‘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!!!
‘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.
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!
meditating in the graveyard
Birds, bats, thoughts flitting
of the infinite
the shift to
con-fusion with false identities
and only when see…
and stop the conning and the fusion
and then, and then, and only then
we feel ourselves at-oned,
at home again.
meditating in the graveyard…
birds, bats, and thoughts
from old age…
this world, from lack of love
from lack of wisdom
All this confusion
breeds, hatred, greed…
and our pollution
from tensions, torsions –
all distortions and contortions
we stop the conning and the fusion
and then… and then, and only then
we can begin again.
Once of a time he made –
sandcastles by the sea
and kites that flew…life opening…
so much that he could be
He studied hard, his knowledge grew,
at university he made
‘things’ from new materials…
…he made his girlfriend blush
married, made babies,
made the children laugh,
(did he… or did I imagine that?)
made money – house and garden…
retired, grew flowers
and now he makes, increasingly,
a nuisance of himself
– so I am told
Over the years I have taken different props with me, from crystal droplets to bubble blowers. This time it was to be a little box of sheeps wool collected from Dartmoor.
In the event I left it behind… things have been pretty busy lately… but it didn’t much matter because it’s fairly easy to imagine. So I thought I’d see whether the metaphor means anything to you.
If you take a piece of sheep’s wool and try to look through it… that may not be possible.
If you squeeze it and squash it into a little box then, of course, seeing through it becomes impossible.
Cold water washing won’t help but will stick the threads closer and hot water washing will felt it so that it will be quite impossible to see through.
But if you gently tease it apart so the little strands of wool separate, you can see the space that was always there and you can see right through it.
The mind is a little bit like that… (and quite a lot not like that)!
It’s a bit like the mind because… when we as ‘subject’ focus our attention onto the thoughts, feelings and sensations – the threads – which arise (the movements of the mind) as if they were objects, we become mesmerised and lose touch with the spaciousness from which, and back into which they go. With this comes more sense of solidity, density, weightiness, certainty…which increases the sense of being a separate subject and decreases the ability to see what’s really going on.
A deception is played out so often it seem true… inflation of the ‘I’-thought, believing in it (and with that the thought-threads wrapped round it) as a true identity. Then relating to other arisings depending on the perception of their impact upon our created construct.
Seeing how any trick is performed requires very close attention. There is usually a moment of created diversion, a distraction, and during that moment of slippage the sleight of hand is performed…
When you know how it’s done you can still be taken in…it’s a big habit, easy to fall into…but instead of saying ‘you got me (or got to me!) again’…you know you confused yourself!
There’s a great poem by Portia Nelson about how you can reposition yourself relative to the hole in the pavement. Meditation which allows the mind to move but does not follow the movements – is a practice which goes with that. ‘Oh..i’m tightening up, narrowing my focus, condensing, putting weight into story-line, falling down the hole’….relax, release…begin again…
The more we fuse and entangle with the tanglings the tighter things get.
Relaxing more into the spaciousness, holding a very wide-angle view… this allows the con-fusion with the tanglings to release, we don’t have to tease them apart. ‘Tanglings’ then move as the transient energetic display aspects of the mind itself…movements which awareness, or the mind itself, doesn’t grasp.
I planted this blossom tree in my garden some years ago – with prayers for felicity and growth in dharma realisation of all students, all practitioners, all beings
astonishing and multifarious,
the ’empty’ truth displays itself
no matter what we make of it, it’s never something else
for that through which life’s blossoms flow…
….what is above
and what below?
Thanks to sakurachiru for this photo.
We took this little dog, the one i mentioned in the previous post, down to the beach one day… his first trip to the seaside!
He was very very excited by this new environment…what with the waves and smells and sounds… so many new experiences….
And then a kind of game got going – stones were thrown… and, just like with a ball at home, the dog went chasing after them to retrieve them.
Of course he couldn’t…he would run after the stone very fast, tracking it through the air, but each stone landed among so many other stones.
You could see he didn’t know which one to pick up and bring back, he looked puzzled… but as the stone-throwers kept throwing there was always something new in the air for him to chase after.
I’m sure he very much enjoyed the running but I wasn’t so happy with the lack of completion… something maybe a bit unsatisfactory from the dog’s point of view…but it was ‘good fun, good excercise’ from another viewpoint.
The next morning I went to give the dog his breakfast… this dog enjoyed food and it would vanish in a flash… but on this day he looked very sad and didn’t eat anything.
Something was clearly wrong so I took him to the vet who also thought something was wrong… the dog wouldn’t let us open his mouth so that we could see inside to see if maybe he had picked up a piece of stick which had got stuck, or some other damage.
So that meant an examination under general anaesthetic was called for.
When I collected the dog afterwards, in the evening, the vet said that it was very strange. The dog felt pain, even under the anaesthetic, when he tried to open his jaws – and that was unusual – however he could find nothing wrong.
So the dog came home… and the next morning eat his breakfast as usual!
No further problems so ‘one of those mysteries’ I thought at the time.
Some of you meditators may be well ahead of me here… it was only years later when I started to directly feel the impact of fusing with thoughts, experiencing the effect in the body, that I gained an insight into the likely cause of the problem.
My guess is that each time the dog ran with the intention of grasping that stone between its jaws and bringing it back to the people who were throwing. It wasn’t just that his legs were moving when he was running… a whole set of occurrences in his body happened at the same time priming him, getting those jaws ready to catch… over and over again. The fact that he couldn’t actually catch the stones that were being thrown wasn’t being processed and I suspect that the clenching of muscles that would have gone on over many hours without a relaxation, rather a building of tension, eventually put the muscles into spasm.
Like us in the ordinary way, all kinds of movements are happening even before we are conscious of having ‘caught a thought’ (the work of the ‘sticky-hand’ egoic-thought)…and in fusing our attention into that we are taken for a ride.
So the jaws clamp on but nothing is actually caught and we don’t go anywhere…yet it’s exhausting…and can lead to spasms in the body.
All the anxiety, worry, lack of sleep… lead to more anxiety and all its bodily manifestations…no rest…
Whereas meditation – letting ‘things’ (thoughts, stones etc) be; relaxing out of grasping at these ungraspable showings – leads to…
well, take a look if you like (James Low – The sun of ungraspable awareness) – the ‘no-method’ and result…
As do the movements of this ‘not-so-active’ dog
In an earlier life…. we had just started living on a farm, everything was in a great muddle and I was exhausted as we tried to make sense of the existing arrangements and animals and work out what to do next…
The neighbours’ dog had just given birth to nine puppies… and we had a daughter, whose life also had been disrupted by the move, who really really wanted a puppy.
Thinking ‘dogs and farms go together’… as a guard dog a Jack Russell/ springer spaniel is really not at all scary but can give an alert! – maybe in the long run for moving stock – as a companion… A teacher at a previous school had said she felt that children without a dog had been deprived…and how much more difficult can it make things?
…so next we bought a puppy.
My sister-in-law at the time trained dogs for competing at Crufts and helped our daughter choose The One. He was like a small Snoopy, big soft brown eyes, silky black ears, a white mottled body with a black spot on the side…and soon showed a very friendly lovable nature.
I just looked and this cross is seen to be loving of everyone… and their dogs… with an energy level high enough to be ‘mental’. Fairly accurate I should say : ) Dog owners and their dogs often seem to have some kind of resemblance.
But we couldn’t just play with him, even if we had the time. This dog would, at the very least, need to come when called and leave the sheep alone. So ‘dog-trainer’ was a new, extra, role to take on.
Clicker-training – using a sound and food, then just sound, to reward and train good behaviour… and socialisation classes followed. However when chasing rabbits and pheasants (which I don’t think he ever actually caught) his interest in coming when called was non-existent… although he would turnaround to look at you to show he had heard!
As for the sheep… the thrill of getting a large number of these white furry things moving… and then going faster… so he could chase them faster… was worrying to observe; prior to our arrival dogs had been worrying neighbouring sheep.
As farmers see the distress caused, and the profit lost in vets bill’s and the waste, their determination to catch and shoot the offender in the act increases. Their anger over this had been expressed to us… so I invested in an electric collar.
When later I told a vet’s wife that I had done this she was truly appalled, many dogs have been deeply traumatised by the mis-use of electric collars. It is true that many are of too nervous a disposition to be suitable for this way of training, also the approach needs to be very thoughtful and systematic when it is being used for recall…and with just the right amount of whack applied when training to leave sheep alone.
This particular cross breed – terrier/spaniel – tends to be pretty bombproof and irrepressible, and also I took my time and was very careful with the training. For a month before use we would go about carrying the device that sends a signal to the special collar around the dog’s neck. Then one day in full sight of the dog starting to chase the sheep, press a button. The collar receives a signal and gives a shock strong enough to take the dog off its feet… For him it was like a bolt from the blue/sheep in response to his behaviour. His respect for sheep and distance from them was maintained all the time that he was at the farm and the lady who owned the sheep said ‘I would always trust your dog with our sheep’.
For any who are still unconvinced of the kindness of this shocking action, years later my heart quailed to hear that the traditional way of dealing with this common problem with farm dogs is to wrap the dog in a couple of duvets and put it in a confined space with a ram. The ram will try to kill it… but you rescue it after it’s taken a battering and hopefully learnt to be respectful!
He also learned to come when he was called but was pretty hopeless at moving the stock as he was a bit scared of cows and a bit bouncy for the piglets. He learned respect for the cat who settled his jumping up by planting claws directly into the top of his head… resulting in an egg shaped lump and a large veterinary bill…and was (mostly) a pleasure to have around, with his softness and zest for life.
Things changed for this dog after I left the farm and a new person came in with their dog. Ball chasing was completely different – as the ball was thrown he chased the ball but this new dog chased him so he had to zig-zag. Life was less comfortable for him, no longer ‘top dog’, and he could be blamed for trouble rather than the newcomer. But when after a few years the new dog died he was very sad and spent time looking for him, lying with his nose level with where this dog used to lie under a bed.
Then he re-located with his owners, they started to travel overseas and they left him with friends.
He started to wander… he started to chase sheep…
he returned with blood around his mouth so he was horsewhipped…
Maybe that helped with the sheep chasing but my understanding is that the correction has to be applied at exactly the moment of the mistake otherwise the dog can assume it is being punished for returning or some other behaviour.
Clearly the circumstances had changed, he was unsettled and unhappy and his behaviours naturally changed with that. Who would want to re-home him with that history, would he have to be put down?
This is a Christmas Eve story and it does have a ‘happy ending’ – grandparents who knew him agreed to take him so he is now a good-natured companion dog for them and their other dog. He does not go off the lead unless he’s in their paddock but now he’s an older dog this is nothing like the imprisonment it would have felt like earlier in his life.
Older, greyer, plumper, he has become more territorial and proprietorial – so his attitude towards other visiting dogs has changed – but he is warm, content, well-fed and well loved…unlike so many of the two-legged friends and other beings with whom we share this earth today.
so firstly a Christmas quiz
a) is this dog real… that is to say is it enduring through time, un-changed, independent of other factors?…
b) so could it be true that birds that live on a golden mountain take on the colour of the sun?
c) So although he had the same name… was the dog the same dog all the way through?
d) Did we each create our own dog from what was there or was the dog self-existing?
e)Did the sheep see him in anything like the same way as we did?
f)Is a puppy a small furry human? What’s it like to be a dog? Can you speak dog to dog or only human to dog.
g) although I named, trained, fed, cared for, and protected this dog was he ever ‘mine’
h) in the same way are our children ‘ours’, entities which can be known, controlled and treated as possessions?
i) are you and i ‘things’ or manifestations?…driven by karma or arising responsively?
j) so if you say “i would never do xyz…” is this true…for ever?… how can you be sure?
Then, as for the awful circumstances others face… being alive to those situations brings us into mental connection and diminishes our own encapsulation and self-involvement. As we eat, others are going without food…. as we get dressed others may just be pulling on whatever old dirty clothes they have… as we practice the dharma others lack the freedom or understanding to do so… This understanding helps drive the determination to find a way to be helpful which eventually goes beyond, as well as including, ordinary helpfulness.
Connection is a given… and if it comes with a light touch – no dogmatic assertions, directions or appropriations – it can be so beautiful. I found this link to the first reading from Letters from South Africa on Radio4 poignant and moving…maybe you’ll enjoy it too.