Chairs Homily – May 2023
After 2,500 years of history and innumerable attempts to clarify the Buddha’s message, Buddhism can still seem very complex. But at its heart it is very simple. It is about change and the acceptance of change. The problem comes because we want stability and permanence. So we can’t accept change except at a very superficial level that suits us personally. But Buddhism tells us we must accept change at ALL levels, instead of grasping at stability in its many forms. Maybe a new car, a house, a good job, a good partner, the list is endless. But because none of those things can stop change, we run into trouble, we suffer, or more accurately the Buddhist term ‘Dukkha’.
The Buddha said his teachings have one taste, like the oceans taste of salt, his teachings taste of Freedom (Udana 5:5 The Uposattha Sutta). By freedom, he means free from the need to grasp things tightly, to make things permanent. Freedom to accept change at every level of our existence.
When we first come along to the Buddhist Centre we probably are starting to have a notion that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we are viewing our life and the world around us. We have an insight into the True nature of reality, and that is all about change.
With Freedom comes happiness. If one sees that all things are in flux, then one can drop the need to hold tightly onto things. One can be content in a changing landscape and enjoy the fleeting moment.
In Triratna and many other Buddhist movements we talk about Going For Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. In Triratna we have a five level scale of Going For Refuge. This scale can also been seen as a scale of acceptance of change, an acceptance that goes ever deeper into your life and how you live it. Last month I talked about this scale of Refuge in relation to Ordination, and you can therefore also see Ordination as a level of acceptance of change.
So, as we progress on our Buddhist path we come to accept and maybe even welcome a level of change in our lives. However, it is hard to maintain that level of understanding and acceptance of change because society, and people around us, like to give the impression of permanence. No great empire whether Greek (lasted 900 years), Roman (lasted 1,480 years) or Ashokan (India, lasted 138 years) likes to proclaim its limited time span. The same is true of the modern society in which we are living, we do not think of it as having a beginning and an end, but it will end like all empires. It will become just part of human history.
One of the characteristics of this modern empire, as I mentioned above, is the reach and scale of advertising. We are bombarded with adverts that tells us that grasping and obtaining a certain product will mean we will live happily ever after in a god like realm. But we know, although we may choose to forget, that the product will break or be redundant in a years time, when the manufactures guarantee has run out.
The odds for accepting change do seem to be stacked against us in this modern world. I remember an image, or actually, a lifestyle, that represents freedom, and that is the image of a surfer riding the waves. The ocean waves represent change driving forward with an immense power and crashing relentlessly onto the world’s beaches. But the surfer manages, with great skill, to ride those waves by being fully aware of the changes happening within the wave and just, seemingly effortlessly, going with them.
The change in ourselves is difficult and can cause one much grief and hardship, for we don’t really want to change. We still want all things to be just the way they are, we want to help maintain the Status-Quo. We would probably like to be a Buddhist and just stay the way we are. Maybe we try to convince ourselves we can just be an academic Buddhist and just study the Dharma as one would study history. Or maybe we think we can be an ‘armchair Buddhist’, just reading the dharma and the exploits of the Buddha as though it was a novel, that may bring us a moment of happiness in an otherwise un-extraordinary life. But we know that is not right, and that we can no-longer live like that. So we press on to a deeper realisation of the nature of change, which means that we must change in a substantial and extraordinary way, so that we can be the nature of true reality.
The emotional response we have to change is often fear. An example of this is in meditation, when we start to go deeper; and as we go deeper we come into contact with the higher mental states that will help us to change. Our mind may become filled with fear as we progress. But as we meditate more and we come to understand our own consciousness more, we can develop a calmness, an equanimity towards that fear and thus embrace the change in our consciousness.
And so, in this way, little by little we change ourselves, we change who we are. We let go of all those things we once grasped, that gave us a very temporary happiness to now be replaced by a lasting contentment born of deep understanding.
A few days ago Mike Smith and I went to visit the Bury St Edmunds group. We went to say goodbye to Esther, who has been attending the Bury group for the last year. She is also off, like Mike, to be Ordained in Spain on a 3 month course. Talking to Ester and Mike I was reminded how difficult it is to get ready to be Ordained and all the changes one has to make in how you are living your life. It involves often many years of going on special retreats at a very special retreat Centre, dedicated to helping people progress on their spiritual path to the stage of Ordination. For the men that means going to the beautiful Padmaloka, located in the quiet Broads landscape just outside Norwich. For the women the journey is further, to the equally wild landscape of the Brecon Beacons and the Retreat Centre of Tiratnaloka. But here there is a difficulty in that our Movement is growing, and the number of women asking for Ordination is also growing. All good things. Definitely a positive change. But it is a growth that needs to be matched by institutions that can accommodate all those seekers after the Truth. Padmaloka has changed over time, with new buildings being constructed on the site it has adapted to be better able to train men for Ordination.
But Tiratnaloka is not big enough and cannot be extended. This places a restriction on those women who wish to be Ordained as not enough Ordination training retreat places are available.
In the Ipswich Sangha we have many women who have asked for Ordination and they are restricted in the number of Ordination retreats they can book each year. So in Ipswich we are doing all we can to help the new Tiratnaloka project, which is looking to buy a large retreat Centre that can provide training for all women who have asked for Ordination.
As you are probably aware we recently held a very successful ‘Sacred Sale’ to raise money for the new Tiratnaloka project. But more is required if the goal of buying a new retreat centre is to be achieved. The Ipswich Centre has also made a large donation to the Tiratnaloka Unlimited project because it is so important to the spread of the Dharma in Ipswich. Do have a look at their website for more information https://tiratanaloka.org.uk/unlimited
At the Centre this month we celebrate someone who managed to be the change. Someone who strived to relinquish all that he was attached to, all that he grasped, until he eventually came to understand the true nature of reality. That person is of course the Buddha. This is the major festival for Buddhists, celebrated around the world. We will be celebrating the Enlightenment of the Buddha on Sunday the 7th May. During this festival we will be getting an idea of what it is like to ‘Walk in the Footsteps of the Buddha’. To travel in the lands in which He lived 2,500 years ago. We will be hearing from the Ipswich pilgrims about their adventures in India earlier this year.
I hope to see you there.