Chance and Choice

20151121_160442A long time congregation member and reader of Jade wrote the following reflecting on the killings in Paris and her personal response.

The awful events in Paris on Friday evening became known to me as I snuggled down in bed with radio 4 on and then the news started coming in. My thoughts went to chance and choice, how the smallest change of mind and circumstance can lead to so many life changing events some good, some not so good. Overwhelming sadness for those killed and injured and for the perpetrators who believed so strongly that that was what they should do. This coming Wednesday my grand daughter’s class are going for a visit to Exeter mosque as part of their multi-cultural learning. At first there was a tiny amount of reluctance on my part but then I thought some parents might not like their children going to  a Buddhist temple. I’m just glad that there is a wider more open thinking now than when I was a child in Cornwall and had no idea of the faiths of other people.

Just the smallest movement; a last moment choice which has you not traveling a road. Saying or not saying  something that changes a life for good or ill. Agreeing, or not agreeing. Joining in, or walking away. But what is our guidance system? On what do we rely to steer through the day?

I was just talking to a monks here at Throssel. We remembered my father coming to visit who would, on arriving, habitually seek out the Reverend to admire his ‘handiwork’. One time he was working in a remote part of the monastery and sure enough my dad found him in no time. In an attic! I’d like to think my dad was exceptional but he wasn’t. Everyday each of us moves through clear thin air bumping into and moving around all sorts of things, people and situations. We make choices without consciously thinking about them, or aware a choice had been made. How was it my dad consistently found the Reverend when he frequently eluded members of the community?

Well I don’t think we can answer that question in a sentence. Chance and choice play their part along with conscious deliberation decisions, frequently involving rational thought – weighing up pros and cons. And then there is the mystery factor, that element in life when there is no rational explanation for how or why. Why some people phone consistently at an inconvenient time while others don’t. Why you were following a car that left the road and rolled down a bank. You called 911, sat with a critically injured passenger – while up above on the road your passenger directed traffic and kept everybody safe. Why a person who can act calmly in an emergency ends up on the scene of an accident.

And then there is the situation when a person is certain and acts on that, alone or with others, without wavering. Maybe there is a mystery factor involved here too, resulting in good or ill. However our living is played out on a vast stage set in uncountable time. Kalpas. And even knowing this we are called to act and respond now, best we know how.

Join the Joy

Time for celebration

Join the joy
take a bite
a sip of tea.

at a distance
a friends…

Join the joy
open heart
soft mind.

Ah but what of envy and jealousy? Of cold heavy bitterness when others achieve. Disappointment. Diminished. Loss of confidence. Recognition from ones community, hopes dashed. The list goes on does it not. All emotions and thoughts non of us escape at some time or another yet not emotions and thoughts that can easily be shared. What to do? Well join the joy, the others joy.

There is a teaching in Buddhism. Mudita – sympathetic joy, happiness at the achievements of others with no self-interest. One can have sympathy, join in, with another’s happiness just as much as with sadness and suffering.

So, go on, take a bite of that lovely fruit scone with lots of butter and sweet jam which I enjoyed with my distant friend the other day. Take a sip of tea, Earl Grey. Enjoy.

Hum. I wonder if I’d have written this had I been suffering at the news of my friends achievement. Well, some years ago I cried wet tears into my keyboard as I wrote to a fellow monk telling of my utter grief at being overlooked, overtaken. passed by. We say that the ‘sweet dew covers the whole earth’. And so it does. Open Heart, soft mind.

Turning In Turning Out

Looking out - over Milnthorpe Sands
Looking out – over Milnthorpe Sands

This morning I bumped into the news of what happened in Paris last night and found myself deeply shocked. I felt oddly disoriented but knew that reading more about the event, keeping up with the breaking news is not the way to go. So I did all those things that are second nature; offer a candle, incense, recite a scripture and sit and meditate.

The disorientation remained although in a moment of clarity I realized that the spotlight of truth was shining on impermanence, one of the three signs of existence. And when that happens nothing escapes this truth, not one atom. No wonder there is disorientation, ‘what can one rely on’? So eventually, feeling in reflective mood, I went for a walk. I’ve a brown waterproof jacket and a bright terracotta one.  I had read the following in an email yesterday and I deliberately chose the brown one over the more cheery one. In a way I simply wanted to remain inward looking for a time. To reflect and be still as I walked out into the drizzle. And just sometimes one can be indulgent of oneself, which ever way one goes – bright or dark.

My correspondent (who is responding here to the post titled A Delicate Transformation), has a good point and I am glad to be able to share it with you.

I was very interested in your blog post on attention to dressing.  Many years ago I noticed that the way I was dressing was conditioned by my mood swings. The ‘highs’ resulted in extravagant behaviour and dress, the ‘ego explosion’ in the quote. The  ‘lows’ brought depressed behaviour and a loss of interest in all things, including appearance.
I started to pay more attention to this and decided that, no matter the feelings whether high or low, I should take care with my appearance. Even when my day starts in a landscape of bleak greyness, I can bring light in with a well-ironed, colourful shirt and well-fitting trousers. My mood lightens, I feel better about myself. The last attention to appearance is to put on a smile. I can leave home wearing nice clothes and a smile. People respond to a smile from a well dressed person and I benefit from their response to me.

What I am doing is turning outward from the inner pain, opening myself up to life and life always responds.

What ever the colour, what ever the weather, what ever the human tragedy, what ever it is the Great Earth (everything) rises up to greet us. Our job is to respond appropriately and with depth to our hearts. Much merit flowing into the world this evening.

Life/Death – Close Together

This morning tootling along narrow Cumbrian lanes between dripping hedges following the on/off brake lights ahead. Listening to the radio. A road diversion due to flooding I presumed but unprepared for. A 20 min drive took an hour! However, good old Radio 4 had me fully engaged (as well as driving of course) with an interview about death and dying. A popular subject. Here is the introductory blurb,.

David Schneider is terrified of death. In his two editions of One to One he wants to try to overcome his fear by talking to those who have first-hand understanding of dying. In this programme, he talks to Palliative Care consultant, Kathryn Mannix. With almost forty years of clinical experience and witnessing over twelve thousand deaths, she believes that a ‘good death’ is possible even when you are seriously ill. She explains the process of dying to David. This, she believes, if accepted by the patient, removes much of the anxiety and fear surrounding the end of life.

Two bundles of information stand out and I’ll remember them for myself (I am well and fine) and for others approaching death. For those in Britain who can listen to the podcast I highly recommend doing so.

One: The vast majority of people pop off when attending loved ones are out of the room for a moment. It just seems there is a preference to fade out of this world when there is a chance people who love you are not around to hold onto your heels! My mother chose her moment, I believe. My dad and I knew she was close to death in the hospital but decided to go home and finish cooking the Christmas Cake and would come back later. Our return ended up having us washing her body not seeing her breath her last. That was fine.

Two: Kathryn Mannix had witnessed thousands of deaths and the process  followed a similar pattern. Going from needing more sleep to sleeping more and being awake less and less and eventually drifting into unconsciousness and dying. Peacefully. Ones worries about being in agony and frightening people, happens but rarely apparently.

Oh I seem a bit cavalier on this subject but as a woman said to me the other evening on the phone, I don’t know how to put this Mugo but it seems life and death are very close together. I respond by saying I think you have put it very well indeed. This thought of hers and what I took away from this mornings program has me better informed and more at ease about death, mine and others.

The post is for the man who lost control of his van yesterday which then entered the swift flowing waters of the River Kent. Today he was found dead in the river.

A Delicate Transformation

Baudelaire – 1855

The marvelous envelops
and saturates us
like the atmosphere;
but we fail to see it.


The following quote is from the Parisian Gentleman a site I stumbled upon when searching on-line for instructions on how to do invisible mending. Their Journal post yesterday titled The Theory of How to Wear a Suit  caught my attention. At first it was the writing style  dry wit,  and fastidious attention to detail, that had me transfixed.   And somewhat bemused at entering into a totally alien realm of smart clothing, for men. Rev. Master Jiyu encouraged natural pride (in one’s appearance) and I do believe she would have given thumbs up to what is written here.

When we give the art of dressing well the attention it deserves, we move into the midst of an inner transformation, and this inner shift is a delicate transformation to manage.

It’s great to find a way to present ourselves well with clothing and finally (sartorially speaking) experience the feeling of self-approval. Yet, achieving self-approval poses a risk, as too much self-approval can convert into an ego explosion which annihilates the goal of ‘looking good’ as haughty and proud behavior can turn a person into a human atrocity.

Perhaps it’s better to say that understanding the art of dressing well opens the door to a more profound emotion created by beauty itself, and when we dress and leave our homes and feel surrounded within the vapor of beauty (created from somewhere within ourselves), we get a fleeting glimpse of the eternal.

As Baudelaire said, “all forms of beauty, like all possible phenomena, have something eternal and something transitory — an absolute and a particular element”. But perhaps even more striking is Baudelaire’s epiphany, “The marvelous envelops and saturates us like the atmosphere; but we fail to see it.”

And with all this time to recover from the cold I caught in Latvia I’ve been able to mend my treasured monastic, 100% wool coat, which had been attacked by a moth while my back was turned. Always good to be turned out sans moth holes! Thank you Rev. Master for your teaching.

Practice Within The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives