Friday, 30 December 2016

A Buddhist Father Christmas

The Listening Project is a BBC Radio 4 initiative that offers a snapshot of contemporary Britain in which people across the UK volunteer to have a conversation with someone close to them about a subject they've never discussed intimately before.

Just before Christmas Fi Glover introduced a conversation between a Buddhist Father Christmas and a Baptist chaplain about how they spend Christmas morning in the hospice. Another in the series that proves it's surprising what you hear when you listen.


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Good News but NOT the First

Now here's a good one to end the year on. His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees yesterday at a ceremony at Drepung monastery in Mundgod, South India last Thursday, the 22nd of December. (Geshema is simply the feminine version of Geshe). 

According to the Tibetan government in exile the nuns are the first female monastics to complete the necessary training and examinations to earn the degree.

However, what about Venerable Kelsang Wangmo? In April 2011, His Holiness advised the renowned Institute for Buddhist Dialectical Studies (IBD) in Dharamsala, India, to confer the degree of “Geshe” to Venerable Kelsang Wangmo, a German nun (formerly Kerstin Brunnenbaum).

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, and could previously only be earned by men. In July, the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration announced that all 20 candidates for the degree had passed the examination process. The exams take a total of four years to complete, with one 12-day exam period per year each May that tests the knowledge gained in a 17-year course of study.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

West Wight Sangha Review of 2016

Well it's heading for the end of December and time for our review of the year again.....................

Right at the start of the year we featured a post on the Fear of Emigrants which was bit ahead of the wave back in January; how that changed!

Later that month we ran a piece on the latest exploits of John and Nicole in "More from The Travelling Buddhists" and showed some of their amazing photos.............

At the end of the month came the sad news of David Bowie's death and we featured some shots of the location where his close family scattered his ashes following a Buddhist ceremony on the Indonesian island of Bali.

February the 13th marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Malthus. Malthus was the father of Malthusianism, which contends that the Earth cannot support unchecked population growth.

Although Buddhism does not direct people to give birth, or suggest how many children they have, if any. Buddhist leaders are acutely aware of issues related to overpopulation. The Dalai Lama stated, back in 2008 that if the population grows beyond 6 billion, this will cause great difficulty - (the world population is now approaching 7.5 billion). Therefore, he says, family planning is necessary.

In March we asked Which Country is the Most Generous? With a surprising result!

Later in the month we featured Some Buddhist Poems for World Poetry Day. Here's one from Vijaya Samarawickama..............


This day is a special day, it is yours. 
Yesterday slipped away, it cannot be filled anymore with meaning. 
About tomorrow nothing is known. 
But this day, today, is yours, make use of it. 
Today you can make someone happy. 
Today you can help another. 
This day is a special day, it is yours.

At the end of the month we discussed How Things Come Together in a sequence of coincidents revolving around a Dharma talk, a book and a debate between Stephen Batchelor and Ajahn Brahmali.

Beginnings and endings.
April started with the exciting news that here on the island a New Buddhist Group was Starting in Ryde!

Sadly we finished the month with a report of the death of Dennis Sibley who was one of the original pioneers involved with bringing Buddhism to the Isle of Wight.

In may we reported that a Christian group was protesting that the Canon Chancellor of York Minster, the Revd Canon Dr Chris Collingwood supported by Fr. Patrick Kundo Eastman Roshi, a Roman Catholic priest and Zen master, have introduced Zen Buddhist zazen meditation sessions. They are now a regular fixture, listed among the Minster’s main “spiritual” activities.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the pressure group Christian Concern, said: "Buddhism contrasts sharply with Christian teaching about God. The two are incompatible. To try to mix them is deceptive and dishonours Jesus Christ."

"It is sobering that last year a Canon of this same cathedral blessed the city's 'Pride' march. The Church of England must take decisive action to deal with this radical agenda."

We ended May with an item which is as topical now as it was then - the state of our charities.

At our Sangha meeting we discussed charitable giving. The subject came up in relation to revelations that 32 UK charity bosses were paid over £200,000 last year.

In June we introduced our Daily Mindfulness Exercise.

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

This was closely followed by the news that Christianity could be cured!

The Disciple Shoppe Bible Bookstore in Emporia, Kansas USA put this quote in their window: "The best cure for Christianity is reading the Bible." (The quote is apparently by Mark Twain).

Things did not end there however.

"Jack" commented,

"Pretty poor taste poking fun at Christians who you know will turn the other cheek. Would you be equally enthusiastic to criticise Islam I wonder? If so I dare you!!!"

I replied,

"It's not me poking the fun, most of this seems to be self inflicted. As for Islam, read our previous post The "Crime" of NOT believing in the Non-Existent. If that's not worth a Fatwa I don't know what is. 

For a bit of balance try Je Suis Charlie - a Buddhist Perspective."

At the beginning of July I posted "Fireworks, Fear and Our Fellow Beings", calling attention to the distress caused to animals by the large and frequent firework displays that start at that time of year and go on to point out an alternative....................

We all have Buddha nature, but with some people it shows more. The following delightful story about Bernhardt Wichmann III is from the New York Times, read it HERE...........

Talking About Buddha Nature this example is a homegrown one from the streets of London..................

On the 8th of August we reported on Leonard Cohen's Goodbye to Marianne....................
Little did we know then -

We then had the pleasure of announcing news of the UK’s first ever nunnery for fully ordained Buddhist nuns and a teaching tour of Britain by Ajahn Brahm!

24th of August - A Quote That I Like

Now here's a quote that I like despite it referencing a supposedly all powerful faith construct or god.

This one is by Abdu'l-Bahá whose father, Bahá'u'lláh, founded the Bahá'í Faith.

Sometimes I want to ask "God" why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice when He could do something about it, but I'm afraid he might just ask me the same question.

Not only was Italy struck by an earthquake on Wednesday the 24th but central Myanmar was also shaken by a powerful quake which killed at least three people two of whom were children, and damaged scores of centuries-old Buddhist pagodas around the ancient capital of Bagan.

September started with a group of us braving the overcast and blustery conditions on the Duver for the annual Buddhist picnic.

We then featured a story of how "China’s Tech-Savvy, Burned-Out and Spiritually Adrift, are Turning to Buddhism"

On the 21st we celebrated the United Nations International Day of Peace with a not so well known fact about the Peace Bell............

October started with me quoting one of my favourite columnists in the Isle of wight County Press, Charlotte Hofton. I doubt she realised how "Buddhist" her article was.

That week she produced this excellent piece on compassion and its "near enemy" pity in the form of a utilitarian, fix anything that's "wrong" with people and the world, approach.

It all centred around a gig by Eddie Izzard......................

In the middle of the month we reported on three courses being run on the island by Buddhist friends on mindfulness and Buddhism.

Mindfulness Courses on the Isle of Wight

Foundation Course in Tibetan Buddhism

I finished the month with a cartoon and a quote that I liked

November the 11th was Armistice day, Leonard Cohen died early that morning..........................

In the middle of the month we posted a piece on the development of Western Buddhism and the danger of it becoming "watered down". One point made was that the Secular Buddhism UK branch had disbanded with some of its members then forming the Middle Way Society which states that it is "independent of Buddhism".

This lead to a series of comments and further related posts bringing us to the middle of December!

The first was from a long term "digital" friend A.W. (Jack) Kennedy who runs the Bowerchalke Buddhist Meditation Group over in Wiltshire on the Dorset, Hampshire border.

You can read Jack's detailed and invaluable contribution to the discussion HERE.

Hot on the heels of Jack's comment came one from the chair of the Middle Way Society, Robert M. Ellis, he was not a happy bunny............

My original post about the danger of the Buddha's teachings being "watered down" as the West absorbed them was prompted by an article in Lions Roar entitled “We’ve Been Here All Along,” by Funie Hsu who complains about the cultural appropriation of Buddhism by Westerners who she feels sideline Eastern "native" Buddhists. This article produced a number of responses one of the best of which was the one from Ajahn Amaro, abbot of Amaravati which we featured in the post "Western Buddhism (Watered Down?) Cont."

In the middle of December came the wonderful story of how nine year old island boy Paddy Cotton got his parents to use the money that they had put aside for his Christmas presents to buy coal for the Isle of Wight Bus Shelter for the homeless instead.

We end the year with yet another "watering down" story, this time about the demise of Buddhist Geeks.

“We’ve been teaching for several years. Recently we decided that the direction we wanted to take our teaching was outside of the Buddhist framework, so it just made sense to start a new project that reflected that,” says Vince Horn as he announced the closure of the Dharma pod-casting site.

Wishing all our readers a happy end to the year and our sincere hopes for a safe, peaceful and secure 2017.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

More Watering Down

We've run a series of stories recently on the "watering down" of Western Buddhism. Just when I thought it was all over for a while up pops the story of Buddhist Geeks coming to an end!

On Tuesday, founders Vincent and Emily Horn announced that Buddhist Geeks — the podcast about dharma, technology, and culture, was no more and that they have stopped the podcast which had been downloaded more than 10 million times.

In terms of "watering down", Vincent and Emily are working on an online meditation training platform called, which Vincent explains, “is more centred around meditation than Buddhism.”

“We’ve been teaching for several years. Recently we decided that the direction we wanted to take our teaching was outside of the Buddhist framework, so it just made sense to start a new project that reflected that,” says Horn.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

FULL MOON - Greatest Joy

Hunger is the greatest affliction, 
conditionality the greatest source of despair. 
The wise, seeing this as it is, 
realise liberation, the greatest joy. 

Dhammapada v. 125

Our Teacher, the Buddha, realised that knowing the true nature of existence is the source of the greatest happiness, not by our struggling to gratify preferences. Conditioned preferences exist for all beings, those who are liberated or those lost and confused. Our spiritual work is to see all conditions for what they truly are – the natural activity of existence – and not become caught up in this activity. The temptation that we face is to try to hold onto those conditions which accord with our preferences and to get rid of those which don't. This futile pursuit leads to perpetual disappointment; at best we manage to gratify preferences once in a while. Dhamma teaches us that the effective way to true satisfaction is by letting go of preferences with understanding; it is this right understanding that leads to joy.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Island Nine Year Old Teaches Us All a Lesson

I always keep an eye open for an uplifting story at this time of year and I couldn't do better than this one about the generosity of young Paddy Cotton as related in this week's County Press.

GUESTS of the Isle of Wight Bus Shelter were shocked by the generosity of nine-year-old Paddy Cotton, of Ryde, who spent his Christmas money on Coal for the shelter's multi-fuel burner. Paddy's kind gesture sparked a social media campaign, urging people to buy coal for the homeless shelter, to see it through the Winter.

The Oakfield Primary School pupil was inspired to spend the remainder of his Christmas money on coal, rather than have more presents, when he saw a homeless man in Newport and noticed someone stop to buy the man a coffee.

Paddy said: "It made me really upset and shocked. I didn't know there were homeless people on the IW. I was inspired by the person who stopped to help him. I saw that and it made me think about what I could do to help."

He asked his mum, Katherine Cotton, to contact the IW Bus Shelter, a converted bus that currently accommodates 15 homeless people, and she was told the shelter needed coal. After he had spent the rest of his own money on coal, he asked his mum to start a Facebook campaign encouraging others to do the same.

Katherine said: “It was overwhelming how many people got in touch. I am so proud of Paddy. I think he has realised that just by doing a small thing to raise awareness, people on the Island really get together to support the community."

Kevin Newton, who runs the Bus Shelter, said: "I am amazed at what Paddy has done. It is good to know there are children out there like Paddy who are thinking about homeless people at Christmas time." 

The BBC have visited to film a feature for The One Show; about the Bus Shelter and Paddy's kind donation. 

"Our guests couldn't wait to meet Paddy,” Kevin said, “they just can't believe a child has done that for them." 

• Anyone can buy coal for the Bus Shelter from Windmill Farm, in Upton Road, Ryde. The farm will store the coal until it is collected by the Bus Shelter and they are doing a special price of £8.40 a bag if it is being donated. Each bag lasts two days at the Bus Shelter, which is also looking for volunteers to help out.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Support for Bhikkhunis

As part of our recent series of posts on secular Buddhism and mindfulness I mentioned the following:-

"A while back I ran a series of stories on the plight of Buddhist nuns in various traditions who are denied full ordination. Many have now achieved this, "illegally" according to their parent traditions. But they have done this by side stepping the established protocols of the purely Asian schools of Buddhism. They have separated and moved away and formed their own monastic settlements here in the West where they can enjoy the liberal, progressive freedoms denied them within the traditional, Asian context of Buddhism."

Coincidentally yesterday I received an email from the Alliance for Bhikkhunis about how one can help them in supporting the establishment and growth of training monasteries, hermitages and viharas for nuns.

It is striking how this contrasts with the Popes recent assertion on the subject of female ordination.

Pope Francis said that he believes the Roman Catholic Church's ban on women becoming priests is forever and will never be changed.

He was speaking aboard a plane taking him back to Rome from Sweden, in the freewheeling news conference with reporters that has become a tradition of his return flights from trips abroad.

A Swedish female reporter noted that the head of the Lutheran Church who welcomed him in Sweden was a woman, and then asked if he thought the Catholic Church could allow women to be ordained as ministers in coming decades. "St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands," Francis said. Francis was referring to a 1994 document by Pope John Paul that closed the door on a female priesthood. The Vatican says this teaching is an infallible part of Catholic tradition.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Western Buddhism (Watered Down?) Cont.

Further to our recent run of posts relating to the establishment/evolution of a genuinely Western form/school of Buddhism the following article cropped up in Lion's Roar.

Recently we published an article by Funie Hsu titled “We’ve Been Here All Along,” which explores how Asian American Buddhists have historically been marginalized in American Buddhism. The author — an Asian American Buddhist scholar — bravely discusses what happens when white American Buddhists embrace teachings from Asia in a broader culture built on white privilege and racism. It’s a challenging but important article.

We don’t usually get much feedback from readers, but this one struck a nerve with several who took the time to write to us. The tone of these letters surprised me — some were quite angry at Hsu and lodged personal attacks (“She should be grateful for what she has”; “She ain’t no buddhist”). Others were more tempered but equally defensive (“I felt judged and unwelcomed”; “The article is implicitly racist toward white people”). 

Last week, while we were taping a panel discussion on Buddhist ethics for our next issue, Ajahn Amaro, abbot of Amaravati, took a moment to let us know how much he appreciated Funie Hsu’s article. I thought it might be interesting for him to tell you why. —Tynette Deveaux, editor, Buddhadharma 

"I am not an Asian-American Buddhist but I have certainly witnessed and been a part of some of the situations described in the piece, and to which Ms. Hsu calls useful attention. I am European by birth and have been a monk in a Buddhist lineage hailing from North-East Thailand since 1979, practising under the guidance of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho. I have lived mostly in the West as a monk since that date, in both the UK and the USA. 

As a monk in a somewhat conservative order, my community has maintained close ties with its Asian cultural and religious roots. Our monasteries in the West, of which there are about thirty (there are about 300 in Thailand as well), tend to straddle two worlds; on the one hand there are the Asian immigrant communities, mostly from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Cambodia, and on the other there are the Western-born folks who have encountered Buddhism through reading, travelling or browsing the net. 

Over the years, particularly during my time in the USA, I have interacted a lot with both of these groups. It is sad to say, but in conversations with Western-born Buddhist teachers and practitioners, at formal meetings and conferences as much as in informal dialogues, I have regularly encountered the kind of white cultural conceit that speaks of practising “real Buddhism” rather than “folk Buddhism” weighed down with so-called “cultural baggage.” As one whose lifestyle is devotedly built around such “baggage” (preferably understood as “skillful means”) such comments and discussions come across bearing the ugliness and conceit of the unconscious racism of: “Some of my best friends are…” 

I found I could empathise with the spirit of Ms. Hsu’s article and felt many of her points were very apposite. We can all be blind to our conceits (I had no idea how English I was until I went to live in an international community) and her highlighting of these issues helps the reader to, in my humble opinion, turn the attention back on to their own heart to consider what they are assuming to be true and real. When we challenge such assumptions, often only spotting them when we feel particularly gratified (Yes!) or offended (How dare she!), we can then become aware of the stress-filled limitations these conceits bring. Once the heart is awake to the bondage it is creating, it can more easily let go and be free of it." 

All good wishes, Amaro Bhikkhu, Abbot, Amaravati Buddhist Monastery

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

NEW MOON - Trackless Land

Some are reborn as humans;
evil-doers are reborn in hell.
Doers of good are reborn in bliss.
and the pure enter the trackless land.

Dhammapada v. 126

Whatever our views on the potential for future rebirth, we can witness daily our constantly being born into and dying out of states of mind. An agreeable experience, when clung to, can make us feel we will be happy forever; when we cling to a disagreeable experience, we may feel as if we are in hell and it will always be that way. Our lack of perspective means we don't see the connection between clinging to experiences and getting lost in them. Even goodness if clung to, will lead to suffering. Only when we see clearly that all experiences are what they are – gladness feels pleasant, sadness feels unpleasant – and that no experience lasts forever, will we truly embrace the path of purification. Those who have purified their hearts and minds from all compulsive clinging know reality in a way that the rest of us can't imagine; hence their reality can be called the trackless land.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Response from the Middle Way Society

Jack said in the previous post that it was "plucky of me to venture into the thorny arena of Buddhist hermeneutics: the way in which Buddhism has been, and is being, re-interpreted to suit contemporary western (American and European) social life, and precisely who claims authority to perform those acts of hermeneutics". How right he was, following quickly on from his comment came one from the chair of the Middle Way Society, Robert M. Ellis.

As I had to post Jack's contribution (it exceeded the character limit on comments) I think it only right to afford the same prominence to Mr Ellis' input to this debate.

If you seek to learn anything from the Buddha's teachings, presumably quite early on there will be anatta - the recognition that our ideas about 'essences' are our own construction. One's construction of 'Buddhism' is just as subject to this as anything else. If you want to follow the Buddha's experimental example in his early life as he discovered the Middle Way you will be similarly inclined to learn from but move beyond absolutised teachings that are no longer practically helpful, as the Buddha moved on from Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, the the 5 ascetics. Thus I find it very ironic when Buddhists try to essentialise Buddhism and write in dismissive terms about those who want to follow the spirit of the Middle Way wherever it leads.

The Middle Way Society is indeed independent of Buddhism, as I would have thought anyone who wants to make use of the Buddha's insights would want to be. That doesn't mean that one can't make use of what one can learn from the Buddhist or any other tradition, but that one is not subjected to the authority of a tradition. For a Buddhist to give absolute authority to that tradition and also to want to follow the Buddha's example seems contradictory. But you have made huge and inaccurate assumptions about our motives which presumably stem from a failure to investigate what we actually do. It has nothing to do with political correctness or secularism, nor is it 'watering down' the Buddha's insights, but rather seeking a universal practical method that the Buddha's insights share with those of other individuals and traditions to varying degrees. We can hardly be losing essential elements of Buddha's teaching' when Buddha's teaching involves there being no such essential elements to anything. Only critical investigation in the light of experience can help us to understand and apply what we learn from sources like the Buddha, and the uncritical adoption of tradition is antipathetic to that process of human investigation.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Comment on "Watered down Buddhism"

Further to the previous post "Watered Down Buddhism" I received an email from a long time correspondent, A.W. (Jack) Kennedy who runs the Bowerchalke Buddhist Meditation Group over in Wiltshire on the Dorset, Hampshire border.

He had tried to post a comment on the article but it exceeded the permitted word count. It is an excellent take on the subject so I am posting the entire piece here..........

Thanks for this post. You point to an interesting article by Funie Hsu (accessible with a bit of searching on the ‘Lions Roar’ website). It is plucky of you to venture into the thorny arena of Buddhist hermeneutics: the way in which Buddhism has been, and is being, re-interpreted to suit contemporary western (American and European) social life, and precisely who claims authority to perform those acts of hermeneutics. 

Your post is brief, so please allow me to make a few comments by way of expansion: 

1. American and British Buddhism are not identical. Historical conditions have affected them in different ways they cannot be conflated. Certainly, there are two forms of Buddhism (indigenous immigrant and white convert) on both sides of the Atlantic, but in Britain there has generally been respect and interaction between the two. Hsu, and others, are concerned that the majority of white convert Buddhists should show respect and solidarity towards Japanese, Black, and LBGT minority Buddhists, in the face of neglect and oppression from the wider community, in the past and under Trump’s new world order. We should listen up, and make sure that neglect and oppression of marginalised communities doesn’t happen over here. 

2. Yet, any person, whatever their origin, has the right to inform themselves about the vast gamut of Buddhist teaching and practice, and the right to decide for themselves what’s meaningful and what’s meaningless in the light of their own cultural circumstances, which these days are usually scientifically-informed and liberal about human rights. Authority can, of course, be claimed by Buddhist teachers, but in the final analysis authority is only provisionally granted by those that decide to accept a teacher. My point is that white convert Buddhists can’t be expected to rely on indigenous immigrant teachers, or on traditional texts, without any right to apply their own forms of interpretation. 

3. You mention the ‘cultural appropriation’ and the ‘translation’ of Buddhism into western contexts. Whenever these terms are used, I think it only fair to reference my old PhD. supervisor, Philip Mellor, because he was the first person to use these terms and address these issues, and because subsequent commentators tend to forget his original contribution: Mellor, P.A. 1989, The Cultural Translation of Buddhism: problems of method in the study of Buddhism in England (University of Manchester, unpublished PhD thesis); Mellor, P.A. 1991, ‘Protestant Buddhism? The Cultural Translation of Buddhism in England’, in Religious Studies, 29, pp.111-127. Coming from an ‘outsider’ Catholic perspective, Mellor had a rather biased view of western Buddhism, but he made three interesting points: that Buddhism is being translated into Protestant forms of religious behaviour; that Buddhist practitioners are not particularly aware of this alteration, and that it is difficult for ‘the analyst’ (the academic observer) to disentangle western Buddhist discourse and practice from western psychotherapeutic discourse and practice. You note that the Robert Ellis’s ‘Middle Way Society’ is independent of Buddhism; could that also be said of the Mindfulness movement? Robert Ellis, as is his right, has made up his own mind on the basis of his own interpretation of Buddhism, and in the light of his sceptical philosophy. He has generated an impressive website but has few followers, therefore, not much effect on the progress of Buddhism in Britain. Might not the Mindfulness movement prove more damaging? Is today’s Mindfulness movement not an outcome of the entanglement of Buddhism with psychotherapeutic discourse, and is there not a risk that the Mindfulness movement might go on to largely replace Buddhism in Britain? 

4. I want to defend the memory of the Secular Buddhist UK website. It was established by Anantacitta Tunnell, a thoroughly decent Birmingham social-worker who used to be a member of the FWBO/Triratna Community. He worked hard to create an open forum for the discussion of secular Buddhist ideas and practice, with Stephen Batchelor’s blessing but without the benefit of his involvement. Nobody was willing to take over the site when it became too much for Anantacitta. Since I was a contributor, I must share some of the blame for that misfortune. Regrettably, it went into abeyance, Wordpress closed it down, and the archives vanished into digital oblivion. But I remain dependent on Buddhism, as does the American Secular Buddhist website, as (I think) does Stephen Batchelor. Nobody can wholly escape the influence of their (white, western, contemporary, protestant, scientific) upbringing, but, of course, we can be Buddhists nonetheless, if Buddhist practice is truly applicable to all sentient beings.

Thank you Jack. As you note the original post was somewhat brief when touching on this subject but it was prompted by the demise of the UK secular Buddhist website and the rest sort of just followed as background context.

I feel that secular Buddhism is a genuinely Western response to the Dharma and although I have the greatest respect for the various Eastern schools into which the Buddha's teachings have evolved that evolution has taken place within the context of cultures other than my own. It can feel somewhat of an affectation when performing, for example, Japanese or Tibetan rites and rituals when one is not Japanese or Tibetan. Secular Buddhism addresses this by removing the cultural accoutrements but then also jettisons anything "mythological". The question then arises as to what is myth or just a good story loaded with parable, allegory and fable that teaches the Dharma in the succinctly skillful way the Buddha had of pitching his message.

That said, I cannot but agree with your comment about "there (being) a risk that the Mindfulness movement might go on to largely replace Buddhism in Britain." 

I know that there is a counter argument that Mindfulness practise is in fact inculcating the Buddha's teachings "by the back door" but various mindfulness teachers that I know who are Buddhists say that apart from a brief comment that these practises are derived from ancient Buddhist ones Buddhism itself is never mentioned.

But, ultimately, despite all of the challenges that Buddhism faces in the West it will, in time, develop into a truly Western practise. A while back I ran a series of stories on the plight of Buddhist nuns in various traditions who are denied full ordination. Many have now achieved this, "illegally" according to their parent traditions. But they have done this by side stepping the established protocols of the purely Asian schools of Buddhism. They have separated and moved away and formed their own monastic settlements here in the West where they can enjoy the liberal, progressive freedoms denied them within the traditional, Asian context of Buddhism.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Watered Down Buddhism

The subject of the “cultural appropriation” of Eastern forms of Buddhism by Western Buddhists crops up every now and then and in fact there is an excellent article by Funie Hsu in this quarter’s edition of Buddhadharma on this very subject.

It’s a fact not lost on practitioners here in the UK either. When Sangharakshita (the Dharma name of Dennis Lingwood) founded the, Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, or FWBO (now known as the Triratna Buddhist Community) it was “an attempt to translate the ideas and practices of Buddhism into Western languages. The non-denominational nature of the Triratna Buddhist Community, its equal ordination for both men
and women, and its evolution of new forms of shared practice, such as what it calls team-based right livelihood projects, have been cited as examples of such "translation", and also as the creation of a "Buddhist society in miniature within the Western, industrialized world” (Brassard, Francis (2000), The Concept of Bodhicitta in Śāntideva's Bodhícaryāvatāra).

The FWBO and Triratna draw their teachings from all the major schools of Buddhism to produce a “Western version” of the Dharma.

Another approach has been to “strip” the Buddha’s teachings of any “mythological” content and even to remove any elements that are to be found in other schools of philosophy contemporaneous with the Buddha. This approach, promoted by Western Buddhists such as Stephen Batchelor and John Peacock, has become known as Secular Buddhism.

This has the appeal of providing the Western practitioner with a “culture free” Dharma which can be practised without feeling that one is pretending to be Asian. However, for many of us there is the feeling that we run the danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water and losing essential elements of the Buddha’s teaching just because they do not fit in with some politically correct secular filter.

This however leads to the question of where does it all stop; to what extent can the Dharma be watered down and still be the Dharma?

While carrying out a regular check on the functionality of the links on this site I found that the one for Secular Buddhism UK is now defunct. On their associated Facebook page I found the following –
“Secular Buddhism UK (and associated website) are no longer active. However, several former SBUK members have since formed The Middle Way Society, which visitors to this page may also be interested in. The MWS shares some of the aims of SBUK, but is nonetheless, independent of Buddhism.”

So there you go, you can water down the Buddha’s teachings to the point where they are no longer Buddhism.

Monday, 14 November 2016

FULL MOON - Self-harming

If you intentionally harm
an innocent person,
someone who is pure and blameless,
the harm will come back to you
like fine dust thrown into the wind.

Dhammapada v. 125

To grow up surrounded by people who show us a good example of what is wholesome and what is not is a great blessing. And one of the most important lessons that they could teach us is that what we get back from life is determined by what we put into it. Even if we are not blessed by carers who were completely wise and skilful, it is never too late to teach ourselves; we can always develop more mindfulness, restraint and wise reflection. Those who fail to learn this basic lesson fall prey to myriad forms of delusion. For example, they don't see how when they mistreat others, they mistreat themselves too. It is pitiable to observe when those in a position of influence misuse their power, creating more suffering instead of generating causes for increased well-being.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen 1934 - 2016

Leonard Cohen, poet, singer and Buddhist monk wrote this letter to Marianne Ihlen, his muse, his lover and the subject of his song So Long Marianne and the inspiration behind Bird on the Wire, on hearing of her impending death.

"Well Marianne, it's come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

And you know that I've always loved you for your beauty and for your wisdom, but I don't need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey.

Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road."

Leonard Cohen died early today..................................

Sunday, 30 October 2016

NEW MOON - Cultivation


Those who are foolish and confused 
betray themselves to heedlessness. 
The wise treasure the awareness they have cultivated 
as their most precious possession.

Dhammapada v. 26

We could plant good quality seeds, but if we didn't water them or protect them from encroaching weeds, it is unlikely they would amount to anything worthwhile. We might invest in a high-end computer and install the best software, but if we don't develop the skills required to operate that software, our investment will be wasted. The outcome of our efforts is determined by the quality of our ongoing cultivation. Having an insight now and then, or going on a retreat once in a while, do indeed have their place. We optimise on such wholesomeness by maintaining effort that is modest, gentle and constant.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

A Cartoon & a Quote That I Like

This one's from Buddha doodles by Molly Hahn, with a quote from Sylvia Boorstein.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Foundation Course in Tibetan Buddhism

I've just heard from Anna at the local Mahasandhi Buddhist Group in Cowes about their new website,

This autumn 2016, anyone who wants to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism is invited to join their foundation course ‘Crossing the Water’. This is a clear and easy to follow programme based on the classic introduction to Tibetan Buddhism ‘Words of My Perfect Teacher’ by Patrul Rinpoche.

To find out more visit the site and click on the "Events" tab.

If you are interested you can contact Anna at

Topics will include:
What is Buddhism
A brief history (Starting with Sakyamuni Buddha and making clear differences between the many Buddhist traditions & practices)
Meditation and Contemplation
The Four Noble Truths
Karma and Rebirth

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Mindfulness Courses on the Isle of Wight

Two Buddhist friends on the island are both about to run mindfulness courses.

The first is from Shahida. Her next 8 week Mindfulness and Compassion course starts on Thursday 20th October in Newport. Please contact her for details at

The second one is from Sylvia and is a 6 weeks course running from the 4th of November to the 9th of December 2016 from 10:00 to 12.30 a.m.

It is entitled "Be Calm Be Happy: A short course in Mindfulness - Isle of Wight". Click the link for further details.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Pavarana Day - Worthiness

One should not be considered worthy of respect
because of birth or background, or any outer sign;
it is purity and the realisation of truth
that determine one's worth.

Dhammapada v. 393

What personal attributes do we hold as truly worthy? From the content of everyday conversation, it sometimes appears that it is things like who we know or where we have travelled which define us. If we move in spiritual circles, it might be the teachers with whom we have sat on retreat who really seem to matter. In this verse the Buddha points out that taking any outer sign as an indicator of worthiness is a mistake. Although burnishing outer appearances can indeed impress others, what impresses them is unreliable. What is truly reliable is a heart freed from the distortions of greed, hatred and delusion.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Compassion as Opposed to Pity

One of my favourite columnists in the Isle of wight County Press is Charlotte Hofton. This week she produced this excellent piece on compassion and its "near enemy" pity in the form of a utilitarian, fix anything that's "wrong" with people and the world, approach.

Why Eddie's the IW's new darling

PREVIOUSLY something of a fan of Eddie Izzard, I am now positively devoted to him. I like the way he manages to be alternative without drawing on the tediously coarse and I like the way he's honest about his transgender ("a complete boy plus girl") without tipping over into luvvie habdabs.

But I admire most of all his generosity and thoughtfulness towards others. In 2009, he completed 43 marathons in 51 days (over 1,100 miles in total) in aid of Sport Relief. In 2016, he raised £1.35 million for the same charity by running 27 marathons in 27 days.

What a guy and girl). And now he's donating his fee for his appearance last Sunday at Shanklin Theatre to two Island charities, Layla's Trust and the Rainbow Trust. The former supports families bereaved by a child's death or who have disabled or terminally ill children, while the Rainbow Trust similarly supports children with a disability or special needs, together with their families. 

Eddie Izzard's donation is the mark not just of a generous man but one who understands compassion and the sort of humanity which reaches out to the most vulnerable in terms both of physical and emotional needs. 

His gift to the Island will bring love and support within our community to families in despair or have been affected by disability, while Sport Relief's much wider remit helps people across the world.

There is a great need for compassion. It is a quality that is inherent in the best of human beings and distinguishes us from animals who are certainly capable of showing protective care, notably where then-young are concerned, but who do so from instinct rather than moral decision. Eddie Izzard ran those thousands of miles for people he would almost certainly never meet, not from unthinking instinct but because he is a good man. And he, and people like him, make the world a better place.

This, in part, is why I have misgivings about the intention by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, to donate three billion dollars to fund a plan "to cure all diseases" by the end of the 21st century. 

I'm no scientist but I doubt this is even achievable. Just over 80 years to eradicate all disease from the face of the earth? A tall order, I'd say, even with three billion dollars to splash around. But putting that aside and assuming, albeit hypothetically, it's possible to cure all diseases, is this actually desirable? 

Well yes, it sounds marvellous. No more cancer, no more cruel wasting diseases, no more Aids or Ebola or Alzheimer's. Teenagers jumping for joy because the Zuckerbergs have cured acne. No more horrid collywobbles, no more inconvenient sniffles. Gosh, no more fungal infections of one's big toenail. Yay!

But what then? Do we just go on and on living, disease-free but ever-ageing, until centuries later we've shrivelled into the size of a walnut and disintegrate into a tiny pile of geriatric dust?

With nobody dying from disease and the world’s population inevitably expanding at an unstoppable rate, how will there be enough food and water to go round? Have the Zuckerbergs planned for all the housing we're going to need? 

And what about those ancient couples who are completely disease-free but having now been married now for 110 years, really can't stand each other, a condition that worsens every day they're forced to survive? If the way your husband chewed his food annoyed you soon after the honeymoon effect wore off, what's it going to be like after a century of listening to it over the breakfast table? 

But above all, where's the need for compassion? Where's the love that puts arms around the sick and the disabled, comforting the bereaved and the disease-ridden? Where's the need for people like Will Pooley and Pauline Cafferkey, who risked their own lives when they nursed Ebola sufferers? Where's that unique deep, and unconditional love and gentleness that comes from caring for a sick child? 

No need for compassion in the Zuckerbergs' great scheme, especially if they also start throwing their billions at gene therapy so every baby is born perfect, with no disabled or Down's syndrome children to love — those children who also give to others with their Own love and humanity. 

Yes, just take the magic money pill and everything will be happy, happy, happy. I hope Eddie Izzard's generosity gave the the Island a warm glow, Enjoy it while you may, Ours could be a cold, heartless and ultimately intolerable world by time the Zuckerbergs have done with it.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

National Poetry Day

Back in March we posted some Buddhist poems for World Poetry Day. Well, today is National Poetry Day so here are two poems by one of my favourite British Buddhist poets, Wendy Stern.................

Every day

Every day,
Every day it seems
A raindrop rests in the crook of a fragile willow branch
Outside my window.

Not all day,
But at a precise and special moment
As if by some strange and prearranged agreement.

It is a glow infused with light,
Effortlessly yet magnificently reflecting the early spring sunlight.

Does it cling,
Clutching ferociously with all its might,
Trembling, terrified
Of that which is to come,
That which is yet to face it
As the gentle breeze quivers the surrounding leaves,
Rouses and awakens the freshly formed blossom,
Lightly brushes against your cheek should you notice it?

Or does it rest,
Nestling in its willow branch home
Undisturbed, idle,
Complacent and unbothered even -
Just is?

Will we ever know?

Every day,
Every day it seems
A raindrop rests in the crook of a fragile willow branch 
Outside my window.

Trapped on the inside

Life came to me today,
Through my window,
All feathers and passion,
With more colour, intensity, swiftness and determination
Than perhaps I've ever known before.

It perched, finally,
Trapped on the inside for once,
And it looked at me.
I spoke to it, calming it,
And then I set it free.

Life came to me today,
Trapped on the inside for once.

(Wendy is a Buddhist and poet living in Bristol, in the west of England. For many years she has been completely bedridden, and her poetry therefore comes from this unusual perspective.)