Reflecting Inspiration

Here is the view across the valley in the window of the cabin.
I have been receiving news of a lay trainee in our Order who is in hospital, reaching for breath and more than likely life itself. And he is bright, so the messages tell me. We sing scriptures, we sit, we do services, and he wants to listen to us singing the scriptures at the meditation group. We will bring him a recording next week. He is an inspiration to all who visit. Right in the middle of unmasked physical and mental struggles he is bright. That’s what they say. Inspiration comes from the depths and spreads unknowingly, far and wide. Not measurable and yet to be seen and known through everyday events. I guess that is what the visitor’s encounter, the source of inspiration being shown in every day ways, at the bedside.

People worry about making a good death. For most of us I think that means ‘looking good’ at the moment of death. From my observations, this hardly ever happens, death is bigger than that.

There is a story of a Zen master of old speaking his last words. His disciples were gathered around his bed, all ears. The last teaching of the Master, their death poem or just their last words are considered very important. The last words are, after all, the pithy culmination of a lifetime’s contemplation. The Masters expression of realized Truth. He spoke very softly and his disciples couldn’t hear him. Or perhaps they couldn’t believe their ears. Master, please say that again we didn’t quite hear you. (Actually it’s not done to ask a teacher to repeat him or herself.) Anyway, he spoke louder, loud enough for them to hear very clearly. I DON’T WANT TO DIE. Then he died. Leaving his disciples stood around, no doubt stunned by this revelation. He was not concerned about looking or sounding good, he spoke the truth of the moment.

No problem.

Reading and Walking

I left the visitors center in Jasper clutching a book and silently praying for high winds and rain! My annual adventure read is Seven Years in Tibet however I failed to organize a copy before we left for the hills. This book, Icefields by Thomas Wharton is a different kind of read, and is running neck and neck with the old favorite.

The last days leading up to leaving the priory were filled with talk preparation and packing, culminating in a long morning at Truc Lam Monastery on Saturday to celebrate Wesak. Afterwards some body asked How do you feel about the talk? The only thought that immediately came to mind was, It’s over! Thankfully my pre public talk anxiety level is diminishing and has largely transformed into a happy anticipation mixed with mild excitement. Basically the talk went OK. The weeks before such an event are still a struggle however. Pining down the subject is like trying to nail jam to a wall. Uh! I’ve been waiting to use that simile ever since somebody, wrongly, attributed it to me.

We, Rev. Scholastica and I, are now happily ensconced in a warm and comfortable cabin overlooking snowy mountain peaks, viewed from across the wide Rocky Mountain Tough. We traveled on Sunday. Originally we had planned to spend a second morning at the Monastery to celebrate Wesak with the Vietnamese congregation. However, having some responsibility for ensuring the Reverends physical rest, and mine too, I suggested we use the whole day to make the five hour journey from Edmonton to Valemount. Which we did; arriving just in time to unpack before the skies opened. My prayers answered!

As for the book? I’m on page 107 and managing to maintain a reasonable balance between reading and the rest of the day. The story is written in a form that lends itself to being let go of, and picked up again with little or no grief. As a recovering reader I appreciate this, there were times in my younger life when a book would not let me leave until the last page was turned. If the weather holds I’ll be turning that last page just before leaving on Friday having taken a few walks as well.

It is good to have a change of pace to rest, read and reflect. Many thanks to all who have made this possible.

Singapore Connection

The Temple of Thanksgiving was the first temple Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett went to on landing in Singapore in 1962. It is dedicated to Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. On the web site you can read about reports of unexplainable occurrences connected to Ksitigarbha that were witnessed by a Ms. Pitt, who was a remarkable woman. There is a photo of the inside of the temple and some details about my stay there last June here.
Happy Buddhist New Year.
Tomorrow Buddhist in Edmonton will gather at the large Vietnamese Temple on the north side of town to celebrate Wesak. We will be there.

Wesak Altar in England

A fellow monk sent me these two pictures of the altar she and her disciple and the local congregation set up to celebrate Wesak. What a sense of abundance they convey.

And on Saturday we go over the river to the North Side. There all the Buddhists in Edmonton will be coming together at Truc Lam Monastery to celebrate Wesak. It should be quite an event. Then on Sunday a visiting female monk of our Order and I will drive west to Valemount in the Rockies for some mountain air. Posting may become erratic from here on in for a week or so.

Plagiarism or Originality

The following is an article Paul Taylor, a Lay Minister in England, wrote in connection with his work with the University Chaplaincy in Lancaster. Hope you get as much out of his writing as I do. The sub title of the article is ‘A View from the Chaplaincy’.

I recently attended a session on ‘Plagiarism and how to avoid it’. The speaker had commented to us that academic work is an extreme case, and we usually don’t reference all our opinions in our normal life, although nearly all our ideas and opinions have come from others – parents, family, friends, the media, reading etc.

This set me thinking about what originality as a person meant. On ‘The Hits’ TV channel a repeated advert encourages people to download the latest ring tones to ‘stand out! – be different!’. A survey discussed on the BBC News reported that British 10-17 year-olds enjoy the highest average annual income in Europe and are very keen on spending it on personal care products such as cosmetics and grooming. The survey surmised this was because ‘it helps them combine two seemingly contradictory emotional needs – the desire to fit in and the desire to express their individuality’.

As a Buddhist, I wondered what inspiration I might draw from my own religious tradition, particularly with its easily misunderstood teaching described as ‘no-self’. It occurred to me that ‘original’ has the same root as ‘origin’, and that one of the famous Zen Ox-herding pictures has the title ‘Returning to the Origin, Returning to the Source’. An image commonly used in Buddhism is that of each of us being a facet of the One Jewel, both unique and, at the same time, intimately interconnected. The parable of Indra’s Net in the Avatamsaka Sutra describes the universe as if a net, at every intersection of which is a jewel, with each unique jewel mutually reflecting every other jewel – a metaphor for the experience of deep meditation.

What does this connote to me concerning my reflection on originality as a person? If we try too hard to differentiate ourselves from others we lose our inner sense of origin, of interconnectedness; if we allow ourselves to be manipulated or try too hard to get lost in the crowd, our jewel seems to us to dim and fails fully to reflect the unique contribution that is us. Maybe sadly for some, Buddhism would say that better ringtones and grooming alone do not reach this; getting drunk merely anaesthetizes our feelings of isolation temporarily and will not allow us to know truly our deep-rooted connectedness with others. It recommends developing deep intuitive inner listening, embodied in its practices of meditation, to enable us to truly experience what is already here – our uniqueness and our innate interconnectedness. From such listening arises compassion, wisdom, empathy and loving action.

Thanks Paul for giving your permission to publish this article.