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Why I Fell in Love with The Infinite Light

I think there is much to be said on the subject of LGBT people and others have been treated badly by the power structures of organised religion. My experience was of Roman Catholicism but the same scriptures rooting homophobia in our wider society are largely evident in the three Abrahamic religions – particularly the punitive codes listed in Leviticus and the ramifications thereof. Certainly, on a personal level a sense of having been rejected by a loving God led to my darkest hours and years of depression as teenager that still shape my character today.

For a long time I rejected all spiritual views as poisonous nonsense and I think this was a form of self-defence. I see this a very common thing in other LGBT people I know, often unwilling to open up to a further potential set of inflicted psychological injuries they reject all thinking which is not reductive or materialistic. Pink social media threads frequently circle the wagons against any further attack and this promotes a siege mentality where it is difficult to find common ground, particularly in the face of the religious right in America. In fact such is the situation that many LGBT who seek more in-depth answers to life’s big questions, or who’s thinking allies with a spiritual view can feel isolated as much by their own community as by any rejecting church or synagogue etc.

After 7 years of political searching and rigid atheism I accidentally went along to a Buddhist meditation class. (I had imagined it was a secular or at least New Age group but when the Tibetan nun in full robes entered to teach and everyone stood to make prostrations I was mortified that I had stumbled into another religious trap). My experience was the opposite, within an hour I had never heard anyone make sense like her and it was transformational. I met a sense of logic, compassion and wisdom which relied on one’s own efforts and not on a supernatural being and my western mind was fascinated. Never once were sin or judgement mentioned and I was completely welcomed with no mention of my sexuality.

That day was life changing for me and 22 years later I am a Mitra with the local Buddhist community. Much of my hurt and damage has been undone by working on myself with their support and I often wish other LGBT had the chance to explore questions about life and death, consciousness, happiness and suffering in this way. I understand that my spiritual path is not for everyone but I have never felt as included as on my first Buddhist Gay Men’s retreat.

My practice of mediation over the years led me to a particular devotion to a very remarkable archetypal image of Amitabha, the Buddha of infinite light who is often associated with comforting the dying because of a particular scripture about his vow to manifest a “Pureland” (paradise) for any who ask without any other stricture. A whole school of Chinese Buddhism is dedicated to him. He symbolises compassion in such a profound way I discovered a new layer to my experience with him, much like love. Previously my Dharma practice had strengthened my compassion, wisdom, confidence and clarity but this was different- this was a strong sense of emotional love. I offer this explanation of the freeform late night love poetry that started to arise on nights when I could not sleep but I was thinking of him.

May beings be happy and well and free from suffering.

Love poem to Amitabha (By Tony O'Connell) 

For years of winter I sat shivering waiting by the embers before the garnet throne in the blood red palace of my heart, scarlet tiles mosaic and velvet but the seat was empty. Snow drifting through my broken rafters.

I laid out red roses and wine hoping and hoping you would come. But even as I gave up and turned to leave, going into the world alone- I chanced to look up to the opening lotus at my crown. I saw you seated there, my brilliant ruby of compassion -above me as you always had been when I thought I was separated.

I wanted to run breathless to you through blazing poppies on that sudden summer evening that came out of nowhere -but I was afraid I could not cover the distance. There was no need - you came to me - as welcome as fire, fierce with warmth and laughter. Drifting down my central channel to fill my heart to bursting you came.

Loving all and judging none. Flooding my veins with heat and hope, you whispered a promise that burnt fear away. You told me you were a home and a palace for any wanderer who asked. Knowing just to say your name three times is enough, the first three were to ask you, the other million just in gratitude.

Your heavy limbs more solid and reliable that trees, your eyes see me fully and without conditions, your smile is the softness of summer sun sets. Long gold light draws the shadow of my countless prostrations on the shrine room wall.

You are not separate from this place or these people or this weary heart - which is why you have compassion for us. Why you are compassion for us. Stay with me even when I forget.

On that day when my breath becomes a rattle and my husband weeps goodnight let me close my eyes in his arms and open them again in yours. Let me sit a while as your guest then, blessed in your smile...

You who were always more approachable even than your four brothers, let me catch my breath and wash my tiredness away, let me eat and drink and look at you before I go back into the world -refreshed from your welcoming house. You who offer shelter to all equally, not just the few.

Sometimes sobbing I say, I am alone, I am small, I am fleeting and I am dying- and you hold my hand and laugh, and remind me of all my previous lives when I thought the same, and invite me home -

hail to the infinite light! You who offer a place to rest in equality and compassion, sheltered under your burgundy cloak, I sing to you in thanks and raise the scarlet standard high, beneath its folds we never die.

Hail The Infinite Light

Om Amideva Hrihi 

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