Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Best Foot Forward

We had an Open House yesterday at the Priory, look who came! Bella the budgie accompanied by her 'person', a friend of a congregation member. All those present were completely charmed and a good time was had by all, especially me. The little bird tweeted and chattered on my shoulder, nibbled daintily on cheese biscuits and at one point rummaged around in my ear! She had come because she had injured her right foot and needed some extra TLC. Although the turn out for the event was not huge it provided an opportunity for friends and relatives to meet a priest, eat and see what a Zen Buddhist Priory looks like.

Being around Bella the song Jake the Peg by Rolf Harris kept running through my mind. I thought it was about somebody with a wooden leg, when on checking it out, it was an extra leg. Oh well no matter, it's a catchy song all the same. Incidentally, Rolf Harris was working in Vancouver in the 1960's when the inspiration for Jake the Peg came to him via a singing Dutchman. The last verse has Jake being ordered to put his best foot forward, but which one? Although off balance, little Bella was able to make her way up my arm using one and a half feet, and her beak.

But what I really wanted to write about was.... While waiting my turn at our bank on Whyte Avenue I noticed I'd become impatient. Knowing how impatience leads to frustration - which leads to habitual thinking patterns, I consciously connected with the ground. Standard mindfully practice advice is to bring ones attention to the here and now. Bringing ones awareness to where the body touches the ground aids this. Currently mindfulness practice, coupled with a new-found knowledge of posture habits, has me particularly aware of my feet. That's having weight evenly distributed between both feet. Still waiting at the bank, now in more reflective mood, I glanced about. Every single person doing business with the cashiers, bar one, was weighted on one leg! Incredibly, so were the majority of people who were still waiting their turn!

Sadly, on Saturday, an older member of the congregation fell on ice over in BC and broke his leg in two places. We wish him well and a speedy recovery. From personal experience I know how very painful a broken bone can be. For me it also proved to be a gift. I'd smile wryly to myself and think, "Well, I have no choice but to take it easy now". I hope being off his feet will similarly come to be known as a gift. And for Bella and the waiting crowds at banks and in check-out lines everywhere; "Best foot forward! And having them both on the ground makes it that much easier to choose which one to move first"!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Loyalty to the Moment

Ten more minutes and it will be the day after the Chinese New Year! Since 1997 Canada Poste has issued stamps to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year. The Dog is the eleventh Sign of the Chinese Zodiac. Here's the new Canadian Year of The Dog stamp. It's a beauty.

I've just been reading Dogen Zenji's chapter from the Shobogenzo: Uji (The Theory of Time), Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett's translation in Zen is Eternal Life. This sentence relates to yesterdays posting:

"They travel fastest who are not there since arrival is hindered by arrival but quite definitely not hindered whilst on the journey: the journey is hindered by non-arrival but not hindered by arrival".

Within this quote is the reason for training 'as if one's hair is on fire'. I was once given this teaching and it caused me to instantly drop a view I was about to expound on, at length. Sometimes it is good to pick up things and sometimes it is good to put them down.

Rejection is not part of the picture, loyalty to the practice is. Dogs are said to be loyal critters, bless 'em!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Go Unstintingly

This morning during meditation instruction, somebody who helps with the instruction, talked about his journey into Buddhism. Some years ago his younger brother had said “Buddhism points the way” and, "it's up to you to find what the Buddha found". The first teaching the Buddha gave after he realized enlightenment was the Four Noble Truths. "I already knew about the first two" he said; unsatisfactoryness (dukkha), and craving (tanha) which is its cause. "And the other two I didn’t know about, however I took them on faith until I prove them true for myself". For him that ‘s what made Buddhism a religion, the faith bit. He took it on faith there is an end to unsatisfactoryness - the third Truth and there is a proven path - The Eightfold Path - the forth Truth.

The popular view of organized religion, viewed with a questioning mind, appears to prescribe what one should and should not believe in. This was the way I saw things as a young woman and kept away. Now I see this as, at best, an incomplete view. Looked at from the outside any religion appears prescriptive and heavy with doctrine, including Buddhism. And that is, to a certain extent, necessary. It is necessary to describe a ‘doorway’ so people can see it, recognize it as a valid one and then choose to walk through it, or not. One often hears that “all paths lead to the same Truth”. Maybe, maybe not! The important thing, if one is seeking a path, is to choose one and follow it unstintingly. (Unstintingly means ‘with generosity’, in this case generosity of spirit (Dana) giving and letting go, unconditionally.)

I inherited my questioning nature from my father. He was a deeply spiritual person, who felt no need to be attached to a faith tradition although he’d say, if he were to be anything, he’d be a Buddhist. In his latter years, when I’d become a priest, he spoke a few times of his inner life. Relating his evolving understanding into the nature of existence, that had begun as a young boy. He was matter of fact when he spoke of these profound matters, and they were profound, some being outside of my personal experience at the time. Through out his life he’d felt no need to label his experiences and there was not a sign of a person burdened by understanding. Some people blossom within a faith tradition and some, like my father, grow and flourish like a tree in a forest. Who is to say which is best?

In 1980 during our drive to Heathrow, on route to Shasta Abbey to become a monk, I felt the need to explain myself to my dad. “Err, I am going to be a monk to find out that I don’t need to be one”. It was half an apology to him and half an explanation for myself. At the time I knew nothing of his inner life only his attitude towards ‘organized religion’. He and my mother supported me in my decision as, in my early thirties, I was free to make my choices and they respected that. If my father were still alive I’d let him know, “I didn’t need to become a monk, however I’m glad that I did”. The practice has changed my life for the better.

Recently there have been a number of younger people who have received meditation instruction and returned here to the priory to meditate. One such person came this evening, another tree that has been growing in the forest, and doing just fine. I’m at once encouraged that such individuals have found the door and walked through and concerned that in some subtle way they will become hindered by a hope of, or desire for, a journeys end. Paths, after all, imply they lead somewhere. Perhaps, like me, they will eventually realize they didn’t need to walk through this particular door and at the same time, be glad they did. Trees grow and flowers blossom within a Great Benevolence not bound by time or place. I hope and pray I'll not get in their way as they shoot up past me.

Moving Mountains provides a window on one particular Zen Buddhist monk’s daily life practice, and that is all it is. If reading it points the way and encourages you to keep following your path, whether or not it is part of a faith tradition, then that is good. However, voyeurs beware; you might find yourself pulled through the window in spite of yourselves!

This posting is offered in loving memory of my father, Tony White, who died 29th January 2000. His remains are buried beside my mothers in the grounds of Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey. They both requested Buddhist funerals which I conducted.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Being Buddhism

I finally read a couple of chapters from a book called Blue Jean Buddha, Voices of Young Buddhists. It's encouraging to see that there are 20 and 30 somethings who have taken up Buddhist practice and bringing it into their daily lives. And help make the world a better place.

For those who aspire to make a difference here are wise words from Mahatma Gandhi: "One must be the change one wishes to see in the world." A young woman said in her essay, "My challenge is to continually remind myself that inner revolution and outer revolution must go hand in hand."

We have much to learn from the wisdom of our children.

Friday, January 27, 2006

China Rises

I traveled to China last year in May as part of a tour to visit Dharma relatives, and temples associated with my Transmission line. I've been reflecting on the trip and writing notes for our Orders in-house Journal.

"Do I really want to get out of bed"? The night before, from my vantage point, I'd seen and heard the junks plying the river below. Beyond that, the city twinkled into infinity. For a long moment I remained still. "What on earth is out there"? The noise from the street market beside the hotel was incredible. Eventually I got up and went to the window. It was the stark contrasts; the close proximity of the old and the new, the impoverished and rich, the sordid and the glistening, all of that captured my attention initially. Latter however I came to know the heart of ancient China, very much still alive to-day.


Last Sunday evening at 8.00 pm the CBC, Canadian TV company, aired the first two parts of China Rises a documentary looking at developments in China. The second two parts will be aired next Sunday at the same time. It's well worth a look if you are in Canada, or if you're not the web site is interesting.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Free to Laugh

I thought it must have been about this time. It's an anniversary.

Two years ago I was in Edmonton and two years ago we heard of Rev. Mildred's death in England. She had been my novice assistant at Reading Priory. Latter on, as a senior monk, she came to stay for a number of months. Her disarming humour and 'little ways' were at once a joy and a challenge. "I'm stubborn like a donkey" and I'd reply, "Don't knock it Reverend, the donkey has carried you this far hasn't she"? We would laugh, amidst the tears, as we negotiated daily living. It was not easy, however the hard times quickly faded from memory. Right now I remember and honour Reverend Mildred; for her charm and wit and wisdom.

She taught me so much, perhaps we taught each other, who knows. Our time at Reading marked a turning point in my spiritual life and I attribute that in major part to her presence. Every opportunity I could find, I thanked her. Right up to when we last met.

Rachel sent me this poem by Meister Eckhart. It speaks of love, of giving simple love to a burro (donkey). This is for Reverend Mildred, set free to laugh.

And also for Rachel's guinea pig who died yesterday, in Reading.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Water the Plant

The following correspondence is reproduced, in slightly modified form, with the authors permission.

Dear Reverend Master,
There is something that I wanted to write to you about. On Wednesday, on my return from Scotland, whilst on public transport, a thought came into the head: 'You could have (or send out) love for all these people here. There is no need to be defensive or closed in'. This was interesting, as it had never occurred to me in this way. Somehow, I think I have never truly known what love is - it is only starting now slowly to dawn on me. It started off about two years ago, when all of a sudden I realised that I could just love the little ducklings on the lake. I guess I'll need to nurture (or keep reminding myself of) this little plant - or should I just let it grow on its own?

Dear Friend,
Love, Compassion and Wisdom are the fundamental True Nature of your being. You don't need to do anything other than trust that this is so and notice when anguish, frustration, ill will and the like are there and let them go. In the very middle of what we regard as faults can be found love. Just open your heart, keep your insides soft and pliable and what flows, will flow. Love is not a thought; you will not necessarily consciously know about it in your daily life. You will see it's shadow and that is the stuff of meditation and daily life practice. That's watering the little plant!

Dear Reverend Master,
I thank you for these words.
In gassho,

Taking Note

I wonder if you have ever listened to the dawn chorus, that early morning time when birds break into song? I've know times when I'd wished the birds away back to their nests for another hours sleep, for them and especially for me! At this moment I have a CD playing in my laptop of the 'Dawn Chorus', A sound portrait of a British woodland at sunrise. This evening I'd been feeling a bit under the weather physically and had been casting about for inspiration. I thought this 'music' might help. And it has.

Somebody asked me about 'pain', how one dealt with it as a Buddhist. I remember once hearing my Master softly mentioning that somebody needed to understand the difference between 'being in pain and being in self'. I took a mental note. There is pain, and then there is pain accompanied by self-pity, which goes on and on and.... That's one way to 'be in self'. A health professional I was consulting with some years ago said, "Self-pity is an English persons disease". I took a mental note! It was the most helpful piece of information, not heard as an accusation, and I was able to take it to my heart. I took a mental note.

The birds are still twittering away enthusiastically, there's a wood pigeon and a pheasant in the distance. A peacock? That can't be right! Isn't it amazing how simple things can help lift the spirits and how a chance comment, heard while in pain and not in 'self', can change one for the better. Not much of an answer about dealing with pain, however getting things in perspective is a good start. Now I'd better send those birds back to their nests for the night. Time to sleep. One of our monks says, "Never underestimate the restorative power of a good nights sleep."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Creative Circulation of Merit

Here is a banner made by members of Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple. It was part of an offering, a massive circulation of merit, made in Japan last August. A corner of the banner was reproduced as a card and mailed to temples and friends of our Order. We received one here in Edmonton and I was inspired. It is a beautiful image and an amazing project which works on so many levels. I wanted the whole banner to have a wider audience. So here it is. The merit of altruistic effort, such as the Jizo for Peace Project, just keeps on multiplying.

Copyright, Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple.

Reverend Jan Chozen Bays, of Great Vow Monastery, was the moving hand behind the Jizo for Peace Project. Nine bows. Her contribution was a banner dedicated in memory of her mother.

Shasta Abbey contributed too, you can view many of the banners and other creative offerings as a slide show.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Training Hand, Heart and Mind

The letter below is reproduced, in slightly edited form, with the authors permission.

Dear Rev. Mugo,
I thought I would write to let you know what I have discovered about Trinity College of Music at the time Rev. Master (Jiyu-Kennett) would have been in contact with it, in case it is of interest.

Trinity was started in 1872 by Bonavia Hunt who was deeply concerned by the quality of church music which was becoming poorer and poorer. Trinity was first known as the Church Choral Society and College of Church music. It was open to members of the Anglican Church, and men only! The college started with a view to teaching so that quality could be restored and the long tradition of church music continued. As it developed, the college trained teachers and offered exams throughout the world so that standards could be maintained. I'm not sure of the date, but women were also welcomed in to study before the war.

By 1939 the numbers at the college grew and the college ethos was one of welcome and the doors were opened on Sundays as well as all other days, "to keep the lamp of music burning during these dark days." The choir was open to those who's choral societies had had to disband for war reasons. Trinity hosted concerts throughout the war and two concerts in 1942 were given by the children of London county council and Middlesex who studied on Saturday mornings with Gladys Puttick, a pioneer who arrived at Trinity in 1934 and was one of the first to teach musicianship beyond the instrument. She was also the founder of the Saturday School and Trinity was the first music college to have a Saturday junior department. Distance Learning also started to help those unable to get into college to study, in fact Prisoners of War were able to do distance learning with help from the British Red Cross offices.

Gladys Puttick arrived in 1934 and stayed until the 1970s. Three other notable people were at Trinity from the 1930s - mid 1960s. Charles Kennedy Scott was keen on the study of Plainsong and the chanting of Psalms and gave regular lectures and led rehearsals. Dr Lowery was passionate about organs, organ music and is noted as giving superb lectures. The Principal of Trinity from 1944 -1965, Dr Wilfred Greehouse Allt was also an organist who was the President of the Incorporated Association of Organists from 1956-1958 and then of the Royal College of Organists from 1962-1964. Rev Master would almost certainly have come into contact with Gladys Puttick and Charles Kennedy Scott, whether based at Trinity or as a distant learner.

Gladys Puttick gave a lecture in the 1940s and it reveals an approach to learning that often goes unnoticed. She said that music was, "essentially a pivotal subject of education, since it could be the means of training, at once, the hand, the heart and the mind."

It would appear that Rev Master was in good hands.

I hope that all is well with you in Canada.

In Gassho, Robert.

Robert is a practitioner within the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, a member of Reading Priory, teaches the violin to children in London and is a loyal reader of this blogger. I see him between teaching engagements, nipping into an Internet Cafe on the Tottenham Court Road to read his email and glance at these pages. Robert studied at Trinity for five years, receiving his 'post grad' in 1997. Of teaching he says: "I enjoy the challenges teaching provides and am constantly amazed how much so many children make from some of the most appalling home situations. Teaching is such a gift." Thanks Robert.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Nine Bows in Gratitude

It is the anniversary of my Masters ordination on the 21st January. Here are some photographs to commemorate that event forty two years ago. The photographs were taken while I was staying at Cheng Hoon Teng, Malaysia in May/June of last year.

It had been Rev. Seck Kim Sengs wish that there be a library established and recently one was opened next door to the main temple. It is named The Seck Kim Seng Memorial Library. While staying at the temple I would visit and chat with the librarian. Slowly, as I showed more and more interest and enthusiasm, he started to bring out more and more historic items which he thought I would be interesting in seeing. The first and third photographs were taken during one of these temple treasure explorations. I was so fortunate to have been shown so much. This is not the half of it.

Seck Kim Seng as a young monk.

The temple in Malacca, Malaysia where Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett was ordained on the 21st January, 1962 by the Very Reverend Seck Kim Seng. Note the Buddhist flags and the Indian style stupa to the left side of the photograph.

The librarian and archivist at Cheng Hoon Teng Malacca pointing out the name of Seck Kim Seng on the stupa that once held his cremated remains. In the foreground are (I think) Kim Seng's ordination certificates. The major part of the remains are now permanently enshrined at the temple across the road. On the day I visited I didn't take my camera.

I note that Rev. Master Jiyu stayed in Malacca until April of 1962 before going on to train at Dai Hon Zan Sojiji in Yokohama, Japan with the Abbot the Very Reverend Keido Chisan Koho Zenji. You can read about her life while practicing in Japan in The Wild, White Goose, the Diary of a Female Zen Priest. I see that the book is dedicated "To all women seeking Spiritual Truth and especially to those who have ever entered into Zen training".

Thank you Rev. Master, you will never be forgotten.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Pagoda at Kew

This evening my thoughts were taken back to Kew. That's the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew by the Thames, London. There, standing ten stories, is a Chinese Pagoda to be viewed from miles around. My first sight of this foreign building, at around age eight, left a lasting impression. It said much and mostly, I realize now, spoke silently of something bigger than myself. Not just physically but 'otherly'.

The capacity of children to be awed, to stand in wonderment at a sight or sound, to know it and be satisfied is a wonder in itself. And still there remains that capacity in adulthood. I'd think it a sad thing if we were to loose that.

Until a moment ago I'd not made the connection between the pagoda at Kew and Buddhism! Yes, it certainly did make a lasting impression, probably a seed that changed my life.

Seeds just need the right conditions to start growing and that comes in a timely fashion for all.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Head for the Basement!

Taken in southern Alberta last summer; what a corker!
Copyright attributed to the (unknown) photographer.

You may have seen that I have put a notice at the bottom of the main page. Essentially it means that material on this blogger is protected under a Creative Commons License.

In order to insert that notice I had to overcome my natural reticence to do new things. I did have help and I'm thankful for that. Now I have taken that first step behind the scenes and gained some confidence I'm having to restrain myself from tinkering about too much. For the uninitiated the coding looks, at first glance, like a knitting pattern. But that is as far as it goes, believe me!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Zen Meditation"

'A practical guide based on the approach used at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey'.

Hi there, a new teaching aid has just become available and I thought you'd want to know about it. Here's what it says on the back of the DVD version.

Zen Meditation deals with the fundamentals of the practice of zazen, of sitting meditation. It includes a detailed description of the physical and mental aspects of the practice and shows how the principles of meditation can be applied to the activities of our daily life. It shows how we can be still within the events of life and experience things as they are, with nothing added or taken away, and explains how such acceptance can lead to the realizaton of our true nature.

A Teaching Tool: I show 'Zen Meditation' to new people here. In particular, the segments on training in daily life and setting up a regular practice. If you want to learn to meditate and you are not near a priory, group or monastery to receive instruction in person, this DVD is the very next best way to get started.

You can buy it here: The monk who runs the Bookshop at Throssel wrote me saying: "Yes, we have the DVD (and video) and it would be fine for people to email and ask for a copy. I can tell them the postage cost if it is outside the UK. ( The cost of one, including postage and packaging airmail to USA and Canada (small packet) is £7.75.) We do appreciate payment in £ sterling, or a direct transfer to our bank account. We can't take credit cards."

Many thanks: to Tony Lee, Peter Major, Virginia Lee and Lee Upton as well as the monks of Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey, and all the others who helped to bring us this useful teaching aid.

Nice to see the production team members come out from behind the camera, and microphone too!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

We Were Here

The other day somebody pointed out a photograph of an inukshuk on our calendar. Since he works in the North West Territories, and many of his colleagues are Inuit, he's knowledgeable about these native people and there culture. He said these way-markers basically mean, "We were here". He was clear that it was in the past tense. Here's an Inukshuk on the 2010 Winter Olympics logo.
"Inukshuk (ee-nook-shook or ee-nook-sook) is an Inuktitut word that means to look like a person (an Inuk). It is a stone cairn which has been used by the Inuit people to mark high points of land, good hunting and fishing spots or the way home. Inuit have been building Inuksuit (ee-nook-soo-eet / plural) for thousands of years. It is a symbol of trust and reassurance for those who travel across the vastness of the Arctic." You can build your own virtual inukshuk...

'A symbol of trust and reassurance for travelers'. Those who have walked the hills know about Britain's way markers, the cairn. And closer to home there is the Buddhist stupa. Somewhere (and I wish I had a better memory for this kind of thing) it is said that to build a bridge or a stupa is an act of charity.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Embracing the New

Trog, Pembrokeshire - June 2005. Copyright: T. Lee.

This has to be the star picture of the month! I met Trog this summer while I was in England. A cute little critter to be sure. The other day he came to Edmonton in an envelope; that's on the front of a card from his human companions. I'm still amazed at the quality of the prints produced from digital files.

As a fellow Buddhist I've known the photographer and his wife for nigh on fifteen years. A happy association which has included a shared interest in photography. Like so many photographers of our generation we started with film, that's black and white film and latter colour. We learnt the craft of producing prints and over the years explored the limits of the medium. For many people it's quite a leap to let go of the old, embrace the new and explore digital photography. There is no good reason for me to pursue photography in this way, nor is there available time. However I still appreciate a good quality photo which catches the moment, as this one does.

Remember the saying: 'don't throw the baby out with the bath water'? There is much wisdom and knowledge retained from 'old style' photography which can usefully be carried into the digital medium. Often people think they need to reject the past in order to embrace the new. In the rhelm of religion this can happen when people come to Buddhism after having been brought up in another religion. Rejecting the past is especially true when the experience was a painful one. However, rejecting what was is not necessary in order to move forward. After all, it's not possible to stop past experience influencing the present; religion, photography, what ever. There is the letting go of the past however; now that's possible. Our practice is about embracing the present wholeheartedly, making wise choices and moving on. Not looking back in anguish or regret.

Trog had been snarfling on a beach in south west Wales. Amazing what a photograph of a sandy dog can bring up!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Noise or Sound?

There are two bodhisattvas living next door. They each have four paws, wet noses and bark like dogs. They are dogs! At first, when I heard them barking late into a Saturday night I was outraged, then perplexed. Of course ones first response is to get rid of the noise. On further considered reflection it dawned on me that, since the owners were out, they didn't know their dogs barked. Because they were not there to hear them! A few days after the incident an opportunity arose naturally to speak to their human companions over the back garden fence. "I want to let you know that your dogs were barking the other evening until late. They seemed upset", "Oh, we're really sorry, we will make sure that won't happen again" they replied. And it hasn't, no more barking into the night. We talked on in a neighbourly way and it emerged they had left the TV on and one of the dogs may have heard a banjo playing! "That sets him off", I was told.

Now and then the dogs 'sing', as their devoted owners describe their howls, but it doesn't last for long. Perhaps it's sparked by a banjo playing or simply a signal that their owners have left the house, and they are sad. Looked at (or heard!) with the eye of training the howling dogs become bodhisattvas come to teach, and therefore to help. In this case teaching that sitting still and meditating is not dependent on external conditions. Regulars members are assured that they can meditate in their own homes no matter what is going on in the house. They prove that true while meditation here at the Priory!

Where ever one is there will be sounds, pleasant or unpleasant, with melody or a cacophony. Next time you feel driven to get rid of a noise, pause a moment to listen more carefully. It might be a bodhisattva calling to you. Here is another case of "when the student is ready the teacher will appear". I'm using the term 'bodhisattva' in a broad sense, not as beings who consciously vow to help beings, more in the sense of; unwitting teachers, everyday-on-the-street and at work teachers. Find them; be one.

And sometimes one takes action. I made a complaint about loud music blasting across the houses while I lived at the Priory in Reading, England. For a number of reasons, some 'good' and some based on fear, it had taken me a long time to get around to doing that. Interestingly, before my complaint was 'officially' lodged the music stopped!

Friday, January 13, 2006


'Respect for others begins by not ignoring their words.'
Elias Canneti
From: 'The Torch in My Ear'

Need I say anything more?

A biographical detail for your interest: Elias Canneti won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981, "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power". For the last 20 years of his life he live in Zurich. He is buried there beside Irish author James Joyce.

Gourd, Home of Full Emptiness

Hotei is carrying a gourd, a symbol used in Buddhism to represent emptiness, shunyata. Not a negative emptiness, no not at all. My Master would say of shunyata, with a knowing far away smile, "It is the fullest emptiness you will ever know". And Zen Master Dogen, (somewhere?), says, "Gourd with its tendrils is entwined with gourd." Pointing to the fact that, in the absolute sense, we are not separate individual beings. No, not at all. Master and disciple, mother and daughter, father and son, inseparable all. Bound together with delicate tendrils, not glue.

This image of Hotei came via email. He is living in the home of a remarkable family who are not unfamiliar with facing hardship, together and individually. And yet, or rather AND, they grow, they shine through and they inspire. They inspire me.

All merit offered to 'you all'.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

In the Eye of the Beholder

A new book has entered my life. It is exactly one and a half inches thick, with gold/yellow writing set into the blue cover, and red grid lines separate the titles of the five books contained within the one book. It is smooth to the touch, I didn't weight it! That's one and a half inches of solid reading. Rarely do I remember titles however any book that I have picked up more than a few times is remembered by its cover, the colour most especially. This book is the colour of the much treasured Lapis lazuli, a toned down version of Winsor & Newton's, Ultramarine. Historically that colour was comprised of pulverize Lapis mixed with binding agents to make a powerful paint used by Old Masters. As with the paint so with the book, it contains much treasure, Dharma Treasure. Hopefully I'll be able to draw on and write about some of the contents as I travel through it over the weeks to come.
Many thanks for this book, it's a valued gift.

Two people sent me links to a news item about the search for a person to play the role of the Buddha in a proposed film. 'Somehow' they were going to make a virtual image of an idealized Buddha and then search for a good match via Google. ("Could that be right?") Anyway, since the Buddha did not allow images to be made in his life time they are relying on a number of references to come up with a likeness. I wish them well and await the outcome with interest.

The arrival of the book, my initial involvement with its outward appearance and the news item set me to pondering. It is so easy to evaluate, to judge by surface appearances, and much of the time that's how we normally operate. We don't contemplate the deep nature of the bus, we just need to notice that it is the number 9, or not, and get on it. From somewhere I remember a saying: "Look with the eye of a Buddha and you will see the heart of a Buddha". This points to making a deliberate effort not to travel the surface of life, to bring the mind of meditation along with you. No matter how unlike our assumptions, all have the heart of a Buddha.

Everything teaches and the Number 9, in so many ways, has become a 'Buddha' for me. It's the biggest, bendiest bus I've ever been on and you meet such interesting people too.

Waiting for IT

Edmonton doesn't know if it is coming or going. The continuing mild weather has most of us on tender hooks. We're waiting. We're waiting for the other boot to drop; for the snow to fly, for the mercury to fall, for double digit below zero temperatures. And none of that's happened, yet. It's hard to accept the situation and be warm, since it is warm. Difficult to not mentally crouch in anticipation of the punishing winter weather to arrive?

A monk asked Great Master Tozan Gohon,
'How can we avoid hot and cold?'
Tozan said,'Why don't you go somewhere that is neither hot nor cold?'
The monk asked,'Where is a place that is neither hot nor cold?'
Tozan replied,
'When it is cold, be completely cold;
When it is hot, be completely hot.'

Zen Master Dogen, Shobogenzo.

The monks question amounts to "how do I live beyond the opposites", at heart it's a spiritual question. Any problem, however mundane seeming, can be turned into a spiritual question that can lead one deeper. That's if one is willing to listen to the answer! Zen Master Tozan's reply points to the heart of practice, of being completely present no matter what's going on and, above all, not to try and escape 'what is'. There is an article on the internet by Rev. Master Kinrei of Berkeley Buddhist Priory which expands on the above quote. He is my older brother in the Dharma, I have much reason to be grateful for his wise council over the years.

You've got to admit it, the Berkeley web site is really neat!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Further Encouragement

Two messages of support and encouragement to continue writing came in the mail to-day. It makes me smile just to think of my writing 'mentors'. I'm so grateful to them. Each week, Sunday afternoon and Monday are assigned for 'Renewal'. To shop, take a longer walk, clean house, do laundry, maybe watch a video... In other words a time to relax and re-charge in preparation for the next week. It is also a good swatch of uninterrupted time to tackle longer writing projects.

It's amazing how pressing the cleanliness of the bathroom can become when there is a writing project in line! So, with the arrival of those messages of encouragement to 'keep going' I have to take note, take heart, and get stuck in with the hammer and chisel! One has a romantic vision of ancients with quill, ink and parchment; of 'religious' carving the sutras for wood block printing and, who ever it was, chipping away in stone somewhere. One mentor wrote, "And it will always be hard work". Not, for sure, the work of 'drawing water and chopping wood' traditional to Zen monastic life, 'honest' work though for all that.

Yes, most of us can 'keep going' and we don't need or require encouragement to continue. However, walking on with a renewed spring in ones step and a smile in ones heart can certainly be a huge help. And, to be truthful, I cleaned the bathroom yesterday, just didn't mop. So, in the end, there are no valid excuses to getting on with what needs to be done. There rarely ever are.

A Rare Gift

His name was Spencer-Chapman, he'd come to address the school after the annual prize giving. I settled down, best one could on the wooden floor of the gym, to zone out for the speach. These occasions were usually directed at the 'winners' and I wasn't one of them. However something caught my attention and I stayed in the room. I listened to what he had to say.

"...and for those of you who have not received prizes I want you to know that..." I can't remember his exact words. The gist of it was about valuing personal integrity and that 'succeeding' in life not being dependent on passing exams and winning prizes. What he said, I heard and it went straight in, and stayed there to this day. He had recognized my inherent worth, and I believed him. Life was a struggle but deep in there what he said remained. What a gift, one that everybody is capable of giving too.

We have a saying in Buddhism, "When the disciple is ready the Master will appear". I am so grateful that this man made his brief appearance just at the right time. I was ready to hear what he had to say, for that moment he was my teacher. People think they need to find a Master or teacher in order to progress in practice when what is needed is to listen more carefully.

I once had a copy of Spencer-Chapmans book "The Jungle is Neutral" about his days in the S.O.E. in Malaysia.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Great Determination

In the last days a number of people have asked me the same question. The words were different, the question fundamentally the same.

And the answer?
"Yes! Meditation, preceptual living, exercising compassion, expressing kindness...are all worth the effort".

"Yes! Transformation happens". "Yes! and that occurs to a schedule not of our own making."

So patience is the watchword.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

For Friends in Need

Emily the guinea pig.

The reasoning behind posting this photo is fairly convoluted: Back in July at the Reading Buddhist Priory, at Ian and Rachel's wedding, I met Rachel's dad...see posting for July 21st. (I will always remember the softening of his face as he watched his daughter make her vows.) A couple of days ago I found out, by chance, that the dad is seriously ill in hospital. The truth of impermanence is ever present, sometimes it shouts in your face.

Ian and Rachel keep these cute little critters in their kitchen. Photo posted and merit offered for Rachel's dad and their extended family.
The source of my information was dated November.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Apart from Beings, no Buddha

Phew! I had all sorts of plans for a posting today but then 'life happened' and I've run out of time. As good fortune would have it somebody (Michael you're a brick) sent me this photograph and poem so here they are:

All beings are by nature Buddha,
as ice by nature is water.
Apart from water there is no ice;
apart from beings, no Buddha.

-Hakuin Zenji, "Song of Zazen"

Now there is something to ponder on...then move on!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

No Hiding Place

This image of Hotei interests me. (The picture was taken in a bus stop in Calgary; with a shopping cart behind it, and behind that an old church. Hotei back on the street...in Canada!)

This image speaks of fundamental transparency, our luminous (Buddha) nature. Which cannot be hidden, although most mortals have a good try.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us."
Marianne Williamson

Maitreya (whose name means "Loving One,")--in the form of Hotei--embodies the spirit of unbounded loving-kindness. A practice that 'sees' right through our vain attempts at hiding. By the way, red is often associated with Compassion and Love which makes this photograph all the more relevant.

Future Buddha Maitreya

Within our Order we have a Calendar for the Buddhist Year. January 1st is traditionally when we celebrate the Festival of Maitreya Bodhisattva. In China Hotei is honored in all the temples as Maitreya and there is a reason why too (that will be unveiled latter). Hotei was an historical tenth-century Chinese Zen monk called Budai. He is said to have wandered about and spent his time in villages streets rather than in the security of temples. Hotei's name means "cloth bag" and he is usually depicted carrying a sack which is full of toys for children. I very much enjoy this warm hearted, joyous and playful depiction of Maitreya.

"It is said that just before he passed away Hotei recited a poem which expressed his regret that even though Maitreya sometimes appears in the world, he is unrecognized by people of the time. This led to the association of Hotei with Maitreya that has endured ever since." Borrowed from Bodhisattva Archetypes

Of course we all carry the capacity to be the future Buddha...now!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Merit for Mothers

The Buddha taught that the offering of merit is the power of 'good', which helps in the alleviation of suffering. I know of a number of mothers who are in need of merit at the moment. If they are alive, or not, all will benefit from the gift of giving, the giving of ones opened heart.

The Athabaska River near Jasper, Alberta.

I was fortunate enough to travel into the Canadian Rockies over this last week-end. January 1st would have been my mothers 98th birthday, she loved to be out of doors in the mountains. Uh! You think they will live for ever, but they don't.

May the merit of these photographs be offered to her and to all of those who gave the gift of a human body.