A talk about Buddhism
This is a summary of our meeting on Saturday November 7th when Tenjo Hopwood, a Buddhist priest, based in Gloucester, joined us to talk about Buddhism. He is a follower of Shingon Buddhism.
Tenjo is a former mental health nurse, now Buddhist chaplain to Gloucestershire’s mental health hospitals, a task in which he spends a lot of time supporting young staff members who are having to cope with death and family separation due to Covid.
Andy opened by reading a reflection that Tenjo gives in his book, Mud and Diamonds, called I am the Earth:
“I am something that the earth does. When I stand among the trees, I realise that I have grown upward as they have, their out-breath is my in-breath, my outbreath their in-breath. I did not come into the world, I came out of it. I did not arrive on a spaceship. I am the earth itself. I have to be sustained by the earth, by water and food; that we come from the ocean gives the wonderful realisation that the ocean still sends clouds of water to enable us to live; it is within me and around me. Whatever I eat I turn into Human Being, a miracle, my body has healed itself of thousands of conditions and harms.
With gratitude, I breathe in meditation, I do not follow my breath, I experience my breath, am my breath. I build my relationship with the quiet of my body. I am the earth sitting.”
Tenjo picked up on this by taking us deeper. We are the universe experiencing itself. We are the entire universe projecting itself through our body. Our body is like a coat wrapped around the universe within us. Our personality is a construct that responds to what is happening around us and who we meet. Our personality is not our underlying self. Our underlying self is inseparable from the universe.
To reach the underlying self we need to strip away our personality and we can do this by immersing ourselves in nature, as he did on his pilgrimage in Japan. And what we will learn is that we are an expression of all that is. Our particular expression is like a petal on a flower, it is not separate from the whole flower, just as a leaf is not separate from the tree, though both petal and leaf may fall away. The purpose of being with nature is that we are reminded that we are one with nature.
Brian asked if he was too old to do this. Go and sit in your garden for six months, was Tenjo’s reply.
Buddhism has its understandings, its Dharma (starting with the Buddha’s insights). The insights are simply ideas until the words are, (my words) ‘baked into our being’. Buddhists do this by chanting the chakras, syllable by syllable over and over until the brain has whole compartments dedicated to the recitation. By this practice, the Dharma becomes part of who they are. Tenjo chanted the Heart’s Teacher chakra for us which he said he does many times a day and even when he wakes in the night.
Other Buddhist practices include immersing in cold water (something they do at St Anthony’s well near Mitcheldean in the Forest of Dean). While splashing water in their faces they recite their chakras. The pain of the cold water is something that is coped with by acceptance. Suffering arises because we desire to feel different. The body amplifies the pain to inform the brain that it should be elsewhere. If the situation can be accepted, the amplification will stop and the water will simply be cold by not painful. We suffer because we wish to hang on to a time when we felt better. When life has other ideas, we may survive and grow by learning acceptance rather looking for fixes (eg drugs, medical or otherwise). This is why mindfulness and meditation are central practices of Buddhism. This strikes me a significant departure from Christianity which is sometimes very much into selling fixes.
The Dharma is not simply based on the Buddha’s teaching. Everyone, every experience, is our teacher. Mud and Diamonds, was chosen as the title of his book in order to express this idea. In all the mud which life brings there are the diamonds - the lessons which elevate our consciousness. Buddhists believe that consciousness never falls back to a lower level. When Tenjo works as Buddhist chaplain he is not giving answers so much as providing techniques for each person to develop their own consciousness through mindfulness.
Buddhists see Buddha as the personification of the universe. They do not believe that the universe sits in judgement of us, but that if we do bad things, then bad will follow and if we do generous things then good will follow. He added that it is love that keeps us going which seems to get pretty close to saying that the universe is the source of love which is perhaps the core which links Christianity and Buddhism. Tenjo repeated the saying that the longest journey in life is 15”, from our brain to our heart.
Tenjo was a slightly ambivalent about reincarnation. He felt that something of our Karma (the product of how we have lived our lives), whether full of bad motives or generosity, could hang around to be part of the next child. He said he looks forward to being a child again.