Something Done in a Small Moment ~ by Chris Yeomans

Continuing our theme of “Something Done in a Small Moment”, our second post is a very moving piece by Chris Yeomans.

In June 2014 I drove over to Ely from my home in Norwich to collect my new puppy. Unsure how keen he would be on travelling, I decided that he could be contained in a large plastic garden tub, out of which he would not be able to climb. The puppy did not share my views. I settled him in it on the passenger seat, secured the seat belt around the tub and got into the driver’s seat. Immediately he decided to try to climb out.

He was eight weeks old and still had those piercing, puppy blue eyes, which later turned the usual adult dog brown. I put my hand into the tub to try to settle him. He looked up at me and met my gaze directly. Our eyes locked and I think in that moment of intensity, he bonded with me. He settled down on the blanket, keeping one eye on me, and has been reluctant to be very far away from me ever since.

Some twenty years earlier, I went to Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey for the Jukai (lay ordination) ceremonies. I hadn’t really got any idea what I was letting myself in for. I was a relatively new member of the Norwich group and a rare opportunity arose of having some childcare, which allowed me to take the week away. So I booked in. The ceremonies were memorable and often spectacular. It was a great week to be at Throssel and I had, of course, decided to commit to the practice and to the Order. But on the whole, I was underwhelmed.

I did what I was told to do, walked where I was required to walk, and meditated when scheduled to do so. And then came the part of the ceremony where the new ordinee is presented with his or her bloodline certificate, the Kechimyaku. I went up to the altar where Reverend Master Daishin was seated. He handed me the beautifully folded envelope. For a brief moment, I looked up at him and he looked straight back at me. It felt as if some kind of intuitive understanding passed between us. And that feeling has never left me.

It suddenly felt like such a huge thing. Here it was, a certificate with my name on it and a red line going directly to this Master and beyond, through the whole lineage. Connecting me, someone totally unknown and pretty insignificant, me, with this mighty inheritance. And there was and is no going back. That was a commitment which is unbreakable. And there have been times during the journey when I have seriously thought about trying to break it. But I can’t. I can have barren periods where I seem to do very little except just be, I can have more active times, I can just live an ordinary daily life, but I can never not be a part of that line.

Just one small moment of direct eye contact and my world was altered in perpetuity. I had neither sought it nor expected it. It just happened. And it still takes my breath away.

Reflections on an aspect of Dharma practice: ‘leading a horse to the water…’ ~ By SiafuAntony ~ Part of the ” Something that happened in a small moment” series.

Over the next few weeks, Dew on the Grass is featuring writings, photography and artwork around the theme of “Something that happened in a small moment”. Our first offering is a lovely piece by SiafuAntony, with accompanying images.

I learned a lesson last evening. Having my eldest grandson on a visit, 18 years young, on the threshold of adulthood age, I really do not know him well; extremely taciturn, he does not readily convey his inner thoughts, although I do get the impression he is quite a “deep thinker”.

I took this time as an opportunity to get to know him, to discover what motivates him, moves him, and so on. I thought to take him on a gentle amble at sunset, to a spot I prize over a bridge at the local railway line, facing west, where the sun sets perfectly over the hills, about 8 miles distant.

It is one of my favoured places that I love to visit, especially at the moment of dusk, as the rapidly changing light presents (to me, at any rate) a feeling of “time standing still”  and a glimpse of the “eternal here and now “.

As we sat by the pavement’s edge, I noticed that he looked tired, bored and intensely irritated by the hovering flies, glancing at his watch and then at me; it became obvious that ‘the moment’ entirely escaped him!

 

It forced me to reflect on a passage somewhere in the Dharma literature, which states that one should never impose one’s beliefs willy-nilly onto another!!
Lesson learned…

130 Years Old: Part 3 ~ part of the Ebb Tide series ~ by Anna Aysea

The third and final part in the series by Anna Ayse.

Free Essence-162, Niyoko Ikuta, Hand-cut laminated sheet glass
Free Essence-162, Niyoko Ikuta, Hand-cut laminated sheet glass

Having listed in part one the various referents of “I” and defined reality as that which is and which cannot cease to be, having established in part two that, based on experience, awareness does not depend on the body-mind and is not subject to birth and death, in this final part we continue the investigation into the reality of the self and the disappearance of birth and death.

Taking our stance as the space of awareness and simply observing mind activity as we do in meditation, is a good step in disentangling “I awareness” from identification with its body-mind activity. However, taking our stance as the space of awareness is not enough to fully uproot the identification with the body-mind and to debunk the ingrained belief: “I was born and I am going to die”. And while this belief still persists, the innate peace of the self is only experienced intermittently through the prism of the finite self as the devotee longing for her/his spiritual home. The innate peace of the self is not experience undisturbed as a result of realizing one’s true nature. Most of us are familiar with the position of the one longing for her/his true home. It is however the realization that “I” is not subject to birth and death, that is, the end of the belief in a finite, separate self, the teaching is pointing to as the subject matter of the spiritual path.

To believe that ”I am finite, I am subject to birth and death” and then, from that position, try to accept death is an oxymoron. The only way birth and death can disappear is when the inherited belief in the finite self is challenged, investigated, uprooted and debunked. That’ll effectively finish the psychological fear of death. Overcoming the fear of death and reflecting back to loved ones the unchanging reality of their true self is the greatest gift we can give them. It is not necessary to arrive at full realization of the self. Doubting the belief in the finite self enough to arrive at the open position of “I don’t know” is already a heavy blow to a groundless belief and a solid basis for further investigation.

Beside awareness remaining steady over time and being without a beginning or an end, a further question may be asked: Is it localized, limited in space to this body-mind? In other words, do all 7 billion of us have each our own pocket of awareness separately generated by 7 billion body-minds? Or is there only one, indivisible awareness or Buddha Nature which is the same – not similar – but exactly the same reality of all body-minds, like water is the reality of all waves? Observation of direct experience reveals that awareness cannot be divided up like that, that all body-minds share the same, indivisible awareness, it is the shared being we experience. This means that the self, “I awareness” is not personal, it is universal.

After sufficient investigation, if we are willing to take on board that the self, our true nature, is not “I the body-mind” but is “I awareness”, and if we are willing to take on board the idea that, based on experience, the body-mind is in fact within the space of awareness, that awareness is the reality of the body-mind and not the other way round, that opens up the possibility to end duality in sensory experience of a self on the inside and a world of discrete objects on the outside. The investigative steps for uprooting and debunking the self-world duality in sensory experience is beyond the scope of this writing.

After the belief in the finite self has been debunked by tracing back “I” to its source and realizing that the self is not subject to birth and death, reactive patterns in the body-mind formed by a lifetime belief in the separate self, may still continue to arise. For example, primary fear as a result of trauma at infancy can take long to dissolve. An example of primary fear is terror first thing at waking up, prior to any thought, or terror without clear and present danger. Since these conditionings have been laid down very early, prior to conceptual thinking, they are hard wired into the system and take longer to dissolve completely then thought generated fear. However even deep conditionings will have ceased to obscure the reality of “I” for long, once the underlying belief in the finite self has been investigated and uprooted.

Free Essence-18, Niyoko Ikuta, Hand-cut laminated sheet glass
Free Essence-18, Niyoko Ikuta, Hand-cut laminated sheet glass

130 Years Old: Part 2 ~ part of the Ebb Tide Series ~ by Anna Aysea

Plexus no. 30, Sewing thread sculpture by Gabriel Dawe
Plexus no. 30, Sewing thread sculpture by Gabriel Dawe

Part two of Anna Aysea’s exploration of the nature of reality. Her final post will appear on Friday evening.

Having listed in part one the various referents of “I” and defined reality as that which is and which cannot cease to be, we can continue the investigation into the reality of the self. Based on experience, what is the unchanging aspect and what is changeable manifestation? According to the mainstream view, awareness, being, is generated by the body and depends on it. In other words, body-mind is the reality that remains constant and awareness is what intermittently appears and disappears, the assumption is that awareness was born and will die with the demise of the body.

But is there any evidence supporting this belief in experience? For instance, the body-mind changes over time, the infant, the 10-year-old, the 20-year-old, and the 60-year-old self, all had different bodies, thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and experiences. The space of awareness within which the subsequent body-minds were known though, has that changed over time? Also, was “I awareness” born together with the body or was it prior to it? Can you imagine for instance a time in the past when the space of awareness, the unchanging background to mind activity, was not, or a time in the future when it will cease to be? We cannot fathom it.

Screwed minds may say its beginning or end being unfathomable is not a hundred per cent proof that awareness has indeed no beginning or end, which is true. But if you have searched both in experience and in imagination and you cannot find any evidence supporting the belief that “I awareness” was born and will die, isn’t it more logical to conclude, at least as a working hypothesis, that awareness, is not subject to birth and death, than to continue a completely unsupported belief that it is?

Plexus no. 24, Sewing thread sculpture by Gabriel Dawe
Plexus no. 24, Sewing thread sculpture by Gabriel Dawe

Every night, in deep sleep, the body-mind – that is the activity of thinking, feeling, sensing, perceiving – falls away altogether. And yet, there is continuity of being, we do not experience that falling away as the death of self. When we say for instance: “I slept well” we are not guessing, we know. Meaning “I”, was present during sleep. Since the body-mind is absent in deep sleep, “I” in this statement can only refer to the faculty which knows experience, which is unchanging and ever-present, that is, awareness.

In terms of the metaphor in part one, the body-mind is the ring or the current, i.e. phenomenal experience, as we know for sure that the body-mind is changeable The space of awareness, Being, is the gold or the water, as it is the unchanging background of phenomenal experience. The space of awareness was not born, it is prior to the birth of the body, and will continue after the disappearance of the body, and because it is unlimited it does not know lack or desire. In other words, based on direct experience, awareness, our true nature, does not share the limitation of the body-mind, it is not subject to impermanence.

Plexus no. 24, Sewing thread sculpture by Gabriel Dawe
Plexus no. 24, Sewing thread sculpture by Gabriel Dawe

The mind is habitually overlooking awareness, because the space of awareness is not an object, – a thought, a feeling, a bodily sensation, a sense perception – so it cannot be known conceptually through the mind or perceptually through the senses. The gap between two thoughts or two perceptions is not a mind object, that gap is not in the same category as mind-objects. Someone living in a country where it perpetually rains and the sky is always overcast may mistake a patch of blue sky that appears one day, for a blue cloud. But the patch of blue sky is not in the same category as the clouds. The blue sky is the limitless unchanging space within which clouds intermittently arise and disappear. Similarly, the space of awareness is not in the same category as thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and sense perceptions, it does not depend in any way on these phenomenal activities. Awareness is and knows itself by itself, this is our experience every night in deep sleep.

The investigation will be continued in the final part, part three.

The artworks in this article are by Gabriel Dawe, an artist fascinated by clouds and the sky. His sewing thread installations explore the way how light blends in the sky.

130 Years Old: Part 1 ~ part of the Ebb Tide series ~ by Anna Aysea

Our next offering, in the Ebb Tide series, is a feature in three parts by Anna Aysea. In these articles, Anna asks these questions: What is the reality of life and death in direct experience? What is the self? And how can they be made to disappear? She illustrates this very personal interpretation of the teachings of the Heart Sutra, through the use of artworks made from gold. Look out for Part 2 on Wednesday and Part 3 on Friday.

The Everchanging Ring Collection by Jana Brevick
The Everchanging Ring Collection by Jana Brevick

After dinner, as we were sitting at the table having tea, R. seemed to be in a philosophical mood. He looked up at the ceiling, a furrowed brow, head slightly tilted to one side.
“So… when you are.. 130 years old… how old will I then be?”
“Er.. lemme see… you are now 13, that would be 13 plus… 73, then you would be… a grown man. But I am not sure I am going to be able to make it till 130, sweetheart.”
For R. the concept of time doesn’t mean much, as of yet, so an age of 130 years did not strike him as extraordinary.

“Okay, when you are… 90… how old will I then be…”
“Then you would be… also a grown man.”
“Hm.. it would be nice if you could see me grow up…”
“Well, you never know how life is going to turn out but I am very much planning on seeing you grow up sweetie. And since I am in excellent health there is no reason to believe that that cannot happen.”
“Hm” R. nodded.

Fear of death does not depend on age. The movement of the tides, birth and death, according to the Buddhist teaching, disappear when we study them, the scripture states that when we study the self, we forget the self.

So, what is the reality of life and death in direct experience? What is the self? And how can they be made to disappear? For most of us, we grew up with the belief that “I was born and I am going to die”. And for most of us, this inherited belief was taken at face value. The Buddhist teaching invites us to challenge this long-held belief. What is the supporting evidence for the belief that the self, “I” was born and that it is going to die? To answer this question, first, we need to examine what we mean by the self.
The common term used to refer to the self is the first person, the pronoun “I”. We say “I” all day, every day. What exactly is it we refer to when we say “I”? There are several referents in fact. Consider the following.

  • “I need new tyres ” Here, “I” refers to my car. An accepted use where there is no confusion involved: I know I am not my car.
  • “I have an infected leg.” Here “I” refers to the body.
  • “I am 36 years old.” Here “I” refers to a thought, a concept, that is, “I” refers to the mind.
  • “I understand. I see. I hear. I feel”. Here “I” refers to that which perceives, which knows experience, that is, “I” refers to awareness, to Being, the true self as the knowing faculty of experience.

While the first instance is fairly clear, most of us do know we are not our car, what may not be so apparent are the two following referents of “I”: the body and the mind. The dominant belief is: I am this body-mind, this collection of thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions. In fact, many people will not recognize the last reference, awareness – the space within which mind objects of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and sense perceptions arise and are known – as something that is independent of the body-mind and so believe that body-mind and awareness are one and the same. Not only that, the common materialistic belief is that awareness, Buddha Nature in Buddhist terms, depends on the body, is generated by the body, resides in the body, and therefore shares the limitations of the body. Most, unfortunately, it is supposed that ”I awareness” will cease to be at the demise of the body. Hence the belief: I am finite and limited; I am subject to impermanence.

The Everchanging Ring 1 by Jana Brevick. Forged 24k gold
The Everchanging Ring 1 by Jana Brevick. Forged 24k gold

To investigate the reality of the body mind and awareness in direct experience, we need to establish what we mean by reality. A straightforward definition of reality can be as follows. The reality of something is that which it is made of, it is the unchanging aspect of something which cannot be removed from it, in other words, it’s the true nature of something. For instance, the reality of a golden ring is the gold it is made from. The ring can be melted, so the form can be removed, but its essence, the gold, cannot. When the temporary form “ring” disappears, its reality, the gold, can take the shape of another form, like a necklace, a bracelet, etc.
Similarly, the reality of a wave or a current in the ocean is the water. The current can cease to be, its reality, the water, remains and can exist without any activity. The same water that formed the current, can, after the dissipation of the current, take the form of ice, snow, steam, or one of the many other manifestations of water.

In short, reality is that which is, in and by itself, not dependent on anything, it is that which cannot cease to be. You could say that reality is that which is unchanging and ever-present, and manifestation is the temporary name and form reality intermittently takes.

The Heart Sutra, also known as  The Scripture of Great Wisdom  describes reality as “increasing not decreasing not”, meaning it is unchanging. The Buddha describes reality as unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, and unformed, meaning it has no cause, it is not subject to birth and death, it simply is by and of itself and is the true source of all phenomena that arise and disappear within it.

Golden necklace, vulture grasping two ankhs, Cairo Museum, Egypt.
Golden necklace, vulture grasping two ankhs, Cairo Museum, Egypt.

The investigation of the reality of the self will be continued in part two.

Ebb Tide ~ by Mo Henderson

The third piece in our Ebb Tide series is written by Mo Henderson. It is a pertinent and welcomed reflection on how “not giving up in times of low ebb” in training, helps us to understand ourselves better.

Things change in daily life, nothing stays the same. Just as the sea drains away from the shore in its outgoing phase and then rises again as the water returns inward, meditation practice can reveal a natural cyclic flow.
I have at times been motivated and determined in my practice, with a real sense of learning and growth, during these times things are experienced as ‘flowing’ and all is feeling well. At other times I’ve felt a loss of momentum and motivation, those are the episodes I’ve found particularly challenging. I was inclined to push away what is actually happening, acting as if I could control or pretend it didn’t exist, as opposed to being with the way things actually were. At other times wallowing in the loss of things not going ‘my way’ and reverting back to old habits, which I now believe was due to needing to know something familiar, like a security blanket.
For me, not giving up in times of low ebb is important and realising it is part of a natural cycle. Indeed this realisation is encouraging because it means there will be a sense of movement and flow to rise again. Acceptance of how things are, keeping meditation practice alive by continuing with daily sitting and not relying on hoping motivation will return, is what I’ve found most helpful. Just keeping up the basics no matter what.
Like King Canut, who proved to his men he did not have the power to control the waves, I believe daily practice can help us learn to move with the natural cyclic rhythm of life. That, together with a vigilance and willingness to train, can be the bridge to ease the way.