A Letter to Members on the Occasion of the 2014 AGM

Dear Friends of the Heart,

I am sorry that I am unable to be with you for the AGM this year.  I shall miss the kinship of fellow practitioners who care about the path of truth, ethical conduct and compassion and are working to have the centre continue.

Some years ago, an FOH administrator, Franca Leeson, talked about FOH being a 3 legged stool. The legs were described as 1) service 2) attendance at teachings and 3) meditation practice.  All three are necessary to create, uphold and strengthen a meditation centre.

Meditation practice is becoming popular in our culture primarily in the form of stress reduction or pure mindfulness and insight.  On their own, they can be very helpful in a culture that is over-stressed, over extended and terribly distracted by ‘busyness’. But something is left out, and that is the heart for the work and the heart work that is at the core of the Buddhist, Christian and Sufi way of living.

Attendance at teachings at FOH supports the centre by making its energy space vibrant, singing a song of welcome and kindness that is often commented on by visitors to the open houses.  During the last 2 years, David and I have been working on curriculum development that will, hopefully, enable people to learn progressively the deepening aspects of the Buddhist teaching as it shifts from Theravada to Mahayana to Vajrayana studies.  As understanding of the depth of these teachings arises, interest in periodic retreats can arise.  Seeing into the nature of the self/reality and learning new directions for life pathways takes time and training and quiet periods of retreat are ideal for this purpose.  Our present culture rarely permits or endorses such retreat periods and my hope would be that the people who have attended these retreats will inspire others to do so as well.  During a period of retreat, with sangha support, we become able to face our ‘demons’, aspire to build our awakened nature, and discover ways to engage with the years ahead. Like a cup that has fewer holes in it, we return with the elixir of new energy to our everyday lives.

The aspect of service is often considered by Buddhist groups to be the first and most important of all activities for those new to spiritual work.  Because it engages us in ‘dana’ or the practice of generosity, it slowly begins to loosen the grip of self-referencing and engages us in opening to others and to the world.  Traditionally, in Vajrayana and yogic circles, emphasis has been placed on service to the teacher.  Devotion to the guru forms a prominent place in bhakti yoga as well as Tibetan practice.  In the West, this has sometimes caused considerable problems as elements of martyrdom and projection muddy the waters of faith.  Mostly, we are not faith beings here in the west. Faith comes later and that is after we have tried out the practices and seen for ourselves that there is benefit to us and to our lives.

So, under my direction, Friends of the Heart has placed an emphasis on service to the centre as the important third leg of the stool of the Dharma.  Without the help of an administrative board, it is impossible for a teacher to focus enough time on his/her practice and the development of classes.

He or she has family obligations, other paid or unpaid work to be attended to and all the usual complications of living the lay life in the 21st century. People can be forgiven for saying that they do not have the time for this, or they just want to meditate, or they have given enough now.

Any one of these ‘reasonable’ thoughts can ignore the karmic effects of the act of service.  When we offer our time and energy to help a place like FOH keep its doors open and welcome new people in, we are increasing our ability to actually alter our own lives for the better. Occasionally, I have taught a student who seems to attend classes regularly, engage in the meditation practices dutifully, but over time makes no inner progress.  When I have looked deeply, what I see is lack of merit, the invisible ‘tiger in the tank’ that gives us the ability to change negative patterns into positive ones and the strength to emerge from suffering into joy.

So, if you are thinking any of those ‘reasonable thoughts’, I hope you will think again.  Friends of the Heart is indeed a rare creature, offering classes in depth thought, retreats with experienced teachers and a place where those who yearn for truth, wisdom and compassion to shine can find support and encouragement.  Without a public face, this would be lost.

My heartfelt thanks go to David for taking on the herculean task of continuing FOH upon my departure from Toronto.  He is a shining example of what a bodhisattva heart can accomplish.  My deep thanks go also to the present board for handling the difficult transition so well and to Alex for his able leadership as president.

I remain committed to serve as best I can to help FOH and all beings emerge from suffering into a state of clarity and compassion. As I have had to step away from day to day workings of FOH, I send my prayers of support always in your direction.  Though the task of building, establishing and continuing a lay centre such as ours may seem daunting and nearly impossible at times, I know it is worth doing. I have seen how much it has helped those who have passed through its doors.  May they continue their way in the world with compassion as their guide and awareness as their watchword.  May their wisdom shine forth to help others.

With love always flowing in your direction,