On Sunday, 11th March 2018, we rejoiced the life of our dear friend Brian Waldbillig.
We met at the Lucid Body House on Lexington Avenue, ant the event was well attended by Brian’s sangha and non-sangha friends. Guests of honor were Brian’s dear friend, Stephen, and his beloved dog, Dante. Dante padded around during the proceedings, personally greeting the guests.
The program was led by Vajramati, Brian’s close friend and mentor. Vajramati gave an overview of Brian’s life and followed with an explanation of the Buddhist view of death.
Vajramati then led the Refuges and Precepts call and response chanting.
Anne followed with a reading of the Karaniya Metta Sutta, the Buddha’s teaching on the development of loving kindness.
Ananta then recited the Amitabha mantra in chanting style.
We then reflected silently for a short period.
Vajramati rang the bell for the first time, and we began rejoicing in Brian. Friends celebrated by sharing loving thoughts and memories of Brian and reading poems in his honor. Contributors included Vajramati, Laura, Anne, Fay, Liesl, Gary, Padhma Dharini, Danakamala, Zack, Alyssa, Lara, Savannah, Ananta, Byron and Kim.
The bell was rung again, and Fay and Laura performed another original piece by Brian, titledIn Nativitate, vel Kalyāṇamitratā.
Vajramati then led the Transference of Merit.
The bell was rung a final time, and everyone was invited for a period of socializing and food.
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In 1987 Clear Vision filmed Dhardo Tulku Rimpoche, one of Sangharakshita’s main teachers and friends, whose life profoundly influenced how the FWBO/Triratna Buddhist Community developed. Two fascinating programmes resulted.
In part one Dhardo Rimpoche talks about: his discovery as an incarnate Lama; the early years of training; his gurus; why he journeyed to India; developing a monastery at Bodh Gaya; major turning points in his spiritual life and the importance of meditation.
Lost Kingdoms– Hindu-Buddhist sculpture from South East Asia – 5th to 8th Century.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art through July 27 2014.
It’s one of the most peaceful and beautiful exhibits I’ve enjoyed to date, featuring 160 sculptures and relics, most on loan from museums in SE Asia, Paris, and some private collections too.
The curator and designer used light and shadow to create a space that feels reverent. People become quiet upon entering this exhibit, which is a wonderful respite from the brightness and noise of the surrounding galleries.
I’ve visited twice.
The first time, I focused on learning and reading as many of the descriptions as I could absorb.
It was exciting to see the wall-sized reproductions of photographs of archaeological digs and then realize that right in front of you are one or more artifacts from that exact location.
The treasures represent the ancient cultures of Pyu, Funan, Zhenla, Champa, Dvāravatī, Kedah, and Śrīvijaya. Nowadays known as Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Myanmar.
The Met and other reviewers have done a great job of documenting the specifics, so I won’t try to duplicate them here. If interested, all items on display can be found categorized online here.
My second time through, a few weeks after the first, I tried to just absorb the experience.
No reading, learning, analyzing. Just walked through, taking it all in.
Here are a few pieces that I found particularly moving.
Krishna Govardhana early 7th century
Lent by National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh
Krishna raising Mount Govardhan in India to protect the people from a great rainstorm.
I love the gentleness of his smile juxtaposed with the strength and effort of his pose.
early 9th century
Lent by Musée National des Arts Asiatiques–Guimet, Paris
Vishnu riding his celestial vehicle, the mythical eagle Garuda
The whole mystical man-riding-beast image appealed to me. Eagles are a powerful symbol in many cultures. I could imagine how striking this sculpture must have been in full color, given the richness of the remaining pigment on the left wing.
Lent by National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh
One of Shiva’s mischievous dwarfish helpers. His pot-bellied form almost certainly betrays his yaksha origins as a fertility deity linked to agriculture.
The smooth, worn, discolored (damaged) surface of his belly, tells me of the many people who have rubbed this statue’s belly, transferring oils from their hands, praying for a strong harvest, a safe birth, and other important life-sustaining wishes.
Why we sit and notice our breathing
Written by Padmadharini
“It is just sitting and breathing, but it’s also so much more than that.”
Something someone said in a meditation day practicing anapanasati (mindfulness of breath). We were exploring breath and breathing. Just that. Noticing the finer textures of the breath. Each breath different. Each breath unique.
I was struck by how hard this can be at the beginning when the breath seems so boring or the same. We may struggle to maintain connection for more than a few seconds before mind hijacks us with something far more entertaining.
But sit for long enough until you become intimate and so familiar with this breath, and then the next, and soon the breath discloses a secret. That it is in fact not a thing, but more a symphony of sensations playing throughout the body.
Over years of being with my own breath, it seems to have taught me something about slowing down; about enjoying being with something just for its own sake rather than to get somewhere. It’s taught me to stop sometimes and enjoy just this moment happening now, because I’ve learned that each moment contains mystery and surprises.
The other morning in Prospect Park out for a walk, I noticed the sun shining across the lake. So I just sat still, doing nothing for half an hour. So much happened in that half hour. A lightning storm of starlings scurrying across the blue expanse; clouds painted over the ripples on the water; trees giving off different tones as the wind blew through. Just enjoying that wonderful symphony of now.
The practice of just breathing and being present as the breath breathes the body is how I learned to see the richness of each moment. I certainly didn’t breathe to entertain or distract. And it didn’t always bring me peace. It taught me instead a deeper appreciation for the fluid and changing nature of every experience.
And sometimes, when I sit for long enough, I stop what I am becoming, and disappear from the equation. And the world then discloses its treasure. A place I’d call the heart that is always reaching, and finding connection. A place of such rest and peace, you don’t need to become anything any more.
So yes, just sitting and breathing really turns out to be so much more. It is a doorway into presence and peace. A place in which we can shed the weight of trying to be somebody or get somewhere, and simply enjoy this, as it is, as it can only ever be.
“Sangha” can be literally translated to mean “group or an assemblage”. In modern Indian languages it is used in the sense of society or organisation. In Buddhism, Sangharakshita says that what we mean by Sangha in the spiritual sense is “primarily a group or an assemblage of those having certain spiritual experience or certain spiritual attainments in common.”
Having recently moved to NYC with my husband from Vancouver, Canada, the subject of Sangha/Spiritual Community is salient.
Not having any family or friends on the East Coast, I was relieved and excited to learn that Triratna had an established group in the city. I joined the Triratna Vancouver Sangha 5 years ago, and became a Mitra in 2012.
Before I even arrived in NYC, my teachers in Canada had introduced me via email to the Order Members and Mitras here. The welcome emails I received from them were heart-warming and I felt much less alone and anxious about the move.
Fast forward to a month after my arrival.
I’d attended a couple of Friend’s nights and had been warmly welcomed both times. However, I realized that the NYC Sangha was small and there were already established friendships. And people in NYC seem generally very, very busy. So while I felt welcomed, I didn’t feel ‘connected’, if that makes any sense.
So, the next Tuesday rolls around. It’s cold and miserable weather outside. My (unskillful) thoughts: “no one will even notice if I’m there. There’s a movie night this coming Friday and no one has even emailed me to let me know where it is. Am I supposed to ask to be on a mailing list? When I show up and say I’m new in town and I’m here to join in, why wouldn’t someone just add me to the email list? Do I actually have to specifically ASK to be added? …..And on, and on, and on……..”
So I didn’t go.
And I felt bad. And alone.
And then I remembered a question that my therapist back in Canada asked when I was complaining about a retreat leader who “didn’t make an effort to include me in discussions, and didn’t seem to notice that I hadn’t contributed”.
– Whose Responsibility is Participation?
It was like a huge hole opened above me and the beautiful light of perspective flowed down.
I wish I could say things changed overnight and that I participated fully right away. J
And slowly, I did start to get more involved in our Sangha.
I pushed myself to attend the next Tuesday Friend’s night. Arriving early, I met a couple of people for tea before the meditation/class.
I asked to be added to the mailing list.
I helped set up the chairs, mats, tea and coffee for the evening. This made me feel ‘part of’.
At the break, I forced myself to go up to one lady and ask her about having tea and we made a date for lunch the next week. Bonus – turns out she works at The Met. A favorite place of mine. Lunch was awesome as I got to eat with her in the Staff Cafeteria. Cool!
Slowly I’ve increased my involvement in the Sangha. This blog posting is an example.
It feels good to be “part of”. And it takes effort and commitment on my part to maintain this connection.
Coming back to our current study series, my own spiritual development depends on me participating in Sangha.
Sangharakshita states “the real significance of the deep individual-to-individual contact that going for refuge to the Sangha involves, lies in a simple psychological fact: we get to know ourselves best in relation to other people.”
He says that the Sangha is there to help us in understanding ourselves.
Some people may “bring out the worst in us” and we may act unskillfully towards them. This, he argues, can be highly spiritually beneficial, as these people “introduce us to ourselves. We cannot transform ourselves unless we have a full sense of what lies within us”.
Conversely, other people may “bring out the best in us”, activating kindness, generosity and providing an opportunity to be of service to others.
Therefore, Sangha is necessary because personal relationships are necessary for our development. He says “we generally need stimulation, reassurance, and the enthusiasm of others who are going in the same direction as we are.”
So while we can learn a lot through reading books and meditating, Sangharakshita makes a strong case that “if we are to grow spiritually in a fully rounded way, we eventually have to experience the vital part that communication has to play in our spiritual life……and when Buddhists do come together in the true spirit of the Sangha, there is then the possibility of inhabiting…..the realm of the Dharma. In this realm, all we do is practice the Dharma, all we talk about is the Dharma, and when we are still and silent, we enjoy the Dharma is stillness and silence together. The clouds of stress and anxiety that so often hang over mundane life are dispersed, and the fountains of inspiration within our hearts are renewed.”
I guess I have my Answer: PARTICIPATION IS MY RESPONSIBILITY.