Thursday, October 25, 2007

Upside, Down

I could not help but snap this wee beastie while out for the day on Monday, in Shrewsbury. Even upside down it is still smiling. Well, that's what I see anyway.

Since it is count down time to leaving for the airport to fly to Germany I'll just have to leave you with these two photographs.

Postings will more than likely stop now for the week. I'll be back in England on the 1st November.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Past in the Present

At the end of an up and down kind of a day, with little left in me to say, here is something from Iain in Japan for you to contemplate.

At times often rather trivial things have happened to me that have triggered waves of anger in me the force of which has sent me reeling. That angry little boy inside. "It isn't fair and it has to be put right!" But of course nothing ever can be restored status quo ante, it just can't, the thing is broken. That's what crying is for. Memories of painful things

Monday, October 22, 2007

Visiting Buddhist Relics

Back in 2005 I visited the Stupa in Birmingham where the Buddha's Relics are enshrined. At the time I was somewhat sceptical, are they 'real' etc. Yesterday afternoon I joined a trip to Birmingham to visit The Heart Shrine Relics Tour. I'm glad I went.

Carmen Straight, our Custodian on the USA Tour, watched a five year old girl skipping around the relic altar display and peering curiously at the relics. Carmen asked her what she was doing. She replied,

"There are so many beautiful colors shining out from the relics and I am trying to remember them all.”

I've learnt how to he a good visitor, of Buddha Relics. Go with no expectations, no plan, let fears, worries and doubts fall by the way side. Be respectful and be still. And sit still, no need to do more unless called upon to do so. Not a bad plan for hospital visiting either, come to think of it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


He said, My brother is good at visiting now. He learnt how from seeing our father regularly after his stroke. At first he'd say, I don't know what to do, or say. Don't know if he is taking anything in or even understands me anymore.

I then said, Just sit there quietly if necessary. So my brother learnt how to visit. When he came to see me I was asleep, so he sat quietly in that chair. Then I woke up and we talked.

Hospital visiting: giving of oneself in seriousness, in sadness, in service, in silence, in the moment, in daftness and laughter. This evening I arrived heavy and left lighter. Arrived readied to give and left having shared.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Where Were You When the Big One Hit?

October 16, 1987? I was still in America. Those in England remember the devastation and deaths from the Hurricane that hit these isles unexpectedly in the early hours of the 16th. Not until now have I learned that a small collection of trees on top of the south downs, the Chanctonbury Ring, were mostly blown down. Historic trees knocked out for ever.

But how our memories can play tricks. We've been discussing details of the storm of 1987, in particular the Michael Fish gaff. (Google his name if you want to find out about what happened). However some memories have their origin in a later, and more devastating, event. From the Burns Night storm of 1990, which I remember, and survived. This time the weather forecast gave us good warning. All the same I was out driving to Newcastle Airport to pick up a monk flying in from the US. Branches were flying across the road and I remember thinking, This feels dangerous! It was, very.

This evening a chap at the Priory had his cell phone on. He was 'on call' for trees, that's trees blown down over roads which have to be removed what ever the time of day, or night. Thankfully there is not a puff of wind this evening.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Merit Offering

This was my private alter while I was in Edmonton, Canada. The statue is the Healing Buddha (AKA Bhaisajyagura)and the arrangements is somewhat how we set up alters in our tradition. This must have been taken around holiday time when it's usual to add a bit more sparkle. I'd often put cards and letters I'd received on my altar for a few days. I particularly liked the flower card. Other traditions have different altars. The spirit, the place such an arrangement has is similar. In the end, and what ever you like to call it, ones private spiritual 'nook' is a focus for ones spiritual endeavours. I like 'em'.

In the hand of my statue is a piece of Lapis Lazuli, a gem stone particularly associated with the Healing Buddha. Both the statue and the Lapis were gifts from lay members, making the altar especially significant for me.

This posting is for my good friend in the Dharma who we thought was 'out of the woods' in terms of his health. Unfortunately he is back in the woods again, and struggling.

This evening I'm staying at one of our temples near Manchester. Tomorrow, onwards to Telford Buddhist Priory in the West Midlands, near Birmingham.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Fly in Your Ear!

Here's a bit of fun picked up from Blue Heron Zen Buddhist Centre in Canada, a Buddhist blog new to me at least.

Many thanks to Pascal for the link.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Medical Ethics

Inside the Ethics Committee. Program 1. Treatment decisions for people who can’t give informed consent. Who decides and how?

I listened to this the other day, the full transcript or the....

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Day in the Life

I made a list today oh boy!

I hear a Beatles song coming on...wasn't it 'I heard the news today' from A Day in the Life? Yes, I looked that one up just yesterday. Something about holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire and the Albert Hall. Amazing what you learn about those old songs. I'm no happier and a bit wiser for knowing the connection between Blackburn and the Albert Hall. It's interesting to know what the source of my youthful singing and humming pleasure was. A newspaper article about holes in the road and how much material it would take to fill them, enough to fill the Albert Hall.

Anyway. I made a list today and worked not so much through it as around, up and down it, now it's a scribbled out mess. I resort to making lists as a last resort. I find lists basically oppressive but necessary just in order to remember what needs to be done. When there is a lot to be done. Like today. Already I see how disjointed my thinking has become as I write. Lists do it to you. There is help at hand though. Here's how to stop making lists and get a life.

Go ahead take a look, there is life after lists. A more fun loving one.

For your information I'll be away from the monastery for a couple of weeks from Wednesday. First stop Telford Buddhist Priory and then onwards to our temple in the Black Forest in Germany. Posting might become irregular, or they might not.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Allow the Sight to Enter

Time to take a long look and allow the sight to enter in. Memorial Photography.

Yes, I have taken photographs of dead people. And yes, there is an odd macabre feeling about the practice. No, I do not regret having taken them.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Loved Ones

When there is no place
that you have decided
to call your own
then no matter where you go
you are always heading home.
Muso Soseki


When there is no person
that you have decided
to call your home.
Then no matter where you go
you are never alone.

Just a different way of saying the same thing.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On the Road with Sheep

This sheep herding operation stopped me in my tracks this morning. Once again I was in my beloved Lake District. This time to pick up a monk left there two weeks ago, to rest. I was being navigated by a TomTom satellite navigation gadget. It did so well, talking me along remote roads I'd never have been able to negotiate without stopping every few miles to check a map. The road I particularly liked was the one over the fell from Grasemere to Great Langdale valley. I'm fairly sure this is a flock of Herdwick sheep by the way.

During a brief walk in the Langdale valley, in the fine rain that is so dear to my memories of hiking in these fair hills, I found myself addressing one of the sheep directly. Nice coat! I exclaimed, a spinning wheel flashing before my eyes. There was no answer, of course, however they do seem to smile. They are certainly not at all like other sheep who skitter away when humans are close. These just kept on grazing grass, undisturbed and unperturbed as I passed by. I see their fine coats are less used for knitting yarn and more carpet and loft insulation material!

Herdwicks are a dual-purpose breed, but are primarily raised for their hard and resilient grey wool. Their fleece is primarily suited to use as carpet wool; these carpets are sold under the auspices of the National Trust. The wool is also an excellent natural insulator - it is possible to buy sheets of fireproofed wool to fit as loft insulation.

Thanks go to Janet who bought the TomTom originally, and to her family who donated the the machine to the monastery following her death.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Hearing about a woman: there is every sign of cancer. She is choosing not to see a doctor: it's her choice.

Hear about a man: there was a diagnosis of senile dementia. He chose to stop eating: he died soon afterwards.

Nothing much to say: except there is no absolute right or wrong here. And Great Compassion manifests in all conditions: no matter what.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Point of View

Monks re-pointing the brickwork on a chimney called down to me. There is a great view from up here, make a great picture. By the time I had changed into trousers and fetched my camera the mist and rain had closed in and the view was almost obscured. Coming down off the roof, carefully, I then went for a walk on the bottom road. The valley was grey and the world appeared flat. The camera saw it differently.

A monk of our Order wrote an article for our in-house Journal about Training in the Grey World of Doubt and Despair which Lions Gate Buddhist Priory has reproduced. (I see a part 2 of the article but no part 1 unfortunately). I hope what is said will inspire you, as it has a number of people.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Overturn the Alms Bowl

You might be wondering how it is that the Buddhist monks in Burma are able to participate in anti government protests. Here is how.

On Sept. 18, monks in Mogok, upper Burma, gathered together at the Aungchanthar Monastery to decide whether or not to overturn their alms bowls: to declare a formal boycott of the country’s military regime, together with the rest of the Buddhist order — the Sangha — in response to a brutal attack on a group of their peers early in the month. Burma's Saffron Revolution

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Not Two

A chap who had been coming here regularly wrote an email to me today letting me know that:
Zen training is not for me and I have arranged to go to an ashram in India, travelling on the 23rd Oct. And further on in the email he wrote: I am not a religious man and prefer a practical hands on, spiritual approach. Something like, try everything deeply, until something fits deeply

Here is part of my reply:
I find it interesting that you say I am not a religious man and prefer a hands on practical, spiritual approach. You know, I might have said that! I probably did say that on my application for my first introductory retreat, way back when. So what is the difference, (between being a religious man and a spiritually orientated one)? Is it to do with difficulties around so called organized religion? When I think about it we are, of all the schools of Buddhism, known for our ‘hands on practical approach’. Yes, and we certainly are organized too, however from where I sit life would be a shambles without it! Now the ‘religion’ part I can see how you might be struggling. Nothing is an obstacle in the end of course…

So for all the people who will be in flight soon, including my correspondent, here is a short scripture which I recite silently when taking off and landing:

Invocation for the Removal of Disasters

Adoration to all the Buddhas.
Adoration to the limitless teaching.
Peace! Speak! Blaze Up! Open!
To the glorious, peaceful One
For Whom there is no disaster,
Hail! Hail! Hail!
Zen is a Religion Thanks to RB for quoting Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennet on the subject of religion. (Update: The posting with the quote mentioned here is not available at the moment, sorry.)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Mutual Encouragement

Remind us of what is important
Link lay and monastic training
Spiritual encouragement

This is what one reader came up with when asked about what she saw as being offered here. My purpose in asking was to get a sense of the balance of articles and where it would be good to make adjustments.

What is not mentioned in the list is links to films. Here's one to be going along with. The Year of the Dog it shows promises. Maybe a candidate for a Dharmaflix review. It's a film about what it means to devote yourself to something other than your fears and desires, to shed that hard, durable shell called selfishness. It is, rather remarkably, an inquiry into empathy as a state of grace. And if that sounds too rarefied for laughs, rest assured, it's also about a stone-cold beautiful freak.

Thanks Angie for the feed-back and Mike in Edmonton for the link to the film.

I look at that list above and think, Yep, that's what this blog offers me! Thanks folks, all of you, for your kind support and encouragement to keep on writing.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Grieving Beard

Old Mans Beard, AKA Traveller's Joy

Climbing on the stone wall and tumbling over into the lane this rambling plant graces our walks to and from the meditation hall and main buildings.

I wrote about the concept of the grieving beard back in the spring of 2006. That's a beard grown by men when they are remembering somebody. When they have finished grieving they shave it off.

Well there is certainly a lot going on in the world that would cause us to grieve. Just sitting with that, in particular the situation in Burma, is the best one can do.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Many a Slip Twixt Cup and Lip

On Sunday somebody kindly brought along a book for me to read. We had been talking at a previous Sunday meeting about Into Great Silence. That's the film about Grande Chartreuse the mother house of the Carthusian Order of contemplative monks. I'd actually forgotten about the book so it was a pleasant surprise to receive it.

The book An Infinity of Little Hours, gives background to the order and then brings it alive with the stories of five young men who entered Parkminster, the Charterhouse in Sussex, in the early 1960's. This book makes for compelling reading for anybody interested in monasticism or by stories of people overcoming, and not overcoming, great difficulties. I believe only one of the five made it through the rigors to their final, 'for life', vows.

Quite often, and it happens with people who are on the way to joining our order, the vocation is tested literally on the journey. One lad travelling from America on the Mauretania in l960, on board he fell in love with a girl from Manchester. He was torn between his vocation and the girl who had dazzled him so. When the ship docked in Liverpool, after sitting with much inner conflict he went with her to Manchester, instead of Sussex as he had intended, and arranged previously. Not the end of the story though.

This is taken from the book:
Still dazzled, he took her to a movie theatre and arrived there in time for the last of the commercials that preceded the feature film. The ad showed a line of Carthusian monks on their way to church. With monastic chant in the background, the ad went on to promote green Chartreuse liqueur, Bernie didn't need any more signs. He got up immediately, said goodbye to the young lady, and set off for London and then on to Sussex.

Still later when he had been living 'in cell' as the Carthusians term the life, since it is so bound up with living alone in a cell, he decided he couldn't take the life any longer. He was on his way to tell the Novice Master his final decision. However, faith having not completely deserted him, before he left his cell he prayed for help. Although just a short distance to walk the cry for help turned him around and by the time he was facing the Novice Master he had decided to stay. No flashing lights or bolts from the blue. He just saw things dramatically differently, and very quickly. That can happen.

Incidentally one of the slips, in the context of a monastic vocation, is pregnancy.

* * *

There is another review of Into Great Silence on Dharmaflix by Decent Films Guide. Why not do a review, there are good films out there.