Category Archives: Overcome Difficulties

Exercising Faith – The Bodhisattvas’ Path (Dharma Talk)

This was first published October 2017. Will Pegg died in September.

Today at Shasta Abbey, Northern California, we celebrated the Festival of Bhaisajya-guru Tathagata, the Healing Buddha. I was honoured to be asked to give the Dharma Talk after the ceremony. The title is:  Exercising Faith – The Bodhisattvas’ Path.

Towards the end I mention three people by name: Michael Stone (who died mid July), Will Pegg and Rev. Master Meiten all from (or near) Vancouver Island  British Columbia Canada. I dedicated the merit of the talk to them, and although I didn’t say it at the time, the merit extends to all those who have supported them, learnt from them and continue to be inspired by them. All three clearly exercise faith and walk the Bodhisattva Path. The world is full of people, Bodhisattvas’, who each in their own way inspire others to live a life of faith and generosity.

That is enough for tonight.

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Is That Not Enough?

This was first posted late December 2009 and links in with yesterdays post, ‘Everybody has to be somewhere’.   (There were a lot of good comments added to this post by the way.)

Taken on a sunny afternoon above Ambleside in the Lake District while on a walk.
 For most of my early adult life I looked for a purpose. A purpose to life, for living. Returning after my first retreat here at Throssel it occurred to me that I didn’t need to think about having a purpose any more. It was not that I had found a purpose. I did however wonder if I had and what it might be but nothing came to mind. No it was simply that I didn’t need to concern myself about a purpose for living any more. It was such a relief.

We hear of people in extremity who derive meaning, or purpose to live from simple things. For example I heard of a girl in a concentration camp who left behind, for she died in the camp, a diary. In it she recorded how each day she glimpsed a tree and it was this tree that kept her going and gave meaning to remaining alive.

Another story is of a Korean woman incarcerated for something she had not done. Each day the guards would take her out and beat and abuse her. Each day she did her walking and sitting meditation and, she wrote, I am free!

What is it that sets us free to simply live? Free as the tree to spread its branches and send its roots deep into the earth. To have our leaves turn brown in autumn and fall off and then to bud and blossom when the sun warms us. We are not plants, we are however filled with life. Is that not enough?

An after thought. At a certain time when I was almost at the end of reasonable life options I met a person who must have seen something in me. Anyway, he most seriously advised me to learn to meditate. And I couldn’t but take notice of him, he was in earnest. I distinctly remember him saying, It doesn’t matter where you do that, under a tree for example! So there you have it a link between trees and meditation

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One thing. Priorities? In daily living, for the most part, priorities are an order of actions projected into the future. We assumed a predictable future stretching ahead, with the ability mentally, physically and emotionally to confidently move with intention, onwards. Raising a family, earning a living, cooking the next meal, planning an outing. However, when the future has been edited by circumstances there is a real, and urgent, question. What is the most important thing? Today, now? What gives living meaning. What is meaningful for somebody who is confined, to bed, a wheel chair, constant and unremitting pain, the prospect of an intolerable end of life scenario, mental/emotional limitations? While the Buddhist teaching, and really the only way to live, is to be present right here and right now, there is a before and there is an after.

I took the opportunity to listen to the Radio program I linked to in my previous post, David Schneider talks to palliative care consultant Kathryn Mannix. Fifteen minutes well spent, very well spent to be honest. David Schneider’s mother had recently died and he was clearly struggling with the whole issue of death and dying. Who hasn’t struggled with this? Having listened again I am reminded of a few reassuring points made in the program. So for those who are not able to access BBC radio (in North America for example) I’ve uploaded the program to my Dropbox account. Please do get in touch and I can send you the link, bug and virus free. Honest. Leave a comment or leave a message or write me directly if you have my email address already and I’ll let you have the link.

What I came away with having listened again is an ease around the process leading up to death and death itself. But especially now having information born of experience, Kathryn Mannix’s experience, of….well I’ll leave it to you to listen and take from it what you will. It doesn’t seem right to paraphrase her words.

This post is for those who have had a terminal illness thrown into their laps, their own or somebody close to them. Or who have been and are living with life limiting conditions. Young and older. One young man I’ve met comes to mind in particular.

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Life/Death – Close Together

This is a post from December 2015. Could help people to gain a perspective on the dying process, not half as horrible as one might imagine. The person I mention at the end of this post was Brenda Birchenough, who died 1st July this year.

This morning tooling along narrow Cumbrian lanes between dripping hedges following the on/off brake lights ahead. Listening to the radio. A road diversion due to flooding I presumed but unprepared for. A 20 min drive took an hour! However, good old Radio 4 had me fully engaged (as well as driving of course) with an interview about death and dying. A popular subject. Here is the introductory blurb,.

David Schneider is terrified of death. In his two editions of One to One he wants to try to overcome his fear by talking to those who have first-hand understanding of dying. In this programme, he talks to Palliative Care consultant, Kathryn Mannix. With almost forty years of clinical experience and witnessing over twelve thousand deaths, she believes that a ‘good death’ is possible even when you are seriously ill. She explains the process of dying to David. This, she believes, if accepted by the patient, removes much of the anxiety and fear surrounding the end of life.

Two bundles of information stand out and I’ll remember them for myself (I am well and fine) and for others approaching death. For those in Britain who can listen to the podcast I highly recommend doing so.

One: The vast majority of people pop off when attending loved ones are out of the room for a moment. It just seems there is a preference to fade out of this world when there is a chance people who love you are not around to hold onto your heels! My mother chose her moment, I believe. My dad and I knew she was close to death in the hospital but decided to go home and finish cooking the Christmas Cake and would come back later. Our return ended up having us washing her body not seeing her breath her last. That was fine.

Two: Kathryn Mannix had witnessed thousands of deaths and the process  followed a similar pattern. Going from needing more sleep to sleeping more and being awake less and less and eventually drifting into unconsciousness and dying. Peacefully. Ones worries about being in agony and frightening people, happens but rarely apparently.

Oh I seem a bit cavalier on this subject but as a woman said to me the other evening on the phone, I don’t know how to put this Mugo but it seems life and death are very close together. I respond by saying I think you have put it very well indeed. This thought of hers and what I took away from this mornings program has me better informed and more at ease about death, mine and others.

The post is for the man who lost control of his van yesterday which then entered the swift flowing waters of the River Kent. Today he was found dead in the river.

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Mothers do not live for ever!

It would be about now at this time in the evening, 24 years ago, that my mother died in Lynton Cottage Hospital, Devon. She was alone; the nurses off doing their rounds the local nuns not yet arrived. (They make it part of their service to sit with those close to death). My father and I had left her after our evening visit, we had to get on with making the Christmas cake. Even in the face of imminent death it was important to keep up the cake baking tradition. ‘Look after daddy’! she had said a few days earlier. I replied, ‘Well I think he can look after himself! and ‘Yes, I’ll make sure he’s OK’. And he was OK, living on for five more years.

First thing this morning I left a short post on Facebook saying it was the anniversary of my mother’s death and that I was sad I’d not appreciated her more fully during her life. (Thanks to all who left long and thoughtful comments as well as those who simple ‘liked’.) You think your parents will live for ever don’t you. But they don’t. Sooner or later they pass on and I doubt if there are many people who say all they want and need to say to those who die. Suddenly or slowly our all too mortal selves slide off, leaving those who remain to deal with ‘business’. Legal business and spiritual business. Registering her death my dad and I spelt her maiden name incorrectly and struggled to decide which first name to use. My father’s family ‘renamed’ her as they didn’t like her actual name. We registered her original name and that is what my father engraved on her head stone too. She rests, or rather her remains, rest in the cemetery here at Throssel. I buried her, she had a Buddhist funeral, my dad dug the grave.

But it isn’t too late to express what one needs to express even years after a death. Adrienne wrote in her comment on Facebook that she had written a letter to her mother after her death and then later burnt it in the cleansing flames of a ceremonial fire. I will think about writing a letter of appreciation and put it on my altar for a while. Did she make her mark in the world? Yes. In a small side garden in the Nation Trust, Wesbury Court Garden in Gloscester there is an Aquileia, a deep purple one, donated by Mrs. White of Hewelsfield. She knew the gardener there and somehow this plant was rare. Sad to say I don’t know why. She was of a rare breed herself.

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