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Wisdom of the sangha

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021, 18:28

This is a tough module I am studying (M269). Spent hours trying to understand and answer a question on the TMA. I tried so hard, but had to quit in the end and submit the assignment, leaving the last parts of the question unanswered, I will lose a lot of marks, but I did try my best. I am honestly wondering if I am going to pass this module, it may be that I'll have to resit it again next year if I don't. 

After submitting the assignment, I sat in Zazen over Zoom. I was feeling stressed about a lot of things during the meditation. And felt quite dark in mood while sat there. I was worrying about the assignment; but also anxious about the state of the world and all the crazy stuff happening just now. Sad and mad about seeing species go extinct, something I am witnessing with my own eyes. 

 Then there's the homelessness crisis, in part due to banks kicking people out of their homes due to missing their mortgage payments, not their fault either, these familes lost their income because of the lockdowns. The government is so keen to save lives by treble-vaxxing everyone, yet I can't help but feel if they really were trying to save lives, why don't they help these poor folks trying to survive on the streets in the middle of winter? Why don't they help the old and vulnerable dying in care homes due to staff shortages or dying in NHS hospitals because relatives can no longer afford to pay for their care. I feel afraid of the huge poverty that is coming from the fallout of this pandemic. Why are they doing nothing to help these people who are at risk of death from extreme poverty?

 I also feel so sorry for the refugees. it was horrifying to hear on the news about that large fishing boat that purposely put itself in the way of drowning refugees and the lifeboats trying to save them. How could they be so heartless and cruel. I cannot understand why people can become like that. 

And I am sick to death of all the happy clappy fake plastic smiley corporate advertisements. Sick of all the celebrity bullshit, blah blah blah so what. All this being broadcast while the Earth is in a major crisis right now. I wish the governments of the world would show more enthusiasm, effort and coordination over reversing the sixth mass extinction event than this mass-vaccination campaign. If they can put so many resources, logistics, academics and energy into vaccinating everyone, surely they could do the same for turning this terrifying mass extinction event around, and also help all those suffering from poverty and homelessness. The governments are so fake, them and the media.

I spoke of all my concerns with the Zen group today (one can stay and have a discussion with the group after meditation). They were all very kind and said a lot of helpful things to cheer me up and help me feel better. Reminding me there are lots of good people out there. And although it all seems futile at times, whatever small way we can help others means something to those we help. That one needs to fight back with compassion. They advised me to read about someone called Joanna Macy, saying she was someone who may be a kindred spirit for me in these dark times, and might help me feel some hope and rekindle love and compassion in my heart.

 I also stated to my friends in the sangha that I had made a vow to never take my life no matter how hard things get. After confessing to them that I had felt like doing so. Mainly because I couldn't bare the thought of seeing any more species go extinct, or witness any more refugees drowning at sea, any more war, poverty or suffering, I didn't want to live in the Orwellian, dystopian world we seem to be heading towards. They were happy to hear that I have made a vow to never commit suicide. I feel publicly making this vow and the painting I made to seal it is a kind of protection for me. Because the thoughts do constantly whirl around my head at times, but seeing my painting and remembering my words can help me stay alive I think.  

One bit of advice that stuck out for me was to try and see my negative mood cycles as like being in a womb, a state of becoming. A time to retreat, nurture and take care, not get too overwhelmed with the sorrow of the world, but care for it with a tenderness like one would a growing baby, and all that sorrow can give birth to something beautiful if one is patient and gentle with it. It can become love and compassion instead of anger and hate. The bodhisattva of compassion Avalokiteshivra has many many hands and eyes, and those who have taken the bodhissatva vow are her many eyes and hands in this world.

I was so glad that I sat with them today and that I stayed to chat at the end. I nearly didn't, my mood was so negative I didn't want to bring it into the online zendo, but at the last minute I decided I would sit with them. And it did help, not just me, but the other people there were grateful for the discussion we had at the end, as the words of wisdom shared by the different members of the group seemed to help everyone. 


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The five remembrances and the nature of change

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A bit under the weather today. Woke up with a touch of sickness this morning. Didn't feel comfortable lying in bed as had sweated a lot in the night. So I got up and had a bath. Then sat in meditation with a Zen group I sit with regularly. Felt quite unwell whilst I sat, and have an annoying cough which kept interrupting the flow of meditation and stopped me getting into a deep state of concentration. At first I wondered why on Earth I was sitting meditating with others on Zoom when I just wasn't feeling it. But I remembered a story about a monk who got sick with malaria, and he carried on sitting and meditating with the sangha every evening, and even though he felt like he was on death's door, and felt gravely ill, he kept meditating and it was hardwork, he struggled; but he also persevered and eventually managed to reach a flow state known as samhadi (A profound deep stillness, lucidity and unification of mind) and from then on his sickness turned around and he got better. I have heard other stories like this, so I think there is something to it. There's something powerful and healing about getting into a state of samhadi. I didn't manage to do that today, after 30 minutes I felt like I had had enough and left the sitting to lie down for a bit. 

But it was not a wasted effort, there was merit there. I think just sitting with the sickness and learning how to flow with it and be kind to myself was a helpful experience. I tried to remain aware and mindful throughout and learn what I could about the mind and how to be okay with ill health and pain; not reacting, accepting things as they are, letting them be, without the suffering. 

 I can't seem to generate the energy of metta (loving-kindness, goodwill, friendliness) today, feel a bit weak and fatigued, athough I will persevere with that as I have found doing metta practise for the bacteria/viruses causing sickness in my body has powerfully turned things around for me in the past. I can't seem to bring up that feeling just now though, so am spending a lot of time in equanimity. I may listen to a playlist of dharma talks on metta later, as using the voice of another can help to generate the feeling of metta when I am struggling to be able to.

Remembering the five wise reflections oddly brings me comfort, and seems to help the mind to accept the way things are. It reminds me that the first four reflections: ageing, sickness, death, and separation  are natural, and happen to all living beings. The last reflection reminds me to show kindness to myself and others, and develop a generous heart and try to give in whatever form I can, even if that is just silently practising metta for myself and others, it still helps. As these are actions that can bring one good karma. 

The Five wise reflections

I am of the nature to age; I have not gone beyond old age.
I am of the nature to get sick; I have not gone beyond ill health.
I am of the nature to die; I have not gone beyond dying.
Everything I hold dear and everyone that I love,
Will become separated from me due to the nature of change (of impermanence).

I am the owner of my karma, heir of my karma, 
Born of my karma, related to my karma.
My karma is the ground on which I stand.
Therefore should I frequently remember:
Whatever actions I do for good or for ill,
Become the karma I inherit.



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