Kamalashila - Community, Nature, and Reality

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Buddhafield Dharma Series I: Festival Talks 2009-10 Kamalashila - Community, Nature, and Reality

Text of Kamalashila - Community, Nature, and Reality

  • Kamalashila: Community, Nature, and Reality


    FESTIVAL TALKS 2009-10


    Buddhafield Dharma Series I: Festival Talks 2009-10

    An introduction

    These booklets have come out of the Dharma teaching on the

    Buddhafield Festival , and the wider Buddhafield project.

    Originally posted as audio talks on FreeBuddhistAudio

    (www.freebuddhistaudio.com/browse?p=Buddhafield), theyve now

    been edited and published on-line to reach a wider audience. Youll

    find the rest of the series online at issuu.com/buddhafield .

    Buddhafield itself is at www.buddhafield.com or on Facebook - and

    in a field in the West of England!

    Thanks to Akasati for most of the work in preparing and editing

    them for publication. Her essay introducing the series is available at


    December 2010


    Kamalashila - Community, Nature, and Reality

    Creating effective and satisfying community is perhaps the most

    urgent and difficult challenge facing our individualistic,

    disconnected world. Maybe something can be learned from

    Western Buddhists who have been experimenting with various

    solutions since the 60s.

    Solitude: the beginning

    My own interest in community life comes out of experiences in

    solitude, which is really not as peculiar as it sounds. Some years ago

    I spent eighteen months on retreat in some woods on a hill in south-

    west Wales. It was the most inspiring time of my life and years later

    I am still assimilating its effects. I passed my time happily alone in

    my dome tent burning wood, drawing water from the hillside and

    discovering that being close to nature provides wings for my

    fledgling understanding of things. Afterwards it seemed to me that

    rather than spending the rest of my life in continued busy-ness and

    travel I should stay in one place and continue exploring the dharma

    in natural surroundings this time with others.


    My dream was of an ecologically aware Buddhist community. Yet

    when I started my retreat, I was not at all interested in ecology. My

    reason for going to the countryside was to escape the distraction of

    other human beings. I expected insights and realizations to arise in

    meditation, not out of my surroundings. I knew I would learn about

    lighting fires, tying knots, chopping wood and conserving water, but

    I never expected natural things themselves to give insights into the

    dharma. Yet in the event every single insight came from these

    things. You could say they were instigated by the elements and

    local spirits, for whose teachings thirty years of traditional Buddhist

    training had prepared me.

    As I lived, alone and simple, I became sharply aware of events

    around me: seasons changing, the opening flowers, birds,

    grasshoppers, frosts and dews. Getting connected with so much

    living, interacting variety was like entering a timeless sacred

    community, as in the famous Navaho chant:

    All day long may I walk

    Through the returning seasons

    may I walk

    Beautifully joyful birds


    On the trail marked with pollen

    With grasshoppers(and) dew about my feet

    may I walk

    With beauty before me behind me above me all around me

    In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk

    It is finished in beauty.

    As you may be thinking, solitary life was not always marked by

    beauty and joy. I managed several dozen times to get myself

    trapped in some very unsettling situations, like the night I got

    completely lost until the small hours in a fog, or the time I slipped

    knee deep into my toilet. However because I had unrestricted time

    to deal with such events, and there was no one else around to

    confuse me with their scorn, disgust or anxiety, I could experience

    each situation much more thoroughly, and the outcomes were

    always transforming and positive. Through accepting my situation

    again and again came a growing rapport with the surrounding

    natural world in which dharma (by which I mean the true nature of

    existence and the conditions necessary for seeing it), was far more

    evident to me than usual. Moreover such experiences gradually

    undermined my natural human pride and rigidity, leading to a series


    of experiences in which my idea of myself collapsed along with the

    world I assumed I was living in. I remember that this illuminating

    period especially transformed the way I felt about others. I loved

    people before with the usual variations, but now my love came

    from somewhere deeper; and despite the isolation from the human

    world I felt an immediate connection with all life that I had never

    experienced before.

    As all practitioners reading this will understand, the conditions for

    such transformation were many and various. No doubt the main

    influence was a daily commitment to hours of meditation and

    reflection. But I am sure an equal part was played by the

    surrounding landscape, which constantly reminded me in the most

    uncompromising ways of the purpose of my retreat. Along with my

    inconstant moods nature appeared variously beautiful, ugly, gentle

    or harsh; but there was never any escape from the reality of it.

    Whatever the weather or my state of health, if I needed to urinate

    or get water and firewood I was forced go outside. I was in my mid

    fifties, never in the best of health, and my retreat started in

    December. Over the freezing winter months of 2001 (during which

    fell a record number of days rainfall), whenever I felt very cold or ill


    I longed for the convenience of piped water and mains electricity. I

    sometimes became impatient with practical matters, cursing the

    need to tie a knot or split logs with frozen fingers. However as I got

    used to my situation my tetchiness and anxiety dissolved. I began

    feeling at home in it all; I began to love it. I saw increasingly that my

    resistance to any painful experience to the irritated person

    experiencing pain, and the direct experience of pain itself were

    actually quite unfixed things that would teach me everything about

    the dharma if only I could let the smokescreen of my outrage

    disperse and become curious about what was really happening.

    Little insights like this enabled me eventually to become a real local,

    a native who easily inhabits his environmental niche. And from that

    point, I came into a creative and dharma-inspired relationship with

    every local plant and animal.

    Nature-based Dharma community

    I sense that my delusions have been re-establishing themselves in

    the years since leaving my retreat, which inevitably happens with

    any incomplete insight experience. However I am sure their

    dissolution was real at the time, and I am inspired at the possibility

    that others could make the same kind of shift. Even more


    importantly, a community of practitioners can help each other

    absorb such experiences into ordinary life. This is what has aroused

    my interest in a nature-based dharma community. Insight is not so

    hard to achieve the real work is in its integration and continuance

    over the months and years, and the possibility of doing that in

    company appeals deeply to me.

    I imagine us establishing something large and land based with a

    diverse population; a community who would eventually evolve its

    own ways of dharma teaching. It would be lively, even controversial

    in some respects, yet helpful to society and attractive of visitors.

    People would come and attend retreats, meditate, and explore the

    Dharma from the point of view of nature and deep ecology.

    Nature must have informed the Buddhas own feeling for the

    Dharma. He chose to live in nature even though, after his

    Awakening, no one would have thought any the less had he

    returned to a conventional indoor life as his basis for teaching. His

    decision to remain in the wild seems to indicate that it supported

    his realisation better. The Buddha became as considerate of the

    needs of non-human beings and plants as his own kind, teaching his

    disciples how to cultivate love for snakes and other fear-inspiring


    creatures. And his central teaching of vipashyana is a revelation of

    the vastness and profundity of Nature as it is beyond all concepts of

    space, time, location, and relationship yet is applicable right here

    in the so-called real world, in ethics, love, and helpful activity. A

    new, nature-based approach to Dharma would come from this