Category Archives: Films/Books

The Beckoning Cats

Around about this time of year back in 2002 the late head of our Order came to Cornwall where I was living at the time. He, along with another monk I work closely with, stayed in a cottage and talked business. We talked business every morning for a week. In the afternoons the late head of our Order wrote and polished his book, Buddhism from Within, sat at a table in my trailer. He worked incredibly hard. Little did he know he would be dead within three months, of lymphoma.

During that week we had wonderful lunches cooked by our host and, with him, set the wheels in motion to establish a charity for the OBC in England, the OBC Activities Trust. (On Monday I missed the AGM of the charity held near Manchester due to more pressing matters here in the monastery. ) Towards the end of our week together we visited a village, it could have been Newlyn, and these cats caught my eye.

Today, a beautiful crisp sunny day, I’d intended to treat you all to some photographs of the monastery clothed in a white coat of frost. However more pressing matters had me driving out of the valley, and when I got back the clouds had already covered the sun. They say we are in for more ‘weather’ in the next few days. Before I left I did manage to catch a quick shot of our cat, Smudge, in the window of the Novices Common Room.

Smudge and tree, with reflection of a Buddha. There is the cult of the Beckoning Cat which you may know about. It’s has an interesting monastic cat origin.

Written in loving memory of Rev. Master Daizui and our day out in Cornwall, one cold and frosty morning in 2002. And in gratitude for those meals, and so much more too.

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Zen Meditation

‘A practical guide based on the approach used at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey’.

Hi there, a new teaching aid has just become available and I thought you’d want to know about it. Here’s what it says on the back of the DVD version.

Zen Meditation deals with the fundamentals of the practice of zazen, of sitting meditation. It includes a detailed description of the physical and mental aspects of the practice and shows how the principles of meditation can be applied to the activities of our daily life. It shows how we can be still within the events of life and experience things as they are, with nothing added or taken away, and explains how such acceptance can lead to the realizaton of our true nature.

A Teaching Tool: I show ‘Zen Meditation’ to new people here. In particular, the segments on training in daily life and setting up a regular practice. If you want to learn to meditate and you are not near a priory, group or monastery to receive instruction in person, this DVD is the very next best way to get started.

You can buy it here: The monk who runs the Bookshop at Throssel wrote me saying: “Yes, we have the DVD (and video) and it would be fine for people to email and ask for a copy. I can tell them the postage cost if it is outside the UK. ( The cost of one, including postage and packaging airmail to USA and Canada (small packet) is £7.75.) We do appreciate payment in £ sterling, or a direct transfer to our bank account. We can’t take credit cards.”

Many thanks: to Tony Lee, Peter Major, Virginia Lee and Lee Upton as well as the monks of Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey, and all the others who helped to bring us this useful teaching aid.

Nice to see the production team members come out from behind the camera, and microphone too!

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Listen and Hear

‘The Wild, White Goose’ is the personal account of Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett’s early years training as a monk in Japan. She was there in the 1960’s where she faced unimaginable hardships. Being both a woman and a foreigner and the time being relatively soon after WW2 all contributed to the way she was treated. And, I have to remind myself that she was there over forty years ago, a different time, a very different place and novice training IS testing were ever one is. I sometimes wonder if I would have been able to stay the course as she did during those years.

I still find it hard to read my teachers diaries, to mentally travel beside her through those grueling times. There were ‘warmer’, as well as ‘cooler’, moments of course. Two years on the run she was alone in her country temple on Christmas Day. She records, “I don’t think I can remember one which was more enjoyable.” Having visited that temple this year I can now picture her there. Simple temple, simple pleasures.

There is a poem at the start of the Introduction to ‘the Goose’, as we affectionately refer to Rev. Master’s book, and it goes thus:

Flying clouds in a flying sky,
I listen and hear the wild goose cry;
Peaceful eve but it’s no use
For I am sister to the wild, white goose.

My heart knows what the wild goose knows
For my heart goes where the wild goose goes;
Wild goose, sister goose, which is best,
The flying sky or a heart at rest?

Author unknown.

I read the diaries for the first time over twenty five year ago and had no conscious thought of flying the same course as the author. However the call to take to the wide uncharted sky was strong enough to lift me up and follow her.

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Reciting on F

How many times have I walked into a music shop and asked for an f tuning fork only to be met with kindness, to be sure, but no promises of an f fork? It would seem they are not used much and so for years my efforts have been in vein. That is until the other week when I strolled into a music shop, in the now famed, Whyte Avenue close to the Priory. The sales woman, Lisa, went to a lot of trouble to track down a source for me and the other day I picked up this one. A magnificent aluminum tuning fork, it’s a whopper too.

Our scriptures were translated into English and set to Gregorian chant by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett and much of what we sing has a ‘reciting note’ of f, thus the need for the fork. It is paramount to start off a scripture on the right note as things can go down hill, musically, very fast if you don’t. When I’m precenting I prefer to use a tuning fork rather than a pitch pipe as a pipe, powered by breath, can sound a bit odd ‘honking’ in the middle of a ceremony!

In an interview Rev. Master gave with Lenore Friedman she spoke about translating the scriptures and setting them to Gregorian chant. Which is a variety of plainsong by the way, something I’m glad to have got clear for myself. That interview, along with interviews with other leading female Buddhist teachers in North America, were edited into a book entitled ‘Meetings With Remarkable Women’ published by Shambhala. It came out in the 1980’s and has since been republished in a Revised and Updated Edition around 2000. It’s well worth getting hold of a copy as, apart from the references to music, the interview give a sense of Rev. Masters’ humanity and great sense of humour too. Also Lenore paints a picture of training at Shasta Abbey, as seen through her eyes during a weekend stay there.

Here is an extract from the aforementioned interview for your interest:
“…there are twenty-four scales in Gregorian—and there are peregrinating ones as well. Which means if you choose the right ones, you can avoid the emotionalism. Interestingly enough, regarding our major and minor scales, the major is one of the twenty-four, which is the war scale. All our major music is written in the scale that encourages anger and violence. And all our minor music (which is the Aeolian) is the death scale, in which people made all their funeral music.” “I do most of mine in the Phrygian, which is very cool and starry and still. And it gives the perfect effect. I also use the peregrinus mode because that’s extraordinarily good for very long lines.”
Meetings With Remarkable Women, published by Shambhala.

Well, this has all been very instructive. I expect there are readers who know a lot more about plainsong, and music generally, than I do. I’m no expert. If anybody needs to get a copy of our Scriptures and Ceremonies you can buy a CD, or an audiotape version, from the
Throssel Hole Buddhist Bookshop. They may well ship to North America.

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