Friday, August 31, 2007

Hidden Treasure - Pearls of Wisdom

About a week ago, on a whim, I took photos of all the sheds in the monastery, all thirteen of them. There is something about sheds that I like. They don't look much from the outside however they hold infinite treasure within. Perhaps a bit like you and me, when our interior is viewed with enlightened eyes.

Along with those lines from Zen Master Ryokans poem My Precepts, I'll post photos of the sheds. As with the pictures I published in May, please do not linger over long on trying to draw out some deep spiritual meaning to my linking particular photos to the text. Not worth loosing sleep over believe me.

Pearls of Wisdom 1

Take care not to:

talk too much
talk too fast
talk without being asked to

My Precepts from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf, Zen Master Ryokan

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wise Speech

In Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf, Zen Poems of Ryokan I came across an entry titled My Precepts.

Zen Master Ryokan lists around forty points to remember about right speech. Such points as, not speak of things of which you have no knowledge and not to use sugary speech. The whole list contains good reminders, which I’ll be keeping in mind during this coming week.
When and if I have the time I’ll write down the list in instalments, for readers to contemplate each day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Spider in the Works

Yesterday was vac consciousness raising and moving day, with the last one lugged up the lane and repositioned well after dark.

I oversee all of the vacuum cleaners in the monastery, a voluntary position I should add. It's a fairly benign task, taken on face value, which involves keeping them in reasonable fettle and with adequate spare dust bags to hand. Occasionally, as happened yesterday, a number of the machines need to be re-deployed. This occurs for a number of complex and intimately interconnected reasons, often involving the humans who drive them.

Today I passed a vacuum cleaner outside of its cupboard with no sign of its hose and power head. A small wave of concern flushed over me. Just why is it out? What's wrong with it? Where's the rest of it? It just shows how involved one can become with these critters, or any other thing for that matter.

Returning to the corridor after the evening meal I was slightly bemused to find a note of explanation fixed to the lone machine. SPIDER INSIDE (Hopefully making its way out!) Thank you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Allendale to Coalclough

Coalclough is at the top of our valley. Once a thriving lead mining community now just a couple of houses. I've passed the way marker many times and then noticed today that somebody had laid it bare and scratched out the moss from the lettering. I'm not sure what the 6 (miles) indicates, perhaps it's six miles from Allendale to Coalclough. Anyway, once again I'm reminded what an incredible location this is and how fortunate we are to be able to live here.

Looks like Coalclough was inhabited in the 1700's, and Australia looked like a good alternative for at least part of this ancient family.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

No! In the Library?

Where is Mugo?
On a walk?
She's not signed out.
In her room?
Having breakfast?
No. She is nowhere to be found.

A small thought to move,
yet so engrossed.
In the library,
reading poems by Ryokan,
and Cold Mountain.
Lost, and eventually found.

You should know that the library is the last place anybody would think to
look for me

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Here is Batty, a Beanie Baby given to me many years ago by a woman in Plymouth. It first inhabited the Bursary office and now hangs on the end of a hand rail in one of the residences. It's just hanging around.

Last evening after meditation it emerged that there had been a bat flying about in the hall. Yes, it swooped right in front of your row Mugo, didn't you see it? Err, no!

And then this morning, saying farewell to departing guests, it seems the bat visited them too. Hopefully it has left, or perhaps it is hanging around readying itself for another display of aero-batics!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

In Memory of the Leo

The late and lovable Leo, Springer Spaniel from Idaho admiring himself.

One of the monks mentioned I'd not posted any photographs recently and so I'm taking this opportunity to show you this picture of a dog very dear to my heart. Here is an extract from an email I sent to his person today.

I was going to post a photo of Leo the other day. I’d come across a Cocker Spaniel tied up inside the bank. I got so hooked into it sitting there silently whining and then letting go a bit and straining to see her person at the teller, whining a bit like only Spaniels can do. When it came to my turn the teller had to call me three times before I realized it was my turn. I remember you or Linda telling me not to look at Leo or Lilly because then they kinda get you hooked into doing things for them. This dog wasn’t even looking at me, I just wanted it to! (So I'm still a sucker for a Spaniel and apparently still ready to serve.)

This foal popped its head over the wall giving me a pleasant surprise. Talking to a Sangha friend this afternoon she told me she was working towards getting her qualifications for doing Tellington Touch with horses. She already works wonders with camelids. To you and me that means Alpacas and Lamas. We share a love for all matters to do with horses and she already works wonders with horses without certificates.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Here is a response to a comment left on (was that) todays posting by a chap facing the sudden death of his father. Because the subject of grieving comes up a lot I thought I'd answer part of the comment in a posting.

One thing that has particularly troubled me is my lack of grief and it is interesting to read your comment about shock taking its time to work through.

I know it might seem odd however death, even a sudden death, may not be followed by grief. After both my mother and my father died I was surprised I was not finding myself 'falling apart'. I took council in a senior monk and was told not to expect to grieve and not to be concerned if I didn't. In addition a friend mentioned that perhaps I'd dealt with that which tied us together and I could simply accept the death and moving on. This lack of grief seemed a bit surreal at the time I must say. So perhaps the answer is to take life as it comes at you. What else is there to do?

Later, while resolving the family home and its contents, I did have loud howling sessions but gradually those spontaneous outbreaks became less. Then perhaps three years after my father died I noticed that the colours in nature where markedly brighter, and illuminated some how. I understood then that my senses had been dampened down somewhat, not depression exactly but close probably.

The compassion scriptures would be the Litany of the Great Compassionate one and the Scripture of Avalokiteshwara Bodhisattva. The words for both scriptures can be found on the Shasta Abbey web site.

An Answer

The following is an extract from a note I sent to a chap in answer to his comment/questions following the sudden death of his father.

Dear Friend,

The very best thing you can do to help your father now is to simply sit when you have the time, and to do your best to keep a bright and positive mind throughout your day. He will be in your heart and since ultimately there is no separation or dividing up of existence, your hearts are identical. If the relationship with him has been troublesome this doesn't matter, let what ever is there be there without judgements.

You are right, we do not have a specific practice around death, or more correctly meditations focusing on the impermanence of the body. That all is fairly much covered in just sitting.

In terms of your own acceptance of his sudden death you will have to realize that there is a level of shock which will take time to work it's way through.

As for what you can do at home now. You can put his photograph on your altar and perhaps put some kind of non perishable food/drink which he would have liked there too. You can recite one of the compassion scriptures daily and offer the merit of the recitation for his benefit.

The advice above is fairly standard however it does assume an understanding of the practice of meditation and the Buddhist Precepts.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Drawing Pictures in the Clouds

The monastery is markedly still, yet filled with guests. They are here for a week of intensive practice with much formal meditation. The day itself has felt still, with just a hint of autumn in the air. Already?

By the entrance to the main building I paused to view the bright yellow upturned faces of Nasturtiums amidst the lush green foliage. That would make a great photograph, I was told. But I've been busy with other things.

Reflecting on the day, a good practice for anybody who points themselves towards a religious practice, of any faith tradition. I am glad to remember the flowers and while out on a lunch time walk, the wild gooseberry bush beside the road. I've been munching on the fruit from that bush for upwards of fifteen years, on and off. What a gift, and so sweet too.

Yes, it is good to take the time to reflect on the day. It helps one to arrive at a more rounded picture. Reflection too helps to soften that which could remain hard. There was the frustrating problem of not being able to get a printer working and the anxiety producing project of investigating my visa application for the US. How easy it is to join up the points in a day and draw a picture which sends one to bed heavy of heart. It's not necessary.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Happy Birthday Buddha

My father would have been 87 today. Looking around my room I don't see anything of his to remind me of him. But I do remember... There was my dad'sold belt and his knitted wool hat, which he wore on the back of his head on cold days. I always thought he could have done better, but he loved that hat and kept it to the last. There was his walking stick, probably cut from a
hedge. It was rather a twiggy looking affair. It had a bright orange spent rifle cartridge rammed on the bottom to stop the stick from wearing down. Maybe there was some binder twine, picked up from a field, wrapped around the stick to strengthen it. He was a man in the country where function came first.

I've disposed of the old belt and hat, and the wool demob coat that followed us unrelentingly from one house to the next. I think he wrapped his saws in it. The stick? That now supports a tree by a lake in Cornwall, planted in his memory.

In Buddhism there are said to be three objects of reverence of a Buddha; the physical remains such as the ashes after cremation, a tooth or lock of hair, objects appertaining to personal use, such as tools, clothing etc. and lastly objects of reverence reminiscent of the Buddha. This last 'object' has no physical basis it is simply what we remember, what we remember gladly. And I have a lot of those for my dad, my Buddha.

Many thanks to Christine whose comment left after the posting A Beacon of Hope inspired me to write this today. I'm sorry I missed your contribution and didn't respond at the time.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Gardens are like Friends and Family

Gardens, like friends, are rewarding when they bloom and grow. Frustrating when things don't go according to plan. Disappointing when after hours and hours of back breaking work results in one small step made. Perhaps one stone removed in a path to make it flat. Is it all worth the effort?

What else is there to compare? Some days are better than others, some years are better than others! Often conditions for growth or resolution are not optimal and still the need is there to DO something, none the less.

AND there are the small simple things that go unnoticed, too often. Not good or bad, not right or wrong, or beauty set against ugliness. Not any of that kind of thing.

Within all of this is a belief that things must/should/aught be a certain way. They don't.

Talking of gardens and gardening, a reader sent me a link to this garden near Lancaster, looks like it's worth a visit. Maybe worth a visit with a friend, or family member? Or just go alone for a change.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Light and Air

How about this:

You can think your way into suffering in an instant; however you can't think your way out.

How easy it is to have the words of others take hold in ones mind. Those words, or what ever 'it' is, can remain for hours, days, months or even years. Now lodging firmly in the mind, what is to be done?

People will sometimes speak of something that has been bothering them, and for some considerable time. By just spreading out what's there and letting light and air in and around can be just what helps the lodger to leave. Or at lease start to loose interesting in staying. This is essentially an internal practice, requiring courage and compassion. And the long view.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Fragrant Hill

Know that it is by the means of the self that we find the Buddha Nature. Know that it is by the gateway of the body that we find the spirit. Do not be concerned with places and things, with heavens and hells; do not be attached to your training: Gyatei, gyatei, haragyatei, going on, going on, always going on to the Fragrant Hill; Ten thousand miles in a flash of an eye.
Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett

I was so glad to come across this quote amongst the pile of lecture notes
and papers I've been sorting through. I'm not sure of its origin however it
certainly sounds like my Master alright. She would quite often answer a certain kind of spiritual question with Gyatei, gyatei, directing us to keep going.

What of the Fragrant Hill though? Can it be anywhere other than right here, right now? And still there is the Gyatei, Gyatei.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A New Dawn

Dawn light in Northern France

Look far beyond the twilight vale,

Let go the dying day without regret,

For now’s the time to gaze in wonder

at the glory of the sunset.

Fear not the coming of the night

that from the fading light is born.

Always given……..sufficient stars

to light our way towards the dawn.

This was given me by a dear Sangha friend who, some years later, took her own life. The poem, which may well be original, was pasted onto the back of a post card. It was of the sun setting behind St. Michaels Mount, Cornwall. Now there is a new dawn for her.

I watched a TV program on DVD I’d mentioned a couple of weeks ago about children who were dealing with the loss of a parent through suicide. The interviews were sensitive, the commentary thoughtful and the subject obviously difficult for all concerned. There is a lot of shame and self blame and all shades of emotion tied up in these families that continue on for years after the event. It can never be as if it hadn’t happened, yet memories fade. One small boy reflected that the storm is over however now and then there are flashes of lightening or a clap of thunder. How true that is. How true for traumatic memories in general.

The one thing the children all appreciated was to know there were others who were living through the same thing. In the program Winston’s Wish, a counselling service for children and especially for the grieving was filmed running a week long ‘camp’ for around twenty children who had a parent take their own life. There were smiles and laughter and tears. And some resolution and moving on.

A loyal friend and blog reader wrote me today letting me know she had just moved into her new home. Let this be a new dawn.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Facing Death

Here is part of a message I received from a sangha friend in Canada.

I had a dream about you this morning.

I found myself in a big, beautiful, sun-drenched house. Someone was dying, so I found the bedroom they were in. The bed was surrounded by people singing the person off to the other side. I thought, I must make friends with people who sing well so this can be done for me. You were around, doing something official.

Afterward, you hosted a lunch for everyone, with gift bags filled with flowers and incense and little pictures you had made.

What a lovely way to face death, eh?

Glad to be of service, in your dreams at least!


My Internet connection has slowed to a slow crawl. So for the time being I'll be posting via e-mail and may not be able to get on line to respond to comments.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Evening Magic

Sometimes the evening sky is magical. Tonight it was thus. Perhaps my view was coloured by the film we have just watched. In the fading light, walking the lane back to our rooms, we chatter softly. There is change in the air.

We are switching gears, moving from full days with many guests towards full days with even more guests, for a short while. Then? The fall monastic training term. Nights drawing in, drawing in already. And come September 20th I'll have been here one whole year.

So with a whiff of joy and sadness mixed together, they are so close, we switch gears. The year is always turning, transforming, moving. Ever renewing.

The Bagdad Cafe is magical, in more ways that one.

A Toast to Family Gatherings


Here's to family gatherings,
And all that it implies,
The laughs, the embraces, and
The muffled, unheard cries.

What better time for karma
To show it's dynamic hand,
Than when we gather 'round the fire
With our tiny human clan.

So, here's to watching silently
Amidst the jubilee,
As we allow ourselves (and others)
Just to simply be.

This poem was sent by Jim, a regular reader of this blog, who was inspired to write following a phone conversation we had about families and family reunions. Many thanks Jim, much appreciated.

As with this family of tiny wild pansies so with human gatherings-one or a few in any gathering will feel at odds with the rest, from time to time. Perhaps somebody will turn aside for awhile, or flag a bit, or get distracted with other things, or... Even so it is a time just to simply be with what ever is happening.

We are preparing for a week long monastic gathering starting September 3rd. Postings from now on are likely to be less regular because my energies and focus need to be directed closer to home.

The Heartsease were photographed on a walk near Alston. Apparently an infusion of the plant was said to help mend a broken heart, hence its common name Heartsease.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Training a Tree the Bonsai Way

I must admit that I was attracted, initially, because this little plant looks well, 'unusual'. That's the kindest I can be. On Monday on my third visit to IKEA in as many weeks, I'd definitely decided against buying. But I weakened. A forest of them had been shunted into a siding, they were obviously on their way out. Feet first! Neglected, soil dry as a bone and the leaves were falling fast. How could I not change my mind? If I'd been my mother I'd have asked for a reduction in price, to take one off their hands.

Last evening while researching how to care for my new found friend I discovered, with some horror, that I was now in the presence of a Bonsai tree! The instructions repeat, many time, 'this plant is totally reliant on you for it's care and survival'. Somehow this fact has captured my attention on more than the every-day way of caring for a plant.

It is a symbol of so much that comes with having disciples. The joys and sorrows and the constantly being there for them. The heart connection that grows comes from care and attention, tenderness and benevolence. It's a two way street too. So I'll embrace what I've come upon, by accident I'll not go there.

I only hope I find somebody to advise me on how to train it! At the moment the branches look a bit of a sad mess.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Give Away

We celebrated the Festival Ceremony of Avalokiteshwara, Bodhisattva of compassion and wisdom. It was good to see some old friends, and blog readers, here. There never is enough time to talk to everybody I'd like to on these occasions.

The monk giving the Dharma talk after the ceremony made the point that compassion and wisdom go together, seamlessly. Well, there was a news item last week about money being left anonymously in all sorts of odd places in Japan. Men's toilets, posted through letter boxes and showering down into the street from above. This has left people very anxious and much if not all the money has been handed into the police or local authorities. What ever the intent it looks like this project backfired.

Here it seems inconceivable that people would hand in free cash to the police. Although one of our monks did hand in a £20 note he had found on the beach at Portobello near Edinburgh. Later they gave it to him. I'm wondering what will end up happening with this large gift cast into the unknown by somebody, perhaps with compassion in mind.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pushing the River

Rivers flow. They can gush, trickle, meander, rush and tumble. And sometimes they hardly seem to move at all.

The other day somebody made the following observation. Speaking softly and assuming I would understand, she said Humm, pushing the river.

I understood!

In the same conversation she said she understood 'refraining' as being like one long continuous note playing in the background. Rather than a string of staccato commands, which are hard on the ears and often harsh on the heart.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Smell the Roses

The door of the office is rattling. The window beside me whooshes and all around the sounds of the rising wind, rising to a gale. On the hillside fledgling trees are waving and wafting in the greyblue of approaching night. It's like a dance. It is a dance! A crazed dance of the trees before they turn in for the night. And that's just what I'm about to do.

Getting adequate rest. Taking a break. Taking time to smelling the roses. Listening to the wind on the window. Sitting quietly doing nothing. All good things to 'do'.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Alston Moor

Unfortunately I'm not able to upload the photographs I took while out walk this morning on Alston Moor. My monastic companion and I followed the Gossipgate to Blagill trail following the River Nent. Here is a paragraph from a guide published by the East Cumbria Countryside Project.
The path approaches Corby Gates and crosses the wall beside the 'castle', a former outside toilet! Corby Gates is one of the oldest homesteads in the area, and is mentioned in documents of 1314 and in the Pipe Rolls of Henry ll in 1279. It was then known as Corbriggate, and is believed to have been on the main road from the Alson mines to Newcastle. via Corbridge. In one of the byres of the farm is the entrance to a now blocked underground tunnel. On those occasions when the Scots border raiders braved the long Tyne Valley to come to this wild area, local people may have hidden in such tunnels. Several very old houses in the area have such mysterious underground passages, whose original purpose is unknown. This one is believed to run to Randalholme on the far side of Alston, although there is no proof. Some say that a boar's head full of gold coins is hidden in the tunnel.

I should mention that the 'castle' has battlements and the whole thing stands at about 8 foot, and about that wide. Quite something.

As rural and isolated as this valley is the people of Alston and Nenthead have broadband. I believe it is one of the smallest communities to get the necessary funding. Cybermoor is the organization that provides the broadband connection. Looks like it is reasonably reliable too.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

In a Moment Life is Gone

Zen Master Dogen reminds us time and again, in a variety of ways, that life is precious. It is rare to be born a human being, rare to find Buddhism/a spiritual path, so do not leave ones life exposed to changeableness. In other words take care, take great care. Do not waste time.

The following message, left in the comments section by Dave, struck a cord with me to-day: Life is precious. That which helps you see that life is precious is precious too. So please take good care of yourself. Yes indeed.

Struggling through my day; not feeling 100% up for whacking at thistles on a windswept hillside, not managing to get my brain to function well until late in the afternoon. I'm feeling sorry for myself. Then answering emails; to a chap in serious trouble with an immune system gone wrong, oh and a phone call with somebody facing surgery and then prolonged immobility. Stressed people and stressed for very good reason. How can I feel sorry for myself? Hardly! Hardly at all.

In Britain we are familiar with John Simpson reporting from war torn somewhere. But not near here. However quite often there are people living in a 'war zone' right next door. Maybe not with bullets coming in the window or the door being battered down. But internally, spiritually, the level of pressure is notched up to what I call 'war zone training'. The thing is people often don't realize. Perhaps they are not able to take in the the multiple factors that add up. Perhaps that's just as well...

Then, on the cloister, a chap tells me about something that had happened: ...and then I knew for sure that everything in the world is fine. That there is not a (fundamental) problem. Is this OK? Yes, this is normal, I reply. Oh, OK! I didn't even remind him not to hang on to this insight. He knew that too.