Kamalashila's Newsworthy Notes

Urban Dharma

All of us practice in an urban environment. OK, we may live in the depths of the country or even in the wilderness. I did that until recently, but even out in the Spanish Pyrenees, the social culture within which my life was unfolding was overwhelmingly urban. Meeting here on this page, we are all on the internet. Just like the city seems to do, the internet offers us infinite choice. We all feel we have the right to

go anyway, the way I choose
I could live anyhow, win or lose
I could go anywhere, for something new
Anyway anyhow anywhere I choose


We have got used to this. Spiritually, infinite choice seems a negative thing. We get distracted by it all, obsessed by the products and opportunities that display themselves to us - clothes, vehicles, music, books, travel, communication, vocation. If we can have them we get dominated by craving and excitement. If we can't, the danger is anger, hatred or inturned frustration.

This is a typical opposition which Dharma practice sets us free from. No situation, however difficult, is good or bad in itself. The problems of feeling deprived, or elated, or afraid, are as illusory and changeable as all the images we have of who we are. If we look into them, it's not hard to change those habitual responses. What usually is hard, is to realise we can look.

Urban Dharma is a way to apply the teachings of the Buddha to contemporary living. Walking in city streets can be meditation. Guard the gates of the senses. You can be mindful, undistracted, reflective, watchful if you decide to. Life nowadays is broken up, jarring and discontinuous. So find ways to repair the breaches as they happen, keep reconstructing some kind of continuity and integrity. We use phones and computers for connecting to people and information, but too much information cuts us off from our experience. Sometimes take your eyes off screens and experience real distances, depth and colour. Nature seems to have no place in our protected city life. This is unbalanced and disharmonious, so find ways to appreciate the elements.

These seem to be the important aspects of City Dharma: to guard the senses, to repair breaches of awareness, to use info technology wisely, and to connect with the underlying natural world.

Putting the teachings of Buddhism into practice is essentially the same in every situation. In the Buddha’s last words it is to ‘strive, with mindfulness’ towards awakening [from the conditionings of the world]. In this one develops mindfulness regarding the body, the feelings, mental states and the dharma itself. You can then apply that awareness in all the diversity and challenge of nitty gritty experience.