As Christmas approaches and most of us start to wind down for our annual winter vacation, for some this is the toughest and loneliest time of year. The number of people on the streets of our cities these days seems to be increasing. Homelessness is tough at the best of times but in the middle of winter in the UK it must be challenging to the limit.
I have often asked myself how I would cope were I to find myself in a similar situation. When I lived the life of homelessness as both a yogi and a monk many years ago I did so out of choice. At the time I delighted in the simplicity of it and the feeling of freedom and flow that it allowed into my life. But in India and Burma at the time life was good as an ascetic, and in truth I never wanted for anything. My basic needs were always met one way or another.
The Buddha defines a fortunate human life as one in which we are provided with the basic needs. There aren’t many basic requirements…most of the things we think we require are actually wants and not needs. Our real needs are few, and the Buddha defines a fortunate human life as one in which we are blessed with the following –
to be born of sound body
to be born of sound mind
to be provided with food enough to sustain ourselves
to have sufficient shelter from the forces of nature (heat, cold, wind) and other animals and insects
to be born in a country that is free from strife, civil conflict and war.
And finally he added to that to be born in a time where the path out of suffering is well known and expounded by those who have walked upon it and can point the way to others.
Most of us would have to admit to being in possession of these basic requisites that constitute a fortunate human life. The Buddha would tell us that if we do not find our own happiness within such a life then it is on our own account and that it is the responsibility of each of us to avoid coming to unnecessary suffering and where possible to find peace and happiness and share it with those around us.
The Buddha’s advice with regards to how we might actually find our own happiness, contentment and peace constitutes the Dharma that he taught, namely his ‘Noble Eightfold Path’ which as most of you will know is made up of three parts: Virtuous conduct, diligent care and cultivation of the quality of our own consciousness, development of wise attention to the nature of our experience and the reality of it (wisdom).
And with regards to how we might fare upon our own journey out of suffering he tells us that there are four kinds of people –
Those in the darkness moving into the darkness
Those in the darkness moving into the light
Those in the light moving into the darkness
Those in the light moving into the light
We are all capable of understanding what he means by that.
Now he also urges us not to fall into complacency during times of good fortune and points out that most often it is while delighting in this good fortune that we forget how hard it is to come by, and fail to turn our life of relative ease towards the making of merit. Most often as soon as life stops becoming a struggle we tend to seek delight in the pursuit of our own pleasures and organise our lives around this. It is at this point that our lives become ever more complicated and hard to sustain until it ultimately becomes unsustainable and for one reason or another (through choice or because it is forced upon us by circumstance) we are forced to simplify.
With regards to progress upon the path towards lasting happiness and the cessation of suffering the Buddha tells us again that there are four kinds of people –
There are those who make slow and painful progress
There are those who make slow and painless progress
There are those who make swift and painful progress
and finally those who make swift and painless progress.
With regards to this he had the following to say:
One who is of few needs and easy to serve is already close to being at peace and quickly finds happiness.
One who is of many needs and hard to serve is far from being at peace and rarely finds happiness.
Now it is coming up to Christmas. Many of us, especially our children will be thinking much about what we want from Father Christmas, Mum and Dad, our brothers and sisters, family and friends etc by way of gifts. And of course many of us also will be thinking right now what can I give. Now while it is nice to give something to another solely for their pleasure, to give to another something that helps to provide them with the basic needs that support their lives is not merely generosity, it is an act of merit.
Now those folk that all of us will have walked passed on the street in the past days and weeks may well have fewer needs than us and be easier to serve than us. But they don’t have the basic needs.
Many of them don’t have shelter and many of them are hungry.
We have made it a bit of a Christmas tradition at AOM to make some small gesture that might support a few of these homeless people during the festive season. Each year we make donations to a number of charities that provide food and shelter for them. In particular we allocate a good proportion of what we donate towards providing warm blankets and a Christmas day meal as well as a day of rest and safe shelter. For more information about this please take a look at the following link:
Here at Beacon Bank our long three month winter retreat is well under way. Here we are endeavouring to live simply and be of few needs and easy to serve while we practice. By sharing our resources and living simply under one roof we reduce our group consumption footprint to a fraction of what it would normally be for the duration of our retreat.
We have made a determination to keep a non-stop meditation vigil through the night every night until we take a break for Christmas. That means that we will be meditating uninterruptedly as a group. We are dedicating the merits of our efforts to providing support for some of those homeless people I have just been speaking of.
As you know the Art of Meditation are a Non for Profit organisation and at the end of each year we give any surpluses that our activities may have generated to various charities (usually orphanages and homeless charities). We would love you to support our Christmas meditation vigil by sponsoring us. It would be nice if we could make generous contribution to our charities this Christmas and provide as many people as possible with a good meal and a warm blanket. Each 28 pounds raised will provide one person with a day of shelter and a Christmas meal and a warm blanket. How wonderful.
To support this please click on this link….
And finally, please join us during the night also. Tune in with us at any point in the night and meditate with us. Below is a photo of our small meditation room here at Beacon Bank so you know where we are.
And if you would like us to send loving kindness to any friends or relatives who may be sick or struggling at this time by all means email us a photo and we will put it on our shrine and send Metta to them each day between now and Christmas.
So everyone. I wish you all well. I pray that each of you will find a peace within your hearts this Christmas and a find way to share your love with others. Blessings to you all
Happy Christmas and…
MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY