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It was almost by chance I listened to the Queen’s jubilee service. Anyone reading my blog posts might think me an ardent royalist, for this is not the first time I have written of her majesty, but this would be far from the truth of the matter – I have always been one who crept stealthily out of the theatre or cinema to the strains of the national anthem, vowing I would not stand for such monarchist claptrap. Yet we humans are perverse and paradoxical.
Perhaps it was the lure of the brass ensemble and some good rousing sing-along hymn tunes which switched me from Celine Dion to radio four as I sped down the M1. Or maybe it was simply the possibility of participating, albeit distantly, in a once in a lifetime occasion in history which, tacky or not, should be experienced. Whatever, I found myself listening and singing along with the millions of other silent witnesses of this occasion of public intimacy.
It was Rowan Williams’ address which caught my attention though. His theme: dedication. The queen had lived a life of dedication, he said. And in that dedication, had expressed not a tight-lipped sense of duty but an opening up to joy. Commitment to something greater brought not just good for those one served, but also satisfaction. As I listened to him speaking, the word became a mirror in which I saw my own situation reflected. Perhaps this was the real reason that this royal anniversary so fascinated me even as I resisted it. As I watched the queen and country looking back over sixty years, behind the events I saw reflected a question which preoccupies me in this time of building anew. What is a good life? How does one live purposefully?
I have passed the meridian of my fifties, and on the horizon I see age creeping towards me even though it is far from arriving yet. I am at a beginning, but I have a number of endings behind me. The end of a life may be a time to look back, but at this vantage point in my own life I can both look backward and forwards. I can review and I can plan. There is a poignancy in seeing the panning out of past visions and revisiting them. There is also the possibility to learn, distil and find the culmination of it all: a new beginning, but perhaps the last. So what will shape the time ahead, and what will allow me to look back without too much regret in my latter years?
As Rowan Williams so eloquently spoke of the spiritual nature of dedication, and the commitment of a life to the higher good, I recognised that my own aspiration has always been one of purposeful dedication. I cannot pretend to virtue or altruist motives, but somehow in all the meandering life choices I have made down the years, the organising factor has not, for the most part, been personal gratification or pleasure, but rather a search for something that I sensed but often left undefined: a sense of worth and value, a belief in the unfolding greater process of something beyond my personal vision.
In my teens I struggled with questions of life. Could one transcend the selfish motivation? What made a life worthwhile? I formulated ideas: a life built on blocks of experiences, like a rich tapestry of many colours; a life in which one sought out influences which coaxed one’s being into positive directions; a life built on authenticity and intimacy, honesty and integrity. These last few months I have revisited questions dormant for decades. Sometimes it seemed that everything crumbled to futility. I have after all tried to live a sort of dedication and found it wanting in many respects. But in listening to today’s words, I recognised that the deeper commitment in the word dedication does not come in forms but in the heart intention. What do I dedicate my life to? What is my foundation? To put it another way, where is my faith?
Dedication is common in Buddhism. We dedicate merit and offerings. We pass on to the greater whole our individual achievements. We immediately and totally dedicate any merit generated to the benefit of others. We dedicate ourselves in taking refuge and our actions through aligning our intention with the field of merit of Buddhas. The idea of harnessing our intentionality is very much in the Buddhist spirit. Karma is generated by intentional action, and this action is made positive through chanda, the aspiration which is free of clinging and goes beyond self. Pureland Buddhism is an expression of such aspiration. It is the spirituality centred on opening the heart to the true nature of being alive. In Pureland practice we invite the measureless to hold us, resigning our will to the greater power of Amida Buddha, even when we cannot know what that measurelessness really is. This is the nature of dedication.
Dedication is to lay one’s life on the foundation of the wholesome. Making such a commitment does not mean that one is virtuous, but rather it means that one places one’s trust in the field of merit. It does not mean that one intentionally abandons selfish action, but rather that as one’s life is driven by other motivations, some levels of personal attachment drop away.
The word dedication clarifies the questions that we need to ask ourselves and ones on which I have been pondering. To what do we give energy and to what do we look for support? What is worthy of a life project, and what will bring that heart opening to fruition? If we can find even provisional answers, these will give us indicators of our forward direction.
Tariki is about engagement. It is grounded in Buddhist principles. It is about such a search for the worthwhile and for that in which we can wholeheartedly live. It is practical too, for such dedication is about action, not empty words. It is about applied Buddhism, expressed in therapy or arts, creativity or ideas, political questions or environmental concern. Most importantly it is about living wholeheartedly in the values we espouse and making these the foundations of our work. Such living is satisfying; as Williams said, not tight-lipped duty, but an expression of joy. For in living such an ideal we become fully alive growing into the greater space of the unmeasured. This then is dedication.
 Summary of faith and practice
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