Mothers do not live for ever!

It would be about now at this time in the evening, 24 years ago, that my mother died in Lynton Cottage Hospital, Devon. She was alone; the nurses off doing their rounds the local nuns not yet arrived. (They make it part of their service to sit with those close to death). My father and I had left her after our evening visit, we had to get on with making the Christmas cake. Even in the face of imminent death it was important to keep up the cake baking tradition. ‘Look after daddy’! she had said a few days earlier. I replied, ‘Well I think he can look after himself! and ‘Yes, I’ll make sure he’s OK’. And he was OK, living on for five more years.

First thing this morning I left a short post on Facebook saying it was the anniversary of my mother’s death and that I was sad I’d not appreciated her more fully during her life. (Thanks to all who left long and thoughtful comments as well as those who simple ‘liked’.) You think your parents will live for ever don’t you. But they don’t. Sooner or later they pass on and I doubt if there are many people who say all they want and need to say to those who die. Suddenly or slowly our all too mortal selves slide off, leaving those who remain to deal with ‘business’. Legal business and spiritual business. Registering her death my dad and I spelt her maiden name incorrectly and struggled to decide which first name to use. My father’s family ‘renamed’ her as they didn’t like her actual name. We registered her original name and that is what my father engraved on her head stone too. She rests, or rather her remains, rest in the cemetery here at Throssel. I buried her, she had a Buddhist funeral, my dad dug the grave.

But it isn’t too late to express what one needs to express even years after a death. Adrienne wrote in her comment on Facebook that she had written a letter to her mother after her death and then later burnt it in the cleansing flames of a ceremonial fire. I will think about writing a letter of appreciation and put it on my altar for a while. Did she make her mark in the world? Yes. In a small side garden in the Nation Trust, Wesbury Court Garden in Gloscester there is an Aquileia, a deep purple one, donated by Mrs. White of Hewelsfield. She knew the gardener there and somehow this plant was rare. Sad to say I don’t know why. She was of a rare breed herself.

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When the light breaks through

In the first of a special series to mark the 4 Sundays of Advent, TV presenter and star of Inside The Factory, Cherry Healey embarks on a highly personal journey to explore her spiritual beliefs. 

Revisiting key sliding doors moments from her past and re-engaging with key figures who helped shape her life, she experiences moments of revelation and clarity as she questions how faith shaped the person she is today. 

Unflinching in her honesty, Cherry guides us through her life story, talking publicly for the first time about her unique take on spirituality, her relationship with God and her misgivings about the rules of organised religion. Part travelogue, part celebrity biography, the programme offers thought-provoking insights into what it means to have faith in the 21st century, and tells an inspiring faith story that will resonate with everyone in the build up to Christmas.

My Faith and Me, BBC One, Cherry Healey

There are 23 days left to watch this program and it comes recommended. Cherry had a ‘religious experience’ some time in her early life and had struggled to find a context, ‘where to I put this’ I think she said. Her ‘misgivings’ around organized religion are shared with many, me included. For years I thought I’d have to go to India and find ‘somewhere’ to live the ‘contemplative life’. Not that I really knew what that meant in practice.

Fortunately I found somewhere to put/practice what I discovered, unknowingly, in my early life. And that was/is? All things express/transmit the Truth. Simple really.

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Understanding Emptiness

Rev. Master Jiyu would say, “It (emptiness) is the fullest emptiness you will ever know”. She was talking from her own experience and understanding and when ever I heard her say that I thought, “well that’s good” but didn’t ‘get’ what she was saying.

Here is a quote I find rather helpful in understanding the Buddhist concept of emptiness.

I often use the example of a hand in speaking about emptiness; we can call it a hand or we can call it a collection of five fingers. As a collection of five fingers, each finger is independent and has a different shap and function. We cannot exhange the little finger with the thumb because each has its own function, shape, and unique way of being. A thumb cannot do precisely what a little finger does and a little finger cannot do what a thumb does. Each finger is truly independent. And yet, from another perspective as one hand, all five fingers function together, and there is no separation between them. When we see the fingers in this united way, there is really just one hand

Realizing Genjokoan, Shohaku Okumura, p17.
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The Buddha’s Enlightenment

Part of the altar for the Buddha’s Enlightment Festival Ceremony at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey 2018

Last Sunday a number of people came to the monastery to mark the Buddha’s Enlightenment with a ceremony. We sing, we bow, sing some more and offer incense at the main altar. We follow a form I’m very familiar with from having participated in this and other ceremonies for…many years. Thirty something years and I’m not counting.

Like so many aspects of formal monastic life, which I’m revisiting while living at Throssel on an open-ended stay, I’m seeing myself respond to forms we use in our Buddhist tradition (and form generally) differently. That is rather interesting since, heck!, one would imagine ones response to conditions both internal and external would be subject to change! And they are. Conditionable we are, and habits of mind and body do change – in the short-term, long-term and very long-term.

Anyway here are a couple of verses from an invocation we sang on Sunday that caught my attention:

There is a Life beyond the dream,
The dream of life and death.
With naught to have, to want, to know,
IT fills me with each breath.

There is a Real beyond the dream,
Of sacred and profane,
Beyond the mirror of my mind:
No form, no end, no stain.

This post is for all those who find themselves in extremity, physically/emotionally/mentally/spiritually. The above words point to absolute truth through what we term ‘the opposites’. In Zen teaching the relative and the absolute are ‘not two’. Not one and not separate.

On a slightly different note we witnessed, early in the morning the other day while walking to meditation, the moon and Venus rising at the same time. It is said that the Buddha’s was Enlightened on seeing the Morningstar, Venus. Who knows, that was a long time ago and far away.  Certainly caught my attention.

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Smelling like Roses?

Ok world, there are thorns and there are roses, lest we overlook this in the rush to come up smelling like, well roses! It’s relatively easy to see, talk/post about and appreciate the ‘roses’, less so for the ‘thorns’ of our lives.

I do so love this extract from a letter written by Tchaikovsky in this article, Tchaikovsky on Depression and Finding Beauty Amid the Wreckage of the Soul.  This article and so very many others worth reading can be found on the wonderful website Brain Pickings

Tchaikovsky notes his cyclical lapses into depression, undergirded by a dogged dedication to looking for beauty and meaning amid the spiritual wreckage. This intimate tango of sadness and radiance is ultimately what gives his music its timeless edge in penetrating the soul.

I am sitting at the open window (at four a.m.) and breathing the lovely air of a spring morning… Life is still good, [and] it is worth living on a May morning… I assert that life is beautiful in spite of everything! This “everything” includes the following items: 1. Illness; I am getting much too stout, and my nerves are all to pieces. 2. The Conservatoire oppresses me to extinction; I am more and more convinced that I am absolutely unfitted to teach the theory of music. 3. My pecuniary situation is very bad. 4. I am very doubtful if Undine will be performed. I have heard that they are likely to throw me over.

In a word, there are many thorns, but the roses are there too.

One through number four says it all. I know I could come up with a list, perhaps a longer list to be honest. This morning as I looked out of my window, taking in the expanse of the valley, I once again realized that ‘no matter what life circumstances will unfold, pains and worries are present and will change. And all in a timely way but not to my schedule though. A moment of deep appreciation, and confirmation.

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Practice Within The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives