Saturday, September 30, 2006

Matters of Gratitude

I've been thinking of events, or series of events, which defy all possible probability in the normal course of life. Iain in Japan wrote about a series of coincidences which more than likely lead to his young sons life being saved. No doubt there are many such stories to tell such as this one from early in year 2000.

I was on a long drive, trailing a caravan, from Manchester in northern England to Cornwall. That's a long way in one day. Mine was the slowest rig on the road. Somewhere south of Exeter, and late into the night, my concentration was failing me. I lost my way in some road works and turned off the main road onto a slip road by mistake. Realizing what I'd done I proceeded back towards the main road again. In a daze of tiredness I didn't check for traffic before merging, there wasn't much traffic at that time of night. Then whoosh, quick as you like, a huge commercial rig streaked past before me on the main road. It could have been Starship Enterprise, the event was that surreal. Seamlessly I trundled on, merging in behind it as it sped into the dark night. A near brush with certain death, and no mistake.

Quite early on in my monastic training I turned a corner, so to speak, and realized everything in my life had brought me to this place. The good times and the dreadful ones too, the painful circumstances and the joyful ones, all without exception, had been Great Compassion at work. Although at the time it didn't always look that way.

And it looks like compassion is still at work in my world. Just a few days ago when out in a car I realized I was driving on the wrong side of a country road, and had been doing so for some time.

There is the matter of accumulated spiritual merit involved in all of this.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Habit Energy

My writing fingers seem to have become somewhat rusty. Simply getting out of the habit of writing every day means the words do not come so easily. And I know that, with repeated effort, the writing habit will come back again. This is just the way of things. So even if it feels like 'pulling teeth' to sit here and type I'll continue because it seems 'good' to do. Hay ho.

In life effort/energy is applied and gradually a habit is (re)formed. Obviously for Preceptual reasons one has to be really mindful about how and where one devotes ones efforts. As one of the seniors often says, 'It's important to do the right thing, for the right reasons'. There is much to be said on this whole subject of habit energy. That will have to come on another day though.

I've been contemplating habits and how repartition strengthens their energy, which in turn can lead to a hard-wired habit, hard to break. For example, as a child and young adult, my very first thought on waking was, 'What have a got to dread to-day'? Usually it would be some event at school, the school nurse visiting, an exam. And often in the calculation would be the dentist, how many days left before my next dentist appointment. Fear and dread of the dentist, because what he did hurt. He must have dreaded me coming and I visited frequently too.

This morning, as Nicola lowered me in the chair for a closer look, there was no fear and thankfully no, 'Ooopeeeen Wiiiiide'! That dentists catch phrase destined to make me clench my jaw tighter. And thankfully no pulling of teeth needed either, just a couple of 'restorations'. Everything is so much kinder and more gentle than I ever remember it being, back in the bad old days of fillings, drillings and that huge needle advancing over ones right shoulder.

What finally got me out of my thought habit on waking was the wake-up bell. Every morning in the monastery a novice monks rings a bell to wake everybody up. Then, for novices, there is just a short time to get up, dress, put away bedding, do basic bathroom business and then back in place for meditation. There was simply no time to be thinking dread thoughts.

There is much to be said for the wake-up bell, and the many bells that call one away from one activity and towards another. In the monastery it is a bell and for the majority of trainees, at home and work, there is the inner prompting to stop and move to the next thing. It is a kinder and more gentle movement than you'd think.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Jazzy and Bailey

Ok, so Pugs are an acquired taste. Jazzy, who you have been looking at these past, far too many, days is a personality plus bundle of energy. I met her while in Edmonton, she wriggles she plays and she snorts. I enjoyed her very much. Multum in parvo, "a lot in a small space", describes pugs perfectly.

The subject of dogs working in a therapeutic setting, nursing homes and the like, came up while we were chatting at the group on Sunday. Here is a group in Canada looking for four footed ones to volunteer and here is a dog, Bailey, who already does. (I'm really glad the story of this volunteering dog has been told for a wider audience.)

Thank you Edmonton people, it has been a great pleasure to know you. With Jazzy and Bailey having the last bark I'll turn towards life here in Northern England, where I will probably remain for at least a year. That's unless something unexpected crops up, which has me packing my bags again...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Basil the Turtle

While in Edmonton last week I visited the group of people who formed the congregation of the priory, now the Meditation Group. We joined for the usual Sunday morning schedule of meditation, morning service and a talk. This time I talked about not 'traveling to other dusty countries' while at the same time recognizing the value and place of pilgrimage to one of our monasteries from time to time. And during the talk I made reference to a Buddhist fable about a fish and a turtle (yes, it was a turtle). I've since discovered that I quoted the fable inaccurately. So for those of you there last Sunday and for those of you who were not, here is the actual story. Scroll down the page to the heading Is Nibbāna Nothingness? The book where this fable appears, The Buddha and His Teachings by Venerable Narada Mahathera, is a Theravada Buddhism classic and well worth a place on a shelf of Buddhists books, for reference purposes.

While driving from Shasta Abbey to the Redwood Coast the week before, I came upon a turtle, upside down, in the middle of the road in the middle of no where. The last line of the Fish and the Turtle goes, "And with that the turtle turned away and, leaving the fish behind in its little pond of water, set out on another excursion over the dry land that was nothing".

I'm only so glad that I was able to rescue this wandering turtle. First turning it the right way up, giving it a ride and some time to recover itself and then liberating it in a stream connected to a lake, where it quickly made off.

It's our custom to give the Precepts to animals and to give them a name. I named the turtle Basil.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Perfect Apple

Driving down Highway 101 in Northern California, last Friday. The evening was drawing in, it had been a long day preceded by about a week of long days.

It was about 8.00 pm. Another hour to go before arriving at the Berkeley Priory. News on the radio, "Throw away your spinach". (Several cases of food poisoning had cropped up in the US, traceable to contaminated spinach). Then I remembered the apple I'd been given hours before. Picked ripe from the tree in the garden of good sangha friends, especially for me. What a treat, it was the perfect apple remembered and appreciated at just the right time. Thanks, it was the perfect apple.

This is the 400 posting on this blog. And where better to write it, in true travel style, than sitting in the British Airways departure lounge in Terminal 1, London Heathrow. By my calculations I've be 'on the road' and in their air for over 24 hours.

In half an hour I'll be winging my way to Throssel Hole Buddhist Monastery. I'll not be traveling much for awhile.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Whiskers and Wet Cold Noses

The smiling dog that helps people smile, in Edmonton.

Trog the soulful from Hampshire, who never fails to help me smile.

Many thanks for these dog 'mug shots'. Gives us all a bit of a change of pace.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

News from Both Sides

Here below are extracts from two separate emails sent from Edmonton congregation members. The first person lives on the north side of town. And the second person lives south of the river, right on Whyte Avenue in the hustle and bustle, with his recently adopted dog. Both extracts are here with permission.

North side news:-
"Summer in Edmonton has been wonderful this year. Of course, to really appreciate this beautiful weather you have to ignore all nagging thoughts that global warning is alive and well on the Canadian prairies. We have had numerous and continuous days of blissful warmth with a few very hot days thrown in for flavour. We have even had a bit of rain but even so I think our yard is actually getting quite dry. The temperature has dipped down a bit, a few times nothing serious, certainly no danger of frost but just enough to signal the trees that fall may be coming. As a result, you can see the odd leaf or even tree taking on its autumn hue.

We have a lake near to our house that is a major gathering place for the Canada Goose as it migrates. Every year, in the spring and fall, they congregate on the lake and take a pause in their journey. In the peak of the migration schedule there are hundreds and hundreds of Canada Geese on the lake. They seem to arrive in droves in the morning and leave in droves in the evening just as the sun is going down. They often fly directly over our house, masses of them, honking in unison. It is a particularly wonderful experience to go down to the lake and sit with them in the evening. One goose will start up and then another will join in and before long there are great numbers of them calling to each other. The energy builds and builds and builds until it seems that, like some huge engine that has been stoked, finally enough energy and momentum has been built and then they take off, like a squadron of airplanes on the runway, one after another, maybe fifty, maybe a hundred at once. It is a particularly remarkable experience if you are lucky enough to be right underneath them as they fly off. The whirr of all of those marvelous wings is a sight and sound to truly behold. I have not yet gone down to the lake this year, but go down I must. It is a gift that must be accepted and appreciated."

Mean while on the south side:-
"Little miss Jazzy according to her previous parent (owner) has a severe aversion to clothes and has never taken to them. I tried even putting a bandana on her and she was having none of it, it can fun just getting the harness on, although she is getting better with that since she did use a harness when she was young. It is just really getting it over the foot that causes her some issues now.

She is creating many smiles in the building that I am in especially some of the chronically ill or handicapped tenants. Since I am by the hospital here I walk her by their and she visits with people who are out for fresh air and brings out a lot of smiles.

We are starting a dog play hour in the common room so that the tenants dogs can get together offleash and socialize which will be nice when winter comes (if it comes this year!)."

So that's it. Geese honking on mass and "Jazzy the Snorter", as she is dubbed, bringing a little pleasure into the lives of less able people. I particularly like the idea of off-leash time in the common rooom. One can only imagine how that might go! Well, one would hope well.


To-day I met a young woman from Edmonton who had made a stop on her way to San Francisco to visit Shasta Abbey and attend the festival ceremony for Great Master Dogen. A ceremony to offer gratitude for Zen Master Dogen's great legacy that has been handed down to us.

As in Edmonton so also here. The feel of summer moving into fall and winter approaching.

Be well. Be content within that which is Unchanging.

Friday, September 08, 2006

In Flight

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I don't know which way the Canada Geese are flying at the moment, south I presume. I'll be flying north on the 16th September, north to Edmonton. Already I'm looking forward to that with happy anticipation; of seeing some of the congregation on Sunday morning, of lunch and meeting 'Jazzy the Snorter'. I've already heard much about her, seen photographs too, she is a black pug who was recently rescued by a congregation member.

Yes, soon I'll be migrating north from California, 16th September, and then eastwards across the vast continent of Canada. I'll be touching down in Toronto briefly then onwards to London, Heathrow, landing September 20th at 6.50 a.m.

This blog was inspired by an email from a congregation member from Edmonton who wrote about the lake near her home where Canada Geese land and take off from. I'll ask her permission to publish what she wrote. In the mean time do read about these wonderful, if unconventional, birds.

It has been really good to spend time with my North American monastic family at Shasta Abbey. And to spend time with many of the lay congregation who live around here or who are visiting. And daily there are those of you who plug in and fire up your computers and hike over to these pages to see what's a goin' on.

Constant as your presence is I remind myself and you, that all relationships end. Sometimes sooner, sometimes latter. Just a thought as I prepare to pack my suitcases, once again, and ready myself to take my leave.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

All Goose and Gator

Shasta Abbey is close to Yreka, which in turn is close to the California/Oregon border. I had occasion to go through there a few days ago on my way to the Scott Valley to pay a visit. Driving up the Scott Valley you really get the sense of an area full of history. It was here that gold was found and a rush to mine it happened, making Yreka a boom town. The land I visited had been hydraulically mined. I think that means water is diverted and the gold washed out with water under force. You could see some of how that worked by the small canyons cut by the water. You could also see that the local bears had been eating lots of berries too!

Stagecoach in front of Franco-American Hotel on West Miner Street- year unknown.

"Yreka was born when gold was discovered on the flats near a ravine called Black Gulch in March of 1851 by Abraham Thompson, a member of a mule train party enroute to Scott Valley from southern Oregon. Six weeks after the discovery 2,000 miners had arrived in "Thompson's Dry Diggings" to test their luck. By May, the gold rush "boomtown" was composed of tents, shanties and a few rough cabins. Several name changes occurred until the little city was called Yreka, apparently a Shasta Indian word meaning "north mountain." Incorporation proceedings were completed on April 21, 1857. "

Just as I stepped out of the car in Yreka there was a sound to send many heart a-flutter. A train horn blasting out very close by. The Blue Goose was getting ready to pull out with a cargo of tourists aboard. The site is worth a visit even if you are not keen on trains (shame on you!) as the animated train chugging across the screen is pleasing in itself.
And look at this:
Steam Engine Cab Rides:
2 seats per trip available: $50 each. No children under 14, and children 14 - 17 must be accompanied by a ticket holding adult. Reservations are recommended. Please note: Locomotive riders must have ear protection, (ear plugs can be obtained at the ticket counter).
Well I didn't get to drive a train or ride in a cab. I did however get to ride in the back of a John Deere 'Gator'. Perched in the business end of the vehicle I could observe the receding countryside through a veil of yellow dust as my guide shouted from the drivers seat. "That's where they kept rabits". "This is our land, it ends over there".
* * *
Ask Me
Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life.

Friday, September 01, 2006

News From Elsewhere

When I'd phone and ask my mother how she was, how her health was, she'd say, "Oh, not as bad as Mr, So and So across the road"! Then she would go into great detail about his difficulties. "But how are YOU"? I'd ask. And gradually her story would come out and we would laugh together about her habit of defaulting to talking about the neighbours heart condition and not her own. "He is SO much worse off than me"!

When the water isn't running so well in your bathroom think of Tim in the Balkans. Getting water at all in Kosovo, is a struggle.

Dear Rev Mugo

I have been following your almost daily blog lately and today listened to the recording you made on making transitions in life, this struck a few chords since making transitions in an ever changing life often seems like a full time occupation to me! The latest being of course the transition to fatherhood. For a long time I also used to have an 'am I being a good Buddhist' thing when I read the words about traveling to 'other dusty countries', especially as I have always had and urge to travel and adventure. It took me a long time to realise that the seat on which I sit and the wall at which I stare are always the same seat and same wall no matter where I am in the world. And in fact the only real journey we ever really make is an inward one. This was illustrated recently by some insightful emails from my 19 year old nephew, Jake, who is currently traveling around Asia before going to university. On his first day of travel and arrival in Bangkok he sent me an email in which he told of the shock of the day of his arrival in that strange and different city, of being lost and wanting to take the next flight home, of writing the whole venture off as a mistake. Now 6 months later he has returned to Bangkok and told he could not believe he was the same person who had arrived there, lost and scared, 6-months previously. Although he had been to many places and seen many things it seems his real journey had been within.

My own blog site about our mountain house has not been up dated in a long while, circumstances seemed to taken over once 'E' was pregnant and I don't seem to have been able to get back to it. Also we have a bit of a problem with the house, or rather related to the house. We recently received a claim in the courts from a pre-socialism land owner that our house is without permission and that we don't own the land. The so-called owner has filed papers at the court to have our house demolished! As serious as it sounds this is not unusual in this part of the world and is fairly routine here. It is the result of socialism, war and missing documents and a general lack of clarity in these things and persons, usually poor, with very spurious claims (as in this case - 'we' all the required papers for the house and land) do this kind of thing in the hope of getting 'paid off'.

Anyway the whole affair has put a bit of a dampener on the house project. We still live there every possible weekend but somehow I couldn't bring my self to do any significant work on the house or write an interesting blog. Hopefully this will all be settled in court soon, our solicitor here tells us it will be over in 5 minutes. But this is Kosovo, anything can happen, we shall wait and see.

Otherwise things here in Kosovo are fine, I'm still working with the water companies trying to make step by step some improvements, although often it is two steps forward then one back!

Finally I trust this message has found you well. All the best for your journey back to England and thank you for your continuing blog. It really is a good and valuable connection to the practice when one is literally in another dusty country! I'll keep you up-dated on the baby's development.

With all best wishes, in gassho



Chester crossed the freeway, three lanes of heavy trafic running north and south beside the monastery property, and by good luck and fortune was spotted by one of the monks. The young dog was helped through the freeway fencing and the rest is history. That was nearly nine years ago. The monk and Chester have enjoyed each others company ever since.

Groomed to perfection.

Looks good against green.

I've been a fan of Chester since his arrival and I must say he's still looking as good as the day he arrived. Now older of course, and much wiser too. His long coat reminds me of Dougal from Magic Roundabout. Past 'Roundabout' watchers may not agree.