Wendy’s Writings

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

A downbeat yet somehow encouraging offering.

150px-Punishment_sisyphThis recording of Alain de Botton’s talk on pessimism posted on vimeo is a refreshing change from the often promulgated notion that  happiness and success are within the palm of your hand if only you try hard enough or buy the right book. That if they are not what you are experiencing then something has gone wrong…you have failed… and that those who have the good things have got them solely by their own efforts.  He suggests that, in fact, these might not be the worthwhile goals of life; that sadness fully experienced is of value and there is a cheapening  of one’s humanity in brushing it aside.

From a deep dharma perspective all experiences are empty therefore they can be fully felt, and their richness experienced, without fear of being overwhelmed.  Each experience then naturally dissolves making way for the next.

The greater the range of tolerance to the experiences, the greater the compassion available as this brings a reduction in the ‘turning away’ from the undesirable or desire for fusion with the ‘desirable’.  Any attempt  to push experience away (avoidance) or to hang on to it (grasping) means a separation from the flow of experience and the creation of  a false position (knitted from the experiences – thoughts feelings and sensations) and with that a sense of continuity, of substance, to both experience and experiencer.

It looks like James recommended it and i hope it lifts your… errm…  spirits!


P.S The picture is of Sisyphus (see Camus on pessimism)

Unchanging wisdom…neither ancient nor modern.

Thanks to Tessa Rose of Arcturus publishing who has given permission for the use here of  these lines from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu. 9781848372443-uk-300

The highest good is not to seek to do good,
but to allow yourself to become it.
The ordinary person seeks to do good things,
and finds that they cannot do them continually.

The master does not force virtue on others,
thus she is able to accomplish a task.
The ordinary person who uses force,
will find they accomplish nothing.

The kind person acts from the heart,
and accomplishes a multitude of things.
The righteous person acts out of pity,
yet leaves many things undone.
The moral person will act out of duty,
and when no one responds
will roll up his sleeves and use force.

When the Tao is forgotten there is righteousness.
When righteousness is forgotten, there is morality.
When morality is forgotten, there is the law.
The law is the husk of faith,
and trust is the beginning of chaos.

Our basic understandings are not from the Tao
because they come from the depths of our misunderstanding.
The master abides in the fruit and not in the husk.
She dwells in the Tao,
and not in the things that hide it.
This is how she increases in wisdom.

This is from the arcturus publication of the translation by John H McDonald.  It’s a beautiful version of a brilliantly clear translation which is sadly out of print… however a few copies are are still available from Abe books.

Drainage problems? What’s on your mind ?

Once, a few decades ago, I used a ladder to climb down inside an old Victorian septic tank which had recently been pumped out. You can imagine perhaps what that looked and smelt like! Anyway – in an area with a high water table, unless the septic tank is made impervious, water will drain from the surrounding area into the tank and then it becomes impossible to flush the toilet. My plan was to use a waterproof cement to point between the bricks, which I did and, with some luck and help, I managed to get  much of the surface water re-routed into other drainage systems – each of which needed either permission, repair, or creation.  This took a lot of time (and there was quite a lot at stake!) so it was a great relief when everything flowed freely.

Drains are vital if unseen, and need regular maintenance. The body however is quite incredible in that, if everything is working well, solids liquids and gases are taken in, then exactly what is needed is extracted and the rest is released back into the environment from whence it came. We don’t have to do anything about this except listen to the body so that we can be a bit sensible about how much and what we take in. It is really amazing that with all its twists and turns, valves and muscles and loops, and complex functioning it is almost maintenance free!  However in order to function it does use some of the energy released and after a heavy meal (or a heavy drinking session) the system sometimes struggles bit.

Now what kind of system or cistern – ‘scuse the pun – have we installed to manage the contents our mind’s, is there free flow? If there are a lot of ‘solids’ or certainties, we have some options to manage the build-up.

We can just live with it, as many people do, and just think ‘this is how it is, this is how I am’ (more solid certainties) but movements are limited!

Using our exquisite attention we can gild the contents and make them very special – but bear in mind that it will be we ourselves who does this; also that other people may well know that all that glisters is not gold – and it’s a big job, there’s a lot of them! And whilst polishing a turd is seen as impossible, at least with that there is something to try to work with!

Then, if we  make  these thoughts so special, we won’t want them to escape. So maybe we could try to encase them in strong, maybe fireproof, boxes with locks? I have seen these and they are very heavy and expensive – a lot of energy is used both in their construction… and of course we need strong storage racks to keep them in.

For some of us this may appear to be an excellent way of dealing with thoughts that seem too ugly or terrifying to be allowed out… but the downside is that the mind is getting more and more rigid as it fills up with all this stuff, and no-go areas might develop which become too dangerous to countenance a visit. Dripping taps, rotting wood, death watch beetle, who knows what’s going on down there? It’s a bit scary…we’ll have to keep busy or do something, anything, to take our mind off it.

So we  could, instead,  maybe consider a replacement system with filters so that the good stuff comes in and the bad stuff goes out? I haven’t yet seen an example of this system in operation which functions well long term in the lived situation…in fact  my experience is that this solution is a bit of a con-trick. What usually happens is that you yourself have to be permanently on duty – making selections and then trying to hold on or push  away – sweeping into the garbage, or putting on the shelves – dependent upon your decision. So the downside of this is both cost – in terms of life energy, and a fixation on the task. With this we narrow our field of attention and this this blinds us to the richness of life as it is.  There is also the fact that it’s exhausting  to be… on the go all the time.

So maybe one of us should design an automatic, easy to install, capture, sort, and release system for thoughts?

Well ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you that there is… freely available… in the dharma… a way of dealing with this perplexing question as to what to do with all the stuff. It is the original  operating system. Whilst this requires some effort in meditation, groping around in the dark to begin with, to see how it functions, once it’s up and running there are no operating costs and, as there are no moving parts, it comes with a lifetime guarantee.

It works like this. Once we have seen for ourselves the nature of a thought – what exactly is it?… and the nature of the mind, by looking, … where is it? what size is it? what shape is it? what colour is it? Does it have a top or bottom? Is it inside of you or outside if you? and we really know; when we have looked at where thoughts come from and where they go to….mmmhm did you say go?.. aha…yes, they always do if we let them (thanks to impermanence they have only short stay visas)…then we can relax

all you have to do is….do nothing with them

So save your money and don’t buy and install a system. If you have one in place check out how it functions for you and, if its not up to spec., look at the ‘uninstall’ guidelines. You can find these in books – Simply Being has the answer to many questions, and then there is the Simplybeing.co.uk website with a box to ‘ask James a question’. I can answer some… but coming to a weekend talk may give a sense of how it is not only possible to live like this, but of how much easier and errr…fresher… life can be!

From flapping about to settling down

wasp-on-flower-480x320So…flapping about when wasp are near really disturbs them and increases the chances of being stung. Understanding this can change our behaviour  and so decrease the chance of being stung. Having a benevolent attitude towards them either because we see them as helpful, or in a bigger way as part of what is, may also help. Creatures certainly can be sensitive to our attitude towards them.

Perhaps we have a similar approach to other human beings who we feel are a threat and may sting us – maybe we flap about in our anxiety – but if, either on a relative or ultimate level, we can understand the conditions operating in the situation then this can soften our tension and, if we are stung, allow a quicker release of the pain.

A dharma investigation will take us back to fundamental ignorance and the arising of the five poisons on the basis of that misunderstanding.

With that, the Buddha’s story about the man hit by a poisoned arrow is very helpful. How much time do we want to spend working out who fired the arrow and why, what the arrow – shaft and tip – is made of, and what kind of feathers the flight, before we pull the arrow out?

Our sense of injustice, with questions like ‘don’t they know?’ and ‘why can’t they see?’ and ‘how could they?’ can often simply answered by… ‘no, they don’t’, ‘because they haven’t looked’, and ‘because they are them’, respectively. The conditioned nature, with egoic centrality, does not invite a questioning tentative approach and, if we had their conditioning, we would behave exactly as they do. The spinning around these questions takes up a lot of time and energy, often to no good effect, and can keep the wound from healing – it’s like scratching the top off  a scab.

So perhaps there is something useful to be said or done, perhaps not. If there is then it is likely to work out better if we truly know who we are and so have the space to be curious about the other, holding gently in mind the question of who they are – both in their true nature and its current precise expression. With that approach our response will be to be more attuned to the actual circumstances prevailing at the time rather than a defensive reactivity based on the past or imaginings.

Sometimes when something hurtful is being chewed over and over I suggest this is a bit like picking up a poisoned dagger which someone has thrown towards you and sticking it in yourself over and over again. There is the possibility just to leave it on the ground where it fell ( if you’re not so ‘solidly defined’ then what will it stick to?).

And  while we are talking about what we and others get up to there is a saying I like which is – as one points a finger at the other there are three fingers pointing back at oneself or, as the Buddha said, ‘a man winnows the faults of others whilst hiding his own like a crafty gamester covering his throw.’ Turning the mirror around to look at what we’re up to is challenging, and sometimes we are too close to the mirror to see clearly, it’s all a bit blurry or we focus just on what seems attractive or unattractive to ourselves – which can be where a teacher comes in very handy – but it’s by altering our own way of being that we really can make a difference. Trying to be helpful while being tangled up is hard to do… we may just become more entangled. But if we can see that happening then, as we are trying, we are learning. To offer to help someone being swept along in a river is a kind expression but it’s more likely to be effective if you are standing on the riverbank with a rope and a lifebuoy than if you are being swept along beside them.

Which leads to Dharma practice… and the old Zen saying if you haven’t got time to meditate for twenty minutes you need to meditate for an hour!

The lads in my village take every opportunity they can to practice their tricks on their skateboards…. I talk with a young woman who is a keen rower and she makes sure to go to bed in time to get up for training…and we who are practising the dharma and trying to turn around the course of, or our relationship with, the supertanker of our conditioned habits and beliefs…how much effort/precision do we give to this?

“After a while you learn…” by Jorge Luis Borges

Perhaps this poem relates to relative truth with a bit of an onward and upwards feel to it, but it gave me sense of a little lift within the poignancy of the truth of impermanence….and others have appreciated it…so i hope you will too.


After a while you learn the subtle difference

Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning

And company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts

And presents aren’t promises,

And you begin to accept your defeats

With your head up and your eyes open

With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,

And you learn to build all your roads on today

Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans

And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn…

That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,*

Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure…

That you really are strong

And you really do have worth…

And you learn and learn…

With every good-bye you learn.”



*maybe, from a dharma perspective  you practise and practise,  asking the question ….who is it that learns?…until you know – and manifestation is ‘goodbye’,  ‘hello’.

Or, from a more prosaic perspective, goodbye and hello are together, like the legs of a pair of pyjama bottoms worn by the ’empty’ moment.


Eyes open or ‘eyes closed’ – assumptions

Looking and looking, just as the historical Buddha did, and not believing the first thought that pops into our heads is a very sane way of proceeding… how clear am i about what is going on, what am i up to, am i making assumptions… or running a habitual pattern of thinking?

– In a previous post i mentioned the killing of a  wasp outside the bread shop which  made no sense at all, particularly when you could see that there are many more wasps inside the shop.

– A charm seller outside a mosque is told to leave by a young muslim woman. He calls out to his friends saying that she is American who has just burnt the Koran. She is horribly murdered in front of hundreds of bystanders…. none of whom asked to see the ashes or check her nationality.

– My brother had his skull fractured by a deranged man wielding a machete on the basis that my brother was American and therefore implicated in the troubles of the Arab world. He is English and the result is much pain for him and no benefit to anyone else, just as it would have been if he were in fact American.

Although we might think that we ourselves would never make such daft mistakes I’m not so sure we can be certain. The are three cases of unreliable evidence which made me think again. Some long time ago some jewellery was stolen and ‘the perpetrator’ was identified in a lineup, convicted and incarcerated. Having served his time he was released but a short while later the same series of events was repeated. And it was whilst in prison on the second occasion that another jewellery robbery took place, a man was arrested and it became clear that he was responsible for the  two previous burglaries. So an innocent man who looked like the burglar was ‘positively’, but incorrectly, identified on two separate occasions.

Another example is of two women who had been followed and attacked insisting that the attack had been carried out by five people. In fact CCTV showed that although there were five people walking with them initially,  by the time the attack occurred there were only three perpetrators, the other two had left and were innocent of the charges against them.

Also, when a stabbing was carried out on an underground train many of those interviewed said that it was a black man who wielded the knife however it was in fact the white man sitting next to him. This latent discrimination points to the store cupboard of unexamined possibilities for projection and projecting out fear combined with a good bag of assumptions recently led to a Spanish actor being removed from a flight. He had been reciting Tibetan prayers at takeoff and had set a meditation timer… but  it was assumed that he was reciting the Koran and the words destruction and similar had been clearly overheard – well he did have a beard!

The dharma would suggest that we are all de-ranged to some degree in our behaviours and greatly in our mis-identifications  …looking to see our own blindnesses is hard, we’re a bit too close, good teachers can help with this and meditation practice can bring more calmness and clarity and a much broader perspective to each moment.








Wasps – you belong!

wasp-300x225There was a queue of people outside the bread shop – wasps and humans were wanting the sweet things inside. One minute I was looking to see if there was any of the bread I wanted left for sale, the next I was watching the lady in front of me twisting the ball of her foot on the ground, grinding a wasp into the pavement. She turned to me and said ‘they do no good you know, they are completely pointless.’ I can get hooked by incorrect statements and i mildly observed that, maybe surprisingly, wasps pollinate flowers just as bees do. She retorted that bees were okay but wasps were not because they were malicious and stung out of spite.  ‘In your story-book’ was my quiet response ….and she was in agreement with this saying that I was about to be stung by the one on my wrist!

I left the wasp to walk about on my wrist and then fly off. I bought my loaf of bread and left but afterwards I thought about the wasps and how we can soften our certainties by becoming more conscious of our limited views and so becoming more curious… and also how treating the small creatures of the world with respect is a softening practice to start with, and one which, overtime, can make harshness less and less likely to arise inappropriately – whether for insects or humans. Some of us can become hugely tender to the lives of little creatures but unsurprisingly find the bigger (speaking) ones much more challenging.

Wasps are used in great numbers by farmers in agriculture for pest control, they are predators for all the world’s insect pests. The greenfly in the garden  are eaten by them but at this time of year they are very hungry as their main food source, a sugary secretion from the wasp larvae in their nest, is no longer being produced. That’s why they quickly gather round food and are very persistent! The wasps didn’t know that the shop’s air-space and its contents  was supposed to be off-limits to them, for them it was suddenly ‘manna from heaven.’

Stinging is their defence mechanism. If a wasp is in trouble it will emit a pheromone which will disturb all the nearby wasps and put them into defensive/ attack mode. So its really best for all concerned to let them be. In my experience, usually, if you are still and calm then creatures can sense that you are no threat.

I think that, from the wasps point of view, suddenly being crushed could well be seen as a malicious act… and as for these humans, do they do good?… What is the point of them? Projecting out anger and hatred onto the other and then reacting violently to what we see is common human behaviour …do wasps behave like this?

If our own concept of functionality is a prerequisite for the continuation of existence of the other then we really have taken over the role of gods (of the ‘all knowing’, ‘all powerful’ but not ‘all loving’ kind). Nevermind this arrogance, at this point in time we seem very close to losing the plot in many different ways.  We can now genetically modify mosquitoes so that they will not breed, some would think that this is a very good idea but fortunately there are people who realise that the mosquito is an essential food source for many different creatures. More troublingly  the normal molecular structure composed of the four amino acids – the basic building blocks of lifeforms – can now be altered and replicated using other substances. This creates a completely different lifeform and, as a commentator said, ‘this could be quite scary as we have no defences against this organism’…..’err yes indeed!’ i thought he went on to say but on the other hand if in the future we want populate Mars then producing lifeforms  which can cope with radiation etcetera could be very helpful’…. Sometimes I find it very hard to believe my ears – going to another planet, that’s possible,…creating new and potentially dangerous life-forms that’s also possible,… we know so much yet do we know how to be truly alive… what do we know about how to live together, how to care gently for ourselves, each other, and the suffering world that supports us? (link to National Geographic article)

As I remember it, one of the patients in the l’Arche foundation’s first home was bedridden and could do nothing more than move an eye, yet the quality of his being was such that people wanted to spend time in the room with him, not from pity but for grace. Was he pointless? Maybe, but he surely had value. Many activities and qualities like altruism and patience could be deemed pointless…. and tolerance is such a precious quality for living together in this strange world… we are all here, we belong, so how shall we be with each other?

Maybe, for starters, we have to see, to sense, to feel, to be open to the field (you plus me plus the context)… that’s hard to do with hands full of the book of, and both eyes glued to the story of, ‘Me!’.

…and when you see that the wasps persistence is due to hunger and their drowsiness to ‘hypoglycaemia’ then its easy to give some beings what they need – a teaspoon of jam in a dish outside keeps about twenty wasps happy for the day (and it does keep them outside which makes me happy)! The three which looked drowned in the dish this morning, after the rain, surprisingly  sprang back into life when I gently emptied it out, but a flat surface would be safer.