Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Margaret Dempsey’s Foray into Buddhism

I reread Margaret Dempsey’s Female Kundalini a few days ago. I hadn’t looked at it since it was published by Life Force Books in twenty fourteen. No surprises. It had the same emotionally authentic impact at this reading as it had for my first go-around.

There are no claims of enlightenment or literary pyrotechnics here, just straightforward, down-to-earth writing that makes her story so moving and unaffected.

After listening to the enclosed excerpt—Margaret’s foray into Buddhism—I am convinced readers will flock to their favorite retailers: the book is that compelling.


“After the Cheirology course finished, I had a strong urge to ring up Andrew, the guy who had taught the course, and ask him what he was doing next.

He said, “I am starting a beginners’ course in Buddhism, would you be interested?”

Having been born and brought up Catholic, I had never heard of Buddhism, so I said. “What’s Buddhism?”

He replied, “Come along to the first class and see what you think. If you don’t think it’s for you, then you don’t have to come to anymore.

In the first class held at his home in London, there were five of us sitting on the floor in a room. He talked about Buddhism (Mahayana) being a philosophy and a way to live life, more than a religion. This got my attention. There was something about religion and, in my case the Catholic religion, which unsettled me, something contrary to what I had been taught when I was young. According to Buddhism, said Andrew, there isn’t some man in the sky who decides if we are going to be happy or not. It's the way we live our lives (our karma) that determines how content we are. For many years, I had been uneasy with the Catholic idea of a God who rewarded me when I was good and punished me when I was bad. The uneasiness stemmed from my experience of God's answering my prayer when I was nine and taking away the teeth that were causing me such misery.

Andrew spoke about achieving enlightenment and being free from suffering. He explained that the Buddha said that it was possible to become enlightened in one lifetime. I listened closely with a childlike belief, unquestioning and completely open to everything he said. He explained how Buddhism was concerned with developing wisdom and compassion.
Karma was explained as the results of actions undertaken in past lives. The way we live this life determines our future lives. Karma introduces the idea of reincarnation. Cycling back through many lifetimes to learn lessons and have experiences in order to perfect ourselves overtime made perfect sense to me. Learning about Buddhism that night gave me the feeling that I had come home. I had found the place where I belonged.

 Everything about it resonated. I also appreciated that the Buddha encouraged people to try Buddhism, but if they found it wasn’t for them, they could look for something else. Compared to the dogma and rigidity of Catholicism, this was a lot more flexible.

I heard one thing that night which was to alter my consciousness profoundly. It would resonate in the deepest part of me.

Andrew said, “Central to Mahayana Buddhism is the idea of a Bodhisattva. This is someone who is enlightened, someone who understands the causes of suffering and how to alleviate them, and who chooses to stay in the world until everybody else has become enlightened.”

 He had just finished the sentence when I was gripped by the most intense desire and the thought I want to be this. In that instant, it seemed like time stood still and there was just I and a burning desire coming from nowhere. I didn’t know how it would happen; I just knew I wanted it. I found myself making a silent vow: may I attain this for the benefit of all human beings. I also didn’t know it, but that moment marked a turning point on my spiritual journey. I gave up the pursuit of individual enlightenment except to the extent it might benefit all sentient beings in their quest for enlightenment.

 The moment passed and the class continued. I hung on Andrew’s every word. At the end of the evening, I told him that I wanted to continue with the course. Over the next ten weeks I built up my knowledge and understanding about The Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eightfold Path.When Andrew explained the first noble truth that everything is suffering, my entire being rebelled saying “no, not everything is suffering.”

I refused to accept this, or more accurately, my mind wouldn’t accept this because it was negative and depressing. But when I looked closely I saw through my own experience that life is suffering.

I wanted pleasant things to continue and unpleasant things to end. The second noble truth is that the cause of this suffering is attachment. Instead of accepting everything just the way it is and the way it isn’t we cling onto things that are pleasant and avoid things that are unpleasant. 

We want things to be different than they are and this wanting, or attachment to the way we want things to be rather than the way they are, is the cause of suffering for human beings. The third noble truth is that there is a way to free oneself from the cycle of suffering. 

The fourth noble truth is that the way to freedom is the eight-fold noble pathway.

 •••Keep an eye out for the 2nd installment of Margaret's Buddhist adventure, coming soon to this podcast...

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