A Year in View 2020
The Zen Gateway Review
Not everything in 2020 was grim at least not on The Zen Gateway. Take a look at what we did over the past 12 months in our regular review.
Welcome to our look back at the highlights of our year on The Zen Gateway. A year that has seen the world responding to a shared crisis, a controversial election in the U.S. and a race towards a Brexit finishing line.
Here, we concentrate on the Dharma - the teachings and practice according to the Buddha. This approach is not because world events do not matter to us, but because the approach here is nicely summed up by a saying from the sage Shantideva, who recommended that instead of covering the world with leather we can instead cover our shoes. Then wherever we go our feet are protected.
This year we migrated to a new platform and gave ourselves a new look. This allowed us to mine the archive from the old site so that we could post up some ‘chestnuts’ from previous years. We also responded to the COVID pandemic and consequent lockdown in Spring by live streaming talks on Facebook then posting the recordings up on YouTube. The purpose of these was to provide a bit of regular ‘spiritual uplift’ for people who may be feeling a bit shell-shocked or isolated.
So, please do take a look at what we have been up to and we hope you enjoy the reminiscences.
We would also like to take the opportunity to say ‘Thank you’ to you our subscribers, followers, contributors and supporters - you not only keep us going but make this all worthwhile.
Scroll to the end to see our important announcement about the future of The Zen Gateway.
Meditation and mindfulness are the two practices that are best-known here in the West in connection with Buddhism. However, in countries where Buddhism is native, most laypeople will take part in more devotional practices - prayers, offerings and so on. Our series The Way of Devotion was started to reflect this important aspect of Buddhist practice that may otherwise be neglected. Devotion warms the heart and encourages our stiff-necked ‘I’ to bow and open up to the presence of the inherent powers of the Buddha-heart. This month we featured Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva whose patronage is the whole of the mindfulness (daily life practice) itself.
The Golden Rule has a number of different formulations:
“What is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbour…” (Rabbi Hillel)
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Jesus Christ)
What underpins this is an insight based on an empathetic consciousness, the same consciousness that is pointed at by the Buddhist teaching of ‘No-I’ (anatta). Our troubleshooting episode this month delves into this connection to show that it is this insight which forms the basis of ethical action.
Our series on the parallels between Buddhist teachings and Western philosophies, folklore and psychology, The Alchemy of Transformation, featured the English mystic William Blake this month.
His emphasis on the imagination as the basis for what is real, over the material, is adjacent to the Yogacara teaching on ‘Mind-only’ as the basis of reality. This article sees how the 20th century American ‘New Thought’ movement picked up the idea of thought as a causative agent in the world. This idea is one that is still influential right at the top of American politics today.
The UK lockdown had recently started, with many other countries around the world joining suit. This month, The Zen Gateway’s co-founder, Michael Haggiag, penned a short essay, Staying at Home, on his own experience of a brief incarceration during his youth. Whilst we may feel that it is the outer circumstances that cause us pain, it is in fact the mind-made effects from which we are suffering. This insight is elucidated by the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. Michael reminisces on the moment in a Spanish jail during the Franco regime when this realisation came to him.
During the three-month UK lockdown, Martin Goodson gave a series of weekly live-streamed video talks based on the stories and sayings from The Wisdom of The Zen Masters by Ven. Myokyo-ni. The series was called At Home with The Zen Gateway and the recordings are now posted up on our YouTube channel.
Jeremy Frank reviewed one of two books we reviewed this year by David Hinton. Awakened Cosmos contains a series of poems by Tu Fu (712-770 C.E.), who used poetry to convey mystical insight into the nature of reality. Poetry in this context was used to convey particular truths that cannot otherwise be put into words directly. This follows a long tradition in Zen training where ‘capping’ verses are often used as part of Koan training to the same effect - conveying the student’s insight for confirmation by the teacher.
Jenny Hall is a regular contributor to The Zen Gateway. Each month she comments on a verse from the oldest collection of the Buddha’s sayings, The Dhammapada, that can be found throughout the Buddhist diaspora. This month, in her comment on verse 366, she reflects on how the cultivation of a practice of avoiding waste can develop compassion and mindfulness in daily life practice.
Monkey, a classic of Chinese literature dating from the 16th century, is a satire on courtly life at the imperial palace as well as a political statement on the rivalries between Taoism and Buddhism. It also contains deep truths about human nature and shows the author's own sincere faith. This month our series of Book Extracts featured an excerpt from the translation by Arthur Waley, with an image of our hairy protagonist from our good friend Roberta Mansell.
In Everything Teaches Zen, the late Master Daiyu Myokyo, tells how her ‘Zen’ training started long before she went to Japan. If we take our own lives as the ‘training ground’ then everything we encounter can become our teacher.
This article formed part of a series of well-loved anecdotes from her life that she used in her teachings to convey the truth that the training is at its heart about the practicalities of living.
In Japan it is recognised that a particular discipline can become a doorway into Zen training. The principles developed in a certain field can then be taken out and applied more generally in life.
This month Paul Baswick, who was running a 108 mile charity marathon, spoke about how his practice in long distance running helped him in his own Buddhist practice.
This month we also interviewed Dr Sam van Schaik. We discussed Dr Schaik's new book Buddhist Magic and take in along the way the history of the Dunhuang complex, its library and the prevalence of Zen in Tibet up to the late medieval period.
Our main output is the provision of the teachings for practitioners, and our occasional podcast. Dharma talks by Martin Goodson are provided for both group and individuals for contemplation. This month, in The 32 Marks of the Buddha, Martin tells how the 32 marks were used as living symbols of the Buddha and aligned to the creation of the 'practice body' of adherents to deliver beings out of delusion. The power of the Buddha is made manifest through teachings, meditation, words and ritual practices.
Rohatsu, the week- long retreat to commemorate the Buddha’s Enlightenment on 8th December was marked by the re-telling of the Buddha’s life-story. From Miraculous Birth to The Buddha’s Enlightenment explored this well- known narrative from its mythic angle. The elements of this story can reveal profound truths about the nature of the world, which can help us in our meditation and daily life practice.
Also this month, artist Roberta Mansell, having illustrated some of the stories of the Buddha's previous births (Jātakas), for her children kindly allowed us to present some of her pictures with extracts of text from the original story.
So that’s our round-up of our strange year! We hope you enjoyed taking a look back at some of the items we featured over the past 12 months.
So, what can we expect to see in 2021? Well, we have a big project coming up which we are busy working on at the moment. One thing that has become clear during the lockdowns was just how much we can interact online - talks & meditation, one-to-one meetings etc. A number of our readers reached out to make contact with us during these difficult times. This set us thinking. At the beginning of this year we conducted a survey of our newsletter subscribers and discovered that half have no regular contact with either a temple or Dharma centre or local Buddhist/meditation group. So, in 2021 we are looking to create an online community for people to get together, to meditate in real time, communicate with other practitioners, talk to a teacher about their meditation and mindfulness practice and generally receive some support with their practice.
It’s going to be a big undertaking and we don’t have a launch date yet, but we will be sending out notifications and further information as we develop the platform to do this. Our aim is to provide anyone who can get online with a contact and resource for Buddhist practice no matter where you live. We hope you will join us to make the community work for all of us.
In the meantime, you can see our back catalogue of article, podcasts, reviews and news via our home page.
May we take this opportunity to wish all of you a very Happy New Year and joyful continuation along the Buddha’s ancient path.
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