Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ancient Gagaku Music.

I can do no better than send you over to Iain Robinsons blogger where he has written about his visit to Sojiji, (where Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett trained in the 1960's) to listen to some ancient music played, mostly, by monks.

Iain describes the music thus: "Gagaku is music to sit still with and experience, it is structurally so different that I can't describe it. But it's often a very meditative sound". Take a look, there are a couple of photos too.

Here is a link to a site talking about Gagaku music for those who want to read further on the subject.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Still Life.

From time to time, for a change of pace and because it's good to smile and laugh a little, I'll dig out some of my photos and post them. Machinery that has become part of the landscape is a particular favorite of mine. Not sure why, perhaps it is about the relationship between movement and rest embodied in such images.
Seen in a neighborhood in Utrecht, The Netherlands, 1999. I wonder if it is still there.

I am tempted to write about photography, however I think it is probably better that I didn't. I struggled for years with the philosophical problems surrounding photography and thankfully eventually stopped, not long after that I became a monk. It's interesting because somehow I don't seem to think about all of that any more.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Giving Thanks--Singapore Revisited.

Yesterday I was at the post office mailing a Scriptures and Ceremonies CD to an estranged congregation member staying in Toronto for the year. While there I noticed a woman mailing two parcels to Singapore and we fell into conversation. "What's it like"? she asked. "Hot, modern, humid, muli cultural, great shopping, oh and much more". "Is it green"? "Yes, and very very clean too"! She would soon be finding out first hand about the place. This conversation had me transported back not only to the time I spent in Singapore this year but to the months I lived there in 1979. For some reason Singapore gets under your skin, under mine anyway.

My last week in East Asia was spent in Singapore as the guest of Poh Ern Ssu "Temple of Thanksgiving". This visit was at the end of two months intensive traveling and it was all I could do to physically and mentally keep going. There was little energy left over to post entries for this blog. Over the next little while I'd like to acknowledge the help and support I received in Singapore by, posting some photos and speaking of a sampling of what happened during my brief visit. I hope Boon will, if needed, help fill in some of the gaps with names of people and temples.

Mr. Boon Lee and his wife Connie were my hosts and mentors while in Singapore. They are pictured forth and fifth from the left. The photo was taken on my last evening in Singapore, June 2005. It had been a long evening and by the time this photo was taken most of the congregation had gone home. The red kesa was one of the many gifts so kindly given to me. I'm holding a blue lapis statue of the Healing Buddha, also a gift.

I bumped into Boon by chance in a shopping center wheeling the temples books to the accountant. I'd just survived a reflexology treatment the like of which I had never experienced before. Painful yet effective, a life saver.

Weaving through those two months in East Asia were meetings with lay Buddhist, in Singapore I was fortunate to spend my time exclusively in the company of lay devotees. They like those met in Taiwan, Malaysia and Japan were an inspiration. I think enough time has elapsed for me to try and convey in words what I learnt from these people. In short they inspired gratitude which is at the heart of giving unconditionally. There is much to be said on this subject, however that will have to come on another day.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Amazing Grace!

An American lay Buddhist sangha member related the following story from yesterdays Thanksgiving Dinner, which he had with his wife and extended family, including two young grandchildren.

We were all gathered round the table full of holiday dishes, quite a spread, we paused a moment to take it all in. I said something like "Gee, look at all this lovely food, thank you, maybe we need to say a verse or something*. Young Zain (6 years, or so), sensing the gravity of the situation and quickly searching his memory banks, came up with the one verse he knew well, learned from school, The Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag! So he had us all place our hands on our hearts and then he lead us in reciting: "I Pledge Allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands-one nation indivisible-with liberty and justice for all." (That's the original version.)

*For those not familiar with our practice we generally recite a verse aloud before eating a meal, when alone or in the company of fellow practitioners. Or recite it silently when the circumstances call for that or just simply say 'Thank you'. Basically we bring gratitude to mind for the food which enables us to continue to practice.

One can bow to the innocence of a child's fresh young mind that came up with a verse, even though not quite appropriate for the occasion. Thank you Zain.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Prajnaparamita: Mother of All Buddhas.

Here is the statue, bought at Polly Magoo's, then carried home to the priory in a snow storm this time last year. Over the follow days the statue, which had been 'antiqued', was tenderly cleaned and then painstakingly painted by Rev. Koten. On the Lions Gate Buddhist Priory web site you will find the transcript of the talks given by Rev. Master Koten during a weeks retreat he gave at Shasta Abbey in 2004. (Go to the archives for all of the talks). The title of the retreat was: Female Buddhas: The Equality of Buddha Nature. These transcripts will eventually all be published in the Journal of the O.B.C. however you can take a look at the teaching now.

Goodness! It is amazing what one discovers on the internet, and right in ones own back yard too! There are quite a few articles to be found on the OBC web site if you follow the link above. I see that Rev. Master Koten has one there which relates to his retreat topic.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow, 24th November, is Thanksgiving in America. This is a time when families get together and eat and celebrate. I took a look for the history of this celebration and now I know more clearly its origins and how it came to be what it is to-day. Take a look at this link. The History Channel - Thanksgiving if you want to dispel some of the myths that have grown up around this day.

I'm fortunate in having a huge Dharma family, both lay and monastic sangha members. This evening I received a telephone call from one of them. I was touched to be remembered and get this call. "You're family, that's why I called".

Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada in September and we did a ceremony at the Priory. I've been waiting for an opportunity to post a photo of the altar and now is my chance. You will see there are dishes of food on the altar and I scattered some autumn leaves around the alter reminding us that the season is changing and our efforts are more inwardly the harvest is in.

It is unseasonably warm at the moment. Temperatures reached 15 c today!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Copied below is an email exchange which has some content in that may be of interest. It is published with the persons permission.

What's your/the soto zen point of view regarding positive self-talk? I understand (well, likely not, but you know what I mean) the benefits of looking at things as they are, but doesn't a person sometimes need to lie to themselves a bit to feel better sometimes? Or just focus on the positive to get through a tough time?

Dear Friend,
In brief, telling the truth is telling the truth, be it to others or oneself. Telling oneself little untruths is like giving candy to a crying child. It works for awhile but doesn't address why she is crying. As for feelings. Where there is feeling, good bad or indifferent feelings, there is an aspect of the 'being' (you) waving her hand (so to speak) and saying "hay, you can let go of this". "Take a look". This is the arising of the koan in daily life and the solving of the koan too if one chooses to: one, listen and two, act wisely where action is called for. The Buddhist precepts come in here as well as Compassion of course. Often it is only when somebody realizes that they hurt deeply, (really badly and for a long time), and they want an end to it that they take up a religious practice. That's when they have really really 'had it' with pain and suffering, and at the same time trust that there is a path out of it. Amazing as it might seem it is often the case that realizing ones suffering and finding a religious path can happen around about the same time.

As for 'being positive'. We talk about 'looking up', not looking down, maintaining a 'bright mind', that sort of thing. All point to not indulging in self pity and woe while on the other side of it, not deliberately going into another kind of self, a positive one. There is a difference between trying to think oneself into 'being positive' and 'looking up' which is not about thinking something. It's more about returning to paying attention in the present moment. Look down and you are mentally stumbling about in the dark and tripping over oneself constantly. Difficult to explain all of this however all roads point to meditation. In this case returning to daily life meditation. That's just doing what you are doing and not obsessing about what's going on in the mind/body however nasty it might feel. Simple, yet not easy. There is a lot to all of this, however that's the gist.

OK I guess if all else fails, the chips are down etc, it's best to focus on the positive rather than dwell in the negative. It is just that there is this basic problem there. Negative and positive are just two sides of the same coin and to flip from one to the other side and back is 'work'. Better by far to simply hold the coin, be still with it/within it and let the good and the bad times roll on by. Reference to a song there I think! We call this traveling the Middle Way.

Your question was a good one, simple and straight forward. I like 'em that way. I think this exchange would make a good blogger posting. Are you OK with my doing that? In gassho, Mugo

Sure! I asked (my question) because I've been depressed for a few days and was wondering. Thinking positive helps sometimes, but then I remembered reading stuff about...stuff...that made me question that practice. Not that I'm going to completely throw it out. Sometimes it's useful. Thanks for your answer. I'll have to chew on it.

Had you tried getting out and walking, briskly. That can help lift a depression if it hasn't gone too heavy. Mugo

Oh yeah, I'm also really feeling it - not meditating regularly. I was noticing the effects, even of not going to your place (the priory) anymore. I'll be glad when I can attend again next week. It's really hard for me to get into sitting once I've fallen out of it.

So true, so very true for all of us. It is hard to get back into sitting. However, do you ever take a long break from cleaning your teeth? Think about, habits get to be habits through repetition. In gassho, Mugo

I wasn't down last week, and last night just wanted to relax. I'll be busy all this week, too. I was starting to meditate and exercise regularly - then really overbooked myself. Oh well.

Middle Way, all the way.


News from Nepal

I just came across this news item by chance. Seems there is a whole lot of 'something' going on in Napal at the moment. My only thought is to pass on merit to the little chap they call the Buddha Boy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Reciting on 'f'.

How many times have I walked into a music shop and asked for an f tuning fork only to be met with kindness, to be sure, but no promises of an f fork? It would seem they are not used much and so for years my efforts have been in vein. That is until the other week when I strolled into a music shop, in the now famed, Whyte Avenue close to the Priory. The sales woman, Lisa, went to a lot of trouble to track down a source for me and the other day I picked up this one. A magnificent aluminum tuning fork, it's a whopper too.

Our scriptures were translated into English and set to
Gregorian chant by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett and much of what we sing has a 'reciting note' of f, thus the need for the fork. It is paramount to start off a scripture on the right note as things can go down hill, musically, very fast if you don't. When I’m precenting I prefer to use a tuning fork rather than a pitch pipe as a pipe, powered by breath, can sound a bit odd ‘honking’ in the middle of a ceremony!

In an interview Rev. Master gave with Lenore Friedman she spoke about translating the scriptures and setting them to Gregorian chant. Which is a variety of plainsong by the way, something I’m glad to have got clear for myself. That interview, along with interviews with other leading female Buddhist teachers in North America, were edited into a book entitled 'Meetings With Remarkable Women' published by Shambhala. It came out in the 1980’s and has since been republished in a Revised and Updated Edition around 2000. It’s well worth getting hold of a copy as, apart from the references to music, the interview give a sense of Rev. Masters’ humanity and great sense of humour too. Also Lenore paints a picture of training at Shasta Abbey, as seen through her eyes during a weekend stay there.

Here is an extract from the aforementioned interview for your interest:
“…there are twenty-four scales in Gregorian—and there are peregrinating ones as well. Which means if you choose the right ones, you can avoid the emotionalism. Interestingly enough, regarding our major and minor scales, the major is one of the twenty-four, which is the war scale. All our major music is written in the scale that encourages anger and violence. And all our minor music (which is the Aeolian) is the death scale, in which people made all their funeral music.” “I do most of mine in the Phrygian, which is very cool and starry and still. And it gives the perfect effect. I also use the peregrinus mode because that’s extraordinarily good for very long lines.”
Meetings With Remarkable Women, published by Shambhala.

Well, this has all been very instructive. I expect there are readers who know a lot more about plainsong, and music generally, than I do. I’m no expert. If anybody needs to get a copy of our Scriptures and Ceremonies you can buy a CD, or an audiotape version, from the
Throssel Hole Buddhist Bookshop. They may well ship to North America.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Polly Magoo's...Since 1989.

Bit of a change o' pace for to-days posting.
The above map should give you an idea of the scale of the Edmonton area and where the Priory is. At the top of the big N of Edmonton is Whyte Avenue the main 'hanging out' and local shopping street for University students. I can reach Whyte walking, at a brisk pace, in 15 mins. The Priory bank is there as is Chapters the bookshop chain where I go yet seldom buy. Polly Magoo's is on Whyte Avenue and long established too, by modern standards. This is a very colorful gift shop with imports from Asia including Buddha statues, the staff are friendly and helpful. Last year towards the end of November Rev. Master Koten of Lions Gate Buddhist Priory in Vancouver came to visit for a couple of weeks. Andrew, a layman from England, was here at the same time and it turned out to be a very memorable time for all of us.

It didn't take long before Rev. Master Koten and I were out window shopping on Whyte. To cut a long story short we quickly found ourselves hauling back a heavy statue in a snow storm, bought at Polly Magoo's. At the same visit I spotted a statue of the Healing Buddha which I connect with, loved it in fact. There was some question as to whether it was for sale or not, however eventually over about a week all the staff got on the same page and now it sits as the Buddha on my private altar. The staff were burning incense stick in the hand of the statue. I wince now at the thought. The other day I bought a small piece of Lapis to place in the open hand. Lapis is associated with Bhaisagjyguru by the way.

From time to time I drop into Polly Magoo's to visit the statues. The staff remember me as 'being with the monk who painted a statue' they had sold. They recently moved a few doors down the street and the have completely remodeled inside. They were glad to show off their new 'Buddha corner'. Well, I couldn't not take a photo of the mural painted by one of the staff, Kelsey Nowaczynski.. Here it is:

Hopefully there will be a photo of that painted statue mentioned and also one of the Healing Buddha too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Growing in The Dark.

Mung bean sprouts, good enough to eat.

In order to ‘wake up’ the bullet hard beans one needs to soak them in water for 48 hours then, having softened up, they have the potential to sprout. Next they are drained and left in the dark to grow. (The soaking water is an elixir for plants, they love it.) It isn’t enough to just leave those beans, they need to be flushed with fresh water about twice a day or they will dry up. When ready, you eat them. They are very nourishing, but I’ll not go on about that.

I usually sprout green lentils and they are ready to eat in about three days. The mung beans seemed to take forEVER! Even then there were a few bullet beans remaining among the plump sprouted ones. Time to deal with this sort of project is in short supply however I knew I needed to sift out the hard beans, or I’d likely break a tooth on one of them. That’s time consuming work, “do I have time for this”? I asked myself “is it worth the trouble” I complained! Then I thought if there is time to sit and face a wall there has to be time to stand and pick through these beans. Dear Dogen Zenji, weep not for me! For those of you who may not be familiar with his teaching the nub of it is that it is a mistake to believe there is a separation between ‘practice’ and ‘daily life’. Here is a quote from Rules for Meditation by Dogen Zenji: “To live by Zen is the same as to live an ordinary daily life”. I hasten to add here that a goodly part of his life’s’ teaching was answering the question “Ok, so if that is the case why bother to practice then”?

A recent phone conversation inspired me to write the above since it pointed so clearly to meditation where ones spiritual potential grows ‘in the dark’, is watered by ones best efforts and then benefitted from (eaten) in ones daily life.

A much-desired promotion had eluded this person and the news hit hard. There was great disappointment, as well as envy and jealousy eating away in the background. “I have to let go now”! “Sob”. My question was, “OK, however are you willing to let go?” The reply came “But I HAVE TO let go”! “OK, that is all very well, however are you willing to let go?” “Well, I’m not there yet. I’d be telling a lie to say I’m willing”. The conversation went on and in the end the person said, “OK, I am willing to be willing to let go”, it was a step and not an insignificant one either.

When all Else Fails.
What can you do? When you can’t let go?
Simply, Tenderly, Lovingly open your hands.
That’s being willing, to be willing, to let go!
Sometimes (quite often) that’s the very best one can do.

Offered to all those who face disappointment and wish to go on beyond it

When Something Sticks.

To day I’ve been occupied preparing for a series of introductory meditation sessions at the University of Alberta, which is quite close to the Priory. The first session is on Thursday at 3.00 p.m. One of the lay ministers here is a professor and he, along with a woman who teaches at the University, will be helping on Thursday and then running the rest of the sessions. Mike and I got our heads together this morning on the best balance of information and the actual practice of meditation. Students get talked at from dawn to dusk so I don’t want to fill them up with more information than is absolutely necessary. If they feel drawn to the practice they can always come round here for more instruction.

I feel a million miles away from 18 year olds although I can empathize with their situation. Many will be away from home for the first time. That kind of release from parental boundaries can go both ways; mad partying or sad casting around not really knowing where one fits in to the new scheme of things. We have quite a few students come for introductory instruction. They do it as part of their course work for “Religion 101” and I regard their time here as sowing seeds that may, or may not, ripen in the future. I love their open willingness to give meditation their ‘best shot’.

All day, between phone calls and other business, I’ve been back and forth in my mind about what literature to have available for these up coming sessions. Contemplating how many copies to make and where the price break comes in terms of number of copies made. My intention was to nip over to Staples, the office super (dooper) store, in the afternoon and get the work done. It is never a hardship to visit Staples; just ten minutes walk away with only Calgary Trail to negotiate. That is the main southbound road out of town, a veritable racetrack with at least five lanes to get across, however it is worth it. But, something was sticking about this whole copy project and in the end I headed out for a walk in the other direction.

Returning to the Priory somewhat red cheeked from the cold it dawned on me that we have a copier at the Priory! So without further ado I tackled the complexities of double sided copying, putting together leaflets etc. For those of you who may run a meditation group or are part of one there is a booklet in PDF format called The Eightfold Path of Buddhism on the obc web site. It is in both A4 and Letter size to accommodate the two different paper standards in North America and Europe. Rev. Master Daizui wrote the booklet and it is well worth the effort to print up a few copies to give away to people who ask questions like “what do you believe in?" “Why do you meditate?” and “why do you insist on keeping to the speed limit?” Ahem! that sort of thing.

Still scratching my head about how I managed to over look the Priory copy machine!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Faster Horses.

This morning I was gazing out of the kitchen window at the new bird feeder I bought last Monday and notice, not for the first time, that there were no birds on it. Ever since I put the feeder together, filled it and hung it up the bird population has all but evaporated from the garden. I am told that they will come back and indeed several birds do visit including an impressive posse of wood pigeons that clean up the fallen seeds. My hope was that a larger feeder would bring more birds that would eat more seeds. And, to be honest, I anticipated the enjoyment of observing all those extra birds thus enticed into the garden.

Monday is a day to rest and reflect and the bird feeder brought me right back to the book “Buddhism From Within” written by the late head of the O.B.C., Rev. Master Daizui MacPhillamy. He tells of how he heard a song that suggested a way for him to speak about Buddhism in plain English. The song was “Faster Horses: The Cowboy and the Poet” (Mercury Records, 1997). He describes it as being partly humorous, partly philosophical and basically about the meaning of life seen through the eyes of a seasoned old cowboy. His solution to life, in the song, was “Faster horses; younger women; older whiskey; more money!” The first chapter of the book is entitled 'Faster Horses' where, in plain English, Rev. Master Daizui launches into one of the problems of human existence: we’re never satisfied, we want more, larger, faster ‘whatever’s’. He is talking about the root of suffering, craving.

Incidentally, I’m not down on myself for the new bird feeder however it did bring to light a certain tendency towards believing that new equipment will get the job done, better and faster. In this regard I realize I have been delaying writing a number of things until I have my computer set up 'just right'. This includes my contemplating buying a couple of items of equipment. Having seen the tendency towards 'faster horses' my resolve is to just get on with the writing; I hope that means more blogger entries too.

I've found that the more regularly one ‘picks up the pen and writes' the easier it is to continue to pick up the pen and write, and the writing seems to get easier too. As with the pen so with faster horses, only in the case of 'Faster Horses' it's letting go of them. With practice it gets easier, it's never easy though.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Autumn Reflections.

Chikakoo Lake near Edmonton.

A couple of weeks ago one of the priory members drove me due west of Edmonton. It was a beautiful clear day and after lunch, and having done some business in a nearby town, Jean and I went for a walk around a series of small lakes. Pictured here is just one of them. It was a still autumn day when all the life and energy is falling into the ground. But not all life! Quite suddenly there was a rustle in the rushes beside the path and out swam a beaver dragging rushes, so close. She proceeded across the lake and in the distance we saw that she disappeared into the bank. Perhaps there was some lodge repairs going on. A number of smaller beavers swam around in circles greeting the returning parent. What a treat!

Jean went with her daughter last week-end to log beaver activities. All they saw were lodges and tracks and other evidence but no beaver. They went again this week-end.

Of course there is no knowing if the beaver was female. I decided arbitrarily that it was.

Knowing how I enjoy sharing a poem now and then here is a haiku I saw in a glossy book in Chapters (our local book chain) and copied it. At the time, oh about a month ago, I thought 'Hah'! 'Interesting'? Now I appreciate it.

even the birds,
and clouds
look old.

Zen Master Basho.

Last of the Autumn Leaves.

Last Sunday, during our working meditation period, the last of the autumn leaves were raked up by Chris and Mike.

I thought some of you might like to see what the Priory looks like from the front before we get into winter when the lawn will be permanently white until March. It has been an interesting time these past weeks as we all wait for the first snow fall. Sort of like waiting for the other boot to hit the floor. Last night there was a light dusting of snow but nothing serious. Traditionally it snows on October 31st but not this year so all of those 'trick or treaters' were able to be out in force in their costumes. I had quite a number of children turn up at the door on the 31st to receive their bag of 'Cracker Jacks'. That is caramel covered popcorn for the uninitiated.

The Edmonton Priory is, as you can see, half of a semi detached house. In North America this kind of house is called a duplex by the way. There is a 'half basement', meaning that part of the basement is above ground. We use the basement for teas and talks and it has held over 30 people. The meditation/ceremony hall is the main room on the ground floor with a kitchen and dining room running along behind the main room. This is a house built in the 1960's with the open plan arrangement so common then. Upstairs is an office, bathroom and two bedrooms, one for me and one for guests. The heating comes via a gas furnace in the basement, the warm air is blown along ducts and comes up through a number of openings in the floors. It's very efficient. So that's it, the place where I will be this winter.

Sometimes I catch myself looking around and realizing how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head, food in the fridge and good people coming to practice here. When out and about on the streets of Edmonton one sees a lot of people with their hands out for cash. Lots of people living rough there are, however, houses for homeless people, nobody could sleeping out in the winter in Edmonton. People do die of the cold each year though. Brrr!

Edmonton etiquette: When being dropped off at ones house the driver waits to make sure you have got into the house before driving off.