Sunday, October 29, 2006

Kesa of the Buddha

A kesa drying on the line behind Edmonton Priory.

Photo taken early this year.

I don't find it easy to write about the Kesa because of the need to talk on several levels all at the same time. So I'll not try right at this moment as I'm off to make one, and that's a good few hours work ahead.

When Rev. Master Jiyu gave the first, five striped, brown kesa to a lay woman at Shasta Abbey it fell on me to show the recipient how to put it on and wear it, as well as take it off again. At a certain point she got a tad flustered about the whole thing. Out rolled from who knows where, "Well, what you are doing each time you put on the kesa is wrapping yourself in the Life of the Buddha's and Ancestors", "So you are wrapped in the Precepts, right"?

I've been a bit tardy around responding to comments these past days or is it weeks. However today I went back and left some. The dial-up speed here is 31.2 kbps and so I use what time I have in the day for making new postings rather than responding to comments. It is always good to see what you have to say though and will endeavour to respond when I can.

Now, off to the sewing room.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Herd Immunity

Each autumn I do some heart searching in connection with being vaccinated against flu. To have or not to have? And not having much information to go on, for or against, and not being keen on injections anyway, I opt out. But is that irresponsible? Is my not having the injection putting others at risk?

The other day I heard that the local doctor was coming out into our wild valley with a bag full of vaccine. Apparently he comes because there are enough of the community who gets vacinated to make a Herd immunity (community)! And presumably worth while for the doctor to make the journey. A heard immunity, by the way, occurs when the vaccination of the majority of the population (or herd) provides protection to un-vaccinated individuals. So I'm grateful for all those who make it possible for the rest of us to remain un-vaccinated, yet protected.

The other subject that has been before me recently is, now taking a deep breath, Psychoneuroimmunology. In a nut shell, this long word encapsulates the truth that mind and body are not separate. A truth that Buddhism teaches and proves true, in fact the discipline of Psychoneuro.......ology indicates that meditation really helps the immune system.

And for people facing cancer the above discipline means that meditation and similar activities can effect recovery, significantly. However, a big however, in Zen, meditation is complete in itself and not something one does to achieve or get anything, or get rid of anything.

Time to spare a thought for all those who are living with seriously compromised immune systems.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Growing Up

When you can...
Go where you don't want to go,
Do what you don't want to do, and
Help someone you don't want to help...
you become an adult.
Remembered from The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley.

I'm really pleased to have this quote from The Water Babies which a fellow monk reminded me about during a phone call this evening. Thanks Reverend, it's a good one to remember on basic practice, for any of us. Meister Eckhart has something to say on spiritual adulthood, if only I could find the quote....

And then there is this hearty refrain from way back when The Mamas and The Papas where singin'. Was that from the 1960's when many of us where not going to grow up, while thinking that we were!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bench Force Winds

It's that time of year on the moors when Autumn turns into Winter, over night. At the moment the wind is such that during the night it blew over a bench on an exposed lawn, making it, according to one of the monks, a Bench Force Wind. Apparently there is a Bench Force 3 wind when all three benches blow over!

Wind, like rain, has many subtle variations with suitable descriptive terms used on our weather reporting system in and around England. One being the Shipping forecast, which many a night I would listen to in Cornwall as the walls of my caravan breathed in and out alarmingly. Thankfully the walls of the buildings around here are feet thick and made of stone. The roof tiles on some of the older buildings are the size of paving stones, almost.

Anyway the wind I like most, or rather it's description, is 'impedes progress'. And, until one has had ones progress impeded by wind it is difficult to appreciate what this means. Watch out for flying children and small animals I'd say!

CPRE, The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England announced in a recent news release that Northumberland, this county, followed by it's neighbour Cumbra have been found to be the most tranquil places in England. There were some obvious criteria for the tranquility assessment; bird song, the sound of running water, the absence of traffic noise, rural views, number of people around.

While all the conducive conditions exist here for meditation and reflection they are not essential. In fact any one can sit still, anywhere, any time. It's a choice, which becomes easier to make with frequent practice. Let the winds blow!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Cause to Pause

I came across a blog written by a platoon leader in Mosul, Iraq. He's 23 years old. The following is from a recent post where he talks to his fellow countrymen, imploring them and all of us to consider our thoughts before speaking. He writes thus:

The moral of my men has a direct impact on whether they will live or die each day. I choose to live and so does everyone here. Despite this desire, demoralizing conditions do great harm, in regards to keeping my men safe. These conditions lead to complacency, which will, at one point, lead to another tragic event that I don't want repeated. In summary, I implore you, as a collective group, to consider your thoughts before you speak and understand that your comments have a lasting effect on real people that fight this war on a daily basis.

This certainly has given me cause to pause before speaking my thoughts. That's my thoughts about anything. And to reflect on compassion too, about there being no place, person, situation, country etc. that compassion cannot reach...if one opens to that possibility.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Writing Information

Well, that's it! Seven pages of text typed, re-typed, edited, deleted, *wondered about, re-formatted, edited and re-edited again. There was a brief reply after I sent the document. "Got it"! Now I await a further response.

While looking for inspiration for a posting I came across a site that linked writing to thinking to learning more easily. I'm all for that, however what was a little worrying was that it came from the Artificial Intelligence Center. Just what IS that?

Misconceptions about writing
Myth: Writing is mainly about poetry and fiction.

Fact: That would be like saying exercise is mainly about ballet dancing!

Most of the writing in the world is for information.
It's often done by people who don't even like poetry and fiction.

Well, I've certainly been writing information these past weeks. It's been a sort of a memory dump of the past ten years experience of fulfilling my monastic responsibility. And there is more to fall out of my memory banks, but that will have to be on another day.

*Wondered ='s 'doubtful speculation' also 'be amazed at'.

How about the wonder of autumn in all of its glory around these parts in Englands Last Wilderness? Wonder Full.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wanderin' Star

Over in Cyprus, on a Mediterranean beach two dogs follow a lone blogger artist. One dog is lame and the other is both deaf and lacks a sense of smell. And those dogs link back to Odin the Wanderer, read on...

Thought is short and memory long. Odin was worshipped by the Norsemen (Vikings) as the Allfather. This religion died out over a thousand years ago leaving Odin to wander through the legendary "fading" until the final battle, Ragnarok. The final showdown between good and evil.
From Thole Man

I've always been attracted to wanderin'. The only vinyl record I ever owned was Lee Marvin singing (as only he can), "I was born under a wanderin' star" from Paint Your Wagon (1969). Even then I thought is was my song. And if I remember rightly on the B side was a young Clint Eastward drawling, I talk to the stars but they don't listen to me.

This evening, walking back to my room after meditation, the big dipper (or the plough) was hanging huge and high in the night sky. What an incredible place this is.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bright Shining

The cremated remains of a congregation member, who died back in May, were buried during a ceremony this afternoon. Just a small box placed in the pre dug hole, then filled in with earth.
Afterwards I sat on a bench in the sun, waiting for relatives to return from the cemetery. Then I heard myself speak aloud...

Jewel Bright,
Shining like the stars.
...that was all.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake in each moment, the effort to overcome laziness and defilement, the effort to make each activity of our day meditation".
Kohn, Michael H.; tr. The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen. Boston: Shambhala, 1991

A number of years ago an elderly, deaf, Dominican monastic would come and stay with us and join in the monastery schedule. He was a gracious and quite spoken man and he would tell us stories.

On one visit he told us about his new hearing aid. One day, soon after he had his hearing aid, he was walking past the refractory. With his new device switched on he was shocked to hear the brethren apparently throwing the cutlery at the tables! Of course they weren't and neither are the people here on retreat, however it does sounds like that.

Every now and then there needs to be a remind to the gathered guests to pay attention to the noise level in the dining room. Invariably, after such an announcement, what happens is people try very hard to handle their cutlery and bowls quietly and there are really loud crashes too, as a plate or knife escapes somebody's grasp.

Sometimes the harder you try the worse things become, probably because the trying is coloured by anxiety and fear. At least the intention is good though. Some where it is said that Right Effort is the effort it takes for the Buddha to raise his foot. Which is rather different to the straining associated with 'efforting'.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The One Precept

By coincidence the same part of Zen Master Dogen's teaching from the Shobogenzo, in the chapter Genjo-koan (The Problem of Everyday Life), has come before me several times recently in a couple of books I'm dipping into. Here is the particular section:

"To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever".
Taken from Wikipedia

The matter of studying the self, of becoming thoroughly familiar with the self, is at the core of Buddhist teaching and fundamental to Zen Master Dogen's teaching and instructions on meditation. The study mentioned in the quote does not result in understanding or knowledge in the normal way of thinking about study. Just sitting, when sitting, walking, lying down... or 'when ever', is to study oneself. Great! Simple, yet not easy.

Just in case there is any misunderstanding, studying the self is not to become self obsessed or self absorbed, that's deliberately thinking about the self. One of the books I have beside me is, The Art of Just Sitting edited by John Daido Loori. Here is a review of the book.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

There and Back Again.

Coffee with a view.

Early morning at Westmorland motorway Services.

This morning I traveled south from Throssel with Iain who, along with his wife, hosted me while I was in Japan last spring. We stopped at the services for a brisk breakfast before going on to a small gathering of lay sangha members in a Quaker Meeting House near Lancaster. The sun was working it's magic behind the clouds

If you are ever traveling on the M6 motorway going either north or south it is well worth visiting Westmorland motorway Services. It is the only independently run services in Britain and it's a happy place filled with positive staff.

Now, twelve hours after leaving 'Englands Last Wilderness' I'm back again. Good to go and good to return.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Beating Karma?

I rarely go and look at my mail accounts however to-day I logged in and this promotion came shooting across the screen, Can you Beat Karma? Karma the Goat, trimmed out in purple, running through my screen certainly got my attention. As you will see if you follow the link there are a few weeks mapped out with good things to do, presumably so one can 'beat karma'. It's a promotion, it's commercial and it's a bit of fun too. And here is a bit more fun...

For anybody who has bumped into the TV series My Name is Earl you will know that Earl is on a mission to right wrongs after he discovered the concept of karma. A simplified version for sure however it does seem he understands that intention, in his case bad intention, leads to bad things happening.

Here's how Earl started on the upward path:
Earl (Jason Lee, "Almost Famous," "Chasing Amy") has taken one too many wrong turns on the highway of life. However, a twist of fate turns his life into a tailspin of life-renewing events. Earl wins a small lottery, and, after an epiphany, he is determined to transform his good fortune into a life-changing event as he sets out to right all the wrongs from his past.
Before Earl can begin his journey, his inevitable attraction to misfortune surfaces once again. Seconds after winning the lottery, he is hit by a car and while unconscious; the winning lottery ticket blows away.

While in the hospital, Earl watches "Last Call with Carson Daly" where Carson says that his success is a direct result of doing good things for other people. It is at that moment Earl discovers karma- and in hope of a better life, he sets out to correct every bad thing he's ever done starting with a grade school geek, Kenny (guest star, Gregg Binkley), who Earl used to pick on.

Earl's wrote a long list of bad things he has done in his life and in each episode Earl, somewhat assisted by his friends, deals with one of the wrongs by trying to make amends.

So karma is very much in the popular culture. Karma means action by the way, and the reason I was looking at my Yahoo account is directly related to encouraging a good friend in the Sangha to take an action. Specifically, since she is splitting up with her partner, to get her own email address since they obviously will not be sharing the same address, email or otherwise. Yahoo seemed to be a good option.

I wonder if one of the items on Earl's list is, 'read Joy's email'. Just a thought.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The 84th Problem

My problem this evening is not being able to come up with anything to write about...or perhaps it's that there are so many things to write about it's hard to decide where to start.

Anyway, here is an article with teachings from the Buddha, on having problems.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Life Line

I'm living in England's Last Wilderness. In the article you will see a photograph, not of the West Allen Valley where the monastery is however the country is similar and basically just over the hill from here. Our valley is slap in the middle of the area described. The author circled but did not traveled down 'our valley', few people from outside of the area travel down 'our road'.

'If not quite virgin country - man has left his mark here - this is as close as England comes to untrammeled territory.' That's until the BT men came this morning in their big trucks and started to pull up the telephone poles on the 'bottom road'. Lots of loud shouting in an otherwise silent valley save for sounds of cows, sheep and birds. Oh, and the sounds of the monasteries bells and the wooden time block.

It's good news though. I asked one of the men about the state of the phone cables, 'All underground now'. 'What's our chances of getting Broadband'? 'Good, no problems...except' pointing to one of the remaining poles, 'you're on a party line, see that dext up there'? (I think he said 'dext', it was a technical term anyway.) 'Can't get Broadband, 'cos it keeps dropping the line. But there are enough lines in that cable to give you your own line'. Invaluable words from the all knowing men on the ground.

The modern world of fast internet connections are inching their way into our wilderness. For a number of people living in isolated circumstances, I'd imagine this is a life line.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Saturday, October 07, 2006

An Appropriate Response

I've been keeping in mind an unborn child, and the woman who is carrying it. And the father too. When the child is eventually born into this world it will lead to death, the child's death. Although the unborn child's heart is beating now it will not be able to sustain life outside of the mothers body. This is a medical matter and the inevitable outcome is outside of anybodies control.

Yesterday I made two tiny white knots, knots of eternity, which will become part of a token kesa. That will be placed around the neck of the dead infant during a Funeral Ceremony. The token kesa represents the Buddhist Precepts, Buddhahood.

In the photographs you see a statue of Jiso with very many tiny white Jiso's with red bibs on. The pictures was taken last year in Japan. Each little Jiso is a memorial for a baby or infant that didn't live long in this world. As you can see there are offerings that children would like.

During the war, in an air raid in London, my pregnant mother jumped out of a window to save herself and a heavy man landed on top of her. The fetus aborted. In those days mothers were not permitted to see the dead fetus, perhaps it was thought 'better' for the mother not to see. My mother wanted to see, she couldn't and that was a great grief for her. A few years latter I came along into her life.

So, the presence of all those little Jiso statues are a way to see, recognize and accept a death. Any woman who has had life growing in her and that life end, knows the utter devastating grief that is involved. The scene I am standing before in the first picture I remember well. It was a field of Compassion made manifest. Compassion is the appropriate response.

Do spare a thought for the situations described and for all such life dramas playing themselves out within Eternal Life.

Friday, October 06, 2006

This and That

Before the week is out I'll have to mention that it is Red Squirrel Week. They are rare however here in our valley in Northumberland there is a small enclave of them. They are jumping about the trees in the monastery grounds apparently. Learn more about Red Squirrels here.

Oh, and just for fun, here is a link to something a bit different. I think the idea is to take it all with a pinch of salt.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Little Big Things

A long time friend in the Dharma wrote me recently. She wrote about the many surgeries on her legs and hips she has undergone, starting in 2004. She also wrote about the surgeries yet to come and about her present need for assistance to get about at all. My backpack days are defiantly history, she says. Perhaps you could come over to mainland Europe and visit us? Her message certainly put my little thoughts of wanting to put traveling behind me into perspective. I’d not thought of traveling being an offering to those who are not as mobile as I am able to be. Reminders to not become stuck in ones limiting thoughts and ways come in small packages, such as a friendly email like this one. Thank you.

Monks carry the Alms bowl, symbolic of practice generally. Of giving and receiving unconditionally all that passes through it, which includes difficult letters, emails that are a shout and phone calls which are wet with tears. Oh, and emails telling of the joy of training and ones that inspire and encourage too.

We talk about alms, both material and spiritual, having boundless merit, and that self and other benefit from making offerings. At first sight, encountering monks on an Alms Round for example, one could see this exchange as, the monks are fed by the householders and the monks offer spiritual blessings and Buddhist teachings. There is much more going on though, both on the round and in the life of pure practice. In the ultimate sense there is no one who gives or receives since they are one seamless movement. There is simply a field of merit open handedly benefiting beings. In the relative world, the one we live in, we can get caught up in our little thought and ways, of measurement and evaluation, of right and wrong.

Out on the Alms Round in Mt. Shasta a month ago I was struggling physically. We had been instructed to carry the bowl on the left side but somehow I was unconsciously trying to carry it on my right side. Half way round having walked already for one hour, I realized I was bending myself out of shape. It is simply not possible to carry something on both sides at the same time, so I paid attention and quickly my back stopped hurting. Now, which is the correct side? The left, the receptive side or the right, the giving side and does it actually matter? Today I ventured into our library to ask a question of our truly inspirational Librarian. (He is probably the only monk of our Order who reads this blog too.) While in the library I flicked through a periodical, as one does. And there was a photograph of a venerable Theravada monk carrying his bowl, on the right side!

My little mind is glad it discovered the traditional way to carry the Theravada Alms bowl. Of course the teaching of the walking of the Alms Round is that it is an offering, an extending of the field of merit of pure practice to all beings. At the end of the message, referring to this blog, my friend and spiritual benefactress said: Thank you for sharing the Little Big Things of your training and daily life! The teaching of the Alms bowl is one of those Little Big Things in terms of Buddhist teachings within our tradition. That’s the fathomless and finite coming together.

Yep, that’s the heart of it. Pure practice and daily-life are not separate practices.

BTW: The alms bowl that is given at monks ordination in our Soto Zen tradition is much smaller than the Theravada ones and are held directly in front when walking or standing.