Dropping Away

At this very moment, as I write, a small group of friends are gathered around a bed near London. A man is dying; body and mind are dropping away.

The greatest gift anybody can offer the dying is simply to sit still. Not grasping after life nor wishing it’s ending before time has ripened and marks it’s moment. That’s the very same sitting still we call meditation. Meditation is to sit like a dying person allowing body and mind to drop away, there is nothing to do. The difference between just sitting, and a dying person just sitting, is that when the bell rings we get up and step into life. And when the ‘Golden Bell that rings but once’ rings for the dying there is just stepping out into The Great Unknowing. That’s Eternal, Unconditioned Love if we must have words, and sometimes words are helpful in order to give expression to silent faith.

How very easy it is to get caught up in doing life, and forget to live. Living does not mean to gather more experiences to retrieve latter when health, youth and vitality have drained away. Grasping at life, rather like gathering ripe cherry’s into a basket to eat latter, regurgitating and eating them, again and again is to live in the past. Stepping into life, the cherries fall into our basket, they are eaten and digested and forgotten. Life nourishes in the living of it. That’s to live with a pure and gentle heart when time and space loose their usual meaning. And life and death do not stand apart.

Many thanks to the group of trainees who have gathered around to sit still and who have kept me informed. A special thanks to John who reads this blog and who has remained a pillar of strength these last long weeks and months.

Kesa of the Buddha

Yesterday was the 25th Anniversary of my monastic ordination. A time of expressing gratitude for the opportunity to practice and for my Masters Great Compassion. It was also an auspicious day to administer the Precepts in the ceremony of lay ordination.

Giving the small kesa.

Congratulations to Mike on formally receiving the Precepts and becoming a lay Buddhist within our Order.

With Rope and Binoculars

Alpacas in the early morning, Cornwall.

Here is a transcript of a talk broadcast on BBC Radio Cornwall yesterday.

During the next three months on our farm, some of our alpacas are due to have their babies. This is a time of great excitement and some nervousness. These creatures are so beautiful and sensitive that it is natural to want to help them and to protect them.

Because of this, one of the world’s leading alpaca experts recommends that all alpaca owners should have two key items of equipment ready for the birth. The first is a rope, the second is a pair of binoculars. The rope is to tie yourself to a post some distance away from the alpaca to stop yourself interfering with the birth; the binoculars are so you can see what is going on from a safe distance.

Maybe in this there is an important lesson for all of us. Sometimes the best thing we can do in life is just to resist the urge to leap into action and try to take control; sometimes it is better first to stay still and just watch. This can be uncomfortable – we want to be useful and helpful, we want to be part of the action, we want to avert disaster. And often we have to acknowledge that there is little good that we can really do, and our interference may well cause or at least add to the problems.

So in the words of a recent Zen Master:
‘Don’t just do something; sit there!’

Andrew Taylor-Browne, Lay Minister of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives.

Good advice I’d say. There will be more talks on a Buddhist theme from Andrew all this week.

High Places

It was a long day of driving on Friday finally getting into Edmonton around the time when the Oilers (the local ice hockey team) won another game. There was much distant hooting and shouting going on.

First stop Jasper
By complete good fortune I arrived on the platform at Jasper to catch a photo of the observation car and one carriage being shunted out of the station accompanied by the engineer on his bike. “We’ll be back in twenty minutes” he shouted as I ran along beside him, “We are just turning round”. This was not the Canadian, the long train that runs between Vancouver and the East Coast, just the short stubby one hiking over the mountains to the west coast and back. Gazing in awe at the engine, a great powerful mass of thundering metal, I had a thought for our very own train driver. He survived a train derailment in the Rockies not so long ago, here’s thinking of you good friend.

After Jasper we turned along the Columbia Icefields Parkway. One of the worlds ‘must travel’ highways which one is required to drive at a very sedate pace. Pulling off for lunch we found a raven waiting, mysteriously. Already it had a presence greater than simply being a big black bird. It advanced closer and closer then bundled itself onto the car and gazed through the windscreen while we ate.

Mountains and rivers, rivers and mountains. There were incredible views all the way.

Columbia Icefields
We entered another world up there above the tree line where glaciers flow, icefields nest and, when we were there, the snow flies horizontally! It was one of those times when one could be put off ones stride by the seeming blot of commerce.

As I reflect now on my visit it is the majesty and promise of these high places that remains with me. Much in the same way as I remember the great Buddhist halls in Japan, China and Taiwan I visited a year ago.

A Phantasm, a Dream

It is unusual for me to be looking up names of things I see on the side of the trail. However we have with us Ben Gadd’s Handbook of the Canadian Rockies which puts a person into the botanics. With the help of Ben’s light hand I’ve even been reading about geology. A subject that has, until now, left me cold.

Kinney Lake under Mt. Robson.
This lake is here because of a deposit of sand and gravel called an alluvial fan.
On the way to Kinney lake, Mt. Robson.

Faunus anglewing. There were tiny blue butterflies fluttering about too.

Conifer false morel (we think). Potentially lethal!
Did I wash my hands after taking this picture?

Maxi Birch bracket fungus, (unplatable).

Mini Birch Bracket fungus
Being in the Canadian Rockies, reading about how this all got to be here has given me a new appreciation of our small place in measured existence on planet earth. The message is, as always, to get on with life, here and now. And remember:
Thus should ye think of all this fleeting world,
a bubble in a stream
a childs laugh
a phantasm
a dream.
Tomorrow we drive along the Icefields Parkway from Jasper towards Banff, then East and North for Edmonton.