Monday, September 26, 2005

Admirable Friendship...the Whole of the Holy Life.

We meet on Sunday mornings for meditation and morning service. Afterwards we generally do some working meditation together. Yesterday, and for a few Sundays to come, it was leaf raking the back lawn and pruning the longer branches of a couple of 'volunteer' trees growing close to the house wall. (They are probably not doing the foundations of the house much good in the long term when I think about it.) Anyway, we have left the leaves in plastic bags in the garden, with holes punched in them, to over winter for use as mulch in the spring. That will be around...err mid to late March! Afterwards we had 'tea on the lawn', a British tradition which my Canadian friends were happy to participate in.

Chris, Terry, Dan and Mike.

Speaking of friends, here is material relating to the subject of friendship in the Dharma that I'd asked about a post or two ago. Thanks to the two adventurous readers who found the quote. Looks like is a good site to remember for references.

I hope it goes without saying that, while the Buddha is speaking of monks, the practicing of the Eightfold Path with admirable friends is for all who resolve to tread the path of Buddhist practice...and choose to do that along side others.

Samyutta Nikaya XLV.2
Upaddha Sutta
Half (of the Holy Life)
Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
For free distribution only.

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was living among the Sakyans. Now there is a Sakyan town named Sakkara. There Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, "This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie."[1]
"Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.

"And how does a monk who has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, develop & pursue the noble eightfold path? There is the case where a monk develops right view dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion, dependent on cessation, resulting in relinquishment. He develops right resolve ... right speech ... right action ... right livelihood ... right effort ... right mindfulness ... right concentration dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion, dependent on cessation, resulting in relinquishment. This is how a monk who has admirable people as friends, companions, & colleagues, develops & pursues the noble eightfold path.

"And through this line of reasoning one may know how admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life: It is in dependence on me as an admirable friend that beings subject to birth have gained release from birth, that beings subject to aging have gained release from aging, that beings subject to death have gained release from death, that beings subject to sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair have gained release from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. It is through this line of reasoning that one may know how admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life."


1. As AN VIII.54 points out, this means not only associating with good people, but also learning from them and emulating their good qualities. [Go back]
See also: MN 95; AN IV.192; AN VIII.54; AN IX.1; Ud IV.1; Iti 17.
Revised: Monday 2005-09-19

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Autumn in Edmonton.

Autumn officially started on the 22nd September that date being the Autumn Equinox. The golden leaves are flying and quite soon the snow will be flying too!

View from my bedroom at the back of the priory.

View from the priory front window.

Hello Friend.

Recently while traveling I accumulated a number of small gifts, most of which I’ve passed on since returning to England. Each are a token of a happy meeting which, when passing them on again, are a token of a happy meeting and so it is that the merit of these gifts keep on circulating. Here are a few items that remained and came to Edmonton with me.

The metal object, a double dorge, was given me on leaving Vancouver in early April, so that has traveled almost full circle around the world. The name card is one of the few remaining from a stack of 100 given out in Japan. I learnt how to present and receive them in the correct and rather formal way. It was touching to see how people received and held them with great reverence and respect with both hands. They then read them slowly, the recipient lingering awhile to appreciate the kanji that pins down the exact meaning of ones name. The rosary made of pure crystal came from the Abbess of Cheng Hoon Teng, Malaysia and the small packet of green tea from a fellow pilgrim sitting on a wall waiting for a bus on Puto Island, China.  The item with the Scripture of Great Wisdom printed on it, given me in Taiwan, was passed along to an old Buddhist friend this afternoon.

The business of giving, receiving, keeping and passing on tokens of friendship came into sharp focus just before leaving England. I’ve been pondering on ‘objects of remembrance’ since then and you will see why from the following. On a visit to Throssel in the late 1980’s my father proudly gave me a pine tree in a pot. He was proud because he had remembered my Buddhist name, seen it on the plant label and bought the tree himself, with his own money. This tree was important for both of us, yes, a pinus mugo! It was subsequently planted and, over the years, I have watched it grow. Just before leaving for Canada I paid it a visit, thinking to take a photo for this blogger, and all I found was a stump! It had outgrown its space. Then, the other day, somebody sent me a photo of a statue, minus one arm, I’d given him fifteen years ago and earlier, in the monastery at Throssel, one of the monks pointed out a couple of item I’d given which he had kept, pride of place.  All objects of remembrance, remaining for many years, all pointing to the deep connections we have with one another. And when the token is broken, lost or cut down the connection is not broken, lost or dead they are after all just tokens. Friendship endures and writing this blogger has, in several cases, brought to light friendships from the past and new connections I didn’t even know about! I’m grateful and there is more bloggers to come on the subject of trees too!

The Buddha was asked if there was a place for friendship within the Dharma, he replied that ‘friendship is all of the Dharma’. If somebody, better than I at finding information, can find that reference I would be grateful. Oh, and the first thing my Master, Rev. Jiyu-Kennet, said to me was ‘Hello Friend’.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Somehow It Seems Sufficient

Today, while driving back from Newcastle in the late afternoon light I marveled silently at the moors of Northumberland unrolling into the far distance. Perhaps I’m appreciating them all the more knowing that I will be leaving England for Canada in just a few days and will not be back for a year or more. An email was awaiting me when I arrived at Throssel with a web page attached. In it was this poem. It fits the moment, its arrival is timely.

”Somehow it seems sufficient
to see and hear whatever coming & going is,
losing the self to the victory
of stones and trees,
of bending sandpit lakes, crescent
round groves of dwarf pine."

-A. A. Ammons(1926-2001)

The dwarf pine refered to is probably the pinus mugo. Here is some information copied from the web page mentioned earlier.
Pinus mugo, is frequently listed under the variant spellings P. mughus & P. mugho, & the species is synonymous with P. montanus. A common mispelling adds an extra letter to this pine's name so that it becomes Mungo or Mungho, after Saint Mungo, Bishop of Strathclyde, Scotland, circa 540 C.E. Saint Mungo's name means "Dear One." One of his first reported miracles was restoring a serf's pet robin to life after ruffians had killed it. The correct name Mugo, however, is of such old origin that the meaning is lost to time, but may be an old Italian dialect word for "mountain," or possibly tracks back to a Nordic word meaning "misty" for growing in mists of high mountain plateaus & ledges.

After thought: Is it not heartening to know that at one time serf’s keep pet robins!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Electro Positive.

We were talking about plumbing at tea this evening. The conversation ranged quickly through the pros and cons of copper over plastic and how a mouse had, some time ago, eaten through some plastic piping causing a leak. Then we learnt that copper if pressed up against another metal, such as a nail could, by magical means, spring a leak too. It was explained that copper is strongly electro positive and thus reacts (strongly?) with certain other metal and so on. And I could not resist telling my story having got such a perfect lead in. "Well, I have been trying to be electro positive myself lately" and then the whole sorry story of my new laptop, now lost in transit on it's way to Toshiba HQ to be mended, came tumbling out. And it will not tumble out here, as the point I am coming to is the place of humor.

Many years ago a number of the monks at Shasta Abbey were part of a study aimed at assessing the effect meditation and Buddhist practice had on personality. The results were published in a professional journal and we all received an off print. The one thing I remember, among the many points made, was that the monks had retained, and even developed, a keen sense of humor and that was 'a good thing'. That humor helps one to keep the trials and tribulations of life in perspective. Humor is then, perhaps, a 'saving grace'. At least when the intention behind it is right. Personally I like visual humor so here, for your laughing pleasure, is a sign seen in southern California.

A good friend of mine left a comment to the previous posting speaking about 'following'. Well, there is probably a lot I could say however tonight I want to applaud her sense of humor which has uplifted me time and time again for over twenty five years. "I will follow you..." or at the very least attempt to emulate your singing heart.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

With Dignity and Grace.

While staying with Iain and Edera in their home in Japan I was introduced to Edera’s Kimono teacher who had come round one afternoon. We first celebrated the tea ceremony at the dining room table, with Edera as the assistant to the celebrant, and then we went into the formal Japanese room. There I was shown a thing or two about how to get up off the ground. The art of the Kimono, how to put it on, how to move in it, how to take it off and fold it is all incredibly detailed. Edera’s kimono teacher imparted grace and dignity with every small gesture and movement she made; it is good to think of her now.

Learning how to get off the floor in formal robes the Japanese way.

In the east I was shown in great detail several ways to make full bows. This included which hand goes down first onto the floor and which one to push off with, not to mention all the hand movements one makes on the way up and on the way down. The culmination of all this learning and practice comes before me when I make bows during morning service in the monastery. I do them along with everybody else however I notice that I have now incorporated small features I learn in the east. Nothing major but they are there. This brings up quite a lot especially around the willingness to follow; the readiness to drop what one has learnt, to follow what the form is in ones present circumstances. My present practice is to do what ever it is with as much dignity as I can muster and the meshing with current practice will follow with repetition. Learning takes repetition and so does unlearning it would seem. Thinking about it that holds true for so many things

Monday, September 05, 2005

Heavenly Beings.

While preparing to travel to Japan back in the spring of this year there was little time to be making a wish list of places and things I wanted to see. Just making the basic arrangements was about all I could manage at the time. If I'd made one this triptych would have been on the list. I have always admired it and was so pleased to behold it in a temple near Nara. (perhaps somebody could enlighten us as to where I saw it please).

Having mentioned angels a few days back I want to point out that we having beings in our iconography called 'heavenly beings'. You can see them in the screen behind the statues in the photograph. This image was copied out of a book.

I remember standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon a few years back and finding myself thinking "Oh, so this is the Grand Canyon". Having seen so many photos of it I realized that I'd built up a image of how it would be, how I might feel etc. It was big and magnificent and it took me a moment to get past the slight disappointment of it not matching up to what I'd, unknowingly, expected. Seeing this triptych was similar, I had thought it was much larger than it actually was, I had imagined it to be part of an altar in a temple when it was, in fact, in a section of the temple where the temple treasures were on display. I love it, and like the Grand Canyon I had to pause a moment to get past what I had built in my mind. I guess this all points to the condition nature of the experience of the senses. In Buddhism we talk of six senses, the mind being the sixth. Interesting eh?

Sunday, September 04, 2005


"Seven times down and eight up" is a saying linked to Bodhidharma who, it is said, sat for nine long years facing a wall. Hope you enjoy the photos.

The writing reads, "Seven down, eight up" reminding us of Bodhidharma's well know quality of perseverance in the practice of meditation.

A very large statue in a very large temple in Taiwan.

Bodhidharma emerging out of a lump of wood. I love this image, unfortunately the photo does not capture the spirit of this statue. Taken in Taiwan.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Angel of the North.

Just before Newcastle stands the ‘Angel of the North’. She stands with wings out stretched, towering above the A1. It is the major road running up the east side of the country from London and onwards into Scotland. Yesterday I noticed as I passed the angel, while on a shopping trip, that she had turned a deep rusty red.

I was out looking for an office chair with one of the monks. In Staples I found one that worked for me, not that I was looking for one myself. A man there was doing the usual game of ‘musical chairs’, moving from one seat to the next, pausing briefly to test the chair then move on. Not an easy matter to quickly judge the suitability of something that will probably be ones companion for years to come. I approached him saying, “I’ve found one that’s good” he replied that he liked the image factor of sitting in a black leather chair, perhaps more important looking, more powerful feel, whatever. He tried the chair I’d pointed out and instantly took to it. “Just right” he said, “Good lumbar support, just what I need”. I gaily said something like “Oh well, one just has to drop the image sometimes!” and we parted with smiles. Latter we met at the check out where he was paying for the chair. To make conversation he said, “I’m the kind of person who doesn’t shop around, if I find something that works I go for it”. This caused me to ponder about my own habits. By and large I am like him, if I find something that works, I’m content to buy it and not look further…and then Halescombe House came to mind, AGAIN!

As I mentioned earlier I stayed at Halescombe in July,. I know the people there and it is located close to where my parents lived at the edge of Exmore, one of England’s national parks. The whole area is very familiar since I would visit my parents there. After my fathers death I spent a couple of months packing up and then selling the house. That was when I first met Emmy and Joop, they were looking at houses for a sister. They describe themselves as guardians of Halescombe. It is a large Victorian house situated above Porlock famous for it’s very very steep hill. Halsecombe is at the top of it and commands a wide view across the river Seven estuaries to the Welsh mountains. At night the lights of Swansea and Cardiff blink in a necklace of light around the coast of Wales. For some years the house has operated as an interfaith retreat centre and nowhere could be more suitable or conducive for peaceful reflection. My few brief stays before this one has left me ‘renewed’. This time was no exception, however the house has come with me in a way I’d like to just get off my chest.

To cut a long and somewhat complicated story short the house is for sale, for 1.3 million pounds. For us however (in practice that means me) it is nine hundred thousand pounds, plus furniture and fittings. I am like the man at Staples, although I am not shopping for a house of course! I sat there at Halsecombe this July; it seems good and, having let go of the thought of myself as a traveling monk, could see it as a good place to be. I hesitate to say ‘buy’ as thinking in those terms does not meet with what Joop and Emmy are actually doing. After 25 years of unremitting work to restore the house from a ruin to the immaculate condition it is in now, and then several years running it, they have come to the point in their lives, as Emmy puts it, “to let go completely”. So they are handing it, sold or unsold, to their religious organization the Interfaith Seminary, in short they are giving it away! They are handing it on in faith, their hope and wish is that it continues as a religious retreat of some kind.

Perhaps it is not Halsecombe itself that revisits my thoughts. No, I think it is this open handed offering of these two people, Joop and Emmy who have poured out their life energy in this place and who are able to then simply let it go. I find the whole thing breath taking. I would love to meet their open hands and sadly I know it is not practically possible. (Although I may buy some Premium Bonds from the Post Office next time I am in just in case my number comes up for the ‘big one’, one million pounds.) Their passing on of Halsecombe is what, in Buddhism, we call dana. That's giving with no thought of anything in return, giving from the heart in faith. And there is an angel connection too, not that I believe in them of course (shame on me!) Emmy practices Reflexologist and while giving me a treatment some years back I looked up and thought, “Oh, that’s what angels look like”. Was it the long blond hair or the gentle, kind and energetic presence? So there you have it, an angel of the north and an angel of the south!

Footnote 1: Kay, a congregation member from Newcastle, I believe, sold the steel that is now glowing red with rust beside the Al welcoming travelers to the great North of England.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Cat napping.
This morning I was talking to Iain Robinson in Japan and he told me that 15 people had checked movingmountains today. This information has prompted me to start writing again after over a month of being off line. The reason for that is partly to give myself a break from computer work and partly because my new laptop, (Betty Five for those who read a previous posting), developed an intermittent fault soon after I arrived in Cornwall. B5 is now finally at the menders and B4 is back in service again.

From mid July through to late August I have taken the opportunity to generally rest, renew and relax while still continuing to move around and follow my schedule. From Cornwall to Somerset to stay in a small hut in the grounds of a retreat centre called Halsecombe House and then to southern France for ten days and now back at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in Northumberland. You may wonder if it is possible to combine such activities with real rest and my answer is "Yes, AND it takes working at too".

While practicing at Shasta Abbey in the mid 1980’s I wrote a Journal article about relaxing. The article was simply called "Renewal". The gist of it was that one has to work at relaxing, it just doesn't happen without some effort and preparation. In the article I talked about setting up conducive conditions for relaxation, for example a comfortable chair, a cup of tea, and a good book. There were a number of practical suggestions, one was to invite a cat into ones lap. During the time I was writing the article I was taking care of Max, a somewhat disreputable, yet lovable, tomcat. When not out on tomcat business he would loiter waiting for me to sit down. His grizzled face close up, often caked in blood from fights, gazing into mine was hardly conducive to relaxation however I learnt to sit very still and eventually I’d nap, and so would he. When I think about it now Max taught me a powerful lesson back then.

Published in memory of cats we have known, loved and cleaned up after.