Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Buddhism's Three Jewels & Starting a Sangha

Another working week is winding down, the hours of daylight are stretching further into the evenings and life is good. I find that I am putting into practise, more and more each day, those things that I have been reading about in various writings including the Bhagavad Gita, Buddhist and Yoga. Further to this, I am sharing much of what I am reading more and more with my students. I am particularly focusing on messages of non-violence and mindfulness. In fact, at the beginning of the week, I explored the issue of depression with my Health class. Even though I prattled on for most of the period, the students seemed to be listening to what I had to say. I am truly privileged to have the opportunity to address the minds of young people on a daily basis.

Even though most of my students are special needs youths whom many would not expect a whole lot from, I see beautiful human beings, each making their contribution to the greater whole that is our world. I am very fortunate to share in their gifts and the lessons that they teach me. Teacher is my work title, but I am also a student. Teachers appear throughout our lives, though many do not possess Education degrees. Teachers may appear as friends or foes, in Nature or in the printed word. A wise individual once commented on how one develops a better understanding of something when they have to teach it, and I've found this to be true. Not only do we require a profound understanding of that which we seek to teach well, but we must also be trained observers when we present our lessons into the classroom as students and their insight's can oftentimes be more illuminating than anything we ever thought we knew.

Up until this point in my life, my practise of Buddhism (augmented with sprinkles of Pagan, Taoist and Hindu notions) meditation and Yoga has been a solitary one. I began reading books on the subject back in the mid 1990's, and took my first Yoga classes in 1999. Since that time, my library shelves and magazine racks are bursting with books on the aforementioned subjects, I've visited a western meditation class off and on at a local Buddhist temple, taken classes in a variety of Yoga styles and maintained a fairly disciplined Yoga and meditation practise at home. My wife has been on her own spiritual journey, but not really been a part of my practise until recently. It wasn't until my friendship with my massage therapist, a likeminded fellow, blossomed that any sense of external practise began to take shape. Now, my therapist, his wife, my wife and all our children have become very good friends, and we are making plans to start our own sangha.

In Buddhism, there are what are known as the three jewels: Buddha, dharma and sangha. Buddha refers to the awakened Buddha mind which is present in all things, dharma refers to the teachings of the Buddha and sangha refers to the community of 'awakened' people within which one builds their spiritual practise and takes action in the world. The three jewels are what a Buddhist practise is comprised of.

My personal reasons for resisting the latter of the three jewels – the sangha – are manifold. For one, I am a fairly solitary person. I enjoy intimate gatherings over coffee or a drink, but have never been one for large groups of people. Secondly, because of the Hindu, Pagan and Taoist influences in my own practise, I do not think that I would feel like I really fit in to many groups. In the minimal experiences that I have had with various Western meditation groups, I just don't feel that I am coming at things in the manner of the majority of group members. Thirdly, I dislike dogma and politics. The sad truth is that very few established groups are without these things. As much as we may seek freedom from our egos, it still tends to creep into our psyches undetected. I accept this, and, therefore, have chosen the path that I am on.

This being said, I realise that my practise needs to extend beyond my yoga mat and meditation cushion. As Thich Nhat Hahn writes, we must be mindful in all that we do – this is how to truly live. Otherwise, if we go through our lives distracted, we are missing much of the sensory stimulation and beauty and not living our lives to the fullest. The time on my mat and cushion has not been wasted as it was a necessary period I required to prepare for the next portion of my life's journey. Now I must use my learning – things such as practising right view, right thinking, right mindfulness, right speech, right action, right diligence, right concentration, and right livelihood – in my daily life. To be truly effective in this, I feel that I do require a sangha that will truly charge my positive energy and make me a more effective part of the lives which I affect. I also believe that in building a sangha with my friends that we will be creating another force for good in the world. I also realise that I can not get attached to this sangha, nor idealise my friends – or them, me – as it may one day take on a life of its own and cause me to start anew. This is part of the constant change and impermanence that affects the present:

All conditioned things are impermanent.
They are phenomena, subject to birth and death.
When birth and death no longer are,
the complete silencing is joy

(Ekottara Agama 18)

This is something I meditate on regularly. It wasn't until I began reading Buddhist and Taoist writings that I figured out that the way I viewed life (and death) was limited. I ask those who think that I am rambling in New Age drivel to bear with me for a moment. The fact is that there is no life and no death. These words have limited our experiences in my mind. The fact – empirically speaking – is that "life" is a constant dance of life and death, with each begetting the other. As I write, cells in my body are dying and being created. Science tells us that the entire body changes completely every seven years in its composition. Hair and fingernails continue to grow when we have "died" according to conventional definitions. There was a time that the current rendition of me never existed, even though matter in the universe is finite, thus containing me before I was and will contain me long after I cease to be. Therefore, in the spirit of mindfulness, things simply are as they are in the present moment. In the next moment, all that now is will have passed.

Taking all of this for what it is still leaves us in need of perspective in the present. Suffering, caused by attachment, is a reality for many of us, whether for material things or our lives. Like the salmon struggling upstream, we often struggle against our attachments and our egos. The best guidebook I have found in this struggle lies in the Five Remembrances:

1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
2. I am of the nature to have ill-health. There is no way to escape ill-health.
3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

It is number 5 of the Five Remembrances that motivates my desire to form a sangha and to begin to be more forward with my learnings. There is a brilliant quotation, by Aristotle: "Where we are free to act, we are also free to refrain from acting, and where we are able to say No, we are also able to say Yes". Depending on our intent, action and inaction are equals. For example, inaction may be the best choice as a parent if a child is to learn a life lesson, but inaction to assist another in time of need is a bad thing. Likewise, action with selfish intent is worse than trying to do something nice for another which results in tragedy.

And so it goes. These words are a record of my thoughts in this moment, subject as well to change. I venture forth with an open heart and good intentions. I wish each of you well on your journeys, wherever the path may lead you. Keep your mind open and live from the heart and life will lead you to where you need to be. In the words of Gandhi: "be the change you want to see in the world"...



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