Free to Laugh

I thought it must have been about this time. It’s an anniversary.

Two years ago I was in Edmonton and two years ago we heard of Rev. Mildred’s death in England. She had been my novice assistant at Reading Priory. Latter on, as a senior monk, she came to stay for a number of months. Her disarming humour and ‘little ways’ were at once a joy and a challenge. “I’m stubborn like a donkey” and I’d reply, “Don’t knock it Reverend, the donkey has carried you this far hasn’t she”? We would laugh, amidst the tears, as we negotiated daily living. It was not easy, however the hard times quickly faded from memory. Right now I remember and honour Reverend Mildred; for her charm and wit and wisdom.

She taught me so much, perhaps we taught each other, who knows. Our time at Reading marked a turning point in my spiritual life and I attribute that in major part to her presence. Every opportunity I could find, I thanked her. Right up to when we last met.

Rachel sent me this poem by Meister Eckhart. It speaks of love, of giving simple love to a burro (donkey). This is for Reverend Mildred, set free to laugh.

And also for Rachel’s guinea pig who died yesterday, in Reading.

Water the Plant

The following correspondence is reproduced, in slightly modified form, with the authors permission.

Dear Reverend Master,
There is something that I wanted to write to you about. On Wednesday, on my return from Scotland, whilst on public transport, a thought came into the head: ‘You could have (or send out) love for all these people here. There is no need to be defensive or closed in’. This was interesting, as it had never occurred to me in this way. Somehow, I think I have never truly known what love is – it is only starting now slowly to dawn on me. It started off about two years ago, when all of a sudden I realised that I could just love the little ducklings on the lake. I guess I’ll need to nurture (or keep reminding myself of) this little plant – or should I just let it grow on its own?

Dear Friend,
Love, Compassion and Wisdom are the fundamental True Nature of your being. You don’t need to do anything other than trust that this is so and notice when anguish, frustration, ill will and the like are there and let them go. In the very middle of what we regard as faults can be found love. Just open your heart, keep your insides soft and pliable and what flows, will flow. Love is not a thought; you will not necessarily consciously know about it in your daily life. You will see it’s shadow and that is the stuff of meditation and daily life practice. That’s watering the little plant!

Dear Reverend Master,
I thank you for these words.
In gassho,

Taking Note

I wonder if you have ever listened to the dawn chorus, that early morning time when birds break into song? I’ve know times when I’d wished the birds away back to their nests for another hours sleep, for them and especially for me! At this moment I have a CD playing in my laptop of the ‘Dawn Chorus’, A sound portrait of a British woodland at sunrise. This evening I’d been feeling a bit under the weather physically and had been casting about for inspiration. I thought this ‘music’ might help. And it has.

Somebody asked me about ‘pain’, how one dealt with it as a Buddhist. I remember once hearing my Master softly mentioning that somebody needed to understand the difference between ‘being in pain and being in self’. I took a mental note. There is pain, and then there is pain accompanied by self-pity, which goes on and on and…. That’s one way to ‘be in self’. A health professional I was consulting with some years ago said, “Self-pity is an English persons disease”. I took a mental note! It was the most helpful piece of information, not heard as an accusation, and I was able to take it to my heart. I took a mental note.

The birds are still twittering away enthusiastically, there’s a wood pigeon and a pheasant in the distance. A peacock? That can’t be right! Isn’t it amazing how simple things can help lift the spirits and how a chance comment, heard while in pain and not in ‘self’, can change one for the better. Not much of an answer about dealing with pain, however getting things in perspective is a good start. Now I’d better send those birds back to their nests for the night. Time to sleep. One of our monks says, “Never underestimate the restorative power of a good nights sleep.”

Creative Circulation of Merit

Here is a banner made by members of Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple. It was part of an offering, a massive circulation of merit, made in Japan last August. A corner of the banner was reproduced as a card and mailed to temples and friends of our Order. We received one here in Edmonton and I was inspired. It is a beautiful image and an amazing project which works on so many levels. I wanted the whole banner to have a wider audience. So here it is. The merit of altruistic effort, such as the Jizo for Peace Project, just keeps on multiplying.

Copyright, Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple.

Reverend Jan Chozen Bays, of Great Vow Monastery, was the moving hand behind the Jizo for Peace Project. Nine bows. Her contribution was a banner dedicated in memory of her mother.

Shasta Abbey contributed too, you can view many of the banners and other creative offerings as a slide show.

Training Hand, Heart and Mind

The letter below is reproduced, in slightly edited form, with the authors permission.

Dear Rev. Mugo,
I thought I would write to let you know what I have discovered about Trinity College of Music at the time Rev. Master (Jiyu-Kennett) would have been in contact with it, in case it is of interest.

Trinity was started in 1872 by Bonavia Hunt who was deeply concerned by the quality of church music which was becoming poorer and poorer. Trinity was first known as the Church Choral Society and College of Church music. It was open to members of the Anglican Church, and men only! The college started with a view to teaching so that quality could be restored and the long tradition of church music continued. As it developed, the college trained teachers and offered exams throughout the world so that standards could be maintained. I’m not sure of the date, but women were also welcomed in to study before the war.

By 1939 the numbers at the college grew and the college ethos was one of welcome and the doors were opened on Sundays as well as all other days, “to keep the lamp of music burning during these dark days.” The choir was open to those who’s choral societies had had to disband for war reasons. Trinity hosted concerts throughout the war and two concerts in 1942 were given by the children of London county council and Middlesex who studied on Saturday mornings with Gladys Puttick, a pioneer who arrived at Trinity in 1934 and was one of the first to teach musicianship beyond the instrument. She was also the founder of the Saturday School and Trinity was the first music college to have a Saturday junior department. Distance Learning also started to help those unable to get into college to study, in fact Prisoners of War were able to do distance learning with help from the British Red Cross offices.

Gladys Puttick arrived in 1934 and stayed until the 1970s. Three other notable people were at Trinity from the 1930s – mid 1960s. Charles Kennedy Scott was keen on the study of Plainsong and the chanting of Psalms and gave regular lectures and led rehearsals. Dr Lowery was passionate about organs, organ music and is noted as giving superb lectures. The Principal of Trinity from 1944 -1965, Dr Wilfred Greehouse Allt was also an organist who was the President of the Incorporated Association of Organists from 1956-1958 and then of the Royal College of Organists from 1962-1964. Rev Master would almost certainly have come into contact with Gladys Puttick and Charles Kennedy Scott, whether based at Trinity or as a distant learner.

Gladys Puttick gave a lecture in the 1940s and it reveals an approach to learning that often goes unnoticed. She said that music was, “essentially a pivotal subject of education, since it could be the means of training, at once, the hand, the heart and the mind.”

It would appear that Rev Master was in good hands.

I hope that all is well with you in Canada.

In Gassho, Robert.

Robert is a practitioner within the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, a member of Reading Priory, teaches the violin to children in London and is a loyal reader of this blogger. I see him between teaching engagements, nipping into an Internet Cafe on the Tottenham Court Road to read his email and glance at these pages. Robert studied at Trinity for five years, receiving his ‘post grad’ in 1997. Of teaching he says: “I enjoy the challenges teaching provides and am constantly amazed how much so many children make from some of the most appalling home situations. Teaching is such a gift.” Thanks Robert.