Sunday, 31 May 2015

Visiting the temple

This week my father visited from Ireland. It is the first time I have seen him since the previous summer. As with visits from my father we usually take long rambling trips around whatever part of the world I happen to be living in at the time. This trip was no exception. 

The main focus of our ramblings this visit was a trip to Dumfries to the Samye Ling temple in Eskdalemuir. My partner Aoife also travelled with us. My father and partner have no connection to any form of buddhism and to my knowledge have never meditated. Nonetheless the historical significance, general architecture and location of the temple made them both curious enough to visit with me. 

I have had little to no interaction with tibetan buddhism before my visit and this was my first visit to any kind of buddhist temple (my sangha usually sit in a rented secular building on the southside of Glasgow). I’ve visited the mandir, gadarwaras, mosques, churches and temples of the various religions and cultures in the areas in which i have lived in over the years, but have never lived near a buddhist temple. 

The first thing that you notice visiting a place like this is the statues and stupas. The rich iconography and imagery forces you into a mind state not dissimilar to meditation (all my time there I followed my breath). It is a place designed for practice. This is a refreshing or even confirming feeling - it felt like a glass of water when you’re thirsty. 

Sitting in a shrine room for the first time was truly wonderful. A golden statue of chenrezig reflected the light from outside as I sat underneath. My father and partner sat on the chairs in quiet reflection. Afterwards they noted how they were both taken back by the atmosphere and rich beauty of the surroundings. I wanted to encourage them to try and meditate but I really didn’t want to be that guy. 

I’ve never visited a place for such a short time and felt so at home there. The whole experience was simply amazing and it felt unpleasant to leave. That night I got home and sat online. Although sitting under wonderful statues is obviously amazing it is the practice itself that matters. As long as I can sit, online or in a secular building, or wherever, it truly doesn’t matter. 

(all photos by Aoife O'Neill)

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The URL Sangha

This week saw me sit online for the first time. I’ll be honest I was quite dubious. I was of the understanding that one of the key factors of what makes a sangha work, is the actually having the people physically around you in a room or designated space of some description. A physical gathering of people on the same path working towards similar goals. From my experiences this week it is simply not true or at least non-essential. It seems when you sit with a sangha you sign in to some unwritten contract or vow to sit through regardless of how bored, restless etc. you get. It’s like you’re all here for each other and this contract isn’t diluted or compromised because of a webcam or a physical distance of thousands of miles. 

The initial mechanics of the meditation were initially quite difficult but were overcome very quickly. In the zen tradition I practice we face the wall with our gaze focussed downwards. The problems of facing a computer screen and other people was easily overcome though. The main difference I have noticed thus far is the ease of adding length of practice on top of my own personal sitting which is of obvious immense benefit. The meeting of similar people on this path, or whatever it is, is the same as the ‘real world’ sangha in that you console share and help each other. It is of great comfort to meet like minded people regardless of distance and such obstacles. 

I also hosted my first online sittings this week which were both terrifying and amazing. I have never organised or hosted any kind of meditation practice for others before. It was a completely new experience. My main concern in the whole process is when people ask me questions regarding the practice as I am immensely unqualified in experience to answer their questions sufficiently. From my own experiences I have had some very bad or dark stuff brought up from meditation and without my own teacher this could have been much worse and lead to a very bad situation. A lot of people come to the practice w/ many problems, as a people we generally have quite a few problems, I have very few if any friends that have not either been prescribed medication for mental health issues or at least worked through a mild depression. Fortunately, thus far, the two questions I have received were on reincarnation and how to sit. In both instances I offered my sincere reflections from personal experience attempting to steer away from any intellect or learning from books and such that I may feel I understand but could be confused learning. It is my sincere hope that everybody I practice with has or finds an experienced teacher in which they can sit with at least once a month and can guide them on this sometimes very arduous path. Making their own island or light to shine upon themselves through the guidance of people that have tramped these mountains before. 

deep within the stream 
the huge fish lie motionless 
facing the current

James W Hackett

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Capital Punishment

What if the death penalty is part of a cycle that causes people to inhabit a place of such suffering and disturbance that they cause such offenses in the first place? I mean isn't the death penalty, and similar ideologies, part of the problem not necessarily the solution? 

It doesn’t seem befitting of a state or governing body to act in any other way than that of a path of pure compassion or at least a path where the ultimate good is the course. Benevolence and grace above any mode of anger or vengeance. What does it say to its people if it rules in a state of corporal punishment? Lead by example. Can there exist a state where people believe revenge is an option? It is the simplest, crudest and most unhelpful way. 

Firstly the obvious problem where violence begets violence. Secondly it creates a false duality from people around us. We must move closer together towards an understanding of the interdependency we all share - whether it be culturally, environmentally or even economically. There is no me and you. There is an us, which is me and you. This is the only way to understand our shared lives. 

With this premise taken as a given what else can there be but compassion? What way to serve an act that can not be returned or rectified? That has no further repercussions of violence? In such cases it is hard to differentiate the cause from the effect. It is like looking through a lens of dirty water. The cause here is the effect and it is only a war if you say so. 


praise Buddha's
compassionate saints!
pure water