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Sitting in the ashes

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    • #3862

      My letter to our temple-mates

      I usually wrote to you all at the beginning of the month. It’s the ninth today. What happened? Recently there has been so much happening in the world that I’ve not been able to find the right words.

      As lockdown eases we might be having all sorts of thoughts and feelings in response. Sometimes I have found myself glued to the news (particularly the weekend of Dominic Cummings’ press conference), and sometimes I have been free of that compulsion.

      June is Buddhist Action Month, and the theme this year is, ‘For The Earth’. In the run up to promoting the various events this month I’ve found myself more and more deeply in touch with my own feelings and responses to the climate crisis and ecological emergency.

      And over the last two weeks I’ve been following the news from the US. Coming into closer relationship with both the overt and covert violence towards black people has also created all sorts of reactions in me, from despair, anger and hopeless to energy and hope.

      How is it possible to be in a world like this without being overwhelmed?

      There are two important ways. The first is self-regulation. Choosing how much of the news to take and how closely to be in relationship with suffering. Sometimes we can manage this, and sometimes we can’t. Lots of very clever people are paid very well to create systems of social media and news that keep us coming back so they can receive advertising revenue from all those views.

      The second is to deepen our spiritual practice. Personally I have found that the more regularly I say nembutsu, the easier it is to be with the suffering of myself and others. Not that the suffering disappears, but that spaciousness appears around it; ease and suffering appear together. Like when we talk to a good friend about our troubles, our troubles don’t disappear, but something changes for the better.

      I’m reminded of Master Dongshan Liangjie’s work called the Five Ranks – it’s a teaching that describes progress through the spiritual life. It was pretty controversial at the time. Why? Because many people thought that the pinnacle of the spiritual life would be dwelling in the light, but Liandji’s Fifth Rank – the culmination of the spiritual life is “To sit in the ashes”.

      In our spiritual practice we continually turn towards the light receiving the unlimited blessings of the love of the Buddha’s who accept us just as we are. The more completely we are soaked in this love, the more we can come back to the world and sit in the ashes, with love.

      Compare the novice fleeing from the ashes, or frozen in the ashes, to the Master sitting in the ashes with love. What a powerful image!

      We are not masters yet, so we must also practice self-regulation. Sometimes it’s good to take ourselves away from the ashes. But we can also continue to practice deeply, allowing us to come back and sit in the ashes with love.

      Image by Jim Axtell from Pixabay

    • #3864

      Thank you for this. Watching all the suffering around us can be very distressing, this will help me.
      Namo Amida Bu.

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