Category Archives: Teachings

Feeding Penelope

In this house, this attractive house which most would love to live in, is a wood burning boiler which I have been ‘feeding’ these past days. As I type the smell of wood smoke fills my nostrils – all of my clothing is now infused with wood smoke through and through. There is no getting away from it. Feeding a fire for most of the day takes dedication, and time. Penelope, the name of the house and the boiler combined, sits in the back of my mind. A constant presence calling me back for more wood every couple of hours or so. And just so it is clear, there is nothing other than the wood burner and wood storage in the house. No accommodation, none.

But what is interesting is the affection everybody has for Penelope. This simple ol’ wood burning monster all be it housed in rural luxury is the object of affection in the community well past what might be normal for a functional piece of equipment. I think what we are looking at is a case of anthropomorphism and while I am not much up for doing that I’m (almost) hopelessly drawn in. No, I don’t knock on the door before entering but I do ‘speak to her’. There is a living belching mass in that house. I’m honoured to be it’s keeper however I’m keeping things on a strictly impersonal level from now on. I’ll let her know!

On a not completely unrelated subject this afternoon I was contempating talking about Nirvana to a group here on an introductory retreat. That’s Nirvana the extinction of suffering, the third of the Four Noble Truths. That’s the extinguishing of the three fires of greed, anger and delusion which keep the wheel of becoming turning. However when it came to it I talked about how Buddhist practice brings about a changed relationship with existence. One where the sense of separation between me and everything else transforms to one less person centered, less me centered.

Penelope is not personal or impersonal and in a real way we are not two. And, anybody who has ever fed a fire falls in love, just a little.

Do take a look at that link wheel of becoming. It is a great infographic on the basics of Buddhist teaching.

walking in step with

Linda Payne was one of the artists who exhibited work at the opening I went to a few days ago. I rather liked this ‘gatha’ she wrote. Walking in step with the present – very good. Walking with the ever-changing present, nothing static, nothing unmoving or non movable.

Knowing without knowing

Yreka - from an art show.
Yreka – from an art show.

The other evening several of the monks and many lay members attended a small art show in Yreka titled Women Who Know Alaska. One of the women is a regular attendee here at Shasta Abbey. We went to support her and her artistic endeavours.

After a fairly brisk look at the art on the walls I chatted sociably and then sat with an elderly woman on a window seat, the town of Yreka behind us. After the preliminaries, What’s with the hair thing? and Brown and purple, nice colour combination! we settled to chat. Story or in this case autobiography tumbled from her lips. The abridged version. I was not a passive listener, Oh yes, and how did you learn to walk again after the accident? and having been invited to feel the metal in her reconstructed knee, Yes the metal is close to the surface! Her lived-in face and hands spoke volumes, as did she.

The whole room was redolent with memory, animated memories through the art works, the people and specifically the elderly woman. It was as though all was animated wallpaper; to appreciate, enjoy and wonder at. To engage with wholeheartedly and without reservation. And silently,  out of sight, is the knowing-without-knowing. Knowing the story, the multi-faceted, multi-coloured and textured surfaces in the room were fundamentally as passing smoke in blue sky or rocks and pebbles in clear running water. AND.  And this is the wonder of engaging anywhere at any time, that the knowing-without-knowing is known through the animated wallpaper of events and circumstances of living.

For anybody who might be wondering the above is simply a creative way of talking about meditation in daily living. And, in particular, affirming that daily life isn’t the poor relative of *formal meditation.

*The word formal was added into this post on 30th October for clarification.


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.