Category Archives: Teachings

Matters of Gratitude

I’ve been thinking of events, or series of events, which defy all possible probability in the normal course of life. Iain in Japan wrote about a series of coincidences which more than likely lead to his young sons life being saved. No doubt there are many such stories to tell such as this one from early in year 2000.

I was on a long drive, trailing a caravan, from Manchester in northern England to Cornwall. That’s a long way in one day. Mine was the slowest rig on the road. Somewhere south of Exeter, and late into the night, my concentration was failing me. I lost my way in some road works and turned off the main road onto a slip road by mistake. Realizing what I’d done I proceeded back towards the main road again. In a daze of tiredness I didn’t check for traffic before merging, there wasn’t much traffic at that time of night. Then whoosh, quick as you like, a huge commercial rig streaked past before me on the main road. It could have been Starship Enterprise, the event was that surreal. Seamlessly I trundled on, merging in behind it as it sped into the dark night. A near brush with certain death, and no mistake.

Quite early on in my monastic training I turned a corner, so to speak, and realized everything in my life had brought me to this place. The good times and the dreadful ones too, the painful circumstances and the joyful ones, all without exception, had been Great Compassion at work. Although at the time it didn’t always look that way.

And it looks like compassion is still at work in my world. Just a few days ago when out in a car I realized I was driving on the wrong side of a country road, and had been doing so for some time.

There is the matter of accumulated spiritual merit involved in all of this.

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Dancing Heart

I’ve been contemplating those times when a word or a gift or just a gesture reaches through the thin veil of the constructed self to a deeper level. Times when one’s heart dances and one’s feet skip forwards into life with renewed confidence. Here are just a few such encounters that have surfaced into memory as I prepare a talk for Wesak on the theme of Giving and Receiving.

An early memory of a special gift was watching my Aunt Paddy spitting in her mascara and then applying the black goo to her eyelashes. It was the 1950’s. She brought glamour and a wider world into my country girl’s life. Later when I’d reached my teens she encouraged me to write, telling me I had a knack for descriptive writing.

In Singapore 1969, standing at a lightbox in Kodak’s main processing plant. I was viewing slides taken during my overland trip from England. An Australian photographer gazes over my shoulder and we strike up a conversation. Parting he said, “Look me up in Sydney, there may be a job for you”. And there was. (In that simple exchange I got what I wanted, recognition as a photographer, and then I could move on).

Twelve years later, now as a novice monk. I’m walking on the cloister at Shasta Abbey. Miserable! Female senior passes and silently slipped me a few squares of English Bournville chocolate from her robe pocket. Instantly I’m lifted, not so much from the chocolate but from the message it carried. Years later and I’m with the same monk. She is suffering. I say out of nowhere, “You know, if there wasn’t ‘letting go’, life would be hell wouldn’t it”! I just remember her laughing heartily in response.

I am sitting listening to one of our lay ministers giving meditation instruction to a room full of people. He is inspiring. The teaching is direct clear and kind. I’m moved to tears. Hearing this one person speak so eloquently brought home to me the jewel that is the lay sangha. A realization of what they have to offer, and what they offer me.

So, back to getting my thoughts organized for that talk.

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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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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.

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From Half Way Round the World

The Buddha protected by Mucalinda, King of the Nagas.
The Buddha protected by Mucalinda, King of the Nagas.

I received this in the mail to-day. It has come more than half the way round the world. It originating in Thailand, thence to England in luggage and onwards to Canada in a mailing tube. And there it was waiting for me at the front door of the Priory on my return from the library. It gives me pause for thought when considering the minor miracle of items reaching their destinations: that ‘planes stay in the air for long periods of time, that mailed items, 99% of the time, arrive in one piece, and packages can be left alone on the doorstep and not get picked up and taken away again!

At Shasta Abbey there is a huge statue of the Buddha protected by Mucalinda set beneath a structure to protect it from the elements. It’s the very first Buddha image that visitors encounter when entering the monastery for a visit. I believe it is covered in gold leaf and was a gift from devotees in Singapore.

The image, above, appears to be silk screened and the background is black fabric. It’s a kind gift and treasure it. Thank you.

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