Friday, 20 June 2014

LIVING IN THE PRESENT MOMENT

I have a connection with the beautiful Spanish island of Menorca.  Some years ago I quit my job and together with my partner, Chrissie, headed off in an old VW campervan towards Barcelona to catch a ferry to Menorca where we intended to try to earn a living as artists.  Once there we rented a tiny house on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere and sent for Chrissie’s 11 year old son to join us.

We struggled to make a living and were eventually invited to take charge of a restaurant and bar.  It seemed less precarious but was very hard work.  It became a success but after a few years we worn out and decided to move on, but Chrissie’s son was at studying at art college and chose to remain there.  He is now married and has two sons and we have frequently wondered if we could ever afford to go back to Menorca to live there once again.

On holiday last year, some friends offered us a small house at a peppercorn rent.  It was a home we were familiar with as our son had lived there for several years with his former partner.  It was too good to refuse and we began to plan our move from Somerset to the Mediterranean.  It was not a decision we took lightly as there were several important things to consider.  I am now well into my 70’s and my wife is 70 this year.  We have no private means, just State Pensions.  However, I provide consultancy services to a company in Kent who were happy to continue to the arrangement via the internet.

The cost of living in Menorca is moderately better with lower rent, lower community taxes and less heating bills, so we would be a little better off.  However, once we had moved everything lock, stock and barrel to the island, we began to reflect on wider issues.   At our age it is inevitable that we will eventually need medical attention.  It is also very likely that we will live out our final years here and we had been warned that the cost of cremation was very high – around 6,000 euros.  With my little consultancy we could afford to run a small car and even put some cash aside for an occasional visit to the UK to see family, but if it ceased, our sole reliance on a UK State Pension would not be sufficient.  We could never afford to move back and if one of us died, the other would be marooned here.  I would also miss my Buddhist friends.


However, the Dharma encourages us to live in the present moment.  The past has gone and cannot be changed and the future is unknown.  All we have is the here and now.  When a crisis arises we will somehow find a way to resolve it. That is not to say we should be reckless and not take steps to put aside resources as best we can, that is sensible.  But it makes no sense to fret about what may or may not happen.  We must enjoy our new life and live in the present moment; making new friends and learning to speak Spanish.  We have been here just a few weeks and
have already met some people who are keen to learn meditation and have asked if I would be interested in starting a small group. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

EMPTINESS & INTERDEPENDENCE



When I first developed an interest in Buddhism there were many things that were totally new to me, some of which I grasped fairly easily but others aspects that I struggled to understand.  I was told, “Don’t worry, set them aside and come back to them later – you may find these things clearer when you are more experienced”.  It was good advice and when I returned to a particular element, I was often surprised that I had made such hard work of it.  However, there is one sticking point that many quite experienced Buddhists have difficulty with – and that’s the Buddha’s teaching on emptiness.  I have re-addressed this several times over the years; read many descriptions and explanations and listened to talks by well-respected teachers, but somehow I couldn’t quite grasp it. 

I recently took a holiday in Menorca, a place I visit often as I have a very small home there.  We have no electricity so there’s no internet and no TV.  Before we travel I spend some time searching for good books to take with me.  Nothing too heavy or challenging,  Mysteries and detective novels are absorbing and relaxing and I find I can get through 2 or 3 each week. Just before we left I bought some used paperbacks, one of which was a slight departure; The Wisdom of Forgiveness.  It is written by Victor Chan, a close friend of the Dalai Lama and based on a series of intimate conversations they shared whilst travelling from country to country following the Dalai Lama's busy schedule. 

In the course of one of these conversations, His Holiness tells Victor Chan that for decades he has meditated every day on interconnectedness and emptiness.  Victor Chan confesses that he has difficulty with this concept but later is present when the Dalai Lama is visited by a Korean scholar, Kim Yong-Oak.  The Dalai Lama begins by stating that emptiness is not the same as nothingness.  He said that there are two types of reality.  Firstly, there is ‘standard’ reality.  He gestures towards a mug of water.  When we look at it we see water.  When we touch it we feel water.  We know it is water. But then he described how we can look at it with ‘ultimate’ reality in which the mug is a combination of particles, atoms, electrons and quarks – none of this particles can be described as ‘a mug’.  The term mug is just an every-day label for this collection of particles.   The mug has come into existence because of a complex web of causes and conditions.  Therefore it does not and could not exist independently.  It cannot come into being by itself, of its own volition. It is empty of intrinsic, inherent existence.  In other words, empty is another word for interdependent.

We all tend to see ourselves as distinct entities; we are different from our friends and family.  Due to our conditioning we believe we are distinct and independent,  but in fact our existence depends on an infinite, intricately linked series of events, causes and conditions.  If any of these conditions had varied, we would exist in a wholly different way.  From this perspective, ‘self’ and ‘others’ makes sense only in terms of relationships.  In fact, your interests and my interests are inextricably connected in a tangible way.  If emptiness is another term for interdependent, we could describe ourselves as ‘empty’.  The Dalai Lama concluded his discussion with Kim Yong-Oak by emphasising that anyone could obtain happiness and fulfilment by focusing on two main elements of the Buddha dharma; compassion and emptiness.

His Holiness returned to this subject in a later conversation with Victor Chan.  He explained that the existence of anything, coffee mugs, feelings of jealousy, is dependent upon a complex web of relationships.  If you think about it long enough, there is no logical way for these things to exist independently.  Therefore they can be said to be devoid of  a life of their own.  They have no inherent, independent existence.  In other words, they are empty. 

He continued, “Normally we tend to see things in a solid, tangible way.  Therefore there is a tendency to grasp at things, to become attached to things.  We cling to the idea of a separate self and separate things. We strive for new experiences, new acquisitions.  Yet as soon as we possess them, the buzz is gone and we look for something new.  This endless cycle of craving causes suffering”.

Later he tells Victor Chan of an insight into emptiness and interdependence he experienced as a young man.  He said that the realisation hit him with a physical shock and he remained affected for several days afterwards.  Since that moment he has viewed life in a total different way.  He concluded that if we acquire and understanding of emptiness, craving, the source of our suffering, will be lessened.

My problem in grasping this teaching was simply caused by having a preconceived idea of the word 'emptiness'.  English translations of sanskrit and pali frequently define the meaning of words in a limited way.  The best known example is the term 'dukkha' which is often just translated as 'suffering'.  This is wholly inadequate as it ignores all the other shades of meaning, ranging from mere dissatisfaction to the full-on agony of suffering.

Monday, 22 April 2013

NEWS JUNKY


If you asked me what I like most about Sundays, I would say it was relaxing with a cup of good coffee and the Sunday paper.  As I sat reading the paper this Sunday, I became aware that not only was it not a relaxing experience, I was actually getting wound up by what I read.  It seemed that every piece I read was written in such a way as to deliberately generate a negative response.  Social benefits scroungers, immigrant families being housed in central city locations; god bothered Americans resisting legislation to control guns, Rolf Harris questioned about sex offences.  As I read I became more and more mentally agitated.

Then it occured to me, “I am news junkey!” When I get up most mornings at 6.45, the first thing I do is switch on the radio in the kitchen and listen to Today on Radio 4 whilst I make my breakfast.  I eat this in front of the TV, channel-hopping between Breakfast, Daybreak and Sky News to avoid weather forecasts and adverts.  When I eventually go to the bathroom to wash and shave, I continue to listen to Today on a small bathroom radio.  Then it is time to switch on my computer and start work – too late for meditation.

I pondered for a while on whether I felt compelled to be so well informed about everything that was happening.  Would I be any worse off it I was less aware of all the tensions in the world?  As a Buddhist I wish to develop empathy, but is there a danger of overload?

I have decided to experiment by substantially reducing my news intake.  I will not listen to Today or watch TV news programmes for the next week and see what happens.  I began this morning and have to admit that I found it a little difficult but one benefit was plenty of time for a longish meditation with not so many things going round and round in my mind as I sat.  Maybe the vacuum will be filled by a greater awareness of what is going on infront of me – that remains to be seen.

Monday, 8 April 2013

DEATH & REBIRTH


As I am now well into my 70's I am conscious that I have entered the endgame of this lifetime.  So, do I fear death?  Not really, but I would certainly like to hang on for a little longer to see my grandchildren mature.  What I do fear is disease and the suffering it may bring to me and to my loved ones.  When I talk to friends who fear death, I point out that they have experienced ‘not being’ before they were born, so this is a familiar state and nothing to be afraid of. But the question they always ask is "What comes next?"

The majority of those with little knowledge of Buddhism would assume that I would believe in reincarnation – this is a common misconception.  The two most fundamental teachings of the Buddha were impermanence and conditionality.  He taught us to explore and understand that everything is impermanent – everything passes, even the universe. 

Then there is his most original and enlightening teaching; 'everything arises in dependence upon conditions'.  The more we consider this concept, the more we realise its truth.  Even the planet Earth arose in dependence upon certain critical and finally balanced conditions, allowing life forms to be created.  When those conditions cease to exist, as they inevitably will one day, all life on this planet will also cease to be.  So it is with all things - even the most simple.  A potted plant on my window sill has blossomed because it has light and warmth and soil in which to root and be nourished by. I give it water to help it flourish.  These conditions being present, it grows bigger and flowers brightly.  But if any of these conditions cease to be; the plant is moved away from any light and it is no longer watered, it will quickly fade, die and cease to exist.

If there are no exceptions to these two core principals, then it follows that reincarnation must be a myth.  If everything is impermanent then there can be no permanent, indestructible entity or ‘soul’ to be transferred from one life to another in a constant, unbroken stream.  However, we are asked to consider the possibility that the karma we acquire in this life-time can somehow affect a new-born human after one’s death.  How can this be?

If you Google rebirth, you will find many learned people explaining how this works, but frankly, it is unlikely that any of these pundits knows for sure. Having never seen any exceptions, I understand and accept that everything rises in dependence upon conditions and karma creates conditions in which it is possible for phenomena to arise, but how to explain this graphically?

Fortunately, there are a couple of excellent metaphors.  Firstly, the metaphor of two candles; one is burning and near the end of its life, the other is new and unused.  The flame from the old candle is used to light the new candle.  They continue to remain entirely separate, yet the flame of the second candle came into being upon the presence of the first candle. Without the dying candle, there would be no light from the new one.

Another metaphor that appeals to me, is that of two snooker balls.  The white ball strikes the stationary red ball.  The movement of the red ball is entirely conditioned by the angle and speed at which the white ball strikes it.  Without the white ball, the red ball would have neither motion nor direction.

Of course, these two simple metaphors can never explain the immense complexity of karma, but they serve to give rise to the possibility that it does exist, and a life that has gone before has somehow created conditions that will affect the life of a newly born person.

When you begin to meditate on this, you realise the enormous responsibility resting upon us all. As well as skillful, positive karma, we can also create unskilful negative karma which can burden the life of  someone yet unborn.  By living an ethical, empathetic life we hope to create good conditions upon which positive phenomena may arise, long after we have returned to a state of ‘not being’.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

WHAT IS THE DHARMA?

The Buddha-Dharma stems from the teachings and discourses given by Siddharta Gautama during the 40+ years of his life after becoming a fully enlightened Buddha.

After his enlightenment experience, the Buddha remained beneath the Bodhi tree for several days. He wondered how he could possibly communicate the extraordinary understanding he had realised. However, was always his intention to gain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings so he decided to seek out the group of five ascetics he has spent the past 7 years with. However, as he set out to find them he met a holy man, Ajivaka, walking the other way. They stopped and recognising a fellow seeker of the truth, he asked him, “Who is your teacher? Who’s dharma do you follow?” The Buddha tried to explain that he had awakened and discovered the truth for himself and would now teach his own dharma. Ajivaka smiled and nodded in a knowing way, and walked on unimpressed. The newly enlightened Buddha realised that he had to think carefully about how he was to present his Dharma.

He found the ascetics staying in a deer park in Saranath, near the ancient city of Benares. They were reluctant to listen at first but there was something distinctly different about their former colleague so they invited him to sit amongst them and listened to what he had to say. This was the Buddha’s famous discourse on the Four Noble Truths. It was later described as having ‘set the wheel of the dharma turning’ and is the bedrock on which all other teachings are mounted.

The Four Noble Truths
The first was the truth that dukkha is part of the human condition and is present in all our lives.
The second truth was that all dukkha has a root cause.
The third truth was that there was a way to reduce dukkha or even eliminate it altogether.
The fourth of the Four Noble Truths was the Noble Eightfold Path, the teaching that leads us away from dukkha

Dukkha is translated in many ways, with varying levels of emphasis, from simple unsatisfactoriness to out and out suffering.

The Nobel Eightfold Path was a sort of route map to enlightenment. In setting it out, the Buddha was suggesting an alternative to the long hard slog he had endured to reach his insight experience. By following the eight limbs of this suggested path, we too can achieve what he achieved. The eight limbs of the path are:

Perfect Vision
Perfect Emotion
Perfect Speech
Perfect Action
Perfect Livelihood
Perfect Effort
Perfect Awareness
Perfect Meditation or Concentration

During the following years the Buddha gave many hundreds, if not thousands of discourses to his followers and devotees. None of this was written down and recorded until hundreds of years after his death so how can we be sure that what we read in the accounts of his teachings are accurate and truly represent what he said?

We can’t be certain that what was eventually recorded was word-for-word exactly what the Buddha said, but we trust that the general tenor of the teaching was preserved. The main way to ensure the truth of these teachings was conveyed was by the common habit of listing things in numerical order and by repetition. Consequently, the written Buddha-Dharma is full of lists and often tedious repetitions and occasionally the Buddha summarised the teaching with a short rhythmical verse. All this can make for difficult reading but 2,500 years ago it enabled his followers to learn the Dharma by heart so that it could be handed on from generation to generation.

There was also another way the truth of the teachings was preserved. The Buddha’s most loyal and dedicated follower was his cousin, Ananda. Twelve years after the Buddha was enlightened Ananda joined him as his personal attendant. He had what we would call today, a photographic memory – or in his case perhaps, a tape recorder memory. During the followiurn are translatas always by the Buddha’Pali and Sanskrit words have no direct equivalent in our modern lexicon. The term ‘metta’ for example can be translated as love, kindness, empathy, compassion, etc. As we have seen, ‘Dukkha’ can be interpreted as anything from outright suffering to simple discontent. These translations can add different emphasis to the teachings so from tradition to tradition the understanding and interpretation of the Buddha-Dharma can vary widely. Over the centuries the Buddha’s teachings have been interpreted in many different ways with varying degrees of emphasis and, just like the Christian movement that was to follow half a millennium later, it led to schisms and the formation of various ‘schools’ of Buddhism.

Finally, at the age of 80, after 49 years of wandering and teaching, the Buddha grew ill and began to die and with his disciples and a number of villagers gathered round him, he uttered his last words, and passed away. What his words were will depend upon which school of Buddhism you follow or what translation you read. It coucient of surviving Buddhist scriptures, the Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Cannon. Typically Ananda’s recollections begin, “Thus I have heard…”

The scriptu completion by being heedful." Or, slightly more abridged, “With mindfulness, strive on”.

Even though the Buddha passed away over 2,500 years ago, the real magic of his Dharma is that it is just as pertinent to those of us who live in a modern western culture as it was to the lives of the monks, villagers, tribes-people and forest dwelling hermits he encountered in his lifetime.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Friendship


When I log onto Facebook it tells me that I have ‘102 friends’. What that actually means is that I know 102 people well enough to be interested in seeing what they are doing and saying. If I had to reduce the list to those who were friends in a truer, more meaningful sense, I would have to pause and think carefully. What do I understand by the term ‘friend’ and what is’ friendship’? Is a real friend someone who you see regularly and spend time with? Or is it someone you think of regularly and try to stay in touch with; someone who you have a lot in common with and share ideals?

Once you attempt to categorise friendship it starts to become quite illusive. For example, some of my dearest friends are also my oldest friends, mostly dating back to my school days and even earlier. Some of them have ideas and principles so removed from my own, that it is almost certain that had I met them in more recent times, it is unlikely I would have formed a close friendship with them. Yet I think of them often, love it when I hear from them and on the occasions when we actually get to meet, enjoy their company with a warmth and affection that has remained undiminished over many decades.

I have been part of the same industry for many years and have come to know hundreds of people who work in the same field. If you asked me if I knew the Sales Director of a certain company I would almost certainly reply, “Oh yes, he’s a friend of mine; we’ve known each other for years”. We may attend the same functions, greet each other warmly and be genuinely pleased to see each other. We would exchange Christmas cards but we would never meet up, just for the pleasure of hanging out together, so was I correct in referring to them as a friend?
However, there would be the occasional work colleague, often one with much more experience, who would become a mentor. One such, John who was a proud Scot, taught me much of what I know today and although he retired to a small croft high above Aberdeen and is now in his early 80’s, we regularly keep in touch through phone calls and email.

When you share a flat with others, they see you at your best and at your worst and it is not uncommon to develop close and enduring friendships with former flat-mates.

So it seems that friendships can be formed in many ways and on several levels. In my personal experience, some of the most powerful and enduring friendships are those formed in the early years. These seem to thrive independently of ideological differences; without common religious or political affiliations. They are life long – I was introduced to one childhood friend before we were both old enough to walk. We are now both in our 70’s and our lives have travelled in distinctly different directions, yet we seem to be a close as we ever were.

As I grew older and my career progressed, I tended to meet more people but form fewer and fewer friendships. I have never really understood why that was. I met women and they became lovers and wives and whilst my relationship with them was as close and intimate as it is possible to be, it was distinctly different from the relationship I had with my ‘friends’. These were almost, but not entirely male. I had other, non sexual friendships with one or two women. I have heard it said that there’s no such thing as truly platonic friendship but that is not my experience.

So, there are long term friendships developed during my childhood or school-days; brief but intense friendship created by the need for mutual support in difficult or dangerous times. There were more remote friendships with work colleagues and business associates with the occasional closer relationships with senior mentors.
However, new friendships of a less casual kind were becoming increasingly rare.

Then, when I was distinctly middle aged, I discovered Buddhism and became a ‘Friend of the Western Buddhist Order’. I enjoyed meeting a large number of like-minded people and sharing my experience with them. We used the term ‘sangha’ a Sanskrit word for a group of people who follow the teaching of the Buddha. We met regularly and although the FWBO – now known as the Triratna Buddhist Community, set great store in friendship with an emphasis on mentoring and ‘kalyana mitrata’ or spiritual friendship, I was not particularly attracted to this. I was further distanced by the fact that 25 years ago the practice of forming kalyana mitra relationships was mostly popular amongst gay men. I was not in the least homophobic but felt uncomfortable with the idea that if I was to form a kalyana mitra relationship I may be regarded as gay (naively I thought this would affect my relationships with women). In any case, I had not yet met anyone who had impressed me sufficiently to a want them as a mentor.

Consequently my experience of ‘spiritual friendship’ was very limited. I was aware of Ananada’s observations when talking to the Buddha that ,”…friendship is half of the spiritual life” and the Buddha’s response, “Not so Ananda, it is all of the spiritual life” but I was concerned, rightly or wrongly, that many of the friendships I observed in the movement seemed slightly contrived.

I had been living abroad for some years and consequently was out of touch with fellow ‘Friends’ and ‘mitras’. On return to the South West after 11 years away I was invited to join a mitra study group. It was a gathering of more mature mitras, mostly far more experienced than myself. I was flattered to be invited and readily accepted. There were six of us in the group and with the exception of the oldest member, we all had families to support and were pursuing active careers. Apart from these common factors, we were entirely disparate; a chest consultant, a manager with a fostering agency, a local government facilitator, a successful osteopath, a sales manager (me) and a senior citizen who was not quite sure if he was a Buddhist or a catholic.

In had never heard of mitra study groups having names but somewhow, as we met on our regular Thursday nights, we came to refer to ourselves as The Dharma Bums after characters in a book of the same name by the ‘father of the beat generation’ Jack Kerouac. Maybe it was a reference to the fact that many of us had experienced moments where we were outside the mainstream of our movement and were regarded as slightly rebellious or at least non-conformist. Whatever the reason, a tradition developed that the Dharma Bums would always gather together for supper, mostly Indian, before our Thursday evening mitra group.

Time passed and there were some minor changes amongst the group and the remaining five became even closer – we had somehow transformed and become genuine ‘spiritual friends’. Several years and many curries later and it was obvious that some of us were likely to be invited for ordination sometime soon. However, the bond of friendship amongst the Dharma Bums had become so strong that we agreed that we would wait until we were all ready and could be ordained together. It was quite remarkable that in spite of working towards this point over many years, those who were ready were prepared to wait even longer not knowing how long their ordination would be deferred for.

As it happened, a short while later and much to the surprise of the entire group, the call came for all five of us to be ordained together. During our time in the mountain retreat centre high in the Spanish Sierras above Alicante, we agreed that now we ceased to be a mitra study group, the Dharma Bums would transform into a Chapter so our Thursday meetings could continue. A Chapter is an informal group of Order Members who meet on a regular basis to study the Dharma and enjoy each other’s company.

The Dharma Bums have now been meeting for over a decade and have recently grown to seven. We have eaten endless curries, meditated, run courses, taken retreats together, discussed hundreds of topics and even studied a little. It has not always been sweetness and light – it is only natural that from time to time we have a disagreement but there has always been a resolution and our continuing friendship has never been in doubt.

Our group ordination was not entirely unprecedented but it was rare enough and The Dharma Bums are occasionally referred to in the movement to as an example of what spiritual friendship can achieve. For my part, the friendships I have forged with my fellow ‘Bums’ are every bit as powerful as my continuing long standing childhood friendships but with the added spiritual dimension of a joint commitment to the Buddha Dharma. I doubt that I would ever have achieved ordination had I not been influenced and supported by the fellowship of the Dharma Bums. Of course, we acknowledge that all things are impermanent and it is inevitable that our group must change – as in deed it already has, but day by day, week by week, curry by curry we enjoy our brotherhood as it is right now, in the present moment , rejoicing in the bonds that have held us together over so many years.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

THE MIDDLE WAY


This talk was given to a beginner's group at the Bristol Buddhist Centre in May 2011.

One of the most basic of the Buddha’s teachings was delivered as part of his very first discourse after he had experienced what we have come to refer to as his ‘enlightenment’.

In his life up to that point, he had experienced two extremes. On one hand he had been brought up as the son of a Sudhadana, one of the wealthy ruling classes of the Shakya clan. He had led a privileged life of luxury and indulgence. He wore the finest clothes, ate the best food, and was trained in archery and other martial arts. His life was lived within the walls of the family’s three palaces sheltered from the harsh realities of life outside.

Later, he left his home to become a shramana, a wandering mendicant, owning nothing other than his course robes and alms bowl. Walking barefoot he visited all of the leading spiritual teachers of his time. Eventually he joined a group of forest dwelling ascetics. They lived in accordance with an extremely rigid code believing that by renouncing all bodily comfort they could achieve insight. Consequently they were virtually naked all year round apart from a simple loin cloth; they slept on the ground with no bedding or protection from the elements. They ate only sufficient food to prevent them from starving to death. Depictions of the Buddha during this time show him to be almost skeleton-like, with sunken stomach and all his ribs showing.

However, after several years of this practice he came to realise that neither of these two extremes brought him close to the insight he sought. Eventually he left the ascetics and sitting quietly beneath a shady tree, entered into a deep meditation. He sat there throughout the night achieving deeper and states of absorption until, in the early hours of the morning, he finally achieved the wisdom he had sought for so long. After this extraordinary experience, he saw everything in a totally new way. For a few weeks he sat and reflected on what he had experienced and thought about how he could help others to achieve the same insight. He set off to walk to Sarnat looking for the group of five ascetics he had spent the past few years with. Finding them he gave his first talk as a Buddha (one who has awakened). This first discourse later became known as the Four Noble. The truth of the existence of suffering, the cause of suffering, the ceasing of suffering and the path that leads away from suffering. This last truth became known as the Noble Eightfold Path. One of the limbs of this path concerns making the balanced effort as one moves along the path, known as The Middle Way.

Many years later when the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment was written down, the scriptures were to illustrate this teaching with the following story:

One day the Buddha observed an over zealous monk called Sona, who had practised Walking Meditation so vigorously that the soles of his feet had become blistered and bleeding. The Buddha bade him sit down and reminded him that before he became a devotee, he had lived a normal life and had played a musical instrument called a veena – a member of the lute family.
He asked Sona, “When the strings of your veena were too taut, was your veena in tune and playable?"
“No lord” replied Sona.
The Buddha continued, “When the strings of your veena were too loose, was your veena in tune and playable?"
Once again Sona replied, “No lord”.
“When the strings of your veena were neither too taut nor too loose, but tuned to be right on pitch, was your veena in tune and playable”.
Sona shook his head in agreement, “Yes lord”.
"In the same way, Sona, too much effort leads to restlessness whilst overly slack effort leads to laziness. Thus you should determine the right pitch for your effort, re-tune the pitch of your faculties, and then pick up your theme."

In terms of our own spiritual life, the extremes are over zealousness on one hand and sluggardly indifference on the other. There is a balance to be struck between these two extremes. If we make no effort whatsoever, the likelihood is we will achieve little or nothing at all. On the other hand, there is a danger of becoming too dedicated to a position, too entrenched in our own version of ‘the truth’. We can see this extreme in most if the world’s great religions where their truth is the only truth. How much suffering and conflict has been caused over the centuries by religions attempting to impose their version of truth upon others who hold a different view? We don’t have to look very far to see examples of the suffering being caused today by these extreme types of fixed view (Catholic v Protestant, Muslim v Jew)

So we must be prepared to recognise any lack of balance in our own spiritual journey. For many years I found it difficult to accept the concept of re-birth. I also struggled to engage with certain Buddhist devotional practices. However, my teacher told me not to worry; to neither reject anything outright or blindly accept, just ‘set aside’ these difficulties, coming back to them at another time when my understanding may be greater. I was able to accept the middle way between rejection of that with which I had no emotional or intellectual connection, or simply ‘going along with it’ because of my desire to fit in with the group.

Many years later, I returned to find these problems had become mere ripples in the sand.