I was born in Bury, Lancashire, in the north west of England, and grew up in Altrincham, Cheshire, which is on the southern edge of Greater Manchester. I currently live in Brunswick Heads near Byron Bay in northern New South Wales, Australia, with my partner Sera.
I became a Buddhist when I was living in Manchester in my early twenties, and lived at the Manchester Buddhist Centre for several years, before moving to the London area. For most of my twenties, I lived (and worked) in a variety of semi-monastic ‘Western Buddhist’ communities, which were part of the Triratna Buddhist Community – a network of Buddhist Centres, retreat centres and businesses, which was initiated in 1967 by an English Buddhist called Sangharakshita (26 August 1925 – 30 October 2018). This period gave me a profound spiritual and cultural education that I have drawn on and reflected on all my life – often critically, but also with great appreciation. Indeed, my writing in this website is, in part, a distillation of the best of what I learned during those years, filtered through, and processed through, three decades of life experience and further spiritual study.
Finding myself somewhat culturally adrift after my full-time Buddhist years in my twenties, I was fortunate enough to find and embrace English Quakerism for ten years from my early 30s to early 40s, and was a warden at the Quaker Meeting House in Hampstead, North London, for much of that time. Originally a Christian tradition, the English Quakers have been an intensely practical and effective force for good in the world since the mid-17th Century. The inspiration for their relentless campaigns for peace and social justice over three and half centuries, has come from a meditative and mystical approach to worship. The English Quakers still sit in silence and open to the presence of the Divine – and they have no creed or required beliefs. My years sitting in silence in Quaker meetings provided one of many threads of spiritual experience that have influenced me to advocate the attitude of meditative receptivity towards the Transcendental, which I have characterised in my articles as ‘Resting as Consciousness’.
Although I have not maintained my connection with the Quaker tradition since moving to Australia, it is still a source of inspiration, and looking back I recognise with gratitude that Quaker meetings provided me with a very deep experience of spiritual community. The spiritual history of Quakerism continues to fascinate me – it has much to teach us about how an ethical sensibility arises in an uncontrived way from the simple practice of resting as Consciousness. We all need to remember that most of the members of the Committee for the Abolition of Slavery were Quakers – and that they campaigned against slavery relentlessly for decades, while the rest of the Christian world just rationalised and presented justifications of the Atlantic Slave Trade based on de-contextualised Biblical quotations.
Although I am no longer working in that profession, much of my time in London was spent working as an Occupational Therapist – running therapeutic programs, and doing counselling, coaching and support work in mental health services. I loved that work, and I dearly loved the staff and patients that I worked with in those contexts, and I loved the humanistic psychological framework of that work, but found myself predominantly drawing on my spiritual understandings, and on the depth psychology of Carl Jung (whose work I had studied during my Buddhist years) and other psychological approaches that were incongruous with the standard psychiatric understandings of mind and behaviour. I was also especially deeply affected by the work of philosopher and psychotherapist, Eugene Gendlin – whose wonderful ‘Focusing’ practice I studied in depth, and practised regularly for many years.
Gendlin’s ‘Focusing’ is a self-empathy / self-inquiry / psycho-therapeutic innerwork practice, that is very little known. I practiced Focusing in the context of a wonderful circle of fellow student practitioners who became my dearest friends. That experience of practising Focusing on a weekly basis was the strongest experience of spiritual community in my life – even deeper in some ways, than my experience of residential Buddhist communities in my twenties, or any other spiritual community that I have come across since. Although Focusing is usually presented, and understood, in humanistic terms, it is, in my view, a profoundly soulful and spiritual practice, and I came to see it as a practice that is closely aligned with Carl Jung’s archetypal psychology, which I continued to study at the same time. In my experience, the practice of Focusing consistently raises us far above a merely humanistic world-view. Our innerwork processes in that practice group frequently led us not only to psychological healing, but to profound spiritual insights and spiritual comfort.
An important part of my journey in the last two decades, has been a long period of seriously debilitating metabolic illness. I now recognise that these patterns of ill health have been with me since my twenties, but have worsened as I got older. This process has forced me into an understanding of health and mental health that is truly holistic. I find myself enormously grateful to several of the doctors in general practice in my local area, who practice various forms of more broad-based functional medicine that incorporates, or works alongside, nutritional, naturopathic, and complementary approaches.
What has lifted my level of well-being most effectively; and what has supported me in living with my limitations most profoundly; and what has prompted me to create this website, has been my return to regular meditation practice in 2016. The approach that I have found is a synthesis of understandings from many sources, and I would dearly like to share it with others.
My approach to meditation is essentially a Buddhist one – it springs primarily from Buddhist sources of inspiration and understanding. Its foundation is in the Buddha’s teachings – especially the brahmavihāras – and in the Five Wisdoms teachings of Indian Mahayana Buddhism (which evolved out of the Buddha’s ’emptiness of the Five Skandhas’ teachings). Like many Western practitioners of Buddhism, I think of myself as a Buddhist universalist however – by which I mean that I do not believe that Buddhism is the only source of valid spiritual truths. There are many other teachers, and several other traditions that have supported my understanding. I was very effected for example, by the work of Eugene Gendlin, which I mentioned above; by the Nonviolent Communication model of Marshall Rosenberg; by the very simple and direct advaita vedanta teachings of ‘Sailor Bob’ Adamson, who was a student of Nisagadatta Maharaj (and also of Dzogchen); by the spiritual exercises developed by Douglas Harding (who was a student Zen); and by the work of Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff (who have collaborated to create a brilliant and convincing hypotheses to explain the ‘hard problem’ of Consciousness – via the quantum mechanical functioning of the molecular micro-tubules in the nerve-cells of the brain).
I have also greatly valued the non-duality teachings of Ziji Rimpoche (previously known as Candice O’Denver), and the global community that she has created. Candice O’Denver’s affinity with the Dzogchen teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, led to her adoption by the Tibetan lineage of Wangdor Rimpoche. Ziji Rimpoche’s approach could perhaps be characterised as one which strips Dzogchen back to its culture-free essence and makes it very accessible for Westerners. While I hesitate to attempt to sum up these profound teachings, this essence might be described as an approach to Mindfulness practice in which there is an invitation to recognise the omnipresent and all-embracing nature of Consciousness – repeatedly, if only for short moments, in the midst of life – and to gratefully acknowledge its profoundly beneficial and profoundly supportive qualities. Ziji Rimpoche’s network of teachers and students appear to have broken new ground with this approach – and with their innovative use of internet-based video-conferencing technologies have created a vibrant global self-enquiry community.
While Ziji Rimpoche is now teaching and practicing in the context of a Buddhist lineage, and I love her ultra-simple and ultra-direct approach to Mindfulness; my own path, and the path that I find myself advocating in my articles on this website is a more culturally Buddhist one. My approach could be characterised as ‘Western Buddhist’, in that I do not limit myself to any particular cultural form of Buddhism, or historical phase – and I am very happy to draw on parallel threads of spiritual inspiration in Western literature, poetry, religion, philosophy, and psychology; or on the mythology and spirituality of other cultures.
My approach to self-enquiry and meditation practice does however, take the Buddhist mandala as its starting point, and my preferred entry point into that mandala is the four brahmavihāras – an ancient Indian mandala model that was adopted and modified by the Buddha. I regard the four brahmavihāras model as presenting, not only an ideal to be strived for, but more importantly, a superb description of the tenderness of the Transcendental – an objective and collective reality to be received as a universal blessing by all of humankind.
My advocacy of a meditative engagement with the complexities of the bodies and chakras is also based on my studies and meditative explorations of Tibetan Buddhism in my twenties (mainly Lama Anagarika Govinda – author of the widely read Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism), but with the addition of very precious and very crucial pieces of additional information from a contempory spiritual teacher called Rahasya (Dr Fritjof Kraft) – who teaches a variety of approaches including a form of meditation based on the teachings of 11th Century Buddhist master Atisa. I have found his observations about the alternating polarity of the subtle bodies and chakras, and about how these alternating polarities are opposite in women and men, to be a profoundly supportive to my understanding of the symbolism of the masculine and feminine in Vajrayana meditation practice.
I need also to acknowledge the intimate and kind support that I experienced from Issac Shapiro, a non-duality teacher in the Byron Bay area, whose lineage is that of Ramana Maharshi. Although I have only attended his satsang meetings very infrequently, they have always profoundly affected me. It is precious to live in a corner of the world where you never know when you might bump into a bodhisattva at the local farmer’s market.
The road of my spiritual life has taken yet another turn in the last few years. When I began writing on this website, I did not think of myself as a Buddhist and I had no Buddhist friends. Because of the eclectic nature of my spiritual journey, I thought of myself only as someone with a great love of the historical Buddha and of the Buddhist tradition in general, and as someone whose formative years of spiritual education were in the context of Buddhist community and Buddhist meditation retreats. I was resigned to the experience of being a solitary spiritual practitioner with no affiliations with any particular spiritual community.
In 2020, I noticed a choice taking place in me. I noticed myself longing for spiritual community – for Sangha, the Buddhist say – for a communal context for my life and for my spiritual aspirations. Most importantly there has been a great wish in me to contribute to the spiritual understanding of others, and to teach what I have learned. This has led me to reconnect with old friends and associates from my twenties, and I have found myself wholehearted embracing Buddhism again – and recovering a connection with the particular cultural inspiration and network of spiritual friendships that set me on the spiritual journey back in my twenties. My love of the transcendental Bodhisattva principle, and my recognition of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (the ‘Three Jewels’ of Buddhist tradition) as the universal principles that have been guiding me, has led me back to the Triratna Buddhist Community. I have even reconnected with the Croydon Buddhist Centre (in South London, UK) where I lived and worked in the 1980s when I was in my twenties, and I now participate in one of that Centre’s Dharma Study groups, and other activities, via Zoom. I have also begun to connect with the Australian (and New Zealand) Triratna Buddhist Community, and have developed an affiliation with the Melbourne Triratna Buddhist Centre.
For more autobiographical reflections and information on the approach I have taken in my writing, please consider reading the two ‘Overview’ articles, the first of which is A Mandala Framework for Meditation and Self-Enquiry, which can be found here.
© William Roy Parker 2020