Through training in secular mindfulness and compassion, many people find that their heart becomes more open and their mind becomes more workable. There is perhaps a sense of increasing well-being: problems become less solid, we start to appreciate our life more and a growing feeling of kindness emerges through a willingness to accept ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in.
It is then not unusual for people to become interested in the Buddhist roots of the practices that have brought them so much benefit. We have developed this course not only for those who are considering entering the Buddhist path but also for those who wish to understand the Buddhist background to their practice of secular mindfulness and compassion.
The course is experiential rather than theoretical. We will follow a similar style of informal, interactive learning that will be familiar from our Mindfulness Association secular trainings.
There is no pressure or expectation for participants to become a Buddhist. The weekend will be very suitable for people who have felt the benefits of having established a mindfulness practice and would simply like to understand more about the Buddhist foundations of meditation. Of course people who are already Buddhists are also very welcome to attend and we will be exploring with an open heart and mind the similarities and differences between the secular and the Buddhist approach.
The Samye Ling course runs over two weekends and is designed as an access course to the practice tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, as expressed through the Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. During the course we will explore the key themes:
- Buddhist View
- Refuge & Bodhicitta
- Buddhist Practice
The starting point is to identify what the Buddha described as ‘right view’ because this gives energy and focus to our practice. In essence, the view is that we are already fundamentally well and whole despite whatever has happened to us in our lives. This is hugely important. Practice then seeks to uncover this truth so that it becomes a living experience and not just a nice idea. This sense of innate completeness is referred to as ‘Buddha nature’.
A traditional image is that of a pauper living his life sitting on a mound of dung unaware of a piece of gold buried beneath the dung. Throughout his life he thinks that he is poor when all along he is rich beyond his wildest dreams – how sad! The dung is our perception of our lives – the sense of incompleteness, failure and struggle – while the gold is a deeper dimension of our being that we fail to recognise, namely our ‘Buddha nature’.
According to the Buddhist view, everyone has the potential to become a Buddha or, in other words, to awaken the pre-existing wholeness and freedom that is already present within us.
The reason for undertaking this journey is that although the conditions we find ourselves in may sometimes be pleasant, they are impermanent and intrinsically unsatisfactory. For this reason we cultivate the attitude of renunciation, which is seen as essential if we want to follow the Buddhist path.
This term is often misunderstood: it does not mean we have to abandon our jobs, homes and loved ones. The essence of renunciation is clearly facing our limiting patterns of grasping at what we like and aversion to what we dislike, and choosing not to live our lives constrained by our habitual preferences. What makes this possible is an increasing confidence in our inherent goodness, or Buddha nature. But what is crucial to this process is a firm foundation of ethics that revolve around a non-harming mindset. This lays the ground for a wholesome lifestyle that is the pre-condition for recognising the gold buried within the dung heap.
Refuge & Bodhicitta
Buddhists have the basic intention to turn away from behaviour that perpetuates suffering and to adopt behaviour that brings freedom from suffering. If we follow the Buddhist path we align ourselves with the Buddha, his teachings and our community of fellow travellers through ‘taking Refuge’. There is a formal ceremony for ‘taking refuge’. This will be available on request, but it is not a requirement of this course. We are focusing here more on the inner process of ‘taking refuge’ and what this entails, namely that we turn towards this deeper dimension of ourselves and make the aspiration to awaken it in our own experience so that we can help awaken it in others too.
This attitude of mind is called ‘Bodhicitta’. It is a powerful force within us and when we begin to cultivate it we gradually start to realise that the dramas and struggles we are caught up in are not as solid and real as we thought, but at the same time we develop compassion for what we are caught up in. Once we experience this in ourselves we can approach other people and all of life in this way too. Bodhicitta is the heart of this course.
In summary then, mindfulness serves Bodhicitta and compassion is contained within it. The foundation is ethics and the direction we go is waking up to who we really are – our Buddha nature. When we practice mindfulness and compassion within this deeper context a whole different world opens up before us – this is world of the bodhisattva or spiritual warrior.
These are the key practices we will be doing over the two weekends:
- Engendering renunciation by contemplating on the 4 thoughts that ‘turn the mind to the Dharma’. These are: appreciating the preciousness of life; seeing the fragility and impermanence of everything; seeing how we shape our experience through how we think, speak and act; and seeing the suffering inherent in all of life.
- Practicing Shinay (calm abiding meditation) by building on the mindfulness practice routine of settling, grounding, resting and support, and framing this practice within the context of Refuge and Bodhicitta.
- Practicing Chenrezig (the embodiment of compassion) as a way of engendering Bodhicitta. This involves using visualisation as a way of identifying with our innate capacity for wisdom and compassion – the gold beneath the dung heap – and actively expressing this is our lives.
This is the broad outline of the course. Nearer the time we will post a more detailed breakdown of each of the two weekends.