I’ll Take The High Road….

Here is a picture of the High Level Bridge in Edmonton, you can just see it above the light colored bridge. It IS high.
Walking across this bridge to-day I heard myself silently singing “I’ll take the high road and you’ll take the low road….etc” Being up high does seem to nurture a lightness of spirit. (Could a reader give us a references for that song)? I returned to keeping my mind in gear as the cyclists share the same path as the pedestrians and the bikers travel fast. While the sun still shines, and the snow has not started to fly, I am taking the opportunity to get out and about and take the air when responsibilities allow.

The priory is close to a main north-south road, the bus service is good and somebody donated a bus pass for October which has come in handy. Last winter I had the loan of a car and I’d thought not having one this year would be an obstacle to getting business done. In actual fact not having one has proved, so far, to be a positive thing. Years ago, in the 1970’s, I sold my car and traveled by bicycle, a ten speed touring one. At first it was a bit of a wrench however there we plus sides too. It was liberating to be able to use the cycle lanes in heavy city traffic and get to work faster, to not have to be concerned with finding a parking space and, for long trips, the advantage of taking the bike on the train for free. Now I find that foot and bus travel brings me directly in contact with the ‘heart-beat’ of the place and people. That is good.

The other evening one of the people, a person, who comes (on foot) to meditate here said something simple, yet inspiring. Here it is, “I came to it myself-that accepting, ‘whatever’ (physical pain, emotions, my present circumstances), doesn’t mean liking it!” Simple yet true. Yesterday he came in the door of the priory with a 17 pound bag of bird seed in his arms. I thought he had carried it ten blocks, but he hadn’t. He had asked a friend for help and he’d got a ride (a lift as we say in Britain). So, acceptance has an active side to it too. Right?

Back to the High Level Bridge for a moment for the people (person) who is mad about trains. There is a rare chance, during the summer months, to ride across the bridge on rails. Interestingly, if you follow that link, you’ll see what the weather is like here too.


One thing about living a more settled existence is that people can be confident of getting letters to me via the mail system! I have an address where I live and will reliably stay put for some time. (A year actually.) Having been here five weeks I’ve accumulated a lot of papers on my desk. While sorting through them this morning three hand-written letters, received since I arrived in Canada, sifted to the top. What a rare and beautiful sight! There is something so special about receiving a hand-written letter. The writing styles are unique and something of that person them selves is communicated through the flow of the pen on paper. So, just receiving the letter is a gift in itself and then there is the gift of what the words speak of. The considered and thoughtful snapshots of lives being lived in distant and often lonely places, the silent reflections put onto the page with obvious care.

I was contemplating these letters while out walking in the neighborhood this afternoon. Yes, and thinking about my own poor writing style and spelling ability in comparison with these works of art. Thinking of my habit of purposely scrawling letters when not sure of the correct spelling. Yes, and I was also wondering if the honorable thing would be to write back in kind, by hand or if a phone call or an email would be good. Yes, and I was all the while mentally writing a posting about hand written letters for movingmountains. Personally I regard this kind of walking and thinking as ‘unhelpful ruminating’. Then I happened to look up from the pavement where my eyes invariably focus when….‘unhelpfully ruminating’! A jackrabbit bounded into the road and then crossed the urban lawns and flowerbeds, disappearing eventually behind some bushes! Not something you see every day of the week and it certainly caught my attention. It also distracted me from my thoughts.

There is a saying in Zen that goes something like, when walking just walk, when sitting just sit, when eating just eat, and so on. Then there are those things and incidents that cross ones path, so to speak, which bring one back to this simple teaching.

Here are words from Noygen Senzaki before he died, sometimes called a death poem. He was a well-known Zen monk who lived a wandering existence in America and died in1958.

“Friends in Dharma, be satisfied with your own heads.
Do not put any false heads above your own.
Then, minute after minute watch your steps closely.
These are my last words to you.”

The Iron Flute, 100 Zen Koans,
With commentary
by Nyogen Senzaki,

Tuttle Publishing.

Came across this poem while having a cup of tea after returning from my walk.

House Keeping.

I have changed a couple of things around leaving comments at the end of postings. The reason being is that I have had a few ‘comment spam’ left which are basically advertisements. A lot of this is done automatically by software which adds comments unrelated to the content of the site. Most often they are anonymous. (I removed comments from the last two postings because of the comment spam I received to-day.)

So, what I have done is enabled the ‘word verification’ option for posting comments. You will see what that means when you go to leave a comment (they are always welcome). What this does is prevent automated systems from adding comments to the blog, since it takes a human being to read the word and pass this step.

The other thing I have changed is to not permit anonymous comments. This means, if you haven’t done it already, you’ll need to become a ‘registered user’. Not got the time to write about that now however if you run into problems drop me a note and I can help you register, or do it for you even. I’ve also change the time shown at the bottom of each posting to reflect where I am, rather than have Japan time…! Which is where I was, some time ago now.

Rest assured that I will continue to make postings so keep coming back and checking from time to time. Hopefully I will get into a regular writing routine as I settle down to priory life.

How Did the Old Monk Cross the Road?

I have been thinking about Right Effort, one of the steps on the Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha after his enlightenment. Effort brings up a sense of strain, “Phew! That was an effort, glad that is over with” and straining isn’t quite what is being encouraged in Buddhist Practice. We often talk about ‘willingness’ in attempting to convey the feel of the kind of gentle, steady effort needed in practice. However that again doesn’t quite hit the descriptive mark for me either.

The teachings of the Buddha we have are obviously translations. The Sanskrit word virya is the one that is, more often than not, translated as effort. Virya can, however, also mean valour, vigour, energy, strength and courage. These are all qualities I saw in the ‘old monk’, as he was referred to, who I had the good fortune to spend a few days with while in Malaysia in late May. He had just retired from being the president of the Malaysian Buddhist Association and where ever we went people would stop and honor him with a smile and a bow. Because he was elderly and a bit frail looking and, perhaps just because he was an honored elder, people would join us and accompany him while we walked, assisting him in and out of cars, up steps and across busy roads.

Here he is visiting a temple which clung to the slopes of a mountain now being topped by a massive statue of Kanzeon. There will be a pavilion with eight pillars, symbolizing the Eightfold Path, standing over it eventually.

The old monk assisted by a younger one while visiting a temple in Penang, Malaysia.

On each petal of the lotus on which the Kanzeon stood were the names of the donors. Miss Chin in attendance.

When we had finished this tour, uh! It was SO hot, we went for a meal in the heart of Penang. Across a very busy four (or so) lane urban road from the restaurant was our next destination. As far as I could tell we were approximately two hours late for the appointment and the meal had not yet arrived! This didn’t seem to concern anybody and the old monk had a way of smiling with his eyes and slightly opening his mouth at the same time that said silently, “Relax”. So I did, until it came to crossing the road after the meal!

Miss Chin, who had taken responsibility at this point, caught hold of the monks elbow and approached the curb. The road was like a river full of sharks rushing past, we like timid turtles waiting our chance to cross at our peril. We were not taking any chances with our valuable companion. Suddenly the old monk broke free of Miss Chin and launched himself into the traffic, it did not seem to slow down, he reached the other side and proceeded to almost run down the other side to the temple and his appointment. An example of, “when it is time to make a move, you do it”, without hesitation! So there we have it, Right Effort; energy, courage, vigor and valour encapsulated in this wonderful example of Buddhist practice. Incidently the only English he spoke had been taught him by Rev. Master Jiyu when she was at Cheng Hoon Teng. He lived there at that time and was, as far as I could tell, present at her ordination.

The rest of us caught up with the old monk. To this day I still feel that something unexplainable happen out there on the road that day.