..and after Nirvana?

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Once the beautiful mandala, painstakingly created following precise ancient formulae with the utter devotion of the creators, is carefully dispersed to the elements, what happens next?  The gorgeous colour and structure, visually irresistible, are destroyed, are given back to the universe, but where does that leave you who have allowed yourself to become attached, smitten by what humans can do?

What if this act, strange in human terms, is a test or a cheap trick? What if it was all a beautiful dream? Such mysteries and evocative rituals are all very well, all entertaining and hope-giving, but our principal mission in life is truly no mystery. Beyond all these intricate distractions caught up in the name of religion or pursuing faith, reality waits for us right under our noses.

 

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Through spiritual training, it is possible to move beyond all appearances.  We are surrounded by buddhas and gods in every moment of our human lives.  They may not match up to our deluded images of what gods and buddhas should look like, but in each core of each human being there is True Nature, our divine essence impregnated with the details of our exact mission as human beings.

True Nature is invisible, but it has an unmistakable fragrance of eternity which can suffuse our human existence in every seemingly prosaic ‘now ‘and ‘here.’

 

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Linden Thorp is principally a human being though has lived through many other emanations in order to wake up to her humanity!

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.

Forward to my new book: Glorious Death: Glorious Life

Buddhists and Cathars jacket

author’s forward

Glorious Death? Human beings are curious of and frightened by their own death and the death of others they love. Death is taboo to most of us, and it is understandable that the complete unknown is terrifying so we evade it, clinging to what we know even more tightly.  But I will show you in this book that there is a way to understand and to embrace death, and that when we do our lives are transformed. 

Glorious Life?  Life is both predictable and unpredictable; both happy and sad; both satisfying and dissatisfying, but what is certain is that we do not have control of it.  Like setting sail on a stormy sea, we are at once battered by waves and wind, and the next becalmed or shrouded in dense fog. However, acceptance of our impermanence is the master key to dealing with such fluctuations; we need to have complete mastery of our sails and rudder and to learn to sail with the weather, into the weather, instead of against it. Realizing that all the challenges that the wild ocean throws up are spiritual tests and messages provided for us to overcome and interpret, allows us to strap in and actualize our human potential. 

Buddhists? Cathars? People of the Earth? There are so many spiritual pathways available to us in these days of diversity, but I have discovered that although they may have different appearances and structures, they are all reaching for the same lasting happiness and joy. They are all about mastering our restless fearful minds. The serenity and wisdom of the Buddhist way are well known.

The way of the Cathars (the Good), a medieval group of Christian mystics in Europe branded as heretics by the Church of Rome because of their spiritual beliefs, may not be so well-known because they were exterminated by the close of the 14th century. 

But now is the time of the revival they predicted 700 years later at a time when the Earth and its people are rapidly deteriorating.  The Cathar Creed is the perfect blueprint for us to fully realize that we special humans with our essence of pure love are not aliens here on Earth, but we are the good way for the Earth and its community to heal. 

People of the Earth? The surviving indigenous tribes of our world possess the wisdom to save the planet and to live in harmony. In fact, they are the only people who dedicate themselves entirely as custodians of the Earth, protecting species and living in awe and respect for what the Great Mother Nature has supplied to allow humans to evolve spiritually. The natural world which we moderns have made ourselves separate from provides the perfect conditions for us to excel in love and light, and to bring our intrinsic goodness to bear.

All three of these traditions have brought me personally to a breath-taking watershed.  I look down into the great oceans and I have no fear of death or life, and I have come to surrender to the truth that the world we think we know is just a tiny part of the vast invisible world, the ocean of spirits of love. This is our origin.  In other words, I have fully awoken to the reality of the supremacy of universal love, and that everything else is simply weather. 

I write this work, not from a place of dazzling qualifications or impeccable experience, exhaustive scholarly research or struggles for recognition or advancement. In fact, I have deliberately put aside such accolades and indicators of success, and instead offer a different kind of intelligence and a world of perceptions unique to their expresser. They are testimony above all to being a human spirit. My motivation is to share my view of the world as honestly as I can, striving to write from my true nature which I have consciously worked to uncover during my enchanted life.

I find my true nature to be akin not to heroes or celebrities, state leaders or explorers, but more to mystics and castaways, contemplatives and psychics. In my short human life, I have found the great truth in my own mind as I create it for myself, for it does not exist without my creation. By virtue of our dazzling consciousness, human beings are extraordinary creators.

Living and working in Japan, I have been given a unique opportunity not only to experience an ancient and bizarre culture first-hand but also to question or reappraise many aspects of life that ‘westerners’ take for granted. As a person of faith, one of those aspects is exactly that, faith.  It is well-known that most Japanese reject notions of religious affiliation and look both uncomfortable and incredulous when asked in public what they truly believe in or at any mention of spirituality.

It has been said that Japanese have little imagination which on the surface may be attributable to their passivity and conformity to the greater social conscience.  It is the social system and customs which expect them to be self-contained, restrained, and so they are often reluctant to exchange true feelings or experiences. They are however skilled readers of the air once they have trust.

Therefore, when a westerner, usually born, brought-up and educated in a Christian, Moslem or Hindu atmosphere, talks freely about faith feelings, it seems that it is almost impossible for them to grasp another life course outside superficially secular Japan.  In fact, many Japanese are rarely if ever exposed to foreigners: there are still strong traces of xenophobia from the 250-year period of the country’s closure.

Surely faith has to be recognized by those who realize its personal importance?  Faith?  Conviction?  Trust? These are not qualities that come easily to many Japanese because there are so many types of fear running through their veins. There is also a formidable sense of national pride and duty under the skin, a sense that everything Japanese is best, superior. Here religion and spirituality are very much a social pursuit.  This is part of the necessity of belonging so that the countless temples (Buddhist) and shrines (Shintoist) double as community, culture, and mental health centres.

It is from my stance as a person with a commitment to the intrinsic power of the human race and with indestructible confidence in my own true nature, that I write this book.  My life is unimaginable to most mono-cultural and mono-linguistic Japanese – packing up two suitcases and leaving my ‘homeland’ to live in this land of endemic shyness and nationalism, sampling many spiritual teachings and alternative disciplines along my route, and so on.

You Japan, though we are now one, cannot imagine my life.  So, I dedicate this work to you.  It is a bringing out of the roots of my faith, my origins, and the process of my life as a spiritual seeker.  I want you to experience my invisible Christian upbringing and education, the purity of my lineage; in fact, the whole purpose of my being; to experience my brushes with Islam and Taoism, Sufism and Hinduism, Judaism and Jesuits in the multicultural environment of my birth.

This is my mission: to share my blessed life with a nation which Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism created a form of Chinese Buddhism especially for. He is recognized as, one of the very few Japanese who have attained a universality far beyond the limitations of nation or race.

In 1950, after the Pacific War was resolved and Japan was occupied by the United States, there was a purging of religion and education.  In Buddhist terms, it was called the Dharma Crisis, and through my involvement for 11 years with a Shingon Buddhist teaching, I have encountered this first-hand, although it has mostly been buried under recorded Japanese history of the period so it is difficult to research. Indeed, as a result of the government inquisition, all religious organizations, no matter what denomination, were scrutinized and subjected to a vicious authenticity check. 

The founder of the teaching was in fact thrown into prison for his deep convictions and faith with murderers and other capital criminals, his Buddhist instruments confiscated, and his qualifications and motivations examined microscopically.  This truly tested the faith of his small sangha (community), most of whom disassociated themselves, but those remaining deepened their conviction leading to worldwide strength of the teaching today. This Dharma Crisis was an enormous test of faith for the whole nation, and it has clearly engendered the moral and religious cowardice or seeming indifference that exists today as a result.

It seems that people, in general, are divided into two groups: those who need to know, and those who just-know. Those driven by fear and doubt, and those who are fearless and accepting. Those who think and those who do not. Those who consider the physical sun to be the only source of light in the world shining down on them, and those who are their own sun shining on themselves and others. Those who have taken up permanent residence in their minds, and those who have stepped on to the bridge of their mind and walked out into the limitless field of their consciousness.

As I write, I find myself conflicted and separated by trying to cater for both of these groups, not wanting to leave anyone out. For example, when writing about sincerity and secrecy in relation to the Cathar creed, The Church of Love, I have to describe the Cathar-Catholic history and struggle in great detail so that permanent residents can understand the background; meanwhile, I am longing to get to the spiritual centre of things, and do not want to be pinned down by the time-space continuum.

It feels as if there is a dense web of doubt and proof-seeking, a kind of contagion emanating from the thinkers, the limited, which threatens to draw me in.  So, I want to kick free of it and unconditionally dart around the infinite field which has no horizons or divisions, or tenant agreements, without any appointments or duration. I, therefore, have inserted small articles into the text so that the received knowledge concerning Buddhism, Catharism and Creation Spiritualism is available to those who need it.

Thinkers habitually make questions and construct opinions, which can potentially tyrannize a writer, blocking him or her from writing anything at all. They are natural fighters with an obsession with analysis and understanding on their terms, but they have the power to sway others in this modern life dominated by the intellect. Surely it must be an affliction to always need to justify and debate in order to be accepted, or to gain approval from the intelligentsia fashion leaders, but that is the norm in developed nations.

As Buddha is reputed to have said, People with opinions just go around bothering people all the time. What I write in this book is not opinion but insight gleaned from my spiritual training and awakening mind. And yet, I am unable to exclude this majority group because my message concerns them most of all. I have no dispute with anyone. (Buddha)

In the end, readers will make up their own minds about my Glorious Death: Glorious Life based on so many conditional factors. Therefore, writing anything using abstract symbols capable of such beauty, such harm, such hypnosis, such confusion, is a leap of faith into an abyss. I leap willingly.

And as for my own Glorious Death, the title of this book? I die every night in my dreams. It is no stranger to me.

Evenings had always been our special time back in the city, each one a life in its own right. It was usually initiated with flames and candles, and the opening of corks. Each a make or break, visible or invisible, irresistible attraction or cold polarization. Now, in the mountains, evenings ended in small deaths in the full darkness and silence. We two isolated souls, which might sting or flee at any moment, were entirely invisible here. (Veil, a novel of Cathars and Troubadours by Linden Thorp)

To wake each morning is a blessing, a new start, a stand against the fear that the human mind throws up like the jackknife of a bully.  During all my moments, the Veil of my physical death flutters above me, giving me glimpses of the invisible world beyond the bridge.

My motivation in writing this book then is to share my journey and to drop seeds into fertile earth.  As a Buddhist practitioner, I have already written a great deal, but it was my discovery of the universal Cathar Creed combined with the realization that I was a member of the 20th-century Cathar revival behind the scenes, that made me sit down and determine to create it.  I believe this perfect Creed entitled The Church of Love, will suit all beings regardless of their supposed level, caste, status, thinking or no-thinking in the visible world. All beings are perfectly equal in the invisible world.

In order to familiarize the territory before revealing the Creed, I share my blueprints and the spiritual schemes which have brought me to this Glorious point, this watershed.  Some would say perhaps that Buddhists, Cathars, and Indigenous Australians have no fear or doubt because they are at liberty to embody their beliefs. But I would go a step further and suggest that beliefs are dead thoughts, museum pieces, plastic flowers compared with the energy stream that these three breeds of spiritual giants stand knee deep in.

The energy flow of all humans without exception consists of light and love and humanity is itself the Church of Love.

The Church of Love recognizes that the way we (humans) are may be the way of those around us because we (humans) are the way.

Embodying love, being the universal energy of love, cannot be limited to inert thoughts or beliefs, or added to a tomorrow to-do list. It happens right now and here inside us.

Once we have put our visual accessories time and space aside, then reality consists only of now – this moment, not the next or the one before, and here – without borders or differences, regardless of weather or religion. The conditioned mind may think this notion embodying love is an interesting concept, an intriguing theory even, but it will immediately disappear as thoughts and theories always do the moment it is made conscious. By thinking about it, it is immediately made indirect, a mere interpretation. So, it is useful to create a mindful gap around this seed that has been dropped into your being and stay quietly in that gap. In other words, resist thinking about it or even giving it a name. Mark it as that thingy, or your favourite song – music is concrete so cannot be erased as abstracts such as words can.

The thingy must be gently held back outside the gap, prevented from its usual destructive, interfering activities. Then the love can flow freely, indiscriminately, for all of the people around you: like a fresh mountain stream cascading across everything in its path.

In this gap, this opening, you can use your borrowed human muscles and limbs to flow or swim into your day ahead. Staying in this fluid state you enter a crowded space, a train carriage, a shopping centre, or a classroom. With every square inch of your body and your energy field, you can live the divine love that you have eternally embodied once the conditioned mind is quiet.

Then you make eye contact only to love. You spread your lips in a smile only to love. You extend your arms and stride forward with your legs only to love. It is absolutely the only agenda your spirit has. Next, staying for as long as you can in that identity-less gap, just radiate into now and here, and others around you will radiate in response. They will use their eyes only to acknowledge your light and being.  They will spread their lips in a smile only to radiate.  They will extend their physical form in a sincere gesture of appreciation only for the light you bring. And they will expect nothing in return.

Inside this gap is where we belong. It is our true nature. There are no labels or identities, no hierarchies or structure. It is the flow and flux of our energy origins, the wide river of our indestructible human love and light.

Those who are, know.

(Church of Love, Cathar Creed, circa 1244)

 

March 2016, Osaka.     

 

Gratitude to Mariko Kinoshita for her gorgeous artwork

Temple Chronicle: 29th February

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The light of day comes and it goes from my personal theatre. Objects and people come and they go, they wax and wane, as I watch from the gallery. This appearance and evanescence can affect me in two ways, but I am free to choose only one of them.

Either I can swallow the beauty I see as it glimmers and gurgles, calmly enjoying, marveling, weeping, smiling in the centre of the moment, and moving smoothly without flinching on to the next to supersede. I look and listen in absolute trust at these arisings and descendings because I know and accept that they are finite, that they will run only for a limited number of seasons. My indestructible essence of love is the lubricant which brought me to the theatre and will convey me back to the ether high above the lit streets.

Alternatively, I can hold the beauty in my mouth, refusing to let it go, to swallow it, wanting to immortalize it and make it permanent, to possess it so that no-one else can have it. The emotions that arise as a result of the stimulus are negative, inverted, flinching so that they separate me away form everyone else in the world, from my race and from the natural world. They are rooted in my fear that the supply of beauty will end, and so I must create my own stores because I have no shred of trust. My love essence has brought me this far smoothly, but I sabotage it deliberately so that I do not have to leave, and put it aside as spent fuel.

In the same way, I can accept that my form is imperfect as it ages, becoming worn and weathered. I can humbly embrace its decay in concert with all things in the universe, accepting this physical withdrawal of flesh and bone, but constantly delighting at the sights and sounds that flow around me now and here. There is no astringent peak of the taste of fear, just a subdued broad flavor to savour. Everything is exactly as it is. There is no friction of ownership or cloying. I gently polish myself, restrained, quiet – disturbing no-one, content to cherish my steady but gradual evanescence along with that of everything in the universe.

As a saboteur, the taste of fear though momentarily thrilling and rousing will never allow me to feel contentment, will always block the free flow of the essence of love, my spiritual essence. It will always isolate me, remove me from now and here so that I am likely to miss the show entirely. I will become marooned in my archives, dependent on my storehouse, and unable to embody the love that I was endowed with. I will never trust and will live outside the theatre of all life on the wet streets, unable to believe even in the blue ether.

Which will you choose?

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This is the final post of this series ‘Temple Chronicle’ for the whole month of February 2016. Each daily entry will be combined into a single continuous document entitled ‘Temple Chronicle: February 2016’ to be stored in the main menu of the site should you want to look back at them.
It is snowing intermittently here in western Japan as the winter austerities come to an end. Spring will be welcomed on 20th March and the year ahead looks bright when viewed from the very centre of the moment in this very spot on the Earth’s crust.

May you have determined exactly what kind of light will you become for the year ahead.

Temple Chronicle: 22nd February

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We need to work so hard to get approval from our societies at large. If we are different and honest about our differences, then we are shunned. There is silence when we walk into a room, averted eyes, deliberate disinterest displayed. We are a threat to the masked committees and there will be no compassion, no concessions of any kind until we decide to put aside our honesty and our difference, put our masks back on, and behave in the interests of uniformity and social rank. How can we expect to be accepted if we are living our true nature?

Social groups are often empty and congealed with their dishonesty, so the members busy themselves auditing credentials. Is their behavior exemplary according to the rules? But most important of all, what are their sexual proclivities and urges? They form a group but they are separate liars behind their masks.

To live according to your true urges and nature takes enormous courage and the dropping away of all fear. But you are no longer separate when you refuse to lie and go along with other fabrications and bullying. You are integrated into the flow of goodness and love, back swimming in the river instead of sitting on the banks. We may not get approval but we have been honest with ourselves and that matters more than anything.

Entering the world of form, our spirits need a clear purpose. They need to bring light, but also be a model of self-truth for others, bringing the light and holding it high so others can ignite their own lights.

Buddha clearly instructed that we should not associate with those who gossiped and bad-mouthed others. We should avoid negative influences; we should stay silent rather than talk carelessly, but we can use eyes and hands to gently display our purity and inspire courage with our own courage while we do so. We should not be scared of losing our reputation and not say anything detrimental about others because it only makes us look better in people’s eyes. We have above all to be true to ourselves. How else can we be honest with others if not?

The tiny hummingbird moves around so quickly and quietly that it is almost impossible to detect. It takes the pollen it needs from the bells of tropical flowers and then moves on its way unnoticed. It does not disturb anyone or anything. This is how we should live, quietly, stealthily, without making any disturbance. But many of us put so much energy into interfering in other people’s lives and business when we should be just playing with light and love. We take life so seriously, trying to teach others and instruct, to over-protect them, when they could instead just notice our playful lightness and imitate us. All we need to be careful of is obstacles which break the flow of energy.

We allow others to tear us away from integration, to distract us from our breathing and our awareness. They deter us with their needless words and gestures from our gratitude and awe for our existence and all things natural. Our core should be solid and not so easily distracted from its joy and contentment. After all, we are so lucky to have become flesh and been given so many opportunities and messages to elevate ourselves spiritually.

sensory deprivation

Temple Chronicle: 1st February

waterfall training

Again cold and unforgiving weather today.  It is thought to be a good sign because it will help those following to truly remember what the masters did 80 years ago to found this special teaching.  Freezing weather seems to have been the appropriate time to begin austerities in Japan, like the rainy season in India in the time of the Buddha.

Waterfall training was one of the main ways to purge the ego. So today, aspirants must walk in their footsteps in their minds, up the steep narrow path along the ridge to the waterfall. They will feel the freeze of spray on their face as they get closer, then the immersion of skin habitually covered with cloth, the sound deafening arousing the dread of that first cold death.

Photographs of their waterfall training etch themselves into the memories, the consciousness, of aspirants. The blood-stained white cotton robes, the hands pressed into gassho despite the shivering, the slate-blue of feet and hands.  And they are told this teaching takes the middle-way, and that only masters need to do this hard training.  That they do it exactly so that disciples living their daily lives, ‘householders,’ do not need to.  But does this create a dependence despite its magnanimity?

Wondrous powers will be activated through the Dharma current of correctly linked streams.  The spiritual current is something seekers can plug into, connect with, through the rituals and spiritual tests.  The mandala or succession diagram for this teaching is complete, reaching far back to Shakyamuni Buddha, 2600 years ago.  So, if they go under the freezing waterfall in their minds, in their deep minds, they are assured of going further on to enlightenment in oneness with their guides.  This is the mysticism of blind faith.

The Masters were flesh and blood, warm-blooded mammals with soft eyes and physical and emotional vulnerabilities. That they were driven to take these strict actions following in the footsteps of their masters, and those before, is about tradition, validity. The further we get away from the founder of any religion or organization, the more checks and balances we need.

But it’s not what the masters did, it’s the way they did it, out of pure compassion for all human beings, for their suffering and their joy.   There was no other motive.  It is this pure intent that is so impressive, and that disciples can easily emulate.

She is feline in her enthusiasm to collect the cards which mark each day of training. They are beautiful, each with their message carefully conveyed in the hand of the Master, reproduced in their several million.  She buys a little case specifically designed to collect them in, and then as the end approaches, she feels a sense of completion.  These masters have, drop by drop during 33 years, fed her with faith. She was born not knowing the taste of it, not naturally knowing there was something for her in the invisible world.  Her innate purity stood for nothing in a culture in which merit and maleness mean everything, and their opposites nothing.

The religious treasures have amassed over the years, and now she can never be parted from them.  They enliven her spirit and allow her some action. Her complete happiness can be found in following perfect models, in belonging, in constant gratitude and humility.

Today, in a city temple under the central Osaka freeway, one long-term disciple talks of how she was saved by the teaching’s power in 2001, at the time of the aerial attack on the Twin Towers of the New York World Trade centre.  She was standing outside the main entrance when the first plane crashed into the tower, waiting to go up to a meeting on a high level floor.  In the panic, she ran for cover into the subway where she could take refuge until the emergency teams came.  Winter training is the time she can show her gratitude most.  She always tries to bring a foreigner to the sessions to say thank you to the foreigners who rescued her from that tragic disaster.  She will never forget her debt. It is her mission to expend her life paying back.

The Masters can be role models through their faultless lives devoted to all beings. But we must be careful to live out our own individuality, our own Buddha Nature, and to bring to fruition our unqiue mission.

uchu-A

Temple Chronicle: winter austerities

Kobo Daishi

The morning air is fresh, the severe coldness has receded for a few days.  But it will return. The edifice of the temple reposes as the sun rises. I want to write about my daily life here living in the Shingon temple precinct: devotions and insights, spiritual signs and moving towards emptiness and beyond.

She has gone, thinking she had not woken me, but I felt the duty and devotion rising in our rooms, borrowed rooms like our breath. I heard the sluicing of water, and the whispered chants deep in the shower room. Cold water poured over head and alternate shoulders, a chant for each small bucket full. Kneeling on salt. Shivering and moving without control in a jagged way. Rising. Sitting again. Rising.  Her mind breaking the imaginary ice on the barrel the way the Master actually did.

What is it that wakes you?  She says it is ‘Gohozenshin Sama,’ that she just asks them before she sleeps to wake her.  They are the fierce and brave Guardians of the Law in their towers outside the temple inner sanctum.  The Guardians of the Heavens and the Earth that make it possible for us humans to walk the pathway, to seek the way.

She walks before dawn through the centre of the white 5 story apartment buildings arranged like cakes on a beach. The sky is heavy and ice-clad.  She walks quickly wearing temple shoes, decent, soundless, repeating mantras, and holding her fluorescent orange dustpan and brush both with long handles. She rustles as she walks, the white plastic bag shivering. She is going to brush the temple precincts in preparation for the Buddhas to walk there.

She has told me about her ancestors indicated in meditation training.  They were mountain ascetics living wild in the forests of Wakayama, pacing up and down narrow pathways made by raccoons and red deer, ridding themselves of their ego minds.  They sheltered from nothing and no-one, taking refuge only in their spirits connected to the universal source.  Standing in pouring rain and blazing sun with oblivious stomachs, slowly unlearning, de-culturing, de-conditioning. Solitary, in human terms, in caves, climbing trees to pick seeds and nuts, and confronting gongens, evil emanations,  then driving them away with sheer determination in a stare. No human distraction for 20 or 30 years. But some of them were so lonely they committed suicide.

She industriously brushes the leaves into piles, stuffing them into her bag using a torch in her mouth. It is still dark in front of the main temple gate; the guard-house quiet, young men in suits snoozing and taking 15 minute shifts throughout the night, then changing into their white ablution robes, and chanting at breakneck speed to squeeze the sharp pain of ice out.

Yesterday, Baba, her guiding parent, came for tea.  Talk of the schedule and the spiritual goals this year.  She lives 5 minutes away on the south side of the temple where she carefully watches her charges, advising them on their daily life, on how to wake up to the spiritual aspects of existence. Her eyes see the bald truth and she’s not afraid to relay it even though it may hurt. Fearless, but thought of as insensitive and un-Japanese by many.

She has devoted most of her life to these teachings, the teachings of Nirvana. The wide world is encapsulated inside her temple precincts, so there is no need to go very far outside. Sharp questions are asked about the regularity of visiting the temple whilst on holiday, and how many hundreds of certain mantras were said on certain dates.

Today we will go to the city temple to meditate on the tenth floor on an office block. This period of austerities is softened because the masters did all the severe training. We will ride in a comfortable car and an elevator thanks to them paving the way. Gratitude must fill our very nostrils especially during this 2-week period.

Gassho

 

 

Article 10: All Rivers Flow into One Ocean

the moon

This is the last article in a series of 10 devoted to presenting the little known Nirvana Teachings, the final instructions of the Buddha given from his deathbed. The series has looked at various fundamentals for all Buddhist practice: Buddha Nature; Emptiness; The True Self; Chunda and the possibility of anyone whether lay or monastic reaching Nirvana and going beyond it within their lifetime; the importance of the mystical; how to get to the Land Immovable; the importance of and truth about meditation; and the eternal existence of the Buddha’s teachings in the Dharmakaya, or Body of the Dharma. In this article, I would like to go beyond all duality to a situation in which all paths of faith unite into one enormous ocean, the great ocean of Nirvana, by alluding to my recent personal experience brought about by practicing the Nirvana teachings for the last 9 years.

Dharmakaya 1We are often told by our masters to accept everything as practice. At first, it is impossible to understand this in logical terms. Should we walk away from injustice or unfairness? Should we lie down and get trodden on by bullies, corporate giants or dictatorial organizations? Should we tightly control ourselves and behave like robots? How can we accept everything and every situation when we are up to our neck in the delusions of samsara? When we look at this instruction logically it does seem enigmatic, but of course, it is connected to the mystical aspects of Buddhahood which range far outside any logic or reasoning.

Recently, through meditation training and dealing with everyday life as a lay practitioner, I have found myself in a difficult place, which is a challenge to describe, but I will try. The following may not be logical or comprehensible to your rational mind because it is based in the spiritual or tantric, but it may touch something in your heart.

We are taught that profound gratitude and humility are central to reaching Nirvana or complete liberation. Repentance and confession are also deemed important. We are also warned that we should continue to practice one teaching with one master. We can understand that constancy and mindfulness in every second of our existence will help us to overcome our shortcomings so that we can move closer to realizing the Bodhisattva ideal and releasing ourselves from all cravings.clairvoyrant Buddha

All of these elements of practice are important, but I believe that one can easily become attached to practice and be unaware of it. In my case, I think that has happened recently.

When we have practiced in earnest a great deal there may come a time to be less self-conscious of our practice. It is important to remember that once the gods walked among us in the Golden Age of humanity. The divine spark in every being was burning brightly because we were pure and our karmic debts were as yet non-existent. We were spiritually awake, not slumbering and responding blindly to delusions by becoming attached. The notion of uchu-Apractice in modern English implies doing or acting, but in post 15th century it often alluded to a profession, e.g. medicine or law, implying that a skill had to be performed repeatedly in order to perfect it. Gradually, the practical or ordinary human attitude prevailed as we moved increasingly further and further away from the divine. Finally, in our present degenerate times, we so-called developed people are so tightly wedged into secular lives that we have to obsessively practice in order to make perhaps faint contact with our remote higher selves, our connection with the divine.breath

In a way, the phrase ‘spiritual practice’ is a paradox because the word ‘practice’ implies human effort to acquire a skill or a practical approach, whereas the word ‘spiritual’ relates to the invisible world or some kind of universal truth. It is doubtful that spirit needs practice in the same way as humans do – using determination and physical power to overcome adversity, to acquire skills and knowledge which requires intellectual effort and often repetition. The spirit can transcend effortlessly through mystical connections. Spiritualis in medieval Latin meant ‘of or pertaining to breath, breathing, wind or air.’ It relates well then with ‘aspiration,’ another term for religious effort. Aspiration implies breathing, raising; whereas effort is a human quality. Perhaps we aspire to instantly recognizing our true nature, our true spirit or energy, and we make efforts to live in a compassionate balanced way, aiming to create harmony in our communities.

So today, we must deliberately and self-consciously reposition the spiritual at the centre of our lives as it once was in order to excel as human beings or Bodhisattvas. In my case, I feel I have through dogged habituation reduced my ‘practice’ to human effort made from human motivation, so quite suddenly I found it necessary to stop practicing and to carefully examine my motivation. By ceasing my strenuous daily practice I immediately felt a huge release, which served as proof that I had in some way been practicing for practising’s sake.

blink

Another factor in arriving at this watershed in my process of transformation relates to the Tibetan Spiritual leader, the Dali Lama. The last 20 years have seen a great deal of suffering among Tibetan practitioners as a result of the ban on the practice of Dorje Shugden, Dharma Protector, as spirit worship proclaimed by the Dali Lama himself. As a Tibetan Buddhist I briefly experienced this practice, and many of my friends are in turmoil as a result of it. This is without doubt a strong sign of the disintegration of the Dharma predicted by various Holy Beings over time, and it has deeply disturbed me.

Dorje Shugden

Dorje Shugden, Dharma Protector

It seems that our age of seething diversity and the gratification of the senses mentioned above, has become compounded by this unjustifiable and high-handed behavior of one of the greatest spiritual leaders of our time. The inflicting of such a breach on good Buddhists, of leaving them high and dry without their protector, is harsh and intolerable and I believe meant to shake all our foundations of faith. Can one of the chief exponents of the Buddha Dharma defy his own gurus and actually intentionally destroy it? Such acts force us to look at our faith, to place ourselves on one side or the other of the arguments. They test our unconditional compassion and our pacifism as Buddhists.

To try to see clearly, I went on brief retreat at the beach full of a mixture of my new freedom and my concerns for the survival of the Dharma. There where the sky and the ocean meet I realised that everything was one and I too was one with it. It was a remarkable moment during which everything and everyone in my life suddenly merged into one, which I recognized as the Dharmakaya, or God, or the Universal source, call it what you may. In this state, there was no separation at all, and no questions. I deeply understood that I was not separate from or different to my gurus, especially the Dali Lama, or the range of my spiritual teachers across the religious gamut, and that I was deeply loved and blessed by all the holy beings exactly as I was. I no longer had to arduously strip away all the badness and imperfections, but simply rest still in the great silence. In that state, I could see clearly that the Dali Lama’s behavior was my behavior too.

all rivers flow into the ocean

The vast ocean of Nirvana was there before my eyes, and all the rivers of the faiths I have been connected to in my life filled with diversity, were flowing freely into it. I have never been more convinced that all faiths are one and should become one again as they once were. Imagine all the people of the world as divine beings of one faith, one heart, one mind, with united sacred missions. This is how people lived in the Golden Era long before the deterioration into diversity and secularization that we witness today, and long before the Buddha Shakyamuni or Tibetan Buddhism’s foundation.

In Chapter 23 of the final teachings, Bodhisattva Lion’s Roar, the Buddha teaches the importance of observing the Holy Precepts (laws of moral discipline), of entering into Holy Meditation, and of acquiring Holy Wisdom by first stating what they are not – an approach fashionable among religious teachers in India at that time:

Holy Precepts are not practiced:

  • for your own happiness
  • for the sake of profit or worldly affairs
  • out of fear that you may fall into the lower realms of suffering
  • to avoid encountering danger or unhappiness
  • to avoid being punished
  • to avoid damage to your reputation

Holy Meditation should not be practiced:

  • for your own enlightenment and benefit
  • for your own safety
  • to avoid negative things such as greed, being free from impurities, etc
  • to avoid disputes and physical violence

Holy Wisdom cannot be acquired with the following thoughts: If I become wise I shall….

  • be able to liberate myself and escape the suffering realms, as no human can liberate all beings from the sufferings of birth and death
  • be able to become enlightened quickly, eliminating all delusions now I have encountered the Buddha, which is as rare as the blooming of an udambara flower (blooming once every 3000 years)
  • be able to overcome the agonies of birth, aging, sickness, death and shine a light on my spiritual darkness

When we are truly practicing for the sake of others, we are not conscious of the form of wisdom, or meditation, or even the precepts, for they are our true nature. We do not have to be self-conscious of them. They are housed in our stupa, (a repository of holy relics) integral to our ancient unconscious minds. Through sincere practice in each moment of our lives combined with the ripening of past karma I believe we may reach a point where the massive storehouse of all our experience of visible and invisible worlds, outside the limitations of the artificial concepts of time and space, is purified or transformed to enable our foundations to no longer be undermined. That day on the beach I had the sensation that the tiniest grain of gravel preventing my foundations from sinking squarely into the earth was removed. I felt the unwavering heart of eternity beating in my chest along with huge compassion for the Dali Lama, his exiled people and all practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism across the world..

I believe that in my busy householder’s life I had practiced intermittently in form only with the vague idea that as long as I completed the ‘targets’ of my practice, I would not fall off the path or from grace. This is an entirely human way of practicing. I had forgotten my solemn vow as follows, and misplaced the joy of living a life filled with the blessings of all holy beings.

‘As one with wisdom I wish to carry the burden of the inexpressible agony of all beings on my shoulders. I wish to remove people’s poverty, crudeness, insidious wishes, and to soak up their poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance. I implore people to let go of their greed and lust, and not to be bound by their desire to have a good reputation and respect. I wish to free people from the cycle of birth and death, but will stay in that cycle myself to guide every last one to Nirvana. I wish every sentient being to attain perfect universal enlightenment, and to recognize and cherish their divine origins and missions.’

spiritual practice

So, through the ever-presence I have once more experienced the flooding of pure joy into my being. My divine spark is flaming steadily again, and when I do practice it is done with my total sincerity. In other words, my practice is not separate from me, and it is for the most part formless as I go about my busy life.

With each breath, each blink of the eye, each thought as it arises, we are a Buddha, an awakened one, here in the centre of the moment. We are each flawless, inspirational and universal beings. We should look no further, for we are the divine. To make our Buddha or True Nature shine for the sake of others should be our true mission.

Interfaith Harmony and Unity

Interfaith Harmony and Unity

 

The next series of posts will be called ‘Beyond Dualism’ and will explore the works of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) – Indian philosopher; Moshe Feldenkrais(1904-1984) – movement specialist; and F.M.Alexander (1869-1955) – body re-education specialist, in the light of Buddhism. They were three free thinkers who glimpsed something beyond duality and greatly touched my life and my faith.

Krishnamurti

Moshe Feldenkrais

Moshe Feldenkrais

F.M.Alexander

F.M.Alexander