Multifaith Prayer Room

Multifaith Prayer Room

One day, I was working on a piece of writing for my studies in the university library and was aware of a strong ripple of anxiety coming on, as the deadline fast approached. I was also aware that my writing wasn’t going to be up to scratch if it were written by the anxious version of me. My meditation cushion waited in my bag, I used to carry it around a lot to facilitate and take part in meditation groups in various places. There’s an idea! I thought, I could set aside a half hour for meditation… in the library! I had my cushion, I had an urge, the library was a quiet (enough) place for it, but where?

I had a wander. I had heard of the library having a prayer room, but I had never thought to use it. I didn’t know what the situation was in terms of using it; could anyone use it, at anytime? I assumed so, it was called, at least in one sign, a multifaith prayer room. But even so, did that mean at the same time or did it have to be booked, at least in some casual but polite way? I found it eventually, and without seeking an answer to these questions, I ventured inside with my cushion underarm.

The room was small, tiny, I dare say smaller than most rooms I have ever been in. It didn’t feel too small though, a huge window took up one wall and made the room alive with light. I shut the door behind me. There was a lock. Should I lock the door? I didn’t lock the door.

I place my cushion in the centre of the very square, very small, room; assumed the posture and began concentrating on the breath, after a body scan. Standard meditation procedure.

I don’t time meditations usually, and didn’t this time, but some time into it the door opened. A fellow student entered the room. I turned slowly, aware of my movements, attempting to maintain the awareness that had been cultivated thus far.

The young man was a Muslim, and he asked quietly if he could use the room for prayer. I nodded and moved to the back corner of the room, aware that he would need more space for prostrations. It turns out the room planners didn’t consider the orientation of the room very well as in order to pray in the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, the chap had to lay in his prayer mat diagonally in what was already a small floor space. I don’t think he expected me to stay, I think he expected me to leave. I resumed my posture and centred my attention to the breath once more, but this time the young Muslim was in the centre of the tiny room prostrating and uttering phrases under his breath.

I’m pretty sure he had no idea what I was doing, or why, and I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was uttering and why. Nevertheless, in that room, with an assumed capacity limit of 1, there were 2 people creating an atmosphere. He left before I did. But, as I looked back on that moment, I realised that my meditative practice was not less because of his prayer, and I like to think my presence offered something a little different to his noon prayer. I don’t like to try to verbalise precisely what we were offering each other, I don’t think it would do it justice; but, maybe, his praying was offering me to contemplate humility, and my mediating was offering him some balance. He was moving a lot, I was still; he was speaking, I was silent; he was reaching far out, I was reaching far in.

But then again, maybe, maybe he’s thinking, what was that weirdo doing just sat in the prayer room. 

A week in Hell #05

A week in Hell #05

Terror, if you subscribe to it, will open up the Gates of Hells. You may be sucked in. For playing along with those living in Hell, or bound to it, will suck you in. There is no need to suscribe to terror, what are you scared of? How helpful is that fear to accessing happiness and liberation? 

What to do then with those exercising torment unto themselves and others? Completely stuck. They believe the only way to escape Hell, may be to dig further into it. That, I suppose, is the delirium of those without groundedness, those who create their own noise. Unaware that silence is the ground of being, and that being silent is to recognise emptiness as empty of a defined, fixed self, freedom could not be further away even though they’re in it. 

There is a large emphasis on what the family of a person, dying and destined for a Hell realm, can do in scripture. Empowered to do. But let’s widen scope, let go of family boundaries and fixed, rigid concepts of death as the only opportunity for rebirth. What can I do now for those of Hell anywhere and anytime? To me, that is more pragmatic, more to the point and of the moment, more useful. The answer, for me, lies in boundlessness…

To sit with love for love and of love.

Maybe one of the best, pragmatic thing we may do living a contemplative life is to meditate on True Love, on the Four Immeasurable Minds “brahmavihāras”.  If we cannot love ourselves first, free of guilt and, and just plainly free. To love is to understand. To understand is to listen deeply, in silence of mind. Listening deeply to ourselves, we learn to listen deeply to others, the cries of the World, the screams of Hell. Then we can act in a way that nourishes ourselves and others, with equanimity we wish to soothe  the torment of those in Hell. 

That’s the aspiration, and there have been moments in my life when I felt I was in some way close to this, but the bar is set. We know what must be done, for as long as there are those suffering in Hell, suffering will beget suffering, and samsara will continue to turn. 

“If with kindly generosity

One merely has the wish to soothe

The aching heads of other beings,

Such merit has no bounds.”

-Shantideva 


Thank you for reading,

-dharmacaterpillar 

A week of Hell #04

A week of Hell #04

You make your Hell, you are your greatest tormentor, guilt will bury into the very marrow of your being, and will take lifetimes to completely root up. But how did Hell occur? How would one be headed for Hell? 

Headed for Hell, according to the Aṅguttara Nikāya (AN4.85) are those that engage in bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, & mental misconduct. In this text, it includes that those people are reborn in the Hell realms upon breakdown of the body. I would add that they may already have been reborn in the Hell realms long before the breakdown of the body, as it’s conventionally understood. Since the body is constantly being broken down. This is where different interpretations of rebirth and realms are exercised, but I don’t dismiss any of the interpretations, mine is based on the Dharma and my experiences of the wholesome effect of using the interpretation (explained earlier in the series) in my daily life, which is what Shakyamuni Buddha empowered us to do (AN3.65):

“It is fitting for you to be perplexed, Kālāmas, fitting for you to be in doubt. Doubt has arisen in you about a perplexing matter. Come, Kālāmas, do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think: ‘The ascetic is our guru.’ But when, Kālāmas, you know for yourselves: ‘These things are unwholesome; these things are blameworthy; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if accepted and undertaken, lead to harm and suffering,’ then you should abandon them.”

Further in the Aṅguttara Nikāya (AN10.211-4) the misconducts are detailed and broken into 10 parts (10 parts? I’ve heard that one before):

“1. Here, someone destroys life; (s)he is murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings.

2. (S)he takes what is not given; steals the wealth and property of others in the village or forest.”

This is a common theme across ethics and moral codes, but remember the stance is that it’s not the law that is the violator’s worst enemy, it’s the Natural Law, themselves but not as themselves. It’s worth noting that 1. does not distinguish between a human life and other living beings.

“3. (S)he engages in sexual misconduct; has sexual relations with men/women who are protected by their mother, father, mother and father, brother, sister, or relatives; who are protected by their Dhamma; who have a husband/wife; whose violation entails a penalty; or even with one already engaged.”

This more serious than modern life will have you believe. The amount of damage, real damage and suffering caused by all kinds of sexual misconduct cannot easily be undone, and usually affect more than the people immediately involved. It’s a violation of love, and if you don’t live in love, you are prone to live in hate, or worse apathy. 

“4.She/He speaks falsehood. If he is summoned to a council, to an assembly, to his relatives’ presence, to his guild, or to the court, and questioned as a witness thus: ‘So, good man, tell what you know,’ then, not knowing, he says, ‘I know,’ or knowing, he says, ‘I do not know’; not seeing, he says, ‘I see,’ or seeing, he says, ‘I do not see.’ Thus he consciously speaks falsehood for his own ends, or for another’s ends, or for some trifling worldly end.

5. She/He speaks divisively. Having heard something here, s/he repeats it elsewhere in order to divide those people from these; or having heard something elsewhere, she/he repeats it to these people in order to divide them from those. Thus s/he is one who divides those who are united, a creator of divisions, one who enjoys factions, rejoices in factions, delights in factions, a speaker of words that create factions.”

Notice the subtlety in 4? It’s not just lieing that is flagged up here, “not knowing he says I know” that could be ignorance?  And then in 5. this has been used in Modern times to create Hell, and continues to do so.

“6. She/He speaks harshly, uttering such words as are rough, hard, hurtful to others, offensive to others, bordering on anger unconductive to concentration.

7. She/He indulges in idle chatter. She/He speaks at an improper time, speaks falsely, speaks what is unbeneficial, speaks contrary to the Dhamma and the discipline; at an improper time s(he) speaks words as are worthless, unreasonable, rambling and unbeneficial.”

6 and 7 are arguably the most relative of the 10, because what constitutes a harsh, hurtful or especially offensive word to you is not the same as for me, I guarantee it. Similarly, with idle chatter, how idle does the idle chatter need to be to be idle chatter, and what seems worthless or unbeneficial at one time, to one person, may end up being the phrase that brings them to more mindful state later on. If your whole life, you’re yelling plain abuse at everyone and when you’re not, you’re rambling on (therefore disengaging yourself and the other from the present moment) it would not constitute a life whereby you have alleviated as much suffering in oneself and out oneself that you could have, and knowing this makes it all the worse. That being said, these points require further practice and careful, meditative, observation.

“8. She/He is full of longing. He longs for the wealth of and property of others thus: ‘Oh, may what belongs to another be mine’

9. She/He has a mind of ill will and intentions of hate thus: ‘May these beings be slain, slaughtered, cut off, destroyed, or annihilated!’

10. She/He holds wrong view and has an incorrect perspective thus: ‘There is nothing given, nothing sacrificed, nothing offered; there is no fruit or result of good or bad actions; there is no this world, no other world; no mother, no father; there are no beings spontaneously reborn; there are in the world no ascetics and brahmins of right conduct and right practice who, having realised this world and the other world for themselves by direct knowledge, make them known to others.”

The last three point to the 3 poisons (triviṣa), the very things trapping us in the cycle of samsara, the very things that will at some point in our lives be present and maybe even prominent, quite naturally. 

The text goes on:

“One possessing these ten qualities is deposited in hell as if brought there.”

This suggests that one would need to engage, and the word possess also suggests frequently engage, in all the above 10 to find himself in a state of Hell. That may seem like a stretch, an impossibility? But, I think, if we are honest, these 10 actions we may have engaged in, or know others to have engaged in, at some point, especially looking at the words and nuances carefully enough. Sure, there are extreme versions of each which you or I haven’t committed, but there are far more subtle versions that could potentially lead us to be deposited in hell as if brought there.

This is no threat, or punishment, for not conforming; these are a list of unwholesome activities that if one were to indulge in, Hell would surely occur.

 

Thank you for taking the time to visit and read,

Kind wishes,

-dharmacaterpillar

 

Translation of the Anguttara Nikaya by Bhikku Bodhi from the Numerical Discourses of the Buddha
A week of Hell #03

A week of Hell #03

Who knows you well enough to bring upon the worse kind of Hell? I know who knows me enough- me. It’s important to remember that to blame is futile in the eyes of codependent arising, and the only way to have any chance in changing the stream, is to first slow it down, which is to say- to slow oneself down. So this is not a post to cultivate any kind of guilt, but to explore our own role and experience in Hell. Sincerely, the demons of Hell, are the aspects of what you call you, not because of anything weird, but just because my demons couldn’t touch you in comparison to yours. We hurt ourselves more than anyone else ever could, or at least we have that potential, and we wouldn’t even know it. It is torment every single moment, without rest, because we are always with ourselves. 

Fear Hell if you want, but that won’t stop it imprisoning you if it happens, if you let it. And, my opinion is that just as Nirvana is always possible, so is Hell. In my experience, Hell is not the raging storm of hatred and relentless anger that colours everything differently, narrowing perception and charged with energy and momentum. That’s more like the road to Hell. Or the fall. Hell is bleak. And within Samsara, it is the realm with most silence, the most awareness, the least energised. But the emphasis of this focus is on suffering. In Hell, reality equals suffering only. Time passes by but feels an eternity. Nothing needs to be said. Nothing needs to be done. Nothing can be said or done. There is no space in Hell present do so. When the mind is Hell in Hell, there is no opportunity to escape. 

Hell is of Samsara, Hell is impermanent, it will too pass. In this state one’s heart-mind may be exhausted, but there is no pretence here. Once the mud has settled, clarity is gained. Truly, I believe from my own experiences, that the state of Hell is a place whereby great realisation can occur; plunged into darkness and void of pleasures, there are no distractions, only the suffering you’ve done. No escape. Until the heart-mind explodes. 


Kind wishes, and thank you for visiting OY once again,

-dharmacaterpillar  

  

A week of Hell #02

A week of Hell #02

Every moment is alive.

And there is a rebirthing constantly occurring, layered in complexity. You are impermanent in more ways than one. Not just you as a human, but you as the kind of human you are, your size, your age, your health, your chemical constitution, your experiences, your faculties, etc. You are not the same you that you were when that you opened up this blog post (thank you for visiting by the way), and that’s not because I’m so profound and wise that I have made you such, it’s because whatever you do, you can’t escape your impermanent nature. 

What’s this got to do with Hell?

When you understand that rebirth is not a once in a lifetime event, if you do come to perceive that, then Hell (in all it’s degrees) is a possibility at any time. Not just somewhere you may fear of being after death. Because all though death as we know it is a big occasion, it’s only such in the egosphere. It is a rebirth moment, for sure, but rebirth is not only a matter for death, or the dead, but of life, and the living too. In Truth, rebirth doesn’t discriminate between these two states. 

But Hell is still a threat, right?

The way Hell may be talked about by some people to other people, may sometimes be conceived as a threat or punishment. Maybe a way to get a group of vulnerable people to conform to a certain way of living. This can be done away with and still Hell is a possibility. I don’t want you to experience a state of Hell, but I am aware that you may, and the Cosmos is sometimes too complex in its unfolding of karma to ever pinpoint why that happened. I certainly would not wish to get someone to conform, it would be far too forceful. But advice from others, guidelines that have been tried and tested, is what the Buddhist way provides when it comes to living to avoid Hell, and as a Sangha, our role is wish all beings well without discrimination (that means wherever they may reside). So, in my experience Buddhist Hell (as some people say, though it’s not just for Buddhists!) is not a threat and a way of controlling people to conform, and I sincerely wish others don’t try to make this so.

You could argue it’s a warning, but one that comes from a place of authentic concern for the wellbeing of everyone. Maybe something analogous to saying: “If you swim over there, you may be at risk of a shark attack, because last week there was a shark attack over there.” and the threat, “If you swim over there, sharks will be released and will attack you, because you shouldn’t be swimming over there.”  

So as I open up, in these next few days, and continue to explore and delve into Hell, I wanted to share with you my stance; Hell is not just for the dead, and Hell is not a threat. 

If you have any thoughts on areas of rebirth, impermanence, Hell and how different traditions, people and societies approach the concept, then please feel free to comment.

Kind wishes,

-dharmacaterpillar

A Week of Hell #01

A Week of Hell #01

“I didn’t expect Buddhism to threaten people with demons and torment and Hell.” -a spiritual but definitely-not-ever-ever religious person at a meditation session last year. 

At the time, I approached this perspective softly and carefully, tip-toeing around, after all I didn’t want to put him off. “Don’t focus on it, if it’s unhelpful,” I suggested. 

But, now is the time the talk about Hell. So, this week, everyday, sometimes twice a day, I’ll post about Hell, in a series termed “a week in Hell”. We shouldn’t not talk about something just because it’s unpleasant to think of or talk about, nor should we focus on that something ever second of our waking life. I think a week will suffice. 

I did write about Hell briefly last year in the 12 Days of Christmas series. So, to start of and set the scene, here’s what I wrote:

“We will all come to know Hell, if we have not already. In this realm we are under the spell that life is suffering, and anything else that comes to visit, whatever its intentions, will only cause more suffering. Freedom seems to have left us out in the cold dark dust. Space, if you can find it, is filled by suffering before anything else even has a chance. But even Hell is impermanent.”

The intention is that by exploring concepts surrounding Hell, and the faces of Hell, we can eliminate, or free, certain misconceptions and worries we may have, realising the 3 dharma seals along the way. 


A lotus for you,

Buddha to be.
-dharmacaterpillar