Shaila and the IMSB sangha have kindly invited me to be the resident teacher here for a couple of weeks, for which I am both grateful and honoured – both to the individuals and also to the dharma itself, expressed through all of us, which has opened this new door to serve and engage with it.
So here I am again. Visiting this area of the world after a gap of nearly 45 years. And the last time I was here 1966 or 7, it was a time of great creativity and wonder and transformation, and it left an indelible question in my mind which has been with me since that time – the life that I see through my sense doors is not the whole story. It is subject to a subject, constructed by a person and a brain. An hypothesis and no more. So what is beyond? In all the years the question has stayed but the way I ask it has changed radically. It is no more something that I struggle with, a question as such. But it has become a royal road to travel on, – the dharma.The dharma teachings are all about this, expressed as a life teaching of inconceivable wisdom and depth. And one of the precious aspects of the dharma is the way in which the teachings are expressed as a guidance to a wise and joyful and beneficial life, as an opening to wisdom, but without losing site of that ultimate question – what is revealed through awakening.
I decided to teach the paramis during this visit as they are very much a theme for all of us as householders. They are a life practice that we apply to all moments of our daily life. They are what makes our work in an office into a day of practice and our home a retreat center. My life in israel is very much that of a householder, a kind of ‘married monk’. I plant and tend the vegetable garden, I walk a lot through the wild thorny land of Galilee, I fix broken things, I travel all over teaching and meeting people in the large Israel sangha, and I play a lot with my grandhildren. And there is the quiet sitting in the mornings. And the paramis shift the view from activity as a burden, to activity as a play of qualities, expressed in the inner life and the outer life simultaneously.We can all feel how the parami of generosity creates the joy of giving and receiving, the parami of renunciation lets go of the pressure from what I need or don’t need, the parami of aspiration keeps the path in mind, the parami of meditation creates space even in the midst of speaking, and so on.
But the paramis are not just life guides – they are ‘perfections’, and in that they dont lose sight of that ultimate question which hovers around our spiritual journey. The Buddhas teaching always invites us to develop capacities to face this question in a deeper and deeper way. The teachings point us to settling down into a life of meaning in which this question becomes a fountain not a muddy pool. The paramis invite us closer and closer by shifting the way we look at life, and we realise that we cannot expect answers, we can expect to ask the question at a deeper and deeper level.
So I would invite us all, to have the ultimate question running as a ‘program in background’ to use a computer analogy. We practice in the foreground a period of meditative silence, a generous giving, a moment of letting go, an intention or commitment, and just the joy of life, but lets keep the ultimate running in background – there is something far deeper and vaster that is inviting us.