During these troubling times of fear and increasing prejudice I felt it was appropriate to share some of my experiences in particular with Islam and how they have inspired my Buddhist practice.
I remember arriving in Dubai, on a late flight with a stinking cold sometime after midnight for an easter break in 1998. As our car left the airport I remember the warmth, the dark night sky and glorious light around domes and minarets as hundreds of worshipers dressed in white walked towards Mosques, ready to perform their prayers. I was filled with respect to see such sincere faith. Kadampa teachers advise that we should recall our refuge in Buddha and the commitments this involves at least 6 times each 24 hours. Many people I know (especially myself) condense that at best into 6 times during the day and at worst maybe they remember once! But here I was in a country where seemingly the whole society put so much value in their spiritual practice that they thought nothing of breaking their sleep, finding far greater value in communing with Allah than sleeping. Seeing this open expression of faith I thought of how Geshe-la would also appreciate this sincere commitment and faith.
My next significant encounter was through a friend I made within the Buddhist community. He had a close feeling for both Buddhist practice and Islam. After finishing university he went travelling and met a Muslim teacher in Afghanistan – which is itself an extraordinary tale but is his to tell, suffice to say that through this tale I could see that his contact and practice had left a deep mark of peace and gentleness within him. Some years later my friend fully committed to Islam, and through our conversations it was very clear to me that his practice was one of great inner transformation and goodness and he has been able to show me many parallels between his views and those of Buddha (you can see examples in his blog http://politicsofsoul.org/). I should add that in Buddhism we don’t believe that Buddha or Buddhism is more right than any other religious or spiritual practice, in Joyful Path of Good Fortune it says, (Buddhas) “also manifest as teachers of other religions and give instructions in accordance with the needs and inclinations of different practitioners”
Some years later I had an opportunity to once again visit Dubai, and on this occasion I also shared a hotel room with a Muslim friend. The truth it seemed was that neither of us knew much about the others religious practice, so we spent a couple of very happy days sharing our experiences and explaining some basic aspects of our practices and beliefs (as well as watch some of the one day Cricket world cup – supporting both Pakistan and England, he did rather better than me!)
Regular Daily Practice
During our conversations and time together there were several things that I really took away and admired. First and foremost; my friend never missed one of his prayer times (and indeed in the office too this is true of many Muslims) – what I noticed was that his prayers were not long but frequent and continual. I feel this is such a good example and have tried to follow it. Buddha said our practice should not be like a sudden waterfall after a great storm (which has great immediate power but leaves little long term impact) rather it should be like a river constantly and gently flowing (which over many years creates great marks in even the hardest rock, like gorges and canyons). From my friends example I saw a real living possibility of applying oneself with such constancy, whilst never losing the ability to also function in the midst of a busy ordinary lifestyle.
Secondly, I saw that even though we were in a foreign country he had never visited, as a Muslim he was immediately welcome in the nearest mosque and he was accepted and welcomed, feeling very comfortable and familiar with the practice. This for me is one of the most beautiful external manifestations of religion in society – the extension of community and kinship to all. We see it also for example in English Churches and in particular I remember Geshe Kelsang telling me and the other managers of our Buddhist center that perhaps the most important function of the center was to give a place to anyone who wanted company, quiet, refuge whatever their faith or views. This is one reason why many Kadampa centers have a Christmas day event and lunch, so no one needs to be alone on that day if they don’t wish to be.
Equality and Love
Thirdly our conversations revealed the deep seated place of equality and humility that pervades the Islamic faith. I won’t attempt a theological explanation of tenets but if you spend any time talking with a sincere Muslim it will quickly become apparent that the religion engenders the view that welcomes everyone without discrimination and is founded on the principal of equality. Within Mahayana Buddhism equality or equanimity are considered to be the fertile ground from which the fruits of love will grow. How greatly I rejoiced to see this principal pervading the lives of over a billion people.
Which brings me to my last point – I realised during the course of my time in Dubai that over 22% or a billion plus of the worlds population is Muslim and the probability is that the majority of those won’t differ very greatly form my friend whose views and faith gave me such joy and inspiration.
This is only a short article and i’ve deliberately avoided specific details of what I learned about Islam because I would much prefer anyone with an interest sought authentic sources. I have been recommended “Vision of Islam” by Sachiko Murata as one possible starting point. I also follow https://www.facebook.com/alchemiya/ which I find very beautiful and reminds me of how distorted the view we are given in the media often are.
Once again I would sincerely like to dedicate any benefit from this article to the attainment of inner peace for all sentient beings irrespective of faith or nationality and that the fertile ground of equanimity will flourish with the fruits and flowers of love and understanding.
Thinking about the horrible recent tragedies in Paris and Beirut I have been made painfully aware of how important it is to understand the meaning behind the terms friend and enemy.
There is a story from the life of Buddha about a mass murder called Angulimala. He had killed nearly 1000 people and wore a necklace of the thumbs of his victims. At one time Buddha was passing through a small village and found the streets deserted, all the citizens were hiding behind locked doors in their homes. Some people seeing Buddha called to him to come inside and hide because this maniac had been sighted and was sure to attack at any moment. They were greatly afraid for themselves and Buddha. But the Buddha gently declined their entreaties and continued to walk peacefully through the village.
As he walked a wild angry voice cried out from behind, “Stop Monk”, but the Buddha continued his pace undisturbed. Again the voice cried out with great menace, “Monk, STOP!. I TOLD YOU TO STOP” But the Buddha still continued to walk at peace. Finally the person ran ahead of Buddha, wild and ferocious, a necklace of thumbs, armed with axes and swords. He stood before the Buddha vibrating malevolence.
“I TOLD YOU TO STOP. MONK, DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM!!”
But to his surprise the Buddha returned his ferocious words and bloody appearance with a gentle gaze filled with an overwhelming compassion. Angulimala was completely taken aback because he was used only to people regarding him with fear, terror and hatred.
“I did stop Angulimala” said the Buddha
The effect of this monk was like a thunderbolt, Angulimala found himself experiencing deep inner confusion, not only was the Monk not afraid but he also knew who he was.
“You didn’t stop – I had to chase you” he replied
“I stopped a long time ago. I stopped hatred, grasping and ignorance. When will you stop?”
With these words Angulimala felt the exhaustion of a life spent with no peace or choice, propelled by confusion and hatred and craving constantly to commit horror after horror. Held in the gaze of Buddha’s compassion he realised it was impossible to harm a person who loved him far more than he loved himself. The Buddha’s gaze of love was like a mirror showing him the futility and pain of the life he was leading. Falling to his knees and dropping his weapons he asked the Buddha to help him find the path of peace.
And in fact Buddha did, despite the demands of some ruling Kings who wanted to see Angulimala imprisoned or killed the Buddha refused to hand him over but instead ordained him as a monk, promising to take full responsibility for Agulimala’s actions. In later years this same person become famous for his gentleness and great ability to show others how to overcome their inner demons to discover peace and freedom.
My question is what is it that gave the Buddha this power to transform Angulimala and what was it that drove Angulimala to his previous heinous actions?
In his life and teachings Buddha showed that there is not an atom in the universe that does not arise or appear in dependence on something else. In fact if we search for anything we will never find it, only its causes, and in turn their causes. To see this interdependence of all things is called wisdom. To grasp at things otherwise is called ignorance.
Our normal feeling is that friends and enemies are out there to be discovered. But the reality is that each person appears differently to whoever meets or thinks of them. One thing the story of Angulimala illustrates is that the way we see the world changes it. Because Buddha had an exceptionally kind mind, the dependent relationship appearing an evil terrifying person was replaced with a different possibility; his view profoundly changed the way Anguilimala appeared, not only to him, but to others and most importantly to Angulimala himself.
My wife is a school teacher and she often tells me that one of the most powerful ways to transform a failing pupil is to show them you have faith and belief in them. I have also experienced many times that by training to see the good in people, their behaviour changes. For me, one of the most important applications of Buddha’s teachings is that we are not passive witnesses to the acts of others, but that our own mind and views create the reality of the world we experience.
My response to the terrorist attacks is to accept the responsibility I have for what has happened and to train my mind in understanding, which leads to love which leads to wisdom, and to train in love, which leads to understanding, which leads to wisdom.
The truth about terror is that it is an experience in each persons mind. If we train in love, our concern for others, even those committing horrific acts will destroy our ability to experience terror and replace it with compassion. If there is no terror in the mind, there is no terrorist and there is no terrorism. As Geshe Kelsang says
“Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies”
The meaning of this advice is extremely profound and practical. I hope through this short article I have been able to share a small sense of this and given a little inspiration to pursue the path of inner transformation through practice Buddha’s advice as the only permanent solution to the worlds problems. Anyone who is interested in doing this can begin by downloading the free copy of Modern Buddhism from this site, or reading Universal Compassion or Eight Steps To Happiness – both are excellent guides.
Finally I dedicate any benefit from this article to the lasting peace of all living beings and particularly to all victims of terror. May they quickly be released from all suffering.
Inspired by a recent Buddha Shakyamuni Empowerment and teaching at Nagarjuna Center in Leicester over the weekend I decided to try and tuck back into a regular practice of daily Lamrim using the Meditation Handbook. I decided once more to begin by gently absorbing the introduction and background teachings from the beginning of the book as my first meditations. Its such a happiness and a luxury to take time over those precious words which really establish the basis for successful practice.
As so often is the case I discovered a jewel i’d overlooked on previous visits, right on the first page is a quote from Shantideva:
“Although they wish for happiness
Out of ignorance they destroy it like a foe”
It stopped me in my tracks… Here am I, a person with many years of exposure to Buddha’s teachings and yet how little conscious effort I apply to engage with his advice on the causes of happiness. Instead I do all the things that destroy or run down the cause of happiness, out of attachement, aversion or ignorance I act on the belief that objects/things/people/circumstance/food/friends/music/movies/sleep…..themselves have the power to bestow happiness or pain. But as Geshe-la explains a few paragraphs later:
“Problems, suffering and unhappiness do not exist outside the mind; they are feelings and thus part of the mind. Therefore it is only by controlling our mind that we can permanently stop our problems and make our self and others truly happy”
I am just like the person Shantideva describes. Realising that, I made a strong determination to consciously create the causes of happiness as explained by Buddha. Below is a little checklist I gave myself of things I would try to do with a conscious determination each day; knowing they are all practices which work directly on the mind to increase happiness and goodness.
- Practice moral discipline – be honest, refrain from actions that harm others, keep the promises and commitments I make
- Appreciate the value of each moment of life – this fleeting and transitory collection which briefly appears as “me” in this world with all the opportunities that gives quickly passes “like lightning in the sky” so instead of trying to hold on to it, cherish and exploit the chances it now gives.
- Cherish others, cultivate my natural instinct to love by recognizing there is no difference between my heart or that of stranger, we both wish for happiness, to be free from suffering. And others are so kind -without others we would have nothing, not clothes, not food, not even our body
- Receive blessings by generating faith in holy beings. Buddhas are the embodiment of the perfection of wisdom and compassion they are the manifestation of the potential for all that is good and perfect in the universe. Simply by thinking of them with faith enables their blessing to have great power in transforming our mind and experiences so that we move closer to them.
- Accumulate merit and purify mistakes. This means to practice generosity by giving love, fearlessness and material things, rejoicing in others happiness and good fortune whilst strongly regretting previous harmful thoughts and actions.
I enjoyed watching this so much that I wanted to share it as a Christmas gift; thanks to everyone who has followed this blog, I hope to start a new series in 2015. Also to wish everyone without exception love and peace.
My dad recently read a book called “Far From the Tree: A Dozen Kinds of Love”, he’s over 80 and read a lot of books, but he told me its probably the most important book he has ever read. The dozen kinds of love refer to families whose children have been born with something which sets them aside from “normal”, for example your child is born deaf, blind, a dwarf, gay, transgender, and 6 other characteristics, each of which form the basis for the 12 types of love considered.
Talking with dad about the book one thing that seems to come out strongly is how hard people struggle both with themselves and society to be “accepted”. Sometimes the violent reaction of people to these differences is truly terrifying and heartbreaking, death threats, beatings…. but also the love which has the power to heal, to transform entrenched attitudes and prejudices is uplifting. The love of parents who literally give the whole of their lives to look after a child born with physical or mental problems; or the love that supersedes blind hatred and ignorance to see the real beauty at the heart of each person.
Buddha taught that acceptance is part of the mind of patience which is one of the 6 Perfections which each living being should complete or perfect to fully realise their potential.
“Patience is a mind that is able to accept, fully and happily, whatever occurs. It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things. Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are.
– How to Solve our Human Problems by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso“
What a terrible, dreadful and poignant week it has been, bombs, fertilizer explosions, earthquakes and the death of a once head of state. It’s been a week of senseless awful deeds, untimely deaths and tears that should never have been. Seeing the agony and horror I think most of us had the wish to take away the pain, end the tears, give happiness and put an end to the causes of such suffering permanently. If you did, that’s your heart of compassion, your Buddha nature speaking to you, and if you listen, it offers a profound glimpse into the truth of our existence and potential. Read more…
Today I saw a very moving video of the effect that our lifestyle is having on the birds living on an uninhabited island thousands of miles away from any human being, take a look:
Its shocking to see the debris gathered up inside the bird’s bellies and the devastating effects that result from simple decisions we make everyday. A plastic bottle top we drop into a drain, or throwing the rubbish out in one big bag with no recycling. To be honest, i’m no expert on the environment, but as a Buddhist what this shows very clearly is the power of even the smallest thought to completely change the world. Read more…
I found out in the second week of December that I would be moving my home, family and work from one country to another by the end of January 2013. A friend of mine told me that she had read somewhere that moving house is one of the most stressful things that happen to a person in their lifetime, on a par with losing your job and even the death of close friend or family member. I must say I feel rather sceptical about the last part, but in general I think it is fair to say that it isn’t an easy experience! So, with such short notice and so much to do, my time has been and will continue to be for a couple more weeks, in very short supply and that’s one reason that I haven’t posted any updates on the blog.
Don’t turn a god into a demon
Another reason I haven’t posted any updates is that my formal / regular dharma practice of pujas and meditation has all but evaporated, which made me think that I probably had little of “dharmic” insight to write about. However, a conversation I’ve just had reminded me of something which has been really important and precious to me ever since I first became interested in Buddhism. It’s a practice of not making Dharma another item on my worry list. Read more…