathars and Mahayana Buddhist beliefs. Their origin remains mysterious, recent research showing that they probably hailed from central Asia or perhaps further east. My spiritual instincts tell me that they were likely Buddhist propagators en route from India traveling along the Spice and Silk Roads, who found their way west, and ended up in direct confrontation with the monopolist Catholics of Europe.

As hinted at above, one of their most striking beliefs is that the world is a battle place between the forces of good and evil, and that as humans we have to make our choices about which side we are on. As noted many times, Buddhists call this world samsara – something which flows on relentlessly until beings attain Nirvana, or the extinguishing of and freedom from all cravings. Cathars rejected the crucifixion and baptism outright, believing in the laying on of hands and that everyone was fundamentally good instead.

emptiness

The Mahayana Buddhist teachings focus on emptiness. They express human life as a projection from the mind of the individual, like a constant replay of a video, and train us to turn off that video so we can find reality. I believe the Cathars had a very similar approach to living in the human world. Using prayer and contemplation as Buddhists use mantra and karmic cleansing, the Cathars took refuge in the pure and positive light of god as Buddhists take refuge in the three jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

In the next article, I will describe the Consolamentum, the only formal rite the Cathars conducted. It was the means whereby a believer could become a ‘Perfect,’ absolved from all sins and removed from all evil. It was moving during my time in the remote foothills of the Pyrenees to realise that many of the ancestral lines there had taken this transforming blessing in 11th and 12th centuries.

Mindfulness: Be Simple and Easy, Just Rest in Awareness (I) – A lesson from Munindra, a Bengali Buddhist master and scholar

I am delighted that you have come across my web page! I would be most honoured if you would follow me as I will follow you! Greetings from Japan, and may your encounter with the magnificent teachings of Nirvana lead to perpetual joy and ever-increasing virtue!
In gassho

lightbuddhism

MINDFULNESS (SATI): Awareness. An alert state of mind that should be cultivated constantly as the foundation for understanding and insight.

A Dictionary of Buddhism, Oxford University Press

For many students, Munindra’s best  teachings took place outside the meditation hall in a very ordinary and detailed way.  According to his students, “he was the epitome of mindfulness all the time.”

“We’d be walking along, and my mind would be running.” Says one of the master’s students, Akasa. “He would say, ‘Oh, look! See the little flower!’ he would bend to look at it and say, ‘See, it grows like this.’ He would lightly touch it, taking me out of my head and back to the earth, back to what was right there. You could say he distracted me back to the present moment. He was very good and very soft with that. Munindra would say, ‘Pay attention…

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Bodhi: the ever-presence

Ito Shinjo

In this series of articles I have described various aspects of Bodhi, the seed of enlightenment. A crucial aspect of enlightenment is the spiritual guide or guru without whom we probably could not experience Bodhi unless we were a great founder of a religion ourselves. In this final article, I’d like to talk about the ever-presence of the guru or spiritual guide.

The supreme purity, wisdom and spiritual achievements of your guru serve as a constant inspiration. As they became enlightened, so will you if you use them as your model. If they are living, as one of mine is, you can witness how they live their lives and realise that they possess all the qualities of a Bodhisattva and are able to maintain their compassion for all beings in all circumstances. They are an emanation of the Buddhas and because of your vow to them you become a vessel through which they can act in the human world. In other words, you can embody your guru in all that you do, say and think, in ‘Body, Speech and Mind.’ The more you purify your mind until you reach your true self, the more the Buddhas will use you as their hands and feet, to do what they are unable to do. We are mere humans, limited and easily influenced, without our esteemed gurus and protectors, who lift us on to higher planes of existence.

Once, thousands of years ago, the gods walked among us!  They were not invisible to this human world. So, it is said that in every sangha (Buddhist community), or any community, there are various emanations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, of gods and prophets. I was recently invited to be used as a channel for one of my Dharma parents who had shifted to the spiritual source. I was to chant a special mantra in a grand ceremony for which there were many rehearsals and a lot of preparation. As I started to sing in front of cameras and satellite broadcasting equipment, I was aware that my voice was different, felt different.

Ito Tomoji

My living guru, the daughter of the deceased, cried tears of joy and recognized her mother in my voice. Later, many older sangha members who were present said that it was indeed the voice of our deceased Dharma parent. How joyful to become a channel for the spiritual world. We can no longer audibly hear the voices of those who have shifted to the invisible world, but we can empty ourselves of ego and become a vessel for them to utilize. Of course, there is no proof that this is so, but who needs proof!  That is so small-minded compared with the joy that many experienced as I chanted.

Our spiritual teachers are with us always, encouraging our enlightenment and purification. They totally put their trust in us, and we need to trust them totally in return. Throughout the ages, the faithful have believed without proof, and it is highly likely that your ancestors had such a faith. Now we live in an age of instant gratification – electronic devices allow us to make instant links, and information technology leaves no holes barred. But remember that our ancestors perhaps carried messages and scriptures across deserts and wildernesses to convey them to believers. We should not need to seek results and proofs if our intentions are pure. It is the process and generating of faith that is far superior to the result.

silk roads

I lived in the remote Pyrenees on the western border of France and Spain for several years and practiced Buddhism there. There were no Buddhists close by at all, was no sangha to support me, only devout Catholics and Protestants. This period of my life established my deep faith in myself and my resources to realize emptiness.  There were few results to be gathered apart from my growing commitment and intensifying happiness. Of course modern communication is a different way of living and seeing the world, but we should not become attached to it. It is only a means to an end! It is our deep personal commitment that matters more and will move us towards enlightenment.  Every day I remember the saints and Bodhisattvas who carried scriptures and relics for hundreds of miles, propelled by their pure desire to spread faith and liberate others.

Your ancestors most probably had this kind of undaunted faith. The seed of Bodhi was planted in them and they nurtured it lovingly. In the quiet sincerity of their days, without technology and the noise produced by modern life, they believed in greater powers, in magic, and the focus of their faith was real to them. They believed in their sacred mission in life, and so can you. Let your pure intentions pervade everything you do, say and think, and you will be a beacon of light to lead others to liberation from stress and suffering.

The next cycle of articles will focus on the rare faith of the Cathars, a sect of spiritual Christians,  in medieval France and Spain. Their beliefs are similar to those of Buddhists and they were my inspiration when I lived close to their mountain retreats. In a way, the intensity and undaunted quality of their faith, even in the face of death, kept me focused on my own faith.

Ito Shinso