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 #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 #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 10th Day of Christmas…

On the 10th Day of Christmas…

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

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)

The Ten Realms of Existence are;

  1. the World of Hell

  2. the World of Hungry Spirits

  3. the World of Animals

  4. the World of Asuras

  5. the World of Humanity

  6. the World of Heavenly Beings

  7. the World of Learning

  8. the World of Realisation

  9. the World of Bodhisattvas

  10. the World of Buddhas


The first 6 realms are viewed as lower realms and the last 4 are described as noble realms, which are available through diligent practice of the Dharma. I’m not going to try and tell you what these realms actually are or where they are; for me the Lotus Sutra resonates. Whether you reside in the realm of the hungry spirits, never satisfied, or you indulge yourself and bathe in the nectar of Heaven, all other realms reside as potentialities. In one, the other 9 are there. Often hidden, maybe, but never impossible.

Recently, this has been quite obvious to me. Plunged into the state of Hell; hopeless agony of the Heart. Where all seems bleak, whatever I may want to do, I cannot do. Freedom is not right away present. The mind-body is trapped in torment, even among loved ones, joy is right away inaccessible. I become desperate. But even Hell is impermanent, subject to the arising and falling away, as is all conditioned phenomena. When all is cold and bleak and I am cramped into a claustrophobic state, something occurs. Something occurs out of desperation, out of hopelessness. The mind-body has been forced into a perfected asana and samadhi has never been so clear. The dust of Hell settles, as all dust must do, and Humanity is possible once more- and Hope, most energetic in Humanity is present. The ability to stop, to realise samadhi, to realise prajña, to be aware of awareness, smriti. And out of this realm, the World of Realisation is actualised. Where has Hell gone? Well, it’s right here. I have not moved anywhere, I have not done anything. Yet, everything is done. I can see Hell, but from a state of equanimity, it looks different. Hell is Hell- nothing more, no power is given to it.

I could use examples from any of the 6 lower realms, but Hell for me is most poignant. I shall revisit each of these realms in later posts but will describe them briefly now.

Hell

We will all come to know Hell (naraka), 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.

Hungry Spirits

For me, the realm of the Hungry Spirits (preka) is best characterised in society’s current consumerist obsessions. Never sated are those who reside in this realm; their bellies ever growing with desires, and whatever is consumed, however wonderful, is just not enough. Everything comes to taste of dissastifaction, and all one can do is want more. Maybe in the hope one can finally be fulfilled, or maybe it’s just a habit of greed. Desires are not wrong, or right, but in this state such desires grow uncontrollably and leads to a certain kind of irrationality. But even Hunger is impermanent.

Animals

Life in this realm can be a struggle; filled with paranoia and distrust. It becomes second nature to harm others in order to protect oneself. It’s a competition just to survive.The inability to distinguish what is skilful and not-yet-skilful. The wisdom of non-self just sounds like pure nonsense (and not the good kind of nonsense!). But this ignorance will too pass.

Asuras

It’s easier to say others reside in this realm than ourselves. A realm filled with angst, jealousy, and a grave tendency to feel superior to others. Life is not a competition to survive, but a competition to win. And if that means hypocrisy and betrayal then that is all the better! But, this life of contempt is impermanent.

Humanity

Being a human is very special, but humanity is more than 46 chromosomes of Homo sapiens genome. Residing in this realm we are able to distinguish the skilful from the not yet skilful and make decisions and distinctions based on that. There is hope, there is an innate decency that is born of the human. Even though this realm is too prone to negative external circumstances, it is in this realm we encounter the Dharma. And thus, humanity is too impermanent.

Heaven

In Heaven, we indulge in the wine of delusion, we bathe in the nectar of false immortality. We laugh, we sing, we dance, we engage in sexual practices. And it is joyous! But the joy experienced here cannot be held, it is still governed by external circumstance. It is fleeting. As Heaven is also impermanent.

In these six paths we are prone one way or another to let our life be governed entirely by external circumstance. But by practising the Dharma, we realise happiness is not governed by external circumstance alone, and True Freedom is possible. Of (7) learning the dharma, (8) realising the dharma, (9) helping others reach liberation and (10) actualising the dharma.

Which realm are you in? Whichever realm you find yourself in, please know that whatever is occuring, True Love is present. Remember that Buddhahood is possible; it is not somewhere up there, but is literally the closest it’s ever been, and no other state can be closer, nor as genuine.

Thank you for visiting Only Yoking today,

Wishing you well on the path,

-dharmacaterpillar



On the 6th Day of Christmas

On the 6th Day of Christmas

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

6 Paramitas

(5 Indriyana; 4 Noble Truths; 3 Dharma Seals; 2 Satyas; and a Buddha by the Bodhi Tree)

The 6 Paramitas

It is often said there are two shores; one is full of torment, anger easily unleashed, anxiety hiding in every bit of bramble, fear in even the shadow of your own body; the other is stable, peaceful, and smiling- genuinely- is the natural way the face sits. How does one get from the shore of suffering to the shore of peace? Not by putting one’s faith in teleportation, but by putting the effort in to pass from one shore to the other, to build a raft and use it well. Paramitas can be translated as perfection, and if we use the 6 Paramitas in order to cross over into peace, we are practicing perfection. Perfection it seems, is a gift we can offer ourselves daily. Not an abstract ladder with no stiles making it impossible to climb up.

  1. Giving (dana paramita)

  2. Precepts (shila paramita)

  3. Inclusiveness (kshanti paramita)

  4. Diligence (virya paramita)

  5. Meditation (dhyana paramita)

  6. Wisdom (prajña paramita)

I envisage each paramita as a muscle, at first the paramita muscles are weak, feeble, easy to tire, and this makes it difficult to cross over to the other shore. But the more these paramita muscles are exercised, the stronger they become, and at best crossing over to the other shore is as good as effortless.

Recently, in the morning before I leave the house I set the intention to excercise the paramitas whenever possible. I begin with a 20 minute meditation, my dhyana paramita is exercised; I practice mindful steps on my way through town- with each step my virya paramita grows stronger; I remind myself to make ethical and conscientious choices when choices are to made, my shila paramita is moves and warms up; I listen with stillness of mind when someone needs to speak, giving people my total and authentic presence my dana paramita lifts up; when someone snaps at me, firing arrows of anger or suspicion or the like, my kshanti paramita muscle is more able every time to hold these arrows in such a way they are as fresh as flowers; and with all this support, all these muscles working the prajña paramita muscle inevitably strengthens, able to support further the other paramitas, like a Mother muscle, and it’s secretions help lubricate the way to Buddhahood. In fact, prajña paramita when realised and actualised, is non-discriminative wisdom, it may not be a case anymore of crossing over, but may be experienced more like the sea itself has parted.

We can never do enough of these, but that is not defeatism, because the paramitas are not something to beat, but something to cultivate, to use, to exercise.

It’s not always plain-sailing on crossing over from the shore of suffering to the shore of peace, but it does get easier the more we do it.

I’ll see you on the other shore,

– dharmacaterpillar

On the 4th Day of Christmas…

On the 4th Day of Christmas…

On the Fourth Day of Christmas my True Self gave to me…

4 Noble Truths

(3 Dharma Seals, 2 Satyas, and a Buddha by the Bodhi Tree)

The Four Noble Truths

  • There is suffering (dukkha)
  • The nature of the arising (samudaya) of suffering
  • The cessation of creating suffering (nirodha)
  • The path (marga) that leads to the cessation of suffering

Dukkha

The Buddha did not teach that Life is suffering. Because it’s not. Looking deeply at Life we may see suffering but also, perhaps deeper still, we are struck by bliss, simplicity and love. The Buddha, thus, taught that there is suffering, that suffering does exist- it must not be denied of that- but that’s not all there is.

The Sanskrit word used is dukkha and it covers a wide range of suffering; from a broken leg to a broken heart, from deep and dark depression to daily dissatisfaction. I think this is really important because if  we only assume the Buddha is talking about a broken bone then most of us will think this teaching is irrelevant to them most of the time; but general dissatisfaction we can all relate to at some point weekly, daily or even hourly depending on situation.

I find it most interesting to have discovered during my meditation practice thus far that even when I feel content, like right now, I am also more subtly aware of dukkha in one form or another tied into the body or mind at some level, and just this recognition is vitally important, for me, in preventing those seeds of dukkha sprout and invade my consciousness.

I have said it in another post but in one teaching all the others reside and this is obvious here; if one does not penetrate into the message of the three dharma seals, in my opinion- nothing will make sense. If nothing makes sense that leads to a confused kind of dukkha that is likely to manifest itself with flavours of fear, anger, arrogance, suspicion. The mindset here would not be a humble “I don’t know” because that arises from true understanding of the three dharma seals, but the delusion of precisely the opposite, a firmly held notion that you know…

You are a separate self

Living in a world of others

and the good things must remain so

and the bad things won’t ever go.

What I am pointing at here is that ignorance is foundational to the arising of suffering (dukkha) and ignorance being a lack of experience in realising the three dharma seals is the surest way to let dukkha take hold of your life, if not yours then definitely mine.

But this message is not pessimistic because what this leads to in the Buddha’s first teaching is the four noble truths- a practical model for working with one’s own suffering, to understand it’s nature and roots more clearly (the second noble truth) and break free of it’s grip through the Noble Eightfold Path (the third and fourth respectively). 

In one we see all. And in my own experience the Four Noble Truths is not some heavy and complicated bunch of formulas for dharmic self medicating; it’s clear. By touching our suffering, by listening carefully to our suffering in the stillness of meditation, the Way to peace can be realised. We may then look to the Noble Eightfold Path to let what is needed permeate all aspects of daily life but this again will unfold organically, if one has truly recognised their own suffering.

The Buddha said, “The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it.” Samyutta Nikayn II. 

So be optimistic, investigate the cosmos of you, and taste bliss in the mundane, let peace hold you.