Bodhilila’s Notes – A Blog from the Chair of WLBC
This being, that becomes,
On the arising of this, that arises,
This not being, that does not become,
On the ceasing of this, that ceases.
I remember when I first heard that verse I was new to Buddhism with very little knowledge of the Dharma, having previously been focused almost exclusively on meditation. I didn’t understand the teaching encapsulated in those four simple lines, had never heard of the Law of Conditionality or Conditioned Co-Arising. Yet on some deep, unconscious level I recognised the profound truth of the teaching and something in me responded to it on a visceral level. It was as if my body and entire being was electrified and this was followed by an enormous release of energy that took days to settle.
The word ‘Dharma’ has multiple meanings and can be translated in many ways, including ‘Truth’ or ‘Reality’. In this way, the Dharma isn’t just for Buddhists, it’s there for everyone. Although I had little conceptual knowledge of the Dharma I had years of encountering the Dharma indirectly, even without knowing it existed. I think that is why when I first heard the Buddha’s teaching (the opening verses of the Dhammapada) I had a very similar response. On that occasion I had a sense of homecoming, a recognition that I’d finally found my path yet I also saw that I had been on it all my life, that I’d been trying to be a Buddhist even before I knew anything about the Buddha or the Dharma.
Previously my spiritual experiences had been mainly in response to nature and the arts with an ongoing desire to find and uncover some truth, to access another level of reality that I sensed lay beneath my everyday experience. I now believe the truth I was trying to uncover, that different reality I sensed was the Dharma which I had glimpses of it through my engagement with nature and the arts. For example, through nature I felt a sense of the beauty and preciousness of life, had a direct experience of impermanence in the changing seasons. This helped me go beyond my limited, personal experience and at times I felt interconnected with other living beings, not just people, including plants and trees. These experiences created the conditions for my later spiritual exploration and my eventual encounter with the Triratna community which has become my sangha and spiritual home.
There are so many Dharma teachings available nowadays that it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. You could literally spend your whole life studying the Dharma and there would still be teachings that were unknown and unfamiliar. Sometimes I find it hard to admit to myself and to others that my knowledge of the vast body of Dharma teachings is so limited. Yet I think through my years of practise I have an experiential understanding of the Dharma and I know that it is central to how I live my life. My experience is that there is something universal about the Dharma, it all has ‘the taste of freedom’ so in a way it doesn’t really matter which teaching or practice you follow, they will all ultimately lead you to the same place. Sangharakshita once said there are no higher teachings, only deeper understandings. So rather than trying to gain knowledge of more and more teachings I’ve opted to try and gain a deeper understanding of the few teachings and practices that particularly speak to me. In the years since hearing that verse on conditionality I’ve come back to it again and again, it’s one of a few teachings that I reflect on and that help me whenever I lose my Dharmic perspective. It is so simple yet can applied to everything in my experience; whatever arises in my mind and whatever occurs in my day to day life. It can also be applied to everything I see happening in the world. The more I practise the more I value simple teachings I can reflect on, that take me deeper on my spiritual journey.
In these times of extreme uncertainty and change it’s been helpful to acknowledge that there are so many conditions outside of my control but also to recognise that I can create more positive conditions for myself and others even in the midst of a global pandemic. Some challenging conditions have led to new opportunities (on the arising of this, that arises). I am saddened and frustrated by the continued closure of the West London Buddhist Centre building and I miss the opportunity to practise alongside others in our shrine rooms. Yet I really value the online practice community that has come into being because of this and it’s been a lovely to have people joining our sangha from further afield and to make our events accessible to those who would otherwise be unable to attend in person.
I am getting so much joy from the Gateways to Wisdom course I’m currently leading and the highlights for me last year were the online retreats which I either co-led or attended. Something about exploring the Dharma with the same group of people over an extended period of time seems to create such positive conditions for practice which in turn can be so supportive in dealing with the challenges of life. It was a welcome surprise to find that it can be so effective practising online, that depth of practice and a depth of connection is still possible.
The WLBC team will continue to offer online retreats and courses for the whole of this year, regardless of when we are able to open the centre building, so if you haven’t tried one yet then you have plenty of opportunities. Paramananda and I are leading a week long meditation retreat, Our Bodies Break Light which begins this Sunday evening and Prajnanita and Ratnadeva are leading a weekend retreat at the beginning of March. Check out the list below of our online retreats for the first half of this year and if any take your fancy then save the dates in your diary.
Some of you will have noticed that from January we introduced a non-returnable booking fee for all our courses and retreats along with an optional suggested donation. I just wanted to say that we want our courses and retreats to be accessible to everyone regardless of their financial circumstances and that bursaries are available if you are unable to pay the booking fee.
I look forward to practising online with some of you online during our coming retreat.
Wishing you all well in these difficult times.
2021 Online Retreats
7-13 February: ‘Our Bodies Break Light’ a week-long meditation retreat led by Bodhilila & Paramananda
5-7 March ‘Still Depths of the Mind’, a weekend retreat led by Prajnanita and Ratnadeva
2-4 April Easter weekend retreat led by Bodhilila & Maitripushpa
2 -8 May ‘Our Breathing Body’, a week long meditation retreat led by Bodhilila & Paramananda
11-13 June A weekend retreat dedicated to the archetypal Buddha Amoghasiddhi led by Prajnanita and Bodhilila
25-31 July ‘Mandala of the Heart’, a week long meditation retreat Bodhilila & Paramananda