Category Archives: Teachings

When the light breaks through

In the first of a special series to mark the 4 Sundays of Advent, TV presenter and star of Inside The Factory, Cherry Healey embarks on a highly personal journey to explore her spiritual beliefs. 

Revisiting key sliding doors moments from her past and re-engaging with key figures who helped shape her life, she experiences moments of revelation and clarity as she questions how faith shaped the person she is today. 

Unflinching in her honesty, Cherry guides us through her life story, talking publicly for the first time about her unique take on spirituality, her relationship with God and her misgivings about the rules of organised religion. Part travelogue, part celebrity biography, the programme offers thought-provoking insights into what it means to have faith in the 21st century, and tells an inspiring faith story that will resonate with everyone in the build up to Christmas.

My Faith and Me, BBC One, Cherry Healey

There are 23 days left to watch this program and it comes recommended. Cherry had a ‘religious experience’ some time in her early life and had struggled to find a context, ‘where to I put this’ I think she said. Her ‘misgivings’ around organized religion are shared with many, me included. For years I thought I’d have to go to India and find ‘somewhere’ to live the ‘contemplative life’. Not that I really knew what that meant in practice.

Fortunately I found somewhere to put/practice what I discovered, unknowingly, in my early life. And that was/is? All things express/transmit the Truth. Simple really.

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Understanding Emptiness

Rev. Master Jiyu would say, “It (emptiness) is the fullest emptiness you will ever know”. She was talking from her own experience and understanding and when ever I heard her say that I thought, “well that’s good” but didn’t ‘get’ what she was saying.

Here is a quote I find rather helpful in understanding the Buddhist concept of emptiness.

I often use the example of a hand in speaking about emptiness; we can call it a hand or we can call it a collection of five fingers. As a collection of five fingers, each finger is independent and has a different shap and function. We cannot exhange the little finger with the thumb because each has its own function, shape, and unique way of being. A thumb cannot do precisely what a little finger does and a little finger cannot do what a thumb does. Each finger is truly independent. And yet, from another perspective as one hand, all five fingers function together, and there is no separation between them. When we see the fingers in this united way, there is really just one hand

Realizing Genjokoan, Shohaku Okumura, p17.
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The Buddha’s Enlightenment

Part of the altar for the Buddha’s Enlightment Festival Ceremony at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey 2018

Last Sunday a number of people came to the monastery to mark the Buddha’s Enlightenment with a ceremony. We sing, we bow, sing some more and offer incense at the main altar. We follow a form I’m very familiar with from having participated in this and other ceremonies for…many years. Thirty something years and I’m not counting.

Like so many aspects of formal monastic life, which I’m revisiting while living at Throssel on an open-ended stay, I’m seeing myself respond to forms we use in our Buddhist tradition (and form generally) differently. That is rather interesting since, heck!, one would imagine ones response to conditions both internal and external would be subject to change! And they are. Conditionable we are, and habits of mind and body do change – in the short-term, long-term and very long-term.

Anyway here are a couple of verses from an invocation we sang on Sunday that caught my attention:

There is a Life beyond the dream,
The dream of life and death.
With naught to have, to want, to know,
IT fills me with each breath.

There is a Real beyond the dream,
Of sacred and profane,
Beyond the mirror of my mind:
No form, no end, no stain.

This post is for all those who find themselves in extremity, physically/emotionally/mentally/spiritually. The above words point to absolute truth through what we term ‘the opposites’. In Zen teaching the relative and the absolute are ‘not two’. Not one and not separate.

On a slightly different note we witnessed, early in the morning the other day while walking to meditation, the moon and Venus rising at the same time. It is said that the Buddha’s was Enlightened on seeing the Morningstar, Venus. Who knows, that was a long time ago and far away.  Certainly caught my attention.

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Smelling like Roses?

Ok world, there are thorns and there are roses, lest we overlook this in the rush to come up smelling like, well roses! It’s relatively easy to see, talk/post about and appreciate the ‘roses’, less so for the ‘thorns’ of our lives.

I do so love this extract from a letter written by Tchaikovsky in this article, Tchaikovsky on Depression and Finding Beauty Amid the Wreckage of the Soul.  This article and so very many others worth reading can be found on the wonderful website Brain Pickings

Tchaikovsky notes his cyclical lapses into depression, undergirded by a dogged dedication to looking for beauty and meaning amid the spiritual wreckage. This intimate tango of sadness and radiance is ultimately what gives his music its timeless edge in penetrating the soul.

I am sitting at the open window (at four a.m.) and breathing the lovely air of a spring morning… Life is still good, [and] it is worth living on a May morning… I assert that life is beautiful in spite of everything! This “everything” includes the following items: 1. Illness; I am getting much too stout, and my nerves are all to pieces. 2. The Conservatoire oppresses me to extinction; I am more and more convinced that I am absolutely unfitted to teach the theory of music. 3. My pecuniary situation is very bad. 4. I am very doubtful if Undine will be performed. I have heard that they are likely to throw me over.

In a word, there are many thorns, but the roses are there too.

One through number four says it all. I know I could come up with a list, perhaps a longer list to be honest. This morning as I looked out of my window, taking in the expanse of the valley, I once again realized that ‘no matter what life circumstances will unfold, pains and worries are present and will change. And all in a timely way but not to my schedule though. A moment of deep appreciation, and confirmation.

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All Relationships End?

Well yes, all relationships do end if you look at the matter from a ‘nothing is separate from anything else’ perspective. However the fact of and the living through the end of a relationship, be it through death or incompatibility or all the reasons people end relationships, the non dual seeing doesn’t take the pain away. Even though I find Rilke hard to follow I get what he is saying. And I think most of us can wish for a split that has some life and goodwill left after the explosion of separation. I remember the pain as more like an internal explosion which lasts some time. Disturbing.

Rilke on how to break up with integrity and preserve friendship after romance.
As soon as two people have resolved to give up their togetherness, the resulting pain with its heaviness or particularity is already so completely part of the life of each individual that the other has to sternly deny himself to become sentimental and feel pity. The beginning of the agreed-upon separation is marked precisely by this pain, and its first challenge will be that this pain already belongs separately to each of the two individuals. This pain is an essential condition of what the now solitary and most lonely individual will have to create in the future out of his reclaimed life.

He considers the measure of a “good breakup” — a separation that, however painful in its immediate loss, is a long-term gain for both partners, individually and together:

If two people managed not to get stuck in hatred during their honest struggles with each other, that is, in the edges of their passion that became ragged and sharp when it cooled and set, if they could stay fluid, active, flexible, and changeable in all of their interactions and relations, and, in a word, if a mutually human and friendly consideration remained available to them, then their decision to separate cannot easily conjure disaster and terror.

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