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Facing live and death

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      I have just sent out our community guidelines for managing the coronavirus. The headlines these past few days might bring our own mortality to mind.

      I can still see the flooded banks of the river Severn from my window. They remind me of the risk all life faces from climate breakdown.

      In my own lifetime, in my own country, I am lucky to have lived through a time of relative peace.  Now, as we face worldwide situations like climate change and the virus, I am reminded of Kamakura Japan; the time in which Pureland Buddhism flourished.

      Kamakura Japan was a time of natural disaster and civil unrest.  There were earthquakes and floods. There was a fire that tore through the capital city. There was famine. In the face of all this what did Pureland Buddhism offer, and what can we learn from that to support us in the present day?

      At that time people were concerned about life after death. Behave well, they were told, or you’ll go to hell. Priests and landowners told horrific tales of what awaited the person that didn’t follow the rules, and many people were simply unable to follow the rules. Pureland Buddhism offered them hope. It said simply have faith in Amida Buddha and call out to him and at the moment of death he will come and take you to the Pureland.

      Life after death is not a question that troubles the modern mind as much, and yet there are important lessons here.

      Regardless of whether we think of one lifetime or many lifetimes Buddhism teaches that how we live now has a power over what comes next. At the simplest level our attitude in one moment conditions the next moment, both in our own lives and in the lives around us. The moment of death is seen as particularly important – how we face our death affects what we pass to the people around us, and the people that come after us.

      Knowing that there is something that accepts and loves us just as we are undermines fear and gives hope. Trusting that we are loved we face death more easily.

      What are the fears that arise as we come closer to death? That we have not done enough? That we are not loved enough?  That we have not loved enough? The love of the Buddha meets these and softens them.

      As in death, in life. Trusting that we are loved by the Buddha just as we are undermines the fear that drives our greed, ill will and ignorance and inspires us to kindness and compassion. Trusting that we are loved, we are more likely to transmit love moment to moment.

      It’s important to remember that it is this way around. It begins with the Buddha’s love for us. Whatever our state of mind, whatever our behaviour, however much or little we are loved and accepted by the people around us — the Buddha accepts and loves us just as we are.

      That truth is enough. And it gives rise to the flourishing of something different.

       

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