Thursday, November 30, 2006

Meditation Retreat

December 31st 2006. There was a photograph of an altar set up for the Buddha's Enlightenment ceremony here. Unfortunately I failed to get permission from the photographer to publish it so with regret, and apologies all round, I have removed the picture.

On Sunday we will be celebrating the ceremony of the Buddha's Enlightenment. Traditionally this is marked on December 8th however we do the ceremony on the nearest Sunday so that guests can come and join in.

It is usual at this time of year for us to have an intensive meditation retreat for the monastic community. And that's just what we will being doing quite soon. So posting to this blog are likely to be sporadic as I turn my attention towards preparing for the retreat. It is a rare and precious opportunity and I'm grateful to be able to be doing this.

It is good for anybody to spend some time with a more concentrated focus on formal meditation and I hope those of you who meditate will make the time to sit a bit more too during the next few weeks.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Means of Identification

Dunking it, what ever it is, in bleach is not always the best solution. Today I did dunk some stained fabric in a bleach solution, so far so good. That scrap and I started life together some 25 years ago as one of several cloths that go with a set of formal eating bowls, used during monastic retreats.

It just so happens 'Bleach fact sheet' is the first item listed under general textile care in an archival posting on Rebecca's Pocket, which I was very glad to have found again this evening. Here's the other headings in this treasure trove posting on caring for domestic linen; stain removal guides, miscellaneous, vintage textiles, textile conservation, caring for linen and vintage linen.

My bowl set linens have remained with me all these years probably because I have name tapes sewn on them. Such is community living. This evening I started the long project of sewing tapes onto all of my clothes. They are not required, however I love my clothes well enough to go to the trouble. After all one sock looks much the same as another, unless it has a name! There will be no problem finding out who I am should I be found unconcious with no means of identification on me. Sad thought, however such things do happen.

Here is where to buy woven name tapes which will last longer than the items they're sewn to. I'm still using a couple that belonged to my paternal grandmother. Bless her.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Language On The Line

Back in the early days of weblogs, in the mid to late 1990's, postings were written with html coding, all done 'by hand' as I see that referred to. Blogging, seems to me, was a craft and the authors took pride in their hand coding, time consuming as it must have been. Now we have the ability to tap tap away and the coding just happens behind the scenes. So I thought to take a pause to reflect on our weblogging ancestors and extend some gratitude towards those who pioneered this liberating form. One in particular comes to mind.

Rebecca Blood's on line archive goes back to 1999 and her weblog, Rebecca's Pocket is still being updated regularly. One of the first books I bought was The Weblog Handbook, which she wrote in 2002. There is a wealth of practical information and guidance as well as clear and compassionate instruction on just how to behave on line. She talks about right speech in such a way that one can go into the seeming jungle confident to behave with integrity, and not sell out to popularity and loose ones sitting place.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Bins to the Rescue

For days we have been anticipating the arrival of our new rubbish bins. We've speculated on the size, the number and the all important, when will they arrive? The mileage we collectively and individually got out of the subject of our new bins over the past week(s) has been impressive! And here they are, they arrived to-day.

Now we can discuss, in fine detail, just what we can, and cannot, put in the grey recycling bins. Yes, grey for recycling and green for the rubbish. We have already been reminded that this is counter intuitive.

Yes, it is not easy to find things to talk about that don't lead to Preceptual difficulties. The new bins have been gratefully received, on several counts. Practicing right speech while not becoming tiresome or repetitive can be quite a test, where ever one lives.

Writing a blog without becoming tiresome or repetitive or just plain boring is a huge test. Especially when sharpening ones opinions is not part of ones daily practice.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Bow to The Inside Smile

This image arrived in my email to-day. What struck me was the practice of changing the flowers/leaves/plants/branches that accompany the statue to reflect the changing of the seasons. This is usual practice with an altar. The symbolism of the flowers, or what ever is appropriate, is....let's see now. I can use different words each time I explain symbolism, here's what I have to say this evening.

The flowers are the offering up of the vibrant life of practice. That's the blossoming of, ever changing and ever renewing, practice. So it makes sense that the altar is ever changing too. The flowers are the most obvious item to rotate however there are other parts of the set up that can be changed too. In our tradition, strictly speaking, the flowers go to the left of the statue, the candle on the right. And the set up below works in the situation within the home, perfect just as it is.

Hi Rev. Mugo

Thought I might share...this is the Hotei who sits on the shelf in our kitchen above the herbs and spices. I really enjoy cooking and to come into the kitchen and see the statue before beginning to make a meal really adds that deep happiness that is not the opposite of sadness but simply is. Does that make sense? He has had autumn leaves around him since September and soon he'll have evergreens for the winter season.

All the best

In a real way the altar can be an expression of, a focus and a symbol of, training. The altar is a place one goes to bow before. What is it that bows? Is the bow to something outside or is it a bow to the inside smile?

Many thanks for sending in this photo, much appreciated.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Smile Inside

Here is Hotei. The Chinese character on his chest reads, 'Happy'. The happiness that is being shown here is not something that needs sadness to contrast it against. No, this is an exuberance that springs up of itself. One sees this in children and sometimes in the elderly. And in the middle years perhaps joy is, more often than not, pinned to external things. However, not always.

Can one not fail to smile inside at what is being shown here?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Look Up!

There must be millions of songs about loneliness, depression and despair. Just thinking about loneliness brings up a couple of phrases, when you're feelin' sad and lonely, da de da de da, I'll be there I'll BE there... And then there is that line, my friends don't get rowdy any more. That's from country singer Willie Nelson, I think. Yes, All the lonely people, where do they all come from?. The Beatles right? And more importantly, where do they all go too?

I've been writing to somebody who is desperately alone, fearing for her long term survival. It's been a steady downward slope to drugs and alcohol to relieve the wrap-around pain. Social isolation and physical neglect are all part of the on going picture. What is to be done? How can somebody help themselves, let alone their fast dissolving friends and family. What can they do? What can anybody do?

Somebody told me the other day of a psychiatrist who, instead of prescribing drugs to a selected group of patients, sent them off with a task. And it seemed a weird task too, on the face of it.

For two weeks the patients were ask to keep on returning there gaze to roof tops, tops of trees, the horizon, the sky. In fact anywhere that was up, as against down. Obviously we hope they didn't do this while crossing the road or on a busy pavement, or while driving. The results were impressive, very many of the people looking up, for just two weeks, did not need the professional services of the psychiatrist any more. It is important to note though, that these people were already working with a psychiatrist and certain levels of mental distress do need informed help and guidance.

Moods fluctuate and daily life incidents can bring about an inner world which is dark and devoid of the necessary energy to find a way out. So next time you notice your eyeballs dragging along the ground, raise them up. Works for me.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Keyboard Cleaning

Here is part of an email I received a few days ago. It's a window on one womans family life and her efforts to do as she feels right. In this case, doing the right thing by a computer keyboard.

So, on October 21 my son and 25 (28?) of his “closest” friends had a great party. Aside from getting the house in order both before and after, no small task in itself, the biggest issue for me afterwards was that someone had spilt some pop on the computer key board. Although it was really a very small spill it was sufficient to incapacitate the letters j, k, m and n. This made computer emailing virtually impossible. Even searching the internet was difficult as you never could be sure what the computer was going to receive in the way of a typed message.

It was two weeks before I had enough time to clean the keyboard which I did amidst repeated calls to “Throw it out! Get a new one!” The family was suitably impressed when after two hours of careful cleaning I presented a keyboard that they all agreed was just like new. Oh the miracles of old fashioned cleaning – an old art in danger of being lost if my family is any indication.

Alternatively, you can always clean your keyboard in the dishwasher, if you have one! Take care.

Water and Sky Meet

Sky and Water Meet in the Adaman Sea
Photograph by Bradley Brechin

There is a blessing verse we use which starts: We live in the world as if in the sky. I was told once that it would be more accurate to say. We live in the world AND in the sky. This photograph speaks of the coming together of earth and sky (Absolute and Relative Truth), or in this case water and sky.

This photograph is published with permission and is part of a Flickr set.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Laughing Buddha

Most of the people who came for retreat have gone, the rain is chucking it down and the wind is wathering (as in Wathering Heights).

The monastery was recently given a collection of small Hotei statues and I adopted the majority, with a view to giving them away. Two went with one person to Newcastle and two more will be going to Malaysia tomorrow, I know they will all have good homes. In the East when people have statues they no long want they take them to the temple and it is understood that visitors can choose one and take it home. There is no price you can put on a Buddha statue.

Here is an extract from a letter I received after giving a talk on Hotei a couple of years ago.

Dear Rev. Mugo,
Your talk touched a spot for me that I had been tangling with for some time. I think I need to take more notice of what Hotei teaches, he sounds like my sort of guy. Do you remember sending me a bookmark? Well I put it on my shelf with my collection of little treasures, shells, stones, seedpods etc along with a small statue of Hotei stretching his arms upwards. The words you wrote read, "may you be well and happy". I have looked at those words and statue many, many times when I have been feeling low, almost with despair and disbelief. When I'd repeated the words in the Litany of the Great Compassionate One "a joy springs up in me" I had practically choked.

Last night I felt quite emotional for various reasons but something leapt in me, that sounds a rather superior way of describing a sort of jerking, yawning and stretching that was yelling YES YES. Looking at Hotei this morning really made me smile from ear to ear and I felt that I had to share this with you and to wish you joy.

In gassho,

I have a feeling that one of the monks, not a million miles away, will have the statue I'm thinking of and I'll take a photograph and post it.

The merit of this posting is offered to a good friend of the Order who has given of herself unstintingly and who is facing serious health problems at the moment. May you be well and happy.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Silence. SILENCE! shouts the teacher at the excited throng, Silence I say!...OK, hands on heads...If this chatter doesn't stop, you'll all be kept in after school.

That was the dreaded class discipline in my first school. Being quiet was a punishment for talking, laughing, chatting. A punishment for being a full of energy child with not enough to do. Of course we found every opportunity to defy teacher, crawling under the desks after imaginary dropped pencils and the like.

We have an introductory retreat going on this week-end which I'm helping with. We make announcements: Please maintain a contemplative atmosphere? Please keep talking to a minimum? Please maintain silence from now until after morning service? Since strictly enforced silence only leads to furtive chats in corridors and whispering in corners we ask for peoples cooperation and generally that works, but not completely. After all it's not easy, at first, to be around others and not talk to them, for a whole week-end.

I sat down beside a chap this morning, he appeared a bit stressed. How's it going? Uwrrr, this not talking is getting to me, can't handle it. Sitting eating breakfast and not talking, I feel like I am the last person on earth! By the last meal of the day he had turned a major corner on eating in silence. Good for him for persevering*.

Persevere: Quietly and steadily persevering especially in detail or exactness.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Living Before Dying

As I was about to recycle this envelope the stamp caught my eye. Now here’s an image of an older woman that does not attempt at disguise the fact, in my view, a good thing. People grow old and they look old and there is nobility in that, even when close to death or seriously ill. Why cover over the wrinkly neck and the wispy white hair? She looks out at us in her wide eyed way. What has shaped her life? What has she shaped in her life? Well, it turns out she was another remarkable woman pioneer, in the field of hospice care for the terminally ill.

An Obituary for Dame Cicely Saunders, July 2005.
St Christopher's hospice, which was founded in 1967 by Dame Cicely Saunders, who has died aged 87, is a beacon for the supposedly terminally ill and their families. Situated in the London suburb of Sydenham, it led to the founding of hospices around the world employing her principles.
By using drugs scientifically to manage pain, and by allowing relatives to spend a great deal of time with her patients, Saunders altered the bleak concept of death for thousands of people. To her, dying was part of life; her creed was Living Before Dying. Read more….

Over in Canada a woman is getting ready to die. Here are some reflections on visiting her as well as reflections on life and death.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Three Blames

I did a load of laundry this afternoon in a bit of a rush and accidentally left a tissue in my laundry. It is truly sickening to open the machine door and see ones dark brown robe flecked with soggy white tissue.

The silent conversation went something like: 'Who left a tissue in the machine'? Then, 'this is a horrible situation, it will take a long time to make this wearable again'. And latter remembering the tissue I'd tucked in a tee shirt sleeve, 'Oh, it was me! We have probably all done this at one time or another, ay? It's socks and sweaters that suffer most, and brown robes in my case.

When something like this happens I tend to move quickly to being ever so grateful it was my laundry that got wrecked and not somebody else's. Being on the sharp end of blame can be distressing, be it blaming oneself, blaming somebody else or simply blaming the situation for ones current unhappiness.

In one of our writings there is a phrase which goes something like, 'by accident the course of karma was started'. I'd read this every day and gradually I noticed how angry I was becoming. 'Just who was it who started the course of karma'. 'How could somebody make such a stupid mistake!' How very personally one can take life!

Now I'm off to deal with my robe...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Ananda Bodhi Tree

When the Buddha was absent from Jetavana devotees naturally missed him, so Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant, asked of the Buddha what in his absence might be reverenced and in answer the Buddha mentioned bodily relics, things reminiscent of him and things that he had used, in particular the great Bodhi Tree under which he had attained Enlightenment. Ananda then had a seed of the Bodhi Tree brought to Jetavana and planted so that it would be, as the Buddha himself said, as if the Buddha were constantly present at Jetavana. To this very day, that tree is known as the Ananda Bodhi Tree. Text borrowed from here.

It is not easy to grow one of these trees, especially from seed. However one brave person is growing one in Germany. Good fortune with the fledgling tree, as you say, it's probably related to the one the Buddha sat under. And should it get sick, they are prone to disease when grown indoors, here is the place to find out what to do.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cape Disappointment

Received an email with news from an Edmonton Priory member driving the seven hours from Edmonton to Fort Saint John in October..."Going up the sky was cloudy with what appeared to be the beginnings of a storm. The interplay of light and dark and refracted color made the sky appear positively biblical. " This photo was taken closer to home, near Lancaster. Thanks to the reader who sent the file this afternoon. Very uplifting photograph, especially helpful since I'm traveling, briefly, through cape disappointment. It happens.

Of course Cape Disappointment is an actual place at the mouth of the great Columbia River. I'm not sure why Lewis and Clark named it thus, perhaps because they were expecting something and when they got to the end of the trail, it wasn't there. Expectations can lead to disappointment, for sure.

Monday, November 13, 2006


I have switched on the facility that enables comments to be moderated. What this means in practice is your comments will not appear immediately you post them, as they have done in the past.

It would be a rare comment that I would not publish and I'm sad that the need for me to moderate them has arrived.

So be it.

Bright Lady

The other day while cruising through one of our vestibules I bumped into this crew of geriatric vacuum cleaners waiting to be sent off for recycling. They had been accumulating under the back stairs apparently. One by one they got to the state when no more life could be coaxed from them and so, obviously, they were not able to do any more work.

I happen to think there is something rather fine about the way we keep our electrical equipment going for as long as we do. This is because of thrift considerations of course, and also about just taking care of things. Just like we take care of people when they break or are wearing out.

This afternoon I visited an elderly woman. In an attempt to stop her books and many belongings from sliding onto the floor I retrieved an old fashioned address metal holder from the bottom of the pile. It was obviously the cause of the precarious arrangement. Untrapped, it sprang open! 'Oh, I keep it there because it won't close any more'. Some things just keep on having a life don't they, just like this bright lady.

Can we ever do enough to honour and respect the wise ones, who wear out slowly and in the process teach so much?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Sick Cyclamen

Here is an extract from an email I just received from a friend in the Dharma.

The office cyclamen has been ailing for months. We though it was iron deficiency so we treated it for that and the leaves still yellowed. I finally figured out it was probably a disease and upon microscopic observation, I thought I detected a white something (fungus?) at the base of the stem so went on online and came up with probable diagnosis. I was so struck by the little sentence below that I thought to send it to you.
Take care.
It's not the load that breaks you down
- it's the way you carry it.

Here is the offertory sung at the end of the Remembrance Day ceremony :

We offer the merits of the recitation of these Scriptures and Invocations
for all those who have suffered as a consequence of war.
May all relinquish hatred and violence and realise the Truth.

So we remember everybody because on one level or another we all suffer as a consequence of war. And the need to relinquish hatred, on one level or another, is universal too.

The wind is rattling my door tonight, great gusts of air thrash around the stone buildings. My mind is drawn to those less fortunate.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Remembering is the hard part.

Down Under, in Australia, there is an ER Nurse who I like to visit when I need a certain kinda lift. Here is (part of) what he has to say about what to do when a resuscitation goes bad.

Slow speed: Somewhere between rushing around like a headless chook and dropping into 'frozen in the headlights' inertia, is a zone of slow speed where tasks are performed with an easy fluidity. Once you have centered yourself and focused your breathing for a moment it is pretty easy to drop into this niche. And with some slow speed applied to the one thing, you will begin to accomplish a lot quickly.

When anything goes bad, or evenly mildly out of hand, most of what is listed in this article, 'in the zone' will come in handy. Remembering to do it is the hard part.

Remember, tomorrow is Remembrance Day.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Oh Valiant Hearts

For those who care, who are the carers of those who need caring for, nine bows of gratitude.
For the nurse who was punched to-day, by a patient suffering from dementia, Bows.
For the elderly man with terminal cancer who cared for his wife until the time now come, to be cared for. Valiant man!

Nine bows to all those who, alone or with others, face the task of helping another to get through another day, and another day and another and another...the unrelenting another day. I've been there and those days have been privileged days. Perhaps those days never end.

In many ways giving is easy receiving care, not so easy. I hope I have the good grace and fortitude to be cared for, should that time ever come.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Body of the Buddha

The weekend came and went as did very many guests. One person described the gathering on Sunday as a huge block of gratitude. We had gathered together to celebrate the tenth anniversary memorial for Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett and these occasions are indeed an opportunity to express gratitude and thereby circulate spiritual merit. That's to offer the power of the 'good', that flows from selflessly giving, which liberates beings including oneself.

At the end of the ceremony there is an offertory giving expression to the gratitude we share for our Founders life and work and our collective wish to offer the merit of the gathering to all beings. The offertory opened with: The Dharma Body of the Buddha cannot be seen so long as one is within duality for it is beyond birth and death, filling all things.

The fact that all is of one body, the Dharma Body of the Buddha, has become of special significants recently. There are quite a few people of my acquaintance who are dealing with cancer at the moment. Every situation has its life drama and hard decisions surrounding it. For example I've been talking with a woman whose relatively young daughter is due to have surgery in just over a week’s time. The mother knows it will be a strain on her health to be in the hospital during the surgery. Even so she will more than likely be there close by, sitting still and offering merit.

Although I don't as far as I know have cancer, I'm non the less dealing with it. How could it be otherwise?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The View

The view from here to over there, towards Scotland.

Much activity this week in preparation for a lot of visitors coming to the monastery, some monastic brothers and sisters will be coming as well as a whole host of lay practitioners. People have started to arrive already.

Relatives and friends coming to visit. Memories of my parents and relatives coming here, of my aunt standing in the middle of the ceremony hall and announcing in a loud plumby voice, "I do like a BIG room". Perhaps she was remembering the large houses she had lived in as a 'gal' and had aspired to return to for most of her life, but never did. That large room will be filled on Sunday to celebrate the tenth anniversary memorial for my Master, Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett.
I was always anxious around my parents visiting, even as early as school sports days at primary school. "PLEASE don't come". Now I hear children actually want there parents to come to such events! Here is a chap talking about the parental visit you hardly ever imagine will happen, but does.

Anyway, we are in full preparation mode and once again I find myself with days filled with activity. The kesa now made, onwards to formatting photograph for a notice board. I'll blog again when time permits.