Category Archives: Daily Life

Robes Are For Life

There is quite a lot of wear and a huge tear in the robe I’m mending for one of the monks at the moment. I really enjoy the challenge. The cuffs, hem, collar and under arms are the most vulnerable areas for fraying and ripping. Sometimes material from a hem can be cut out and used to make a new collar thus giving the robe literally years more usable life. But one can only go so far. A hem can only be mended so many times before the whole thing is too short, cuffs likewise. Then there are stains to deal with. Oil, grease of any kind and paint are the worst although bleach stains, in the wrong place, can spell the end without any question.

When one wears the same thing day in and day out it’s hard to retire it. My late Master would say with a kindly chuckle, You can take loyalty too far you know, when she’d see a monk walking about in robes well past retirement age. As a young monk I’d mend and patch for the senior monks who were too busy to do it themselves. I knew they would wear what they had into threads and when caught early enough I could extend its life considerably. However those older monks would take a lot of convincing when the moment really had come to hang up that robe for the last time. The one I’m dealing with at the moment will be good for a few more years when I’ve finished with it. Hurrah!

I’m thinking of robes because they are so closely associated with their inhabitants. After my Master died, eleven years ago to the day, I inherited one of hers. Having remade it to fit me, I wear it. Sometimes I think I wear it for her. When it’s time has come though I’ll be washing windows with it. You can take loyalty too far!

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Many a Slip Twixt Cup and Lip

On Sunday somebody kindly brought along a book for me to read. We had been talking at a previous Sunday meeting about Into Great Silence. That’s the film about Grande Chartreuse the mother house of the Carthusian Order of contemplative monks. I’d actually forgotten about the book so it was a pleasant surprise to receive it.

The book An Infinity of Little Hours, gives background to the order and then brings it alive with the stories of five young men who entered Parkminster, the Charterhouse in Sussex, in the early 1960’s. This book makes for compelling reading for anybody interested in monasticism or by stories of people overcoming, and not overcoming, great difficulties. I believe only one of the five made it through the rigors to their final, ‘for life’, vows.

Quite often, and it happens with people who are on the way to joining our order, the vocation is tested literally on the journey. One lad travelling from America on the Mauretania in l960, on board he fell in love with a girl from Manchester. He was torn between his vocation and the girl who had dazzled him so. When the ship docked in Liverpool, after sitting with much inner conflict he went with her to Manchester, instead of Sussex as he had intended, and arranged previously. Not the end of the story though.

This is taken from the book:

Still dazzled, he took her to a movie theatre and arrived there in time for the last of the commercials that preceded the feature film. The ad showed a line of Carthusian monks on their way to church. With monastic chant in the background, the ad went on to promote green Chartreuse liqueur, Bernie didn’t need any more signs. He got up immediately, said goodbye to the young lady, and set off for London and then on to Sussex.

Still later when he had been living ‘in cell’ as the Carthusians term the life, since it is so bound up with living alone in a cell, he decided he couldn’t take the life any longer. He was on his way to tell the Novice Master his final decision. However, faith having not completely deserted him, before he left his cell he prayed for help. Although just a short distance to walk the cry for help turned him around and by the time he was facing the Novice Master he had decided to stay. No flashing lights or bolts from the blue. He just saw things dramatically differently, and very quickly. That can happen.

Incidentally one of the slips, in the context of a monastic vocation, is pregnancy.

* * *

There is another review of Into Great Silence on Dharmaflix by Decent Films Guide. Why not do a review, there are good films out there.

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An Answer

The following is an extract from a note I sent to a chap in answer to his comment/questions following the sudden death of his father.

Dear Friend,

The very best thing you can do to help your father now is to simply sit when you have the time, and to do your best to keep a bright and positive mind throughout your day. He will be in your heart and since ultimately there is no separation or dividing up of existence, your hearts are identical. If the relationship with him has been troublesome this doesn’t matter, let what ever is there be there without judgements.

You are right, we do not have a specific practice around death, or more correctly meditations focusing on the impermanence of the body. That all is fairly much covered in just sitting.

In terms of your own acceptance of his sudden death you will have to realize that there is a level of shock which will take time to work it’s way through.

As for what you can do at home now. You can put his photograph on your altar and perhaps put some kind of non perishable food/drink which he would have liked there too. You can recite one of the compassion scriptures daily and offer the merit of the recitation for his benefit.

The advice above is fairly standard however it does assume an understanding of the practice of meditation and the Buddhist Precepts.

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Happy Birthday Buddha

My father would have been 87 today. Looking around my room I don’t see anything of his to remind me of him. But I do remember… There was my dad’a old belt and his knitted wool hat, which he wore on the back of his head on cold days. I always thought he could have done better, but he loved that hat and kept it to the last. There was his walking stick, probably cut from a hedge. It was rather a twiggy looking affair. It had a bright orange spent rifle cartridge rammed on the bottom to stop the stick from wearing down. Maybe there was some binder twine, picked up from a field, wrapped around the stick to strengthen it. He was a man in the country where function came first.

I’ve disposed of the old belt and hat, and the wool demob coat that followed us unrelentingly from one house to the next. I think he wrapped his saws in it. The stick? That now supports a tree by a lake in Cornwall, planted in his memory.

In Buddhism there are said to be three objects of reverence of a Buddha; the physical remains such as the ashes after cremation, a tooth or lock of hair, objects appertaining to personal use, such as tools, clothing etc. and lastly objects of reverence reminiscent of the Buddha. This last object has no physical basis it is simply what we remember, what we remember gladly. And I have a lot of those for my dad, my Buddha.

Many thanks to Christine whose comment left after the posting A Beacon of Hope inspired me to write this today. I’m sorry I missed your contribution and didn’t respond at the time.

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Human Training

Yesterday I made a pilgrimage to visit my belongings, for the time being mournfully trapped in plastic boxes in an attic. There is always a surprise in store on these occasions. This time I discovered I had an audio cassette tape player, which is good news indeed. While there I decided to drag down some box files containing old lecture notes. To my great delight there were also notes I’d made after conversations with one of the seniors at Shasta with whom I regularly took Refuge. Sounds like I must have been having an issue with trust and getting along with other people. A common theme in practice.

Trust Partakes of Acceptance
Trust (in somebody) is given expression to by being willing let go of what ever is going on. In order to trust someone absolutely they would have to be perfect.

Compassion for Self and Other
When encountering people (their habits) ‘get to you’, think how difficult and painful it must be for that person to be the way they are. July 1995

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