Some thoughts on Faith

Impossible?

I briefly looked at Christianity in my younger days but I never embraced it fully. However, being brought up in a Christian society I have some idea of what faith means in that belief system. Perhaps my understanding is incomplete and I stand to be corrected. Within the theistic religions it seems to be a strong belief in something that cannot be tested or verified in a logical, rational way. For many believers it is a prerequisite of following their path, although perhaps not all modern Christians would hold to such blind faith.

With this understanding (possibly incomplete) I have sometimes found it hard to grasp what people mean when talking about faith in a Buddhist context. Is there something, a greater power in which a Buddhist has faith? The Buddha taught that there is no creator/God/higher power and yet at the same time many scriptures seem to imply that there is something beyond our ‘small mind’, although this is not a creator figure. I think Reverend Master Jiyu implied this but perhaps I misunderstand her teaching.

Recently I listened to a Dharma talk by Reverend Master Shiko Rom, a monk at Shasta. She quoted from a booklet put together by Reverend Master Koten in which he says that “Faith is not the belief in particular things, it is rather active willingness and the activity of continuing on.”  (The talk is well worth listening to and this quote is around the 23rd minute. The link is below). This definition resonates with me and after many years of training I feel a strong faith growing.

I believe that it is a faith rooted in my experience of training. After all, in the beginning no matter how strongly we may be attracted to Buddhist practice (and I was) we have only the scriptures and the words of others to go by. The Buddha said that we should not believe what he said but rather we should find out for ourselves whether what he taught was true. Knowing this is, in part, what caused my confusion when I also heard people talk about having faith while training.

However, little by little I have seen how training has changed me and benefited my life. Thus, when I now come up against obstacles and often great pain, I am better able to tell myself to just keep going; to be willing to take another step even if at that moment I can see no light at the end of the tunnel. But it is also important that when doing this I have no expectation as to the particular outcome or way through the difficulties that I might like. That imposes an expectation of my ego and prevents me from simply embracing whatever comes.

I don’t think training ever gets easier. To break through the delusions of mind and samsara requires constant diligence and effort, perhaps even more as time goes on because the mind tricks become more subtle. Yet within the challenges there has grown a certain quiet understanding that all I have to do is to keep going and that comes from my experience. I think that is faith.

I would love to hear what anyone else thinks. This is the link to the talk https://shastaabbey.org/audio/rmsWhatItMeansToTrainWithABrightHeart19.mp3

https://shastaabbey.org/audio/rmsWhatItMeansToTrainWithABrightHeart19.mp3

Inside – Outside: Contemplating the Nature of a Bowl

Inside – Outside | Bowl, flax fiber pulp, turmeric root, acrylic pigment

A bowl is in essence a secluded space. The form creates a seclusion which can hold content. With the form, an Inside and an outside come into being, a certain relation between the two is established.  It is a dynamic relationship, it changes depending on dimensions, perception and point of view.

Inside and outside are relative, changeable, they are not absolute truths. The temporary labels of “inside” and “outside” do not impact or divide the space in any way. The immuration by the form results in a temporary modulation of the space, when the limitation of the form disappears, the labels “inside” and “outside” disappear, leaving space unchanged, undivided, unbound as it ever is.  Objects do not hold space, the space holds objects from time to time.

The project”Inside – Outside” is based on the observation that like form and space, who we are has a changeable, dynamic aspect and a stable, unchanging aspect.

Our dynamic aspect has to do with our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, experiences, our body. They change, they come and go and don’t last. The child that we have been had different thoughts, feelings, perceptions and a body then our adolescent self, then our thirty, forty year old self.

That which does not come and go is the faculty within, with which we know thoughts, feelings, perceptions and experiences. Like the essence of space remains unchanged by the form of an object in that space, the awareness with which we know the changing scenery of mind and body is not affected by that scenery. Thoughts, feelings, perceptions and experiences as mind objects may veil the awareness but leave it undisturbed in its always peaceful state. Mind and body do not hold awareness, awareness holds mind and body from time to time, it is our unchanging, unbound essence.

Which Way?

Karen Richards

At a recent meeting, the Dew on the Grass team asked the question of ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of our website?’. We quickly came back with the answer, ‘To express what Buddhist training means to us in our everyday lives.

So, as one year closes and another begins, I thought I would share a feature of my personal altar that I am especially fond of. This little figurine came from a playset that one of my daughters had for Christmas circa 1990. The other bits of the set got lost or were passed onto other children, over the years but I laid claim to this one.

At the time I claimed her, she resembled me in some ways. I used to have a purple cardigan that looked a bit like the one she is wearing. I still had colour in my hair, too! More characteristically, is the position she is holding. One arm outstretched, open-handed and the other to her forehead; looking, searching – which way?

For many years, she was placed by the front door on a small window ledge but the advent of grandchildren meant that she often got knocked over or got drawn into a game and I would find her abandoned under a table. Of course, she was meant to be played with but to me, she had become a reminder to always keep an open heart, to accept what comes in life and to keep asking the question, ‘Which way?’.

We wish you all a peaceful and joyous 2020!

Dancing in the Dark

Karen Richards

It is the shortest day of the year and I am sitting in my conservatory, looking out across my garden. The rain pounds against the roof; a deep, primaeval sound. We are set for more storms and floods in the west of Britain and yet across the world, down under, the Bush is ablaze.

I have the naive thought – if only Britain’s rain could put out Australia’s fires and short phrases of the Scripture of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisatva pop up in my mind – ‘the fiery pit’; ‘when rain in torrents pour’….

I become still and into my awareness comes the young couple who live next door. Only days ago they lost a baby; a much-longed-for child born dead. I lift my eyes across the yard, past the shed to their back door and silently transfer merit.

The news had shocked me to my core. ‘If there’s anything I can do’, I said and then anxious not to leave the words empty of meaning, took in parcels, put away their dustbin, offered to shop. I had knocked the door sheepishly, not wanting to intrude but the pale face that greeted me said ‘It’s s ***t’ and I nodded in agreement. We hugged in a swaying embrace on the doorstep and I joined her in her chant of expletives – a sort of song and dance of solidarity in sorrow.

‘Have coffee with me’, she said. So I did. I hoped it helped her. I know it helped me.

‘In all the world, in all the quarters, There is not a place where Kanzeon does not go’*

I’m still again. The garden is starting to take on its twilight shades and I notice, on the windowsill, a spare set of fairy lights, left over from my festive house decorating. It would be nice to put them up around the shed, I think. They will sway and twinkle in the long, wet and windy night ahead and I will remember, what the Ancients knew, that even in the stormiest of times, compassion is still dancing in the dark.

  • The Scripture of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisatva from The Liturgy of The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives

A Quiet Voice in a Noisy World

Karen Richards

The world is very noisy, right now. Competing voices vie for your attention, your allegiance and your vote. Cheers of celebration resound from the victorious. Deep groans of despair emerge from the defeated. Shrieks of jingoism juxtaposed with cries of betrayal can be heard on all sides. Even if you are reading this in a place other than the UK, there will be similar chants, tussles and rumblings. It’s easy to get caught in the noise – trapped by it. It can be addictive, like a drug. I know – I’ve been there.

As a society, we seem to be most attracted to those who speak loudest. Not just in politics but in life generally. Wild gesticulations excite us. Rousing speech moves us to action and to acceptance of action done in our name. I have seen it in the workplace as well as the wider world. It can be difficult for those of us who have a quieter voice to be heard.

How can the ‘quiet voice people’ have any influence in a world gone mad for noise? I don’t have all the answers but I do know they can have an impact on those around them. In meetings, I have often looked to the silent colleague at the table to speak, once those who bluster have piped down, and found they have the most useful thing to say. And I was shocked when a friend asked me to come to her husband’s funeral, a man I didn’t really know. I queried why, as she had numerous colleagues, friends and family who knew the couple well, to support her, did she want me there. She replied, ‘I need to feel your quiet presence in the room’. I was, of course, pleased to go and both humbled and in awe that she sensed and valued something that was helpful, by virtue of the absence of something else – unnecessary noise.

In an age when personality, celebrity image and clever sound bites seem to ‘get the job done’, it feels even more important to listen carefully to the ‘sound of silence’. In Buddhist practice, we nurture this daily but I am always encouraged to learn that it is not just those of us who meditate as part of our training who tap into this universal pot of gold. I am attaching a piece from Brain Pickings that illustrates this point. May we all know the joy of silence and then let silence roar!

https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/09/08/the-sound-of-silence-goldsaito-kuo/

A bench and a mat

Last week I went out to join in with a local ‘mixed’ meditation group.  It being late when I got home, I left my meditation bench and zabuton in the back of my car.

The following day, having to transport some passengers unexpectedly, I took the equipment out and left it temporarily on the roof of my husband’s car which stands next to mine in the garage. And forgot all about it.

My husband rarely goes anywhere in the car, but, unusually, was taking his grandson to the train station that morning.  By sheer chance, I looked out of the bedroom window to watch them drive off and was horrified to see my meditation equipment still on the roof of his car!  I yelled out of the window but of course he couldn’t possibly have heard me.  So I rushed downstairs and jumped into my car in pursuit, (Follow that car!), thinking it would certainly have fallen off at one of the series of bends on our country lane.

Not a bit of it.  I reached the main road and, about 100 yards from the junction, there were my bench and zabuton lying in the middle of the road.  I stopped, put on my hazard lights and retrieved them. What a relief.  But the whole episode prompted some interesting thoughts.

I have had this bench and mat for nearly thirty years, having bought them in the days when Throsssel Hole Buddhist Abbey still made and sold such things.  Although mostly these days I sit on a chair, (old age, disease and death), they are still very precious to me.  And I treat them, as we treat, for instance, our kesas and our altar equipment, with respect and love.  So to see them lying in the middle of the highway was truly shocking.

Of course, my mind ran on, as it does, and I imagined how it would have been if they’d been run over by traffic, which had in fact clearly avoided them.  But one big truck would have wrecked them, smashed the bench and ground the mat into the mud.  How unbelievably fortunate that I happened to look out of my window, sentimentally really, to wave goodbye.  Because if I hadn’t, I might never have realised what had happened, and even been baffled and distressed by their apparent ‘disappearance’.  And would I ever have seen the mangled wreck on the road, or even identified it?

The whole episode reminded me of a trip we made years ago to Disney, and one of the rides which took us through various ‘scenarios’ (before plunging us over a precipice to certain, well almost certain… death).  One of these was some sort of desert scene, with sand and a smashed buddha statue.  Landscape, cinema, but I remember being shocked and actually offended at the time, that something that represented important beliefs for me was lying broken and used as part of a tourist experience.  

We invest objects with importance beyond their value.  And we need of course sometimes to be aware of that. Bells, gongs, incense, water have no magical properties; but how fortunate we are to have human brains which allow us to value things in different ways and to use objects and association to bring us back to what really matters to us.  A smashed bench would not, in the order of things, have been a huge tragedy, but the pain for me, because of all that I have associated with it, would have been very hard to bear.  

The Healing Buddha (accessible) Retreat

Shallowford House, Shallowford, Stone, Staffordshire, ST15 0NZ – Karen Richards


A retreat aimed at people who train with long-term physical illness and disability and who feel that they would benefit from some time with others in a similar situation is to be held during the five days of Monday 13th of April and Friday 17th April 2020. There will be the same spiritual focus and purpose of a regular retreat but with a high degree of flexibility and time for rest and personal reflection. Both Reverend Saido and Rev. Mugo will be attending.

All activities will be made as accessible as possible and one of the key features will be the opportunity to explore different postures and ways of meditating that work for the individual. There will be time for sharing experience of training with a long-term physical illness or disability both in a group but also more informally with the other retreatants.

Arrival is between 2 pm and 4 pm on Monday 13th April 2020. The rest of the day will be ‘settling in time.’ From Tuesday through Thursday there will a flexible schedule of optional activities so that people can judge for themselves when they need to rest. The retreat will end after breakfast on Friday the 17th.

Shallowford House is very welcoming and accommodating of people with illness and disability. Most bedrooms have an en-suite bathroom. There are limited bedrooms on the ground floor but there will be a lift, able to take people (and wheelchairs if used), up to the first floor. Apart from one small internal step, it is fairly easy to move around the building. We are asking people to let us know their specific mobility and general comfort needs so that we can make the retreat work for them. This might include aids to help them shower, sleep, sit comfortably and rest well. Just ask and we will try our best to provide it.

For people who need a carer, we have some limited accommodation for them to stay, too. Carers are welcome to take part in the retreat itself or simply take time out to enjoy Shallowford’s walks and scenery.

We are asking for donations, in the usual way. We do not want anyone to be excluded on the grounds of finance. However, for guidance, a suggested donation would be £340 per person for the 4-night stay, to include all meals, towels and soap. Please do not send money in advance of the retreat; there will be a begging bowl available during the stay.

Please contact Karen Richards at healingretreat@tbpriory.co.uk for further details. You are also welcome to speak with Reverend Saido or Reverend Mugo if you prefer.

“Do Not Covet”

Charlie Holles

I have recently been considering the third of the 10 Great Precepts, perhaps due to challenges that my life is giving me at present. The definition of covet is ‘to crave or long for something, especially that which belongs to someone else – even to lust after’. In general, I think of coveting as cravings, perhaps jealousy, of material things owned by another or perhaps jealousy of their status or achievements.
I wonder if coveting could be extended to include health? Currently I am experiencing difficult health challenges, which are in part due to age. At times I can look at others (especially people of my age or older) who seem to be in much better health and feel a little frustrated at my situation. This is particularly so because at times things impact quite a lot on the many commitments I have.
Yet this coveting of the state of someone else takes me away from exactly what my life is right now. It is a lack of acceptance, a clinging to how I would like things to be and this causes further mental suffering on top of the physical difficulties. Of course, accepting does not mean that I should not do what I can to work with medical and health practitioners to improve things. But as the Buddha taught, the source of our peace of mind is completely within the mind and I am coming to accept that it is possible that there might not be a lot of improvement.
I have friends who enquire about my health, knowing that things are pretty hard for me at the moment. Of course, they do this out of concern and I am grateful for that but there is a danger that they and I can begin to define me by my illness. That is not who I am. Now I try to respond by saying that ‘it is what it is’ rather than saying that I have had a bad few days or week.
It seems to me that most dissatisfaction stems from a lack of acceptance of conditions as they are. This does not mean we should be fatalistic and not try to make positive changes if appropriate. Yet, in many ways, life happens to us and we have very little control over much of what comes our way. Over the last couple of years, I have come to a greater understanding of what acceptance means for me. This has been a great relief as I have always been someone who has gone out to plough my own patch; to do things, often against the odds. As a result, I have led a rich and varied life (for which I am grateful) but if I am honest it has often been far from a peaceful and contented one. Difficult though things are at the moment I am also finding gratitude as I can learn much from how my life is and acceptance of the conditions can help me find greater peace of mind. After all, ‘the koan arises in daily life’. The bedrock and practice of our Buddhist training is in all that comes our way each day.