clinging to thoughts with certainty.
essence of refuge – From fusion to dualistic intention to
‘In a world where vulnerability often evokes cruelty rather than kindness it is helpful to remember the Buddha’s teachings on how ignorance arises, and from it, the mental dullness which leads to selfishness, complacency and indifference. If we are to avoid a wish to blame others and seek revenge then it is vital that we see the absence of inherent existence in both persecutor and victim. Loving kindness is powerful when linked to the awareness of how our mind actually is.’
This talk is on wednesday
June 10 @ 6:30 pm – 8:40 pm BST
and organised at short notice so I’m highlighting it here…check under Events on the Simplybeing website for details.
If you can listen i’m sure you will find it very helpful…
In this cartoon…credit …. it’s the case that there is one big realisation, one genuine fact, which makes the scales redundant.
Not knowing who we or others truly are we act out from our cherished certainties but, being blindfolded by them, we miss the point.
Working through my own life-experience, in the face of recent provocation from an old but unresolved situation, this same realisation that James will speak of on wednesday properly ‘penny dropped!’ for me only yesterday.
So maybe it would be helpful to share, in a rambling way, some of my moves towards this realisation.
I had a Christian upbringing which taught me to turn the other cheek… to the extent that I lost feeling in that cheek and ‘head turned away’ became an habitual position!
‘Do as you would be done by’, ‘ Give and do not count the cost’ (‘to whom and why’..had fallen away here) and many other ideas about ‘true love’ and the nature of marriage had been taken in as veridical, and these defined my behaviour.
As I later learned… no habitual position will be appropriate and attuned in response to the ever-changing display of the world.
Freeing up from that has been part of growing up… out of a self/other imposed chrysalis or framework I relied upon to guide my behaviour…and also, very slowly, a release from judgment of karmically driven behaviours – my own and others.
As I extracted myself from that system, with no thought of revenge but with a strongly held notion of fairness, I was shocked to discover that belief in this and my interpretation of it, something I assumed was central to people I felt close to and by assumed extension, all ‘good’ people, was in fact both personal to me and more than a little naïve.
So I found myself reeling at this late discovery and my, once firm foundations, in the house of relative compassion – I am happy when others are happy…I want others to be happy, therefore I will do my best to please, to facilitate ease for others, to care for others… I will always be kind and not upset anyone or try to take anything for myself…that’s the best way to be! – were shaken. As you can see appreciation of the potential breadth and profundity of compassion was missing and my knowledge of the operation of karma in relative reality, non-existent.
That this way of being might be exploited or undervalued just hadn’t occurred to me.
That, through my own limited behaviours, I might be implicated in the resulting unpleasant situations, was an insight which dawned… slowly. The ego does not like to see how very foolish it can be!
Although, by great good fortune a moment of experience kept me welded to the dharma-track… the behaviour arising from from abiding in the truth of the realisation of the non-duality and empty nature of self and other, was way over the horizon!
Many right-minded people (in my opinion, at the time!) might have come to the same conclusion as me as to what was fair…but clearly different notions of fairness are in operation…. some more self-serving than others…
Taking advantage of others stupidity seems wise to some…behaviour will depend on the view held at the time and the opportunity to act from that…and that’s just how it is in samsara. Complaining or agonising that others are not ‘as I think they should be’… is activity based on opinions and not at all helpful. There is no magic wand to change the ideas of another…and lacking a deep dharma view, such an intention may just give energy to the seeming solidification of the polarisation of duality. Are ‘good’ ideas inherently better than ‘bad’ ones?
I see things as I do depending on the strength and inclusions/faults/distortions in the karmic lenses in front of my eyes… others are wearing different glasses…different makes of hearing aids/filters.
So for me to say ‘You need to see it my way’… is an aggressive statement coming from my ego. ‘Why can’t you see it my way?’… the answer is obvious… because your lenses are different!
Can I really knock someone’s glasses off and give them mine to wear instead? Would they be able to see through them, or want to wear them? If there’s any air of superiority about my glasses that distortion means they would not be so helpful anyway.
Most likely the egoic push-back will be ‘Get off me… these are my glasses! I can see perfectly well… thanks!
I was once told by an antique dealer that ‘a willing buyer and a willing seller makes a fair trade’. But is it fair if you, the buyer, can recognise the hallmark as silver but the seller cannot?…or if you know that a piece of furniture has been cobbled together but the purchaser does not?
The belief depends on which thoughts your sense-of-self (itself a bunch of thoughts) identifies with. ‘I buy and sell antiques… I have rent and petrol to pay… a family to feed… care home fees for my elderly mother… I need to make a profit to survive. You want some money for your antique… I will offer you this much… you can accept or not.’ That’s fair, isn’t it?’
When King Trison Detsen became buddhist he looked at his kingdom and was shocked by the material inequalities he saw. So he tried to introduce fairness by gathering in all the material goods and redistributing them more equally.
At the end of the year he checked, expecting to be satisfied with a more ‘Buddhist’ situation… and was surprised to find that the equality had not been maintained. He had two more goes at acting on the situation before realising that there were more factors in play than he could control…the karma of others being one of them, dependant co-origination another!
You might enjoy a look at these different views of the character of Shylock in Shakespeare’s the Merchant of Venice…[my notion that fairness was a natural outcome available under the legal system was also laid waste to during my late ‘adolescence’.]
At one point I had the notion that there were jailers and prisoners… and those who acted to liberate.
Having compassion for the prisoners, feeling the misery of their situation, I wanted to be a liberator!!!
Then I saw that the jailers were also prisoners…that good and bad were not separable but one arises upon the ascription of the other… and that we are complex in our showing, so simple terms don’t cut the mustard!
then that liberation does not come through becoming anything…
The polarisation of discrimination between those labelled by us as virtuous and unvirtuous… with its attendant aversion accentuates the artificial divisions of the world and will inevitably circumscribe our lovingkindness… with it’s warm welcome of ‘however you are it’s okay’ as basic…
The historical Buddha taught that praise and blame, profit and loss, pleasure and sorrow, fame and infamy come and go like the wind… (is this not true?)…so to be happy remain rooted like a great tree in the midst of it all.
Rooted in what? In none of the above obviously …nor the soil…but in the ground.
In the ground of the open spaciousness of your ungraspable actuality…in wisdom.
Another version is:
“Praise and blame,
gain and loss,
pleasure and pain,
fame and disrepute
are the eight worldly winds.
They ceaselessly change.
As a mountain is
unshaken by the wind,
so the heart/mind of a person
by all the changes on this earth.”
I’ve added /mind to this version otherwise it can look as though a a profound lack of sensitivity is indicated.
The heart/mind is unchanging and stable – wisdom. Compassion arising from that is very sensitive to the presenting situation… and more tolerant of phenomena knowing their self-arising and self-liberating nature.
With this the desire to control is dissolved and whatever comes comes and whatever goes goes…this sense of ease is not dependent on external factors. Interactions grounded in that easy view lack the tension which is the dis-ease of samsara and so are healing without intention.
So this love arising from wisdom heals the sense of separation arising from these artificial divisions and is of a very different order/quality than conditional love which arises dependent upon behaviours, or habitually through a sense of attachment and appropriation.
For myself… a squillion squenchy thoughts and feelings may arise…including the desire to control…but arise…and pass.
My invitation to a different way of relating, by being both different and equal as guests in this world, may ‘cut no ice’…
but since encountering the dharma, over the years i have learned that despite the resonance of habitual pattens and tendencies to tighten… not responding as some fix-ed ‘thing’ to some other pre-defined ‘thing’ is always available as potential through softening and opening without solidity.
‘Nothing is better than something because something is always nothing anyway’…takes all the heat out of it!
..and, koan-like, did my head in when i first heard that from James…so many years ago!
While you’re here I invite you to put all your own worries aside and see how projection, combined with an uniquely limited view of external perfection, and an unwillingness to accept that a situation cannot be manipulated as desired, brings suffering to two healthy adults in otherwise relatively easy life circumstances:
Spare a thought for the suffering!
My neighbour’s neighbour’s life you see
is being ruined by a tree
A tree she finds so deeply ugerlee…!
Yet neighbour, guardian-owner of the tree
has come to see it differently
…and thus arises misery.
Oh woe is she…!!!
She so much wishes it were dead
it’s taken root inside her head!
It’s darkness makes her act things out
though, being ‘genteel’, she won’t shout..
Covering her fence with anti-virus cloth,
black, on both sides
incurs artistic neighbours wrath
also as she
wants details of propinquity!
You slept with him? You must tell me!
Contaminated you may be…
Neighbour removes cloth forcibly…
The buddha’s equanimity…
present yet absent
in this lunacy.
In jealousy and foolish pride
greed hatred and delusion
we immolate our peace of mind
and suffer in confusion
Old fears and anguish quake the heart,
in place of ease a tightness comes –
releasing this …A…ཨ…o p e n n e s s
reveals the sameness of our “bones”
Each moment of our life will pass
as fresh or turbid waters
we have a choice…
in letting go
we are the the buddha’s daughters
‘Sisters under the skin’ could be this pictures title
of course ‘brothers/sons’ fit too – it just doesn’t rhyme as well!
I wrote this poem many years ago after some turbulent interactions helped me see how quickly I could still become enmeshed in reactivity.
People we find difficult to relate to are priceless for showing us our ‘pinch points’ or unresolved bruises, and then we can notice the depth of our limited, habitual, egoic response to freeze, withdraw or try to control the situation.
With this, the limited effectiveness of the scabs which act as a protective covering for old wounds is exposed. Picking at their edges is still painful…so there is incomplete healing.
Defensiveness, when there is some’thing’ to protect is a natural response… When there is directly seen to be no ‘thing’ as such, then resting in the spaciousness of openness works to resolve the tension. The primary locus of perspective is inclusive rather than individuated.
With this, the edges of the wound are brought together and the pain of separation, of being a truly separate other with the fear of annihilation by definition, is healed.
This may sound like a ‘happy ever after’ story… but it’s certainly not the case that all interactions then flow easily. But maybe more easily than they otherwise might because…
as the defensiveness of the ego decreases there is more of a sense of innate inclusion and with that sense, warmth increases and the defrosted softness allows other possibilities of engagement to come to mind.
There is space for the situation to evoke, rather than a habit which provokes, the response.
A screwdriver for a screw… a hammer for a nail…but ‘me’ as something rigidly defined is not useful for very much…!
We are all scions, reflections of the buddha-mind.
It’s in not seeing, recognising, realising that sameness…with that an absence of fixed internal/external definition….that self-other definition increases and the divisions of the world arise.
Photo creative commons Write Well Daily
and hopefully will do no harm!
Once, in a talk James said… ‘keep your dosh in your pocket, sit on your bum and get enlightened!
That’s pretty simple eh?… but it doesn’t happen so often.
So many distractions, emotional obscurations, karmic propensities limit the time on the cushion…
and then the time spent there, although different in location posture and initial intention, is often not so very different from ‘samsaric-time’ off the cushion.
Time is spent fusing with arisings and chewing on them. Sitting there making ‘something’ from nothing – as if that were possible…waiting for it to be over, falling asleep…drifting.
It can be so very hard to let go of old habits…
Although, in believing in, validating and identifying with thoughts we give up our freedom, feel locked-up and suffer the consequences, because they feel ‘just right’ – there’s no questioning them, whether snug and cosy like wrapping up a soft cardigan or putting the usual straight jacket. What to do?…What I usually do!
Yet in this lifetime, as meditators, the goal is to realise our true nature. To succeed we need good teachings, and good examples, application and time. We are so lucky to have the first two for sure, the third to a lesser or greater degree depending on circumstances, the fourth i’m hoping to influence a bit with this article.
We need time to see how we obstruct ourselves; time to have our ‘bum on the cushion’ sufficiently long for the knots to dissolve, and to look in the relaxed way and recognise the ground to which we apply our interpretive matrices…
So my practical suggestions below will not cause you to realise your pre-existing lightness… but they may buy you just a little extra time for this realisation to occur!
Basic biological knowledge tells us that our nose is good at filtering out ‘stuff’ in the air we breathe. It also warms the air going down into our lungs so that the oxygen exchange there is more efficient.
Some more in-depth thinking and research has shown that nitric oxide is produced in the nasopharynx and that this gas has excellent anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-microbial effects (1)acting as first line of dense against micro-organims.
This article (2) Nasal nitric oxide in man – Thorax BMJ suggests that a function of nitrous oxide is to keep the sinuses sterile under ordinary conditions. Nitrous oxide also has an effect on the ability of haemoglobin to release oxygen (3).
Severely afflicted Covid patients, until they become very weak, have no difficulty in breathing…so oxygen is getting down into the lungs…yet they present as breathless. The problem is that the oxygen is not able to be utilised for exchange in the normal way.
Lately this realisation has been having an impact on when and how ventilation is offered …seeing that increased pressure is not the answer and may increase damage to lungs which are particularly fragile in this state.
A New York ER/ICU doctor who had noticed how different this condition was from anything he had seen before voiced the idea of the use of nitrous oxide…and maybe he is onto something.
Certainly (2) nasal air(containing NO) added to the ventilation of intubated patients increases oxygenation and decreases vascular resistance. Although its rôle in inflammation is not really known and is debatable, this article in thorax leans towards the beneficial.
Long-term ventilation can result in cilliary dysfunction and bacterial infection both of which effects, it suggests, may be mitigated by the addition of nitric oxide.
So, particularly under current circumstances, it makes good sense for us to utilise the nitric oxide produced in the nasopharynx to cleanse the incoming air for our own benefit… and the outgoing air for the benefit of others. Also to ‘disinfect’ the lower lungs (which is where maximal exchange occurs) and to maximise the efficiency of oxygen exchange.
If you breathe through the mouth these beneficial effects are bypassed (and diminished if you smoke)… so, if you are able, it’s much better to use the nose for breathing at all times… including exercise and… sleep … (do ask if you are interested in this or any other aspect!)
Also the benefits of using a surgical mask will be greater if you breathe like this… and it is a good reason, if you make your own, for ensuring that it is not so dense that you cannot breathe sufficiently easily through your nose that you start to breathe through your mouth to get more air. We can survive on less breath than we imagine (see below).
There is another factor to consider… that is the rate of breathing. Aiming for a soft, slow, and light (ssl!) even flow … yet taking the air down deep – to make the lower ribs move in and out slightly…
The concentration of nitric oxide is higher at lower flow rates (2) So this way, which may seem like underbreathing if you are used to taking big breaths, may not only be perfectly adequate but may concomitantly increase oxygen exchange by not over-saturating with oxygen.
You can match the flow of breath to a mantra, or to the increasing breathing timing (4 6 4 etc), or Tong Len, or just allow the flow to flow. The breath will naturally regularise if you practice shiné …… as explained with other practices in James low’s latest zoom videos on How to make use of solitude.
Simple mindfulness of the breath…noticing as it comes and goes… takes you out of thinking, brings you into the present, is relaxing and increases the capacity for non-distracted attention to the boring…! so we are not so easily seduced by ‘exciting’ arisings
and maybe buys… not so much, more days for ‘fun in the sun’… but maybe some extra time for sitting on the bum!!!
P.S. I have a bit of a cough at the moment but rather then express it to no point, i’m holding my nose for a few secs. then breathing in… seems to do the trick just now…(though to match this with the very reasonable ‘keep hands away from face’ instructions… you’d be keeping up with the hand washing instructions, ideally before and after!)
I thank Patrick Mackeown for that tip and some of the other ideas around breathing… in a video offering breathing techniques for covid prevention/ recovery… there are others on the advantages of nasal breathing for asthma and athletes. His training for athletes…effectively taking them three miles high to practice… linked in my mind with the E.R.doctors sense that some patients seemed to be like those suffering from altitude sickness.
Whilst some of our notions, particularly of the purpose of meditation, may differ… his words like mine, are i’m sure, well intentioned gestures in the flow…arising and passing… with meaning (if any) imbued by the mind of the listener
Being calm and clear, breathing well, facilitates relaxation and ease with whatever circumstances arise for us.
P.P.S.Humming may clear the nasal passages….(and produce nitrous oxide). There’s some pubmed research on that which you can google if you like…i’m done googling, it can swallow a lot of time, this just seemed worthwhile… off to dinner and my cushion
P.P.P.S! The photo i found in my album… entitled ‘Go without regrets’…sounds good to me. Just built a ramp for the mouse to exit under the defunct dishwasher but sounds like he wants to use the back door… Thanks to whoever sent that to me or, if i filched it in my ignorance, apologies and please let me know if you are unhappy and i will remove it. Looks good the other way up too, i think.
It has to be sensible to be at ease with the natural consequence of birth… that is at some point we will die… but also to do what we reasonably can to stay alive and healthy enough to practice, to continue to deepen our practice while we can.
After death, the traditional understanding is that one is blown by karma from the past into another existence. An existence which is dependent on behaviours, not necessarily enacted in this life but which could be related to activities in past lives.
So it could be a long time before we have the freedoms and opportunity to practice the Dharma again.
Another way of looking at this is that we are continuously creating many scenarios from arising movements in the mind – experiences, including heavens and hells – and believing in them. We fuse with the patterns we have formed from these experiences as though they were more than the relative truth, as though they were self-existing rather than transient experiences arising in awareness… and we want to become free of this on-going confusion.
We have life, with that, the teachings so beautifully explained, and such freedoms and opportunity to practice before our last breath – as well as then :-).
James’ recent zoom teaching Emptiness Equanimity and Kindness is a beautiful explanation and, as you know, we need to hear, to feel, to question to reflect and to digest to the point where there are no obstructions to manifesting that view.
It’s easy to wear, made out of materials to hand, and reusable.
Masks vary in effectiveness…. the Pitti masks, were you able to purchase them, look attractive and are good at filtering some contaminants but they are not designed for the corona virus particle, which is too small for them to filter out… whereas surgical masks seem pretty good – perhaps pretty close to the N95…
Home-made masks definitely have their place under the circumstances.
The rationale and science behind its use and the construction of my mask is explained here.
There are many websites and much information/nonsense floating around, but this seems to me to have integrity in the results of the scientific testing shown.
It’s worth noting that the 2 m of social distancing is a suggested minimum distance advice which arose from tests on virus transmission… in still air.
If the wind is blowing, or the transmitter is moving say on a bike, assisting the propulsion, the distance travelled by the virus could be much greater.
Speech is carried as vibrations through air coming from the subject, this air contains moisture… including possibly a viral dose from someone who is infected though not displaying symptoms…it is propulsive, having energy behind it.
And there are not so many people who can know in advance that they are going to cough or sneeze and be able to do something effective to prevent it.
So, to me, as well as social distancing, it makes sense to wear a mask when out and about. This is in order to minimise the viral load received and also as a kindness to others.
Wearing glasses helps protect the mucosa of the eye from viral ingress…ski goggles are even more effective…
…and wearing a mask (and glasses), as well as decreasing the viral dose, means that fingers, which may have picked up virus particles along the way, are kept away from the face, keeping you safer.
So…in this home made mask, above…
The inner mask is made of non-woven material of some kind given to me by my mother in Thailand ten years ago, with elastic loops that go over the ears… it has a couple of pleats to allow for the nose protuberance!
You can see some stitching at the top of this mask. This is formed around a plastic covered paperclip which is halfway unfolded so it’s like an S lying on its back. It is used to form the nose shape which fits on the bridge of the nose… I suggest you bend it over your thumb to start with before trying it on your nose for shape, as it quite stiff to bend.
This addition is an important extra detail as it helps to keep the cloth closer to the face stopping air from entering directly.
Sewing the mask to a silk scarf helps keep the arrangement in place. ( If you have one, as you can see on the website above, this has slightly better virus protection than an ordinary scarf but mainly it is very easy to breathe through)
You will notice that there is a bit of tissue sticking out between the inner mask and the scarf… this is a dry wipe… kitchen towel or toilet tissue also would do the job of increasing the filtration without making it too difficult to breathe through.
As I have stitched the sides and the top of the mask to the scarf, but not the bottom, an upside-down ‘pocket’ is formed and this extra layer of filtration can be placed between the two… and is held in place as the scarf is tightened.
The knots tied in the scarf ends mean that it can easily and consistently be tied to the right tightness without loosening behind the head… a wide ponytail slide, if you happen to have such a thing, clicks easily across between the knots and the head holding the scarf closely in place… Alternatively you could also use a rubber band, hair band, or simply tie the two scarf ends together.
These three layers of filtration – inner non-woven cloth, tissue, and doubled silk – produce a mask which is quite easy to breathe through whilst being, according to the measurements on the website above, fairly close to that of a surgical mask.
It’s also worth noting that it is also washable… but perhaps more important to note that current understanding is that the virus cannot survive for longer than four hours on cloth. So disinfection occurs when the mask is left for this length of time, say overnight, and doesn’t need daily washing. The tissue layer can easily be replaced whenever you feel the need but again, after four hours it should be okay.
If you do not have a 10-year-old cloth mask to start with… you will see that drying-up cloth/ tea towel can be used to make one which would perform this function well… as you can see from the website tests, j cloths and non-woven cleaning cloth have their place.
Even if you use a material like cotton which only reduces 50% of the viral dose that would still be 50% better than nothing.
Wishing you Good health, and good luck!
P.S. any questions… just ask me via the contact tab
Click this link for some beautiful rainbow pictures
published by National Geographic.
I just wrote what’s below in response to an email from a friend who is struggling with her breathing and a severe headache Having just come back from Vietnam she fears the coronavirus is the likely cause of symptoms
She has asthma and is over seventy… she has family with her…
Of course different words are fitting for different people… what I had written before she found helpful.
So I’m sharing this extract, conscious of the fact that people looking at this site have different depths of practice…
perhaps it will be helpful for someone…
‘Yes Sweetie, thats it…
Sweet breath in from the world…and out into the world…
Nice and easy does it…and i’m with you all the way…
This poem is one I wrote earlier about going…as and when we do….
in response to Dylan Thomas’s ‘raging at the dying of the light’ upon his father’s death
‘Oh Love… go gently into that good night
and give your peace to those whom death doth fright…
We would not rage at sunsets, rainbows ends…
The leaf that falls response to winter, so…
when death comes
be not uptight
there is no ending to the light….’
Wisdom is light,
Love… you are one of its many expressions
Knowing that whilst the breathing will, overtly, likely be laboured in the extreme, it’s possible to hold another view in mind…even one which keeps the suffering of others in mind, is actively dissolving the suffering of others into emptiness…or simply resting in awareness during the dissolution…
Would this be possible?… With an absence of fear, with profound practice we’ll get as close to this as maybe…let’s see.
Some of us will have more time than others to put the teachings into practice before it’s time to go…let’s not waste our precious opportunity.
Plus good coronavirus science also at National Geographic!
In 2017 I was just recovering from a virus when I posted on this website… I said that was glad that this had just been an ordinary virus rather one into which DNA had been injected…a new human capability which was troubling me at the time.
When we start to play about with the fundamental building blocks of life in the pursuit of life on our terms we are taking huge risks based on probabilities and assumptions. ‘Not always so’ is an empirical observation, expressing the actuality of how things manifest and interact…it will depend upon the circumstances!
Unregulated genetic experiments can now be carried out incredibly easily and the consequences will not, cannot, be contained or constrained effectively.
Many countries with the capacity…including the USA, Britain, China, and many others… have engaged in, or are engaged in, the creation of chemical and biological weapons capable of mass destruction. These products are stored ‘safely’… until they are not…
because the truth is that every situation is Impermanent in it’s nature.
We split the atom …and now vast quantities of man-made fissile materials are at large in the world… the whereabouts of much is known but some unknown…large quantities have ‘vanished’ into the hands of those who would like the power to control.
Then, to maintain our segregated position and try to keep it safe, we act like the sorcerer’s apprentice… we’ll fix this problem by doing that. But doing that has had unintended consequences – so now because of that I also need to do this… and so the activity ramps up and ramifies.
Collaborating with whatever manifests from a sense of relaxed openness… is the best way of working with circumstances… tension will not lead to clarity of activity.
Well, we stuff our ‘rubbish’ into cracks in the ground, dump it into the rivers and sea and export it to other, poorer countries, who can be paid to take it off our soil (but not without our own hands being soiled by the exploitation involved)… and more recently we’ve started to put our ‘junk’ up into space.
Some would say it’s not junk…(certainly it’s new and expensive and resource hungry).. ‘it’s really important to get this extra view, this further information, this further ease of communication….’
Nowadays there is great interest in getting financial information a fraction of a split-second before anyone else… this desire has consumed a vast amount of time and energy and is continuing to do so…
This is all in the interest of making more money out of nothing… to fritter, for power, for pride…?
There is always fear of loss or being outmanoeuvred so there is ongoing need to control and manipulate the circumstances which are always changing…it’s a monkey trap for those who grasp…with no rest.
because of impermanence again… things move and shift and degenerate…
Water supplies needed by atomic reactors for cooling purposes may be limited by climate or by politics… and the very ground on which they are built also moves and shifts.
There is no stability anywhere to be found in that which moves… seems obvious doesn’t it? When you look that’s what you see.
… also modified material may then only be purchased at a premium price from a specific supplier.
Happily some bright sparks save seeds from the original varieties but use of them is limited…
Banana production, where so many trees derived from the Cavendish line are again massively under threat from disease and shows again how necessary is variety and natural diversity rather than cloning and ‘perfecting’ that which is perfect in its own way.
Man-made climate change has so may negative impacts…including rapidly diminishing plant and animal species, fires, floods, and the devouring of the crops in vast areas of Africa and the Middle East by plagues of locusts.
Then there’s greed, not need, for avocados… So water is diverted from villages in areas where it is scarce into the growing of trees which consume a vast amount and are not native to the environment… again adversely affecting the native insect population. Land which was wild is cleared and cultivated for this.
That’s no way for a bee to live… and so they die.
Valuable farmed fish are often crowded together and kept healthy with… doses of antibiotics. A good helping of chemicals including metallic (and sometimes radioactive) pollutants are thrown in for free, into the sea, by the humans who eventually eat them! Wild fish of course come without the anti-biotics…
The cutting down and burning of the forests proceeds apace. Trying to protect the native hardwood trees from illegal logging becomes an incredibly dangerous thing to do as so much money is involved that these people are often shot and killed by those carrying out the activity. The protectors of the land and trees that those wonderful monarch butterflies fly to… over thousands of miles in their migration… end up dead at the bottom of wells with bullets in them for obstructing ‘progress’.
and people who try to protect native wildlife from poachers who want the animals dead for trophies or for spurious medicine for which some will pay an enormous sum.
… and when we have got it we use it in ways which ultimately pollute the atmosphere and poison the seas…fabulous!
So we have been willing to tamper with the genetic fundamentals of plants and animals and even being willing to alter our own genetic structure for the apparent benefit of some without the capacity to look ahead and see how the consequences might play out, without understanding the interlinked nature of all phenomena which manifest.
Mmmm… maybe not everyone! I once wrote a post ‘wasps you belong‘… but it seems the New Zealand wasps are extra troublesome to the bees – and especially to humans who poison or otherwise destroy them.
Yes there are risks…but, as we have seen, sadly many will be happy to trade a future risk for ‘jam today’!
So as humans we have been increasingly and aggressively interfering with the balance of nature right across the world…
… and, happily disturbing others, we have concreted over both our hearts and environment.
With this self-centred attitude assuming, and fighting for, power and control over our shared resources…it is entirely unsurprising that consequent arisings are not harmonious.
If in our brief lives we could soften, and kindly share in the world with its inhabitants.
Not taking more than we need … not putting our energy into doing things ‘just because we can’… but turning our orientation towards understanding how can we best be with ourselves and each other in this vanishing flash of life…
We could avail ourselves of this lifetime’s opportunity, take the time to investigate, and to explore what’s truly worthwhile–
to realise the truth of our non-essential existence and discover that our true freedom does not lie in the ownership, control, or modification of anything…
Rather that these particular notions form the insubstantial bars of our mental imprisonment
and thus freedom is in the palm of our hand… in seeing the palm of our hand… by releasing the fist.
At any point we have the potential to move in different ways whatever the circumstances:
We can close down and cut off in fear,
or relax and allow the ease which comes with hands-free non-appropriative contact with this astonishing world.
‘May you and all beings be well, happy, and free from suffering,
abiding in the equanimity of the realisation your true nature’
…the infinite wish of the open heart
Coronavirus protection – James Low
Keeping the connection, the heart-mind’s effulgence or radiance is softening and tender, encouarging, bringing, being what’s needed.
I am very happy for those of you camels who got to listen to James at the oasis this weekend in London. Refreshment on many levels… hearing the depth of the dharma expressed so clearly.
I’ve been on a kind of retreat for a while so my posting on this website is a little random but I wanted to share, particularly for those who didn’t manage to get to this talk, a link to talk James gave a long time ago, 2003, in Macclesfield entitled Anxiety and doubt.
‘Everything changes and gain and loss fluctuate without ceasing…therefore seeking happiness in outer objects or in mental objects is not wise.’ said the Buddha (Dhp, Finding Freedom) and this talk seems, among many other teachings!, perfect for these strange times… bringing calmness and clarity when applied.
Here also are a few practical notes:
As with the rest of us…that I will die is certain, when or how is uncertain, but for me it is not so likely to be from starvation.
I spend a little time with people who are overtly homeless or vulnerably housed…and am conscious of the varied feelings they evoke in others. Being ignored as ‘of no value’ is commonplace… as is receiving projections of others’ hatred and disgust.
I see that many food banks are struggling for supplies now as people, in their anxiety, are completely forgetting those who have nothing or not enough to live on…the numbers of whom is steadily rising and likely to increase rapidly. Some of these are people for whom the notion of self-isolation is completely meaningless – would that mean separate doorways?!
So with 24,000 currently, as a ‘tip of the ice-berg’ number for rough sleepers, and with 3,500,000 in fuel poverty in this country… if you have money to spare for a can of meat, tuna, fruit, vegetables, rice pudding, pasta or toilet rolls, coffee, tea, to put in the local food bank collection perhaps at the supermarket then someone in need will be on the receiving end…’Generosity will overcome meanness’ Dhp.
[The suggested items are generally welcomed but if you check on-line you’ll see what’s wanted and needed locally…stocks vary, as does what appeals in different areas.]
As it says in the Dhammapda ‘We are all guests in this world many people do not know this.
This world is not our true home and we only borrow what we temporarily have – so what is there to fight over?’
Well, clearly the Buddha didn’t know about Toilet rolls!!!
I was recently asked by someone currently travelling in Vietnam how to manage without toilet paper.
This is normal practice for many people in the world, often made hazardous by limited access to soap and handwashing facilities.
The bucket of water, jug, and left-hand swishing method used in many countries may take some getting your head around but trust me, it is entirely doable… thanks to Christine Lyschik who helped me with this knowledge in India many years ago.
‘Nice and easy does it every time’…these word of wisdom (JL) could be the sense that brings you round to James’ much more recent talk on equanimity Finding balance in turbulent times… and more refreshment from the dharma for enjoying this particular spring-time of your life!
Dhp – Dhammapada the first section of Finding Freedom.
Photo – Wikipedia
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|Attribution: Trish Steel|
‘Oh for God’s sake! You are really off your trolley, what a load of cobblers…Uggh!… and you tell me I have weird beliefs!!!
I have been slowly reading, re-reading and inwardly digesting the contents of the book ‘Finding Freedom’ and was, today, inspired to write a review on Amazon.
In 2013 as Lara Bates I reviewed ‘Simply Being’ and, as wendy, ‘Sparks’ in 2018. It was easy to do, but times have changed… now I find that before posting a review I must first have spend forty pounds this year. I haven’t done this yet (though I have discovered that putting money onto an Amazon gift card bought in a supermarket is a way to purchase without parting with card details)….so in the meantime, below, is a preview of the review!
I seem to have been getting busier, and not having time to detour to the garden centre and also wanting to support the village shop, I bought the three bags of cheap compost which they had on display. A neighbour, a keen gardener, saw them and recoiled, saying ‘What is that???!!!’ with a look of utter disgust. I felt that was quite a strong reaction but replied ‘compost’ and left it at that…
It turned out she has a point. I’ve been planting plants and seeds in compost for a long time and have never before had plants which did not grow. The culprit had to be the compost… I looked at its constituents. The bag didn’t give much away apart from mentioning that a fair proportion of it is ‘recycled’ … one wonders… recycled what?… this does matter! (relatively speaking) and inspired the review.
Finding Freedom – A Most Enriching Compost!
The dharma is good in the beginning, and in the middle, and in the end…just as it is with the three approaches to awakening elucidated in this book.
‘Finding Freedom’ contains recent revisions of texts from the Theravadan, Mahayana and Dzogchen traditions which James Low had translated earlier, under the guidance of C.R. Lama.
The orientation and explanations accompanying each translations are easy to follow and invaluable…comprehensive notes further clarify the meaning and intent.
So…this is compost of impeccable provenance and peerless quality!
James Low’s translations arise from the dharma, in connection with us at this time, though a lifetime of study and deep practice.
He had the opportunity to clarify his interpretations and understanding with other great teachers for whom the dharma was their life-blood.
So, allied with his facility with the English language, one can have confidence that the translations, although being as he says provisional in nature, reliably accord with and express the meaning intended to be conveyed.
This is not a ‘page-turner’ of a book but one to stop us in our tracks…leaving each page open…to savour
…leaving me with a sense of most profound gratitude for the dharma, the teachers through time, and the opportunity to practice.
Many years ago I remember sitting in Macclesfield listening to James inviting us to look around the room at the objects we could see and then to see if there was any more to them than meets the eye, the back story.
I remember feeling gormless as I looked at thankas, bowls, tables, brocade… and thought how could i see more than what I do – thankas, bowls, tables, brocade… what more could there be?
What more could they be than what they are?… I was very stuck in believing that what I called them, the labels I put onto the objects, was what they were…I mean what else could they be? What more could there be to them… how could you see them differently?
He then started to talk about the bowl in front of him… marked by the hammers of somebody probably going deaf in some little workshop in India or Nepal. About how the figuring, the designs on it, would be ‘just patterns’ to some… but meaningful to those who had incorporated these symbols into their way of interpreting the world. That the symbol itself comes alive through the interpretive matrix of the onlooker and the strength of affect evoked, whether positive or negative or neutral. ( retrospective creative licence in these words which I hope you’ll allow!)
That was not a lightbulb moment for me except in realising that I was missing what someone else could see, that my view might be a tad limited!
As a child I had the luck to be able to look at paintings and I remember thinking that the shadows around the fruit in still-life paintings were put there because that’s what artists do when they paint…I didn’t notice them in real life.
Gradually over time, many years and explanations later… about vases that someone thought beautiful but would end up ignored on a charity shop shelf, and ‘roses’ that were not their name… it sank in. Light slowly dawned that the meaning and value of ‘objects’ does not depend on labels, is not intrinsic, obvious and ‘out there’, but in the observer who creates the meaning through the patterns of thought possibilities available to him/herself… and then projects that onto the object. That moment of meaning is transient… and the repetition of it as a ‘given’, something known and inevitably so, is dulling, obscuring the freshness of each presentation.
It is we who ‘make special’ or not by our selective attention. Someone who knows nothing about buddhism can see a statue and say ‘that’s a buddha’ just through the kind of pattern recognition that we did when we were finding pairs of apples or bananas or whatever in a child’s card game… ‘I know what that’s called!’… but meaning and value are not in the affixed word, nor what’s there, they’re given by us.
Can statues really be buddhas? … these lumps of metal or clay or wood?
Absolutely, if you take the word that matches and is ‘hung’ around the objects neck as definitional… But buddha has different meanings even within buddhism… let alone outside of it. If it’s one who is awake to the unchanging truth and the relationship between that and what we generally take to be true…then a statue does not pass the test…especially if there is also a defined requirement to teach!
Others would say that buddha doesn’t do anything and this is a reflection, or refraction, a gesture arising from that frameless view…not separate from buddha…
And, in observing any form, different aspects will be highlighted by some and diminished by others. If the ‘Buddha’ is dusty, that would be very troubling for some and they would get ‘a dusty Buddha’, whereas others would be more concerned about the lineaments of the face – did it look friendly or not ‘friendly Buddha’, where did it come from ‘well-travelled Buddha’, or are the jewels real ‘valuable Buddha’ or fake ‘tawdry Buddha’ and so on…
Then there are all the causal factors connected with the arising of the form. This is what James was gesturing to when he spoke about the bowl…
The desire which leads to the mining, the miners, smelters and those involved with the equipment and activities around that… and the designer, the artist the shopkeeper… the notion that this would sell well for a profit… and on the purchaser’s side that this would be a lovely buddhisty thing to have. All the thoughts and connections that have led to further notions then into activities, spread out across the world.The aeroplanes that bring the tourists across to buy or ship the bowls out into the world, the fuel required and all associated with that… more connections with thoughts and life energy of so so many beings at each moment and going back through time.
As there are so many ways of interpreting the presenting form, it is clear that an object cannot be ‘just what I take to be’…it is not any ‘fix-ed thing’ but a site for a multiplicity of potential interpretations…and so the world is not ‘fixed solid’ as it was before but energetically vibrant and dynamic.
When I was small I was quite convinced there was a minute orchestra playing inside the radio. This was so obvious that it never occurred to me to check this certainty with anyone. Maybe there is much that we treat in the same way as adults, taking for granted and assuming rather than putting into question and really looking closely without knowing in advance of seeing.
In fact there was, in the radio, the orchestration of so much in the way of science and technology, composers, musical appreciation, teachers, parents, schools instrument makers, a live orchestra of musicians, and thousands of hours of practice, all coming together with my attention, as i sat on the yellow plastic top stool made by…
So are there people in the phone…?
It’s 200 years since Karl Max was born and this dramatisation of Das Kapital by Sarah Woods addresses this question in a way which I found moving
… perhaps you will enjoy too if you have an hour to spare… its available for 20 days or so.
It is clear how much aggression occurs, and will it occur increasingly, in the pursuit of limited resources which are not essential to our life and well-being… and are in fact actively detrimental to that of others…
‘But it’s just a phone’… maybe not…
When I was first finding some freedom in living, I found myself on the seafront at Sidmouth and the jazz festival had just begun. It was early evening, the sun was setting over the sea, and a young guitarist was playing a song about the world being divided into prisoners and jailers. A woman next to me was enjoying the song just as much as I was and we exchanged a few words and smiles. I had a feeling that she also felt that he had missed out another vital group – the liberators.
I identified strongly with the prisoners without seeing that, relatively speaking, the jailers are equally imprisoned and, at that time, I had a sense that for the prisoners to escape, it just required the glorious liberators to arrive with the keys, unlock the doors to the cells, and then they would be able to walk out into the sunshine… Forever free!
Somewhat wiser now I realise that whilst the ‘liberators’ with wisdom can do a great deal with compassion to help if the circumstances are right…
They can help the prisoner check out whether or not the walls are as strong as the prisoner feels they are, whether there is really a locked door to the cell; give the prisoner some sense of their own capacity and what they might enjoy were they able to move in an unconstricted fashion. They may also use their own life force, their time, their energy to encourage this move towards wisdom in any way they can…
But the prisoner has to actively engage in this process, overcome the fear of the unknown – dragons, ghosts from the past, or whatever makes them shrink…stepping into the bright light…
But also, having walked through the open door, to grow… through the growing pains as the tightnesses work free… into a shape fitting to the spacious environment…and keep releasing…and releasing…no prisoner, no imprisonment.
The key point is for the prisoner to discover how the prison was created and their part in that. That the walls are made of thoughts, held together by attachment, arising from the misidentification, the misunderstanding, as to the prisoners own nature…and, concomitantly, that of the jailer and all other phenomena used in the illusory creative construction.
Without this wisdom it’s a case of ‘out of the frying-pan into the fire’ – never mind ‘pop-up’ shops…’pop-up’ prisons are two a penny!
So this wisdom is the true key, one which unlocks all doors; one you can always use as the ‘get out of jail card’ if you sense yourself imprisoned by falling into constrictions and fusions arising due to previous deluded activities.
By ourselves or with some help, eventually we realise that these jails occur when we get small and tight…and hot and dense and dim!
If we’ve not been using the key for a while, have gone to sleep, and woken up in the dark and forgotten where it is…don’t worry… just relax, this makes the practice of releasing from con-fusion with the mental construct easier; if you’re not at home with that practice, then ask and pray and use whatever practice you are familiar with…the dharma always responds. The light will come on, brightly or as a little glimmer, and you’ll sense it’s at your fingertips (where it always was, both as the ground of your embodied existence and that of all arising phenomena).
You’re never truly trapped though, without space, it can surely feel like that.
Qs as clues, reminders, aides memoir:
Which is bigger: the mind or the jail?… and where exactly is the jail located?
Which is real and persists unchanged through time: the pattern or the ground – the ‘jail’ or the mind itself?
What is the relationship between the ‘liberator’ and the nature of the mind,
the relationship of the ‘prisoner’ to the ground,
the relationship between the ‘liberator’ and the ‘prisoner’?
And if this realisation is merely intellectual how much will it help in the lived situation when old patterns are insisting?
How would that result compare with regular on-going practice to actualise the view and keep the lens clear?
Is it perhaps something to do with our own huffing and puffing on the lens that mists it up, our tensions that distort it ?
: )… knowing that answer from experience! and going Key-less is the way:
Like the Moon’s Reflection on the Water
I realise that it’s time to spring-clean and blow the dust off this website…various projects and a pilgrimage have intervened…and it’s so long since I wrote anything that it just taken me twenty minutes to find the password!
Someone sent me an email today asking when James was next teaching in England… so i can see that it’s good to have this up-to-date, supplementary to the Simplybeing.co.uk website.
Today it’s a pleasure to bring dharma spring, summer, autumn, and winter together in a paragraph or two.
Spring – new leaves will be showing on the Emerson recording tree with the completion of editing and sound improving the recordings from last summer. Hopefully these will be ready for posting in the audio section of the Simplybeing website ( you’ll find it under publications) in a week or two. It has taken a very long time to get this to spring back to life and you would be amazed at the amount of energy of various kinds… from buddhas and beings… have gone into this, from inception to delivery, all for our ease.
For various reasons I have listened to most of these recordings many times and, as usual, every time I listen different aspects sink in deeper.
A long time ago James alluded to a friend of his who just got a teaching from his teacher every six months… the friend made good progress – digesting, assimilating, and then attempting to apply what he had learnt before he met up again with his teacher for something more.
There is an enormous depth and richness to those few days of teaching and i would have liked you to have the full six months to enjoy this before we are meeting again… but it’s, as usual, a case of working with circumstances.
Summer – the time and date at Emerson College is now shown here, as well as on the Sb. website.
Autumn – well probably early winter really, but anyway… will see us meeting up back in Oxford on 8-10 Nov…details coming soon.
– James has agreed to teach again in Oxford 8-10 Dec. at Gio’s invitation. Further details will soon be available.
I once heard someone sing a song about the yogin Milarepa and his disciples… ‘their meeting and their parting mark the change of time’ …..and so it does for us
Once upon a time long,long, ago… I was meditating, sitting on the grass in the Deerpark at Sarnath. It was early morning and relatively quiet, the light was soft and there was not yet much heat in the day. There were no deer, I had checked that out earlier… the animals had changed… there was a crocodile instead!
So I was sitting at a place where I had sat in before and slipped into some meditative state. I always used to sit cross-legged with my small pack underneath my right knee and I would often slip the leash attached to this around my leg.
Packs can disappear in a flash, one moment they are beside you, the next moment whisked away. I had found the advice I was given to put a leash on my big pack also useful in England before setting off – looping it through a chair or table leg to slow down anyone wanting to snatch it for long enough for me to get a drink. There would be some commotion in the pulling over of the chair or table which might help…and usually i had my weight on it too…so this leash gave me freedom from clutching my belongings with security.
So…there i am, meditating…and dropping into a state of being less conscious of what is going on around me… then suddenly feeling a tugging. Tugging where? Lots of different places!….
From whom… Lilliputian thieves!
Very strange to have some of this gang of little beings trying to pull your pack away at the same time as others worked on removing your shoes, undoing your watch strap, removing your necklace….etc.
They were too small for me to whack at, and that thought did not cross my mind at the time – but anyway it was too muddly – using force i might injure one accidentally… If i had focussed on stopping one pair of hands in particular, another pair might have succeed…
So i just kind of exploded up and out… very, very, big… and they ran away..no harm done.
With the thoughts envisaged as little binding threads, as in the previous Gulliver post, practice of the hinayana in the bodhisattvayana and tantrayana methods can bring about a change in the kind of thoughts or apparent quality of the thread.
With each view, because of the varying way oneself and ‘others’ are regarded, a ‘revising of sizing’ is required and facilitated.
In the practice of dzogchen, resting in the openness, the variations in focus from infinite to very small, openness to precision, is ongoing and become more attuned.
The use of the syllable ‘phat’ can break the ‘golden threads’ as well as the ‘mundane’; or one can simply relax out of any particular shape or size …….
….becoming more and more shapeless gives more potential for different shapes to show…
The little story above relates to the second time that slipping into an altered state had been an unhelpful disconnection from my lived situation. The first time was when my bag was stolen, in a library in England, as i stared transfixed at my first sight of the Simplybeing website… which had just come into being! It’s much safer to be awake, able to take different shapes, than in a fixed or altered state, when moving in the world.
P.S. The crocodile was in my mind…and so were the deer in their pen…leaves were being brought in from the countryside to feed them. The deer park was not as i had imagined!
What a distressing picture I beheld as a child…. opening the book ‘Gulliver’s travel’s and seeing the poor man stretched out on the ground and pinned there by hundreds of tiny ropes. There were so many that despite their insubstantial nature he was fixed so tightly to the ground that he could not move at all.
More than ten years ago I repeated James words that he ‘would never be caught by a thought’ to a student. She was so taken with those words that she relayed them to a lady on the checkout in the local Morrisons store. ‘ You must never be caught by a thought!’ she laughingly admonished….and the lady thought that was such wonderful advice.
I also told her that James had once instructed me to… ‘take the ring from out your nose’. Clearly he was referring to my lack of freedom in being led around like a cow… both by the nonsense of others (first step to be free of that) – then secondly, and with much more difficultly, to be free of the nonsense of myself!
Since then both she and I – and no doubt the lady in Morrisons – have been captivated by many a thought.
Knowing what’s good for you when you hear it one thing… consistently applying the advice for long enough to bring about a change is very much another!
At first noticing the difference between moments of openness… and then the felt tightening in the body as an attention-invested identity-thought fuses (or goes into a fugue) with another…or noticing the rudderless, life-consuming drifting, and the ‘home-coming’ in meditation… over and over again. Being helped to understand the nature of thoughts, the nature of the mind… the dharma has so much to offer us. Seeing what is going on and releasing from these old habits, allowing the thoughts to move freely without locking on…
It’s no quick fix…but it can be done…and it’s not a bodge job which just keeps your head above water!
Keeping some form of meditation going through all the ups and downs – not resting the oars – is great if you can. Some just drift away after a while…but some, like this dharma student, find that after each period of disconnection with practice the healthiness of the return becomes more evident. She recently told me that she had realised that it was the only thing that was really going to help her.
As the buddha said in the Kalama sutra ‘When you know for yourself, Kalamas, these qualities are skilful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them’.
Gradually you reset your own compass away from the rocky shores into the open waters…the threads that seemed to hold you, fixed in place and time dissolve…and freedom from the mind-forged lilliputian manacles is yours!