Training hand, heart and mind

This letter, first published in 2006, is reproduced now in slightly edited form.

Dear Rev. Mugo,
I thought I would write to let you know what I have discovered about Trinity College of Music at the time Rev. Master (Jiyu-Kennett) would have been in contact with it, in case it is of interest.

Trinity was started in 1872 by Bonavia Hunt who was deeply concerned by the quality of church music which was becoming poorer and poorer. Trinity was first known as the Church Choral Society and College of Church music. It was open to members of the Anglican Church, and men only! The college started with a view to teaching so that quality could be restored and the long tradition of church music continued. As it developed, the college trained teachers and offered exams throughout the world so that standards could be maintained. I’m not sure of the date, but women were also welcomed in to study before the war.

By 1939 the numbers at the college grew and the college ethos was one of welcome and the doors were opened on Sundays as well as all other days, “to keep the lamp of music burning during these dark days.” The choir was open to those who’s choral societies had had to disband for war reasons. Trinity hosted concerts throughout the war and two concerts in 1942 were given by the children of London county council and Middlesex who studied on Saturday mornings with Gladys Puttick, a pioneer who arrived at Trinity in 1934 and was one of the first to teach musicianship beyond the instrument. She was also the founder of the Saturday School and Trinity was the first music college to have a Saturday junior department. Distance Learning also started to help those unable to get into college to study, in fact Prisoners of War were able to do distance learning with help from the British Red Cross offices.

Gladys Puttick arrived in 1934 and stayed until the 1970s. Three other notable people were at Trinity from the 1930s – mid 1960s. Charles Kennedy Scott was keen on the study of Plainsong and the chanting of Psalms and gave regular lectures and led rehearsals. Dr Lowery was passionate about organs, organ music and is noted as giving superb lectures. The Principal of Trinity from 1944 -1965, Dr Wilfred Greehouse Allt was also an organist who was the President of the Incorporated Association of Organists from 1956-1958 and then of the Royal College of Organists from 1962-1964. Rev Master would almost certainly have come into contact with Gladys Puttick and Charles Kennedy Scott, whether based at Trinity or as a distant learner.

Gladys Puttick gave a lecture in the 1940s and it reveals an approach to learning that often goes unnoticed. She said that music was, “essentially a pivotal subject of education, since it could be the means of training, at once, the hand, the heart and the mind.”

It would appear that Rev Master was in good hands.

Simple Advice For Facing Adversity

I’ve been emailing back and forth with a reader, in a far away country, who is in mental and emotional extremity, not without good reason. The directions I give this person are specific to that individual however I think there is something here for everybody.

From Correspondent: Could I ask about spiritual texts or prayers or something which could be probably helpful for me to find myself in that situation (and keep the faith) and develop (as I may say like that) my soul? Could you advise something or should I just sit in my meditation for the time being?

From Mugo: Here is a verse we have for circumstances such as the one you are in right now. (I recite it at take off and landing in an airplane.) This is not a prayer to a higher power separate from your own deepest indwelling heart, that which you touch (and are) when you are still within and which never leaves. Never.

The Invocation for the Removal of Disasters.
Adoration to all the Buddhas
Adoration to the limitless Scriptures
Peace! Speak! Blaze! Up!
To the glorious Peaceful One
For whom there are no disasters.
Hail! Hail! Hail!

It might be good to write out the verse and place it where you will see it and remember it. And have a copy to read in moments when you are able during the day. Reciting this is not magic. It will not make anything happen by reciting it. Basically reciting such verses help to keep faith when all around wants to drag it from you. You must maintain you faith in, and compassion for, ALL living beings and not allow yourself to be dragged down to the ground, so to speak.

Your eyes, literally your eyes, may be lifted up from time to time to look at what is high. Tops of trees, roofs, sky, ceiling – this will help you more than you might think. Deceptively simple, yet by simply looking up ones spirits remain up too. Remember particularly to keep your eyes looking ahead when you are walking from place to place, rather than the usual habit of looking at the ground.

That’s all I have for you so please now simply get on with your daily life. Just doing one thing after the other and keep returning to just doing the next thing. An instruction I have when giving a talk on working meditation is to bring your attention to your hands (mostly we are doing things with out hands). This will help you to keep your attention where you are and away from difficult mental and emotional states. Nothing wrong with such states however it is not so good to dwell there for a long time.

From Correspondent: Thank you for all your messages. they are warm and inspiring and recalling an important matter – “You must maintain your faith and compassion for all living beings”…and that everything (all forces, wisdom, compassion) is inside us. Thank you again.
With kind regards,

From Mugo: Glad what I’ve said is helpful. We sang the Invocation for the Removal of Disasters during a ceremony today. I have to say I kept you and your situation in mind as we sang.

Would you be OK with me publishing bits from our recent email conversation. I would like to publish as there is some reasonably useful teaching and it shows that life can get (very) difficult and that one can live through anything and still come through with a glad heart and not a sad one. I hope and pray that will be the case for you.

From Correspondent: HI! Thank you again for a ceremony and your care. As to your question – definitely I’m OK with publishing. Not only because our conversation is so useful and supportive to me, but also due to the fact that the extracts from your discussions with other people published in your blog are always so inspiring and useful for me that it would be my pleasure to give something to others (if I may express it in that way)
Best regards,

Song to the Spirit of Life

The Buddhist scriptures describe experience, profound religious understandings. Each day we sing/recite many of them central to the teachings of Zen. They are configured in poetic form. I remember somebody saying that the scriptures were written at deaths door. Meaning for me that the understanding contained in them was hard-won, that’s the absolute allowing of the dropping away of the illusion of an enduring separate selfhood. In effect to die while still alive.

These days and months I seem to be ‘tuning into’ what that all means for me personally. The dropping away, it’s not an option or anything to do with virtue. I’ve had contact with many who find themselves in extremity and see them ‘drop away’. In some cases there is no choice, the extremity leaves no choice. The following was written by a devoted Christian person early on in his diagnosis of ALS –  Lou Gehrig’s disease

Read/sing lest we forget the depths of our being. Yes, the language is theistic, the sentiments universal.

Spirit of Life, remind me
to listen to the sound
of your whispered voice
and to feel your presence in my soul.

Calm my mind
so that I might hear
the gentle melody of life
that murmurs beneath my busy thoughts.

Help me be still
and quiet, desiring nothing
but acceptance of your will
and understanding of your purpose.

Please give me this gift
of peace each day
so that I never forget
to love my life and to share that love.

You are always with me,
The strength, the light and the joy of my being.

Lessons of ALS – Facebook

The merit of this post is offered to all those who face, live with and struggle to accept the day-to-day realities of ALS and similar conditions of the nervous system. One cannot even imagine. The chap who wrote Lessons of ALS as his condition progressed was eloquent on the whole matter of mortality.  Not to mention his describing what it feels like to lose the use of ones body and retain ones mind.

Speaking to Experience – Poem

Speaks to the heart of experience (mine anyway) like nothing I’ve read in a very long time.

After a while you learn
The subtle difference between
Holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t always mean security.

And you begin to learn
That kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes ahead
With the grace of a woman
Not the grief of a child

And you learn
To build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is
Too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way
Of falling down in mid flight

After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much
So you plant your own garden
And decorate your own soul
Instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers

And you learn
That you really can endure
That you are really strong
And you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn
With every good bye you learn.

Author: Veronica A. Shoffstall

The Buddhas Renunciation – Dharma Talk

I don’t do well with the word ‘renunciation’, not one I’d apply to myself i.e. that I renounced (rejected) the life I was living in the ‘world’ and became a monk because…? Nope. (Renunciation – Meaning, refraining from, going without, doing without, giving up of, eschewe, rejection of.) Well yes, there is a good bit of doing without and refraining from as a monk, however for me talking this path, all those years ago, was and still is, about embracing, acknowledging what’s fundamentally here and now. Embracing all of existence, oneself included. Ideas of having and not having, fall away. Or rather the clinging to having and not having.

Last Sunday we celebrated the Festival of the Buddhas Renunciation. This, the renunciation, is pointing to the time the historic Buddha took off to live as a wandering ascetic. Rev. Vivian, a visiting monk from Shasta Abbey gave the Dharma talk. She points out at around the 8.38 minute the sort of question people pose themselves. Imagining, for example, that to do this Buddhist practice seriously you have to leave everyday life (practicing as a lay person) and ordain as a monk. This is mistaken thinking, really it is. She talks about making those big decisions such as ordaining and what can influence/drive them for example. Not the little decisions like what kind of mattress to buy or where to go on your holidays, more the biggies, life changing ones. So when you have a moment listen to this talk.

This talk explores the Buddha’s Renunciation in light of what it might offer us in our practice today when we find ourselves making difficult choices, and what that implies about the true meaning of Renunciation.
Bowing to The Great Unborn, Dharma Talk by Rev. Vivian.

Anyway, that’s enough for this evening.