Great Master Bodhidharma – Remembered

Republishing this from 2013. Tomorrow, October 15, 2017, at Shasta Abbey we celebrate the Festival of Great Master Bodhidharma. How time does fly.

1Bodhidharma

Beyond this mind there’s no Buddha anywhere. The endless variety of forms is due to the mind, but the mind has no form and it’s awareness no limit. Unaware that their own mind is Buddha people look for a Buddha outside the mind. To seek is to suffer. When you seek nothing you’re on the path. To give yourself up without regret is the greatest charity.

Words drawn from: The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, Translated by Red Pine

Today we remembered Bodhidharma during a ceremony dedicated to him and his teachings. The above was read out at the start of the ceremony for all to hear. It struck a chord.

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Listen and Make a Difference

The service Samaritans offer is so amazing. Here is a snippet of what it’s like to be at the other end of the telephone. The link I’ve provided is to the UK organization. They need volunteers.

It’s often challenging. Sometimes it’s desperately sad. Sometimes it’s uplifting. Every now and then it’s very funny. It’s one of the most satisfying things I do, it’s made me a better listener and I’m now a lot more grateful for all the good things in my own life. It’s put me in contact with the most extraordinary range of people and every so often I go home after a shift knowing that someone has been helped at a crucial moment in their life by hearing me say, “Do you want to tell me a bit more about that?

So says a volunteer with the Samaritans in an article in The Guardian article titled, Desperate people are calling the Samaritans and getting an engaged tone. We need your help.

Of course one can make a difference to a persons life by being prepared to listen even when not troubled. We all appreciate being fully heard. And not judged. That too is a Bodhisatva action.

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Exercising Faith – The Bodhisattvas’ Path (Dharma Talk)

Today at Shasta Abbey, Northern California, we celebrated the Festival of Bhaisajya-guru Tathagata, the Healing Buddha. I was honoured to be asked to give the Dharma Talk after the ceremony. The title is:  Exercising Faith – The Bodhisattvas’ Path.

Towards the end I mention three people by name: Michael Stone (who died mid July), Will Pegg and Rev. Master Meiten all from (or near) Vancouver Island  British Columbia Canada. I dedicated the merit of the talk to them, and although I didn’t say it at the time, the merit extends to all those who have supported them, learnt from them and continue to be inspired by them. All three clearly exercise faith and walk the Bodhisattva Path. The world is full of people, Bodhisattvas’, who each in their own way inspire others to live a life of faith and generosity.

That is enough for tonight.

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The Healing Buddha


Yakushi (Bhaishajaguru, The Buddha of Healing) by Enkū (1628-95). Brooklyn Museum.
Up to now I’ve tended not to write a lot about the more devotional aspect of Buddhism, however here I go! The custom within our religious Order is to celebrate, in the form of a ceremony, a number of Bodhisattva’s. This Sunday it is the turn of Bhaisajya-guru Tathagata, commonly referred to as the Medicine Buddha.

So. Bhaisajyaguru is known as the (“King of Medicine Master and Lapis Lazuli Light”), and is the Buddha of healing and medicine in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Bhaisajyaguru then is a ‘doctor’ who cures dukkha (suffering) using the ‘medicine’ of his teachings. participating in a ceremony, or other kinds of religious devotions or practices does not cure physical or mental aliments or pain. Not in the ordinary sense of the word cure anyway.  That’s magical thinking. The ‘illness’ that’s cured is dukkha (suffering or unsatisfactoriness).

The intention when attending a ceremony is not to get something for oneself or for others, a healing for example. It’s an offering, an act of generosity. The offering is actually spiritual ‘merit’ generated when entering  into and participating whole heartedly – in anything really. At the end of a ceremony the merit is offered for the benefit of all beings. And you may well ask. How does that work? The short answer is that merit ‘works’ because of the teaching of Anatta, non-self. Non separation of selves. No gaps.

What is the medicine? What is the teaching of this particular Bodhisattva? I’ve been looking into it! There’s a lot to get through and I’d not claim to have studied in depth. The subtext of the teachings coming out of the Medicine Buddha Sutra is that devotees shall be relieved of all that they do not wish to have (suffering caused through natural disasters, starvation for example.) and to have all that they wish for (“to have the inexhaustible things that they require, and relieving them from all pains and guilt resulting from materialistic desires”). One of five aspects of suffering is described thus: union with what is disliked is painful, separation from what is liked is painful, not to get what one wants is painful. There it is – suffering, or an aspect.

Understood from the point of view of faith, the teaching that cures suffering is to know, while heading into daily life challenges, there is nothing fundamental wrong, missing or out of place. Life is not a mistake nor is death. We already have within ourselves what is need to take the next step.  And, and especially AND meditation and devotional practices, be they Buddhist or not, are not a panacea.

And don’t you love this?
The ancient Aryans who brought the Sanskrit language to India were a nomadic, horse- and cattle-breeding people who travelled in horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. Su and dus are prefixes indicating good or bad. The word kha, in later Sanskrit meaning “sky,” “ether,” or “space,” was originally the word for “hole,” particularly an axle hole of one of the Aryan’s vehicles. Thus sukha … meant, originally, “having a good axle hole,” while duhkha meant “having a poor axle hole,” leading to discomfort.
Copied from here.

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Memories Locations

The place changes, the memory fades
The place changes…

It is said that one’s memories from early life remain sharp, clear and vivid. Partly because the first time one does something is so significant in ones growing up. For example ones first proper date, first proper job interview, first car, first time abroad, oh and yes – the first kiss. What is vivid is not only the experience itself but the physical surroundings. That’s how it has been for me. And then there are significant events, life changing events, which have their physical location emblazoned in my mind. This house, in the front room with me standing by the fire-place, letting my parents know I intended to be a monk was such an event. Seeing the windows and remembering I’d helped put them in, earning money from my parents doing up the house to pay my way as a novice at Shasta. That whole six months preparing to leave one life behind and enter another are vivid in my mind’s eye. (Thanks to my good sangha friends for taking the snap.)

You must remember this....
You must remember this….

Again, everything about my first visit to Throssel is vivid, less the physical place and more the monks and what was going on in my mind grappling with conscious self-reflection/meditation, for the first time! Subsequent visits throw up sharper image memories. (And thanks to another good sangha friend for sending this photograph. Taken 1981/2 when I’d already be at Shasta.)

Thinking about it there seems no reason why ones connection to people, places and things along with ones interior need be any less vivid the 20th or 200th time. Then there are those facing death, knowing they have perhaps just a few months to live, do memories and their associated physical locations again become vivid? Many report, in such circumstances, a renewed and welcomed encounter with everything. Not always or all of the time yet the last time would have a certain clarity and meaning wouldn’t it. But what is this all about. Surely we discourage thinking about the past and indeed that is true in the sense of living in or dwelling in the past and missing the shining hour right now. And that’s the point really here, to remember to open oneself to the depth and richness of life. Not with the intention to gather great and memorable experiences like beads on a rosary to tell in the future. More the intention to live full and ripe. Right now.

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Practice Within The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives