Tag Archive for impermanence

Going under the power of the word…

Is Sir Simon Schama ‘a racist’?

Well you heard what he said ‘bloody blacks’… it’s obvious that he is,  isn’t it! Are you perhaps a racist for supporting him… I think you are!

That’s how it goes… isn’t it?

Look if you are not on the right side ( my side) you are on the wrong side… and if you are not for us, with us, then  you are against us… and  if you are against us then…  it would be right and proper to destroy you.

That is also how it goes  in the mind of many people… just looking around at the world tells you that much…

So I should say that I am not supporting Sir Simon Schama, I know nothing about his personal views on anything and I am not a racist… but giving an alternate reading.

It is interesting to see how quickly someone, who is a ‘name’ even I have heard of, with intelligence, position, money, influence, status, by using some words unwisely can be undone, erased, annihilated by the zeitgeist.

If you search the Internet  you will find many plaudits for him e.g. from Penguin books:
In inimitable style, our greatest historian and master storyteller Simon Schama makes an irresistible case for the power of art and its necessary place in our lives…

Of course it is possible that at the moment he holds racist views (at least he  is unlikely to be accused of being anti-Semitic!)…but to deduce that with certainty of a definite conclusion from what was said – from the words – may well, in my opinion, be a  mistake.

Certainly to define and encapsulate him in that simple conclusion would be a violence to the undoubtedly manifold ways in which he interacts, has interacted with the world, and will do in the future…but this view, which will be held by many, will put a limit on his freedom to interact with the world as before, as he is seen, objectified through the eyes of those who view him as a racist.

Following the interview he has already resigned his prestigious professorships…
From his point of view perhaps, rather than this indicating guilt, it is just wise to stop digging when you’re in a hole… attempting to explain may sound like weasel words… he may not know why he spoke as he did.
Certainly universities need income and adverse media publicity is  potentially damaging… especially under the current economic climate… so continuing may not have been an option.

I heard on the radio that he can be controversial and it may be that as people listened they linked something he has said in the past with his recent response to a question. We are very good at making links to that which validate the conclusions arising from our ego’s desire to pigeonhole for simplicity and stability…. polarising this incredibly complex and dynamic world into  ‘good and bad’ ‘right and wrong’.

I haven’t heard him make any controversial remarks and had no prejudice when I listened to him speaking… and what he said, as I heard it, did not lead me to conclude that he is a racist.

How can you say that?…  What he said was was so bad that the BBC have to give a warning before repeating it!

Well I’d like to put your notion into question…using what I understand about how we make sense of the world using words …and also the way my mother own mother used similar words!

From a deep dharma point of view it is a mistake to define anyone as ‘something as such’…a knowable entity…’a racist’.
At the moment his potential, all that he has shown in the past and all that he may become in the future is seemingly  devalued, negated or erased by that word. The words he spoke, also the word he responded to, carry a deep meaning for some… although both were were sounds arising and passing which could be interpreted (or not) in different ways.

These words that he used have now been used to define him; the way they were interpreted by some, form the building blocks of the virtual prison into which he has been placed… but both this illusory prison and the prisoner are the fruit of our own  creativity arising from patterns of thoughts which we appropriate as ours because they make sense to us.

As we identify strongly with these thoughts, fusing our life energy with them, we become preoccupied, fascinated and taken over by them. Then, as we identify with them more strongly, perhaps confirmed by the belief that ‘everyone else is thinking the same… so that must be right’, these thoughts form beliefs and then certainties…then absolute certainties, incontrovertible…

So we become imprisoned  by our fixed views… we cannot see it differently.

Going ‘under the power of the word’ is an emprisonment … the word itself does not have power beyond what we project onto it, what we give to it. However, in this world,  what is  deduced from a momentary display can be used to define a being… reification – the making of things, entities- occurs.

Once we have an entity, a ‘thing’, we stick what we think it is, a label, onto it and from then on we relate to the label which we ourselves imposed as though it were identical to that to which we had affixed it.
On the basis of the label a persons value can be taken, not ‘as a given’, but dependent upon whether or not it is in accord with our own viewpoint.

So what happened to me when I heard his words following the warning?
Initially I had heard it in such a way that I was surprised that anyone was making a fuss about it.

Huh…he said ‘bloody blacks’… are you nuts?

No, let me explain.
He was reacting (perhaps more strongly than he  realised at the time) to that the suggestion that the treatment of ‘blacks’ by the ‘whites’ was genocide…

As an intellectual he will know the definition of genocide… as a Jew he will feel the definition of genocide…

Genocide has a definition of a ‘deliberate extermination of a race or other group…’
and that intention led to the appalling atrocities suffered by people of his religion, his friends and and family under the Nazis.

This is very different to the intention and attitude of  many ‘Whites’ towards the ‘Blacks’ in the slave trade, and since.

Although effectively there is annihilation by objectification here… and the atrocities arising from that use of others as a utility in service of  another’s power and wealth – the satisfaction of their desires… resonates similarly… deliberate annihilation of a race or group was not the aim of the ‘whites’…

The death of a slave might be seen as an inconvenience, an irrelevance, a pleasure, or a suitable punishment… but as the slave’s function was to work, and money had changed hands for this, it would be incorrect to suggest that death was, generally speaking, the intended outcome.

I suspect that it was the imprecise and incorrect use of the word genocide,  to which for him much emotion attaches, that caused anger to move through him… and express itself with  expression of the word ‘bloody’ before Blacks.

It may have been, you could say, intellectual annoyance at the stupidity of the suggestion… showing a low level of understanding of the ‘meaning’ of words… particularly for him a word which was redolent with particular meaning.

Whoever suggested that genocide was appropriate to the situation… maybe felt that in their bones, because of its heinous nature… however the dictionary in Sir Simon Schama’s head, I’m sure, is very precise.

As a professor he teaches, no doubt with rigour, and if one of his students had come up with this notion that the appropriate word for these different situations was genocide, he would be putting him straight… no doubt.

His (my reading) anger/ irritation at the suggestion led to the use of the word ‘bloody’ before ‘black’… rather than saying  ‘I get bloody annoyed by people misusing the word genocide. You can see from the large numbers of people surviving that an intentional annihilation did not take place.’
The context however was a within a public debate, with the mood of the times following the tragic death of Mr Floyd… and what he said is open to interpretation…

So how has my Mum helped me to this different reading? Because it was  her voice that I was listening to as he spoke…

She would say  ‘get out of the bloody way!’ ‘shut the bloody door!’ etc.  ‘Bloody’ clearly had nothing to do with the ‘door’ or ‘the way’ ( the object following the  word)… it had to do with the fact that she was angry and frustrated… and this is how she expressed it.

I think Sir Simon Schama was doing the same… because of the emotions running through him at the time he didn’t have the space to respond and say ‘hang on a minute… that word ‘genocide’… you know that has a particular meaning which I don’t think fits here. Let me explain…’

So we can be with what occurs very clearly… or with increasing levels of definition, of certainty, of emotional and karmic obscuration…

I wish him, my mother, and all…well and ease, allowing all tensions and rigidities is to dissolve in their spacious ground.


Shelley’s poem Ozymandias 

referenced by James long ago…referring to king Rameses… who was the subject of  an  interesting programme about  on radio four at 1.45 today 3rd July… links with this if you’d like to follow it up on ‘listen again’ or whatever you use.

Photo of Rameses borrowed with thanks from seeingthepast.com 

Impermanent and illusory…is the display of the mind.

Anxiety and doubt are not essential…

Some primroses for you… like the ones in the Devon banks around where I live, such a delightful sight!

I am very happy for those of you camels who got to listen to James at the oasis this weekend in London. Refreshment on many levels… hearing the depth of the dharma expressed so clearly.

I’ve been on a kind of retreat for a while so my posting on this website is a little random but I wanted to share, particularly for those who didn’t manage to get to this talk, a link to talk James gave a long time ago, 2003, in Macclesfield entitled Anxiety and doubt.

‘Everything changes and gain and loss fluctuate without ceasing…therefore seeking happiness in outer objects or in mental objects is not wise.’ said the Buddha (Dhp, Finding Freedom)  and this talk seems, among many other teachings!, perfect for these strange times… bringing calmness and clarity when applied.


Here also are a few practical notes:

As with the rest of us…that I will die is certain, when or how is uncertain, but for me it is not so likely to be from starvation.
I spend a little time with people who are overtly homeless or vulnerably housed…and am conscious of the varied feelings they evoke in others. Being ignored as ‘of no value’ is commonplace… as is receiving projections of others’ hatred and disgust.
I see that many food banks are struggling for supplies now as people, in their anxiety, are completely forgetting those who have nothing or not enough to live on…the numbers of whom is steadily rising and likely to increase rapidly. Some of these are people for whom the notion of self-isolation is completely meaningless – would that mean separate doorways?!

So with 24,000 currently, as a ‘tip of the ice-berg’ number for rough sleepers, and with 3,500,000 in fuel poverty in this country… if you have money to spare for a can of meat, tuna, fruit, vegetables, rice pudding, pasta or toilet rolls, coffee, tea, to put in the local food bank collection perhaps at the supermarket then someone in need will be on the receiving end…’Generosity will overcome meanness’ Dhp.
[The suggested items are generally welcomed but if you check on-line you’ll see what’s wanted and needed locally…stocks vary, as does what appeals in different areas.]

As it says in the Dhammapda  ‘We are all guests in this world many people do not know this.
This world is not our true home and we only borrow what we temporarily have – so what is there to fight over?’

Well, clearly the Buddha didn’t know about Toilet rolls!!!

I was recently asked by someone currently travelling in Vietnam how to manage without toilet paper.

This is normal practice for many people in the world, often made hazardous by limited access to soap and handwashing facilities.

The bucket of water, jug, and left-hand swishing method used in many countries may take some getting your head around but trust me, it is entirely doable… thanks to Christine Lyschik who helped me with this knowledge in India many years ago.

‘Nice and easy does it every time’…these word of wisdom (JL) could be the sense that brings you round to James’ much more recent talk on equanimity  Finding balance in turbulent times… and more refreshment from the dharma for enjoying this particular spring-time of your life!


Dhp – Dhammapada the first section of Finding Freedom.

Photo – Wikipedia

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Attribution: Trish Steel


Homme-âgé – reflections 1

Once of a time he made –
sandcastles by the sea
and kites that flew…life opening…
so much that he could be

He studied hard, his knowledge grew,
at university he made
‘things’ from new materials…

…he made his girlfriend blush
married, made babies,
made the children laugh,
(did he… or did I imagine that?)

made money – house and garden…
retired, grew flowers

grew old

and now he makes, increasingly,
a nuisance of himself

– so I am told

credit for picture





birthday’s blossoms…




I planted this blossom tree  in my garden some years ago – with  prayers for felicity and growth in dharma realisation of all students, all practitioners, all beings

always…all ways…

astonishing and multifarious,

the ’empty’ truth displays itself

no matter what we make of it, it’s never something else



for that through which life’s blossoms  flow…



….what is above

and what below?







Thanks to sakurachiru for this photo.




So, another Valentine’s Day comes and goes… I just looked at the post I made last year around this time which you can still find, if you wish, under Writings> With love on Valentine’s Day.

Those words still hold good but you should have a new present… an invitation to watch, if you can, the film Amour.

sweetpea-bunch-7402The tenderness of the husband towards his wife in the end stages of life brings tears to my eyes as i think of it. His ability to be with things as they are, sensing and feeling how best to respond to a changing and very challenging situation, his lack of self-pity and his ability to work around the bullying certainties of others who are out of touch are just beautiful……. and burst the heart open with the poignancy of the scent of a freshly-picked bunch of  sweet-peas flowers.

Winner of the 2012 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival….



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!

“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.


The ordinary is special…the special is ordinary

1.Stephen-Jenkinson-Care-of-the-Dying-280x143Dorothy Bohm – women’s hour July 14 35.56 mins beautifully contradicts the interviewer who says ‘you have a knack of making the ordinary seem precious’. She has experienced so much horror in her early life that every moment is appreciated and for her the ‘ordinary’ is precious, it’s not made to seem so by any kind of knack. Our own situation changes so quickly that it seems madness to spend today’s time looking at its imagined imperfections.

The bodhisattva attitude in Mahayana buddhism evokes a sense of gratitude and indebtedness as foundational in relating to other sentient beings on the basis of our relationships of connection through infinite time. Dependant co-origination also evokes gratitude for all that is…how could this mug come to be in my hand without an infinite number of factors – the earth, for the clay, the miners, designers, potters and shoppers, and so many others and other events taking place – my mum my dad, their parents and so on…all the caring events that mean i’m still here…all the people i’ve met who have shown me different ways of being and acting so that i can enjoy this communication…  As my hands curl in a certain way around the handle, a way conforming to its shape, i can take in this shape and colour… here we are – the mug and i and you everything arising together – then, with an imperceptible shift, the next unique moment arrives,and vanishes.

Here is also a link to the trailer  and also the film Greifwalker (open link in a new window) which I came across it thanks to a happy encounter with someone last week and I found it profoundly poignant. Stephen Jenkinson suggests that is it is a deep knowledge that throughout life we have taken and taken– in a self-serving fashion, with an attittude of entitlement rather than respect and gratitude – which brings fear to the death process. Although his tradition is different, this ties in with the understanding of the operation of karma in relative reality… where all actions (karmic activity) have consequences (virupa) both at the time and later as that seed bears fruit – whether sweet or sour – when the appropriate conditions are in place. Also i’ve included it because ‘death and impermanence’ is one of the thoughts which turn the mind towards dharma practice and, although they are linked, the ‘death’ part can feel harder to engage with…  so maybe this format invites a beautiful and gentle engagement with the inevitable!

When i first started to practice I had difficulties with the notion of rebirth but decided to park them and carry on as i could see that, whether this was true or not, the dharma showed a way of living in the kindest way with the world (‘though my ideas about kindness very much needed to be held up to the light!) and would lead to living life in such a way that one could leave it with maximal mental ease…                                                              A history of ideas 24 July 12.00am links with this in its suggestion that, rather than shrugging off a death as a non-event, or  pretending that we can keep the dead alive by refusing to let go completely, ritual  can be very helpful in facilitating the healthy transitions and adjustments of life.

Gratitude  is softening… and receptivity increases with that softening. Like the earth, water runs off the hard baked soil, but can permeate deeply where the ground is soft… opening to everything starts with a softening…..