Category Archives: Overcome Difficulties

Canine Friends and Human Enemies

Well, it turns out dogs are not just our best friends they, at least, regard us as their relatives. Closer to humans than their own kind! Link.

And:

Cats feature in most charming ways in the film, The Cats of Mirikitani. Another story of rescue and transformation in this case of an elderly Japanese man found on the streets of New York drawing cats for a living. A talented artist discovered, his story told including an insight into the Japanese Internment camps in America during WW11.

So much suffering and SO hidden from view, then and now. Jimmy Mirikitani at least ended upright and walking forward. We can do that too.

More to death than dying

Faith traditions invariably have teaching, based on faith/belief, around what happens when somebody dies. Hopefully such teachings bring comfort to those who are grieving as well as strengthened faith in those approaching death themselves. Buddhism has a number of schools or traditions with similar yet different teachings around what happens. Personally I don’t feel a need to know!  However I’m able to offer meaningful thoughts to the grieving which tend to focus on living and the departed persons life.

I was out walking just now pondering on this whole subject. It would seem we (in the West) are held in a dynamic tension between verifiable scientific proof as to what happens and real-time imaging/the visionary (including visionary dreams). My experience around death, which I do not take as fact, tends towards the visionary. This all is coming to mind since there seems to have been a lot of death in the family lately.

Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett, my teacher, died eighteen years ago on the 6th November 1996 here at Shasta Abbey. She’d had a really bad cold for three days and finally on the third day around 2.00 in the afternoon her system gave out. On that day and generally around that time a number of us noticed how up-beat we seemed, joyful even. We refer to one who has died such as Rev. Master Jiyu as entering Eternal Meditation and in a certain way we all joined her there. How could there not be collective joy and celebration?  Yes, and at the same time there was sadness at the person of our Masters’ leaving us.

Around this time of year there are ceremonies held within our religious order remembering Rev. Master Jiyu and Shasta Abbey was no exception. Invariably memories of that time are very personal as is the case around any death of somebody close, or one of our animal companions too for that matter. These are my memories.

Last Sunday morning a Memorial was held for Rev. Jiyu which included a separate ceremony at the site where she is buried, marked by a majestic white stupa with a smooth paved area  surrounds the stupa. Everybody present, lay and monastic, went out in procession to the stupa site and sang scriptures as we walked around (circumambulated) the stupa a number of times in honor of the one interred beneath. As we sang together in the crisp sunny morning air I was taken back to the actual burial ceremony, eighteen years ago.

I was one of the two officiating monks for the burial and chose to wear the black novice monk kesa Rev. Master wore when she was a novice in Japan. It was a huge honour to wear her robe and of course being asked to be one of the celebrants. It was freezing cold, I had a well developed cold as did several other monks. I felt like death! A monk stood close by with extra tissues and cough sweets as we stood on the uneven newly dug earth facing the end of the ceremony hall with Mt. Shasta behind. The ceremony went on for perhaps two hours with scriptures being repeated over and over as everybody, quite a crowd, put a spade full of earth on the coffin. I might have been a bit delirious by the end of it all, possibly during the ceremony as well! Was I seeing things?

Returning now to last Sunday. I was standing in much the same place I’d stood at the burial with the tip of Mt. Shasta white with snow peeking out from behind the meditation hall building with blue sky above. Around me I sensed a crowd gathering among the surrounding trees, larger than the one physically present. In the sky there appeared a lively sense of beings riding on large birds, flying freely and joyfully. I didn’t look up. Didn’t feel the need to. Didn’t concern myself as to whether or not I was seeing things, again.

Yep, there is more to death than dying and I guess we will all know what that is when our time comes. Until then let us fully appreciate the lively sense of being physically alive while going about our day, and when in repose too.

This post is for the brother of one of the monks who is getting closer to death by the day. May he find true peace.

Audio Recording: Rev. Master Koten Prior of Lions Gate Buddhist Priory British Columbia, Canada gave a talk after the ceremonies last Sunday. The title of the talk is: To View The Morning Star. The Reverend speaks about Rev. Master Jiyu; giving teaching about training with a master and about training generally. It lasts just over one hour and rich with Dharma and best listened to while sitting quietly. Not for example when out jogging or driving or while doing the dusting or washing the dishes! Just a thought.

Living in Books – getting lost

On display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent Belgium. Functional books!
On display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent Belgium. Functional books!

Here I am again quoting from a post in Brainpickings. Yet again. This quote comes from an essay called “Flight” by Rebecca Solnit, in her collection of essays “The Faraway Nearby”
The following is taken from A Book Is a Heart That Only Beats in the Chest of Another: Rebecca Solnit on the Solitary Intimacy of Reading and Writing

Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.

Well, I have been thinking of my own reading habits as a girl and teenager. OF COURSE I read books, how could I have NOT done so. The thing is I got lost in them to such a great extent – I ran into the woods alone with them, so to speak – that I quite forgot I’d had them in my hands. Such was the level of my intense level of connection with story I lost contact with everything around me.

Malcolm Saville wrote children’s adventure stories set in the area of East Sussex where I lived. I read them all probably. There were many other authors I favoured too. However everything changed one day while in Spain in my early 20’s when re reading a Daphne du Maurier. I realized the English images from the story were layered on top of what was coming into my eyes! Worse, I was an actor from the book, in costume, walking along a harbour in Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands! Clearly things had gone too far. I cut back drastically on reading from then on mostly because I started to study for a degree.

One can get lost in stories, one can become lost anywhere with anything that takes a grip. Even good and helpful pursuits.

Thanks to Cliff for the photograph.

Reflections of a reformed reader

I read books once pre monastic years ago. A time when physically holding something still, a book, for extended lengths of time wasn’t tiring or stressful. Or at least didn’t notice! The other day I bought two books on a whim at a charity shop and I’m nearly through the second one. No serious consequences physically or in other way that I can tell. The difference from then to now is this. I’m not devouring the books, I’m savouring them, taking small bites and chewing well! Taking in just a few pages at a sitting and not rushing on skimming lengthy descriptions to get to the action. The  blueness of sky and the rasping of water over rock, the whispering wind in the quivering aspen etc. etc. Or jumping to the end to find ‘what happens’.

These particular books need nursing too – they are charity books. Paper backs are not constructed to last, my copy of Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage was published in 1990, it’s showing it’s age.  Before I start to read I have to gather the loose pages into two handfuls – the binding is shot. The pages are a pleasing tone of brown, brittle to the touch and smelling as only old books can.

In my room at Shasta these past days, or weeks is it, I’ve ridden long and fast across southern Utah, listened to Lassiter’s spurs clinking across Jane Withersteen’s cool enclosed and safe courtyard surrounded by Cottonwoods and snuck up of them thievin’ rustlers holed up in Deception Pass. Zane Grey put words to the West and then we got the Western movie. Later.

You might think I’m wasting my time and that’s how I regarded books – time wasters. Until recently. There is now both a joy and an education in reading I’ve greater appreciation for and that comes from my efforts of writing this blog. Just the construction of sentences and the use of words circ 1912 when ‘Riders’ was first published is breath taking. I’d not dream of putting words together like Zane Grey does, not dare. But now I might give it a try, be more daring, more adventurous.

Somebody I know and respect said ‘Readers write and writers read’. It’s a symbiotic relationship past the obvious and there is deep purpose in reading, in writing too. This evening I bumped into a thinker and writer who answering the question. What is literature for? in an animated video. It turns out we would be lesser people in every respect for not having read books. So much for my early prejudices around reading. Reading is good for you – therefore I’ll not read! Or I’ll use reading to escape pain, well into the wee hours.

Number four reason for reading:

IT PREPARES YOU FOR FAILURE
All of our lives, one of our greatest fears is of failure, of messing up, of becoming, as the tabloids put it, “a loser.” Every day, the media takes us into stories of failure. Interestingly, a lot of literature is also about failure — in one way or another, a great many novels, plays, poems are about people who messed up… Great books don’t judge as harshly or as one-dimensionally as the media…

But the real clincher for a reason to read is this:

Literature deeply stands opposed to the dominant value system — the one that rewards money and power. Writers are on the other side — they make us sympathetic to ideas and feelings that are of deep importance but can’t afford airtime in a commercialized, status-conscious, and cynical world.

Spare a thought for those writers beavering away alone in a basement, rejections outnumbering acceptances, family and friends looking on. – Wondering, worrying some. Them writers I know are humble people and I think it is the writing that makes them so.

Fire! Fire! – Audio Talk

Hotei House Garden, Shasta Abbey.
Hotei House Garden, Shasta Abbey.

You can listen to a talk I gave at Shasta Abbey this morning. The title of the talk is Fire! Fire! and based on a post of the same name and last just under 30 mins. I’m in after talk shock and post retreat exhaustion so I don’t have much to say this evening.