Something To Bow To – The Buddhist Altar

While I am traveling I carry a photograph of Rev. Master Jiyu and that is, in effect, my altar. What I bow to. The image is of her leading a procession for a ceremony done during Jukai. (Jukai is a set of ceremonies when people formally become Buddhist and receive the Buddhist Precepts during one of those ceremonies.) The procession is called Following where the Precepts Lead. She is wearing the hat worn by those on an Alms round, carries a small alms bowl and uses a staff. She is a simple monk pilgrim on the road. Anybody who wants to follow along may do so. I like this image, taken many years ago, and it seems a fitting one for me to carry with me as a travel about.

Anyway, somebody who went to Jukai this year at Throssel sent me a link to a posting on her blog in which she describes setting up an altar. I rather like the direct way she thinks about the business of having an altar – the altar gives the Buddhist something to bow in front of…. The Buddhist can always do with something to bow in front of, and if there is no altar handy – well there are lots of other things to bow in front of. I thought you would enjoy this article as much as I did. Here is the start of it.

Not long after my week long retreat at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey, I gave some thought to the Reverend’s comment “If you haven’t already got an altar, now is the time to get one”. So, looking around the room I found these items to put together to provide an area for Buddhist practice. The altar gives the Buddhist something to bow in front of, and bowing is very important to Zen Buddhism.

The Other Side Of Medicine – Easing Death

Modern medicine is good at staving off death with aggressive interventions—and bad at knowing when to focus, instead, on improving the days that terminal patients have left.

From an article in The New Yorker.

The subject matter discussed in this article is dear to my heart. I have not had a chance to read the whole thing but what I have seen looks interesting.

Thanks once again to Julius in London who regularly turns up valuable web content.

Coming Full Circle – Portland and Back Again

As late as it is I can’t let another day go by, and especially not this day, without posting. It must be a little over a month ago since I left Portland heading towards this temple where I stayed until July 5th. (See the Dharma Talks page.) Then onwards to north east Oregon, upwards into Idaho and Washington. Just in case you missed the reference in an earlier post I recorded this one evening while visiting a couple in Washington.

The Palouse from Mugo on Vimeo.

I was in Montana for nearly two wonderful weeks. Then in the past few days, on the road again to spend time with congregation members in Sandpoint Idaho. Where I fell asleep by a lake and got sun burnt! Eight hours on the road on Sunday had me driving into Seattle at around 4.00 pm. On the way I stopped beside the great Colombia River in the blazing heat and recorded this video….

From The Columbia River, Washington State, USA from Mugo on Vimeo.

in which I make reference to a series of great floods which shaped the country through which I have been driving these last weeks.

Yesterday a ferry ride over to Bainbridge Island. Today a three hour drive down to Portland to return the car to it’s home at the Priory. Tomorrow a short train ride to Eugene.

Uh! I hear the train whistle in the distance. Better get to bed now. Early start tomorrow. This evening. Sitting in a garden packed full of plants and features in the fading light. Talking with a long standing congregation member and his wife. Eating ripe fruit. Drinking iced tea. I’m once again reminded of how very fortunate I am to be welcomed into the hearts and homes of so very many good and kind people. Thank you all.

The lasting impression of this trip is of sitting still while the world chases by like a movie. Sometimes the film stops briefly and a memory takes up residence, only to fade with passing time. These videos and others I’ve recorded give you a small impression, of my impressions. They are just movies. Which you watch go by, while sitting still.

Many thanks to Reverend Margaret for the loan of her car.

Big Wind – Big Sky

…and found the sky enchanting in the evening light.

It was a close thing this evening. We were getting supper ready and suddenly the sky turned navy blue. Then the wind got up and in no small way. Huge gusts for only a short time brought down a dead tree, closely missing the house. News is that trees were down all over town. Natures way of pruning, he said.

Together Seamlessly

Yesterday I unpicked a long row of sewing machine stitches in the hem of a monastic robe. Then I tidied up. Removing all the cut threads. Rolled them into a tiny ball. Put them in the compost bucked. As I unpicked, cutting those threads, taking care not to cut into the fabric, my mind started to remember. That’s how it is with memory isn’t it? Ones mind is jogged into remembering by something, or some circumstance, that’s come to the fore. I’d made the robe in Edmonton, Canada, Now which year was that? I’d had a streaming cold. But needed to push on because there was a deadline to meet. I remember my nose dripping onto the fabric as I worked! Now. Where did I buy that fabric? At the market stall in Nottingham…or….? And so it is. Remembering. Remembering and then linking memory upon memory.

This afternoon I whizzed along sewing up the hem again. Neatening. Putting a few more years wear into it. The frayed hem, now zigzagged where it had become frayed. Robe hems drag on stairs, both when climbing and when descending. They brush the ground all day long as the occupant goes about daily business. Already I was plotting my next move for when this robe would come to me for mending in the future. There’s a limit to how much zigzagging one can do before it becomes clear that either new fabric needs to be imported, or a new robe needs to be made. A monk I’ve sewn for in the past reminds me when I meet him. The robe is still going strong! That was 1986. Bullet proof fabric, Bought in the Forest of Dean. Gloucestershire. Amazing how it has lasted. But it’s been worn mostly for best. Even so, cracking good fabric. And so it is. Remembering. Remembering and then linking memory upon memory.

One of my hosts here in Montana sat beside me before lunch silently read the machines instruction manual. While I attempted to worked out where all the controls were, and how to use them. (As a last resort, read the manual!) Then, out aloud. What does neaten mean? I’ve not come across that word before? I thought, REALLY!?. Have I not spent my entire life neatening? Clearing up. Straightening. Making good. Mending. Weeding. Sorting. Trimming. Mowing. Cutting into shape. Neatening and sorting are my pleasure. In home and in garden. At work and at play. Isn’t that the way of things? One word, or a phrase. Give it a tug, like a thread sticking out of a ball of yarn, and memories unreel at lightening speed. And so it is. Remembering. Remembering and then linking memory upon memory.

There is part of the brain that is designated for memory. (See story of HM.) Remove that part and…no memory! (Listen to HM’s story). Or perhaps no capacity to recall memory anyway. We would be completely lost without the capacity to remember. And equally lost if that is all we know. I once said to one of the senior monks, off the cuff, and I was young in training, We are limited only by what we (consciously) know! (Whoops! I thought. Where did that pearl come from?) And he said, pausing thoughtfully, Well you know something important. Hum, that would have been around 1986/7. In the old sewing room. At Shasta Abbey.

There is more to say about memory. About the past coming into the present. There has been a huge amount of that as I’ve been visiting monks I trained with in the 1980’s. And also trainees, many of whom have been at it years longer than me. We have a shared life. It is alive and vibrant. No neatening required!

Yes, I have moved over the land these weeks. This great, vast and beautiful land. But how to tell of the life we bask, swim and have our being within. Together. Seamlessly. Going well deeper than linking memories.

And still the robe hem becomes worn. And asks of us the utmost care. Loving action.

Sorry folks. Posts have been few and far between. I’ve been – mowing, sorting, trimming and hiking as well. This has been so much fun too. And in a couple of days – on the road again.