Category Archives: Teachings

Cloister Encounter

Rivulet by the cloister.
Rivulet by the cloister.

I met a lay guest on the cloister after lunch today.  I’d recently picked her up from the Greyhound bus stop. We know each other well of old. Ah, hello Rev. Helen she said brightly! The Reverend Helen and I are quite often mistaken for each other. No. It’s Mugo, I respond. With a bit of a laugh about mistaken identity we chatted on about this and that as she made her way (ever-so-slowly with the aid of a walking stick) up the cloister towards the Guesthouse. Eventually the conversation drifted to matters of Buddhist practice. I know Buddha is everywhere. So why do I have to keep on coming back here? she said. Such a soft kind 80 plus face with tears and a smile at the same time. Thinking on my feet I responded, Well, when you had a car you took it in to get the oil changed and the tires checked and have a general service. Right? Same for you coming here isn’t it? I didn’t need to say much more since she got the analogy. Smiling happily, assured her coming and staying at the monastery was not a sign of weakness or faulty faith she slipped into the building. Hopefully for a nap.

Private Altar

Private altar
Private altar

For the most part what practicing Buddhist do is private and not visible to the outside world. Actions come out of an internal space informed and shaped by the basic intention to be the best person one can be. That’s in terms of the basics of exercising compassion, keeping to the Buddhist Precepts and each day renewing the intention to be present/sit still/meditate. Somebody can ‘be a Buddhist’ and that not be known to anybody. Practice is a matter of the heart essentially. People with no faith tradition and those with one can and do endeavor to be the best person they can be each day and their inner world not be on display.

A private altar can be a helpful focus of spiritual endeavor. A place to remember people who have passed on, to express gratitude, to offer up that which needs to be let go of and a place one can actually and practically look up to. The altar gives direction to inner intentions. Today my altar, my looking up to place, focuses on the statue of Kanzeon (compassion), the image of my teacher Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett and a four page hand written letter folded to show a drawing.  Less in focus is a photograph of the chap who died recently. He is still there on the altar – the altar of my heart, made visible. What cannot be there is the lengthy post I wrote earlier today and which I accidentally deleted! Thinking about it now I see it was probably just as well it went as it did. Better it remain, my thoughts remain on the altar of my heart. Hard as it is to say that.

So there is a physical place to put those letters, posts and emails where they can be let go of before they go public! Perhaps best in certain circumstances to never go public!The letter bringing news of the authors current daily life and insights into training is there to express gratitude. In addition correspondence received which disturb, worry or hurt can be usefully placed on the altar for awhile.

As somebody quoted from a scripture in the comments section let our wish be thus:

May we within the temple of our own hearts dwell
Amidst the myriad mountains.

Together With

Text on the side of the Stupa at Shasta Abbey in memory of Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett
Text on the side of the Stupa at Shasta Abbey in memory of Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett

I was on call for Rev. Master Jiyu during the last night of her life. I sensed she wasn’t sleeping, she wasn’t well. Not well at all. A cold had been doing the rounds and she had it, her breathing was laboured. I lay still, very still. Listening. I thought I was having a heart attack – the pain in my chest was intense. My mantra that night was When life comes, there is life. When death comes there is death. Over and over again I repeated. Something in me knew this was sympathy pain yet all the same I repeated the mantra. A mantra of acceptance and of comfort. Mixed with fear to be sure.

Within this place there is no suffering.
No coming. No going. No ceasing. No Way.
There is only endless training.

Later that day Rev. Master Jiyu died.
This post is for those whose life is under threat and for those who are left behind after an unexpected death. We cannot but resonate with such circumstances whether they be near or far away.

Silent Retreat

Busy bicycle made silent - The Netherlands 1999.
Busy bicycle made silent – The Netherlands 1999.

The monastery will be on silent retreat for three days starting tomorrow. Why not join us by building in some extra ‘sitting still’ time into your day. Where ever you are and what ever you are doing there are generally places to pause if only for a few moments. Silence is generally associated with not talking and cutting down on the chatter can be a good practice in getting to listen to the chatter in ones head.

externally or internally
is not the absence
of sound.

For my good Sangha friend who has recently broken her leg.