Monday, January 31, 2005

Small miracles

a blue tit comes to eat seed from the bag which I have hung by my window, not six feet from my desk. Soon he is joined by a second. Small miracles.

Friday, January 28, 2005

News from Dharmavidya

Great to hear from Dharmavidya in Kyoto. His account begins:

MONDAY: Honen Walk
I arrived on Monday evening to be met at Kansai airport, Osaka, taken to Kyoto and then instantly whisked off to join the Honen Walk. To read more go to Namo Amida Bu

How can Buddhist psychotherapy aid the dying?

(Written for Buddhist Hospice Trust, UK)

Facing death is probably the deepest challenge which each of us faces in our spiritual lives. It can also be the greatest opportunity. The inevitability of death lies behind our living at all times, but for the most part we are able to avoid its reality through preoccupation with day to day activities and pleasures. Yet it was the sight of death that set the Buddha on his spiritual journey and became the heart of his insight. It can be the source of spiritual growth for all of us.

The Buddhist understanding of death, affliction and impermanence underlies a Buddhist approach to psychotherapy. Habitually we distract ourselves from the recognition of our own impermanent state, but in doing so we create compulsive and mind-dulling patterns of behaviour. This is what Buddhists refer to as avidya or ignorance. It is not seeing. In avoiding death we learn to avoid life. We do not see the beauty or love that surround us.

When death is near, whether it is our own or that of someone to whom we are close, some of these layers of avoidance may slip away. At this time, we may have an opportunity to see things more clearly. People going through the experience of closeness to death will often describe feeling more fully alive at this time than they have at any other point in their lives.

Buddhist psychotherapy is grounded in an understanding that aliveness comes, not through seeking ordinary comforts in life, but in facing our existential position with courage and faith. A Buddhist psychotherapist can be a source of strength and support at such a time, a midwife to the process. The familiar may be comforting, but if we can enter the space in which there are no certainties with confidence, we will live the time we have fully.

So we step into the unknown, holding no more than our faith, whatever this may be. In death we discover life.
(item from Buddhist Psychology blogsite)

Good news for foxes

BBC NEWS | News Front Page: " High Court upholds ban on hunting. Pro-hunt campaigners lose their High Court challenge to the law banning hunting with dogs in England and Wales."

Pictures from Vietnam

Just received photos of the new building at Nirvana Pagoda. It is very heartening to hear that this is now complete. When we visited last year the boys were sleeping on the temple terraces, but now they have bunk beds with mosquito nets in this nice airy building, financed by Amida friends in Hawaii through Amida West.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Travelling: Fear of Flying

Back in England. The travel, fifteen hours on planes. Two flights - Honollulu to LA; LA to London. The journeys lightened by conversation with my companions.

As it happened both people who sat next to me were nervous of flying. I remembered how I used to be nervous and now am not. How the mind plays games with us. When I first went in an aeroplane I found the experience exciting, and could not understand how anyone could be scared. Then suddenly I developed quite a phobia and used to worry for months before I had to take a flight - and avoided doing so at all when I could. Then more recently I found my anxiety had suddenly completely evaporated.

Looking back, I now suspect the fear was displaced anxiety for other things in my life. It started at a time when I was in the midst of many transitions. It is possible that its disappearance may have been due to resolution of the various uncertainties that arose at this time, or may have been due to cognitive effort on my part. Certainly I did work hard to reason myself out of the fear, watching planes whenever I could to convince myself they did not fall out of the sky regularly and working when I was on the plane to understand the various bumps and manoeuvres it made. But really I have no idea how it changed. It all seemed rather miraculous. One day I sat on a plane and realised that as it took off I did not feel fear, but instead felt excitement - just as I had when I was young.

Really the whole experience has been one of discovering, once again, that primarily change comes through "other power". I could not control my fear, try as I might. I felt embarassed by it. After all, as a Buddhist I was supposed to be calm and untroubled by the certainty of death. But each time I flew, my heart would race and I would sit contemplating the certainty of death. I would watch other passengers and wonder why they were putting themselves at such risk. I would imagine them watching me and seeing my nervousness. Then suddenly, it all changed. The cloud lifted and my perception was completely different. What joy. Amida is at work.

So what do I say to my fellow passengers? How do I help? I have no idea. Sit under the runway at Heathrow and dare a plane to miss the tarmac until you get bored? Perhaps ten or more years of watching planes land every half minute would cure anyone through sheer boredom. But no. fifteen years or more as a therapist and I really don't have the answer as to how to create change of this kind. Its simply Namo Amida Bu.

Memories of Hawaii

Memories of Hawaii - Dharmavidya and I with Rev Narashiba

Thursday, January 20, 2005


After four and a half hours of pacific and cloud, a faint elipse on the skyline. The island guarded by small puffs of cloud. Then, rising above the land, perfect, the smooth outline of Mauna Laua, the crest white with a dusting of snow. In front, Mauna Kea, craggier, with snow dimpled and rippled into the ravines, patterning the summit.

The plane passes out over the emerald water on the far side of the island. Even from this height we see the waves cutting the shoreline and out to sea flecks of white horses (could these be whales or simply the wind?)

A change of gear and the engines strike up for the final descent over lava fields, brown and rippled, and in onto the runway of Kona airport. People jostle to leave, suddenly summer clad in strappy tops and shorts. We descend the stairway onto the tarmac. No articulated tubewalk here. Just a stroll across the heat soaked parking to the terminal huts with the scent of tropical flowers drifting from the ley-stalls.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Humming bird

Outside the window.
Against a bright red maple.
Which only had two or three leaves left.
Yet shone in the sunlight.
Vivid against the green leaves of the larger tree and the deep blue of the sky.
For a moment a humming bird flew in.
Then darted away.

California: Eagle on a pine

On the sparse pine tree
Surveying mountains and lake
The eagle, black winged, sits
Only when I leave the car
Deigning to fly, soars downward

Drove to Redding yesterday. The sky deep, surreal blue, contrasts with the snow capped peaks of volcanoes. Mount St Helens, a cone of rock rises from the cloud, a faint stream of vapour rising from her summit. Mount Hood, sharp, classically angular. Mount Shasta, magestic. On our descent we take detour round Shasta lake. water levels low revealing orange rocky margins. On a nend i the road David ays, "Look at that bird". We stop the car and watch an eagle perched on a branch closeby for ten minutes or more. Only when I get out of the car does he strectch thise huge wings and fly.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Vancouver events

See details of particular events in Vancouver at

End of time in Vancouver

Our week in Vancouver comes to an end. The snow still lies all around and the front garden here sports a magnificent snow rabbit and snow bear, courtesy of Martha. It has been a whirl wind week of events - daytime and evening each day for the last four days. Today the skies were clear and we finished our day retreat chanting as we watched the setting sun illuminate the mountains beyond the city. An amazing back drop and a miracle of the light.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Snow in Vancouver

Last night the air was so sharp you could cut your teeth on it. It smells of snow said Claire.

This morning we crawl from the darkness to see snow falling hard and thick on the lawns and conifers outside. The road is blanketed. Few cars. Venturing out seems superfluous. And still, white flakes fall relentlessly.

Next week we have to drive south - conflicting advice. Some say no problem, others that we should travel another way. Not easy to decide when one doesn't know the terrain and there are 750 miles to cover.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


A crisp, frosted morning. Our second day here in Vancouver. a walk down to the shore to clear the fogginess of changed time zones - mid day here - evening in England - night time in Delhi - time is an illusion of light and dark and strange body sensations.

The view over the bay is awesome - a flat expanse of water with ripples reverborating off a washed up log. Ships lying at anchor across the water, high on the surface and bedded in their reflections. The mountains beyond, dusted with snow on their peaks, against a clear, ice blue sky.

time to ponder and enjoy this space.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year

a hundred and eight bells - the traditional end to the old year. We sit in the meditation hall, first sharing our reflections and memories of the old year in our traditional gathering, then walking and chanting nembutsu - Namo Amida Bu. Then, sitting circling the shrine we ring the bell. There are six of us, so first we each strike it nine times, passing it on round the circle. Then we each ring it six times. Finally three times. As the last bell rings we chant Namandabu ten times to be greeted by fireworks that mask the new year's arrival from many of the neighbouring gardens.