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 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

On the 11th Day of Christmas…

On the 11th Day of Christmas…

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my True Self gave to me;

11 Virtuous Mental Factors;

(10 Realms of Existence; 9 Points of Death Meditation; 8 Great Tenets of Mahayana; 7 Factors of Awakening; 6 Paramitas; 5 Indriyana; 4 Noble Truths; 3 Dharma Seals; 2 Satyas; and a Buddha by the Bodhi Tree)

Within the Marvellous Abidharma, there are 51 mental factors, as found in the Abidharma samuccaya, and these are divided into several categories based on what I like to describe as their flavour. Because in my own deep meditative experience these mental factors seem to flavour the mind, maybe this is because I am inclined to experience the taste/smell of an object/memory primarily before the other signals are explored. For another, these mental factors may colour the mind around a certain object; or perception for you may be one more of noise, of frequency. However you may relate, you will come across these mental factors, not only in the Abidharma, but in your experience- the flavours of your experience within the faculty of the mind.

In this post my True Self gave me; the 11 Virtuous Mental Factors (kuśala), these eleven are deemed essential to fruitful Buddhist practice, and thus for Great Peace and Total Freedom. The 11 Virtuous Mental Factors are:

  1. Faith (shraddha)

  2. Self-Respect

  3. Decorum

  4. Non-Attachment

  5. Non-Agression

  6. Non-Bewilderment

  7. Diligence

  8. Pliancy

  9. Conscientiousness

  10. Equanimity

  11. Non-Violence

Faith. Faith in what? As I have mentioned before, I see this faith as a confidence in something observed and experienced. The confidence that, for instance, the Dharma is True only comes from recognising that through practising it, if it even comes at all. For me, what one must have faith in first and foremost is one’s own innate ability to realise and actualise Buddhahood, and one’s own responsibility to practice the Dharma. Faith in our-self, that you are basically decent. Don’t take my word for it- explore the question deeply yourself, are you basically decent?

Self-Respect. With Faith, with the flavour of that confidence that you are closer to Buddhahood than anything else; we cultivate automatically self-respect, if the faith is not blind. With self-respect we are able to cautiously tread the path of our life, and of course mindfulness provides the appropriate lubrication for this. In this way, engaging in actions, even intentions, that would be disastrous for one’s maturation becomes more difficult than engaging in those that are skillful.

Decorum. Not necessarily conforming to society, but is the practice of respecting those societal/public conventions that exist in such a way they are naturally in line with the eight-fold path, and the ability to distinguish between the two is the product of wisdom. I also like to approach this factor with a scenario; someone that is ignorant of any contemplative practice (has not yet touched the wisdom the of Dharma) is suffering, you (a seasoned meditator) approaches and spiels away on non-self. Is that going to help? Or cause further confusion, frustration and even alienation and distance? So in this scenario, I think decorum is what is primarily needed- act appropriately, maybe a hug given in mindfulness (but don’t say that!!) is more skilful?

Non-Attachment. Attachment to what? Possessions? certainly. People? ok, it’s getting difficult. Outcome? Woah! For me, the most difficult “thing” to not be attached too is outcome. Possessions are just stuff; people, though sometimes difficult, I see as essentially free, so the point of attachment can never latch on; but the intended outcome of my actions, I feel that is intimately “me”. I am wrong. Practising non-attachment of this kind alleviates so much suffering and anxiety. As long as my intentions and actions come from a place of mindfulness, I need to not be attached to their outcome- I have done all I can, all is done.

Non-Aggression. Here lies the capacity of the mind to not look upon something, or someone, with hatred. What do you absolutely despise? Sit with it. I have a tea set, with 2 cups, when I meditate alone, I often begin by brewing some tea, and I pour tea in both cups. I sit, cultivating the energy of mindfulness, and sip the tea from my cup- recognising the wonder of the moment, however it happens to present itself. When any feeling arises that may lead to destructive thoughts of angst, aggression, or hatred- I recognise it as a beast starved of love, and I mindfully pick up the other cup and sip- offering the sweet taste of the tea to whatever it is that has arrived at the cushion. In that way, I hope to cultivate and flavour my mind with non-aggression.

Non-Bewilderment. This brews during meditation. It’s the tendency of the mind, during the practice of the dharma, to see things- situations- differently. No longer are we a rag doll to the misery of life, but a spectator, content with the show.

Diligence. When times are good- we may feel that we don’t need to practice. When times are bad- we may feel it’s too difficult to practice. So when are we actually practising? Are we waiting for a cosmic sign, the alignment of the stars in the heavens? Diligence means keeping up the practice, in the good times and the bad. What brings us to the cushion every morning is not anything but the joy of it itself. In the good times- practice is possible; in the bad times-practice is possible.

Pliancy. Just do it.

Conscientiousness. With practice, with getting to know oneself- the ability to become increasingly sensitive to another’s situation at a certain moment is possible. One is better able to respond creatively and appropriately to a given situation, perceiving more clearly and subtly the causes and conditions of the situation. This is not meaning to say one never makes a mistake- says the wrong thing at the wrong time, or is anyway in control of the situation. That’s not it. It’s just that when this is the flavour of the mind, it’s easier, more natural not to step on anyone’s toes; exacerbate suffering.

Equanimity. From a place of equanimity, the good, the bad and the ugly are basically decent. Without equanimity, the mind is prone to all kinds of unskillful tendencies. With equanimity, all the other virtuous mental factors are more favourably cultivated.

Non-Violence. I relate to this as gentleness. The manner by which we enter a room, the way we ask a question, how often we smile gently and authentically to ourselves. I don’t mean we should put-it-on, act it out, but just quieten down. In that state, taking one’s time- respecting time- naturally gentleness manifests through our intent and actions.

These Eleven are cultivated as we practice diligently and deeply, but I think also they are qualities of everyone’s mind- capable of arising just as much as any unhealthy factor given appropriate conditions. And this means that just as they are cultivated as we practice, our practice is ever nourished by these factors, calling us to the cushion, calling us back to our True Home.

 

Thank you for visiting Only Yoking,

A lotus for you, a Buddha to be.

-dharmacaterpillar

On the 5th Day of Christmas

On the 5th Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas my True Self gave to me…

5 Indriyana/balani

(4 noble truths, 3 dharma seals, 2 satyas and the Buddha by the Bodhi tree)

Close your eyes. Let the colours settle. Let the noise settle. Now from the silence and the quiet allow an image to emerge- a meadow. Not just any meadow, but the meadow of your consciousness. What is the ecosystem like in your meadow? Is it vibrant and colourful, full of beauty and stability? Or is it an ecosystem in decline, torn by the invasive plants of kleshas?

What have you (allowed to be) sown? What have you (allowed to be) watered?

The 5 Indriyana, or bases, are the seeds of your native nature and they will, no matter what, always be present even just as dormant seeds in your store consciousness. The 5 balani, or powers, are the manifestation of those seeds, the growth- the action of an increasing health of consciousness into Buddhahood. It is important to note straight away that though we call these 5, when watered by daily practice they all grow, they all fruit.

The 5 Indriyana/balani are:

  1. Faith (shraddha)

  2. Diligence (virya)

  3. Mindfulness (smriti)

  4. Concentration (samadhi)

  5. Wisdom (prajña)

How do these help? 

By cultivating these qualities in your consciousness, you will become empowered. They are called powers after all. There is great energy locked up in the fruits of these 5 and this energy is required for daily practice. Otherwise, whatever you may be doing, it will likely be a facade- whether you know it or not- and Mara will arrive and it will be so easy to wander off with the Great Tempter.

Instead with these great powers cultivated, the strength of practice also increases and Mara can b e recognised more easily, and perhaps we can invite Mara in for tea instead.

Faith. Is the path worthwhile? What brought you to read on the Dharma today? Why do you choose to sit on the cushion in the half lotus at the crack of dawn in the morning? Why? Because you have faith. Faith in what? Personally, I have faith in Life (Love is synonymous in my own understanding). I have faith that I am basically ok, and so are you. I have faith that by sitting up straight and settling into whatever is there, I can do the good work. I have faith there is a seed on Buddhahood deep down in the soil of consciousness that we must all water.

Where has this faith come from? Is it blind? No. I have been touched by moments of true awe, I have seen in the eyes of others this basic goodness, felt the energy of  teachers and masters of the path, and most importantly- I have practiced and this has only increased my faith in the practice. Like a scientist who has ran experiments, observed and recorded phenomena, collected data, ran statistical tests and made several inferences (and a fair amount of assumptions by the way) and now have great confidence that they have identified a new drug target or new drug compound. It is still not certain whether it will work in practice, but clinical trials increase the faith in the new drug. So faith here is not listen to me and then believe it. It’s try it and see what happens, have your own trial run. But most of all, cultivate faith in yourself– that you are basically decent- but don’t take my word for it.

Diligence. Ok at first I had a little bit of faith. I was attracted to the dharma through an introductory meditation class and was advised to go to that for my anxiety issues by a friend who has benefited in a similar way from meditation. I had faith in my friend, I trusted their experience and having tried it myself, I trust my own experience. There’s something in this. My anxiety is causing less problems and so my faith in the practice increased, and last week I meditated for my longest run- 90 minutes- but it’s been 6 days now and I haven’t meditated since. I feel my anxiety creeping in again, and I’m afraid it will gain control over my life once again. I don’t understand. 

Diligence is not how long you can sit, but how easily you can come back to the present moment. The energy from diligence may come from faith, and increased diligence may reinforce faith since it often depends one’s practice. But diligence is not difficult, it’s not an effort or a fight- it’s holding the hand of ease (prashrabdhih). Always. What we need to be diligent of is specifically our own business, but more generally whether we a residing with mindfulness whatever we may be doing. Diligence is not torturing oneself on a zafu until one is burnt out and subconsciously never wants to sit on a zafu again! Be easily diligent of where you are, come back and settle, wherever you are. The practice is joyful.

Mindfulness. Most people I have spoken to these days are familiar with the term mindfulness. The Sanskrit means “remembering”. Personally, the breath is an auspicious anchor of mindfulness, because it is always present and often the pattern and nature of the breath is closely related to your mind state and body state; when I am anxious the breath may become shallow and fast, when calmer the breath seems much deeper but yet hardly moving at all. Becoming intimate with the breath, the breath inside and the breath outside, is another way in which energy for diligence can arise and of course mindfulness is a practice in itself. Let us not live in forgetfulness, but remember, remember, remember.

Concentration. Now sprouts concentration. There are nine levels of meditative concentration, and I hope to explore each soon in a series of posts. For now, what is concentration (samadhi)? I remember being asked, rather impatiently, by teachers at school when I way a young child to “concentrate” and I would do as they told me to, and I would concentrate hard. I would reaaaally look at the equation. And Eureka! I got a headache. So I went to the nursing room and got out of doing maths. This concentration is not what samadhi is. Concentration is not something you do in meditation, it’s something that diligent and mindful practice fruits or sets in motion. It’s a state of dissolving into experience with a flavour of natural attentiveness. Clarity has never been clearer, and wisdom awoken.

Wisdom. Wisdom cannot awake without faith, diligence, mindfulness and concentration, and faith, diligence, mindfulness and concentration are supported and energised by (the potentiality of) wisdom. Wisdom is born and awakes when these other powers are cultivated. What is not wisdom? Understanding that doesn’t guide and lubricate the way/flowering of peace and liberation is not prajña (wisdom). With wisdom sprouting in the meadow of consciousness, in a stable ecosystem of flowers of shraddha, virya, smriti, and samadhi, whose roots are all intertwined essentially one super-organism, the possibility of Buddhahood is realised. Wisdom, I feel, is best left to speak for itself.

The Five Indriyana/balani if cultivated, if carefully and respectfully allowed to manifest, and move and grow and inform our actions both internal and external, Mara will be recognised as an old friend, and we will know in our own way who each of us is at the core. And it is nakedly beautiful.

Thank you for visiting Only Yoking,

A lotus for you, a Buddha to be,

– dharmacaterpillar