Category Archives: Daily Life

Slow Walking The Way

Yes. God’s Hotel by Dr. Victoria Sweet has been a constant companion these last days. I’ve chosen the following quote from a book review in the Huffington Post because the pilgrimage described is close to my heart. Not so much the actual one mentioned here more my attraction to the wisdom of walking. Of taking a walk or journey for a spiritual purpose rather than a journey to get somewhere in particular.

These past five months in North America while not involving a lot of physical walking have been in a sense a pilgrimage. A personal spiritual journey. Where the path has lead, the events and very much including the sudden death of my Dharma brother Rev. Alexis,  continues to unfold with no end in sight. Although my flight back to the UK is booked for early March.

There is an ancient pilgrimage, 1,600 kilometers to walk, from south central France to the frontier of Spain and then due west to Compostella. In France, the path is called le chemin and the route the Saint Jacques de Compostelle Pilgrimage. In Spain, it is el camino and known as the Santiago de Compostella Pilgrimage. But the term that pilgrims for a thousand years have used is The Way. It is a journey of body and soul, a means of seeing, feeling and being that a person unleashes from within: This is a spiritual force, non-sectarian and universal, and a means of finding the purpose and human connection that are as essential to a life well lived as they are hard to achieve (Journey for Body and Soul).

God’s Hotel opens a window on the evolution of our health services and the evolving of the approach to health care. The most engaging aspect of the book is looking in on the very personal account of the evolution of one doctors growth and insight into her profession. From the traditional ‘professional’ doctor/patient relationship to one less starchy, rule bound and pressed for time. Professionalism is not compromised.

Appreciating The Impact of Words

Visitor

Words cannot express things;
Speech does not convey the spirit.
Swayed by words, one is lost;
Blocked by phrases, one is bewildered.

Mumon’s Verse for Chao-chou’s Oak Tree, Case 37
– Two Zen Classics: Mumonkan & Hekiganroku, p. 110
Translated with commentaries by Katsuki Sekida

A word came my way the other day and looking into it’s meaning one could understand it in two, or more, almost completely opposing ways. A shadow side and a non shadow. Positive or negative, or somewhere in between. As children in the playground when a child was ‘calling somebody names’ which nowadays would be classed as bullying we had a well-worn retort. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Of course they hurt but to tackle the name caller was to court more than nasty names. See, Sticks and Stones: When Words are Used as Weapons, By Miriam Adahan There are some wonderful teachings from the Torah on right speach in the link to the book.

Words or phrases applied to oneself or to others can have a devastating and have a long-lasting impact especially on the young. Words stick and if they come with the background intent to hurt they can stick for a life time. Choosing words and phrases carefully is obviously important however even with the best of intentions people grasp the wrong end of the stick! I’m eternally sorry for all those who have found themselves hurt by words and phrases I’ve written or uttered.

What was the word that came my way the other day? Insouciant. Meanings listed as follows: showing a casual lack of concern; indifferent.
synonyms: nonchalant, untroubled, unworried, unruffled, unconcerned, indifferent, blasé, heedless, careless; relaxed, calm, equable, serene, composed, easy, easygoing, carefree, free and easy, happy-go-lucky, lighthearted, airy, blithe, mellow;
informal: cool, laid-back, slaphappy.

Being Where You Are Not!

The following is from an article in Brainpickings titled: The Spirit of Sauntering: Thoreau on the Art of Walking and the Perils of a Sedentary Lifestyle. How familiar these words below are. How good to hear Thoreau all those many years ago contemplating the simple act of going for walks and the practice of being where one is and not somewhere else.

I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is — I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?

Walking by Henry David Thoreau Free for Kindle users on Amazon.co.uk.

And here a contemplation sauntering.

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

Saunter, without land or a home, equally at home everywhere. Let’s saunter!

Interconnected Suffering

Upside down, inside out. Topsy-turvydom! That’s the sense of the world right now. Does a day go by when topsy-turvydom, defined as a state of extreme confusion and disorder, does not impact us. Individually and collectively. Viscerally. Recent news, and if I think back I can’t remember when this has not been the case, brings us into contact with suffering. World suffering. Mass suffering.

While suffering is personal/individual it is, simultaneously, universal. Great Grief is the response; a deep connection of sympathy, love, compassion which showers on all, equally and without discrimination. While living in the world of duality the response need not come from duality. However ones response will invariably be conditioned to a greater or lesser extent and so it is that meditation and the Buddhist Precepts inform and guide ones response.

I’m thinking of the teaching of the Net of Indra and of the Tower of Maitreya. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, the image of Indra’s net is used to describe the interconnectedness of the universe:

Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering “like” stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.

The merit of this post is for all those caught up, directly impacted or indirectly impacted by the happenings, past/present/future in this topsy-turvy saha world. The above link goes to a long passage from the Avatamsake Sutra, AKA The Flower Adornment Sutra.

Timely Rain and The Buddha’s Influence

Late afternoon light on Lake Siskiyou.
Late afternoon light on Lake Siskiyou.

A late afternoon saunter with a fellow monastic walking companion. A lake-side saunter. Wonderful! The sound of water lapping gently on the shores of Lake Siskiyou! Double wonderful! Double wonderful because the lake has been not much more than a muddy puddle for several years. Now, water to the shore-line telling of the recent heavy rains. All is well with the world, very well. To have the lake restored to its  deep watery glory is a boon beyond measure.

At times of drought in the almost long forgotten past in the East Buddhists priests performed a ceremony invoking the name of the Dragon King, who controls water, politely yet insistently asking for rain. We have records of such a ceremony and when push comes to shove, we use them. Does rain fall as a result of performing this ceremony? I’m not saying. Eventually rain does come whether due to the Dragon King’s good grace or not would be difficult to say.  We Westerners can get overly squeamish around religious ceremonies at the best of times, praying for rain might just tip the balance, for some. So I encourage an attitude of creative doubt in this regard. In other words, best to keep an open mind.

Back in September we had been under threat from forest fires, we desperately needed rain. One night it rained. I remember hearing water dripping from the guttering outside of my room. I could smell the dampness coming in through my window. Next morning I was celebrant for morning service. It is our custom to say a few words as we offer incense at the start of the ceremony. I said thank you for the timely rain. Had I been asking for help from the watery dragons? Not at all.

What I can say is that sincere Buddhist practice, sustained over time has unseen and unknowable consequences. I’m content to not know and be grateful for what ever comes.

But you know, the idea of good-natured and generous dragons has a certain appeal. This post is for all those who are thirsty, for water or anything else.