The Origin of Meditation: Making Bonds with the Universe

I’ve just published an article in Meditationmag.com: http://meditationmag.com/buddhism/origin-meditation-making-bonds-universe/

Please visit this wonderful magazine. Kevin Ellerton, the editor, is doing such a great job in spreading the magic of meditation. Meditation is the greatest resource foreach of us in the secular and plural age!

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The Buddha, founder of Buddhism, 2600 years ago made it clear that we should create and maintain bonds with the Universe even though we have been born into human life. This was a common notion in ancient India before his time.

The Universe encompasses everything that exists, according to our current understanding: spacetime, forms of energy and the physical laws that relate them, history, philosophy, mathematics and logic. Buddhists refer to the Universe, both visible and invisible phenomena, as the Dharma.

The Cathars (medieval Christian mystics pronounced heretics by the Church of Rome and exterminated) also were constantly connected to the spiritual or invisible world although they strived to liberate all beings from the physical world of suffering. They regarded death, the ending of human life, as a simple veil that could be easily removed.

The halo (a circle of light around the head of a holy being depicted in Christianity) and the aureole (a circle of light around the head and/or body of a deity in Buddhism), were and still are used as reminders of the spiritual origin of all things appearing in the visible world of form. In both systems of living out the lessons and struggles of human life (Christianity) or samsara (- the world of human suffering-Buddhism), we aspire to make the transition back into the spiritual, formless world, and if possible, to take all living beings with us.

The Cathars, who were vegetarians apart from eating fish occasionally, prescribed the endura, a form of ritual suicide brought about by refraining from taking any food or water as death approached, preceded by the administering of the consolamentum, a special cleansing meditation or blessing. In Buddhism, diet is always key as it is important to allow the subtle inner winds (vayu in Sanskrit) to blow naturally through the channels of the body. The body and mind are unable to function at subtle levels if these winds are not balanced.

So, in both schools, the awareness of what substances from the Earth we put inside our bodies is central to the way we use them. These rules about living allow us to connect with mystical knowledge so as to be able to be a channel for such universal energy. They provide an opportunity for us to fine-tune ourselves in order to receive the countless messages and signs from invisible sources surrounding us.

 

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The mystical has always drawn me personally since being a young child. I could never accept that worldly achievements were the pinnacle of all existence. I was certain there was much more to it than that. Of course, children are usually not yet conditioned as adults are: they are pure and still close to the universe before their intellectual capacities develop.

My dream of being touched by the mystical came steadily true through the Buddhist pathway and gnostic traditions such as Catharism and also Sufism (mystical/Esoteric Islam). In Japan, I am presently involved with the Nirvana Teachings of Shinnyo-en, Esoteric (transmitted orally from Master to pupil) Shingon Buddhism. These are the very last teachings the Buddha gave on his deathbed when he revealed a new aspect of the teachings just before he died which took his disciples and followers by storm.

He announced that every single being, regardless of spiritual training, gender, or any other classifications, is endowed with Buddha Nature, the seed for enlightenment (perfection). If we live life in a sincere way putting others before ourselves, the rain of Dharma will water that seed and it will ripen in time.

This changed the direction of Buddhism forever because everyone universally had the potential for enlightenment in their own lifetime, not only those who gave up their everyday lives as householders to become monks. The best place to become enlightened is in everyday life, here-and-now.

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In Esoteric Buddhism, the mandala is the traditional way of mapping out the Dharma lineage which is passed down through the ages from the original Buddha Shākamuni, about 2600 years ago. The mandala represents the whole Universe and if you are correctly connected to that lineage known as the Dharma Stream, there is nothing and no-one outside you, no ‘us’ and ‘them!’ You are actually positioned in the dead centre of the universe.

Buddhists strive to release themselves from attachment to objects and people because attachment means separation – it requires the attached and the attacher. Once we are truly one with the Universe and all sentient beings, then we have realized ‘emptiness’ and the native silence and stillness of the heart. All our worldly desires are extinguished and it is said that we have crossed the great Ocean of Nirvana to the other shore.

In Japan, there is a strong tradition of mountain ascetics – those who deprive themselves of luxuries and comforts in order to quieten their egos, shugendo in Japanese. Yamabushi (Jpn: one who ‘likes mountains’) follow a special doctrine combining Esoteric Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto.

These practitioners are usually solitary and today mostly lay (non-monastic). Emphasis is placed on physical feats of endurance in the open air where the trainees live in the untouched forests of rural Japan. Their goal is to be touched by supernatural powers and the universe through such practices.

 

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Yamabushi (photograph deliberately blurred for privacy) can often be seen engaged in waterfall training – standing under waterfalls in freezing winter, ridding themselves of their ego so that they can receive the esoteric messages. My own masters did this practice regularly, as did many other key teachers in Shingon Buddhism.

The Cathars also had a strong reverence for and involvement with nature and the Universe. The sacred caves of Sabarthes in Languedoc, south-eastern France, are known as the ‘doors to Catharism.’ Part of initiation as a Parfait (a Cathar Perfect) was to climb a steep path leading up to these caves (a practice common also in shugendo) to the Cave of Bethlehem.

There were four important elements inside the caves:

1. a square niche in the wall which could have conceivably contained a mandala or manual of some kind;

2. a rough granite altar;

3. a pentagram carved into the wall, possibly symbolising the 5 elements of the universe (a common symbol in Esoteric Buddhism);

4. the telluric currents emitted from the rock walls and cave floor.

The atmosphere in these caves fills one with awe. I was particularly sensitive while inside and after visiting had a series of dreams in which Cathars appeared as Buddhist monks. There are so many similarities.

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As mentioned, Buddhists work to achieve emptiness and liberation from all attachments. If you step out of the enclosure of your mind, the view of the world you construct with your intellect, then you step into the Buddhafield or mandala where you are protected and qualified to receive the wisdom of the Dharma stream orally. At this moment, you become united with the Universe. This is reality. You can take refuge in this powerful mandala whilst struggling in samsara to liberate all sentient beings and bring them to enlightenment with you.

Although many different spiritual traditions employ meditation in their training, it could be said that the notion of making ‘bonds with the universe’ began with the young Buddha’s first experience of meditation. Prince Siddhārtha was 7 years of age and already showing promise in his studies to succeed his father and become King of the Sākya clan. One day, he accompanied his father and entourage to an agricultural festival dedicated to the Earth deity.

While there, the young prince noticed a small bird pecking at a worm that had been turned up by a plough. He felt such compassion for the worm that he was inspired to sit in a nearby grove under a jambu (rose apple) tree and soon shifted into an advanced meditative state.

The sun was high in the sky, but the shade provided by the surrounding trees stood still, keeping the young child cool and sheltered from the hot sun. This first meditation inspired by nature demonstrated the highest respect and reverence for the treasures of the universe.

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In my own meditations which bring together many coloured threads, I often use the image that everything inside me, beneath the thin membrane of my skin, can amalgamate with everything outside. That my heart can beat in unison with all the hearts in the universe and that I can breathe as one with all beings in the universe. It is easy to transcend the thin membrane of skin and realize deeply that this is all that makes me a physical individual being, able to act in the world, fulfilling my own unique mission.

The Universe is the Spiritual Source. The Moon and Sun are our protectors. We climb the mountains, flow into the oceans down wide rivers, and swing from stars and planets. It is only the mundane mind that hems us into its synthetic reality, imprisoning us away from the natural glory of the great Universe.

 

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images courtesy of Linden Thorp and megapixyl.com

 

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Linden Thorp is a teacher/author (both non-fiction/fiction)/editor (academic/general/religious) living and working in Japan. She is an ordained Japanese Esoteric Buddhist priest (Shinnyo-en), Alexander Teacher, Sound/Music Creativity Therapist, Meditation facilitator, Indigenous Peoples’ Advocate and is involved in the Cathar revival. Her mission is world peace and harmony. Her religious pathway has been from Christianity, through Hinduism, Islam, Sufism, Humanism, Catharism, to schools of Hinayana, Vājiriyana, and Mahayāna Buddhism, and so to Oneness and Self-Realization.

The 9 Breaths: Breath 5

How can a tiny gap in the breath lead to enlightenment?

How can we gain freedom from the enslavement of the Mind?

Why did Buddha Gautama take 6 years to know his breath, not just the passage of it? And why did this knowledge lead to enlightenment?

These are some of the questions that may have arisen during the previous 4 breaths. Now for some answers.

If you want to start from the beginning of this series then go to:

Introductionhttps://niume.com/post/264747

Breath 1https://niume.com/post/265632

Breath 2https://niume.com/post/266432

Breath 3https://niume.com/post/267922

Breath 4https://niume.com/post/268886

Important points from Breath 4:

*Breathing stops when danger is near, as does mind!

*The small self (only a daily utility) disappears at such moments so that we can glimpse the True Self.

*We cannot practise the Breath! Each one is a performance.

*Zen Masters have utilized Shiva’s 5th tantric technique of eliciting unexpected reactions from their disciples exactly so that they can glimpse their True Nature.

*When breathing pauses there are no desires, no quests, no cravings, no small fragile self.….because the Mind also stops. The Mind is the personification of all these distractions.

 

 

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Shiva’s 5th breath is the pinnacle of his Tantric techniques because it involves the Third Eye.

But to purify the mind before we start, it is important to understand that there is no effort involved in attaining spirituality! We are tricked into thinking that it needs a huge effort because we are not spiritual beings; that we have lost something so we need to compensate by adding something new.

This is mistaken. You are already there. You are divine already. No long journey is required to find what you are looking for. This ‘attainment’ is not something you will realize in the future! It is here and now.

How can mortal man create the divine from scratch? It is ever-present and infinite. You are the truth and simply need awakening from your deep sleep induced by the tricky Mind. Shiva’s techniques are designed exactly to do that.

 

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Your spirit is hiding from you in small things, for instance, the tiny gap as your breath turns from down to up and up to down. It is a treasure hidden because of long and dominant habits of identifying too much with delusional things like personality, clothes, skin colour, religious convictions, etc.

Only a small effort is needed to uncover what is already there. The future is hidden in the present.

Your longing to be pure and spiritually evolved has created a barrier to your seeing your own True Nature. The clouds that cover the sun are only temporary. A man who is blind can receive simple surgery to enable him to see because the seer has always been there.

 

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The difference between ‘awareness’ and ‘attention’ is important before we contemplate the Third Eye. Awareness is inclusive perhaps involving many things; Attention is exclusive – it only has one focus.

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Now, bring your full attention to your Third Eye between your eyebrows. Focus it strongly on this place which is the seat of the Pineal Gland, a magnetic mechanism of the body. As you still your energy at this point, 2 things will happen:

1. You will begin to witness your thoughts instead of thinking them. In other words, you will cease to identify habitually with them. Instead, it will be as if someone else is generating them. This focus will create a distance between your small self (utility of daily life) and your thoughts (vapour that disappears the moment it is thought).

2. You will feel the essence of your breath vibrating. This is known as prana – vitality. Science says we breathe chemically rich air: spiritual insight says that we breathe pure life.

 

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Then Shiva says:

‘Attention between the eyebrows. Let mind be before thought. Let form fill with breath essence to the top of the head and there shower as light.

 

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The essence of the breath, the prana or vitality of the Cosmos, will shower down as light from the crown of the head, and you will experience a rebirth or recreation.

3 minutes of gazing in complete stillness at a beautiful flower or candle flame will activate your Third Eye and light will shower down.

The Third Eye is the mechanism of hypnosis, the closing of the gap between dream and reality.

 

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Inspiration: Doing is important, not just thinking about it. This meditation is something you deserve to free you from the slavery of your mind. Just do it right now instead of talking about it.

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                                   gorgeous images courtesy of Linden Thorp and Megapixyl.com

                                                             Join me tomorrow for Breath 6.

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The 9 Breaths: Breath 4

When does your breath stop automatically?

When there is danger or great fear, whether in your dreams or in so-called reality.

It is important to remember that breathing and mind work together. Your mind stops in synchrony with your breath in such situations, therefore this is a golden opportunity to look behind the screen of so-called reality.

If you want to start at the beginning, please go to:

Introductionhttps://niume.com/post/264747

Breath 1https://niume.com/post/265632

Breath 2https://niume.com/post/266432

Breath 3https://niume.com/post/267922

Important Points from Breath 3:

* Children breathe deeply exclusively in their abdomen – this is the secret of their totality, their joy and energy. They are existing in or close to their true centre.

*When the breath is static or turns from down (in) to up (out), we are here-and-now in our totality.

*Breath is the bridge to our real centre, to reality, to full awareness.

*The more your breath touches your centre, the more your life force will fuse with the energy of the cosmos, your divine origins.

*When we are in the shadows of negativity, we are divided. We can only live partially if we breathe shallowly, and the upper body is divided from the lower, the angel from the animal.

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Breath stops when there is danger. In tandem with the breath, in such situations the mind also ceases to move in its monkey fashion. Danger galvanizes us and forces us to realize that the small self is simply a daily utility and it can vanish easily.

This is a tremendous resource to get a glimpse of our True Nature.

 

 

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This is why it is important to take risks in your life.

We tend to over-cherish ourselves, over-protect ourselves with our ego shield. This is a function of living in large urban populations unfortunately.

 

 

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Breathing is not something we can practice. Each one is a live performance. But by approaching breathing in different ways, we can feel something different with each performance.

 

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Shiva’s 4th breath has become the basis of Zen teachings in Japan. Ferocious Masters behave in unexpected ways with their pupils to shock them into feeling the breath stop, and so to grasp the power the small self can hold over us. Shiva, the utterly unpredictable, was an expert at living in this way.

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Shiva says: For the pure, the pause when the breath and the mind stop is commonplace, is ever-present.

 

NO desiring. NO seeking. NO looking elsewhere. NO divisions.

 

This is when the mind stops and the bridge of the breath opens up to us. We can easily walk smoothly across it to bask in the vast field of human awareness. We are free to take up our rightful place in the Universe.

Inspiration: Impurity is completely within your control by using the sharp sword of mindfulness. Watch, witness, each of your thoughts as they arise – if they are negative or critical, envious or fearful, just turn away from them. They emanate from the small scared self not your True Self; from the victim of life not the victor. All speech and actions originate in thoughts, but thoughts are never in the present – they are always in the past or the future, both of them man-made concepts not to be confused with reality!!

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      Wonderful images courtesy of Linden Thorp, Mariko Kinoshita and megapixyl.com

                                 Join me tomorrow for Breath 5 of the 9 breath series.

The 9 Breaths: Breath 3

Do you know where the centre of your body is? If you send energy via the breath to your centre, then you will live fully, you will realize 100% of your potential, you will arrive in a state of total happiness and love.

Read on to find the answer and some simple techniques.

To fill you in on previous posts of the series see:

Introductionhttps://niume.com/post/264747

Breath 1https://niume.com/post/265632

Breath 2https://niume.com/post/266432

Main points from Breath 1 + 2

* Breath moves in a perfect circle. 1 breath = 2 halves of the circle. The down (in) breath and the up (out) breath, and there is a gap between each half.

* The gap is a turn in the direction of the breath and at this point you are neither body, nor mind, nor mechanism. You pass through neutral gear to reach other gears-neutral is your True Nature, the pure energy of the Universe.

*Breath and Mind work together. If your breath stops then your mind stops.

*You can allow complete freedom of your awareness and so realize 100% of your potential as a human. Only the minimum of control is needed to live in the social world.

* Your body is divided into 2 parts: the periphery (we know quite well because we are always looking out into the world); and the core or centre (we do not know at all perhaps).

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If you observe children breathing, and we were all once children, you will see that they breathe almost exclusively deeply in their abdomens. Then gradually, through conditioning and control, as they get older, the breath rises into the chest and become increasingly shallower. This is one of the reasons there are so many respiratory dis-eases in today’s modern world.

 

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The down (in) breath and the up (out) breath are fundamentally dynamic, and the intellectual mind works with them, but between the breaths, when the breath is static, we are here-and-now in our totality. This is the exuberance and bliss of children which we steadily lose as we mature and move up into our heads.

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The down (in) breath naturally moves towards our centre, to our navel, and then moves away. This is the bridge. But if the breath is too shallow it will not reach the centre, so many of us feel ‘off=centre’ in busy modern life. We breathe only partially in the city and that means we live only partially.

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If we go out into the mountains or to the beach, suddenly we feel alive, pulsing with life. In such an environment, the breath will deepen and touch the centre, and so we feel briefly wonderful. In time, the worries and fears return and we move back into partial mode.

If your breath touches your centre, then your life force will fuse with the energy of the cosmos.

 

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Shiva says: ‘Whenever the down (in) breath and the up (out) breath fuse, at this instant touch the energy-less and the energy-filled centre.’

By ‘energy-less,’ he means only the energy we get from food and liquid, which we utilize with shallow breathing; and by ‘energy-filled’ he means the energy of the cosmos we are connected to access by abdominal breathing.

If we can bring cosmic energy to our centre, to our navel, and fuse it with worldly energy, then we find our totality, our truth, our complete happiness.

Inspiration: If we live fearfully in the shadows of negativity, then we are divided. We have chosen to live partially and so we breathe shallowly to keep in control. We keep the breath at a minimum, in the head. As a result, our upper body is divided from our lower and we become the victims not the victors of civilization’s move.

 

 

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images courtesy of Linden Thorp and megapixyl.com

 

 

     Join me tomorrow for breath 4 of this 9 breath series.

The 9 Breaths: Breath 2

Main points from Introduction: https://niume.com/post/264747; and Breath 1: https://niume.com/post/265632

* Shiva is the Indian God of ‘transformation.’ His techniques were inspiration for the Buddha’s enlightenment, and they can be for you too.

*Tantra = unconscious transformation. No so not need to do any changing. be exactly as you are.

* Your breath is the bridge between your body and the universe. ‘You’ are not required to breathe – it happens in spite of you – so simply watch it as if you are watching the breath of someone else.

*Noticing the gap between the down (in) breath and the up (out) breath will open the doors to the ‘Kingdom of the Spirit.’

 

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In Breath 1, you noticed by watching that your breath moves in a perfect circle and the down (in) and up (out) breaths are two halves of one complete breath.

You also noticed by watching and staying exactly with the movement of the breath, neither ahead or behind it, that within that circular movement there is a ‘gap’ or ‘turn’ from down to up at the bottom of the breath, and from up to down at the top of the breath.

In Breath 2, we will watch this ‘turn’ more closely.

 

 

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The Earth’s breath becomes part of the body when it is entering you and leaving you, but when it turns from down to up and up to down then it is no-body, no-mind.

A good analogy for this turning is a car, motorbike or electric bicycle. A motor-driven vehicle has gears, low and high, hill-climbing-hill-descending, etc. The turning point of your breath is like neutral on your gear stick. Neutral has to be passed through to reach all the gears.

 

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The human mechanism is extraordinary, cutting edge, miraculous, at its peak. It is composed of many gears: sleep gear, anger gear, smiling gear, laughing gear, etc.

As you change into a new gear, your transmission must pass through neutral. Perhaps the best example is sleeping. As you prepare to sleep, there is a gap between waking and falling into sleep. There is a turning point which you can never catch – you are awake and then suddenly you are asleep and watching your dreams!

In this gap, you are neither body, nor mind, nor mechanism. You are pure energy or existence – the energy of the Universe.

 

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As you experiment with this type of awareness of your breathing, you will notice that moving breath is connected to mind, and if your breath stops for some reason, then your mind stops.

Our breathing is conditioned to be plugged into the electric current of mind, so breathing and thinking have become connected. But if you unplug from that habitual connection, then the thinking ‘monkey’ mind stops.

 

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Shiva says:

As breath turns from down to up, and again as breath curves from up to down – through both these turns, realize!

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You can take complete control of your car with these moments of awareness! You can take control of your 70 million cells, your 70 million connectors to the universe. You can realize 100% of your potential in this way!

You have opened the door to the Kingdom of Spirit if only a crack, for a split second!

 

Inspiration: Please let this notion swim around you during the day ahead to prepare you for Breath 3 tomorrow.

Your body is divided into two: the periphery which we know well because we are always looking outside through our physical eyes; and the centre or core which we do not know well. To touch our core we need to close our physical eyes and open our spiritual eyes inside.

 

 

Images courtesy of megapixyl.com and Linden Thorp

The 9 Breaths: Breath 1

 

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Important points to understand from the introduction to this series:

* The 3 layers of the being are: the body, the breath and the soul/spirit/heart.

* Focusing on the breath, sensing it in the abdomen, allows us to both look ahead at worldly/daily life and back towards the heart, our origin, our True Nature.

*Breathing is not taught. It is therefore ultimate and mysterious knowledge. It is every unique being’s secret bond with the universe.

*Due to the infinite kindness of Planet Earth and our masterful biological adaptation, we have unlimited supplies of oxygen to sustain our human life. Only Planet Earth provides the conditions in which we can thrive, ‘here’ and ‘now.’

If you would like to read the Introduction, please go to https://lindenthorp.com/2017/02/23/shivas-mind-turning-techniques/


Background:

These precious techniques are inspired by Shiva, ancient Indian God of ‘Transformation.’ He predates Buddha, providing him with the breathing techniques to become enlightened sitting under the Bodhi Tree 2600 years ago.

Shiva is non-intellectual in his approach, unlike Buddha, so he uses Tantra to help us attain the truth. Tantra is internal in that no conscious changes are needed, unlike Yoga which conscious and systematized using prescribed poses and systems.

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Your breath is a bridge between the body and the universe. If that bridge is weak or broken then we are not really alive. In other words, your breath touches the core of your body and, beyond you, the universe.

Mostly, we take our breathing mostly for granted, assuming that it will continue on without us. Therefore, you are not breathing, because you are not required! Breathing goes on in spite of you!

So, do not consciously change the way you breathe. Breathe exactly as you do usually, but for this purpose you are going to simply watch your breathing as if someone else is breathing and you are observing.

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Feel air or breath touching your nostrils as it enters you. Let it in. Welcome it. Relax your eyes, looking down at the end of your nose, but do not close your eyes completely so you can stay alert.

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Know that your breath follows a circle not parallel lines (which never meet) and you are going to follow that circle keeping exactly simultaneous with it, neither ahead of it nor before it, as you watch.

Go down from the top of the circle with it, staying exactly with it, and then notice the bottom of the circle as you start to go up towards the top again. Both down and up are 1 breath.

Make the circle as large or small as you like. There are no rules and it is impossible to compare your breathing circle with anyone else’s because it is unique.

 

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After watching your breath as the circles come and go, as many times as you like until you are comfortable with this sensation, stopping whenever you like, pause. Shiva says:

 

 

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O Radiant One: the experience of your true self, your True Nature, may dawn between the breath coming down and the breath coming up: in other words, at the top and bottom of your circle as your breath turns.

 

This is the truth! The breath going down is death: the breath coming up is rebirth. Noticing the gap in between allows you to touch the centre of your being and so the universe.

Spending time watching your breath, doing nothing because remember you can breathe without you, allows you to cross the bridge of your body to your soul. You are ‘now’ and ‘here’ each time the breath turns! There is no past! There is no future! There is only your uniqueness in the universe. This is reality!!

You have opened the door to the Kingdom of the Spirit.

 

 

Inspiration: Using breathing we can turn the mind away from compulsive seeking outside, from desperately trying to acquire the knowledge of others, to find our own unique treasure within. We can turn the mind from its habitual desiring to non-desiring.

This now-and-here is our true happiness and contentment.

 

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                                  Images courtesy of megapixyl.com and Linden Thorp

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Join me tomorrow for Breath 2. Please contact me via the comment space below if you have any questions, problems or comments and want to share them with other readers. Or, if you prefer, contact me by email at: lindenthorp@gmail.com

Temple Chronicle: Winter Training in Japan – Fear!

It is fear that makes us inflexible and forces us to suffer. We are first taught it as helpless children by our ‘kind’ parents who are passionate for our success and survival in the visible world. And so, our reflexes are honed and our target sights are set. The regime of training by other adults with experience and knowledge, who themselves are highly trained, is usually strict.

It is then that masks and social apparatus are issued so that we can receive approval from our community, quickly fit in and gain respect, wealth and fame being paramount. But fear easily lodges in these intricacies like dust on an elaborately carved choir screen. We gradually become insensible to it so it mounts up until the gaps for air and light are covered over.

The heavily conditioned mind thrives on this substance ‘fear.’ It efficiently suppresses originality and the courage to be truly ourselves, first with others, but then eventually with ourselves, so that we are no longer familiar with our True Nature and become self-dishonest

Dishonesty frets the perpetual dialogue in our heads until eventually we cannot glean the difference between it and honesty. Then our strings of words create a new being, a permanent resident in the house of our flesh and blood.

So, our spirit energy has been trapped, caught up in a million meshes! It is incarcerated so that we will follow the rules and fulfill the expectations of our communities. We are anxious about the rapidly approaching age of robots and our possible obsolescence, but those who live in massive urban communities have been ‘system slaves’ for several centuries. We tend to abdicate everything to mediocre leaders, even the kindling of our divine spark which becomes a mere pipe dream.

Fear has been heavily utilized by governments, religions and educators to maintain control of individuals, and as a result, the innate goodness at the core of each individual has gone underground. Endemic fear has become focused only on the negative, the evil, the destructive, the anarchic so that goodness has become a cliché,a pleasant myth, a triviality, something in the background. It is seen as a by-product of the domination of the visual sense, detected in everything we see, and in the commentary we produce to accompany it.

But if we close our eyes and stop the babble, it recedes with each grateful breath.

Above all, in our human journey, we must find the truth according to our individual divinity, and in it our mission will be patent, our exact contribution in the visible world outlined. Our specific talents and strengths are in great need at this time of disintegration to reunite us in one bright light.

The Master promises us that the visible and the invisible are one, and fear will vanish if we remain supple and bring goodness into the forefront of human life. We are each a piece of the unfinished puzzle.

Winter Training – every year in Japan spiritual seekers do intensive training designed to break their habitual way of living and responding, to wake them so they can get insights into reality. Everywhere they perform austerities of body and mind; the practice of cold-water ablutions is common – breaking the ice formed on barrels of water left out in the freezing night air, and then scooping it over the head and shoulders, is very effective.
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Watch out for more reflections and insights during this winter period.
Images courtesy of megapixyl.com and Linden Thorp

Envy: the Middle Way

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         ‘Listen to these teachings with the ears of your heart.’

In his pursuit of enlightenment Buddha practised many austerities bringing himself almost to the point of death.  After his enlightenment, the first teaching he gave was called the ‘path of wisdom’ – moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. He gave this first teaching to the 5 ascetics with whom he had practised such severe austerities. 

He said, ” Monks, these two extremes ought not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the household life (those actively seeking enlightenment). There is addiction to indulgence and self-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable.’

The Middle Way allows vision and knowledge and leads to calm and insight, to Enlightenment and to Nirvana, the cessation of all cravings.’  

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In response to this realization, envy comes from an extreme selfishness and an ignorance of ones own inner beauty and bliss.  If we have not allowed our own being to bloom due to pressure to compete with others so common in the world today, then we lack trust, trust in our uniqueness, in our goodness. And trust in others to recognize our uniqueness and our goodness.

If jealousy and envy of others exists, then love has been driven away.  If we cannot find joy in the success of others, then we have turned away from our true nature. And if there is no self-love then we will never leave the cycle of rebirth and are destined to suffer in the lower realms. In other words, we will never escape from samsara, the world of human suffering.

The Buddhist way is often misunderstood as extreme and complete passiveness and selflessness. But it is clear that by resisting dying from practising austerities, Buddha acknowledged that first he needed to love himself and to preserve his precious life without over-cherishing it so that he was in a condition to love others unconditionally. If our own Buddha Nature is not shining then we cannot recognize it in others. 

 

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Mindfulness – the watching of thoughts arising in the mind without being attached to them – will show us the envious mind. It will show us that these kinds of thoughts separate us away like a dry husk from the rich universal consciousness. We watch the thought or feeling arise and then let it pass without identifying with it, without stamping it  with our name, without earmarking it.  It is simply a negative thought which arises and then passes like all thoughts do. They are the product of the mind – the dusty mechanical repository of  the collective conditioning of the human race. They are dead things which float around tempting us to become attached.

 

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Meta – loving kindness – will reveal our natural essence of unconditional love for all beings. It will show us that love is not an adornment or an accessory, something we ‘have’ or ‘show,’ but is our essence. We are love and being born into a human body provides the perfect and unique opportunity to embody that love.  Buddha Gautama went on to embody unconditional love all his life in the human world. 

 

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‘May this teaching touch you fleetingly and then flow to others touching them similarly.’

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Embracing death and therefore life

 

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Buddhists keep themselves very close to death as part of their practice. It epitomizes the notion of impermanence (Skt.; Pali – anitya), the first of the three marks (trilaksan) which characterize all conditioned phenomena.

One of the fundamentals of Buddha’s teachings say that all formations – things that come into being dependent on causes and conditions – are impermanent.  Things, matter or form, rise and pass. They change constantly, from moment to moment, eventually decaying (Skt. dukha) and disappearing entirely. Due to this constant changing dependent on causes and conditions which is called samsara, we can never find permanent happiness. So, Buddhist practice is focused on escaping from samsara by following a strict moral code and working to purify negative karma (Pali Kamma).

 

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Keeping death and impermanence close at all times banishes all doubts and fears.  There is no use in struggling against visual loss and oblivion. It is the only reality. But this awareness forces us to realise that we are manifested in the world of form to learn these fundamentals, and wakes us to the knowing that we are essentially spirit, and spirit is empty of ego. They move us in the direction of the unknown, the invisible and the mystical which are our true dimension.

If we know death at each moment we also know life.  If we accept death then we can truly accept life.  If we practice desirelessness to avoid falling into the deep grooves made by millennia of conditioning and systematically eliminate negative karma, in addition to generating Bodhicitta (our aspiration for enlightenment, quitting samsara and taking all living beings with us) we will create new grooves in the universal consciousness, our true and divine nature. Then the world will change.

The world will only change if we humans change, for we are the world. 

 

 

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Images courtesy of magapixyl.com

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O Bon: profound gratitude to ancestors in 21st century global Japan

It is sizzling summer here which induces a panic in non-natives used to more temperate climates. We cannot survive without air conditioning, so it is difficult to stay long in the open air, even for native Japanese, born in the far south in tropical Kagoshima and Okinawa. So, driving in the car with cold air rushing in through the vents, is so calming as well as tantalizing.

This land is exquisite when away from the rather careless and pragmatic urban areas. We drive north-west of bold and brassy Osaka, into the mountains. The forests of mixed pine and bamboo are dense with rigorous and ancient energy, and sure to be full of brown bears, raccoons and monkeys. 

It is 3.45 in the morning, and we set out to join the crowded motorway, filled with people returning to their hometowns in order to clean and adorn their family graves, and to wait for the return of their ancestors from the world of spirits. Dawn approaches as we dive into the forests interspersed with rich green rice paddy, and I marvel at this glorious land of rock and tree and bear. 

My partner Mariko chants he Heart Sutra in Japanese as we drive on, followed by iced Oolong tea and freshly sliced Japanese pear, nashi.

Three hours later, we arrive in Takeno, a tiny seaside village, Mariko’s hometown, and park our little ‘k’ car (economy car) in the small shale yard of the old family house. Her cousin and her daughter with her children are waiting for us, offering us a cool shower, and iced Barley tea

After we have cooled down, we prepare to chant for Mariko’s mother’s 27th death memorial, putting on our robes and preparing the giant home altar (butsudan) with candles and incense. Every one sits behind us holding their juzu (rosary beads) being sure to copy our bowing and gassho (palms together at the level of the heart).

The chanting is more of a challenge and pleasure than usual because the ancient owner of the house has abandoned real Buddhist practice to join Sokka Gakai, a Japanese religious organization which has prohibited any Buddhist images. So, we must focus extra hard in order to slice through this misguided diversion from Dharma to reach the golden reclining Nirvana Buddha right at the back of the butsudan.

Afterwards, we take flowers to the family grave and chant again, being sure to wash the tall head stones with fresh water so that the spirits will not be thirsty. In the hottest part of the day, the local people will retreat indoors, closing all sliding doors to create a cool place, and relax together drinking sake (rice wine) to wait for the arrival of their ancestral spirits. 

Later, when the sun has set, they will go again to the graveyard with lanterns and food to offer at the grave. They have come together from all parts of Japan to meet together at the family house and celebrate their ancestors.

This profound gratitude to all their descendants without whom they could not be alive today, is most moving. This is supreme Dharma, identical in the human world and the world of the spirits! 

I have learned so much from this most inspiring Japanese custom.