Monday, March 8, 2010

Is this a Buddhist love story?

Like most Buddhists I know (admittedly not many of these are bhikkhus or bhikkhunis), I have often struggled with practice, especially formal sitting meditation practice. Like most Buddhists I know, I recognise the central importance of meditation practice to most Buddhist traditions; and in my personal experience, such formal sitting as I've done is of great value in developing a mind that is clear, open, flexible and - even more important than these qualities - a mind that can respond to the suffering of fellow beings, and to my own, with compassion and wisdom.

I admit that my efforts at sitting have never been truly consistent, my application uncertain and sometimes unwilling, and my practice has been generally unsupported by an experienced guide.

Some expert advice has come my way, and I've welcomed it, especially because it has reinforced my prejudice against sitting, and encouraged me to work with other methods, some of which have seemed promising, some of which have seemed improbably effective as ways of training the mind to watch itself, and to accept what is sees with kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.

In recent times I have felt the need for more support and - in the absence of any enthusiasm on my part for an institutional sangha - I have joined an on-line sangha, the varied and large assembly of on-line dharma-practitioners around the teaching of Ken McLeod, author of "Wake Up To Your Mind", and founder of Unfettered Mind (see the link in the left column of the blog).

I've belonged to Unfettered Mind for several years now, and it is indeed my practice-mainstay, members of the virtual sangha my spiritual friends and collaborators. Modern technology means that we can meet regularly using Skype to hold conference calls across the world, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Texas, Canada, Los Angeles. These meetings are as warm, as friendly and as intimate as any I have joined face-to-face. I count myself very lucky to have stumbled across this resource, and grateful for what has flowed from it in terms of personal enrichment, and the touch of many dharmas.

Each week one of our small group poses a question for the rest to ponder during the week until we meet again. The questions tend to arise naturally from an earlier discussion we've had about our individual practice, how we're doing, what's 'come up' for us etc. We've established a convention of confining our reporting-in to a single sentence each, heard in silence and without questions or comments until each of us has said our short bit.

Last week's question was about 'awkwardness', and that arose in part from what we had talked about before around the topic of 'meditating standing up', a method suggested by Will Johnson, a Canadian exponent of embodiment, whose book "Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient" I took to as a duck takes to its first encounter with water, with a delighted "Quack!" Without going into detail which can be found by following the links, I can say that my practice has been transformed by standing up, and I am 'sold' on it: it's like coming home, and has led to further explorations of what I now realise is a school of Buddhism that has been kept a well-guarded secret, Ecstatic Buddhism.

Certainly, when we met at the chaplaincy training group on Sunday last, none of the participants had heard of it; several of these were experienced dharma-pactitioners and teachers of repute. I suspect, and it is only a conjecture on my part, that - as with all ecstatic traditions within the majot world faiths - ecstatic Buddhism is the object of mistrust, because of its sexual content- or at least because of its attention to psycho-sexual energies, and the immense world of sensation they entrain. Such energies are released by meditation techniques that open up to our embodiment, and which are enjoined by such encouragements as "Happy Practice!" and "Relax, smile, rest".

So it was interest and curiosity that I turned to Ken McLeod's book for guidance on the matter of sex. The book is titled "Wake Up To Your Life". It runs to 478 pages and the index contains over 1,000 entries. The book is manifestly addressed to my life (and any other readers), and I know my life is as much about sex as it is about food, drink, shelter, self-esteem, relationships, money, emotions or the internal combustion engine. But the word sex isn't in the index. I found one mention, on p476, about problems with the teacher-pupil relationship.

What is it about religion and sex? What is it about Buddhism and sex? Don't YOU want to know?

I thought to add the following story as a frivolous addendum to the above. It's the love story I alluded to at the beginning of this blog, at least, that's my romantic interpretation.

"A large assembly of monks gathered around the Buddha at Vulture's Peak to hear him teach about the nature of being.

Buddha, sitting quietly, held up a flower and showed it to the whole gathering.

Everyone sat in silence.

But one student, the venerable Kashyapa, smiled.

The Buddha then said, "The one true teaching is beyond form and does not depend on words or letters. It is a special transmission outside all scriptures. I now entrust it to the venerable Kashyapa".

The image above is of Shakyamuni Buddha with his friends Ananda and Kashyapa.

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