Best Foot Forward

We had an Open House yesterday at the Priory, look who came! Bella the budgie accompanied by her ‘person’, a friend of a congregation member. All those present were completely charmed and a good time was had by all, especially me. The little bird tweeted and chattered on my shoulder, nibbled daintily on cheese biscuits and at one point rummaged around in my ear! She had come because she had injured her right foot and needed some extra TLC. Although the turn out for the event was not huge it provided an opportunity for friends and relatives to meet a priest, eat and see what a Zen Buddhist Priory looks like.

Being around Bella the song Jake the Peg by Rolf Harris kept running through my mind. I thought it was about somebody with a wooden leg, when on checking it out, it was an extra leg. Oh well no matter, it’s a catchy song all the same. Incidentally, Rolf Harris was working in Vancouver in the 1960’s when the inspiration for Jake the Peg came to him via a singing Dutchman. The last verse has Jake being ordered to put his best foot forward, but which one? Although off balance, little Bella was able to make her way up my arm using one and a half feet, and her beak.

But what I really wanted to write about was…. While waiting my turn at our bank on Whyte Avenue I noticed I’d become impatient. Knowing how impatience leads to frustration – which leads to habitual thinking patterns, I consciously connected with the ground. Standard mindfully practice advice is to bring ones attention to the here and now. Bringing ones awareness to where the body touches the ground aids this. Currently mindfulness practice, coupled with a new-found knowledge of posture habits, has me particularly aware of my feet. That’s having weight evenly distributed between both feet. Still waiting at the bank, now in more reflective mood, I glanced about. Every single person doing business with the cashiers, bar one, was weighted on one leg! Incredibly, so were the majority of people who were still waiting their turn!

Sadly, on Saturday, an older member of the congregation fell on ice over in BC and broke his leg in two places. We wish him well and a speedy recovery. From personal experience I know how very painful a broken bone can be. For me it also proved to be a gift. I’d smile wryly to myself and think, “Well, I have no choice but to take it easy now”. I hope being off his feet will similarly come to be known as a gift. And for Bella and the waiting crowds at banks and in check-out lines everywhere; “Best foot forward! And having them both on the ground makes it that much easier to choose which one to move first”!

Loyalty to the Moment

Ten more minutes and it will be the day after the Chinese New Year! Since 1997 Canada Poste has issued stamps to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year. The Dog is the eleventh Sign of the Chinese Zodiac. Here’s the new Canadian Year of The Dog stamp. It’s a beauty.

I’ve just been reading Dogen Zenji’s chapter from the Shobogenzo: Uji (The Theory of Time), Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett’s translation in Zen is Eternal Life. This sentence relates to yesterdays posting:

“They travel fastest who are not there since arrival is hindered by arrival but quite definitely not hindered whilst on the journey: the journey is hindered by non-arrival but not hindered by arrival”.

Within this quote is the reason for training ‘as if one’s hair is on fire’. I was once given this teaching and it caused me to instantly drop a view I was about to expound on, at length. Sometimes it is good to pick up things and sometimes it is good to put them down.

Rejection is not part of the picture, loyalty to the practice is. Dogs are said to be loyal critters, bless ’em!

Go Unstintingly

This morning during meditation instruction, somebody who helps with the instruction, talked about his journey into Buddhism. Some years ago his younger brother had said “Buddhism points the way” and, “it’s up to you to find what the Buddha found”. The first teaching the Buddha gave after he realized enlightenment was the Four Noble Truths. “I already knew about the first two” he said; unsatisfactoryness (dukkha), and craving (tanha) which is its cause. “And the other two I didn’t know about, however I took them on faith until I prove them true for myself”. For him that ‘s what made Buddhism a religion, the faith bit. He took it on faith there is an end to unsatisfactoryness – the third Truth and there is a proven path – The Eightfold Path – the forth Truth.

The popular view of organized religion, viewed with a questioning mind, appears to prescribe what one should and should not believe in. This was the way I saw things as a young woman and kept away. Now I see this as, at best, an incomplete view. Looked at from the outside any religion appears prescriptive and heavy with doctrine, including Buddhism. And that is, to a certain extent, necessary. It is necessary to describe a ‘doorway’ so people can see it, recognize it as a valid one and then choose to walk through it, or not. One often hears that “all paths lead to the same Truth”. Maybe, maybe not! The important thing, if one is seeking a path, is to choose one and follow it unstintingly. (Unstintingly means ‘with generosity’, in this case generosity of spirit (Dana) giving and letting go, unconditionally.)

I inherited my questioning nature from my father. He was a deeply spiritual person, who felt no need to be attached to a faith tradition although he’d say, if he were to be anything, he’d be a Buddhist. In his latter years, when I’d become a priest, he spoke a few times of his inner life. Relating his evolving understanding into the nature of existence, that had begun as a young boy. He was matter of fact when he spoke of these profound matters, and they were profound, some being outside of my personal experience at the time. Through out his life he’d felt no need to label his experiences and there was not a sign of a person burdened by understanding. Some people blossom within a faith tradition and some, like my father, grow and flourish like a tree in a forest. Who is to say which is best?

In 1980 during our drive to Heathrow, on route to Shasta Abbey to become a monk, I felt the need to explain myself to my dad. “Err, I am going to be a monk to find out that I don’t need to be one”. It was half an apology to him and half an explanation for myself. At the time I knew nothing of his inner life only his attitude towards ‘organized religion’. He and my mother supported me in my decision as, in my early thirties, I was free to make my choices and they respected that. If my father were still alive I’d let him know, “I didn’t need to become a monk, however I’m glad that I did”. The practice has changed my life for the better.

Recently there have been a number of younger people who have received meditation instruction and returned here to the priory to meditate. One such person came this evening, another tree that has been growing in the forest, and doing just fine. I’m at once encouraged that such individuals have found the door and walked through and concerned that in some subtle way they will become hindered by a hope of, or desire for, a journeys end. Paths, after all, imply they lead somewhere. Perhaps, like me, they will eventually realize they didn’t need to walk through this particular door and at the same time, be glad they did. Trees grow and flowers blossom within a Great Benevolence not bound by time or place. I hope and pray I’ll not get in their way as they shoot up past me.

Moving Mountains provides a window on one particular Zen Buddhist monk’s daily life practice, and that is all it is. If reading it points the way and encourages you to keep following your path, whether or not it is part of a faith tradition, then that is good. However, voyeurs beware; you might find yourself pulled through the window in spite of yourselves!

This posting is offered in loving memory of my father, Tony White, who died 29th January 2000. His remains are buried beside my mothers in the grounds of Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey. They both requested Buddhist funerals which I conducted.

Being Buddhism

I finally read a couple of chapters from a book called Blue Jean Buddha, Voices of Young Buddhists. It’s encouraging to see that there are 20 and 30 somethings who have taken up Buddhist practice and bringing it into their daily lives. And help make the world a better place.

For those who aspire to make a difference here are wise words from Mahatma Gandhi: “One must be the change one wishes to see in the world.” A young woman said in her essay, “My challenge is to continually remind myself that inner revolution and outer revolution must go hand in hand.”

We have much to learn from the wisdom of our children.

China Rises

I traveled to China last year in May as part of a tour to visit Dharma relatives, and temples associated with my Transmission line. I’ve been reflecting on the trip and writing notes for our Orders in-house Journal.

“Do I really want to get out of bed”? The night before, from my vantage point, I’d seen and heard the junks plying the river below. Beyond that, the city twinkled into infinity. For a long moment I remained still. “What on earth is out there”? The noise from the street market beside the hotel was incredible. Eventually I got up and went to the window. It was the stark contrasts; the close proximity of the old and the new, the impoverished and rich, the sordid and the glistening, all of that captured my attention initially. Latter however I came to know the heart of ancient China, very much still alive to-day.


Last Sunday evening at 8.00 pm the CBC, Canadian TV company, aired the first two parts of China Rises a documentary looking at developments in China. The second two parts will be aired next Sunday at the same time. It’s well worth a look if you are in Canada, or if you’re not the web site is interesting.