Playing ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’….

In the childrens’ game of ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’ the winner is the one who, whilst blindfolded, manages to pin a pretend tail onto a drawing of a donkey…  closest to the anatomically correct position.

Now, if we were inflatable donkeys…of the kind children might ride in a swimming pool (well i’m sure you’ve seen Loch Ness Monsters in that setting…so donkeys are a possibility…

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 18.42.54

….aha, found one… the incredible creativity of the mind!…)

we’d rightly be very wary around pins…for fear of deflation …. sssss….



In our felt separation – there’s me and there’s you

and we donkeys can make such a hullabaloo
…swapping tails with each other
we say ‘How d’ye do’ but….

we can be quite wary (while holding our pin)
with the thought that ‘the other’
might stick theirs right in…

………………………………..our posterior!


In being not donkeys,
the tails are just tales…
and we don’t have that feeling that
we could be nailed.

And, in being (not donkeys)
we don’t fear the pin…
as there isn’t a rump
for the pin to stick in

Just being is us, but it cannot be done
if we spend our time fearing a pain in the bum!


This came after a chat about the  behaviours that we do with a friend who is about to be 90…happy birthday Gwen!




Update on Emerson college recordings / “Courageous Compassion”

IWP_20160713_21_02_00_Pro said it would only take a week or so of free time to get the recordings ready… and this is true, but sometimes there’s more to it than that….

Emerson recordings update  22nd Aug…nearly complete. There have been lots of difficulties in getting hold of the final part of the good recording which Gaynor made…i’ve tried improving mine but the result’s not great… so thankfully a friend who is a sound engineer is going to have a bash today…so…. ready shortly!

The first week back different people i had not seen for years got in touch or visited. Last week I was  away at the Buddhafield festival, which had the theme “Courageous Compassion” and gave a talk in a little tent on the need for wisdom – the wisdom of emptiness or openness – as the basis for the arising of sustainable compassion.

If you are interested here’s the gist of what the talk was based around.

Dualistic, false–relative, compassion… where I am going to act compassionately towards you –  where I, you, and the action are all three seen as entitative –   is a big step up from ‘I just care about me and mine’ but it maintains the sense of separation, of solidity, even superiority …  and, because of its effortful nature, transient effect, and the desire (and often frustrated desire!) involved it can be exhausting.  Jumping in to help a drowning man is great if you can swim and are strong enough to get him safely out without getting yourself into the same predicament…knowing the variable nature of your capacity and working within that is essential at this point.

So different dharma teachings  gesture to the way through this via another approach to suffering.

If we take the bodhisattva vow, as in Mahayana Buddhism, then the intention is to ‘develop’ the mind of the buddha.  Understanding that the compassion that goes with this intention involves a wish to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all ‘others’… to bring them happiness and freedom from suffering in the short term and enlightenment in the longer term…whilst accepting that this longer term may indeed be very, very long!

It seems likely that  in the sustained and concentrated effort of altruistically attempting to attain the perfections of generosity, morality, vigour, patience, concentration and wisdom of a bodhisattva, somehow the custard–like skin of self-referential thoughts holding us in a particular shape thins to the point where there is an understanding of non-duality in the relative sense and perhaps the realisation of prajna as revealed in the Heart Sutra shines through. At this point compassion is fearless rather than courageous.

The view of Tantra  is that of (an initially intentional) transformation of all that is manifesting by viewing it through the lens of the pure relative. Compassion then, as the liberation of all sentient beings, is that of not taking them prisoner, and relating to them as entities in the first place!

The encouragement is to practice until we have integrated the view.  I think it was Gampopa who said to his students who wanted to bring their retreat to a premature conclusion in order to go and  be helpful… ” Do you think there will be nobody left in need of your help down in the valley if you wait until completion of your practice?”

After the initial introduction, the practice of dzogchen is that of absolute compassion arising spontaneously… not being impulsively or thoughtfully contrived but arising naturally from the ground nature, freshly in each moment. So rather than using different strengths of detergent to eventually clean the window, or looking through a different window, its a matter of … throwing the window wide open!

If we overheat or get stuck in the practice of relative compassion we may not get to ask…What  is the nature of this self, this other, these thoughts, this mind?… it is the answer to this that the buddha was seeking… and found and, in deep dharma, taught.


Of the different levels of compassion arising from the different views – false relative, pure relative and absolute… these are explained by Patrul Rinpoche in Chapter 7 in the book Simply Being by James Low.

Chapter 3 on the development of bodhicitta is also recommended.



‘Where to invade next’

720x405-MCDWHTO_EC042_HThis film is maybe good  to see  after watching The Divide..it shows much that’s good in other   countries’ ways of living.

It’s not a film which I would have thought of going to see… but a friend wanted to and I was in town…so i did and was glad.

It’s not in fact about which country America is really about to invade next…. but about comparing some of the best of humanitarian attitudes in other countries, for example with regard to education, workers rights, attitude towards criminals ( bankers and others!) and contrasting them with what generally happens in the USA.

I had heard of the prison off the coast of Norway where maximum security offenders are treated with respect and rehabilitated  in such a way that the rates of recidivism are astonishingly low compared with the U.K. and U.S. and it was a treat to see the quality of the relationships, both between the inmates and the inmates with their guards…. violence being meted out by the police is unimaginable to prisoners and guards alike. Here prisoners are trusted with the use of large sharp kitchen knives for food prep. in the kitchen…and they are used just for that!          I remember hearing that the training for those working with offenders in prison is lengthy, often at degree level, in countries  where there is a genuine interest in rehabilitation and re–education rather than punishment…the training in our country can be just a matter of months.   Recently there was mention of an intention of making prisoners in this country work productively and there is footage of American prisoners doing just this which is so dispiriting. Their living conditions and working conditions are so poor and they are paid maybe as little as $.37 an hour for franchised work…the contrast is stark.

Having heard a bit about the educational system in Finland it was delightful to see  the faces of the teachers  in whose aim is to  facilitate the growth of healthy happy communicative  citizens,  and who  feel that our method of ‘education to pass standardised tests’ is deadening and diminishing to the potential of teacher and the child. These children have no homework… home time is for friends, family, living life.. not bowed down by hours and hours of homework, in fact they have almost none – yet their educational system is producing students with some of the highest functioning in the world.

In our country we work long hours (though not as long as the USA) and our productivity is a lot lower than in many countries which work shorter hours. The film shows employers in other countries  who actually care about the happiness of the workforce and appreciate the positive impact resulting from involving them in decision-making… and also having them on the board of directors.

There are countries with eight weeks paid leave, generous maternity/paternity leave; countries where those who are stressed can go to a spa on prescription…. it is cheaper than treating people with depression ( way back in 1990 this cost was $44 billion in the USA  of which drug treatment was 10%, one quarter was due to treatment and the rest to absenteeism and premature death… I haven’t looked but I should imagine it’s a great deal more now)

I have heard a senior official in the drug squad pleading for decriminalisation… I don’t think many people wanted to hear what he had to say even though it was clear that he was in a position to know what he was talking about.
In Portugal drugs are not an issue, not a matter of concern for the police, but rehabilitation is  freely available. The Portuguese police who were interviewed appeared horrified and saddened at the lack of humanity in the use of the death-penalty in the USA.

French children, even in deprived areas, who all sit down together for an hour and enjoy a very high quality school meal at lunchtime. Passing food and drink between each other and chatting….lovely!

Yes…  this is  a quick breeze across the upside of many countries.. yet the relaxed faces speak volumes about the healthy impact of the humanitarian attitudes shown. It was a pleasure just  to listen to and see the faces of people around the world who were concerned for the welfare of those around them and were prepared to orientate their lives away from  ‘looking after number one’ to looking after the welfare of the wider community.

A Tunisia woman who had been educated in Paris (and knew much about the USA) was filmed begging for an interest from the USA in that which was good about her country….

Perhaps this is not representative but it stuck in my mind… In 1981 I was in the State Department office in Houston, Texas asking to buy a visa for Guatemala… and I was asked which state that was in? “Well,it’s the country  down from Mexico…two down from the USA!”                                  Many states in America are vast, and the news in each state was mainly about state happenings with some information about national happenings… but as far as international happenings there was very little.

Other countries have other problems and for sure there’s no quick fixes, as you shift one thing it has an impact on others (written pre-referendum!)  … but there is much non-fattening food for thought for both the UK and the USA about how to live well in this film… if you’ve a mind to see it.

Projecting hatred…


He is about to hit him in the face with his ringed fist but does this man hate this monk?

Well, he’s angry for many many reasons – only one of which is that the monk reported to the police that the demonstrators (of which he is one) had assaulted another man… but he knows nothing about the monk apart from that. He has his opinions and beliefs ….some quite different from those of the monk and some will be  quite similar yet the monk has become a symbol onto which he can project all the  stored frustrations and sense of injustice that he has faced in his life so far.

As Milarepa said ” you menace others with your deadly fangs but in tormenting them, you’re only torturing yourselves.”

He’s projecting the bad out, onto the other … tightening up his heart, his mind, his body, to mete out ‘just desserts’…. in this case onto someone who would not fight back. Taken over by his afflictive emotion the result of his action is a photograph which has  the effect of arousing sympathy for the monk (not what he intended) and this action will do nothing to diminish his own suffering.

The thinking is often that ‘things aren’t working out the way I think they should…and who’s fault is that – well it’s their fault’… So if we punish them or get rid of them that will make things better… right?!!

Has this ever worked?

No…. because it’s never just one person’s or groups’ fault that a situation as it is. In relative reality each situation arises due to a concatenation of events, many many factors have to come together for its occurrence…. and it is then interpreted through our own mental filters and mixed with our concepts and prejudices.

Opinions arising from this process cannot be taken as reliable. The ‘alien other’ has the same nature as ourselves and deep buddhist practice is very much about working with the enemy within… the grasping onto a fixed sense of ‘I’ with all that arises from that.

As that felt sense of separation, feeling oneself to be a separate  self–existing entity, starts to dissolve then tolerance of difference increases and aversion decreases, and situations become more workable.  There is more appreciation of the showing of different forms – the radiance of the mind, empty of inherent self–existence.

…here’s a bit more  from Milarepa

If hate reigns supreme, it chains us to hell.

Great avarice opens the gulf of eternal hunger.

Dulll ignorance makes us no better than animals.

Growing passion ties us to the world of men.

If jealousy takes root, it leads to the realm of warring gods.

Overbearing pride traps us in the land of the heavens.

These are the six fetters that chain us to samsara.

…and maybe if you have time check out the latest vimeo  Seeing clearly and acting gracefully  where the internal definitions and anxieties leading to a contraction – as with the result of the recent referendum – are explored.

P.S. It’s hard to see… but underneath the monks arm there is a rather disturbing figure (you can see this if you click on the photo so it comes up big), a little lady who is really happy and laughing  to see such sport…

…its a very different kind of happiness that we wish for all beings!


The Divide


The focus of this film is the vast ‘wealth divide’ where the top 0.1% of the population of the UK and USA have wealth equal to that of the bottom 90% – illustrated through a look at the lives of seven people.

It was very poignant to see footage of the lived situation of the people at the bottom of the economic divide, and their faces, as they spoke about trying to make ends meet and survive… but also the faces at the top – there is not much joy or freedom in their bunkered situations… manicured and deadened…

Heidegger said ethics is ‘first philosophy’…what is for the benefit of all? This is not operational here. One delightful female banker who had had qualms about the sub-prime market said that ‘when you remove ethics you become very efficient’. Perhaps in some ways it seems so… but the Walmart employee in the film had, prior to the changes within the company, loved her job, felt valued for her contribution both in ideas and behaviour. Through the changes which removed that culture of appreciation and included shifting to unknown flexible hours – the company itself was devalued. She was about to become homeless and did not look likely to survive for long.

The cinema was almost full but, as the man sitting next to me said, ‘unfortunately the people who needed to see this wouldn’t be watching’. But i thought, even if you could get them to watch many, because of their conditioning, would just see people who are a ‘hopeless’, a ‘waste of space’, a ‘drain on the economy’, ‘losers’.

Yet in the USA the ‘KIP’ schools, which operate in in hugely deprived areas and whose overriding focus is to get their students into college, succeed with 33% of their kids…compared with, i think it was, 8% for other schools in these areas of deprivation and a 32% national average …also their students tend not to drop out…

There are many stories of prisoners who turned their lives around with the help of the genuine love and support of others, and people whose lives have changed as a result of being seen to have value – having this different way of seeing themselves reflected back through someone else’s eyes.

You might enjoy this episode of desert island discs with John Timpson and the enlightened attitude to ex-offenders shown by his son, himself, and the firm.

Behaviour patterns tend to insist but have the potential for transformation if they are recognised as such and given space to resolve under a light and kindly attention. There is a beautiful quote which i paraphrase(having lost the original) as……..

” Birds that live on golden mountain take on the colour of the sun”.

So many many factors, causes and conditions, bring about the circumstances in which people find themselves…from a dharma perspective, in ‘relative reality’ karma is operational. So whilst hoping to equalise the ability to utilise the opportunities available is unrealistic… the attitude that genetics or social circumstances are definitional and that it is acceptable to ” fiddle away that which has come to you while Rome burns” does a violence to the potential for people to grow and to show themselves in many different ways… and ignores our interconnectedness. Everybody has ‘buddha–nature’ and to be indifferent to the state of others is to diminish ourselves.

A 70-year-old venture capitalist raised a laugh in the cinema as he explained very determinedly (after a long list of his activities, assets, and achievements…ending with having three children under 13) that he was a ‘Creator’…he was far from thinking that ‘all this will end’, that this ‘self’ is insubstantial and ‘disintegration’ is also on the list.
The possibility of awakening was never part of his game plan…a plan conditioned by his family, mental aptitude, the culture of the time…influenced by so many factors.
Prior to the crash the words ‘greed is good’ were heard without much if any irony; being ‘something in the city’ was admired, and when times were ‘good’ some of these people felt that they could walk on water…and some still do…but it’s ‘for a while’…and was it only the bankers who were greedy or is there some projection going on here?
Life is short how shall we be? We are lucky to know we have choices…and whether or not to judge others may be instinctive, a choice influenced by virtuous intention or, in awareness, no-choice.

A while ago I spent some time with people living in poverty… they had mostly flour and water to eat and drink. The flour was mixed with water to make the major part of their meals and the water was not running water but they had to fetch it in big plastic containers from a tap some distance away. They lived in little caves, just one room, no ensuite!

So these people are near the bottom economic heap and need our help to raise their standard of living…I wonder, shall we create a charity?

I am joking… these were some of the happiest people that I’ve met in my life… no amount of money would make them happier, they were practising the dharma…life had meaning well beyond self-concern.

To be able to practise for the welfare of all beings continuously one doesn’t need a cave…just a heart that’s open to suffering and a desire to practice according to our capacity ….decreasing the divisions created in the mind.

Heaven or hell ? – it’s all in the mind as it moves with our thoughts

Version 2Some years ago I was doing a strict Goenka vipassana retreat in a monastery in Thailand… the sitting for ten hours a day was hard for someone used to sitting for short periods.
Each day I looked around me  and everyone else seemed to be coping just fine – ‘a bunch of crack meditation ninjas’ – and I thought it was just me, so unused to this kind of practice, who was really struggling with discomfort.
There was no communication allowed during the retreat between the participants  so we could not compare our experiences or encourage each other verbally…yet somehow or other a little nun from Korea and I mostly got up to leave the meditation hall at the same time  every evening…

Two days of the retreat had been billed as being particularly difficult – the first turned out to be easy for me and the second was very very difficult, the pain in my legs was becoming intolerable. At one point, fearing becoming crippled due to the impact on an earlier injury,  I was granted permission to use a chair but that seemed to make matters worse as the blood pooled in my legs, so I went back to the floor and gritted my teeth. I have a reasonable amount of willpower and used that to get through  that day… but that wasn’t the end…. there was the next day and more! The next morning, for the very first time, I skived off to the toilet in the early hours of the meditation and after that it was downhill all the way and it became so hard to stick with it…

Then I remembered a teacher saying ‘well – if you can’t do it, you just can’t do it’.
This may not seem very profound but being able to accept that I might not be able to do it brought about enough relaxation for me to hang in there while my legs shook and shook until they settled and I found that I was still practising after the teacher had left.  On this occasion he had walked out quietly without giving notice of his departure… usually there was a bit of a countdown… and I had been counting the seconds believe me!

So it got easier… in fact it got to be pleasurable – extraordinary! – and that was when a big ‘downfall’ occurred. We had been warned not to indulge in any pleasurable experiences if they arose…the  thought of this happening seemed so remote that the instruction barely registered. But then I remembered ( having indulged!) and the world changed – this is the interesting bit.

Prior to indulging in these feelings I had been in a kind of  heaven… albeit a somewhat painful one. The  setting was beautiful with a river nearby. There were flowers and sunshine and a golden dome and starlight and birds and food which was – edible, and  I was doing something I felt to be meaningful.

Then suddenly, with this enormous sense of shame at having not followed the instructions, everything changed. I could no longer look at people, I could barely eat, all the colour had drained out of the environment, it had become  monochrome, grey…there was nothing to wonder at… just my dismal thoughts that there was no point in my continuing, that I wasn’t worthy enough to be there or to do the pilgrimage which was to follow.

Then I thought my way through the inevitable conversation when I returned – ‘so why didn’t you do what you to set out to do?’ ‘Well you see I was in a monastery and I hadn’t done what I’d been told to do so obviously i am not good enough to be following in the Buddhas footsteps… so I came home.’
I imagined the somewhat  disappointed acceptance of my returning thousands of miles to say that…. and thankfully, I started to sound foolish to myself and to realise that this was all part of the ‘growing up’ process… and the world started to lighten up again for me.
In truth I started to lighten up the world, just as before my thoughts had darkened the world. The food, the monastery, nothing much changed while I went on this mental journey and so the truth of – “Everything has mind in the lead, has mind in the forefront, is made by mind” (Thomas Cleary’s translation of the first few lines of the Dhammapada)  became very vivid for me.

I had been swept away by thoughts with which my egoic sense of self (another thought) had fused. Believing in the truth of them any awareness, or sense of presence had been completely lost. Then, lacking spaciousness, i had collapsed into being a ‘no good’ object for my judgmental ego-self. Luckily that little hell didn’t last for too long; thanks to impermanence and karma some more useful thoughts arose which i could use as a rope ladder to climb out…not the method of choice but all i was capable of at the time.
Any dzogchen practitioners reading this will know that any kind of  thoughts can arise and pass in  awareness as an aspect of the arising field …but fusing with them and taking them to be definitional is as wise as jumping out of a high window in the belief that you can fly…
…ah well, it takes practice and growing confidence which was part of the reason for the pilgrimage!

As for not doing things exactly as instructed… well under my particular circumstances  that was quite understandable. Really, as always, it was just a matter of learning from  that slip, letting go of it, and carrying on…and when i did just that i was finally practising properly –not  hooking into any sensation.

Making the mistake meant that I also had a glimpse of the truth that forcing myself in order to succeed might get me to a ‘goal’ but not much past it… it was the relaxation coming from looking ‘failure’ in the face which allowed me to continue.
Dzogchen in particular is not a practice of  anxious striving but of a profound relaxation from which manifestation arises precisely in relation to the emergent field …and as James has said more than once “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”

At the end of the retreat also it became clear that my assumption that I was the only one suffering was completely unfounded – we all were; some of the exuberance and joy expressed  was related to the retreat experience… but quite a lot to do with the ending of it and the release from silence and tension!

The little nun and I hugged each other…

… and then we were told off for breaking ‘Sila’…’good grief’ i thought ‘what have i done now?!’

That hug was in fact ‘right action’ – entirely appropriate – but back then I felt terrible and got someone to translate my abject apologies…

…. however the nun was vey happy about the hug… and we did something lovely with any merit gained in our practice then

…and i hope she is very happy now and that her practice is going well.


The linguistic penny drops!

If you have listened to any talk James has given you will have noticed that he has a very particular way of speaking.
When I first started to edit transcribed recordings I spent some time cutting and pasting and fiddling with the words so that they sounded more normal to my ears. Then I realised that  it no longer sounded like James speaking and that, more importantly,  there is an unusually extreme precision in his use of language…which is not something to fiddle with.

In learning from him, when something is not clear, sometimes I interrupt the flow and ask a direct question but more often it’s either that clarification comes during the course of later conversation or I wait for the penny to eventually drop. When I have a little more clarity myself there may be a lightbulb moment –  mixing my metaphors wildly here.  I think its a sign of good teaching to encourage the stretch to a higher shelf rather than just handing things down. So here’s what was on the shelf…


In English language lessons we are taught the singular and the plural of many nouns and so i had  a little puzzle because, no matter what the circumstance, although the singular seemed to be called for James always uses the plural – phenomena.

So, some time ago, although fairly sure what his answer would be, I  asked him a question. In the past he has said that one could refer to Noam Chomsky as a bodhisattva of language. and looking at what he, Chomsky, has written about language is a revelation…just a quick look was enough to my eyes water! There is clearly a lot more to communication than the surface construction. So it was unlikely that he doesn’t know the singular…

so i asked… ” you do know that  that the singular of phenomena is phenomenon?” He just smiled and said “yes” and we left there.

For a while the situation was that he continued to say the plural “phenomena” no matter what the context  and i continued to twitch slightly whenever i thought it should be “phenomenon” singular. Maybe its just an anomaly, best ignored … i thought.

Eventually my ‘school trained’ knowledge succumbed to dharma understanding and the penny dropped…there is no such thing as ‘a phenomenon’. The word is suggestive of something discrete and discontinuous – separated out from other phenomena… whereas the experience of phenomena is always plural… each being dependant upon other phenomena for their arising together…kerr-chink!

Using the scissors or ‘biscuit cutters’ to abstract phenomena from the arising field and then reifying them and ascribing value to them are steps in the instructions in the popular “Create your own Samsara” kit. The result is not real but suffering, arising from misapprehension, is woven into its apparent structure because, as there is neither reality to the building blocks nor cement in the mortar, it cannot bear any weight. Not that hopes and fears and expectations have any more weight than other thoughts but there seems to be quite an energetic charge to them…

Whether or not to use this kit is the choice which mediation offers.
To begin with the misapprehension, being habitual, is continuous…and it takes a lot of mediation and examination, slowing things down before we can see what we’re doing. Then, with practice, we can see through  ‘the rabbit/thought hole’ and choose not to go down it.
If we do its like putting our attention into a little vortex where the thought you’ve caught plays around with other thoughts taking our energy into a spin and  the actuality of the spacious, open, astonishing  revelation from which we are never apart is occluded…
but its always there… even when we’re forgetting…just a little release and we’re back home.

‘Human Hubris’ may seem a poncey strapline but it is, i think, applicable to some behaviours in the film The Pearl Button …

…and i have a fondness for alliteration!

I looked up the word ‘hubris’ when i first came across it a little while ago and thought it a useful word… it means insolence, arrogance, such as invites disaster:overweening… and boy, are humans capable of manifesting this!

‘Cape Horn marks the northern boundary of the Drake Passage and is where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans collide. For decades it was a major milestone on the clipper route, by which sailing ships carried trade around the world. The waters around Cape Horn are particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds, large waves, strong currents and Icebergs; these dangers have made it notorious as a sailors’ graveyard.’ (wikipedia)1801

So what would current health and safety rules make of a family taking a 12-year-old in a tiny open boat, hollowed from a tree trunk, around Cape Horn?  The native Patagonian with the links back to his pre-Colombian ancestors who was interviewed in this film made the passage twice (the first time when he was 12) yet now, at late middle-age, he’s not allowed…the men with big ships say it’s not safe to for him to do this.
He is one of the remaining few with the knowledge of his ancestors and the ability and desire to use it.
His people were water-people, they knew how to read sea, the winds, the thousand miles or so of shoreline, the weather, and how to navigate by looking at the sky. The younger generation does not have this, those that remember the old days and ways are dying out.

They lived like this from pre-columbian times for thousands of years but in the early 19th century Patagonia was mapped by a British naval officer and later, in exchange for a mother-of-pearl button, one of these people was brought to England, to London for two years…and then returned. Unsurprisingly he was never the same again.

Europeans and Chileans then brought the Patagonians the teachings of Catholicism, put them into school, unwittingly gave them clothing permeated with unknown bacteria (for these naked painted people had to be made decent and covered up) and herded them together, onto an island off the coast.
Their faces in photographs, before and after, said it all…and their numbers were soon decimated.
Later the remaining indigenous people were hunted… money was paid for the testicles and breasts of adults and for the ears of children killed. This made room for proper people to do proper farming and live as people should….well that was the thinking at the time!

Yet the farming is not that successful. The torture (for killing sake, not to extract information…that was already known) and disposal of the victims by helicopter into the sea under the military dictatorship which overthrew the socialist Salvador Allende’s rule (with some help from others…if you are interested you can easily discover who) in the 1970’s is another sorry addition to the story…  under his rule there had been a movement to return land to the indigenous people.

The Guardian’s critic Andrew Pulver says ‘It really is intelligent, magnificent film-making’

If you have time you can see it tonight at the Exeter picture house cinema. I found it  shocking and poignant, with some astonishingly beautiful photography… another, generally unmarked, holocaust.


4628In one of James’ Macclesfield talks he invited us to imagine what it would feel like be to be a wee kid in Pakistan speaking Urdu and with a large connected family fully embedded in that culture who is uprooted when his family comes to England.

I couldn’t imagine what that would feel like but this film brought me a little closer – a ‘put together’ family ( a way of using a dead families passport)  fleeing the fighting in Sri Lanka  is followed as they try to find their way as refugees in a foreign country.

As a Native American Indian saying goes you have to walk for two moons in someone else’s mocassins before you can judge them – (and then your understanding of their situation would be so great that you wouldn’t!)

The loss of everything which seemed to comprise your identity is gone, can be turned to nothing, no value, no use, in fact sometimes the opposite in this different setting. A completely foreign language, religion, culture, politics, schooling, family relationships,etc. to get used to and to try to work with. Its a phenomenal undertaking for someone in good physical mental and financial health –  rarely the luck of refugees!

The film does evoke some question marks well covered i think in this review:



Oh Man!

Yes we can…Moon

Put a man on the moon

make an outside womb,

change DNA

……..? blow hatred away?

There’s a muffled response ( ‘cos the heads up the arse)

‘Oh, leave peace to the doves!  Let’s find life….

up on Mars!’

wendy, april 2016


In 2006 foreign correspondent Christina Lamb and the soldiers of the British parachute regiment she was accompanying on a ‘hearts and mind mission’ in Afghanistan was  pinned down in a series of irrigation trenches by fire from a Taliban ambush. The British soldiers were very skilled but, after two and a half hours under fire, excitement was turning to desperation….the air power required for them to make their escape was not available, being fully deployed elsewhere. Eventually they were liberated by an attack from the air which killed the dozen Taliban who had them pinned down. The soldier responsible said ‘we blew them into red mist’

I’m not going to play around with words… for me, time stood still at the impact of those words.


Man, it seems, is pretty good at desire, including the desire for knowledge, and also at hatred…but how about being human?

The dharma speaks of the resolution of desire in the satisfaction arising from experiencing the emptiness or openness of all manifestations whilst fully appreciating the differences in which they display, or manifest.

From the Dhammapada comes…’We are what we think, all that we are arises with out thoughts. With our thoughts we make our world….

….In this world hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law ancient and inexhaustible. Knowing this, how can you quarrel?

Give up the old ways – passion, enmity,folly. Know the truth and find peace.’




Extracted from Wikipedia: In 2013 Christina Lamb co-authored the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By The Taliban”[2] In the same year, Lamb joined the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a Wilson Center Global Fellow.[3] Her latest book entitled “Farewell Kabul” exhaustively details her many years in Afghanistan and Pakistan offering a close up account of the long war and its many missed opportunities on the part of the US on account of its tortured relationship with Pakistan. Her book essentially lays the problems of terrorism in the region, if not in the world, on that country’s door.[4]

Plenty of dependant co-origination here!

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/who-is-responsible-for-the-taliban gives a view of that complex situation from another angle.

The scent of bluebells… or bullshit?

Something fresh for you..Bluebell_aka_Hyacinthoides_non-scripta

Recently I was talking with someone and we were imagining the notion of sitting inside  a lotus bud, in a pure–land, hearing the Dharma bells sweetly singing of ways to the truth as we surely grow into buddha-hood…(ok you have to use your imagination for this!)

…and then contrasting that with a common position in samsara where we have climbed inside a dustbin to keep safe and then pulled the lid down tight on top of us. The sights smells and sensations are… ummm…rather different.

Then tidying up some paperwork yesterday I came across a few lines of James’ –                                      “if you believe in conceptual elaboration, if you believe that the creativity of your own mind is telling the truth about the world, you will delude yourself and stay in the staleness of the repetition of your own mental confectionery!”– and the thought of the ego burping away as it chews on all the old beliefs and certainties makes life inside the dustbin seem even less attractive!



Taxing reminder!

So long as people give priority to material values then injustice, corruption, inequity, intolerance and greed – all the outward manifestations of neglect of inner values – will persist.

(H.H. the Dalai Lama)

Of the many words attributed to the Dalai Lama some seem much more likely than others… but who could argue with the truth of this?

Sayings to sustain …

0d8de815c3660fc9c166e5a6f92515306c26dc6dWe have met with the true dharma teachings…how lucky!

We have the body we need, with the capacity to understand these teachings and put them into practice….how amazing!

But these  circumstances, as with everything else, are only here for a while, things will inevitably change.

“You see, we are all dying.It’s only a matter of time. Some of us just die sooner than others.” (Kalu Rinpoche)

So, life grows shorter not longer everyday.

“I ask myself why we do not practice, just for those few moments of time in which death has lent us our bodies.” (Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche)

“If not now, then when?”  …   “our problem is that we think we have time”

and…if by the time you get to this point this you are feeling a little unsettled….well…

“We can always begin again!”…..i’ve used that myself so often!                                                … always beginning again. Whatever happened in the meantime when i was disturbed or lost in some way has gone and now is a fresh start.


It  has been said that, in trying to let go of the identification and fusion with our constructed sense of self, we are engaged in something similar to trying to pull out a hair which has been churned into a lump of butter.

Because the hair we are trying to remove has been twisted and folded within the butter pat as it was pounded and patted into shape… if we pull too tight the hair will snap and we won’t succeed but if we don’t exert enough pressure then nothing changes.

We need a certain grip and just the right amount of exertion sustained through time in order to succeed….and the middle way is not in the middle. Sometimes it seems to the left, sometimes to the right…sometimes more effort, sometimes less…balancing and rebalancing moment by moment.

With a tendency to try too hard i’ve been learning that when i’m at ease in the doing of whatever it is, then i’m more likely to be hitting the sweet spot – working in a way which is sustainable and in harmony with my state and the other factors in play. Also there’s a greater likelihood that i’m attending to what actually needs to be done rather than getting ‘stuck in’ …So now, being hungry, its time to stop this writing for the practise of dinner!


Toddling along … supported by the dharma…

29-toddlerwalkingWhen I first started listening to Buddhist teachings I felt that they were like a breath of fresh air coming under the door into the room where I’ve been sitting, breathing stale air for a very long time.

However, being  ignorant of their meaning at the time, some of the things that were said really surprised me –– the world is a burning up place! This had me looking out of the window and wondering…. really?

Some years later I began to really look at the world, I looked and I looked. I looked at the people around me and  started noticing what was motivating their actions. Seeing how friendships could evaporate at the first little friction or unmet, often unspoken, expectation. How people could kill each other with looks and words, or a lack of looks and words, and not realise what they were doing to themselves as well as to the other by their  behaviour.  How pride and jealousy, hatred and desire, really were having a ‘burning up’ effect on people and the environment.

On the most basic level harshness expressed externally  has to be an expression of harshness held internally,  with an impact on health – both physical and mental; reactions can become a habitual.

I  was helped to see  how those keen to  slap judgements on others are also often not clear about how they also censure themselves with verdicts from their own ‘internal formations’, judges imported from the past.

At the age of eleven becoming a judge was my first ambition. Perhaps this was a little unusual in a family with no connections with the law but i had seen injustice and its effect with my little eyes and relished the idea of dishing out appropriate sentences to the ‘guilty’… having calmly considering all the evidence (whilst wearing an imposing gown, wig, and if called for, the appropriate hat!).

Later I looked at the cheap way of putting oneself up by putting others down and how  deep sadness and hurt can be behind a desire to be seen to be always right, to always get things right, to be on the right side – how small that person might feel inside…and how we can project the emotion from  any experience that we have not been able to digest or integrate, onto another from our shadow side without realising what we are up to.

I saw how the inner attitudes of individuals are reflected in the larger attitudes prevailing at this time and vice versa; that there can be a presentational, acceptable, mask often overlaying a shoddy infrastructure with much that’s not at all ‘great’ about it…with an underlying attitude that ‘I’,  and my…. desires, beliefs, pleasures, ‘ stuff that I have’, groups that I  identify with, my relations and my friends, and my pain and suffering – and maybe that of those close to me – are the most important things in the world. [Putting the bodhisattva vow into practice turns this one on its head… and leads you to despair for a while, until things become clearer…]

Actually it would be hard to really convince one other person of the truth of this, let alone the eight billion or so other humans….because, mostly, each one believes in the centrality of their own position… a position so vulnerable that it allows for little genuine peace or ease.  Our apparent ‘supporting structure’  changes along with everything else, so everything could be reminding us of the given dynamic nature of impermanence yet this fact of life is often taken instead as a personal attack eliciting a push-back or collapse in response.

So with this egocentric attitude –  there is I… and then there is you, others who are a bit like me – and then there’s the rest.   And it’s usually a human-centric position, where we treat many of the other living organisms as though we were in dominion over them. If they seem useful we use them… often unkindly and with little respect, if they seem useless  we ignore them, and if they seem to have a negative impact then, usually again showing no respect, we  kill them…. forgetting that they are like the blocks in  a ‘Jenga’ tower. What will happen if one piece is removed?…Can we really know the full extent of the impact of our actions as they reverberate through time and space?

Then using the Internet I looked around at what was going on ‘under the covers’ in many different places of the world. What governing powers were doing and saying in order to stay in place, what individuals and companies were doing in order to maximise their own position, how women, ‘outsiders’,  the weak, and the young were being maltreated and exploited in many areas of the world.

I saw how the annexations of the world’s resources – of water, of that provided by nature, and that to be found in  the Earth – was a driving factor for the efforts of many countries corporations and individuals, and how they would lie and cheat and steal and kill in order to get what they want.

At this point ( like ‘Chicken Little’ in the story, but with a little more evidence) I thought it was my job to bring the sorry state of affairs of the world to the attention of those who could make a difference so I  wrote letters, sent emails, made phone calls, and talked to whoever would listen. I found that those who would listen were not those in power and they were often already anxious and distressed. Then all of this ‘looking and looking’ led to my computer being hacked and such distress… very hot and bothered…headaches, sleepless nights  and the proverbial rash!

Yes, i had heard the wise words in one of James’ Macclesfield talks that ‘if you want to be an engaged buddhist best first to become a disengaged one’…but i had not imagined that i would get so caught up and had forgotten.  Being calm and clear – saying just what is helpful to the entire field – to the right person at the right time, was way beyond my capacity at that time.

So what to do… I briefly considered going to London and setting fire to myself but realised that, even if what I had to say was printed in a newspaper (and it would have had to be a very big newspaper! ) the next day  something more dramatic and interesting would be found to  capture the imagination and anyway… I would likely be considered just another nutter…. which at that time would certainly have had a strong element of truth to it!

Eventually I realised that kicking hornets nest is less than wise and that I was being completely ridiculous in thinking I could  somehow just wake up the world and have it be fine, just put all the operating forces to sleep and then what…but what could I do?

The answer was to waken up myself and apply my dharma understanding; I had been so busy being shocked then trying to fix relative reality by acting upon it in a strongly judgmental way that i became completely lost in a hell of samsara.

I had to see the context, the bigger picture – how interconnected everything that happens is with everything else, going backwards and leading forwards in time. How each event fits exactly, could not be otherwise, due to the multiple causes and conditions prevailing.

In other words I had to understand how dependant co-origination and also karma operate in relative reality… to realise my ignorance.

Still thinking practically, I told myself that it would be more useful if  I somehow… instead of becoming a ‘charger up’ of people.. could help to discharge some of the tensions around me.

I once saw this modelled very beautifully on a tube train by an older lady with a smiling nut-brown face with lots of wrinkles and a trace of shiny green eyeshadow on the edge of her eyelids. There was a ‘ranter’ in the carriage and she sat next to him. I watched her as she lent in, towards him…he was very angry and it was hard to make any sense of what he was saying… she didn’t try to correct him or ‘calm him down’ in any overt way but she let him feel he was being heard and not ignored…she was just beautiful!

Later my own prejudices and aversions, my absolute notions of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’, were exposed as the fruits of my oppositional and dualistic thinking. The wisdom of the Heart Sutra had to really sink in and I had to pay attention to the generative action of karma based on a sense of an entitative self and bring my experience of openness or emptiness into the centre. The root of the tree of ignorance had been cut but the tree was far from dead.

I could see how a sense of spaciousness increases through practice and had good reason to believe that if i kept looking, noticing without whacking in with a big judgment, my own attachments and ‘knotted-upness’  would be gently resolved in time.

So slowly I came to accept that changing my relationship to what i took to be ‘me’ and becoming more at home with the truth was key…  and that by staying present, not continuously caught up in chains of thought, inevitably other wholesome changes would flow from that.

For everyone at every step along the way there are people to walk towards and away from, people who encourage and inspire and touch your heart or shake your seeming foundations while others show quite clearly how not to be.

Sometimes people ask me ‘well what can I do? Nothing I do makes any difference!’… but in a relative sense everything we do makes a difference – a difference to us and a difference to the environment, to those around us. Despite all the ‘hot air’ mercifully my contribution to global warming is slight and some of our communications can be the very warmth of compassion. At other times an easy silence is warmer still. We all do something which changes the world  as we bring ourselves to it with our gestures, speech, touch, thoughts, intentions and actions and we can act according to our sense of capacity.  The less ‘internal’ stuffing we have the easier it is to make room for the other who is not really ‘other’ but part of us as the arising field of manifestation, sharing the same ground.

So we may be able to offer anything from practical altruistic generosity as an outer practice through to the generosity of a tolerance which can discriminate without judgment. This might be shown by activity (maybe the lady on the tube or something much less sweet, depending…) or it may not show at all but it is nonetheless effective – hard to achieve but  priceless.  We can pray…that has an effect, we can meditate initially perhaps to calm ourselves, later to get to know the truth of ourselves. And there is certainty, because others have exhibited this, of the wonderful possibility of being with the world just as it actually is, no overlay, no veneer, with any activity arising being situationally attuned… without striving, without grasping…not full of ‘stuff’, so with plenty of room for everything and less ‘maintenance’ effort for ourselves….sounds good eh!

The view of dzogchen is that of non-duality, of openness receptivity and creativity, of working with circumstances. So if you are practising with this ‘view’ may all go well for you… and if things go well…will that be just ok without the razzmatazz?… and if things go not so well, is there a possibility of allowing this experience also to be just ok, as it is, a part of the flow of the experiences of openness? can this be just another flavour of the same openness? …with equanimity as the fruit.

I remembered  a  zen saying:

The two exist because of the One,
But hold not even to this One;
When a mind is not disturbed,
The ten thousand things offer no offence.

If you like, there is more along these lines on this site Manual of zen buddhism: IV.From the Chinese Zen Masters.