Chair’s Homily August 2023
Last Wednesday during ‘Midweek for Mitras’ we looked at a traditional list called the Seven Factors of Awakening. This list ends with a factor called Upeksha. Simply translated as calm or tranquil, implying that the Buddha – The Awakened one – was always calm and tranquil. However, in our own individual Buddhist world, as we journey on the path to Enlightenment, it seems that we, and those around us are not calm or tranquil; far from it! When I view my own Buddhist path and the paths of those around me I see that there is actually a lot of tension, and at times even conflict.
Treading the Buddhist path seems to create a certain tension, due to the current way we live and the Buddhist ideals that we are trying to follow. In the society we live those around us such as friends, co-workers, family and our nearest and dearest may not understand our decisions or what we are trying to achieve. Especially if they are not following the Buddhist path, the path that drives us to find answers to the deeper questions about the mysteries of life. You can, of course try to explain the practices that you follow but with only mundane and secular concepts to get the message across it can be difficult.
The Buddhist path, is by necessity a lived experience. It is not something that can be easily explained with language. We have known our family for many years, may have formed bonds of friendship early in life, but as I have talked before, the Buddhist life is one of Change. We are changing, we are moving ever closer to being an Enlightened Being. Even if you have only been coming along to the Buddhist Centre for a few months you will be making progress and you will have changed. A gap forms between you and those you are closest to, those you have a duty towards. This gap, this divide is bridged by a tension. A tension between your old self and new self that is emerging like a butterfly from its chrysalis. At times that tension has a positive effect on those around you. They may see that you are becoming a better person. The changes you are exhibiting are for the good and your family, friends and co-workers will likely benefit. There are times when those around you are adverse to change, often as it highlights the need for their own change; which means letting go of the the lifelong habits that have been formed.
For a while you can try to lead a double life! On one-hand keeping everyone around you happy – and on the other hand pursuing your Buddhist ideals. However, the tensions in you may become internalised and while your desire and need for change is being suppressed, you will never reach your full potential. This tension continues to grow leading to negative mental states like depression and anxiety or worse negative behaviours like anger. Such a high tensile situation does no-one any good.
There is great benefit to stability in your life, especially when you are moving forward, in a Buddhist sense. But this can cause you to lose your sense of being grounded, and the sense of who you are. It may be that you are changing so fast that your poor mind struggles to keep up. Those around you, especially those with whom you’ve had a long relationship can often provide the roots you need. This long-standing relationship with another person may also be changing, and needs to be re-established in a new form that enables everyone involved to progress. Although we may think we are progressing there are areas in our lives which we do not want to progress in, we cling to them for ‘dear-life’ for the stability they give. We cause the tension in ourselves, without at times knowing it. When we blame others for their intransigence, all along it is we who are ‘grasping’ to the status-quo, which we know we must relinquish. We see and feel the tension in the gaps between our ideals and our practice, our ethical behaviour and the Precepts as ideals. We are aware that work is required on our actions and habits, but the effort required to bridge that gap can seem too much at the present time.
This tension that I am talking about can also be described by the Buddhist term Dukkha. Dukkha is the difficulty, unsatisfactoriness or even pain that we feel when our experience is not as we would like. We are not getting the results or the pleasure that we want. Another Buddhist concept to help us understand this tension we experience can be seen as having a quality of Vedana. As you may know, Vendana is one of the Five Skandhas that the Buddha used to describe the human condition or experience. Often translated as ‘sensation’ or ‘feeling tone’ interestingly it is not just a binary experience as it has three states. These three are: Attraction (pleasant), Neutral and Aversion (painful). For attraction, the tension pulls us towards an experience. For neutral we are stuck, and the tensions are not sufficient to move us. For aversion we are pulled away from the experience by the tension. As we can see, all three responses, states or Vedanas to the tensions in our life may not actually lead to a satisfactory or long lasting conclusion. We need to look for an answer, or a way of relieving these tensions, that is outside our habitual responses that have their roots in grasping.
How do we do this? We simply sit with the tension, not responding, or following a particular path or course of action dictated by a vedana, we just sit! In this way we come to a deeper understanding of the conditions that have given rise, or created this tension that drives us. To be able to clearly see this tension, feel its effects and take effective action, we need to increase our awareness, both of the conditions around us and importantly our internal response to those conditions; instead of just reacting to them. We need to take control of our situation and alter our responses to those conditions in order to improve our world, and by association, those around us.
The Dharma offers us a number of teachings and techniques for working in this important area of our lives. One of the most effective is Buddhist meditation, which can directly increase our awareness, both inside and outside of ourselves. If you can, try to give more time and effort towards your meditation, committing to a regular daily practice – even a short one. It is the regularity of the practice that gives you stability and a clearer view of the tensions in your life. And if you find maintaining a regular meditation practice at home difficult or even impossible, then maybe come along to one of our regular sessions at the Centre. Meditating with others in the same room can be an easier practice as you can be supported and carried by the enthusiasm of others. Thus you can be led to deeper states of awareness and profound changes in how you live your life. So even if your practice is only once a week, tranquillity (the Awakening factor of Upeksha) the relaxing of life’s tensions, can be yours on occasion. And all those tranquil occasions can add together so that a life lived in tranquillity becomes possible. Which implies that becoming a Buddha is also possible.