Total Pageviews

Friday, 30 September 2011

Zen Moment

I was thinking about those Zen moments today. Those moments when there is an awareness of being aware. When we meditate we reach these moments during the meditation practice but when going about our daily tasks it is harder to be mindful. We know we should practise awareness during these tasks but it is so easy to be in the future or past with our thoughts. Even worse we can get swept away by negative emotions such as anger.

How wonderful then, when we are jolted into awareness and feel connected to and part of everything. At that moment everything is perfect. It can be, and usually is, something quite ordinary which is the trigger.

I wrote my poem ' The Rooks have Gone ' after one of these moments. You can see this poem in My Poetry if you are interested.

I had been away for a month and before I went the rookery in the nearby trees was incredibly noisy, with the constant coming and going of the adults feeding the young rooks. During my absence the young rooks had left the nests and all the birds were now away or quiet.

I was hanging out the washing, mind quite relaxed when I heard the call of a wood pigeon. When the rooks were there it was impossible to hear any other birds as the noise was so loud.

At that moment, on hearing the call, I was aware of the pigeon and aware that there were no rooks and aware of being aware.

It is so mundane but I was awakened to the eternal now by the pigeon, to the passing of time by the pigeon and of the future by the pigeon. At the same time everything became one in the perfection of that moment. I can think of lots of similar Zen moments. I guess to be ' an awakened being ' is when all of life is lived in awareness and the mundane becomes a miracle.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Buddhism. What do I Believe. Part Two

In part one I started with the question to myself. What do I actually believe and what do I not believe? I explored Sangha, Core Systems of Practice, The Dharma, Buddhism as a Religion, Rebirth, Karma, The relevance of Buddhism in Modern Life, Basic Doctrines, Meditation and Ritual.

So, after some considerable thought, this is what I believe.

1. Sangha. Absolutely vital and in my view the most important of The Three Jewels. I know this is controversial but to practice the other jewels without a Sangha is quite difficult. I have expanded on this in a previous post, see 'Sangha The First Jewel'

2. Core Systems of Practice. I have written quite a lot about this in part one but essentially think that even though we choose to practice under this or that tradition we should remain open to other traditions. Indeed we should also remain open to the truths in other spiritual paths. If you study Buddhism you will see clearly that all schools of Buddhism take and build from each other.

3. The Dharma. Once the truths of the basic teachings are heart fully believed and underpin our meditation I am not sure that there is much point in endless study. Some folk like to be scholars and that is fair enough. However I truly believe study can only take you so far. It is worth remembering that The Dharma was not written down for some 400 years after The Buddha passed away.

4. Buddhism as a Religion. I don't believe it is. The Dalai Lama himself said " My religion is kindness" perhaps this is the best definition of Buddhism.

5. Rebirth and Karma. I am open to the possibility of past and future lives as detailed in the twelve links of interdependent origination. However for me the jury is still out.Rebirth is the one thing I haven't been able to test yet. When I do will let you know, perhaps!
I prefer to consider rebirth as a metaphor for a higher state of consciousness in this life and as for Karma the results of our actions in this very life are very obvious, both good and bad.If Karma in this life affects the future life then all well and good.
So can one be a practising Buddhist while not sure about these concepts? I do believe so.

6. Is Buddhism relevant in Modern Life. Absolutely. In fact it is even more relevant today than ever.

7. Basic Doctrines. The Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path, Impermanence, Nothing exists independently, Non Duality, and Emptiness. This is enough. The basic doctrines are quite profound in themselves.

8. Meditation. I believe this is the vehicle that will take you to a higher state of consciousness. I am leaning more these days to The Zen approach, that is to say the direct realisation of reality through meditation. We all have moments of elevated consciousness and I sometimes think this is enlightenment itself. Another metaphor maybe? Meditation I believe leads to a joining up of these moments so that we are mindful more often and in a higher state more often. So should we confine ourselves to the meditation techniques taught within our tradition. No, meditation is a creative process and we are continually refining our exploration of it. Nothing should be prohibited. Whatever works for us should be cultivated. This is not a rejection of the tradition we are practising in just the maintenance of an open mind.

9. Ritual. This comes principally from the Tibetan Vajrayana school of Buddhism and certainly connects with the emotions for some people. I quite like it but would not say it has the power of meditation. It is nice to practice in the Sangha.

So I believe the journey is different for all of us. Don't get stuck in narrow concepts. Test everything. Ask questions and above all be open. Your heart will know what is true.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011



We are the lucky ones
We've really had it all.
We haven't had to fight a war
Our problems were so small.

We lived the golden era
Which won't be seen again
We had the swinging sixties
And much much more besides.
And now we're off on that world trip
A gap year in our dotage.

We had no unemployment
Our pensions were gold plated.
Our appetites were so so strong
And almost always sated.

So let's give thanks for all our luck
And let us pay the price.

Our kids missed out on all our luck
They'll draw the dole
 And stay at home
And watch that big TV

It's no good for them or for us
But do we have a choice.

And when we're in that nursing home
And have to be looked after.
Who can blame them in their turn
If they don't give a damn.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Thank God for Radio 4

Often while I am painting I listen to radio 4 and I love to be surprised by the subjects discussed or debated.
Last week I listened to a fascinating talk on Shintoism in Japan. I hadn't realised before that Shintoism has no God, no founder, no scriptures and doesn't believe in any kind of transcendence. It seems there is a belief in invisible spirit beings called Kami and the idea is to align with these spirits or energy. If aligned and in harmony success in business, relationships and life is assured.

Shinto comes from the Chinese characters Shen meaning divine being and Tao meaning way So it means 'way of the spirits'.

For most of the time Shintoism has co-existed with Buddhism and Confucianism except perhaps ( if I understood correctly ) during the second world war when it was appropriated by the military government.

I hope the reports of a dumbing down of radio 4 are exaggerated as I sometimes think radio 4 is the last bastion of intelligent broadcasting media left.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Over the Cliff

Passion, gain, loss, risk and fear are the themes of my latest poem. Put your own interpretation on it.

Over the Cliff

I could go over the cliff with you
Or fly above the moon.

I could plunge the depths with you
Or visit the hot sun.

I feel you in every moment
Caressed by your luminous beauty.

I could lose my mind with you
Or hide in what I know.

I could break free and run with you
Or rest in comfort cage.

You hold me in fiery tenderness
And lead me to that place.

I could be changed for ever by you
Or stand upon my pride.

I could lose my soul to you
Or fear to take that step.

You are the wilderness before heaven
Or the reef before the shore.

I could go insane with you
Or be consumed by blackness.

But I have glimpsed beyond the veil
 Ineffable perfume of truth.

So I must go
Over the cliff with you.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Latest Painting

I had a very relaxing afternoon with my Wednesday afternoon art group. We have all decided to go out for a meal on Friday 30th September and to invite Randy ( the founder and inspiration for Moray Art Centre ) and Diane his unfailingly cheerful assistant. Accordingly we wrote a card for the invitation and signed it from The Wags! This does not mean Wives and Girlfriends of rich footballers but stands for Wednesday Art Group. In accepting our invitation they said they had another abbreviation for our group, that is to say Shags! This is not a reference to our resemblance to Cormorants or something rather salacious but stands for Self Help Art Group. As you can imagine this caused much amusement and many other witticisms. Oh and I did a picture of Ben Rinnes, Morayshires highest mountain. I was quite pleased with it after my previous failure, the portrait of Sammy.

Monday, 19 September 2011

How much teaching

The Spirit of the Tree.
Meditation is creation not imitation. Meditators who imitate their instructors do not go far and that goes for Guru devotion too. Yes it is important to have some knowledge of The Dharma if interested in Buddhism. Yes if just taking up meditation for the first time it is useful to be shown how. However instructors must remain careful to warn that there is a real risk of getting stuck in one method or relying on a Guru to do all the work. Everybody is an individual and we all find our own way, our own path.  Just as the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon so too is instruction not to be confused with meditation.  Instruction is merely the invitation to connect with spirit in whatever way is appropriate for each individual.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Judgement Day

This is another wonderful poem by Phil Cornelius. I hope you like it.

Judgement Day

We all stand alone on judgement day.
If we have a God then perhaps we'll pray.

But no one here is above the rest.
When storms blow in we all face the test.

No time for self pity, no cries of remorse.
Fate charts the waters and luck sets the course.

If those demons slink out from a restless night.
Have the guts to stand and the will to fight.

And when death comes to take you to some other place.
Walk out to meet it with a smile on your face.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Buddhism. What do I Believe? Part One.

I had a wake up call recently. After being, or at least calling myself a Buddhist for many years, I had given very little thought to my understanding of  Buddhism as opposed to the understanding of Buddhism within the  tradition I practice. Certainly there were minor differences but nothing to cause serious questioning. I had seen a big change from the first Sangha I encountered over 30 years ago ( which I didn't feel comfortable with and therefore left ) and the second Sangha I belonged to in very recent times and only left because of my relocation to Scotland. My view of the second Sangha was wholly positive.

I am now involved in helping to build what was a very small and scattered Sangha, and we are making good progress. However a minor disagreement over what is and what is not appropriate within this tradition has lead me to question my beliefs. What is it I actually believe and is it compatible with the Sangha I am helping to build?

Firstly I believe that although we need a core system of practice ( especially for those who wish to know about Buddhism and maybe start practising ) we should not allow ourselves to be confined by narrow dogma. Our tradition after all draws on other different traditions does it not? We should be open and able to explore our own individual understanding of The Dharma. Buddhism has changed with each different country to which it spread and will continue to do so. There are many references and exhortations within The Dharma to be prepared to question and test everything that is presented to us. Consider the following quotes:
1. From The Kalama Sutra. Do not believe just because wise men say so. Do not believe just because it has always been that way. Do not believe just because others may believe so. Examine and experience your self.
2. From TheMahaparinibbana sutra. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Look not for a refuge in anyone besides yourselves.
3. The Parable of The raft from theMajjhima Nikaya.The Buddha says use the Dharma as a raft for crossing the river after which it should not be carried.
This is I believe is a strength of Buddhism. It does not demand blind faith.

Then there is the question of religion. Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? Undoubtedly many do regard it as a religion. I do not. For me it is a very profound philosophy to live by.

What about Reincarnation and Karma? What do I believe about that? Is it necessary to believe in these two things to be a Buddhist? Well I can't say I believe in Reincarnation and Karma as regards to past or future lives but neither do I close myself to the possibility that this belief may be true. So my position is to regard this belief as a metaphor for this our present life. A metaphor to guide us to be aware that actions have a consequence in this life ( who could possibly doubt this ) and that we therefore are continuously creating Karma. Naturally as Buddhists we try to create good Karma and the consequences certainly manifest in this life time regardless to whether we believe that we are creating Karma in a future life or not! As for Reincarnation could this not be regarded as the attainment of a higher state of consciousness and therefore could be regarded as a sort of rebirth in this lifetime? So I would say that for me I would not let an agnostic position to future existence stop anyone becoming a practising Buddhist. In any case there is the deeper question as to what it is exactly that is reborn! A subject to revisit perhaps?

The big question for me is " Does Buddhism have a relevance in the twenty first century and can we still learn from it? The answer is yes, absolutely but we need to remember that some aspects of the doctrines are very much a product of the time and place in which Buddhism was first practised.

The basic doctrines  The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path, Impermanence and so on are as relevant today as they ever were. They show a way to overcome existential suffering in a way that does not use the modern palliatives of avoidance but confronts the issues head on.

Meditation is of couse one way of examining these profound doctrines deeply and here I do take issue with those who say we should adhere to certain meditation techniques. I very strongly believe that once core meditation is well established meditation becomes a very personal and creative vehicle. To limit this to a certain method or technique is to risk getting stuck in a rather mechanical and sterile ritual.

This brings me to ritual in Buddhism. Some traditions such as Tibetan Buddhism have an extraordinary richness of ritual and place great store on it. Other traditions notably Zen are more austere, believing in meditation above everything. Nothing is right and nothing is wrong. If ritual, Puja, chanting or visualisations lead to understanding then that is fine. If just meditation is the right vehicle then that is fine too. If Dharma study works, all well and good. Most people like a combination of these things. My view is all these things are a means to an end and we must be careful not to let the means become a trap. After all we are trying to go beyond!

Part 2. To follow.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Birthday and Mixed Fortunes

I have just returned from Norwich where I attended the special birthday of an old friend. It was quite nostalgic for me as I caught up with friends I had not seen for many years. Some seemed to have scarcely changed in appearance and were bouncing with health and happiness. Another was much happier than when I saw him last but had been through the mill health wise with a triple bypass and a hip replacement. Despite this he was obviously content and enjoying life so that was wonderful to see.

I stayed with my good friends John and Nanette and on the day of the birthday party I cycled into Norwich along an old railway track to see my son Julian, his partner Vicky and my new granddaughter Isla. Isla was even more full of contented smiles than when I last saw her in August. Julian and I had a long lunch together at his local pub and we very much enjoyed the closeness of being together. I feel very blessed.

I was struck by the impermanence of everything. Friends had changed partners and been through tough times, but somehow the human spirit continues unchanged and the ties that link us continue, even though in a changing form. Much to reflect on.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Another marvellous poem by Phil Cornelius.


Let's steal away and make no plans.
Let's drive all night through Shadowlands.

Let's dance together on a moon washed beach,
Some place the waves,and the dawn, and the ghosts can't reach.
Let's chase the clouds beneath startled trees,
Let's drive forever on this midnight breeze.

Let's steal away and make no plans.
Lest we wake too soon from Shadowlands.


Oh Dear, I worked hard to try and rescue this portrait of Sammy but sometimes things go from bad to worse. It is nearly always a truism to say if it does not go well in the initial stages it can't be rescued! I always try though and just occasionally a bad painting is turned round. Not so in this case so I am just going to start again from scratch and learn from the experience!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Mariko's Art Exhibition

We helped dismantle Mariko's Exhibition at Newbold House. One hour before the dismantling she sold one original. She was so pleased. She very kindly gifted me one of her original paintings. It is called 'Spirit of the Tree ' and is the top photo.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Yummy. Fried Puffball

Fried up the Puffball I picked yesterday. What a treat. They were fried with bacon and eggs but are delicious cooked in a little butter and maybe garlic. They can also be coated with eggs and breadcrumbs and fried. They can be baked, stuffed and grilled, there are many ways, all delicious.

If you have never eaten Puffballs you should try them. They are not easy to find as they are quite rare these days even though one Puffball can produce seven billion spores!

I know where another two are but maybe, just maybe, I will be keeping the location secret.
Giant Puff-Ball - Giant Puff-Ball

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Good Day With Puffball To Eat

I had a cycle ride to Elgin today to buy some paints. Despite a bad weather forecast it was in fact a very nice day, warm enough to enjoy without getting too hot. I dropped in on Kevin and Sheila for a coffee, they are such a nice couple, very welcoming. We had a very interesting chat about our mutual interest in Buddhism and I was stimulated to look up Stephen Batchelors web site when I got home. It was thought provoking and coincided with the direction my own thoughts are going.

Giant Puffball - Giant Puff-Ball with human
Giant puffball
On the way home I spotted an enormous Giant Puffball in a field as I was passing. This is one of the few wild fungi I risk eating and I know they are delicious so I hopped over the fence and harvested it. Will be frying shortly.

Friday, 2 September 2011

New Meditation Course

On Tuesday our Sangha started our fourth beginners meditation course. It runs for six weeks and we were over subscribed, having twenty participants responding to our advertisement. It was a little crowded in our venue but everybody was very good natured and we had a good positive first week. Suzie and myself lead the meditations and talks and we have excellent support from Maggie, Sam and Kevin. We are a very good team and the evident rapport between us is, I think, a good example of the friendships formed within a Buddhist Spiritual Sangha.

Some participants were interested in Buddhism and some came simply to learn meditation. I myself get an enormous satisfaction from these courses. I firmly believe that meditation not only improves the quality of the meditators life but affects in a positive way anybody around the meditator. So conscious that I do not give enough back to the world in so many other ways at least teaching meditation is a step in the right direction.

Struggling with Portrait

I am still working on the portrait of Sammy. I have had to start again on her nose after I realised it didn't look quite right because I had misdrawn the position by half a centimetre. It does not sound much but I was not happy. So I have had to cover it and start again which brings the problem of getting the skin tone mix just right to cover up the covered bit. Grrr. I might leave it for a bit and do a landscape of Ben Rinnes which I have been meaning to do for some time. See photo above.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


I came across a marvelous little book of poems and photographs in an art gallery in Grosmont when guiding recently on the Coast to Coast path. I was very moved emotionally by the quality of the poems by  Phil Cornelius. He deserves to be famous. You can buy the book called ' Shadowlands ' on line at  Here is one poem called ' Leaving '


One day I will leave this place.
I will blow through the trees with the rain
And listen as the leaves fall like snow.

One day I will talk to the mountains
And they will smile.
I will shelter from the beat
of a butterfly's wings
And hear spiders walk.

One day when the tears and the fears
And the years have slipped away,
I will light a fire on a beach.

The smoke will take me to the stars
And I will be free.