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Archive for the ‘Buddhism’ Category

I spent a wonderful Saturday afternoon at the Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London. They had a community day, which involved welcoming back the resident teacher, a meeting about the future of the centre, and some carols. It was a wonderful day, and I’m glad I made the effort to cross London in the snow to attend.
My main reason for attending was to pray and say thank you for the recovery of my son from his illness (read my previous post “I am human, for we are many”). Although I only had a couple of minutes in the Gompa, it made me wish once more that I would sit and meditate more at home. I think the main problem is that the Gompa in particular, and the centre in general, has a very calm and different attmosphere than I have at home. This isn’t a surprise, as my home is home to two children, and this rarelly makes for a calming environment. I will try and find a new place for my meditation, and will report back soon.

Several weeks ago, we had my sons Christening. It was a wonderful day spent with friends and family. During the service, the minister made his sermon all about trust. He even had the children involved, doing a simple trust exercise, falling backwards, comfortable in the knowledge that their friend would catch them.
The sermon then went on to comment about faith. It got me thinking about faith and what it really is. And when you have it in the same sentence as trust, it made me realise that a lot of faith is based on some form of trust. When we think about it, we don’t really know who our prayers are being listened by. Is it some supernatural power? Or are we just talking to ourselves? The plain and simple truth is, we just don’t know. We believe our prayers are being heard by gods, but we don’t KNOW, not 100%.
Some people will tell me that without a doubt, they know that god hears their prayer, but they don’t know, they believe (and I’m not about to tell them they are talking nonsense).
There are also some people who would tell me there is proof for this. For example, I am reminded of a story by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. When he was young, and was visiting a palace for the first time, he walked into a room he had never been in before, and started to point to a chest of drawers. He kept saying his teeth were in there (barring in mind he was young and still had all his teeth). A Lama opened the drawers, and His Holiness reached in and picked out a small wrapped up cloth. Inside, were the remaining false teeth of His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama. For some, this proves that He is the reincarnation of His predecessor. For others this is just a story. One more point to be made: in Buddhist scriptures (I don’t know which, I’m not that well learned), the Buddha says:

Believe nothing on the faith of traditions,
even though they have been held in honor for many generations and in diverse places.
Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it.
Do not believe on the faith of the sages of the past.
Do not believe what you yourself have imagined, persuading yourself that a God inspires you.
Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters and priests.
After examination, believe what you yourself have tested
and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.

Buddha

What the Buddha was saying, was just because I say this, don’t except it as being true. Test it out for yourself, and if you find it to be true, then learn from it. If you find it not to be true, then disregard it. I think this is a great system to adopt in any part of our lives.

I think for me, this is the main wonder of religion (which ever religion that may be), that you have to trust that what you are being told, what you have read, heard, watched is true, and that unless we escape samsara, we will for ever be reincarnated and live on this earth, and never find Nirvana.
Maybe this is something to remember in this time of year. So to all my readers, Happy Christmas, or Happy Holidays if you prefer. And have a great new year.

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The last week have been very hard for my familly. Last Monday, my youngest son (4 months old) was rushed to hospital with a suspected infection. After several tests, it transpired he had meningitis. We were rushed to a London childrens hospital, where they took very good care of him. I’m happy to say that he is now back in our local hospital and responding well to treatment. We are extremly lucky that the diagnosis was made very early, before the infection became too serious.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank every member of all the medical teams that have helped make him better. My familly and I are eternally grateful. We are making plans to repay the kindness by donating money to the three charities that helped us in this very dificult time.
The main purpose of this post, is to talk about something I have noticed this last week. Once the news of my sons condition had spread from family to family friends, we soon received multiple messages of support (which were most appreciated). Most of these messages said they were all praying for us and a speedy recovery for our son. Soon, entire church congregations were praying for his wellbeing. It got the point where I realised the only person not praying for him was me. When at the London hospital, my wife wanted to visit the chapel. It was magnificent! I knelt breifly, and said thank you. But I knew this was not enough. Sunday night, I finally sat and meditated and said thank you. I used the Medicine Buddha mantra (tayata Om Bahgatze, bahgatze mahabahgatze, ragdzad somaghate soha). By the time we returned in the morning, our son had made a marked improvement.
I’ve always known that this was the main aim of praying for someone, but I have never seen it demonstrated so well. Then, whilst we’ve been in hospital, I have been reading Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’. The novel aside, it has some very interesting history and research behind it relating to the Mason’s, mystisism, and Noetic Science, a relatively new branch of science that aims to show that humans are only using part of their brain (amongst other things). The author states that researchers in the field of Noetics make claims that the human consiousness has a measurable mass, and is able to manipulate the physical world, just by thought. The book goes on to mention other bits of research with ‘fantasticle’ claims (I would like to point out at this time that this is all based on ‘The Lost Symbol’ and I have not yet done any research of my own).
Whether I, or the reader, believe in these claims in the book, I can only comment on my personal observations, and from what I have witnessed this week, with so many people praying for my son, that the human conciousness has made a significant impact on me this week. One could put this down to the medicine working, but I find the sudden contrast was astounding.
The concept that the human mind has a measurable mass (a very small, yet measurable mass according to the book), is consistent with the Buddhist notion of reincarnation, where the conciousness will leave the body after death and find another body. The events of the last week have only increased my faith.

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This must be a record for me: two posts in the same month. Great! This post will be a little odd, because I’m going to ask a favour from my readers.
Last night, I sat for the first time in a long time. It was lovely. It cleared my head up, for a while, and relaxed me nicely to get a good nights sleep. I also watched a film last night. It was Martin Scorsese’s Kundun, a film following the life of HH Dalai Lama. It’s a very good film, showing the stuffle between the Tibetan and the newly formed Peoples Republic of China. It gives a wonderful look into the Tibetan world before it was invaded by the Chinese. It always makes me want to meditate and keep my practice going.
The sad fact is that I have become very lax in my practice. I try and keep to the precepts as best I can, but I’m not always able to. I know meditation is not the only way of following the path, but it is a good start. And I like to meditate; it helps me to concentrate, it clears my head, and it’s good for my health (which is a good point at the moment). The problem is, my meditation is very random. Sometimes I sit for several nights at a time, sometimes I won’t sit for months at a time. And it bugs me. What I need is a little prodding. Keeping this blog up to date would be a start. So what I’d like is people who notice I haven’t posted for a while to prod me by leaving a comment, and remind me to keep on track with my practice. I know it’s a long shot, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

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This may sound morbid, but I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently. There are several reasons for this, chief amongst which is the fact that I’ve been (and technically still am) ill recently. In the last two and a half weeks, I’ve blacked out twice. I don’t know if that’s serious or not, but the fact that the room regularly spins doesn’t help matters. I went to see the Hospital up in London, for a normal, routine check up on my heart (I was born with a congenital heart defect). When I told the Doctor about this, she became concerned. Anyway, they’re running up all sorts of tests on me, and I look forward to the results.
The second reason I’ve been thinking about death recently, is because my wife and I watched a program on the BBC recently all about death, and people’s attitude toward it. I think it’s fair to say that death is somewhat of a taboo in England, if not the western world. People don’t talk about it, and you’re seen as a bit odd if you do. In my line of work, there is always the distinct possibility that I will come up against death, whether it’s my own or someone else’s. Fortunately, I haven’t yet, the closest I have come is a lady in a body bag, but I’ve always wanted to know what my reaction would be should I come across one. It is said that death is the ultimate teacher, the final challenge, or even just the beginning. But people don’t like to think about death in my experience. If people start to talk about death, the subject is often quickly changed.
But is this the right attitude to have? Often, death comes as a bit of a surprise, so to not plan for the death of a loved one, or your own, seems like a bit of a wasted effort. I know that if I was to die tomorrow, my wife would only have a vague idea of what my wishes were. And the same if the opposite happened.
In Buddhism, we are taught that death is not to be feared or ignored, but to be used as motivation to practice. If we were to lead a life of ignorance, where we do not live our lives to our best, it is a waste, and we will be born in samsara (suffering). The following is attributed to the great Tibetan Buddhist Scholar, Je Tsong Khapa:

This life is as impermanent as a water bubble;
Remember how quickly it decays and death comes.
After death, just like a shadow follows the body,
The results of black and white karma ensue.

Finding firm and definite conviction in this,
Please bless me always to be careful
To abandon even the slightest of negativities
And to accomplish only virtuous deeds.

This simple verse, or prayer, highlights the main teachings of Buddhism in 8 lines. Life is short, and death is the only certainty. There is nothing after death but the result of our Karma (actions), good and bad. We should always make the most of this moment. Living our lives as best we can, without performing any negative actions. Obviously, this is a very simplified version, but one I try to keep to at all times.

I must be honest though, up until now, I haven’t been very diligent in my practice. I could blame this on my matt, my back hurting, or even not having enough time, but the simple truth is that I’m just lazy. Although I am young, death is an ever present threat, and my practice could be cut short at any time, with all this negative Karma un-purified. If this ‘scare’ has taught me anything, it’s that I should get my self sorted and sit when I can. The advantage is that concentrating on something has helped me when the room is spinning. If my sergeant will accept this for the reason I’m sitting crossed legged in the middle of the squad room is another matter. Another thing it has taught me is that I need to write out a death plan, detailing what my wishes are after I pass on. It’s a plan that we should all follow, even if it’s just to make us think about our inevitable fate.

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“My religion is simple…”?

I’ve been thinking a lot about religion recently. Mainly because we are looking at getting our new son, Ashley, Baptised at the church we got married in. The main ‘hiccup’ is that since we got married, and we baptised our first son, I have become a Buddhist (or at the least, interested in Buddhism). When we told the minister we wanted Ashley baptised, he wanted to meet with us to discuss it. We went to his house and chatted about the process, and the concept behind it. Did you know the difference between a Christening and a Baptism? I didn’t, till our chat with the minister. Anyway, one thing he said was that he believed that if we wanted to do this properly, we should believe in what we are saying during the baptism. Very wise, I thought. But here in lay the problem: The questions asked by the minister to the parents were questions like “Do you believe in one true god” and “will you bring him up in the Christian faith”. A little difficult if you’re Buddhist…
We were asked to go and have a think about it. That was almost two weeks ago.

I finally got round to re reading the service sheets the minister leant us this morning. My aim was to see if I could, with integrity, answer yes to all the questions the minister would ask me in front of my family, the congregation and, ultimately, God. My wife is a strong Methodist, and really wants both boys baptised. We’re ok with Joe, but my ‘recent’ change of faith could jeopardise that for Ashley. So I looked at all the questions:

“Do you believe in one God – The creator of all and our Heavenly father?
Do you believe that God revealed his love to us in our Lord Jesus Christ, and through his death and resurrection offered us forgiveness of sin and a place in his family?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit who make’s God’s life, truth and love real in our lives, empowering us to live as his children?

Answer to number one is Yes, I do. I just don’t follow him anymore.
Answer to number two is Yes, I do. That is the basis for the Christian faith.
Answer to number three is Yes, I do. I only need to look at the packed church on Sundays, and my Wife’s joy of being there, with her boys to see that.
So far, so good. Next questions:

Will you love him, committing yourself to care for him in body, mind and spirit?
Will you therefore, ensure that he is brought up in the faith and life of the Christian community?
Will you, by your words, prayers and actions, set before him a Christian example, so that he will be encouraged to put his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ?

Answer to number one: I wouldn’t have become a father otherwise.
Answer to number two: If that is my wife’s wish, then yes, of course.
Answer to number three: What is so different from a Christian example and a Buddhist example? The ten commandments, the Buddhist precepts, they’re both very similar.
Suddenly, I wasn’t so worried about letting my wife down. It struck me that all religion, be it Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish or Sikh have the same basic principles. They may differ in many areas (and if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have such wonderful variety in this world), but on the basic core, they are very similar. I was suddenly reminded by a new website I follow, Tinybuddha, of a quote by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. He is fammed for saying

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

And in reality, all religion is kindness. The sad things that happen “in the name of” religion a due to misunderstanding and misrepresentation. But think of all the wonderful things that happened in the name of Religion! I remember thinking that Ghandi was clearly a Buddhist. However, Ghandi was a committed Hindu, and led all his protest against the British with a concept that is easily interchangeable between Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and all other religions or faith systems, Love.

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I must say that I was amazed by the response to my last post: 79 reads the day it was posted, that’s quite something! I am delighted so many of you are taking time to read my posts. Thank you!
Moving on with this months’ post (I will try and post on a more regular basis, life allowing). As you may have gathered from my last post, my wife and I are expecting another addition to the family. We are both very excited and looking forward to meet the little chap. We’ve reached the point where we both want to start hugging and caring for a new person. However, in a moment of “doubt”, my wife turned to me after listening to the news and said “Is it right to bring a baby into such a horrible world?”. My immediate response was “of course”. However, it did set a train of thought going (especially at work). Then, a couple of days later, I read a news article on the BBC website that stated that families who have more than two children are ecologically irresponsible. At first, I was rather put off by this. But I figured I best read the article before I condemned it. After reading it, I must admit I did calm down and start to see the idea behind the article. It’s main point was that people who have large amounts of children regardless of whether they have the money, space, time etc are putting greater pressure on the worlds resources (such as gas, food, water, housing etc).
Fortunately, in this respect, my wife and I are not being ecologically irresponsible, as we only have one current son. However, I think she meant in the sense that there are so many horrible things happening in the world today that it seams cruel to subject another human being to this. From a Buddhist point of view (and I must admit that my practice has fallen well by the way side recently), being able to give another human being life is a great gift, one that only women have the ‘pleasure’ of experiencing. This sentient being could have been an animal previously, or an insect. In buddhism, to be born as a human is seen as a great privilege and opportunity, as only as a human do we have the potential to achieve enlightenment, the ultimate goal of Buddhism. Whether my sons take this opportunity is up to them, I will give them every chance.
So to answer my wife’s question, I think the only bad thing about bringing the baby into this world is if we let it be a horrible world. Sure, we can’t stop the wars, the murders, the violence, injustice and hate. But we can bring up both our sons to love and respect each other and others and do the right things. Whether they be following the Buddhas teachings or not. If all parents were to do this, we could well be living in a nicer world.

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His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet is currently in England on a tour. This week end, he is giving teachings in Nottingham. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend these teachings, however, I was able to attend his talk at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday 23rd May 2008.
I arrived at South Kensington Tube station at about 13:15, plenty of time to find my seat. As I walked up Exhibition road, I suddenly noticed that I was surrounded by people dressed in robes, shaved heads and mala’s swinging from their wrists and necks. It was clear I was getting close to the Hall. As I came out onto Kensington Gore, I noticed three groups. On the park side of the street, a pro China group were lofting banners professing the clamour of being part of China. On the opposite site, making more noise with a megaphone, a Pro Dorje Shugden, A deity banned by His Holiness, were calling for religious freedom. Finally, back on the park side, A pro Tibet group made their presence known with simple waving of Tibetan flags. As I walked round the Royal Albert Hall, Numerous camera crews grabbed people from the crowds to interview.
As 13:45 approached, the time the doors would open, I made my way round to my door. A Police barrier stopped me from going too far. As I waited, a group of four Tibetan Dancers walked out from the stage door in full Tibetan dress. As they stood looking anxious, several cars pulled up. Before I realised what happened, people were cheering, waving flags and cameras poised. Suddenly, His Holiness emerged from the car beaming his trade mark smile. He went up to a group of supporters, shook their hands and laughed. He eventually walked slowly in to the stage door, guided by his aids and plain clothes security. Meanwhile, the dancers performed a traditional dance for His Holiness. An unexpected but welcome surprise. I showed my ticket to the Police Officer on the gate and walked up to the door.
As I walked through the door, my bag was searched and cleared. I followed the signs down stairs to door C to find my seat. As I emerged onto the Arena floor, I was greeted with the magnificent view of The Royal Albert Hall. The Victorian walls towered above me, glowing warmly in the stage lights. The ‘roof’ consisted of large circular discs, suspended from the glass top of the Hall. I over heard one of the technicians explain that they were designed to reflect the sound down to the hall, and bounce the noise from the street back out. Very clever. Hanging above the stage were two large screen TV’s displaying pictures and stats of the Tibetan plight. As I found my seat, a canvas bag was waiting for me filled with a program, with a timeline of His Holiness’ life and several other leaflets asking for support.
Soon after 14:30, the lights dimmed and we were welcomed by the Chief Executive of the Tibet Society, the organisation who planned the talk. After which, we were treated to some traditional Tibetan dancing and singing. Finally, we all stood for the Tibetan national Anthem. After a short interval, the moment we had all waited for, His Holiness appeared on stage. An almighty cheer rang out from the crowd, almost drowning out the thunderous applause. He took a seat on the plush white chair laid out for him on the stage. As he started to remove his shoes, some one in the rafters of the hall shouted loud and clear “we love you!”. Everyone laughed, and His Holiness, without looking up from his shoes, waved a thank you.His Holiness and his translator
His talk was an uplifting one, explaining how we can be happy by not being selfish. At one point, he mentioned the well known Mantra “Om Mani Peme Hum” and turned it in to “Om Mani”, and finally in to “Money, Money, Money”. This just demonstrated his point. His speech could be summarised in one sentence he used to complete his talk:

“The 20th Century was one of war and bloodshed. Let us make the 21st Century the century of dialogue. Then there will be a real possibility of peace”

He left much as he entered, with a smile and a wave, and suddenly, the rather surreal experience of seeing His Holiness was over. As I made my way home on the train, his message ringing in my ears, I felt energized and determined to continue my practice of Buddhism. I think this happens to most who meet him. It was a wonderful experience, and look forward to seeing him again soon.

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