Category Archives: Teachings

Near Death

There isn’t a day goes by when I am not in touch with somebody who is dealing with a life close to ending. Or a death approaching, soon or predictably – quite a bit later. The usual measure of time doesn’t seem to come into it – a moment can seem like a life time. Hours slip by in a blink of an eye. My own father died January 29th 2000, quite suddenly and without warning, although he was elderly he was fit and well by all appearance. Nineteen year ago. He is long gone…and yet… Still close.

I see friends and family struggle with the loss of a loved one…and I’ve stayed silent about my experience. While nothing but time can alleviate the pain of loss, I can’t help but feel that as a card-carrying member of this exclusive club ( near death survivor), I have inside knowledge that might alleviate a different kind of pain — the pain of imagining the final moments, what might have been going through their minds, and whether they made it to the other side in peace.

Christen O’Brien – Medium

The above quote is from a piece by a person who experienced near death, and survived. This is not rare.

This post is for all those who grieve a loss and specifically for Norman and for Rachel. And for Kate S too. And so many more.

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Light goes with darkness as the sequence does of steps in  walking.

At the end of the first meditation period of the day a drum is struck seven times, symbolizing the coming of the seven *six Buddhas before the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni. We use a bass drum mounted on a stand. Depending on how and where on the surface of the drum it is struck the sound is anything from a resounding CRASH to a mild thump. The intention is for a deep resonating sound, neither too loud nor too soft. Yesterday, more of a crash! It happens.

And so it is with us. Actions, including speech are, at times, harsh and jarring, at other times filled with compassion and gentleness. Resonating deeply in minds and hearts. It is all too easy however to label a person ‘harsh’ or ‘compassionate’ and evaluate that person accordingly good or bad, nice or nasty on the basis of their actions. Or the quality of their actions.

Is this right though? However human it may be to judge in this way I’d be rather sad if, for example, what I said or did even years ago had me for ever cast as a ‘nasty person’. The act may not have been out of the top drawer, raising my voice for example, but does that make me a nasty person, an unkind person? Is it possible to see the person apart from their actions? At least as a starting point for exercising kindness and compassion.

In ‘darkness’, when separate features do not stand out, is used in our end of Buddhism to mean emptiness and ‘light’ to mean multiplicity. You could say also; one and different, empty and full.  The two seeming opposites fit together, are together ‘as a box all with it’s lid’, to quote from one of our scriptures.

What this means to me at least is, wether or not we beat the drum with a crash, a subtle tap, or an unthoughtful wallop there is a leap of faith needed. Faith that takes one past the reasonable and the reasoned, the right and the wrong, while at the same time acting or not acting – what ever is called for. This is the koan of daily life arising naturally. This is not easy. Nothing and nobody is ever all light or all dark although we can forgive ourselves for believing this to be so!

Thanks to Mark for the photograph. The Alhambra in Spain, I think?

*See comments

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Mary Oliver – Great Woman

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver (b. September 10, 1935 d. January 17, 2018)

You can listen to Mary Oliver reading the above poem, Wild Geese, in this article in Brain Pickings.

‘The world offers itself to your imagination….’ Ah yes indeed.
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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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Ancient Monk Remembered – Rev. Master Meiten

This time last year I was in Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada having traveled up from Shasta Abbey in Northern California. I knew my dear Dharma Sister, Rev. Master Meiten, was close to dying and as it happened she passed on while I was on the train to Seattle. That was January 2nd, her Cremation ceremony was on January 8th, tomorrow is the anniversary.

Rev. Meiten and I were novices together in the early 1980’s at Shasta Abbey. Training together we got to know our fellow novices rather well, not that we chatted a lot about our lives before ordination. Mostly we trained along side each other; washing dishes, sweeping, walking the cloister, informal ‘teas’, learning how to use a computer and enter ‘data’. We knew each other on a deeper level than our personal individual ‘stories’.

I took over Rev. Meiten’s job as Journal Department Assistant and keeper of ‘Master Mailing’, the hand written record of the monasteries contacts. Addresses were kept on 3 x 5 inch cards and stored in shoe boxes on my desk. We used an Addressograph machine, goodness, that thing was heavy, each address was typed onto a custom stencil card, primitive by todays standards of course. We’d use the machine to stamp addresses onto Journals and publicity pamphlets for mailing.

Those were our early days. As I sit here and think of Meiten all sorts of memories sift up to the surface. Perhaps the one upper most is how she would buy me a chunk of Baclavar and leave it, anonymously, in my mail slot when she knew I was in need of a treat. I just knew it was from her. Later still I’d visit her when she lived in Victoria heading up Vancouver Island Zen Sangha.

Anyway this is a long way around to introducing you to her writings which are available now in various formats, including for reading on Kindle. Originally the sangha published three books, now out of print. My last memory is waking to the sound of rapid typing, tap, tap, tap, either answering emails or writing more articles. She was fast and prolific. There is probably enough material for several more books.

Many of the people who gathered around Meiten still meet each week in Victoria. My love and bows to them. Oh and I have something particular to be grateful for, Meiten encouraged me to express myself especially writing. Thank you dear Meiten, you will not be forgotten.


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