Wendy’s Writings

Everything you do makes a difference…

Juni_2012_Alte_Fasanerie_Sikahirsch-Kuh-2I was talking with a homeless man who had in his hands an envelope… not bad news as it turned out but good, so good he could hardly believe it – that he had been found a place to live in, a place where he could cook and where perhaps his daughter might visit him.

He had recently been very disappointed as a tenancy that had been found for him was withdrawn at the last minute by the landlords – but that place did not have cooking facilities and this new place was much more suitable.

For many years he had been living alone in some woods. His business had collapsed, it was a small business employing nine people, and in the disappointment and sadness with himself and life, he retreated completely.

He told me that two things had brought him to a point where he felt he could engage again with society.

The first was that one day a deer with a fawn at foot walked into the clearing where he lived. It looked about, sniffed the air, and then eat a few leaves before leaving… he felt accepted by the wood and its creatures – he felt he belonged.

The second was when a teenager detached herself from a group of other teenagers walking over a bridge and came and sat down beside him, beside the river, for a few minutes. She said  ‘you’re all right (his name), you’re all right!’

Seven words… and her gesture of leaving the familiar to sit briefly with the outsider…no pushing, no judgment, made such a difference.

so all good luck to him… and the teenager…and our homeless bothers and sisters.

After Cathy  is an excellent and powerful radio documentary formed of the recordings of the lives of three homeless people compiled fifty years after ‘Cathy Come Home’ shocked the nation (well, some of it!)

“do not take lightly small good deeds…in time they fill giant pot”

Likewise “do not take lightly small misdeeds, believing they can do no harm:even a tiny spark of fire can set alight a mountain hay”

– from The Words of My Perfect Teacher by  Patrul Rinpoche…a book which fell into my hands when visiting my mother in Malta many year ago and is an inspiring, comprehensive and very readable explanation of the dharma pathways and pitfalls.


image:4028mdk09 (via Wikimedia-Commons) / bei Nutzung bitte zusätzlich angeben “aufgenommen im Wildpark Alte Fasanerie Klein-Auheim”, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJuni_2012_Alte_Fasanerie_Sikahirsch-Kuh.JPG

‘Note to self’ :


Light + concept = pseudo-entity


In the speed of interactions in the world – will i remember the truth of this?
[from Macclesfield talk 08 Integrating-the-dzogchen-view-with-basic-buddhist-practice/ ]

Any time i tighten or freeze and ‘make something of it’ i know that i’ve got lost in a situation and fused with concepts, with my thoughts or feelings or sensations.

Reminding myself of the truth on a daily basis with the prayer by Rigdzin Godem means that, for at least the time while i’m saying it, that view in the equation above is operational…but that’s only for a few minutes… what about the rest of the twenty four hours???

Re-membering, re-membering (preferable to being surrounded by body parts!)… form is not other than emptiness, form is exactly emptiness…
So, what is it?…this ‘thing’ to which i am averse?… It’s the flower of emptiness…inseparable from its ground.
And who is this one who is tightening up?…also the radiance of the dharmakaya – impermanent and so ungraspable, arising due to causes and conditions which are themselves impermanent…
Maybe a knot in the handkerchief would help!

Maybe… but this is a slow and uncertain way to proceed…where kind of ‘during or after the event’, if i’m lucky, i realise, so there’s a bit of a gap while i assess, remember….  then also there’s remembering that what is arising in me as a response is also empty… and then orientating myself accordingly – according to received wisdom, or that deduced by analysis.

It’s through the opening and dissolving practices in tantra and dzogchen that i can have an on-going certainty regarding the nature of each manifestation, including that which i call ‘me’. Its through these practises that eventually the relaxation of rigidity enables creativity… when responsivity arises directly from spaciousness, from the infinite hospitality.



Observing a cat, seeing ‘itself’ in the mirror for the first time


……a sudden shock, bristling – the hairs of the fur standing on end, eyes widened…

then settling




whilst we might think ‘that’s me who’s in the mirror’ – this cat just checked it out

and then

spent no further time on a reflection.



Doing the ‘hokey cokey’…..


‘You put your whole self in – you put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, in out – in out, shake it all about… ‘  ‘that’s what it’s all about’.

Maybe this can be a good metaphor for effective practice!… particularly tantra and dzogchen.

Before I went to sleep as a child there were three prayers i used to say out loud.  One was ‘MatthewMark Luke andJohn blesssther bed that I lie on… Arrrrrmen’    and I said the words… exactly that, I said the words… like a rhyme.

I was very moved by the story in one of the scriptures of the pigeon who felt so desperate to help in the face of  a forest fire which was consuming every living thing…… but was powerless to do anything but fly to and fro with a beak full of water from a nearby river… and then died, exhausted. The beak-fulls of water did not put the fire out yet good consequences did ensue… so maybe these little somethings…? So, later in life, in saying different prayers on a daily basis I started gradually to put more meaning, more intention, more energy and concentration into my hopes and requests.

Although I knew that ‘energy follows intention’  as I spent more time in this neck of the woods, with prayers being the best that I could offer into the desperate and difficult situations in the world, and spending more time doing this, I felt the need to ask whether or not it really made any difference. I could see that it made a difference to me as, over time, it changed my appreciation and orientation yet I was dubious as to how much difference, if any, it made outside of that.

The answer came in the form of a question ‘Can you get someone to turn their head around and look at you if you stare at the back of their head?’….    my answer  was ‘probably yes, if they are not deeply involved in something else.’

Really this was deepening my comprehension that however we are, whatever we do, has an impact – it might not be visible but nevertheless it does.  I had previously explored this with people who say ‘ what’s the point, why bother, what I do doesn’t make any difference?’

Over the years of doing the Rigdzin Puja, often as if it were a piece of pleasant homework, sometimes just ticking the box – ‘task completed’– I finally had a lightbulb moment… seeing that if ‘I’ was doing it – even with my good intentions – it wasn’t being done, or being used, effectively as it should.  For a long time I was going…ah yes, white light…now red light…and so on, turning the pages…but without any feeling of a change it was just words. I had to allow myself to become an engaged participant in the activity, to allow the activity to flow through me, to become the activity, for it to be possible for any effect to occur. That also implied changing priorities, giving enough time and space to the practice and engaging ideally at time when i was fresh rather than half-asleep!

Ah well, it takes as long as it takes…

……Put my little self in, take my little self out

in-out, in-out, shake it all about (it will dissolve if I shake it enough),

Get my big self out, let my little self in…

…the whole self i’m in…     oh! the hokey cokey…

With practise the tune changes…… in out, in out > out-in-out, out-in-out…not so catchy!


The teachings have a rather different origin from say “Teach yourself Buddhism”…(the first dharma book i bought…and one i didn’t finish – dry bones)…and it takes time and is worthwhile to let the perfume sink into every pore..


I was talking with someone a while ago and mentioned the haiku by Kobayashi Issa “slowly, slowly, the snail climbs Mount Fuji”…he felt so sorry for the snail!

…an alternate rendition “O snail! Climb Mt. Fuji… but slowly, slowly” …maybe gives a better sense of the way

As the practice says…and as the Irish say in a beautiful way… ‘Take your time’


Bull in a china shop

nextgov-mediumWhen I started with a little group in  Tiverton some years ago James suggested that I could ‘take along pens knives scissors chopsticks and so on’… or words to that effect.

Sometimes, in order not to interrupt the flow, I trust that things will become clearer in time or through engagement… if I asked him anything by way of clarification I think the answer probably was ‘you have to hold them differently’…err…  yes…and???

As I put together an assortment of articles to take with me I had a glimmering of that to which he was alluding. That everything, everyone, with whom we engage – if the engagement is to be the most attuned or appropriate – requires a unique response, specific to their presentation that time.

I could give you many examples of my not getting that right…however I think this one, which doesn’t involve people, is a good illustration –

I was in charity shop a little while back and when  i went to pick up a painted wooden duck, very similar in appearance to one i once owned …  there was an explosion….it was very surprising …bits of stuff went all over the place.

Luckily I managed to catch a little vase in my skirt before it hit the ground and amazingly the other bits and pieces which I had knocked over were unbroken.

I’m not usually clumsy so what had gone wrong?

Well, it was just that I had picked up the wooden duck, which looked so much like one I had owned some years ago, as though it was the exactly the same. However whilst this duck looked like it was made of wood ( I was not wearing my glasses!) it was in fact pottery – quite a different weight – and, moreover, the head and neck came apart from the body… they formed a lid to a pot… and it that was what I lifted up. I had gauged the amount of energy needed and the trajectory completely wrong and the spare energy scattered everywhere.

So  it is with people. If we are confident that we know how the other is prior to meeting them, or if we meet them without sufficient spaciousness to have a sense of how they actually are ( because we are already full of our own ideas about how they are, or what we have to get across to them)   or if we just have our own constant ‘ way of being’ – take it or leave it this is me! – then the possibility of a beneficial congruence is remote…. and the risk of explosions much greater!

Instead we have to keep looking, take nothing for granted, put our memories aside, and have the confidence to be tentative…trusting that we can regain our balance after a faux pas or mis-step/ mistake… and also play a different tune if that’s what the situation requires.

All of which requires a good degree of openness. Intentionally practising doing it differently will, in my experience only take you so far…  it’s the on-going practice of openness which will naturally lead to that ‘fresh cooking’ in the moment… of/as which James speaks


This P.S. arose as a solution to a practical –?what is fitting – problem and might just be useful-

I have a fridge and from time to time the drain hole bungs up and the bottom fills with water. The instructions suggest inserting a little plastic gadget (sometimes supplied) or a straw into the hole. This has worked before but this time no luck!

I didn’t want to call out an engineer to dismantle the drain from the back but, looking on the internet for another solution, i got to see the shape of the drain – its straight for a little bit [the gadget/straw solution works for blockages in this section] but then it then curves away downwards.

I wondered… What would have sufficient strength to clear the blockage…be the right width to fit inside the drain…after insertion- maintain a curve in the right direction so that it would enter the curved part…and be soft enough not to damage the drain ?

…a little while later i caught myself looking at the open plastic ring with the tab – the one that you pull to get the top off a plastic milk carton – as it lay on the side waiting to go into the bin…







At one time, little fly, you had the freedom of the space

but then your body  nudged against a tiny sticky filament

and in your struggle to get free

your wings and body were stuck fast

” Fly in a net ”

and yet……..


no spider came as answer  to your calls

to turn you into means for its existence

and so,  unwrapped,  flying again became a possibility.


Why don’t you move?

you are not dead!


using a lens and dampened brush

so gently, wash away the unseen residue, the glue,

and be a fly, and fly and be….


each moment freed, spontaneously.



The little net of the ‘ego thought’ catches the passing, fleeting thought… the beginning of the forming of a shape…of solidification and reification  “Open… release…. begin again”…





Playing ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’….

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 18.42.54

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

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



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

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

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

………………………………..our posterior!


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

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

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


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




Projecting hatred…


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

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

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

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

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

Has this ever worked?

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

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

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

…here’s a bit more  from Milarepa

If hate reigns supreme, it chains us to hell.

Great avarice opens the gulf of eternal hunger.

Dulll ignorance makes us no better than animals.

Growing passion ties us to the world of men.

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

Overbearing pride traps us in the land of the heavens.

These are the six fetters that chain us to samsara.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The little nun and I hugged each other…

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

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

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

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


The linguistic penny drops!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh Man!

Yes we can…Moon

Put a man on the moon

make an outside womb,

change DNA

……..? blow hatred away?

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

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

up on Mars!’

wendy, april 2016


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

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


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

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

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

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

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




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

Plenty of dependant co-origination here!

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

Sayings to sustain …

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

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

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

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

So, life grows shorter not longer everyday.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Toddling along … supported by the dharma…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remembered  a  zen saying:

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

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

World holocaust day…looking beyond belief

jewish-skull-capsSome Jews in Germany, France and Sweden have stopped wearing skullcaps for fear of reprisals.

Teachers of children learning under the academy system in England are not obliged to teach their pupils about the holocaust, but i think it is vital that we keep looking, to see what great harm we are capable of inflicting on each other (and ourselves) on the basis of our beliefs. If you can, do go to see the film ‘My Nazi Legacy’ which clearly shows this.

I recommend it also partly as an example of how through a distorted form of love/fear/blindness truly horrific objectification can be accepted as appropriate and normalised and for seeing how the ramifications of past turbulence continues to manifest through time, but also for what can happen when we try to force another to look through our eyes, trying to reach resolution on the basis of reflections. I think it will make you weep for all concerned.

Our certainties around the definitions we hold about what we are and how we behave – what other people are – what we can infer about them from their behaviour – and how and why the world is as it is – all should come under scrutiny within a dharma investigation.

Often there is unwillingness to carry out this investigation into the origin and validity of these definitions – for some this seems to be because any suggestion of a miss-take on the ego’s part  would be too destabilising to countenance, so they fearfully tighten up against the invitation.

Others, equally understandably, are just pretty happy with their take on the world. In knowing what’s what, there is a sense of certainty which feels powerful. The ego likes  a sense of being knowledgeable and powerful, it feels secure.

However these opinions are shaped by the karma of reactivity to past situations, to reactivity to situations encountered during this life. They form a distorting lens through which we view  all manifestations, pulling them into a shape which is recognisable to our own internalised matrices.  At the same time we ourselves are pulled into a position as ‘shapers’ and we become more rigid as a result of this repeated activity.

So we need to undertake this investigation with kindly curiosity. We won’t be able to work with what we are holding on to, and let go of that which is not helpful, without seeing what is under the covers. One man i spoke with thanked me as he left for exposing a prejudice of which he was unaware.  I had explained  why i did not really think the world would be a better place if we put all the fat people and stupid people in a rocket and send them out to space! He was not being ironic, he had just formed this quick opinion at some point and held onto it without really looking at the non-sense of it. Meditation can allow the appearance and release of all the buried….erm.. ‘treasure’.

As dharma practitioners, and I’m talking to myself here, in taking that which is transient and impermanent, lacking in inherent  self-nature, to be solid and real… and then hanging our own ‘Home-made’ label around its neck… we continue with the stupidity of the slavemasters who were able to debate philosophy and write the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ on the jetty while the nearby slave ships were being cleared of bodies and disinfected.

‘Though the heavens may fall let justice be done’ was the statement preceding the judgement which led to the act abolishing  slavery in the UK. This judgement was about whether a slave was inherently a ‘slave-thing’ or was a ‘human-thing’ with potential.

From a dzogchen perspective, there are no ‘things’ per se and so labels cannot be applied in any enduring  sense – “Birds which live on the Golden mountain take on the colour of the sun.”

The desire for a simple label – hero/villain – denying the multiplicity of behaviours and capacities  can be seen in the film  ‘My Nazi Legacy’ and  heard in the radio programme The good Goering. It seems that, with brotherly love, even the ‘bad’ Goering did some good…and I also remember being struck by an interview with the daughter of Idi Amin who really loved her dad and found  it so hard to believe that he really had perpetrated such acts of violence…with her he was different.

If  we can see that the ‘bad’ and the ‘good’ are mixed in together… in ourselves as well as others… then hopefully our own judgements can soften and dissolve. People act as they do,  dependent on past and present causes and conditions, not in isolation, and in their relating to us own own behaviour is also implicated.

I think it helps to soften our view to think that, in the future or the past, despite our current beliefs and assertions  we may behave in the same way as those we label as ‘monsters’ and that, although we are not defined by our behaviours, if they are coming from the position of the ego then we will inevitably experience the effects of the karma created. Paying attention to the details while practising to realise the ground openness is the move needed to expand justice, which at its worst is just-ice, to the warmer waters of ‘just-as-it-is-ness’ and the arising of an appropriate response. With liberation from mental slavery the heavens may indeed fall… along with the hells!

Inspiration….Chatral Rinpoche


A few days ago i heard that His Holiness Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche attained parinirva at the beginning of this month, at the age of 102.

When i received this news i was very struck by these photographs of him.

His Holiness Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche His Holiness Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche

These are images of a great Lama, a Lama of Lamas…an embodiment of the dharma, the result of intense unwavering practice.

In the beginning Chatral Rinpoche undertook the starting/ Ngondro practice fourteen times in all. This is a practice which is normally undertaken just the once (and completed with great relief  as each of the five constituent ‘nails’, or re-orientations, is repeated a hundred thousand times). So this would involve making a commitment of time, i think, well in excess of seven years but each time he came to the end of the practice he felt clearer and stronger and so began again.

Following this he received many profound teachings from the great teachers of his time and then set about putting them into practice.

At first living with the goal of attainment of the dharma for the benefit of all beings, and then living to bring the benefit of that practice into our troubled world in the manner appropriate to his way of being, he had different roles including that of a wandering practitioner hermit, a teacher to the most fortunate, a liberator of beings in captivity and also, later in life, as a husband and father. All this was accomplished with integrity – the  activity of compassion which arises directly as the expression of profound wisdom.

As far as possible he avoided worldly entanglements, would not waste his time teaching those whose hearts were not ready to accomplish what he could offer, and he was highly disciplined in his practice. Going to sleep at ten and waking at three, the day was filled mostly with practice… fitting in what else needed to be done in the late afternoon and evening. On retreat in the mountains he would use the practice of tumo to keep from freezing and lived on tsampa (ground barley flour) rations and whatever plant matter was edible when supplies ran short. However it would seem that like others i have met living under somewhat similar conditions his ease of being far surpassed those used to haut cuisine.  His ‘retreat centre’ was his little tent or a cave for shelter…no heating, air conditioning or piped water.  He lived very simply and the donations which he received were used to benefit others…no ‘lining of his pockets’ – no pockets to line! Also he completely eschewed politics.

So self-cherishing was long gone, realisation achieved, and his commitment to all beings could not have been greater….how many like him remain in the world?

His feet no longer walk the earth but, in those he taught and teaches – those touched by his heart – his legacy continues.

James received teachings from him and said that he found him to be very impressive and at the same time very kind, helping him a great deal.

Hopefully, for those of us who are practising the dharma, knowing a little bit more about this great being’s way of life is more inspiring than daunting and perhaps highlights what is of genuine value in the way we spend the remaining precious hours and energy of our own lives.

Whilst direct imitation is unlikely to be the way for (m)any of us! … any move we make towards a whole-hearted commitment to the welfare of all beings, to practicing so that we are bringing the dharma through and as us into each moment of the day, will act in some measure as a counterbalance to, or dissolution of, the turbulence of these times… and move us more and more in his direction.

With great sympathy for those close to him who feel bereft, and especially kind wishes to his wife from whose interview much of the above information was garnered.

Sarva mangalam


Here are some words of advice from a talk he gave at Bodhgaya posted on the Shambhala blog.




I want you to know…o…o…oh…oh!… am i talking at you or with you?

Some years ago I remember imparting some ‘definite knowledge’ to James. At the time I was talking to someone else as well, and i had my back to him, however I remember noticing that the quality of his attention had changed. Because, at the time, i was pleased at knowing something a little unusual, i imagined that he was both surprised and impressed.

Since then i  have had the experience of listening to many people telling me, and other people, the truth about me, about others, and about how things are, or how they should be done, and I suspect that he was in fact  noticing the tightening of the voice and body which goes with having the sense that ‘this is how it is, I know! ‘. At that point i had lost touch with the ground and gone into a ‘world of one’… speaking out my confident assertion, with actually no particular regard to the listeners. So he was more likely to have been registering that change in me… from an openness to closed certainty.

There can be an artificiality, a tightness and lost disconnectedness, when someone is regurgitating ingested ‘facts’ with a desire to be the ‘one who knows’.  Although its quite understandable to want to be someone who knows, particularly in our culture where becoming a library of information is confused with wisdom, and especially if one’s ‘offerings’  have been disparaged in the past…however it is the discourse of the ego seeking recognition/affirmation.  It can be not very welcoming to others and can come with a, not very tasty, seasoning of pride.

Communication which is really addressed to the other, attuned in seeing and feeling how they are and what is helpful, cooked just for them… not too much and not too little… even if it perhaps needs to be directive, will be received and digested much more readily than a shower of ego driven ‘spears’.

BTW There is something very uncomfortable about the visual image of sitting rigidly upon a point of view (oh…brings tears to the eyes!) images-3

a nice flat bed of nails seems inviting by comparison.                 images-2