Introduction from my book ‘Coming Home: Refuge in Pureland Buddhism‘.
Who am I? I am broken. I hurt those I love without meaning to, and sometimes on purpose. I eat too much sugar. I am a teensy bit addicted to Facebook. I tend towards workaholism. I do catch myself more often these days, but I still love juicy gossip. I am sometimes afraid of intimacy and of being in community. I manipulate those around me in order to get my needs met. I make the same mistakes over and over again.
Who am I? I am brimming with wisdom, gratitude and love. I am a successful author and psychotherapist. I am ordained as a Buddhist Priest and I run a thriving temple with my husband. I find my work deeply fulfilling. I have invested in more than two decades of work on myself – therapy, 12 step groups, courses, and thousands of books. I know myself pretty well. I’m not afraid to say ‘no’ and I’m not afraid to say ‘yes’. I am blessed with a very happy marriage, good friends, and a strong community around me. I am full of faith. I have been given a great deal, and I would like to pass it on.
Who am I, and how can I help you? I am an ordinary, foolish being. I am an ever–shifting mixture of the first description of myself and the second; light and dark, deluded and enlightened. And I know that I am acceptable, just as I am. I know it in my bones. This brings me great consolation. I hope this is one of the ways in which I can help you – by reminding you that you are also a mix of awful and wonderful, and that you are also illuminated by the light of love.
As a Pureland Buddhist, the name I use for this light is Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. Being in relationship with Amida has shown me that I am acceptable, just as I am, and that I can relax. Amida knows the very worst of me, and she understands why I am the way I am. Paradoxically, as I feel known, understood, and loved, the sharp edges of my dysfunctions begin to wear away. My defences start getting dismantled, and my fear–driven behaviour becomes less necessary. Being known in this way also keeps me humble, as I come to see the depths of my self–deception and my egoic striving. Finally, it helps me to be more patient and compassionate, as I see these same processes at work in other people.
It doesn’t matter to me how you conceptualise your own light or what name you give to it. It would make me happy if this book helped you to discover or remember it, and to experiment with leaning into it. As your faith grows, you will find that you are also more able to be honest about yourself – that you become more courageous and more vulnerable. You will feel more secure, more relaxed, and more content. I’m hoping you’ll feel more grateful, more playful, and more joyful. That’s how it has been for me.
I would like to offer you the gift of a relationship with the light, through refuge. We will begin with a crash course in Pureland Buddhism, which is the lens I most often look at the world through. Feel free to substitute any of the concepts for those you are already familiar with or feel more comfortable with – ‘the spirit of love’ for ‘Buddha’, or ‘trust–in–something–that’s–not–me’ for ‘faith’. We’ll then look at the five refuges in this school of Buddhism, followed by how to take refuge and what results you might expect when you do. Each section is fleshed out with little stories from my life, which I hope will begin to bring the abstract concepts to life.
Whatever your experience of spirituality, your life history and your world view, I trust that you will find common ground with me. Life is full of twists and turns – and sometimes it knocks us sideways. We all need as much steadying as we can get. I hope that this book will open you up to more of the Buddha’s light, whatever you choose to call it, and draw you into a deeper experience of refuge.
Read a sample chapter on being silly at the dinner table here.
Read more about the books (with links to buy) here.