Featured Title: A Guide to the Buddhas by Vessantara

Why does Buddhism refer to so many Buddhas? Who are they? What can they tell us about ourselves?

In this inspiringly written book we meet the historical and archetypal Buddhas who form part of the rich symbolism of Tibetan Buddhism. This is an informative guide for those new to Buddhism and a handy reference for more experienced practitioners. Vessantara, with his 35 years of meditation experience, combines the power of story telling with practical guidance and succeeds in bringing the Buddhas and their visualization practices to life.

A Guide to the Buddhas is available from the Windhorse online store, £11.99

A sacred tree in Thailand bears strange fruits in the shape of anatomically correct beautiful women!

In Buddhist mythology , a tree known as the Nariphon bears the fruit of young female creatures and is said to grow in the mythical forest called Himaphan.

The story goes that Buddhist god, Indra created a home in the forest for his wife Vessantara and his two children. But when Vessantara went out into the forest to collect food, she was in danger of being attacked by terrifying male creatures.Indra then created 12 special Nariphon trees which would bear fruit in his wife’s image to distract the creatures while she picked her own food.The men would take these fruits back to their homes and after making love to them would sleep for four months, and lose their powers.

According to Thai folklore, after Indra and his wife died, the trees continued to bear fruit. There are rumoured to be two Nariphon pods in a Buddhist temple near Bangkok.


Vessantara on loving-kindness

This week Vessantara is giving daily talks on The Buddhist Centre Online for the Urban Retreat. His talks are all on metta (loving-kindness), which is also the focus of his book, The Heart. If you’d like to find out more about the book, here are some excerpts from our interview with Vessantara on themes from The Heart. You can also read the introduction to The Heart for free here.

Why is meditation on the heart so beneficial?

I think that meditation on the heart can revolutionize your emotional life. Because our happiness finally depends on our responses to life, the more we respond to life in a positive way, the more fulfilling our life can become. Focusing on the heart also, over time, helps soften that sense of separation that causes us so much suffering – the sense that ‘I’m a completely separate person here and there’s the world out there’. If you go deep enough into meditation, you can recognize that finally you’re not separate from everything else at all.

You describe love as ‘a choice, an action.’ Do you think there is a difference between Buddhist loving-kindness and love as we conventionally understand it? Can an experienced meditator fall head over heels in love?

There is a difference between Buddhist loving kindness and love as we conventionally understand it, because love as we conventionally understand it is a mixture of caring about somebody else or other people and also being attached to them. With this kind of love, you’re always looking for something in return – love is a kind of contract, a bargain. However, the ideal of loving kindness in Buddhism is to care about other people and the world for their own sake – it’s more appreciative and less needy.

And although we talk about ‘falling’ in love as though it is something that just happens and then that’s it, I know that certainly when I used to ‘fall in love’ like that I worked quite hard at it – I invested a lot of energy in thinking about that person and how fantastic they were, and also a lot of energy in wishing things would stay that way – that they would stand just there, looking just like that, on that pedestal forever! But of course people need to change and develop, and after meditating for a while you see – you know – that everything changes and develops, so you are able to love more freely and also more realistically. Because you’re more in touch with your own inner riches, you don’t expect one person to completely fix your life and make everything wonderful.

Perhaps there are two sides to falling in love: there’s that powerful but evanescent feeling that comes and goes, and there’s a genuine, deep caring about people that tends not to change with time. I think that after meditating for a while, you can still feel the evanescent type of falling in love, but you understand it for what it is and let it go; the genuine feelings of love and care will just get deeper the more that you meditate.

You suggest that we all have our own ‘sphere of concern’ and that the Buddhist project is about expanding that sphere to include all living beings. Is it really (and practically) possible to love all living beings with the same commitment and energy that we show towards our partners, family and friends?

Yes. Because if you go deep in meditation that sense of complete separation that I talked about earlier disappears, and when you really feel part of life, you inevitably care about it all. Also, the further you go with your meditation, the more you start to see that there is only the present moment. Very often we think our way into the past and the future and feel as if we can live there. But actually, living in the past or the future is always unsatisfying, and through doing that we dismiss the present. For example the person we’re with this minute may not be the person we want to be spending time with. But once we understand that the present moment is the only reality, it really makes sense to care for the person we’re with, because we might as well care for what is real.

And although loving all beings might sound like a big ask, I’ve definitely met a few people who really did seem to do that – whatever they were doing, whoever they were with, their attitude was always open and caring. So I think the idea that we have a limited amount of love or resources is just a story that we tell ourselves, because in reality love is always there, and it’s limitless. People talk about compassion fatigue but I don’t think the compassion ever runs out – it’s rather that we’re too fatigued to connect with it. And we become less fatigued the more that we practise compassion.

Compassion isn’t like a reservoir which becomes empty once you’ve taken so many buckets out of it. It’s the reverse – the more compassion you draw out of the reservoir, the more there is there. The issue is just about getting to the reservoir. If you don’t go there very often, weeds and brambles grow up and it becomes a real struggle to reach it. So when you do go there and back with your bucket you feel exhausted. The more you go to the reservoir, the more the path gets well-trodden and the easier it becomes. So although loving all beings might sound impossible, in principle it’s actually quite simple – it’s just about staying in the present moment with an open heart.

Find out more about The Heart.