Friday, 19 November 2021

FULL MOON – Habits of Clinging

Fostering habits 
such as craving and clinging  
is like fertilizing noxious weeds. 

Dhammapada v.335 

When, for the first time, small children are dropped off at school, they often feel upset as their parents leave. They don’t understand that in a few hours time mum or dad will be back to pick them up again. Eventually those children learn that their parents have not disappeared forever and so are no longer upset. As adults, when we catch ourselves misperceiving a situation and becoming caught in clinging, it is wise to take note and register how clinging causes suffering. On one level it can feel suitable to cling to those things that we hold dear. It is a most natural thing for parents to feel caring towards their children. But what happens when the caring is combined with clinging? The child is over-protected and fails to learn. Or, what happens when we are praised by someone we respect and we cling to the agreeable feelings that arise? It can feel fine at the time, but what we fail to see is how, when we are spoken to rudely and painful feelings arise, we can’t help but cling to disagreeable feelings. The two go together.

Thursday, 21 October 2021

FULL MOON – Criticising

Those who always look for 
the faults of others
- their corruptions increase 
and they are far from freedom. 

Dhammapada v.253 

Although we don’t realise it at the time, when we heedlessly dwell on finding fault with others, we create obstructions within our own field of awareness. Part of us might feel good as we compulsively criticise, but we fail to see that in so doing we distance ourselves from Dhamma. Of course there is a time and place for criticism offered out of concern for the benefit of others, but here we are talking about criticising with malice. If we are keen to develop clarity and understanding, we need to reflect on the consequences of fault-finding and inhibit the impulse. It can feel tempting to scratch an itchy wound that is healing, but we know that following that impulse makes things worse.

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

A Poem

One of our Sangha members sent me this piece the other day and I thought it's a good one to share.......................

In Zen practice,” writes the Zen teacher Sobun Katherine Thanas, “we give attention to the details of our lives.” By paying close, sustained attention to the most ordinary details in our daily round, we train ourselves to abide in the present moment. Rather than sacrifice our present experience to a past that is already gone, a future that has not yet come, or abstract thoughts that may or may not reflect reality, we attend to the details of the matter at hand: the level of green tea in our measuring spoon, the temperature and volume of water to be added, the specific brewing time for that particular tea. By so doing, we fully engage in relative, historical time, even as we touch the timeless, absolute dimension of our experience.

No one understands this paradox more fully or articulates it with greater skill than the Midwestern poet Ted Kooser (b. 1939), who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book Delights & Shadows in 2005 and served as US Poet Laureate from 2004-2006. Kooser is not a Zen practitioner, so far as I know, (he's a Unitarian Universalist) but by attending to the details of quotidian life, no matter how mundane, he returns the reader, time and again, to the immediacy of the present moment. And in their acute awareness of impermanence and interdependence, as revealed by such common or discarded objects as curtain rods, enameled pans, and Depression glass, his poems often embody the essence, if not the customary forms and rituals, of Zen practice.

A vivid example may be seen in the title poem of Kooser’s collection Splitting an Order (2014). In this gentle poem, set in a diner, the narrator observes an old man cutting his cold sandwich into two equal parts. It pleases the narrator to watch him

keeping his shaky hands steady

by placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table

and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,

and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,

observing his progress through glasses that moments before

he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half

onto the extra plate that he asked the server to bring,

and then to wait, offering the plate to his wife

while she slowly unrolls her napkin and places her spoon,

her knife, and her fork in their proper places,

then smooths the starched white napkin over her knees

and meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.

A more ordinary situation it would be difficult to imagine: an elderly married couple having lunch in a diner. Yet Kooser endows this everyday situation with the glow of heightened attention, both on the part of the husband and wife and on that of the observant narrator.

The couple are splitting a plain roast-beef sandwich, perhaps to economize or because neither needs to eat a whole one. To accomplish this division, the husband must steady his shaky hands, a challenge he readily overcomes. By dividing the sandwich “surely” and diagonally, he ensures that the resulting portions will be exactly equal. Meanwhile, his wife carefully unrolls the napkin enclosing her knife, fork, and spoon. These, too, become objects of meticulous attention.

Even as the husband and wife are taking their time and paying attention to the details of their humble repast, the narrator is doing the same. His unswerving observation, recorded in a single complex but graceful sentence, not only mirrors that of his subjects toward the actions they are performing. It also establishes a tone of caring, even for common, unexceptional things, and implicitly bestows moral and aesthetic value on a scene that might otherwise have been dismissed as banal. The true significance of the scene becomes apparent in the poem’s closing lines, where the husband’s offering his wife her half of their sandwich completes his act of fairness, solicitude, and kindness. She in turn exhibits an attitude of openness and gratitude.

Shizen ichimi, an old Zen saying reminds us: “Poetry and Zen are one.” Although the former depends on fresh language, the latter on silent contemplation, both rely on wholehearted attention to concrete, particular detail. By stopping and looking deeply, both reveal the hidden dimension of human experience, the currents of interdependence and impermanence that underlie the most commonplace of human interactions. And, though they do so in very different ways, both, in the words of the poet Patrick Kavanagh, “snatch out of time the passionate transitory.”


Sobun Katherine Thanas, The Truth of This Life: Essays on Learning to Love This World 

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Wearing a Mask

I came across this piece on Quora, it speaks for itself - bless you Amanda..............

How do you feel, if vaccinated, about having to wear a mask to protect those who refuse to get vaccinated? 

Amanda Bankston, Hippie nursing student with a big heart and a fancy pen! 

I'm standing in the grocery store, safe behind my cart, politely minding my own business. The movement and energy around me is practically dizzying as I observe my fellow humans trudge along as though nothing is different. I have no idea how long I've been at the store - time moves differently lately - but I'm now in the refreshment aisle. 

For just a moment, my heavy heart is relieved of its burden by my brain. I think, “What shall we drink this week…?” as I stare down the row of various juices, sodas and Crystal Light wannabes. 

Just then, in the deli area behind me, a male voice becomes clear. He's not shouting but his voice is elevated. You can hear a demanding and questioning tone. He's agitated and aggressive, although I can't initially make out what he's saying. 

My fellow Americans around the area look up momentarily. You can see their questioning expressions, their perked up ears, their anxious feet. Some of us, myself included, pretend not to hear it while still mentally tensing. We're all ready to run or step in if we need to. We know this is how “things” sometimes start. 

It's finally clear that the aggravated gentlemen is merely the “Rights Warrior” of the day, as he starts to screechingly make his demands for all to hear: 

“NO, I WON'T go back and get my mask! I want my fucking turkey and ham! Is that too much to ask!? I should be allowed to buy food without having to give in to your conspiracy bullshit! Ya'll are living in fear of lies! I won't be one of the mindless LIKE YOU and follow this ridiculous mask shit, and if you don't check me out, you're discriminating!! I'M HUNGRY, DAMMIT, JUST LET ME BUY MY FOOD! I said, I'M HUNGRY!! … Even our Founding Fathers said, ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’ Now just do your job and ring up the meat!” 

My gaze falls (unintentionally) on the Kool-aid as his last furious word is spat. Gazing at its cheerful label, I think to myself, “I wish we could have some, but it's no good for you…” 


How do I feel when I see others completely disregard science to protect their sense of intellectual superiority? 

How do I feel as I continuously am victimized by the “Rights Warrior” who feels the need to spew their diatribe at every given opportunity? 

How do I feel as others ignore the safety of the majority, for the sake of their immutable beliefs? 

How do I feel when I see someone without a mask, knowing that someone I love suffered greatly, likely due to similar selfishness, arrogance or ignorance? 

How do I feel when I realize people I used to respect and admire greatly, are failing their due diligence and mindlessly accepting false information regarding virology (a term they hadn't even heard until recently)? 

How do I feel when I see a fellow human being berating and bullying someone for wearing a mask? 

Or the opposite, berating someone for encouraging them to wear theirs? 

How do I feel when people choose to be selfish and unwilling to learn? 

How do I feel as I watch my country become further divided over something so simple, black/white, and easy? 

How do I feel when I see people refuse to cover their face with a little piece of cloth in public, because, they say, it violates their rights? 

I feel like I miss my fucking husband. 

Because he's not here anymore. 

If he were, I wouldn't be thinking about what beverages to buy. I'd know exactly what to get. He is… was… afterall, the only one that partook in these sugary liquids. 

Every unmasked face is a reminder of what could've saved him. 

Of what I lost. 

What my children lost. 

The hole in my heart. 

The destruction of all my hopes and dreams. 

And the implosion of my near-perfect life. 

So you wonder how I feel when I'm faced with that reminder and its noisy crowd every single day? 

I feel confused and heartbroken, even as I seek to protect those who actively contributed to the destruction of everything I hold dear. 

But mostly, I feel dead. 

And yet, despite the numbingly heavy loss, the emotional static, the disruption of purpose and heart, I will still wear my mask. 

I will wear it in the hope that I can save just one person from feeling like this. 

If only someone had done that for me.

Friday, 6 August 2021

We're Back!


West Wight Sangha reopened it's Shrine Room doors for it's first Post Lockdown meeting yesterday!

Join us every Thursday evening from 7:30 until 9:30

Sunday, 25 July 2021

FULL MOON – Shaping Life

Just as a fletcher shapes an arrow, 
so the wise develop the mind, 
so excitable, 
uncertain and difficult to control. 

Dhammapada v. 33 

If we wish to develop our minds, sooner or later we need to recognize that we are responsible for the views that we have on life – the views that we hold and how we hold them. It is our views and whether or not we are attached to them that determine our actions. Within us there is a potential to change our views and to change our relationship to them. Perhaps at an early stage of life we assimilated the view that we deserve all the safety and convenience of living in an affluent society, unaware of the many sacrifices others have made so we can enjoy these conditions. Then, if circumstances change and we no longer have all the freedoms that we had grown used to, that unacknowledged view causes us to feel deprived and we become indignant. Without careful, skilful investigation into the views we hold, our life is shaped mainly by external influences. In his teachings the Buddha highlighted the possibility for training our attention so we are not mere victims of external influences. He wanted us to truly take control of our lives by letting go of attachment to views. If we are not attached to views we are in a position to be able to assess whether or not they serve to increase well-being.

Friday, 25 June 2021

Dhammapada Reflections FULL MOON – The Way of Wisdom

To contemplate life leads to wisdom; without contemplation wisdom wanes. 
Recognise how wisdom is cultivated and destroyed, 
and walk the way of increase. 

Dhammapada v. 282 

It is understandable if we assume that the way to increase ease and contentment is to achieve our goals in life. And to some extent the Buddha wouldn’t disagree; however it does depend on the nature of our goals. To aim for fitness and good health is a relatively suitable goal, unless, that is, it means we view the inevitability of old age as something going wrong. The Buddha wanted us to recognize the relative importance of such matters as maintaining physical health. At the same time he wanted us to develop the faculty of wise reflection – or contemplation – to the point where we see that this body is not truly who and what we are. Of course the body is part of our identity and we are responsible for taking care of it. We are also responsible for the state of awareness out of which we live. The most suitable goal in life is the realization of the quality of wisdom that sees beyond the way things merely appear to be, to that which is actually true.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Daily Mindfulness Exercise

I usually re-post this item from the previous year as an annual reminder to "keep the ball rolling. Last year with the Covid restrictions I gave it a miss but with the easing of the rules it's back again!

Talking of Covid there is no problem with litter picking, I checked with Keep Britain Tidy and the rules only apply to large group activities.

For some time now I have been emailing out regular weekly mindfulness/meditation exercises to the members of the West Wight Sangha and to other friends and associates. At the New Year I introduced an additional Daily Mindfulness Exercise and post a reminder of this with each weeks email.

Quite simply, the exercise is to pick up and dispose of one piece of litter every day.

Obviously this is an environmentally useful activity in its own right and has a number of merits, but how can it be considered a mindfulness exercise?

It is so easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much.

Paying more attention to the present moment – to our own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around us – can improve our mental wellbeing.

This awareness is what we call "mindfulness". Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more and understand ourselves better. We can take steps to develop it in our own lives but there is one vital element that underpins this kind of mental activity and that is the need to REMEMBER to be mindful.

This is where the use of regular exercises comes in, essentially we commit to carrying out a task, we have a job to do. For the purpose of developing our ability to be mindful these tasks should not be overly complicated and there should be a clear trigger, a predefined set of circumstances, to initiate our focused awareness of the task.

One of our weekly exercises, and one of my favourites, is to notice the colour blue. Sounds simple but you quickly become aware of how rare, especially in the countryside, this colour is. There are two elements here, you can be mindfully looking for the colour blue or your mindfulness is triggered by seeing the colour blue. Just swap litter for blue objects and you can see the benefit of the litter pick exercise.

It’s also a good idea to tell other people what you are doing, people do look and wonder..... so tell them. Here on the Isle of Wight we have a population of 139,000. Even halving this to allow for the too youngs, too olds, too infirmeds and, sadly, the don’t cares still leaves the potential for the best part of 70,000 pieces of litter to be removed from our beautiful island EVERY DAY and every day works out to a staggering TWO AND A HALF MILLION PIECES OF LITTER REMOVED EVERY YEAR. So the more people you can get interested the better.

You can also beef up the remembering element of the exercise by keeping a tally of days missed, it will happen, and making a personal promise to pick up the missed number of pieces of litter the next opportunity you have.

The environmental point of this task is to get us working at creating a cosy home for all of us in this world. After all, the world is our home. Trying to define home as only the space we live in every night only serves to segregate and not unite us. Recognise that our home extends beyond just those physical walls and every ground we walk on, every neighbourhood we walk in, every district we step into, etc. should be considered our home, too.

The problem with litter is that the more there is, the more it generates. If people see litter all over the place, they see no reason why they shouldn't add to it. Why should they bother to look for a bin when nobody else does? What difference to the general scene would one more sandwich wrapper make? 

But think what difference one less wrapper makes and then another one less and another and another........................