I have a little buddy who often participates in my home practice. Sometimes he circles my feet as I make an offering. Sometimes he snuggles at my lap as I chant. And if I sit still long enough, he affectionately headbutts my chin.

He is George.

My wife and I found him in the alley behind our house a few years ago, crying for help from under a car.

He was very thin but did seem to be very human-oriented so we thought he may have ventured too far from his home. He was certainly not used to be outside by himself.

Gently we called to him. When he realized that we meant no harm, he quickly made his way across the ally and into our backyard. After sneaking him by the ever watchful tom cat of the neighborhood, we brought into our back room.

He spent quite a bit of time just wanting to snuggle with us and seemed very grateful for our attention. It was then, while he was looking up at me, that I decided that his name was George. No other name seemed to fit his rather sweet and gentle demeanor.

He just looked like a George.

After spreading the word that we found George, no one came to claim him. Though I felt bad for the owner, I’m glad we could give him a home.

He’s been with us now through two moves and seems to quickly make himself at home wherever he is. He is also quite devoted to his big brother, Bodhi, though I’m sure Bodhi would much rather be left alone.

As I write this post, George has been swirling around my feet, inquiring about pets. When I go to the shrine, he will likely accompany me.

During my time in this tradition, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to practice with teachers, participate in beautiful religious services, and find friendship in a spiritual community. However, there are few experiences that compare to just sitting in candlelight with a purring cat and the countless Buddhas.

Namo Amida Bu

The Pure Land Outside My Window

A few years ago, I traveled to the UK to spend time with the sangha of Amida Mandala Buddhist Temple. I was warmly welcomed by Satyavani and Kaspalita, the priests who run the temple, and quickly made friends with the rest of its community.

The location was equally welcoming. Amida Mandala sits on the side of the Malvern Hills, a place where it’s said that C.S. Lewis and Tolkien found inspiration for their stories. If one were to look to the Northeast of the Malverns (my vantage point at the temple), one would see why.

Rolling earth laps at the hillside. From the vast sky, fog rolls in, hugging the earth, often shrouding little hills in the distance. The weather puts the landscape into a constant state of graceful flux.

It’s no wonder that this region became such an inspiration to two literary giants. Likewise, it would become my inspiration while I was in the midst of questioning my spiritual path.

Part of my stay at the temple included a solitary retreat. Over 48 hours, alone in a room, I spent my time chanting Nembutsu (while I was awake, of course). Though fulfilling, this endeavor would prove to be quite challenging.

At about one third through the retreat, I was becoming rather depressed. I was questioning why I was there, why I was so far from home, and why I decided to follow a spiritual practice. Part of me felt foolish and weak for handing myself over to an “Other Power”.

As I sat down, disillusioned, (still chanting for some reason) I saw a copy of Amida Shu’s sutra book. After staring at it awhile, I picked it up and flipped through the pages. That’s when I read one of the vows of Dharmakara, the bodhisattva who would become Amida Buddha.

The vow is written as follows:

31st Vow: Oh Blessed One, may I not come to complete awakening if, when I have done so, my land does not have mirror purity such that the lands of all other Buddhas, inconceivably countless, throughout the ten directions, are completely reflected in it.

I then looked outside. The scenery was different. The rolling land looked even more beautiful than before. It looked greener, deeper, and hallowed.

I then felt an ease and joy like I have seldom known. It was not something I could control as it was a feeling that leapt from somewhere different deep within. My mind could not grasp it.

I saw a land reflected in Sukhavati itself. I saw Amida’s realm.

Just outside my window, in the midst of life, death, and secular matters, was the Land of Bliss.

Namo Amida Bu

Image of Malvern from Wikipedia