Category Archives: photograph

Our Bowls Are Empty-Fullness.

My email this evening brought news of three people close to or having just died. This post is for them, and for all who are grieving, caring and letting go. Which includes me too.

There are few things in life more inconstant and more elusive, both in the fist of language and in the open palm of experience, than happiness. Philosophers have tried to locate and loosen the greatest barriers to it. Artists have come into this world “born to serve happiness.” Scientists have set out to discover its elemental components. And yet for all our directions of concerted pursuit, happiness remains mostly a visitation — a strange miracle that seems to come and go with a will of its own. “Those who prefer their principles over their happiness,” Albert Camus wrote in contemplating our self-imposed prisons, “they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness.”

The following poem titled happiness is copied from Brain Pickings where you can read the full post that came with this poem.

HAPPINESS
There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep mid afternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket-maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.
Jane Kenyon

Many thanks to Mark for the photograph.

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Great Master Bodhidharma – Remembered

Republishing this from 2013. Tomorrow, October 15, 2017, at Shasta Abbey we celebrate the Festival of Great Master Bodhidharma. How time does fly.

1Bodhidharma

Beyond this mind there’s no Buddha anywhere. The endless variety of forms is due to the mind, but the mind has no form and it’s awareness no limit. Unaware that their own mind is Buddha people look for a Buddha outside the mind. To seek is to suffer. When you seek nothing you’re on the path. To give yourself up without regret is the greatest charity.

Words drawn from: The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, Translated by Red Pine

Today we remembered Bodhidharma during a ceremony dedicated to him and his teachings. The above was read out at the start of the ceremony for all to hear. It struck a chord.

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Memories Locations

The place changes, the memory fades
The place changes…

It is said that one’s memories from early life remain sharp, clear and vivid. Partly because the first time one does something is so significant in ones growing up. For example ones first proper date, first proper job interview, first car, first time abroad, oh and yes – the first kiss. What is vivid is not only the experience itself but the physical surroundings. That’s how it has been for me. And then there are significant events, life changing events, which have their physical location emblazoned in my mind. This house, in the front room with me standing by the fire-place, letting my parents know I intended to be a monk was such an event. Seeing the windows and remembering I’d helped put them in, earning money from my parents doing up the house to pay my way as a novice at Shasta. That whole six months preparing to leave one life behind and enter another are vivid in my mind’s eye. (Thanks to my good sangha friends for taking the snap.)

You must remember this....
You must remember this….

Again, everything about my first visit to Throssel is vivid, less the physical place and more the monks and what was going on in my mind grappling with conscious self-reflection/meditation, for the first time! Subsequent visits throw up sharper image memories. (And thanks to another good sangha friend for sending this photograph. Taken 1981/2 when I’d already be at Shasta.)

Thinking about it there seems no reason why ones connection to people, places and things along with ones interior need be any less vivid the 20th or 200th time. Then there are those facing death, knowing they have perhaps just a few months to live, do memories and their associated physical locations again become vivid? Many report, in such circumstances, a renewed and welcomed encounter with everything. Not always or all of the time yet the last time would have a certain clarity and meaning wouldn’t it. But what is this all about. Surely we discourage thinking about the past and indeed that is true in the sense of living in or dwelling in the past and missing the shining hour right now. And that’s the point really here, to remember to open oneself to the depth and richness of life. Not with the intention to gather great and memorable experiences like beads on a rosary to tell in the future. More the intention to live full and ripe. Right now.

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In Prison, Or Not. Compassion The Key

Morecambe Bay – tide coming in

I’m visiting (and that’s taken up a lot of my focus recently) an elderly woman who recently moved to a care home on Marine Drive, Morecambe. I have struck it lucky these past couple of weeks with the waters in the Bay almost lapping up against the sea defenses. From her room my fellow Buddhist friend has a view of the Bay with the Lakeland Fells fringing the skyline. There is quite a bit of settling in arranging statues and pictures and treasures so she can be reminded and inspired of her Buddhist affiliations. Too bad she is not able to bend and twist sufficiently to see the view.

She has a single-sheet daily quote calendar beside her bed. When I’m there, if it’s not been done already, I tear off pages to bring it up to date and recycle the paper. Here recycling a quote from Albert Einstein:

A human being is part of the whole called by us “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. They experience themselves, thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to enhance all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Albert Einstein

I’d replace “Universe” with “the Great Earth” which in Buddhist terms means Everything, seen and unseen or I guess “the Universe without edges” would work too. Anyway, hope this has inspired you on this long holiday weekend.

All merit goes to those who are not able to bend and twist so well. Either permanently or just at the moment.  Such a condition need not be part of being ‘in prison’ though it may well feel like that. Sorry.

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Memory Lost


A first for me on Saturday while walking up in the snow near Grasemere. Crampons! Wild looking devices and clearly they can do damage to both self and other when out of control. Not surprised to hear wearing them or not, needing them or not is a matter of debate when approaching snow. Perhaps that’s because they are ‘work’ to fix  onto the boot. Who knows. We watched a group making their way up to Fairfield, one chap used crampons a couple of others traction devices (mini spikes) and the majority stayed with ‘raw boot’!

I am reminded of being in Edmonton over ten years ago now. Snow, the sound of snow as boot lowers and raises. The quality of sound with varied ones according to the quality of snow and the temperature too. Do those memories sew my life together to make it a continuing story? Or are they simply snap shots stored away. A thread of a person moving through life. Yes, obviously. And in another sense she of five days ago, has died.

I’m thinking particularly about those who are suffering from memory loss, short-term memory loss which is so distressing and dimmed long-term memory too. I see on the face of those I visit the deep anguish in them as they struggle with, or give up on, their encounter with the outside world. Why is it you have come? she said. Are you giving a lecture here? Why are you here? No answer will satisfy because it’s forgotten instantly.

Errm, this reads a bit ‘random’. Happens to the best of us. Merit to those with random thoughts who are no longer able to string their life together. At all.

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