Peter Popham set the scene for a wonderful weekend of teachings when he introduced his filmed interview with Lama Jampa, The Making of a Master, screened last Friday evening at Manchester Town Hall.
Just as Buddhism is still relatively new in the west, there was a time when Christianity had newly arrived in Britain. Prompted by sight of a mural in the Town Hall, depicting King Edwin’s conversion in 627 AD, Peter related a speech recorded by Venerable Bede, made in favour of adopting the new religion.
“The life of man is like the flight of a sparrow through a room where we sit at supper on a winter evening with a good fire blazing, with the wind outside howling and the rain pouring down. The sparrow flies in one door and out of the other, vanishing into the winter’s night from whence it came.
That short time spent in the warmth of our room is like the life of man. What comes before and what goes after, we do not know. Our old gods could not adequately explain it and could not help us to deal with it. If this new doctrine of Christianity tells us something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”
In this way Peter drew a parallel to our situation today in which our own religious heritage has gradually lost its power to convince. Does this mean that there is nothing outside the room but darkness? he asked. Is the sparrow little more than a sort of machine which only exists for the few seconds it flaps around the room? That seems to be the belief - or rather non-belief - to which our civilisation is retreating.
Even common sense tells us that this is absurdly insufficient. However, it so happens that there are explanations which were flourishing on the other side of the world, in India, China, South East Asia and Japan, even at the time of King Edwin. Today we know those explanations collectively as Buddhism and it is our good fortune that a few westerners have had the determination, the intellect and the capacity to penetrate the wisdom of Buddhism and translate its concepts into words we can understand.
Peter introduced Lama Jampa Thaye, the subject of his interview, The Making of a Master, as one of the greatest of those teachers. Peter summed up the message he himself took from his interview with the Lama to be that our life can indeed be likened to that sparrow's brief flight through the room but we are not like mere robots or machines; and we do not need to live in confusion and ignorance.
Students attending Lama Jampa’s teaching of the text, 'The Rays of the Stainless Vajra Moon', on Saturday and Sunday felt incredibly fortunate to receive just the kind of explanation of the nature of our existence that Peter referred to in his speech on Friday evening. Not only does the text, composed as it was in nineteenth century Tibet, provide a theoretical outline of how reality can be understood through intellectual reasoning, but it also provides a guide on how one can, through progressive phases of meditation practice, make the theoretically understood view into an experiential reality for oneself.
Of course, it is as the Lama carefully explains, a very gradual process of study and practice that we need to engage in to make this extremely subtle understanding a reality for ourselves. At our Dechen centres, we arrange study groups and meditation sessions to help and support each other in this endeavour.
Also, please note that Lama Jampa will be returning to Manchester over the weekend of 25th and 26th of February to continue his teaching of the text ‘Rays of the Stainless Vajra Moon’. The event will be open to those who missed the first part and wish to receive these teachings.
The film, The Making of a Master, can be purchased as a DVD via Dechen centres for £5.