Chair’s Homily October 2022
A few days ago I was given a great opportunity. An opportunity for a bit of quiet time, alone, a sort of mini-solitary I suppose you could term it. So what was the occasion you ask? And how did it come about? But first I must add something to this story, for you dear reader. Three related but distinct aphorisms are smuggled into this story. Ideas to ponder and turnover in quiet times.
We, that is over 50 Ipswich Sangha members, nearly filled Vajrasana retreat centre and spent a weekend learning about and celebrating Padmasambhava and his demon transforming abilities. We heard inspiring and revelatory talks, meditated more than usual, and partook in a noisy but melodic ritual.
Following that retreat I had a few days rest in North Norfolk in our touring caravan. That is my partner, two small dogs, and I. However, on the way back, at Capel St Mary only 10 miles from home, the clutch on the car failed and I was left stranded with caravan still in tow. A call to my road-rescue would sort out the problem, within an hour maybe… However, that was not to be. The rescue took 9 hours eventually. My daughter came and took my partner and the dogs away. I was left to wait for an undefined time. People stopped and offered help, to tow my car or share my predicament. I really cherished their small pieces of conversation, as diverse as the people, each offered comfort in their own way. The police dropped by and ensured I was comfortable. I must admit, I was very impressed by the generosity of strangers. I wondered what had drawn us together, what was our meeting really about? But I was not concerned about waiting at the side of the road, help was on its way, at some point. And of course being alone is a great joy if you lead a busy life, especially when the makings of a cup of tea are at hand.
Some words came into my mind, “Take the opportunity that is in-front of you!” As I have recounted before to you, I am a slow reader, so 9 hours free in which to read and contemplate is a rare treat. Luckily, or maybe just part of life’s tapestry, I had picked-up from the Centre library Herman Hesse’s novel about Buddhism, ‘Siddhartha’. This was the first book I read that mentioned Buddhism and thus inspired and led me onto the path that I have trod from then onwards, some 40+ years. The novel is a fictionalised account of someone who comes into contact with the Buddha but doesn’t really take full advantage of the teaching he has been given. What was interesting for me is that the story is not how I remembered it. I thought there was more of a description of the Buddha, but he is only a small character in the story. The book was written in 1922, and really is a missmatch of Indian philosophy, mostly drawn from the Veda’s rather than from the Pali Cannon.
A clear understanding of Buddhist ideas was not available to Hesse, but the book does give a fictionalised account of the author’s own search for meaning in life. It was to be another 35 years before Sangharakshita’s ‘Survey of Buddhism’ was published and thus fir Buddhism to become clearly defined for a western reader. A book I was also late in discovering, another 30 years on, in 1987. Every time I look back at the books I read in my first searching for information about Buddhism I find it hard to understand how I managed to keep going, and didn’t fall into the Eastern philosophical soup that most people seemed to be writing from at that time, mainly influenced by the Theosophical Society that promoted the exotic and mystical, over the clarity taught by the Buddha and his legacy over the generations.
I suppose that is Shraddha, a deep faith in the Buddha’s teachings. Although clouded by doubt, created by the books I was reading, I could see a way forward, a way that was taking me from darkness to light. Sangharakshita defines Shraddha as “The emotional response of what is ultimate in us to what is ultimate in the Universe”. That Shraddha kept me going until I eventually came out of the clouds of confusion. You just have to sense what it is you need to do!
My hours in the car passed quickly, almost as though in a long meditation, with added leg stretches as people came to ensure I was OK. The road-rescue engineers who towed me home insisted that I must have given their control room ‘hell’ as they politely put it. But, I didn’t. Why would I be angry at someone who had given me this opportunity? The experiences that we might describe as ‘Heaven’ or ‘Hell’ are only of our own making. They are just labels we attach to an experience. You decide which label to use. The experience is only the experience!
And finally to hear from my rescuers, with deep interest, about how the road-rescue market works and the sufferings and successes of those working within that industry. So with a bit of a quiet time, maybe a solitary retreat or just a day off from your usual activity you can get around to realising that you are on the critical path for the Universe.
This month seems to be a special one for Mitra’s. Early on in the month, on 6th October, we have a great celebratory occasion, in the form of Mitra ceremonies. Four people in our Sangha have decided to make that formal and ritual commitment to the Buddhist path. To declare themselves a Buddhist and begin their individual and collective process of taking refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddhism. For them, the clarity that Buddhism brings, will light their Shraddha. The next week on Tuesday, 11th those new Mitras can join with all Ipswich Mitras and Order members in an evening where they can hear about what is happening at the Centre and add their own ideas to make our Centre work for them and all those, in Ipswich with a yearning for the Dharma. Then on Sunday 16th October our Mitra Convenors are holding a whole day at the Centre for Mitras, a chance to practice together and feel an active part of the Ipswich Mitra Community.
If you are not yet a Mitra, you don’t need to feel left out as there is still much for you to do at the Centre this month.
I look forward to seeing you there.