Week 8

Check in:  19:00 – 19:10

Meditation: Metta Bhavana 19:10 – 19:50.  Break: 19:50 – 20:00.  Study: 20:00 – 21:00

This week we turn our attention to what it means Gautama being Shakyamuni the Buddha, how Gautama’s life and teachings point beyond words and actions towards deeper meaning and truth.

1          Shakyamuni Legacy

  • Ananda said: After Gautama’s death “All the directions are obscure, the teachings are not clear to me; With our benevolent friend gone, It seems that all is darkness. “
  • The lack of Gautama. He was missed. But it was as if Gautama as Shakyamuni Buddha was still alive in the memory of his compassion and his wisdom> These two aspects had very definite consequences through the development of the Sangha down through time.
  • The empty seat,: the Dharma Chakra Wheel and the relics and Stupas are all early symbols pointing from Gautama’s life towards the deeper meaning and the truths of Buddhism beyond words.
  • The teachings and the brotherhood of his disciples where his main legacy.

2          The Dharma and Sangha set in Motion.

Evolution of Buddhist Teaching: The Nikaya and Mahayana traditions developed at the same time, starting with no clear distinction and later into many different schools often practicing within the same monastery. Quite early on by the second Buddhist Council (~280BCE) the Nikaya represented a more cognitive and rational approach centred on personal liberation while the Mahayana looked more to inner meaning in the teachings with an accent on compassion and imagination.

After the Buddha’s death reverence of the Stupa developed as a heartfelt and immediate practice and this is still followed by the laity today in most Buddhist countries. For Meditators this developed into the Buddhanasmrti practice, – recollection, visualisation, and resonance with a mental image of the Buddha himself.

3          The imaginal connection with the Buddha

This imaginal connection in practice gave rise to the flowering of the Mahayana. Here, through the individual and collective practice of lineages of Buddhist practitioners an inner world a kind of map of very refined positive mental states developed, directly and it seems experienced by practitioners as if arising from perfect enlightened beings. Practitioners could resonate in their imagination with the more positive states and through practice and turning their attention repeatedly to them become positively influenced resulting in positive change in their mental states and behaviour.   

Discussion Point: What do we experience when we imagine ourselves in the Buddha’s footsteps?

4          Transformation from Enlightenment to Archetype and Beyond

Mahayana Practises lead to direct experiences beyond the conceivable.  In consequence through direct experience of practitioners, Buddhist philosophy became concerned with ‘beyond existence and nonexistence’. Also, through direct experience practitioners extrapolated from the experience of the heart of metta to Mahā Metta, Big compassion for and beyond all beings. This led to 4 Levels of Bodhisattva Beings being directly experienced by meditating practitioners.  The Aspirant (us), Bodhisattva of the Path (Human), 3 Irreversible (human too) and 4 Dharmakaya (non-human and human, imaginal).

Discussion point: Do we feel at all like aspirant Bodhisattvas.

Triratna Buddhism sees a middle way combining what is useful from the Theravada and Mahayana traditions.   Discussion Point: How do we relate to a more Rational or Imaginal approach to Buddhism

Have a look at these two images. What do you see? What do you infer?

What do you imagine is happening here? Can we imagine and say anything sensible about what is outside the window? Here is the painting from, Amsterdam? Utrecht? Can we imagine how she feels and what is She thinking? Or what is the artist feeling and thinking? One thing: The more we give her our attention, the more subtle imaginative detail might appear in our minds.

Again: What do you see here? What can we infer? What do you imagine?

If you look at his head can you imagine him meditating. Is he looking in words towards his mind or outwards as in statues of Pharaoh Kings? Maybe the Statue (Rupa) of the Buddha invites you to look inwards too.  You might recall Gautama meditating under the Bodhi Tree and let your imagination fill in the gaps, bring life into the picture as Gautama becomes Shakyamuni meditating and absorbed and intent on enlightenment.

One important aspect of the Mahayana for us is the use of imagination to bring positive states of mind. States other than those we find ourselves habitually in. Going to a good film can do this too and music.  So, in the Metta Bhavana we use the positive aphorisms “May I be well, May I be happy, May I be free from suffering and may I progress/develop. Or the use of positive imagery imagining golden soothing light in our body and heart. If we learn to habitually bring positive states of mind to heart, i.e., meditate regularly, the positivity will affect our mood and our behaviour and help us on our path.

And this brings us to the Sutra of Amitāyus Buddha. We just present the sutra for you to read. Its truths are purely in the land of the imaginal. The sutra invites feeling more than conceptual understanding. Read it for yourself and maybe next week we will see if you have any comments.