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Pentlands and Glencorse Reservoir

Coming to Buddhism

One of the things that brought me to Buddhist practice was a walk I had alone one day over some local hills. It was a beautiful landscape, but I was conscious for most of the day of having imaginary conversations in my head with people I knew. My over-involvement with thinking was detracting from the enjoyment of the walk and taking me “away” from being present. At the same time, I had a sense that there was something deeper than everyday life, but which was not separate from it.

The first thing that I learned in Buddhism was how to do zazen – Zen Meditation. This was very simple – I learned it that first visit and have been continuing it ever since. Yet I am always struck how fresh it is, and how it helps me connect with that deeper place. At the same time, it is quite challenging. Thoughts and emotions continue to go round in my mind and body. The difference now is that I can see them as just that – passing thoughts and emotions – rather than constantly identifying myself with them. This leads to a letting go of the self – or ego – which is not, however, rejected. One metaphor is that of the sea. My busy mind can be like thrashing waves on the sea, but in zazen it is possible to connect with the still depths of the ocean – which forms one sea with the waves on the surface.

This then feeds into everyday life. There have been periods when I have been very busy, with my life being complicated and, at times, pressurised. A daily practice of zazen provides a stable foundation within this complexity. By letting go of worries and other distracting thoughts, it is possible for us to be fully present in the moment, enabling us to respond effectively to whatever situation we encounter. This is particularly relevant when interacting with other people. We can often have preconceptions about others – particularly those people we know well – which can cloud our responsiveness to them. By open-heartedly listening to what they are saying, as well as accepting our own reactions, it becomes possible to have more meaningful and satisfying relationships with them.

When making decisions about how to act in everyday life, I find the Precepts to be invaluable. One of the core teachings of Buddhism is that there is a fundamental unity of existence, and within this everything expresses itself uniquely. I see the Precepts as a blueprint for acting in a way that maintains that connection, rather than cutting myself off from it. Acting in this way can reduce a lot of suffering in the world.

Although Buddhist meditation seems to be becoming more popular, it is still an unusual thing to do in a world which can often value busyness and distraction. By regularly going to Portobello Priory, I get together with the monk, Rev. Favian, and others who are walking along a similar path of meditative practice. This is a great support, and enables me to check my understanding of Buddhism with other, experienced, meditators.


Neil Rothwell

Rev Favian, the Prior

Priory members buffeted on Carnethy Hill

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