With Quality

I recently listened to an interview with Robert Pirsig, author of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values’ and found it, and his life story, illuminating and inspiring.

“Shortly after the book was published, Connie Goldman talked with Robert Pirsig at his home in St. Paul, Minn. Pirsig discusses his process in writing the book, at times working four hours before he arrived for his day job writing technical manuals.” NPR

Here you can listen to the above interview, originally broadcast by NPR on July 12, 1974, as well as find two other interviews here. I haven’t got down to listening to them yet.

And here is somebody talking about The Writing Life. In his case writing novels.

* * *
Art is anything you can do well.
Anything you can do with Quality.
Robert Pirsig
* * *
Many thanks to the person who pointed me towards these interviews. Much appreciated.

The First Ceremony

In England and in North America the two monasteries, Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey and Shasta Abbey are preparing for the week of ceremonies called in Japanese, Jukai. This term has been translated to describe what this week is all about, we call it ‘The Ten Precepts Meeting’. It’s the time when lay devotees who practice within our tradition come together to ‘receive the Precepts’ and commit themselves to following them. It’s also a time when long time practitioners return to rededicate themselves to keeping the Precepts. I know of one man who has gone every year (except one) since his first Jukai, he’s probably jumping in his car as I write!

Somebody once asked me at the end of a tour of Shasta Abbey, “how can I become a Buddhist”? My reply, “Say with all your heart, ‘I take my Refuge in the Buddha, I take my Refuge in the Dharma, I take my Refuge in the Sangha’, and say that regularly and practice it”. Formally receiving the Precepts or as we also term it, receiving Lay Ordination, comes as a natural next step to the simple and tender internal dedication to daily practice. The author of Net of Indra, speaks of his ‘Long Road to Jukai’ and of following the inner voice, that never goes away. His story touches my heart, especially when he says, “…and even worse I also became convinced that being Gay made it impossible for me to be Buddhist.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I will have to dig out an article written by one of our senior monks which was put in a Journal in…1997 was it? (Does anybody have a full set of our Journals on a shelf near them, and can find the article?)

If I had the time I’d jump on a plane and go down to Shasta for Jukai, it happens to be my favorite set of ceremonies. Perhaps I’ll write about them here. There are five ceremonies in all, the first one is ‘The Journey to the Monastery’. I’m glad my attention was drawn to the posting, have a wonderful retreat and I wish I could be there to give witness. My journey started when I was 16, triggered by seeing Rev. Master Jiyu on local TV in Sussex, she had just entered the monastery in Japan. There were many twists and turns in my life that eventually brought me to Throssel, 16 years latter and a few more twists before arriving at Shasta. In those twists and turns I can only see the working out of great Compassion and harbor no regrets. I hope you don’t either Jack.

Thanks also to Jim who posted a long and affirming comment on this article.

Does Meditation Help?

The author of Tholeman says in an excellent posting on meditation, ‘The stillness of meditation can be likened to a stone lying on the beach but below the tidal margin. The waves constantly crash over it but when the waves recede, it is still there, a stone.’ In a later posting he speaks of his wife’s recent brush with serious illness. Perhaps we can all spare a thought for Tholeman’s wife who has just returned from hospital and for whom the bell did not toll, thankfully.

I’d like to link to this posting of March 15th however that’s not possible. Can you add, or switch on, what ever is needed in order to link directly to your thoughtful posts. Nice photos too.

A kind friend explained how to link directly to a specific posting, thanks Heather. (added 10.00 am MT, 23rd March)

Lost, Stolen or Strayed?

Finally I did something about the coin purse that departed my company during the return trip from Vancouver to Edmonton last Saturday. It was easy, both the airports and the airline have a ‘lost and found’ section on their web sites. A few clicks and a phone call and my purse is now being pursued by kind and dedicated people. When you think about it I’d entered one of the most common zones for items to go missing, airports and ‘planes. And of course there would be services to seek and find and return precious belongings. Thing is, I didn’t realize how precious the purse was, until this afternoon.

Yes, I’d been a bit preoccupied and a bit bent out of shape these past days, I’d put that down to dealing with business at the Bank. And then, as the tensions subsided with my finally ‘getting through’ to the right person, I found myself relaxing and then grieving deeply. Tears were falling in fact, but for what? The purse had long since been written off to experience. Then the realization pennies started to drop. The lost purse! It had been given me by one of my Dharma Uncles in Japan last year. For me it was a token of the love and support I found among my Dharma relatives in the East. It was the purse I’d have in my pocket, along with my keys, when out walking in the neighbourhood, with the ‘just in case’ coins to use in an emergency. It was my ‘quick draw’ purse holding my book of bus tickets. It held priory business cards, just in case I needed to give my address and phone number, which I still haven’t memorized reliably. In short that purse represented personal security and above all multi level support.

In an ultimate sense one has nothing, wants nothing and indeed, knows nothing and in a relative sense cash is needed to function, an address is necessary to return to and a key to get in the door essential. Once again I realize my good fortune with gratitude, for having an address, a key and the means to live, comfortably. The loss of a token of this support is small fry the reminder, discovered through it’s loss, is a huge gift.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The women mentioned in yesterdays posting made it through her medical procedure OK and since the subject of death is on the table here’s more to contemplate.

“Wit, this HBO Films presentation chronicles the personal awakening of a longtime literary scholar* (two-time Oscar-winner Emma Thompson), who learns the importance of simple human kindness when faced with the most daunting of crises: a diagnosis of advanced cancer.”

I think Emma Thompson is wonderful in what ever she does and her part in the film Wit is no exception. One might think that the story of a woman undergoing aggressive treatment for cancer would be a sad one. After watching the film last week I was left both uplifted and stilled. It pointed out that illness, terminal illness, can transform into a gift that helps the heart to walk through the flapping door of death, with equanimity and humility.

*Interestingly the literary scholar portrayed in Wit was an expert on John Donne. His poem on death was skillfully woven into the story, I believe it was Death be not Proud that was quoted. Oh, and while looking around I see this, perhaps the best know of John Donne’s ‘Meditations’.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” (See here for the full work).

I think Donne would be quite at home with Indra’s Net and the Buddhist teaching on interconnectivity and he certainly didn’t shy away from mortality.