Hosted online by Sangha Live on Sunday, 7 February 2021, the following comprises a transcription, edit and adaption on the theme of a 30-minute guided meditation, 30-minute teaching and 30-minute question and answers.
A big thank you to each one of you worldwide for making the time for this 90-minute session.
I am speaking to you from Totnes in South Devon in the West Country of England.
We are in different countries dealing with and facing this global pandemic. We see day by day the effect of it in 215 countries. I wish we had the resources and skills to address not only the effects of coronavirus including the lockdown, face masks social distancing, vaccinations, sickness, and death. It is important to support people of all ages.
I wish scientific institutions and our elected governments would address the causes and conditions for this global pandemic. The vast majority let us down year after year. It is an irrelevant thing to say “Oh, it was probably because of infected creatures in the Chinese forest or in the laboratory in Wuhan. ” The causes for the global pandemic lie in the relationship of humans to the environmental world, to the wilderness, the treatment of farm animals in factory farms. The global pandemic reveals the consequences of such abuse of forests, creatures, and farm animals and the stress on their weakening resistance to infections.
This abuse and the infections show in widespread multiple deaths in recent decades of chickens, pigs, cows and more recently minks in Denmark. Humans and creatures have an intimate relationship resulting in the transmission of viruses that have now passed into our species.
We must change our whole relationship to farming and to the wilderness to protect creatures and to protect ourselves. That is not being addressed. This is sad and irresponsible. Scientists, politicians, the media, and the public do not even talk about it. Global pandemics triggering severe respiratory sickness and death along with frequent mutations of the coronavirus will continue until we change the causes and conditions for this immense suffering worldwide.
I am here at home in my front room in lockdown having seen three people in my home in the past ten weeks in order to observe strict social distance. One person came for a coffee, one for an evening meal and one person found themselves experiencing a tough time due to social isolation. Some of you will know an analogous situation for yourself. In our quietness and solitude, many around the world experience the same. Lockdown gives us time for reflection about our life and about a larger view. We can reflect and meditate on a larger view, including life and death. Death must be in the centre of a reflection on life.
Death depends on life; life depends on death. Both have an interrelationship. Both are inter-connected. We cannot hold to one without the other. There are major concerns about this generation, future generations, and the end of the world as we know it. We have concerns about the end of the ecology of existence. These are important questions to address. Life will come to its end. Some of us experience the winter of our life. The view is “I live. I experience. I exist. I spend my time in this world. I will die.” Therefore, for myself, whoever it is, the end of the world will come.
All these views about the personal end of the world confirm the end of the world as we know it. This will happen. Are these views deep? Is that the only way of conceiving the end of the world?’ Is there a deep way to understand the connection of life and death? I will touch upon this evening with you in the guided meditation and the talk. You can follow up with questions. Bear this in mind as you listen and respond: This is not a metaphysical or theoretical exploration. This is a deep meditation and reflection to support knowing a fresh way of seeing rather than our conditioned way.
I have a small table for my laptop here in the front room. I keep a glass of water on the floor. If I were to be mindful and bold, I would put it on the small table, but sometimes we learn from experience. So, I keep it on the floor and pick up when I am thirsty.
30-mnute Guided Meditation/Reflection on the End of the World
There will be sentences with pauses (spaces between paragraphs) during this period.
I invite you to sit tall. If you are in a chair, place both your feet firmly on the floor. Feel the ground under your feet. Feel your backside on the chair. If you sit on the floor cross legged on the meditation cushion, experience sitting there. This is the straight posture.
Here is a useful tip. Move your two hips a little forward. I am doing this right now. You will experience a little more expansion. The top of your head can move a little closer to the ceiling. You may sit with your eyes, half closed or open. I am going to sit with my eyes closed.
Sit in the quiet. Just sit. Sit tall.
Sit with upright presence as a human being, who is mindful and conscious.
Sit abiding in this meditative posture.
Let your various activities before coming into this posture fade away.
Depending on your time zone, you may be starting a new day, experiencing the end, or you may sit in the middle of the night.
Whatever you were thinking, speaking, writing, or doing, let all of activity drop away, fade out of consciousness to stay grounded in this stillness. This is not some kind of achievement or end. We sit. We are conscious. This means we experience consciousness of sitting. This remarkable element of supportive energy, interest and curiosity establishes in this stillness.
We are conscious of this immediacy. Our breathing confirms through the body, a human being on this earth, inhaling and exhaling. We know breathing through the expansion of the cells of this physical existence with the in-breath. The cells settle down on the out-breath.
You awareness, your mindfulness presence includes sight. Your eyes open, half open reveal colours and shapes and light reveals through closed eyes. Meditate on the experience of the light on the eyeballs. This is the world of light and colour. Do not project a lot of substance into what you see.
Turn your attention to the sounds. Listen to the voice of the person. The sound also confirms the ‘world.’ Experience human sounds, any sounds of creatures, nature, or technology. Go deep into the bare actuality of existence. When we go deeper, the world of sights and sounds etc becomes less problematic.
Just breathing. Just sitting. Just seeing. Just listening. Experience smelling or not smelling. Experience taste sensation of saliva in the mouth. This is the ‘world’ of seeing, hearing. smelling, tasting, and touching of body with the seat or air. There is nothing worth clinging to and nothing to reject in any of these five sense activities.
We come to consciousness of the inner. What is the feeling tone right now? What is the state of mind? Thoughts pass through. See a thought as just a thought. No more, no less.
Feeling is just a feeling, no more, no less. A state of mind is just that. This is the ‘world.’ This is all we can be conscious of— the world of five senses inter-acting with the inner ‘world.’ To proclaim there is something outside of all this only states a view emerging out of a field of thought.
Presence and absence constantly unfold. In the deep, fears of impressions from the senses have gone.
Freedom can establish itself as not dependent on these sense constructs, which we call the ‘world.’
Final minute together.
A Dharma Talk on the End of the World
In this talk with you, I would like to explore further. I wish to remind you of meditation and reflection of life, the world and death. Meditation can provide encouragement and nourishment.
We find ourselves in this remarkable situation, while not inviting ourselves to be born in the world. We did not choose to have a particular gender. We did not choose to age. We did not choose to change the way you and I might be changing. We did not choose to experience pain, suffering and death. This movement of life in this field of existence before death is a remarkable experience. It would be a pity to identify with life and death to the degree that we cannot see a way out of it. We could believe, and it is a belief, we live in the grip of this movement between birth and death, or conception and death. We think we are trying to get on with it as best we can.
We are short-changing ourselves with this kind of view. We meditate and reflect more than to make life easier for ourselves. Meditation provides support to presence, being centred and grounded. Being in here and now, calm and clear, prepares you for a deeper wisdom. Calmness and clarity never serve as an end but as a resource. The real potential of the human being can reveal itself from the Deep.
When we look at the world and our experience of I, we see the world comprises seeing, hearing smelling, tasting touching and the heart-mind activity within us with the support of consciousness. The senses and the inner confirm the ‘reality of things. ‘Our consciousness heart, mind influences the world, including our body. All this activity impacts and influences what is around us. This is it. There is no more. This is all we can can attend to.
We might wish for something outside of this dynamic. We might have a religious or spiritual view. It is a kind of service to look into what reveals itself. There are times when something in the world through what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch has an impact upon us. Impact can come from the past, present, or view of the future. We have come through it. That impact seems substantial and real, a problem to handle. Suddenly or gradually, the impact loses its power. Later, we smile at ourselves. How did we get into such a viewpoint and get so reactive? We see the emptiness of it. There is something freeing about the knowing of emptiness of a situation.
Being embroiled in a theme makes it a major issue, a drama. The event becomes our world, obsessing us intensely. We get lost in the world without knowing a thoughtful way out of it. Through a variety of resources, depths of practices and insights, the problems of life can lose their grip. Daily situations no longer have the capacity to make us suffer. There is a freedom in this. It begs the question: Are caring human beings interested in the Deep.
Does the world of sights, sounds, smells, tastes touch feelings and thoughts have a grip on you? Do you give the world so much substance that you are afraid to be without it? Have you become afraid of the end of the world because of investing so much into it? Put that way, we can see the dependency, clinging, holding and wanting. Then fear of losing arises. Is death the problem or is the relationship to life the problem?
Our exploration of life includes human existence and non-existence. An existence presents itself, and then what exists passes into non-existence. We witness an endless unfoldment of existence and non-existence making such a fuss about existence we fight death, or no-existence.
We project so much into existence -fear, blame, anger, wanting. Those states of mind reveal nothing about life. Let us quietly and respectfully develop an interest in what is deep than all that stuff. We can touch upon precious moments. With a fading of interest in the desire to project and build up problems, fresh realisations arise free from the limits of self-improvement. Pleasure and problems have less significance.. We think we cannot live without such pleasurable sensations.
Day by day, death gets closer. An exploration refers to an engagement with life, a pointer to see the end of the ‘world.’ I am still putting the ‘world’ in quotation marks – that which we grasp, hold onto and identify with. Let us forget our ‘self’ and expand our view. There is the seeing, listening, smelling, tasting, touching that unfolds since consciousness is available.
In an extraordinary way, the process of consciousness with objects is unproblematic. It unfolds in the field of human experience as we make this journey through this world. This is worth meditating on.
We have got so much into self-help, self compassion and self inquiry, we forget the sense of something much bigger than ourselves. We need every reminder we can find. That reminder could start with seeing the stars above.
The expansive experience might show a sense of wonder giving the opportunity for the little self to shrink.
Living exclusively in a small world of self becomes a prison unless we put it into a proper perspective. We have a proper perspective when know the arising of the world and the end of our ‘world.’ This reveals an extraordinary liberation, which has nothing to do with life and death.
What is the natural response for a human being when no longer in the grip of life and death? Most people want life more than death. A tiny minority want death more than life.
What does it mean for consciousness not to be in the grip of a small world? We can sense something bigger embracing and including what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch and experienced. This is not a rejection of our small world. The extra-ordinary includes life and death. It is remarkable and profound for a human being, with all our limits, vulnerabilities, and uncertainties, to see all that goes on inside and outside the dynamics of being human.
Knowing what is not of our small, daily world. which brings something out of us an influencing activity called empathy. Lots of kindness and deep interest in the field of existence arises with appreciation for the interconnectedness of humans, creatures, and the environmental world. This empathy naturally emerges out of our being . The contracted state ceases. We see that human issues and suffering have a connection with a contracted state of being.
We contract around our self-importance, a family dynamic, locations, views and beliefs, The mind contracts around the ideologies of society and the nation state. We contract around contracted states of mind. Our capacity to meditate and dialogue includes knowing the Uncontracted. The Uncontractable allows something deep and free to move through the being.
From this discovery, we know when we contract around something. It is often obvious. It may not be obvious to us of our contraction, but we have friends, women and men, who will point it out to us. This is a purpose of the Sangha who shed light on what we need to see about ourselves. This is a contracted state. This is clinging, fear, blame, self-righteousness, arrogance, conceit, stress, pressure, or whatever. A contracted self brings substances to the self.
Let us not be lost in contractions. Let us not grasp onto that. Let us see what the causes and conditions that change that. Loss of knowing the Uncontracted is immense.
The self, living in the world who is going to die, shows an unexamined view. This view inhibits the exploration of a larger view which embraces the movement of life and death. Surely, this realisation is of interest to us. I encourage you, if I may, to experience fluidity in your self story. You can say “I am alive. At some point, today and tomorrow, weeks, months, or years. I’m going to die.”
Yes, this is the conceived way. Another way of looking reveals the big issue is not about living, ageing, dying and death. These teachings point in the direction of the Uncontracted, of waking up, of liberation.
Let us have a couple of minutes of quiet together.
A few words on dana (donations)
Sangha Live offers wonderful programmes. Plenty of hours of preparation takes place to enable us to attend these events and other offerings. We are the beneficiaries of such consistent kindness. Sangha Live has the upkeep of the platform, the payment for the platform and much, much more. Please support the team which makes the Dharma available. Do offer a donation. You can find a link on the website.
Sangha live provides a terrific worldwide service. The proof shows in the words of appreciation from the international Sangha in the right-hand side of the screen.
Your donations also give support to myself and my daughter, a single mum with four children with one at university. Like other teachers, I offer the Dharma via Zoom and Skype. Due to the pandemic, this is the first full winter I have spent in England since 1967. Retreats in India and Australia had to be cancelled. I am enjoying the time months alone at home.
My friends from Scotland, said to me: “Christopher, you live in south Devon in the mild West Country of England. You don’t have winters down there.”
Thank you for your dana and thank you again to the Sangh Live team
Questions and Answers
I am going to have a look on the screen for your written questions or you can come on screen and speak. Sometimes Questions and Answers seem for the questioner a bit like ships passing in the night. Hopefully, Q and A connect.
Q. I am experiencing an anxiety caused by trying to be right. This has become a self-made suffering. For example, I have a certain point about life and death and discuss it. I find it difficult to reach a person on this topic. I get angry. I feel she or he is wasting their life because of their wrong perspective.
A. The view I AM RIGHT will generate the opposite view. The view will then land on another person in the conversation. She or he is wrong, is not right. The holding onto one view generates, without exception, generate the view of the other. The same happens internally. “I was right but now I’m wrong.” Reflect on this duality, You may ‘right.’ I am not disputing that.
The ego, the self that goes with it is the issue. The ego makes a reactive judgement, upon the other. Develop a sincere interest in the others’ point of view. Your questions may elicit another kind of response. We do not have to keep showing or proving or thinking we are right. It is more important to understand ourselves and understand each other.
Q. I find concepts of contraction and expansion difficult to understand. Could you give me a simple example to aid my understanding?
A. You are happy to be outdoors. It is a blue sky. You look out at the sky. You have a sense of the expanse. In those moments, you are not locked in, not contracted. There is more to life than our small world of self-interest. You look at a plant and reflect on what makes it grow as a plant. You meditate. You listen to a piece of music. Something touches you in the deep of your being. You feel an expansion, a certain receptivity. This depth matters more than the event. We experience the wonder of life because it confirms the Expansive. This opening up supports mindfulness reflection, meditation, and much more. We know love, dedication, and commitment to what is important giving each other tools to dissolve the contractions. We do not have to live a contracted life and can. experience expansion and openness. Let us take a deep interest in all of that and not settle for anything less to express our immense potential for endless discoveries. There is the embrace of the movements of birth and death.
Q. In a world full of propaganda, it is difficult to find out what is the truth. How do we deal with not knowing, even though life presents situations where we have to take a stand?
A. Plenty of propaganda fills the world. Truth differs from facts. It is not always easy to enquire and question to have some sense of the facts of a situation. We may have the facts at our disposal. We may have done our homework looking everywhere to dig out the facts as much as possible. Truth is of a different order. Truth does not belong in the world of facts and falsehoods. It is not in the world of information and propaganda. Truth changes our life. Truth wakes us up. Truth cannot fit into a box of right and wrong. We know we have touched upon the truth because it releases something deep and insightful. Truth communicates an ethic since it abides in touch with a deep sense of the web of life. Truth provides an understanding in ways that we did not understand before. Truth reduces contraction and reactivity. We give priority to truth. We find ways to stay steady with truth. Truth releases compassion to support and change a situation.
Q In the retreat in Sarnath, India, you mentioned that mindfulness and clarity are more important than intensity. Could you elaborate on the definition of intensity and clarity? How is trying to achieve clarity, different from striving for an experience?
A. Powerful influences have sold us a story, a form of propaganda. We have been told we can only achieve something if we work hard for it. You must push yourself harder. You put in all your effort. You can then achieve something. You can become somebody. What is that about? This conditioning comes in childhood through parents, education, and politicians, which we carry into daily life. Are there fresh ways of looking to change my perceptions and conditioning? Are their ways I have never considered before? This is meditation. I must try harder. I have to push myself. This is intensity. This intensity will impact on the body and on the mind.
The same conditioning can arise in the meditation hall. There is a confusion of calmness with supportive energy and ntensity. Be mindful of the ego. Be mindful of the ‘I.’ which says you should push harder and strive harder. Your meditation teacher might encourage striving hard and tell you dramatic stories about intensity of practice.
Intensity leads to more intensity. The personality will become intense, serious with happiness, laughter and joy fading.
Experience what contributes to calm abiding. Trust in it. This is an opportunity for new discoveries. Insights come to you from the Deep. That is what the calm and the clarity can make available. Intensity in meditation obstructs receptivity to deep realisations.
Q. Does a person need to be awakened or at last attain stream entry to see beyond the usual ways of conceiving of life and death?
A. I love the Buddha-Dharma teachings. Some people think awakening with full liberation, free from dependency means you have resolved all the problems of daily life, including issues of life and death. No. This is an idealism. Human elements can arise. We can know it what means to be awake in daily with expansive seeing. Thus, we are not contracted. It is still important to recognise contractions may well arise. This is called stream entry – the English metaphor is ‘turning the corner.’ This is waking up from the spell of sleeping walking through a contracted life. There is a real sense of this Expanse, not all the time, not every moment. We also recognise what needs attention in our so called. personal life. Most of us have benefited from things being pointed out, which we did not see. We had a blind spot to address. That does not deny awakening in the same way that a cloud does not deny the sun.
Q If life and death are not the big issue, what is the big issue?
A. The big is issue is the Big, the Immense, Awakening, the Uncontracted, Liberation. It does not get bigger than that. We might use a variety of words. I have used a few words this evening. As a small servant of the Buddha. I went through the discourses of the Buddha. I found 108 words expressing the Ulimate or the Deep including the Infinite, the Immeasurable, the Expanse, the Truth. Reality Nirvana, God, the Unconditioned, the Unmade and the Unformed.
One sentence can summarise the teachings. “Having looked at this world of the mind and senses, one sees the dynamics of change, then one turns one’s attention to the Changeless.” This is the Unconditioned – to an interest in Nirvana, to finding God, to knowing liberation. We look at this world, not withdrawing from it, not trying to have a special experience, and not trying to get out of this world. We realise an inclusive view of it to discover the Immeasurable. Teachings do not reject the world. The Infinite is infinite; thus including all that makes up the world. Otherwise the Infinite would not be infinite if excluding the world. The Infinite abides birthless and deathless.
Q. I am involved with protecting a small forest close to the city centre. The politicians want to exploit it. I sometimes fall in despair and anger, I think of your book The Green Buddha, which is speak on meditating and engagement with outer politics.
A. A person shows she is committed to the ethics of support for the environment. This reveals connection and compassion for the world. In my book, which I wrote 30 years ago. I said is Life is ‘enviro- mental.’ The mind, and the environment, abide inseparable from each other. There is a commitment to support the land, trees, vegetation and the creatures in the trees and the plants, on the ground, in the water under the ground. If we cared for creatures and the environment, we would not have this pandemic.
Blame, negativity hostility and resentment inhibit the opportunity to be creative in protest. The use of imagination brings up fresh ideas on how to address these situations. Anger is understandable but it is not helpful. Many of you will agree there is enough anger in the world already. I prefer commitment, dedication, passion, and to be very mindful of reactivity, anger and abuse in words and action. It does not lead us anywhere. It is part of the unresolved issues in the mind. Please extend your kindnesses to all the creatures, the activists, and the Sangha.
Use the beauty of human imagination. Work diligently with it. Something precious might emerge.
If we can generate a little time to asking ourselves, what will contribute to a proper perspective on this life on Earth? Ask oneself quietly. “Could there be something more than a life followed by a death. you. Below, listening saying, Oh, this teacher said we must. You do not have to recognise or believe anything that says, and more importantly internet is about open mind and open heart with this and say, let me ask myself. In this modest life. am I between the walls of birth and death? Is there a potential for a reset?
One senior Buddhist monk made me smile. He is a little older than me – in his 80s. He said, “When I was young, I used to go to weddings. Now that I am old, I go to funerals.” Weddings remind us of the start of things and funerals remind us of the end of things. This is part of the dance of the dynamics of joy and sadness.
This is a free journey through this field of existence. Find ways to sense what the Deep tells you and reveals to you?
Our time together has finished. Let us just have a quiet minute.
Thank you for taking the time this evening. Thank you for lending an ear. Let us sustain the exploration of this extraordinary event of the human experience. This contributes to insight, realisations and opens our life to engage in the service of people, creatures, and the environment.
See previous blog with link to Sangha Live for video/audio recording