Wednesday, February 28, 2007

High Over Hartside

Looking towards Galloway and Gretna Green, South West Scotland famous for 'anvil weddings' . Today, Gretna Green remains one of the most popular wedding venues in the world, and thousands of couples still come from all over the world to be married 'over the anvil' at Gretna Green.

West with the mountains of the Lake District on the horizon.

An angry sky pointing towards the north with traffic reaching the summit from Melmerby. There is a sign reminding drivers of the recent 70 fatalities on this hairpin bend infested crossing of the backbone of England. Cumbria Police have a great description of this part of the road.

Note the web cam mounted on a pole. Too bad the camera is still out of order however the map gives some orientation as to where Hartside Summit is.



Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Confused at a Higher Level

Enrico Ferni, the famous atomic physicist, was once giving a lecture on the principles of quantum physics to a lay audience. At the end, he was keen to know how his lecture had gone and whether it had been simple enough to be understood. He collared a student as he was leaving, and asked him.

The student, slightly embarrassed, is said to have replied, 'Professor Ferni, to be honest, after our lecture, I'm confused. But I'm confused at a higher level'!

Many thanks to Paul who sent me this story on a card some years ago.

Monday, February 26, 2007

There and Back Again

What remains after the chairs have been put away, the cups washed, lights switched off and the door locked? Do the words linger on? I've been pondering, as I do quite often, both the words offered during a talk on Buddhist practice and what the listeners carry away with them afterwards. Knowing for myself that I rarely remember strings of words spoken during a Dharma talk I imagine that must be the same for others.

Last afternoon as we were preparing to leave the Friends Meeting House in Lancaster after our mini retreat somebody came to me to say thank you and good by. He indicated good-naturedly that he would probably not remember the details of what I talked about, and I understood completely. Later a woman came to thank me for my sense of humour. Is that what she will remember I wonder? Yet another person said maybe what I said was a bit too 'advanced' for some since I seemed to be suggesting people take a leap from the known to the unknown. Perhaps she will remember that for herself, and leap!

All I can say now that it was good to go, and good to be back.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Buddha's Parinirvana

The Buddha's death is termed Parinirvana and is celebrated in a variety of ways around the world at about this time of year. This evening was our time to remember the Buddha's Death.

I'd not seen a stupa as a symbol of the Buddha's death and if you keep going back on this site you will find The Great Stupa at Amaravati (which) was a large Buddhist monument built in south-eastern India between the second century B.C. and the third century A.D. It was a centre for religious activity and worship for hundreds of years.

The Buddha died in Kushinigar By this account it was not a huge place: Then Ananda said to the Lord: "Lord, do not pass away into final Nirvana in this wattle-and-daub town, this jungle town, this town in the woods."

That's enough education for to-night. I'm off in the morning to Lancaster which is a short hop skip and a jump over the Pennines and down the M6 Motorway. Just a one and a half hour journey. There is to be a half day retreat at the Friends Meeting House.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Refurbished Attitude


In this world there are people who think to check the wiring of the plug before throwing a lifeless vacuum cleaner away. They will take a machine apart, put it back together and it will work again. They do not complain or make a big fuss when the brushes or bearings need replacing. No, they go and find another identical appliance in a skip down a side street, and take it home to their workshop. This person will strip it down for parts and enjoy every moment. They derive pride and pleasure in getting an old machine back on it's feet again, when others like me with less faith, and little knowledge, would have given it up for dead.

An interest can become a full time occupation, a passion that becomes a way of life and a way to make a living too. Who could ask for more? So people with such a passion open shops selling electrical appliances and offer a repair service for old machines. Where ever they find themselves in life, at work, at home, working within organizations - religious organizations, they end up mending things. But first their talents need to be discovered.

I'm glad to say I made such a discovery, completely by accident, within our midst in the monastery. Dave (not his real name) volunteered his story over a broken Junior Hoover 1334 upright vacuum cleaner on Monday last. The Junior Hoover is mended now, it was just faulty wiring in the plug and the fuse had fallen out. Dave has agreed to teach me all he knows about vacuum clearner maintenance and repair.

Know-how needs to be passed on, and people passionate about vacuum cleaners like to share their knowledge and passion with others. From now on I'll be regarding old machines with a whole lot more respect, and regarding older people with a refurbished attitude.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Total Lunar Eclipse

Take care, there will be a total lunar eclipse on March 3rd. Depending on where you are on earth, you may be able to see a red glowing moon... Thanks to Sujatin for this link.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

English as She is Wrote

High up on the moors walking with one of the monks on Sunday afternoon we found ourselves pondering language and expression and the way we do that in unique ways. Good writing, he said, is doing what language is supposed to do, which is to get your point across, clearly and unambiguously. Inwardly I noticed a wince of recognition at my imprecise use of language. And then the conversation turned to other things and we walked on down off the moors, through the farm where the second round of foot and mouth disease was discovered in 2001.

I'll remember next time we walk to take a note pad. As it was I jotted down a few references when we got back. This monk is a walking talking mine of information. The only book reference was John Humphrys of the Today programme who rails against sloppy use of words and back in 2004 wrote Lost for Words:The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language. Sounds promising. Now I see he has produced another book, Beyond Words: How Language Reveals the Way We Live Now. Sounds equally promising.

How glad I am to have a computer back in working order again. Last evening normal service was interrupted and was resumed with some difficulty, and a whole lot of patience.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Writing Rewarded

Yep, it's addictive. Take a look, but set a timer or you could be glued to the pink screen for hours. I'm glad to see the heart of the blogger is not moved, even when fame and fortune come stampeding from around the corner.

These words ring for me: Ultimately blogging is people willing to commit time, effort and emotion. How cool is that? Commitment to something worth while is a reward in itself.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Training Methods

Charley is one of the dogs here in the monastery. He comes and joins us for breakfast, lunch and the evening meal. For the most part he lays down on his blanket in the corner of the dining room, especially when we are having a formal meal. He knows the score, no snoring or deep sighs while we are silent! However during informal meals he snacks his way along the rows of knees licking up crumbs off our laps. While Charley stays with a particular monk he is a friend for all of us.

There is a monastery, New Skete in New York State, which teaches a particular training method for dogs, Alsatians (German Shepherds) mostly I think. I've seen pictures of all of the animals rowed up in the refectory during meals. It's part of the monks practice and training method to keep their charges with them at all time.

There are many methods of animal training, some more effective than others. Some more apparently kind than others too. The good dog, bad dog system with plentiful treats as reward for obedience is a common one. Then there is the getting and keeping the animals attention, of keeping up constant contact. The animal and person work together, and it works because that way is rewarding in itself. I have a feeling this is the method practiced in the monastery already mentioned.

Sometimes, just to highlight how conditioned we humans are and how conditionable (if that is even a word!) I talk about the reward method of training, in connection with religious practice. That's practicing with a goal in mind. And, in contrast, I talk about the getting and keeping attention method. That's paying attention to what you're doing, being aware of what's going on around you and remaining in contact with your surroundings.

Not sure where I am going with this however, while I enjoy a treat from time to time, the second method can be constantly rewarding, if it is kept up. So I'd go for that way every time personally.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Lay Tea

Community life involves shared responsibilities and shared work. We have rotas drawn up each week and today was my turn to attend afternoon tea with the resident lay guests. I have often thought this blog reminiscent of the kinds of conversation that develop during one of these informal 'lay teas'. And, sure enough, a number of familiar themes arose during this afternoons tea.

Let's see, there was a question about some obscure lines in one of our scriptures about six sticks of ree, and the diamond sceptre branches five which I struggled through while drinking my mug of tea and eating chocolate biscuits. No, that wasn't reminiscent of a posting that I can remember. There was discussion about feeling at home here and feeling home sick here and about feelings generally and how to deal with them. This is more like it I think.

As a conversational gambit when things slowed down I mentioned February and how I'd written about it on my web log. Then I went on about how February is a hard month, how when living in the country the changing seasons have a greater impact. And here I strayed off the path. So, since plants are influenced by the seasons it makes sense that we would be too... and that's why Sally might have been feeling sad yesterday! Not very edifying though, likening a guest to a plant! Although I do think we are influenced by the changing of the seasons.

Friday, February 16, 2007

February

February! When will it end? February, so hard to live through. Another day with much not done. My thoughts as I dash for evening meditation through the gloom, overtaking a Reverend in her hooded cape in the lane. This evening we hardly need coats, capes and hats yet we continue to wear them. The bell is already ringing. Meditation. Returning, there are no stars out tonight. But what's that on the horizon? Still light fading from the day, at 9.00 p.m.? Surely not.

Amazing how, in just an hour, ones point of view can turn and change. From rush and bustle and too much still to do, to a leisurely stroll back up the lane admiring the absence of stars with a happy anticipation of writing a blog entry.

Just sitting is worth while, worth while not because of getting anything or having a better attitude or slowing down a notch or three, or whatever. No, just that there is a space. Just space.

Tomorrow I'd probably say something different.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Telford Trip?

A couple of people have asked how my trip to Telford went over the week-end. Sorry to say it didn't happen. On Saturday morning, when we were due to leave, there was a blizzard in progress and the prospect of driving out in that was not attractive. And it would probably have been down right dangerous to be out driving anyway.

There are photographs on the Telford Buddhist Priory web site. One of the reasons for my going to Telford was to witness a very long time lay practitioner within our Order receive a brown kesa. It was given in recognition of her contribution to Buddhism which has been well beyond the call of duty.

Dana, Generosity of Spirit


Here is my little chanting machine which I acquired at a 'give away' in the monastery some time back. Quite often Buddhist items such as this as well as rosaries, amulets with scriptures in them, Dharma books and the like are brought back from the East by monks and lay trainees to be distributed to the monks and lay devotees here. They will generally come from a Temple. It is the Buddhist way of keeping up Dharma connections through the exchange of gifts and there is the circulation of merit aspect too.

My chanting box has Free gift not for sale printed on the back. The Dharma cannot be priced, it's priceless. Thus in the East it is usual for Buddhist books to be distribute free of charge, similarly these chanting boxes would always be given away. There is a Buddhist word that describes this way of giving with no expectation of anything in return. The word is Dana, generosity of spirit.

There is much misunderstanding in the West around the making of offerings in the spirit of Dana. We tend to judge the worth of something by it's price. If it is free, it follows that it has no worth. So we have a cultural difficulty around understanding the true worth of the Dharma, because it is offered with no charge. On the subject of Dana you might want to read The Economy of Gifts by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. It is written from the Theravada perspective, however I feel it is the best piece on Dana to be found on the Internet.

Sujatin posted recently on a chanting box which you can buy. Better than not having one at all I guess. I've found having the Amida Budda chant going on beside me while I work a very helpful tool.

Oh, congratulations to Sujatin for being nominated in the Blogisattva Awards this year for Best Achievement with Use of Quotations in a Blog.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Singing Silently

It had actually been weeks since we had last seen her smile, we weren't even sure that she could anymore.

Tuesday. Tuesday is a wonderful child. She has survived and lived longer than anybody could reasonably expect. Her devoted mum and dad have devoted their lives these past six months and more. They have held out hope, lost sleep, worried much and continue in hope. All the while knowing that Tuesday will sooner rather than later, die.

February 1st. Her dad turns her on to some funky music, just for fun. And this is what happened.

I remember when my ordination sister was close to death back in 1987 I think it was. My teacher went to see her and I remember her saying something about her not smiling, not being able to smile. Seeing Tuesday's inside smile, coming out, reminds me of those last days back in 1987. Don't know why.

There are a number of reasons why the smile. I know people who smile so big it cannot be contained and spreads out past their body. And most of us have a social smile, which is fine, and better than snarling any day!

I think the smile is the heart bursting into song and the song's so loud it breaks out all over the face.

Have a thought for Tuesday, her parents and also all those parents awaiting a new arrival, very soon and later.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Greater Weight

This is a copy of a comment I left on a previous posting titled Landfill Fodder.

I've given away books a number of times, only to regret it later. I've lost a whole box of my basic Buddhist reference books and then found them again four years later in an attic. I was really glad to be reunited with them too. So there is a shifting population and a shifting relationship to books for me.

When I went to the US to be a monk in 1980 my belongings were in a backpack, which I could lift and carry. There was also a box of books, which came via mail. That's all I had in the world and it felt good to be traveling light. Very soon however I found out the greater weight was what I carried in my mind!

If I had talked to somebody about this drastic shedding of my belongings before entering the monastery I'd probably have kept more stuff. Some of it would have come in handy later on in my monastic life. So, if you are thinking of following up on a monastic vocation, the physical stuff doesn't need to all go. Just the clinging to it.

Here is a young chap writing about his journey with accumulation, and his journey with letting it go.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Private Practice


It is so easy to lose perspective and forget where 'up' actually is. So the little chap in the middle of this cartoon is pointing to a really helpful life tool. And I am not talking about the rainbow!

A woman who I hold in high regard told me about the mental and emotional benefits of raising ones arm and pointing UP. When I first did this in her presence she said that's not up. Indeed it wasn't, it was up'ish!
Sometimes when all is misery me or earth earth, as one of our scriptures says, I take a moment and point up and mentally follow where my hand is pointing.
Does wonders, try it why not. This is a private practice incidentally.

Note: This image is a scan of a card sent me by an old sangha friend and blog reader. Very many thanks.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

GrameenPhone

I just don't want to end the journey so I'm stuck in Bangladesh with just a few more pages to go. I've been reading Michael Palin's Himalaya for a month and a half at least and it is time to move on. But before I do I was stuck by this business woman, Naila Chowdhury who has gone boldly forth, and made a difference.

Day 121 In early afternoon Ishraq takes me to meet Naila Chowdhury, a director of Grameen Phone, one of the great success stories to come out of Bangladesh. Naila, impressively built, with a strong handsome face, is, like Rubana, charming, accommodating and, I suspect, pretty ruthless when necessary.

It's quite an eye opener to realise the practical impact just one mobile phone can have on all of the people, in just one village.

Yes, I will be sorry to end my journey with Michael Palin, but our association is not over quite yet. A fellow monk is sending me a DVD of his journey Pole to Pole which was a give-away with a Sunday paper the other week. She found it on the train.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Landfill Fodder


Alston, where the second hand bookshop was having a turn out. There in front of the shop was a skip full of books! I felt like doing a funeral or something, instead I picked over them. Opening, having a sniff at that only-old-books-can-smell-like-that smell, then closing again. And this is somebody who doesn't really like books that much!


Rural Rides, by William Cobbett is an English classic and Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Fran├žois Rabelais is funny and violent and quite free from any prudishness according to the Wikipedia entry. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, another skip casualty, can be downloaded free from the Internet.

Farewell books, it's to the landfill for you lot. I did the best I could by spending a few moments cherishing and respecting them. Still, it was hard to let them go.

The photographs were taken on a mobile phone. Not great quality, yet they have a quality all of their own. Just like the skip full of books.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Snow!


Looking up the valley towards Coalcleugh once a thriving community in some of the most inhospitable conditions in England. Lead mining was the industry here.


One of our guardian lions with the monks meditation hall and private rooms in the background.


Hotei with cloak and splendid hat. Jolly as ever.


The Medicine Buddha sitting sedately amidst our new fall of snow. The hillside in the background, with fledgling trees guarded from the invasion of rabbits.

Walking through the yard this lunch time I bumped into the monks who takes an interest in the grounds. As the snow fell she was opening out a bundle of wire netting to wrap around rabbit vulnerable shrubs. I'd thought to let her know about the wonderful web site, mentioned in a recent comment, which lists rabbit resistant plants. As well as hints on plant protection, but thought better of it. Now was not the time, obviously!

You can view the moors via web cam if you want, looks rather bleak to me. If you follow this link you will see a map of this area. At the top right hand segment of the map is Carr Shield and the monastery is near there. I'll be driving over Hartside, bottom left segment of the map, on Saturday. That's weather permitting.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Map Reading

Quite by accident, the way so many good things come, I discovered Transport Direct, Connecting People to Places. Might just give this site a try since I will be on the road to Telford Priory on Saturday. Around about Stafford, if I remember correctly, there are some tempting short cuts across country. And again if I remember correctly roads around that part of the country have police speed cameras aplenty. Having grown to enjoy motoring at about 50 mph or so I'm not a candidate for being pulled over. However, a small slip in attention and the speedometer can rise alarmingly fast.

And I have been waiting my moment to mention another mapperly matter. This time the Ordinance Survey Select series. For those outside the country who have not walked hill and dale with compass and a soggy OS one-inch-to-the-mile map I can only say, you have not yet lived! With the Select series one can special order a map specifying the area you want it to cover. For example have your home in the middle of the map and all that wonderful walking country around you on just one piece of, very sturdy possibly water repellent, paper. Anyway, seems like a good system and I'm about to order one for a couple of my fellow monks living in Norfolk.

Sorry to say, postings over the week-end may be erratic.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Coming Soon - Laser Buddhas in Afghanistan

Over in Afghanistan there is an incredible project under way: Over 140 laser systems installed 500m,1km and 5km in distance from the Bamiyan hills will project multiple layers of original Yamagata Buddha images drawn in striking colors. The laser images will be projected for 2 hours after sunset, once or twice a week.

The schedule for developing this project concludes mid June, 2009 with the BAMIYAN AFGHANISTAN LASER PROJECT 2009 Grand Opening.

Thanks to the Reverend who drew my attention to this.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Blooming


Was it the moon light was it the sun? What ever it was these bulbs opened and blossomed as night turned to day.

There were visitors here for a festival ceremony, the Festival of Maitreya Bodhisattva, the Buddha yet to come. Or as it was pointed out in the lecture that followed the ceremony, the as yet unrecognized Buddha within.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Looking Up, Looking Out

Tonight to the west was a bright star, such a very big bright star. I'd not seen anything like it before. I wanted to run into the dining room and drag everybody out to see it. It was the most star like star I'd ever seen. It was just like pictures of the morning star. That's the one the Buddha saw at the time of his enlightenment. But I just stood and stargazed for awhile. And then later while walking back to my room after doing the washing-up, the star had gone. But where?

I'm not the only one looking to the sky. The moon has featured in a couple of blogs recently. In northern England where the moon is milky luminescent. In Alberta Canadawhere the word luculent was used. Wonderful word which can be used to describe language, as being 'transparently clear'. Something to aspire to while speaking out and speaking up.

There are probably more mentions of the full moon on the Internet, it certainly had a number of mentions here on the cloister. It was like a spot light, couldn't have missed it. Yes, and there it is still, with a white ring of cloud around it this evening.

The wish to share sights and sounds and smells must surely be part of the practice of generosity. Let me share a gift I received in an email this evening: "I went for a walk through the Chilterns today and saw hares boxing, herds of deer, red kites a plenty and buzzards, quite apart from the wild birds you'd expect to see or hear. It always pays to look up and out".

Yes indeed!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Leroy Was Here


We meet walking up the lane, there's a dry stone wall beside us.
Hi Larry!
He inclines towards me and, not for the first time, patiently reminds me.
It's Leroy Rev. Mugo.
Sorry!
Err. You're dead aren't you?
I know the test. I poke his arm.
Crikey! he does have a body.
We continue chatting up the lane avoiding the subject.
He's changed, a little older, content I'd say.

Later we are sitting in a row.
Larry...no sorry Leroy is sitting one down from me.
I stare.
It's definitely him and he's alive.

Then morning came and I got up and went about my day.

Dreams like this, of departed friends coming alive, are not uncommon.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Speak Up, Speak Out!

"Time flies...gasp...as an arrow flies from a...gaaaaasp...bow,
I wish to sit beside...wheeze.....you...gulp...and learn from you".

Phew! I remember so well that ceremony when, just a few months after my ordination, I had to recite that verse. Alone, aloud and in public. Everybody present was probably silently willing me to get the words out soon, to save themselves from further embarrassment.

I was so lost. Caught up in the struggle to find wind enough to propel something, anything from my already dazed and dizzy self. I got through, I didn't faint and hours latter I was answering questions at the Chief Juniors Dharma Ceremony. I didn't loose it although I thought I might.

These ceremonies marked a huge step towards my challenging a life long struggle with 'shyness'. That's doing anything in public that marked me out as separate. Reading aloud in class? Well I was never asked as far as I remember. The school Christmas play at the village hall? What a nightmare, all those wretched fairies with wings and wands and sticky-out white dresses. Primroses, primroses and violets sweet as the.......sweet as the.... Nope I still don't remember what they were as sweet as.

Ten years into my monastic life I found myself in Liverpool, at the Friends Meeting House in the center of town. I was about to give my first public talk on Buddhism. Calming myself, pausing briefly, I launched in with a clear head, and sweaty palms. I survived! I more than survived, I had a ball! Talking in public to total strangers, lots of them, had been my number one 'can't do/won't do'. According to research I stumbled across, people would rather die than talk in public. Such is the level of fear involved.

Life has a way of throwing up opportunities to challenge ones fears. To prove to oneself, perhaps just once, that there IS something deeper than fear which can be relied upon. To find this is to change ones life, for ever. Never mind river rafting, climbing the Matterhorn or biking around the world. Just stand up and speak before strangers, it does it every time.

After the Liverpool talk I remember my mother saying, I can hardly believe you are the same person my dear. I wasn't.

See also here for a shyness journey. Impressive.