1) I am sending out this email a few days early because I wanted to tell you about a special festival this weekend – Sangha Day on Sunday 29th Nov.
At the North London Buddhist Centre https://www.northlondonbuddhistcentre.com/festivals-pujas/online-live-sangha-day-festival Anandavjra is becoming the mitra convenor in a ceremony from 2.45pm to 3.30pm. He is also doing a talk earlier in the day. Then immediately following at Cambridge Buddhist Centre https://mailchi.mp/5270175a8fcd/sangha-day-dana-6080061?e=5b09e8c04d from 3.30pm and 5pm Dave Baird and Katherine are becoming mitras.
There are also lots of other things going on throught the day at those and other centres.
Also there is a worldwide Sangha Day starting in New Zealand at 9pm Friday 27th our time travelling all over the world, and finishing in the early hours of Sunday morning (our time). https://thebuddhistcentre.com/stories/toolkit/sangha-day-2020/
2) Our Tuesday evening zoom class (7.30pm to 9.30pm) continues as usual throughout December. We won’t take a break this year, as most people will be at home anyway, and might fancy getting together with their sangha friends for a bit. Total beginners and newcomers are always very welcome. Just turn up between 7.15 pm and 7.30pm. It is also fine if you arrive late or leave early.
8/12 Karunadhara will talk about his work as a Buddhist prison chaplain. I know he works in several prisons in Kent, and he has some great stories. Plus I really think it is an amazing thing to do. I expect many people behind bars will see his chaplaincy and sangha building in there as a bit of a lifeline.
15/12 Paramjyoti is going to be leading an evening around the poem “Men and Flowers” by D. H. Lawrence.
22/12 Regulars will be performing music, songs, poetry, showing off thier artwork etc. If you want to perform ask Katherine.
29/12 Padmajata is leading the class.
Then on 5th January it is the start of a new year. New Year = New Mind! After a lot of indulgence and soul searching in the Christmas period, people often feel the need to do something positive to work on themselves to prepare for the year ahead.
And what better way to do that than to come on a meditation and Buddhism course. We will be presenting the 6 Week Radical Dharma course created by the Sheffield Buddhist Centre. No need to book. Just turn up on the 5th Jan.
3) Zoom yoga is at Tuesdays at 6.15 pm. Email Amber at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
4) Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an evidence-based approach to help people deal more effectively with stress and anxiety and improve their overall well-being. The course meets for two and half hours, weekly for eight weeks. It is suitable for those who are experienced meditators or those who are new to mindfulness practices – no prior experience of mindfulness is necessary.
My good friend Helen Bond is hoping to run face to face courses on Monday afternoons and/or Monday evenings in the Hertford area from January 2021, depending on government guidelines. The course may be partly or completely on zoom if we cannot meet in person or if people indicate that zoom would be their preference. There will be an upfront charge to cover costs (room hire, handouts; amount dependent on venue and participant numbers) and then by donation. If you are interested in attending a course, or would like to know more about MBSR please contact Helen at email@example.com. Please indicate your preference for Monday afternoon or evening; face to face or zoom.
That’s all for now.
Have a great Sangha Day, Christmas and the rest of the year!
All the best
p.s. From Buddhism: Tools for Living Your Life by Vajragupta © Windhorse Publications
Fourth stage of Metta Bhavana – the person we find difficult
In the fourth stage of the practice, we become aware of someone we find difficult, irritating, or antagonistic. We try to overcome any ill will and, instead, cultivate a concern for their welfare. This is very challenging indeed and we may feel a resistance even to the idea of attempting it! But, although it seems counter-intuitive, the best chance for our own happiness consists in thinking about the happiness of others.
When we are new to the practice, it might be best to start with someone we experience as just mildly awkward or irritating, rather than someone we find really difficult. Otherwise we may end our loving-kindness meditation with gritted teeth and steam coming out of our ears! With time and experience, we learn how to work in this stage of the practice and may feel robust enough to take on those whom we find more seriously difficult. I know many people who have gradually transformed deep negative feelings towards certain people, or vastly improved key relationships in their life that have been problematic.
In this stage of the practice we first simply acknowledge our feelings, owning any anger or ill will, and just trying to soften, relax, and let it go. We can reflect on how useless such feelings are. They just cause pain and disturbance in our minds and, if we act from that basis, they also cause pain for others.
When we are in a state of hatred, we don’t see the other person as they really are. We see what we dislike writ large, so that we can’t appreciate other aspects of them. In the meditation we can work against this tendency, bringing to mind their positive qualities, and reflecting that although we don’t like them, there are probably other people who dolour view of them is only part of the story.
It is worth being aware of assumptions. Someone we don’t like arrives late for a meeting and we complain to ourselves. ‘She is always late. She’s just avoiding this meeting because she knows its not going to go her way.’ Then she turns up, full of apologies, and explains that on the way to work she found a little boy who’d lost his mother, so she had to help him. We sit there feeling glad we’d not criticized her out loud! Perhaps our policy should be to give people the benefit of the doubt, trying to assume the best about them and their motives. Maybe we need to be especially careful with those we find difficult, when we can often be overly suspicious of their motives. Of course, this does not mean being naive. If we know full well they are taking us for a ride, we need to do something about it. But we should be careful that we do know for sure, rather than jumping to a conclusion.
As well as trying to loosen our narrow, subjective view of the person we find difficult, we can go even further and attempt to look at the situation from their point of view. For example, I’m irritated because someone is being a bit antagonistic towards me at work. He makes the odd sarcastic comment and seems opposed to anything I suggest. Perhaps in the meditation I can reflect on why he might be doing this. There will be a reason. He did it because, rightly or wrongly, consciously or unconsciously, he thought it would make him happy. He, like everyone else, and like me, just wants to be happy, so he acts in ways that he thinks will produce this happiness. But how was it that he thought being sarcastic could contribute to his happiness? Perhaps I was a bit short with him the previous day and, feeling hurt, he is trying to show me his determination not to be treated like that. Realizing this, I can try to take his point of view into account. I can try to speak to him more sensitively.
Or perhaps I recently got promoted to a post that he’d also applied for, and I realize he is feeling rather competitive at the moment. In this case, although his feelings are not my fault, I can still be aware of what is going on and act appropriately. Perhaps I am careful to be extra appreciative of him in the next few weeks (without making it too obvious, of course). Rather than acting on the basis of my irritation, I have looked deeply and seen the situation from the other person’s perspective. I can try to act in a way that helps him and, in fact, this will be what helps me too. I’m responding with compassion to his mistaken idea of what will make him happy. Such a compassionate response is more likely to help him towards a better idea of where happiness is to be found.
exercise – understanding the difficulties of others
Now you can try incorporating this fourth stage of the meditation into your own practice. Allow a few minutes for each stage until you arrive at the ‘difficult person’ stage.
You bring this person to mind as in the other stages, and notice and acknowledge your feelings towards them. Then choose one of the approaches explored above.
If your feelings are strong, it might be best just to work on letting go. When you notice your mind following an irritable train of thought, notice the thoughts and then let them go. When you notice anger in your heart, or a physical sense of tightness and tension, try to soften and let go. You can ask yourself if these negative feelings are worth holding on to, and who benefits from them.
Or you can spend time thinking about this person’s positive qualities that you do not usually notice or give them credit for. Or you might try to understand why it is they behave in a way you find difficult, try to see the situation from their point of view.
Again, it is good to vary the approach over time, to take notes, and notice what works for you.
Sometimes, if your feelings are strong, you cannot deal with them in one meditation. Don’t worry about this. If the negative feelings persist, leave that person for a while and come back to stage one of the practice, or just to physical relaxation of the body, or watching the breath.
This is, of course, much harder in practice than in theory. In real life, events unfold so quickly. Our feelings of hurt smart and burn, they seem instantly to transform themselves into indignation or irritation, and then we can’t seem to stop ourselves acting on them. But that is why loving-kindness is something we have to practise both within meditation and without. We gradually learn to see things from a more objective, compassionate point of view.
Another aspect of loving-kindness, and of seeing people in a more rounded, realistic way, is forgiveness. My Buddhist teacher once said, ‘I am much worse than you think I am, but also much better.’10 He was asking his followers, who perhaps had a tendency to put him on a pedestal, to try to see him more as he really was – as a person with a mix of good qualities and human weaknesses. The aphorism is true of us all. We are probably all capable of acting in far worse ways than we’d like to think, but we are also capable of much more good than we dare imagine. Human life is complex, and we can only learn as we go along, by making mistakes. When I look back on my life and see the times when I’ve caused most harm to others, it was not out of a deliberate wish to do so, but out of an insensitivity born of inexperience, or sheer naivety, or because I was blind to the needs of others because of my own desires. Because we will all make mistakes, we need to be able to forgive. We need self-forgiveness and forgiveness towards others. As William Blake said, ‘Mutual forgiveness of each vice, such are the Gates of Paradise.’
When someone has done us a serious wrong, forgiveness can be very difficult and may take a long time. However, the example of South Africa is inspiring. When apartheid came to an end, and they had their first democratic elections, there was much debate about how to bring to justice those who had committed atrocities. People eventually realized that retribution through the courts was not an option. Apart from the practical difficulties of providing evidence, there was fear that the whole process would lead to more bitterness and violence. For this reason, some people called for a general amnesty and writing off of crimes. Others argued that this would be to ignore the principle of justice. So a Truth and Reconciliation Committee was formed. Perpetrators were offered amnesty, but only if they came forward and admitted their crimes. Victims were also encouraged to tell of the terrible atrocities that had been inflicted on them or their families. The committee ensured that these stories were heard, including by those who probably committed the crimes. The victims would not have to live with those experiences for the rest of their days without their being acknowledged, or with the rest of the country in denial. And forgiveness – restorative justice rather than retributive justice – was encouraged. There are stories of remarkably courageous acts of forgiveness from many people – both black and white.
Having difficulties with people is, of course, inevitable. We are all so different, and human communication and interaction is bound to be complex and problematic at times. So perhaps it is helpful to realize that difficulties are normal; it is how we deal with them that matters. We cannot expect to get on with everybody all the time, but we can try to bring awareness, understanding, and honesty to the problems that crop up.