Brahma Vihara practice, climate change, Climate crisis, compassion - karuna, death, Uncategorized

Continuing compassion

rescued koala

[Forest and wildlife officer Lachlan Clarke checks a koala for injuries – photo courtesy of the Guardian]

In my last newsletter and last post here, I’ve been exploring compassion as a resource to navigate all the various global challenges happening right now.

Just today there was a moving photo essay about all the efforts that are being made to help koalas injured in the recent Australian bushfires. I find it helpful to keep orienting to positive news as an antidote to overwhelm, so here’s the link:

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/gallery/2020/feb/11/drones-thermal-imaging-australia-koalas-bushfire-crisis

anxiety, climate change, compassion - karuna, death, dukkha, fear, Uncategorized

Compassion for all beings affected by the Australian bushfires

trunk red sap close

Season’s greetings from Waipu, New Zealand

I’m unexpectedly having to spend more time here in New Zealand, after my nine-day retreat outside of Sydney over New Year was just cancelled due to the bushfires in Australia.

The Blue Mountains has been a kind of second home to me, so I’ve been staying in contact with friends there who have been sending me heart-breaking reports of the situation they’re enduring.

In the face of such intense destruction, it’s hard to know how to respond from afar, but I’ve decided to make a commitment to practice compassion every day for the next two weeks, and to send out this message to see if anyone would like to join me in that commitment.
(Originally I was just going to send this message to people in Australia, but a US friend asked to be included, so now I’m sending it to everyone on my mailing list in case you’d like to join us.)

My plan is to sit for 15 minutes every day at 1:00 pm NZT, which is 11:00 am Sydney and Melbourne, 10:30 am Adelaide, 10:00 am Brisbane, and 8:00 am Perth. That’s midnight in the UK, sorry, but 4 pm on the US West Coast and 7 pm on the US East Coast.

I’ve made a fifteen minute guided meditation that focuses on practising compassion specifically for the bushfire situation, which you can find on Dharmaseed here:
https://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/637/talk/60035/

Of course, you can practice compassion in any way that works for you. And, depending on the situation and how your heart feels each day, it may be that one of the other brahmavihara practices might be more appropriate. If you’re not familiar with brahmavihara practice, you might listen to this talk which gives an overview of the relationship between kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity.
https://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/637/talk/58585/

wombat and baby 1.JPG

Wombat mother and baby, Newnes Plateau NSW

What’s been happening in Australia

For those who might not be aware of the situation, more than four million hectares of Australia have burned and nine people have died since September 2019, in an “unprecedented” start to the summer fire season.

New South Wales

The total area burned in NSW is 3.41m hectares, according to the Rural Fire Service. … “To put it in perspective, in the past few years we have had a total area burned for the whole season of about 280,000 ha,” RFS spokeswoman Angela Burford said. “This year we’re at 3.41m and we are only halfway through the season.”
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/dec/24/australian-bushfires-the-story-so-far-in-each-state

death, death and dying, impermanence - anicca, Uncategorized

January 2016 full moon – Impermanence

This full moon post is a bit late again, partly because I’ve been on the move, travelling and teaching, and partly because a friend of mine is actively dying now.  Even though I’m not physically with her, the gravitational pull of death seems to dissolve any words that come into my mind, and I can find nothing to write that seems to be of any relevance.
So this month, perhaps just a few images of Januarys past can be enough.

Life is an ever rolling wheel
And every day is the right one.
He who recites poems at his death
Adds frost to snow.
Mumon Gensen, Japanese monk died 1390

Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death
edited by Yoel Hoffmann

 

death, impermanence - anicca

June 2015 full moon – impermanence

church door

Deeply understanding the truth of impermanence – including death – is central to the Buddha’s teachings, but for those of us living in contemporary western society, this can seem a very alien and alienating concept.  It’s more the norm to avoid anything to do with death and dying for as long as possible, until at some point, it inevitably confronts us.

Early on in my own practice I noticed this tendency in myself, and a little reluctantly at first, tried to do something about it.  With hindsight though, I feel very fortunate to have been able to explore impermanence in various ways over the last few years: through Zen chaplaincy training, doing volunteer hospice work, and helping set up a Death and Dying group when I was on staff at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts.  (Six years later, that group is still going strong: it’s morphed into the Caregivers Sangha, which continues to explore different aspects of death and dying, and also offers support to anyone in the community who may be injured, ill, or in the last stages of life.)

And, in spite of all that preparation, when my father died in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, I still felt the impact, and on many different levels simultaneously.  He was 87 and had been in poor health for quite a while, so it wasn’t unexpected.  Yet when I sat and meditated alongside his body in the funeral home, each time I took another sidelong glance at his face, there was a visceral response in my own body, a primal recoil from the truth of impermanence.

At the same time, during the funeral preparations, people in my father’s community who I barely knew were suddenly willing to start conversations with me about their own experiences of loss.  I heard many poignant stories, and the universality of death started to sink in more deeply.

Then a few days ago, it was time to send out my usual bi-annual newsletter to all the people on my mailing list.  I wasn’t sure whether to mention my father’s passing or not, but because it was still occupying a large part of my psyche, in some ways it would have felt strange not to acknowledge it.

So in the end I did mention it, and after the newsletter went out, many people emailed saying how much they appreciated my sharing the news.  Again, quite a few people movingly described their own experiences of losing someone close to them, and I realised that there are still not many opportunities to talk about death and dying, even though it’s an inevitable aspect of life.

Buddha night v

So over the last couple of weeks, I’ve felt like a modern-day Kisa Gotami, belatedly coming to more understanding that actually, death is everywhere – if our eyes and hearts are open to letting it in.

Kisa Gotami was a woman who, according to the discourses, was unable to accept the truth of her only son’s death until the Buddha helped her put the tragedy in a bigger context. The story goes that after her infant son died, Kisa Gotami went into deep denial (as we might say today), and carried his corpse around the village, asking everyone she met for help to cure him.  Most people tried to tell her the truth that the child was dead, but she simply couldn’t hear it.  Eventually, a kind person suggested that she go to the Buddha and ask for his assistance.

The Buddha saw immediately that Kisa Gotami’s mind was not able to take in the truth, no matter how clearly it might be expressed.  So he told Kisa Gotami that he could cure her problem, but that he would need some ingredients to make medicine.  He asked her to go into the village and collect some mustard seeds from any households where there had been no death.

Kisa Gotami hurried off, going from house to house with her request.  At each house, people were keen to give her a few mustard seeds, but when she questioned the householders further, in every single house, someone had died: a grandparent, mother, father, aunt, uncle, sibling or child … Eventually, Kisa Gotami understood that death is universal.  She went back to the Buddha, buried her child and joined the Buddha’s community, and it’s said she later attained the deepest freedom, Nibbana.

beach rock cairnmist forest bw

Remembering this story, I wondered how Kisa Gotami might access this same truth if she were alive today.  And I thought of the “Death Cafe” movement, which I’d read about a couple of years ago.  Apparently, the first “death cafe” was established in London in 2011 to allow people, often strangers, to gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. The objective is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.

Over the last four years, this idea has spread around the world and according to the Death Cafe website, there have been 1992 death cafes in 32 countries, including Australia and New Zealand.  You can find more information about it here: http://deathcafe.com/what/

Although I haven’t been to one myself yet, I love the idea!  And it’s renewed my interest in providing opportunities for people to explore this whole theme of death and dying.  A few years ago in Massachusetts I offered a couple of day-long workshops to do this.  I remember how powerful those experiences were, so if any of you reading this have interest in doing something similar in your own communities, I’d be happy to help facilitate a workshop, discussion group, or even just an individual conversation – whatever feels appropriate, just let me know.

To close, here’s a traditional Buddhist funeral chant:

Anicca vata sankhara
Uppada vayadhammino
Uppajjhitva nirujjhanti
Tesam vupasamo sukho.
All conditioned things are impermanent
Their nature is to arise and pass away.
To live in harmony with this truth
Brings the highest happiness.

 
 
 
 

beach blue penguin dead

 

May we all realise the highest happiness.