Postcard 41 from Robina: Melbourne, Monday, May 26, 2014

2014-05-26 11:00:00

After Rinpoche’s teachings I flew back to Bogota and then to Santiago in Chile, where I spent 24 hours. Every year that I teach in Colombia, I fly from here to Sydney: Qantas has direct flights across the Pacific, but I’d never been out of the airport. I stayed at a hotel in town. As always, I like these old Spanish-style cities.

Santiago, Chile.

I walked around, ate some lunch, and visited some churches – I like churches.

And, of course, being an old Catholic, I can’t help but like Catholic churches: they feel like the real deal: old habits die hard! When I worked for Wisdom in London in the early 1980s I’d walk past a lovely old church every day on my way to the office. We were in the West End, just of Old Bond Street, and I lived in a flat just off Baker Street near Marylebone Road. It caught my eye because there was a big cross with Jesus on it on the outside. Inside there were the Stations of the Cross and the familiar smell of incense. I felt at home there, and I’d sit and do my practice.

One day I started browsing the brochures – and discovered it wasn’t Catholic after all! Well, not the Catholic that people call Roman Catholic, which was what I had in mind. It was High Church of England, or Anglo-Catholic, which is effectively Catholic minus the Pope. I felt like they’d conned me into the church under false pretences! Joking, of course. . .

It’s a twelve-hour flight to Sydney. I left at 2pm Santiago time on Wednesday May 1 and got into Sydney at 6pm on Thursday, Australia being 18 hours ahead of the American continent.

In Melbourne, where I flew on to immediately, I participated in a conference at the Australian Catholic University, in Fitzroy. I had 20 minutes and I’d decided to talk about the similarities between the concept of God and a Buddha.

At the International Theological Conference at the Australian Catholic University.

I have such respect for the holy beings of the various cultures throughout centuries: the Jews, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Christians, the Muslims, not to mention the countless other religious and spiritual and philosophical thinkers. It seems to me that many of them have experienced similar things; the difference is in how they define and interpret what they see.

When we give a superficial reading to Buddhism, the cliched view is that Buddhists don’t “believe in God.” Well, of course, it’s true. But what is meant by “God”? The Christians, for example, talk about an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, all-pervasive energy. So far, so good: Buddhism agrees with the existence of such an energy, possessing such qualities, but they call it “Buddha.”

The Christians also consider that this energy to be unchanging, uncaused, and the source of all existence. Well, that’s where Buddha diverges in his views, and radically so. He calls this energy Enlightened Mind, or Buddha; that it is not a creator, and that every living being possess the potential to become it, just naturally. Countless beings have become enlightened and countless more are working towards it. All this exists within the context of the natural law of karma, which plays out in minds. Because all sentient beings – in Tibetan, “mind-possessors” – possess buddha nature, and because their minds are necessarily beginningless and endless, then they don’t need creating; it’s an unnecessary embellishment. He also says that there can’t be such a thing as a dynamic energy that isn’t a product of the law of cause and effect; it’s an impossibility.

And, of course, Buddha says it’s up to us to find out what’s true. We need to do the work. I’m content to continue to use Buddha’s findings as my working hypothesis. Taking it one step at a time.

And in Melbourne, as usual, I got to see my sisters. A year since we were together, and like all years these days it felt like it’d passed in a moment.

At Moonee Ponds with my sister Marie.

Dinner at my sister Julie’s house.

On one of the evenings together, one of my nieces, Marie’s oldest daughter, came with her husband, Mark Neald, who’s been famous for the past year for being the coach of Melbourne Football Club, one of the Australian rules clubs.

AFL football is insanely popular in Melbourne, has been for 100 years, and now spreading to other states. When I was a kid Melbourne was one of the very successful clubs; these days they’re one of the worst. Poor Mark, who’d spent years as an assistant coach for Collingwood, took on his first job as head coach with Melbourne – and then spent the rest of the year in the media and hugely criticized. And then he got fired. He’s a lovely man, that’s all I know! Paul Roos, who was Sydney’s coach for years took over.

The Sydney Swans is the team of preference in the Courtin family. As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t participate in this particular Saturday afternoon ritual as a kid because I couldn’t stand the stress and the shouting; instead I stayed at home and studied classical singing with my mother. These days, however, I’m showing interest in the footy! I have an app on my iPad that allows me to watch the games live, but I still can’t stand the stress, so I only watch it after the game is over – and only if the Swans win! Which is pretty often these days.

Now off to Queensland for a month.

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