Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Maggie Ross at Hay Festival 31 May 2015

I will be dialoguing with Rachael Kerr on Sunday, 31 May, 2015 at the Hay Festival in Hay-on Wye at 9 AM. The venue (appropriately, I hope!) is the Good Energy Stage. Tickets are £5.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bhodisattva Part One,

You see all phenomena
to have no coming and going,
still you strive solely for
the benefit of beings
Supreme Guru and protector,
Chenrezig, to you
I continually bow in respect
with body, speech and mind.

The source of benefit and happiness,
the perfected Buddhas,
they came about because
they accomplished
the Genuine Dharma.
To do so, again depends
on knowing their actual practice.
Therefore, the practices
of a Bodhisattva shall be explained.

Now that I have obtained
what is so difficult to find
the precious human body,
the great boat,
I shall ferry myself and others
over the ocean of Samsara.
Therefore, throughout day
and night without laziness
To listen, reflect and meditate.
is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Passion towards friends
moves like water.
Hatred towards enemies
burns like fire.
The darkness of ignorance
makes one forget what to adopt,
what to reject.
To abandon the homeland of such,
is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Leaving adverse places,
afflictions will gradually diminish.
Not being distracted,
virtuous activity will
naturally increase.
Through clear awareness trust
in the Dharma will be born.
To stay in solitude,
is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Longtime acquainted with friends
and relatives will separate.
Possessions gained with exertion
will be left behind.
the guest, will leave the
guest-house of the body.
To discard this life in mind,

is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Wise Words

Martha Graham was born on this day in 1894. Her advice to fellow dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille:

The greatest thing she ever said to me was in 1943 after the opening of Oklahoma!, when I suddenly had unexpected, flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. I talked to Martha. I remember the conversation well. It was in a Schrafft’s restaurant over a soda. I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have a peculiar and unusual gift, and you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

“But then there is no satisfaction?”

“No satisfaction whatever at any time, she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Quoted from: Letters of Note

Monday, May 04, 2015


There has been a question about what constitutes dis-incarnation. Perhaps we need to start with a definition: dis-incarnation is any move that denigrates the body, that lowers the view of the human; that overemphasizes penance and suffering.

In a sense, the entire trajectory of Christian history has been one of progressive dis-incarnation. First, there was the establishment of an institution or institutions ("all the Christianities"). Institutions by definition are dehumanizing. The subject is reduced to a cipher to fit into the schemes of the hierarchy.

In early Christianity there were also groups that denigrated the body and the material character of creation. Many of these groups were suppressed as heretical, but the thread continues in one form or other throughout Christian history. It is evident in Celtic Christianity, whose pessimism subsequently infects western Christianity at large. It takes on particular strength at the time of the Counter-Reformation and the rise of Jansenism.

The emphasis of Christianity shifts from living a resurrected life in God to living life as a guilt-ridden sinner meditating on suffering. Instead of going to church to be educated and incorporated into resurrected life, people more often than not leave the liturgy feeling more guilty than forgiven. One might say that rules are substituted for grace. Western Christianity has lost most of the praxis that was inherent in the first centuries.

By contrast, Paul tells us that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; indeed, we might gloss this statement by saying that the body is suffused and animated by the Holy Spirit, which cannot work grace without the body. Body and spirit/soul are inextricably bound together; it is counter-productive to pick the scabs of wounds in any aspect of the body-spirit continuum. Paul also emphasizes joy and a cosmic perspective. These, too, have been lost in modern expressions western Christianity—including the forced gyrations, devastating noise and narcissism of extreme evangelicals.

By contrast, Tibetan Buddhism appears to have a profound emphasis on incarnation, not only in the methodology of visualisation, but also in every aspect of praxis. The beginner is told to meditate on 'precious human life' as foundational to praxis. The beginner is also made to understand that buddhahood already exists within, like a diamond covered with mud, and that the task is to wash off the mud by getting rid of negativities. 

The more advanced practitioner may undertake a four-year retreat. In the second year of this retreat, there is a five-week period devoted to both appreciation of and detachment from the body: no part of the body is cleaned in this five-week period. The effect is paradoxical: it makes acceptance of the body at its ripest unavoidable, and also stimulates detachment from vanity. The more advanced practitioner is also taught the rite of chöd, in which the body is offered as food to the hungry ghosts and other beings.

There are meditations on death, on the charnel-ground, on physical dissolution. These are not to encourage morbidity but rather to encourage the practitioner to accept death as a given and as a presence in every aspect of life. Equally, and on the other hand, there are visualizations in which the practitioner visualizes a deity and then moves to take the place of the deity in order to see with the deity's eyes.

In Tibetan Buddhism there seems to be a profound understanding of every aspect of human psychology as it relates to the body; if it were possible, it would be helpful to Christianity to understand the psychology that underpins Buddhist practice, to help Christianity reestablish both praxis and lineages—for the practices are embodied and transmitted through unbroken lineages of practitioners.

I am not saying we should all become Tibetan Buddhists. I am saying that ironically, in many cases, Tibetan Buddhism is far more incarnational than western Christianity, which purports to be an incarnational religion, and that there is a lot to be learned from it. There are parallels and correspondences between the two, but we should never make the mistake of saying that this or that aspect is "the same" in both religions.