Noise or Sound?

There are two bodhisattvas living next door. They each have four paws, wet noses and bark like dogs. They are dogs! At first, when I heard them barking late into a Saturday night I was outraged, then perplexed. Of course ones first response is to get rid of the noise. On further considered reflection it dawned on me that, since the owners were out, they didn’t know their dogs barked. Because they were not there to hear them! A few days after the incident an opportunity arose naturally to speak to their human companions over the back garden fence. “I want to let you know that your dogs were barking the other evening until late. They seemed upset”, “Oh, we’re really sorry, we will make sure that won’t happen again” they replied. And it hasn’t, no more barking into the night. We talked on in a neighbourly way and it emerged they had left the TV on and one of the dogs may have heard a banjo playing! “That sets him off”, I was told.

Now and then the dogs ‘sing’, as their devoted owners describe their howls, but it doesn’t last for long. Perhaps it’s sparked by a banjo playing or simply a signal that their owners have left the house, and they are sad. Looked at (or heard!) with the eye of training the howling dogs become bodhisattvas come to teach, and therefore to help. In this case teaching that sitting still and meditating is not dependent on external conditions. Regulars members are assured that they can meditate in their own homes no matter what is going on in the house. They prove that true while meditation here at the Priory!

Where ever one is there will be sounds, pleasant or unpleasant, with melody or a cacophony. Next time you feel driven to get rid of a noise, pause a moment to listen more carefully. It might be a bodhisattva calling to you. Here is another case of “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”. I’m using the term ‘bodhisattva’ in a broad sense, not as beings who consciously vow to help beings, more in the sense of; unwitting teachers, everyday-on-the-street and at work teachers. Find them; be one.

And sometimes one takes action. I made a complaint about loud music blasting across the houses while I lived at the Priory in Reading, England. For a number of reasons, some ‘good’ and some based on fear, it had taken me a long time to get around to doing that. Interestingly, before my complaint was ‘officially’ lodged the music stopped!


‘Respect for others begins by not ignoring their words.’
Elias Canneti
From: ‘The Torch in My Ear’

Need I say anything more?

A biographical detail for your interest: Elias Canneti won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981, “for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power”. For the last 20 years of his life he live in Zurich. He is buried there beside Irish author James Joyce.

Gourd, Home of Full Emptiness

Hotei is carrying a gourd, a symbol used in Buddhism to represent emptiness, shunyata. Not a negative emptiness, no not at all. My Master would say of shunyata, with a knowing far away smile, “It is the fullest emptiness you will ever know”. And Zen Master Dogen, (somewhere?), says, “Gourd with its tendrils is entwined with gourd.” Pointing to the fact that, in the absolute sense, we are not separate individual beings. No, not at all. Master and disciple, mother and daughter, father and son, inseparable all. Bound together with delicate tendrils, not glue.

This image of Hotei came via email. He is living in the home of a remarkable family who are not unfamiliar with facing hardship, together and individually. And yet, or rather AND, they grow, they shine through and they inspire. They inspire me.

All merit offered to ‘you all’.

In the Eye of the Beholder

A new book has entered my life. It is exactly one and a half inches thick, with gold/yellow writing set into the blue cover, and red grid lines separate the titles of the five books contained within the one book. It is smooth to the touch, I didn’t weight it! That’s one and a half inches of solid reading. Rarely do I remember titles however any book that I have picked up more than a few times is remembered by its cover, the colour most especially. This book is the colour of the much treasured Lapis lazuli, a toned-down version of Winsor Newton’s, Ultramarine. Historically that colour was comprised of pulverize Lapis mixed with binding agents to make a powerful paint used by Old Masters. As with the paint so with the book, it contains much treasure, Dharma Treasure. Hopefully, I’ll be able to draw on and write about some of the contents as I travel through it over the weeks to come.
Many thanks for this book, it’s a valued gift.

Two people sent me links to a news item about the search for a person to play the role of the Buddha in a proposed film. ‘Somehow’ they were going to make a virtual image of an idealized Buddha and then search for a good match via Google. (“Could that be right?”) Anyway, since the Buddha did not allow images to be made in his lifetime they are relying on a number of references to come up with a likeness. I wish them well and await the outcome with interest.

The arrival of the book, my initial involvement with its outward appearance and the news item set me to pondering. It is so easy to evaluate, to judge by surface appearances, and much of the time that’s how we normally operate. We don’t contemplate the deep nature of the bus, we just need to notice that it is number 9, or not, and get on it. From somewhere I remember a saying: “Look with the eye of a Buddha and you will see the heart of a Buddha”. This points to making a deliberate effort not to travel the surface of life, to bring the mind of meditation along with you. No matter how unlike our assumptions, all have the heart of a Buddha.

Everything teaches and the Number 9, in so many ways, has become a ‘Buddha’ for me. It’s the biggest, bendiest bus I’ve ever been on and you meet such interesting people too.

Waiting for IT

Edmonton doesn’t know if it is coming or going. The continuing mild weather has most of us on tender hooks. We’re waiting. We’re waiting for the other boot to drop; for the snow to fly, for the mercury to fall, for double digit below zero temperatures. And none of that’s happened, yet. It’s hard to accept the situation and be warm, since it is warm. Difficult to not mentally crouch in anticipation of the punishing winter weather to arrive?

A monk asked Great Master Tozan Gohon,
‘How can we avoid hot and cold?’
Tozan said,’Why don’t you go somewhere that is neither hot nor cold?’
The monk asked,’Where is a place that is neither hot nor cold?’
Tozan replied,
‘When it is cold, be completely cold;
When it is hot, be completely hot.’

Zen Master Dogen, Shobogenzo.

The monks question amounts to “how do I live beyond the opposites”, at heart it’s a spiritual question. Any problem, however mundane seeming, can be turned into a spiritual question that can lead one deeper. That’s if one is willing to listen to the answer! Zen Master Tozan’s reply points to the heart of practice, of being completely present no matter what’s going on and, above all, not to try and escape ‘what is’. There is an article on the internet by Rev. Master Kinrei of Berkeley Buddhist Priory which expands on the above quote. He is my older brother in the Dharma, I have much reason to be grateful for his wise council over the years.

You’ve got to admit it, the Berkeley web site is really neat!