Category Archives: photograph


Light goes with darkness as the sequence does of steps in  walking.

At the end of the first meditation period of the day a drum is struck seven times, symbolizing the coming of the seven *six Buddhas before the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni. We use a bass drum mounted on a stand. Depending on how and where on the surface of the drum it is struck the sound is anything from a resounding CRASH to a mild thump. The intention is for a deep resonating sound, neither too loud nor too soft. Yesterday, more of a crash! It happens.

And so it is with us. Actions, including speech are, at times, harsh and jarring, at other times filled with compassion and gentleness. Resonating deeply in minds and hearts. It is all too easy however to label a person ‘harsh’ or ‘compassionate’ and evaluate that person accordingly good or bad, nice or nasty on the basis of their actions. Or the quality of their actions.

Is this right though? However human it may be to judge in this way I’d be rather sad if, for example, what I said or did even years ago had me for ever cast as a ‘nasty person’. The act may not have been out of the top drawer, raising my voice for example, but does that make me a nasty person, an unkind person? Is it possible to see the person apart from their actions? At least as a starting point for exercising kindness and compassion.

In ‘darkness’, when separate features do not stand out, is used in our end of Buddhism to mean emptiness and ‘light’ to mean multiplicity. You could say also; one and different, empty and full.  The two seeming opposites fit together, are together ‘as a box all with it’s lid’, to quote from one of our scriptures.

What this means to me at least is, wether or not we beat the drum with a crash, a subtle tap, or an unthoughtful wallop there is a leap of faith needed. Faith that takes one past the reasonable and the reasoned, the right and the wrong, while at the same time acting or not acting – what ever is called for. This is the koan of daily life arising naturally. This is not easy. Nothing and nobody is ever all light or all dark although we can forgive ourselves for believing this to be so!

Thanks to Mark for the photograph. The Alhambra in Spain, I think?

*See comments

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Xmas card from my father, 1988!

Amazing! A christmas card sent to me by my father here at Throssel in 1988. It brought tears to my eyes to see his writing, almost illegible but all the same…what a gift. Holiday cards thought to be worth recycling are kept for future use in a box in the ‘project room’. I don’t think we even had one back 30 years ago! All those years this box has been shift about, buried and yet kept.

A few weeks ago the monk in charge of the projects room discovered this card and realizing it was sent to me years ago, gave it back. I was absolutely delighted. What did he say?

My dear H,

Happy Christmas holiday and new year. Hope you do not have to do too much cooking. (I was the cook at the time.)

Hope the Black Hole is not sitting on your back – anyway it is nearly Black Hole Day – 21st December. Winter Solstice which is far more important than Xmas to me.

We are nearly over our flu, but for a short time it does take it out of you. Just today your mother has noticed and you can see and feel the callous in her arm so it must be joined by now! (she broke her collar-bone in the summer).

Sorry that Mr. Cook is so ill. (Parkinson’s). Only hope that he doesn not have to suffer too long. Trust that you will get to see him and Mrs. Cook.

Love Daddy,

What a gift!


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Trig Pillars

Trig Pillar on the moors above Throssel.

A testament to surveyors of the past
Although 6,500+ trig pillars were built, hundreds have been lost to housing developments, farming, coastal erosion and other causes. The vast majority follow the standard Hotine design, but some are stone built, and in Scotland there are some ‘Vanessas’ which are taller, cylindrical concrete pillars.

You can only imagine how hard it was for surveyors of the past to not only map Britain, but to also locate sites for trig pillars and carry the materials to remote sites to then build the trig pillars too.

It’s a true testament to their skills that such an accurate map of Britain was created from such humble beginnings as the trig pillar 80 years ago.

Ordinance Survey Blog A history of the Trig Pillar

There is something special about our Trig points in Britain to the point of fond (perhaps sentimental) affection. We love to go and visit them, some people even ‘bag’ them in the same way others ‘bag’ mountain tops. Because Trigs are located in high places the views on a clear day are 360 degrees of unincumbered Britain. Today we could see the Cheviots to the north and in all directions we had crystal clear views. It was a fun walk with fellow monks and Brenda Bear came too, named after Brenda Birchenough a fond friend in the Dharma.

With thoughts for those whose day is not clear or bright, whose view is limited and who are alone, and not by choice.

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Everybody Has to Be Somewhere

Raspberry Pi Tree

Where ever you are
Who ever you are with
No matter what you are doing
No matter how you are feelin’

If you are laughing
or crying
Sighing or sleeping
or wide awake
Just remember

*You can’t dance
at two weddings
one behind!

Being in two places
at once isn’t
even slightly
*Yiddish saying.

The micro tree is plugged into a Raspberry Pi computer. Came to me yesterday in the post, so beautifully packed. This tree is now on my altar blinking away adding a warm red glow. Love it. For those who might wish to be where they are not, with different people or with somebody who has died. Or whatever. Hang in there, nothing last for ever. Even the good times pass.

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Understanding Emptiness

Rev. Master Jiyu would say, “It (emptiness) is the fullest emptiness you will ever know”. She was talking from her own experience and understanding and when ever I heard her say that I thought, “well that’s good” but didn’t ‘get’ what she was saying.

Here is a quote I find rather helpful in understanding the Buddhist concept of emptiness.

I often use the example of a hand in speaking about emptiness; we can call it a hand or we can call it a collection of five fingers. As a collection of five fingers, each finger is independent and has a different shap and function. We cannot exhange the little finger with the thumb because each has its own function, shape, and unique way of being. A thumb cannot do precisely what a little finger does and a little finger cannot do what a thumb does. Each finger is truly independent. And yet, from another perspective as one hand, all five fingers function together, and there is no separation between them. When we see the fingers in this united way, there is really just one hand

Realizing Genjokoan, Shohaku Okumura, p17.
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